The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 17, Part 17
Friends and Captors
(October 25, 1451)

"The secret must be here," the elf husked in trembling words, on his hands and knees, passing the magnifying glass over the powder on the floor. "It must still, somewhere...is that a letter of the tengwar script?"
 
"Stop it," Frodo said. "It's just dust. Stop it!"
 
"It cannot be dust for I am not dust I still live! so it the answer I mean must still be here I must keep looking or I will surely crumble and blow away at the first breath of future to come through the you know I should have known that something so fragile as the past but of course I thought it had to be strong to support the weight of so much power but then the strong have no need of magical power do they so I say it must be here because I need it because I am anything but strong!"
 
Frodo went over and wrenched the lens from his hand. Legolas fell back from him and stared at him in shock. "Legolas, listen: we're wasting time here--time we could better spend finding some other solution. Think--elves are not the only ancient power in this world. What about the ents? We can at least talk to Treebeard--he's right along the way, in Treegarth." He thought with a sinking heart that of course the shepherds of trees would have no knowledge or interest in anything to do with artifice, but he had to offer any hope he could. "If that doesn't work, we can try Tom Bombadil--he's ancienter than anyone, and a help in time of need. If worst comes to worst, you can always seek healing in the west..."
 
"I shall not abandon Gimli!"
 
"Gimli--what an excellent suggestion! Let's go visit Gimli and the dwarves. They have some knowledge of these things, after all--they used rings, too, you know." He felt like he babbled like a lunatic, himself, but he knew he had to keep talking to anchor the elf onto something besides his own tormented thoughts. "Come along now--Gimli will be so glad to see you, I'm sure." He tugged at the elf's elbow and got him up on his feet. Frodo led Legolas out like a child twice his size, but trudging up the stairs soon made the sick hobbit's ears ring and the pulse hammer in his head. He had to sit down as soon as they reached sunlight. Legolas leaned against a wall that he slowly slid down, till he, too, sat, staring far away without sight.
 
Frodo watched old leaves blow through the ruins, and he watched some birds fly south, and he watched the shadows shift across the ground. His stomach growled--he wondered how many meals he missed just waiting here for nothing, and how much he could afford to miss in his weakened state. Yet he didn't dare leave Legolas alone, so close to Moria and still wearing that accursed ring. Not that he could do much good in his friend's defense right now. Frodo muttered to himself, "This is no good." He looked at the immobile elf, and then out across the miles of rubble; until this day the hobbit had never actually felt small. "Legolas has finally cracked the whole way--it's plain as daylight. Uncle Merry's got a bad foot, and with my thinned blood I'm worse than useless!" He smote the rock beside him. "What'll we do now--sit here in the ruins of Hollin till we starve or goblins find us?"
 
A quiet voice beside him answered, "Oh, I am not quite so bad as that. I just...it was a terrible shock, is all. You must understand that, Frodo. It was a terrible, terrible shock." The elf stood and dusted himself off carefully, but he held himself as though a touch would crumble him just like the ancient scrolls. He gave Frodo a hand up. His voice still shook, but he tried to sound nonchalant as he said, "Shall we rejoin Merry back at camp?"
 
"Sure, Legolas." Exhaustion overtook Frodo and ached in his wound. He let the elf help him back onto his pony and they set out over the tumbled land. "You know, Legolas, you had it right the first time."
 
"About what?" the elf asked as he guided them through a maze of half-fallen walls.
 
"Sauron. It really was him--don't you see? Sauron as he is now: a mere blowfly, laying eggs in any available wound. Your soul got wounded by your helplessness in Mordor. That wound should have healed, in time, except something kept irritating it, kept it from closing, so to speak. The 'maggot' hatched when you first conceived of making--of all things!--a ring. But you were obsessed before you even made the ring. You lied to Gimli, Legolas--whose work is that?"
 
Legolas stopped, and the tears streamed down his beautiful face. "I cannot entirely blame any other spirit but my own. I listened. I entertained the thoughts suggested to me." Savagely he shoved down a wall, and the crash echoed like everything in the world collapsed at once. "There can be no ring of power made without the influence of Sauron!" He reeled from his own violence and gasped for air. "Sauron invented the entire concept."
 
"At your weakest moment, sure, you listened. Nobody's perfect, not even elves." Frodo reached out to the elf's shoulder, though it hurt him. Legolas looked at him. "Let's go, Legolas. Let's leave this place behind us." And they resumed their journey.
 
