The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 27, Part 124
Dirty Work
March 17, 1452

Out of the corner of his eye, Frodo watched a thin, straw-haired sailor trying to clear manure from the treads of his boot with a kaktush spine, cursing all the while. Frodo clucked his tongue and said, "We don't have time for that, mister; anyway, it's no use." He himself had both bare feet planted firmly in the muck as he raked up the soiled straw garnered from the pens of Bleys, the chickens, and the goats, into the younger heap raised up beside the nearly finished one. Feet washed up easier than boots, anyway, he thought, shaking his head at the silliness of men.
My chemical fertilizers, that you scorn so proudly, are at least more sanitary and certainly more dignified than this! But Frodo kept right on working and refused to rise to the bait. He had gotten better at that lately, for Sauron left him no choice; he couldn't take the Dark Lord's abuse on top of whatever else now troubled his life. Because something had happened, making Frodo's world shaky and somehow unstable, though he couldn't place his finger on why. He could endure it well enough by day, but it got hard at night. Surely his father would understand what he'd had to do to get through the nights and put in a decent day's work afterwards. But at least he had increased his ability to tune Sauron's incessant chatter out.
The men, too, had much to say, in undertones, or spat out of a sudden if they tripped or tread wrong. The cursing disgusted Frodo more than the rustic processes described, for nothing that came of goat or hen had anything but innocense about it, whereas the sailors chose their foulness willingly. He tried to pay no heed to what he heard and attend to his rake instead, but the words wore on him till his soul felt raw with them--as though Sauron didn't give him enough to ignore.
The Mayor of the Shire had never hesitated to roll up his sleeves and join in any work that the least of his citizens had to do, however hard or dirty. Some of the hobbits of better families raised their eyebrows at his ways, considering his office, but Sam taught his children that the shame all went the other way, that the dirt of honest work washed off, but laziness and snobbery stuck and stained like the grease of Sharkey's mill.
Frodo thought much of home as he labored side by side with the men that he'd assigned this task, even as others pitched more refuse from the cart. It wasn't that he relished unclean conditions, as he heard some folks mutter out of his supposed hearing; among other things he longed for his own tub in his room back home at Bag End, with its spray of old, chipped roses painted into the enamel on one side towards the foot, and the deep, hot water, so welcoming to sink into after a hard day's labor. (Nobody except his family knew of his preference for the bath with the roses, for it seemed a girlish thing to an outside view, but it reminded him of the very first rosebush that he'd taken care of for his own, under the Gaffer's eye, back when he stood about as high to the Gaffer as he did now to these whining men.) When the work got especially messy, and all the hands pitched in, Mama would heat kettles at every hearth in the house and boil up the washday-cauldron over a fire out back, just to fill enough tubs for all the fieldhands in their turn. But he always got the one with the roses in his own private room.
Frodo wiped his face with the last clean corner of his sleeve. Having no wife, he knew that he would trudge home after this and heat his own water, and then he and Fishenchips would carry the buckets up the stairs (stairs!) to their makeshift baths of dented tin. Having no wife...yearning mesmerized him for awhile, a little trance of possibilities tucked between the rhythms of the rake...but no. Reason got in the way, and his fantasy turned into a vision of coming home to a dark, cold home anyway, the fire gone out, and Mattie half-drowsing in a corner with her pipe, humming music to herself, a forgotten bucket of water nearby, maybe kicked over in an absent-minded stumble, putting out the hearth.
He raked the muck savagely, like he pawed the earth with dragon-claws. For a second it had seemed so real, like the future had unveiled before him, and the past just as clear, a contrast brought forward to torment him. But then he shook such notions out of his head and worked harder.
"Holy Morgoth but this midden stinks!" a man exclaimed, and others grumbled their agreement. Frodo strove to repress a smirk to see it, but suddenly he noticed how the faces of the former sailors twisted into every shape of repugnance possible to the human countenance; his father could not have done better in the comical faces that he used to make to get his children to laugh. This should teach them to groan against good, honest mud in the fields!
The sandy-bearded one called Cork muttered, "An' where didje larn yer gardenin' from, Guv--Milady Shelob?"
"My father," he drawled, and the men fell silent. Then Frodo relented and said, "I promise the smell will improve as soon as it starts to ferment--if we keep turning it on a regular basis and let the air run through." He waved his hand over the mess. "All of this will transform into wholesome soil in a matter of months."
