The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume IV
I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell

By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 13, Part 110
Sweating Blood
(February 29, 1452)

Miles away, in the safety of the Shire, Mayor Samwise Gamgee went to bed early. It didn't surprise his wife too much; he had taken it into his head to build her an outdoor earthen oven so that she could bake her bread in the coming summer without heating up the whole house. Rose admired the firm dome shape of it, all raised up and patted out in the good, rich soil of Hobbiton, just outside the kitchen door; it took on a reddish cast in the sunset light, even as its opening glowed with the coals left over from its firing, facing east back towards her, sending off a smoky scent over the smell of fresh-dug earth. One thing did puzzle Rose, though; what drove her husband to work all day on this with summer yet far off, rescheduling all other duties, digging and tamping and shaping until he had it right? Sam himself explained that he'd rather get the job done in the cool weather than the hot, but plenty of reasonably cool days lay ahead, and he could have done it in stages.
Nor did it surprise her when she entered the bedroom and found Sam already asleep, his clothes shed higgledy piggledy on his way to bed. He must have conked out the instant he hit the pillow--he often did that after especially hard labor. As she picked up clothing off the floor, however, she heard him muttering in his sleep. Eyes still closed, his features all screwed up as though he fought hard to say the same word, over and over; it seemed to Rose that in the realm of dreams he must have shouted, though only the faintest whisper came to her, over and over and over again. "Elbereth! Elbereth! Elbereth!"
The Star Lady. He had told Rose about her. Rose remembered supplicating Elbereth to watch over Frodo's safety not too long ago, back when her son had disappeared into the wild with a crazed and violent elf. That had turned out all right.
"...reth! Elbereth! Elbereth! Elber..."
Rose hovered over Sam, her hand outstretched; she had almost wakened him, thinking him in the grip of some nightmare, and maybe he was. But a dread came into her heart and she drew back her hand. Nightmare or no, she didn't dare stop Sam from calling out that name.
"Elbereth! Elber...Ulmo? Ulmo! Ulmo! Irmo! Ulmo! Irmo!"
Those names Rose didn't recognize, though they seemed to fit somewhere in the many tales that Sam had told. She just stood there, holding breeches and chemise forgotten in her arms. Nine days out of ten a hobbit couldn't ask for a solider spouse than Sam, a rock of hard work and common sense who always knew the right thing and did it. Yet there would come that tenth day that the rest of the Shire rarely ever saw, when she'd smack face up against some reminder that Sam had a good deal of strangeness about him, as much a fact of him as his big rough hands and his kindly grin. Rose had had to come to terms with this aspect of her darling, eventually even to love it as she loved the husband entire (one of those special marriage-things that you didn't discuss with the neighbors.) For he had eaten of the magic bread of elves and worn the Ring of Power, and could never be like other folks again.
Now she saw his lips move in a different shape, as the sweat began to bead upon his brow. Rose barely caught the sound upon his breath. "Manwe! Manwe! Manwe!" She stepped back, eyes wide, clutching Sam's clothing to her breast. Even hobbits knew that name--what possible trouble could drive her husband to call upon the greatest Vala of them all?
But when she heard him, distinctly, murmur, "Iluvatar, oh please!" she dropped the clothing, crying out softly, and fell down to her knees.
Frodo choked on the vileness of Sauron that befouled the water. He fought with all his strength, but that did not amount to much. Laughing, Sauron caught him back again and again.
"El..." the hobbit gasped in unsating liquid breaths, "Elber...El...El..." but again and again Sauron sucked the sound right out of his mouth, while the hobbit wriggled and tore to get away, as frantic as a rabbit.
Sauron laughed rancid bubbles in his face. "You cannot say it, can you? What other proof do you need? You are outcast, my little friend. You gave yourself over completely to me at the last minute when you accepted Matthilda Greenbanks' promise--for she still labored under your dragon-voice, though she knew it not. And deep down, my precious Frodo, you did know it, though you admitted it not."
"I take it back! I renounce it!" Frodo pulled against the hurtful grip, but the rot-bared teeth just laughed the more. Sauron grew stronger by the minute and he himself weaker.
