For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 27, Part 168
June 7, 1452
Somewhere along the way to the docks, long after the clip-clop of the cart had taken Elenaril and Bergil out of sight, Frodo began to shake. The June heat beat down upon the sunbaked bricks and reflected off the stones like the inside of a kiln, but to see him shiver, one would have thought that the bitterest winter whipped through the Seaside streets. At last he shuddered so violently that he froze in the middle of the street, hugging himself tightly, so that the others had to turn back for him.
Pippin said, "I'm not leaving yet, my good fellow," and put a firm arm around the younger hobbit. "The ship will stay in harbor for days--you know that."
Frodo nodded, saying nothing. They went on, and Pippin did not let go. Nor did Frodo draw away from the embarrassing comfort of his elder's support.
"I am sorry, Uncle--I did not expect the approach of your ship to affect me so."
"Are you sure you will not join me, Frodo? It is not too late to change your mind. You have three days yet to pack your bags and settle your affairs."
It took a moment before Frodo could make his mouth work. "I am sure. My place is here." Here. Among the unfit and the outcasts. Among those who would understand how unshirelike he had become, and why, and not hold it against him.
"Confound all Gamgees or Gardners or whatever you folk call yourselves these days!" Pippin rolled his eyes to heaven. "Stubborner folk do not exist--are you sure that Bleys is not a cousin?"
"We don't bail out on jobs we set out to do, if that's what you mean," said Frodo, finding himself grinning, his shivering starting to subside. "And I must point out that occasionally Bleys does dig in his hooves and do just that, refusing to budge if he feels a job has gotten too big for him."
"Whereas you wouldn't know 'too big' if it stepped on you." Pippin shook his head. "At least consider doing this much for your father's old friend. Make some provisional arrangements, in case you change your mind at the last minute. You might elect to go as far as Minas Tirith with me--a bit of a vacation would do you good. Set up Bergil to mind things in your absence. Pack a bag--you can always unpack it later, if you don't take up my offer. If you go with me partway, no harm done, you can return again as you choose. If you decide to come all the way to the Shire with me, we can send for the rest of your things, and Bergil can hold the fort until we send a replacement."
"I..." Frodo shuddered again, and then suddenly relaxed completely, with not so much as a tremor. "I will consider it. But even if I leave for a little while, I will come back--I have not yet seen a winter harvest from the houses made of glass. And I would..."
"Nothing." He realized suddenly that he had looked forward to the autumn harvest celebrations, but now that he thought about it, he knew that he had good cause to dread them. "Uncle Pippin, I just want to see it through. At least a full year's turn. Can you understand that?"
Pippin chuckled. "I've given up on understanding folks like you and your father and your namesake long ago. But that doesn't mean I won't support you in whatever you feel you have to do."
"Uncle...speaking of support..."
"Oh. Quite right." Pippin let go, now that Frodo's shivering spate had passed.
Frodo smiled lopsidedly. "After all, it wouldn't do for people to assume that I could not walk without your help."
Pippin did not reply, but his face showed its years.
"I am sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned it. But if I don't laugh about myself, everything just becomes too overwhelming."
Pippin turned to him suddenly and heatedly. "And that is exactly why I think you need to come home with me! Who wouldn't want to go numb in a land like this, given opportunity? My dear lad, you would be all right in the Shire--I know you would. You would have nothing to hide from, there."
"I'm afraid it is not so simple, Uncle." Frodo paused, caressing the corner of a building, appreciating its rough texture under his fingertips, admiring the mica that sparkled in its clay. "I will always find something to hide from--we can never know perfection, this side of the Western Sea. But I can also always find beauty, if I look for it. I have to remember, every day of my life, that I can only find true beauty with my senses unblurred. That numbness does not suffice, but that beauty can make anything worthwhile." He looked up at Pippin. "Shire customs would not treat me kindly, you know. Here at least I may be excused from traditions that...that do not agree with me, foreigner that I am."
"The Shire would put you to rights--you would have no further need to fear our merry ways."
Frodo shook his head, and resumed their walk. "You really cannot understand, can you? I think Papa would, though. He wore the Ring of Power, once."
