For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 26, Part 167
An "Uncle's" Report
May 29, 1452--With much regret, I have fulfilled my avuncular duties regarding Frodo's recent disgraceful behavior. Not immediately; he returned from the local lock-ups none the worse for wear, aside from a scattering of insect bites, and went straight to bed without supper, whether to avoid me or to punish himself in your absence, I do not know. As for today, he immersed himself as completely into his work as possible, seldom looking me in the eye from morning until dusk.
Nevertheless, we did finally manage to have a long conversation this evening--upon my insistence--and it has saddened me no end, although I believe that it actually afforded him some relief to get it over with. Indeed, he began our little chat with, "Very well, Uncle Pippin--shall we yank the rotten tooth?" Since he repaired to his chamber afterwards to continue his own letter, I imagine you have the gist of it already, and I will not trouble you with more of the same. Frodo takes both pride and consolation in his honesty with you, at least (particularly because you are miles away, I think, and unable to affect his behavior in any way save by his own choice.) It boils down to this: I understand better now why he avoids fermented drink. And he so young! If Sauron still had a throat, Sam, believe me, I would throttle him!
Earlier, however, I had to accept his silence with patience, having no stomach to scold him in public. The men in the fields observed no such delicacy, rough lot that they are. They smirked at him and made snide remarks all day long--and then cringed a bit, as though they expected him to whip them for impertinence. And when the whip did not come, they mocked him all the more openly, but he just bore it as his due. Some of us must grow up fast.
Frodo only spoke up when a couple of the men slacked off from work. When he objected, they protested that if he could take off whenever he felt like it, then so could they. To that he replied, humbly enough, "I am here right now, because you are here." He told them that imitating each other's failings won't fill anybody's bellies, but imitating the best in each other would. They actually picked up their tools at that, and went right back to it. I think he has handled a bad situation well.
It particularly disturbs me, however, that public opinion condemns the smith even more. And he denounces himself as well, professing that he would have done no such thing as to share wine with Frodo, had he been in his own right senses at the time. He shows more remorse on Frodo's account than for his own day in the lock-up. As though everyone in town considers it a dastardly act to offer your son a drink. As though precedents have established the notion well. Did you know about this already, Sam? Did you suspect? Were you ashamed or afraid to tell me? Did you hope it might prove untrue?
But then, if I reconstruct the times correctly, from Frodo's own accounts in tonight's conversation, you would not have heard the worst by the time I had departed. If only we had palantirs--all of us--to keep us updated on each other's doings in an instant, enabling us to advice each other before too late!
Yet another way to see the condemnation of the smith is that the entire community supports Frodo in his darkest struggles. He has won that much respect from them, that they consider it worthwhile to forgive him his failures and to shield his weaker points where necessary. They accept him as one of their own, and more--someone doing everything in his power to better the lot of all concerned, someone deserving their support. Jeer how they might, revel though they will in how he can fall to their own worse level, they do not forget his better part as well.
May 30, 1452--I should mention that your son has adopted the hot weather garb of Nurn. It consists of nothing more than a sort of sleeveless chemise, two homespun rectangles sewn together at the shoulders and the middle of the sides, to leave slits for the head and limbs. No britches, no weskit, no jacket. Sometimes a belt to keep the billow of the fabric out of the way, sometimes not. That, and a broad straw hat seems all the gear that they need. On the one hand, it does appear considerably less stifling than Shire-wear for the weather. On the other hand, it looks odd in the extreme, and poor besides--without ornament, without color, without modifying gathers or needlework of any kind, beyond the bare necessity of what it took to stitch it all together. Slave's garb.
Yet the females whistle at Frodo's bared and muscular shoulders, and the broad scar that he carries like a hard-won prize. I suppose it is. He has gotten quite grubby, as everyone has, shining with sweat and then matte with the dust that clings to it, but healthier and sturdier as time goes by, and now as brown as the earth itself. He has gained weight, and it has all turned to muscle. He braids his hair and knots it all into a lump behind his head, where it catches the strap of his hat to hold it in the hot, dry winds. He wears Sting upon his belt at all times, and many others go armed as well, for venom'd things lurk between the rows betimes. He wears his handkerchief folded long and bound about his brow, to help keep the hat in place and the sweat out of his eyes. He needs nothing more than that, besides the waterskin that he leaves at the end of every row he works, as incentive and reward.
I tell you all of this so that you may picture your son, for I lack his skill in sketching, and he fills his margins with illustrations of the growing things around him, wild or domestic, never thinking to portray himself. I watch him at it sometimes, with that brush-pen thing of his. I had no idea your son had so much talent! But I suppose practice these past months have polished him.
For my own part, I have discarded mail, jacket, weskit, everything but shirt and britches, and I roll the sleeves up high. Sometimes in the field I discard the shirt. But I am not about to go about bare-legged, no matter how hot it gets!
