Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 10, Part 220
Desert Summer Tales
July 22, 1452–The summer rains have stirred up the scorpions. The little kind creep in under doors and over windows, and through all kinds of nooks and crannies. Little they might be, and fatal only to children and elders, so I hear, yet they cause trouble enough. I have had two men miss work already. The big ones–those the size of dogs and cats--roam the fields, looking for the high ground. So flooding the fields yesterday has actually made us safer, at least for a little while. Yet not for long; though they mislike flood, they do like moisture.
Do you know that Nurnings like to fashion oil-lamps in the shapes of scorpions? The stinger of this creature curls up over its back in a surprisingly pretty way–that makes up the handle. It has many legs to either side (carved into the lamp’s base) and then claws in front, which our artisans render tucked in close to the head, the wick flame issuing from an opening hidden behind them. It’s a rather clever design, actually, once you get used to it. Just because we fear scorpions does not mean we must neglect to note their own peculiar beauty.
More of the crops have survived the flooding than I had dared to hope. Everything dries out quickly up here. Still, we shall reap less than I had planned on. And I feel so stupid! You always told me to plan for possible disaster, even in the Shire where we hardly had to worry about anything worse than a late frost or an untimely rain. Yet here I live in the most catastrophic land that I have ever heard of, and still I let my confidence run away with me.
Uncle Nibs allows as to how he should have said something to me. He did come here, after all, as the older and more experienced hand, well-versed in preparing for rainy days (especially with the sort of rainstorms that we see around here!) He blames himself for letting too much else preoccupy him, and calls it only natural that the young forget to plan ahead too far, that I should not be so hard on myself. I told him that I have not had the liberty to be young since I left home.
The rush of weddings has tapered off considerably. People have gotten over their heady freedom to feast at will, and become more sober about what they really need, and what they should lay by for the winter yet to come. Indeed, “hungry season” soon shall be upon us–that time in late summer after the early crops have done and before the late crops have ripened. We all needed this reminder.
Mattie still brings in money, nonetheless. She also sings at funerals, you see, and for those we never lack. Most Nurnings bring forth children before they even reach their tweens, themselves, and already look weathered by the time they attain the age of hobbit majority, which many never do; if they didn’t, the populace would soon die out entirely. Yet those few who survived the reign of Sauron are a grizzled lot, probably tough enough to make their century-mark. If Mordor does not kill you young, then very little can kill you later on.
July 23, 1452–Mosquitos! Mosquitos everywhere! I have kept silent until this moment, considering them a nuisance unworthy of remark, but they have gotten worse than I have ever imagined possible. I have long since used up the last of that soap which the King recommended to me. The insects leave me no peace, especially at night. I try to force myself to sleep with a sheet over me, but the heat makes that a torture, and anyway the evil creatures bite right through the linen. I have hardly a spot of skin left unmarked by welts and sores, and the itching drives me to distraction.
You may be sure that Sauron has not endured this in silence. Again and again he reminds me of how I could render my skin insensible, and how I could get some sleep. Indeed, he has revived considerably since my exile. I have talked about his renewed interest in me with others, lest my thoughts ferment too much alone. (Yes, I have told my intimates about my exile. I had to.) Bergil ascribes it to old political habits–Sauron would ever take especial note of anyone, small or great, who might feel disaffected towards the sovereign of their land.
Yet I do not feel any such thing. I have nothing but respect and love for the man who shared so many adventures with you, and I know that he showed me more mercy than he might have. No, I think it is more the profound homesickness which exile has stirred in me, that has drawn the Dark Lord’s attention. Name anything forbidden, and longing takes over from there. Like brandy. I don’t even like the taste.
My skin burns. At least my outside mirrors my inside. And I’m far from the only one; all of Seaside knows something of how I feel right now. I find myself selfishly pleased to see others scratch and curse. And that just makes me loathe myself the worse.
Elenaril has kept busy, brewing some form of insect repellant, but the distillation takes time, and she could not prepare it in advance because the right herbs had not yet sprung forth until recently. Eowyn helps her with variant formulas that she knows about. I hope that they can come up with something faster!
