Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 35, Part 245
Travels with Seregril
December 20, 1452–I cannot tell you, Papa, how wonderful it is to me to wake up in the morning with warm feet! Seregril had curled over my toes in the night, and did not move until I did. Her fur felt heavenly. I slept more deeply than I had in days.
Here we have thought of a boy name for the child, but not a girl name! So I discussed it with Mattie, and we have decided that if we have a daughter, we shall name her Acacia. That is a fair, flowering tree that grows out in the desert, with masses of yellow blossoms. Doesn’t that have a pretty ring to it? Acacia Gardner. It might especially serve if she turns up blonde, as sometimes happens in our family. And Mattie’s hair grows so light as to almost qualify as blonde, sandy as it is, the lightest of browns, so I think it rather likely. I joked that if she turned out brunette, we could always name her Hazel. I kind of like that name, too, though, the more that I think on it.
So–I am to become a father. What a mighty thought, to picture those adoring eyes, that smile, the tiny hands embracing, and me so huge next to the child, so powerful and protecting! Oh, I feel on top of the world! I can do anything! I will soon have a little being who believes I can, so it almost makes it true. I can certainly do things impressive to a child, so that makes my entire world seem splendid.
My love for Mattie expands in her. Love grows. We shall become three, and have plenty enough love for all.
December 21, 1452–How can she still look so beautiful, this wife of mine, even in rags, even in slime, even with the swamp-damp dripping from her hair, dragging down the curls? How can her weary smile radiate so much loveliness to me? How brave she is, how uncomplaining, even when she stumbles!
Yet what becomes of Mattie if she should give birth out here? Molly the Midwife always kept things clean. We can’t keep anything clean in the Nurnen Marsh; mud and scum cover us from head to toe. All of our rags have become the same swamp color. Everything stinks.
Molly always boiled water. Nobody in the Shire remembered why, but Legolas said that it drives off evils which can cause infection. And Leech always boiled his bandages. We haven’t had a fire in days, not a dry patch of peat nor unsodden bough in sight. I wouldn’t know what to do with the boiled water even if we did. Surely you don’t pour it on the mother!
Molly always shoo’d us children away, but we could hear Mama scream–we could go outside and we’d still hear Mama scream. Everyone always remarked on Mama’s sturdiness, how capable of bringing forth children in good health, but she stayed abed for days after. I remember you, Papa, seeing to things that normally she took on. I know that sometimes other hobbit ladies died in childbed. Uncle Nibs lost his wife that way, after all. For every birth, of every brother or sister after me, I always felt that fear, that this time might be the one that did my mother in.
I wouldn’t call Mattie sturdy. Not a full year has passed since she left behind years and years of mistreating her body. How might that affect her when her time comes on? How might it affect the baby?
Molly never let us see whatever it was that she did. I have no idea how childbirth goes, or what to do about it. I don’t know whatever it is that Molly knows, that folks have to call her in special to help–not like a pony or a cow that just does what comes naturally. It’s harder on men and hobbits, I’ve heard that much. The baby doesn’t just pop out, like a lamb, or kitten, or foal. Does the midwife have to do something, maybe reach in and pull it out? Or might that hurt the baby? Sometimes the animal doctor has to do that, if a calf comes backwards or some such thing, but he always said that it’s better if he didn’t have to. What do I need to know to help Mattie, that I don’t know?
What do I know? That Mama screams a lot, sometimes for hours. That Molly carries out armfuls of bloody sheets to wash afterwards. That not all mothers survive.
December 22, 1452--We wander randomly. We don’t even bother, anymore, to find our way, whatever that might mean. We seek pools of pure water, edible plants, snakes that we can trap and eat, and at end of day the driest, widest spot that we can find to stretch ourselves out upon to sleep. We survive; we do not aspire. Mordor can drain the aspiration out of even the maiar–how then, might we fare better?
And yet I keep to my work. I take samples, and catalog them, and then move on. I wonder why I bother, and yet it makes all the difference in the world, to continue at this task and not to stop. I can give up on myself ever getting out alive, I can even give up on Mattie. Yet the knowledge, so hard won, that I harvest from this marsh, must somehow carry on. For whom I cannot say. Perhaps I labor as futilely as my sister did on clothes that I never had the chance to wear.
I wish that I could say that I hold on for the sake of the child not yet born. Yet how can I hope for him, or her? I have failed utterly as a husband and a father. I could not adequately care for my wife, and now I cannot vouchsafe the future of my blood. Well is it that she should name him Harding, for he owes nothing whatsoever to his sire.
I’ve come a long way from the wreck that Mattie dragged up out of a well, yet sometimes the black despair makes it all seem futile. I wonder why I eat. I wonder why I swallow the cold, insipid water, or march, or lay myself down to rest. Why does Mattie still believe in me?
I have gathered a fortune’s worth of mer-beads, bulging in a pouch that used to carry dried mushrooms from the orcs. Wealth more valuable than gold. It does no good whatsoever out here, but I might as well go through the motions, in case we come out alive. Bergil once said something about we “periannath” never giving up hope. Maybe we don’t. I sometimes wonder if that makes us a race of fools.
