From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 24, Part 269
A Voyage to Seaside
(As Frodo continues his letter to his father...)
February 21, 1453–Mattie and I sang songs together, coming down the Mordor side of the pass. Sometimes we sang the songs of home, and sometimes of the Shire, or of Bree. It felt good, to go back and forth between these, and now and then to weave in a dwarf-song or an elf-song that we picked up before from Legolas and Gimli, to cover all our different moods and not bother to untangle them, not try to decide which should predominate, or which is how we “really” feel, just let each song bubble up as it came.
February 22, 1453--We spent last night in the old thorn shelter where we stayed before, when hiding out from Uncle Pippin. At first only I knew the terrain, coming down from the cave yesterday. Fortunately, just when I got lost, Mattie’s memory took over. We found the thicket in bloom, blanketing us in fragrance as we lay down to sleep, and a lovely thing to wake up to, especially after a night of disconcerting dreams.
Blasphemous dreams. I saw Yavanna, too drunk to walk, yet bravely trying anyway, tragedy and trouble in her face. Finally she swooned to the ground into sleep, and she become a mountain. Then the mountain erupted and collapsed–yet it erupted vegetation, bursting out everywhere, like green flames and curls of living smoke. I didn’t ask for this dream, yet I blush to remember it anyway.
February 23, 1453–Well, we made it to Riverborn. I thought to stay at Brandybuck Mercantile, but they wouldn’t extend me any credit, and they set too steep a price for my pocket as it stands right now. To top things off, Mistress Turquoise quite sternly rattled off a list of what her employer would not permit her to sell to me, personally, for any money–no wine, beer, hard cider, mead, brandy, grog...well, you get the gist. (A bit rich, if you ask me, coming from Uncle Merry, who likes a pint as well as anyone!)
The recital also included not only “opia”, but also a surprising number of herbs that I had never heard of. What on earth is mandragora or marjum? And hemp-buds–could any harm come from this common fiber-crop? Good heavens–if she had never mentioned it, I could have visited my roper-kin without thinking twice about it. What do people do with the buds of hemp, anyway? Eat them? It would never have occurred to me! I already know, of course, the dangers of the moonflower vine, but I had no idea that people might trade in its injurious properties on purpose. As it turns out, The Brandybucks have made a list of all such simples as could cause madness or enslavement if used unwisely, none of which will they now sell to anyone at all, not just me, without a signed request from a healer. Evidently Brandybuck Mercantile has done some housekeeping! Yet it saddens me–every time that I almost forget what I am and what I have done, somebody has to step forward and remind me.
They did, however, allow me to purchase my share of provisions for tomorrow’s ship. I need only provide a portion, it turns out, when I share the ride with cargo. At least I have money enough left for that!
So Mattie and I stayed at the same dreadful public house that sheltered Bergil and me on our first trip out. Splashie is as lunatic as ever; this time he took us for refugees from a tidal wave. He had piled sandbags all around his fine establishment. (I think they might have made it a bit snugger than before, at least on the bottom floor where we spent the night.) After the provisioning, I could not afford the choice top room, but since my last stay here I have slept in so much worse that I hardly noticed the difference. Not even bedbugs could keep me awake for long.
It feels so much warmer on this side of the pass! Like stepping indoors on a cold day; even with no fire in the hearth you can feel it. The thaw has already passed, here, and the desert rushes into Mordor’s brief and early spring.
February 24, 1453–What luck! We have caught the same ship that Leech serves. He insisted on giving me a complete examination, considering my recent history, and cheerily concluded that I am far more fortunate than I deserve. He also added that I should endeavor to gain weight, just like everybody else says. I’m trying! But it does not help that I have only recently won permission to add any fats and oils to my diet. If he had seen me before, he would declare me positively robust!
He saw to Mattie as well, and pronounced her in good health. Indeed, better than he had ever seen her before, despite all that she has gone through. And he gave her an ointment for diminishing the marks that childbirth leaves behind. The leeches of the Rohirrim do not consider such things, apparently; their women take as much pride in such marks as their warriors do in scars. I feel grateful to Leech for his sensitivity. Maybe soon, now, Mattie will let me see her undress with the lamp lit and no mists between us. Though why she thinks that I would care about a few streaks escapes me.
