For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 36, Part 177
Escape from Riverborn
June 14, 1452
Frodo and Mattie tore through Riverborn ahead of Uncle Pippin's shouts
while the older hobbit tried to marshal help from Brandybuck
Mercantile. Somewhere a horn blew and blew, blaring through the mud
walls till it echoed like a thousand horns. People pointed as they sped
They had hardly gone three blocks into the city's close confines before
a bolt of lightning crackled overhead. Frodo gasped but kept on
galloping, hoping against hope to outride the wrath of heaven, dodging
through the crooked streets while overhead the skies burst again with
deafening sound. The hooves of their steeds answered with sparks
against cobbles and the drumroll of their passing. But then the rain
spilled down--the long-sought blessing drenched them with the shock of
coolness, half-blinding them in its intensity yet comforting their dry
and insect-bitten skin, sluicing through their hair, saturating their
tunics, dripping from their stirrups, sweeping down the streets and
carrying the trash away.
Against all sense (yet Frodo understood completely) crowds ran out to
cheer. Under his breath Frodo murmured, “Someone at least among the
Ainur still blesses me.” The horror of his sin only now began to twist
inside him, though every time he glanced back at the fragile little
hobbit on the donkey behind him, he ceased to doubt his decision.
“Whatever the price, I shall pay it and be done.”
"Listen to our fanfare!" Mattie exclaimed, and threw back her arms like she welcomed accolades.
"They're cheering the rain, you deluded sot." But it worked to their
advantage, all these people suddenly clogging the street behind them in
the downpour as they themselves darted down a side-road full of houses
already emptied for the day's labors. "Let's just hope the lightning
has better things to strike than a couple of fleeing hobbits."
"Oh what a gran’ ride, what a glorious escape!" Mattie declared, and then toppled forward onto Bleys's neck.
"Mattie! Wake up!" Frodo leaned down precariously from the galloping
horse to yank her by the tunic up again. "Wake up--I need you to lead
"Mmm? Wha...oh. Quite right." She reeled back up to a sitting position.
And then fell down again. She mumbled against the rain-drenched fur,
"Is it wet in here or am I jus' sweaty?"
"Whoa!" Frodo leaped down as his steed slowed, caught the reins of both
animals and pulled them to a halt, here in a back alley far from the
docks. He dragged Mattie down off the donkey and said, "Come on--on
foot! Get us out of Riverborn."
"But I know of an inn where..."
"Doubtless so does Uncle Pippin. He has always had a nose for inns. No, it's the wilds for us."
Mattie grinned weirdly. "Nobody can find me in the Ephel Duath, if I don' want found."
"I'm counting on it. Go ahead, get moving. Take the lead."
She stumbled a few steps forward, then stood, swaying.
"Hurry, before Pippin finds us!"
"That way", she said, tripping as she turned and then finding her feet again.
"Very good. Keep moving." Frodo kept pushing her in front of him, down
an even narrower alleyway, rain splashing down on them, sheeting over
his face and running through his toes as he steered Mattie towards the
stony hill that reared up at the end. "Briskly, now...there's a good
lass." It seemed too much to ask to make his legs push against the
clinging wet linen of his tunic. Every step felt like his muscles tore,
but he shoved aside fears about how long he could keep this up in his
condition, or whether someone would track him by the reddened puddles
he left behind, from the rain washing a nameless sailor's blood out of
"Shall I sing a brave song to set the beat? I know some lovely marches."
"Not while we're fleeing, no! All right, now where?" Boulders piled in
front of them--doubtless the only reason nobody had built yet another
house to seal off the dead end.
"Over there." Mattie pointed to a corner as impassible-seeming as the
rest, but when they reached it Frodo saw a narrow path snake along a
crack within the rock. Frodo sighed at the thought of clambering
through this gauntlet, but made himself set to it, herding Mattie
before him, leading the animals behind. They had gotten halfway through
before Mattie curled up against the stone and fell asleep again, though
cold water poured down against her neck.
"Back on your feet, Mattie! Come now, we're pursued--hurry!" Not a
sound stirred in the alley behind them, but Frodo hoped she wouldn't
notice. "No time to linger, lass."
"Don't I have a horse somewh...ah, there you are, Stumblehoof!"
"No, you are not going to ride Stumblehoof, not yet at any rate! The
ground is much too treacherous for that. Lead us out of here."
