For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 42, Part 183
June 19-20, 1452
By the time Frodo reached the cave the shadows had grown long, streaking the tawny slopes like Kitty’s pelt. He heaved the deer’s leg onto an outcropping of rock and poked his head into the cave. Mattie lay sleeping in her hollow (which he had lined with the blanket, now that she could feel it) utterly spent. He smiled, leaning on the wall of the cave entrance. “She has turned the corner, then,” he thought. “Good for her.” He longed to join her, stretched out upon the ground, but he had work to do.
He sat for a moment on a lower stone to catch his breath, then set to gathering branches, which he piled by the side of a boulder that had rough splits in the rock resembling an uneven stair. “It’s all right, Hazel,” he panted. “Deadwood. Plenty around. Dead tree fallen over just around that bend.” Kindling and tinder he found aplenty, in the litter underneath the thornbushes. In the midst of all he shoved one great chunk of log that he couldn’t have cut from the fallen tree if he hadn’t wielded an elvish blade, and if the ubiquitous desert termites hadn’t done half the work for him.
By now the sunset had begun; to him it looked like claws had gashed the sky in streaks of red, but then he thought of wild kittens eating fresh-slain flesh, and knew that not everything harsh or shocking belonged to Morgoth or his minions. In the dying light he piled stones around and around the mass that he had gathered, in a half-circle against the boulder that supported it, leaving gaps here and there as much for sloppiness as for air, and a largish opening in front where two especially big rocks leaned against each other--he could shove more wood in there at need. The labor seemed at times unendurable after such a run as he had made, but he flogged himself on. “I have to. I have responsibilities. She needs this meat.” Stone piled upon stone, though muscles throbbed with every lift. “She needs me, now. She will always need me, as I need her.”
The sun had disappeared behind the lower hills by the time Frodo reached the height of his shoulders, yet a blue-violet light lingered for a little while. Wearily Frodo put his flint and steel to work, and then left the stone structure for awhile, the fire crackling behind him. He sat and stripped the skin off of the leg like pulling off a sticky sleeve, then cut the meat into strips that he salted down. He took his time, relishing the shift to lighter labor. “Wouldn’t Papa be proud of me, that I grabbed the saddle-bags with the salt no matter what?”
When the fire sank to coals, he piled armfuls of sage on top of them, still green and full of juice. Then, eyes stinging from the smoke, he laid a branch atop the stones and hung the strips of meat on that. Shaking now on the brink of exhaustion indeed, he built the stones up a little higher, but he could still reach inside at need by the aid of the nearby boulder. His hands trembled when he split the buckskin sleeve and spread it over the top, held in place by rocks. Then he patted the boulder upon which he lay to finish this final labor. “Thank you, my silent friend, for cutting my work in half for me. Without you I doubt I could have done it.”
Smoke trickled from the many little holes as he climbed down, sharp and aromatic, yet still more smoke and smoulder remained within. The gaps between the rocks glowed like dozens of red eyes, almost a cartoon of Frodo’s fears about being outdoors in the dark of the Ephel Duath (yet Hazel watched over him, did she not?) the light pulsing in little waves. Then the meat-smell came to him, friendly and reassuring, and his stomach growled, though he knew he had to get some rest before he ate a mouthful. Frodo regarded his smokehouse for a moment with a sense of pride, before he turned away, leaving his kill there, trusting that wild animals do not willingly approach a flame. With aching limbs and back, sighing with relief, he ducked into the cave, to bathe and then to sleep so deeply that even the barest fragments of dreams eluded him.
In the morning he woke, stiff and famished. The stones felt hot to the touch by now, but bearable, and the coals of the log glowed through the cracks in the dim twilight. He climbed up onto the boulder and peeled back the buckskin, coughed in the puff of smoke, and drew out a couple strips of meat. After climbing down and pushing in another chunk of fallen tree, draped in more fresh sage, he chewed on one strip (savory!) and carried in the other, while he left the rest to cure more deeply.
Mattie opened bleary eyes and watched him coming in. Without a word he passed the meat to her, and she ate hungrily (another good sign) before falling back asleep. For the longest time he just sat there, staring at her, licking the salt from his fingertips.
