From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 27, Part 272
March 1, 1453
As the three of them walked down the street, in the early morning light, Fishenchips bobbed alongside the hobbits like a man who could hardly keep his feet on earth, practically skipping or dancing from eagerness–not what you’d expect of someone who had consumed such an enormous breakfast. “I know ya gots t’see Bergil first of all, o’ course, but I gots summat t’show ya after that.”
“I know, I know,” Frodo laughed. “What is that, the fourth time that you’ve told me?”
“The fifth,” said Mattie, still nibbling a last piece of toast as they walked. “My, but this cramsome-bread tastes good with honey-butter!”
Frodo shook his head, grinning. “Yet you still won’t relieve the tension, will you, Fish, and let us know what’s on your mind?”
“Oh, ye’ll find out soon enough, ya will.”
Frodo gazed down the road ahead, his smile fading. “So that is why Bergil didn’t come to meet me at the dock? He’s been that ill?”
“On the mend, though, Guv. On the mend. And his wife, o’ course, never goes far from his side–not that she’d have to, working as a healer and all. And so the wee ones live there, too, in a kind o’ cottage I’ve built on fer the family, rooms fer everbody, plus guests or additions as time might bring.”
“Why, Fishenchips–will that be your next career, then? As a builder?”
“I likes the trade well enough, I’ll say that much, workin’ with the clay o’ the earth and all, but healing’s my true calling, and I’ll stick with that one iffen ye don’t mind. Building’s kind of whatcher call a hobby, sumpin’ I do when I needs a rest from body parts an’ discharges an’ all th'other things I needs t’learn. Gettin’ me body movin’ freshens up m’brain, so to speak.” He threw his chest out in pride. “Yet I did build the better part o’ the Healing-House, after all, brung it up from the old warehouse ruin that it was and made it sumpin’. I add to it whene’er I feel like...and here we are!”
Frodo remembered the House of Healing. By now the vines had grown to completely cover the adobe pillars in front, and swarmed over and under the laths of the shade that they upheld, to create a living green roof, with a dim and fragrant arcade beneath. Early blooms had already begun to open up here and there, white and yellow, breathing their perfume. Merely stepping under that entryway hushed the visitors and calmed the heart.
A little girl, with huge blue eyes and a head full of curls, stared at them for just a second from the door before shouting at the top of her lungs, “Mama! He’s back!” and tackling Frodo with enough force to knock the wind out of the hobbit (easy to do since breakfast had crowded out a large amount of lung space already.) “I knew it I knew it I knew that you’d come back!”
“Spring?” Frodo gasped, amazed that she now stood taller than him. “Oh Spring–it’s so good to see you!”
“You too!” They heard steps echoing down the hall with a characteristic clacking of a cane. “Did you turn into a dragon?”
He smiled and softly said, “No, Spring. A worm, perhaps, but not a dragon.”
She patted his head. “Well, I’m glad you came back to your proper shape, Fro...Mr. Gardner. We need more hobbits around here.”
“Spring?” A woman called out in a beautiful voice. “Who do you speak with?”
“It’s him, Mama! Frodo’s come back!”
Elenaril entered the waiting area, a baby cradled in one arm while the other held her cane. Long bangs trembled with her breathing. “Frodo?”
“Over here, Elenaril.” And the cane dropped from her hand as she reached for him, found him, and hugged him like a long-lost son. But Frodo noticed also how her nostrils pulsed behind the bangs, sniffing for the fumes of grog, and he saw the relieved smile that overtook her scarred features when she found none. “Yes, I have come back–in all ways. And Mattie’s here beside me.”
“Ah, Mattie, I missed you, too! Oops!” For the baby started to cry, caught in all of the embraces with unfamiliar people. “There, there, Perry, ‘Tis all right. Shhh. Shhh. ‘Tis wonderful.”
“Did Mattie not tell you? We have named the baby Peregrin.”
“Really? Why, that’s perfect!” Then words suddenly failed him, but he pushed on anyway, heart pounding. “Elenaril...about my...uh, my absence...did you get my letter?”
Her gentle hand found his head and cupped his cheek. “Frodo. It is all right. The letter said everything needful already–nor did it surprise me to receive it. When I first met you, Frodo, you fought the Dragon Sickness with more resolve than anyone that I had ever known before. I never doubted that you would return to us.”
“Well, that makes one of us,” he said, taking her arm and walking into the hall with her. “I cannot tell you how glad I am that your expectations came out truer than my own.”
