Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 32, Part 242
Yavanna of the Swamps
December 14, 1452
The crying of a baby wove in and out of Frodo’s dreams. Then it seemed that he heard someone say, “She’s back,” and then much murmuring of voices, came into his awareness–voices as ugly and tender as still-soggy, new-hatched eagles. The words faded in and out of his half-sleeping mind’s attention as he slowly began to wake, against a background of constant bawling, this time in a full-grown throat. And gutteral voices answered with gentleness: “It’s all right.” “You did the right thing, Bataronk. That’s all that matters now.” “Yes. You came back.” “We’ve all felt it.” “We’ve all run away from it.” “Coming back is the main thing.”
Frodo opened his eyes, and once again saw the young orc mother suckling her young, where she squatted on the tunnel floor. One thing had changed, however, for she wept–loudly, messily, tears dribbling off her chin, lips trembling around gaping fangs, her nose running, the loud, aching sobs bursting from deep within her chest. “I thought it wuh, wouldn’t happen to me. I, I, I grew up in a fambly!”
“Curse that Dark Lord,” Lobbie Aandar muttered as Frodo sat up, “for what he wrenched right out of us!” She looked towards Frodo and Mattie. “We have to learn from scratch what comes naturally to most.”
Bataronk blubbered kisses all over her baby, murmuring. “I won’t leave you again–I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!” Then she turned red eyes to Frodo. “Bring it here, Luv.”
“Bring what?” he asked, though his heart guessed.
“You know,” she told him in her whiney voice. “That.” And she nodded towards his chest.
“Oh. No. Not after...it’s too strong a, a medicine.”
“Not to touch, not me. Oh no, no, no–I’m not big enough for that! But bring it here, anyway. Please?” she wheedled.
Reluctantly Frodo rose and went over to her. “Just hold it for me, over my baby.” This he did. Wincing, Bataronk forced herself to gaze through the lens at her child’s magnified face. “Oh!” She gasped. “Oh!” She clutched her daughter close, then, rocking her, still crying and yet smiling now. “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Behind Frodo Aandar murmured, “Well, you have truly stirred this ol’ ant-nest up royally, Frodo son of Samwise, stirred it up so strong that the ants’ll never be the same.” Yet when he turned to her he found her smiling. She sounded almost gentle when she asked, “Tell me, Frodo: did it hurt a lot, giving up the grog? Did it hurt horribly?” She laughed softly at the look on his face. “Oh, I can figure out a thing or two in a couple nights, m’boyo. I was a leech even before I became shatraug.”
“Yes,” he said. “It hurt a great deal. Like life coming back to frozen feet.”
“Then if you can come through it to the thawing point, so can we. If there’s one thing that our kind can do, better than anybody else, it’s endure pain.” She winked at him. “We’ll be all right. Better than all right, now.” Suddenly brisk, she clapped her hands together and declared, “And now it’s time for you and your mate to move on.”
“Lobbie Aandar,” he called just as she had begun to turn away, “I cannot thank you enough.”
She shrugged, “Oh, it was no big deal. Snatching two-legged prey from the jaws of wargs is good practice for what we want to be. And as for our hospitality, you brought the meat with you, yourself.”
Frodo gulped down his horror and said, “Not that alone, Lobbie Aandar. For being. For the Iingolug-Hai. For giving me hope again, when I have the most need of it.”
She chuckled and smirked. “Then I’d say we’re even, Gardner. A safe and happy road to you and yours.”
Frodo had a hard time finding any sort of designated place to wash up and such, but eventually the orcs deduced his wishes and supplied a basin of clean-enough water and a comparatively fresh rag to serve as towel, and anything else that he might desire. They often averted their eyes from his, yet he would catch them glancing back shyly, cautiously, and he saw nothing hostile whatsoever in their faces; they seemed even almost grateful in a dazed sort of way.
He bid them all a solemn adieu. He walked past a pile of pelts where Grumbull snored noisily, his hand still bandaged, his eyes rolling behind his lids in dreams, past Bataronk now playing with her baby and chuckling over him, past Lulthak seated quietly by the fire, staring into her hands, past Farmak whittling a cane from some giant sort of bone while an old orc-gaffer looked on, past Khlarkmoz staring at the outdoor passage with beetled brow, over to where Mattie waited, next to snaga-sized backpacks full of supplies to replace what they had lost.
Frodo looked at the packs, and felt a pang of regret for his sister’s needlework blowing across the marsh somewhere, till each piece, one by one, must inevitably sink into mud and slime, some of the clothing never even worn by him. Then he felt at the beads beside his lens, and his grief welled up to nearly overwhelm him. Yet he murmured, “You led me to them, Bleys. Yes, in a sense you did. You led me to orcs who adorn bones with flowers.” Mattie handed him coarse bread smeared with something yellowy-gray; they ate as they went out. It tasted surprisingly good, actually; he didn’t even gag when she informed him that he ate fried snails.