"Too late!" Sauron chortled. "Ah, but your power is delicious to drink!" And again he pressed his lipless mouth to Frodo's. "Nothing quite matches the savor of the halfling soul. Did you not know that all dragons belong to me, inherited from my master Melkor?"
"It can't be too late!" Frodo cried, and pulled completely away, but Sauron caught him again by a foot and yanked him back with all of the joy of a cat at play.
The revenant swung him through the water, saying, "Can it not? Ah, the faith of the desperate! Do you not realize why you cannot help but surrender to me willingly? Because you know, don't you, my treasure, that the minute you relinquish your hold on Mattie, she will decide to bid farewell to her beloved poppy one last time, she will smoke more than ever as though she could tide herself over for the rest of her life--which will be short indeed, as I drink in all of her that remains." He pulled the struggling hobbit tenderly into his arms. "What say you, Frodo Gardner? You or her? Will you not consent to sacrifice yourself, that she might live?"
And Frodo stilled, gazing up into the ravaged face of the once-beautiful Dark Lord who hovered before him, near enough that he need but lean a little forward, kiss those teeth of his own accord, to save Mattie's life.
But not her soul. "If she does smoke herself to death," he forced himself to say, "in a bid to release herself from you..." Oh, how hard the words came! "...then good choice or bad, she will die neither your slave nor mine, but her own creature. Let her make that choice."
And then he cried out in agony as he felt his control over Mattie ripped away from him like an artery from his own heart. The pain washed through him beyond the limits of a body so that he barely perceived the enormous force that had been building all this time, awaiting just the right words from him, now fountain up beneath him, muscling him from Sauron's grasp, shoving him clear up to the world of air and light again. He gasped in breath, and then floated on the water. He felt wet and fresh and new, as one just born.
And he felt as weak as a baby.
The waters lurched beneath Frodo, and shot him skyward once again, and spilled him down, and slapped him all around--because a host of sea monsters bubbled up to every side of him, churning up the water so that he tossed and tumbled up and down the waves, gasping in the swirl. Beautiful and terrible they reared; their scales glinted like sapphires and emeralds and deepest amethyst, and they flashed their fangs like scimitars of pearl. Suddenly Frodo felt as though he drowned in a sea of his own sweat, dying of the heat, for the water offered him no relief anymore.
Instead of devouring him, the dragons circled and crooned to him, a cold and lovely music that beat back the boiling heat:
Let us comfort you with coolness, let us fill your heart with ice,
Let your heat fan out to others, let those others pay the price!
Swim with us, among your brothers, seek with us delicious prey,
Suffering like this is foolish--burn your enemies away!"

Around and around they swam, causing the water to swirl, to make his dizziness worse, as his feet found no purchase anywhere. He felt ill, and in his illness it seemed that nothing would make him feel better except to let in the cold. But how... could he embrace the dragons as brothers when he had his own brothers and sisters back home in the Shire? It shocked him to think of how long it had been since he even thought of them. "Elanor, my beautiful sister, wise and true--I forgot to ask how you fare in your new home, with your new husband. Oh, but you deserve every blessing!" Somewhere, and he didn't know how he knew, a new steam went up, aromatic with the scent of herbs.
"Rosie-lass--you always were the artistic one; you taught me to draw, even though I'm the elder. What new beauty illuminates your loom?" The dragons slowed, puzzled by his words. "Little brother Merry, always taking on new challenges to live up to your namesake--do be careful, and please don't break another arm. Pippin-lad, thoughtful, scholarly, shy--you may outdo us all, someday." Now the dragons began to growl among themselves. "And laughing Goldilocks, how can I forget you, my dancing sister? More precious than gold to me, your merriment and grace."
The dragons now directed their growling his way, circling closer and closer still. Though his voice trembled in fear, Frodo exclaimed, "Oh Hamfast, you inherited the Gaffer's green thumb, and no mistake--they call me the gardener of the family, but someday you'll teach me a thing or two." Frodo fought down nausea in the whirling water as the dragons swam faster and faster still. "Daisy, who spins with nimble fingers and will someday make a splendid roper, I swear you could spin straw into gold if you'd half a mind. Quiet Primrose, you seem to bring peace into any room you enter--how I could use your serenity right now!"
