From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 12, Part 257
Dawn’s first blush colored the stone-hewn chamber in Minas Tirith. Frodo stared up at the beams above his bed. Time had not seemed to move in this room at all. He saw the same grain in the wood that he had gazed upon more than a year ago. He scanned the room. Wood, stone, wool, linen, porcelain, brass, wax...exactly the same. Only he had changed. He had lost track of all the scars. He studied a jagged one on the back of his hand. “Where did you come from?” he murmured. Something that had happened in Squatting Rock, no doubt. He glanced over at the curly head on the pillow beside him. Some things, at least, had changed for the better.
She smiled in her sleep. Frodo felt glad; Mattie had not smiled often lately. Then he frowned. The smile disturbed him for a moment, until he realized why: it resembled too closely the face which she had shown in the grip of the poppy. He actually leaned over and sniffed her for the scent of burnt flowers, but only caught the faint bitterness of that unguent which the Lady Eowyn had given her to dry her breasts. He touched the lens around his neck, and found it warm against his skin, beneath the nightshirt. A cloud seemed to lift from his heart.
“Sleep well, then, darling,” he murmured over her, toying with a curl upon her brow. “It gladdens my heart to see the peace which a dream can give you.” Very carefully, so as not to wake her to sorrow once again, he slid out of the bed and huddled by the coals of the fireplace, warming his clothes before donning them. Once dressed, he put on a kettle for tea, and another beside it to give his wife warmer water with which to bathe her face. Then he climbed up into the window-seat to watch the daylight overtake the world.
He turned when he heard a delicious sigh, and then a gasp. She had opened her eyes, and she stared at him. “Frodo...”
“Right here, my love.” When he reached her she seized his head and gave him a heart-pounding kiss. “Darling,” he gasped in surprise, “Have you healed enough for...” but then he saw her looking everywhere, at everything, her eyes enormous, the pupils like pools of sparkling night. She caressed the thick weave of the blanket, and then the fine weave of the sheet, and then she found a strand of her own hair, ran it through her finger, and gaped at it as though she had never seen it before.
Frodo moved out of her way as Mattie climbed out of bed, touching, seeing, experiencing everything. Her fingers ran over the wood of a chair. She stroked and sniffed a candlestick. She ran her hands over the lace of a mantle doily, the roughness of a stone-block wall, around and around the smoothness of the door-knob’s bronze, she hovered before the fireplace like she fed upon the warmth, then she hastened on to the water carafe, tapped it with a fingernail and shivered at the ping it made.
In a daze, then, she went through the motions of her morning ablutions. Yet Frodo saw her intensity of pleasure when Mattie splashed her face with the warm water that he’d prepared for her, and he felt glad that he had done that. She stared in wonder at the shining water dripping from her fingers, listening to the tinkle of each drop, and he found it marvelous as well. Through her he smelled the elf-perfumed soap anew, and felt the washcloth as though it touched his cheek as well as hers. When she brushed her hair, he could feel his own scalp tingle. Her hair looked so beautiful, with the early sun a-sparkle in its waves!
Just as she turned towards her clothing, before their mourning symbols could capture her attention, Frodo said, “You dreamed of Valinor.”
“You know–you know!” and Arien herself could not have looked more radiant to Frodo’s eyes, dawning over the world.
“Yes,” he said, gathering her into his arms. “I know that light. You have restored it to me every time that I had lost it. Is this the first time that you have seen it all, in full?”
“I thought I knew–I never knew!” She hopped back and spun in the center of the room for the sheer joy of feeling her body move, and the nightgown float around her, and her toes turn in the rug. And then she returned to his embrace.
“Tell me what you dreamed, Mattie. Tell me everything.”
“How can I...” but just then breakfast arrived: rashers, potatoes and eggs with toast for Mattie, a large bowl of porridge for Frodo, with plenty of honey to make up for the skim milk on it.
“Go ahead and eat,” Frodo told his wife. “You live in this world. You need sustenance.”
She just stared at the goldenness of the yolk, as though she had never seen “yellow” before. But when Frodo tore off a bit of toast, dipped it into the yolk, and brought the piece to her lips, she closed her eyes in ecstasy at the taste.
“It shall be like this for awhile,” Frodo said. “By tomorrow, however, you shall achieve a better appearance of normalcy, yet on a higher level.” He chuckled. “It should make for an interesting ride today.”
Her eyes widened. “You mean it will all go away?”
“No, not unless you push it away. And even then, should that happen, I will return it to you, as you have so often done for me. But it will shrink a bit, just enough to fit.”
