Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 5, Part 215
July 18, 1452
Frodo and Mattie, and with them Nibs and Bergil, stood before Seaside’s house of healing. Frodo could feel his wife tremble like her legs threatened to give way. The house had a friendlier aspect than the warehouse it once had been, for Fishenchips and friends had added a kind of shady arcade to its front, pillars of adobe arching to hold up an awning of crate-slats; already flowering vines had wound their way up it.
Bergil roped the prisoners to the farthest corner of this arcade, where two of them sat in the dust awaiting treatment of their own injuries, while the third leaned against a pillar, not daring to sit upon that part where little Bleys had bit him. When Bergil had done, Mattie gestured him back. With a trembling hand she handed over a pouch to the ranger and asked, “Could you please...a tailor plies her trade around the corner...I cannot wear this rag to the wedding where I soon must play.” At the same time she clutched Frodo’s hand painfully. “I would, would send my husband, you see, except that I–I cannot bear to come out without him waiting for me here. I am sorry.”
Bergil bent low and kissed her hand, taking the pouch from her. “You have nothing to apologize for.”
“Indeed not!” Frodo exclaimed. “Hang the wedding, you should come straight home with me after they tend to you, and rest a bit.”
“No.” She drew herself up and forced a smile, though it tilted weirdly. “The show must go on. Everybody knows that–especially in these lands.” And with her head held high (though she walked rather fragilely) she let the women of that house lead her in for treatment of her cuts and bruises.
Frodo heard Nibs whisper, “Buskers do have their own code of honor,” just as Fishenchips and Eowyn came out for the wounded prisoners, their manners coldly professional, but their eyes blazing. “She does grow on one,” Nibs added to himself. Off to the side, they heard Eowyn rebuke Fishenchips for making the ass-bitten prisoner yelp as he cleaned out the wounds, but she did not do so with much conviction.
Now Frodo and Nibs waited outside at a bench under the arcade’s roof, Bleys and Trickster still near at hand. At first they could not find words between them, just sat there in the shade. Some apprentices came out and watered the animals. Finally Nibs said, “Just like three Ted Sandymans, over there–three overgrown Ted Sandymans!” And he shook where he sat, his face again gone pale. “And to think that he would do such a terrible, terrible thing at poor Tom’s wake!”
“Nooooooo...” Frodo couldn’t help it. He crumpled up over his own knees, eyes tightly shut, hands gripping his head.
Nibs instantly forgot his own shock and pulled his nephew towards him. Not entirely ungently, he said, “Here now, here now–it is a sorry thing when the wife shows herself braver than the husband.”
“It isn’t that! It’s...it’s...”
“There now, you can tell your uncle.”
Faintly Frodo said, “It is...time.” He forced himself to sit up, swallowing back the sudden nausea. “Foul magic, you see. It happened when...I got all twisted around in time.”
“Your mother told me something of that. Is it happening again, lad?”
Frodo looked at him, then shook his head. “Not quite. Just the aftermath hitting me again. I am not, you see, woven quite into the same part of the web of time that I began with.” He wrung his hands, trying to find the words. “I recall all of of it, the Sandyman business, Papa handing me over to you, telling you to get me out of the pub, all of that, as happening at the Gaffer’s wake. I–Uncle Nibs, I never learned of Uncle Tom’s death until just a month ago. I, I thought that Frodo Baggins died when I was a baby, that I spent years and years learning from the Gaffer, that Uncle Tom still lived when I left home, that it’s it’s all turned around now and wrong.”
Nibs took a deep breath and blew it out again. “Well now, I didn’t know about that side of it. But griefs are naught but griefs, after all, be they magical or no. A hobbit moves on. Why, take me for example. When Maybelle passed, I...I...” his eyes started to water. “No, don’t take me,” he said softly. “Your Uncle’s as poor an example as you could find.”
Eowyn came over, wiping dry her hands. “I could not help but hear your conversation.” She sat down beside the hobbits. “It has been my observation that when griefs do not heal in due time, it often chances that some portion of the grief has yet gone unmourned.”
“Well, that’s just it, isn’t it?” Nibs suddenly cried. “Everybody spoke for Maybelle at the wake, but nobody had a word to say about the baby!”
A shocked silence fell upon them all for several heartbeats, perhaps on Nibs most of all. Then Frodo clasped his uncle’s hand, and Eowyn put an arm around his shoulder on the other side. They heard a prisoner curse and weep as Fishenchips stitched his sword-gash, but it seemed too far away to matter.
