For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 32, Part 173
(Peregrin Took's letter continues:)
June 10, 1452--Another blistering day in Mordor. If one may sweat off
pounds, I shall be positively dashing by the time I reach home. In no
time at all these borrowed trousers may actually fit. You were lucky,
Sam, in your own venture into Mordor, that you arrived in a cooler
At any rate, I prefer the day, however hot, to the night. I keep having
the same nightmare lately, over and over. Once again I stare into the
palantir. Once again I see that horrid flaming eye swell up to fill the
entire globe. Once again I feel words forced into my head to spew forth
later--crowding my mind, bulging inside till I feel the pressure in my
ears, my head ringing with the Dark Lord's malice. I wake up gasping,
my pulse pounding, my head full of pain. This can happen several times
in a single night. Oh for the Shire again, and dreams of the common run!
We have departed the Sea of Nurnen into the Backwards River and
proceed, as expected, backwards--upstream. The men groan at their oars,
wearing loose and hooded robes despite the heat, to try and fend off
the biting insects that come out along the river at this time of year,
which they cannot slap away and yet still do their work. Veils, too,
they wear, and now I see the sense of this mysterious eastern garb, for
I can watch the bites swell on their faces wherever the cloth exposes
skin. I feel enough on my own face and neck to remind me uncomfortably
of Midgewater Marsh. The sails hang limp; no wind will stir to give us
Ah well, the Midgewater Marsh led soon enough to Rivendell. Sooner or
later things turn out the way they should. Not easily, always, and
certainly not for those who give up too soon, but often enough for
those who work at it, or at least for their heirs, or their
descendants. And what a lot of twaddle to be thinking over the
inconvenience of mosquito-bites! What is the matter with me? You know
me, Sam--I do not like to dwell on gloomy things.
Mordor is what is the matter with me. You know it as well as I do. The
sooner I cross the Anduin, the happier I'll be. And the sooner I can
coax your son across, the better for us all. Poor Frodo! If a month's
visit can drag me down so, what must most of a year have done to him?
At least I do not suffer as many bites as he has. If Frodo now misses
the sensible long sleeves of standard Shire wear, he would rather die
than admit it to me, although I have glimpsed him scratching his bumps
in a frenzy the minute he thought himself out of sight. Typical
tweenager. Heavens--I wish he was a typical tweenager!
Mattie, of course, hardly notices the bites at all. Yet I have seen to
it that she become more aware of her surroundings than formerly. I have
given in to her request that I ration out her usage of the gum, feeling
no temptation to the drug, myself. It surprised me that she would ask
this of me, and I confess that it touched me a bit. She is, after all,
somebody's daughter. And I believe that this request of hers indicates
some level of sincerity in her attempt to break free of the poppy's
hold in the long term. Of course she might hold this goal forever in
that long term, just slightly and conveniently out of reach. We shall
have to see.
So now I know what poppy gum looks like. It is a foul substance, just
the sort of thing you'd expect from Sauron, black and sticky, rolled up
into little balls that resemble nothing so much as the droppings of
rabbits, distressingly still packaged in tins with the Brandybuck logo
on it. I can imagine Merry's horror. Per Matilda's instructions, I
shall cut slightly smaller pieces every day to give to her, at the
times that we have agreed upon.
The poor wretch does tug at the heartstrings, though. Something about
her reminds me of a fresh-hatched chick--her bony limbs and her swollen
eyes, and the way she curls up against the gunwale, weak within her
drug. We take it on faith that chicks out of the shell will someday
fluff up and look about them brightly on a brand-new life. Is this, I
wonder, what Frodo sees in her? But many things resemble others with
which they have nothing actual in common. How many times has Frodo
placed faith in her before and received only disappointment in return?
The last occasion did not last twenty-four hours.
And yet, when she smiles, that missing tooth reminds me of a child so
much that it breaks my heart. It hurts all the more to learn that she
lost it when a victim of her thieving beat her up. Children grow teeth
back; adults do not. How much has she lost, like the tooth, forever?