Elenaril started to open her mouth, but Fishenchips interrupted. “Ya needn’t take ‘em to the examinin’-room–Leech already checked him out, an’ th’missus too.”
Elenaril turned in surprise. “Mattie as well? Why...”
“On account of losing a baby.”
Elenaril froze, then clutched Perry to her breast. “On...oh Mattie! I am so sorry!” She freed a hand to reach out till Mattie took it, then squeezed the fingers tight.
“It is all right, dear healer. He lived for hours, precious hours in my arms before the end. And I have had the best of comforts since. I will tell you more in detail later, as I find time and...and well, the heart to fill in the rest. But I have not faced this alone. I have my husband again, and that’s a world of help.”
Elenaril pressed a scarred cheek against the baby’s downy head, and breathed in his sweetness. Spring brought up her cane and tapped the woman’s arm with the top until Elenaril took it.
“Forgive me,” said Elenaril. “I cannot imagine...or yes, I can imagine, that is the problem. But come! Bergil has long awaited this reunion. Come, follow me.” The cane tapped down the hall, then off into another corridor, and they came after, as the blind woman navigated the twists and turns. “He has heard your letter, Frodo; Fishenchips read it to him, and read to me as well the one you penned for me. We forgive you everything.”
But then she stopped in the hall, and her voice grew firmer and more solemn. “Yet first you must understand fully what my forgiveness means. I neither condone what you have done, nor call it of little consequence, nor make light of any injury to myself, or to Spring, or to the man that I love. By the very act of forgiveness, Frodo, I acknowledge that you have committed against us a harm grievous enough to require forgiveness.”
Frodo bowed his head. “I understand that.”
“Do you? Are you aware that Bergil and Fishenchips suffered grave injuries on the day that you left?”
“I...I think. Vaguely I remember something of the sort. But it seemed that I could do nothing about it at the time.”
“You could have avoided the situation altogether. The brawl battered them both unconscious. Fishenchips became such a mass of swellings that my hands could hardly recognize him, and even the faintest brush of my fingertips caused him pain–everywhere. Despite which, I had bones to set, and no one to sing for him. My husband...” she took a deep breath. “Bergil, my husband, was in no condition to suffer a concussion of the magnitude that he received, on your behalf, that day. I nearly lost him, Frodo.” She cuddled the baby against her and took Spring under her arm. “We nearly lost him.”
“Sweet tears of Nienna!” Frodo breathed.
“Slow has been his recovery, and not only from the ague. Bergil has lost much.” She opened a door. “Here is his room.”
Frodo came in to find the former ranger propped up in bed, studying a book, brow furrowed. He had become emaciated, nearly as badly as Frodo in his worst days at Squatting Rock. The black curls framed a death-pale face, almost grotesquely beautiful, the fine sculpt of his skull all too evident. When he glanced up and broke into a big grin, his eyes seemed to take up most of his face. As Bergil set the book aside, Frodo recognized it as a children’s picture-book.
Slowly but joyfully Bergil exclaimed, “I remember you!” and reached out bony arms. And Frodo hastened into that embrace, and felt the trembling clasp around him, and the heat of fever, and he sobbed his apologies over and over.
“It is all right,” Bergil reassured him, again and again, his speech halting, yet clear enough. He released the hobbit. “I have had too many fevers, you see. I have forgotten some things. Yet I remember much, as well.” He paused in thought a moment, then slowly recounted, “I remember that you saved me from another fever, a long, long time ago. There were goats, and mud. I remember that you sang, when...um...when the good Leech set my arm. I broke my arm. Something...you...you helped me to escape a sea-monster. I remember that you brought my treasure, my Elenaril, back to me. And I remember how we first came to this village together, you and me. It was nothing more than a hole of Angband, then. People hungered and despaired. I remember how you went mad for the sake of the goats...”
Frodo chuckled. “Yes, yes, the goats!”
“...and then you pulled yourself together, no matter how hard, to bring us back to life.” Bergil stared intently on the hobbit, and the face had the resolve of an adult in it. “I shall come back, Frodo. You have shown me that I can. Because you keep coming back.”
Frodo dried his eyes on his sleeve. “I’m trying my hardest, Bergil. You have given me still more reason to try.”
Bergil glanced over at the book. “Letters start to make sense, again. I can hold them in place and put them together, now, into words. More comes back to me all the time.”