We had a lot of catching up to do. It seems that Leech has set his eye on no less than Mistress Turquoise herself! Apparently she consulted him quite a bit on creating the list of regulated herbs, and one thing led to another. Indeed, he showed me a splendid ring that he hopes to offer his beloved, set with her namesake stone. “Scarred people belong together and understand each other,” he said, though of course his own scars do not show upon the skin. I looked upon my own wife and understood completely.
Riverborn could use another landside healer as its population expands, and Leech has less interest in sailing since the loss of Watersheen. As unpleasant as Riverborn might look to me, he says that it has lovely districts, spreading in their fairness, further up the mountainside, with flower-boxes and gardens. Some have even planted feegs for shade, especially among Brandybuck employees who can import such at a discount. I have liked the fruit since I first tasted it, yet Leech also accounts the feeg the fairest among trees, wide-limbed and generous for climbing and with roots every bit as beautiful. Children love the tree, he says (and I see where his mind goes on that.) One must take care, however, in planting on a slope in a close-packed neighborhood, for it loves to grow roots right over rock buildings. That did not sound like a minus to me–it might make such houses more like hobbit-holes!
I should also mention that we share the journey with the latest messenger to take this run (they rotate, now.) A burly fellow named Poco Stout, and the name fits, for though the top of his head comes to my nose, he’s twice my size in girth, more of it muscle than fat, and could snap me in two by accident. He greeted me roughly, shaking my hand till my bones rattled, and nearly knocking the wind out of me when he pounded me on the back, all the while congratulating me for marrying Mattie, who, as he put it, makes a finer lass than ever she did a lad. Then, with a “friendly” arm around my shoulders a bit too tight, he whispered out of her earshot that if I ever break her heart again the way I did before, he will break a good deal more of me than just the heart, but he will have to wait in line while other messengers take their turn. It is good to know, I suppose, that my wife has built such solid friendships even in the worst of days.
I looked for a message from you, and then remembered that I had already picked it up in Rohan. How slowly the post travels across the countryside! Well, I will save this one to exchange for the next that I get from you. I can keep track more easily that way.
February 25, 1453–The clouds on the horizon look like a storm brewing, dark and heavy. Out in a field, I could have told for sure by the smell in the air (even sharper in the desert than back home) but I can’t say so very well while riding on a river. Still, everything before that wall of deepening gray looks brighter, all the more vivid. I remember that sea-bird in my childhood, white against the stormclouds so long ago, that bore my namesake’s jewel back from Elvenhome to you.
I’m sorry. I forgot. That never happened in your thread of the Web of Vaire. Well I won’t begrudge you your own memory, of the Gaffer finding the gem for you. It must mean as much to you as my own recollection means to me.
In any case, these clouds made a fittingly dramatic backdrop for a little music. I played flute, while Mattie sang, improvising without words. Sometimes I can catch, now, little motifs of the Great Music, and play a simplified rendition of them. Mattie links in to me, and can sing along with all the talent in her. The captain finally had to ask us to change our tunes, for the entire crew had stopped to listen. So we shifted to that portion of the Music that celebrated rhythmical work at sea, and I swear we must have speeded our journey by several miles, so diligently did the men row. Oh hasten the day when Mattie gets a harp again!
Poco quite agrees. He says that Mattie’s music could always lull anyone into forgiving anything. He calls me a lucky fellow to have been the first buck hobbit to discover her a doe. That must be some sort of North Breeland expression.
February 26, 1453–Well, the storm has hit. The ship tips back and forth like a drunkard trying to walk and not having much success at it. The queasiness reminds me of why I am glad not to live like that anymore.
I’m in the galley, with Leech and Mattie. Rain lashes the portholes in a fury, yet when the lightning flashes the raindrops turn all to jewels. Not that the crew takes much pleasure in the sight; when you sit in the middle of a river under a mast as tall as any tree, you have greater reason than usual to fear the lightning-bolts.
Worse, the mariners dread that the storm might stir up monsters from the deep. The thaw has already passed in these parts (did I mention how much warmer it is on this side of the mountains?) and dormant creatures waken from their sleep in winter silt. They have no love for Man.
