From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 25, Part 270
Frodo saw the crowds on the docks some ways away, but of course they hadn’t turned out for him. The ship sailed in to port; he tried to stay out from under foot of all the tall men throwing out rope and shipping the oars, furling the sails and opening the hatch. The hull shuddered with a thump as it nudged its way into its berth. Frodo took a deep breath. Home at last.
He watched, small and unnoticed, from the deck, as people swarmed around the crates and barrels as fast as sailors could unload them. He saw Aloe down there, setting aside such cargo as would have to travel to recipients further inland, and he saw Hand O’ Plenty directing some struggling apprentices on how to keep control of an angry sow without her land-legs yet. Cork came for a package; he stopped to chat with Leech a bit, before tucking the bundle under his arm and moving on. They all looked careworn; these months had not gone by without some trouble, Frodo could see that much. Yet none looked malnourished, and a few of the womenfolk apparently enjoyed the liberty of sending out for bright new bolts of fabric, judging by the hues that winked between the slats of crates. Indeed, some folks already wore more colorful attire, a weskit here, a kerchief there, a bit of bright red lace peeping from beneath a dust-gray skirt. It made him smile.
“Ah, Seaside!” He sighed and said no more. He couldn’t put his feelings into words, couldn’t sort them out enough to speak of, all of the dark and bright emotions tangled up together, except to know that it added up to love.
Somebody spotted him and pointed. More and more people began to stare up at him, and the bustle died down a little. Some scowled, some shook their heads, and a few tentatively smiled back at him; he expected no better. People kept eyeing him with their heads close together to speak quietly among themselves.
Then someone called out from the crowd, “Ey, Frodo, Welcome home, laddie!” He didn’t recognize the voice and couldn’t tell where it came from, but it didn’t matter when his heart swelled up with relief. More voices took it up, and some hands waved. He grinned, self-conscious, and waved back. Even the scowling faces showed more of a resigned disappointment than anger, and most of the people looked on him with some degree of pity and compassion. Mordor folk do not judge much, and at that moment Frodo appreciated it with a gratitude bordering on tears.
He walked down the plank, arm in arm with Mattie. He seemed to shrink with each step, now reaching eye-level with the Seaside people, now passing below it. Hard hands clapped him on the back when he reached the crowd, and he nodded and smiled at the murmured greetings, “Good to have ya back among the living, Frodo.” “Ready for a lil’ work, now, laddie?” “Gotta get some meat on them bones, though.” “Feelin’ better, are ya?” “Better late than never, eh?” “Me too, Frodo–went through the same filthy mess, meself, an’ not too long ago.” “That’s how ya do it, Frodo–ya fall down, ya get back up.”
In a short while, though, most of the crowd went back to their business. Just as well; Frodo found that he needed to take such welcomes in small doses. However, one tall figure, blonde fuzz radiant on his head, pushed through the crowds to reach him–and this one he very much wanted to greet.
“Frodo!” Lanethil cried. “I feared never to lay eyes on you again! Then I received Mattie’s letter, and knew you would return, though not today, I did not expect to find you here at all today. How good it is to see you!”
But then Pearl shouldered past him and whisked both hobbits up into a bosom grown still more bountiful than Frodo had remembered, so that their feet briefly left the ground. “Oh, ye poor little darlings!” She set them down again, holding them at arm’s length. “How thin ye’ve both become. And you...you!” Whack! Frodo threw up his arms as Pearl commenced to swat him and swat him again, tears running down her chubby cheeks, till Lanethil physically restrained her.
“You must forgive my wife; her emotions can...”
“How could ye do this to yerself, Frodo?” she wailed over the elf’s arms. “How could ye leave us all–everbody who loves ye–to, to, to...” Red-faced, she gulped for air, then bawled, “How COULD ye?” Then she sobbed against Lanethil’s chest. “Oh, the poor, poor wee fools!”
“My wife loves you,” Lanethil said simply, stroking her hair. “She always will, Frodo–even as I love you, myself.” As Pearl collected herself, drying her eyes on a floury apron, Lanethil said, “I for my part will never forget my gratitude to you–for leading me back into companionship, for introducing me to my wife, and for saving my life from that cursed crown–each thing, by itself, meriting eternal thankfulness. So can you see how either of us might burn with anger against anyone who would do you harm–even if it proves to be you yourself?”
“Come, come,” Pearl said, forcing a smile. “To me shop, good hobbits. There, there, fergive me fer tetchin’ at ye like that. Ya needs feedin’ more’n scoldin’ by the look o’ ye both. Oh, I knew ye wouldn’t be in the primest shape, Frodo, but...Mattie! What did ye drag her into, that she...”
“I...I will tell you later,” Mattie said. “Frodo had nothing to do with that.”
“What...whatever it might...oh ya poor dear!” Some guess seemed to flash across her face. She swept them along with stout arms that might have knocked over an interfering warrior. “Clove-almond cheesecake,” she prescribed. “Me latest recipe. Rich enough to comfert any heart. And after that ye can try the marmelade turnovers, whilst I fix lunch.”
“Thank you,” Frodo gasped, trying to keep up with her prodding as she steered them towards her bakery and her own little cottage attached to it. “But where is Nibs?” His heart sank as he asked them, “Is he still so angry that he will not greet his nephew at the dock?”
“Nibs has much to concern him,” Lanethil said, opening the bakery door, releasing a warm air full of sweet spices into their face. “I am sure that he has lost all track of the date and has not yet looked up from his labors to notice sails upon the sea. Do not think too much of it.”
