For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 31, Part 172
Writing at Sea
June 9, 1452
"Good grub, sir," the sailor said as he cleared the plates away before the aging hobbit. "I ain't had a feed like that since...well I can't remember since. I 'specially liked the plum puddin' at the end o' the meal."
Pippin smiled up at him as he pulled parchment and ink from the pack beside his chair. "Nobody goes hungry at the Took's table," he said. "That's a proverb, where I come from. And so long as I sail with you," he thumped the wood before him, "this is my table."
The sailor grinned, his arms full of plates. Before going through the door he called back, "They's two kinds of rats ye can sail with--the four-legged kind's bad luck, o'course, but the two-legged kind's good luck o' the finest sort." And then he grinned, bowed the best he could with his burden, belched loudly, and made an unapologetic exit.
Pippin's smile soured behind the sailor's back, but he shrugged and said, "I suppose that passes for a compliment in these parts." He unfolded a creased and travel-worn blotter onto the table's roughness and spread the parchment on top of that, then took a silver pen from its own leather case. The King once gave this pen to him, when he dallied in the Minas Tirith library after the War of the Ring. He smiled a moment on it, then his face turned serious as he dipped it into the ink. The sharp light of a porthole fell onto the page, and reflected back up onto his face, revealing the full tale of his age, had anybody seen him at that moment.
"June 9, 1452--Sam, if I ever doubted that your son has lost his mind, I question it no longer. This morning we could not find him in his quarters, but we found the door unbarred. When he finally did show up he dripped with poisonous Nurnen water, having taken an impromptu dip in that deadly sea, and then returned with questionable company in tow. It seems the lad had wandered out into the night, when monsters prowl. Indeed, by his own account a notorious beast nearly did devour him. I can no longer deny the fact that he has become a danger to himself when left to run around loose.
"The good news is that he has finally realized that he really needs to come back with me, at least part way. The bad news is that he has picked up as his companion for the journey the sorriest piece of riffraff I have ever laid eyes on--and he seems to have fallen in love with her--this most unsuitable creature that I could ever have imagined! No, I must correct that: if I were to limit the field to hobbits and not orcs, I could not have imagined this at all. I could hardly be less pleased if it had been Smeagol who had turned out to be a female."
Pippin shook his head. Sam, of course, had told him all about the scribbled-out passages in Frodo's own letters home, and his discoveries upon holding the censored pages up in certain kinds of light. The poor fellow had confessed to the gold leaf bribes even as he admitted the whole delicate matter of May's true birth. "Poor Sam!" Pippin whispered. "You have been through the mill, haven't you? I wish I had better news to report." He wrote on.
"Yes, I'm afraid that I am referring to Mattie Heathertoes Greenbanks. The poppy-fiend. Your blackmailer. Frodo's poisoner. Oh why go on and on? This simply will not do! The poor lad obviously cannot see his own best interest. I shall speak to the King and see if we can have him confined until he comes to his senses. I have tried, Sam, perhaps with more wishful thinking than honesty, to believe in Frodo's sanity for as long as I could, but this was the last straw. That and his adventures last night."
What shadow just passed the galley door? Pippin had this uncomfortable feeling of being spied upon, somehow, though he saw no way to make that possible. He sat quite alone in the galley at this hour, and no one could have read his words all the way from the doorway, while none but a sea-monster could peer through the portholes. He glanced at the nearest one, nevertheless, and then laughed at himself (nervously.)
"In the meantime, Sam, I must behave as though resigned to such a match. Frodo wants to take Mattie in for healing, putting her in custody until she can rid herself of her despicable habit. That much I can readily agree to. I shall make myself accommodating for the duration of the journey, lest your son suspect my intent. Then, once we safely have the one under medical observation in a comfortable, locked cell, we shall do likewise with the other.
"I do not over-react to recommend such extreme measures, Sam. More has happened than a few isolated incidents. I believe his problems have begun to undermine his work. For instance, he has planted the trees that Faramir had sent to him, not just as windbreaks, but also some right in the middle of his fields, where he must plow around them. I think of all the backbreaking work that I have seen in my day, to fell trees and uproot stumps in fields that I wanted to cultivate, and I could just weep. At the time I tried to believe his explanations, expert that he was on Elvish horticultural writings and related matters, but now I see that the explanations didn't just go over my head, they went beyond the reasoning of any sane person.
"I regret that it has to come to this, Sam. Heaven knows your poor lad came by his scrambled brains honestly. Too much responsibility too young, in too horrible a place, with that execrable demon riding him like a beestung pony! But he tried to do his best, old friend, when the best just couldn't happen no matter which way he turned. It would have driven anybody mad."
