I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 36, Part 133
April 2, 1452
"Master, you know my faithfulness better than anyone..."
"And yet? I hear a distinct 'and yet' in your voice, Olorin."
"I have often benefitted from inferiors who questioned my judgment or offered their opinions..."
"And you believe that a vala might benefit from yours. Very well, my servant! I am not the proudest of my kind. Tell me what you think I need to hear."
"I have, as you may understand, followed the case of Frodo Gardner rather closely..."
"And you account our recent picnic together incautious in the extreme. But my good fellow--I agree with you! He showed up in spirit all by himself at my brother's palace, and in sorry shape, I might add. I agreed with Námo that the poor fellow needed immediate succor in my gardens or we soon would lose him and he would only come back again, this time without a body to return to. That did not make it safe, merely less perilous than the alternative."
"Forgive my sigh, Master; I do not mean it towards you. It is just these...hobbits! As much as I prize their capacity to surprise, it can also be a dreadful nuisance at times!"
"'Dreadful nuisance'--that sounds like something they might say."
"I emphasize the 'dreadful', for my heart fills me with dread for young Frodo's fate. I weary of bringing hobbits that I love into grief for the 'greater good'."
"Olorin, my dear servant--indeed, greatest among my servants--you yourself have seen the mortals amputate a limb to pull one of their own from an avalanche--one cannot avoid risk in their service, nor inflicting lesser damages to prevent greater ones. You should know better than anyone that they all teeter on the edge of exigency, and none of us can protect them completely. Yet I do understand your concern, Olorin. I have not forgotten that you gambled on showing Frodo a glimpse of Valinor before this. But I think a higher gambler than either of us has also taken a throw."
"You know something that I do not, then. Do you mean..."
"I know many things that you do not, my friend more than servant...it is all right! Caring makes you bold, and your devotion to my sister excuses much. But I will reveal this much to comfort you. When the hobbit dined with us, out on these very meads, he told us that he had perceived through Drift's eyes when the suicide confronted my brother. Now, I did not grant him this vision, nor did my brother arrange it, and though my sister longs to grace everyone with visions that would move their hearts to pity, she cannot. I have gone so far as to ask Manwe and Varda if they had a hand in this, and the whole affair took them completely by surprise. So who does that leave, Olorin? Who does that leave?"
"Mercif...oh my dear master! That is the best of news!"
"Yet not without its complications, like a further thinning of the veil between us, already dangerously thin. Are you aware that the little imp has eavesdropped on us this entire time?"
"Then perhaps he will understand what must happen next. Some of his experience of Valinor must fade, before it utterly overcomes him; already he reels off balance. But his soul will miss that splendor as a smoker misses the pipe--I fear that you are right, as always, and we cannot avoid some injury."
Frodo's eyes flew open suddenly to the darkness of his room. He watched the gray light spread at the coming dawn, trying to recall a dream or something like a dream, but all he could hold onto (perhaps all he wanted to hold onto) was an old man muttering, "What will be, will be--perhaps all for the best in the long run." It gave him some comfort, which he needed, for he had awakened not so much with a headache as a mood that resembled one. He glanced down at the lens resting on his chest and let go of a sad and cautious chuckle; it surprised him perhaps less than it should have that he would pick up on the aftermath of the village's celebration of Luingoriel's fall, when so many heads experienced the same thing at once.
Before breakfast, even, he went out to look in on Dragon-Girl, but that did not go well. She seemed comfortable enough, curled up on the straw in a clean new dress, certainly more sheltered than she had been lately, but she did not gaze up at him with friendly eyes. He asked her again and again if she could remember a name, or at least tell him what name she would like to call herself now, but she would only hiss at him and call him a traitor. She threw rat-skulls at him and tried to claw him through the slats, so after he put more drops of the antivenom in her water, he left before she could do herself injury.
Indoors again, he came upon Elenaril dicing desert-herbs for their breakfast eggs. He climbed up onto the counter to sit beside the blind woman's flashing knife, that she guided by touch and by years of experience. The pungency of the herbs filled the bottom floor, while upstairs a chorus of snores told him that the men slept in late today.
