Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 16, Part 226
Confrontation with Lebadoc
August 7, 1452
With a cane Frodo could get down to the Blue Dragon just fine. He shoved through the blue doors and entered the welcoming shade, breathed deep the fragrance of its ferment, and ignored the surprised looks on patrons’ faces. In the sudden silence everyone could hear the rap of his cane and the uneven pad of his bare feet on the worn floorboards. After a moment’s hesitation, the barkeep asked, “What can I get ye, little master?” Yet Frodo did not answer; he limped right past the bar, straight to the stairs in the back, struggling up their steepness. His memory went back to the painful conversation of the morning...
“It has to be you, Frodo son of Samwise.” said the Prince, pacing around the stairwell in the middle of Frodo’s room. “Of all the hobbits present in Seaside at this time, you alone have any authority invested in you. And it has to be one of his own countrymen who confronts Lebadoc with the perils that he brings into the realm.”
“But what about my exile?” Frodo argued, sitting on his bed. “Doesn’t that strip the authority away from me? As a ‘countryman’, that is, since the Shire is no longer mine.”
Eldarion looked a little flustered to be contradicted. “My father did not relieve you of your responsibilities, nor of your race; he has merely restricted your whereabouts. A son of the Shire you remain, and the Royal Gardener.”
Frodo thumped his pillow. “Well, that is definitely awkward! I hardly feel like the most suitable choice, under the circumstances.”
“And what about Sam, your father?” Nibs put in. “Nobody would have reckoned on him as a suitable choice for Ringbearer, not as he began.”
“He began as a servant, not an evildoer.” Frodo threw up his hands in dismay. “Lebadoc would laugh at any moral urging that I might give–anybody would, I should think.” And here he gave Nibs a hurt look, for the gossipy old hobbit had not entirely succeeded in keeping secret his nephew’s disgrace, after all. “Especially since we do not as yet have an actual law to point to that he has violated, merely the general principal that nice people do not lure others into ruin–and I doubt if I qualify as a nice person any longer.” He turned to the Prince. “Why can’t I deputize Nibs to do it? He is older and apparently wiser...in some things.”
Then Mattie spoke up from the corner where she stood with crossed arms, speaking slowly and quietly, yet with an underlying ferocity. “And who are you to deputize this task to anyone else–when Lebadoc ruined so many of your own wife’s years? Unless you wish to deputize me.”
“That would fall short of wisdom,” the Prince said quickly. “You have not yet walked long enough among the living to come anywhere near Lebadoc Brandybuck alone. For your own safety I would forbid it.”
“Do you think that I would...”
“Wife,” Frodo interrupted, standing and hobbling towards her, “I know better than any of you how Sauron works.” He took Mattie’s hands and gazed earnestly into her eyes. “The Dark Lord can use your very hatred of him to ensnare you once again, even as Morgoth ensnared Turin Turambar. Your hatred feeds him.” Frodo turned to the Prince. “But what of Nibs? Why can’t he go?”
“That would confirm the worst of people’s suspicions–that you have become unfit for your post indeed. Nay, Frodo–you and you alone must confront this hobbit and summon him to the King’s court–even if you cannot accompany him, yourself. We must show that much confidence in you still.”
So it had come to this, Frodo in the Blue Dragon, steeling himself to face this conversation once and for all, and get it over with. He had the room-number (312) memorized, having listened to Toilhard muttering it over and over next door, when he’d stayed in the House of Healing. As Frodo walked down the hall, checking the plaques on doors, anger built up in him, that the fool would force him into this position...and worse, that yet another hobbit would have to come before the King’s judgment in less than a year.
By the time Frodo found number 312, he would have slammed the door open if he had found it unlocked, but of course Lebadoc would not have omitted that detail. So Frodo rapped with his cane as hard as he could swing it.
“Who is it?”
“Frodo Gardner, and you had best open this door up promptly, because I have a summons from the King for you, and two letters going out straight to the Mayor of the Shire and the Master of Brandy Hall to boot!”
Brittle laughter crackled on the other side of the door. “And what would you threaten me with, Frodo? That the Master or your father might exile me? Yet the world is wide beyond the confines of the Shire–or of Gondor and Arnor, for that matter. But you would know more about such things than I.”
Then the door opened, and Frodo would not have recognized the gangrel before him, except that it could have been no one else. The local tunic did not disguise, as his hobbit-garb had done before, the changes in Lebadoc’s body which had finally caught up with his face as well, skilled though he might be in disguising emoluments. Hardly anything clung to those bones, beneath the sore-pocked skin, and the eyes had gone utterly mad, yet the sneer seemed oblivious to his condition.
“Lebadoc? Lebadoc Brandybuck?”
“Yes, yes, come in and get your official visit over with. I have business to attend.”
Frodo studied the other hobbit’s pupils as he entered. Yet far from pinpricks, they looked enormous: black holes taking over almost all of the iris. The rage went out of Frodo, recognizing a thrall, nevertheless. “Lebadoc? Have you...have you become enslaved to some poison of Sauron’s?”
