Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 9, Part 9
Business of Departure
(September 24, 1451)
Legolas did not wake Frodo
singing over breakfast, for which he felt eternally
grateful. Indeed, the elf seemed unusually subdued,
completely unlike his theatrical self the night before,
as cool and remote as an island half-glimpsed through
offshore mists. Frodo did not want any breakfast at all,
when it came right down to it, but his father insisted on
ordering one for him, anyway: a thick soup or stew.
"Trust your Papa--you'll feel much better for having
it. But don't ask Barliman for the recipe, or you'll get
queasy all over again." Frodo decided that he did
not need to hear that last remark, but the soup did taste
surprisingly good, though the pale bits of meat had an
odd sort of texture--rather fatty. Now if only the
kitchen help wouldn't make such an infernal clatter of
plates and cups and heaven knew what crashing about the
Bleoboris had already eaten and departed before the rest
arose, carrying messages back into the Shire, after
depositing a bundle at their room addressed to Meriadoc
Brandybuck. Now, at the common table, Merry donned a
small pair of crystal spectacles and perused his mail
over breakfast, making notes in a book that he pulled from the
pack beside his feet. "Ah, Sam," he said with
satisfaction, "You'll be glad to know that the
Northfarthing Gamgees will find a new market for their
rope among the Beornings. With the orcs diminished, some
of their youths have acquired a taste for
Sam rested his chin in his hand and smiled at his old
friend. "Y'know, Merry, of all the futures I
imagined for us, I never expected you to be the merchant
type. But you've taken to it like a chicken to
Merry closed his book with a snap. "And why not? I'm
good at it."
"Oh, I dunno--I sort of pictured you going off on
further adventures, the first chance you got. I figured
you'd got the bug under your skin, so to speak, to hear
you talk of our old times together."
"Oh, nothing's changed there, never fear!"
Merry leaned back in his chair with a smile on his face.
"Business is my excuse. You think I care about the
money? My ancestors set me up too well to worry about
that. But trade gives me daily permission to handle the
tapestries of Rohan, toys from Dale, the pottery and gems
of Umbar, silks and spices from Harad. And I get such
pleasure even from something seemingly ordinary, like a
well-turned plow hauled by dwarves all the way from Ered
Luin, or these spectacles right here..." He took
them off and regarded them. "These spectacles came
from the Lonely Mountain, Sam. The dragon Smaug might
have lain upon the very crystals that they were cut
from." He looked up with a grin. "The whole
world passes through the warehouses of Brandy Hall, and
my imagination fans out back the way they came."
Then he leaned close to Sam and said with a grin,
"And then there's all those wonderful times when a
tricky bit of work can only be handled by the Master of
Buckland himself, and I can ride forth from the Shire,
who knows where next, with the perfectly respectable
excuse that I am 'out on business'."
"I know that you ride out sometimes, Merry,
Merry laughed. "You thought it was strictly
business!" And Sam laughed, too.
Frodo glanced over at Legolas, who smiled along politely
as he toyed with his meal, but the sorrow that welled up
in those eyes now seemed an ocean beyond all measuring,
with nothing to disguise it. Merry followed Frodo's gaze
and the smile faded from his face. "Butterbur,"
Merry called, "could you bring me one of those
mushrooms you served last night? Not cooked, just to look
"I'm all out, Master Brandybuck...No, wait, here. I
have one left." He carried it over in a little
silver dish. "I have to admit that it's not much for
looking--I came that close to not trying it at all."
It certainly had the appearance of what you'd expect to
grow in Mirkwood--an ugly, warty, irregular lump of
fungus, entirely black, not resembling anything that one
should eat. But the enticingly tangy-buttery aroma proved that
if the Dark Lord had intended to curse the forest with
such growths, this counted as one of his more spectacular
Merry picked it up, sniffed it, nibbled a small piece,
and smiled. "The taste is extraordinary. The cooks
of the Shire--or anywhere else, for that matter--would
pay quite a bit over the usual run for something like
this. Even with the price of transport added on." He
brought out his book again. "Legolas, as a prince of
Mirkwood and the heir of King Thranduil, are you
authorized to sign a trade agreement?"