“Just like my brother, Tom, only better. Tom knows nothing of his past.”
Bergil smiled. “I know enough to recognize a friend.”
Frodo pulled up a chair. They told each other their adventures since last they parted. Some parts became no easier with repetition for Frodo, yet he owed it to the best friend that he’d ever had to hide nothing. Whenever it became too difficult, Frodo looked just to the left of the bed and saw an elderly hobbit beaming at him, encouraging him on.
Bergil, for his part, spoke more of ideas than of events, having spent more days abed than not. “I have been a ph-ph-physical man for all my life, Frodo. Now I have watched my body pruned away from me, for I know not how long, and...and somewhat of my mind as well. For when the fever comes upon me, I cannot reason. And I remember less and less. Every third day I have nothing left save for h-heart and soul.” He looked at his own bone-thin hand. “I am pruned, Frodo. Pruned down to the few branches that a...a Gardener wants...to foster over others. I have had to pour...all of myself...into heart and soul.”
And then, to Frodo’s surprise, Bergil sang: slowly, quaveringly, yet with surprising power.
“Hollow me out, o maia of fire,
Burn out what I do not need.
Char away bitterness and base desire,
Till nothing remains left to bleed.
Scrape me and pierce me by night and by day,
Until you have emptied me out.
Then make me a flute for the winds of Manwe,
Empty of pride and of doubt.
Make me a flute of the Servant Most High,
Let me shiver with wonderful song!
Leave to me nothing save infinite sky,
and music substanceless yet strong!
Hollow me out, o maia of fire,
I surrender who cannot resist.
I leave all past hopes here to perish in pyre,
And move on, seared naked, to bliss.”
He turned wide, grey eyes to the hobbit. “I have changed, Frodo. I might yet get my strength back, but I will never be the same.” Then he smiled with a radiance that could have held its place in Valinor. “And that is not entirely bad news, my friend.”
Frodo leaned forward and clasped Bergil’s hand. “And what will you do, once the fever departs altogether?”
“I am not sure,” Bergil said, still smiling. “I know that I can no longer serve as a ranger. I do not walk evenly, you see, when I can walk at all.”
“That can mend!” Frodo exclaimed. “My brother went through that, yet he can skip along as nimbly as the best of them, now.”
“Ah, but I am not of the Peri...Peria...hobbits, Frodo. Men do not heal so readily. And I can no longer hold my mind to bear on common things. It slips about, and goes on startling journeys.” He sank back on his pillow, eyes half-closing. “The King is generous to those hurt past healing in his service; he will grant me pension enough to let me retire. I might travel with Elenaril to Bristlescrub. Some of her students already could take her place here in Seaside. And she finds my...insights...helpful.” He smiled. “Sometimes what I have left of me...knows strange things.”
“But who will be my guardian?” Frodo kissed the man’s thin hand. “Oh Bergil, I might look much older than I should these days, yet I still am not grown enough to manage on my own–I found that out the hard way.”
Bergil clasped his other hand firmly on the hobbit’s. “I will not...not...leave in any...hurry. Yet you have guardians enough, now. Seaside l-l-loves you, Frodo. Many here may advise you better than I can do, from sad experi...experi..."
"Yes, that, beyond my own. And none will let harm come near to you. Not unless you allow it in, yourself.” His eyes shut the rest of the way. “I am tired, friend. I need to rest, now.”
“Oh Bergil, I can’t just let you slip away to Bristlescrub, not until I find some way to make everything up to you! For you have suffered so much in my service, never mind the King’s. None of this would have happened to you had you not started down the road to Mordor with me, shepherding the goats.”
Bergil opened his eyes. “Have I made nothing clear, dear friend? I am happy. Happier than ever I could have been in Gondor or, or Ith...ithil-i-en. Do not be as one of those who...look upon my wife, and see only...scar. They take no note of how her trials have won her wisdom and...and respect. Suffering is not always a misfortune, dear, dear friend. Sometimes the Powers of the West burn us and hammer us, so that they can forge us into what we later feel glad to...to...to have become.” In a whisper he added, “Forgive me; I can stay awake no longer...” and his eyelids fluttered shut again.
“It is all right,” Frodo said, though he knew that Bergil could no longer hear him. “Rest all you want.”
By the time Fishenchips came and stood in the doorway, he found Bergil fast asleep, and Frodo still holding his hand, head bowed.