I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 26, Part 123
Writing by the Fireside
March 11, 1452–"I woke up with this weird, disturbing feeling, and it nagged me all day long. I felt endangered, somehow, and all shaky. You do get queer notions out here, and no mistake, but this felt different, worse, not like the usual jitters of wondering if some beast or other might be pawing at the door, or if some haunt might float on by just outside the window. I found I kept checking little things, to see if they had moved overnight, or if something had changed, maybe a bundle of herbs turned into a broomstick or something, I don't know what. I felt myself wishing like never before that I had a little kingsfoil handy to drive the shakiness away, even though I've been in worse shape than this. Or something. But then I also felt myself remembering all those bad times, too, altogether too vividly, about how I fell to pieces when I first arrived, almost like it had happened yesterday, and could happen all over again, any minute, if I didn't take care.
"Sauron weighed in with a few observations, but he seemed subdued today, almost polite. He asked some rather peculiar questions, like what was it like to get born and grow up, to have family, parents and brothers and sisters and all, and what I expected out of raising children, and how do hobbits handle death. He almost seemed to listen for awhile, although of course he fell back on snide remarks and claimed to hold everything I said in contempt. I don't care. I don't feel any great burning need for his approval of our ways; it's not as if I admired his opinion or anything."
March 12, 1452--"I had a hard time getting to sleep last night, afraid of more bad dreams. But I took care of it, and now remember no dreams whatsoever, so that's all right. Papa, you are probably the only hobbit left alive who knows what it's like out here. I get quite a bit of relief writing these letters to you.
"It rained today. That's good news and bad news both around here. We desperately need fresh water for the fields, all the water we can get--but not all at once, the way it happens in Nurn. We ran around like crazy, every one of us, trying to make sure the new sprouts didn't get washed away. I nearly got washed away, myself, trying to ford what I'd remembered as a ditch that had turned into a high-force gush like nothing I'd ever seen before--It would have made the mill-stream back home seem like a trickle. Even Grond could strike only swing by swing--picture Grond made all of water that never pulled back but pounded nonstop in an endless flow of blows. It knocked me clean off my feet and I tumbled head over heels in the flood like sideways had turned into down and I fell and fell and fell! Fishenchips snagged my jacket just in time with that hook of his; now I'm sitting by the fire in a cocoon of blankets, having just finished sewing my jacket back up.
I've seen the display in Gondor of the rags that you and my namesake wore on your way to Mt. Doom, and at the time I wondered how you managed to get yourselves so tattered-up in such a short space of time. Now I know. Mordor is hard on clothes. Not to mention hard on me. You never mentioned in all your travels ever getting muddy water up your nose. It is not a pleasant experience.
"Although, come to think of it, you must have known something of the sort when you nearly drowned trying to follow Frodo Sr. through the water when he took the boat. You didn't go into much detail, but I guess it must have been awful for you. Even so, picture the water charging you like a stampeding horse. I rest on my contention that my near-drowning counts for worse. And Sauron has nothing to do with my sips of brandy by the fireside--I am froze clean through and need a little warming."
March 13, 1452--"We had a muddy business working in the fields, today, half of us replanting whatever got washed loose, to the best of our ability, while the other half began a flood-wall to divert the worst of the next flash-flood to a reservoir that we shall dig--now that I know the direction flooding takes around here. In less than an hour you couldn't have told the color of anything we wore, and in some cases, you couldn't even make out the shapes of garments, especially where hems of britches left off and the boots of men began. A cold business, too, wet and in the wind. But you know how it can get.
"The former sailors gave me much grumbling and some trouble. We do not normally think of sailors as fastidious folk, but they have little experience with mud and do not like it much. It just isn't "ship-shape" to their way of thinking. I shall have to put them to turning the second midden-heap, since the first has nearly finished itself. A few days of pitchforking goat manure and rotten scraps should make them appreciate the wholesomeness of earth.
"Time still feels strange. Have I told you that time has felt strange to me lately? Well, it continues to do so. It doesn't seem to keep an even measure; it might drag for the longest while, and then suddenly speed up, way too fast, but not for any particular emotional reason that might explain how one might misperceive it. And then so help me it sometimes seems to skip backwards a little--not that I remember anything from the future, per se, but I will see events unfold, and I will think, 'Didn't that happen before?" I will sit and eat sprout soup, for instance, and I will see the spoon rise to my face and stop, wondering if I hadn't already eaten that particular spoonful, don't I recognize the specific curl of those sprouts? But I can prove nothing, nor can I remember for certain one way or the other.