At least the heat quickly bakes out the aches of labor from my body, like a soothing, hot bath. It comforts me, to feel my muscles relax and everything go hazy, head swimming in the noonday sun. I think I would appreciate the weather a great deal more if I did not have to toil in it. But of course the laziest-feeling season has always demanded the most of us.
July 24, 1452–Hot. Can hardly lift pen. Blots are sweat, not tears. Hand moistens page wherever I touch, and arm drips on it, also brow. Dampened paper hard to write on, ripples, blurs.
No work today. Seaside ground to halt. No kiln fires, bakery’s empty, smithy’s empty. So why do I hear a smith hammering somewhere anyway?
July 25, 1452–We have gotten something done. Not as much as I would like, for we need half of our men to guard us, but we have ventured to the fields by torchlight, in the coolest hours, between midnight and dawn, and then a little after, roughly eight hours all, told.
The most horrible insects fly into the torches, so no one holds them, we just post them all about the field. The light does not reach down between the rows; we feel ahead of us for every step. A giant scorpion attacked my hoe this morning, but better its wood and iron than my leg! The men laughed at how I squealed and thrashed at the creature like a lunatic (until they found themselves doing the same thing on their own account) but I can tell you that these things do not die easily! We all sharpen our hoes like weapons; they cut through weeds and dirt the better for it anyway, but they shall wear out the faster, too.
And yet...you cannot imagine the beauty of the stars over the desert, when no fumes of Sauron obscure them! We have not had rain for several days, now, so the clouds have cleared away, and the stars shine out so bright and thick that the heavens look like a black meadow a-bloom with diamond-flowers. The sky appears larger out here, the air unsoftened by evening mists up on the plateau–nothing seems to stand between me and the stars. Clearly it shows the will of Varda to display her jewels the brightest in the land that needs her grace the most.
(Will I ever find her grace again?)
July 26, 1452–Our second night of evening work. Kitty visited, but our good men fended her off. Harding and Bergil command our eastern and western flanking guards. We have begun to build new spillways into the ponds, according to a clever plan of Harding’s, so that we need not fear the storms. Better than dodging scorpions between the rows of corn.
The dawn makes everything worthwhile! At first the night closed all around us, but then I started to notice a lightening, as blackness yielded to a dim blue-violet glow, and silhouettes began to show their features. At that the birds woke up, all at once, singing with such joy that I could not help but laugh for gladness. Then the east grew more and more luminous, and a rim of color began to show, subtle at first, but soon blooming out into fire and glory! There is something to be said about watching the dawn arrive after hours of work; it excites the heart of the weariest laborer and renews the strength of limb and mind.
Come the noon, we lie abed, though the heat disturbs our rest. We toss like fever patients, somewhere between sleeping and awake.
July 27, 1452–Harding had to take charge of all the guards this morning, for Bergil lies in hospital. He has picked up the three-day ague, like many do in these parts. Bergil rests in good hands, but Elenaril can only do so much. Perhaps for a week, a month, a year, or several years, maybe even for the rest of a life made short by weariness, a cycle of chills and fever will torment the man, laying him low on every third day. I feel crushed–this would never have befallen him, if he had not become enchanted with the thought of traveling with a perian, so much so that he pulled strings to gain this post with me.
I am back. I went forth in the noonday sun, just to get out of the house. Fishenchips just happened to cross my path before I could arrive where my feet had turned. He invited me to come with him instead to visit Bergil. I am glad that I did, for Bergil reminded me that without me, he would never have found Elenaril again, and she matters more than all of the shivering and sweating in the world, he says. People learn to live with the ague, he tells me. He will simply have to schedule around it, but he still has a great deal of work left in him.
He seemed in good spirits despite the fever that followed hot on the heels of his morning chill. He slowly grew disoriented, and began to address Fishenchips as Beren, calling him his Captain. But it seemed a happy delirium, as such things go, so Fishenchips (trying to make his voice as “posh” as he could manage) kissed Bergil on the brow and said, “Rest well, faithful one,” before ushering me back to the tower.
