The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 15, Part 45
The Logistics of Love
(December 13, 1451)

Frodo could hardly wait till their midday halt, when Bergil found a roadside well where they could water the goats. The ruins of an ancient scarp sheltered them from the wind that whipped across the plain and drove great ships of clouds above, now casting them in shadow, now leaving them in sun. The hobbit never hauled so much water so fast (splashing himself rather badly in the process) impatient to open his father's letter, yet not quite so urgent that he would let the livestock suffer in his haste. At last, though, the final bucket gurgled into the trough and the goats happily lapped up their fill, freeing Bergil and him to sprawl down in the wizened grass. Wet and shivering, Frodo lost no time ripping the wax off the paper.
"November 14, 1451
"Mayor Samwise Gamgee of Bag End
Hobbiton (Mailed from the Capitol Smial at Michel Delving)
The Shire
"My dearest Frodo:
"I know this will get to you. I know that your still alive and well. Oh heavens, Frodo! You have to be! I still have no word from you. You should of reached Edoras by October 25, and I should of heard back by November 12, so Im sending this on to Gondor, in the hopes that you have taken some different route that I dont know about. If you get this, there is a letter waiting for you in Rohan that I dont have the heart to write twice. Send for it--but first send me one of yours.
"Do not trust Legolas! It aint his fault, but he is not well. In his madness, he made hisself a ring, and it is driving him crazier. He has hurt people--I dont want the next one to be you. Gimli told me all about it. He and Eowyn are looking for the poor elf. Help them find him--and you!--if you can. Maybe you can blaze trails or leave clues behind you.
"Maybe you already figured all this out--I hope not the hard way! Believe me when I say that Legolas is a good person who has just seen too much. Try not to be too hard on him, but keep yourself safe, too.
"I just wrote a lot of nonsense, dident I? Sorry. If your reading this in Gondor, Strider has control of the situation and of course it makes no sense to blaze trails or anything. If you havent reached Gondor, then you cant read this letter and its all useless. Oh why did Gandalf and the eagles pluck me from the brink of ruin only to let me live to lose my son! But no--you must be alive, or none of it makes sense. I dident come back from the floods of molten rock for nothing--I couldent of!"
Frodo found himself mouthing the words, "But he wasn't that bad, Papa!" as his watering eyes made it hard to read.
"Your mother has taken to going out into the fields every night and singing old songs to Elbereth, the West, and suchlike. She pesters the songs from me, learns them, and then goes out and sings them. She has learned some Elvish just to sing those songs. The neighbors think shes gone strange from fear for you, but I dont let them bother her. By now there used to it, though; they shrug and say Missus Gamgee does no harm with that singing of hers. I tell them she does good, and Im behind her, and I teach her all the songs I know that might help keep you safe. Rosie never held by that sort of thing before, but she does now. Her voice kind of trembles when she sings, but she sounds so pure and sweet that she darn near makes everybody as hears her want to cry."
Frodo wiped his eyes on his sleeve as he turned the page.
"Three times now weve found flowers laid by the well, where Rosie goes first thing in the morning. I think the elves hear her and take pity on her. I wish theyd talk to me direct, but maybe they cant no more--or think they cant. I dont rightly understand all this fading business, but I think I could still hear elves if they gave me half a chance. I been through too much with elves not to, and I had no problem with Legolas.
"I will say that May came in from playing all alone in the woods, saying a 'pretty lady' told her to tell me your okay, your arm got hurt but your just fine now. I ran out there straight away, but I saw nobody, and heard maybe footsteps running away, maybe just autumn leaves blowing. It comes to me that if Legolas cracked under the strain of fading, he might not be the only one--some of the elves, I think, have gone all skittish and hide from those of us as could still see them, unless its someone harmless like a child. At least I hope thats what happened. I got to be honest. May is very small, and plays with imaginary friends. Poor little poppet!--she might of played she heard good words about you and talked herself into believing them. But at least Rosie took heart and ate a decent meal that night.
"Who am I writing to, anyway? You or me? What if my dear, brave son lies dead somewhere, and this letter goes nowhere, and nobody reads it? Maybe I write only for my own comfort, that by addressing you, Frodo, I can somehow make you be there, alive, to receive this letter. Oh I so much want you still to live!
"Ive got to have more faith. Maybe an elf did talk to May. Maybe there doing the best they know how to bring us comfort. Maybe if I dont believe that, they and my son are all as good as dead. It does seem odd that May would make up that bit about the arm, though. I will do my best to believe her, then, until I get proof otherwise. I sure do wish I knew for sure!