As the deck rolled, Pippin caught the ink bottle before it slid off of the table. A little splashed on his hand. He muttered under his breath as he cleaned up the mess; his kerchief already showed a number of blots from similar accidents on the way over. Maybe Merry had the right idea, traveling with that dry ink of his, but Pippin never could get the hang of writing with a brush.
"Do you think Nibs Cotton might make a fair replacement? Since his wife died in childbirth, and the poor bairn with her, he has borne up well, but you and I know that he has been at loose ends ever since, though he'd rather die than show it. I imagine that you passed him over for consideration because he still wore his mourning back in September, but that has passed, now. It would do him good to give him a sense of purpose again. He might not have Frodo's book-learning, and less than half the inspiration, but he certainly has the experience. And he showed his courage at the Battle of Bywater. I think he could stand pat in the face of Mordor's monsters, if he set his mind to it. Frankly, Sam, he can offer what we've despaired of finding--maturity combined with a lack of Shirebound responsibilities."
Less than half the inspiration. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Frodo had come up with enough creative solutions to Mordor's problems for Nibs to build on, surely. Maybe Frodo's high nature had made him more vulnerable to the glamours of deranging magic than a goodly ox like Nibs. "Some folks shouldn't try to be a Took," Pippin said, and returned pen to paper.
"Mind you, it might put Nibs off to learn that his predecessor went mad. I think we should simply say that Frodo turned out to be too young for the job, and leave it at that; he needn't learn the particulars until he reaches Minas Tirith. You know your brother-in-law: once he sets his hand to the plow he finishes the field, however many unexpected rocks rise up along the way. He wouldn't come so far to back out at the last minute.
"Frodo might even still be there, in the Houses of Healing, when he arrives; perhaps the lad could give ol' Nibs some tips. He still thinks sharply--a brilliant fellow, really--if incoherently. Until then, if any ask why Frodo did not accompany me home, I shall tell them that the lad had some pressing business to clear up in Gondor first, which will be nothing less than the truth, in its own fashion."
How on earth did Sam--that most honest of hobbits--manage to entangle, him, Peregrin Took, in a matter that seemed to layer deception upon deception at every turn? "Discretion, that's the word," he corrected himself. "Not deception. Discretion is the proper business of politics, after all." Pippin never did like politics, though, when it came down to it, not the actual business of it, anyway, though he did enjoy pomp as a form of entertainment.
"I am sure by now that you have already read Frodo's account of his healing (such as it was) at the King's hands, and know Frodo's reason for refusing the expulsion of Sauron. But Sam, he is in no condition to make any decision on so important a matter! I was willing to stand by and let things go as they did at that time, but I have since spent a month with Frodo, and the King has not. I shall demand that Tar Elessar revisit the case. Young fellows never have confidence in the strength and common sense of their elders--I am sure that you are far more capable of enduring Sauron's harassment than this poor child."
He recalled now that Strider had also, many years ago, refused his and Merry's plea to stop the other Frodo from going off to Mordor, that fateful day on the banks of the Anduin--something Merry had called "mad and cruel". From a King's point of view, Pippin did allow, this had appeared to work out to the right decision after all--the ring met its destruction, Sauron fell, and Strider had his kingdom delivered up to him safe and sound. Strider hadn't gone home with the wreckage of a cousin afterwards, hadn't watched, day by day, year by year, the deterioration, until the poor hobbit finally had to sail off in search of a comforting place to die.
Why had it taken all of these years for Pippin to admit just how much he resented the King's decision? Even if it meant his own demise at the hands of the Uruk Hai, while Aragorn whisked Frodo off to the safety of Minas Tirith, he would have met a swifter end than his cousin's prolonged suffering. It seemed obvious to him now that all of these heroes, these big, strong men descended from the mighty line of Numenor, should have conquered Mordor first, and only then escorted Frodo across a subdued land, to fulfill his mission in a civilized manner. If they hadn't let themselves go over the years, dwindling from their own vices and petty squabbles, they could have done it. Hadn't men defeated Sauron twice before?
"Strider", as you so crudely yet aptly call him, could have been as great, in his way, as Ar Pharazon, had he done his own work and not laid the entire burden in the hands of an ill-equipped midget. Even as your unwise old friend has done, sending a child to do the work of a man! Samwise will only become a fit mayor when he can take care of his own son in his own home.