A dragon swiped him across the head, but he babbled on as though blood didn't pour into the water from his brow. "Little Bilbo, who loves puns so well--I can think of nary a one these days, m-my humor seems to have dried up and blown away in the wind, but thinking of your mirth makes me smile just to remember it." Teeth bared directly over him, salivating... "Th-thoughtful young Ruby," he gibbered, "how I miss the little things you do, like, like slipping out in the morning before anyone else awakens to gather flowers for the breakfast table--how far away you seem!" He watched the jaws become his sky, blotting all else out, as the fangs drew nearer, nearer...
High-pitched cries broke out overhead, from all directions, speeding downward fast. The dragon looked up and Frodo could see past it now--against the dazzle of the sun a flock of eagles gyred down to them. Like an incantation Frodo called out, "Robin, my vivid, impulsive brother Robin, who could raise excitement from a picnic and liven up a gray day rainbound in the house--you're sib enough for anyone!" Dragons reared upward in response, and their roaring burned the sky! Battle roiled the waters all around him so that Frodo went under and fought back to air again and again. But as soon as his mouth reached air he gasped, "Gentle Tom, who I think could tame a warg if you had to, all creatures love you and I understand why." Waves slammed him into scaly bodies till he had not an inch left unbruised, as the sky rained feathers and blood. But he kept his hand tight upon the score across his brow, and the wound on his thigh had sealed; the pink water couldn't infiltrate him anymore.
"And May. Dear, wise little May, so young and so insightful. You knew exactly what your brother needed in his travels, better than anyone else. Where would I be, dear one, if you had not magnified my heart?"
Again he plunged underwater, smacked down by a careless dragon fin. Without breathing he spoke, saying, "Mother, o my mother who raised all of these marvelous brothers and sisters for me, with your stern kindliness and your tireless compassion! Even if I die your son remembers you!" The minute he bobbed back up, gaping for air, a drop of blood fell into his mouth...
...eagle blood!
New strength coursed through him, burning and cold, two things intertangled like combatants rampaging inside him till he writhed with the frenzy in his veins and would have screamed if screaming didn't mean drowning. But just then claws clamped on his shoulders, carrying him upwards, and a woman's voice came into his head, saying,
You can choose.
For a dizzying second he thought she meant choose whether or not an eagle or a dragon carried him away. He laughed crazily and cried, "Oh, an eagle, of course! He'll feed me rabbit in his aerie but all a dragon could offer would crack my teeth to chew." And suddenly plain old hobbit-sense came to the fore in him along with his hunger. Treasure served only to buy you the things that you really wanted--why not go directly to the vittles?
He looked up. An eagle did indeed hold him firmly in her grip. They soared higher and higher, far from the dragons snapping frustrated at the air beneath, for the wings of sea-dragons had long since altered into fins. He felt content, a warm wind sluicing over him. They sailed into thick clouds that smelled like herbs and felt like steam, and he could not have relaxed more completely than in the safety of the eagle's grip.
His heart stopped at that feminine tenor, and then started up again, double-time.
"Frodo? Do you still love me? Because I felt you leave. I felt it!"
"Where?" he cried, wriggling in the eagle's grip, trying to see all around him. "Where are you, Mattie?"
"Am I so horrible that you would just break with me like that?"
"Mattie, no! Mattie, where are..." But his wriggling dislodged him from the eagle's hold and he plunged, head over heels, his terrified stomach floating somewhere without him it felt like, the water closer and closer till he could see fell things swimming in the deeps below, though his eyes streamed from the rushing air...
The eagle shrilled above him, "Let goooooo! Let goooooo! Froooodooo let goooooo!"
"I did, you fool--that's the problem!" But he hadn't. He plummeted deep into the water and immediately fought back to the surface, but he found Mattie clutched tightly to him, weighing him down. He kicked water with all his might, struggling to swim back up to air, but the more he strove the deeper he fell, and she let him, snuggled up against his chest, smiling dreamily up at him.
Once again he found that he could speak under water, as he released her, shouting, "Swim! Swim for yourself--you can do it, Mattie." But she sank, still smiling, her limbs drifting limp about her. Cursing he grabbed her and tried to tug her upward with him, but he found himself sinking again. At last, desperate for air, he released her and fought back up, finally thrusting his head above water, crying like all the ocean were his tears, for she did not surface with him. The eagle now circled very close above him. He shrieked foul words and splashed at her, crying out, "But I thought love conquers all! Mama says it all the time!"