"Theres some folks as wont talk to me now. They say I should of knowed better than to send my boy out adventuring--especially since I been out there beyond the borders, myself, and should know the dangers moren anyone, if half the tales be true. (They say. I aint told them half of all thats true--Itid turn there hair grey if I did!) But they blame me for breaking Rosies heart. She dont eat right no more. Shes starting to get thin. Your sister Rosie-Lass does all the cooking these days, and keeps trying to coax her Mama to have a bite, but cant hardly tempt her.
"Maybe there all right about me. Oh heavens, Frodo, what have I done? To you, to Rosie, to the whole dear family!"
"Love and tears–
--Your Papa."
Frodo must have looked thunderstruck when he lowered the letter, because immediately Bergil asked him, "Bad news?"
"Only about me." He got up and paced around their campsite, shivering despite the protection of the old stone wall. "Or rather, no news about me, which is worse than bad news, if you're parents warned to expect the worst. Bergil, how long does it take a letter to get from Edoras to the Shire?"
"Give me a minute--I used to know such things by heart." After some reflection he said, "The Shire is seventeen days from Edoras by post, thirty-three by walking horse, and sixty-six on foot." Rather proudly he added, "They test us on distances in officer's training--'tis all part of tactical."
"Seventeen days..." Frodo calculated, and then sighed with relief. "That means my family would have gotten word from me by now. Unless..." He turned a worried face to Bergil. "I heard of delays in the post lately."
"Between Edoras and Gondor, not going the other way, and even that has resolved--why do you think your father's missive reached you? Relax--your parents have read your first letter, and are probably sitting down, without a care in the world, to a fine mid-day meal, which I hope will taste better than field rations eaten cold from the pack. You do intend to fix our evening meal tonight, and pay off that debt you say you owe me?"
"Absolutely," Frodo said distractedly as he reread the pages in his hand. "I suppose you also know how long it takes post to travel from Minas Tirith to the Shire?"
"It all comes back to me now. Twenty-six days by post, Fift..."
"Thank you--I don't need the foot and horse details right now." He tucked the letter inside his weskit. "And how about from Nurnen to the Shire?"
"Hmmm...that is harder. Normally mail from the Shire does not...but how foolish of me! All I need do is add the Nurnen-to-Gondor figure to the..."
"The number, Bergil! You can keep your equations to yourself."
"Thirty-six days, Master Frodo."
"And don't call me...sorry. I guess I was sounding a little masterish there, wasn't I?"
"A little bit, my friend. But plainly this message has concerned you. Now sit down and rest! You have been walking all morning, and will walk again all afternoon when this break ends--so make the most of it." Then his brow furrowed. "Oh wait--I miscalculated. Forty-six days. They do not ride at full speed from Minas Tirith to Nurnen because they have few stables for fresh mounts along the way."
"More than a month--and the same length of time back again for the reply. Much can happen in that time."
Bergil looked on him sympathetically as he unpacked lunch. "It troubles the soul, does it not?"
"What does?"
"The time when you realize that you must become your own adviser."
"Aye," Frodo said quietly, as he laid his cold-cuts out on bread. It had seemed like such a good idea, though, when he rode out from Edoras...
"You had better change your wet clothes," Bergil said, and tossed over Frodo's pack.
Frodo hardly said a word all afternoon. Herding goats did not take much of his attention, not with an experienced hand like Bergil to show him the way of it. But all the rest of the day words ached in his head, carefully chosen, rearranged, discarded, started over again, till after awhile anything he could possibly write began to sound ridiculous and short of the mark.
By nightfall, though, he pretty much had settled on what he had to say--and then forgot most of it again as he cooked dinner, bringing out those herbs and spices he'd purchased beyond the rations issued for his journey. The good food heartened him--he used one of his mother's winter recipes for those days when everything in the larder pretty much resembled the dried fare and preserves in their packs, anyway. It warmed his belly with memories of home. At last he opened up his writing-kit and started his reply.
"December 13, 1451"
The pen-brush stroked the numbers onto the paper like new shadows in the flickering firelight. Frodo frowned a moment, then wrote,
"Frodo Gamgee Gardner
At large
Nurn Post eventually
"Dear Papa and Mama:
"Please forgive the odd return address, but that's the name they know me by hereabouts. By now, if all has gone as it should, you would have gotten my first letter, at least, and know that I have come to no harm. And yes, May must have really spoken to an elf--you probably know by now that I did get wounded in the arm, but recovered completely.
