He Clasped Her Fast, Both Flesh and Bone
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 22, Part 206
A Day in a Hobbit's Life
Frodo tossed on his too-wide, lonely bed. Hot...so hot he could hardly believe it, he could hardly breathe, he had not imagined that the temperature of the world could soar so high except in the heart of a conflagration. Rain and night seemed to actually make it worse, made the heat stick to his sweat, an all-encompassing blanket that he could not shed.
At least the open wall helped. Naught but a curtain (his otherwise-useless blanket hung upon a rope) flapped between him and the outside world. That let some air inside, although the rain also came in, hissing like a host of snakes. He simply moved his furnishings away from the water’s reach, crowded against the far wall. He lay on his side and watched the lightning flashes gleam upon the swimming floor.
“Do you rest better than I do, Mattie?” he asked in the dark. “Has Pearl laid out for you a bed in the coolness of her dairy room, shielded from all weather with mounds and mounds of earth, almost like a hobbit-hole? Does it bring back memories of Bree–and can you stand the memories now? Will she help you, as she helped me with memories of my own?”
He lay there, luxuriating in his misery, scratching mosquito-bites and hearing his persecutor whine for more, certain that the night could get no worse. Then the vampire-bat flew in. Frodo spent the entire rest of the night beating off the hungry thing with his pillow, as it squeaked and chittered at him, fluttering its wings indignantly between dives for his throat, as if it couldn’t understand why its supper wouldn’t just lie still like a sensible meal. Then it would draw apart for awhile and sulk, but just when Frodo thought that he could get some rest, and would start to smooth his sheets and bend towards the horizontal, it would always hurtle back. Frodo in fact did not lay his head down again till the first light of dawn summoned the wretched creature back to its communal lair.
“It could have been worse,” Frodo told himself, flopping down exhausted. “The nasty little brute could have decided to roost in the rafters for the day. And he might have called others to join him.” He decided to ask Lanethil to make a temporary grid with which to cover the hole until the workmen finished. The elf could always melt the metal down again for other use. Then Frodo laughed and shook his head. “Foolish bat! If he would have just allowed me to fall asleep, I would probably have been at his mercy–and at least one of us would have ended the night happily.”
The hobbit yawned. “That’s three nights, now, with little sleep.” He shrugged. “I’ve handled worse.”
Oh yes. I remember how well that went.
“Good morning, Sauron.” Frodo shrugged on a tunic and went over to draw the blanket back. Though the window faced west, the sunrise behind him reached far enough to gild and color clouds within his sight. “The dawn must be magnificent!” he sighed. He turned to the high slits of windows in the opposite wall, and saw there a banded, coral light. “Perhaps I shall commission a window on the eastern side, as well, to wake me pleasantly in the morning. After all, this isn’t a hobbit hole–I could have windows all around me if I wish.”
What an excellent idea! Then the entire village can appreciate your dear wife’s charms whenever she changes her clothes. I am sure Mattie will love the suggestion. Where is she, by the way?
“You know very well where she is. With Pearl the Baker.”
So the mayor says, and perhaps she believes it. But my slaves never cease to love me best of all, Frodo, and hasten back to their chains when you least expect. This you know; this your blood remembers. What do you have to offer, really, that can compare? And since when do you trust in the words of women, ever deceitful–as you know I have learned to my great grief?
“Shut up, Sauron.” But he looked thoughtful as he did his best to stretch and straighten out the weskit that he had washed the night before. “This could use an iron,” he murmured.
These brutes have never learned the concept of smoothing cloth. And why should they? Such vanities would have taken too much time away from their chores.
“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”
That only works when you mean it.
“Okay, I mean it.”
“Fine! Be that way.” Already faint tendrils of steam began to rise as the wet boards dried in the sun. Frodo shrugged on the weskit and buckled his belt. “I rather like a land that will not fuss over wrinkles in clothing, anyway. Wrinkled cloth has its own textured beauty, I suppose, and I certainly find it more comfortable than anything with starch.” Yesterday’s boots he put up on a shelf, then paused a moment, then stuffed his old backpack in front of them.