Maybe we do not wander, after all. Or maybe we do. I do not know how much intelligence really resides behind the golden eyes of Seregril Suldae. Surely more than a natural wolf, yet how much does she actually remember when her skull shrinks down to canine size? Even with the madness broken, I cannot gauge how much she actually might reason. At least she has a good nose to find us drier paths. But I cannot say for certain where they lead.
She stays true, this wolf, this warg. She does not abandon us, though what use we are escapes me. We might have made a nice supper for her by now. But no, she brings us supper, caught in those killer jaws. She does not make a meal of us.
Would I have stayed as loyal in her place?
Does Seregril know anything of midwifery, I wonder? Or do the wargs whelp by moonlight, as easily as any canine might bring forth puppies? Do the Four Sisters know? Yet they only seem aware of their own elements in their rawest forms. Do we have any helper, anywhere, cognizant of what we need?
December 23, 1452–I do not feel particularly well, but I must hide it from Mattie, who marches on so stoically beside me, with a much greater burden than my own. With less provisions to carry, I have consolidated all that we own into one pack, and I carry it on my back. What she carries out front matters more than all the world to me–nay, even more than this flower-press, which I would cast aside if I saw any advantage to be gained by it, for the child that I fail so miserably.
So–I am to be a father! What do you do? How do you manage? Some little being will soon look up to me to set an example of how to live, how to...everything. I had better not make a hash of it. I must not, well, I feel so many must nots in my recent past! I feel so unqualified! I would have expected this to be yet another of those moments where I feel more mature, more advanced from the lad who left the Shire last year, but instead I feel hopelessly young and unfit for any such undertaking.
Did you feel this way, Papa, before the birth of Elanor? But how could you? You had mastered so much before you reached that point. You must have felt like one of the Valar!
And yet here I am, lost in the wild because my own bad habits ran me out of town, so to speak. Even now I only trust myself for lack of opportunity to fail. What a difference between us! Everything must have come naturally to you, but I, Papa, I cannot even take care of myself. I feel so tiny next to this enormous coming event, this baby looming like a giant on my horizon. Isn’t that ridiculous?
December 24, 1452–Seregril has proven herself a positive help to us, again and again. She hunts for us, easily enough to share three ways (or four, really.) She could have killed us in our sleep at any time. She has no vow to bind her, not like Smeagol did, and so need not come up with some tortuous scheme to part us from our lives without a direct hand in the matter. Confused or canny I cannot tell, but at least I know that she is true.
Not that I could even finish the fish that she caught for us today. I must have seemed an ingrate, but she just looked worried, and licked my cheek. It felt comforting–cool. That is not a good sign, as the season creeps to the very brink of Yule.
Ah, Yule! And what shall I give to my little one, when the time comes? I remember the toys that you used to whittle for me, little soldiers with pins in the arms so that they could really move. Wee little carts with wheels that really rolled, and stiff wooden horses on rockers that looked like they galloped whenever I tapped them on the nose, and a bigger rocking-horse, too, big enough to ride until Billie-Lass gave me the real thing. Oh, so many clever toys!
And what shall I make for my Harding, from the frostbitten reeds? Shall I gather the fangs of the marsh-serpents for his toy soldiers? Shall I stitch him a sled from the horn-hard skin of the dragonlike monsters of the swamp?
Danger–danger everywhere! Things lurk in the mud that could swallow a baby whole. I must guard him–little Harding will carry on my work, after all. Little Harding and Seregril will make it back to men together, and he will bear my flower-press for me.
December 25, 1452–We still have some honey gathered by the orcs, who make light of bee-stings. Feeling in no mood for sweets anyway, Mattie and I have compounded honey, charcoal, and the gum of mer, into a fresh black cake to replace the ink that I have spent upon these letters. The usual recipe calls for the gum of acacia, but we make do with what comes to hand. Can you read it all right? It doesn’t look half bad to me, if I do say so, myself. It should--it is very expensive ink! What we will do for paper when that runs out, I cannot say. Pound reeds together as some have done in Seaside, I expect, and dry it like great sheets of herbal samples, and finish it with clay. But the thought of so much exertion makes me half-ill to think of it.
December 26, 1452–Mattie does not look well. She cannot afford to sicken, not when she carries Harding. She will probably be all right, then. Has to be. Ladies tire easily when they go with child. Sometimes they faint, too, just like her. Yes, she will be all right. Mama always managed.
December, 145–Marsh splashes cold fire. Fevr burn. Mattie rests agan. Marsh swirls. Ugly pretty horrble all there is.
Dcembr–Nice Smeagol will find the path. Smegol and Gollm together. Gollum sniffs. Smgol crawls. Mattie betweeen us like between two goats. Totters. We catches her, o yes my Precis, we keeps her going. We keeps yr mother going, Precious. We’ll get nice master out of the marshes, o yes, one of thes days we shall!
HERE ENDS VOLUME VII.