From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 4, Part 249
January 6, 1453
The morning light looked brassy, harsh. Then, as Arien rose above the
smoke, the day actually darkened somewhat into a brown twilight that
lasted all day long, the sun appearing as naught but a dim red moon in
the dirty sky, casting eerie, blue-green shadows, and all of the
colors, of face and clothing, stone and wood, seemed subtly wrong.
Meanwhile everyone’s lungs longed and longed for fresh air, yet had
nowhere to turn for it, and would not, doubtless, for days. Frodo sat
just outside the dwarvish hut and wondered if the Pall of Mordor,
during the Siege of Minas Tirith, had looked and felt like this. He
felt a sudden stir of sympathy for Denethor; such strange and gloomy
weather did not incline the heart to hope.
Most of the ents had not yet left to seek their wives, but stomped
about the ruin, finding and extinguishing caches of hot coals here and
there, or helping dead trees, still smoldering upright, to fall
somewhere safe, that they might put out the last of their fires. Frodo
could hear the sizzle when the Shepherds of the Trees scooped up great
armfuls of the patchy snow to dump on embers. He could hear the crackle
of little fires still persisting, scattered throughout the countryside,
a sound that seemed to try and imitate a rustling of life.
Hope! What could Denethor have held onto, after losing one son and
believing that the other could not survive? What could the future
matter, with no blood of his to occupy it? “That’s selfish thinking,”
Frodo told himself. “Papa never thought he’d live through the
destruction of the Ring, never have a chance for children, nothing–but
he wanted some future for everybody else.” Selfish thinking, maybe, but
at least now he understood a little better. And maybe Papa could only
dismiss the future of his line because he had not yet held a child of
his own in his arms, not yet gazed into those enormous eyes and
recognized a part of himself. To have and to lose–that changed
After awhile riders out of Rohan arrived, armed with shovels and
buckets and all else that they could muster to fight the last of the
forest-fire, having seen the smoke and fearing its spread to their
grasslands beyond. Side by side with terrifying ents they labored, for
in time of war or time of peace, Rohan did not raise cowards. Frodo
heard them at work, near and far, at points all around him, all of the
shoveling and stamping, the shouts and the crashing wrecks of trees,
yet he himself did nothing, sitting just outside the door of the
dwarves’ stone hut.
One must resist selfishness, Frodo told himself, or burn with Denethor
in hopelessness. “Wife,” he called into the doorway. “”How fare you?”
Silence answered him at first, then Mattie’s faint voice. “I held him within, you know.”
“Yes. I know.”
“Our hearts beat together. For months and months, and I didn’t even
know. Yet I felt something. I made all of those journeys looking for
you, yet I never felt alone. I always felt like I had a part of you
inside me, crying out for you, helping me to someday find you. I didn’t
understand. I didn’t bother to try, because it didn’t seem to matter,
to question how it worked, it just did. I just knew that you left
something with me, something blended of you and me. I thought it was
“At least we still have that.”
After awhile, he heard a splashing sound. He peered in, and saw Mattie
washing the body for the funeral, tears dripping off her chin yet her
face stony-grim. Frodo saw that, without realizing it, she took care to
hold the lifeless head above the water in the basin.
Eventually a leech assigned to the eored came by, asking many
questions. He stooped into the dwarf-hut, first to examine Mattie, then
the little corpse, then finally he called Frodo in to examine him as
well, listening to the hobbit’s chest, probing his belly, performing
all of the necessary indignities required of his profession. Frodo
didn’t care. “Rest,” the man said. “Drink plenty of liquids, especially
a tea from the tips of the spruce...” and then he faltered, looking out
the window. “Just rest,” he said. After he left Frodo went back out and
sat by the door some more.
Men dug a grave so tiny that it might have served for a pet. Frodo
watched them at it, not moving from his seat. He watched dwarves nearby
chisel a stone to mark the spot. When they finished he finally got up
and went over to read it. “Here lies Harding Gardner, son of Frodo and
Matthilda. Born 1453. Died 1453.” He nodded, and the dwarves wrestled
the stone between them over to the hole in the ground.
Mattie should have lain abed, yet when Frodo turned around he saw that
she stood nearby, staring at the grave without a word, her arms
crossed, teetering just a little in her weariness whenever she’d shift
her weight. She might have been her old self, masculinely garbed in
clothes that the dwarves had spared for her, their bagginess making her
look even thinner than she had become. Her face looked just as waxen as
it had a year before. Longer curls fluttered from the hood on the
winter wind–that much had changed. Other than that...Frodo noted that
grief can make a person’s pupils contract in pain, and much crying can
puff up the eyes as much as poppy-gum.
“Where is my harp?” she husked. “I’ll need to sing a dirge.”
“Gone,” he answered. “Broken.”
She nodded, not surprised.
“The men brought back the parts, though.” Frodo dug into a pocket of
his borrowed clothes. “Here. The pegs, from Stumblehoof. You can give
them to Lanethil when you ask him to make you a new harp.”
Then she turned her head and gave him the queerest look, before gazing back into the grave. He put the pegs back in his pocket.
Legolas came up beside them. “You will have other children,” he told
them in a helpful voice. “Mortals are prolific; we envy that in you,
sometimes.” Frodo just turned and stared at him. “I am sorry–have I
“You have no idea,” Frodo rasped, “what you are talking about.” He
turned away. “How could you? Do elves ever even lose children?”
“Only to violence, or extremity in the wild,” Legolas conceded, “And that so rarely as to figure in our legends.”
