For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 35, Part 176
The Weave of History
June 14, 1452
Frodo fell and fell into darkness, grasping without hands, touching nothing, contorting against the nothing in a fury for life, for senses, for anything!
"No!" the hobbit raged. "It doesn't end this way! It doesn't!"
"And why should I exempt you?" a beautiful feminine voice inquired. "Have you any notion of how many premature endings Sauron has forced me to weave into the fabric? And yet..." He felt something at last...an exquisite piece of cutwork cloth, the most marvelous he had ever imagined. He could trace out the designs with fingers that were not fingers. "Do you see? Though not all threads make their way to their intended hem--as I once tried to sing it, before the shaping of the world--yet still the holes themselves serve the patterns of Illuvatar. Wherever the servants of Morgoth think to rend, the greater beauty yet prevails."
Frodo found himself calmed by the restoration of at least the seeming of some senses. "And what of the rip that came from the letter out of time, sweet Vaire?"
"Let me show you." He felt an edge of fabric in his hand, how it curved in just a bit. "As it so happened, I needed a dart cut into the weave at just that space, to improve the drape and to balance the other one cut for Eriol."
"Never you mind. He shall be born after your time, though he precedes you. At least..." she mused, "he precedes you here in my tapestry, where I preserve some remnant of that history which he inadvertently cut off from beginning."
"And what of Mattie's thread? I had rather hoped to knot it up with mine, but I suppose...well, no matter now. Please, do not let your husband judge her too harshly, Vaire. For in the end she fell trying to save lives other than her own, even if she did use Sauron's weapon to do it."
“I will pass on your words, Frodo. Such testimonials do matter.”
Frodo's hand glided down the thread that his own life had become, seeking the design into which it terminated. That would comfort him, to know his tale in full. But then he found not a hem, but a fringe of threads as yet unwoven, still taut upon the loom. "Vaire?"
The Vala laughed, and heaven's music sparkled in her laughter. "Do you persist in believing Sauron's lies? He never had the strength to kill you, Frodo, even drawing from the souls of others, not since your forebears crippled him. Only by coarse material means--through monsters, traps, and poisons left behind--can he ever slay a one."
Hope soared anew in him then--immediately dashing into dread as the full implications of Vaire's words hit him. "But Mattie...oh please, Vaire, do not send me back, if you mean to send me back alone. How much more do you think that I can bear?"
"She imbibed the poison willingly."
"No! She almost broke free! She only went back to save us! Where is your justice?"
"That would be my husband's concern--after the fact. I merely weave what is."
"Then I shall change what is!" Frodo grabbed the cloth in both hands. "Let her live, Vaire, or so help me I shall rip the tapestry from one end to the other!" Dark lightning shot around him--he could not see it, but he could feel it as surely as the fabric in his hands.
"Fool--have you any idea what wars you could set loose? What famines, what plagues, what disasters?"
"You're the one, just now, who had no concern for justice--give me what I want, Vaire!" A thread snapped in his grip.
"Do you have any idea what you just severed?"
"Was it Mattie?"
"Then I don't care!"
Cold now came the Vala's voice. "Remember those words, Frodo Gardner, when the time comes to pay the price for what you have done. Very well, then--have your way. Save her if you can. But you shall have no further privileges in Valinor, not in visions nor in dreams, not until your weary death drags you at last into my husband's halls."
A bolt plunged him once more into the spinning nothingness, sparking with his pain. Once more his limbs flailed out, grasping at nothing...nothing...nothing...
He clasped slender fingers, a smaller hand than his, if hand you could call it. He pulled her to him, nestled her against him, felt something like her heart beat as his own. "I will not let you die, Mattie," he murmured in the emptiness. "That I promise you." They clung to each other in the tumbling darkness, merging in some way, growing together while the nothingness spun around them...
...until Frodo woke, breathing in a delectable herbal steam. Though it hurt his neck to move, he turned his head to one side, to see a steaming bowl of kingsfoil tea set close. He halfway sat up, leaning on his arms, though the canvas pressed down on him with all the weight of time.
No, not the canvas--only the weariness that his seizure left behind now crushed him down, the ache of muscles overtaxed for nothing. No sail overmantled them in here. Somewhere blades clattered against dragon-scales and men shouted to each other, but he himself sprawled upon a table in the galley, while men still came and went, piling onto more tables more wounded than Frodo thought the crew could hold.
He saw blood soaking his own tunic, now half-dried, gluing the linen to the table in places; in a moment of disorientation he wondered if that explained why he hurt so badly, but he could find no wound upon himself. Then he remembered the scream rising above him, of some poor man in the dragon's jaws directly overhead, and he shuddered to recall it. But even the shudder exhausted him; he sank back down onto the spinning table, as dizzy as if he really had sustained blood-loss.
Yet he felt--with muscle and skin and living nerve he felt! "I survived," he whispered, welcoming the pain, the proof that he no longer wandered lost in dreams, or in something deeper, darker, and beyond reversal. For awhile he just lay there, listening to the stamp and ruckus on the deck above him. Gradually, though, he grew aware of a softer sound, rhythmical puffs nearby, and turned his head the other way, to find Pippin kneeling beside him on the tabletop with his mouth shoved tight against Mattie's, her jaw tilted back. Soon she choked for air again; quickly now the elder rolled her to her side and Frodo heard her retching through the clangor of the battle overhead.
In the dimness of the galley Pippin smiled grimly over at Frodo, from where he knelt by Mattie's side, and half his face looked scraped by dragon-scales. "I learned this trick at the Battle of the Morannon--or after, rather, when I had it taught to me. Gimli son of Gloin used it to save my life." More quietly he said, staring at Mattie, "I did not know for certain if it would work this time. Thank goodness that it did."
