Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 1, Part 211
Another Lesson for Uncle Nibs
July 17, 1452
Frodo liked the view, he decided, sitting near one of his rippling ponds, next to Nibs, who curled up on his side on the ground, hugging his knees and groaning. One could find a worse place to come to a screeching halt. Green foliage flourished now beside the ponds (it seemed to grow so fast that you could almost watch it happening) waving red or purply-blue spikes of blossoms that nodded in the wind. Yet the perfume that wafted off of them came chiefly from the leaves, interestingly enough, sweetly herbal, like clover or licorice. Birds twittered from somewhere in the foliage. Yes, this had to be just about the pleasantest place one could find in all of Mordor, all things considered.
“Fret no more, Uncle Nibs.” Frodo pulled his ongoing letter out of his left inner vest pocket. “You see? I have something constructive to do while we wait. So you may stop your fussing about me wasting my time.”
“Oh?” Nibs barely whispered. “And what might that be?”
“I must see how much of this I can memorize. Half the time I can hardly guess what Papa replies to anymore.” Frodo rifled through the pages to where he last left off–starting with the page adorned with wildflowers intertwining ryegrass in the margins. He read silently, with an eye cast towards Nibs now and then.
“July 15, 1452–You’ll be glad to know, Papa, that my room now has a floor. I must say that while we had little trouble moving my furnishings down to Uncle Nibs’s room for storage, hauling them back up again did not go nearly so well. Uncle and I must have struggled for an hour with my bed, before one of the workmen came back for his tools, and took over, laughing at its lightness as he tucked it under one great arm. Very well! So none have ever sung the praises of hobbit musculature!”
Frodo clicked his tongue, then murmured (out of the other hobbit’s hearing) “You’d think the dear fool would have learned his lesson.” He read on.
“Mattie has some ideas on how to put everything back together better than before. But these shall have to wait, I fear. We still have naught but a blanket and a grill between us and the summer storms, and must push our things back away from the rain. It felt good, nonetheless, to sleep in my own room once again! And with the best of company.”
Nibs let out a particularly piteous moan. Frodo gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, said, “Keep up your courage, Uncle–aid shall reach us soon. I chose the swiftest runner.” and then went back to his letter.
“July 16, 1452–Mattie and I pulled aside the curtain to watch a thunderstorm. Foolish, I suppose, to stand so exposed in a wet, high place, while the lightning flashes all around, but I would not have traded the spectacle for the world! Storms in the Shire do not come close to the same terrific majesty–or if they do, we are in no position to see, snug in our holes, with more than half the view from our windows veiled in soft and pleasant vegetation.”
Frodo looked up at the lush growth around him–Mordor seemed determined to catch up with the Shire, at least in moist places like this. He glanced down to the ground just in time to flick away some sort of particularly nasty-looking bug with pincers crawling towards Nibs. Sometimes he just sensed these things, anymore, before he even knew what he reacted to.
“Thank you,” the hobbit whispered.
“My pleasure,” Frodo murmured while reviewing his own words.
“Terrific--I find myself considering that word, and all its implications: a wonderful form of terror; we use the word to describe something good--so good that it terrifies us? Wonderful–a term for that which strikes wonder into the heart. Marvelous–causing one to marvel. Great–mightier than the commonplace, possessed of more than average scope. Splendid–emanating splendor. How do we come to use such words as synonyms for nice? The problem is not that we lack the vocabulary to describe anything as potent as a thunderstorm, but that we have abused our vocabulary past all recognition. Not that I would ban such words for anything save for the sacred, but I would that we all, always, had the imagination to understand the fullness of them in our daily lives, to say, “I have just had the most terrific day!” and to really mean it.”
Frodo looked over at Nibs. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“Terrific!” Nibs whimpered. “How do you think I am doing?”
Frodo stifled a sigh, remembering how he had warned his Uncle three times not to do exactly what Nibs did anyway–for he had made the same mistake, himself, early on, trying to keep up with men. Everything looked so much easier, to watch the Big Folk do it. “You shall feel better, soon,” Frodo assured him, and went back to his letter.
“Oh, we hobbits hardly know what sacred means, itself. Every year we raise toasts to Yavanna at Harvest, then dive into the food and drink and give more thought to her bounty than to herself. But I suppose she understands, and even takes pleasure in our pleasure, as any mother might delight in the self-centered happiness of a suckling babe. But I guess that those of us who have endured the darkness know best how to praise the stars. I know I can count on you, Papa, to understand exactly what I mean.”
Nibs asked, “May I please have a little more water?”
“Certainly.” Very carefully, Frodo slipped his knee under his Uncle’s head, so that the hobbit could drink from his waterskin almost comfortably. Then with equal care he slid his knee away again, settled Nibs back down, resting his head once again on the balled-up waistcoat, and then he picked up the pages once more.
“Something kind of odd happened, though, during the storm at its most ferocious–in a lightning-flash, I almost thought that I could see a figure standing in the distance, high up on a bluff. I must have seen an outcropping of stone that only resembled a man. It gave me something of a start, nonetheless.
“Anyway, the workers have made good progress on my window. All that it needs now is glass. And that requires Lanethil to get the old glassworks up and running, on a cleaner basis than it did under Sauron’s rule. The elf deplores the state of the operation at every turn (while for the entire time Sauron muttered aggrieved excuses–not that he would call them excuses) but Lanethil knows too well how little the Dark Lord cared for the health and safety of those who labored in his shadow. ‘How often I have accounted men blessed in the Gift of Illuvatar!’ he told me with no little bitterness, while inspecting the grounds. ‘Poison them and twist them long enough and they soon die of it, and their master must raid for other slaves. Whereas my kind endured, more and more ruined by long years of misuse, till our own kin could not recognize us.’”
