I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 16, Part 113
The Mourning After
(March 1, 1452)
Bergil carried over a bottle of goat's milk and a pot of cold, greyish porridge to the stone bench built into the wall, in no mood to heat the food up or do much more to it than spoon it in. "We are fortunate to be alive," he said in a dull voice. Frodo did not see anything particularly fortunate about the fact this morning. "Do you realize that night had fallen by the time we got indoors?"
"I hadn't noticed," Frodo groaned over his most unappetizing breakfast. They balanced their bowls on their knees, for after Elenaril had burned up their chairs, the night before last, Sandstorm had continued with the table. Sunlight streamed like yellow pain down from the high windows, sparkling with flecks of dust; Frodo felt like that same dust had gotten under his skin, especially under the scalp and the lids of his eyes. But he forced himself beyond his own suffering to ask, "How's Fishenchips?"
"Holed up in his room with that cursed figurehead, I think. But he promised to pull himself together in time for the wedding."
Frodo rubbed his brow gingerly. "Oh, right. The wedding. Pull together."
Softly but grimly, Bergil said, "Frodo--do not."
"Not what?" But he knew.
"Ask him for help." Bergil reached down for the bottle on the floor and poured a little more milk onto his breakfast. "I must say, you lost no time throwing away your purification! But that is the way of Sauron and his kind--purification rites always frighten them and spur them on to new efforts of temptation."
Slowly, precisely, Frodo said, "I have no idea what you are talking about." But he did.
Bergil gave him a disappointed look that hurt more than Frodo's headache. "I saw more than you realize, my friend. You never touched the great barrel that Fishenchips brought in. But as the afternoon wore on, you went into the kitchen sober and came out reeling." Bergil made himself eat a few spoonfuls. "I know what ingredients you sent Mattie to gather for you from our kitchen. I helped her pack the basket."
"All right!" Frodo exploded, and they both winced. "So I helped myself to some Shire brandy! I might have anyway, without Sauron there to suggest it. What they serve in Seaside isn't fit to drink."
Bergil pointed a finger at Frodo. "But that is not why you chose it."
Frodo slumped, his eyes downcast. "No. It isn't." In a soft, hoarse voice he said, "But Bergil, you have no idea what horrible things he kept whispering to me, on and on, about his own ideas of entertainment!" Then, in a louder voice that made them both flinch again, he cried, "And what do you mean by following me around, anyway? What difference does it make to you whether I go into the kitchen or not, and what I do in there?"
Bergil put a hand on Frodo's arm, and the gentle look in his eyes made the hobbit sit quite still. "You know what difference it makes to me, Little Master. If I felt no more for you than any hireling does for the source of his pay, I would not care one way or another. But the fact of the matter is, I would grieve--grieve beyond words--if you came to lasting harm." He let go, and suddenly showed quite a bit more interest in his meal. Then he paused suddenly, not looking up. "Sauron tempts you right this minute, does he not?"
Frodo swallowed, and said, "Um, yes. As a matter of fact, he does." Frodo smiled painfully. "He could make all of this go away, put me right as rain, so that I could make myself presentable for the wedding--he says that I owe it to you to put a bright face forward."
Bergil shook his head and smiled fondly at the hobbit. "What you owe me is to be yourself--your real self--at my side when I go to claim my bride."
If Frodo heard him, he did not acknowledge it. "Of course, he says, he cannot do it for nothing. Because my father and my namesake 'despoiled' him, he lacks what it takes to help me all by himself. But he says he is willing to let bygones be bygones and do me this favor anyway--all I need do is give him just a little, the tiniest bit of my power." Bergil winced at the yearning that glowed in Frodo's face as the hobbit stared off into nothing. "He says that I wouldn't miss it, the relief would be so great. It would be a wise investment, he says--for the sake of my good friend's wedding." Frodo turned and smiled broadly at Bergil, but his eyes looked strange.
In almost a whisper Bergil said, "Don't give him any of your power, Frodo--not for my sake. Not for anything."
Frodo laughed, though it came out feebly. "I suppose you hurt as much as I do, and if you can manage, then so can I." And the strange look passed from him. "Oh, but what an absurd custom we maintain, the way that we prepare for weddings!"
"It is fitting. Do not fight the pain." Bergil paused, and said in a throat-thick voice, "For good men died. It is almost like a wake."