"Leech will fare well," Elenaril assured him. "He has recovered enough to travel, now, and Stormrider knows well a healer's value for the ship; the time has come for him to return to work."
"But that is not why you sighed?" Elenaril scraped diced herbs into a bowl.
"I'm afraid not. I am entirely selfish this morning."
"And you dislike what that says about you," she said matter-of-factly as she dipped a handful of a different herb in a bowl of water and shook the droplets off. "Sometimes you still feel pain over your memories, you don't feel perfectly healed, and you feel ashamed--ungrateful--after all the efforts exerted on your behalf."
He looked up at her in wonder as she spread the herbs on her cutting-board and started in on them, a rat-a-tat of knife on wood. "Something like that," he admitted. "It still hurts, what I did to Drift, and it shouldn't--why can't I accept my healing--my forgiveness--and move on?"
"Would you like to smell these herbs?"
"Begging your pardon?"
"Would you like to lean closer and take a deep breath of these herbs?"
"Describe, please, what you smell on closer proximity."
"Well, they seem rather like thyme, only somewhat warmer, almost buttery...AUGHHH!" Pinpointing him by voice, she had grabbed him by the hair and pressed her knife against his throat! "Elenaril!" he squealed. "What has gotten into you?"
"This knife has cut more than herbs in its day--are you aware of that?"
"I could kill you with this knife--or I could continue to chop herbs with it--herbs that heal if I so choose. You have every bit as much potential for evil as this knife, Frodo--like the rest of us. And as much potential for good. You are going to have to come to terms with that."
She laid aside the knife and felt at him while he cowered, a hank of his hair still in her grip, until she found his wrist and grabbed it. Then she forced his hand to her face and asked, "Do you feel that? It is scar. All wounds either heal or they kill you, but some wounds never return to what they were before. I cannot return you to what you were, Frodo; I can only help you to toughen enough to bear it." Then she released him, saying, "And maybe I should do nothing to make it any easier than I already have. Maybe you will spend the rest of your life dedicated to concern for the feelings of others, remembering what one moment's cruelty can do. Maybe the very bravest of the good people in the world, the ones who never rest in their service to Illuvatar, carry a scar in their hearts to remind them of why they must not relent in their pursuit of good."
"And do you?" he asked, catching his breath and rubbing the sore spot on his scalp.
"Think on what I have already told you of this knife. The citadel of Minas Tirith rises high and shining in the light, yet it has its shadowy streets on the lower levels, where things go on that the King and all his nobles scarce could know."
She took a deep breath and said, "I lost my father to the War before my mother knew of me, and that fated my early days to poverty right there. I had barely learned to read when I lost her, too, and all my kin, to one of the plagues that swept the city in those days, carried in by distant travelers from the newly opened lands. I sickened but survived, and wandered out from that house full of death, and got lost, and no one remained to find me, nor did I have anywhere to go."
Elenaril crushed and peeled a pungent bulb, then chopped it fine. "I lived as best I could, fed at the Butteries whenever kind-hearted officers prevailed there, but when the stricter ones took charge I had no means to prove myself a soldier's orphan, so I survived upon my own account by beggary or theft. Then the plight of those like me came to the King's attention, and he slowly bent the nobles to his will--like a man of might striving to bend an iron poker double--until they revised the law to nourish all orphans equally, and after that I fared a little better."
She hung her head. "I do not remember these things with pride, Frodo. But you must understand the circumstances that found me grown to maidenhood, possessed of one treasure only, one source of self-respect. A man took note of me, and found me fair, and gentle-voiced, and without protector...everyone afterwards called what I did self-defense, and the law released me unpunished. But Frodo, there came a moment, a mere sliver of a second, when I could decide whether to plunge the knife where it would wound enough to assure my escape, or where it would kill the one who had tried to rob me of what I fain would surrender to one man alone." Her voice shook when she said, "Oh, but I had been so proud of my virtue in my youth, contemptuous of my weaker sisters of the street and what they did for hunger or from simple loneliness in a cruel world!"
