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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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44
44: Glory out of Ashes

44: Glory out of Ashes


Aragorn continued to grow more solemn, day by day. Again Frodo’s thoughts were drawn to the memory of the morning of the coronation, of Aragorn’s declaration that he’d accepted the rule of Gondor in hopes of gaining his own hope, and that he did not wish to resent those he was meant to rule over.

Gandalf, Legolas, and Hardorn appeared to watch the King with a combination of concern and amusement--and compassion. What it was that the Man hoped for wasn’t obvious to the Hobbits, but Sam was heard to comment quietly to Pippin that if whatever it was didn’t happen soon Strider was likely to burst with frustration.

Frodo was having his own concerns. He was having more moments of awareness that things weren’t right in the Shire. He didn’t speak of it to the rest of the Hobbits, but his own worry was intensifying. One morning when he’d gone down to Master Iorhael’s shop after leaving the Houses of Healing, he was trying out some of the Man’s paints doing a picture of Bag End. He’d done a sketch of it first, and now was doing it again in color, and found himself adding in a few portraits to amuse himself. Pearl Took’s face was hidden in the nasturtiums, Rosie Cotton’s (for Sam’s sake) was worked into the sunflowers, his mother Primula was entwined in the hedge, and he was in the process of working his cousin Narcissa Boffin’s face into the wallflowers when he seemed to see Narcissa and her mother Ivy standing outside the door to their home, holding onto one another, their faces full of fear. Then he saw his cousin Ferdibrand Took sitting in a dark hole, blood on the side of his head, his expression a combination of fear and defiance. He stopped in his painting, his brush thankfully held away from the paper, until the vision faded. He wasn’t certain whether Master Iorhael had noticed the moments when he stood apparently transfixed, for the Man said nothing of it; but Frodo was now certain things weren’t going well at all in the Shire.

That night in a dream he saw Ponto Baggins lying in his bed, his room denuded of its usual cheerful clutter, his face pale and thin. Iris sat on a rickety wooden chair nearby, her own face colorless as tears rolled down her cheeks, holding a thin rag to Ponto’s forehead. Frodo recognized the chair--it was one that had always sat in the mud room off the back of the smial, on which Ponto sat while soaking his feet after his walks along the Water during heavy rains when they kept the watch for flooding. How had it gone from the mud room to the front bedroom? What had happened to the comfortable stuffed chair in which Frodo had sat when he took his turn caring for Ponto the time he’d fallen and rattled his brains a few years past, and Ponto had been confined to his room for five days while he recovered?

The dream of Ponto and Iris had faded, as dreams will, and had changed into a memory of Gollum leading them through the Dead Marshes, crouched over, testing the tuffets with his hands, looking back over his shoulder to see if he and Sam were dutifully following him. Frodo awakened with a start, feeling again the intense guilt of having failed the creature, the shame of having been taken by the Ring at the end, and sat up in his bed, his heart racing, his breathing ragged.

He finally got up, but instead of pacing he lit a candle and sat down at the desk, and moving aside the writing he’d done earlier he’d drawn the picture of Gollum as he’d crouched in the sedge, clad only in the ragged garment he’d worn over his loins. The picture finished at the last, he’d opened the drawer where he kept the extra paper and placed it on the bottom of the stack. Then he’d gone back to bed.

He found himself keeping three separate stacks of work--one pages of notes he took for Bilbo’s proposed book or his research into the legends of the end of the Second Age, including the translation of an alternative version of the Lay of Gil-galad he’d found in one of the books he’d borrowed from the archives; the second a stack of pictures and written descriptions he was doing of people and images he was gathering here in Minas Tirith; the third pages on which he inscribed his frustrations, his fears, and his surges of anger, and pictures of the images that haunted his nightmares. Orodruin seen from various angles from within Mordor was a frequent picture drawn; the faces of the orcs with their whips and knives who’d stood over him in the tower; one done of the spider Shelob; several of Gollum; the images of the Eye seeking him that still filled his dreams; one of the Tower of Barad-dur seen from across the plain of Gorgoroth. These he’d hide at the bottom of the stack of paper, and every few days when the fire was lit on the days when he complained of cold or was found shivering he’d burn what he’d done.