"Ah well," said Pippin in a troubled, puzzled voice. "At least if you can find beauty here, you cannot be too bad off."
"If I hadn't glimpsed the light of Valinor, I do not think that I could see things that way. I do not think that I could stand..." He trembled again, but then shook his head. "Yet I have." He saw how Pippin looked at him, and he laughed, sadly. "You think I'm crazy."
"Well, lad, talking about Valinor like that, as though you, well..."
"Join the club." Frodo shrugged and kept on walking, his eyes averted. They reached a crossroads where a hot wind blew, swirling dust and dancing bits of debris to skitter down the street. Frodo watched a gust flatten Elenaril's robes against her and then billow them out again. Was that a faint new curve that began to swell her form? "I have much that I wish to see ripen and come to full fruit," he said. "It is not all woe here in Mordor, not anymore."
"I suppose not--and that is more than half due to you, isn't it?"
"I'm afraid so, Uncle Pippin." Odd, how Merry quickly became a peer in their travels, yet Pippin remained ever his "uncle". But then he had felt so much more grown up on the way over. No--that couldn't be it at all, for he felt old now, old as Lanethil, old as the tortured hills. It was that he had wanted to feel all grown up in those days...so very long ago...
At the dock, under a sky as clear and blue as anyone could wish for, Frodo and Pippin sat up on a couple of crates (full of trade dishes headed for Gondor) out of the way of the Big Folk, and Pippin smoked and Frodo leaned back against the warehouse wall behind them, and they talked of Shire memories, and all of the doings that Frodo had had no time to listen to till now, while the Sea of Nurn spread sparkles out before them. For one thing, the Smallburrow and Penniwistle feud had reached new and comical proportions, leading to the "accidental" release of the Penniwistle hogs on the evening before market, a young stoat getting into the family hole and causing the upset of a pot of half-made strawberry jam, all over the kitchen floor, which the piglet endeavored to clean up by himself, oblivious to whacks of a broom, treading sticky syrup all over everything. Of course nobody had any proof that the Smallburrows were at all involved, but Robin did treat everybody to a round at the Ivy Bush for no particular reason that he could state.
"Look, Uncle--the ship!"
As Frodo pointed, the older hobbit stood up slowly on top of the crate, his eyes filling with tears. "Frodo-lad, I have seen few things so beautiful as that sail. And oh--now I mark the ship herself--see how she dances to and fro with the wind, swaying like a gracious lady, with her hems all ruffled in a lace of foam!"
Frodo found himself tearing up, as well, his mind awash with contradictory emotions. "I will miss you, Uncle Pippin."
"You don't have to, you know. Oh dear lad, we could make a happy journey of it, if you but say the word."
"You tempt me..."
"No. It is not good at all. It is temptation--I have gone through enough to recognize it." He caught his elder's eye with his own swimming gaze. "Have you forgotten who wants more than anything for me to carry him to my father?"
Pippin gripped Frodo's shoulder. "Do you think that Sam would hesitate to bear this for you--and with seasoned strength?"
"I could not bear it--not bringing such a curse to him, who gave me life. Nor leading Sauron to the heart of the Shire itself." Then Pippin marveled at how cold the young hobbit's gaze could suddenly become. "Do not ask this of me again." They stared at each other for all the time it took the ship to dock, not moving when wood thudded against wood and men called out to one another. But at last it was the elder's eyes who dropped.
"For a little while, then," Uncle Pippin said. "Stay in Nurn for now, and tend your crops. But do not forget which way your true home lies."
"I will not," Frodo said, glancing to the west--but not the northwest. And Pippin noticed this.
"I am sorry, Frodo. I did not mean to draw you from what you see as your duty--rightly or wrongly. But don't you know that a father's deepest heart demands that he protect the children--his own and the children of those he loves? We cannot always argue away so profound a portion of our natures."
"Child?" And Frodo's laugh had a harsh Mordor edge to it. "Then you haven't been paying attention." But then Frodo climbed down off of the crate and offered up his helping hand as Pippin made his way less spryly, as though nothing had happened, and the moment passed before Pippin could comment on it, though it lingered for a long time in his memory.