Lebadoc cackled at that. “Sauron? That pathetic has-been? Sauron is a shattered wraith who can only exist at all because he keeps pouring other people’s energy into his own cracked vessel as fast as it can run out again. He will never manage to hold onto enough power to matter ever again.” Lebadoc turned away to pry open a crate with a grunt. “He has become more helplessly addicted to the devotees of his poppies than they themselves.” The hobbit rifled through the brown-paper packets of herbs within the crate, sorting as he went. “Sauron cannot accomplish anything beyond an illusion of his former glamour, a mere ghost of magic. We men of the future desire concrete things: precise, provable and measurable. Illusions interest us only for the pacification of slaves.”
Suddenly he turned a skull-gaunt grin to Frodo. “I have other potions--energizing potions--from a better source than him. I only play with Sauron’s toys now and then, when I feel a desire to unwind from my labors for a time. And if others desire a deeper oblivion, well, I can prosper from that, the better to finance my true Master’s greater vision.” With eyes glittering he leaned forward and said, “Let others play with illusion, Frodo, and give me the real thing! I have the power, when I desire, to go for days on end without food or sleep, nor pain nor any need.”
“You do not look healthy, Lebadoc.”
The chemist snorted. “Health--what does the body matter, when one communes with spirits beyond the mere confines of flesh?” Hectically, he sorted one crateful of herbs three times before becoming satisfied enough to set it aside and pry open the next with a loud ripping of wood against nails. “No, Saruman is the real power, now.”
Again, that cackle. “Did you think that mere hobbits could have destroyed him when they slew him? The West would not allow his spirit to return--he has had to make the best of his afterlife here. And oh he has, he has--do not look for the defeat of Saruman anytime soon!”
In an expansive gesture, Lebadoc accidentally knocked over his carefully sorted herbs, but then he dived to pick them up again. From under the table Frodo heard him say, “Sauron himself doesn’t even realize how he has forgotten his own feeble dreams of long ago, so cleverly has my dear Master Saruman interleafed his own more modern and sensible aspirations into the original vision, till the fool cannot tell the difference anymore.” Lebadoc popped back up again with armfuls of packets, grinning madly. “Even before the destruction of the Ring, at the height of his pride, Sauron had begun to slip under Saruman’s influence–and he never even suspected!”
Frodo felt something hot roil up inside him. “Yet Saruman has no power left except his voice.”
Lebadoc opened up a packet to flick away stems and seeds from the buds and blossoms held within. “No magic, you mean--but Saruman the Wise has made magic obsolete. We shall have machines, not magic, invention, not illusion, that’s the way of the future, the way of progress and improvement.” Again he looked up, his sunken eyes blazing. “Oh Frodo, Saruman has opened up endless possibilities before us. Do you think the Noldor clever, with all their craft? Yet they made everything by hand, one by one. Saruman can show us the way, those of us who listen, to make great quantities of the exact same thing, repeated perfectly each time, and no filthy hands need even touch it! Can you imagine thousands--nay, millions!--of silmarils lighting every home?”
“The light of the Silmarils came from the Two Trees that are no more. Not even Saruman can duplicate their light.”
“Well, the light of the sun, then, or close enough. What difference does it make? Light is light.” Then Lebadoc got down on his hands and knees again, to pick up every tiny particle of vegetable matter that he had tossed before, prying little bits from the worn carpet.
Frodo thought with a pang of the radiance of Valinor. “How do you know so much about Saruman’s plans?”
Lebadoc sat back on the carpet. “Why, necromancy, of course! Oh, don’t look so shocked. I got bored. I always used to get bored, between swabbing out the baths and concocting soaps. But at least my trade taught me literacy, and a knowledge of science. I wanted to know more than how to saponify wood-ash–I wanted to know anything beyond the confines of the crabbed little life bequeathed me by my forebears. Yet the library of Brandy Hall penned me in too narrowly–yes, even with all of the additions brought in by our grandiose Master Meriadoc.”
Lebadoc teased at a particularly recalcitrant twig from the weave, before untangling it and tossing it into the ash can. “On a trade-journey to Bree I inquired among the book-sellers of men, and let my interests be known.” He crawled about the carpet, looking for more litter, finding bits here and there. “Soon, on future journeys, more intriguing fare came back my way. And one day, a fine human scholar pointed out to me the obvious–or what should have been obvious, if not for my blinkered education–that if I wanted the most secret wisdom of the ancients, the mysteries which they would have never left lying about in print just anywhere, I should have to ask the ancients, themselves.”
Lebadoc straightened, kneeling, staring off into space. “The book which he then sold me cost me everything I had, and yet I laughed it off as nothing, for the teachings that I found inside. Oh, how I begrudged the sleepiness and hunger that made demands upon my time, when I would have read and read and read!” Lebadoc snapped his fingers and climbed to his feet. “Well, I came to a cure for that, by and by.”
“So you taught yourself necromancy, did you? You fool! Didn’t you know that Sauron long ago laid traps for all who try that cursed art? That pupils of his still wander, unbodied and resisting the call of Mandos, seeking out new forms to inhabit among those unwary enough to contact them?”
