From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 31, Part 277
August 5, 1454
Papa’s arms felt warm and comforting around Ruby as she sat in his lap, leaned against his chest, under the dusty glow of the skylight in his study, reading the letter’s shaky hand:
“Dear Papa,” it began. “I am, and I freely admit it, a worm. I am a fool, more brainless than a vegetable, worse than a sun-spoiled potato! I am sure that you already know this by now, but let me repeat it for my own satisfaction: I AM AN IDIOT!
“Lanethil came to visit me at the Blue Dragon. The first thing that he asked me, I am afraid to admit, was when had I last bathed. When I realized that it had completely skipped my mind, I suddenly saw clearly the path that I was on, right back on, that I swore I would never tread again.
“I regret that I cannot date anything in this letter from here on out. Mattie did not include a calendar when she threw my things out the door for me. All I know is that I have spent too many nights here at the Blue Dragon. Ninnyhammer!
“I just forgot, Papa. Forgot, when one of the men brought some home brew to the field, to celebrate the birth of a son, that I could not sample what everyone else praised as fine workmanship indeed. My hand just reached out with the rest of them, before I could even think about it, for the bottle that they passed about, and after that one thing led to another. I felt one with them. Normal. At least at first.
“Oh Papa, what I would give to just be normal!”
Ruby looked up to her father. “Read on,” he said. “It doesn’t end there.”
The handwriting improved a little; Ruby guessed it must be another day. “Lanethil wants to take me on a journey. He wants to show me something. Mattie has agreed. She has come out and kissed me goodbye. I apologized to her, and thanked her for not putting up with what I wouldn’t put up with in her. She has packed my things for me, in addition to the ample supplies provided by Pearl. I only wish it were possible to take Curry along to bear it all! Yet I suppose the exertion will do me good. I still feel pretty rocky, but I know it could be worse. Oh Nienna–how much worse, and so easily!
I let go with one hand, Papa, but not with both. I didn't leave Seaside. I didn't leave behind my name. I faced my people every day. I saw their disappointment and their care. I couldn't deny completely what I did, no matter how I tried. I didn't give myself quite enough room to keep on lying to myself. I think that helped.
I forgot to ask for a calendar, and now there’s no going back for it. I cannot even see the shore anymore, let alone the lights of Seaside. Lanethil has taken me onto a vessel of his own, from his hidden harbor, across the Sea of Nurnen. We are not going to the Poros Pass. He wants to take me deeper into Mordor, Papa, past the farmlands ‘round the Sea. He is taking me to Gorgoroth.”
Ruby gasped. “Read on,” her father said gruffly.. “You wanted to read my mail, well now you must see it through.”
She swallowed and turned the page. “Seasick. Ohhh my stars, I am so seasick! Lanethil just laughs and gives me water. He calls it a good thing, to purge me of the errors of my ways. I curse him, but it does no good; he just laughs the more, and will not turn the boat around. (I daresay he has heard every curse ever uttered in the dungeons of Angband, and finds my worst imprecations rather tame.) When I insisted and drew Sting, he handed over the rudder with a smirk, at which point I realized that I had no idea where to steer, or how to make the rudder and the sail work together. He took it back again, and I felt like the fool that I am.
“I feel better today. The salt breeze refreshes and restores me. I have discovered that Mattie packed my old flower-press for me, stuffed full with new sheets of thick paper, ready for discoveries. Oh my word–even now I am on the King’s payroll! I must not go derelict of my duties ever again.
“Today I feel angry. Angry! The word doesn’t encompass all that I feel, two paltry syllables, for what Sauron has done to me. And for what I let him do. The halls of Mandos seethe with such anger, at both self and others; I remember hints and glimpses of that, and Lanethil confirms it. We confound ourselves with endless anger–forever, if we don’t catch on that this is just one more trap. I know that; I just don’t yet feel it.
“We have reached the other shore, and entered another farming village much like Seaside. North Shore, it’s called, sensibly enough. Leaner citizens of Nurn live here; it has not progressed as much as home. Yet I saw people spreading midden-compost for the spring planting, and the simple sight awed me, to think that my influence had reached even here.
“I am writing to you from another dreadful Mordor public house. No civilized amenities, including no beds. We throw our blankets onto stone shelves up away from the bugs. Apparently Splashie’s place in Riverborn counts as a princely establishment by local standards, and the Blue Dragon might as well be legendary Rivendell! But at least these quarters offer safety, from thieves and wild beasts, and protection from the elements. And no beer nor grog.
