I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 32, Part 129
To Sleep, To Dream
March 29, 1452
After spending an entire sweating day trying to explain his work to Lord Curudag even as he did it, Frodo felt nothing but relief to let the man enjoy an evening's hospitality at the Mayor's. Now, with no further work to do for the nonce, Frodo's weariness settled onto him as a kind of heavy comfort, numbing him in a not unpleasant way. They still had no chairs, but Elenaril had fashioned cushions for all of them soon after her arrival (seductively comfortable to one who yearned to rest) so that after a satisfying supper of chicken and beans (eating one of the old roosters that Frodo had replaced) they lounged around the fireplace in contentment with each other's company.
Frodo had decided to start decorating his margins again, especially after Elenaril taught him from memory how to make a base for watercolors out of honey, gall, and the gum of a desert shrub; now he ground into this paste the various pigments that she and Leech had gathered for him when he'd labored in the fields. While Frodo did this, Leech quietly discussed with Elenaril the herbs that she had also helped him gather today, picking up this one or that and comparing what they knew about their properties, as Fishenchips listened avidly, whittling the while and releasing a sweet, woodsy smell. Bergil did nothing in particular, just leaned back and watched his wife in her element, a smile of satisfaction playing across his face. The fire felt warm and sleepy, and the food in their bellies argued that maybe the world wasn't half a bad place to live in after all. Frodo noticed that for hours now Sauron hadn't said a word; maybe the Dark Lord didn't know what to say about times like this.
"There!" Fishenchips cried, pulling back his hook and brushing off the curls of parings. "Finally I've done a bit of work worth keeping."
"Ooh--let me see!" Elenaril cried, as eager as a little girl. Her hands reached out for the carving, and her fingers ran over it, exploring every detail incised into the wood, her chin tipped back, her scarred lips smiling. "I...I think I can make it out--you do good work, Fish! Is it a picture of Beren and the wolf?"
"That it is! All this time I'd tried to carve things I didn't half care about, now that I look back on it, but today I 'membered that story Master Frodo told, and, well, it just seemed like m'hook flew through the wood, knowin' just what to do." A passion transfused his face. "I never felt anythin' like it!"
Frodo laid down his pestle. "But...but you carved that already. And kept it. I remember."
Fish gave him a puzzled look. "No, Guv--I only thought of it today."
"But I remember! I wrote about it...look, here, it's in my letter somewhere..." Frodo scattered pages all over everything, searching. "Here...here...no! That can't be!" For his notation of that day showed only that he had planted flood-uprooted crops and helped to build a storm-wall. He stood up, spilling what remained of his letter onto the floor. "That...that cannot be! Fish, I remember!
"Then ya remember what hadn't happened yet, mate." None of them expected Frodo to scream, or to cringe down to his knees with his face buried in his hands. While Bergil stared aghast and Leech whispered to Elenaril, Fish tried to gather up the pages again, explaining, "I shouldn't ought to've said that. Lamebrained of me--he's had a bee up his bonnet about time lately, y'see. But here, lemme set these aright, I can read the dates now, ya taught me good, Guv...oh, this can't be right. Today ain't the 24th, mate, 'tis the 29th." Frodo raised a tearstained face from his hands, the horror plain on his face. Fish turned red and said, "Oops--I shouldn't ought to've said that either."
"Do you mean to tell me I have lost five days? Five whole days?"
"Oh, I'm sure it ain't so bad. On some o' these longer entries, ya probably jotted down several day's worth and forgot to put th'dates in..."
Frodo breathed a sigh of relief.
"Yup. Crookyteeth dropped by the day after we started Second Sowin'."
"Here, give me those, please. They're kind of personal."
"...I'd only say one day would actually count as lost."
Frodo dropped the pages again. "What do you mean?" he asked slowly.
"Oh. Right. Ya wouldn't remember, wouldja? That day ya went to th'jar early and didn't go t'work."
"I did what?"
"'Tis okay, li'l buddy. I covered for ya. Said y'was sick. An' I thought ya would be, too, but ya know, the next day, just like always...Frodo?"
"I...I need to take a walk. Yes...air...I need air, I...goodbye!" Bergil rose the same time he did, a sort of fury of concern darkening the man's face. Frodo made it to the door and pried the bar half-off its brackets before Bergil lunged to his side and slammed it down again.
"Frodo--you know what creatures await out there this time of night!"
"Only on some years," he babbled, "and they might not yet be born in any case, or, or else fallen into bones like Billy-Lass walking backwards. I don't know what I have done or will do, so maybe it doesn't matter, after all, maybe I will make a good meal if nothing else and time can stop, then, really truly stop." He reached for the bar again.
"No!" Bergil fell to his knees and gripped the hobbit between his hands. "Frodo, it is no good thing to drink a day away and not remember afterwards, but it only happened once--that does not give you cause enough to leave us, not like this!"
