Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 4, Part 214
Matthilda The Nimble
July 18, 1452
Farming went on, hard yet simple chores that seemed to care nothing about blood guilt or the doom of kings. But the work that had seemed so rewarding to Frodo the day before now weighed on him as a penance; he would look up from his labors and not see the gentle, green hills of the Shire, but rather Mordor’s jagged peaks. They surrounded him like teeth about to close in on him. Then he’d hear the mournful moan of the wind, or perhaps a hawk might fly overhead, keening so piercingly that Frodo knew that he did not bear his feelings alone, that all of Mordor understood what it meant to toil under stain and guilt, exiled from the joys of wholesome lands, and to try and go on living anyway.
As Eowyn promised, Nibs worked at Frodo’s side as spry as ever, though he said far less than his wont, paying no heed to the gossip of the laborers around him that usually engaged his attention. (For someone who loved to deplore a good scandal, Mordor never lacked for entertainment.) Frodo sometimes caught himself watching his uncle, fearfully, for some sign of anger or disgust, but he found nothing save for sorrow in that bent back, those downcast eyes.
The weather felt abominable; it never grew so hot in the Shire. “Arien hates us today,” Frodo murmured as he picked pods off of the wilting peas.
Bergil halfway smiled and said, “I doubt that Arien even thinks of who might burn in her radiance, up there in her sky-ship full of flames.” He handed the waterskin over to Frodo. “She just glories in what she is.” Sweat dripped under the man’s broad-brimmed hat and glistened in his curls.
A vain one, Arien–at least until Melkor humbled her. Let me tell you...
“I don’t want to hear it, Sauron,” Frodo snapped, and Bergil raised a brow as he took the water back.
But it makes a funny story, and you claim that I have no sense of humor!
“No. It is not funny, and I don’t want to hear any more. Be quiet.” Since coming to Mordor Frodo had heard the dark rumors of what Melkor–Morgoth–had done to the Sun, though happier lands did not repeat such things. He did not know if the rumors had any truth to them, or whether Sauron had merely devised some lies with which to dishearten his slaves, should they ever take hope at the rising dawn. Whatever the case, Frodo really did not want the particulars.
“Take heart,” Frodo told his men. “I shall call a halt as soon as I reach the end of the row.” Papery pods rattled in his fingers as he filled his basket.
“Take heart I will,” said Bergil, “for if I know your wife, she has brought home something tasty from this morning’s wedding and left it in the kitchen for us. Will she be home, do you think?”
“No, she has some shopping she wants to do before the second wedding in about...” he gauged the sun’s position, “...an hour from now. She will probably go straight from the one to the other. Don’t expect any cake until this evening”
“Cake!” A nearby Nurning exclaimed. “‘Tis not so long ago that me women tried to bake up sawdust inter bread, an’ only last Yule that the middle-child died cryin’ fer a crust we couldn’t find fer him though we begged and wept i’ the streets. And now we speak of cake, so much cake as t’have leftovers what go stale. We eat three meals ever lovin’ day, an’ even snacks if we fancy. The last time the ship came in, me eldest din’t even bother goin’ to th’harbor, said he had better things to do that day.” He turned a snaggle-toothed grin to Frodo. “I owe ye, Master Rat. Me an’ mine owe ye moren’ anyone could reckon. Anything ye ask, laddie, and I’m there fer ye. ‘Twas a blessed day when ye turned those hairy little feet o’ yourn’ onto the road across the Ephel Duath.”
“Thank you,” Frodo said with watering eyes, shrugging off the slur this once. “Thank you! I need such words more than ever right now.”
Suddenly they heard a braying in the distance, growing louder and louder. Frodo dropped his basket. “That’s Bleys!” he cried. He ran to the road, where he saw his donkey running upslope, still braying in terror, oblivious to the empty cart still attached to him and jolting madly behind, with only Trickster for a rider, hanging on in screeching terror. “Bergil, I loaned him to Mattie--where is Mattie?”
“Where had she headed?” Bergil cried, grabbing the panicked animal’s harness and bringing him to a halt.
“To the kilns–she had just bought a ceramic bath-tub with her bardic earnings and went to pick it up.” Quickly Frodo and Bergil unhitched Bleys. Frodo squirted water into the donkey’s mouth and then leaped onto his back, the monkey springing into Frodo’s lap. “Come on, Bleys, show me Mattie.” He had no reins, but the donkey seemed to understand, turning around and carrying Frodo down the road again, Bergil running behind and Nibs further behind than that–indeed, Bleys seemed to have returned for just this purpose. Frodo heard Bergil whistle for reinforcements, but he did not turn around to see who would respond. The little beast soon galloped down the streets of Seaside, racing for the pottery district, hooves clattering on the pavement. Suddenly he swerved down an alley, as the monkey screeched again, pointing.
”Mattie!” Frodo shouted. He saw her far down at the alley’s other end, attacked! But again and again, as he sped towards her, he saw her wriggle from the grasp of her assailants, or dodge their thrown knives with astonishing agility, always leaping here, there, again and again, just a little bit too fast for them. Frodo watched as he galloped, awed as she seemed to skip right up a wall for three brief steps before springing to a rain-barrel and then to the ground, then bounded back from their grabbing like something half jackrabbit, half bird. She ducked right under another brigand’s arm, bent away from the third one’s clutches, found herself gripped by the first one but then she dropped like she had no bones, rolled away and sprang to her feet again. Frodo thought she would have escaped altogether, had there been but one, not three, against her.
