He Clasped Her Fast, Both Flesh and Bone
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 1, Part 185
June 21, 1452
Frodo awoke to a fresh-washed morning, cooler for the passage of the storm throughout the night, and Mattie lay within his arms. Ever after he would remember his wedding-night, the flashes of lightning and the thunder, as though he had become so interwoven with the land that it mirrored back his passions. Now the air smelled sweet that wafted to the cave, in that herbal fashion special to the desert after rain. Utter contentment suffused with awe held him in place, not wanting to move, wishing that time could stop right here and leave them both alone.
“But that is hardly likely,” Frodo sighed, “When Vaire has taken so hard against me.”
Mattie stirred beside him and sat up, rubbing her beautiful eyes. “I’m hungry,” she said.
“Glad to hear it!” Frodo cried. “And we shall remedy that as soon as we dr...now where did our clothing get to, anyway?” Then suddenly he remembered the two of them flinging their tunics off into the air like wedding bouquets, and he blushed furiously, while Mattie giggled beside him.
“Outside,” she said. “Be a dear and fetch them for us while I bathe.”
He went out and it felt splendid, in a daring kind of way, to stand perfectly naked before the dawn on a desert mountainside, facing the sweep of wilderness beyond, with none to remark upon his nudity but the rabbits and the birds. Vultures dotted the air far below, their grand wingspans small with distance, their flight curiously graceful for such ungainly creatures. A lizard regarded Frodo from a rock, doing little push-ups to flash his blue belly, in case any lizard-ladies might chance to see; he darted away when Frodo laughed at his antics. The hobbit felt magnificent, towering above all of lizard-kind. Oh but the world looked so huge! And he belonged right here, a part of the vastness, with the antiquity of nature thrumming in his veins, the freshness of the youngest buds in his every breath, and the warm wind fluttering all across his skin and ruffling through his hair.
But then he found the tunics in the mud and realized that even after one married, life still imposed its mundane moments, with all of their attendant inconveniences. Frodo thought about changing into the clothes that they carried in the pack, but then he realized that he’d put those away dirty, too. “That is how we male-folk think,” he told himself, “without the female-folk to remind us about laundry and such things.” He grinned, confident that from this day forth he would not likely discover himself run out of fresh shirts and handkerchiefs again.
So after he and Mattie had eaten smoky strips of meat, while sitting skin by skin together on their blanket, the two of them set to washing tunics and blanket and kerchiefs and all in the darkness of the underground stream, slapping fabric against the rock side by side with a pleasing rhythmic sound, and taking the clothing out into the sunlight periodically to check how well it had all cleaned up. And because they found it shady and pleasant in the water’s mist, and because they had newly wed, after they spread the soggy fabric out upon the rocks, Hazel did not see them again until well after the clothes had dried. Within the cave’s cool dimness, in a sleepy bliss, Frodo reflected on how even the dreariest sort of drudgery improved beyond measure with a helpmate by one’s side.
When they did come out, they sat in Hazel’s shade, nestled against her roots, chewing more of the venison for lunch. “Go ahead, have another--let us finish it all!” Frodo urged his bride. “I can preserve it for a little while, but we cannot linger here to smoke it properly for the journey ahead. We shall find other things to eat when we get beyond this rocky territory.”
She laughed, raising a twist of meat, saying, “Not the usual nuptial feast, my love, but sweeter to me than delicacies from Rivendell!”
“Why should we two do anything the usual way? Who needs flagons of Honeymoon Mead when your gaze intoxicates me?”
But then Mattie frowned, gazing off into the distance. In a quiet voice she asked, “What would your parents have said if we had married in the Shire?”
Frodo didn’t answer immediately, but then when he thought about it he burst out laughing. “My father would have had me arrested!” Then the laughter drained from him, as he weighed the question more thoroughly. “After leaving me to stew in lock-up for awhile, Papa would have deported you to Staddle, and packed me off to live with my Sister Elanor, as far from Breeland as he could manage.” Frodo clasped her hand. “But I’d find a way back, Mattie, if I had to go the long way around the Shire to do it. Ha! What is a ‘long way’ to me, anymore?”
In a small voice she said, “We aren’t really married, are we?”
“Of course we are!” But his heart began to wonder--or rather, he allowed himself to feel the doubt that passion had kept hid before.
