I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 1, Part 98
Dragon-Song and Lightning
(February 25, 1452)
The surges of the Sea of Nurnen sighed over and over against the piers, as bored with its own lament as the sighing crowd that loitered around the harbor, now that they'd collected eggs and milked the goats. The brush-pen swept in waves of ink across the page as Frodo wrote, "I think, Papa, that I wouldn't even give these human women a second glance if I wasn't trying to think of anyone but Mattie. I feel like I've been courting animated ladders in skirts--with personality problems." He frowned, drew a box around the paragraph, and then looked up from the page, watching for the ship on the horizon. He thought he could make out a speck, or was it two specks, or...
"Noooooo!" he cried, leaping to his feet. Everybody stared at the hobbit crumpling the letter in his hand. "Not the dragon--not now! Not now!"
"What d'ye see?" the mayor cried, running to him with her skirt gathered up in her fists and her shawl flying off her shoulders unnoticed. "What d'ye see!"
"I think," he said, straining on tiptoes, "I think I see battle."
"Bring us a ladder, here, Patchy! Over against that wall. Can ye see better from the rooftop, pet?"
"Perhaps." He lost no time scrambling up above all the human heads. He climbed to the roof's peak where the cold wind blew back his hair and cloak, and stood there balanced on the ridge, his lens gripped tight. "I see the dragon...two dragons...no! The dragon-helmed ship of Captain Watersheen...oh heavens! Oh good heavens! Not that ship!"
Mayor Aloe called up, "How fare they?"
"I don't know! I can't see!"
Fishenchips raced up the ladder after him with the speed of someone more practiced in riggings than dry land. He swept Frodo up to sit on his shoulders. "Can ye see better now, Guv?"
"Yes...I think so. Yes I can." His lens warmed in his hands. "The ship fights back...with the oars. They're trying to fend off the dragon with oars."
Fishenchips said, "Good! The Captain had a plan, soon as he got the money for it, o' puttin' spearheads on the butt-ends o' the oars--for counterweights an' self-defense both." He laughed and clapped Frodo on the leg. "'Tis yer money as did it, li'l buddy! They're gonna be all right!" He caught his balance again on the roof-ridge while Frodo swayed.
"I'm not so sure..."
"What? What are ye sayin'!"
"I just saw pieces of shattered oars tossed up, and...and..." he hid his face in the sailor's black curls.
"Tell us!" Fishenchips roared.
"I saw two human beings fly through the air, tossed like chaff."
The crowd below them groaned, surging like a restless tide back and forth between staring up at the hobbit and straining to catch what happened out at sea.
"They'll make it through," Fishenchips growled, but Frodo could feel him trembling. "Watersheen'll find a way. He always does. He might lose some, but he'll get the main crew safe to port." He grabbed the hobbit's leg and shook, "Now watch, curse ye! Watch and tell us whatcha see!"
Frodo raised his head. He climbed to his feet, balancing with one hand gripping Fish by the hair. "The ship lists to one side...no, it's righted itself again. It's headed straight towards us, full sail and oars both...some oars missing...but that's not all bad, I can see now that they've got some pointed back behind them as weapons. Oh no! No! Ulmo have mercy!"
"Tell us, ye misbegotten rat!"
"The dragon dove under and came up in front of them! She's tipping the ship up...she's...wait! The ship has fallen forward into the water again--can't you see the splash? It's huge! The dragon has drawn back. She's swimming alongside but she's not attacking. Still swimming alongside...getting out of the way of the oars but still alongside, neck and neck...but not attacking. I don't understand. Okay, now she's falling back. I can't explain it--but they're coming in just fine!"
Fishenchips whooped for joy along with the rest of Seaside, did a little jig while Frodo fell and grabbed him about the head and hung on for dear life, then Fish slipped on the tiles with Frodo's arm around his eyes. They rolled down the slates and tumbled over the brink but a whole mob caught them, a sea of arms spreading out their weight amongst them and passing them safely down to earth again.
"The ship's safe," Frodo declared, laughing half hysterically while they set him on his feet. "My servant nearly killed me, but the ship's all right!"
Aloe shrieked, "I see it!" Hungry villagers turned from the pair they'd rescued from the roof, back to the ocean, back to where even unmagical eyes could now see the speck grow into a ship-- the vessel wallowing towards them with its missing oars and a chunk of the gunwale ripped away, and (they could see as it drew closer still) fresh red blood spilled down the side.
