From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 8, Part 253
The Old Road
(Continuing the letter that Frodo began in Edoras, after writing his accounts of the missing months:)
January 8, 1453–Slept through the day.
January 9, 1453–The Lady Eowyn amazes me! I had made brief mention of hobbit mourning customs, a few days ago, and this morning I found a complete wardrobe for Mattie and me of black cloth bordered with embroidery! She and all her handmaidens must have worked busily indeed. She chose for our chief motif the maiden-fly, who lives but a single day of soaring loveliness, and interwove it with the foliage of Nurn, largely drawing on my flower-press and notes.
The clothes resemble the garb of Rohan more than the Shire, but I see no fault in that. And for the summer yet to come, Eowyn and her handmaidens have given us spare tunics typical of Mordor in hot weather, except dyed black and embroidered at the hems and seams.
I feel better. We both feel better, clothed appropriately for our loss. It no longer feels as though Harding never existed to the rest of the world, nor as though he had been some dreadful secret, weighing us down. We can talk about him, now, about the hopes and future that we mourn, and by talking we pay mourning its due, releasing it little by little with every word.
January 10, 1453–I have lain abed long enough. Legolas and I poked about Edoras a bit, at a slow pace. I did not have a chance to take a proper look about, the last time I passed through. We saw a few monuments, but mostly it reminds me of so many villages that I saw on the way to Gondor before, only larger. It does have a small theater, and a large racetrack, and a whole district dedicated to weaving, where women’s voices shrill out in competition with each other as to who makes the softest fabric or the most intricate designs.
I tired quickly. The smoky air did not help. I shall probably appreciate it more later, when I feel a little stronger.
January 11, 1453–Mattie has borrowed Gimli’s harp and sings bittersweet songs in the eastern fashion as I write. I didn’t even know that Gimli owned or played a harp, but I should not forget that dwarves love music even more than hobbits do, and make some of the best instruments in Middle Earth. At any rate, it brings Mattie a measure of comfort, and that comforts me.
January 12, 1453--You will be glad to hear that Legolas has completely recovered. His speech always makes sense, now, thoughtful and measured in pace, and full of elvish grace. Yes, he has recovered, and yet has not forgotten. We understand each other better than most, these days. I can feel easy with him, as I cannot with many others.
Speaking of recovery, I do worry about how long it takes Mattie to get back on her feet. Mama would have returned to pounding laundry and chasing chickens by now. And I’ve been healing pretty slowly, myself. The Lady Eowyn sees nothing unusual in this, considering all that we’ve been through to get to this point. It doesn’t seem quite hobbitlike, all the same.
January 13, 1453–I explored some more of Edoras today. The smoke has finally cleared, thank heavens! Edoras holds a lot more cheer under a blue sky. We have found a pleasant tea-shop with windows looking out on a meadow where horses graze. The Rohirrim consider this a choice view. I did not disdain it, myself.
People do gawk at the mithril chain, sometimes. Did I mention the chain? But Gimli just gives them a certain look, and they avert their eyes. I’d lie if I said that I felt no embarrassment, yet I seem to want it, too. I feel a need for shame right now, to drive home a lesson, to put a chain around my heart and hold me fast.
January 14, 1453–Papa, I will write here what nobody ever mentions, what I cannot stop thinking:
If Mattie hadn’t had to come after me, if she hadn’t needed to take me out into the wild, she would not have lost the baby.
Mattie wont let me talk about it to her. She says all manner of things might have caused the same tragedy, no matter what we did. Yet I do not know those might have beens, I only know what was.
January 15, 1453–We went out with Mattie today, as she felt up to a bit of walking. We found a pleasant little place to eat lunch together, a shop for sausages and cheese (and for me a special bowl of lentils cooked with onions and no butter) with a nice, warm fireplace and a great elk’s head above the mantle. Mattie’s appetite remains slight, yet she does eat what she needs, so I need not worry. Her hearty tastes before came of the baby that she did not know she carried. I do not press on her more than her desire; I have no right to urge her to conform to a Shire image of beauty. She has spent most of her life among Men.
January 16, 1453–Today we hit the road, the Lady Eowyn deeming Mattie and me fit to travel at last. The Lady has insisted, for Mattie’s sake, that we go by what you would call at home a tinker’s cart, like a house on wheels, a masterpiece of compaction in arrangement. A man might find the quarters cramped, for him and family too, yet it suits a couple of hobbits and a dwarf very well indeed, not to mention an elf who spent the last year penned up in a tree.
In Rohan, what with all the horses to shoe and blades to sharpen, no tinker lacks for trade and need not travel from town to town. Yet the people do take holiday on the road, and those with children, elders or invalids in the family, too small or frail for horseback travel, use such carts on their excursions, that none might miss a chance to taste the country air. The Rohirrim live in towns and cities, yet they do not love them, and plan escapes into their schedules every year to wander off abroad. I think that all of the Rohirrim have roaming in their blood, however settled they might appear these days.