Legolas, lost in thought, startled to hear himself
addressed. "Yes. Yes I am."
Merry took from an envelope in his pack a soot-covered
sheet of paper; this he slipped behind a page in his
book. "Give me a moment," he said, and wrote
swiftly. "Let's see...doesn't Mirkwood also grow a
black kind of walnut with flavor unsurpassed by nuts of
"It does indeed."
"I'd like to trade in those, too, if you don't
mind," said Merry as he scribbled away. "Seems
I recall your father sent some nut-stuffed pastries to
Strider's wedding, and I never got the taste out of my
mind since. Let's see...there's also the various lichens
from which the elves make their dyes--much better than
anything we've come up with at home--and then there's the
spider-silk fabric that they use it on...I'd gladly trade
in cloth-goods, too, if I could."
Legolas regarded him with surprise and delight. "You
seem to know more about our resources than I would expect of
"That's my job. Okay, let's add spider-silk to the
list...hmmm, considering the sort of spiders you deal
with over there, I'd better up the price for hazard-pay.
Not to mention an extra fee for all the trouble you go
through to separate the smooth strands from the sticky
ones--that has got to take some time."
"Time is one thing elves have plenty of."
"Elves?" said Butterbur, who'd been leaning
with some personal interest over Merry's shoulder. He
looked at Legolas suspiciously. "You have dealings
Sam pounded his cup on the table. "He is an
elf, you dolt! Son of King Thranduil hisself--haven't you
"I...I had no idea! Are you sure? He doesn't look
anything like how I'd picture an elf."
"And how would you picture a king?" Sam
"Now don't go reminding me of that, Mayor Gamgee. I
can't be blamed if our Sovereign Lord goes about
disguised as a homeless vagabond, now can I?"
Legolas laid a hand on the angry hobbit's shoulder just as
Sam began to rise. "It is all right, my friend,"
he said. "Good Master Butterbur mistook me for a
beggar--and still treated me kindly, without any
real expectation of return, for nine long days. How can I
feel other than grateful for his hospitality?"
Sam muttered but sat back down. Merry handed Legolas pen
and ink. "Sign here, please...good. Now go over the
letters again with this empty pen, pressing hard...very
good." He tore out the page behind the sooty paper,
and tossed the sooty page aside. "Here,
Legolas--your contract. Mr. Butterbur, you have witnessed
the signing. Legolas is now in partnership with
Brandybuck Mercantile--any expenses that he has incurred,
or will incur, shall be paid by the Brandybuck family.
You can send the bill as soon as Bleoboris returns--and
write yourself a generous tip, while you're at it. You
know I'm good for it."
"Why, thank you so much, Master Brandybuck! Thank
you very much indeed!" And the innkeeper went off
whistling to his other chores.
Merry sighed. "Barliman's a good sort," he
said, "if you don't expect too much of him."
Almost inaudibly Legolas murmured, "Yet I am
Merry said, "And Strider really was a homeless
vagabond. But that's not all he was."
Legolas looked at the contract in his hand. "I cannot
tell you how grateful I am, Merry." Then he laid
down the contract and sighed. "Yet it will not stop
"It's proof," said Merry. "It's something
I can hold in my hand to remind me that you and I have a
relationship." Suddenly the implication in the words
smote Frodo to the heart. Merry continued, in a stern yet
gentle voice, "I could make a whole lot more money
than I do now, my friend, by promising people guarantees
that I don't know I could deliver on. But I don't do that
kind of business, so I won't offer you any guarantees,
either. But listen to me. In my youth I helped take care
of my grandfather in his final days. Towards the end he
had no idea who I was. But he could still sense a love
between us, and it meant something to him, and that meant
something to me. He died holding my hand, Legolas, and it
doesn't matter a bit to me that he did not know it was
Meriadoc Brandybuck, his grandson, right there by his
side. Tell me, old friend--can you love me as much as I
"Did I not run across Rohan without rest to hunt the
orcs who had captured you?"
"Thought so. And did I not reward you with the best
food and wine from Saruman's own larder?" Merry
laughed, but Legolas averted his eyes.