"Not all right, mate," said Fishenchips softly. He kept his hand clenched, but Frodo could see the hook shudder unnoticed.
"Look," Frodo said to Bergil, pointing. "There, upon the prow."
"I have not your eyes," Bergil said.
"Then use your ears. Don't you hear it?"
"The music." Frodo's heart ached with that music, beautiful and cold notes falling like coins and jewels into the water, as mesmerizing as treasure glittering in the sun. He shook his head; for an instant he wondered if the dragon-sickness could come upon him again. But then he realized no, it was not that, he just knew more of a dragon's mind than most, and would for the rest of his life.
And that voice--that beautiful high tenor voice--also knew much of things it shouldn't. Frodo narrowed his eyes. That was the black tongue that Mattie sang, from her perch high up on the figurehead's brow--more than that; Frodo somehow knew that she sang the dragon dialect, with its sibilance and bursts of sparking consonants--something no hobbit could possibly have learned by any natural means. And every note she plucked from her harp rang harsh and full of metal, yet still as sweet as lies withal; what the music lacked no dragon would ever understand.
Soon even the human beings could see the hobbit perched upon the prow, and hear the eerie tune. The wounded ship limped into harbor and many hands helped to secure it. On board, Leech reached up and lifted the glazed-eyed little bard from the figurehead, mixed emotions chasing across the doctor's face. When Mattie next appeared, looking somewhat fresher with water now dripping from her curls and her cap in her belt, she leaped off of the ship onto a pier above clapping, cheering fans. She grinned and bowed, then waved her cap to everyone, though Frodo could see that she still didn't stand quite steadily, nor focus on any one face. Leech scowled from the ship where he watched.
Feeling oddly protective, Frodo pushed through the crowd to her side. "Mattie! It's good to see you--but I thought you weren't due in for weeks yet."
Mattie gave him a big, smoky-smelling hug, lost her balance, and let Frodo right her again as though nothing had happened. "I met a veritable army of messengers," she said. "Not just Gondor's regular mule-train, but also folks out of Rohan and lands adjacent, with more to deliver than one horse could carry." She chuckled and winked. "They're brave enough in numbers to cross the pass, but they'd best leave the regular mail to me. Anyway, I passed my mail-bags onto those most in a hurry to go home before the worst of the crossing, and then I escorted this lot back to Seaside." She gave Frodo's arm a squeeze and said, "You know what that means? Ol' Mattie gets to go on vacation! The first vacation, in fact, that I've ever enjoyed since I signed on for this job."
"What? Here in Mordor of all places?"
"And why not?" she giggled. "The company's good."
Just then a Seasider hooked Mattie by the elbow, saying, "C'mere, yew! Lemme buy ye a drink--we gots the still all fired up, an' the first drippin's the best."
Leech stepped in out of nowhere, just as smooth as oil between Mattie and her newfound friend, and said, "I am afraid that I cannot allow that, sir."
"Who the devil are ye?"
"The ship's Leech. Mattie's condition is rather delicate at the moment, and such a drink would kill him. You wouldn't want to honor the hero of the hour by murdering him, now would you?"
"Oh dung, no, no I wouldn't. Sorry...I dinna know."
"No harm done," Leech said pleasantly, and the man left, while Mattie gave the healer a brief scowl, before smiling and bowing to new admirers.
Frodo said, "You look good, Leech."
"Thank you." The man nodded to Frodo, though care erased his smile swiftly when he turned his gaze back to Mattie. He did look good. Frodo saw far fewer years on the man now than what had seemed to burden him before. The once-waxy complexion looked rosy and full of life, the eyes sparkled, and new vigor infused his every move.
Soon the sight of sailors unloading many more crates and barrels than expected, some marked with runes and script of dwarves and elves, and all of them smelling heavenly, distracted the crowd enough that Leech could whisk Mattie away to the privacy of the sheds, with hush-footed Frodo following after, unnoticed for the moment. The minute Leech had the messenger out of sight and earshot of the others, he knelt down and pressed his ear to Mattie's chest, then looked up again and studied her eyes. Frodo quietly took a position unseen in the shadows, peering through a crack between sheds. Leech snapped his fingers suddenly right under Mattie's nose and noted how long it took for the startled hobbit to react. "You seem to be in better shape than you have any right to be," Leech said at last, "considering the quantity of poppy-gum you've just consumed. Which tells me that your tolerance has increased again. You can't keep this up, Mattie; if nothing else it must be getting expensive."