On and on it went, as the little hooves beat so hard upon the stones that sparks flew from them–how long stretched the alleys of Men! The closer Frodo got the more he heard the foul words that the brigands spewed at his wife, snatching at her tunic and ripping down the neck, clawing at her body with filthy hands before she twisted free again. Now the tunic hung by one thin rag over a shoulder, baring what only Frodo had the right to see, four bleeding streaks curving over the naked globe.
His vision went red. He galloped Bleys right into the largest of the thugs; tiny the donkey might be, but he had huge teeth, and he made the man scream. Sting cut an arcing gash across another fleeing villain’s back, and the third would have died on the return-swing, had Bergil not arrived in time to intervene. With well-drilled reflexes the ranger knocked down and disarmed the man before Frodo had a chance to behead him (for which Frodo afterwards remained forever grateful.)
Frodo leaped off of Bleys and ran to Mattie, and collided with her embrace so closely that he couldn’t tell which one of them trembled so violently. She gasped, over and over, “I didn’t know I could move so fast. I didn’t know.” He hugged her and hugged her like his arms could pour back into her something that the brigands had cost her. His hand on her back felt blood on her bare skin. At last she added, between pants for breath, “They didn’t...they didn’t get what they wanted.”
Barely able to control his own voice, Frodo said, “Well, they’re going to get more of what they don’t want, if I have my way.” He turned around and saw that Bergil and those he had summoned had all three of the thugs roped together, their wounds roughly bound. Nibs stared, his face white, so shocked that his teeth chattered despite the heat. At last the hobbit stuttered, “What, what, what did they want?”
“What do you think they wanted?” Frodo growled. “Same thing that Ted Sandyman wanted.” He let go of Mattie at last, though one arm stayed close around her waist.
Nibs seemed to strangle for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and suddenly cried out, “What kind of men ARE these?
“Welcome to Mordor, Uncle.” The words tasted bitter on his tongue. Frodo kicked the street, hating the blood-spattered land beneath his feet.
Then Nibs saw Mattie and color rushed back into his face. He pulled off his weskit and handed it over to her. With Frodo shielding her, Mattie put the weskit on and buttoned it up as high as it would go, saying, “It...it is all right, really. I needed a new tunic anyway. The old, the old ones had gotten too tight...I planned to buy...oh Frodo, they know I’m female, now!” And she broke down into tears upon his shoulder. “They know, they know, I cannot hide it any longer, I, I, I cannot make them forget!” And Frodo felt the soft breasts press against him that a weskit could no longer entirely conceal.
He looked into her red eyes, her bleeding lip, utterly at a loss for words. But then, to his surprise, Bergil spoke up behind him. “Mattie, I am amazed–absolutely awed! You fended off three assailants at one time.” He spoke deliberately, not taking his eyes off of hers. “I have seen trained men fare less well. Word shall spread, Mattie–you are no helpless victim!”
She flushed, and smiled tentatively. “It...it must be from giving up the poppy-gum.”
“I expect so. Your reflexes had to overcome much that drained them, and now, being freed, reveal their full power.” He put a hand on her shoulder, guiding her and Frodo out of that alley, while leading Bleys with the other hand, Trickster chittering on the donkey’s back. “Now you have unexpected strengths–Matthilda the Nimble people shall call you, when they do not call you Matthilda of the Silver Throat.”
“Or Matthilda the Short.” She tried to laugh.
“The short who are nimble need not fear those larger than themselves.” Smoothly Bergil kept on talking, leading the hobbits to the House of Healing. “I knew a fat man once, so stout that he could hardly move from bed to table...”
Nibs interrupted, “I heard tell of a dwarf like that, once.”
“Well, this man came to understand that, unlike dwarves or hobbits, his great girth did him grave harm–in fact, his physician warned him that if he did not lose at least half of himself, he would soon die. So he worked hard to make himself lean–and discovered great muscle beneath the fat, built of having so much weight to lift, simply to exist. He left the cleric post that he once believed his only way to serve the King, and became a soldier of some renown.”
Mattie looked up at the ranger. “And did he live a long life after that?”
“Alas, an arrow of the Haradrim cut short his years, oddly enough about the same time that the doctor said he would have perished from his size. But he lived his last years on his feet, Mattie, in strength unknown to him before, and without regrets.”
“Without regrets,” Mattie murmured, “That sounds so...but it can never really be that simple, can it?” Clutching Frodo’s hand tightly she said, “I know this sounds quite mad, I know I should feel anything else but this, but right now I miss my pipe, miss it so bad that I feel like I’ve got nothing but kaktush-thorns inside me, and if you let me go Frodo, I would run right back to it so please, as you love me, please do not let go!”
“I will not let go, dear wife.” Then he forced a painful chuckle of his own. “Indeed, you should grip me just as tightly, for if not for you I would go flying off in search of a drink to steady me–you do not seem mad at all to me–just hurting badly, worse than I am, and wanting the easy, dangerous way to stop the pain.”
Nibs looked at them, saying nothing, but nodding to himself.
Carefully Bergil said, “Your hard-won quickness saved your life, Mattie. Those wretches who march before us would not have stopped with what they set out for. I do not expect that they would have wanted to leave you able to bear witness as to who had outraged the Royal Gardener’s wife.”
“I might have hardly felt it, if...”
“But life is good,” Frodo put in. “I, I want you to live many, many years–not abandon me too soon, like your parents did to you.” He looked at her with wide eyes. “If you had just let yourself die, Mattie, you would have killed us both.”
She embraced him, right there in the street. “Then we shall help each other live.”
“Here we are,” Bergil said. “The House of Healing.” But Frodo hardly heard him, holding tight to Mattie. He had made his decision, right or wrong, and he would abide by the consequences, anywhere, under any circumstances, to see Mattie live and thrive.