Frodo realized he wasn’t really well, and knew now he’d probably never fully recover. He did his best to hide it, however, and daily grew more skillful at suppressing the symptoms. He was growing stronger and his endurance was definitely improving; however his appetite was still not good most days, and there were frequent bouts of the nausea that he grew increasingly good at concealing from the others.

He often sat out on the bench in the narrow back garden behind the guest house at dawn on those days when he didn’t meet Aragorn at the Houses of Healing, watching the rising of the Sun over the high walls of the Ephel Duath. Pippin had sat here with him a couple days after they arrived, and had described what it was like before they’d marched on the Black Gate, how there was always a dark fume over the Mountains of Shadow and the lands East of the River, and how the fumes had come West to cover all that could be seen of the sky. Now it was usually clear over those same mountains, and the land between the river and what had been the walls of Mordor was such an intense green it caused the heart to lift to see it.

He was looking at that view one morning when he heard a hail from the house next door. Mistress Linduriel, the wife of the healer Eldamir, had come out on the balcony of their house, and was leaning heavily on the railing.

“Master Frodo?” she called. “How are you this morning?”

“Well, Mistress,” he replied. “Isn’t it a beautiful morning?”

“Yes it is, but I’m surprised you’d look that way.”

“Surprised? Whatever for?”

“Eldamir has told me how very difficult and painful it was for you and Master Samwise, going through the Black Land as you did. I’m surprised it doesn’t awaken the bad memories.”

Frodo shrugged at the thought. “Far from it,” he said. “No, it makes me very glad to look at it under the rising Sun. The whole time we were there it was dark and drear, after all. Even when we were traveling through Ithilien we found it hard to see the walls of the Ephel Duath, for there was always a cloud of darkness over it. As for when we were inside the land....” She could see his shivering.

“But now,” he continued, “every time I see the dawn over it, I know the nightmare is over, for the Enemy couldn’t bear to look at the Sun, and neither could his creatures. Sauron has been cast down, his creation has been destroyed, the lands are once again open to sunlight and the return of life proper to it. He’d done his best to denude it of all vestiges of beauty, to choke life out of it. But he couldn’t kill everything. There were plants with great spines there. They were perhaps the only type of plant that could bear what he’d done to the place; but they were there.” He gave a rueful smile. “We found them by accident, and they probably saved our lives as they broke our fall when we dropped from a bridge to escape searching orcs; and we had quite the time getting free of them, I’ll tell you. But even Sauron couldn’t kill all life native to the place. I found myself proud of those plants, as sharp as their thorns might be.”

The woman looked at the scene with renewed appreciation. “I’d never thought of that,” she said.

He shrugged. “After seeing it only under the pall of smoke and ash and poisonous fumes, to know the earth is finally being given the chance to rest and know proper weather and sunlight--pure, unfiltered sunlight--is reassuring.” He looked back at her. “You are expecting a child?”

“Yes, our third.”

“How long until it is due?”

“Any time now. It has finally dropped in the womb, and could literally be born at any moment.”

“May you rejoice to know this child is not born under the cloud of fear under which the other two were born.”

“Oh, I do, Master Frodo. I certainly do, and I give thanks that you and your fellows and the King are so close at hand. The coming of all of you has allowed the whole world to be renewed. Now I must go in, or my naneth will be out to fetch me in for fear I’ll endanger the child somehow.”

She gave him a smile and went back inside, and indeed she could be heard speaking to her mother as she did so.

Later her son Tergil came out into the yard behind his house to play. He carried a ball with a tether, and looped it over a rope strung between the support posts for the lower balcony. He looked over the low wall and smiled. “Good dawning, Master Frodo,” he called.

“Good morning to you as well, Tergil,” the Hobbit answered. “You have to tie your ball to a rope?”