I see you set no value upon your toes. Perhaps you might spare a few for a creature or two of mine?
“Shut up, Sauron.”
When I feel like it.
Frodo found Lanethil busy at his forge before the day’s heat had risen to its worst heights. The elf looked troubled, almost angry, pounding at the metal like besting a foe. But he smiled when Frodo asked for his grid, and promised to put it in place before nightfall. On the way back Frodo passed Mayor Aloe clutching a sack tightly.
“Good morning, Mayor. And may I ask when I might get my wife back?”
“When she really is yer wife, as far as I’m concerned,” Aloe snapped, plainly in no mood for small talk; she brushed on past him and headed for the smithy.
You see? Nobody believes in this union of yours. And why should they? They all know that Mattie is mine, soon or late, wed to me for life. It is only a matter of time before she returns–if indeed she has not already.
“If she had, you would attack me more strongly than you do.”
How do you know that I do not hold back merely to play with you–to keep you in doubt?
“Because you couldn’t resist boasting about your victory if you had one.”
Oh? Do you think me so lacking in self control? After all that I have accomplished through ages of patience? And the chuckles made Frodo’s head ache.
Frodo left direction of the fieldwork in his Uncle Nibs’s capable hands. Instead, after setting aside those coins which he would need to pay his remodelers (behind a loose stone underneath the hearth) and using the rest of Mattie’s profits to restock the kitchen, he gathered thorns to make a wall around the tower, while the workers now yanked up floorboards high above, in the top story, so as to replace them with longer boards of Ithilien that would extend out for the bay window. They also knocked some stones out of Uncle Nibs’s wall in order to build in buttresswork, though not whenever Frodo passed below.
“There!” Frodo declared, now thoroughly scratched and hot, but satisfied as he eyed his ring of protection. Up to the men he called, “Knock off at noon, and come back at dusk to labor after dark. Bring your bedding with you–I will quarter you on the first floor after a few hour’s work, and you shall taste good hobbit cookery for your trouble.” He smiled and shook his head, gazing up at the even larger hole. It looked like he and Nibs would join the men camped out downstairs that night. Maybe he should return to the smithy and cancel his order. It was, after all, on his way to the hospital.
When he reached the forge he found the elf not laboring at all, just sitting with his head in his hands. “What's wrong?” Frodo asked him.
“I cannot tell you, for I do not know, myself.” Frodo patted him on the back, but could think of no words of comfort or wisdom fit for someone who had existed before the sun or moon. So after a few hobbit platitudes, like, “I am sure it will all work out eventually,” he left.
He stopped at Elenaril’s establishment to have his every bleeding scratch cleaned up and cared for–a nuisance of a necessity, that always left him feeling rather foolish. Fishenchips tended Frodo with swift professionalism, searing the tip of his hook in fire and then wrapping it in tufts of cotton with by now a practiced hand. Frodo told him about the thorn fence between winces at the stinging ointment, and Fishenchips nodded. “That’ll please Elenaril,” he said. “Leave it up awhile, so’s we can use it when we makes the withy-dome fer Dinwen.”
“And when might that be?”
“After the Kaktush wine festival.” Fishenchips winked at the hobbit. “By now Elenaril’s figgered out that such healings should best wait till after the party, not right before.” He stripped the bloody cotton off his hook. “There y’go, little buddy–good as new!” A hearty smack on the back with the flesh hand propelled Frodo out the door.
By now Frodo wanted lunch, and dropped in on the bakery. Pearl traded pleasantries when she fetched him his bread and cheese, and threw in a cream puff for good measure, but he caught no glimpse of Mattie. He found a shady spot by the dock and ate, watching the water, thoughts chasing themselves back and forth across his mind, like flickers across the surface of the Nurnen Sea.