“There cannot be another Harding, not among my sons. It would burden a
child too much, you see, to have a dead brother for a namesake. No, by
Shire custom we must wait. The firstborn grandson must take that name,
if ever I have one.”
Gimli brought out the tiny body, wrapped up in his own woolen scarf.
Frodo stepped forward, a jerky reflex. Suddenly Mattie turned wide,
crazed eyes to Frodo and cried, “Don’t you dare add anything of Harding
to your horrid necklace! Not hair, not bone, not tooth–let me bury all
of him, what little there is of him, intact.”
“What? Wife, I...I wouldn’t!” He stood there as she burst into tears
and flung herself on him, pounding his chest weakly with her fists,
then hugging him, hugging him like she’d squeeze the breath from him.
He felt twin wet spots, from breasts that had no one to suckle them.
“I need you,” she whispered into his chest, clinging to him tight. “Oh Frodo, how much I need you!”
“That’s all right,” he murmured to her, “I need you, too.” He wrapped
her in his embrace, and even when she drew back again he kept one arm
about her (much smaller) waist.
Gimli handed the body to Frodo, and Frodo gently lowered it down by the
ends of the scarf. It bothered him that Harding had landed in a way
that bent his head to one side. He started to climb down, but Gimli
held him back. “Easy, lad,” the dwarf said. “Harding cannot feel a
crick in his neck. Leave it be.”
He looked to his wife. Mattie nodded to him, then turned again to the
grave. She sang, in a tear-hoarse voice, without any instrument to
Here lies hope, and here lies future,
Here lies might-have-been.
Here lies a wound no leech can suture,
Here lies end before begin.
Here lies all the reason for,
And all the reason not,
And all the seasons once in store
For all that I once sought.
Here lies music left unsung,
A bud that never bloomed,
A harp unplayed too soon unstrung,
This life too soon entombed.
And now my years seem long indeed,
And time drags empty on;
At least from weariness you’re freed,
My too-soon-absent son.
At least you need not ever feel
The grind of lonely hours,
Of going on without appeal
To cold, unyielding powers.
So sail on, son, to distant shores
Where none shall ever mourn,
While I hang back to lock the doors
To futures never born.
Gimli muttered, “Methinks I mislike this song.”
But Mattie caught the words and replied, “You are not the one who had
to sing it.” Then she bent, and took a handful of dirt, and released it
onto the scarf below. And Frodo stepped forward, and took up his own
handful of dirt, and dropped it, watching the earth fall down, down
...and then he woke up on the ground, hoping with all the desperation
in him that he had dreamed it all, he would rather even open his eyes
to the darkness in the mines of Squatting Rock. Yet he knew better.
Brown sky stretched above him, and he could still smell smoke upon the
air. When he turned his head he could see the new-turned earth.
“Both of them fainted at the same time,” a dwarf explained to the eored medic who knelt between Frodo and Mattie.
“It does not surprise me,” said the leech, “for grave illness beset
them ere they arrived. I marvel that they stood at all. We must take
them to Edoras.” He gazed at each of them in turn. “The mother, at
least, must receive better care than I can give her here, and both look
far too drawn.” He rose to his feet. “Gather their things together. We
must ride swiftly.”
Frodo let himself be carried, as he had for days, like an infant
himself, or maybe not even that, maybe something limp and empty and
without life, a doll with the stuffing knocked out of it, for he felt
no particular desire to will his limbs to any action, anyway. A blanket
wrapped him, nestled in a rider’s arms, and somewhere another rider
bore his wife. Right now he appreciated what he had resented on other
occasions: that men so often mistook a full-grown hobbit for a child,
without even realizing what they did. Sometimes he did not want
adulthood anymore. Yet responsibility would not let him be. He stirred
uneasily when the horse began to move. “The flower-press...”
“We have everything with us that you carried in your pack, little
master. Rest, now.” And so a fatigue greater than responsibility, of
illness and grief and a sleepless night combined, overtook Frodo.
Hours passed, of ash-blown wind and dim brown light, and silence, so
much silence, even the hooves of the horses muffled in the thick gray
drifts. After awhile the hoofbeats changed to something more familiar,
as their steeds sped across living lands, sending up an aroma of
bruised winter earth and frosted grass. Yet the smoke remained with
them, leagues and leagues beyond the ruined forests. Frodo later heard
that it reached as far as the Southfarthing, and Longbottom saw a
scattered snow of ash.
Sometimes his horse would draw alongside Mattie’s, and they’d glance
beyond the arms that held them, their eyes sometimes meeting. Once he
heard a brief, fey laugh, and realized that it came from her. His hair
stood on end. But it did not really sound, after all, like her giggles
in her poppy-days, for it ended in a choke of tears.
They switched horses often on the way, for their beasts labored in the
smoke. Meals came and went; Frodo watched his body eat, from some
fleshly instinct, yet he tasted nothing except ash. On these breaks he
would sit beside his wife. Sometimes their hands would meet, sometimes
their knees, sometimes they would not touch at all, yet could feel each
other’s presence nearby. That much, at least, felt real, certainly
realer than the food or the journey or any other thing.
At last they reached Edoras by nightfall. No bustle of city life
overtook them this time, for folks had stayed indoors all day long, to
avoid the murky air as much as possible. Not much light spilled into
the streets, just faint lines of gold illuminated the edges of closed
shutters. Pale drifts of ash scuttled down the cobbles on the wind. No
moon nor star could penetrate the gloom.
And all the while, throughout the journey, Frodo thought, “The thread...just one slim thread...the thread...”