Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 26, Part 236
Pages in the Flower Press
He had nowhere else to keep his letters, to prevent them from crumpling along the way, so Frodo stuck them in the flower-press (and it showed, as though the traces left tried to stand in for the absent illumination.) He rather hoped that if the dangers of his travels became too much, Bleys the canny desert ass, wiser than any pony, would find his way back to Seaside with both Frodo’s research and his messages intact. For though they tried to make light of the journey, and went by easy stages, Mordor had not become any safer since his sojourn into darkness, and he had almost nothing left of strength, in body or in mind.
One letter resided in the frontmost portion of the press, where Frodo could add to it, day by day–the hardest letter of all to write, and the longest:
“Oh Nienna! How do I find the words to even address you? Yet habit moves my hand across the page, as though the recent months had never happened, compelling me to recount everything to my first and foremost confidant.
“You still believe in me! After all that I have done, all that I have been, you still harbor a faith in me that I do not–and oh how I cling to your faith like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to some bit of flotsam, paddling wearily towards dry land. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for still being there, now that I have had enough of drowning!
“First, I must write the utterly inadequate words: I am sorry. You cannot ever fathom how sorry, because you have never been so wrong in your life as I have been. Yet I take comfort in knowing that you do not need to understand. You didn’t always understand the hobbit that you named me for, either, yet you never faltered in your love. And I do not even understand myself, so how could I ask it of you?
“But oh, the suffering that I have caused you, and Mama, and my brothers and sisters! I account this worst of all my sins, worse than tearing the Web of Vaire, even. For in my family, I tore something which I knew, and treasured, to which I owed all gratitude and all life. That all sounds wide of the mark, poetic perhaps, yet too philosophical for my wrong! Let me try again. I hurt you. I find that even harder to bear than hurting my wife, for she has a certain hard understanding of the forces driving me, and cannot be too deeply shocked. Also, she returns to me the mercy which I once afforded her. But you–you do not belong in Mordor, though you endured it when you had to. And you certainly did not deserve me bringing Mordor home to you!”
(Most pages took on faint stains in brownish greens and yellows, dyed by the juices expressed from the leaves and flowers, stems and roots...)
“Sorry–I have written that word so many times these past few days. Letters to all of the people whom I have wronged. Mama, of course, and Hamfast, Ruby, Merry–all of my family, but especially them, and you most especially of all. And Uncle Nibs–I can’t believe, now, that I actually struck him! A very special letter to my wife, tucked into her hand as she lay sleeping. Letters back to Seaside, too, that I hope to deliver in person someday, to Bergil and Fishenchips, Elenaril, Cork, Spring, Mayor Aloe, Lanethil and Pearl, I keep thinking of new ones to write to every day, and always the same inadequate apologies.
“Beyond them, I have offered my remorse as well to the Lady Eowyn, to Prince Eldarion (carrying so much blame that rightfully belongs to me!) and of course tendering my formal resignation to Tar Elessar. But until he officially relieves me of my position, I shall serve it to the best of my surviving, fumbling ability–at least here, far from Seaside itself, in a botanical survey which my wife came up with to keep me occupied and out of harm’s way.
“Out of harm’s way–little did I think, when I set out, that a marsh by the Sea of Nurn would seem safer to me than a stroll through a town! But I have learned what Mordor has taught me, what Mordor taught my namesake before me, in the dangers that he braved: that a level of harm exists greater than any peril to the body, greater than death itself.”
(...Sometimes the mottling of the pages almost looked like sun and shadow filtered through the shade of foreign trees, deep in the ravine that Frodo traveled when he began the letter...)
“After I cease to be the Royal Gardner, I suppose that I shall buy a share of land in Seaside to till, for the duration of my exile. It will not be bad, Papa. The Shire is not the only fair place in Middle Earth, nor is there but one variety of comeliness. Day by day I remember my love for this land, her sunsets and her open spaces, her craggy horizons and her twisted trees, the surprising blossoming of her tough, brave vegetation, and all of the rough souls who cherish a weathered beauty within themselves that nothing can entirely disfigure.
“Perhaps it is just as well that I cannot return, for no one in the Shire can understand me anymore. I must seem as strange to you as May by now, yet I at least can still write home. And you who listen by the High Hay, to a voice that no longer seems quite of the same world, will still read what I have to say with love in your heart, with or without understanding.”
(...Some sheets also carried bits of leaves or petals still clinging to the paper, brookside plants from the older portions, marshland vegetation from the later ones...)
“Writing to you. Just like the old days, as though nothing had happened. And yet I cling to every habit outside of that which ruined me, something to fill in the wound that it left. My hand moves, the pen brushes strokes of ink across the page. I have to do this. It will not be over and sealed until I tell you all that I can remember. I cannot put dates on things, and the gaps abound, for I have punished my poor brain mercilessly for the crime of trying to tell myself the truth. But here is as much as I can recall:
“I suppose I must begin with that dreadful confrontation with Lebadoc Brandybuck. I am sure that others must have told you something of what happened, yet they have no idea of how events unfolded from my point of view, in that stuffy room full of crates of herbs. And so, to explain yet not to excuse...
