Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 8, Part 218
The Counselor Who Remains
July 20, 1452
Frodo and Nibs sweltered in the best finery that they had to hand, on their way to the Mayor’s wedding. Frodo had actually donned breeches and buttoned his weskit all the way up over a full-sleeved shirt, though he drew the line at a jacket, something which his Uncle endured for the occasion. Privately he wondered if anyone at the wedding would appreciate their sacrifice, or rather would snicker behind their backs at the folly of foreigners.
Summer felt like forever, just like winter had; sometimes in Mordor nothing seemed to exist save for the suffering of the moment. Though cleaner than it once had been, the smell of Seaside’s streets still oppressed the senses in weather such as this. Every move dragged as though they swam through sweat.
Frodo actually stumbled in shock and caught himself against a wall when, out of the blue, Nibs sighed and said, “Maybe you ought to up and toast the happy couple at the wedding today, and get it over with.”
“Master Took told me, when we crossed paths as I made my way here, about how you screwed up your courage to face a tooth extraction without the help of drink, only to fall but a short while later without any seeming cause at all. So maybe if you just get it over with now, when the occasion suits it, and you’re a wreck, and people would understand a bit more, you won’t make such a blithering fool of yourself later on.”
Frodo dusted off his clothes, scowling at the crumbly mud brick that he had fallen against, and resumed their walk. “If you mean a jest, Uncle, I do not see any humor in it.”
“No, seriously. You have every reason to be a wreck...”
“I am not...”
“...what with four disasters in three day’s time. Here you got yourself exiled, you saw your wife attacked, a madman tried to tear you limb from limb, and your wife left you.”
“Mattie did not leave me!” It took a moment of staring into Nibs’s widening eyes before he realized that he had grabbed his Uncle by his lapels. Embarrassed, he let go, smoothed the cloth roughly, and resumed walking, his eyes firmly on his feet, the fur of which had taken on so much dust already that he wondered why he had even bothered to brush them up smartly before departing.
“Not a wreck,” Nibs muttered. “I see.”
They heard the music before they reached the Town Square; the sweet notes hit Frodo like blows, for Mattie did not make them. Someone else played some tinkly instrument of the East, while another non-Mattie beat upon a drum.
“Look at you, Frodo–you’re shaking.”
“Shut up, Sauron,” Frodo said before he realized that his Uncle had spoken, not his haunt. “Yes, exactly!” he snapped at Nibs’s shocked face. “You two say the same things!”
“Frodo, forgive me, I didn’t mean...”
“You are an interfering old bag of wind! You may be older than me, but hardly wiser, for you have wasted the years you should have spent gathering wisdom, instead gathering gossip and prejudice! You have been nothing but a bother to me from the day that you arrived!” Then suddenly he blinked, and saw his dear uncle’s stricken face, and a quiet horror overtook him. “I...I am sorry. I did not mean any of that. I don’t know why I said it.”
“Well, you’ve been right foul-tempered lately, and no mistake. But I can hardly blame you, after all you’ve been through. I just want to see you calmed down a bit, is all, and maybe I came to the wrong way to go about it.”
“No. A toast would not calm me down. It would make me even worse.” Frodo mopped his brow with his kerchief. “He leaves me no peace, Uncle. He will not let me think of anything save for what I want but must not have. And I cannot silence him so long as my desire matches his own. And the worse things get, the harder...” He slowed to a stop.
“Then want something else,” his Uncle said, taking him by the arm and propelling him forward again.
“What else? I thought that farming would comfort me, fill every need inside of me. But all of my joy in my work has withered as though the summer rains mean nothing.” He gazed up at the rim of green above the village and said, “I cannot have the tilth of my forefathers, Uncle Nibs–and if I cannot have that, then I want numbness, the comforting tingle in the blood that drives all cares away.”
Then Frodo noticed that his companion had lost the buttons on his weskit. And he looked at the face, and recognized it only from dreams. “You aren’t Uncle Nibs,” he said.
“That I am not,” Bilbo agreed. “You saw what you expected to see, as usual.”
“Am I dreaming, then? Right now?”