“Yes--or else it is like to go over the wall and fall into the yards of the Fifth Circle. Then I’d not get it back.”

Frodo thought on this for some moments. How different it was, he thought, living here in this steep city of stone from the far gentler slopes of the Shire. He watched as the child kicked his ball from one end of the yard to the other, the tether always bringing it just short of reaching the wall.

Not long after a figure came along the wall carrying a large bag over his shoulders, a brush and a pan flattened on one side in his hands, carefully stepping over the low hedges or walls between the houses. As he came, he was carefully sweeping the ash which still lay heavily on the ledges of the walls into the pan, then dumping that into the bag. Frodo watched him with fascination, as did Tergil.

“What’s he doing?” the boy asked his neighbor, pausing in his play.

“I have no idea,” the Hobbit answered him.

The ball was forgotten as the Man came on, until he stopped just short of the wall to Tergil’s home, looked over at him, and asked, “May I gather the ash from the wall in your yard?”

“If you wish. Nana has been saying it is awful to look at and has asked Ada to sweep it off, but he’s not felt like doing so--says he’s too tired from having to work so much nights since he returned from Ithilien. What will you do with it?”

The Man smiled mysteriously. “What indeed? That is indeed the question, isn’t it?” He stepped over the wall and began gathering the ash remaining on the walls into his bag, carefully sweeping up every least grain he could. At last he finished, reaching the wall between the two yards, then stepped over into that where Frodo remained unmoving, not appearing to notice the Pherian with his Elven cloak over him. Frodo watched amused as the Man continued to sweep ash into his pan and dump it into his bag. Finally he asked, “Well, what are you going to do with it?”

The Man jumped and dropped his pan, which providentially he’d just emptied into his bag, turning to look with surprise at the small figure in the center of the yard. He placed one hand over his heart, and gave a great shudder. “Oh,” he said, “you startled me, Master. I didn’t see you there--not at all.”

Frodo shrugged, smiling slightly. “I suspect the Elven cloak I’m wearing is part of it, for it tends to blend in a good deal. May I inquire as to who you are?”

The Man gave as low a bow as he could for the bag he bore over his shoulder. “I am Celebrion son of Celebmir, master glassblower,” he said grandly. Frodo examined him closely. He was rather small compared to the Men Frodo had come to know best, broad chested but with narrow shoulders, his eyes a remarkable green in color, his fine hair of unremarkable brown receding on his scalp. He obviously shaved his face, the shadow of what would be his beard easily seen. Master Celebrion was examining Frodo carefully. “And you are?” Then his face grew excited. “You are the Lord Frodo Baggins? The King’s Friend?”

Frodo gave a deep sigh at the unwanted title. “I am. Please address me as Master Frodo, if you must.”

“Oh, Master Frodo--I certainly wished to offer no offense.”

“None taken. It is only, as I keep explaining, that our people find such titles pretentious.”

“I see, Master. I’ve not been North before, you must understand, and so I know little enough of the forms of respect given in the Northern lands.”

“We tend to be rather plainspoken within the Shire, as appears to be true also in the Breelands, the closest land to our own. Now, what is it you will do with the ash?”

The Man beamed. “It is a thing I learned many years ago when I was journeying in the far Southlands. I went to Harad, and then Far Harad alongside a trader, then beyond Far Harad into lands where Men have skins dark as rich brown soil and hair that is in such tight curls it beggars imagination. Few there beyond Harad know the secrets of glass, but I found a people on the Western coastline, in a land they call Camaloa, where they do blow it, and they produce some remarkable glassware. There are active volcanoes on the southern borders of their lands, and they will mix the ash produced by them with sand to blow glass of colors to delight Elven lords. Now, here we are, after Sauron has sought to darken the sky for us by sending up great clouds of the stuff--and I thought, Well, if Sauron knew how I can take such and make of it a glass of such beauty as to enchant Kings, he’d not have believed it possible! I must harvest this wealth of material! And so I have begun gathering all I can find.”

“You make glass with it?”