“...and so, that night Mattie revealed to me that once again I can see colors in the dark. I cannot pretend to understand the bond between us, so bitterly forged and yet such a blessing, which allows her to restore to me gifts which I have lost and do not deserve to regain. Yet I have hope, Papa, for the first time, of recovering all of the insights which I had disdained before.”
(...Sam found an entire iris-leaf pressed into the back of the next page, a fragile tissue of dessication, crumpled a little here and there and preserved that way forever.)
“December 2, 1452–I have catalogued, today alone, ten riparian plants wholly new to me. One still carried withered berries, which Bleys proved edible. We have also found plenty of nuts and seeds, some taught to me by Elenaril, some not. Some of the bitter ones need ground and leeched before they become safe to eat; we pass those by, having no time, and plenty of provisions.”
(...Here and there one could find the faint outline of a leaf or a stem, in colors seeped into the fiber of the page, yet not so darkly that one couldn’t read the ink clearly through it. Vegetative ghosts...)
“December 3, 1452–Last night something large and curious snuffled at the thorns pulled across our cave, for hours without end. Mattie finally gave a poke right through the foliage with Sting, and something yelped, and no more snuffling. But I do not think she slept all night.
“It shames me to say this, but I discovered myself faintly pleased to see how weary she looks today, to think that she understands. For I struggle every day with aching and fatigue. Even riding Bleys seems an exertion. I look down frequently in horror at my thinness–how could my body change so much without my notice? Or rather, in some way I did notice, vaguely, yet kept revising my concept of ‘normal’ to match my circumstances, no matter how bizarre.
“And yet I have improved greatly from that moment when I first became aware of myself in the old, clogged well. Mattie feeds me constantly. She tells me that the color has come back to my face, that I look better all the time.
“I do not know if I feel better or not. I have gotten so used to feeling as little as possible that every pang seems exaggerated, blotting out the better moments. Mattie sets a slow pace, though, for which she has my gratitude. She says that she feels strangely tired lately, herself, and not just after last night. I think she just says that so that I won’t feel so angry at my limitations. Yet it frustrates me anyway! Hobbits should be hardier than this!”
(...On other sheets, more than silhouettes, the actual shapes of twig and root, and tougher, thicker leaves, had embossed an imprint of themselves...)
“December 4, 1452–Today we rested all day. Mattie set some snares, and caught us something edible. I did press three herbs before laying down; they look like potentially useful varieties, but I shall have to consult Elenaril, if she’s still speaking to me after I get home–if anyone still is.
"Oh Papa, I am so tired, all the time! I keep trying to think of you setting one foot in front of the other in your own sojourn through Mordor, as I have so many times in the past, but you had noble reasons to keep on going. I don’t have any nobility left. It would be so much easier, for me and perhaps everyone, if I could just lay down and never wake up. But then I think of you and Mama, and figure that I have caused enough pain to you already without adding that. So you see, you are still inspiring me onward, I suppose.”
(...Occasionally, in the margins, one could make out the skeletons of leaves, vein by vein imprinted in the page...)
“December 5, 1452–We have come in sight of the sea! How could I have forgotten its beauty? The creek has lost itself into marsh, but I will not go there today. A spit of land extends out into the water, and on one side good clean beach has collected, scattered with black shells (you have to step carefully!) with salt-marsh on the other side of the rise, where the creek has gone, stinking like all of the dead fish in the world.
“On the beach side I have taken some good samples of several interesting water-weeds. Elenaril always said that we need to study sea plants more, that they might have all sorts of useful properties–anything would, that has learned to grow in salt-water, a place so inhospitable to farming as we know it.
“I feel more like myself, today. I even begin to guess what that means, to be myself, not a reaction to the absence or the presence of a substance, or of a maia, or of anything except for me.
“There is something about a sea that heals, even a poisoned sea like this one. It reminds me of Nienna and her unceasing tears. They have to go somewhere–is this it, then, the waters of the world? I have always wondered about something, learning the Valaquenta as you taught me, from old Master Bilbo’s translations. Of all the Valar, three never married: Morgoth, of course (who would want him?) Nienna, and Ulmo of the Seas. I can understand Nienna never marrying–carrying all the sorrows of the world is too great a vocation to allow room for any romance. But if there had been someone for her, would it have been Ulmo? Does he swim ever in her tears, and rules them, and protects them? Just another of my half-baked ideas, I suppose. But I have always wondered.
“I feel a little anxious about tonight. We no longer have any caves to shelter in. That means thorn shelters and taking turns at watch. It has been a long time since I’ve felt up to taking a watch, but I feel like a new hobbit today. I think I can do it. I’d better!”
