The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 12, Part 12

"Dear Mama and Papa," the letter began. "I'm just going to write little bits at a time as I go, during halts, so please bear with me. I'll try to get the dates on each entry, so you can follow along on my journey." The many pages looked worn before they even made their way home, roughened at the edges, creased and smudged, a little blurred around those creases where dampness touched the ink. But the letters had the curious grace that only a brush-pen can impart, and the margins bore illuminations (after a folksy hobbit fashion) so that each page looked like some antique from a scholar's private cache, though written just that year.
"September 25, 1451--Did you know that May's little glass has something called a mother-spell?..." "...slept in the rain..." "...most marvelous and curious would laugh to see it..." "...By the way, Papa--you could've warned me about the sword lessons. I may never walk again. No, Uncle Merry didn't hack my legs off--it only feels that swords yet...scuttling about like a dratted crab..."
"September 26, 1451--Legolas does not like well-traveled roads, but since nobody knows the countryside better than an elf who has explored it for thousands of years, we have no fear of getting lost in the lands he leads us through. He tells us strange and marvelous stories at every bend, every boulder, every hill, every gnarled old tree that he remembers as a sapling, of events he has either witnessed or learned straight from the participants, from the days before Shire-Reckoning. It's easy to forget how old Legolas is, to look at him--he seems on the verge of coming of age, just like me. But he remembers our home, Papa, when there was no Shire."
"September 27, 1451--Merry's still making me scuttle about like a crab. Has anyone in the Shire ever actually seen a crab? From what I heard, I think that the wickedest of dwarf-warriors get reborn as crabs (didn't you say dwarves get reborn again and again?) locked in their armor for the rest of their crabby lives, forever scuttling about with bent legs and not allowed to straighten. Anyway, I had plenty of time for way too much exercise, plus plenty more time to rest afterwards, plus time to listen to Merry lecture me interminably on the dos and don'ts of battle, because Legolas spent all day sitting on a boulder, gazing out over the grasslands, nothing about him moving but the wind in his hair. I suppose the ponies were glad."
"September 28, 1451-- The grass grows so high out here that sometimes it seems like our ponies swim through a sea of green. (Will Elanor really live in sight of the ocean? I'm envious!) The ponies, of course, don't mind. If they get any fatter, the people of Rohan will think that the holbytla ride on pigs!"
Later entry, in the sort of large letters that people tend to write by dim light: "Do you remember, on our trip to the King's court, how we kids used to argue about whether elves glow in the dark, but we couldn't put it to the test because it never seemed quite dark enough whenever we saw elves? And you'd never enlighten us, Papa, you'd just sit back and chuckle to yourself. Well, it's all true--they do. Tell my brothers and sisters. But it's not like a candle or embers or anything, it's not even like fireflies. It's more like seeing someone bathed in a rich kind of moonlight, even when there's no moon. But yes, they do glow. Or glimmer--perhaps glimmer is a better word. And yes, they also sleep with their eyes open, but not spooky and bug-eyed like I'd imagined. They blink a lot, very slowly, in time with their breathing."
"September 29, 1451--We FINALLY got to practice with swords today. Still in the sheathes, so tell Mama she can stop fainting. Anyway, we didn't even whack them together. Merry taught me the seven positions for attack, and the seven matching positions for defense. He made me repeat them over and over--I had no idea sword-fighting could be so boring! Or so painful, without getting anywhere near a wound. And mail--I am starting to get mighty tired of chain mail. I can't see why Uncle Pippin wears it for pleasure, because even something as lightweight as mithril gets to you after awhile--it's usually either too hot or too cold, and always too sweaty. Uncle Merry never lets me take it off except at night. But thank you Papa, anyway--better to wear it and grumble, than not wear it and find out too late that you need it."
"September 30, 1451--What fun to travel with an elf! When the mood hits him, Legolas will sing and tell stories all day long--it's like a party on horseback to travel with him, with the autumn air for wine, and the hoofbeats clapping time to the dancing grass that ripples all around us. Today we came upon a copse of aspen trees and Legolas made us all crowns of golden leaves. We have left the regular road quite far behind by now, so I didn't worry about appearing foolish to any other travelers."
Evening entry: "I just made an interesting discovery. Remember May's magnifying glass? Well, when you look through it at night, without any light but stars and moon, you see through it what elves must see with their terrific night vision. Colors in the dark. And clarity."