He spent the day in welcome peace, puttering around, writing on his letter, checking on his meat. For a good deal of the time he napped in the shade of the cave, feeling that he deserved it, knowing that he needed it. Occasionally Mattie would awaken and eat a little more, and then sink down again into the first natural rest that she had experienced in who knew how many years. Sometimes they slept at the same time, outflung fingers brushing each other.
In his letter he wrote, “Can you believe it, Papa? This is the first time that I can remember since I don’t know how long, that I have (for the moment at least) run completely out of demands upon my wits and strength! It feels delicious, like being a small child again, with adults to fuss over the details of living, nothing serious to worry about, nothing hanging on my decisions, nothing clamoring to be done except to poke a little more wood into the smokehouse now and then. It makes me nostalgic for my youth.”
He sighed, laid down the brush for a moment, gazing back into the cave where he could just see the top of Mattie’s curly head, then dipped the brush in water once again. “But adulthood has its pleasures, too, and its rewards for all the labor done. I will not turn my back on my responsibilities, never fear! It is just that for right now, this hour, I feel like I can completely relax--really relax, not fake it with brandy, nor snatch a little rest while worriting about tomorrow. I have no idea of what tomorrow holds, and not much care. Only Mattie and Hazel know where to find me, and both of them sleep. I understand now why Bilbo Baggins just wanted to take off, poof, right out of everybody’s midst.”
And with that he chuckled in sheer contentment, cleaned his brush and laid back on the stony shelf before the entrance to the cave, to stare up at clouds that sailed across the sky. When was the last time he simply stared at clouds without trying to gauge the weather?
Late in the day Mattie actually managed to eat a green onion, as Frodo finished off the other. She laughed about their ruined breath, so he gave her fennel seeds from his cooking kit to chew, and took some for himself as well. Thus it happened that she tested her fennel-scented breath by kissing him before she fell asleep again. He felt the kiss clear down to his toes, holding her in his arms while her eyes fluttered shut, before he laid her down upon the ground. The light through the cave showed new color in her cheeks; he had never seen her so beautiful. He could hardly tear himself away to tend the coals.
As daylight once again gave in to night, he knelt beside her, fascinated. He felt alive now, rested, bathed and fed--indeed, fed by his own courage, which seasoned his meat more spicily than salt or sage combined. Nothing could seem quite so bad, whatever he might face, with his love beside him. Mattie stirred a little, smiling in her sleep. How sweet that smile, clean of poppy-lies, just smiling for itself, for the relief of long pain passing. Almost without thinking Frodo ran his fingers through her curls.
Her eyes opened and looked up at him. How marvelous those eyes, unswollen and intent, with pupils full and dark! Without a word she took his hand and pressed it to her lips. He did the same with her small fingers, his own gaze drowning into hers. The bond between them blazed so brightly that even though darkness now filled the cave, he seemed to see her as though illuminated by the most brilliant firelight. In wonder he stammered, “Mattie, I...Mattie, I have my elvish vision back! How can that be? How, when I do not deserve anything of the kind?”
She smiled up at him. Low and sweet her voice sounded to him, saying, “I brought it back with me. I returned from where you left it, dear--returned for good. I could do that, Frodo. We are one, now.”
He could barely whisper. “We are one. Yes. Already!” She sat up and embraced him where he knelt, and he felt bliss well up in him and consume him like the softest flames in the world. “Already!” Her kisses shot the sweetest lighting through him again and again until everything else fell away.
For an exquisite, aching eternity, they had no words. Their hands spoke. Their lips spoke, without a breath of sound. Their skin did not just speak but sang, in joyous tremolo to the rhythm of their speeding hearts. Frodo could not recall the moment when they fell back down upon the earth together, only that when he opened his eyes they lay in each other’s arms. He closed his eyes, tightly, wanting only the song of touch, its painfully magnificent crescendo. After so much suffering it seemed his right, his due, no matter what his crimes.
But before they crossed a point of no return, he heard his Mattie murmur, “I am not numb anymore, Frodo. I feel--I feel what I have never felt before. I feel everything!”
Frodo stared at her, a building fire quivering inside him. “We must have vows,” he panted. “We must have witnesses.” Of a sudden he leaped to his feet, his grip hard on hers, drawing her to her feet. “Come! Come outside. One witness at least we shall have. We can say our vows to one of the Ancient Mothers–she who helped to teach all peoples the domestic mysteries of plow and furrow!”