“Perhaps you are right. Oh Frodo, I don’t know what I feel from moment to moment!” Her hand rose up and mimed her words in the air: “My emotions flutter around me like apple-petals blowing on the wind, sometimes whirled up higher than the trees, but soon tumbled down again to earth, trampled on and bruised.” She lowered her fist to the ground beside her.
He nibbled another strip of meat, to give himself some time to think. After a moment he said, “I expect too much of you, Mattie, too soon. Eowyn told me about the melancholy that lingers after poppy fiends give up their gum. You are not used to ordinary life; it seems cold to you, like jumping into a pond on a hot summer’s day.” He made himself smile and give her a gentle nudge. “We need to give you a little time, my love, to adjust until the swim becomes refreshing.”
“I have many reasons to be sad, Frodo, beside the loss of poppy gum.” And she looked towards Stumblehoof’s cairn.
More softly he replied, “We all do, love. You see but the night that reveals to us the stars by contrast, treasured beyond words.” Yet he looked on her face and came to a decision. “We won’t go to Riverborn, Mattie. Not just yet.”
“That bath of healing mud that you first led me to when I had most need of it.”
That animated her, if only to roll her eyes. “Oh that! I have gone to it every time I passed, and it never worked for me.”
“Oh yes it did--it kept your spirit enough alive that you finally found the strength to break free.” He clasped both of her hands in his. “Mattie, what will it do with you now that your blood runs clean of poison?”
“Am I your wife?”
He kissed her. “Yes. I will not suffer anyone to say otherwise. Ever.” When he released her hands they embraced him of their own volition. “If my father wants to arrest us, he must come all the way to Mordor to try. But no law here would stand against us.”
“Only because Mordor has no marriage laws to begin with.” She turned away again, her gaze lost on the expanse beyond their hollow in the hillside.
“We know what we know in our hearts. Never doubt it.”
She paused a long while, glancing down at an uneaten strip of jerky in her hands, before she asked, “Frodo, what if I made a mistake?”
Frodo choked on a mouthful. “What? What do you mean, a mistake? You seemed eager enough yesterday.”
“But that’s just it, isn’t it? I had never felt...well, you know. Frodo, try to understand: I started smoking the gum as a child. Then, out of nowhere, all of these, these adult feelings, all at once--I had no practice in resisting them.” Her narrowed eyes suddenly accused him. “How dare you marry me before I could possibly understand what had happened to me!”
He gaped at her, absolutely stunned. “But Mattie...do you mean you never loved me?”
“No, no, no, that’s not it at all!” Her tiny fist pounded on his arm. “Of course I love you! It’s just...oh, I just feel so confused! Maybe we should have waited.”
“Maybe,” he said, putting his arm around her. “But we didn’t. And I felt just as overwhelmed as you. Your thoughts, your desires...how could I tell them from my own? Like it or not, I think we made our choices already, on the day I tore the Web of Life. I think that everything afterwards has just been fate--a fate we wove ourselves, and now the threads draw tight.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Is it such a bad fate?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I do feel like Aredhel.” Frodo’s heart sank at the words, and he finished the meal in silence.
Yet while they packed up for the journey ahead his heart lifted up once more; it couldn’t help itself. He had a wife! Nothing could ever be the same again. Soon they made their way forth, hand in hand. Frodo had rigged up the saddlebags into a kind of pack, binding it with Bleys’ now-useless reins and bridle, and in no time it grew hot and sweaty on his back, but he didn’t care, he felt that he could bear anything. Mattie bore part of the burden, too, bundled up in the blanket, and that seemed wonderful to him.
Clouds in great mounds of dazzling white sailed across the fathomless blue of the desert sky, tempering the heat, while birds of more kinds than Frodo could name sang out their gratitude for last night’s rain, for miles and miles all up and down the precipitous slopes around them and in the sky above, as far as the ear could hear. Even the gravel that massaged the soles of his feet felt friendly today, the touch of a rough old friend.
One thing only troubled him, and that but slightly--that as soon as they left the cave’s protection Mattie had once more laced on those little boots of hers. He reminded himself to take things a step at a time; she surely hadn’t yet readied herself to put bare feet to so harsh a soil as Mordor could have, however stimulating he now found it himself. Even so, he felt a wistful desire for the brush of luxuriously furry feet, of a sort which cannot coexist with boots. He shrugged. He had married more than just her feet. If she never went unshod again he would accept her as herself.