Together they struggled upslope, Frodo hardly steadier than Mattie, the
post-convulsive weakness making every move a torment. Whatever Sauron
had done in Frodo's body this time surpassed any seizure of mere
earthly scope. Under his breath Frodo hissed, “Is this the sum of your
great knowledge, oh fallen Maia? The art of causing suffering? Had you
nothing better you could learn?” But then pain cost him the effort to
even taunt his tormenter; in silence then he spared his lips for
gasping after air.
At last, with the village far below them, and the ground leveling out,
he decided he could let them ride. Frodo made them gallop hard, his
teeth clenched against his aches.
The day dragged on, each minute gritting against the next, the pangs
worsening and worsening with every jolt of pounding hoof, without
relief in sight, till Frodo thought he could endure no more–and then it
worsened further still. Time became something that hammered Frodo with
a galloping beat. The over-wide horse's back stretched out his legs
like a living instrument of torture. His fingers cramped upon the
reins. His back hurt too much to let him straighten. The scenery dimmed
to gray, then he shook his head and willed himself not to faint, but
then it dimmed again...his angle began to shift, but he hadn’t the
strength left to straighten himself out...
Here. Draw from me.
The pain whirled away into sudden bliss, but so did clarity of thought.
"Sauron, no!" But Sauron felt weak and far away, nursing himself after
his malice had depleted him.
Not Sauron--me. Mattie.
"Wha...what is happening?"
His mind translated into words what came to him in no words whatsoever. Our
souls have grown close. Your glass magnifies the link, and I am not
without my own magic. Some things can pass between us, now.
"I can't do this, Mattie!" Frodo cried, clutching at the lens like
covering it could block her. "It...oh heavens...it feels too good, too
I have too much--I have to share. I must!
Take it! Draw some off or I shall die!
Waves of pain-relief washed over him; he could no more have held it off
than stop the Nurnen's surge with his two hands. Horror in his heart
thrashed against the flood and then drowned in it. His overwrought
muscles relaxed, so that he could right himself again. Nonetheless with
difficulty he held his seat upon the horse-blanket, though in fact it
felt as though he floated with it, not actually touching it. The horse
seemed to rise and fall, rise and fall in slow motion as they sped up
towards the pass, through thorn and kaktush that sparkled in an oddly
familiar, jewel-like way. Mattie, in turn, straightened and grew more
intent in her gaze as she took the lead on her own, winding in unlikely
paths that trackers could not follow.
Frodo fought his mouth to make it speak, "Once again you betray me, Mattie."
"I gave you what you needed," she said out loud. "What we both needed. We both carried burdens too great to bear alone."
"Please don' give me any more gifts! I tol' you that before." His mouth
felt too dry, too loose to talk with. "Tomor...tomorrow shall be
"Of course it shall," Mattie answered. "You need to remember just how much I stand to lose, if you mean to help me."
"I got the message the last time!" he tried to shout, but it came out
weak; he hardly heard it himself. Energy drained from him, and he
smiled...did this answer Vaire's warning? Had he severed his own
thread? If so, he accepted the fairness of the price–his life for
But no, the life-force did not feel entirely his own, and it seemed to
drain from something swollen in him, something unwell. It dawned on him
that in the very act of drawing some of the poison out of Mattie, he
exchanged it for some of the life-force that Sauron had robbed from her
to smite him with. Well, that wasn't so bad, he supposed. Rather
tree-ish, in fact.
"You promised," Mattie said. "You promised that you wouldn't let me
die." He felt too sleepy to marvel that she knew that. "I have not
The afternoon passed in dreamlike galloping, then walking the horses,
then galloping again. Mattie set the pace from experience ingrained in
her so deeply that her hands on the reins hardly needed her mind to
tell them what to do. The shadows lengthened around them, and the
sunbleached hills took on rich colors that only twilight could imbue.
Traveling much faster than the pace of goat-herds, they made the edge
of Poros Pass a little after nightfall, stars in the bowl of its
"Enough," Mattie sighed, and Frodo felt the pain-relief withdraw from
him like a hot-cold stab throughout his body, so that he cried out, in
grief as much as suffering. "This way," Mattie mumbled, suddenly
nodding over her reins but pulling them with confidence. "I know a, a
place safe enough to rest wi’out guard." She steered them down into a
fold between small hills, pushing through disguising brush, soon roofed
by thorns like a rabbit's hideout, where they tossed themselves down on
the old, dead, prickly leaves and fell into exhausted sleep.