I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 41, Part 138
April 7, 1452
None of the others ever suspected. When Frodo had arrived home, he nipped in just ahead of Elenaril returning from her rounds, right in front of her unseeing face, as silently as only a hobbit can move. And then a little later (but not until the sunset blazed and Elenaril sniffed at the change in the wind in a worried sort of way) Bergil and Fishenchips stumbled in from rounds of a different sort, with apologetic smiles between beery-breathed assurances that the Mayor of the Shire had received due homage, while Frodo fixed their supper. Then all but he turned in sooner than their wont. Frodo had stayed up late, that night, contemplating a fragment of a tile by his candle's light. Then he blew the candle out, and the letters in ceramic gave off a ghostly glow, almost as if alive.
It did not matter that he woke up late the next day, well after dawn, to a chorus of birds twittering in the little trees outside, as the entire household had slept in as well, and so did all who would join him in his work. Thus he had leisure enough to lie there in his bed, to inhale deeply the curiously refreshing perfume of the pale sourfruit blossoms (and some other kind, vaguely familiar) to contemplate the Lost Elf that he had found, and what this might mean for the both of them.
But not too much leisure. Soon the Mayor of Seaside rapped upon the door, before Frodo had gotten halfway through his breakfast. Keys jangled on her belt; she came to show Elenaril an old portside building left unused since Sauron's day, where the herbwife could establish a House of Healing. To Aloe's surprise (but not entirely Frodo's) Fishenchips fell to his knees before the hobbit.
"I'm askin' yer leave, sir."
"Leave for what?" Frodo inquired, putting down his spoon and rising, although he suspected the answer.
"Fer, uh...leave." And the man stared helplessly, at a loss for words.
"Of course. It is time, is it not?"
Fishenchips swallowed and turned pale, nodding silently.
"Yes. You may serve Elenaril henceforth. At first she will need your strong back to put the building to rights, to make it a fit place for sick folk to recover in--and the fact that you now know how to plant a garden won't hurt the grounds one bit. Later she will need you as a fellow healer, when you finish your training under her. For I suspect you will make a good one, Fishenchips--I think that you have healed enough yourself, by now."
Frodo expected the man to rise and thank him, but instead, still kneeling, Fishenchips grabbed his hand and kissed it, and sobbed over it loudly, like all the long years of mourning burst out of him at once. Aloe figeted and looked away, tapped her foot, rolled her eyes, tried to laugh, frowned instead, but Fishenchips didn't even see her, now curling up around the hobbit's dripping hand, still wracked with tears, his great shoulders heaving. Frodo felt furious with Aloe; he wondered what he'd ever seen in her. Then, when she winced at an especially loud howl, Frodo felt sorry for her--she who had never dared to weep since early girlhood. Finally the man subsided, wiped his face on his sleeve, and stood, a strange, faint smile upon his red-eyed face, his dark past utterly washed away.
In a husky voice he said, "Thankee, Master Frodo--I'll never ferget ye."
"I should say not!" Frodo tried to grin. "We're still friends, after all--I shall see you socially as often as our duties allow. And of course you shall live here awhile yet--for your mistress is married to my man." His voice finally caught when he exclaimed, "Oh Fish, I'll still have need of your insights, more penetrating than you might ever know!" He embraced the man (a little awkwardly under Aloe's eye) and then clapped him on the back as high as he could reach. "Now go! You have a hospital to build."
The two women left, the former sailor lumbering beside them. Frodo closed the door and stuffed his hands into his pockets as deep as they would go. He walked over to the hearth and kicked the firewood, cursing softly, fighting the watering of his own eyes.
"Swearing is a filthy habit that people pick up around here," Bergil said behind him. "I suggest that you bring back something better to the Shire, on the day that you return."
"Bergil! I thought that you had gone to the fields."
"Not until I finish another mug of this lovely green beverage that my wife so thoughtfully has left for me. I tell you, Frodo, you showed true wisdom in staying home yesterday." But then he lowered his mug at the distress in Frodo's face and said, "I am sorry that Fishenchips had to embarrass you like that, but when you consider..."