Yet the galley feels safe and warm, creating an illusion of refuge that I value even if it lies. Leech and Mattie and I have chatted merrily away until our good healer has just now left to attend a sailor’s sprain (what with the slipperiness of the deck and its violent heaving.) And why shouldn’t we? Stewing in anxiety won’t secure us at this point.
Leech looks forward to visiting Fishenchips and offering some tips to round out his education. Mind you, Leech maintains that Fish couldn’t ask for a better teacher than the one he has already. Yet Elenaril and he have mastered different fields of the same art, really. As Leech put it, “She has studied the ways of herbs and spirit. I have studied the ways of surgery and mind.”
February 27, 1453–Papa, I am shaken, but I am all right. Really I am. Leech wants to keep me under observation for awhile, but I do not anticipate any trouble ahead. As someone who has survived two different kinds of dragon-sickness, as few others may claim, I think that I can speak with authority on this.
Yes, the storm stirred up a serpent, a dragon of water. (Curse that old axe!) The sun had broken through, and I went out on deck, when the beast erupted from the river with a great fountaining and a fearsome sound. I heard men scream. I walked towards it. I seemed to know exactly what to do. I climbed up onto the gunwale to face it, and the ship heaved in rough water, yet my toes gripped tight the once-living wood, and I could see, out of the corner of my eye, the very spirit of the tree from which men carved it. But I did not look to the side; I stared straight into the dragon’s eyes. And I sang.
I do not know what I sang. I think I drew it from Mattie, who quickly harmonized when she caught my intent, with her hair down in her eyes. I sang with all my heart--and the dragon blinked. I could see the light, even in the dragon, that it cannot bear, that it tries to burn away–the sacred radiance in everything. Soon he could stand my gaze no longer, but sank and swam away.
So I climbed down, and walked back to the galley, where Leech called urgently to me. No sailor would meet my eye. Even Leech winced to force himself. Only Mattie could gaze on me unfazed.
Leech fears for me. I understand that. I have done my best to reassure him, but it will take time to convince him that I have come to no harm. For one brief instant the water sheening on the deck in the new-freed sun did look a little bit like gold leaf, but then it passed and became what it really is: a reflection of the light! Oh light, that harkens back to Valinor, and to the horizon beyond!
No dragon’s gaze can touch the eye that has seen that distant gleam.
I just remembered. One year ago today I fought with dragonets. The old scar gave me the briefest twinge, but nothing dreadful, not like what my namesake suffered from his old wounds.
February 28, 1453–I dreamed last night that I lay in a bleeding wound of the earth, and I bled from my own wound, a great gash in my breast. I looked down at it, and up again at the crevasse all around me, and suddenly I seemed to see it and me as from a great height, and noticed that they matched. I could see Mt. Doom as well, at least as I’ve imagined it, smoking in the distance.
Leech clucked his tongue when I told him, and the sailors eyed me strangely all day long, yet from the side, quickly turning their heads when I turned to face them directly. Yet by evening I had them all laughing over dinner, with a few comic songs of yours, and Leech perhaps began to relax again. I know, dear father, what treasures count for more than gold!
February 29, 1453–We have entered the ocean in the night. The moon is in his first quarter, just enough to glimmer on the tops of waves–a whole great mesh of shimmering all around us. The stars between the clouds shine bright and thick. Oh, such sights shudder in the breast with too much joy!
So close–so close to home, now. I do not know which burns greater in my heart, love or fear. I long for it and want to hold it back at the same time! I fear precisely because I love–now comes the work of making amends to all of those whose trust I have betrayed.
No trace of dragonish thoughts, however. I feel, in fact, a carefree lack of regard for any kind of wealth that fits into a purse. I have just enough coin left to see me to my next paycheck, and I don’t care! I have enough. I have no pressing need to spend it all on grog, so the thought of buying bread, or towels, or any other useful thing, pleases me no end.
I suppose I must’ve thought of towels because the clouds have closed again, and the first misting that precedes another rain has begun to tingle on my cheeks. I will have to close this letter for now, before the fat drops fall and ruin everything. Keep my love, as always, Papa. I will write again soon.