(...On some pages ink blurred, from the dampness of the paper, letters gone furry and wild. Yet Sam could read every word, almost as if he saw them with some special sight, reserved for communions between parent and child...)
“December 6, 1452–I made it through! I stayed up for my entire watch, writing more letters to everyone that I owe amends to. And yet I feel rested. Rested! I had forgotten what that feels like.
“Not only that, but we found mer bushes all along the rocky side of the spit, clinging to the stones within the tidal spray. Mer! It is perhaps the most valuable simple that an Eastern herbalist could come by, and it costs a fortune to import. I recognized it by the smell, for Elenaril once showed me the beads of resin drawn from it. Leeches use the resin for purifying wounds, protecting sores, freshening the air, easing pain, prolonging youth, and all manner of purposes. Perfumers also use it, and compounders of cosmetics, and some say that the smell pleases the Valar and inclines them to favor supplications.
“Do you realize what this means? This discovery alone justifies Tar Elessar’s desire to build a channel through the Ephel Duath! Princes from all over would pay treasure by the handful just to buy a little mer.”
(...Sometimes a dust of golden pollen shimmered over the words... )
“December 7, 1452–We found a meandering path of shifting sand-bar, sound enough to let us a fair ways into the marsh, leaving Bleys to wait for us inland. I took some good samples, though I did not find what I looked for. Some of the reeds, however, look suitable for paper-fiber, strewing, basketry, and other uses.
“I definitely feel better, Papa. I have seen beauty in the arching roots of marshland trees, in the shimmer on the water, in the clouds overhead reflected down below. I find that I like being able to see clearly, to hear attentively the calls of waterfowl, to step with surety on uncertain soil. I sleep soundly off my shift, without nightmares anymore. And I can no longer encompass my calf in one hand.
“Sometimes I do not feel worthy of recovery or any of the happiness that it carries. I do not deserve the love of all who strove to bring me back. But such thoughts would lead me down a path of pond-scum sinking into swamp. It was never my decision whether or not anyone else cared whether I lived or died. It was not my right to poison myself, and recovery is not some unearned privilege, but a duty neglected for too long.
(...A bittersweet scent of Mordor herbs hung upon the letters; not a parlor sort of perfume, this sad and pungent savor from a land faraway, but it gave the recipients a sense of place, to get a whiff, as it were, of Frodo’s home...)
“December 8, 1452–“The good news is that we have found a long ridge of rocky soil, sturdy enough for Bleys, that just keeps going on and on, as far as we can see across the marsh, which has led to others branching off or rejoining, seemingly veining the entire swampland. Some rear up as high as human houses, going on for miles at a time, sand piling up against them in narrow beaches. Some dwindle to little more than a series of stepping-stones, water trickling between, and we go carefully, watching for places for Bleys to step. (No pony could have done it, let alone a horse. King Eomer chose a good animal for me!) But this has enabled us to penetrate deep into the wetlands, perhaps deeper than anyone else has penetrated.
“We encounter more and more strange trees, conifers with somewhat wide-spreading, flattened crowns and strange, deeply indented trunks, high roots reared up to wade through pool and mud. They give off a sharp yet not unpleasant scent, which seems to fend off some of the pernicious insect life of Mordor; quite an admirable adaptation, if you ask me. I find fallen boughs now and then; peeling back the bark shows that the wood within boasts a rich, ruddy color that could support all manner of lovely uses, I should think.
“Everywhere, in fact, I see new plants, not just unknown to me in their kind, but even in their larger families. I finally feel an emotion that I thought forgotten to me for good: excitement.
“Yet we have a new concern. We are running low on water. Drinkable water, I mean. Mattie had hoped to find good pools or springs by now, but the insight given her by the liquid one of the Four Sisters finds nothing but poison wherever she looks. It seems ironic–we have so much around us that we can hardly find a dry place to sleep, yet none of it does us any good.
“It might actually come to us turning back to the desert, oddly enough, if it is not already too late. We know some tricks for finding water in the desert. Neither of us know anything about marshes.
“Finding your filtering reeds has become more important than ever.”
(...In some pages one could hardly make out the words at all, for the jungle of phantom vegetation...)
“December 9, 1452--We are in more trouble than I feared. I have climbed as high up on the latest ridge as it would reach, and found nothing in sight save for more marsh, as far as I can see through the swampy haze–no other land, unless you count these outcroppings of stone that we have traveled by, most of them too narrow for a hobbit to lay crosswise on. And when I look back the way we came, I see nothing but another maze. I did not want to mention that before. It sounds too scary. I did not want to think of it, myself. I do not know if my letter will ever make it home. I am not sure that even Bleys will make it back. But I hope he will. I think he has a better sense for these things than any of us.”
(...Others did not show anything even remotely resembling flower or leaf, just vague, faint splotches of dehydrated juices, hardly even there...)
December 10, 1452–No more drinkable water. We shared the last of it between the three of us. At least the wind blows cold; we shall not lose much to sweat. But we must find water soon!”