The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 11, Part 41
Lunch Upon a Wall
(December 11, 1451)

"I pulled strings to get this assignment," Bergil said, as he led Frodo from the buttery with a fragrant basket full of food swaying at his side, "for my father is not without position." Frodo couldn't imagine a nicer winter's day for a picnic. With his warm cloak wrapped snug about him, he enjoyed how a brisk wind had broken up the overcast into mounds of brilliant white clouds sailing across as rich and blue a sky as ever crowned the world. "In any case," said Bergil, "all matters involving relations with Mordor fall under the jurisdiction of Ithilien, so they would have to send a Ranger of Lord Faramir's to escort you, whatever they did--I just wanted it to be me." His quirky smile reminded Frodo of someone, but he couldn't quite place who.
Frodo smiled rather wryly, himself. "I'm glad your family position got you something you wanted. All I ever got from being the son of the Mayor is extra work." They walked past hollies thriving where the elves had planted them, berries bright against the green and glossy leaves, splashing color against the stone.
"So your father has been stern with you, Frodo son of Samwise?"
"Not in any bad way. No--you couldn't ask for a more loving father. But yes, he's strict, too. He came into money rather late in life, and never figured that having it gave him--or us--any excuse to stop working." Frodo laughed as they passed between two stately blue-green firs rising up from basins of dwarvish stonework. "I think he halfway expects the family fortune to vanish as quickly as it came."
"But everyone knows how hard he earned the inheritance that Frodo of the Nine Fingers bequeathed to him. No chance stroke of luck filled the coffers of the Gardner family."
Frodo only laughed the more. "That's not how some in the Shire see it! But even so, my father's deeds are not mine. I have yet to prove myself."
"I understand," said Bergil. "I have met with some doubts, myself--though living up to the legend of Beregond cannot compare to that of Samwise The Brave, I daresay!" They passed down through a fair district where all manner of trees and shrubs reached up their boughs in shapely nakedness, in darkest brown or silver gray, pale gold or peach or startling winter scarlet. "Some argued against my appointment to your service, wanting someone stronger or more seasoned in the perils of the East (though I do have some informal knowledge not upon the record, I will say that.) But I finally prevailed on the grounds that, of all the candidates, I had the most experience in dealing with the Periannath." He laughed, with mischief in his eyes. "As a tag-along child, I confess, but that still beat all save my father, and he has other tasks to tend than guiding a farmer through the perils of Mordor." The branches cast a lace of shadows on the walls and on the cobblestones before them. Frodo looked about him and tried to imagine what the city would have looked like in his father's day, before the elves had landscaped it. If the Ancientest People could make these old stones bloom, then perhaps he could take hope in his own mission. Bergil said, "But I think he would have gladly taken this labor from me for himself, had his duties permitted."
After walking downhill awhile, they reached the Outer Wall and began to climb the stairs built into it. "We both have come to love The Shire," said the Ranger. "Does that surprise you? My father and I have read everything we could about your land, and quiz the riders of the Post, and merchants, too, of Brandybuck Mercantile. My mother owns a collection of exquisite tiny teacups crafted far away in Bywater, some with flowers painted in the glaze."
"Bywater," Frodo said, a little winded. "That's not far from my home."
Bergil looked back at the hobbit struggling up the steps designed for longer legs. "Are you all right, Friend Frodo?" He reached back to offer Frodo help, but Frodo shook his head.
"Don't worry about me," Frodo said. "I'm sure this is nothing compared to the stairs of Cirith Ungol--it'll be good practice for me to climb up by myself."
"Don't be absurd!" Bergil said, and the humor dropped from his face. "You will not go that way! Shelob yet lives--never imagine that she would forget for a moment the scent of the blood of the one who wounded her."
"Then how..."
"Through Poros Pass--you have no cause to seek out secret and dangerous passageways--not that dangerous."
"I must say that's a relief," Frodo said with a heartfelt sigh. "Papa's stories about Cirith Ungol gave me nightmares."