“I guess I must be.”
“If you say so. It is all the same to me.”
“In that case, I do not want to spend another minute in Mordor!” Frodo waved his arms, and Seaside melted away, revealing the Shire on a fine summer’s day, a sweet breeze playing on the air. Frodo went over and sat on the grass under the shade of the Party Tree (sighing extravagantly at the touch of soft, cool grass) and Bilbo went with him. The birds of home sang around him, and he smelled a peach pie cooking somewhere in the neighborhood.
Frodo asked the old hobbit, “What did you mean by telling me to toast the couple and get it over with? That sounds like the sort of nonsense my Uncle might come up with, not you.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Botheration!” Frodo cried. “Won’t you give me at least one straight answer?”
“Few things lie as straight as people might imagine.”
Frodo spat out an orc-word, but Bilbo remained imperturbable. Still smiling, he got up again and wandered off.
“Here now! Where are you going?” Frodo scrambled after him.
“If you do not want my company, you need not put up with me,” Bilbo said cheerfully. “But I suggest you look around you, Frodo-lad.”
Frodo did–and saw desert sand encroaching on the green Shire grass, blowing along the ground, golden particles flowing over the withering blades , piling up by increments to bury everything like it had never been. He looked up, and the hills became rocky and rough. He turned around, and the Party Tree had vanished–and so had Bilbo Baggins.
Frodo ran down a gritty road, harsh on the soles, down into Seaside, calling, “Bilbo! Bilbo! Where are you?” Yet the sea had vanished before him, and when he looked back the fields had disappeared behind him, and he felt utterly lost. The village streets became close, mazelike. He stopped in terror at the sight of a blank-eyed face fading into a clay-brick wall–his own face, turned gaunt and sunken. He tried and tried to scream, but could not force the sound from his throat. His spirit did not seem to connect properly to his dream-body; he could barely move or control his feet, stumbling backwards, as the light grew dim. With a creeping feeling, then, he turned slowly around, and found himself staring into a long, dark tunnel, whose mouth he had entered without realizing it.
“Not that way,” he gasped. “No, not yet, please not yet!” and he ran in the other direction. In his haste he nearly fell down into a well, from which a stench arose and a miserable voice wailed, “Precioussss! Oh, we wants our precioussss!” He recoiled with a cry, tripped over a bottle rolling discarded in the street, fell with his feet flying into the air, scrambled up again and fled.
He heard a muttering not too far away. Gollum, again? No, oddly similar in some ways, yet not ruined, certainly roughened with age, yet cheerful, almost inviting. In the faint snatches of sound that came to him he finally recognized the dream-familiar voice.
“Bilbo? Is that you?” He came around a bend, into an alley, and he could almost make out words. “Bilbo, please don’t hide from me!”
He pattered down another passage, and clearly heard, “Oh mercy me, I never actually intended to phrase it, ‘In Imladris it dwells’--that was unnecessarily obscure, I should think.” He thought he could hear papers rustling, too. “Besides, ‘In Rivendell it dwells’ would have provided a nice internal rhyme. But then I suppose I would have had to carry that internal rhyme out all throughout the poem, which would have been a bother and possibly obscured the meaning even more.”
“Bilbo?” Frodo went through a doorway and found himself in a place of far fairer architecture than any he had ever seen, let alone anything like the rude structures of Seaside.
“I had gone to sleep, you see, after translating manuscripts for Elrond that repeated the old name, ‘Imladris’ over and over so many times that it had quite imbedded itself in my poor head.” More papers rustled. “Oh, my notes are in such a muddle that I fear you will never make sense of them, Frodo.”
Frodo marveled at the fair carvings of twig and leaf in the arches even as he passed beneath them, calling, “Bilbo! Where are you?”
“But that’s the thing with writing and delivering poems in your sleep--you wind up stuck with the words most present in your mind when you went to bed, before you’ve had a chance to polish up a bit.”
Frodo came out onto a balcony, and found Bilbo sitting in a fantastically woven twig chair, sorting through piles of dog-eared papers. Beyond him one could see the most incredible ravine, in all the beauty of a moist and temperate clime, a place of waterfalls and pine-clad slopes, and layers of mist drifting down below. The sussuration of water and wind sang of peace and restoration.