Once they passed out of the cave-mouth, Frodo and Mattie walked quite a ways without speaking. He gazed upwards a lot, appreciating the wind that had cleared some of the clouds overhead (even as it blew his hair about his face) to reveal the stars a-twinkle in the wrack. He breathed deeply the fresh air. The slopes led ever downward, back to the marsh, but even it smelled better than the lair of even the kindliest of orcs. The slope grew more and more gradual as it melted towards the swamps, till once again they followed a faint ridge of rockier land amid the pools and mud. Soon they heard nothing behind them, or before, or to either side, except for the various chirps and buzzes of the last surviving insects, the soft crunch of frosted mud underfoot, and an occasional splash or drip. The wind did not abate; tatters of mist blew across the waste like companies of ghosts. Then Mattie shook her head, smiling ruefully. “Traveling by night. Again. Here, of all places.”
Frodo shrugged. “I’ve been in darker places.”
Mattie glanced over at him. “That was quite some song you sang, yesterday.”
“Thank you. I had it straight from the source.”
They walked some yards before she murmured, “Frodo, I got the distinct impression that you did not approve of my own song.”
He drew breath, reconsidered, then said with forced mildness, “It was not your best.”
“For pity’s sake, Frodo, I was singing to orcs!”
“Orcs who strive with everything they have to become something better, orcs willing to endure an agony that we cannot even imagine in order to wrench out the evil rooted within them. It does not help them to celebrate the degradation of unfortunate women who...”
“What do you know about unfortunate women?” Her voice went shrill. “What do you know about a trade that...”
“More than I want to know! Mattie, do you have any idea how I wound up lying in the street that night when people thought that wargs had taken me? Didn’t anybody tell you? I was pitched there, face first, for being too ugly to sell the last thing that I had left to exchange for grog!”
“Oh...” She stopped, even as he did. ”Oh Frodo!” And he welcomed her embrace, made clumsy by the packs though it might be.
“Ai, Mattie,” he husked on her shoulder, “I have learned so many words never spoken in the Shire. Prostitution. Addiction. Molestation. Rape. I feel more poisoned by words, by the ideas behind them, than by anything I ever drank. And nothing can heal me of my knowledge–not withy domes nor crystal rites, not athelas nor sage, not elf nor king. I, I have so many scars by now, Mattie, that I can’t even make out what I used to be without them.”
Gently she took his hand, and led him to walk again. “We are what we are,” she said, “and have to make the best of it, never mind whatever we might have been. We just have to keep going forward, is all.”
“Where are we going, Mattie?”
“I don’t know. The next shelter, whatever that might be. Maybe we can find another tree to climb.”
“Are we lost?”
“You tell me.”
He sighed. “We’re lost.” Now he felt the ground grow moist and soft beneath his feet. “As good a time as any, I suppose, to continue our botanical survey, although I do not know what creature might ever carry my notes back to Seaside, now.” He stopped, scanned the area around him, and forced a brighter tone. “Those phosphorescent growths over there look intriguing, at least.” As he opened up the flower-press, he chuckled faintly. “After all, I have my father to live up to. He never let a failure of hope stop him from his duty.”
Mattie regarded him a moment, then nodded to herself. “Frodo, you wait here, and conduct your survey. I have to scout on.”
“For whatever might make us un-lost, or otherwise bring us aid.” She smiled back at him over her shoulder. “Don’t worry, darling. The Four Sisters will help me.”
He took her hand. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Right now I am the best equipped to find us a way. And you are the best equipped to learn whatever might help Nurn, no matter where you land. So–we each have our duties to perform; let’s get about it, shall we?” They kissed and then she left, meandering among the shifty paths and pools as best she could.
Frodo gathered the fungus, made notes, then climbed up again, so that he could follow Mattie’s progress from the height. The view still amazed him, to look out upon a marsh at night with elvish sight. The greens of moss and scum glowed against the water’s shimmering black, in odd shapes and swirls like something out of delirium. Mattie he could clearly see as a sort of rosy glimmer all her own, quite different from the bluish tones of elves when seen in shadow. Her progress twisted this way and that, around about the pools and fens, by more than hobbit instinct, till she dwindled in the distance to a pink little wandering star, that his eyes nevertheless followed compulsively.
“Ah, Mattie! Where would I be without you?”
Not in fear for your sobriety, at least, had she not corrupted you in the first place.