June 1, 1452--We have no such thing as cold water anymore. Even the water that bubbles up from the elvish fountain tastes hot and unrefreshing. But the field water is worse. I tasted it once when my waterbag seemed far away, and I choked upon its brackishness. Frodo once called it the sweat of the land, and I agree with him. I do not know how he coaxes the plants to grow in it at all.
June 2, 1452--We gather up collards and kale as fast as we may, before the hot weather ruins them. Frodo castigates himself, that he should have waited until fall to plant them, but hunger had made him impatient when the seeds arrived, apparently. So he will let some bolt for that reason--the heartiest plants, the ones most adapted to Mordor conditions. He never stops thinking, that boy of yours. In any case, I know what I shall have for dinner tonight, cooked up in a thick sauce of goat cheese and garlkh that Frodo has perfected for such greens.
June 3, 1452--It distresses me to say that the hot water has completely shriveled my woolen britches to unwearability. Bergil may say what he will about my girth, but I could not have worn these back in Bilbo's day, as they are right now. (In any case, the cuisine of Mordor has surely pared me down to half my former size!) Too late Frodo realized what I had done; apparently everybody else now launders their woolen things directly in the Sea of Nurn, dashing them against the rocks, not bothering to haul the water home. It seems the only way to keep the water cool enough.
Frodo has graciously given me his own, as he does not wear them these days. I must repay him later, for rescuing me from the humiliation of returning home in a Mordor shift! Meanwhile, little Spring has seized upon the shrunken tatter of my clothing for her rag-doll manufacture. May she have joy of it!
I must not, however, lose perspective on the mildness of this small disaster of mine (in which Bergil finds no end of amusement) for if not for the gift of the fountain, we would see a very different picture here in Nurn. The fields would have to wither, saving every drop of water for the human throats. Goats would fend for themselves the best they could, and few if any would succeed. Chickens, as dependant as this Mordor breed has become, would die outright. The poorest human beings would also die, starting with the children. And that before starvation set in once again, with the destruction of all food sources. When I pass through Gondor on the return trip home, I shall tell the Queen how she saved lives.
June 4, 1452--We have begun the kaktush harvest. When a kaktush dies, it actually leaves bones--sort of a mesh of wood in stick-form for every limb. With these in hand, even someone such as I can knock the fruit off of the tallest plants. I should have let others gather the fallen fruit, however, for Frodo and I are not of a size, and I am afraid that the loaner britches split when I stooped, affording Bergil still more merriment at my expense. I have been temporarily reduced to Nurnish slavewear while I sew the necessary patch. Again I promise you, Sam, that I will buy Frodo a replacement, most probably from your skillful daughter.
Some kaktush fruits are a dark and purply red, some a brilliant sort of greenish yellow. Some have fine and devilish thorns upon them, but you can singe them off like pinfeathers. They taste good for the most part, though they carry too many seeds--hard little toothbreakers chock through everything.
June 5, 1452--Evening settles upon us, after another fruitful day. Now does a sweet fragrance waft through the window, of all of the cooking going on throughout Seaside, as good householders render the kaktush fruit down into jellies and pickles and syrups. Elenaril made candy, among other things--a translucent ruby delight; I shall bring some home to share with you, if I may.
And yes, more than a few Nurnings have set fruit aside for fermentation. I saw the baker watch the smith carrying home his harvest in a basket of fair weave, before she turned and stormed away. I do not think that he shall find forgiveness just yet, though already she treats our Frodo civilly, if a bit on the formal side. The heat notwithstanding, Frodo has taken to baking our bread once again.
The smith bore a curious basket, though, and one that I think he wove himself. I should like a closer look, if I ever get the chance, at the designs woven into it, so tightly that I believe the thing could hold water if it had to. Lanethil has many talents, it seems. Sometimes I wonder about him--yet I cannot place my finger on what I wonder about, precisely.
But then today has been a day for odd moods. I finally had my mandatory Mordor nightmare last night. I found myself back in Old Man Willow. Strangely, that part did not seem to bother me. I felt safe in there, as odd as that may sound, even cozy. But I didn't dare to leave--I feared something outside so badly that I wept and wept, curled up shuddering against the wood. Now that's peculiar to recall--I could move my limbs just fine, nothing pinched me anywhere--but since when have dreams ever bothered with logic? All of my fears prowled just outside, and grief mingled with them, and a sense of somebody betraying me.
June 6, 1452--I weary of this adventure. I am happy to keep your son company, but I long for the day when I see sails on the horizon once again--tomorrow, hopefully. I only wish that he would come home with me; this is no land for a hobbit. But he has gotten his strength back, and his resolve. It says much that his recent lapse has not diminished him at all.
You do not have a perfect son, Sam Gardner. No father ever has. But you have one fit to make you proud.