Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 15 Part 15
Them an Explanation...
(October 24, 1451)
He owed them an
explanation. He didn't even know if he could explain it
all to himself, but Legolas unquestionably did owe his
friends an explanation. He sat with his back to the stars
and the black wall of holly, huddled in his cloak, hardly
touched by the fire's last glow. His faintly luminous
fingers trembled on a cup of tea, under eyes as dark as
wounds in a moon-silver face.
"No," he said in answer to a question.
"That is not why Gimli traveled south with me. We
simply journeyed together as friends. I had no idea, as
yet, what I intended to do. Not until after
Mordor..." He shuddered. "We didn't kill him,
"Who--Gimli?" Merry exclaimed.
"No--of course not. Sauron. We destroyed him, but
that is not the same thing, quite--who knew that better
than the Dark Lord himself, who always preferred his
enemies destroyed to slain? His spirit, you see, still
wanders Middle-Earth, gnawing at itself, having no power
of its own, yet able to act out its spite here and there
by offering suggestions to those desolate enough to
listen." Legolas put down the cup. "No. I
should not blame Sauron. I have no idea where the thought
first came from--most probably myself. I only know why it
came to me. Frodo, do you remember my story of the
starving child lying on his mother's corpse?"
"Yes. I do."
"Did you not wonder that I did nothing to intervene,
"It did cross my mind, but I figured I wasn't there,
so I couldn't judge."
"I judged," he said, taking up his tea again.
"But you see, I had already intervened the night
before, with a different woman. You must understand that
I went into Mordor with naught but elven garb--I did not
know the people of Nurn, and so did not trust them, so
I had not planned on being observed. You must also
understand that wild beasts still roam in every corner of
Mordor, mostly at night."
"Okay," Frodo said, perplexed.
"This woman I speak of had some errand to run,
apparently too urgent to wait for daylight, for I saw her
dart swiftly from her home, glancing from side to side,
terrified yet so terribly, terribly brave. But she had
not gone ten yards from her door when a feral warg
pounced upon her. I slew the warg, of course, but not
before he had ripped her flesh in several places. I
tended her the best I could, but she needed warmth to
survive, and I had none." His fingers brushed
Frodo's arm and then withdrew again. "Have you
noticed that our touch is always cool? We elves need less
heat than mortal kind, having awakened before the
"Your handshake felt warm at the Prancing
"Wine does that," he said with a brief quirk of
a smile. "But I had no such aid that night. As for
fire, as bare as the countryside is, the people of Nurn
send their children gathering sticks and twigs all day
long to get enough wood for their grates at night, now
that no orcs dig coal for them. I had gathered nothing
for myself, having no need." Slowly the tension
built in his voice. "So I carried the woman from
door to door. I would knock, and sometimes someone would
answer, look for the knocker to the left and right, but
never straight ahead at me, and close the door again. Or
sometimes I would knock, and I would hear someone inside
say, 'What was that?' 'Oh, nothing,' another would reply,
'Just the wind snapping a branch against the house,' even
though no tree stood near--no trees for miles in that
His words grew swifter and higher.
"One time I actually forced the door open, but
before I could step inside with my burden, the residents
slammed the door shut again, complaining about the strong
wind and a broken lock, though no wind blew that night,
and the lock had held well till I broke it myself."
Anguish twisted his face. "I grew frantic. I ran
from door to door, still burdened. I pounded, I shouted,
I wept. I felt the warmth seeping from my charge, and it
seemed that my wits fled, too, for I could think of
nothing more to do except for that which had already
failed!" He looked from face to face as if they had
personally denied him the help he had sought. Then, in a
voice so harsh that he didn't even sound like an elf, he said,
"The woman died in my arms."
For a long time nothing made a sound save for the last
crackles of the fire and the wind that rustled in the
holly-trees. Frodo, lying by the embers, felt in his body
just how easily his soul could have slipped away the
night before, had he not had warmth to restore his life
Just as they thought that Legolas would tell them nothing
more, the elf spoke again. "Something died in me,
too, that night. I sat in the dirt beside the dead woman
and watched the sun rise. Without me holding her, people
came and found her, and carried her body away. Of course!
