In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 26, Part 97
From Son to Father
(March 5, 1452)
After a long day's glad, hard work, and a generous but well-earned
dinner, the Mayor of the Shire sat down in the drawing-room's love-seat
and propped his furry, fresh-scrubbed feet on a tuffet by the fire.
While his children played or studied around him, he lit a cluster of
several candles on the table beside him, and smoothed out the next page
from his son's letter; he never could read these enormous bundles all
in one day, but he relished every moment that he could spare for them.
He saw that the lad had used pale and subtle vegetable pigments, no
doubt learned from the Herbwife of Bristlescrub, to paint the top of
this page like a sunrise over the inked-in crags of Mordor. Sam found
his eyes watering despite himself; to think that such colors now filled
the skies where all had been pure smoke in his day! What he and Frodo
Senior wouldn't have given for a real, true dawn. He smiled even as he
wiped his eyes, and read.
February 22, 1452--"I'd love to lie in late this morning--what with
planting day following right after that dance, my legs are thinking,
'What is that mad hobbit trying to do to us, murder us?' I wonder if
you do think me mad, now that I look over what I wrote last night. But
Papa, it was so real! I really did feel joined to everybody in that
field, and I mean more than just emotionally, if you take my meaning.
I'm not sure I take my own meaning. Whatever happened, I think it has
to do with what I wrote about before, picking up thoughts from Beebee
and Fishenchips as we crossed the desert. I didn't see much use for it
then, but it's starting to make sense now. I don't think it'll ever be
as plain as talking, but somehow I can use this to pull people together.
"Well, whatever the case, there's no lying abed for the Royal Gardner.
We've flooded the most poisoned fields and now I've got to go out and
supervise planting scum, of all things. That's what Beebee's highly
touted 'aljee' is, basically--pond scum. But as you've always said, you
take what you get and you make the most of it. Well, what we get here
in Mordor might not seem like much to write home about, but if you look
beneath the surface, there's a whole lot more good than Sauron ever
Sam turned the page, and saw most of the text framed in thick black
lines--their private signal for portions not to be read aloud to the
rest of the family. Sam sighed and shook his head; these came up more
often all the time. But at least his son still leveled with him. Under
his breath he muttered, "I have got to get that son of mine married
"Hi, Papa--I'm back for lunch, but I hardly have the stomach for it.
While out there up to my shins in mud, spreading out sheets of
pea-green slime and trying to feel the same mother-love for it that
you'd give to any other crop, I've heard a thing or two among the
workers, and caught on that everybody else has run out of food again.
So now here I sit, staring at those bags of beans and grain in the
hanging shelves that Bergil built. Plainly the mayor favored me in the
last distribution--because she 'fancied' me?
"I feel so ashamed--that is not how we do things in the Shire! You see,
Elenaril has finally explained to me what some camp-followers do for
hire and why Bergil's folks took against her so, even though she didn't
have it coming, herself. (For the record, I will state that although
she stays with us, she lives in one room all to herself, and she is
every bit as virtuous as Bergil said she was.) I shudder to think that
maybe the Mayor thinks that she can buy me like that!
"I suppose you know exactly what I'm talking about, but never saw fit
to mention it to me, and I can understand why. But please believe me,
Papa, I never went so far with Mayor Aloe, I swear! I worry if maybe
she thinks she's paid for something on spec, and it'll go hard with me
for not delivering. How did I ever get into this mess?"
Below this box, Sam saw his son's handwriting turn abruptly into a scrawl trailing across the bottom.
"Great news, Papa--lunch can wait! Gotta go--fill you in later."
Now Sam noted a couple splatters of cooking oil on the next page, and what might have been a dusting of flour.
"Guess what? The goats have started to give birth! I ran off to the
delivery of the first, and no sooner had I got there than I heard that
two more went into labor at the same time! And here's another
surprise--they've each born twins! But of course--Tar Elessar still has
some elves lingering in his court, who could pick out of all the land's
flocks those carrying double the load for Nurn's great need. I wouldn't
be surprised if every single nanny bears us two apiece. Bergil and
Elenaril ran themselves ragged--they know more about goats than any of
us, and had a lot of work.