"What do you mean?" Frodo demanded, turning slowly towards Bergil with a scowl.
"Why, his failure of dignity..."
"Dignity!" Frodo made a contemptuous noise, but not at the sailor's expense. "Whoever gave him a chance to learn such a thing? Fishenchip's dignity lies in his honest heart--that much, at least, nobody could withhold from him."
"Here--finish your breakfast." Then, when the hobbit sat back down on the bench and picked up his bowl, Bergil said, "You did not want to let Fishenchips go, did you?"
Frodo toyed with his porridge. "No. I--I did not expect this so soon. Captain Watersheen did warn me that Fishenchips didn't always know his own mind, and I...I guess I've been on guard for some betrayal or shock ever since, so I suppose that this has turned out much--much--better than anything that I'd feared. Of course Fish didn't know his own mind--his destiny stretched out further than his imagination. Or at least the strangled version of imagination allowed him before he found some education in the world beyond the ship. How, how could he swear service to me, beyond the months he gave to me, when his real master--Este, I suppose, or Manwe to whom he pledged his 'right hand'--had bigger plans for him?"
''Fishenchips is not the only one dedicated to the service of the Valar, aware or unaware," the ranger said with a smile, and finished off his mug.
Frodo scraped the last gruel from his bowl. "I find it ironic, though--all of this advancement in medical care that we shall offer Seaside, yet still we make no progress curing Dragon-girl."
"Nor might we ever make any," Bergil admitted as he gathered up the dishes. "We might have to keep her forever caged, in honor of what she might have been, or else release her to some wild place, to hunt as she pleases where no men dwell. Not all the ancient remedies work; time garbles the accounts and sunders their secrets from us."
As Bergil scrubbed the breakfast dishes Frodo went upstairs and came back down carrying a soft brown bundle. "Bergil, may I ask a great boon of you?"
"You may ask," Bergil replied, turning with a smile.
"I met someone, oh, about your height, whose clothes have become so ragged that, well, he hardly dares to show himself. May I take him some of your older things? These show their wear a bit too baldly for a Ranger of Ithilien, but for one such as him, well..."
Bergil frowned. "He must hide himself well indeed, for a Nurning as tall as myself to go unremarked."
"Oh, but you would, too, if...well, it's just indecent, is all. He feels quite ashamed."
Bergil's face softened. "Bring them to him, then. I will meet you in the field when you have done."
Frodo had to go the long way around the village, for Bergil would have wondered much if the hobbit had cut across the fields to meet his friend. He slipped out through the beach-side gaps in the outer wall, then around the perimeter, noting that all of the kaktushes he'd planted had taken root quite well. Then, as he passed under an embankment, below the terraces he'd had made, his worker's voices came to him near enough to follow their conversations; they laughed over yesterday's festivities, and he couldn't help but smile to hear them. It seemed that the days when drink only soured Bergil's disposition had passed with his marriage to Elenaril, judging from the tales overheard. But soon the voices faded, as Frodo cut across the dry basin where he'd hoped to have a pond, dust puffing around his feet, and rose out into the desert proper.
He had to take his lens in hand, his bundle tucked under the other arm, to magnify the memories of where he had wandered before, for then he had not cared where he went, just anywhere beyond the sight of human habitation. Concentrating so hard on finding his own trail again, he mis-stepped and brushed the bundle against a kaktush; it delayed him further to carefully extricate the worn, brown fabric from the spines without tearing it. For though faded and softened, the good, sturdy cloth had many years left to it if prudently cared for.
At last Frodo found the very rock that he had shared with Lanethil. No sign of the elf remained, of course, nor did he expect to find any. But Frodo stood upon the rock, held up his lens, and flashed it in the sun. Then, as the gift for remembering songs overtook him, he sang out a few bars of Lanethil's own, about a long-lost mother sewing leather by a star-strewn lake--the closest thing in the saga to the message he intended. He listened, but only the wind answered him, and the trill of a distant bird. He smiled, shrugged, and then climbed down from the rock, and left the bundle behind him.