Mattie’s eyes widened and she drew back. “Frodo? What are you talking about?”
“Come and see! Come, quickly now. Here. Hazel, tell her. Tell Mattie who you are.”
Frodo drew Mattie out of the cave, beneath a canopy of stars brighter than anything seen in softer lands. “Tell her, Hazel,” Frodo cried. “Tell my intended what you truly are.”
At first nothing happened. A strong wind built, whipping their tunics around them, causing the stars to twinkle in and out of view amid the tossing hazel-wands. Frodo drew Mattie close to his side, waiting though it seemed an agony to let each minute pass in stillness. They watched thunderheads in the distance, tumbling their way, blotting out the stars. The hobbits’ curls went wild in the weather, blowing into their faces and puffing out again. Then the seeming tree before them twisted and groaned. At first it appeared nothing more than the gale creating an illusion of animation, but then they heard, high up amid the boughs, a deep and mournful voice intoning, “Ennnnntwiiiiiife.”
Frodo grinned in wonder and delight, face flushed, to hear her voice at last. Mattie stared, with eyes and mouth both round, before she laughed and cried, “Yes! Oh yes! The perfect witness! I will say my vows with you, Frodo Gardner, before this elder.” But then trouble crossed her brow. “Yet you are not of age, and I myself have barely passed my thirty-third birthday.”
“Oh? When was your birthday, my love?”
“June 6. I decided to give up the poppy gum as my coming-of-age present.”
“Indeed?” Tenderly he nuzzled her neck. “You impress me more than ever!”
“But you miss the point. We have no way to receive your parents’ permission. How can we legally marry?”
Frodo’s laugh rang across the rocky slope and echoed in the cave beyond them; it seemed as though the wind whirled his laughter all around them. “My parents should have thought of that before they sent me out on a grown hobbit’s mission! Oh Mattie, if I am not accounted an adult by now, after all that I have done, what would it take?” He clasped her to him and kissed her fiercely. Breathlessly he broke away to say, “Forget the mincing legalities of that stilted land so far away! Let them try to separate us who dare. You and I both know that we have already joined in heart and soul--even Vaire herself knows how our threads have intertwined. Why shouldn’t the flesh follow what our souls exclaim as truth?”
Mattie pressed against his chest, caressing him, yet wistfully she said, “No wedding gown nor veil, no bans nor biddings, no feast, no well-wishers to greet--I had hoped someday for more.”
“And where is the mother who could have sewn your wedding-gown? Where is the father who could have placed your hand in mine? Your parents have already robbed you of a proper hobbit wedding. But I offer you something better still--marriage in the fashion of the Wild Elves, who know in their blood when two become one forever, and need no ceremony but the witnessing of tree and rock and bird.”
She drew back from him, but his arms held her from flight entire. “You offer me the courtship of the Dark Elf Eol! Yes, I know the old tales--I have sung enough of them.”
“Then are you half unwilling, as Aredhel once claimed?” He let go of her, his eyes dark with sorrow and desire.
“Oh Frodo, NO!” She hugged him in a clasp that nearly knocked him off his feet. “Oh no, I want you so badly, I have never wanted anyone so badly in my life! All these feelings--I never knew that I could feel so much, enough to drive me mad--take me for your wife, Frodo! Please!”
And so it came that in the midst of that wilderness, sere and bare of comforts, far from the eyes of hobbit or of man, Frodo stood before an entwife with his arms around Mattie, Mattie’s arms around him, and he declared, “Witness, O Ancient One, our wedding vows. I do swear, Matthilda, once called Greenbanks, once called Heathertoes, to love you, honor you, cherish you, for all the days of our lives,. Your home shall be my home, your welfare shall be as my own, your sorrows my sorrows and your happiness my joy.”
And throatily she gave him her reply. “I do swear, Frodo Gardner, once called Gamgee, to love you, honor you, obey you, for all the days of our lives. Your home shall be my home, your welfare shall be as my own, your name shall be my name and our destinies shall knit together.”
Together they chanted, “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part!”
Long and hard they kissed after that, more passionately than any Shire wedding would have countenanced before the public, but the entwife only rustled, understanding all too well. Soon they hastened into the cave’s deep shelter, and Hazel held their linen tunics for them, fluttering in the wind, while she, who had witnessed many a marriage in her day, whispered a grieving song in the sussuration of her branches.