She ate with slow relish, tasting, smelling, feeling the texture of food in her mouth. Frodo enjoyed his porridge all the more just to watch her eat. In between mouthfuls she said, “I saw him, Frodo.”
“Harding. Our son.”
His grip tightened on his spoon. “Indeed?”
“I want to hear this.”
“Well, the dream began here, right in this chamber. The loveliest woman came into the room, carrying Harding, suckling him. Black was her hair and her raiment, pale as pearl was her skin, and she wept for me.”
“Yes. She weeps for all of us. That would be Nienna. I did not know that a virgin Valie could give breast, but I suppose she could, having helped to spark the life in Arda.”
For a moment Mattie’s face clouded. “I wanted to give him breast of my own, but gently she told me that this could not be, he needed a different milk, now. And in truth, he plumped up before my eyes, as a baby ought to look, all of the bones fading back into rosy roundness, and it did my heart good to see!”
Frodo put his arm around her. “I rejoice that you have seen it, then.”
“Yet it did not stop, there. Soon Harding left her lap, and ran all about, growing bigger and bigger, a laughing child. And then he came to me, climbed up into my lap, nestled up against my bosom without further need of nourishment, he just wanted to hold me and be held by me. He had the power of speech, yet all he said was “Thank you.” And again, “Thank you.” And I knew that I had not wasted my clarity.”
Frodo said, “My Mama always told me that kindness is never wasted.”
She looked at him. “Is it a kindness, then? Clarity? I had not thought of that.”
“To all who love you, yes. And apparently to Harding most of all.”
“More happened than that, in my dream. When Harding climbed down from my lap he had grown up into a fine young stripling. He took my hand and turned to the dark lady, saying, ‘May I show her? Please?’
“The lady hesitated, then said, ‘I suppose that you could, just this once. But you cannot take her the whole way, you must understand. You belong in my brother’s custody now, and he himself must obey strict rules.’
“Then, ‘come Mother!’ Harding cried to me, leaping up to the window-seat, holding out his hand, the stars shimmering behind him. I took it, and the window opened, and I leaped out into the night with my son, and we flew! Oh, Frodo, I have flown many times in my poppy-dreams, but this felt different, so much better. Those other flights seem nauseous to me now, buoyed upon the lightness of disease. This felt soaring, alive, the streaming wind vivid against my skin and in my hair–awake, so very much awake! I felt like a song upon the air, a full-throated rejoicing pealing out across the land. I saw the night-dark countryside roll out before me, and uncounted stars overhead, and the little lights in windows like golden stars below, and the vast, deep tracts of wilderness beyond them, moon-silvered forests and meads, rivers and falls, ice and snow, frosted mountain rock, slumbering fields and farms–splendor, splendor! But I had seen nothing yet.”
“Afterwards would come the sea...” Frodo ventured.
“The sea–oh yes, the sea! Miles and miles of it, silver-plumed on tossing darkness, surging and swirling, sparkling and sighing, for mile after mile after mile. I felt that I had never truly seen it before. Frodo, we caught up with Arien’s westward ride, saw the waters take fire with the dawn’s bright glow, then all the tumbling of greens and blues under a rose and golden sky!”
“And then came Valinor...”
“Elvenhome, and then Valinor...” She stopped.
“Valinor...we soared over Valinor, but I cannot...”
“It is all right, my love. I have seen it, too. It is the same and yet not. Richer, brighter, deeper, still more real. Everything there as here, only more so, better so, in its full clarity, unstained.”
“It is...oh...it is...” She trembled with the effort to find the right words. Then, without warning, she clutched the lens around his neck and cried, “Let me show you!”
And suddenly the room fell away, and Frodo found himself flying, hurtling over the meads and forests of Valinor, so exquisite before him that he could not breathe, more potent than the last time, drowning in what mortals should only sip once in a life if at all, unable to help himself. Before it had touched him, a light and shiversome caress, yet now, so much stronger for repetition, it pierced him beyond resistence, the senses shredding through him like blades of beauty, fine and sharp, more than he could contain, till he plummeted down, down, a rag of himself, towards a twilight shore, and there, on the edge of a sea of night, rose a long, grim palace all of jet, and into it he flew as one sucked in by a powerful current.
And there he saw his wife embrace a near-grown youth, who shared her sandy curls and his own green eyes, the lad’s mouth turning to an O of surprise, crying out, “Oh Mother, you shouldn’t have! He has come too often!”
Frodo tumbled into the strong, young arms. “Close your eyes, father! Close your eyes!”