"Well, that deserves a celebration, don't you think? I'm writing this
while cooking. (I know, Mama would say write or cook, but don't try
both. Don't worry, though; I've got two men and a woman bustling about
the kitchen-corner with me to make sure I don't burn anything. Elenaril
can gauge how cooking's coming along by smell alone.) We are going to
throw a feast for the village! Hando's dressed up the three spare kids
for us, he's got them turning on the spits outside, and my oh my but
the smoke smells good! They're a bit on the skinny side, naturally, but
we can't wait around to plump them up--not with these first ones.
People have been about as patient as they can stand. Anyway, Hando's
splashing onto them the last of my good Shire brandy as they cook,
sizzling and steaming; if I lift a glass to the occasion, it'll be in
the Black Drink with the rest of Seaside. I'll be glad to see the
brandy used up, frankly, all things considered."
Sam paled. "If I'd of had this letter earlier," he murmured, "I'd of packed the supplies I sent him differently."
"And Elenaril says to squeeze some sourfruit juice on them fresh off
the spit, not only to make them more nourishing, but for a flavor she
says is out of this world. Meanwhile, I'm cooking up enough bread and
beans to stretch the meat out, so that everybody can get a taste of
goat and a full belly to go with it. If the rest of Seaside has run out
of food, then I'd better run out right alongside them--but in the
grandest hobbit style that I can manage! Ol' Mad Baggins would've been
proud of me --I only wish Hazel was still here to play the Party Tree.
The two Sourfruits out front are kind of small, and not near so dear."
Sam frowned. "We don't call Master Bilbo that, not in this family!" But
of course Frodo wrote his letter miles out of earshot. "Kids--you never
know what they'll pick up from the neighbors." Again Sam noted a
black-boxed paragraph, and clucked his tongue.
"So far Mayor Aloe is taking my use of her gift in good grace. I think
I've found a diplomatic way out, something better than flinging the
beans in her face. I'm serving her people--she can't take that amiss.
She grins huger than anybody passing the platters around. But when she
thinks nobody sees her, oh but she looks so sad. And I feel guilty to
catch a glimpse of that. Can you imagine? I feel guilty for not being
bad with her! What a mixed up messed up land this is!"
Sam closed his eyes and rubbed his face. Rosie came back from getting
the last of the children to bed, and laid a hand gently on his
shoulder. "You'll strain your eyes readin' too much like that by
candlelight," she said, then saw the black boxes over his shoulder.
"Oh." Sam may have promised not to read those parts out loud for the
children, but he never agreed to leave his wife uninformed of what
their son was up to. "What's he got hisself into this time?"
"He's handlin' it," Sam said. "This time it's somebody else that ain't behavin' as she should."
"That floozy of a mayor! That's who, I'll just bet! Am I right?"
"Now Rosie, she don't know no better. The whole country's a mess--what d'ye expect? They've all been raised by orcs!"
"And that's what sort of country you send our boy to, afore he's growed
up proper? What were you thinking?" She threw a cushion at him.
He grinned despite himself, batting the cushion from his face. "What I
was thinking was that he wouldn't have to battle orcs and giant spiders
like I did in my day. Of course I never faced that sort of temptation
as he's dealin' with now..."
"What? Why honey--what's the matter?"
Rose sat down close to him. "Sam, I know that in Mordor they don't play
by the same rules as we do here. You tell me something, and you tell me
the truth. Did you ever, you know, meet up with a friendly orkess,
He laughed in disbelief. "You have got to be kidding! If I ever saw an
orkess, I didn't know it, and that's a fact." He pulled her close
against him and said, "Darlin', the only female I ever met for sure in
Mordor was Shelob, and believe me, you are by far the prettier critter."
In a small voice she said, "You met elves. I know they're pretty."
"So's starlight, and a comfort in the wilderness they are, both elves
and stars, but not much good in a hobbit-hole, either one. I'd have no
more courted an elf than a star, beloved--I'm not like Strider. I want
somebody warm and solid, closer to the good farm soil, someone just my
size that I can put my arms around on a cold winter night." In a
teasing voice he said, "And no, I didn't go courtin' no dwarf ladies,
neither; I prefer to be able to tell at first glance whether I'm
dealing with a lassie or a lad." He kissed her long and lovingly before
she could dream up any other possibilities, and then softly in her ear
he whispered, "No, my darlin' Rose, you are exactly the right size and
shape and temperament and kind for ol' Samwise Gardner--no one can be
so beautiful to me, not in the way that suits me best."
She drew back a bit to stare at him. "Is it Gardner that you're calling yourself, now?"
