Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 23, Part 233
The World Beyond Squatting Rock
December 1, 1452
Frodo lay there for a long while with his eyes closed, just listening to the wind in the brush masking the cave-mouth–so soft a sound, so full of nature! Even in Mordor, nature could heal as well as kill. He felt the earth beneath his sleeping-bag, but that did not bother him, that kind of pleased him. Somehow it felt more alive than the dirt of his tunnel in the mine.
Last night had seemed a dream within an exhausted haze, crawling under the thorns like rabbits, even little Bleys scooting in when Mattie lifted up some thorn-boughs with a stick for him. Not exactly a Gondor inn, but Frodo had slept in worse places. He luxuriated in the feeling of quilted cloth between him and the ground.
He opened his eyes to twig-filtered light dancing all around him. The cave appeared wider than deep, and not too dim at all. Next to him, scrawled in the dirt, he found a note, saying, “OUT TO HUNT”. He laughed, marveling. He didn’t even know that Mattie could hunt. But of course in her travels she would have had to learn all kinds of skills.
He sat up, feeling stronger than he had in a long time. He found bread, jerky, and dried fruit in a pack, and discovered an astonishing hunger. He had forgotten how good a piece of dried apple could taste, as though he had never savored one before: tartly sweet, leathery-spongy, golden-brown round of nourishment. Firmly he held his lens. “I want to feel again, to taste, to smell, to see and hear. I want everything back.”
Frodo ventured out of the cave with Bleys and found himself in a ravine, a steep crack in the stone to either side. He tethered the ass where the animal could nibble at some not-so-thorny shrubs and drink some water from a thin creek that wound through the ravine. Then the hobbit crept back in and dragged a saddlebag out, found more food, and ate it too, till he grew sleepy and curled up there in the sun, dozing. But after an hour or so he laughed and said, “My first day back at work! I suppose I should earn my pay, somehow.” So he watched what Bleys preferred to graze upon, and duly took samples of those plants, and the others as well, for contrast, and jotted down some notes.
Then, when rummaging for more paper, he came across the sealed letter, addressed, “For Frodo Gardner, When He Returns” in his father’s hand. “Nienna help me,” he breathed, but he broke the seal.
“To my Beloved, Wayward Son, wherever you might be:
“Your the last one of my children that I ever thought would come to a bad end, so I will not believe in it–in the ending, I mean. I will have faith, and trust my heart, and know that somewhere you still draw breath, and that someday you will decide to rejoin the living, and return to those who love you, and on that day or soon thereafter you will read what I have to say.
“By now, if youve got any sense at all, you must feel like the sorriest fool on earth. I wont argue with that, but thats not the beginning of the story, nor do I think it will be the end. If you have lost all faith in yourself, then let me lend you some of mine. Ive lived long enough to see many a sorry story turn to good before the last. I also know what your made of, even if you forgot, yourself.
“I said before that I would love you no matter what kind of trouble you got yourself into. Now I bet your thinking that youve put my word to the test. So I will tell you right now that my word just sort of keeps itself–I cannot stop loving you, not if a troll should wrench the heart right out of my breast I couldent.
“And I know it all, son. I know that you tore the web of Vaire. I know that you kilt someone, and you dont even know who. I know that the King had to exile you–he wrote me all about it, and how it broke his heart. And I know, from the glimpses that both Prince and King have gotten from their palantiri (trying in vain to find you) and written of to me, that you have become a drunkard of the baddest sort, though they cannot quite say where. (I will not believe the other glimpses, of you lying dead–my heart would know. So thats whats left.) Next to all of that, breaking Shire law and all good sense, ignoring every single advisor that you have, to marry Mattie, seems like nothing much at all.
“No, I will not call it nothing. I should have trusted the wisdom of your heart–we all should have. I am sorry that I called you a ninnyhammer for running off with Matthilda. I have written back and forth with her, and I have read what Nibs and the Lady Eowyn and even Prince Eldarion have had to say of her. I see now the worth of what she has become when freed of her enslavement. More, I can see that her cunning, which she used to put to evil purposes, she now employs to hold onto her freedom with everything shes got. I know that her experience will do you more good than any of mine can ever do. Frodo, I understand, from the depths of my heart, that you need her, and no other wife will do for you.
“Mattie has given us comfort, when no one else had much of any hope to say–by her many kind words and also by herself, just seeing how she is after years of darkness, which proves that you can come back, too. Your mother and I have gone to court and signed the papers to add our permission to your marriage. You will find a copy enclosed within this letter. Your union will hold up in the Shire.”
