In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 11, Part 82
(February 6, 1452)
Frodo Gardner's loyal servant Bergil, his face corpse-white with fear, slammed the door behind them and practically threw the hobbit down onto the bench inside. "Never do that to me again!" he exploded.
"Do what?" Frodo rubbed a bumped elbow, glad that they'd recently sewn the bench-blankets into hair-stuffed pillows.
"Run off all on your own into the hinterlands, for one thing," Bergil raged while he gripped Frodo's bared arm hard and twisted it to better see the scratches in the light. "And then, for another, stay out past oh Varda!" He'd just caught sight of Frodo's foot. Bergil ripped off the bloody handkerchief. "By the Seven Stones! How much trouble can one hobbit get into? Quickly, Fishenchips--set water to boiling." Bergil threw a blanket onto his shivering master and then left Frodo mercifully alone as he rummaged through shelves and chests, trying to recall where he had put Elenaril's salve. "No wonder Kitty followed you home--you left her a trail of blood."
"As you can see," Frodo pointed out, "I suffered an unexpected delay, or I would have returned well before dark."
"You should never have gone out at all! Not alone. Have you not learned by now that this is not your Shire?" Bergil tossed things out of a chest onto the floor in his search, leaving them where they landed. He then dumped out the contents of every single drawer in a cabinet, one by one. "Of course you suffered a delay--delays abound in Mordor! Death delays the worst of all." He flung open another chest and proceeded to empty it, hurling his pair of riding-boots across the room. "And boots--when will you get it into that tiny halfling brain of yours that no one should walk unshod in Mordor? By Isildur, I ought to nail shoes to your feet like a horse!"
"My father needed no boots."
"Your father traversed Mordor some thirty years past, before Sauron's experiments had escaped his grip and spread." Bergil narrowly saved a flask from shattering.
Fishenchips said, "I gots th'bandages boilin'--that is whatcha want, ain't it, mate?"
"Good man, Fishenchips. Here, Frodo--drink this down, fast. No arguments."
Frodo took a gulp from the cup shoved at his lip, but then choked and sputtered against its stinging sweetness. "That's brandy! I thought you had some healing draught--take it away!"
Bergil found the ointment, and fashioned swabs of boiled rags and twigs. "Now you know what comes next, Frodo--and it shall hurt. You did not quibble over the brandy last time."
"That was before the fever, before Sauron got a clawhold in deep enough to nag me without rest." He pushed the cup away as Bergil held it to him a second time. "I have momentarily silenced him," Frodo pleaded. "Sauron attacked me about an hour ago, but he lacked the resources to do more than cramp me up a bit, and now he's spent--I could have peace for days."
Bergil stared in alarm, but for a moment pity softened his tone. "Are you sure that the pain would not be worse than the voice of Sauron? At least you have grown accustomed to the voice."
Why not? Sauron added helpfully. The Lady Eowyn has administered poppy-gum to help some patients cease from hearing voices. Though brandy is much weaker, it still might...
"No! No! No! He's back! Oh Elbereth deliver me!"
That name might daunt my minions, but I have warred with her before. The only name that conquers me is one beyond your knowledge. Then the horrible voice chuckled, so that Frodo writhed with it. Did you think me so easily spent? The minute you came back into the village I could replenish myself. Frodo gripped his own head and cried out incoherently. I will concede one point to you, though, my dear, dear friend--I have been too hasty. If I husband my strength, and hurt you a little less, perhaps I can make my entertainment last awhile before you finally pass out.
"Hold him down," Bergil told Fishenchips. "Master does not know his own best interest right now."
"No! Stop! Bergil, you cursed rebel! Fishenchips, are you going to stand for this insubordination?"
Fishenchips held him down. His hook trapped one arm and his hand locked onto the other. Bergil reached to hold the hobbit's nose and forcibly administer the only anaesthetic that he had, but Frodo snapped at his hand and snarled, "Have you become an orc, then, Bergil? Just so did the Uruk-Hai treat Uncle Merry for his injuries." Bergil paled and drew back at that.