I am glad, Papa. Though I can sit contentedly behind the reins, I am not yet ready to saddle any creature as yet. I do not like the way that all of my four-legged friends die for me. And the cart also means that we need not set foot in an inn if we don’t want to.
January 17, 1453–The distance that we have covered already surprises me. Though slow by Rohan’s standards, we make as good a pace as Billie-Lass ever did. I do sleep a lot in the cart, and that might add to the surprise; it seems that every time I open my eyes the changes in the landscape startle me. Mattie sleeps even more, understandably.
January 18, 1453–We always pull up just outside of whatever happens to be the next settlement on the road. Gimli or Legolas go into town for whatever supplies we might need, but never both at once. The cart has little windows; I have peered out betimes and seen travelers pass by, eyeing us oddly, but I take care not to let them see me. When people ask, my guards say that the cart holds a prisoner of Tar Elessar’s, but they reveal no more than that. Sometimes I laugh over what the rumors must make me out to be!
January 19, 1453–Am I a terrible husband to say that Mattie looks beautiful in sorrow? Yet she reminds me of Nienna. I remember a Mattie who couldn’t mourn anything. There are worse things in this world than pain.
January 20, 1453–I should tell you about our tinker-cart. It has a pair of benches inside with storage underneath, and a double’d over cushion on top of each. At night you can unfold the lid of one bench to connect with the lid of the other and turn the whole thing into a cramped bed for a man and his family, or a roomy enough one for two hobbits and a dwarf (Legolas prefers to sleep out under the sky, weather permitting.) One cushion unfolds into a mattress, while the other unbuttons to reveal blankets and pillows inside. When you make it back into benches, you can, if you want, fold a table down from the back door. There’s a seat in front where the driver sits (we take turns) and another, small seat outside in the back by the door, where you can watch the countryside slowly drift backwards away from you. It has windows, too, with shutters. And a sort of horizontal door on the side, underneath the window, unlatches to fold out a sort of table for an outdoor kitchen, with all kinds of utensils, staples, and seasonings behind it (also accessible inside from under the bench, if you want a snack) but the table’s really too tall for me to cook at it, and the dwarf-kit gives me better utensils anyway. The food itself, however, comes in handy.
The only drawback is that my chain gets tangled up all the time, going in and out and the like. And the cart seems to have a million protrusions for the links to catch on. I get tired of life on a leash–yet I did request it, I suppose.
(Didn’t anybody ask whether I was in my right mind at the time?)
January 21, 1453– Ah, Robin’s birthday! May he get his rosy cheeks back soon! Because the date sticks in my head for his sake, I can recall precisely where I was one year ago today: I had my first glimpse of the Sea of Nurnen. And then, later the same day, I finally set foot in Seaside, that would become my home. Oh, how long ago it seems!
January 22, 1453--The road. What can I say about it? I can remember how thrilled I felt, the last time that I traveled it–so grown up. Now it’s just a road. It goes ever on and on and on. I was young, then, and free of supervision for the first time in my life, and I had a magic glass that gave me perceptiveness. I thought that made me smart.
January 23, 1453–Mattie surprised me today by mentioning a sense of relief. She feels that with Harding we have seen the last blow of some terrible struggle, that Sauron cannot hurt us anymore, we shall see only the ordinary run of sorrows from here on out. I don’t know whether to believe it or not, but I surely hope so. We still hurt, both of us, but as soldiers recovering from wounds might hurt, after the war has ended. Some wounds hurt worse than others, but even an amputation eventually closes over. And if Fishenchips can make do with his hook, if Beordred can limp on cheerfully with his lame leg, then so can Mattie, and so can I. I might have a lame soul, but I’m still standing.
January 24, 1453– I thought that missing out on the inns would depress me. But Legolas does not like inns, and so he generally stays behind with us. And often Gimli does, too; he just pops in now and then to collect news on the road, he says. On most evenings Mattie, Legolas, and Gimli pass around the harp, and I do my best to accompany them on my little clay flute.
January 25, 1453–A puff of campfire smoke at breakfast blew into Mattie’s face and she burst into a storm of tears, remembering, and the tempests came and went all day. I had no words for her, I just held her as much as she wanted. That seemed to suit her well enough.
January 26, 1453–Cold sleet fell hard from morning on through night. I feel glad to go by tinker-cart! I felt sorry for Legolas at first, driving at the reins, but he only laughed and said that he found it refreshing. We came to rest in a copse at eventide, the trees growing more numerous, now. Legolas wove a shelter for the horse out of living branches, singing as he went, so that it seemed the trees cooperated.