Frodo gasped, and found the document, on that thin vellum which hobbit scribes will often use to trace important papers, carefully reproducing every stroke and diacritical. He could even see faint ink lines on the back, an imprint of the original letters, apparently still slightly wet when the scribe pressed the paper over them. “Wife. He called her my wife.” He pressed the document to his thin breast, and felt his own heart beat through the bone and the lens. It took a moment before the tears cleared from his eyes enough to let him read again:
“Your mother and I will keep right on singing for you, Frodo. We might not have the voice of Luthien, to bring back the dead, but maybe weve earned enough credit with the Powers of the West that we can help bring back the good-as-dead. It worked for Tom, when some folks said to brace ourselves, hed likely never wake again. Hes all back to normal now, Frodo! In talking, walking, reading, all good things, hes like a hobbit who never felt a hurt. The only thing missing is his past.
“Someday, I expect, you will envy your brother for that. Someday you will not want to look back on all that youve done wrong. Thats what this drunkardness is really all about, isent it? To keep on trying to whack your brains senseless so that you can forget all about your past? But then youll just keep on making more and more bad past to try and forget.
“Face it, son. Nothing you face can hurt you near as bad as anything you turn your back on. Face it, and learn from it, and do better because you know all about worse. Its not our mistakes that make us who we are, but whether or not we climb back up out of them, move on and do better. Remember Boromir, Frodo. I had no cause to love him, yet I know that he ended in honor. If he can do it, then you can do it–or if Boromir seems like a dry page out of history to you, then look no further than your wife.
“At least that wretched blowfly has flown from you at last! Believe me, my poor, dear son, when I say that I understand how carrying Sauron around could drive anyone to drink! Yet greater powers than he can drive you back, if you but ask for a lift. I can only imagine how you must fear the Powers of the West for the wrong that you did against them, yet they have ever shown mercy to those who sued for it with earnest hearts. Even Morgoth hisself they spared, once upon a time. You cannot possibly have done anything near so evil as that! Whenever you fear the doom of Mandos, all the more for having betrayed his wife, remember that he also has a sister, and will not refuse her.
“Prince Eldarion seems to think that Im fixing to declare war on Gondor or some such thing, on account of him sending you alone into an inn. Fool he may have been, and I wont dispute that, but I cant believe that you had no say whatsoever in how it all turned out. And where was Nibs in all this, Id like to know! I sent him there special with an eye to cool the rashness of hot young blood. No, I do not blame the Prince for what has happened.
“Well, Nibs is making up for it now. For of course the entire burden of continuing your work has fallen onto him, and not an easy time of it, either, from what I hear, what with hungry season on the land, and all manner of strange, unseasonable floods. It serves him right. He will better understand the pressures on you when you return.”
Frodo gasped. “Poor Uncle Nibs! Will there be no end to the harm that I’ve brought down?”
Hungry season–he remembered that much from his briefing, so long ago in Minas Tirith,of the troubles of Nurn even before the land failed altogether: that time on the cusp of summer and autumn in the desert, when all of the crops for one season have long been spent, while the crops of the next have not yet ripened. He had considered it, and prepared for it, yet the field-damage of that one bad storm had cut into his preparations in a fearsome way. “All manner of strange, unseasonable...?” What might a host of floods have done?
He looked about him in the canyon with new eyes. He saw fresh scoops eroded into the banks, high above the trickle of the current brook. Bared roots dangled from the undercuts, tangled with old debris that must have washed into them...way above his head. Downstream he saw a toppled tree, and the rockslide bordering the cave looked like it had fallen only recently.
“What could have caused such a thing?” he wondered. Memories came back to him again, stormy nights at the bar, drenched and laughing at the weather blustering all around them, the flashes of lightning, the coal-fires going out, rainy wind blowing his hair into his face. Some folks had bolted for cover, but those warmed and emboldened by drink stayed on for more. Had it been one night, or several, come to think of it, when he had used the depth of the water in the streets, considering his own short size, as an excuse not to leave his high-set stool the whole night long? Dimly he recalled watching the flood lap around the wooden legs while he helped himself to another drink from what he’d paid the barkeep to leave behind...and woke with his sore head resting on the bar in the morning. “Good lord!” he muttered. “It’s a wonder I’m still alive at all!” Not all of the patrons at the bar made it safely home from nights like that, he remembered–the justification for many a toast in honor of the dead, though the faces blurred together.
“A plague of storms!” He stood, shaking his head, laying down the letter for now. “Not the usual desert malady, not so late in the year, way past the proper season. Well, I doubt if I shall ever know the answer as to why it happened.” He picked up his survey materials again. “The weather does what it will, and we can do naught about it, save to accept whatever it should give us. So the Gaffer always said.”
He drew a deep breath, then walked over to the dangling roots. “So I’m accepting–and what a gift it has given me, here! I won’t get an opportunity like this often–to study the roots of living trees!” He stared up and made many sketches and notes, sketching also the layers and formations of the soil, coloring them in with pinches of the earth itself. He kept himself busy for nearly an hour that way, and hang the pain of standing, before nerving himself to finish his father’s letter.