Frodo does try to feed her up; on that much we can agree. I cannot see
this little thing of sticks and ravaged skin surviving the sort of
ordeal that she has described to me, not as she is. I am not without
pity, Sam. I urge seconds and desserts upon the waif. She will need
reserves to draw on, and she has none. I do want to see her well
again--in the Lady Eowyn's care, as far from our boy as we can arrange.
Oh, that a maiden of hobbit-kind should have ever sunk so low!
June 11, 1452--A strong wind whipped up overnight, and fills the sails
again. The sailors have shipped oars, grateful for the assistance, but
work nearly as hard adjusting sheets and ropes this way and that to
make the best of it for as long as it shall last. Meanwhile I
thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of clouds blowing across the sky, the
most beautiful thing that I have seen in months, way up there above it
all. Though I have learned not to put confidence in clouds in this
harsh land. Still, you never know; rain must fall sometime.
Frodo certainly does find beauty in unexpected places, himself--a
disorder of the tastes, I imagine, that this awful land has afflicted
upon him. He pointed out, for instance, a twisted, tortured thorn tree
by the river, its riven bark like something clawed. He found it lovely,
apparently. I thought it looked hungry, and full of pain. "See how the
water ripples about the prow!" he urged me--and I happened to look just
in time to see a dead creature of some disgusting species float
belly-up in the foam. "Feel that bracing wind!" he cried, of the
noisome air that bloats our sails. Well, he likes Mordor and I do not;
it is as simple as that.
As for the horrible noise that the sailors make by way of
song--something that sets my teeth on edge--he could sit rapturously
for hours listening to it, sometimes playing along on his clay flute
with the most wistful look possessing his poor face. He says that you
have to understand it to appreciate it. I would just as soon be spared.
Ah, Sam, lads like him need jigs and springlerings, not caterwauls and
wails! They certainly do not need to understand such "music"! But this
strangeness, this taste for the unwholesome infuses everything about
him now, like his preference for burning food, so that normal, homey
fare tastes like nothing to him anymore. He has lived too long in
Mordor. How long did you spend in Mordor, Sam--less than a month?
Enough to have nightmares for the rest of your life, by your own
account. Yet he thinks of it as home, these days, and already feels
eager to return!
Not if I have my say.
Or maybe I judge him too harshly. Maybe some grace puts that sparkle in
his eyes--grace to bear the burdens of this place with sometimes
swelling joy. Maybe virtue, not foulness, leads him to find beauty
where I can only find tedium and dismay. If I cannot adjust to the
conditions of this land, might I be the crazy one, by comparison?
We spoke a lot today, he and I, about farming under the special
circumstances of Mordor, and I have to admit that he did sound
rational. Perhaps trees in the middle of fields makes sense after all,
when the sun burns hot enough to crisp the tender leaves , though I am
not sure I follow him in all of this talk about "deep mineral cycling",
"root structure sponges" and "moisture expiration". Our fathers farmed
all right for generations without knowing any of that. Sometimes I
think he made up half those phrases, and sometimes they almost make
Well, I shall leave it to the King to sort it out, on Frodo's
re-examination. The lad might turn out all right after all, or close
enough for practical purposes. I do feel rather uncomfortable, now that
it comes to it, about challenging Strider's initial assessment. Yet our
King has made mistakes before.
Please excuse the spatter of ink. I seem to have fallen asleep right
over my letter. It's these dratted nights full of bad dreams that have
worn me out. Not that my impromptu nap did me any good. I went straight
into yet another nightmare, gripping that accursed palantir, unable to
let go. Is this the sort of life that Frodo now mistakes for normal?
June 12, 1452--I have been shaving Mattie's ration a bit close, but I
do exactly what she has requested of me. It leaves her edgy and a
little weepy, and sneezing all day long. To settle her a bit we have
spent the morning swapping tales. In consequence, I have learned more
Bree history than I thought such a sleepy land could hold.
I never thought much about it before, but of course many great legends
of the ages had to pass through Bree to reach all manner of memorable
places and events, it being situated on so central a crossroad. And
naturally they left stories of their own behind, swapped beside the
Prancing Pony's very own hearthfire, or that of whatever inns preceded
it. Besides that, we hobbits might have reached our true and final form
in Breeland, before establishing our own domain in the Shire. Breeland
history is our own. I shall have to give thought to including more of
their accounts in my library.