“I finally have a chance to duck in from the rain to write to you again. It rains a lot more here on the north side of Nurn, both from the sort of merciless clouds that pass over the southern lands without a drop of rain to spare for us, and from still more clouds that build up over the Sea of Nurnen (although we did see a break in the drought back home.) It would probably be a fertile land indeed, if not for its stoniness. Not surprisingly, quarries and mines abound.
“Sorry, Papa–I know that I have not written for several days. I’m not sure, in fact, how many I’ve missed. The habit of writing, once broken, now seems too heavy to lift up again. I am tired, Papa, tired of myself most of all. But I will try to get back to it. Sometimes we have nothing left but the bonds of habit to hold us together.
“Whenever we stop, Lanethil entertains the locals with songs and stories, and usually earns us bread without any coin of mine. Just as well; a quick look in my purse surprised me with its paucity. Our own supplies taste better, but Lanethil says, first, that the people need the satisfaction of paying us with what they have, and second, that we will need to conserve our own stores for our travels. In any case, what it comes down to is that I have been too enthralled to spend the time writing about the more prosaic details of our journey, nor can I now remember the stories well enough to do them any justice. Someday, perhaps, I shall write them down properly, when I am in the right frame of mind to absorb them.
“Sorry that still more days have passed without writing to you. But I feel reason enough this morning. I had a dream last night of Boromir full-grown, unbroken, striding on strong legs! Oh, such joy to see him so! Gladly he obeyed his father, armored up (a splendid spectacle of a man, the very picture of his namesake!) and rode off to battle in the East, under the King’s banner.
“And there he died. I saw him battle a mighty Easterling, sword to sword, so wrapped up in the duel that he didn’t see nor hear the other behind him, axe swinging at short range to the back of his neck! All of my joy withered into grief so profound that sobbing couldn’t plumb it.
“My vision roved far, away from the battlefield, all the way back to the Ephel Duath. My soul went underground, moving through the earth as through a mist of brown, stumbling over treasures of knowledge, long buried, that would stay buried forever, because Boromir the Scholar would not uncover them. Oh, would that his father had snapped his spine rather than sent him off to war!
“I woke up, Papa, understanding better.
“Today we have traveled beyond the last farms of men. Our road goes up more often than down, now, in progressively steeper and rougher terrain–yet raggedly lovely withal, perhaps the fairest land that I have seen so far in this beleaguered country. Vines swirl up and sometimes over the great blocks of boulders; grasses and flowers spring up between the stones, and low trees grow wherever they can pry a root-hold, twisting as though caught in a dance so slow that our eyes cannot perceive it (I wonder if an immortal elf’s eyes can?)
“Second day of climbing, and our path grows steeper still. We switch back and forth upon an old orc road. No one ever uses it anymore–too much fear lies at the other end. Mosses and wildflowers reclaim what must once have been an ugly scar cut into the mountainside. The wildflowers bob and bow in the wind, yet never really give up. Yavanna bless them!
“The ground begins to level off towards the pass. Tomorrow we will see it. Gorgoroth.”
Ruby bit her lip and put the letter down, looking up at her father with wide and troubled eyes. Sam could feel her trembling in his arms. “Frightened, Sweetheart?”
The child nodded.
Sternly he told her, “Then read on, anyway. It seems you’ve gotten old enough to flirt with fear, sneaking into your Papa’s study to read what you shouldn’t. Well, then, you’re ready for the next lesson: to face your fear head-on, push through it to the other side. If you don’t face down your dragons, Ruby, you will never learn what treasures they might be guarding. Read on!”
“Go on!” Her father commanded. “You’ve gone this far.”
She turned the page.
“Oh Papa! The shock–nothing prepared me for this shock! We have reached the vista point. We have gone on down to the other side. I could not have imagined anything like this! The soft grasses and mosses that cushion my feet, the smooth bark of young trees as I push my way through their branches, and everywhere the green, so much green that it seems that elves have fashioned this land, not the minions of the Dark Lord. Flowers in every brilliant color blaze forth wherever a beam of sunlight makes it through the trees. And each time that I reach a bluff to see further on downslope, at the hardwood level I spy bursts of pink and white and yellow, from trees entirely crowned in bloom!
“Spring has come to Gorgoroth.
“The air–oh, the air! A faint mist softens it, and makes it feel like unguent on the skin, from so much moist green breath; dew shivers on leaf and petal and twig. And the perfume that it wafts–oh where is the apothecary who could create the like? Resinous scent of sap and leaves, luscious spice and honey of the flowers in bloom, bright green sweetness of the spring-fresh grass, deep, undertones of earth. Yes, I do catch a faint whiff of sulfur interweaving it all, no doubt from the little fumaroles that we saw from higher up, sending up their coils of smoke, yet surely not the all-shadowing fume of Orodruin from your day.