No, more than that troubled him about Mattie. Her face smiled no more, throughout their hike, no matter what beauty unfolded all around them. He almost felt relief when she sighed, because it gave him something he could comment on. “What is it, beloved?”
“The water still chills me to the bone. I had forgotten how barren the Ephel Duath appears to eyes unhazed. Oh, I don’t know! Last night seemed good...”
“Marvelous. And yet it hurt, too, and the pleasure passed so swiftly that I could hardly grasp it.”
“Hurt?” he cried, “What did I do to you?”
She patted him on the arm. “‘Tis normal, so I hear, on the first time for a lady.” She shook her head. “We pay many a price for what comes to males so easily.” Then she shrugged and said, “Today was nicer.”
“I know so little of these things.”
“Which might just be why we should not have married yet so young.”
In silence, then, Frodo steered their steps towards the little oasis that he had found the day before. What could he say? What would Papa have said? That question, always a help to him before, did him little good when he went against his father’s will. But what if, in one of those mysterious other worlds that Bilbo seemed to dream of between life and death, Papa had run off from the Gaffer to marry before he’d come of age? And what if he had stayed away in places that allowed such bonds? It gave Frodo a headache, trying to imagine something so unlike his father, but he finally managed it.
“Papa’s three rules for when you do bad,” Frodo thought to himself. “He would send letters of apology home for having eloped. Then the Gaffer would have called on the authorities to annul the marriage and Papa would docilely go home, for step two, and for step three he would not court or otherwise risk falling in love again, until he reached a proper age.”
That sounded dismal beyond belief to Frodo. Would Papa really have done these things? After going through so much trouble? “Maybe he’d work his hardest to make the best of the marriage anyway. Maybe he’d earn the right to it, so that by the time he did come of age nobody would think to separate him from his wife.” That would take care of step two, setting things right. And step three would not then matter, because he would stand no risk of eloping ever again. “I shall apologize in my letter,” Frodo resolved, “For eloping, though not for marrying. I will make the marriage work. But I have a lot to learn if I am going to manage that!”
At the spring, where they refilled their water skins in the rivulets and pools below the willow-tree, Frodo laughed of a sudden. “Aha--here we find a sign that heaven has not wholly abandoned us! For I ought to know the hoofmarks of a desert ass by now.” His laughter rang out, bouncing about the boulders.
And a bray responded! Joyful yet tentative, as if not quite trusting in good things anymore, the donkey called to them–a raw-keyed bray of happiness that broke upon a note of tears.
“Over here, Bleys! Oh, I have so longed to see you--do honeymoons turn everything to good fortune? Mattie, how can you doubt our choices now?” A long-eared, black and white head popped out from behind a rock. The donkey looked scared and disheveled, and the evening’s rain had left his fur scruffy and spattered with mud, but when he saw Frodo he galloped down the hillside and nearly knocked the hobbit off his feet nuzzling him. “There there, dear Bleys! There there. You aren’t alone any longer--I will take good care of you. Forgive my foolishness in not building a thorn stable to keep you safe--I will never make the same mistake again.”
Nothing would serve, then, but that Frodo should curry Bleys on the spot, and afterwards spread Stumblehoof’s blanket on his back and the saddlebags as well, and both of them ride him, just to show the donkey that he had a secure place in their lives. Frodo leaned forward many a time to pat the furry neck and to speak soothing words. Now the rhythm of hoofbeats, and the rocking of the ride, turned everything into music–music of the warm morning breeze across his face, music of the rocky skyline, music of the greening thorns.
Then Mattie shocked Frodo by exclaiming, “Would that Vaire had taken Bleys as well!”
“Because then you needn’t fear whatever other death will come your way.”
“Thank you for reminding me! But Mattie, listen to this one thing, if you never listen more--perhaps the most important thing that you can learn about life in the world beyond the poppy. People die. Bad things happen. Curse or no curse, it’s all going to happen. But that doesn’t matter in the long run, because life has so much more than grief to offer!”
“Tell it to Turin Turambar.”
“Yes, I wish somebody would have! We do not repeat his tales just because he ended his days in woe. He accomplished much good in his life, if he had only seen it straight, far more than anyone with less tragedy to drive him.” He patted the arm around his waist. “Anyway, hobbits have more sense than men, I’d like to think. We have far more practical things–and more delightful things as well–to spend our time considering than the extent of all our curses.”
“I hope you’re right,” she sighed.
“You will know I’m right in a day or two.”
He hoped that he would know it for sure, himself.