“You are not Sauron. You are not even a whole person. I know you, now. You are the voice of my own doubts and temptations, which he borrowed for a time, shadow that he is.” He took a firm grip on the Glass of May. “And so I answer you confidently, from the honest part of myself. I would have fallen with or without Mattie pouring the elixir of the poppy down my throat. It might not have happened without Sauron, that much I will concede; the flaw might never have cracked without pressure from him–or from him beguiling me to put pressure on myself. But the flaw has always waited, even as the temptation towards the working-dust awaits in my sister Rose, if only she should hear of it and find it in her reach. It is but the dark side of our father’s gift, to give himself over completely, passionately, even to the point of death, for that which matters to him. We are a passionate people, we Gardners, who do nothing by half-measures. Yet I myself can choose whether to use this for ill or good.”
So, then. What do you propose to give yourself over to? Because, being you, you must surrender wholeheartedly to something.
“Ah, another voice in my heart! Glad to meet you, wise questioner! My father surrendered to Elbereth Gilthoniel, yet I lack the stature for the Lady of the Stars. No, Nienna has been my savior, and never holds herself too loftily for anyone. And...” and here a new thought came to him, from he knew not where, “...and Yavanna, Lady of gardens and farms, forest and desert, of all glad, growing things. She has ever favored my people. I give myself over to her, as well as to Nienna. For it is Nienna’s weeping for Yavanna’s suffering creatures here in Mordor that first turned my steps towards this land, though I knew it not at the time.”
Then it hit him, how he, of all people, had neglected Yavanna, gardener and hobbit though he was–Yavanna of the living earth! He had ventured into strange and intimate encounters with Death, Time, Ocean, Dreams, and Mercy, but not Nature herself, not though his entire mission centered around her works and interests–not though everything he had ever been or become yearned towards her like a flower towards the light. “Oh, Yavanna!” he breathed. No wonder his labors had become exhausting and unfulfilling!
“Sauron must have diverted my attention,” he murmured. “And I stupidly went along with it. Of course! He, once mighty, who lost everything because he cut himself off from the source of all the goodness that he once desired to nourish, knew well the pitfall that he laid before me. The gaping thirst within me, that no amount of grog can fill, is the depth and breadth and width of Yavanna herself!”
Tucking the glass back into his clothing, he ventured down the slope, to the soggy edge of the marsh, and knelt there on the soft, moist ground, and took up a dripping handful of silt, glowing to his eyes with the living slime that prospered in it, least of all Yavannah’s creatures and yet foremother to the rest. “Yavannah, I consecrate myself to you!” He raised up his dripping hand, and then he pressed the silt to his brow and let it all run down his face and into the neck of his shirt, knowing just how mad the gesture must appear, yet long past caring about madness. His father would have called the odor foul, but he smelled the esters of life in it, dead matter in the process of conversion to something that could nourish living things. He felt the cold trickle down his breast, until it touched the rim of his lens–and then his world took fire!
His eyes shot open.. Green and red radiance lit the swamplands, beyond the scope of elvish sight. From fish and scum, insect and bird, water-lily and high-rooted marsh-surviving tree, the light ascended higher and higher, until it formed a giant of a lady, gazing down on him, with forests for her hair and birds who flew in place for eyes, and running horses as the necklace that she wore.
Tardily have you thought of me, my wayward servant. Ever you have striven to do my will, yet never have you asked me what my will might be. I have rewarded you in any case, perceiving your sincerity beyond your folly and neglect. I have and will continue to bless your harvests and your labors, dearest prodigal. And yet no fruit of vine nor barley, nor distillation of any gift of mine, would ever have hurt you, had you sought me sooner. Too late for that–my enemy’s wound cuts deep, and the scar might reopen at any time if you guard it not. Yet blessings in abundance remain for you, now that you have remembered me.
Then the dread gaze looked down thoughtfully on him. And yes, Frodo, I am more than your imagination, more than a simple voice in your head, saying things which you have hidden from yourself.
“Oh blessed Yavanna, glad servant of Illuvatar! I am yours–under your leadership, let us serve Illuvatar together!”
“Frodo! Frodo!” Mattie’s voice came from the distance, hurrying towards him, but he had closed his eyes again, swaying in bliss, and didn’t see. “I found it–a pool of the purified water, surrounded by some sort of floating plant, just as you described!” Yet Frodo felt too overcome with joy to answer her. “And did you see the ice-lights? Red and green, rippling in the heavens? I have heard of such things illuminating the night betimes far to the north, but never before so far south as Mordor–what a blessing we have received!”
She found him, kneeling in the seeping soil, mud streaking his face, an open smile of ecstasy upon him. Without a word she gently washed his face. “Are you going to tell me about it?” she finally asked him, after giving him a generous drink of water.
“Tell...with words? How could I ever find the words?”
“No harm in trying, love.”
“I don’t even know what is real anymore, and what is all my imagination–and I find that I do not care! I will go along with whatever works, moment by moment.” He turned a radiant smile towards her. “And this works, for me!”
“You still haven’t said what...”
“Yavanna,” he sighed.
“Oh.” Asking no more of him, she led him back up the slope.