Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 16, Part 46
(December 14, 1451)
travelers reached Osgiliath by late afternoon of the second day--that
fabled city of both East and West, straddling the Anduin, its ancient
and its modern stonework dancing in pillar and arch, balcony and spire,
to the tune of every culture that had ever sailed a ship into its
channels. Although new stones glowed fresh and unstained against the
old everywhere that Frodo looked, ruins still remained, here and there,
even thirty years after the Great War. Yet even so life bustled down
its thoroughfares; laughing children darted through the stumps of
columns, vines bedecked the fallen walls, housewives gossiped over
laundry where the water gushed from a broken fountain. Over all towered
the remains of what had once been the most magnificent of domes, now
open to the sky and echoing with the sound of many wings as the doves
flew in and out.
Frodo pointed it out to Bergil, asking, “Why haven’t they repaired that
building yet? Gimli son of Gloin has sent enough master crafts-dwarves
to Gondor, surely.”
“They leave it as a monument to their dead,” said Bergil. “They gather
there by candlelight on the anniversaries of great battles and sing
their elder’s deeds. The voices spiral up the curving walls like
something unearthly, and escape out to the stars.” Bergil shook his
head, smiling. “Osgiliath is as proud of her scars as an old warrior.
To each his own madness.”
“And what is your madness, my friend?” Frodo asked as he stopped a
nanny-goat just in time from nibbling the kerchief from his pocket.
“The company I keep,” Bergil answered with a grin. They turned down a
narrow street that Bergil knew, patchwork-shaded by the lines of
laundry stretched out overhead, their goats bleating on ahead of them.
Frodo could hear the rushing of the Anduin grow closer the deeper they
went into the city.
Frodo said, “I was talking about you waking up the goats last night--I
had a terrible time settling them all back down again. What happened,
“Oh, was I snoring?”
Frodo hesitated. “You were screaming.”
Bergil frowned for just a fraction of a second, then shrugged. “I
remember no screams. Are you sure you did not merely hear me snoring
“I’d know. My father has awakened me often enough the same way. He gets nightmares...”
“Nightmares. They mean nothing. The sun rises and you find no
wounds...Here--keep the goats away from those onions!” He pushed his
crook between an eager nanny and a string of vegetables drying from a
porch. “The sooner we get these animals to proper fodder, the better.
Bergil took another turn, down a somewhat broader avenue leading
towards the poorer end of town, as the shadows lengthened closer to
twilight with every step. Here the repairs used rubble more than
new-cut stone, set into place by untrained human hands and not by
dwarves. Oddly enough, though, these scars of war brought a lump to
Frodo’s throat, seeing the way that men could find the courage to set
things right, even without good materials or knowledge--almost
hobbitlike, he thought. He hoped that Sauron had not altogether beaten
that spirit out of the people that he soon would meet.
Bergil said, “I know of a shepherd’s inn just over the bridge, with
corrals and pens, good hay for the purchase, and a clientele that cares
naught for the smell.”
“An inn! Do you know I am so sick of inns that I would gladly go the entire rest of the distance camping under the stars?”
Bergil smiled down on him. “And you call me mad.” Now they wound
through several alleyways, one of them in front and one behind,
bottling in the nervous goats, none of whom liked the barking of a
nearby dog. “But you will get your wish soon enough--this is our last
chance for a long, long time to quaff a decent beer.” One of many fair
bridges to span the Anduin now arched before them, and Bergil led them
onto it, the lowering sun stretching their shadows out before them as
long as ents. “I for one intend to make a merry night of it, while I
Frodo reconsidered--a merry night with Bergil, of all people, might
well deserve his time. “Do men abstain in Mordor, then?” Frodo asked as
they crossed, the waters surging underneath their feet.
“No, but what they brew is vile. Keep the goats together and away from
the slippery footing at the sides. Ah, here we are!” At the bridge’s
end he made an immediate right turn straight into the embrace of an inn.
The Cloven Horn, as the inn was named, stood a good three stories high,
and looked to have been built entirely of the wreckage of different
buildings, contrasting in stone and architecture. Odd bits of carving
protruded from the walls in no particular order, like fragments of a
giant’s puzzle worked in hapazardly with the bricks and the blocks.
Mismatched pillars flanked the entry into the courtyard, within which
they found a variety of enclosures for animals. And yes, it did smell
rather rank, although stablehands worked to clean the pens, pitching
manure into a midden-cart even as the travelers herded their own beasts
in and paid their lodging fees. But by now Frodo had grown used to the
goats and didn’t mind.
