From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 28, Part 273
March 1, 1453
“Beggin’ yer pardon, little buddy, but I still have summat to show ye.”
“Oh. Right. Of course.” Gently Frodo laid Bergil’s hand down upon the coverlet, then stood and kissed the sleeping brow. “All right, then, show me.”
“This way, mate.” Fishenchips led Frodo down the corridor towards the back exit. “We gets more’n sick men, here, aye, more’n sick women and children besides. We gots livestock now in Seaside, and it needs seen to. So I’ve added on a sorter healin’ house fer beastly-kind, and some o’ the students here make it their special study. Over here.”
Outside, Frodo saw that the bower where they had healed Lanethil remained, now planted permanently. “Borlas did that; he’s keen on trees. It does Bergil good, and some o’ the other patients besides, to rest outside here a bit, when the weather lets ‘em. Some like the porch better, to sit and watch th’folks go by. But that’s not what I brung ya here t’see.”
"That reminds me. Has Lanethil been very ill? His hair has not grown back nearly as quickly as I would have expected."
"He's been sick some, aye, but that has naught t'do with his hair. Elves grow folly culls..." (He spoke the medical term with pride) "...slowly. 'Tis why they rarely bothers t'grow a beard--they can spend years in the 'barrassin' stubble-phase. It has sumpin' t'do with bein' immortal, I reckon. But come this way, now."
Fishenchips turned to one side, towards a clean and well-kept barn, where injured goats and unwell cattle rested on fresh straw, along with the occasional pig, dog or cat. Frodo heard the soft clucking of chickens in an adjacent coop. He breathed in the fodder-scents and animal musk that reminded him of the Midsummer’s Fair back in the Shire.
“Trickster!” Mattie cried. The monkey leaped from the rafters clear down to land upon her head, jolting her and causing her to laugh. “Oh, Trickster! How I missed you!” She pulled the monkey down and hugged him, then, still laughing, let him climb all over her shoulders. “Thank you, Fish, for taking good care of him for me. I knew that I could trust you. He looks terrific!” Indeed, the monkey seemed quite sleek and well-cared for, as he settled down and carefully ran his little leathery fingers through her hair.
“Aw, ‘twas no bother, he made himself useful in all manner of ways. Not least, he’s better’n anybody else I’ve found fer picking thorns and burrs and things out o’ fur. But he’s not why I brought ye here, neither, though yer gettin’ close.” Suddenly Fish whistled and called out, “Hi, Sairy-Girl! Sairy-Girl!”
Frodo froze, not believing his eyes. A wolf loped towards him, and before he could make a move huge paws landed on his shoulders and a great tongue slurped out to lick his face.
“Seregril! Oh Seregril–you’re alive!” He hugged the furry neck, and then petted and petted the frisking canine bigger than himself, who looked in splendid health, grinning toothlessly. “Fish, this is a miracle! How did you manage it?”
“Oh, herblore an’ trainin’, much as you’d expect. What’s good fer a fever in men ain’t so bad fer a fever in dog-kind.”
“No, I mean how did you even find her? How did you even know about her?”
“Oh, well, that. I din’t know her, not right away.” He stroked his chin “It chanced that I went back to Tower House, see, fer some things I’d left behind, and there she lay, right on the porch–a full-sized warg, in broad daylight (or what passed fer it in the rain) pantin’ on th’doorstep like she owned it, and lookin’ sick as a dog, if ye’ll pardon the expression.” He scratched Seregril behind the ears. “At first I just wanted t’run her through, as the most natural thing t’do. But I fell to wonderin’ why she din’t just leap up and bite m’throat off while I stood there shocked an’ thinkin’ about it.”
“I can’t tell you how glad I am that you didn’t! But what changed your mind?”
“Well, sir, once ya gets healin’ inter yer blood, ya can’t so easily turn away from the sick, man or critter. And I saw that she were sick indeed, tremblin’ there and whimperin’, ever bone of her stuck out, and her lookin’ up at me with those big dog eyes, drenched through in the rain. She made a motion as t’stand, but couldn’t get her feet quite under her, so I knew I’d see no danger from her, if I kept m’wits about me.”
Seregril sat down, listening solemnly, as Fishenchips continued his tale. “I took me chances, got closer, and saw her mouth all swollen-like and stinkin’ worse’n dog-breath ever did. So I rapped her a smart one with the pommel o’ me dagger, knocked ‘er out cold, then pried her jaws open. I coulda saved meself the trouble and her the headache, fer I found her fangs ripped out, and the gums all raw and full o’ pus.”
“Oh, poor Seregril! And all for defense of me!” He stroked the glossy fur, and received a lick on the cheek for acknowledgment.
Fish shook his head with a fond expression, squatting down beside the wolf. “I called meself a fool, y’know, takin’ in a warg like that. But Angband’s pits, man, what could the poor beastie do agin’ me with her fangs pulled an’ all?”
“She did me no harm with every fang intact,” Frodo said, staring into the warg’s brown eyes.
