For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 39, Part 180
June 17, 1452
Frodo did catch a little sleep that night, while Mattie paced as quietly as she could, hugging herself with trembling arms. Frodo tossed in dark dreams that he could not remember clearly afterwards, just something about a red and pulsing thread weaving through a complicated design, suddenly snapped and gushing blood upon his hands. But some relief, some drift into peace did come upon him after a time, full of snatches of imagery of simple things, like puttering around the hearth at Bag End, or trotting after the Gaffer or Uncle Tom (he later couldn’t say which) down the garden path, or cooking loaf after loaf of bread, and nobody seemed to care that he kneaded it with dirty hands, so hungry were his guests.
Then Frodo opened his eyes and saw a stout old hobbit sitting patiently beside him. Weakly he said, “Hullo, Bilbo. I am surprised they let you visit me. I thought myself cut off from all such privileges.”
“In Valinor, perhaps,” the crusty voice admitted as gently as it could, “But I go in dreams where I will. My but you have put your foot in it, though, my boy!” In the dimness Frodo saw the sorrow in the ancient hobbit’s eyes, as vividly as if he had elvish sight again, yet Bilbo smiled bravely. “But far be it from me to ever abandon a son of Sam Gamgee’s! I loved your father dearly, you see, after my fashion.”
The old hobbit gazed off at the cave walls. “Such a bright and curious child! Oh, it burned my heart to watch the Gaffer tongue-lash the spirit out of him, day after day. It wasn’t poor Sam’s fault that his mother died to give him life, after all. Then again, who knows how I might have reacted in the Gaffer’s place?” Bilbo shrugged philosophically. “I have never mourned a wife–I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to go about it. I suppose the poor fellow managed the best he could, with a motherless brood like that, and never a word of complaint.” Frodo watched the gray head shake, before Bilbo spoke again. “Ah well, dear Sam did well in the end, didn’t he? The seeds I planted in heart and mind bore good fruit–and for more than half of that you can blame the soil, as the Gaffer would have said.”
Then his brow puckered as he said, "Oh wait just one minute--that was a different timeline, was it not, where Sam's mother died so young? Ah yes, that's right--this particular Sam has a baby sister. Well, um...what was the matter in this family, again? The unfortunate prank with the...no, no, in this world Andy did that to Halfast. Oh, I get them all so confused! No matter."
Bilbo smiled to himself a moment before turning back to Frodo, as though surprised to find him lying there still. “And you, bless you, look at you!” Bilbo laughed with his arms spread wide. “A hero to a people badly in need of one! Flawed, to be sure, but not nearly so badly as Turin or Maedhros or so many of the great ones of legend and song.”
Sleepily Frodo asked, “Am I accursed, then, like Turin? Because of carrying Sauron around with me?”
“Well, he can try. Sauron does try, in fact, to the best of his ability to stain your days. But he is not Morgoth in his power, Frodo, merely a spent spirit grasping at straws. Do not give him any.”
“Oh, everyone says that! It is easier said than done.”
“I know, lad. I know.” A hand reached out to pat him, but this time the hand passed right through the living sleeper’s arm, perhaps because they did not meet on the brink of death. “As for the wrath of those you have angered, fear not, Frodo, dearly named and dearly watched over! I have some influence with Vaire’s family. I will speak to her. After all, she does know what it means to fall in love, to want to marry, better than I could guess on my cleverest day. Some things none may dismiss as naught, of course, but they may yet be forgiven.”
“But not to the point where I may ever visit Valinor in dreams again?”
“No, I am afraid not. Mind you, it wouldn’t be good for you if you did, young sir!” A ghostly finger wagged at him. “Even in this Vaire punishes you in your own best interest. No, they do not hate you, the Powers of this earth, though they are quite disappointed in you at the moment. But brace up, my good lad! Disappointment will not last forever.”
“You comfort me,” Frodo said with a smile, feeling himself drowsing again–if indeed he had even awakened in the first place. He snuggled back down upon his blanket upon the ground, the warm smell of horse oddly reassuring him.
“Thank you. I meant to.”
“You knew, didn’t you? What I would do. You travel through time. That is why you showed me this place where Mattie can recover.”
Bilbo hesitated, then said, “I saw what you would decide in this world. In another I console that other Frodo for Mattie’s death. In still another I celebrate with a Frodo who found a way to save Mattie without incurring the wrath of Valinor. But right here, in this world, I concern myself with you, and the choices you made here.”
“And yet you stand by me still? After what I did?”
Bilbo smiled warmly on him. “I find I cannot seem to help myself. Once I loved you for your father’s sake; now I love you for your own. But I must say one thing before I leave you to your rest. Your forgiveness hinges upon one important realization.”
“And what might that be.”