“Sometimes we pass a waterfall or rushing stream. Birds sing, and rabbits dart from our path. Butterflies fill up the glades to feast on flowers there, amid the humming bees. And once I saw a deer stare at me, before he crashed away through foliage thick enough to hide him in a matter of minutes.
“This can’t be–my mind keeps saying that: this can’t be! Yet I now recall passages barely skimmed in that old elvish horticulture book, how they praised the fertility of volcanic lands, once the violence subsides. Morgoth cannot sing any song that Iluvatar does not weave back into the music, making it fairer than before! Morgoth can wound the land, and scar it, yet then we step back and see the scars resolve into patterns of new beauty, like the art that Sauron’s slaves cut into their very skins so that they could carry loveliness with them no matter what. Nothing that he could do to this land–nor what his servant did to me–can escape resolving all to good at last, and the sooner we let it happen, the better. We can choose to partake of that good or not, but whatever happens will better the music, one way or another.
“I do not want to become Gollum, Papa, to taste nothing of whatever beauty I might bring to come about. I choose to partake with an open heart.
“Thirty-five fallow years, Papa. And all this time the rains have fallen on the long-forgotten ash, and seeds have blown upon the wind, and Yavanna sang her prayers, and maybe even entwives came and made their reparations, creating a kind of garden most appealing to their long-lost spouses. But Mordor has changed beyond all hope, beyond imagination, beyond our paltry mortal dreams. It is not the land of your nightmares anymore, Papa. It has become someplace where the Nurnings can go, those who want the venture, with plenty enough land left to run wild and coax the ents to build a new home with their wives, of farms and forest interweaving. (Treebeard and Wandlimb excepted, of course; I hear that they still haven’t moved, like trees indeed in every way.) We might all lose everything that we ever knew and loved–but that doesn’t stop us from getting something new and wonderful afterwards. Oh, Papa, my heart overflows with hope and promise!
“The molten rock of Orodruin’s end must have flowed over the land and sealed away all of Sauron’s poisons, entombed the vomit of his factories and forged a barrier of rock between it and the living lands. Was Orodruin glad? Did he burst with joy to reclaim the long-lost part of himself, by which he was enslaved, with all the evil magic burnt away? Was that the nature of the eruption: a revolt of Mordor’s very earth?
“I have had nothing to do with any of this. All logic says so. Yet the healing spirits here refute my reason, saying–oh, I cannot write what they say! It sounds too boastful. And yet, to you more than anyone else, I must write everything. The maiar of that land, of tree and rock, brook and wild beast, say, “Yes you did, Frodo son of Sam the Hopeful, O yes you did! For you loved us in our lowest state, and your love has gone backwards and forwards in time, and given us the courage to try again! Even your father and namesake would not have found so much luck if your love had not opened the gate for it.” Papa, I know it sounds mad, but I really heard them say this! It seems that all–ALL–that I have been through weaves into the greater pattern, even Mattie’s terrible error and Sauron’s sin, in giving me the letter out of time. Even my own sin, in tearing the Web of Life.
“What I did–I could not have done any of it, if not for a Great Musician writing my small voice into the Music, weaving back and forth, in and out of melodies finer than my own. He who knows the precise right place for even a discordant note, has done this thing. What was I saying, to speak of boasting? I have done nothing, nothing whatsoever, except to agree to love–and that Love beyond, answering my own, has transformed even my most hideous transgressions!
“Bless Lanethil for bringing me here! Bless him and praise him and prosper all his children among men. I have seen the lie within despair. I have seen that no wound, however unhealable, can hold back the Music of Illuvatar. I have seen that even with my affliction I can become as fruitful as the Vale of Gorgoroth. Each thread adds its color and its texture to the Web of Life. Finally everything in my short, confusing life comes together–it all makes sense. At last it all makes sense! I had hints before, but now I understand.”
Sam took the pages and sorted them back into the larger bundle. “That’s enough for now, Ruby. The rest is more prosaic, about finding the vines from which Lanethil had gathered his raisins, about gathering herbal samples, and how they made their way back, and so forth. Later on I might show you some of the flowers that Frodo pressed–they’re the loveliest ones yet, if you ask me. For now...” he glanced at the mantle clock, “...your mother should be starting dinner any minute, and could use a hand.”
Slender arms flung around his neck, and small lips pressed his cheek. “Thank you, Papa! I’m sorry, I won’t peek without permission again, and...thank you! Thank you forever!”
He chuckled to himself as she darted out the door, and then stooped to pick up the waste-basket and all of the spilled trash. He sat down to his desk, made a new divider, and added the latest pages to the drawer. Then he took them out and read them all over again, and sat long in thought until his wife rang the dinner-bell.