"And why not?" The slip of the tongue had caught him by surprise, too,
but he put a good face on it. "The Gaffer couldn't spell his own name,
so I don't s'pose he'd care if I don't feel too attached to it. I
looked the family up once in the courthouse records, you know, shortly
after Master Bilbo taught me my letters, and I found there Gammidges
and Gamwiches and all sorts of variations, when you go back a few
generations; Gamgee's only a recent version. And we intermarried with
the Greenhand family, that's died out except for us--that's just about
the same as Gardner when you think about it. If they're calling me
Gardner already in Gondor and parts south, why not sign myself that
way?" He grinned. "That'd put a few noses out of joint, come to think
of it--all the folks who say I've forgotten what I am."
"So now you're Samwise Gardner--what does that make me?"
"The Rose in my garden," he said with all the warmth in his heart, and
set the letter aside. He didn't pick it up until the next day, coming
in after scraping out the chicken coops and scrubbing up. He saw the
pages lying on the side-table where he'd left them, beside the shrunken
candles, and carried them into the kitchen with him.
Under February 23, 1452, he read, "I had nightmares again last night.
The only one I can remember is the same as I've had before--eyes in the
walls, dull eyes staring at me, like they'd plead if they weren't too
stupefied, and then they'd fade into the pale clay brick, and every
time that happened the street got darker and darker, and then I'd hear
the panting and sniffing of a wolf or warg, searching for me. I wish
you were here to talk to me about it, Papa!"
Sam frowned and sat down. "I wish I were, too, lad," he muttered.
"Sauron used to turn into a warg, himself, when he had a mind– a
regular werewolf. Oh, this is bad!"
The letter went on. "Faces really are disappearing, in the waking
world. I noticed yesterday, at the feast. Missing people that you know
would have shown up for food if nothing else. This is a small town,
Papa--you can't lose somebody and not notice. I asked Mayor Aloe about
it and she said she was on it, I should stick to gardening. She turned
all prickly on me. Bergil stepped in and praised her skills in law
enforcement, till she blushed and smiled once again. And she is good,
I'll give her that. I've seen her pull apart brawlers twice her size
and whup them into shape by sheer force of will. No one wants to cross
"More goats have given birth already--twins again. I am positive now
that Tar Elessar set this up a-purpose, knowing that the people
couldn't resist butchering kids as soon as they had the chance. I
think, though, that we can hold out and let these kids fatten up a bit.
The nannies give more than enough milk to spare, and they've got all
the weeds that neither man nor hobbit can eat. So we may have run out
of shipped-in supplies, but we've got meat and milk, and cheese real
soon, plus everything Elenaril can show us how to forage from the
desert for ourselves. Bergil and Elenaril are taking some youngsters
out today to show them where to find the best grazing for nursing
nannies--it's our good fortune that they're kidding so soon after the
rains, while there's forage enough for them between now and when our
own fodder-crops grow."
Sam saw a couple spots of blurred ink, where tears had hit the page. "Papa, I think we've turned the corner."
But lower on the page he read, "That sea monster's showed up
again--people saw her out there and ran back into their houses to bar
the doors, all but a couple children too young to understand the fear;
folks had to dart out and pull those young ones in. This is bad. I'm
not scared that the brute will heave herself up this far out of the
water, but she's showed up way too close to our next food delivery.
That blue devil could stop the ship from coming into port altogether.
We might have gotten ourselves a little better off, but not so much
that we could lose an entire shipment like that, not this early in the
Sam looked up to see Rosie put a steaming plate of chops and 'taters
before him. "You're late," she said. "Everybody else ate lunch a half
an hour ago."
Sam took a swig of milk and said, "Hettie Smallburrow had a complaint
against her neighbor that I had to tend to before I even got to the
"That hedge dispute again?"
"If they'd both kept their hedges trimmed proper as they should've,
they'd never of lost track of the boundary between Smallburrow and
"I can rule on boundaries, but I can't make people keep 'em tidy," Sam
said, and went back to his letter, reading between mouthfuls.
February 24, 1452--"Today we went to the blacksmith to get Fishenchips'
permanent hook. It turns out that Harding does all the smithing around
here--the same man who leads the guard. I like him. As big and tough as
he is, with a fat ol' scar snaking across his broken nose, he's still
soft-spoken and polite. Bergil says you've got to watch the soft-spoken
ones more than the loudmouths, they're more dangerous. But I think
Bergil likes him, too.
