In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 19, Part 90
The Lore of Elenaril
(February 14, 1452)
Frodo bumped along in a blanket-nest within the herbwife's
gathering-basket, in a dimness spangled by the twinkles of sunlight
that made their way through the weave. "This is not doing a thing for
my dignity," he said, "being carried on a woman's back like a baby."
"You still need rest, more than I am giving you," said Beebee, whom
Bergil once had named Elenaril. "Had you not been a perian, I would not
have allowed you out at all." He heard the tap, tap, tap of her staff
as she felt her way, but though her steps halted slightly, she made far
better progress than he would have believed.
"But I hate to be a burden..."
"You? You are lighter by half than my regular loads of firewood. I could carry you all day and hardly notice."
Frodo remembered the glimpse he had seen of himself in the mirror and
fell silent for awhile. The motion rocked him like a baby indeed, and
the blankets felt sleepy-warm about him. But soon he bestirred himself
to ask, "What about Fishenchips? How is he doing?"
A pause. "He wants to be alone for awhile."
"Of course. How inconsiderate of me."
"You could not help it, Frodo. Indeed, he insisted."
"It must have tortured him, though, to hear a nonstop recitation of the joys of family life for three days and nights running."
"He can master his envy, given time and space. He cares about you
deeply...and will you settle down? Baskets are not indestructable, you
"I'm just trying to see if I can stand up here and have a look about me."
"You really ought to rest while you can."
"But you brought me out to teach me herblore--how can I learn about
herbs that I can't even see?" After a strained silence, Frodo said,
"Oh. Right. Why don't I just tie a gag about my mouth, myself, before I
say something even worse? I am so sorry, Beebee!"
After a pause, she said, "It is nothing. You have had but a day and a
half to get used to my difference. It took me longer than that." She
paused a moment to give him a chance to find his feet in the basket,
and then resumed her hike. As Frodo gazed out over the rim, watching
the village of Bristlescrub recede, the golden sands now looked like
the color of his mother's homemade bread, and the kaktush blossoms
reminded him of jams and jellies. Beebee said, "You can, in fact, make
a delicious jelly from kaktush fruit. They tell me it is the color of
Frodo started. "Do you have the elvish gift of glimpsing the thoughts of others?"
"Only a little. Blindness has forced me to take note of every other
perception I own--perceptions I gave little or no thought to before.
For instance..." She straightened, and sniffed the air. "What do you
"Smell? Now that you mention it, I smell the kaktush in bloom."
"Is that all?"
"Isn't that enough?"
"I smell also the sharp underlying scent of that which purified your
spirit yesterday, and another herb, more bitter still, which drives off
fever. And there are other flowers in bloom besides the
Kaktush--tinier, less showy, but fragrant in their way. One makes a tea
that calms a distraught spirit. Another cures conditions of the skin.
One of the shrubs whose blossoms hardly show at all has a pungent odor
as harsh as some of Sauron's evil brews, yet it kills lice and drives
termites out of wood. Another nearly identical to it otherwise has a
pleasant odor and can break an asthma attack. Oh, and off to your left,
if you seek it, you will find wild onions for tonight's supper, if I
let you out of the basket." She reached behind her and lifted him free.
It felt odd to him, how she placed him precisely down upon the ground
without looking at him. Of course. "That way," she said, pointing.
He took a few tentative steps, scanning the ground, finding nothing at
first. Then he closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and caught the whiff of
onion. He opened his eyes, followed his nose, and found, underneath a
bush, a few long, withered onion leaves, and a new green shoot
springing up from their base. He cut into the ground with the trowel
that he'd brought along and unearthed several bulbs.
"I have heard," Frodo said, "that the outlying villages have it even
harder than Seaside, coming late to the shipments after they have been
picked over by hungry people before them. But while I have seen nobody
well-filled in Bristlescrub, I have also seen nobody at death's door.
Now I know why. Why doesn't all of Nurn practice your herbcraft?"
"Sauron discouraged all lore but his. Sauron taught people to depend
utterly on those they never saw, each of whom understood only their own
part in keeping the whole nation alive. That way his slaves stayed
helpless, consuming only what he provided from they knew not where,
obeying him even though they hated him, never knowing that they had any
other choice." Suddenly Frodo felt her tuck the blanket around his
shoulders. "I heard your teeth chattering," she said.
"Where is my cloak, by the way?" he asked as he adjusted the wool around him.
"I gave Fishenchips some soaproot to wash it with, and his own besides.
Keeping busy will do the man good, now that he has rested enough. You
two picked up so much dirt along the way that I am surprised there is
land left between here and Seaside; the cloaks were stiff with it--and
frankly, Frodo, they stank."