Then she turned to Frodo as though she could look at him. "And so, since that moment's failure, and the long nights afterwards, hearing that man's death-rattle over and over in my dreams, I have dedicated myself to healing ever after. I could not possibly do otherwise." She lifted up her chin and said, "Wear your scars bravely, Frodo, for every one reminds you of a lesson."
In silence, then, he ate the breakfast that she made for him, and leaving before his men awoke, he climbed up to survey the fields that he had planted. The buckwheat and the wry-grass came along well, and the softer crops had already begun to sprout. He hitched Bleys up to the well-wheel, and had a fair amount of water already drawn for the field by the time his first laborers showed up, bleary-eyed but game to put in a good day's work anyway. He loved them for that.
Together they tilled the fields, hurting and yet content, in some ways relieved by the chores that they pushed themselves to finish, under a hot spring sun already rivaling a Shire summer for its heat. Frodo admired the day-to-day courage of his hungover men, and watching them, he accepted that without suffering, no one could overcome anything, and no one would have anything to admire. In a perfect world, courage would not exist. Perhaps, then, a perfect world would fall short of Middle-Earth in beauty, at least until those scarred by their sojourn into imperfection returned to Valinor.
"Valinor!" he thought, and a longing shook him to the marrow of his soul. "Yet they say a greater realm exists beyond--a realm, perhaps, made beautiful by all that mortals learn?" Sadness and hope blended in him. The lowly mud felt good between his toes. His muscles ached, but in a healthy way. The calluses hardened on his hands where he gripped the plow. He could do worse.
The sun declined. He piled the tools of his trade into his little cart, and he hitched up Bleys again, and rode down to the village below, gazing on the tainted, lovely Sea of Nurnen, sparkling beyond. Bergil and Fishenchips walked to either side, not wanting to overburden the tiny donkey. None spoke until they reached their home; then they livened up after a scrub, while fixing dinner together in the kitchen-corner (for Elenaril had put in a full day's healing work, tramping all over the village, and now lay resting on the bench.) But their gaiety hid a melancholy undercurrent, as they chattered away with everything that they wanted to say to Leech before he left them, and they laughed too hard at jokes, and they offered competing and useless advice to the healer for the next phase of his life. And Frodo saw the good in this, too--it would be a paltry friendship indeed that felt no sting at separation. And so, on through dinner and the evening's quiet pastimes after, the sorrow-tinged merriment continued.
At last, knowing that the others had gone upstairs, Frodo slipped the bar from the door, and stepped out onto the porch. No animals happened to prowl abroad that night, just a little trash blowing through the streets, skittish, sort of embarrassed to be there. But Frodo stared up into a sky so full of stars that he wondered how the firmament could bear it all, sparkling like hopes, like promises, like tears. He had to see them--he had to come out here and see for himself what Elbereth had scattered in the heavens so that the Children of Illuvatar would know they weren't forgotten.
He hadn't meant for it to happen, but he started to moan forth one of the songs of Mordor, one of those strange, tortuous songs that absolutely wrenched the heart to hear. He didn't know the words, but he had heard the tune often enough, in the fields and in the streets, sometimes with different verses about different subjects, it didn't really matter what. It just sort of welled up from him, and spilled out onto the cold night breeze. And then it built and built; he found his ribcage throbbing full of song. He heard a door slam upstairs and boots run down the stairs, yet he kept on singing, stronger and stronger, wholly enthralled in the spell of music. Before long he found himself screaming the melody, his throat raw with the passions of it, the song harsh and loud and wild, his face snarling around its intensity, his whole body rocking where he stood, there in the doorway with the light behind him and the stars watching over him and the night pooled dark ahead, heaving out note after wailing note, till finally the song subsided into a last few sobs, and then fell silent.
And he stood there in the silence, the last note thrumming in a tremor through his skin, yet he felt at peace--utterly at peace. And then he turned around, nodded to Bergil who stood there gaping at him, and passed him up the stairs.