Mattie shrugged. "I needed more than usual this one time, to find the dragon-song." How skillfully she feigned the mannerisms of normalcy, Frodo thought, not counting a slight tendency to sway. "And do you have any idea what a bore you have become on the subject since you foreswore the gift of the flower yourself?"
"I never did like anyone habitually using poppy-gum, myself included."
"If you had not delayed me from the little extra that I needed, three good men would still walk alive among us."
"You used a dark power to quell the dragon. It will hurt you in the end."
"So?" She tossed her head and glared as she smiled, teetering just a little. "Who would not pick up an orc's dropped sword and wield it against the forces of evil?" To Frodo she looked fine and proud. "Even if the sharp edge poisoned him as well."
"So you admit that it is poison."
Mattie stared unblinking with her snakelike eyes. "I am not the first hobbit to accept addiction for the well-being of the Free People."
Frodo almost shouted against the comparison to his namesake, but Leech just sighed and sat back on his heels. "Do not flatter yourself! You are not near so self-sacrificing as Frodo Nine-Fingers--and you are not the first poppy-fiend to convince yourself that what you do benefits others, either." The doctor seemed to focus inward for a moment. "It feels heroic, does it not? The very imitation of nobility. But it lies--numbing fear does not make courage, merely folly."
"Yet it does benefit others--you saw how I saved the ship."
"In greater measure than it harms, little thief?"
Mattie glanced away, and did not seem so fine anymore. But then she looked back, chin up, hands on her hips. "I never take more than I need. Everybody knows that."
Leech stared into her pinprick pupils a long moment before saying, "Your need grows, Matthilda."
The use of Mattie's right name startled Frodo where he stood unseen. It finally dawned on him that without even thinking he had come here to eavesdrop on the confidential exchanges between a doctor and a patient who knew each other well. Ashamed of himself, he went back to the crowd on the pier.
"There you are!" Bergil cried. "I have sought you everywhere!"
"Yeah," Fishenchips added, "Ya oughta see the loot ye..." and then suddenly his face went red. "Uh, Guv'nor, about some of the things I said on the roof..."
"I only recall that you helped me to see farther than I might have done without your aid," Frodo said and bowed. "Lead me to this...loot. I hope it includes some of the seed that I ordered in Gondor before I left."
"All that and more, Guv! Elf-food, dwarf-food, horselord-food--even dried fish from the Entwash! And 'taters! Real 'taters! Bergil said so. Maybe now ya can fix me some of what I've been dyin' to eat m'whole life long!"
Frodo stared at him dumfounded as they walked. "Don't tell me you've never eaten fish--a sailor like you?"
"All the fish in these parts is poison. Din't ye know that?"
Aloe joined them before they'd taken nine steps. "Ya found him, Bergil! About time." She grabbed Frodo by the elbow and forced him to trot to keep up.
"It turns out elves are real..." she barked.
"Of course they're real! I could've told you..."
"...real enough to magic every cursed box, bag, keg, crate and barrel on the ship not to open until ye, personally, Frodo Gardner, give each and every one of them an individual pat with yer very own hand--dwarf-fare and man-fare right along with the elvish food. Seems they feared thieving along the way."
"With good reason," boomed Captain Watersheen, who came up beside them. "The smell of such fancy vittles nearly drove the crew mad." He gave the Mayor a meaning look.
She flushed, scowling for just a second, before she released Frodo, smiled coquettishly and stroked her own throat. "Of course, Captain--the men deserve some payment for taking the food so far. Ye shall all dine with me tonight." She batted her eyelashes, but Frodo saw her other hand tighten to a fist.
Unsmiling sailors gathered all around, arms crossed and biceps bulging. Watersheen said, "On the good stuff." He leaned close, appearing to menace her, but said for the Mayor's ears alone (though Frodo heard him) "I can't help it, Lassie--the men have lived with that aroma for five days now."