She never did confirm that Mattie stayed with her, you notice.
“I never asked.”
Foolish hobbit. Not that it would do any good. Women lie to cover for each other, even when they disagree with what their sister does. We cannot penetrate their mysteries; they save their loyalty for themselves. Frodo felt the Dark Lord’s sigh waft through him, cold as a sudden gust of winter in July, and he shivered despite himself. Have you not noticed that I never allowed a female high in my counsel? Not since one mistake.
“A pity you did not give up on other matters as easily,” Frodo said, getting up and brushing off his crumbs, to the delight of nearby birds.
You would do well to follow the example of Belzagar. It would not take a dragon’s voice to seduce Fishenchips, when...
“Shut up, Sauron!” A profound inner silence answered. Frodo blinked. More than repugnance at the suggestion had freed him, he realized; Sauron could have worked with repugnance. It was the very idea of anyone exploiting Fishenchips further, in any way at all, that jolted Frodo clear of Sauron’s grip. “You can never understand love, Sauron, not the real thing.”
How can you say that, when you just dug up part of the great love of my life?
Frodo slapped his forehead. “Why are you back?”
You invited me back, the minute you addressed me.
Grumbling, Frodo got up and left the dock.
Oh, do not be like that, please. We have had our quarrels, surely, but when it comes right down to it you do enjoy my company.
“Quarrels?” Frodo exclaimed, “You call your threats to my life, my reason and my soul mere quarrels? And no, I do not enjoy your company in the least! Why couldn’t you go devour yourself like Ungoliant?”
Now you hurt my feelings–shame on you! After all the affection I have wasted on your ingratitude. Do you have any idea how many of those who have served me would have killed to attain the same privileges that I have granted you for free?
“The sort who would have voluntarily served you needed no excuse to kill. Now if you will excuse me, I had better check on Nibs.”
No, I am afraid that you are quite inexcusable. You have hurt me deeply, Frodo–which I believe you enjoyed doing. You are so much like me! Is that why I cannot bear to leave you, after all of your insults and abuse?
“I seriously doubt that I have hurt you in the least.”
I am waiting for my apology, Frodo.
“Enough! I am going to see Nibs.”
I will go along, too, if you do not mind. Or even if you do mind, hee hee! Of course you failed to hurt me! I would never give that much power to a squirmy little thing like you.
“Fine!” Frodo grumbled, and tried not to think anything that Sauron might use against him.
But he never made it to the fields. He saw something man-tall lurching towards town from the south, with a grotesquely huge upper body–some mutant goblin, perhaps, bred for muscled mischief. But then the creature made it past the mirage-distortions of the overheated road, and Frodo saw a weary man (a rather slender one at that) stumbling with saddlebags upon his shoulders. Soon Frodo’s sharp eyes discerned the long black hair and the tall, graceful form of Eldarion the Prince, even bent as he was.
Frodo ran. “Gwaithendil!” he cried, and the cry went through the village, for more folk than he missed the strange young man’s return, remembering him like a breath from some distant land of gardens that had wafted through their lives. “Gwaithendil returns!” the call went forth. “Alive!” Ahead of all the others ran a woman of gold and silver hair, soon passing Frodo on the road, her rider’s boots not slowing her at all. She outstripped every single one of them, her feet remembering a vigor that her mind forgot. And when she reached him she embraced him like a mother clasps a son, and he dropped the saddlebags of mail and returned the hug.
Yet when she let go a troubled look clouded her eyes. “Gwaithendil?” she asked, tucking back her wayward hair. “Did you not go by some other name?”
He put a finger to his lips and tried to smile mysteriously, though the tears welled in his eyes. “Of that we must not speak. But you will soon know more.”
Frodo caught this from a distance no one mortal should have heard, though others with their longer legs now passed him by. He heard the woman ask, “And I...am I Dinwen?”