Did you know that at one time their citizens all banded together to
battle a young dragon that lit right in the middle of Bree's main
street, fled from Angmar? I didn't either. Mattie makes a funny tale of
it, the wrath of scores of housewives, big and little, together
visiting upon the poor reptile their collective arsenal of brooms and
boiling cauldrons, pitchforks, skillets, and rolling-pins,
kitchen-knives and hearthside pokers, in a fury all at once, till the
bewildered creature fled on limping claws and tattered wings. I have no
idea whether this is a true tale, or a confection like one of your
troll songs, but it made good listening all the same. I never pictured
Mattie so merry! Truly a good laugh has curative powers.
So far we have sailed without incident, for which I thank my luck--I've
always had more than my share of it, I think. Well, I should see some
luck in something!
Certainly not in cards, lately. Your son has become quite good at games
of chance and skill; I daresay that's what one picks up from the kind
of company he keeps. We had a few games last night, when I preferred to
sit up late. We have been playing for trinkets and buttons and the
like; if we played for anything more serious I swear I'd come home to
you a pauper in a barrel, bereft even of these patched and ill-fit
The sailors mutter among themselves, pessimistic lot that they are, not
at all cheered that the wind has failed them once again. They do not
find it at all canny to have come so far without the least glimpse of a
monster, not in summertime when foul things like to float on the warm
top currents or sun themselves on the banks. To hear the crew talking
over lunch sends chills up my spine. But I keep them happy and well-fed
(they do enjoy the Shire custom of six square meals a day, though it
astonishes them) and soon the conversation turns to other things. Most
people find it harder to believe in the inevitability of misfortune
when they enjoy full bellies.
I wrote too soon--we just had an incident. Not a monster, more's the
pity, but your son shaking things up with another display of mental
instability. I happened to casually mention what a shame it was that
the Gaffer died before he was old enough to remember much about him,
and he went completely off his rocker!
First he insisted, in increasing hysteria, that the Gaffer had lived
nearly to his tweens, and then he demanded to know whose wake he had
attended the year that the Shire banished Ted Sandyman. I answered of
course that it marked Tolman Cotton's untimely end--an especial blow to
your family, Sam, as I recall, not only for Tom being the same age as
you and your boon companion since childhood, and you having married
Tom's sister, but Tom also having married your sister Marigold--a wound
close to the heart for both families. Didn't Frodo remember something
so grievous as that? In his own household? Frodo burst into tears when
I asked, and cried that yes, yes of course he did, but all scrambled,
all wrong. Then he commenced to wailing, louder and louder, about time
going out of whack again, and how could he know what was real anymore,
and strange words to that effect, tearing his hair and causing so much
disruption that it threw the sailors off their rowing rhythm and the
Captain demanded that we do something.
O dreadful day! Left to myself I think I could have soothed Frodo in
short order, but the Captain just made things worse and worse, yelling
at him the more upset he became. Then Mattie begged me to let her blow
smoke into Frodo's face to sedate him, but if he wailed before he
really shrieked at that suggestion! I could not hold him anymore; he
broke the belt that I had gripped and ran clear across the ship away
from us, careless of who he collided with. This did not please the
crew, who started to mutter and rise up from their oars. I tell you
Sam, I did not know what to do--I have seldom seen a hobbit so
distraught, nor found myself trapped in such company since my journey
to Fangorn Forest.
In the end the Captain took matters into his own hands, and that made
the situation worst of all. First he tried to knock Frodo unconscious,
but missed, slowed by the unaccustomed meals that I had fed him. Not so
we hobbits! I held the man at sword-point and told him that if he ever
tried to injure my nephew again, I'd see his blood dye the whole deck
red! By now Frodo had leaped to the riggings to escape us, climbing in
blind panic. But I am one, and small, and could not fend off all the
men at once. Mattie was no help, sobbing by the prow, horrified at what
her last attempt at assistance had wrought.
So at this point the Captain, eyeing my blade, ordered his sailors to
wrestle Frodo down "without bruising him too much", though bruises he
and they shared in plenty, when the whole knot of them fell from the
riggings together. Thank heavens he had lost Sting with the belt, or
who knows how this might have gone!