Frodo laid down the letter for a moment, remembering Lanethil’s haunted scowl, as the elf kicked through the dust of the factory, shoulders hunched like he expected a whip to cross them at any minute. But the glower in his eyes would have frightened any slaver.
Frodo glanced over at his uncle. “Still terrific?”
“Oh, I’ve been better,” Nibs answered weakly, “But I suppose I’ve been worse as well. You should get back to work, Frodo, and never mind me. Sitting by me does no one any good.”
“Oh yes it does.” Frodo waved out over the brush. “You can’t see anything lurking out there, but that doesn’t mean something can’t see you. In Mordor hungry creatures watch for the injured, Uncle–but as long as they see me beside you, in perfect health myself, they’ll stop at watching.”
The letter went on. “Mattie has gone to ply her harp, now, but should return before nightfall. Three weddings in one day yesterday, another today, and two more tomorrow! Mordor has never seen such a summer. And they all want my wife to sing for them.” He glanced over at the hobbit beside him before reading, “I regret to say that Uncle Nibs finds her profession rather scandalous. Yet if you could hear her play, Papa, you would be proud!”
Frodo smiled at the page, remembering last night, when she came home declaring, “Ooh, if I eat one more crumb I shall turn into a wedding-cake!” Which only left him picturing her slathered most delectably in thick-spread scallops of butter icing, adorned with sugar-cream ribbons and rosebuds here and there–an image that would have tortured him before their marriage, but which now led to an evening of delight and even a little experimentation, about which he would never, ever write to Papa.
“What are you chuckling about?” Nibs moaned.
Nibs ventured a wan smile from where he lay. “Never mind; I was a newlywed once, too, I might remind you. Although your stampeding up and down the stairs in the middle of the night, with your tunic thrown on backwards in your haste, sounded like an oliphaunt careening through the house. Whatever you were up to last night, I hope you realize that you left the kitchen in an utter mess!”
“I did? Oh dear–I am sorry!”
“Powdered sugar all over everything! And bowls in the sink, and oh my goodness the ants!”
“I truly am sorry.”
“And then the trail lead all the way up to your room, so that I could hardly take a step down the stairs without ants nipping at my toes, and poor Mattie cleaning up as fast as she could before her first performance–I sent Spring up to help, you should know. You ought to have shown some consideration when your wife keeps such a busy schedule–the fields could have waited half an hour.”
“Oh my! Cleaning up–of course! It completely skipped my mind.”
“I suppose it has also skipped your mind that the two things ants love best in the world are sugar and butter. Also that I brought that special powdered sugar all the way from the Shire, set aside for the crafting of my famous rainbow fondant someday, knowing how much you’ve always loved it, when I thought we both might need a treat the most, and now I suppose I shall never...ohhhh, you make me talk too much! See how your mischief has only tensed up my back the worse.”
“I really, really, really am sorry. And I shall pay for the sugar–I promise. I thought that Mattie bought it.”
“Never mind me, I am naught but an old fool who forgives a young fool everything on what ought to be his honeymoon.” He sighed extravagantly. “Ah me, there is a reason why we send them away for a month, to let them get the madness out of their systems before coming anywhere near society again.” His voice trailed off.
“Would it help you if I rubbed your back a bit?”
“Oh please no! Don’t come anywhere near my back! I shall leave it to an expert’s touch.”
“I needn’t work on my letter at all right now, if you need me for anything.”
“Oh, go on with you, lad–the letter does me no harm. I reckon that the less I talk, the better off I’ll be right now, anyway.”
Frodo drew his pen-kit from his right inner waistcoat pocket and opened it up, filled the little dish, and added a notation:
“July 17, 1452–I inspected the ponds this morning. They’re holding up soundly, for the most part, although one or two need some work, which the recent storms have made clear. I shall send to Ithilien for some nice, non-poisonous fish with which to stock them–that should please Fishenchips no end. The prolific insects of Mordor drown themselves regularly enough in the water to keep such stock well-fed, and fish might cut back some on all of these infernal mosquitos!”
Frodo dropped his pen-brush to slap an especially large mosquito off of his foot. Then he picked it up again and added, “We set to building the required amendments immediately. Uncle Nibs tried to lift the same sized stones as the men around here do, to help them reinforce a spillway, and so (not surprisingly) he threw out his back. But I have sent for the nearest available leech, whoever that might be in a town rapidly turning into Mordor’s center for medical education. Besides, the land abounds in herbs good for balms beyond the measure of softer lands, so we should see Uncle fixed up as good as new in short order.”
He looked over to Nibs. “Promise me you will never, ever try to lift anything that heavy again?”
“Repeat after me: I am not a man.”
“I am not a man.”
“I am a hobbit.”
“I am a hobbit.”
“I will take on hobbit-sized labors and be content with what I can do.”
“I will take on hobbit-sized labors and...*groan* be content with what I can do...and I might recommend the same thing for my nephew as well!”
“I will not nag my nephew.”
“I will...oh, now really, Frodo! I will not promise any such thing!”
Frodo merely chuckled and said, “Well, I had to try.” He looked back to his letter, pen-brush poised. Speaking of nagging, he had this dreadful, nagging feeling that he had forgotten something important, something full of doom...
“Dreadful,” he wrote down. “Do we really mean by that something which fills us with dread, or merely something unpleasant?” His brows drew down as he struggled to recall...