In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 3, Part 74
At Home in Mordor
(January 19, 1452)
Eyes bulging with the effort, Frodo tried to rip the lens from his
neck, but the horsehair cord held. Bergil grabbed his hands in one big
human one and said, "Don't!
Don't. Don't, dear friend." Frodo stared at him in the dimness of that
cold, stone room where all the sunlight bled away, minute by minute.
Bergil sounded so gentle, and Frodo wanted to listen, but he didn't
"It's no use, Bergil!" He squirmed and looked wildly about the room,
but saw no escape, only piled luggage on the floor. "If I keep this
cursed thing I shall go as mad as Legolas--did did did I tell you about
Legolas?" He tried to pull his hands back, but Bergil made soothing
sounds and held him tight, firelight warm upon his face as the kindling
flared and the flames began to lick up the sides of the log. "Oh
Bergil--he even attacked Gimli!"
"Easy, easy--yes, you told me all about Legolas, poor elf. But the
curse cannot lie upon the glass itself, so do not try to rip it from
you--that is what he wants. Think, Frodo--what is the one thing that Sauron cannot use?"
"And in what spirit did your sister give this talisman to you?"
Frodo stopped struggling and burst into tears. It seemed like all he could do today--endure one storm of tears after another.
"Whatever curse there may be, it lies between you and your sister's
gift, like a second lens, filtering all that you see." Bergil relaxed
his grip and left Frodo holding the magnifying glass before him in a
trembling hand. Bergil ran a finger around the jeweled rim. "No evil
can touch this, little Master, not with all the love invested in it.
Think of your sister May, and of Billie-Lass, too, who even now still
binds the lens to you." He closed Frodo's hand over it. "Think of them
and regain mastery over what you bear."
"No, no, not mastery--Sauron can use mastery. Just love. Just a little
hobbit lassie wanting to give her brother the most precious thing she
owned. And a fat little pony who...who...oh Bergil!" He still sobbed
into Bergil's shoulder when Fishenchips came in. For a moment the man
stared at the two of them, peculiar expressions warring in his face.
Then he cleared his throat loudly till they looked up.
"I gots th'grub," he said, and dropped the sack beside them.
"Fishenchips--thank heavens!" Bergil jumped to his feet. "I had no idea
that the errand would last past nightfall--I did not mean to endanger
Fishenchips shrugged. "Not quite nightfall, mate. I got in okay." He
gestured at the sack. "Sorry about th'grub. 'Tain't too grand, I'm
afraid, but 'tis all as can be got until Aloe divvies up th'cargo i'
Bergil could not hide how his face fell as he unpacked a loaf of dry,
gray bread, a hard and miserly rind of cheese, and a pair of onions
that wouldn't come to much once they'd cut the rotten parts out. "'Tis
the best that I could do," Fishenchips mumbled. "Oh--and they's these,"
he said, pulling out four smallish eggs from his pocket. "I s'pose
we'll give Master the extra. 'Tain't much to divvy up in one egg."
Frodo perked up a little. "Eggs, onion, grating-cheese, and stale bread
for crumbs--I can make something of that. And oil--we have a little
flask of oil in the cleaning supplies, as good for the griddle as for
keeping leather supple." Bergil sat back on his heels and breathed a
sigh of relief as the hobbit got up and immersed himself in the
familiar chore of cooking dinner for his company. "How do you divvy up
four eggs among three?" the hobbit asked, digging for the oil. "By
whipping 'em into a batter--what else?" Frodo even smiled when he
brought forth the dwarf-kit from its place in his laundry-sack, where
he'd hidden it ever since Mattie tried to make off with it. "No, they
have not taken all of our provisions! In here I carry salt and pepper
sealed up so tight that not even the flash-flood touched it."
On his way to fetch water, Bergil leaned over to Fishenchips and whispered, "You are a genius!"
"I am?" Shock gave way to a surprised grin.
Frodo crumbled the bread into the eggs, diced the onion and folded it
in, grated the cheese-rind into the mess (the dwarf-kit held a splendid
grater) and added just the right touch of salt and pepper. Soon three
savory patties sizzled on a griddle in the grate. It seemed like
nothing had ever smelled so good as the aroma of onions right then.
Bergil shook his head and laughed out loud. "Is there any circumstance in which a hobbit cannot cook a meal to marvel over?"
"Yes," said Frodo, remembering his father"s tales. "When there is no
food at all." He flipped the cakes to crisp their other sides. "Bergil,
tell me honestly--just how much of a mess did I make of things back
there at the butcher-shop? They all think me mad, now, don't they? They
won't listen to anything I say."
"Yes, they will listen," Bergil said gently, as he rummaged through the
baggage for plates and mugs, tucking them into his sling as he found
them. "The people of Mordor do not rate sanity as highly as in other
lands." He chuckled despite himself. "On the other hand, they do tend
to heed folks quick to draw sword!"
As I have always maintained...
"Shut up, Sauron," Frodo whispered, eyes tight shut. When he opened
them again he found his servants staring at him. Frodo chuckled a
little weirdly and said, "I may have no rest, you see, no, no rest, no
peace, no privacy...I cannot...Am I mad, Bergil?"
After an awkward hesitation Bergil said, "Mostly no," He laid down the
plates on the floor near the fire as they had not yet found a table.