They say he got his face messed up as a youngster, from giving lip to
an orc, and that sometimes after that he'd sabotage the swords that
they made him forge, if they were scimitars sized to an orc's hand.
He'd work a flaw into the blade and then mend it again on the surface
where it wouldn't show, but that blade would soon snap when the orc
needed it the most. They had to move so many swords out from so many
smiths so fast in the last days of the war that the records couldn't
keep up with them, so no one could trace back to where a bad sword came
from. He says he never did that to swords for men, but he figured orcs
had it coming.
"While I was there I drew him pictures of plows such as we use in the
Shire, and explained to Harding the principle of it. He thinks he can
manage something of the sort. Good--because there'll be a lot more
planting when I get the seeds I sent for, after the midden finishes
curing and we can get some proper soil. The pack-goats can pull a
couple plows to begin with, and then even Hando will be glad we spared
"Fishenchips put on a nonchalant face throughout the fitting, even
joked around a bit, but when Harding couldn't hear for pounding on the
iron (because Fish wanted the sides of the hook flattened to make it
easier to carry some things) he whispered to himself that 'Permanent is
a hard word--and a long one!' I shouldn't have been able to hear him,
but I did.
"Sometimes we tell stories after dinner, the four of us together.
Tonight I think I will start them on the story of Beren One-Hand; maybe
that will help ol' Fishenchips get through. It will at least go with a
better supper than I had expected, having little of bread and beans
left to me, as you can imagine, but we've received a sample of the very
first cheese already! It's bland curd, soft, not the least bit cured;
what else can you expect in two days? But oh, I know it's going to be
delicious! I worked so hard precisely for this moment, herding those
dear, stinky goats so far and then fighting to keep them alive this
long. And tomorrow's dinner should be even better--we expect the ship
to come in, if the sea monster will let it."
Sam noted yet another black box and chuckled weakly. "That lad, oh that poor lad! What now?"
"The only sour note was the gap-toothed young woman who brought the
cheese on by. She followed me down into the cold-cellar, grinning and
playing with the hem of her skirt in a way that showed altogether too
much leg. When I asked, rather pointedly, 'May I help you?' the big
gangly creature said that it was plain to everybody that Mayor Aloe had
done with me and declared me up for grabs! I was so shocked I didn't
know what to say at first, and then we sat down on the cellar steps
together and talked. I explained to her that we hobbits are like
ravens--we mate for life. And since I intend to return to my own land
one day, I need a 'mate' who can fit into a hobbit home and make
herself comfortable there for the rest of her days. She nodded, all
wide-eyed--she seemed much more favorably disposed to the idea--foreign
though it seemed to her-- than Mayor Aloe ever was!
Sam snorted. "I wonder if that's all he did down in the cellar, was talk."
"So we didn't, you know, do much at all. I think she's a very sweet
lady, really, underneath the ignorance and all. And she didn't look
half so bad in the dark."
"Frodooooo..." Only a father can growl a son's name a certain way. Sam
thumped the table in frustration that Frodo couldn't hear him.
"But even in the dark I could see her face go sad and thoughtful as I
told her about Shire families. 'Oooh,' she cooed, 'that would be so
lucky for the young ones!' I have never before thought about how lucky
I was to be raised by a mother and a father who loved each other
deeply, who were just always there, reliable and stronger for it. I
always took it for granted. I shouldn't, even in the Shire. After all,
my namesake didn't have a mother to raise him, and got a father late."
Sam's brows drew down tight as he stared at the letter. Another of
those mysterious smudges marred the sentence that came next--in common
ink, not like that fancy imported brushing-ink that his son favored.
Some pages had, in fact, shown more of that sort of ink than page--how
stupid did somebody think he was?
But this time...he could almost make out...no, not in this light, he
couldn't tell anything in here. While Rosie looked on wonderingly, Sam
carried the letter outside, into the sunshine, and squinted at it from
the side, where he could just barely make out differences of tone
within the blot. With some difficulty he read, "And then there's
Mattie's case, even worse. How lucky I am not to have had her
"Mattie," Sam snarled. "So she's the one who's been foolin' with these
letters! I thought as much." And then he did a double take, tipping the
letter to read that line again. "She?"
HERE ENDS VOLUME III.