For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 27, Part 169
Sam and his Opinions
June 7, 1452
A snow of pressed flowers fluttered onto Frodo's lap as soon as he pried loose the wax of his father's seal, there where he sat on his crates by the seaside dock. Moonlight-colored snowdrops, narcissus, and allium, sunlight-colored daisies, dandelions, and daffodils scattered forth like stars against the dullness of his undyed linen.
He laughed with moist eyes, and brushed his lips with a paper-dry blossom, imagining kissing his sister Ruby's cheek. Suddenly he startled at the smell, and laughed with wonder, as he studied it more closely: it seemed that old, familiar allium, or Dragon's-Breath as some of the gammers called it, was nothing less than a small and wild cousin of garlkh! It had never occurred to anybody in the Shire to dig up the bulbs and try them out on food. The discovery should make his Uncle Pippin happy.
Carefully Frodo laid the flowers aside, between leaves of gold (which his poor father had not yet heard to stop sending) more precious to him than all the shining sheets combined. His father's handwriting looked careful, measured, as though the hobbit had considered every word by itself before stroking it onto the page.
"Dearest Frodo, my beloved and suffering son!
"Let no dismay on my part ever turn aside your pen, for I would rather hear the worst of your travails--aye, and the very worst of the failures, too--than wonder in the dark, helpless, not even knowing what to sing for. You are still and always my son, no matter what you do. You shall always have love of me, as you have had life of me--never doubt it!"
Shame, relief, embarrassment, and gratitude warred with each other in the young hobbit's breast, love soon overwhelming them all. He took a moment to collect himself before continuing to read.
"What a horrible mischance, what an evil trick of Mordor magic, to receive my other letter outside the bounds of time! Dear one, I have no words for what you went through--just like I couldent find the right words for your namesake. Of bodily suffering I have known my share and maybe more, but of that kind of sorcerous torture, well, I cannot imagine. I should count myself lucky, yet to me it feels like a misfortune, to watch the agony of others, first of my friend more than master, dearest of all friends in the world, and now of my son, my very own son! And yet to have no idea, really, of what he and you have gone through, not in full, though I bore the ring a little bit. I think I would endure any torment to find out! To be able to say, 'Yes, I understand, and here is how you cope with it, how you get on with your life.' To be able to compare notes, as it were, and to find our way out together."
Frodo kissed the page and said quietly, "No, Papa, that is one ordeal that I cannot...I will not allow you to share it with me. Ever."
He read on: "Well, you will just have to accept my love as the next best thing to understanding. Love thrives on understanding, but can do without it in a pinch.
"What went on with Drift, well, I have to agree with those snatches of what you remembered about your dream of Mandos--your punishing yourself so hard diden't bring him back from the dead nor do any other kind of good. Theres a better way, Son. Listen: Ive got a three-point plan for dealing with having done bad--and we all do bad sooner or later; you dont stand out for that whatever you might think. I use this all the time."
Frodo fidgeted. It annoyed him enough that he got lectures every time he turned around these days--despite the fact that he really was supposed to be in charge of the whole agricultural mission--and that he got lectures in his dreams as well, whenever he remembered them. Now he had to get them in the mail to boot! But he sighed and read on--at least his father had more claim on the right to bother him than anyone else who'd bent his ear lately.
"First, fess up to it. Dont waste your time and strength trying to wriggle out of what you know deep down is true--that just wears you out to no purpose, and makes it harder and harder to set things right down the line. Fess up to yourself and everybody else who got spattered in your wrong. Ive tried it both ways, Frodo, so I know. Admitting you were wrong and getting it over with is by far the easiest route, though it might not look that way at first.
"Second, do everything you can to set things right again, to the best of your ability. Dont stint, or the unpaid debt will weigh you down just as sure as chains. You wont find anything so wearying on this green earth as the sins youve never reckoned with.
"Now sometimes it happens that you cant fix things up the way they were before. You just have to accept that. Youve got to try your best, not a jot less than that, but nobody can ask more of you than that. Elenarils got it right--even when the wound closes, it still might leave a scar--and theres no use fussing over what you cant change.
"Third, and maybe this is most important of all: plan on how to keep it from happening again. Look at everything that led up to the wrong that you did, and choose another path next time. Maybe some parts dont fall into your control, but others do--always something does.