Frodo gave up on trying to smile. "How on earth can we go on with a wedding, after something like that?"
"Bravely. Defying death with life and evil with love and joy." Bergil set aside his bowl, struggling to control his voice. "Knowing that Captain Watersheen and all his crew linger just a little while to rejoice for us, before sailing away on the Straight Sea to the Hall of Mandos, and from thence onward to the greatest journey of them all." He looked at the hobbit as though begging something from him. "Frodo, we owe it to the dead to marry and bring new children into the world." Maybe absolution, for daring to wed? "What is history, without the children?"
A deep voice groaned from the stairwell, "That's right, man. That's it, on the money." Fishenchips came downstairs, his eyes all red and bleary, his cheeks still wet, but his hair slicked into place, wearing a dried flower in his buttonhole and new polish on his boots. His hook shone as if he'd polished that, too.
The man and hobbit stared at him, till Frodo finally broke the silence, saying, "Hello, Fish..." and then couldn't think of another word to add to save his soul.
Fishenchips stood up straight, though his voice shook when he said, "I can't say as I had only happy days aboard that ship, nor that I got along with everbody on board, neither. But t'was the bigger chunk o' me life, mates, and they was the next best thing I had to family, fer better or fer worse. I guess I lost most everbody I knowed." He looked on Frodo and Bergil, his hand holding his hook, and said, simply, "I guess all I gots left is you two."
"Three," Bergil said, suddenly hoarse. "You have Elenaril, too. She wants to teach you medicine, Fish. She will be a good sister to you."
"Sister..." Fishenchips smiled in a trembly sort of way. "I likes th'sound o' that. I never thought t'have me a sister." Forcing cheer, he went over and gave Bergil a hearty thump on the shoulder which turned the sick man a greenish shade of white. "And you, ya ol' dog! Howzabout gettin' married? What a wonderful idea that was, whoever come up with it. T'have a 'wife' fer yer very own, lifelong like that--and t'be her 'husband', to have and to be had...uh, that din't come out right..."
Bergil laughed and got a little color back. "'Tis all right, Fish. I know what you mean."
Fishenchips paced, musing, "An' me...I wonder if I'll ever have a 'wife' or 'husband' or anything like that?" Bergil's smile grew strained, but Fishenchips went on. "I mean, I don't know how I feel about it all, really. I never had much chance t'choose--don't know what I would choose iffin I did..."
"You need not share your secrets, my friend..." Bergil began, but Fishenchips paid him no mind, pacing faster.
"I mean, this whole mollydoodling business confuses the Angband out o' me. First there was Captain Belzagar...I hated that at first! It hurt, and, and, it humiliated, but what the hey..."
"Fish, you really need not..."
"...after awhile, though, ye know, ye're just a kid, ye gotta take affection where ye find it, make the best o' yer lot. An' then I got big and ugly, and, and he turned nasty...an' that hurt and humiliated, too."
But louder, pacing faster still, Fish cried out, "So women--I tried me women. But only 'cause that's what next came available, ye unnerstand. The kind o' women who'll come on board an' do it fer a sailor's pay, no need t'seek 'em out. I gots whatever the rest left over; the men din't like me none too well after Belzagar had done with me. But ye gotta take what affection ye can, where ye find it, in this hard, hard world. And, and, and some o' them wenches was nice, an' some--oh man! Some sure could find new ways to humiliate a bloke. But I hadn't much choice, now, did I?"
The pacing grew frantic. "But mebbe I did have a choice. I never got offen that ship. I never dared, not till I met a bona fide hobbit and lost m'hand and everthing got changed around so much that I might as well mix it up th'whole way and try a brand new life with people I never knowed before. And now all the ones I knowed before are gone!" He shouted this at the ceiling, stopped suddenly before Bergil.
Then Fish brought his eyes down to the seated man and spoke softly, but still swiftly. "And here ye be, now, gettin' married to a woman of yer own choosin', somebody ya hankered after fer years an' years. What's that like? What's it like to know exackly who and what ye want that way? And what's it mean that everbody that ever stood in me way o' makin' choices, they's all gone, ever last one of 'em, the good an' the bad, the ol' enemies and the ol' loyalties, the ship me whole life the ship now sunk and yet here I stand on dry ground, the ship has died and I din't--what's that mean?"