"October 1, 1451--The weather keeps getting colder and colder, faster than the season changes; we seem headed upslope. I've unpacked the shearling weskit and I wear my cloak all day long. That's odd, because I thought our way led downhill clear to the Gap of Rohan. The mountains lay straight ahead of us, now, but I remember from maps that they do curve.
Mountains, Papa! You and the Bagginses could've put more description of them in the Red Book, you know. I used to feel smug about having seen mountains, when so many in the Shire never have. But in so short a time I forgot just how magnificent they are--who am I to feel smug about them? They're so big and old and jagged and wonderful! And the colors--very subtle, layered, changing as the day changes. I wouldn't know where to begin painting mountains."
"October 2, 1451--There can be no doubt. When we rode this morning the sun shone right in our eyes. Legolas is now leading us east, not south. He and Merry had words after we made camp. They thought they'd gone out of my earshot, but sound travels far in the grasslands, and even a deaf hobbit could've heard Uncle Merry shout, "Hollin? Are you crazy? That's right by Moria!" When they came back Merry told me that we would detour for some errand that Legolas refused to explain, but he didn't sound too happy about it. Still, friends are friends, and sometimes you've got to stand by each other even when you don't understand. At least I think that's why Legolas won the argument."
"October 3, 1451--This morning we crossed tracks with a couple cow-herds and their cattle. Papa, I could not believe my eyes. Human beings keep cattle two or three times bigger than our shaggy little red cows--they're at least twice the size of our ponies! And they're black and white, but in splotches like one of those fearsome critters whose pelts decorate Brandy Hall. I am so glad that they only eat grass!
Anyway, we took advantage of the meeting to trade some of the preserves Mama gave me for fresh cow's milk (Mama, please forgive me) and oh, it tasted sooooo good! We'd stopped having second breakfast some time ago, but even Legolas made an exception today! (I have to, Mama--they won't be serving hobbit-meals in Mordor so I might as well get used to it now.) Then it started to rain, but I didn't care, not after hot honeyed porridge with real cream on it. And red bark spice. I have learned to like red bark spice."
Evening entry: "I like sleeping out under the stars, with the soft sound of grass rustling all around me in the evening winds. I like stars overhead, or clouds full of moonlight. But it's good to have a tent when it rains, like tonight. Legolas will not share it with us, though these days he generally fashions his own shelter and has not slept out in the rain since our first night together. Our pavilion's a bit too small for him, I think, but also Uncle Merry's pipeweed repels him, though he's polite about it (aside from a little teasing.)
I thought the pipeweed would repel me, too--you know how oddly some regard me, just because I don't smoke, but since you don't, Papa, I never saw much reason to pick up the habit. But now I kind of like the smell of it, at least--it has come to mean coziness, tucked away in a brightly-colored silk cocoon, with the rain falling outside on the cloth, so very close, and yet me all dry and snug inside."
"October 4, 1451--We have gotten to the sword-whacking phase of training, though the swords stay in the sheathes. I have learned that a mithril coat won't protect you from bruises--I look like a sunburned potato, and feel like laundry that Mama smacked against the rocks one too many times. But Merry says he'd rather see me bruised than dead."
"October 5, 1451--Legolas kept us up all night telling stories. They were all vivid and wonderful, but I really wanted to get some rest, and I felt like shooting him with his own arrows! By morning we were half dead, but he got up as chipper as if he'd rested for a month. Well, rested or no, training had to go on. Today we practiced falling, appropriately enough, though it seems silly to practice what you don't want to do. But Merry says that if it has to happen, you'd better do it right."
"October 6, 1451--Legolas started in again last night. Merry threatened murder. Legolas laughed and went for a long walk, and returned with the morning light. Didn't you say that elves can do with less sleep than other people if they need to? I suppose that also goes with if they want to. I'll just bet they throw the longest parties, when they get the mood going.
Later entry: "We came across some chestnuts today. My fingers are burnt raw from peeling them, but my oh my what a treat, and well worth the trouble! We gathered up enough to liven up our future meals. Thank you, Mama, for all the recipes you taught me using chestnuts!
"October 7, 1451--Today we rode through the most perfect, beautiful stand of maples you ever laid eyes on. The leaves had that rich, purply red color that girls get when they stain their lips with cherries before boys come to court (which we're not supposed to know. Right--like maidens just naturally get all purply-lipped from thinking about us calling on them?) The leaves fluttered all around us as we rode, slowly, drifting on the air like air had become thicker somehow. Yes, I know we have maples back home, too, but when you're out adventuring you see things like that more--you really see them."
