The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume II
Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 10, Part 40
The Council of Gondor
(December 11, 1451)

After the promised leisurely breakfast (and a fine one it was, too--far better fare than anything he'd eaten in a score of inns) Frodo had the first taste of real work since his journey began--he had to attend a meeting. In some awe he entered the great marble hall where Tar Elessar sat high up on the Throne of Isildur, the winged crown of Gondor shining on his brow, his robes all black and silver with the White Tree jeweled on his breast, and the Banner of Arwen behind him, its gemstones glittering against the dark. If any trace of Strider remained in that dread lord, it did not show today. Smoke swirled around the pillars and the statues of Gondor's kings in eerie layers, for many of those present (including Tar Elessar himself) smoked pipeweed with the impunity of their Numenorean heritage. Today chairs filled up the spaces to either side of the center aisle, all carved with symbols of the lands to which their lords belonged, cushioned in velvet the colors of their respective liveries. These filled up rapidly, as heralds announced more lords arriving every moment.
After his own formal introduction, servants led Frodo to the very front row ("No doubt because I am short," he thought, "compared to them, and can't likely see any other way.") There he found waiting for him a little chair upholstered in a sun-ripened gold trimmed in green, and all the wooden parts carved with hobbits gardening, each four sides depicting a different season, while the back-piece showed an abundant harvest and small figures dancing around the Shire Mallorn. A sweet pang of homesickness clenched his heart just to look at it.
In a low voice pitched to carry just to him, Tar Elessar said, "Welcome, Frodo Gardner, to the seat held by your father before you." And yes, for just an instant Frodo could still see a twinkle of Strider in the eyes.
Once the meeting got going, though, awe soon gave way to boredom, and some chagrin. It seemed that every worthy in Gondor must weigh in with an opinion on his coming mission to Mordor, whether to make long and flowery speeches in support of their responsibilities to the "recovering victims of oppression" or to protest against Gondor's funds going to the aid of "our erstwhile enemies." Some claimed (conveniently enough) that any intervention at all was "imperialism on the scale of Sauron himself," while others maintained that since everyone in Nurn had been made "comfortable" in the role of slaves for generations, the kindest thing to do would be to round them all up and turn them into servants in Gondor, "since they plainly cannot fend for themselves." Still others remembered that a large part of the Nurnings were descended of Gondor citizens taken captive, and deserved assistance on that account alone, but then that started a debate on whether and how they should separate the Gondor-folk from others, and what percentage of the blood of Numenor might suffice to define a citizen, and how such could be proven, and what about mixed marriages, till finally the King himself struck the arm of his throne with his scepter till they all fell silent, so that he could insist, in exasperated tones, that all of his subjects had an equal right to sustenance and support, regardless of their ancestry.
The only reason Frodo could sit there politely through it all was on account of his upbringing. Often his father had forced him to endure town hall meetings, "Because not all work gets done by your hands, more's the pity. There's things you need to know about how folks manage their affairs together and how decisions get made. Many's the time I've wished I'd a' learnt it young, myself." So Frodo knew the rules of court and the right point at which to raise his hand to speak. The king gestured him up to the steps below the throne, where the acoustics would carry his small voice to the assembly.
"Begging your pardons, honored nobles of Gondor," he began with a bow, "But you do not seem to understand the purpose of the mission to which the King has called me. You talk of sending aid to Mordor as though this has never happened before. But Gondor and Arnor have been sending aid to Mordor all along, keeping the Nurnings just this side of starvation--not a comfortable situation for them or for us, although the Shirefolk have never begrudged sharing our abundance with those in need. What I represent--what the King has proposed--is curing the Nurnings once and for all of any need for further aid. I shall go into that land and teach them the Shire ways of farming, reshaped to fit their land. I shall enable the Nurnings to grow their own food and to thrive on their own account--and you can keep your begrudged and meager shipments to yourselves, though I don't expect some of you will get much joy of them, if your attitude says anything about your happiness. Hobbits have reclaimed land ruined by the Enemy before, and hobbits can do it again. Gentlemen, I intend to see the wastes of Mordor bloom!"
The sudden applause that went up caught him by surprise, but soon it rushed to his head like a gulp of strong wine and made him dizzy with pleasure. He bowed and sat down, his face burning from ear to ear.
