Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 17, Part 227
Free at Last
August 7, 1452
It not only felt good, it felt familiar, almost like returning home. It felt like dimming back down to childhood again, free of all responsibilities, cozy and tucked in, not thinking much at all, not really needing to. Peace–as simple as that. Muscles clenched for so long that they had forgotten any other state finally relaxed. Old aches that had fallen into the background of his awareness now departed with an influx of relief to replace it, so profound that it could waft him away, completely off his feet, like a gentle flood.
No more voice. No more bickering, nagging, seducing, swearing voice, by turns as smooth as poisoned syrup, or screeching in fits of senile evil. Only silence filled his mind, sweet, soft silence like feather-down that he could lay his weary head against, in fact a veritable snow of down, blanketing everything. All sounds seemed muffled to him, all feelings, and all thought. He felt returned to an earlier innocence, further back even than his departure from Bag End, all the way to a time long before he had ever even guessed at how much could go wrong in this sad and dirty world.
“Come on home, Frodo.”
“Just one more.” The clinking of mugs and bottles, distant and yet present, sounded like the friendliest of music, all of it fitting into some congenial rhythm beyond his child mind to comprehend. He didn’t feel like he sat in a Mordor bar at all, though he did have a sense of his numb body high up on a stool; in his heart he nestled into the cushions by the fireplace in Bag End, while kindly ladies poured brandy into Mama’s tea and murmured words of consolation.
“No, you have had quite enough already.”
Frodo laughed. “Why shouldn’t I celebrate? Sauron has gone.” He raised a mug to the yeasty dimness all around him, the comforting shade that denied the cruelty of the sun outside. “I can have as much as I please, now, and he will not interfere.”
“And if I stabbed you with this sword, and then departed, would I take your wound with me?”
Frodo drank deep before asking, “Why are you so keen, anyway, to go home with a murderer, Bergil?”
“The Prince has revealed his identity in order to acquit you.”
Frodo studied his own hand, which had begun to blur. “What about my fingerprints on Lebadoc’s throat? Doesn’ that count for something?”
“A maid saw the spirit-fight, Frodo, when strange forces blew the door open, and others in the street watched what issued from the window after. The disarray confirmed her testimony. We found packets of chamomile up in the rafters, feverfew up the flue. We followed a trail of pennyroyal and mandragora leading clear out of town. No brawl between hobbits could have caused such a thing.”
Bergil paused, and in a quieter voice added, “None doubt that whatever else might have transpired would have fallen under the category of self-defense, in any case. The bruises already color on your own throat, Frodo, though you feel it not. And witnesses have testified that Lebadoc had grown violent of late, and unpredictable in temper.”
Frodo blinked at the ranger, who now threatened to split in two. “I struck first.” He swallowed, then husked, “I wished him dead, Bergil. I wished to kill another hobbit a-purpose. Who’s to say I didn’t?”
Frodo slammed his tankard down upon the bar. “Well, I can’t tell!” Cold grog splashed his burning face. “I don’t don’t don’t know where he left off and I began, Bergil! Who is Sauron and who is me, myself?”
“Well, you are not going to find out here, are you? Come on home with me.” The ranger offered him an arm, but Frodo clung to the bar instead.
“Go on home withou’ me–I shall come along later.”
“I doubt already if you can walk without help. Perhaps I should wait until you topple from the stool and I can carry you. But what your wife will say I fear to think.”
Frodo suddenly felt faint at the thought. “Mattie...Mattie mustn’ see me like this.”
“You should have thought of that before, Frodo.”
He lashed ‘round at the man. “You have no idea what I’ve been thinking!” The tavern whirled around him so fast that he barely caught hold of the wood in time to steady himself. “I tell you, I do not know who I am! Sauron’s departure has not clar, clarified anything that I thought it would–I wanted to kill a hobbit, and I almos’ did!”
“You felt the Dark Lord’s wrath, not your own.”
“How do I know that?” Then he shook his head, though it made the room wobble in a woozy way. “Never mind. It doesn’ matter–nothin’ matters anymore.” He forced a laugh. “Go on home withou’ me, Bergil. I am fine. I am jus’ in a mood, is all. Tomorrow everything will go back to normal again. Sauron has abandoned me.”
“You know that I never believe you when you claim to be fine.”
“Suit yourself.” Frodo finished his drink and signaled for another, rapping a coin on the bar. “Although a true friend would cel-celebrate my good fortune with me. Sauron has gone for good, and I cannot blame annnything on him, ever again.” Already he could feel the gentle power of Mordor grog tuck the ferocity of his outburst away again, out of sight, beneath a fuzzy blanket of cozier sensations.
“I will wait. You will not remain awake for long.”
One mug later, or it might have been two, he became gradually aware of a small hand shaking his arm. He peered down into his Uncle Nibs’s sad eyes.
The voice sounded gentle. “Come on home, lad. I’ll see you back safely.”
Frodo drew designs on the bar in the spilled drink there. “I prefer to stay.”
“Now, does that sound wise?”
Frodo poked a finger in the general direction of Nibs’s nose. “Y’know, they used to call Saruman ‘The Wise’, an’ it got us all nothin’ but a whollllle lot of trouble. An’, an’ we haven’ seen the last of it, mark my words. Barkeep, another, please.”
“At least come out into the light, so that Fishenchips can take a look at your foot. It’s bleeding. I have sent for him; he should arrive shortly.”
“Don’ feel the foot. I’m fine.” He shrugged. “Maybe Eowyn can see to it tomorrow, if she insists.”
“The Lady Eowyn and Prince Eldarion will sail tomorrow morning. Will you leave yourself in any shape to see them off?”