"Mama, thanks for all the songs! No matter what dangers I have faced, I have come through just fine, so keep it up, and hang the fool neighbors if they don't like it! After all, Bag End has a reputation for eccentricity to maintain--who can fault us if we keep up the traditions of the Bagginses before us?
"Papa, you did exactly the right thing to send me out in the King's service. The more I learn about Nurn's need, the more convicted I feel that somebody has GOT to help those poor folks out. And why not me? What kind of a mayor would you be if you exempted your own from hardships you assigned to others?
"Besides, how many other gardeners could you find so steeped in family stories like ours? Every mile makes it more obvious that I'm going to need a lot more than a green thumb for this job--no one of my generation has the experience, but stories are the next best thing. And it's a young hobbit's job--oh, I know all about 'The old that is strong does not wither,' but you and Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippen have ties and responsibilities that a young fellow like me needn't think about as yet."
Again Frodo paused, letting himself feel fully what he was about to write.
"I guess I know I'm not coming home any time soon." He took a deep breath, then added, "Don't you worry about me--any of you. A star has shone on me from the moment I rode out from Bag End. I've had some narrow scrapes, sure, but my luck hasn't failed me yet. You just keep singing those songs whenever you start to get scared for me, and I'll do all right.
"I left Minas Tirith early this morning and hit the road with Bergil son of Beregond--the same one I told you about in my last letter, who rescued me on the access road through Druadan..." Frodo shuddered and pulled the blanket tighter around him as he blew on the fire. The winter wind felt cold, and he missed Uncle Merry's tent.
Bergil leaned over and said, "You should not write by campfire light. My Mum always warned me that I could wear out my eyes that way."
"Hobbits live underground," Frodo replied. "Our night vision is somewhat better than that of men." And his better still, he only now began to realize, far from the lamps of Minas Tirith. "But thanks for caring." He added a quick summary of the day's events, then cleaned his pen and put it away. "Anything left of supper, Bergil? I believe I would like a little more."
"Not a drop--too delicious to last the night, I fear. I washed the pans while you bent over your letter--did you not hear me?"
"I'm afraid not." The hobbit gazed to the northwest. "My heart and mind walked in the Shire, for a little while."
Bergil nodded and gave him a moment of silence before saying, "Well, your folks certainly taught you the art of cooking! I had no idea anyone could work such wonders with mere field rations. Consider all debts paid."
"Your turn tomorrow, remember."
"Tomorrow we shall dine in Osgiliath, and neither of us will have to cook."
"Next night, then."
"Excellent!" Bergil laughed. "Then you shall be in my debt again."
Frodo couldn't help but grin back. "That depends on your own skill at cooking."
"Alas! In that case I shall accumulate such debt by the time we reach Mordor that my children's children shall still be paying tribute to Bag End." A fleeting sadness crossed his face--but then he pretended like he'd never frowned at all.
"Not necessarily." Frodo sat up. "Do you really want to keep me in your debt? I started sword-training mere months ago and need rather desperately to hone my skills. Will you spar with me, on a regular basis?"
"That should not be too hard; we can do it when we stop and graze the goats. Sure, I can do that for you. It would benefit me, as well."
"Fine then--it's agreed!" And they shook hands on the matter.
"Oh--and Frodo? I figured out something as we walked this afternoon."
"Thirty-five days."
Frodo stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
"The post actually travels thirty-five days between The Shire and Nurnen. I forgot that none of the information about marching, walking horse, or postal horse speeds matters once the messenger reaches the Port of Poros, because from that point on, all travelers (whether footed or hoofed) sail up the river at the same speed, anyway, and the river ships run swift."
"Bergil, you are trying to drive me crazy, aren't you?"
"Oh--did I not tell you? That was in my job description. To guide, protect, assist, and if possible drive crazy."
Frodo laughed and got up, wrapped his cloak tight around himself, and started to walk away from the campfire. Bergil asked, "Where are you off to, now?"
"Really, Bergil--that's kind of personal."
"Oh. Sorry. Of course. Yet we need to settle our watches, since we have no thorns to build stockades for the goats on this side of the river. And on the other side stockades would not suffice."
"Don't trouble yourself about that. I'll take first watch. You go ahead and tuck yourself in."
As the ranger bedded down, the hobbit went a little ways off from the camp, but not just for the reason that Bergil had assumed. Frodo wanted to see what the night looked like beyond the firelight. Something had changed since his dream of Valinor, that first night that he had fallen asleep with May's glass upon its cord around his neck. He no longer needed to peer through the lens itself to tell the spots where the grass turned green, and where the frost had left it golden-brown. He saw colors in the dark.

Previous Installment Main Page Next Installment