Aloe said loudly, "Ye will all get a fair helping of the best food--no more, no less." In a hiss she confided to Watersheen, "I'll expect ye to control yer men, Watersheen. I can't accommodate bottomless appetites." He nodded and winked, but she glared unconvinced, then recovered herself in a split second, smiling and simpering.
Frodo got a sudden insight. He darted back towards the sheds, where Leech and Mattie only now emerged. "Leech, you're eating with us tonight," he said. "Don't argue. And you, too, Mattie. And Flint. Find Flint and invite him to my house for dinner."
The doctor stared at him, perplexed, but nodded. "I accept your invitation. Alas, Flint cannot join us; the dragon bit off his head."
Frodo gaped before he found his voice. "I am so sorry!"
"'Tis a better death than some that might have found him," Leech said. "We will delay the funerals for a few days, in case any of the wounded join the three we've lost already. Speaking of which, if you'll excuse me, I need to follow up on them. Thank you again for the invitation." He returned to the ship. Frodo watched after him, catching his breath. Somehow he knew plain as plain could be that Aloe intended to drug the food that night, just a little bit, just enough.
"Thanks from me, too, Frodo," said Mattie, laying soft fingers on his arm so that he felt like he could melt. For a moment the tenderness in her gaze brought out all the femininity in her, masculine garb notwithstanding. But the tiny pupils spoiled everything.
"Frodo, come look at this!" Bergil called, and Frodo hurried to him, Mattie close behind. When Frodo saw what the man held out he gasped, then whistled, then ran his finger along the strange-wrought metal and wood placed before him, the leaf-shaped share like none he'd ever seen before, the curving leads that would put no strain upon the wrists. "Elf design, dwarf-forged," the ranger said to him admiringly, "and sized to halfling measurements--no plow like it has ever existed before, or ever shall again, I think."
"How beautiful!" Frodo breathed. "This wouldn't just cleave the ground, it would swim through the soil like a living thing!" He read the note attached to it from Thranduil and Glóin, and he paled. "It...they forged it from orc blades, left behind from the battles of the north in the War of the Ring. They say that the only way to break the curse on such blades is to melt them down and recast them as instruments of life."
Bergil smiled down on him. "May it bring new life to Mordor, then. But you'll need help..." and he signaled Fishenchips, who ran up the gangplank, down into the hold, and came back in view tugging reins. "Meet Bleys--your new beast of burden."
"Up! Up! Curse ye, ya misbegotten son o' shame! Gar--ye'd think ye'd want to get yer hooves back on dry land!" And Fishenchips added many other words not heard in polite company among the Shirefolk. Indignant braying echoed from the hold.
Bergil laughed and went up to help. "There is a reason why we call a stubborn man an 'ass'," he said. "Frodo, put your hand on that crate over there, will you?" He pointed. Frodo did so and the lid popped off of its own accord, revealing rows and rows of brilliant scarlet roots. "Ah, good! Dwarves have excellent taste in carrots, whether they grow them themselves or not. That should do the trick."
Bleys needed no further prompting than the smell of carrots suddenly wafting through the air. The tiny black donkey dragged the startled Fishenchips behind him as he galloped for the crate. A quick glance showed Frodo that the crate contained at least as much as the village could eat, and that they could certainly spare a root for a creature far from home. He held one up to the ass's white muzzle, and listened to the grateful munching while he read another note, this one from Eomer. "The King of Rohan says that Bleys's stock came from the east, a diminutive desert breed--'tougher than any horse, fearless, intelligent, ornery, and suitable for Nurn.'" Frodo chuckled, scratching the donkey behind one huge ear; he didn't think he could have borne a second pony, but this...yes, this beast he could learn to love. He asked, "What does Bleys mean in the tongue of Rohan?"
"Lightning," Bergil replied, and everybody laughed. Bleys brayed in reply and tossed his head proudly. Frodo saw then that a jagged streak of white fur made its way up from the muzzle towards the donkey's black brow.
He patted the animal's shoulder and Bleys nuzzled him, then attempted to nibble on his cloak. "Bleys you are, then," Frodo said, grinning as he pulled his cloak back from enormous teeth. "You shall be a flash of light in a dark land, signaling the rain and the quickening of the earth.
"So," Mayor Aloe drawled. "Are ye gonna stand there starin' into yer new love's eyes, or are ya gonna open the rest of the cargo fer me?"