"You remind me of something I would soon
forget," said the elf. "Not your hospitality in
Isengard, but...I apologize for my behavior last night.
I...I was not myself." Not himself, Frodo
thought as he finished his soup, certain that the elf did
not refer to wine alone.
Sam patted him on the back. "There now, you didn't
kill nobody, and you didn't break nothin', so no harm
done. You didn't even hurt any feelings, which is
better'n most could say in the same situation."
"I am, indeed, grateful for your kindn..."
"Stuff it," said Sam, and Frodo nearly dropped
his spoon--he'd never heard his father say anything crude
before. Apparently it shocked both Legolas and Merry,
too, by the way they stared. Sam's face remained kindly,
but it hardened. He twisted in his seat towards the elf
(now that he had his full attention) and jabbed a finger
at him. "You listen to me, Legolas, and you listen
good. Gratitude is a wonderful thing, and we all need a
healthy dose of it, but you can kill 'taters with too
much water, or too much sun, or too much steer manure, or
anything else that's good for 'taters, so you can stop
wallowing in all that fine gratitude-manure right now! I
ain't requirin' it of you." The hobbit's face
crinkled with earnestness. "I seen hobbits wither up
and die from too much gratitude to too many people all
the time, and I expect elves ain't that different. Now
you've hit a bad patch, and no mistake, but next year it
may be my turn, maybe Merry's the next after that--you
never know; ain't nobody safe from bad patches, after
all. Now, I don't have to be told, 'cause I already know
you'd do anything you could to help me if I asked it of
you, or even if I didn't ask and you just figured out on
your own that I needed somepin', so I don't see what's so
odd about Merry or me, neither one, wanting to help you
out in any way we can." His voice caught as he said,
"Legolas, we've held each other's lives in our hands
too many times to be fussing about gratitude--so enough
said!" He sat back in his chair with a huff.
Legolas sat there, speechless, till finally he uttered,
"Sam, Sam, I am truly..."
"Don't say it!"
"Well," said Merry, pushing back from the
table. "I guess it's time we hit the road." And
Frodo breathed a sigh of relief for the change of
subject...until he realized the implications. Even then
it didn't fully hit him until after they'd gone into the
stables, as they saddled up their ponies and strapped on
the baggage, that from here on out they'd ride two
different roads. He turned to his father.
"Papa..." he said.
"Son..." and no other word choked from the
hobbit's throat. To his surprise Frodo saw tears welling
up in his father's eyes, and found matching tears in his
own. Papa didn't squeeze him half to death like Mama did,
but he held on for the longest, longest time, just like
he once did Mama after the other Frodo's wake.
"It's okay, Papa," Frodo said. "I'm not
gonna die out there. I promise."
"You'd better not, you whelp," Sam said,
socking him in the arm, "Or your Ma and me'll never
forgive you!" With that they mounted their ponies,
and Legolas his horse, and rode from the inn's courtyard,
out into the street. For some reason Frodo had not
reckoned on how weird it would feel to take the Old South
Road while his father turned back west, like riding into
a whole new life he hadn't dreamed of. He remembered his
excitement the first time they ever left the boundaries
of the Shire, but this felt different; he'd never had his
parents far from reach in all their travels; it almost
felt like they'd carried a bit of The Shire around with
them in their family bond, though he hadn't noticed at
the time. But now, as he turned and watched his father
disappear around a corner, he felt like he'd truly left
his country for the first time in his life.
They soon departed Bree, heading down the well-worn road
still called The Greenway from habit, through a pleasant
countryside, sparsely used by shepherds here and there.
Frodo pretty much saw the same kinds of grass that grew
at home, same bushes and little groves of trees, their
leaves fluttering in autumn's bright livery. Somewhere he
heard the clatter of a deer, impatient with the season,
knocking the velvet from his antlers against the nearest
tree. He heard the beat of wings overhead of southbound
birds going on before them. Squirrels darted rustling
among the brush, hastening to stash away the season's
last nuts before the winter chill. He could have seen and
heard all such things in the Shire just as well. Yet
every familiar creature looked, smelled, and sounded
strange today--foreign. I am not myself, he