Some grousing answered him, but he pretended not to mind, whistling as he worked, trying to enjoy the sunshine that burst through the clouds and warmed him up. Who were they to expect life to spare them a little discomfort? Mattie? Did they think he'd lead them to some pipe-dream life where no one ever had to work? "Take a few deep breaths," he advised, "And your nose will get used to it." But they looked at him like prisoners to a torturer. "No no no, get back here...what's your name, Drift? You need to learn about this, Drift. Barnyard smells won't kill you."
"Need to...?" The man shoved rough blonde hair out of his eyes and gave Frodo a seared look. He had that sort of boiled-red countenance that a fair-skinned man acquires from living too much in the weather. A different life might have made him delicate of feature, almost elvish, but instead he just looked scrawny.
"That's right. You'll thank me in the long run."
Drift said something vile.
"Absolutely--that is precisely what I want you to pitch into the heap. Now pick up your tools and get to it."
Drift spat and said, "Morgoth, no! I dunno about the rest o'ya, but I ain't sunk so low just yet." He threw his shovel down and made a move (maybe towards Frodo, maybe away) but Fishenchips hooked him by the belt.
Memories burned in Frodo at the words--a bonfire of all the smirks and half-heard words of folk unfit for office in the Shire, who still thought they could look down upon his father. So he clenched his fists and did not object when Cork and Fishenchips grabbed Drift by his arms and the seat of his pants and threw him, face-first, into the heap. He laughed with the rest to see that while hollaring his protests, Drift went in with his mouth wide open, and emerged sputtering and choking something horrible. Drift tried to wipe his mouth out with his sleeve, but manure had fouled it too, so he only made the matter worse, and the laughter all around him howled.
And still the man's eyes overflowed with such contempt for them all, as he knelt there spitting in the muck, that Frodo wanted to scream at him, "You are not worthy to let my father wipe his feet on you!" A sudden thought possessed him, then, and before he could reconsider, as Drift's retching bowed the man over his own knees, Frodo took a flying leap onto the sailor's shoulders to send him sprawling back into the mess again. Leverage made a difference; the man could not rise with the weight of a hobbit, even a thin one, pushing one foot down on his head and the other between his shoulder-blades. "How low are you now?" Frodo demanded of him and every high-nosed Fallohide who had ever mocked his father, while Drift struggled under his feet to get his face out of the filth. "How accursedly low do you think you are now?" Cusswords he hadn't thought he'd heeded now flooded from the hobbit's mouth, words unknown to him in the Shire. At last Frodo stepped back just in time to let the man gasp for air, and then Sam's proudest son returned to work. He congratulated himself on taking a firm stance with the riffraff...
Oh, well done! You must take a firm stance with the riffraff. I would applaud you if your father had left me in possession of two hands.
Frodo raked for awhile before he realized that the voice had been speaking to him the entire time, so adept had he become at ignoring it. Then he froze, his rake still in hand. "Sauron?" he whispered.
Why Frodo--you seem so shocked. Surely you must have grown used to my presence by now.
"Was it you who suggested that I...I...oh heavens! What have I..."
But you cannot tell, can you? The voice closed in on him with glee. Where my thoughts end and yours begin--we are not so different as you would like to think.
"It was you--it had to be!"
I shall never tell. Not that it matters--whether the idea originated with me or you, you are the one who chose to follow through on it.
The men all stopped work and stared until they noticed that the hobbit glared at empty space, his rake thrown down and his fists clenched till the knuckles whitened. Cork shrugged and said, "Nobody take it personal--jus' the master throwin' fits again, is all." And they all resumed their chores.
Except for Drift. Frodo gradually took note of him sitting huddled off to one side, shaking visibly, rocking himself, his eyes darting back and forth across the working men, the midden-heaps, the field, back again to Frodo himself and away once more...
Frodo went over to him. "Drift, I...I am so sorry. I was not myself, I think...I don't usually...but that is no excuse..."
"GET AWAY FROM ME!" The man scuttled backwards on his hands and rump.
"Truly, I am sorry. Really, all I want is to help you adjust to the demands of land-life, but I'm afraid that I..."
"Land-life?" The man cackled in a crazed kind of way. "Help me to adjust?" He staggered to his feet, eyes wide, and something about him reminded Frodo of Legolas--Legolas degraded and bedraggled in his madness. "You want me can I adjust to such a...such...oh no. No. I can't. I just...I can't. No." He backed away a step with every word.
"Drift, It's not so bad. You've already seen the worst. Most of it will..."
"I can't take it! I can't! I can't! I can't take it anymore!" And with that the man fled.
Frodo sighed, and said, "Let him run his emotions out. He'll come back when he feels a bit calmer."