Releasing Frodo, Fishenchips said, "Aw, let him be, Bergil! If he don't want his medicine, let it fall on his own head if he hurts--he gots the right t'choose."
Bergil sat down the cup and doubt warred with frustration in his face. "Does he? By the laws of his own people Frodo has not yet come of age; the King has appointed me to act as his guardian in more ways than one."
"Really?" Fishenchips exclaimed, and resumed his hold, as Frodo cried out, "That's news to me! If Strider never intended me to head this mission, he should have said something before I trudged all over Minas Tirith arranging my own supplies."
Ignoring Fishenchip's question of "Who's Strider?" Bergil said, "The King told me to exercise discretion, to obey you and leave all decisions up to you unless they put you or others at undue risk, and to give you as much leeway and responsibility as you could manage; in this wise he hoped to let you stretch yourself and learn. For in truth the mission does fall wholly on your shoulders once you turn thirty-three--if, in your folly you should live so long!"
"Thirty-three?" Frodo exclaimed, "You think I'm still going to be here at thirty-three?"
Bergil picked up the cup again. "We are wasting time, here, and have lost too perilously much already. Frodo, you know that I must widen and scour your wound, and not hold back; I cannot have your foot flipping about like a landed fish when I do so. My job will go much easier--and you will suffer less damage, not to mention less pain--if you drink down the brandy and relax your reflexes."
But Fishenchips pleaded, "Lemme try just one thing, mate. Lemme sing to him." When they both fell dumb and stared at him, Fishenchips explained, "''Tis kinda hard to ferget a tune sung over and over atcha while ye're gettin' yer hand sawed off. I think I can sing it back again."
Just then Frodo jolted in Fishenchip's grip and he howled with pain. "Sauron..." he gasped.
A strange and potent grace suffuses the Shire--I concede as much. My Nazgul suffered a major reduction of their power in your land. But do not think you can escape me so readily--I shall strike you again and again for even thinking of sipping Shire Brandy!
"You mean," Frodo husked, "it would hold you at bay? Unlike the Black Drink?"
Oops! Did I let that slip?
"Liar!" Frodo moaned.
Then sweetly the foul voice told his host, We can pretend that it does.
Frodo whispered, "What do you mean?" The men stood by, bewildered at this debate, of which they heard but half, yet they feared to interfere with questioning.
Let it be a little pact between us. No one has to know that it works only by agreement, merely that it works. I hereby swear to you, Frodo son of Samwise, by Melkor the Mighty, that I will leave you entirely alone for six hours every time you consume one cup of Shire brandy, as slowly as you like within an hour's span. You can even measure it by a hobbit's cup, if you like, at least for the first year. No one will fault you for it--they would understand, once you explain that nothing else can buy you peace. Your father would even send it to you regularly if it protects you from me.
"Noooo--that would break his heart!"
But he would do it, in pity for your plight. You know that he would, if he saw no other way to help his son--and there is no other way. But Frodo, it really WILL work--I promise you that. If you think about it, I have no reason whatsoever to break my word.
"No, because your pact would render me useless to my mission. And you would have the worst possible revenge upon my father--forcing him to slay his own son by degrees."
But you would not care, my dear hobbit. The voice caressed him, soothing away bruises on his soul that it had inflicted mere hours before. The brandy would free you also from regrets. And you would be free of me at last, for as long as you wished, whenever you wished. Or...
Frodo seized up so hard that it took both men to hold him down and he howled with pain. "Sauron! You cannot keep this up forever! You are endangering your supply of slaves to do this to me."
