The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 14, Part 44
Shepherds on the Eastern Road
(December 13, 1451)

With the dawn yet blushing in the sky and the air still fresh with dew, Frodo went out to meet Bergil, whom he understood would await him just outside the city gate. Frodo bore a sturdy pack upon his back and a walking-stick in hand, feeling grateful to the King for not assigning him a local hill-pony--it would have been too soon. As the gate creaked open a rank smell wafted in--and there stood Bergil, out of uniform and grinning, leaning on a crook, amidst a flock of goats.
"I must really love the company of the Periannath," Bergil said. "For behold! I have cast aside all rank and title to join you as a shepherd!" A nanny bleated loudly as though in confirmation, and they both burst out laughing. "Tar Elessar decided that Nurn could use the livestock, and they might as well come with us."
Frodo smiled and shook his head. "I just hope you know more about herding than I do--vegetables I understand, but potatoes aren't in the habit of wandering too far from the garden, and when they do they're rather slow about it."
"All the children in Ithilien take a turn at herding goats up and down the steep hillsides. I came to it a little later than most, but I know the way of it." Frodo noted that the man still wore a small crescent patch--Ithilien's symbol--on his shoulder, but so did many from that land, when they went abroad. As they struck out for the east he winked at the hobbit and said, "Where do you think I learned how to lead men?" The goats trotted alongside them agreeably enough, bleating softly now and then, their bells ringing around their necks. It felt splendid to Frodo to feel the good earth beneath his toes again after days of treading on stone, and to hear the din of the waking city soften slowly in the distance as they walked away.
A couple of stout he-goats carried supplies on their backs (including his precious store of paper and a brand new block of ink.) For a moment Frodo's heart rose, recapturing the mood of picnics with his brothers and sisters that started out much like this, with Billie-Lass similarly laden. Then he remembered, and sadness infused the cheer. "They're all good, sturdy beasts," he remarked, petting a furry back. "Quite as plump as my pony," he said, and bit his lip.
"Not surprising, since the nannies are all pregnant--they should deliver in the spring. Then the Nurnings will have fresh milk and cheese, and more goats to start herds all around."
"Not to mention plenty of manure to improve their soil."
Bergil wrinkled his nose. "I had not thought of that."
"No, no--it's a good thing. Trust me. Gardeners have to see the value in everything. Fruit and flowers and the good, sweet corn all spring from the same stuff that gentlefolk wipe off their feet. All things have their purposes."
Bergil turned grave, gazing ahead to the dark range before them. "Not in Mordor," he said.
"Are you so sure?"
"Oh come, now, Frodo! Did you not hear me yesterday? And your father has seen Mordor--has he told you nothing?"
"Oh, he told me plenty, all right, but he didn't exactly cross the desert with gardening in mind. Seen it? Yes indeed, and smelled and tasted it, and heard its cracking stones, and felt it nearly unto death! Papa hasn't left his children ignorant of Mordor--although half of Gondor seems to think he did. Even so, Papa holds enough hope in the land to send me there."
"Perhaps." Emotions troubled the Ranger's brow, now that he had actually set his feet to the journey that he chose, but then he forced a smile. "In any case I see the King's wisdom in sending to a far land for the Little People, who never seem to lose hope no matter what darkness they may face."
"Enough of darkness, my friend!" Frodo waved out before them. "See how the sun shines across the plain and melts the frost away? And while it's not the green meads of spring that stretch before us, the winter weeds are good enough for goats--see how happily they graze! I'll wager that they'll make a fine living off of the selfsame thorns that my father used to curse."
Bergil saw the hobbit's glance return to the pack animals, and remembered the story of the picnics. "By the way, Frodo--what did you do with that lock of Billie-Lass's mane?"
"Oh, I made a cord for this." He drew May's magnifying glass from within his shirt, where it dangled from the braided horsehair around his neck. To his surprise Bergil burst out laughing.
"Oh, now that impresses me! I am supposed to escort a hobbit named Frodo into Mordor while he bears a circular talisman around his neck! What kind of luck do you suppose that might bring us?"
"Talis..." Frodo's hand clutched the lens involuntarily. "How did you know that it's magical?"
Bergil's jaw dropped. "It is? But I was joking!" Then, with widened eyes the man asked, "What, precisely, is this adventure about, Frodo son of Samwise?"
"Nothing more than it appears, I assure you!" Frodo said hastily, then explained about the mother-spell and the lens's history.
Bergil listened intently as they walked to the pace of the goats and the plain slowly changed around them, sloping towards the Anduin. At the end of the tale he nodded. "Interesting, that the love in your sister's gift has already saved your life once, beyond the spell originally laid upon it. And now you bind it to you--over your heart, no less--with a cord from the mane of a creature who also loved you, who gave her life to save yours. All this, with a talisman whose gift it is to magnify. You might well accumulate far more power than you realize, Frodo, in that 'child's toy'."
At the word "power" a shiver ran through Frodo's skin. He could almost feel his hungry "blowfly" clinging to him, quivering to attention. No! he thought. You're not touching this! It is mine--it is beyond you. Even at your mightiest love was always beyond you!
Bergil went over to one of the pack-goats and dug about in a saddle-bag. "Speaking of those who love you...ah, here! This came in at the last minute, but in all the chaos of rounding up the goats, I nearly forgot it." He handed a packet of parchment to Frodo.
"A letter from Papa!" Frodo exclaimed.
"Count yourself lucky that I intercepted it at the gate. Otherwise it would probably have reached your room about an hour after you had gone, and then have gotten sent back out again to your destination--some twenty days hence by marching, slower for us on account of the goats."
"Oh Bergil--how can I begin to thank you?"
"You still owe me a meal," he said with a smile. "I have heard legends of the culinary magic of your father, and cannot help but wonder..."
"I'm a terrible cook!" Frodo exclaimed. "I couldn't possibly...oh botheration! I can't lie to you, Bergil--I know my way around a kitchen." Frodo sighed and laughed. "Oh very well! Tonight I shall cook our dinner. But you must take the next turn after that."
"Agreed!" Bergil shook Frodo's hand on it. "Turn and turn about it is." He grinned as he shifted his pack upon his back. "I have much hope for the road ahead of us, Frodo. Had you asked me a year ago how I might feel should the King decide my duty lay in Mordor, I would have recoiled in horror. But pitching my fortunes in with yours, little friend, wherever they might lead, I feel good...I actually feel good."

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