Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 10, Part 40
The Council of Gondor
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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