In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 24, Part 95
The Dance of Seeds
(February 20, 1452)
After lunch and a nap Frodo returned to the large building overlooking the harbor, Public House #3462, which until today he had always taken for an out-of-use warehouse. He felt somewhat stiff from scrubbing on his hands and knees, but whatever Beebee had cooked up sounded mandatory for the Royal Gardener to attend. Mayor Aloe crossed the Plaza about the same time, eyes fixed on the inn, without a glance in his direction. Others streamed to the same locale; word had gone out with all the haste you could expect in a small town.
When he entered, Frodo smiled at the change that Bergil and Beebee had wrought on the Common Room. All the time that he had been cleaning, apparently, Beebee had kept busy knotting up rags, string, dried weeds and such, as came to hand, into intricate garlands of surprising gaiety for indifferent shades of beige, with which to festoon the chamber all around. Bergil had pushed the tables and chairs that Frodo and Aloe had so carefully gathered off to the margins, the chairs all facing to the center. The couple, of course, knew the appointments of an inn well and had directed such musicians as Seaside had onto the little stage, where they waited with drums and flutes and several homemade stringed instruments of sorts that Frodo had never seen.
In no little time Seasiders filled up the chairs, then sat on the tables and the bar and each step of the staircase and the bannister beside. When all had gathered, Bergil led Beebee to the center of the room, and then returned to his place. She had donned her desert robes again, her gowns still drying at home. Her damp hair curled and tangled over her remains of a face in silver arabesques, but she stood there with such confidence and joy that Frodo no longer called her Beebee in his heart, but Elenaril.
She raised broadsleeved arms and turned slowly in the middle of the room; everybody hushed. In a strong voice she declared, "I have called you all together in the name of Life. I have called you together to participate in one of Mordor's greatest mysteries, something Sauron never conquered." She drew her arms back in, fists clenched. "Life here is hard--we all know that." The crowd murmured in assent. "And the seeds of this land grow hard as well, to armor off the ravages that Sauron left behind." One fisted hand raised heavenward. "The seeds defy the evil that would crack them open and pry the life from them!"
For a moment she stood there, all the light shimmering off of her tangles of hair, a pale-robed little figure in the midst of darkness, marred but unbowed. Then her hand unclenched, and her fingers fluttered downward. "But then come the rains, gentle at first, as tender as the first kiss of hope, the rains that too long leave our countryside forsaken." Both her hands fanned out, fingers trembling like the falling rain. "They grow, they spread...they become violent!" She clawed at the air as her body swayed like torrents pulled at her. "It has been Sauron's will to turn all things harsh. The storms bring floods that gouge through the land, killing as they go, thundering down to the Sea of Nurnen in water fouled by its own onslaught, so that a blessing becomes a curse." Again the hands clenched.
But slowly she raised them in front of her, and turning so that all could see, she opened her fists little by little to reveal a wonder that mere eyes could not discern. "Oft evil will shall evil mar," she intoned. "For the violence of the floods breaks open the seeds--not to searing desert as Sauron would have wished, but to a land new-moistened and ready for them." Her fingers pointed upwards like sprouts yearning towards the light. "The curse again becomes a blessing, for through their travails the armor of the seeds break down, and they can grow."
She dropped her hands to her sides. "We are a hard people, we Nurnings; we have had to be. But we can choose whether the storms of life sweep us away into a sea of bitter tears, or whether we let them transform us into something that can grow, and bloom, and carpet the desert with beauty and life and nurturance. To signify our choice, we will bring what has grown hard and clenched back to life in the Dance of Seeds."
Bergil and Fishenchips brought out jar after jar to hand out to the puzzled villagers. They sloshed when moved, but pitch sealed them tight. Pouches of cord net held each and every one, with more loose cords and loops dangling from them. "In these jars," Elenaril said, "you will find seeds, and gravel, and water--but do not open them yet! Draw the loops over your head, thus..." she said, demonstrating, "...and bind the cords about your body, making the knot comfortable enough to allow movement, yet sure enough to hold when you move." She now had the jar secured between her breasts. "Because you will move. Dancing with the jars upon you will create the violence of the flood that breaks down the hulls, but in an act of joy that will bring the seeds to life." She reached out a hand. "Bergil, my beloved?"
He hesitated, saying, "I do not know the steps."
She smiled on him, turning to where she heard his voice. "We have danced ere now, my love. The steps of Gondor will serve, or those of any other land. Musicians, you know what to do."
The motley band struck up an eastern song, eerie in its sweetness, somehow earthy and ethereal at the same time. The music proceeded slowly at first, but with a compelling beat. Bergil took his true love in his arms, a jar strapped to himself as well, and guided Beebee in swirls around the room, her face pressed against his shoulder, so that all you could see of her was a small but beautiful woman, cherished beyond words, engulfed in a great man's arms. Stately at first, their movements made their rounds in the clearing between villagers clapping or stomping to the beat, but soon the music went swifter and swifter, they whirled faster and faster, Bergil swinging her out from him and drawing her back again in steps she knew by heart and had not forgotten in all these years--she became a whirl of undyed robes and silver hair, while the sweat bejeweled his face and his breath came quick.