All I'd had to do was leave her on the nearest porch,
knock, and run away. My presence had killed her." He
stared far beyond them, to nothing. Merry bowed his head
and Frodo closed his eyes.
Then, not looking at them, his voice so low that they
strained to hear, the elf continued. "I sat there in
the street, watching the people come and go, kicking dust
upon me as they passed, oblivious to me, and I felt
oblivious to myself, for I did not brush off the dust, or
indeed move at all. I did not feel that I could. I
watched the second woman die that I told you of, right in
front of me. I made no move to help her child, but only
stared into his dark, unseeing eyes while heart and mind
broke upon the hardness of that street in Mordor. For
awhile, in our separate worlds, the child and I shared
oblivion and mourning, he seemingly as invisible as I to
the bitter denizens of that land who walked on by. And
then one doubled back, hardly better off than the child's
mother had been before, and lifted him up, and with that
motion I, too, could move again."
He brought his gaze back to his friends. "Could you
pour me a little more tea?" he said to Merry,
extending his cup. "My tongue dries on the telling
of such tales."
Merry reached back for the kettle on the coals, asking,
"Frodo? You want some more, too?"
"Sure, but not half as much as I want to hear the
rest." As Merry poured tea all around, Frodo asked,
"Did you ever find out what was so urgent that the
woman went out into the night?"
Legolas shook his head. "No," he whispered, and
drank tea, not looking at them.
Merry asked, "What did you do next, Legolas?"
"I returned to Gondor," said the elf,
"made my report to the King, and then...I got lost.
I slipped away to Dol Amroth because I hoped that the sea
might heal me. Yet all it did was stir the yearning in my
heart till I could hardly bear it. So I went inland
again, wandering without aim, for nothing meant anything
to me anymore. I haunted whatever little merchant towns and
farming-villages I came across. No one knew me in those
places--indeed, rarely did anyone see me at all. I could
do as I pleased."
Legolas grinned, without any mirth at all. "Why not
make the most of my worthlessness? I played pranks. I
took whatever I fancied, just because I could, and tossed
it aside somewhere else as soon as I lost interest. I...I
stole wine." He turned his head from them, eyes
downcast, smiling no longer. "Bilbo used to do
likewise, I recall. Now I understand." He shook his
head. "Once, warm and flushed and purposeless, I
danced through a farmer's market, laughing loudly and
singing as though pleased, kissing women who'd look
flustered for a moment and then wonder why. I sampled
whatever fruit I wished, rearranged merchandise, and
most of all mocked all the obtuse human beings who
wandered past unaware of my presence. Then one small
child pointed at me and spoke to her mother, who laughed
and said, 'My, what an imagination you have!' but the
look in the child's eyes shamed me, so I apologized to
her, and went quietly away, and played no more
He sighed and cradled the teacup like he tried to warm
his hands. "After that I lived like a ghost, which
is not to live at all. I grew thin for lack of interest
in food or drink that I could only gain by theft, and
ragged for having no one to remark upon my looks, and my
hair blew uncombed in the wind, and I did not care, for I
believed that nobody else cared, either."
Frodo said, "What about Gimmi--I mean Gimli?"
Legolas choked on his tea, laughing despite himself.
"Gimmi? Gimli! Oh he cared, all right. When he did
not hear from me, and sufficient time had passed to
trouble him, he sought for me. Dwarves, of course, have
no craft for tracking above ground, so he went to our old
friend, Tar-Elessar, who put on rough and faded clothing
from a hidden chest, left Lord Faramir in charge, and
became Strider once again. Together they tracked me down.
"They found me in an alley, making terrible speeches to
myself--an embarrassing moment, but I am through with
hiding all my chain of embarrassing moments from you, my
friends. Strider and Gimli took me to an inn and bought
me a meal, and nobody recognized the King, and that
further shamed me, for it troubled him not at all."