“Oh, there you are, Frodo! Good, good–I am rather glad to learn that I was not quite talking to myself after all. However...” and here he peered closely over his reading-glasses at the young hobbit before him, then sat back again. “Oh. I see. You are the other Frodo. Well, we won’t be needing these, then.” He snapped his fingers and the papers vanished. “It all gets rather confusing, sometimes, to deal with creatures bound by time, once one dispenses with that sort of thing, oneself.”
Frodo crossed his arms, feeling immediately annoyed all over again. “Just my luck--once I had Gandalf hisself to advise me--even the occasional Vala now and then! Now I find myself left with a senile old hobbit called mad even in his prime.”
Bilbo whipped off the spectacles and pushed them in a pocket. “Here now, that is a fine bit of gratitude for someone looking out for you! Shall I leave you then to your own path?” He stood up, and the sigh of waterfalls and wind-whipped pines gave way to the moan of a desert wind. “Good morning to you, then!” he said, reaching for his walking-stick and hat.
“No! Wait! Most excellent of hobbits, wise poet, most honest of burglars, please! I am simply frightened, and fear has made me grumpy--have you never said things that you instantly regretted in a grumpy mood?”
“That is better!” Bilbo brightened visibly. He laid aside stick and hat, then went over to the balcony’s edge and looked out at the jagged peaks of Mordor, without a pine or waterfall in sight. “Not a bad view, is it, once you get used to the particulars.” He turned to Frodo. “You loved it, too, once, though my nephew never did. What do you think has made the difference?”
“You mean between him and me?” Frodo thought a moment, before saying, “The reason for being here, perhaps?”
“Excellent!” Bilbo thumped him on the back. “You are finding your way through, lad, you really are.”
“Yet my reason for being here has become a punishment.”
“Now, now, lad, but a moment ago you told me that you sought comfort in farming–that was the original reason for your coming here, was it not? To farm?”
“Well, yes, but...”
“And that mission remains, does it not? Or has the King relieved you of your position as well as exiled you?”
“I suppose not, yet even so...”
“Yet you did tell me yesterday–or was it but a little while past?–that it no longer satisfies you, that if you cannot have the Shire you want numbness instead. Do I recall correctly?”
“I am afraid so. I cannot seem to think of anything else except for the relief I would feel, if only...what are you doing?” For now he saw the hobbit pouring from a flask into a couple of exquisite little goblets of elvish crystal that had not been there before.
“This is your dream, after all, Frodo. If you desire a drink, then drink you shall have.”
“But...no. I cannot.”
“Oh come, now! It cannot hurt you in a dream. Not this cordial, at any rate. Go ahead–have a sip. Raise a toast to the Mayor of Seaside and her mighty groom.”
Gingerly Frodo picked it up and took a swallow. “It is delicious!” he exclaimed. A vitalizing warmth stole through him, not numbing at all, but rather accentuating the beauty all around him.
“Quite a view,” Bilbo repeated. “No wonder you have gone through so much trouble to enjoy it.” And Frodo realized that they stood in his own tower bedroom, staring out the open shutters (already completed, as he had imagined them) of his bay window.
“Bilbo, what was in this glass?”
“Miruvor, my lad. You looked like you could use it.”
“Thank you! But in waking life I have no miruvor.”
“Nor would even that cordial escape doing you some harm in the waking world, so it is just as well.”
The fragrance lingered in the air. “May I have another, please?”
Bilbo firmly corked the flask and slipped it into his pocket. “No you may not. One is plenty.”
“When I wake up, will I be able to think of anything else, besides...”
“Well, now, that is entirely up to you, isn’t it?”
“No, it doesn’t quite seem to be,” Frodo said sadly, and slumped onto the bench within the window.
Bilbo sat down next to him. “Dear lad, I may be an ‘old bag of wind’, as you put it, but I have accumulated a few observations in a remarkably long life. One is that if you kill a rat, you must promptly fill up its hole or another rat will move into it.”