Lebadoc paced about a bit, then went over and rearranged everything in the crate that he had earlier sorted. “Oh, have no fear–we are in complete agreement with each other, Master and I. He has no need to overpower me. Who could say no to such clarity, such wisdom, such help?”
From his own homesickness pity welled up in Frodo for Lebadoc. “But does it mean nothing to you that you cannot go home again? For whatever Saruman has taught you to need, the Shire does not have it.”
“Ah, but it will,” Lebadoc said, opening up another crate. “Saruman shall require farmland, at first, until we can advance to the point where we can synthesize everything necessary without the fuss of plants. And he must have a labor force, long after the farmland itself has gone. The simples that we need until then will grow well in Shire soil.”
”What?” Frodo cried, dropping his cane with a clatter.
“Oh yes, Master has had his eye on our land for quite some time.” For a moment something tender fleeted across his face as he leaned his arms on the crate. “I remember his kindliness of long ago, the sweet old man who dandled me on his knee, explaining his great plans to me, mere child though I was, and enjoining me to remember–why do you think I sought his spirit first of all the Dead?” Lebadoc stared off past Frodo in a sort of rapture. “Even that old derelict, Sauron, will have his use, for we can employ his one surviving trick to keep the workers docile...”
“No, Lebadoc, don’t even think of such a thing!”
“Indeed, Old Meriadoc himself will soon pose no problem,” Lebadoc went on, ignoring Frodo, “when we tempt him to take up smoking once again, and slowly introduce the poppy by degrees into his pipeweed.” He seemed to have forgotten that he spoke to anyone but himself. “Or if he will not, then we can devise some other way, using the tincture perhaps, to ensnare him and other nonsmokers, like the Mayor.” Lebadoc tapped his fingers on the box. “Yes, Sauron will make a handy slave indeed.”
”Nooooo!” Frodo roared, pouncing on Lebadoc. “Not to Papa, not...I shall be a slave to none! I have been the Master of this Middle Earth, and so shall I be again!” They crashed grappling to the floor together, without strategy, just kicking, wrenching, punching, yanking handfuls of curly hobbit hair, trying to pound each other into whatever hard surface came to hand. A madness pumped red through Frodo’s veins, or it might have been his pounding blood, he could not tell, he could not step beyond it, only be one with it. It snarled in from outside, or maybe up from the most primal part within himself, so that he bit Lebadoc like an animal, and relished the feel of tooth sinking into flesh. He clawed and spat, and did not mind the scratches that he got back. They tumbled across the floor, crashing through a chair and spilling the crate upon it to bounce over their backs and smash to the floor, scattering its contents everywhere. They rolled over crunching packets of herbs, releasing a crazy-quilt of aromatic scents. Consciousness of everything save for anger flew away, or maybe he threw it away, or maybe only anger had existed ever.
Yet one who cares nothing for his body can tap into surprising strength, tearing himself apart for the victory. As the gangrel tossed Frodo to the ground and leaped atop him, an alien voice jeered from Lebadoc’s teeth-baring mouth: “You’ve had your day, Sauron–more than a day–you have had ages to try and make your paradise, and have achieved nothing save for squalor and disgrace!” Frodo’s head slammed against the floor twice. “Why should it surprise you that the pupil has become the master?” And Lebadoc’s hands closed off Frodo’s breath.
Frodo/Sauron could speak no more, even if Lebadoc’s grip had lessened, which it had not. Yet with one last growl from deep within his belly, Frodo managed to wrap his own fingers around the hated throat before him. His grip felt satisfying as it tightened, so much so that he hardly noticed the hands upon his own. Sparks went off in his sight, but he held on with all that he had in him.
Yet Frodo couldn’t hold out forever, not when Saruman controlled Lebadoc more fully the more his flesh should weaken, while Sauron never could get a complete clawhold on Frodo. The room dimmed before Frodo’s eyes, his fingers loosened...
Suddenly he fell back with a cry, and Lebadoc as well let go. Even as air burst into his aching lungs, Frodo felt the hatred gush out of him like it burst a hole straight through his soul on its way to attack its target. Astonished, he sprawled where Sauron had dropped him on the floor, and watched Lebadoc spin around the room, along with all of the furnishings, crates, and packets of herbs, in an internal whirlwind that eventually swirled out the window, hurling Lebadoc’s corpse clear over the village to the desert’s brink, still marred (he later learned) by a horrible grin and Frodo’s finger-marks upon his throat.
On that day, in the summer of 1452, every last poppy-fiend in Seaside dropped dead all at once. And some were not much mourned, yet others were missed deeply indeed. Whatever the case, none of them had had a chance to recruit others in their place, and so for a number of years the village went free of the scourge of opia. If nothing else, that much good came of the events in the Blue Dragon on the seventh of August, yet many accounted the victory dearly bought.
Frodo lay half-conscious on the floor, one stinging foot in a small but spreading pool of blood, staring up at the ceiling without anyone in his head except himself.