Frodo blushed to realize just how far his Shire-bred standards had
slipped in the months since he left home. "Sorry," he mumbled.
She reached about now, feeling the leaves and twigs, her delicate
fingers barely brushing the tips of kaktush needles and coming back
unscathed. "This smallish tree, here, almost not a tree at all, bears
pods of beans in season--you will see, in time. The virtue lies in the
pods, themselves, not the beans. Not only do they make nourishing meal,
ground up, but they regulate the blood of those with sugar-sickness.
That season still waits some ways off, but in the meantime we have
She then bent down to the ground, groping and snuffling. Frodo felt
repelled for a moment, watching the nostrils flare in her scar of a
face; it had an orkish look, or of some worse creature of the dark. He
scolded himself for the thought; evil had marked her through no choice
Beebee smiled in triumph and grasped the plant she'd sought. "Here!
This hairy vine. It is a sort of wild squash, and most generous. We can
eat some of the blossoms now, and still have plenty left over to grow
tender fruits in summer, and then leave still more fruits to ripen huge
in autumn, that will last with little preservation all the winter long.
The seeds are good roasted, too, and can remedy a dropsical condition."
She licked what she had of lips. "The fried flowers taste especially
good stuffed with goat cheese and nuts."
"I know squash already," Frodo said. "My father and I have grown it and my mother makes squash pie."
She stood up, grinning. "But did you know how to find it in the wild?" It wasn't her fault that her grin looked grisly.
"I didn't even know it grew wild at all."
"It became shy over the years of Sauron's reign. But some still whisper
that the entwives first gave us squash right here in this land, that it
came from Nurn first of all."
"You have entwife-lore?"
"A little has survived, passed down in secret." Her fingers ran along
the vine she'd lifted, finding the delicacy of each long yellow blossom
amid the coarser foliage, and adding them to her basket. She broke off
some newly sprouted tendrils, too. "These make tasty boiled vegetables,
if gathered before they toughen."
"That I didn't know."
"I suppose in The Shire you had no need."
"Nope. This time of year we eat cabbage, turnip-greens, and corn
sallets." He watched her find another herb and strip away some of the
softer new leaves to add to her basket. "You can't have learned about
all these local plants in Gondor, surely."
"No. I learned about them here." She fell silent, and stood quite still.
Frodo's face caught fire! He screamed and fell to the ground, covering
his face with his hands...and felt normal, healthy tissue. He opened
his eyes and could see quite clearly, and the pain vanished as quickly
as it came.
"Frodo! I am sorry! Oh, I am so, so sorry!" She reached for him, fell
to her knees beside him when she found him, and hugged him to her in
dismay, stroking his hair while her sightless face tipped up to sky. "I
am so very, very sorry!"
Finding himself pressed to the softness of a female breast hastened the
hobbit's recovery no end, but he still felt a little shaken when he
asked, in a higher than usual voice, "What just happened, Beebee?"
"It should not have happened at all."
He pushed away a little, just to catch his breath. "I think your mind
went back to the day of your scarring, didn't it? And I...I somehow
picked up on that."
She released him, sitting back upon her heels. "That memory never quite dims for me. I am truly sorry."
"You said that already. But how..."
"Blindness has sharpened the powers of my mind. I catch faint glimpses
of the thoughts of others. And sometimes, for someone unusually
"Your thoughts go back the other way. And my magnifying lens..."
"Your powers are growing, too."
Frodo sat down on the sand before her. "Tell me what happened in words;
maybe then the thoughts won't leap out at me." When she hesitated, he
said, "I know that Lord Lossarnach's army sustained heavy casualties
from venom-spitting snakes, and they lost track of you in the rout."
"I woke in...in the pain that you have felt. The attack happened not
far from here, but I have since learned to smell the gatherings of
serpents miles before they approach." She shuddered. "I will never
forget their scent. But at the time we had encountered so many acid
stenches from the ruins of Sauron's works that we did not distinguish
this from all the rest. The land was less clean in those days than as
you see it now."
"Shepherds must have found you," Frodo surmised. "The same as they found Bergil."
"Foragers. So far as I know, Bristlescrub alone has kept skills of
foraging and shepherding, hidden from the Dark Lord by our
insignificance. The foragers bore me to their herbwife, an ancient
crone at death's door herself, but she lived long enough to nurse me
back to health. Then, at my request, she taught me everything she knew
of herbs that Gondor never grew. She complied most willingly; long had
she sought an apprentice who could absorb all of her lore, and I came
already prepared. She knew in her bones that she had but a few years to
live, so she poured herself out to me. I drank up all she knew." Beebee
shrugged and said, "When she died, I became her."