“So I nursed her back. I fed her whatever I could squash up fer her, brains an’ livers an’ soft-curd cheese, eggs an’ blood an’ gravy-soggy bread, soon as she could eat agin. Hando said nohow would he help t’feed a warg, but then Pearl, bless her, bought up whatever I needed and gave it to me anyways. So Hando came around, knowin’ it made no difference to turn me away. Now I pays him extra, betimes, t’grind things up special fer us, when I can afford it, and he doesn’t even shake his head anymore. He’s even come over and let her sniff his knuckles, given her a bit of a pet and everthing. He knows now what me heart knew afore me head. She ain’t evil no more. Are ya, girl? Nooo, o’ course ye ain’t.”
“Ol’ Hando’s not a bad sort, if you give him time to get used to an idea.”
“So Sairy-girl got better. Then she throve, got all sleek and lively like she should. She moved in with me, at me own ‘partment at the House of Healing, and kept me feet warm from the winter cold, tucked around ‘em at the bottom o’ me bed.”
Frodo smiled. “I remember her doing the same for Mattie and me, when we had to sleep out in the cold of Nurnen Marsh.”
Fish’s eyes grew wide, and his voice softer. “Then came a wondrous night, in the dark o’ the moon, when I cooked up a mess o’ beans fer meself, and had not yet thought on what I’d grind up fer me wolf, when I heard just the sweetest voice behind me say, ‘Beans! Oh, please mash ‘em up fer me! I do miss beans!’ I turned, and there...” He swallowed. “There stood the most beautiful woman that I ever laid eyes on!”
Seregril turned from Frodo to Fishenchips. She laid her great head upon his knee, and looked on him with devotion. “So I fixed her up a right nice meal, and as she ate it, she told me her name and how she knew ya, and how ya saved her from the worst part o’ the spell upon her. It seemed she caught yer scent somewheres betwixt Squatting Rock and here, and followed yer steps backwards inter Seaside. There she found that the smell o’ ye laid most heavy on the Tower House, and there she waited fer ye, hopin’ ye’d survived the walkin’ tree, hopin’ ye’d come back home, so’s she could die at yer feet. But she smelled me own scent there, too, crisscrossin’ yers, so that’s how she knew as she could trust me, when I took her in.” He stroked Seregril’s fur. “Can we stay tegither, Frodo? I know she’s sort of like yer hound, but she’s become my friend.”
“Of course she can, Fish, if that is what she wants. I never owned her. She’s my friend, too.”
So the rest of the day passed in helping Fishenchips on his rounds, starting with the Barn of Healing. The warg could pick up the smaller sick animals in her great jaws as gently as if they had been her whelps. She herded restless, delirious livestock back into their pens, pushed between quarrelsome beasts and growled them back into amity, nuzzled unhappy creatures into a state of peace, nudged and pawed bedding into place, and found so many other helpful tasks within her grasp that Fishenchips swore that he could not maintain the animal clinic without her.
For Frodo’s part, he found comfort in taking pitchfork into hand again, even if it did happen to be the wrong size. He recalled how such labor had helped him to regain himself on the ship of Watersheen. “How long has it been since I held farm-tools?” he asked himself. Strength seemed to rise up the wood of the pitchfork’s handle like sap in a living tree. “How could I need something so badly and not even notice?”
After a scrub-up, Fishenchips had human patients to look after, and these valued confidentiality much more than a pig or goat might, so Frodo and Mattie found a different occupation in minding Spring and Perry for Elenaril. Frodo watched Mattie for any sign of torment in spending so much time with another woman’s living children, yet she showed not the least hint of distress. Indeed, she seemed to draw at least as much from playing with and tending the little ones as Frodo derived from farm chores. Frodo watched her cheeks grow flushed with running after Spring and tagging her, and running away again.
At day’s end Elenaril invited them into her cottage, built onto the side of the hospital, and fed them fare less rich than Pearl had done, yet wholesome and full of health. This time Mattie helped with the cooking. “Women like that,” Frodo thought, remembering visitors of his mother’s. “It’s some mystery that they share, conjuring raw things into food in the kitchen together.” Mattie looked better and better every moment; Seaside seemed to agree with her more than any other place that they had been.
That night, however, Frodo did not dream of Mattie nor of anyone that they had lately seen. He dreamed of his Uncle Nibs. He became a small child again, toddling beside Uncle Nibs back in the days when the elder hobbit had been young and handsome.
They stopped at The Water. Nibs picked up a rock and sent it skipping across the surface.
“No, that didn’t happen,” Frodo said. He tore the page out of the Red Book and crumpled it up. The stone skipped backwards into Nibs’s hand and turned into a fishing-rod. Nibs cast the fly out far, far into The Water...
“No. It was the other after all.” The line drew back, the rod reduced into a fine, flat stone, perfect for skipping...
“No. I was mistaken. The other one happened.” The moment kept replaying and revising, as balls of crumpled paper piled up around Frodo’s feet, up to his knees, up to his hips, up to his chest, blocking his arms, till one fell against the lens upon his breast.
“Stop it, Frodo!” a woman cried. “Both are true. Accept them both.” He looked for the woman, but saw only a spider, a beautiful spider in jewel colors, watching him from the point where two webs met. “Just accept him as he is. You will not have him much longer.”
Frodo woke up with a shock. Long he lay by Mattie’s side, watching the moon-shadow of leaves play out upon the wall, cast from the arbor just outside, before he finally turned over and slipped into other, forgotten dreams.