"I knew a fellow once (I wont say who) with itchy fingers, who couldent seem to help but steal, if given half a chance--and he with money enough to keep anybody happy. So after a time, when he tried and failed to get over his pilfering ways, he wouldent go into a shop nor anybody elses hole without his wife along, hand in hand, to keep him out of mischief. Seems he had some kind of madness that made honesty as hard for him as flying to the moon, but he still had a choice to trust his missus as his keeper. I knew why he took his wife everywhere he went, being mayor and privy to the local crimes and things like that, and I kept my mouth shut all these years, because I respect a hobbit who works at doing right--especially when its hard."
"Loddi Stonewall," Frodo grumbled. "The whole Shire knows that. I caught him filching three of my toy soldiers, myself, and him a full-grown hobbit." Frodo frowned--did Papa now consider him as odd as Loddi?
"Now--after you do all these points, youve got to let it go. So long as number three keeps you mindful not to get into the same mischief twice, you dont need to haul around every rotten thing you ever did--that wont serve nobody any good, whatsoever. The best way to be a better hobbit is to go out and get productive, and you cant do that at home sobbing over your sins and giving up on food and sleep and such like that. Even Ted Sandyman does better than that, traveling around the Breeland countryside, tinkering where hes needed. One reason I held out against his execution was that I cant see how a dead hobbit could do a thing for his community to make up for his crime. One reason among others."
"Oh great!" Frodo moaned. "Now he's comparing me to Sandyman!"
"So lets look at this Drift business. First, you did admit that you did wrong. You spoke fair for him at his funeral. And then, number two, you payed the price by Mordor custom, and if theyd of asked for more, youd of given it, I know you. So nothing could bring him up alive again, but you did the best you could, and thats all thats ever required of us, that we do whats possible.
Frodo muttered, "You're repeating yourself, you old wheeze," and immediately felt guilty for saying it.
"Now number three is the tricky one. Part you couldent help--having fallen into a magic spell that mixed up time. But that couldent of tripped you up all alone. The time-mess dident get you into the real trouble, but how you dealt with it. Pride--you tried to take it on with pride, and what a proud end it brought you to, dident it? I suppose you thought it noble to try and handle it all by yourself--and I suppose you thought you did handle it all by yourself. But deep down you knew that really you wound up asking Sauron for help.
"And yes, I did figure youd been drinking too hard there for a stretch. What worried me more was that I had to figure, that you dident tell me outright as you might of done before. But you set all that right later. Never stop telling me the truth, son. Because when you tell me you tell yourself, and that is no small defense against the forces leveled against you. Youve got nothing to fear--I cant swat you all the way from the Shire! And I will not stop caring--you cant make that happen."
Frodo covered his face with his hand for a moment. Of course his father had to bring it up. He expected as much. He just didn't expect the actual moment to pain him so. At the same time, all irritation aside, he ached with love for Papa, grateful for the loyalty even as it humiliated him to need it. Suddenly he shook his head, and growled, "Sauron, you're the one who finds mercy humiliating, not me--stop confusing me!" A shadow seemed to lift from him, then, and again he saw the light upon the sea beyond his letter, and heard the cries of water-birds over the liquid music of the waves, and listened to the eager chatter of people going over their packages on the docks.
"So by now all this must seem obvious to you--dont ask Sauron for help. Why should your old man beat you over the head with that?" Frodo giggled selfconsciously at that. "But thats not the advice I mean to give you, Frodo. I know full well that Sauron snuck up on you at your weakest moment, that you never intended to let him in like that, not at first. The fault lies earlier than that, earlier than the drinking that drove you to turn to Sauron in the first place. A fellow drowns his sorrows because he dont dare talk them out. He keeps them in and pours brandy over them, trying to poison them and poisoning hisself instead. You wouldent of had any of this trouble if you hadent had a frank talk, right at the beginning, about everything going on with you.
"What did you fear, son? That people would think youd lost your mind? You did lose your mind! No blame in that, but you needed help to get your mind back--the blame comes in when a sick person doesent try to get well. And trying to pretend your all right when your not is as bad as wallowing in your weakness like Old Gaffer Digby, who made a career out of feeling poorly yet never stopped living off of toast and tea when a vegetable wouldent of hurt him now and then."
"Not Gaffer Digby, too!" Frodo chuckled despite himself at the litany of comparisons.
"Im glad that you wrote to me some of what you went through, but you needed to ask help closer to hand, of somebody who could do something right away. Now I know you dident have Elenaril there to help you out, and she would of been in over her head, anyway, as she later told you. But you still had the King, Frodo. He would not have turned you aside--hed of had me to reckon with if he did, and he knows it!"
Frodo burst out laughing outright at the image that brought to mind. But it swiftly passed as he realized the enormity of what his father expected of him.