Pippin shivered. For a moment he couldn't remember what he had been thinking, or why he had stopped writing. "Getting old, are we?" He returned to the letter and recaptured the thread of his thought. He thought he could hear Frodo muttering something in anger just outside, maybe "Leave him alone! Leave them all alone!" intermingled with unwholesome words, all of it devoid of context. Frodo muttered quite a bit, he noticed.
Curse the nauseating motion of the ship! He found it hard to concentrate, to write the next few lines.
"Even if it does prove true that Frodo cannot come home at this time, nor release his tormenter to you, it seems better to me in such a case that he should receive care in a sheltered environment as he bears his burden. I should like to see him settled in the Houses of Healing for the duration--and Mattie packed off to the Cliffside Asylum of Ithilien the moment he turns his back. She is a crazed and dangerous criminal; he is merely crazed. Underneath it all he remains the sweet little boy I remember dandling on my knee not too many years ago, his present foul mouth notwithstanding; it tears my heart to see this happen to him."
Peregrin Took sighed and laid his pen aside. "I don't think I can bear to write another word for now," he declared, as he sprinkled sand across the page. He packed everything up and came out into the sunlight, only to discover Frodo loitering just outside, fingering that ridiculous little toy around his neck, to which the lunatic seemed to ascribe magical powers. "Poor lad," Pippin thought. "I suppose in his shoes I'd grasp at anything I could fancy might help me, too--make something up, maybe, if nothing came to hand, just for the hope." The fact that the toy seemed to be Frodo's chief link to a family leagues away, hung on a cord from the mane of a murdered pet, made it all the more pitiful.
Just for the hope. What hope had there ever been, in sending someone so young? Just a fool's hope. It had been different, in his own case, of course. At that age he had wanted to go, wouldn't let anyone hold him back. Even so, mighty ones had done their best to protect him from the more magical dangers. Pippin shuddered to remember the Palantir, all the same; it had left him just the slightest bit deranged, himself, for a few days after, so that ordinary watch-fires had appeared to him like dragon-flares. But that had been nothing compared to what Mordor had dragged this poor boy through--a youth who would just as soon have remained at home, growing his potatoes and chasing chickens back into their coops, his toes sunk deep into the soil tended by his father and his grandfather before him.
He glanced over to find Frodo's dark gaze upon him, which unsettled him no end. "Here now, lad--haven't you anything constructive to do?" Why couldn't he shake the feeling that Frodo had somehow eavesdropped on him, as though everything he'd written he had spoken right out loud?
"I'm a gardener, not a sailor. But if it makes you happier, I shall stand over by the prow instead."
"No, that is not necess..." But Frodo had already began to walk away, unnerving his elder still more by muttering softly, "Scrambled brains--that's a good one. I shall have to share it with Legolas one day."
Yet the young hobbit stopped, and turning again, held up the lens a little, saying, "Distance doesn't really matter, you know. It doesn't change a thing." And then he left.
Pippin winced. Frodo could go for quite a while saying sensible things, and then come up with some cryptic remark like that, out of the blue. Pippin used to look for explanations, before. Sometimes he'd imagined that he found them. But not anymore.
It did not please Pippin to see that wretched Mattie already sitting by the prow, waiting for Frodo, a harp in her lap. Clad in a shapeless Mordor tunic just like Frodo, her own clothes reduced to rags not worth the wearing, she looked neither male nor female, just...empty.
But oh, when she strummed her harp, when she sang! At first just a few notes shivered on the strings, then they filled out to full chords. When the pattern came clear, Frodo drew out a small clay flute tucked into his belt, that Lanethil had given him on departure, and trilled a little harmony here and there. Then Mattie straightened and sang as she played, in a rich if husky voice, a song of relinquishment:
Farewell my love, farewell my life, farewell my father's land!
The call has come to join the strife, to join the last king's band.
And so we archers shoulder bows, to march, to fight, to die,
No mound or stone shall ever show where hobbit bones doth lie.
The King has given us strange helms, the king has shod our feet,
And now we march to human realms, where many peoples meet.
And now we march with foreign folk, to spill our matching blood–
The flow that from our wounds has broke shall make a common mud.
Yet few shall even know we left, and none recall our names,
None save the families bereft, and none may make their claims
Upon a king now slain himself, who hears no widow's cry.
No strong hand fills the widow's shelf, none see the orphans die.
Tears rolled down Pippin's face. He had not known that mortals could sing so poignantly--such a painfully beautiful, high tenor voice, for such a dreadful song. "Oh Frodo! Oh my poor, poor lad!"