At first Frodo stared at him, stunned, finally comprehending the mystery of Fishenchips. But then he got up and deliberately took Fish by the arm as Bergil sat there rigid. "It means that you are your own man, now, Fish. You can take all the time you need to figure out what you want from life and how to go about getting it. In the meantime, you can work in my service for pay, so long as we are both pleased with that arrangement, or you can study under Elenaril, or both, or you can do something else entirel..." Frodo felt the man tremble violently. "Oh...does that scare you? Making your own choices?"
Fish growled, "Y'know, sometimes I hate that magic lens o' yourn."
"It's all right, Fish, freedom is all right." Frodo patted his arm. "You will grow to it. You have already grown to it." He laughed suddenly. "Yesterday you chased after me in the street and ordered me to eat--what a big step you made that day!"
Frodo reached up and turned the man to face him fully. "Fishenchips, listen to me. My father worked through something not entirely dissimilar. Not so horrifying in the details, but by everybody's account he had gotten too comfortable in the servant role, just taking orders from the Bagginses by day, and orders from his Gaffer by night, hardly anything in between except a little mug of beer in Bywater now and then, where he'd get all maudlin and daydream about elves but never do anything about his yearnings. That's what he told me, hisself. How could a fellow marry like that--how would he find the nerve? And what lass would have him? But then his master got into some serious trouble, and loyalty took him somewhere miles beyond servitude. There came a time when he had to learn to make his own choices, when the whole free world depended on him and there weren't any great ones around to tell him what to do--and he did just fine. You will, too, Fish. Step by step, same as my Papa did. We'll help you learn how gradually till you can go it on your own."
Frodo led the man towards the kitchen-corner, fairly certain that Fish hadn't eaten yet--and stopped dead at the sight of a dragon staring balefully at him out of the fireplace, eyes glowing in the flames. Fish said hollowly, "We needed th'wood. It got bitter cold last night, and I had nuthin' else t'hand. Th'Captain wouldna' minded. The living gots t'keep on living, same as Bergil says."
Shakily Frodo said, "There you go--a capital decision, right there, and wisely made, too!" But then he kept staring into the hearth, letting Fishenchips go on to fetch himself a bowl alone. Hesitantly the hobbit asked, "Do you folks see, um, unusual colors--greens and blues and such--in the flames? Or does it burn with dragon-magic?"
Fishenchips managed a wan smile. "Oh, driftwood always burns like that. Leech once told me 'tis the salts or summat that the wood takes in."
"Leech..." Frodo whispered in pain.
Bergil chuckled nervously. "What a relief! I feared that someone had slipped something dangerous into that grog last night."
Fish said, "Leech woulda' said grog's dangerous enough all by itself," and he started crying right over his smile, then suddenly wolfed down his porridge in about three great gulps.
Frodo still watched the flames. "But by what magic does it burn? I saw that wood get good and soaked yesterday. It can't have dried so fast."
"Awr, the Captain made us keep it tarred up proper, lest it crack i' the weather." Suddenly he giggled like he was still drunk. "Useta say that it brought good luck."
"Nay, Frodo," Bergil said, "Fear no dragon-magic here. That has departed for good. The only magic that burns here is the love and memories." He rose, picking up the bowls.
Frodo came to himself abruptly and took them from him. "You are not going to wash dishes on your wedding-day!"
Fish closed in before he made three steps. "Ye can't even reach the sink, lil' buddy!" Fish tried to grab the bowls, but Frodo dodged.
"And you always break the dishes. I can stand on a chair..." then he stopped. "No, I can't."
Bergil swooped the bowls out of Frodo's grasp and carried them to the sink. "It is no great matter for a man who will someday change diapers," he said. And that thought seemed to cheer him as he poured the sand into them and scoured them out, before passing them with tongs through the fire and then wiping off the soot. "Well, then!" he said rubbing the soot off of his hands. "On to the wedding, shall we?" And Frodo said nothing about the big black smudge on Bergil's white sleeve, for Elenaril would pay it no heed.
As they walked out into the sunlight Frodo looked on Fishenchips, striding along as tall and dignified as he had ever seen the man, yet carrying himself carefully, too, and Frodo thought of his own loss of Billie-Lass, and how the death of one pony paled next to losing one's entire village. Fishenchips had far more courage, Frodo realized, than he had ever given him credit for.