He Clasped Her Fast, Both Flesh and Bone
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 9, Part 193
Tender Loving Care
June 30-Lithe 1,1452
“...a good ten pounds at birth, at least; I told Tinros that she
surpassed me as a warrior on that day.” Eowyn croaked more than spoke;
she had talked the whole night through. “So it came that Faramir
suggested that they name him Boromir, which pleased Elboron and Tinros
both, but now it seems he resembles his grandfather in all save looks,
a burly scholar of a boy.” Her sleepless eyes burned, staring into the
fire; her hands twitched now and then to her side, though they had both
agreed that for now, and the dangers of the Ephel Duath
notwithstanding, Frodo should keep her sword. “Of course, the sturdy
little fellow does like to use all of that muscle of his to dig about
in ancient ruins, with any scribe or teacher hale enough to follow his
lead, seeking clues to gaps in the texts that he has read.” Frodo
fought wave upon wave of sleepiness; sitting on the uncomfortable
sheath no longer helped to keep him awake. “He was born as blonde as I
am, but his hair has darkened over time, halfway in color between his
mother and my son. He might yet make quite a warrior...”
Frodo jerked himself up from nodding. “Now, now,” he interrupted. He
shivered a little bit from, he realized, fever. His abrasions had
gotten tender and puffy, he noticed.
“...but he has asked to become a scribe instead–a new kind of scribe, a
reader of old stones and the forgotten things of men. Elboron, bless
him, has resolved to support him in his strange vocation, and the King
has taken an interest in the discoveries that he has already stumbled
across. Mayhaps his little brother, Theodred, shall someday take his
elder’s place in glory’s field...”
Frodo shifted uncomfortably, throwing more wood into the fire. “Let’s
move on past glory for awhile,” he said. “What else can you say about
Eowyn’s head jolted back like he had slapped her. Then she blinked and
the anger left her reddened face. “Oh. Yes. You are right. Well,
Theodred...Theodred can ride like Eorl returned, though his hair flies
behind him as black as his mother’s. I would almost swear that he knows
some way to speak the language of horses, just out of our earshot. My
brother gave him a colt of the Mearas and they have become inseparable.”
“Theodred sounds a lot like my little brother, Tom.” Frodo sounded a
bit hoarse, himself. “Perhaps they can ride together, someday.”
“Yes, I forgot–the halfling babe who chose the little toy pony. How fares he, now?”
“Well, I suppose. The last I heard he had already began to make a name
for himself in riding competitions.” Frodo frowned, though, trying to
remember some disturbing dream.
Eowyn reached up to stroke her horse’s muzzle; the steed had not left
her side all evening since she began to remember herself. “Theodred
would despise me for how I have treated Goldebert.”
“No more than if you had fainted from the saddle and neglected him that way. Accidents happen, Eowyn. You couldn’t help it.”
“Yet I...part of me consented. Part of me lusted for the thunder of battle in the blood once again.”
Frodo gazed up at her sympathetically, as the horizon just began to
color with light. “I know. I have been through something similar. But
would you condemn a child persuaded to open the door to a robber? Even
if you had strictly forbade him to heed the knock of strangers? The
child may have consented to open the door a crack, but not to have it
forced the rest of the way, nor to see his home ransacked. We are
children next to the maiar, good or bad. Sometimes all we can do is
face up to our smallness and ask for help.”
Eowyn seemed about to reply, but instead she rose up to her feet. “Horses...I hear hoof-falls...”
Frodo now could hear them too, a subliminal rhythm at first, then
growing even as the morning-songs of desert birds began to wake the
wilderness. He stood up by the woman (his toes curled protectively
around the sheath) and awaited the riders, suddenly acutely conscious
of just how weary he felt, and thirsty from long-talking, and hungry,
too, but most of all heart-aching for the lack of Mattie...and yes, he
could soon make out the riders themselves, headed for the fire’s orange
glow amidst the twilight’s blue. And that one horse, that at first
appeared riderless, catching up in a gallop with the frontmost runner,
did it not in fact carry someone tiny in comparison, yet
well-accustomed to steeds too big for her?
“Mattie!” He shouted, though it hurt his chest. “Mattie! Over here!” He
waved, though that hurt even more. “ Ohhh my dear, dear Mattie!”
He saw the lead rider clearly, now, and several more behind him.