January 27, 1453–Much of the scenery reminds me of Billie Lass. Then I feel like the lowest sort of rat, for missing my pony more than my son. Yet I knew the pony longer; I cannot help that. And at other times I do feel, acutely, the absence of the child given to me for just one night, one terrible, precious night!
January 28, 1453– I wept today, out of the clear blue, it seemed. Legolas sang a song in elvish, of which I understood not a word, yet something seemed to unleash the tears from deep inside me. Mattie held me close, as I so often have held her. After the storm I felt a great release of pressure. And thankfulness.
January 29, 1453–Sometimes people come out of the inn to listen to us play at harp and flute. Seldom do men get to hear a medley of elf, dwarf, and hobbit music all together, flavored with strains of both east and west. We have gotten quite good at learning each other’s songs, if I do say so myself. Sometimes we improvise some interesting combinations. The lens helps with that.
January 30, 1453–The land grows steeper as we go. It won’t take long, now, before we reach our destination.
February 1, 1453–Last night a brigand tried to rob us. I leaped out with Sting without thinking twice, and would have run him through if Legolas had not caught my arm with surprising speed and strength. Then I saw the frightened eyes of a boy too young to grow a beard. Gimli tackled him, but then invited him to help himself to the food that he’d attempted to take by stealth. “Pa’s dead, Ma’s sick,” the thief said with a full mouth. Legolas went away with him for awhile, helping to carry food, along with some bark that elves know to have curative properties for mortal-kind. Gimli confiscated Sting and said that prisoners really shouldn’t bear swords. When Legolas came back he gave me a look both stern and strange.
February 2, 1453– It snows. Mattie and I bundle up in blankets, and Legolas makes us drink a tea of his own devising. Gimli just rides on, stoic at the reins, snowflakes in his beard.
February 3, 1453–The cart was too cold for us to stay in through the night, made as it was for a holiday, nothing more. We slept within an inn, and the horse enjoyed a warm stable. I did not go into the Common Room. Gimli stood guard on me while I played checkers with Mattie, with a set that I found under my bench in the cart. I know that I asked Gimli to do it, before our journey even began, yet now I find his guardianship both annoying and unnecessary. The soup of the day tasted fine, however–chicken and tater, with a bit of cabbage.
February 4, 1453–Another inn. Legolas watched over us, and advised us both about the checkers-game, alternating indiscriminately between Mattie and myself, until we gave it up in despair. He apologized and said that mortals always fault the elves for withholding advice; he thought we’d like his help.
He makes no mention of the incident with the thief. Yet sometimes he steals glances my way, still strange, troubled.. I remember well the look that he gave me that night: as one might stare at one’s favorite puppy suddenly growling and foaming at the mouth. Well, I am no puppy! It makes me angry, what people expect of me, how it surprises them to find me no longer an innocent lad. How dare he wonder over me, when he was the one who persuaded me to go to Mordor in the first place!
February 5, 1453–We stopped at Billie-Lass’s cairn a long while. My eyes watered, but I turned aside before Mattie could see. It would have betrayed her horribly, I thought, to watch me tear up like that, over an animal. But she went after me and turned my face towards her, and touched my tears, and told me it was all right. All dirges are the same dirge in the end, she said, all mourning one mourning. We can never quite grasp why loved ones don’t last forever. We feel cheated. We take it on faith that someday we might know a happy reunion, yet we have precious little to go by to believe it. And yet Mattie does believe, more than I think I can. She said that it made all the difference in the world, what I had told her of the Valier’s words, that they considered it a mercy for Harding to have felt loved–that must mean, she said, that even so brief a love had meaning, that what passed between us as a family counts for something, that what we started must some day continue, somewhere beyond. I hope that she is right!
And why do I have less faith? I have seen the Halls of Mandos myself! I have overheard the inmates at their lessons, preparing for something beyond. Why do I find it so hard to believe in that beyond, where no more tears shall fall, where loved ones meet again? I suppose that I do believe in its existence, though not necessarily in its advertising points. This world has proven far crueler than I had ever guessed; why should the next live up to any promises? Yet I take comfort in Mattie’s trust.
Some days my glimpse of the Light of Valinor seems far away indeed. I fear that if I ever laid eyes on it again, it would prove something like a poem that I’d loved in childhood as the most sublime thing that I had ever heard, revisited later with older eyes to turn out nothing but a doggerel. I wonder now how much of the splendor sprang from my own imagination.
At the rate that we’re going we should make Minas Tirith right before nightfall. I will tell you all about it later. I am going to take a nap on my bench and hope to be fresh for my meeting with the King. How different it shall be! Last time I came as his honored guest, tonight I shall enter, enchained, as his prisoner. I don’t even know who I am, anymore.