He picked up his cup again and sipped from it. "They
took me back to Minas Tirith, where Strider again became
Tar-Elessar, and I again became a member of society.
There in the court people could see me for what I am, for
Queen Arwen reigns undimmed beside her spouse, and many
there besides have the blood of Elros in their veins; kin
do not forget the face of kin. But I could no longer deny
what I would encounter outside that city of stone, while
inside it I chafed."
"I began to have trouble sleeping,
till Arwen quartered me in a garden-bower of the Houses
of Healing." Legolas laughed, bitterly. "Not
surprising, since I felt like an invalid, and all
regarded me as one. Healers tried to engage me in long
conversations, inquiring about my childhood and other
matters of greater import to a man than to an elf. They
could give whatever name they fancied for my sorrows, but
they have no leechcraft for my kind. And I had no use for
Legolas brooded into his tea for a moment, till he spoke
again in a changed voice. "But then, a solution of
my own came to me, thinking of the great store of
knowledge kept in a tower nearby. So much of our ancient
lore went west--the latest with Elrond and Galadriel. But
what if men still kept some copies of the lore of rings
locked away in their libraries, still scrawled in scrolls
untranslated from ancient days?"
"What on earth were you thinking?" Merry cried.
"How could any of the black arts help you?"
"Dare not to call black arts what you cannot
understand!" The change in his voice shocked the
hobbits. Then, in his normal tone, he said, "Black
arts? Yet Gandalf the White himself wielded one of the
Three--the evil did not come of ring-craft itself. I
concede that some trouble came from the elven rings of
old because Sauron had influence in their fashioning,
though he touched them not. And all that they wrought
came undone with him, as a result. Do you not realize yet
what we fashioned the rings for? They slowed the fading
almost to a halt for two full ages! In Sauron's defeat we
ultimately defeated ourselves--and did so willingly, for
the greater good of Middle Earth."
Frodo said, "But mortals mean more to you than to
most elves. You found it too hard to let go of us
altogether. I think I see, now, why you did what you
"Yes, Frodo," said Legolas. "I had hoped
that if I could create a new magic ring, after the
vanquishment of Sauron, with none of his power vested
into it, I could achieve the same effect of the rings of
old without their limitations. I would reverse the will
of Sauron--rather than a ring of invisibility, I would
create a ring of visibility! I would magnify my presence,
and that of all the elves remaining in Middle Earth. I
would magnify elvishness itself! So I studied, and found
hints and allusions, which I pieced together for the
clues I needed. I then returned with Gimli to the
Glittering Caves and asked for lessons in metallurgy and
the making of jewelry, to round my knowledge out."
Suddenly Legolas laughed. "Gimli smashed his hammer
through a bench, right in the middle of a lesson, when he
realized what I wanted it for. He slammed me against the
wall so hard that he knocked the wind from me, and thence he
hurled me to the floor, and sat upon me, and would not
let me up again until I had promised to renounce all
thought of making myself a ring."
The elf sighed and shook his head. "Why did I ever
imagine anything good could come of something begun with
a lie? And to my dearest friend in all the world! I
should rather have let him chop my hand off before it got
me into so much trouble--he would have done so out of
love! But no, I lied to Gimli, Gloin's son. In his sight
I used my newfound craft to make increasingly skillful
jewelry, after the manner of the Noldor of old, not as
fair, perhaps, but an honest homage to a departed people.
And the women of Rohan loved the new style, and (through
Gimli) paid with the horse-stamped coins of their realm."
Legolas smiled queerly. "What Gimli did not know was that I would don the garb of
a man of Rohan, braid my hair in manner like to theirs,
and practice commerce on my own account--he thought that
I could bear no more this passing for a man. But for my
desire I could bear anything. I used every coin that
Gimli gained for me to purchase materials that my friend
would never give me, so that in secret I fashioned a ring
of my own--after the manner of the Noldor."