“You were more, once upon a time–and you shall be yet again. Fear not, dear...Aunt.” For some of the crowd now approached the human hearing range.
“What happened?” folks called out. “Are ya all right?” “What made ye so late? The ship has sailed.” “What happened t'yer horse?” “Here, help us carry the bags–can’t ye see he’s hauled 'em long enough?” “Have ya eaten?” “D'ye need water?” “We has food to share these days.” “Leave him be! Let him rest!” “D'ye have news o' me cousin Cliff?” “Do I have a letter in there?” “What happened to yer arm?”
Eldarion raised his hands and a tired laugh escaped him. “All in good time, fine folk of Seaside! Yes, I am all right, beyond some blisters on my feet and a few more on my arm. A viper slew my horse, yet only a drop or two of the venom reached me, and I have medicined it well enough. Yes, I could use a bite to eat and sweet, fresh water, and after that some rest, if you could be so kind. Mica, your cousin Cliff has given birth to twin girls, and all three of them are doing fine. She has named them Spire and Bluff. As for you, Seahawk, you have three letters–and you shall read them soon. And thank you, all of you who carry the bags for me, and who offer me such gracious hospitality.”
At last Frodo made it up among the others. “Welcome back, Gwaithendil,” he said between hard breaths.
“Indeed, a man could not feel more welcome, except at his own hearth. Lead me to your home, good hobbit.”
“Yours for awhile, too, since you missed the ship.”
“I would have remained here anyway, on Dinwen’s account.”
Well-wishers already waited by the door with more food than three hungry men could eat. Gwaithendil thanked them all while Frodo darted in to draw a cool bath for the prince and fetch him a pitcherful of water. When Gwaithendil drank his fill and sank into the bath with an extravagant sigh, Frodo saw the sword-scars on him, surprising in so young a man.
“Ahhhh, Frodo, you revive me like one of your drought-parched crops! I hope you will not mind if I go directly to bed after I eat–with none to guard my back, I have not slept for the past three days.”
“I could almost say the same, myself. But you go right ahead. Will it bother you to share a room with Fishenchips?”
“Why should it bother me?”
“Well, he is...that is to say he might be...like...like dwarves are probably not.”
Eldarion laughed. “Is that all? I am sure that the good healer knows how to accept a polite ‘no’, should he even bother to offer me what I do not want. In any case, I doubt that quartering with him would differ so much from traveling with Eowyn, who never offered me anything inappropriate, either.” With a groan and a splash Eldarion pushed himself up out of the tub and dried himself off. “But I expect that I shall soon sleep so soundly that I would not know it if he offered me the sun, the moon, and all the stars.” Then he saw the water on the floor and sighed. “Where do you keep your mop, Frodo?”
“No, no, do not bother with that! You go take care of food and rest. I probably have had at least five hours more sleep than you, all told.”
As Frodo mopped the floor, and planned in his head for all of the bedding arrangements that he would have to set up downstairs before nightfall, he heard, beneath his feet, Spring squeal with delight at all of the food in the kitchen-part of the great-room down below, then the clatter of pots and pans as the child set to cooking dinner. Relief and gratitude washed through him; he could use the company. He finished mopping up and hastened down before the child burned anything or mixed powdered garlkh in the sugar by mistake. By the time he got a good wry-flour roux going, the first laborers arrived, and Bergil and Elenaril with Fishenchips, and his Uncle Nibs with their scythe upon his shoulder.
He yawned. “Someone among so many is bound to snore, I suppose. Yet I think I shall sleep straight through it anyway.”
You have to admit that at least I have never snored, in all the time of our association. I make a good bedfellow, do I not?
“Good night, Sauron," Frodo mumbled around a mouthful of brandy-flavored cookie. "Go find some poor poppy-fiend to curl up with. You must need a refill of someone else’s will by now–for you cannot have more of mine.” And for the second time Frodo felt a blessed silence in his head.