I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 29, Part 126
Yet Another Funeral
March 19, 1452
Frodo stared at his dirty feet, fists in his pockets, unbudged from the bench where he'd collapsed since they'd come in from the fields. His stomach growled, but he didn't feel much like food, nor had either of them made a move to fix dinner. "I shouldn't attend, Fish. I've got no right."
"If ye don't, the men'll think it all happened just the way ya wanted it to go." Fishenchips held out his hook, and Frodo's summer weskit dangled from it--the only one he had left, the one that turned black when worn inside out.
"Anyway, what's the point without a body? Not so much as a handful of knucklebones to toss into the waves."
"Ya think that ever stopped a sailor? Not the best luck, sure, but worse to let it pass." And hadn't Fish held out his hook with the weskit just moments before? Yet he did so like the very first time.
Frodo rubbed his face in his hands. "I've put in a hard day's work, Fish, and I'm tired, and I didn't sleep a wink last night, and I think I'm losing my mind."
"Tain't no excuse, and it ain't like it's the first time, neither." Fish extended his living hand. "Now come and wash up a bit. Ye'll feel better fer sendin' Drift off proper." When the hobbit still hesitated he said, "Ya owe him," and tossed the weskit into Frodo's lap.
Frodo could not argue with that. He climbed up the spiral stair all the way to the top, and scrubbed off the day's sweat and dust, and did his best to put his appearance right. As Frodo combed his hair he saw his reflection in the mirror. If Mama thought him thin before he'd left, she had no idea what thin could mean; his cheekbones stood out clearly and the skin clung close to his jaw, and his eyes..she would not have understood about the eyes, either. He heard labored breathing, and slow steps coming up the stairs, aided by a cane. He called out, "Leech, you don't have to come up here."
"A leech goes where he is needed. Anyway, I am feeling much, much better."
"But I don't need you," Frodo said as he combed his hair. "The last thing in the world I want to do right now is talk."
Leech shrugged, tying a scarf around his neck. "As you wish. But I shall attend the funeral as well, for I have known Drift for years. If you change your mind on the way back..."
"I won't. Anyway, why would you want to talk to anyone as bad as me?" Then Frodo assessed the doctor's shaky steps. "But if you're going all the way to the pier, we had better hitch up Bleys to get you there."
Leech raised one brow with a half-quirked smile. "And just how bad are you?" but his smile dropped at the hobbit's scowl. "We will await you downstairs."
Frodo arranged his own scarf against the chill of the diminishing day. He felt a kind of heaviness settle upon him at the thought of being bad, and realized that it could almost serve as a kind of armor. Almost. He still had to make up his mind as to whether he deserved the protection.
Yet even Frodo's mood began to lift at the sight of the sea, and the caress of the ocean breeze. A kind of melancholy sweetness overtook him, of the sort that has given up on resisting the fall of night and finds some refuge in the dark, or at least a rest from effort. He walked unflinching among the towering men and bore their stares with patience; not a one could condemn him further than he condemned himself. The drum began to beat, and then a sailor's flute joined in, and Frodo recalled the first time that he had ever heard the cadence of a Mordor funerary drum and the sobbing melody that joined in with it.
As the song trailed off, the men all looked to Fishenchips--the first of them to go ashore, to lead them to this new way of life, before any kind of danger drove him to it. The man turned red, cast down his eyes, and then, when he knew he couldn't escape, he cleared his throat and said, "I ain't never made a speech before. I dinna know...The Captain had th' words, all right, he'da knowed just what to say..." He trailed off, looked all around him, and made himself stand a little taller. "But I'll do m'best by Drift, if that's what y'want o' me."
A chorus of murmers answered him, "That we do," "You tell us," "C'mon Fish-it's yer place t'say."
"Well, Drift...we didn't always see eye to eye, but that's neither here nor there...Drift had a, a certain style about him. He could sing, when the mood hit him, nigh as good as Mattie, maybe sometimes better." The man's voice strengthened as though a spark took hold and grew into a flame. "Drift...well, Drift could sing o' moonlight in the water and wind upon the face, he could sing up stars like jewels all spilled across th'sky, he could sing up ancient battles like we never heard before--oh, he knew more'n most of us, our Drift.