Evening entry: "I just realized, reading over what I've got of this letter so far, that I keep calling Uncle Merry just plain Merry. That's kind of weird, on account of having a brother with the same name, but right now he's THE Merry for me, and probably will be for the rest of the trip. It's also weird that he seems to regard me as old enough to address him as a peer. But hey, I'm grown enough to ride forth on a mission for the King! And that seems weirdest of all."
"October 8, 1451--Something happened today that I don't understand. Some geese flew overhead, south like you'd expect, honking as they went. But Legolas flinched in his saddle like each sound hit him with a whip. We had to halt till the geese passed; then we could ride again. But he did not sing or speak, and if we spoke he'd tense up again, same if our harness jingled, or anything. So we made as little noise as we possibly could. After awhile he called a halt, saying that the clop of the ponies' hooves were getting on his nerves. Then he dismounted and took off into the fields alone as we set up camp. Merry says it's best not to follow him, and I agree. Merry's taking a nap as I write this. The only sound I hear for miles around is the wind."
"October 9, 1451--Legolas came back for breakfast, and greeted us as if nothing had happened. He's been pretty much normal all day. These delays, though, keep us crawling at oxen-pace or worse. I haven't told you about all of our pauses, because there have been so many. Sometimes we will stop for hours at a time to hear one of his stories. Sometimes he will just halt in his tracks and stare at something forever, till we finally unsaddle the ponies and leave him at it. We don't always travel in a straight line but must veer this way and that to see whatever Legolas absolutely must revisit. I think he has so many stories to tell because he keeps taking us out of our way to visit every spot where stories happened. If he didn't keep recognizing places right and left, I'd have sworn we were lost. But no, we just keep following his whims, all over the countryside.
Papa, you introduced me to a lot of elves in our family trip together, and I know they're not like hobbits, but Legolas is something else again! I asked Uncle Merry if he's always been this odd, and he says no. I think Merry's finally getting worried, too."
Later entry: "One of the mountains ahead of us has a distinctly reddish color. Merry does not like it, but will not talk about it. He just keeps looking up at it as we travel, or sideways at it when we sit over meals. I remember what the Red Book says, though, Papa--I'm not a fool. Uncle Merry may not want me to say it out loud, but I will write its name down here: Caradhras. I'm sure that's what it is."
"October 10, 1451--Merry has gotten urgent about sword-fighting. He comes at me so hard sometimes that it scares me, but I'm getting better at fending him off. He says I'd better learn fast, because soon he'll try me on live steel."
Later entry: "Another flock of geese flew south right over us. We kept looking at Legolas, but he showed no particular reaction. I don't know what's going on.
I did find him in a talkative mood, though. I pressed my luck, as you'd put it, Papa, and asked him up front how other elves were coping with the fading. He says more elves than ever are going overseas, because fading only happens in Middle Earth--everyone can see them once they get to Elvenhome, and they won't have that nagging sense, anymore, of being left behind.
Not all elves, though--many of those who never saw Elvenhome actually get a kick out of fading, if you can believe it. They go into Dale and play tricks on men, hiding things or moving them around, little pranks like that. Sometimes somebody sees them, but not often, and not very clearly, and if he talks about it other men laugh at him. I can see where something like that could be a lark, if you kept a sense of humor about you. But Legolas said that such elves as like that sort of thing are getting stranger all the time, and he shuddered--as if he's not!
And then there's other elves who don't care two hoots about men or their opinions, and would just as soon not be bothered by their notice whatsoever, so fading doesn't mean much to them one way or another. Legolas is not like that--he's shared good times and hard with other kinds for so long that he can't imagine losing mortal contact altogether. I asked him if he even planned to go to Elvenhome at all, and he got the most yearning look on his face, but then said, 'Not while my friends yet live.'"
"October 11, 1451--Last night I dreamed that I heard Legolas screaming. I ran to find out why, and saw an old man with a long beard holding him by the hair over a crevasse that glowed up red, real strange-looking. Legolas fought like crazy but couldn't reach the man to free hisself. I realized somehow in the dream that the old man was Gandalf--at least as I'd always pictured him--and that he wasn't trying to hurt Legolas, but that Legolas had fallen in (or jumped in?) and Gandalf couldn't grab him any other way, with him fighting so. I woke up because Legolas really was screaming--I'd worked that into my dream somehow. When we woke him up he laughed and said his nightmare was absurd, really. He'd dreamed that Gandalf had attacked him and tried to gnaw his finger off! We all laughed at the ridiculous picture that made, but it seems funny (different kind of funny) that he and I should both get such similar dreams on the same night--especially since I never met Gandalf."