Words then gushed from Nibs, like something under pressure. “And I–well, my word, I didn’t dare say anything, either. What could anyone say, they’d never met the poor bairn, only Molly, who tried at the last minute, on Maybelle’s final breath, to cut the child free–yet too late, too hope-forsaken late. So how, how I ask you, could anyone speak tributes to a life never lived?” He gripped Eowyn’s arm so hard she blenched. “Everybody just assumed–and I assumed too, I admit it–that I didn’t really know the child, I had nothing to mourn, nothing need be said. But milady, he was my firstborn and my lastborn, though never born at all–he was all my future, suffocated in my poor wife’s blood, all my plans and dreams and the last vestige I might have had of her, and they buried the poor wee thing in her sad, dead arms, and I thought I had nothing to feel! Milady, I, I couldn’t even ask folks for what I needed of them, I didn’t even know about it myself, till just right now.”
He stopped abruptly and gulped for breath, his face bright red. Then shakily he spoke again. “It took a shock to wrench it out of me, I guess. I am sorry, Frodo-lad, that it had to take men roughing up your wife to do it.” He gripped his nephew’s hand in a white-knuckled fist.
“It is all right, Uncle–I just feel glad that at least one good thing has come of this, if it can help you come back from your sorrow, step by step.”
“I’ve got a ways to go, I feel, but at least I find myself pointed to the door, and that once-locked door now open.” He took a deep breath. “It’s the job as never gets started that takes the longest, as your father likes to say.” Then he let go of the others and clasped his hands in front of him. “Maybe it’s the guilt as kept me from looking at this too closely.”
“Guilt?” Frodo asked.
“Well, yes, when it comes right down to it. I liked my wife on the jolly side, you see, the more of her the merrier. Molly warned us that Maybelle gained too much too fast, that the child might grow too big for her, but we wouldn’t listen, oh no, we celebrated her ripening with feasts and toasts and banished all such gloomy counsel from our hearts.” Frodo paled, but listened to him speak. “It ‘might’ seemed like such a little fear, and a ‘difficult’ childbirth did not sound all that worrisome to someone as strong and competent as my wife. We didn’t consider that we had also both married late, that it would tax her enough as it stood to bear her firstborn at such an age. So that is how she died,” Nibs said softly. “I kilt her with my kindness.”
A mournful silence followed, and they just sat there with each other, holding hands, dividing up the burden of grief between them. And it did seem to help, for the color in Nibs’s face balanced out, and he sat up straighter, with less weight upon his shoulders. They hardly noticed when Bergil went in with a half-height tunic, and left again, sparing their privacy.
Finally, in a very quiet voice, Frodo said, “I don’t even know how Tom died. I think that that is what I never mourned.”
Nibs looked at him. “A blow to the head. He went out fishing by hisself, slipped on a mossy rock, and fell. Your father was beside hisself. All day he had felt something amiss, but couldn’t place his finger on it, and so did his best to ignore it. It wasn’t till night fell and Marigold came by, asking help to look for Tom, that Sam understood his misgivings. Then he tore right out of there, like his feet knew their way, straight to the place it happened, and there they found Tom’s body.” Then the look on Nibs’s face became peculiar, as he stared at Frodo. “You ran right behind him, lad, holding up the lantern. You were there when Sam found my brother.”
“Me? I...I was there?”
“That you were. You looked so white that we decided to take you to the tavern with us for the wake, that what you saw made you old enough right then, in the sense that mattered.”
Frodo opened his mouth, closed it again, then he, too, felt a burden lift right off him. “I remembered finding the Gaffer,” he said. “I had brought his dinner on a tray, because a weakness had come over him those past few days, and he could not get out of bed so easily. I remember the shock, finding him contorted in the sheets, like he had decided to wrestle with Mandos at the last minute, see if he could try a throw for a few more years of living.” He sighed, and only then recognized it as a sigh of relief. “When that memory ceased to hold true, I thought that I had lost something important, something that helped make me who I am–not a happy thing, but still a part of me, the part of me that knew about death in some way different from my peers.” Softly he added, “If I had not lost that, if I had had some other memory to hold onto, something I knew as real, then perhaps I might not have torn the web.”
“What web?” Eowyn asked, but just then Mattie came out, pale around the pink blotches of early bruises, wearing the tunic that Bergil had brought her.
“Frodo?” she asked, “Could you please accompany me to Torch and Sandstorm’s wedding? It would mean so much to me!”
“Of course,” he said, and rose and took her hand. “And we shall leave before the feast, my dear–you need your rest. Even in Seaside they will see your injuries and understand.”
“I will bring in less money,” she said.
“Ask me if I care,” he replied, and then, very carefully, kissed the side of her mouth unsplit by blows