Frodo had a guilty feeling that goodness had little to do with it. "I had no idea, Uncle, that you knew so much of the healer's art."
"Oh, I've picked up a few things here and there, over the years--that, my boy, is why you should listen to your elders. But dwarves encounter deadly gases underground, you know; they need to know how to restart breath."
Frodo looked around him, still half-dazed. "I don't recognize half these men."
"That is because they don't come from this ship. The Riverborn Navy has sailed to our rescue." A boom so loud that it hurt made the galley dishes rattle. "I must say, I find it pleasant to have that blasting deviltry on our side for a change."
"Uncle...about what happened..."
"Never you mind. Nobody expects heroics of someone in the throes of a supernatural fit." Pippin chuckled uneasily. "Lad, you scared me more than the dragon did! Did you know you actually levitated off the deck there for a minute?"
Frodo sat up the rest of the way, though the ship seemed to whirl when he did so. "Can't just lie here..."
Pippin pushed him back down. "You can, you must, and you shall! Besides, it sounds like they have finally subdued the monster up above." Indeed, a weary silence now blanketed them, beyond the moans of injured men, until a few hoarse cheers broke out, and more joined in soon after.
"Hang the dragon--I'm worried about Mattie!" Frodo shoved himself back up, and made himself haul the drowsy hobbit into his arms. "We need to get her on her feet and keep her walking--we can still lose her." He dragged her to the table's edge, then climbed down onto a chair with her in his arms, then laboriously helped her to the floor. "Sauron meant to kill her for wanting to escape, and he very nearly did." Painfully he made himself walk with her, around the blood-soaked tables full of groaning men, circling the room...Surely Pippin would not take note of them passing the pantry door, under the circumstances...
"Here now, Lad--I can do that. You need your rest."
"Now!" Frodo cried, though he doubted Mattie comprehended. He ran with her into the pantry, staggering with exhaustion so that he riccocheted off disordered crates and leaking barrels as he impelled Mattie forward, through to the other side, amid what remained of the cargo of pottery, crashing through the wreckage of the dragon's wrath, skipping over the broken clay with wary feet while shards crunched under Mattie's boots. Now he heard Pippin shout and run behind them, but by then he and Mattie had careened all the way back to the stable.
"Come on! Wake up!" Frodo shoved Mattie against the fence while he struggled with the knots on the gate that he normally didn't bother with, till finally in frustration he whipped out Sting and hewed the cords away. He could see Pippin now, slowed by the broken pottery. Frodo threw their gear onto the horse and donkey, faster than he thought his tortured limbs could move. Having only time for one pair, Frodo grabbed the saddlebags that had the water-skins and all the most important things in it, and hurled it onto Stumblehoof, then hoisted Mattie onto Bleys (easier in his weakness than all the way up onto her own horse) just as Pippin made it through the wreckage, leaving bloody prints behind him.
Leaping from the fence to Stumblehoof's back just short of Pippin's grasp, Frodo veered the horse away; echoing hooves rang wild in the hold's confines as the big beast circled and circled, and Bleys matched her, braying and kicking whenever Pippin tried to draw near, though Mattie nearly toppled from the saddle, holding onto the donkey by some somnolent reflex learned in her hard life. Pippin had no choice but to dodge away, though he darted forward again more than once, trying to grab the reins.
"What has gotten into you?" Pippin cried out to Frodo.
"You mean to lock me away! Do not deny it, Uncle--you mean to lock us both away, with miles in between!"
"Lad, lad, I only want the best for you both. Later you will underst..."
"There shall be no later!" Terrified to do it, Frodo stood up on the running steed to hew the ropes that would drop the ramp into the hold, before he toppled down again, Stumblehoof swerving to catch him on her broad back without missing a beat, like she had done something of the sort before. Hooves thundered through the ship's hollowness as Frodo rode up, raising Sting again, this time to slash through the still-fallen sail. They burst out from the hold even as the wounded ship reeled on towards the dock. Now the drifts of heavy cloth, much slashed and stained, with many a hidden obstacle of shattered mast, hindered the animals as they continued to skitter away from Pippin’s grasp, back and forth across the deck.. Frodo saw how the men had rolled the canvas back from their oars and now strove to bring the ship to dock.
"My harp!" Mattie exclaimed, waking more in the freshened air. "I cannot leave without my harp!"
"Oh yes you c..." But just then a sailor threw it to her as she rode on by.
The man shouted after them, "Ya bought us just enough time fer the navy to reach us afore we all died!"
Their steeds bucked and danced over the wreckage. Bleys kicked ripples of fabric back behind him, right into poor Uncle Pippin's face Hooves tripped and struggled to climb over an especially steep mound of sail with a hunk of mast beneath it, but they made it to the side where they belonged.
Seeing Pippin wrench off the fabric and wade through canvas towards him, Frodo pulled his letter, already sealed and ready, out of the saddlebag and tossed it far over the mounds behind him.
"That's for Papa," he called to Pippin. "Take it home for me!"
"You're breaking your father's heart!" the hobbit cried back, but he stooped to retrieve the letter.
Already Stumblehoof had leaped over the side before the gangplank had finished lowering. Bleys clattered close behind, the wood moving under his hooves, dashing right behind the horse with surprising speed. One after another they leaped the breach to the pier, then galloped into town, racing past the brightly painted warehouses of Brandybuck Mercantile and up the stony streets.
"I can change the weave of history," Frodo rasped through gritted teeth against the agony he felt. "I can, I must, and I shall!"