“Ah, but such glass--you’d not believe it. Come down when you can to my workshop in the Fourth Circle, and I shall show it to you.”

“How will I find it?”

“The best way would be to come to the marketplace in the Fourth Circle and look for my booth there. My daughter Linneth sells my smaller things there for me, and she can lead you to the workshop. She’s the only one selling glass beads and smaller glass items in the whole of the market.”

“I think I’ve seen her.”

“If you have, you would know it--hair a soft brown from me, eyes as remarkable a grey-bllue as her mother's, quite the most delicate face, and that appears to be all her own.”

“Yes--we saw her the day the Rohirrim left to return to Edoras.”

“The day the Rohirrim left--yes, she said that the four Pheriannath walked back up through the city on that day.”

The next day Aragorn was to take some among the Beornings out upon the Pelennor where they were to discuss with some of the farmers who looked to replant their orchards how it might best be done, and Aragorn agreed to carry Frodo down through the city to the Fourth Circle where the Hobbit indicated he wished to shop among the booths of the craftsmen who sold their goods in the marketplace. And so it was that Frodo rode before the King on Roheryn down through half the city, and being set down he offered his thanks and took leave of the King, then turned to the stalls and booths until he found the one where the young Mistress Linneth sold her father’s smaller works. She was as remarkably pretty as Frodo and Merry had noticed before, and she was, he realized, very young, probably not quite of adult status. She smiled as he stopped at her booth. “Master Frodo?” she asked. “My ada said you might just stop at our booth and would like to see his workshop.” She turned to a youth who was sitting near an older woman who sat braiding thick strips of material to make the mats sold in her own space. “Meneldil, will you please watch my booth for a time so I can take a visitor to my father’s workshop?”

“Gladly,” the youth replied, “if you will walk out with me on the Highday.”

“I will promise nothing as yet, Meneldil. And don’t sell all the strands of beads to yourself--your family can’t afford it.” She rose and bestowed a winning smile on the youth and turned to lead Frodo away. The one called Meneldil watched after them with longing.

“Why would he sell all the beads to himself?” Frodo asked.

She laughed. “He wishes to court me, although both of us are too young as yet. He buys at least a strand of beads each week from my booth, always involving me in the choice as much as possible, asking for my opinion on the color or the quality or the shapes of the beads or some such triviality, but always making certain it is a set of beads I particularly like. Then for the rest of the week he tells me about the strand he has purchased, and how it goes to one he favors before all others. Then, after noon on the Highday he comes to our home and visits with us there, hanging the beads about my neck before he leaves, telling me that no one save the fairest deserves to wear the beautiful works my father crafts. I must have thirty strands he has purchased from me and for me, and each among the most beautiful sets my father has blown. I am glad, for I hate the thought my father’s work might go to those who would not appreciate it, and these are lovely. But I run out of room in which to keep them!”

Frodo found himself touched at the thought of those beads and the remarkable manner in which the young Man courted the girl who stirred his heart. “Do you find yourself favoring him in return?” he asked.

“Oh, we’ve been dear to one another since we were very small, after my ada brought Nana and me here to Minas Tirith. Ada is a great craftsman, and his glasswork is among the wonders of the realm of Gondor. But he warns me frequently I am not yet of age and need not gift my heart to the first who notices my own beauty. Perhaps I will choose Meneldil yet; but I have time to examine several before I settle on one alone.”

She soon led him to a large building with a substantial chimney behind the marketplace, opened the door and led him into a large room whose walls were filled with tall, narrow windows of leaded panes, each of which had shelves set before them holding examples of her father’s work.

Never had Frodo imagined such a variety of glassware. He turned toward the windows and looked at the light streaming through glass of many kinds and colors--through bowls and ornaments, pitchers and goblets, vases and bottles of shapes simple and fanciful, colors plain or variegated. Some were clear while others were milky; some were etched and others cased and smooth; some blown into molds and others freely shaped. He was enchanted with the beauty of it all and stood enthralled.