“Or something even worse, out here.”
“My point exactly.”
“What point? What are you trying to tell me?”
“That if you want to get your mind off of drinking, you must fill your mind–and heart, and soul–with something else entirely.”
“I already told you, farming no longer matters half so much to me.”
“I did not say farming. You need something larger, more important. More than Mattie, even. More than Sauron.”
“More than a maia? But that leaves only the Valar, and they have turned against me!”
Bilbo patted his hand, and softly said, “Not all of them, Frodo. Nienna never turns against any who seek her, and some of her pupils are of like mind, regardless of what dooms might stay their hands for now. And there is one greater than her, of whom her mercy is but a shadow. You have not gone beyond all allies, Frodo Gardner, son of my own dear Sam.”
Frodo woke. He could not entirely remember what he dreamed, although it teased at him as he dressed in stifling finery, and walked with his Uncle to the wedding. He frowned; it seemed that everything that happened haunted him with familiarity. When Nibs came up with his dreadful advice about toasting and getting it over with, instead of snapping at him, Frodo gripped his arm and said, “Time seems to bend again–I could have sworn you said all that before!”
Anxiously, Nibs reached over and mopped his nephew’s brow with his own kerchief. “Easy lad. Easy, there. It might be nothing. We all get feelings like that, now and then, yet soon they pass.”
Frodo nodded, swallowed, and suddenly everything seemed better, the colors brighter, the songs of the desert birds grown sweeter on the air. Whatever had happened, it had not gone amiss. His tongue seemed to recall a sweet savor that drove any desire for a lesser taste away from him. He recalled a snatch of an earlier dream, some months ago, of sitting beside Nienna, the Weeping Lady of Valinor, with the utter confidence that she would never, ever shrink from him, no matter what his sin. “I am not alone,” he whispered to himself, “Not all have abandoned me.” Just then they heard the wedding music waft their way.
“It’s Mattie!” Frodo cried, and ran to the Town Square of Seaside, into the wedding crowd. Yes, there she stood, straight-backed, high up on a wall with harp in hand, and the sight took Frodo’s breath away. Her bruises had colored up by now, yet she sang strong and clear, head held high, split lip and all–wearing a brilliant turquoise tunic, folds swirled lovingly around her curves, all gathered up on one side in the exotic eastern fashion, over a skirt of the same material, both embroidered in the brightest rainbow Frodo had ever seen in thread, and both tunic and skirt edged in tassels that flipped about insolently as she sang. Twin belts crisscrossed at her waist, each dangling a curving eastern knife over either hip, in copper-chased sheathes which Frodo recognized as elvish work.. She had twisted up her golden-brown hair at the back of her head with copper and beryl combs of similar workmanship, letting a couple curls spill free to frame the defiance in her poor, bruised face. A matching copper necklace quivered on her bosom as she sang, and copper anklets jingled over her furry feet with every dancelike movement that her music might entice from her. She looked dangerous and beautiful and proud, a treasure all her own that nobody could plunder.
Frodo whispered, “The Sun will never slink away and hide her light, no matter what Morgoth might do to her.” But Sauron had no word of a reply.
Something must have bloomed in the desert, for the wind swooping down into the town cleared away all of its smells with some surpassing fragrance. Frodo felt joy swell up in his heart, gazing up at his wife, who saw and winked at him, not missing a beat, her fingers sprightly on the harpstrings in one of those merry/melancholy eastern songs.
Pearl waved Frodo over to her bench, with room enough for both him and Nibs. She leaned down and whispered to Frodo, “We sewed most of the night away tegether, Mattie, me, and several of our friends, to surprise ye and all the rest. She says she will never hide in manly clothes again, nor let fear of annerbody dim her femalehood. Do ye like it?”
“Do I like it? I love it! You embroider as well as you cook, I can see. And the jewelry looks like Lanethil’s work. Where is he, by the way?”
Her face looked anxious. “Still ill, I am afraid.”
“Then all the more do I thank him for his efforts on behalf of my wife. What is wrong with him, Pearl? And has he visited any of our leeches?”
But she only winced and said, “Please ask no more of me.”