"Aye!" Fishenchips cried, hurrying up beside. "Drift was a dungbrained fool for dyin' over shame, of all things! If I'da felt like that, I woulda never survived m'childhood, never met ya, never learned t'read, never hoped t'study medicine. If yer gonna cut off all yer possibilities, do it fer some better cause!"
Frodo started shivering violently and crumpled against Bergil's chest. "It is more than that," he gasped. "You do not understand. None of you do. It...it is time! And Bergil, bewildered, cradled the hobbit against his chest while Frodo sobbed.
Leech smiled sadly and said, "Hope often begins with tears, in these conditions. So it was with Turin of old."
Elenaril rose to her feet and made halting steps towards them, guided by the sound of weeping. "More hope still, and healing besides, may come of a good night's rest." She almost tripped on Bergil and Frodo, but with grace she recovered and knelt instead, gathering the hobbit into her arms as though he were a child needing to be put to bed. "Set aside your fears of sleeping for tonight. Let me watch the night away instead, sitting by your side."
He stared up at her with wide, wet eyes. "Watch?"
Elenaril smiled. "Yes, in ways that need no sight--the ways that you need most." She rose with him and walked apart from the others, feeling her way with each carefully outstretched step. "Trust me. I will make it safe for you." As she carried him up the stairs she said, "You have grown too light, Frodo. Every other person in Seaside has gained weight; I can tell when I clasp their arms for guidance. But you feel like a little bundle of bones." Down the stairwell, she called, "Leech, could you please make the tea we need? You know the one I mean."
"No poppy!" Frodo twisted in her arms as though he meant to escape, but she held him firm.
"No, of course not. Something much, much milder to help you sleep--and milder, too, than anything you kept in that jar that Fishenchips referred to," she said with a gentle laugh. "I feel the tension in your muscles, dear; if I can release you from that, your own body will do the rest."
She put him on his feet in his room. "But first you must lead me to your hearth...good. Now light this for me, please." She pulled a close-tied bundle of wild sage from a pocket. "I always find it good to keep a little of this about me...here, go on, light it. Why so surprised? When I said that I would make the room safe for you, did you think I humored you like a child who fears monsters under the bed? I might have carried you up like a babe, but I do not take you for one! There. That is good." She patted him from head to toe, to focus his location and dimensions firmly in her mind, and then waved the smoldering herbs around him, bathing him in smoke. "Now lead me around the room, Frodo. We shall make it inhospitable to evil spirits for tonight. Does the Dark Lord remain withdrawn from you?"
"Yes. For now. I think."
"Good. That will help." They made the circuit, Elenaril wafting the aromatic smoke into every curve of the round room, while Frodo made sure she didn't set anything on fire. "There! That is better. And...if I am not mistaken, that should be Leech coming up the stairs with your tea. Undress and bathe while we prepare your bed for you...no, do not be shy--I cannot see you, remember?"
"Wait! You're going too fast--I never agreed to go to sleep at all."
"But you will," she said pleasantly. "Does it not beckon to you? Do you not feel the desire, the need for it, in every fiber?"
This he could not deny, for his weariness built to an all-engulfing pain, so that he trembled with it. "Is...is that all that's wrong with me? Simple lack of sleep?"
She sighed and said, "No. I fear not." She took the cup from Leech after a few soft words that Frodo couldn't catch, and then returned to him. "No one can host a spirit like the one that has attached to you and stay altogether sane, although with courage you may yet accomplish much. Your fear of sleep is but one of many ways by which he seeks to attack you."
Frodo yawned and climbed into bed. "But he loves me now."
Elenaril brought him the tea and held it to his lips, making him drink it all. "All the more reason to attack you. For how could he bear for anyone he loves not to share in his damnation? No one is ever as lonely as the damned."
Soft, heavy layers of sleepiness settled on Frodo like feather quilts, one right after another, it seemed, with every breath, until the weight of them pushed him back onto his cot, his head sunk deep into the pillow. But he forced himself up onto his elbows again. "Legolas--I am going the exact same way as Legolas!"
"Hush. You are not. I have treated some of the victims of Legolas Greenleaf, but you have never hired anyone to unwittingly poison themselves."
"But he...jus' as unwitting..." The soft weight of sleep became irresistible; he sank back down. "I need dwarves...the dwarves will know...can you put me in a tree?" She did not answer what made no sense to her, but just tucked his blanket around him. "Hold my hand," he pleaded. He felt her fingers touch his, but he could no longer raise his eyes to look...
...he walked beside his father down the main street of Bree, and into the Prancing Pony, to meet a friend of Papa's. Nothing could happen to him with his father by his side. Yet when he entered the darkness of the inn, unfriendly voices murmured all around them in the shadows. "Pay them no mind," old Butterbur said when he brought them their mugs. "This'll tune them out." Frodo looked forward to a healthy draught of Barliman's Barley Brew, but to his disappointment he found the mug filled to the brim with brandy, instead. The very smell nauseated him, yet he forced it down, nevertheless, alone now in the dark and smoky booth, his father nowhere in sight. But an hourglass sat upon the table, and nothing else mattered. He took care to watch the hourglass so that he could make sure that he finished his drink within the hour...but something had gone wrong, the sand sometimes ran up instead of down. He had no way of knowing how much time had passed, he just kept feeling dizzier and dizzier, until gradually the muttering voices finally began to fade...