But Fishenchips gazed down over the brink of the plateau, his hook-arm shielding his eyes, and said, "I don't think so, Guv. He's runnin' straight fer the pier."
"What? But there's no ship there for him."
"He's headed that way, all the same. I 'spect he'll find out fer himself." Other men dropped their tools to come beside Fishenchips and watch as well. "Nope, he's reached the pier and...whups, there he goes--he dove right in."
"No!" Frodo cried in horror. "But surely he knows how to swim--tell me he knows how to swim!"
"Aye--that he does, li'l buddy. He's swimmin' straight out to sea."
Suddenly one of the others cried, "Look! The Blue Dragon!"
"Lift me up!" Frodo cried. "Let me see!"
Fishenchips hoisted the hobbit up onto his shoulders, dirty feet and all. With his good hand Fish pointed. "See? Over there. Ya can see him swimmin', hard as his heart'll let 'im."
"But he's swimming straight for the dragon! Can't he see where he's headed?"
After a pause that seemed to suck the life out of the air, Fishenchips said, very softly, "Oh he sees, alright. He knows ex-ackly what he's doin'."
At that Frodo could stand no more. He hid his face in Fish's hair, sobbing. He didn't look when the others gasped as one. He didn't raise his head when Cork said, "Well, that's it, then," and he heard the men return, one by one, to work. He didn't open his eyes when Fishenchips reached up with a warm hand of flesh and gently dislodged his grip, lowering him into the crook of the hook-arm. He curled up rigid and did not move when Fish cried out, "I'm callin' a break, men!"
"Ya can't call a break, Fish--that's up to..."
"'Tis up to me when the Master ain't well. Ya saw his fits're on him again. Now take yer break and be glad of it."
The man had carried him down the hill and out of the sight of the others before Frodo could bring himself to say, "It's all right, Fish. I am not ill."
Fishenchips availed himself of the nearest bench and sat Frodo on his lap like a child. "Ya ain't well, neither. Sauron's been after ya, hasn't he?"
Frodo pulled himself together enough to crawl off the man's lap onto the bench beside him. "Yes--but that is no excuse for what I did to Drift."
"Frodo, he made his choice! Ya didn't kill him."
"I helped to kill him. If I can blame Sauron for tempting me, then Drift can stand before Mandos and blame me for tempting him." Frodo shuddered at the thought.
"But he can't. Okay, so ya shouldn't ought to have done what ya did, Sauron or no--pitchin' him in once woulda done the job enough. But that's where it ends." Fish put a hand on Frodo's shoulder. "Ya can't be guilty about listenin' to Sauron and guilty about what Drift did, too, not at the same time." Then he looked away, out towards the sea. "Annerway, Drift always was a proud cuss. Claimed t'have elf-blood, he did, not that annerbody ever believed him. Ah well--at least the poor bloke died clean."
Frodo closed his eyes tight, trying not to think, shuddering with the effort. Proud...always before he had taken refuge from Sauron's temptations by remembering his love for his family, but this time, somehow, that got twisted into pride, pride of blood, no better than refuge left...Abruptly Frodo leaped from the bench, flinging Fish's hand away from him. "It's this land!" he cried, his eyes hot and red. "It's this cursed land corrupting me! I just mocked a man to death, Fish...I just..." and then he broke down into tears, and sobbed against the sailor's knee.
Fishenchips stared at him helplessly for a minute, then patted him on the head. After groping for words, he said, slowly, "Well, it seems to me that a fella can't turn a midden-heap without gettin' dirty, no amendin' that. But he's got a purpose, see, to turn all that manure to sumpin' else, whatever it takes. Someday it'll all turn into grain, an' sallets, and fruit on the vine, an' by then he'll feast wi' nice, clean hands--he won't even remember the dirt, not with the harvest in an' the table spread."
Frodo raised his head and looked at him in wonder. "Where do your words come from, Fishenchips?"
"Where...?" The man scratched his head. "I reckon they just came to me, I dunno where from, jus' the way thoughts do, ya know."
"But Fish, you've never seen a harvest table."
Fish stared at him a moment, mouth agape, then suddenly he frowned and growled, "Ya ready to come back t'work, or ain'tcha?"
Frodo afterwards never understood how he got through the rest of the day. The comfort of his servant's counsel wore off quickly, as the thought came to him, "It's all just words," and echoed thereafter in his head, hour after hour, It's all just words. No, he didn't know how he got through the day...but he knew how to get through the night. As soon as they got home, before Fishenchips could start the water heating up for baths, Frodo beelined for the kitchen corner, and the unmarked jar behind the knives.

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