Bergil looked down on him with wonder. "Yet you would still go that way--knowing what you know? To teach the growing of vegetables?"
Frodo shrugged. "Vegetables matter as much as magic rings when you're hungry."
Bergil shook his head, smiling. "Lucky is he who consorts with the Periannath,"
At the top they reached a stone bench cut into the wall. Bergil rested his arms upon the battlements, smiling as the wind tousled his hair. Frodo climbed up onto the bench to look out, too, onto the wind-shimmering grasslands mottled with the passage of cloud-shadows and the bright sunlight between.
"Here, in this very spot," said Bergil, "I spent the afternoon in the company of one Peregrin Took, watching the parade of allies come to Gondor's defense before the siege." Then he winked and said, "Later he even got me past the walls for a closer view, against the rules."
"Uncle Pippin!" That's who Frodo knew with the quirky smile. "They say he was only my age when he first set out--what was he like in his youth?"
"A scamp," Bergil said, eyes twinkling with the memories, "But I was hardly better."
"Really? These days he's a librarian and a scholar."
"That does not surprise me as much as you might think--more than half the trouble he got into came of always wanting to know a little bit more than was good for him." Bergil spread soft cheese on bread for them both. "The first time I met him Pippin smelled like beer and gave me a smile as big and warm as the sun--and then proceeded to pepper me with every question imaginable (after we got through my unfortunate threat to stand him on his head, of course!) I felt flattered--at my age no one had ever looked to me before as a font of information. But then I had never before met anyone so unacquainted with Gondor and her woes."
Bergil's face clouded over a memory. "Ah but what a beam of joy he brought, in Gondor's darkest days! That halfling taught me everything I know about laughing in the face of dole, and the courage to be found in frivolity." He passed Frodo some pickled fish, after trying some himself. "My father tells me that in the wounded-wagon, on the way back from the Battle of the Morannon, Pippin could hardly breathe, having suffered a crushed ribcage that would have killed a man--but he spent the entire journey whispering jokes and merry tales for Dad to speak out loud to the rest, so that he kept everyone laughing who still could." Bergil smiled sadly. "That was the only wagon where none of the wounded died."
"Uncle Pippin never told me that part. He's told me a hundred times at least, though, about saving your father from the troll--he makes a funny story of it, if you can believe it, about how he felt so darn spankin' proud of hisself to have nailed the troll right in the heart, only to realize, ohhhh dang!--it was falling right on top of him! He claims that he thought for sure he'd died."
"Nearly," Bergil said, "but being a perian and as tough as a little nut, he got back on his feet just in time for the feast at the Field of Cormallen. My but the Periannath do love feasts--and how do you like the fare I've brought you?"
"Delicious! Is this some kind of goat cheese? What herbs are in it?"
"Yes on the goat cheese; as for the herbs, I have no idea," Bergil admitted. "But tell me--are the stories true?"
"Which stories?"
"Pippin's stories. He told one where halflings threw a long and ridiculous party, that concluded, after a slightly rude speech, with a halfling using the One Ring for a prank!" Bergil's eyes seemed to light with an almost angry glee. "And then he told another story of the Ringbearer cavorting in a tavern with the same ring, which apparently meant nothing more to his people than a toy." His teeth showed in his grin alarmingly. "It would seem that your kind made a joke of our dread enemy, the Dark Lord, at every turn."
For one brief instance Frodo felt uncomfortable; then he said, quite brightly, "Why yes! Every word is true!" They both laughed and something evil left their presence--for the moment. But Frodo realized for the first time that his personal "blowfly" might try to affect others in his vicinity besides himself. "I'll bet Sauron hated that," he said, with more authority than he'd care to admit.
"No doubt, Frodo. No doubt."
Glancing sidelong at Bergil, Frodo said, "I understand, though, that Sauron never actually died. He just sort of...shrunk. Have you heard any rumors to that effect--you know, evidence of his activity in Mordor?"