...Frodo hoed the ground, but he could only hoe in a circle, a weary, wearing circle, for something tethered him. Around and around he went, digging a pit, deeper and deeper. He heard his father shouting with a fury rarely heard in waking life--"How dare you! How dare you rob my son like that! And here I thought you stood for freedom!"
"Dreams are not the same," a deep voice groaned. "Do not presume to understand..."
"I'll presume anything I jolly well want when it comes to my son's well-being. Look what you've done to him--you've tangled him all up!" And tough, pale fibrils did coil around him, restricting his movements more and more, as he dug deeper and deeper in an ever-narrowing circle, weary and dizzy with circling, wishing the labor would end. Then, with difficulty, he finally raised his eyes to the center and saw there an old man in white robes turned gray with soil, in agony because his beard bound Frodo to himself, winding around and round like a tortuous Maypole.
"You had no right," his father shouted down. "Give him back his memory!"
And then Frodo seemed to wake up in his bed, and from there he watched the Dark Lord before him in all the guises that the maia had ever held or might have held in any of a number of possible pasts or futures, glorious or hideous, raising in pride a fist that glittered with the Ring of Power, falling again in wails without it into a pool of blood, over and over as the walls around them crumbled to oblivion and then spiraled back into new, fresh-chiseled rock, again and again and again as Frodo stashed away a letter too precious to surrender into a crevice of the stones, hardly knowing what he did...
"Enough!" Frodo wailed. 'You're right! I can't endure this memory! Take...take away part of it. Let me only remember the gist of it, vaguely--a version paled down to my measure."
"His choice!" his father declared, and was gone.
"The letter!" Frodo cried, sitting up with a start in his real bed. "Letter?" He grasped at a faint memory, somehow important, blinking at the dimly lit room all around him, that moved at an ordinary pace through time, second by mortal second. His bedding had tangled with all of his tossing and turning, but Elenaril had not let go his hand. Yet she, too, seemed agitated. Her nostrils flared as she sniffed the air, and then her lips crinkled in disgust.
"I smell corruption," she husked, "Something old...decaying." Then, suddenly. "Frodo--get out of bed. Now." He scrambled to do so, barely in time, for she grabbed the cot and pulled it away from the wall. Her fingers darted over the stones until she paused at one right where the bed had blocked it. She dug away the aging mortar with her bare fingers, though it broke her nails, pulled out the stone with a scrape, and then drew from the hole behind it some ancient, barely legible parchment, stained and nibbled by worms, crumbling at her touch. She brought it to Frodo. "What does it say?" she asked.
He lit the candle by his bed. In script common to the Shire he read aloud,"March 6, 1452." He gasped. "But what has happened to age it so? And who could have sealed it into so old a wall?" Through the insect holes and stains he made out, "Mayor Samwise Gamgee, Bag End, Hobbiton, The Shire, Arnor--this is from Papa!" Avidly now he read, "Dear Frodo: Might as well start this letter afore I get yourn. You'll be glad to know I gave..."
"Stop! Stop as you love your soul."
"But it's from Papa!" He clutched it to his chest.
"Misborn out of time."
"Papa would never hurt me!"
"Your father would not--but someone has ensnared you, using something innocent of his for bait, it seems. You should not yet have this letter--this has imbalanced you, shaken your position in time."
"What are you saying?" he cried, "What would you have me do?"
"Burn it, now! I cannot do it for you. But think of all the evil of these days--if you let go of this, you release yourself from the imbalance that has caused you so much grief." She heard his steps, soft and slow--very slow--heading towards the hearth...and stopping just short of it. Gently she said, "You will get the letter in due time, and read it then, and draw all the comfort from it that your father meant to give. But blessings seized before their proper hour turn to curses, Frodo. Let it go!"
Then she heard the fizzle of parchment burning, and she heard the sobs--no fake grief of someone who had tried to deceive her blindness by burning something else, but the heart-wracked sobs of someone who has genuinely surrendered what he would have given anything to keep. She found him by his crying, she knelt and embraced him till he quieted, then she rose again and led him by the hand back to his bed.
Frodo felt like he didn't so much fall back onto his pillow as into a spinning maelstrom that whirled him apart into particles. In an instant and an age he reconstituted into someone tall and fair, caught in a place of absolute blackness. But then he found smooth-polished stone beneath his boots, and after a moment his eyes or something like eyes adjusted enough to see by a frail and fretful bluish light, and to realize that he stood in a long hall stretching out before him to a pinpoint in the distance.
"At last!" Drift exclaimed, and quelling all fear in his pride, he strode down the hall to meet his fate...