"Though you do have your moments." Weariness creased the ranger's face
as he said, "Sooner or later Mordor gets to everyone. Do not make much
of it. Rest. Recover. Tomorrow you will be yourself." Bergil wrestled a
waterskin into position with one arm, bracing it against his cast, and
filled each mug in turn, as his master flipped the patties one last
time. "Do you know what I believe? I think Sauron stumbled upon your
memories of Legolas, your dread of what he must have undergone mingling
with your present fear of going mad yourself, and he nudged that fear
until it made itself come true, just for the hour. He cannot magnify
anything, Frodo--he can only trick you into doing that yourself."
"No privacy," Frodo repeated. "No peace. No rest." He scraped a patty
into each plate, then looked around him. "Where did Fishenchips go?"
"I last saw him hauling something upstairs, I believe. Wasn't there some thumping or scraping up there awhile ago?"
Frodo went over to the stairwell. "Hi! Fishenchips! Supper's ready!" Footfalls rumbled down the stairs as the man came running.
The sailor stared, salivating, at the patty that Frodo served him. "Is this a chip?" he asked.
"Not really. Have you never..." Frodo began.
"I always hoped someday to eat fish and chips," he said eagerly. "I've heard rumors, y'see, and it all sounds mighty fine!"
Frodo smiled at him. "You may yet get your chance. Just you wait till I
get some 'taters planted, and you'll find out for yourself."
"What's taters, Guv?"
"Po-ta-toes..." As Frodo explained the mysteries of the vegetable,
Bergil finished up his meal and went exploring upstairs, lighting
candles as he came by them.
"The table's up here," he called down, "along with all the other
furnishings, in one room apparently set aside for storage. The second
floor divides into four rooms, with all of the third floor taken by one
chamber...Hey!" came the shout down the stairwell. "We have baths up
here! One in each room--and three rooms have hot water heating in their
grates! The top room and two more."
Frodo smiled at Fishenchips. "Your work?"
Fishenchips grinned shyly and ducked his head a little. "Just findin'
'em and fillin' 'em. By the time we finish supper the water should be
Frodo shook his head appreciatively. "You really are a marvel, Mister Fishenchips."
They did not find true bathtubs in the strict sense of the term, but
rather metal crates of unknown prior purpose, that some smith had fixed
to just enough of a slant to drain from a punched and plugged hole in
the bottom. Pipes in the room could then drain them, and
Fishenchips had found these pipes in each room and attached them. They
creaked and groaned a little every time one moved, in a metallic way
made strange by all the water that they held. No hobbit in the Shire
would have called their right angles and their dented surfaces
comfortable. But for one small hobbit very far from home, who had not
immersed himself in bathwater in twenty days, it afforded him pleasure
enough to sink himself deep into the comforting heat and melt his
troubles off of him.
For a long time he just slouched there, feeling his muscles unkink one
by one, staring at the faint candle-lit ripples on the dark water. The
great round chamber swallowed up the light of candle and hearth; lost
in the darkness above, the roof flapped with old cobwebs in the draft
from the window-slits. Listlessly Frodo stirred up glimmering ripples
with his trailing fingertips. Pretty stuff, but Bergil had warned him
not to swallow any of the water; you had to take special precautions
before drinking it around here.
Suddenly he ducked his whole head down under the surface for a moment
and popped back up again with a great exhalation. Then Frodo took the
last sliver he owned of genuine Brandybuck soap, saved back to
celebrate his arrival at his destination, and he scrubbed himself all
over, slowly at first, then more frantically, digging into his skin
with his nails.
You cannot wash me off, you know.
"Give it a break, Sauron."
Why should I? Your father never did. He would not rest until he cast
me down--literally. He went for days on end without sleep, so great was
"Haven't you ever wondered why people don't like you?"
Envy, obviously. I figured that one out long ago, hobbit.
Frodo laughed, harshly. "Now why on earth would I envy you? You can't even make yourself a proper body anymore."
Yet yours does you little good, when I have Mattie and you do not.
The soap popped from Frodo's fingers. "Just what exactly is that supposed to mean?"
Oh? Have you not noticed? Ah, but the mists hang thick over the hot
springs of the Ephel Duath. Even so, I think your heart knows something
that your mind has missed completely--it would torment you to
comprehend too much, I fear.
Something in Frodo did know, did in fact remember precisely because the
warm and lulling waters reminded him of clues which he hadn't realized
that he'd picked up. But he also knew that if he ever articulated that
thought fully to himself, he could never feel peace again, knowing her
a hopeless slave to the poppy-gum...
Knowing her a hopeless slave...
Oops. You have already guessed, I see. Well, she does not exactly
conform to the corpulent standards of what hobbits call feminine
beauty, does she? And for an instant Frodo swore he felt a flame-lashed wink in his head, like a burst of pain.
"Ohhhh Sauron, you are beneath contempt!"
Am I? I should think that you would take care not to anger me, knowing what I could do to her if I get upset.
"Her? Who? I don't know what you're talking about." But oh, he did, he did, his heart ached with knowing!
Do you not, even now? Then learn that her last name is merely the
alias she took when she ripped the lace from her chemise and traded
skirts for pants. Oh, but she so longed to escape her family's
reputation, once her father died. I know all of her thoughts
intimately, Frodo--including her thoughts of you, though she loves my
poppies more. But surely you must have heard...yes, here I find the
memories...you have heard of Mathilda Greenbanks--the young hobbit girl
who rode in amongst the Barrow Downs and never rode back out.
Frodo sank back in the water, stunned. "No peace," Frodo whispered in
the dark barely gilded by candlelight. "No privacy. No rest."