Bilbo’s smile looked so sad as he shook his head. “Alas, dear lad, I cannot tell you. You must figure it out for yourself or it cannot count.”
“What if I never do? Will Mandos condemn me for ignorance?”
“I think, Frodo, that you are not the sort to remain ignorant for long–not at least of knowledge of the soul. But do not trouble yourself just yet–it will come to you when you are ready to receive it.”
Frodo tucked an arm under his sack-pillow and asked, “Will I remember the things that you have told me?”
Bilbo smiled gently. “I wish you could. But I expect that you will only recall that you had some vague, reassuring conversation, and you might recall that you had it with me. That is the nature of dreams, Frodo, and I cannot entirely change it. No one takes anything away from you, yet your waking mind can only hold so much”
“Do not grieve; it will all work out in the end. Some reassurance will surely sink deep into your soul, and that will suffice. In the meantime, sleep in peace, dear lad. You will need much rest for what lies ahead. I shall watch by your side. I may not seem like much use in a tangible sense, as I am right now, but at least I might wake you if trouble comes your way.”
“I wish you would always,” Frodo murmured into the pillow-sack, before slipping into deeper dreams.
So he did not hear the old hobbit murmur, “I wish I could, too, lad–but to some things you must awaken yourself.”
Frodo only had a chance to rest a little while more before an elderly voice whispered in his ear, “Now. She needs you.” He awakened to a thumping sound that puzzled him at first. Then he leaped from the blanket to find Mattie thrashing in a seizure. The hollow of the earth kept her from rolling about too much, safe from sharp stones or the coals of the fire. But what Frodo saw in that dim, red light appalled him. Had he himself really looked so grotesque as that when Sauron had tortured him? Had his eyes rolled back like these eyes did, his frothing teeth gnashed just like that, did his spine arch and his limbs jerk with fingers and toes contorted just this way?
“Good,” he told himself. “The better for my humility–and the more cause I have to empathize with Mattie and help her to break free.” But then the fit passed, and he wiped the beading sweat from off her brow, and she looked beautiful to him in some strange way, small and frail but precious beyond belief.
Yet by daylight her condition had grown worse. Whatever anyone else might say about infatuation, Frodo knew himself deeply in love, for infatuation would have shriveled in disgust from what transpired next. He became inured to stripping off her tunic and carrying her out to the trough of stone to bathe her, and then laundering the tunic, and finally dispensing with the tunic altogether when even in the desert heat it would not dry before the next paroxysm. For a time her body became nothing to him but a framework of bones shaping a skinful of disease. Meanwhile Hazel made way (without ever moving when watched) to let in fresh air that cleared aside the stench. And so the hours dragged.
“This is not you, this is not me,” he murmured to her as she quivered in his arms between attacks. “Vomit out all that is not you. Let the lightning-bolts of seizures pass through you and discharge from you, and let them leave the real Matthilda behind. The White Flower is Sauron’s jealous daughter in truth. Oh, she may claim to give folks anything they want, she may claim to be good and not like her father at all, but she tortures all who turn away from her embrace, and in that she shows the ugliness behind her veils of dreams.”
“You...you sound like a bard...” Mattie gasped. So he gave her more water for the interval that she seemed capable of drinking it.
But the next time that she retched he saw her blood. How much more of this could she stand? And how dare he attempt to help her through without a healer’s aid, without medical knowledge of any kind? The time after that proved bloodier still, and left her doubled up around her injured stomach. He saw her pallor, and the whiteness of her nails; too well by now he knew what these things meant.
As she rested a little between fits, quivering where she lay, he went out and leaned against Hazel’s bark-rough side. “What am I to do? Oh what in mercy’s name am I to do? Have I gone through so much just to lose her days after I risked everything to save her?” Dully Frodo noticed that once again Hazel bled golden beads of sap, for all the good that it would do. “I have no brandy to dissolve them in,” he confessed to the entwife. The leaves rustled impatiently. Frodo felt some queasiness of his own begin, and wondered at its cause.
Draw from me. Please!
“That’s it!” he cried. “That is the answer.” The illness grew worse in him as soon as he said it, but earnestly he consented to it, accepting the justice of it. Frodo felt each muscle tighten in him, felt his sinuses fill and block, and worst of all felt the turning of his stomach on the verge of rebellion. He braced himself against the trunk to bear it all.
Suddenly he found that the resin scent steadied him. Following his own body’s instinct, he took a globule of the golden-green stuff and held it on his tongue. Sucking on it seemed to help indeed; his nausea quieted down to manageable levels. He brought more in for Mattie, and she gratefully received it.
“Better?” he asked as she held the resin in her mouth. She nodded, sweating still but not quite so green about the chin. “We’ll get through this. Together, Mattie. Your fate and mine have intertwined beyond all turning back.”