Frodo made a rude noise. “People come an’ go, Nibsy. It’s all the same. One moment you’re mindin’ your own business, alive as alive could be, and the next...” he tried to snap his fingers, but couldn’t quite manage it, “...gone. Jus’ like that. Unless you study necromancy, that is, which by the way is a very, very, very, very bad idea. Barkeep, where’s my drink? I said I wanted...”
“Frodo, laddie, please!”
He felt arms pulling him down, and the vertigo alarmed him, so he swung wildly before he could even think of what he was doing, crying, “Morgoth take you! Leave me be!” Then, righting himself back on his stool, he blinked at his shocked elder, blood trickling from the nose in a face gone white, before Uncle Nibs turned without another word and left. Frodo stared after the door for the longest time, utterly numb, utterly without a single coherent thought in his head, before he felt the nudge of his refilled cup, turned back to the bar, and gulped so fast that he choked.
People faded in and out of Frodo’s notice after that. Time played tricks, too, but he didn’t care anymore, Vaire could tangle up every single thread on her looms into one big hopeless rat’s nest for all the difference it would make to him. The events of the day grew more and more distant, and Frodo liked that just fine.
Hobbits do not, ever, strike their elders, certainly not in the Shire, where respectable people live. But then they do not kill other hobbits on purpose there, either. They do not bounce about in time and alternate realities, nor hobnob with spirits, nor tear the Web of Life. “Shire’s miles an’ more’n miles away,” Frodo husked to his mug. “Res-peck-able people do not live here. An’...an’ I am no hobbit, not anymore. Dunno what I am...jus’ not that.” He took a long, deep swallow and let the bad thoughts slip away.
Somebody shouted at the bartender, and the bartender shouted back. Frodo knew that it concerned him in some fashion, but what did it matter when the barkeep left the bottle in his reach? The debate heated up, and he just chuckled to himself at the pointlessness of uncomfortable emotions, so easily dissolved in alcohol. Yet when someone cried out, “D’ye have anner idea what this’ll do t’his wife?” he sat up as straight as he still could.
Others shouted now, some on one side and some the other, and a free-for-all broke out. For a moment he felt fear–where was his Uncle Nibs, to see him safely home? Then he vaguely remembered something about why that wouldn’t happen now.
“On my own, then,” he murmured to himself. “Good. Better that way. No more Sauron. Who needs Sauron? Who needs anybody?” A flying tankard hit him on the shoulder, but he hardly felt it. “People jus’ confuse me, anyway. Evvvvrybody’s got their opinions.” Frodo found it the easiest thing in the world to do, to slide down off of the stool, buckle to the floor, and then just crawl out between the chair-legs and the big, clumsy human feet, unnoticed in the shadows and commotion, out of their sight and away. “Who needs a ring?” he chuckled to himself.
He pulled himself up by the lintel when he reached the door, and took a last glance back. Over at one end of the bar Fishenchips had his one hand full trying to fend off assailants, what with his hook snagged firmly in an old wooden pillar. Over at the other end, Bergil apparently strove to make it to Fish’s side; he fought manfully for one worn thin from repeated bouts of the ague, but his breath came ragged, and he staggered without having drunk anything. Some objective part of Frodo, which could no longer connect to his body enough to act, knew that Bergil’s days as a warrior had passed, though the ranger knew it not.
Then Bergil caught sight of Frodo. The man turned towards him, eyes wide, hand outstretched, mouth opening for a shout–distracted from the stool that swung into his head and knocked him to the floor. Frodo watched him fall, feeling nothing beyond a vague conviction that he ought to feel something, do something, and maybe feelings and actions did exist somewhere inside him, yet disconnected from each other, and from what little consciousness he had left. He seemed able only to witness, to stare at Bergil lying on the floor insensible, where other people tripped on him.
Frodo’s mind blurred out, then seemed to briefly flare to alertness again, around a single imperative, just as he caught himself from falling, himself, by grabbing at the door. “I must leave.” He could draw nothing else coherent from his mind, except for, “I must leave.” He tottered out into the light and closed the door behind him with exaggerated care.
Even outside he could hear the crashes and the yelling, but they no longer concerned him, except as a diversion for anyone interested in stopping him. And somehow he knew that he mustn’t let anyone stop him, from whatever it was that he had to do. He pulled himself along by a wall, and the late sun dazzled him. “Mattie mustn’ see me like this,” he muttered to himself, in a sudden rush of despair that no amount of drink could cloud. “No matter what else happens, Mattie mustn’ see, mustn’ know.” That was it, the thing that he had to take care of, with the last strength remaining to him.
By sticking close to the wall he could walk just fine. He didn’t even feel his injured foot anymore, and that definitely counted to his advantage, since the wound in his sole had opened up again on Sauron’s departure. Faring between buildings went a little trickier, but he could do it, slowly, carefully, and never mind the jeering children; their parents called them in, anyway, with the night so close.
Night so close? A foggy memory of Kitty trapping him beneath a bench disturbed him. He blinked at the length of the shadows all around, trying to gauge how long he had left. “I am never going to make it!” he thought in a panic. “How cruel of everyone to abandon me! Aw, who needs them, anyway?” Then he looked around him, and realized that he had become hopelessly lost. He tried to focus his eyes enough to scan the distance. “Open desert’s that way,” he mumbled, and lurched in that direction, as the only thing even approaching a landmark.
Then, as the day slid into twilight, the last of the grog in his stomach hit his bloodstream, and the roaring in his ears drowned all else out. With the final shreds of his wits he spotted a potter’s shop right on the verge of the open desert, and a kiln close by, unfired in the heat, with such a tight space in between that few of the big predators of Mordor could fit where a hobbit could squeeze in. He crawled down into the tiny corridor and made it all the way inside and out of reach of paws before he fell suddenly asleep.