Eldarion’s face looked pale, amid the black hair floating on the wind,
and he held his side as he rode. Turquoise and Jasper behind him looked
on him anxiously. But his stiffness did not keep him from leaping off
his horse, gliding through the air with elvish grace, before he landed
and stumbled like the wound-weary man he was, yet he hardly missed a
beat to run to Eowyn’s side, something in his hand, even as Mattie
practically flew down to collide with Frodo, hugging him so wonderfully
warmly that he didn’t care at all how much it pained his broken rib.
Before Frodo had a chance to open his eyes and see what Eldarion did
with Eowyn, Turquoise clasped him and Mattie released him to topple
into the woman’s scarred-up arms. The will that had fended off the
fever’s full effects seemed to snap, and he felt a dim relief at
letting it go. He let female hands, big and little, spread him out upon
a blanket on the ground.
Turquoise handed Mattie an unguent-jar and then considerately turned
her back, spreading her skirts to give the Little Folk privacy as
Mattie pulled up Frodo’s tunic to dab every hurt with salve. It felt
cool and soothing; Frodo lay there limp, letting his wife push him this
way and that to tend him. He sat up when she brought a flask to his
lips and he drank thirstily; it contained some kind of tea, cooled in
their travels, that tingled in his throat and made him feel
"Here, beloved--you must have missed this." She lifted the horsehair cord off of her own neck and settled it around his.
"May's lens! Oh thank you!"
"It glinted like a beacon, as though a full moon shone straight down on
it. We changed our path in the night because of it." Mattie helped him
lay back down; Frodo never realized that the concern in her eyes could
burn so sweetly. And then, to make everything perfect, he smelled the
steam of athelas wafting over from Eowyn’s treatment.
Frodo turned his head a little the other way. He saw Jasper holding up
a heavy leather bag, tarred and double-stitched along the seams, and
from it Goldebert drank noisily. Frodo smiled and held Mattie’s hand,
his eyes closing...
“Happy Lithe,” his wife whispered to him, the last thing that he heard
before he drifted off to sleep. “Happiest Lithe of all my life, to find
you still alive!”
Frodo little remembered the ride back to Riverborn. It seemed to last
forever, as he drowsed feverishly on horseback, sometimes only held in
the saddle by Mattie’s arms, but when they rode in amid the
brightly-painted buildings of Brandybuck Mercantile, the sun still
hovered at noon.
Frodo expected to be famished, yet he found that he could only take a
little soup for lunch, and soon sought his bed again afterwards. He
drank plenty of the medicinal tea, however; he couldn’t seem to get
enough of it. He felt perfectly all right, rather pleasant in fact, if
drowsy, so long as he lay still upon his bed; only when he tried to get
up and about, or even sat up too long, did he feel ill.
“You’ll be all right,” Mattie told him as she pressed moistened cloths
to his brow–sweet coolness. “The Prince has learned a lot about healing
from his father. Why look–already the swelling in your infections has
Eldarion himself came in and looked in on them some time later. He had
more color in his face on his own account, now, though he still moved
“How is Eowyn?” Frodo asked when he saw the grimness on the young man’s face.
“Resting, and herself again, for the most part. At least she reasons as
of old, nor does she desire bloodshed for its own sake any more.” Then
the Prince smiled as he felt the hobbit’s face for fever. “She might
have gone beyond recall, had you not rendered the field-aid that she
needed most. You surpass many twice your age in wisdom.”
“I surpass many twice my age in sorry experience, you mean,” Frodo
murmured, and closed his eyes, letting the healing hands take his pulse
and inspect his hurts.
“You heal swiftly,” Eldarion said. “I wish I could say the same for
myself,” he added with a rueful smile. “If you rest well today, I shall
pronounce you sound enough to take ship tomorrow, on schedule.”
“Just as well,” Frodo chuckled. “If I enjoyed any more Brandybuck
hospitality, I should become as stout as Peregrin Took!” And with that
he fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.
He woke some time in the evening, as his fever broke. Frodo tossed and
turned in an aching fury, so that Mattie could hardly reach him to
sponge off the sweat that ran from him like rain, but then he quieted
after awhile, and felt cool without shivering, and found that the aches
had passed, and that he could eat. Mattie lit a lamp and went running
from the room; soon she returned carrying a loaf under her arm and a
knife in hand, with Turquoise behind her bearing a tray. “Oh thank
goodness!” Turquoise exclaimed, while Mattie sliced bread and spread it
with jam and curds. “What could I have said to Master Brandybuck if you
had perished in my care?”
“I don’ persh so eashily,” Frodo assured her with his mouth full. Long
hunger made everything taste outrageously good! They gave him more
soup, and a little bit of meat, and soon he felt sleepy again and
dreamed in his dear wife’s arms.