Evening entry: "I am getting very, very, very tired of cooking every single meal for these lazy, ungrateful bums. And you do this what, six times a day, Mama? I don't know how you stand it."
"October 12, 1451--Rain, rain, rain, all day long. Gloomy. I'm writing this under my cloak--that's why my handwriting's so bad it looks drunk. I wish. Nothing to drink but water--more than we have any use for. Legolas is in a mood, too. No songs, no talk, just brooding in his saddle. He has refused all food, and hardly even answers when he's spoken to."
"October 13, 1451– The sun broke out today, a sudden spill of light busting through the clouds like butter overflowing mashed potatoes, casting the most perfect rainbow you ever laid eyes on. Legolas burst into song just to see it. I wish I knew songs for rainbows and the sunlight's return."
Later entry: "Every day is marvelous out here, full of beauty and new surprises, but Mama, Papa, sometimes it gets old. The sight of mountains in front of me and seas of grass all around me don't always thrill me anymore. I miss all of you terribly. Tell May I especially miss my favorite little sister, but don't tell the others, because I'm not supposed to have favorites. But I do
I have to say, though, Papa, that it took me a bit by surprise when Uncle Merry said that May had inherited your wise heart. I thought at least that he and Uncle Pippen knew about her origins. But I took my cue from you when you did not correct him. And of course you were right--May does have the Gamgee heart, through and through. How she came by it is nobody's business. And with her getting born the same day as our Tom, it does kind of make them twins, like we tell everybody. Anyway, I couldn't ask for a better sister."
"October 14, 1451--Today we worked with live steel. It scared the living daylights out of me, but I turned every blow but one, and that the mithril caught. Tomorrow I will have to sew my weskit, though. From now on I'm wearing the mithril on the outside of my clothes."
Later entry: "I keep thinking about those maple-leaves looking like a courting maiden's lips. It occurs to me that I am going where there are no maidens of my people for miles and miles around, and that I don't know how long I'll have to live without my own kind. I had a very lonely day."
"October 15, 1451--Legolas had another bad spell. We were passing through a thicket when he hid his face in his hands and cried out that the leaves were too bright, they hurt him, make the autumn stop. We finally threw a blanket over him, led his horse out of the thicket, and sat with him very, very quietly, till he calmed down. Uncle Merry cursed that we brought no brandy with us, but I don't think that would've helped enough. I may not be all that clear on what fading is, but Papa, this is not it! If anything, it's the complete opposite--Legolas seems too extreme in all things. Something else has gone wrong."
"October 16, 1451– We got a late start today. Legolas slept till noon, and then he didn't want to eat. Now he slumps in the saddle like he still feels half-dead. No songs."
"October 17, 1451--Legolas seems okay today. Just like any other elf. But I never know what to expect of him next. Sometimes even when he's happy it seems like too much. Never mind fading--he's become the center of our attention! Is that all this is? Is he maybe just trying too hard?"
"October 18, 1451–Mama, sit down. I got my first practice nick today, on my right arm. It was no big deal. It didn't bleed much. Legolas boiled some shavings off a tree root and poured the tea onto the wound before bandaging it up. He said this would prevent infection. He showed me which tree and how to prepare the wound-wash. Merry looked a little pale, but then said that if that's the worst I'll ever get, I'll be lucky. My fault, for letting a rabbit distract me. Battles don't halt for rabbits, Merry said. Keep your eye on your enemy's blade, he said, and from now on I'm going to pay attention."
"October 19, 1451--We're back to working with sheathes. Uncle Merry is teaching me close-quarter fighting, and how to pry a weapon right out of your opponent's hands. He talked a lot about how even the mightiest warrior has some weakness, and if you watch for it, you can put yourself on equal footing with darn near anyone--that's how he helped slay the Witch-King of Angmar. He also showed me tricks to make size not matter, though it's not like he has much to worry about on that account. In fact, he says, we hobbits can consider ourselves lucky that we have low centers of gravity. Everything is in how you look at it."