"Yes, it would of taken a fortnight's travel to get to Minas Tirith, and another fortnight back, plus whatever time the King saw fit to keep you in the Houses of Healing, and you would of missed First Harvest--your grand triumphant moment. But it dident turn out quite so triumphant as you expected, did it? Thats the problem with Pride--it always shoots an arrow high into the sky, and the arrow comes right on down again and wounds the very archer that shot it. Pride cannot help but cause its own destruction.
"Well, maybe its a blessing that you have given your reputation for sanity a proper thrashing. Now you wont have anything to lose by speaking up when you need to. Still, I think youd of looked a whole lot less crazy if youd nipped things in the bud early on. In any case, I expect that if you can live through this, you can live through anything, so take heart in that: a hobbits stronger when hes humbler.
"Now maybe Ive spoken harsh words here, but a lot less worse than the things youve told yourself, I gather. I dont mean to knock you down, beloved son of mine. I mean to show you how to keep from knocking yourself down again. But up or down, I love you all the same.
"We are all different folks, and have our different weaknesses. I agree with all your friends: stay away from the liquor! Sauron finds it way too handy. I never did think it brought out the best in you, anyway, and now I know so. Theres no shame in that, not if you take note and do the sensible thing, which is to leave alone what does you no good. Some people just dont take a drink well. Maybe that dont fit all customs, but people have got to come before tradition sometimes."
"As strange as Larcenous Loddi," Frodo murmured. "You do consider me peculiar."
"And I hope you realize that going as long as you could without sleep for no good reason was just about the stupidest thing you have ever done, worse even than that time when you decided Billy-Lass had too cold a stable for the winter and tried to make a house-pet out of her (behind my back? Bag End isent that big a smial!) Yes, I know, I went without sleep, myself--but always to some major purpose--looking for you, my dear son, when I thought you in danger, or before, when I needed to watch over the safety of that other Frodo, and no one else to do it. Even then I reached my limit now and then, and had to trust to luck and get some rest, or I wouldent be any good for anybody--and I knew it. Frodo, dear jewel of my heart, you might admire me for the things that Ive endured, but it makes no sense to imitate the pain without the cause."
Frodo found his eyes watering as he read. But he murmured, "How can you tell, Papa? How do you know your limit until you've overrun it? How--when people need more and more of you every day?"
"You had different reasons--and the wrong ones. You feared to dream. And there we are, right back at the beginning of what caused all the trouble. Shouldent you know by now that you can trust anything and everything to Irmo Lorien? But if you feared for your sanity before, Frodo, you couldent have picked a worse thing to do for your mental health. Why, sometimes it works out that running from something too fearfully just leads straight into its jaws!
"Keep in mind that you have your strengths, too. Your a hardworking hobbit, one of the best Ive ever seen. You have a kind heart in you, when you dont drown it. You care--you act out of love in most of what you do. And your smart--so smart I wonder how a clod like me could of helped to bring you into life. Best of all, you know of things and beings higher than yourself--dont turn your back on them, either thinking yourself too high or too low for their help. And there is one more thing that youve got buckets of, fit to overflow--courage. You dont quit easily. You drag yourself out to do your work when most would of curled up gibbering to themselves. Maybe even sometimes youve got too much courage--dont rely on it alone. Let other people be the brave ones now and then--youll last longer, and you wont wear them out having to carry you when youve wiped yourself out so bad that you cant even help a little."
"At least he still believes in me a little," Frodo sighed.
"Speaking of embarrassing matters, thank you for filling me in on the rest of the bachelor-party. I never thought of anybody making a dance of removing clothes. It doesent seem wholesome, and it sure doesent sound like something you of all people needed. I think I understand a little better why, on that occasion at least, you hit the brandy cask!"
Frodo laughed again, drying his eyes.
"As for the rest of your letter, I do remember something of a dream about arguing with Gandalf, though I cant recall a word that either of us said. I do remember looking down at him, though, now that you mention it, not up like I always did. If that matches your dream, if I could be there somehow for my boy, then it heartens me to know. It means weve got some link between us, better than this slowpoke mail! None too clear, I guess, but would a palantir do any better?