The Captain then ordered that they shut him up without hurting him. I
assumed that they would bind and gag him, but the scoundrels forced
their grog down his throat, to "settle his nerves and weaken his
limbs". Oh Sam, it was awful! Frodo fought like a frightened cat, and
they had to catch him three times before they got any into him--once he
nearly leaped over the side; had I not seen that, I would have perished
trying to slaughter them all to put a stop to this! It brought up
horrible memories of the Uruk-Hai forcing the same drink down my own
throat on the long run to Isengard. Yet I do have to admit that it did
me good then, and it did Frodo good this time, too.
Because he did calm down, as suddenly as clapping a lid over a burning
pan. When the louts drew back Mattie and I rushed to his side. He
showed a weary yet surprised sort of relief in his face, as he slurred
out something to me in a quieter voice, about how maybe Sauron couldn't
make all that much use of what he never consented to.
Then he let us help him to his bunk. There he clasped my hand, and
peering over the hammock's edge with wide and dizzy eyes, he assured me
that he would be all right, he realized now that he had simply returned
to a slightly different "time-thread" on the last occasion that things
had gone wrong (whatever that meant) but surely time had not actually
slipped around since then. He also said, out of the blue, that there
was much you never told me, Sam, that perhaps you should. And finally
he turned his face away and mumbled something incoherent that might
have been "I miss water sheen" or something like that. I held his hand
until sleep overcame him, and then a little while longer.
After that the Captain and I had words. He wanted damages paid, for
time lost chasing and subduing Frodo, and injuries to the crew. I told
him I already paid more than the standard fare in the meals that I had
served, and besides, he would have lost far less time if he had left
Frodo to me, instead of dousing the fire in him with oil--'twas I that
should demand recompense, not he. He countered that I had not informed
him that I traveled with a madman. I finally did pay him, less than he
wanted and more than I should have, but we have a couple more days to
put up with each other and both thought it best to compromise. But I
shall never sail on this ship again, Sam, not if the Captain knew the
secret True West current and offered to take me there.
Now I sit with my back to our cabin door, blocking it and writing,
while over by the prow Mattie smokes her ration, looking contemplative,
like her pipe held merely pipeweed, and she just wandered lost in
thought, not in disordered visions. The smell of spilled grog, splashed
all over everything, and fainter whiffs of opia smoke, cloy the air
with a perfume of tragedy.
Oh Sam, he seemed so normal yesterday! I questioned his tastes, yes,
but I almost convinced myself that I was simply being an old
fuddy-duddy, most comfortable with the music and aesthetics of my
youth. Yet every time I start to doubt my assessment of his sanity,
Frodo does something new and alarming.
He should awaken four or five hours from now, too full of weariness and
headache to cause much chaos, though hopefully fit to eat a late
supper, if I insist the cook should save him some, as I intend to do.
But he seems to have calmed already, apparently explaining his
delusions to himself to his own satisfaction. I think he will be
manageable. I hope he will. I would hate past any pain the thought of
hauling him in chains to Minas Tirith. I imagine that any links I could
buy in Riverborn would hang heavy and gall the skin.
Well, he awakened on schedule, ate dinner, and has returned to bed, or
at least to the cabin. He spent the entire meal eating with one hand
and holding my own hand in the other. He said that he feared pouring
himself more grog if I let go. Poor boy! Poor demented boy! He told me
to knock him out next time. I replied that I could never do that to
him. He looked at me queerly and said I'd be amazed at what I could do
in a pinch. I reminded him that I had been in plenty of pinches before
he was born, and I still do not take to knocking loved ones
unconscious. He said it would have been kinder.
Now I hear him, pacing in the cabin, working himself up again, perhaps.
I had better go in and see if I can settle him down some, maybe tell
him a funny story, get his mind off of things. It does my old eyes no
good to write by lantern-light, in any case. (And why do I feel old?
Sixty-two should be the prime of life! It seems that every morning
lately I wake up drained.)
I fear I may soon run out of funny stories, though, and circumstances
do not lend themselves to writing new ones. Minas Tirith seems a
million miles away. But at least we have passed the halfway point and
should reach Riverborn soon--an important milestone. Though what Poros
Pass might do to Frodo, I fear to think.