Later entry: "Legolas got tired of our supplies and took the day off from travel to shoot a whole mess of squirrels for me to cook. The dwarf-kit heats so evenly that with the lid on I could cook up a squirrel pie in it with our remaining flour, never mind having no oven. The elf was right--it made a splendid change of pace! And I added chestnuts in with the meat, and they soaked up some of that good squirrel gravy, and oh, you couldn't ask for a finer meal!"
"October 20, 1451--I have learned the following facts that Papa never put in the Red Book: 1. No matter how hard you try, you can never get as clean washing with mud in a cold creek as you can with soap and hot water. 2. The closer we get to winter, the less often any of us try. 3. Unwashed elves smell sort of like alfalfa--not bad, actually. 4. Unwashed hobbits smell more like basil. [crossed out.] not very fresh basil. [crossed out.] composting basil. 5. The colder it gets, the less you care how you smell."
"October 21, 1451--Today we were just riding along, nothing in particular happening, when Legolas suddenly started chuckling quietly to himself, then he got louder and louder, till he nearly fell off his horse laughing. It did my heart joy to see him laugh! But when we asked him what the joke was, he said it was that we all must drink water--there is no escaping it. "He" will know. "He" knows everything. (I don't know who "he" is.) That made no sense to either Merry or me. That's when I saw that even as he laughed he had this terrible look in his eyes.
I got Uncle Merry aside and asked if maybe we shouldn't be following Legolas wherever he's headed--maybe the King doesn't know that something has gone wrong with his messenger. Merry at least agreed with me that a lot more's going on than fading, and it's getting worse all the time, but he seems to think that Legolas is looking for some kind of help and we've got to stand by him and see how it plays out. King Elessar will understand about our delay. He's a friend, too, crown or no. He's been shipping food to Mordor for awhile now (some of it from the Shire, so Merry knows) and he can keep on doing that awhile longer. What Merry didn't say I thought of after--we have nobody else to follow, for miles and miles around."
"October 22, 1451--We have arrived in the outskirts of Hollin. We're right up there in the foothills of the mountains, now, and it's chillier (the fur on my feet has grown winter-thick already.) Everywhere I look I can see lovely, gangly plants gone wild, of kinds that any gardener would recognize as needing proper attention in a garden. Uncle Merry looks tense all the time, though, turning to look this way and that, and his hand never leaves his sword."
Later entry: "I found a whole stand of rosebushes today, all leggy and overgrown with weeds, but just full of bright orange hips like tiny pumpkins. I gathered as many as I could, and we had rosehip tea. You're right, Mama--it's good for what ails you. I had just started on a scratchy throat from staying out in all weather all the time, and now I feel just fine. But I'm saving some back to see if I can plant the seeds. Wouldn't you just love it, Papa, to grow elven roses?"
"October 23, 1451–Boy do I wish you were here to help me figure out my dreams, Papa. Last night I dreamed that I held up May's magnifying glass and gazed into it, and I saw the ocean! Oh, it was so wonderful--always tumbling green and white up close and blue in the distance, but you couldn't quite tell where the blue left off and the green began. It had a sharp, tangy smell that I can't describe, not like flowers or anything you'd expect to enjoy, but enjoy it I did. Don't ask me how I could smell through the glass, but you know what dreams are like. For that matter, I could also hear the ocean; it made soft whooshes and high shushings, and deep, thrilling roars--I can't get it right. Someday you'll tell me if I'm close, though, Papa, for you've seen the sea, yourself. From somewhere behind me I heard a voice say, 'He knows.' In the dream I felt glad that he knew, whoever he was, and completely at peace."
Evening entry: "We reached a tumble of rocks, today, that Legolas said were ancient ruins. I can sort of see that, at certain angles, but at other times I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm not much sure about anything he says anymore. It all made for very rough terrain, with high, stony piles and unexpected pits, and slabs that looked secure but would tip underfoot. It went on for miles and miles. The ponies picked their way through it all slow and trembly, and even the horse did not look happy. When I brushed Billie-Lass down for the night, she kept nuzzling me and giving me odd looks, as if to say, 'Do you really think we should go this way?' No, Billie, I don't know what to think.
"Now Legolas has gone off on foot to explore, even though it's dark, but there's that elvish night-vision to consider--I'd probably break my neck clambering around all that rubble with no light, or at least break my ankle. We hobbits shall stick close to camp tonight. Uncle Merry wants us to take turns watching all night long--he says he thought he heard howling in the distance. I'm writing this by firelight; Merry says we have to keep the campfire bright and strong till morning. If it doesn't sound too strange to say, I think he is afraid."

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