Frodo eyed him, as Pearl pushed them into chairs, noticing that the elf did not precisely say, “Think nothing of it.” And he had caught no glimpse of Bergil, or of Elenaril, Spring, Fishenchips, or any of his household.
“Here, this will start ye off proper,” Pearl said, plopping down huge slices of cheesecake in front of them, then burying it all in fresh whipped cream, and adding a sprinkling of date bits and slivered nuts to finish it off. Before the hobbits could thank her she bustled off to lean out the back door, shouting something about sending a fatted calf off to Hand O’ Plenty. As she hastened back into the kitchen, calling out orders to still others, Frodo had the leisure to see, away from the crowds, that she had grown quite as round as a compendium of great pearls indeed, at least as large as the cook who went before her, yet somehow more pleasing in distribution, and certainly more kindly in the face.
“We have many servants, now,” Lanethil explained, while Pearl sent a chubby girl off to a spring for cold milk. “More than we can find work for, betimes, until we invent new tasks. Yet Pearl will not send anyone away hungry, and will hire whomever looks willing to labor for food, and to split the profits as they come. Indeed, she has expanded her business, bakery and dairy and livestock, to keep everyone busy. And I take on apprentices and journeymen, as well, for metalwork and the expanding trade in glass. The potters, at least, earn enough gold to still buy our wares. And still more folk from other villages send for biscuits, cheeses, and aught else that travels well.”
Frodo frowned. “Has Seaside seen hard...” but just then Pearl returned with the turnovers.
“The beef’ll not be fit till dinner at the earliest,” she announced, “or maybe even supper, but I’ll have some cold cuts carved up fer sandwiches to tide ye over fer lunch–and ye shall see if I still make the best cramsome bread east of the Anduin. Don’t’ee like me cheesecake, sweeties?” So the hobbits couldn’t get a word out until they had cleaned their plate several times over. Eventually, as generously crammed with welcome-home hospitality as their skins would allow for now, they recounted as much of their adventures as they could before tea-time, by which hour they had found some more room for Pearl’s next round of cossetting, while Lanethil sat chuckling softly at the sight, smoking his pipe in the corner. By the time they had worked through dinner (at a much more leisurely pace, talking extensively between mouthfuls to give time for each bite to settle) Mattie and Frodo had filled in their friends as far as Frodo’s encounter with Yavanna in the Nurnen Marsh.
“You are a woman after my mother’s heart,” Frodo finally gasped, loosening his belt for the third time. “If this continues much longer, you shall have to butter me up along with the buns just to squeeze me out the door!”
“While you can still fit,” Lanethil said with a smile, “I might recommend a long, leisurely walk before supper.” He rose and offered his hand to Frodo. Yet above the smile a serious look now creased his brow, and Frodo recalled that he had meant to ask Lanethil something.
“I will stay here,” Mattie said, “For some things are best left spoken only from one woman to another.” Pearl nodded solemnly, handing over the dishes to a couple of young helpers, then waving them away as she set down beside the hobbit.
Frodo could hardly wait to get out to fresh air. “My but Pearl has become a force to reckon with!” he exclaimed. “How do you stay so lean, Lanethil?”
“I have much work to do, as smith and glass-blower, and much dancing in my spare time, and a will as firm as my wife’s when it comes to determining the size of my own plate.” He laughed. “Not to mention that she likes me as I am, though she will not admit it, even as I like her to thrive as herself.” Yet the laughter did not remain long in him.
Frodo noticed how swept and tidy the streets looked, how well-repaired and freshly painted stood every door and shutter, and each wall looked well-maintained according to its kind, though the few flowers in the planters looked pale and droopy. Whatever had happened had not capsized the local morale. He said, “We don’t walk merely to shake down room for more food, do we? Where are we going, Lanethil?”
“To the fields.” And as Lanethil spoke the words, a sudden homesickness for the tilled soil of Seaside welled up in Frodo. “Did you know that you have become one with this land?”
“In a sense, perhaps. I suppose that any hobbit does who plows and plants. Or so my father told me when I left Bag End behind.”
“In perhaps a different sense than your esteemed sire might have meant, great though his wisdom might be. For you have become deeply immersed in what you might call a form of magic, a sort of antithesis to Sauron’s tricks.” The road led upward now, past the higher village houses, climbing towards the plateau above. “I cannot know for sure, yet I suspect that your talisman has amplified perception far more than its original design intended, what with the power of love that binds it. And now I see that you have added still more power to it since last we met; the effect can only increase.”
“But what does perception have to do with the land?”
“Everything. Especially perception amplified by love. The more you perceive of a thing, loving it the while, the more you become one with it. And you have bent your will towards this earth from the day that you arrived, with a solicitous heart and a compassionate hand, till by the time you had abandoned your post, your post could not abandon you.”
“Am I like the elves, then? Like you? But not as intensely as the elves, surely.”
“Not in the same way, yet do not be too certain about the intensity. The land molds us more than the reverse. You mold the land. And you have affected me profoundly, Frodo. Did you know that for months after you left, I could not stomach a single sip of wine? For you have drenched the country in your misery. Behold what is left of the fields which you had cultivated!”
They had risen up past the last house now, and Frodo saw deep gouges in the plateau ahead, as though some monstrous cat had clawed it into ribbons, leaving wounds so deep that a tall man could not see out of them. New cliffs of moist red clay gaped raw beneath the sun, stinking of the stagnant pools that fermented in each depth.
“Good heavens!” Frodo cried. “What happened?”
“You happened,” Lanethil said quietly.