That is Mordor for you. The blind make pots, the footless weave, nobody gets through unscathed, so scathing offers scant excuse. They hold me to the selfsame standard; I cannot beg off work for being just a wee bit mad.
July 28, 1452–We have run out of bread. Even with an outdoor oven Pearl cannot bake in this heat. We boil our grain whole and mix in meat and vegetables. Wryseed especially tastes good with chicken giblets and onion, with a squeeze of sourfruit, though it’s not a Shire sort of taste at all.
The chickens thrive, despite the heat. I suppose anything would have improved on how they used to live. As the other crops came in, we left a number of the eggs to hatch, so now the streets run with young pullets, which people feel free to fatten up properly before butchering. Sometimes, whenever a crop grows strong enough to endure a little pecking, we unleash the younger chickens on the rows, to eat every insect in sight. I like to think that the gaffer would have liked that trick, if he had ever had as many bugs as we face here.
I spoke too soon. Some folks do pat out a flattish summer bread, I’ve learned, to toast upon a griddle, outdoors, that gives off much less heat. These breads puff up inside, so that when you tear them open, you find large pockets in which to stuff the rest of your meal, and can eat all manner of messy foods clean-handed in this way. I shall send Mama the recipe on a page all its own so that she can put it into the family cook-book. I can see it coming handy when she brings food out to farmhands in the field.
July 29, 1452–We heard wolves in the distance today, as we worked in the dark hours of the morning. Not wargs, mind you, but real wolves, unpossessed by Sauron’s evil slaves. In this land I have learned in full the tale of how Sauron tricked many of his followers into taking on wolf-form, and how he trapped them there, and how these sometimes walk again as men and women for one night a month, by the dark of the moon. A chilling tale, but one which fills my heart with pity, now, whenever I hear the wailing of the wargs.
This sounded different. I heard a freedom in these howls, interspersed with a sort of yammering full of animal joy as friend greeted friend. I have little quarrel with natural wolves. Sure, they’ll steal a goat now and then if we drop our vigilance (or a hobbit, for that matter, if I ever gave them the chance) but they kill enough rats and other varmints to make up for it–if it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have any crops left at all.
It’s a strange world I toil in, now, where one learns to listen to howls to discern whether foes or semi-friends might make them. But we cannot afford to turn aside any help that we can get. Sure, we have rats and mice back home, too, yet the varmints here teem and hunger like few folks besides yourself would ever believe.
Speaking of which, I had an interesting meeting with the Mayor today, after the sun grew too hot for outdoor work. I thought it would concern clearing another field for cultivation, but it turned out to be about me. She has seen the bites all over me, and worrits that I might contract the three-day ague, if this continues. (She has it in her head that insect bites have something to do with it, and nothing can dissuade her.) Well, I am all in favor of getting fewer bites, whatever the reason.
It turns out that she has a plan; she and Harding have already tried it out with great success. She has instructed a weaver to make great sheets of a fine gauze, and sew them so as to make a little tent around beds. The thin cloth lets in every breeze, so that we don’t swelter in there, yet the weave remains dense enough that bugs cannot squeeze through it.
I so look forward to a good day’s sleep!
July 30, 1452–I suppose something of the sort had to happen sooner or later. Fishenchips has sustained a scorpion sting–fortunately from one of the medium-small sort (the tiniest scorpions have the worst venom, and the giants would kill anything.) He got it from stuffing his foot into a boot without first checking to see if the boot had become occupied overnight–something he had never had to consider on board a ship. Oh, how that man bellowed! Then, from his sick-bed in the room next door, Bergil begged me to take care where I step. But I feel more justified than ever in not wearing boots.
August 1, 1452–I write to you from within the shelter of my little gauzy tent. I feel curiously safe in here, serene, listening to the buzz of insects trying and failing to get in at Mattie and me as they bump against the veils. The cloth is so fine that I can see through it as through a billowy white mist, softening the outlines of everything. So long as I take care not to fall asleep with hand or foot against the cloth, nothing can get at me, now.