Temporarily only--I can always recruit new slaves. And I have too many, scattered all across the countryside, to hunger long. Again the Dark Lord's voice grew tender. But fear not, Frodo; my offer stands, without limit as to time or place. Once I have sworn by Melkor, I cannot break my vow. I shall deliver on my promise whenever you wish to give it trial--you may choose the day. One cup, sipped over an hour's span. Try it in secret later, if you like, when all the others sleep, just to test my word. No one will know. No consequences will follow--I will even lift the headache the next day. I can do that, if you grant me your consent. If I can touch your nerves to hurt you, I can also help, but you must permit me to draw from you what I need to relieve you, for in truth it is easier to harm than to heal.
"Oh I bet!"
One experiment cannot hurt you, Frodo. I believe you will find the relief...delicious.
"Fishenchips--sing!" Frodo cried. "He's distracting me--he does not want me to remember your solution."
Fishenchips cleared his throat, made one nervous caw, and shut up immediately, turning bright red. "I...I fergit," he stammered.
"Fishenchips, please try again! No, here. Release me--I promise I won't squirm away. See the cord around my neck? Draw it out...there." Cold metal touched Frodo's neck briefly as the man hooked the cord. "Now lay your hand of flesh upon the talisman and ask it to magnify your memory of the song. There you go. Now sing."
And the man sang. Never had Frodo imagined that so deep a voice could sound so sweet, as roughly soft and dark as the good rich earth. Frodo sank into that song, as sleepy as a seed, the gentle rumbles of the voice textured like the kind of soil a farmer loves the best. The sailor's hand felt big and warm against the glass (somehow Frodo could feel through the glass) and Frodo could hear the song as though it radiated from the hand, magnified through the lens, into his chest and directly to his heart. He perceived Fishenchips' long-denied yearning for the land, as deep as the yearning Legolas felt for the sea. The spell stole over him, less lofty than when an elf sang the same song, yet closer to his hobbit heart.
He cried out at the wound's first probe, but almost wondered why he did, safe and cozy in the earth's embrace. Bergil dug at the wound with all the vigor that fear could give him, until blood spattered the man from scowling brow to toe, and Frodo whimpered now and then, the pain rising clear up to his teeth--yet he could hold himself some distance apart from it, drawing earth-strength from...no, through the one who sang to him. For Fishenchips did not diminish, but rather let a greater power pass into and out of him again, even as breath entered into him and came out again as song. Frodo did not quite sleep, as he had at Legolas's hands, but he found his waking bearable enough.
Nevertheless, he felt exhausted by the time that Bergil had done with him. He forced his eyes to open and he regarded the ranger. "Thank you," he husked. "Papa showed no mercy to that other Frodo, either, flogging him on when he had to, kept him marching when he wanted just to die--'cause a servant's got to watch out for a master's well-being, y'know, soul even more'n body sometimes." His tongue stumbled on a drowsiness more delicious than anything that brandy had to offer; he smiled, feeling very close to sleep indeed. When the man blushed, he said, "A pert servant, Bergil--but you deserve my praise." Then Frodo looked up at Fishenchips. "And you! Y'know something? You've got a gift now. You can either let go or hold onto it--your choice--but if you decide to hold onto it, you are now--and shall always be--a healer."
While Fishenchips stared off in wonder, Bergil wiped the hobbit clean of blood. "You show me too much kindness!" the ranger murmured, "for in truth I regret my earlier harshness. You had lesson enough in your injuries without me treating you so roughly." Now he washed himself the best he could, frowning at the stains upon his shirt. "It is just that I felt so much fear for you, Frodo, and when my worst fear came true--when I saw Kitty of all beasts after you--then I...I nearly lost my mind. Slowly have you grasped the dangers of this land, though you learn quickly enough of other things."
Frodo chuckled weakly, despite the throbbing of his foot. "I learned a great deal this night," he admitted.
Bergil turned to the other servant. "Fishenchips, will you carry Master up to his bed? I will bring his supper up shortly, as soon as I can prepare it." But Frodo fell asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. The last thing he heard, as tender as a lullaby, was, Sooner or later even the bravest little hobbits tire. It might take days, it might take years. But whenever it happens, Frodo, fear not; my vow will bind me to your will.