He was drawn to a krater of golden hue cased with clear crystal with handles on each side, set upon a base of gold, coins of brilliant red caught between the layers of gold and crystal. Had any told him of it he’d have thought it sounded garish; yet what he saw was fit for a prince’s hall. Gently he touched its smooth surface with a single finger, smiling unconsciously in delight. Then his attention was drawn to tall, rectangular vase also of cased glass, the heart of it a brilliant, rich green, a silver star of eight points inset on each side.

“I love that one also,” Linneth said, gently running a finger along the top edge.

“I think it is marvelous,” Frodo said reverently. “If I had a way of carrying it safely home, I’d take it.” He looked up, smiling. “It would have been perfect for my Aunt Dora.”

“I made it for Prince Faramir,” said Master Celebrion as he entered from a back room accompanied by his apprentices, carrying a crucible filled with sand.

Frodo smiled wider. “It is perfect for him as well. As Sam told him--his quality is of the very highest. That will be a beautiful addition for the home he is planning for himself and the Lady Éowyn.” He thought for a moment, then looked up at the artisan. “Could you do a sort of companion piece for it--perhaps a pair of candlesticks? I would commission it as a wedding present for the two of them.”

“You know them?”

“Yes--Sam and I met Lord Faramir in Ithilien, and my cousin Merry rode from Rohan with the Lady to the battle of the Pelennor. The Lord Prince is as wonderful a person as I’ve ever met, and the Lady is another. I cannot say I know them well--certainly nowhere as well as I know Aragorn; but there is no question I honor the both of them.” He looked at the crucible with interest. “And what do you do with that?” he asked.

“Ah--that is what you have come to see, is it not?” asked Master Celebrion, his face beaming.

As Frodo watched the Man prepare the sand and ash for blowing, one of the youths opening the furnace and another working the bellows so the Man could heat the crucible until all within it was molten, he had to force himself to stay still and watch. Perhaps only because the furnace was so well contained could he bear watching, particularly as the sand and ash began to melt into a glowing blob. Of course it also helped that he had been made to stay well back on a stool with young Linneth beside him, a cold glass of melon juice in his hands for him to drink. All these truths helped him stay focused in the now, recognizing this was a far different thing than standing over the fire of Orodruin had been. But when Celebrion brought out the glowing glob of molten glass on the end of his pipe Frodo still found himself breathing deeply, although the scent here was quite different....

It was watching that blob grow as Celebrion carefully blew it, keeping the glob hot over the furnace, that brought him back to now once more, for the fascination of seeing the beauty grow out of the molten glass as the Man carefully blew through the pipe. The fires with which Sam and he had been surrounded in Mordor had been wild and destructive, the lava like a river of fire. This--this was more in keeping with watching Iluvatar create a world by singing it into existence, infusing it with His breath....

He broke through the memories of the Sammath Naur, was focused on the growing mass, saw it now being blown into the mold which would force its final shape, watched with fascination as at last the knife was being wielded....

Some time later the mold was unbound and opened, and there was a most beautiful bowl instead, the surface of it a flow of colors as it was set where the light played on it through the windows and the displayed items on the shelves. And he, Frodo Baggins, had watched it all come from a crucible filled with sand and ash. His eyes were filled with awe and a wild delight as he looked at the finished product.

Finally he raised his eyes to meet the satisfied green eyes of the artisan who was his host here. “And to think Sauron could have done something like this within Orodruin, instead of loosing floating ash and flowing stone across the surface of Mordor,” he said, shaking his head. “I think he hadn’t the imagination to create, could only see destruction instead.”

He went back to his house carrying a small bottle done using the volcano glass as a gift for Gandalf, once again feeling assured in his heart that the nightmare for Middle Earth was indeed over, for beauty was coming out of what Sauron had intended to be destruction. And the Wizard, receiving the gift, felt the relief in the heart of the Hobbit who reverently placed it in his hands, and was glad of it. This was one of the few objects, he realized, he would bear away from Middle Earth with him, symbol of the healing that was, at least in part, taking place in the heart of Frodo Baggins.

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