"And aye but he loved the sea! It called to him, it did. He swore his Mama loved a Captain just t'get aboard a ship, to feel those waves beneath the hull, to smell that salty air. And in due season she gave birth to him, right there on board--her time came on her smack dab in the middle of a storm, they say, upon this, the Sea of Nurnen, so that Drift first knew of Middle Earth as a tossing and a turbulence, and that got into his veins somehow, that grandeur I think ya call it, great highs and lows, elations an' despairs like giant waves and troughs in a storm-whipped sea, but he never bored us, not our Drift. I heard tell that th'rudder broke at the moment of his birth, and then th'storm passed on, and the ship drifted asea for three days tegither o' frightnin' peace, rockin' the baby on its breast, before a lucky current brought th'whole ship home--and so he got his name.
"I dunno why he came landward with us. Someone told me t'other day that sometimes Drift would say he wished to see things bloom an' grow, at least fer a little spell, afore goin' back t'sea. Maybe the dragon just gave him some incentive to try it out. But he belonged at sea, and he went back to Nurnen in the end, and took back to himself the fate he'd dodged before." Fishenchips sighed. "May he have peace in his decision."
A silence followed, without a body to carry ceremoniously three times in a circle before surrendering it to the waves. Frodo found himself stepping forward, though he thought he'd rather die. "I, I don't know what your customs are, but I wronged Drift to his death, when it was my job to welcome him to landlife, to show him how..." He stopped, terrified of all the eyes now on him. "If you have a penalty...I mean, something to give peace to the ghost, or..." But they didn't understand. In their coarse ways he had just engaged in horseplay, and Drift hadn't been man enough to take it; it only embarrassed them that Frodo brought it up. "I'm...I'm sorry," he gasped, and shrank back.
Leech laid a hand on Frodo's shoulder and asked the crowd. "Does Drift have any kin among us?" They looked around each other, nobody knowing all that well the man who'd sailed in their midst for years; in any case none stepped forward. "Then who was his best friend?"
They murmured among themselves, and then Fishenchips said, "Starboy, I guess. Leastways they used to watch the skies tegither at night--that's as close as Drift ever got to annerbody, I suppose. Starboy, come on over here."
A dark-haired youth slouched off of a pile where he'd been sitting, and said, "He warn't so bad, Drift, not when he settled in an' got quiet, at least. Yeah, I guess I liked him in the quiet."
Leech said, "Give him a coin, Frodo. That is how we compensate the next of kin in Mordor for a wrongful death."
"A coin...oh. Sure." He pulled out the largest gold coin that he had on him, but it seemed a paltry thing for a man's life.
But Starboy's eyes lit up to see it, and he tossed it in the air with a grin and caught it back again. "I'll raise a drink to Drift fer sure with this," he said.
And Frodo wept. Frodo wept for his own sin, and for Drift, and for the men too callused to the ways of Mordor to understand the crushing weight upon a fine-tuned soul who might have had a drop of elvish blood.
It was then, through his tears, that he saw something toss upon the tide. A wreath, it appeared, of desert flowers in yellow and rose and the pale, dusty-green of tiny desert leaves--the earliest flowers of the season--so skillfully woven as to smite the heart with its delicacy braving the waves of that poison sea. He thought he caught a perfume that wafted up, enhanced somehow, stronger than the harbor smells. Others now saw the wreath and pointed; one by one they moved over to that side of the dock for a closer look. As the men murmured in wonder, Frodo pushed through legs to keep the wreath in sight, until a current carried it beyond all gazes save his own, even then unsunk. But suddenly a long blue shape shot up, tossing the wreath high into the air amid a shimmer of spume, and then the dragon snapped it up again, devouring the beauty, making it naught.
Frodo clenched his fists in a hatred so fierce that the person he had been a year ago would not have believed a body could survive it. And the blue dragon played on the waves with a joy as heartless as a coin, the sunset bloody in the sky behind her.