He loomed great in his dreams, his many arms reaching far, and the
power that spread out from his fingertips reached farther still, for
miles and miles. Birds flew around his head, high above the mists of
the river. His toes dug deep into the bank, and snaked their way
everywhere, in and out of the earth. Who could surpass him? Who dared?
Yet he could barely move. Sometimes it took him all day to shift a limb
an inch. He rocked in the wind, trying to pull up his feet, but they
would not budge. Hatred burned him for the animals who ran where they
pleased, living lives too short to acquire any wisdom, possessed of
little power, small almost beyond notice–yet the least of these could
move! Even the ants could crawl up and down his body and he could not
brush them aside! And they brought their stupid aphids with them to sip
his sap, chewing him everywhere, itching like mosquito-bites. He had to
wake himself–wake himself and seek revenge! He had done it before, with
heroic effort. Once he had even walked.
“Mr. Tree?” He felt a tiny hand touch a knob of one of his roots. He
could, if he roused himself, sing the wretched creature to sleep. He
would, too, if a certain ancient meddler would just leave him alone.
“Mr. Tree, why are you so unhappy?” But this new creature’s touch felt
like none he had encountered for years upon long years. It did not seek
him out for wood, nor for withy-wands to cut for basketry, it did not
try to dig up his roots for dye, it did not even approach him to
exploit his shade. Instead, incredibly, he felt the little fingers
pinching aphids off his lowest leaves, where they hung down nearly to
Absurd! No more of this–he would not allow himself to waver. He sang
the beast to sleep. He felt her curl up against his trunk, and he
stirred himself to action. He could do it. He opened wide a crack, and
she fell in. Vigor now raced up and down his sap. He remembered how! He
woke up all the way. He had her right where he wanted her; now he would
crush the interloper, and her blood and mangled bones would feed his
roots, and he would have his moment of revenge!
But one outflung hand still touched him kindly, only on the inside,
now, right up against the heartwood. In all innocense, apparently, not
knowing what she did, her sleeping thoughts flooded into him before he
had time to fill her mind with his threats and gloating so that he
could taste her fear before he killed her. Half against his will, he
listened to her thoughts, her dreams, the compassion that she felt for
living, growing things like him, that other people did not seem to see
as having life at all.
Could she understand him? Could any creature of blood? Yet insight
seemed to overflow her, like that of the elves of old, though he could
plainly smell that she was no elf. Where had such a tiny thing, a mere
sapling to her own kind, learned to perceive the thoughts of trees?
His wood shifted. He made some space for her, so that she could turn
over, stretch out the little legs, still dreaming. He opened up another
crack, just a bit, so that air would flow well, as she needed. He
breathed in her breath, and it tasted good to him. He breathed back
oxygen to her, and she sighed in her sleep, thriving on it. All night
she slumbered within the shelter that he made for her. And when she
woke he parted for her passage.
They had grown in communion throughout the night, and he felt the
linkage strengthen faster in the day. He sensed the hunger in her. He
spread out his power. Twigs shifted, paths opened up. She listened to
his whisper on the wind. He brought her to old plum trees and berry
bushes, and greens her kind could eat, he showed her where the feral
beans grew wild, he showed her mushrooms hidden in the roots.
He felt a recent fear in her, but not of him, oh no, not of him. She
had escaped some violence, someone bent on doing her harm–someone of
her own kind! Anger stirred in him again, but not at her. Messages
quivered from twig to twig, all across the forest. No one of her kind
would get anywhere near her. He had ways to make sure of that.
And when she returned to him in the evening, hungry again after a day
of rambling through the wonders of his woods, singing with the birds,
dancing with the wind-blown weeds, feeling her fear ebb from her, she
found that his roots in the creek now cradled a pool full of trapped
fish darting in the water. She honored him enough to make no fire to
appall him, but ate the fishes raw, crouching on his root in her
mudstained dress. And she buried their heads and bones and innards by
his drip-line in the soil, as those who raised her once had taught her
to do, where he could feast on them, himself.
Then she washed herself in the river, leaving the dress to dry upon a
twig of his. He did not mind that this time, when she returned inside
of him, she swept together old leaves that he had long since shed, and
made herself a nest. He felt the animal warmth that she gave off, and
pictured how good that would feel, come winter when the frost made
sluggish all his sap. And so the second night arrived, and they dreamed
together, and Old Man Willow had never felt so loved...
Frodo woke up in the dark. He glanced over at his wife beside him, and
remembered the strange feel of tenderness in a vegetative heart, and he
lay there thinking for some time before he settled back down to dream
of other things.