Then a smiling elder took his place and said, "The Perian speaks truth, however undiplomatically," and his elation deflated. "And we should all do well to heed the little fellow." As Frodo sank further down into his seat, the old man beamed down on him and said, "After all, if we are to rescue a rustic people, we need an envoy with rustic manners to match." The sage bowed to Frodo as though having afforded him high praise, and ceded the floor to others eager to debate the question further in the light of this new perspective.
The meeting dragged on until several hungry hours past noon. Often various dignitaries called upon Frodo to explain his methods of dealing with poor soil, fouled water, and other conditions in Mordor, which he tried to accomplish as non-rustically as possible, struggling to recall all the rules of formal grammar for dealing with great lords, which had long fallen out of usage in The Shire. Judging from the chuckles, he did not always succeed with any great accuracy, but his listeners at least appreciated his effort. When at last they rose for a late lunch Frodo wondered if he could even walk with so numb a bottom. He slipped over to the King and tugged on his sleeve as discreetly as he could manage.
"Strid...uh, Your Majesty, would it be all right if I just slipped down to the buttery and grabbed a bite to eat standing up, you know, looking out over the walls or something? If I sit any longer, I fear that the position shall become permanent."
Strider said, "You would miss out on the opportunity to further your cause with the others in the banquet hall..."
"Politics while eating? Good heavens!"
"...but I shall bravely soldier on for you, there," the King said with a smile. "Go--Bergil waits just outside to offer you the same hospitality that his father once gave Pippin."
After that smoke-filled hall the fresh air outside revitalized the young hobbit like spring after a stuffy winter, as winds swept up the Pelennor Field from the distant shore. Yes--it had that same salt tang as in his dream, months ago in Hollin. Was that the ocean--that faint ribbon of silver on the horizon? He couldn't imagine what else it might be.
A throat cleared behind him. "Master Frodo?"
"Bergil, I already said you needn't call me mas..." He turned, but instead of the ranger he faced one of the Lords of Gondor--a mature and sturdy man, save for the eyepatch and the shriveled side of his face, incongruously framed by luxurious brown curls. "Oh, I'm sorry, Lord...?"
"Curudag. Lord Curudag of Lossarnach. You show a most...laudable, uh, confidence in your mission, and far be it from me to dampen your spirit--especially considering the deeds of your father--deeds no doubt, that you have heard retold many times growing up, to strengthen and inspire you."
"Uh, yes--my father is quite the story-teller. He can make the most vivid..."
"Perhaps not quite vivid enough," the lord interrupted with a smile and a baleful look from his one good eye.
"Begging your pardon?"
"Or perhaps you have gotten the mistaken impression that your father's act of heroism has made Mordor safe for all time--a place where a farmer need not think beyond improving the soil and watching how the weather blows."
"I'm sorry if I gave that impression, sir. I am quite aware that I will have to watch for more than weather. Now if you'll excuse me, I am late for lunch and quite hun..." but Curudag stepped to block his way.
"And just how aware, precisely, are you of the dangers ahead? The earth did not simply swallow up all of the monsters of Sauron, after all. Periodically Tar Elessar must send in soldiers to clear out entire migrations of twisted things, and they do not line up on battlefields for the slaughter like men or orcs. They skulk. They plot. Many have intelligence beyond whatever nature Sauron found and perverted. Some have become invisible, or nearly so. And they can attack at any hour of the day or night. I myself have fought on the King's command, in defense of the Nurnings..." and here he raised the patch over what used to be his eye. Frodo could have chosen any number of things he would have rather seen before lunch. Curudag let the patch fall back in place. "I barely got out alive. My father and two brothers did not."
Frodo felt the blood drain from his face, but he stood up straight and said, "You are absolutely right about my father. He did raise me on tales to build my courage. And I would not deserve to call myself his son if I didn't follow his footsteps into Mordor, to do what I could there for people who have already suffered too much, whatever the danger. Especially when good men like your kinfolk died to buy me the chance."
Lord Curudag chuckled and patted him on the head (which Frodo did not appreciate.) "Well-answered! And if I frighten you, it is only for your own good, for your mission lies close to my heart. Had I known the dangers ahead of me, I might still have two eyes and all my kin." For a second he stared off into the distance. "Alas for my poor sire! He survived many axe-wounds defending the Gates of Minas Tirith, only to die so much more painfully..." Then he remembered the hobbit and bowed to him, saying, "May my dead eye watch your back in the dead places of the world!" And with that not-quite-comforting thought Curudag left Frodo standing there, till Bergil touched his shoulder and brought him back to the world of sunshine.

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