His smile became wistful. "Initially it helped. I felt
renewed, more myself than ever--intensely myself. I
returned to Gondor, so that Elessar could see with his
own eyes that all went well for me again. I easily
persuaded him to let me take the message to The Shire,
since I felt that any help which I could bring to Mordor
would complete the healing, not to mention the benefits
of reunion with old friends. I felt up to any task, and a
long journey to more peaceful lands seemed wonderful to
He shuddered, a shimmer in the dark, and his smile fled. "But I am not
Noldo, and I do not have their lore. I must have omitted
some step in the purification of materials, for a flaw
stained my ring, and caused it to go out of
balance." He looked desperately from face to face.
"I cannot make it work for all elves, and I cannot
make it work predictably for me. The ring has no power to
make me any more visible to non-elves than before, for I
realized too late that the problem is in them, not me--or
rather, that there is no problem at all, no disease to
cure, at least. Their world moves on, mine does not; I
cannot hold them back, I have not the skill. Nor am I one
of the Wise to wield such power as could bind all peoples
together so that none get left behind. The ring can only
work for me--erratically--and when it does, it works in
ways I do not want."
And then the elf dropped low his voice, yet all the more
intensely did he speak. "Merry, Frodo, it magnifies
me. When the power surges through at random it expands
upon a feeling, a thought, a perception, I can never tell
what next, but it will take some aspect of myself and
exaggerate it to a pitch of pain! If I do not find some
cure, I shall go mad! Perhaps you think I am mad
"No," said Merry, "We know you are. And
I'm lamed, and Frodo's bled half to death. It's okay,
Legolas--friends take care of sick friends." A
strange sense of relief stole through all three of them,
to hear it said out loud, and said so matter-of-factly. How
a wound must hurt, Frodo thought, when you don't
dare reveal it for healing! Merry continued,
"Just going to Mordor itself must've put you under a
horrible strain to begin with, dear fellow, considering
what you said about how the place affects elves these
days. Add a terrible shock--or more than one--and you
hardly needed any help from a mismade ring to push you
over the edge. Why, I don't think you were in your right
mind when you made the fool thing in the first place, and
so cannot be held responsible!"
Frodo said, "Not for that, at least." The
others stared at him where he lay. "Legolas, you
still aren't telling us everything." Merry marveled
at the sternness in so faint and young a voice.
"I've met the King, and Papa told me more. Strider
would never have sent you out on any such mission till
you'd not only proved you were up to it, but that you
could stay up to it." Frodo took the glass
from his pocket and waved it weakly.
"Perceptiveness, remember?" His hand dropped
down again. "Tell us, Legolas, before you get
yourself into any more trouble: what did you do to the
Legolas stared at them like one trapped by something
monstrous. Merry pressed him, "Yes, tell us! You
didn't...you wouldn't have killed him, would you?"
"Merciful Manwe, no!" the elf cried.
"I...you think I would...of course not! I am not
violent in my madness, whatever else you might say of me.
No, I sang him to sleep by the side of the road, for he
was of the blood of Elros and still could hear my voice.
And when he slept soundly, I stole his clothing and his
badge." His voice became more agitated. "I had
to do it--I had to! I had to play some further role,
however small, in the healing of Mordor, if I was to have
any hope at all of healing for myself. It was grief for
that land that drove me to desperate measures in the
first place, and though I chose it not, I poured that
grief into my ring--its fate and mine are bound."
Frodo asked, "If the ring hurts you so much, why do
you still wear it?"
"Because," said Legolas, "like Sauron, I
poured most of my own power into it--a drop of blood into
the molten alloy, a special chant, a deep gaze down into
the liquid metal--it seemed surprisingly easy to make
such a terrible mistake. Now I cannot endure without it.
Destroy this ring, and I would be destroyed--even as we
destroyed the Dark Lord. Merely take it off, and it
drains me like a wound I cannot staunch."
"So you came here to Hollin," Frodo said,
"To the last great home of the Noldor, where they
forged the rings of old, hoping to find some artifact or
record that will complete your knowledge--to heal your
ring. Am I right?"
"Close, but not quite. I came to find a way to
separate myself from it, and live."