Mayor Aloe has started a major push to get everyone to hang veils around their beds. They do not need much persuading. I do not know whether it will actually make any difference whatsoever in the spread of three-day ague, but I think everyone will do better overall, simply from getting more rest.
Bergil (feeling better again) claims that I have had a hand in this, however indirectly. I asked him how he could possibly figure things that way (wondering in secret if his mind had not completely cleared of yesterday’s fever.) He answered that before I had arrived people thought only in terms of trying not to slide backwards any faster than they could possibly help, fighting as hard as they could just to put off dying. Nobody thought about actually solving problems, about coming up with new ideas. Then, just because I came up with a few new tricks, ideas became possible. Aloe had the ability all along to dream up some solution to the mosquito problem; she just didn’t realize it till now.
Bergil is up and about today, though he looks tired. He tried to work this morning as though nothing is wrong with him at all.
It still seems strange to me, this toiling by torchlight, with the shadows dancing crazily about and the star’s slow wheel above. Yet soil between the toes remains the same, and fresh-reaped crops still smell as sweet–or if anything, heightened by the evening air, wholesome and refreshing. And it does help that May’s lens enables me to see colors in the dark; I had not expected it to have such a practical application. I feel more than ever a gratitude to Yavanna, who has provided so richly even for the forlorn children of Mordor. No, not all of the Valar have abandoned me, after all.
Pearl came by today, with flatbreads which she cooked up especially for us. She just happened to arrive right at twilight, so of course she must spend the night. Spring or Eowyn shall share a bed with her, so that one gauze-tent may protect them both. Pearl seems afraid, but not of mosquito bites. She will not tell us what has frightened her.
August 2, 1452–Pearl has stayed on an extra night, having insisted upon cooking all our meals today, in return for our hospitality (and thereby requiring more hospitality once the sun set.) I overheard her arguing with Eowyn about bruises. That does not sound right!
August 3, 1452–Well, I certainly got what I deserved, for feeling so superior to human-folk! Yes, I stepped on a scorpion. Oh mercy, but it hurts! It feels like a dozen bee-stings all in the same place, and with the bees still buzzing around angrily somehow inside the swollen foot. Eowyn will not leave my side and will not let me out of bed, though she merely gave Fishenchips an ointment, and he limped back to work later in the day. She says that when she told me that such a sting usually only endangers children, she meant that this includes people of “childlike stature” to her way of thinking. I do not feel up to arguing. They shall have to finish the spillways without me.
I now have a complete bay window, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open outward and everything! The workmen found the glass laid out on our doorstep this morning, along with glass shutters for every window in the tower, equipped with extra-long handles forged so that even I can open and close them, all apparently left there overnight, complete with the colored insets of clearly elvish work. When Pearl opened the door and saw them on the porch, she blenched, but said nothing.
Nobody ever sees the smith anymore. They leave their damaged goods at the smithy and find them there repaired by morning. Or they tell Pearl their orders and find them filled. But Lanethil himself never shows up. Uncle Nibs has suggested that maybe he has run into difficulties with his appearance; maybe his work has twisted up his back all orclike, or perhaps his nails and teeth have grown again. I wish that I had never told Uncle Nibs about my first meeting with Lanethil!
In any case, the glass could not have arrived at a better time. The storms have returned, almost the very hour that the workers installed the last glass pane. What a splendid thing, to watch the wild weather in dry comfort! Eowyn has opened them just a crack, to let in the rain-cooled air without the rain, so that a sweet-scented breath wafts through the room in precisely the right measure.
And when these storm-clouds pass, I shall still lie here in authorized sloth, swathed in mists of gauze, which I would find decidedly pleasant, with the rain cooling down the weather, if my foot did not throb so much. I am not used to my hobbit nature making me the weaker! But size does matter to poison. Fishenchips doesn’t even limp anymore.
We are all such an odd compendium of strengths and weaknesses, here!