Almost in a whisper Frodo said, "You decided never to go home."
"How could I return, Frodo?" The fingers of one hand, as delicately as
when she had touched the kaktush, traced herself from brow to cheek to
chin, over lumps and ridges like wax melted and reformed. "In Mordor
people have grown inured to ugliness; I could make a life for myself,
here. People needed me and respected me; I never knew so much respect
west of the Anduin even in the days of my beauty. When I think of what
would have awaited me in Gondor after what I have become..." She
"Bergil always respected you."
"Before he became unable to bear the sight of me."
"You know," Frodo said as though changing the subject, "Today is my sister Rosie's birthday."
"Is it indeed? And what might she like for a present?"
"Oh, the brightest, fanciest yarns you could find--she is mad for
weaving. If she ever got dragon-sickness, she would want all her gold
spun into thread."
Beebee smiled at that. She stood, sniffed, took a few steps and felt at
a shrub. "Then perhaps I can gather together some presents for her. We
have wonderful dyes out here, if anybody ever dared to wear color. We
kept the lore, even though we never use it." She found what she sought
on the leathery underside of a leaf. "See these little bumps under
here? They are actually insects from which you can derive, they say, a
purply-red dye--rather, I am told, the color of kaktush jelly. That
would be with one mordant; a different one brings you more of a pure
violet. And not far from here you can find trees whose wood will give
you the brightest yellow anyone ever dreamed. A different tree has
leaves that make a rich blue dye like woad." She sighed.
"Unfortunately, people have long since gotten it into their heads that
it is dangerous to draw too much attention to themselves; and now no
one wants to be the first to wear color in their community.
Nevertheless, these long-forgotten dyes might at least amuse your
"Ah, but we hobbits give others presents on our birthdays--at least that is the custom in the Shire."
"Is that a fact? What a charming practice!"
"Especially in a big family like mine." Then, hesitantly, he added,
"Rosie will have no trouble finding a husband with a skill like
hers--even though the poor lass is as homely as a shovelful of dirt."
Hurrying on past Beebee's frown he said, "It's not her fault that she
takes after Papa, who looks good enough for the he-hobbit that he is,
it just isn't exactly the sort of face that you'd wish upon a girl. Yet
it never held her back."
Tightly, Beebee said, "There is a vast difference, Frodo, between homely and hopelessly scarred."
"Maybe so, but Bergil crossed vast distances to look for you--do you think he can't cross this one?"
She threw down the basket, spilling the blossoms she had gathered. "What do you know of it?"
"I know that he has never married, that he never stops thinking about
you, that even in his lightest moments there is this pit of sorrow in
his heart that aches for you to fill it up. Elenaril, he..."
"Do not call me that!"
"He cannot find peace without you. Ever."
"How could he find peace with me? How could he wake up every morning and go to sleep each night...to this?" and her hands drew back the white veil of her hair; if she could have glared at him she would have.
"It's not so bad, once you get used to it."
"He shouldn't have to get used to it!"
"At least give him the chance!" The hobbit leaped to his feet. "If
nothing else you could give him closure. If he finds you, he can stop
looking for you. If he rejects you, he can free himself to marry. As it
is you've left him wobbling between land and sea for all these years
and it's destroying him!"
"Doesn't he have the right to make up his own mind, Beebee? A reaction
that he couldn't control in the throes of delirium doesn't count as a
decision! He needs to look at you in his right mind, knowing it is you.
But he has no happiness. He has no idea what happened to you. He
assumes that you died, since he thinks you would have done anything to
come home to him had you survived--poor fool!--yet still he seeks your
grave, he must at least pay you his last respects. It has never entered
his imagination that you might avoid him deliberately. All these years
he has missed you, and it never ends."
She stood before him, saying nothing, the scar-tissue gone waxy-pale with bloodlessness.
"Teach me your herblore, Beebee. I particularly want to know what I can
plant in a brick-hard field that will break up the soil for softer
crops, and give us something quick to eat while it's at it." Then he
remembered what Treebeard had said about the exchanges between redlife
and greenlife in the healing of Legolas. "Also, if you know of any
plants that eat poison and cleanse the land, we could use that, too. I
have only one day after this to cram my head with what you have to
teach and to gather what seeds you think best, before I must hasten
back to Seaside for First Planting. It would be better if you came back
with me, but suit yourself. You have today and tomorrow to decide
whether or not to join me on the journey home."
Shakily she pulled herself together, and in a faint voice said, "A
fast-growing legume, then...over here, with a scent like clover touched