As soon as they climbed to their room they wasted no time stripping to
the waist and scrubbing off their travels. To his shock Frodo
discovered in the dimming light that scars swirled and curved all over
Bergil’s chest and upper arms, always in parallel sets of five. He
tried not to stare but he must have, anyway, for Bergil stopped washing
long enough to grin sourly and say, “Kitty claws.”
“I’d hate to think of the size of the cat,” said Frodo.
“You’d be amazed at what the Dark Land grows,” Bergil muttered as he toweled himself off.
Frodo followed Bergil downstairs into the common room and gasped with
delight. Great windows looked out over the river into a panorama that
would have taken the breath of the most spoiled traveler. The builder
had obviously scavenged the sharply arching panes from the remains of
some great palace, rising the full three stories high, the shatters
patched together again with strips of lead to create an accidentally
beautiful effect, like dark-veined leaves of autumn-colored light, each
sliver of glass splintering the sunset hues into a work of luminous
art. Fire-colors swirled upon the river and flushed the sky, gilding
everything in this humble corner of the city like a fable breaking
through, burning away the grime of the mundane. A glow flushed across
the faces of the hardworking men and women who lined the battered old
tables, every one of them sitting to face the windows as they wearily
admired the view over their mugs and plates, while their children ran
between the chairs with their sheep-dogs yipping after them. Frodo
merited hardly a glance, for which he felt grateful.
One fellow did ask him, “‘Ey, where’s Mattie?”
“Begging your pardon?”
“You know--Mattie Heathertoes. The Gondor-Nurn post is his run.”
“His walk, you mean,” said a nearby fellow, laughing.
Frodo said, “I think I see the confusion. I don’t ride the post. I am a gardener--and lately, it seems, a goatherd.”
“Ah, a brother herdsman! Or...herdhalfling? No matter, no matter! ‘Ere,
you--move over! Let the little feller get a bit of bench--can’t you see
he’s been on his feet long enough? And make way for his friend, too.”
But after a few polite inquiries as to the well-being of their goats
(“All of ‘em mommies, huh? Now that’s the luck!”) the man paid them no
more heed, concentrating on the mutton stew before him, letting them
relish the simple pleasure of giving their tired feet a break.
Bergil ordered them both bowls of the same stew and mugs of beer to go
with it. In a quiet voice scarce heard above the dining clatter, Bergil
said, “I hope you think none the less of me for the occasional
nightmare, Frodo. I assure you that I am quite sane.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Frodo said as their mugs arrived. “I traveled
for months with a real lunatic--I know the difference. Say--you’re
right. This is excellent beer.”
“I promised no less.” Bergil gulped at his surprisingly fast.
“In fact,” said Frodo, eyeing the Ranger sidelong, “I’d say you’d have to be crazy not to fear the land we’re going to...”
“Hi, girl--another beer over here. This one’s dry.”
“Whoa! Slow down!” Frodo protested. “We haven’t even gotten our dinners yet.”
For a second Bergil glared at him, then dropped his gaze and sighed.
“You are right, my friend.” Not looking Frodo in the eye, he said, “
Perhaps I am a little bit afraid.”
“More than a little.” Frodo peered closely at the man. “Your fear is
personal. Something happened...” Frodo blinked; it felt as though he
could stare into Bergil from his heart rather than his eyes. “Something
more than the cat. Wounds don’t daunt you by themselves.” He tried to
catch the ranger’s eyes, but Bergil turned his face away. “Would you
like to talk about it?”
“No,” said Bergil bluntly as he reached for his second beer, then
worked at it steadily, gazing into the fading sunset without another
word. Frodo watched him, then shrugged. Soon their steaming bowls
arrived--good, sturdy, flavorful food, thick with root vegetables and
sizeable chunks of meat--and neither one of them had to cook it. Bergil
downed two more pints in a kind of grim determination as they ate their
meal, but Frodo held his tongue--the man would just have to work things
out his own way. He did think to himself, Oh yes, this is really fun. If this is his idea of a merry night, I wonder what he does for wakes?
As though in response to the thought, Bergil suddenly growled, “‘S not all about fear, y’know.”
“No, I don’t know! How can I possibly know anything if you won’t tell me?” But Bergil made no reply.
When the help cleared away their plates and Bergil meandered over to
the bar for a refill, Frodo stared after him a moment, and then sighed
and went up to their room by himself. Right before the stairs withdrew
from the common room’s view, Frodo looked back. A fractured night sky
full of stars filled up the windows now, and starlight flickered faint
upon the water. Most of the herders gathered together their things to
go to bed. As tall and lanky a man as he was, Bergil still looked small
down there, hunched over the bar, cradling his tankard close, a wayward
curl drooping into his eyes. Frodo shook his head. He’d hate to be the
ranger in the morning, when the bells on all the goats would start to
clang at once--but that was none of his affair.