"Love does conquer all," said the eagle, in Elenaril's voice. "And if Mattie should ever love you--or anyone, even herself--more than the false visions of the poppy-gum, then she will indeed go free. But you cannot make her feel that love by any power that you possess, nor should you try. Not by possessing her. Not by surrendering to her possession. Only the love of a free heart has any power in this world."
Now the eagle lifted him up again. This time he lay still within the claws, heeding no voice that called out to him, till he heard one dear voice that he had all but forgotten invoke the highest name of all those known to the people of Middle Earth, and all for love of him. Gently the Eagle dropped him into the waiting arms of his father in a final puff of herbal steam that smelled more familiar than all the rest...
"Will he be all right?" But he heard Bergil's voice, not Sam's.
"Yes! But hurry!" The eagle--no, Elenaril--panted. "See he awakens--get him on his feet."
"See? How can I see in the dark?" but the big hands pulled Frodo up to his feet nonetheless.
"By the sound of his breathing. Go--you too, Fishenchips. Forget the towels! The women have all turned their backs and no others walk abroad." Frodo felt Bergil grab his left arm and Fishenchips grab his right, then both of them hauled him at a dizzy run out of the withy-dome into the night's sudden chill.
Yet Frodo did see someone abroad, someone hobbit-sized just outside the thorn fence, cursing and throwing rocks at him, though the fence defeated her. Then they whipped past too fast for a clear glimpse, though he heard Hando say to Harding, "Who was that little girl, out so late?"
His friends made him run all the way up the spiraling stairs though his heart pounded, clear up to his chamber, where a tub awaited, and they threw him into the COLD COLD COLD WATER! He gasped and it seemed like something of his own self flew back into his mouth with the inhalation, so that he felt refreshed and strong and he laughed for the sheer joy of his freedom, then laughed some more as he heard the men plunge into the tubs in their own rooms. He heard a medley of masculine laughter and sobbing and sighs and laughter again, and "Hooo boy I ain't never seen the like o' that, man!" and "A Elbereth Gilthoniel!" Sandstorm called up the stairs, "When you're ready, I have drinks down in the kitchen for you."
Drinks! Frodo suddenly realized that he was so crackling-dry thirsty that he'd gulp down his bath if he didn't climb out soon. He found his robe laid out (and why did they make him parade downstairs in a towel in the first place, anyway?) He dried off and donned it, his skin feeling all tingly from cold after heat, and went downstairs with the men to a big chilly pitcher of sourfruit-juice, water and honey all mingled together. He downed a human-sized mugful without taking a breath, then poured himself another, and only then looked across the table into Fishenchips' red eyes. The man chuckled and kept saying over and over, "Man, I ain't never seen the like!" as he strapped his hook back on with a trembling hand. More tears trickled down into his smile as Bergil gave his shoulder a pat.
Frodo asked, "What happened?"
But before either man could answer Sandstorm said, "You must not speak of it." She turned to Frodo, handing him back his magnifying glass, and explained, "Suffice to say that in a working on this scale, we cannot heal one person without also healing those closest to him."
"And where is Elenaril? Did she also enjoy a heal..." But then he saw the women carrying her down the stairs in her own robe, her silver hair draped wet and dripping across the lowest woman's arms, a grimace on her face.
"No," Sandstorm said sadly. "It will take awhile to release the suffering that she drew from each of you." The apprentices carried her out the door, where Frodo glimpsed Harding and Hando falling in beside them to guard them to their own quarters with the mayor, before Sandstorm left with them, closing the door behind her.
Miles away, Rose watched her husband relax and smile in his sleep, and snuggle into his pillow with no more strange utterances. She laid aside the kettle of kingsfoil tea that filled the room with steam, and sighed out her relief. The only odd thing she saw now was how he held his arms, as though cradling one of their babies against his chest, but of course all their little ones had grown too big for that. That was all right though, he could relive happy memories of early fatherhood if he wanted to. "Must be a sweet dream," she murmured, and tucked him in.

Previous Installment Main Page Next Installment