"Now. About the slaying of the dragon. I have to admit that I am proud of you beyond tears, proud like shining stars and the dawn's light after, and if you ever pull a tomfool stunt like that again I will personally come all the way to Mordor, hogtie you, and drag you home! What were you thinking, to make yourself the bait? I know, you werent thinking at all, you were nine tenths out of your mind, which is the only excuse I can think of for the silliest heroics that I ever heard tell of (not counting going without sleep for days on end for no good reason, which werent heroics at all.) Well, you got the job done and lived to tell of it, thats the main thing. But dont go battling any more monsters, not if you can help it. Thats for men like Bergil and Lord Curudag to do--you, sir, are a hobbit, and I sent you there to do a hobbits job, not a warriors! And congratulations. And thanks especially for staying alive!
"Were you trying to redeem yourself, putting your life on the line like that for the good of the community? Just grow corn, Frodo. That is all that anybody asks of you. Dont complicate your life anymore than you have to. From all I hear, simple farming, under the conditions that you face, demands courage and sacrifice enough to satisfy anybody.
"But I do have to admit it was a pretty clever plan, in its own idiotic way. You always were the smart one of the family, though young Pippin-lad's going to give you a run for your money when he gets some years on him. Sometimes too smart for your own good. Oh heavens--is our little Pippin going to get into as much mischief now that he's hit his tweens? I hadent thought of that! No wonder the Gaffer never wanted me to learn my letters.
"No, I dont mean that. I like my children smart, and Ill take the risks. If nothing else, your all a confusticatingly entertaining lot! Even if you do all keep me on the edge of my seat with my heart in my mouth.
"But honestly, I do worry what will become of that mind of yours, between one thing and another. From what I can gather from this letter, talking as frankly as we always need to do with one another, it sounds as though you still hadent quite gotten all your marbles back by the time you finished writing it, but were working on getting the job done, at least. Im going to hold back on judgment at this time, but Ive already asked Strider and the Took to look in on you. If Id had this recent letter then, Id of picked out and sent another gardner to go with Peregrin and relieve you of duty, and no arguments. But I dident, and so I just have to see how it all shakes out. But dont let the lack of a replacement stop you--it would only take a few months to bring you back and send somebody else, and all youve done already wouldent fall apart in that time. If you need to or even want to come home, then do it! Your family would welcome you back with all the open arms we have, which is saying quite a lot."
Frodo shook his head. "Oh Papa--if only you knew how dangerous that would be!"
"But I have a strong suspicion that you wont, being every bit as stubborn as the jackass who sired you. Regretfully, then, and with no intention of hinting that you should stay--quite the reverse in fact--I have provided for the possibility . It sounds like your clothes have taken quite a beating, no doubt more than you say in your letters, but I expected that. You keep mentioning evenings spent stitching up this or that, but you can only patch on patches for so long. So Ive took care of it."
"No..." Frodo breathed, his fingers trembling on the letter.
"Now dont argue--Ive already asked your sister to make you a whole new set, of everything you might need, of tight-wove hemp and boiled wool, leather and the toughest linen we can find. And your mother has worked right beside her, two needles on the same cloth to get the job done twice as fast and twice as strong. You should find a whole new wardrobe waiting for you in this month's supplies."
"No!" Frodo dropped the letter. "It's happening again!"
Pippin came back, grumbling, "What a fool I've made of myself--of course folks back home only just now have learned that I decided to stay an extra month. But that ignorant Breeland whelp didn't have to stare at me like that and ask me, 'What's a Took?'" Then he stopped, staring at Frodo. "What news, m'lad? You've gone dead white."
Frodo turned to him, and both his voice and hand shook as he pointed at the letter. "It's happening again."
"What, Frodo?" Once more the stout, tobacco-scented arm went 'round his shoulders. "What is happening?"
"Time. Time warping." Then, to his "Uncle's" sickened face he cried, "Yes, say it out loud, why don't you? Mad! Crazy! Insane! But it's all true, I tell you! Papa could not have yet gotten word of my need for clothing, because that's all in the letter that I planned to send." A great shudder rent through him, before he whispered, "Time bends around our letters once again." He waved his shaking hand at the fallen page. "Do you see the paper, Uncle? Or is it all hallucination?"
Pippin picked the letter up and dusted it off. "I find it solid enough, Frodo-Lad, and in your father's hand. There is no mystery why he would send you new clothing--we discussed that very thing before I left, as he saw me off. He reminisced on how Mordor turned his own clothes to rags in a shorter space of time, and figured you'd need a change about now."
Frodo swallowed and fought to get ahold of himself as he took the letter back. Maybe some more wholesome explanation, maybe his link with his father... "I am sorry, Uncle Pippin. But you don't...things have happened...none of this is as crazy as it looks. I have been through such things..." Embarrassment flooded him as the panic ebbed.