"Looking up from this letter, I see that Fishenchips has finally carved something that he likes too well to burn, gouged into a weathered old plank--a picture of the wolf biting off Beren's hand, just as it happened in the story that I told him. A disturbing piece of work, but it seems to fill Fishenchips with peace. And it shows surprising skill; in simple lines he catches the pain of the moment, in Beren's posture, but the face shows, beyond anguish, the hero's determination, maybe even a kind of elation--he holds the silmaril, and nothing else matters."
March 14, 1452--"Oh, Papa, I ache in every bone! We need dwarves for the work at hand, not a hobbit! Walls to build and a pond to dig--I wish I had more of Roin in me. Several ponds, actually. I read in that elvish gardening book that you once got for me that elves tried this and that, and found that the land does better with many little ponds than one big artificial lake. The big lakes that you might make for yourself would drown some lands and parch others, but the little ponds hold just as much. They each leak just a little water all around them and soften up the soil, while not taking up too much of the landscape all at once, so they distribute instead of concentrate the wealth. Sauron, of course, thought big and scorned such experience as elves had discovered, and further decided to trap all the water he could without escape, hoarding every drop--which is why I write this in a desert, by the shores of a perfectly useless body of water that has gone all to salt and poison, never purging itself clean.
"I got more lip from the sailors, naturally. You know, I wouldn't mind the complaints of someone inexperienced at hard work, who felt actual pain in gaining muscles. But they've got muscles bigger than my whole body; they just like to whine about the dirt.
"Yet I do not go wholly unappreciated. Mayor Aloe saw how hard Fish and I worked today and sent us over some supper. I don't think she wants anything untoward in return; rather this time I think she feels she owes me, though she'd never say as much. Instead she sent the message that she felt sorry for us and didn't want to think of us dragging about the hearth trying to cook. Whatever the reason, I am grateful!
"So here I sit, in grateful leisure (or almost; every muscle's still a knot) contemplating that bit of tile that I picked up at the place of healing mud. Well, it came to mind, we've had so much mud to deal with; the sailors would think better of the stuff if they had visited that pool. But what does this inscription mean, "The Lost Elf"? Lost indeed, if he'd wandered into the Ephel Duath. Did he build that pool and fountain all by himself? But of course an immortal would have the time for long labor, and strength enough for moving stones as big as all of me or larger even than that. And what magic did he sink into the place, and why there? Though I suppose I can't think of a better place for a healing site than by that pass!"
March 15, 1452--If Sauron had taken a vacation from full-force cruelty, he has returned to make up for lost time! Today he attacked every single thing about hobbits, mortality, my family, my leadership, my purposes, and the pursuit of good in general. I wish I had never told him anything the day before, but he'd have worked it all out, one way or another, anyway. So I just kept right on churning mortar for the men to spread between the stones, and ignored him the best I could. Which of course made him angrier than ever. I think I could have lost my mind, if not for something I saw, completely beyond the blow-fly's control. I saw flower-buds on every bush in sight."
"Do you know what I miss something fierce right now? Forests. Those two sourfruit trees hardly count as trees at all for height, and the same could be said of every other glorified bush that I've seen in the vicinity. I expect Bergil could pluck fruit from the tallest branch without stretching himself much, never mind a ladder. I miss great masses of pale flowers that turn into even greater masses of green leaves that turn into great fiery masses come the fall, each with their own sweet smell in season. I miss dappled shade and the crackly stuff underfoot that turns into the softest dirt. I miss the sigh of uncountable twigs and branches all swaying to the wind at once. I miss the gentle sound of rain on leaves, not this thundrous pelting of brick-hard earth. I miss the shapeliness of bough and root, and the sturdy girth of trunks that look like they hold up the sky, and all of it going on for as far as you can see.
"I miss Hazel. I did not see her in the field where I left her, nor have I caught any sign of her since. I wonder if I hurt her bad, not wanting to go off where she would carry me? But I don't see how I could have done anything other than what I did.
"I know it's hard, Papa, asking you not to send word to Treebeard or tell anybody else. But she has got to make the next step on her own. If we told Treebeard he'd come after her post-haste, and she would run away again, and they'd have no more hope than before of ever reconciling.
"Sauron, of course, has nothing but cruel and crude things to say about Hazel and Treebeard and all of entdom. It makes me wish I had fallen into the flood again, to have an excuse for the brandy that would shut him up. Not really. Okay, yes really. But I won't do that. And I have already sent away Mattie's little tin, so that is good, too.
"It doesn't help that the men are driving me crazy. These sailors really do consider themselves better than landfolk. They see something shameful about "grubbing," as they call the art of raising the food that folks like them aren't too proud to eat. But twenty of them aren't worth one of you, Papa. They can count themselves lucky that I am half their size and strength, for sometimes I honestly would like to wring their necks! I suppose the impossibility of fullfilling my desire benefits me as much as it does them, for I do not want Mordor to make me that kind of person. But oh, how they test me!
"I love you, Papa. And I admire you, too."