Good, wholesome goods and plenty now filled the docks, no longer waiting for the mayor to divvy them up among the villagers, but arranged this time in tidy piles according to whose handicrafts had purchased what. Some few people remained too broken to deal in any trade, but most of these found someone willing to share the bounty with them, and the remainder could count on the munificence of Bergil and Elenaril, both well-endowed now by the King's payroll.
Frodo, too, could and did afford help to all the poor who asked, his pay being generous according to the importance of his office and the good work that he did. But much he also plowed back into his fields, in seed and tools and other helps for the land, as crate after crate lined up upon the docks could tell. But from Dale he had also ordered a common-tongue translation of all that dwarves and elves could teach of the manufacture of glass. (Not that the sellers recognized it as a translation any longer.)
Long had Sauron's glass-working factory lain idle, surrounded by the abundant sands of Nurn, nor had the Dark Lord ever had much use beyond the most basic necessities for so fragile a material, putting little stock in light or beauty when he bent his mind on war. Elves and dwarves knew cleaner ways to ply the trade that Sauron had given less than half a mind. Now Frodo hoped, before the winter came, to restore the garden-houses he had found. And Nurn could always use another income source, drawn from the most abundant material to hand. Besides, it did cross Frodo's mind that the smith, who apparently had too much time on his hands with his current occupation, could well spend his afternoons teaching others what he no doubt could pick up faster than anyone. But Frodo also cherished certain private hopes of his own, and an abundance of local glass could serve him well in these.
"Oho! It is a generous sovereign indeed who reigns from the White City!" Frodo looked up from his inventory to see Lanethil dancing with a small keg in his arms like a rotund lady. "Pipeweed! And of the finest quality!"
Frodo looked quizzically to Pippin, who shrugged and said, "We still sell to Gondor, you know, by the coastal route. It does the Numenoreans no harm. But Lanethil, now..."
"...would also suffer no harm. Oh, Pippin!" And here Frodo broke out laughing outright, shaking his head. "Haven't you puzzled out his lineage yet?" But before he could elaborate Frodo spotted the box that he desired most. Prying it open released the sweet perfume of hobbit-made brandy cookies. He saw that his mother had shaped them into the form of stars. "How perfect! Dear Mama, you always know precisely the right touch!" And then he heard a loud, drawn-out sound roaring up from the hold--a once familiar noise made strange by reverberation through wood and water. "What on earth?"
Pippin laughed. "Speaking of puzzling things out, don't tell me that you've been away from the Shire so long that you don't know a cow when you hear one!"
"But who bought..."
"I did," said Pearl, striding up to the fore. "Three cows and a bull for m'friend Lightnin' to herd, along wi' the goats I gave her, in return for a share o' the cream and butter for m'cookin'." But then the baker paled at the sight of the horned beasts. "They's so big!" she gasped.
Pippin laughed. "If you like your kine on the smallish side, you should have bought them from my country."
Frodo looked beyond the livestock, then, and saw a hobbit lead off the ship an unfamiliar steed, a chestnut stallion uneasy on the gangplank, in need of much coaxing and slow walking around the docks to readjust to land. The saddlebags plainly bulged with mail, but the messenger did not resemble Mattie in any way; Frodo chided himself for expecting him to. As the fellow approached, Frodo saw the barely noticeable down of scattered whiskers that occasionally marked the faces of the Stoors--someone unmistakably of an age to serve his post. The messenger stopped before him to bow and say, "Master Frodo Gardner, Sir! I have mail for you from the Mayor of Hobbiton and all the Shire." And with that he handed over the letter and moved on to others, without a glance back. Frodo despised his own heart for sinking as he watched the stranger's back--even the gait jarred him, heavy steps despite the lack of boots--when he should simply have rejoiced in receiving word from home.
"Ah, lucky lad!" Pippin said. "I'll leave you in peace to read whatever Sam has to say." He chased after the messenger, waving. "Hi, boy! Any letters for me? I am the Took of Took Hall, I'll have you know!"