Pippin patted his back. "There, there--we needn't speak of it again. But if this has some precedent, in spells or powers beyond my knowledge, all the more would I love to see you home where time stays right where it's supposed to be."
Frodo made himself smile. "You don't give up easily, do you?"
Pippin winked. "Now would I have survived troll-squashing if I did?"
Frodo returned to the letter, smoothing it out again.
Sam went on: "Too bad I thought of it only the day Pippin Took left town, but thats given us some time to sew it all up right. If Id of had more time to outfit you better at the outset, I would of made a special trip to buy you clothes that could stand up to Mordors rocks and thorns on the day we sent you off. Ive put a lot of mind to it since then. I dont doubt youve lost some weight, but the family hopes youll gain it back again--preferably with interest if the harvests good--so weve made everything adjustable to all sizes possible.
"I expect youll want news from the home front." ("At last!" Frodo muttered.) "Your mother and me and all your brothers and sisters are fine. Little Bilbo did have some trouble, but we took care of it. I noticed how hed been walking on the sides of his feet, and when I asked him about it, he said that they hurt when he walked flat. So Rose took him to Molly, and Molly says his bones have grown crooked and he will need to wear special boots to put them right.
"Boots! I had to take him all the way to Bree to find a cobbler, but this wasent the first time the man had done this for patients of Molly's, and he sometimes makes boots for post-riders besides, those as go to cold lands or hard country. He sewed bands of metal inside the leather to force Bilbo's feet the right way. Bilbo enjoyed the ride, but he didn't like the end of it none too well! Especially with summer coming on; he says the boots feel hot and heavy. But I told him he only has to wear them for a year. Ah, poor lad! A year's an age to one so young as him.
"Molly told us that you cant wear shoes without sacks--and she meant a special kind of bag that men wear on their feet to keep all that leather from blistering them. So your mother came with us to Bree, to learn how to knit pairs of foot-shaped sacks. Bilbo will need lots of them. We bought a pair on the spot to get him started, and skeins of extra-skinny yarn, and then Rosie knit on horseback all the way home. Your brothers started on a nice collection now already. But we want each of our children to get exactly whatever they need, no matter how strange it may seem to us. That includes you, too, son, so dont you forget it."
"That settles it," Frodo grumbled. "He considers me a complete oddball."
"Youll be glad to know that I have finally arranged to meet with Buttercup Klaefield! Her brothers will meet me and May in Buckland where theyve got kin, and then they will blindfold us and lead us to where shell be staying for the nonce--my, but that brings back memories! She does want to see her daughter one last time, but promises that she could not stand to let anybody know what happened, and so will not try to get her back. She will only agree to meet me if May comes with me, though. I do not see the harm in that; Ted wanted the same thing.
"I will probably send this letter, in fact, as soon as I reach Buckland, and go straight to the meeting after. May is all excited! It will be hard to keep her settled enough to not cause notice, but I imagine the ride will tire out some of that excess energy. Then, if I can persuade Buttercup, May's first mother can sign the proper paper with her brothers as witnesses. I should of done these things years ago and secured Mays place in the family. Well, better late than never. See? I admit I done wrong, Im setting it right, and now Ill never take a child in on the sly again without a proper adoption.
"As for the general news about Hobbiton, Robin Smallburrow has decided to sue young Rolo Penniwistle for sowing thorns in his garden. I hate to have to judge on so petty a matter--especially since the Smallburrows have gotten away with much more than that, I suspect--but Rolo got hisself caught by a dozen witnesses, when the fool snuck in by the light of a full moon, not knowing that Robin held an evening garden party for his cousin's coming wedding. And so all the guests watched the whole deed from the shadow of the porch, while Robin went in to refill the lantern. I can only decide these cases by the evidence I get, but folks have started to talk, thinking that I spare the Smallburrows too much on account of old friendship. I can't help it if the Penniwistles have no more brains than the empty flutes their named after. Not that the Smallburrows are that much brighter, but at least they dont give visible cause to come before me quite so often.
"I hope your better than when I last heard from you, but if not, you come right on home and let your mother feed you up and your family all embrace you, bathe away the Mordor mud, warm your toes up by the fire and xxxxxxxxx let us all welcome you home!"
Frodo shook his head. He couldn't read what his father had scribbled out, but guessed some reference to the family's home brew--a natural enough touch, under other circumstances, so easy to forget...he folded the letter carefully, returning the pressed flowers and the gold into their places. It had almost seemed tempting there, for a moment, before that last reminder that it wouldn't work.