Bergil shrugged. "Nothing I can be sure of. Some go mad, in rather nasty ways. Some find themselves beset with the most outrageous temptations. If he does remain, it is not with any power left, save for what he borrows from ourselves." Bergil straightened and looked more serious, as if just beginning to wonder what had happened a minute ago. "I suppose it is something one must think about in the places we shall go. But I have heard no such rumors for a year or so at the least."
"Not since Legolas returned from Nurn," Frodo said, and stared Bergil in the eye.
"You do not think...? No. Legolas is but an elf, and that land is perilous for the mind and soul of his kind in these latter days."
Frodo almost disputed him. He wanted to tell Bergil everything he didn't merely think, but knew. He wanted someone else to understand the burden upon him. But after the exchange about hobbit mockery, he didn't feel like rushing in and trusting him quite yet. What, really, did Frodo know about Bergil, except that he had once been a high-spirited boy, and the son of a good man? I know that he respects all living things, he thought, remembering Billie-Lass's cairn, and that should count for something. But a few weeks on his own among strangers had taught him lessons in wariness, so instead he asked Bergil to tell him what perils the man knew of in the lands ahead of them. Lord Curudag had a point; he might as well prepare himself for the worst.
Feral wargs--Frodo'd heard of them already. Masterless orcs--of course, he'd had experience with those, himself, though Bergil assured him that many orcs did not survive the fall of Sauron, having nothing left of their original souls to sustain themselves alone. Trolls, too, wandered without direction--well, he'd figured as much. Shelob still lived, naturally, and poisons lingered in the Morgul Vale, but he saw no reason he might ever have to go that way. Rumor had it that balrogs might live in the caverns of that tumbled ruin that used to be Mt. Doom, but as you'd expect, nobody ever went anywhere near to find out for certain, because fumaroles erupted every so often, or sent off scalding vapors and suffocating fumes. That was another thing he'd have to watch for--earthquakes happened often in the Land of Shadow, and sometimes you got weathers of foul smokes when frail folk gasped themselves to death. Very well, then--all lands had dangerous weathers, one way or another.
But Bergil listed horrors, too, that Frodo had never imagined. Giant snakes that spit a corrosive venom--Lord Curudag had lost an eye to one of those. Scorpions the size of dinner-plates. Flying things that fed on blood. Insubstantial pools of darkness that could drive a person mad who wandered into one. And some things there were that looked like men, and pleasant enough to regard, but Sauron had sucked the souls from them long ago, so that the empty shells knew only hunger and the last orders of their master before his fall. The waters of the Sea of Nurnen, too, held fell things moving in its depths, so that none dare cross by boat but rather hugged the shore, and some of these could breathe air when they had to, and come sliding up the stones on a rare damp night, leaving a trail of slime the next day to lead to their last victim's remains. But the greatest perils did not fit any category--half-glimpsed horrors lurking in the shadows, escapees from experiments, or perhaps Sauron's mistakes, things that scratched at windows at night, or stole children by day who'd strayed too far from home, or left behind some mangled body of a man lying in the road come dawn.
The sun had begun to set before they finished their conversation, and the cold of night overtook them; Frodo could not believe they had begun their chat in laughter. He acted nonchalant in Bergil's presence, but then he had to climb dark stairs to his room all alone, his teeth chattering, afraid to look in shadows. He jumped at small noises and felt relieved at last to close the door behind him. Then he wondered if anything could climb (or perhaps fly) to his window, so he shuttered it tightly and hoped the bolt could hold against things stronger than himself. He swallowed back a shriek when a servant knocked on his door to bring in a supper that he barely tasted when he sat down to eat.
The hardest thing of all, though, was to put himself to bed and to blow the final candle out, then lie there in the dark while monstrous images romped inside his head. All his memories of shivering in his bed after scary stories could not compare--because then, deep down, he knew that all those monsters lived far, far away, if indeed they existed at all. But these...! For the longest time, it seemed, he could not get to sleep, but only stared up into nothing, moaning in the dark, "Oh dear heavens--where will I ever find the courage to do what I must do?" That night Frodo didn't feel the least bit like the son of Samwise the Brave.

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