Frodo could not resist the driving beat a moment longer. His jar strapped on, he leaped into the clearing in a Shire jig, his hands raised up and his head tossed back for joy--to dance, here, in Mordor! To bring new life where Sauron had commanded death! His legs forgot their stiffness as his bare feet pattered madly across the floor. The boards creaked beneath him like they laughed in astonishment, having never known the like. He found that the steps of his homeland fit this rhythm perfectly. Frodo closed his eyes and abandoned himself feet-first into the music that now bloomed and flourished in that long-silent room, that grew and uncurled tendrils of melody through the air to captivate every heart within reach; he found that he knew without looking just how near the crowd stood around him, and he didn't care how he knew. The jar strapped to him pressed his lens against his heart; he could feel through it, through the netting and the glass, into the dancing water and the gravel and the seeds just beginning to stir.
"Dance!" Elenaril cried, clapping her hands above her head and spinning confidently away from Bergil in exotic measures learned in Bristlescrub, her hood fallen back and her hair whipping the air. "Dance hard enough to wake the seeds!"
By ones and by twos the villagers crowded onto the dance floor. Frodo opened his eyes to an alarming spectacle of stomping, kicking, leaping human legs as big as his entire body, but before they could crush him Aloe swept him up and danced about the room with him upon her hip, in some sinuous yet lively step that shocked him in its speed--he felt sure they would slam into something or somebody at every twirl! But before he could catch his breath to protest she planted a kiss firmly on his lips and then tossed him to another woman, who spun him about a few times and parted company with him the same way. A third took him up, and a fourth, and each departed with a kiss. A fifth tipped him back and whirled him so fast that his hair flew straight out from his scalp. A sixth flung him up into the air and caught him back again. Frodo's head spun; he felt quite drunk, though not a drop had anybody served save for mug after mug of water for the thirsty dancers, gulped down sloppily but gladly without missing a beat. "You planned this!" he cried to Aloe, who laughed along with everyone else. "This is your revenge!"
"'Tis our thanks," she replied. "So enjoy it while ye can, little laddie!" A seventh woman swooped away with him, and then an eighth, and then, while spinning past, he saw Bergil whisper into Beebee's ear, and the blind woman took him up as everyone cleared some space for her. When she kissed him in her turn her lips felt tough, but within their scar he found tenderness like a newborn sprout trembling to break free of its seed's hard shell. Then the crowd closed in and someone else took Frodo up, and another after that, until every woman had her turn. Thus the village gave thanks for the astonished little gardener who had come so far to bring them food.
By the time they put him down he reeled, and would have fallen had he not caught himself against some skirted leg. The owner cackled and set him right again. His blood raced and the room swam about him. Huge dancing limbs blocked his attempts to stumble to the sidelines. Just in time Fishenchips hooked him by the collar and tossed him up onto a table where others had set their children for safekeeping. The young ones hopped and skipped about, waving their arms to the music, knowing no dances but excited to pretend they did. Some of the girls, Frodo noticed, mimicked the motions of the herbwife's arms when telling the story of the seed.
"Just exactly what I need," he thought, for he brimmed to bursting with too much energy for a young hobbit way too far from home. To the children he called out, "Let me teach you the Springle-Ring!" Capering like Bombadil, he herded the bouncing children into line and showed them the steps as his parents had shown him before, as they had learned themselves from his grandparents, and they from their forebears on back and back in a line of dancers that stretched as far as memories could go. They had no finger-bells, but Frodo improvised with claps and snapping fingers. Suddenly he wanted to send back to the Shire smiths for finger-bells more than he wanted tools or even food, for his soul could hear just how well their tinkling would fit with eastern music even better than the songs of home.
"Here, Frodo!" Bergil tossed him an instrument of local make, like a little shallow drum with Shirelike bells fit onto rods set right into the side. Frodo shook it and he pounded it and the little bells shivered with fresh spring music; he learned its ways even as he cavorted with the thing.
Once more the music possessed him and the dance overtook him. Laughing, he led lines of frolicking children all round and round the circling rows of tables in something sort of like the Springle-Ring and sort of like the measures of their parents, their little arms and torsos weaving in ways no hobbit danced, their feet leaping the gaps with the confidence of young birds, spinning and kicking faster and faster with Frodo while he played the bell-drum till his heart pounded like another instrument and the sweat fell from him like rain.
"Night is coming," someone said, and the music stopped, and all fell still. It suddenly hit Frodo just how tired he felt and just how heavily the sloshing jar weighed upon his aching neck; he almost fell when he climbed down off of the table, and his legs wobbled beneath him where he stood. One after another people streamed back out of the public house the way they'd come, their shadows long behind them. When Fishenchips saw his master too dizzy to walk straight, he scooped the hobbit up and carried him home. "Don' expect me to kiss ye," he said. "I figgered out long ago that that ain't m'style." Then his brows knit. "I think."
"Don't worry," Frodo said, though puzzled by his words, "I've had enough kissing to last me for years!"
Night fell on the village of Seaside. Creatures of the dark sniffed after the footsteps of those now secured behind bolted doors. Some poked curious noses into the wide-open pub, whiskers quivering, but found nobody to eat in there. A few others found someone left behind down the street, someone who had not attended the dance. But they had to settle for cold meat, for he had died a couple hours before. At least the burnt-flower savor added a little spice. The master who had enticed him to this death hovered nearby for a moment, and then moved on, uninterested in what he left behind, searching for more power to drain from any willing donor.