"I meant no harm," Legolas said, not looking at Frodo. "I wanted nothing more than to regain the ability to serve the mortals that I have come to love--that, to me, is the only healing. Whatever the outcome, I shaped this thing with good in mind." He held up his fist to regard what none could see except for him, with a look one might see in the face of an unrequited lover: of desire, delight, and despair, bordering on hate. Frodo had never realized before how sheer emotion, all by itself, could exhaust a person if kept at too high a pitch--not until he'd seen that drawn, enchanted face.
 
Frodo said, "The thing is, though, you made the ring based on obsession, and it turned everything into obsession. Sauron knew you were in no condition to go making any rings when he pounced on you." Frodo wished he had better words to offer than the truth, but Papa never taught him lies could heal. "You say you poured your will into the metal as you cast it--an unbalanced will, Legolas. You know what? I think you followed the old recipe for rings of power just fine--the only flawed ingredient was you."
 
Legolas quirked a lopsided smile at that, with half a laugh, though the pain in his eyes remained. "Me. I might have known."
 
Mountain twilight had begun by the time they arrived at camp, giving the elvish ruins and the wilds all around an otherworldly, violet cast. When they pushed through the scratchy protection of the holly trees, they found that Merry had already made dinner and only waited to serve it to them--a venison stew filled out with their dried vegetables. "It's not a Gamgee meal," he said, "But I think it'll do the job."
 
Frodo exclaimed, "Do the job? Any meal that I don't have to cook has to be delicious!" He inhaled the aroma with closed-eyed bliss. "If this is my reward, I'll have to get wounded more often."
 
"Eat up, then, lad--you look like you could use it. The only color in your face is your bruises."
 
Legolas said, "I should have been here to cook for you. Your ankle..."
 
"...is better already, thank you. Besides, I hardly had to get up off my knees to fix it. Here--eat your fill."
 
In fact Frodo found the stew rather too spicy, but he wasn't about to discourage Merry's initiative. He just drank more water as Legolas explained the outcome of their expedition. Merry kept reminding Legolas to eat, which the elf did in an automatic sort of way, showing surprisingly little emotion about what had nearly destroyed him mere hours before. In fact, Legolas seemed to grow progressively more detached, even almost cheerful, though his voice became softer and slower, slurred towards the end, and finally entirely silent as the bowl slipped from his grasp and Frodo watched him sway, blinking in the languid rhythms of his breath. Merry hobbled to his feet and eased Legolas down onto his own sleeping-roll, suspiciously handy for the task. Then the elf's eyes fluttered closed and did not open again.
 
"Uncle Merry," Frodo said hesitantly, "what exactly did you put in his stew? And how? And why?"
 
"What? Just a little something from an old friend, carefully measured according to instructions. How? I had it already in the bowl before I ladled in the stew, which I spiced enough to hide the taste. Why? To make this go as smoothly as possible, of course."
 
"Make what go..." and then he saw two figures emerge from hiding amid the holly trees. One was a magnificent human woman of mature age, with a few holly leaves still clinging to the long golden/silver hair that fluttered over her mail-clad shoulders. She looked both older and younger than her years--older because she had never been the sort to shy from the weathering touch of the open air, so that time had graven her history in a wealth of fine lines upon her face, beautiful in their way; younger because she'd kept her body lean and supple all this time, notwithstanding the womanly curves that childbirth had endowed her with, so that she could no longer be mistaken for a man even in the livery of a soldier.
 
The second figure, a red-bearded, ruddy dwarf, needed no introduction beyond the agony of care in his face as he ran over to Legolas and knelt beside him, turning the face gently and studying it. Then, scowling, he fastened a collar around the sleeping elf's neck, and attached to it a fine and glittery chain of what could only be mithril, securing the other end to his own belt.
 
"This cost me a small fortune," he said to his unconscious friend, "but you are worth it three times over. At least its light weight shall not gall you." And then his eyes watered and he turned away from the others.
 
"Gimli," Frodo said. "You're his friend. Gimli of the Golden Lock." The dwarf made no reply. "You gave my father the cooking-kit." At that Gimli looked up and ventured a wan smile.
 
"You must be Sam's boy. Frodo, is it? The eldest son? We were told to keep an eye out for you."
 
"Frodo Gamgee, at your service," the hobbit said and bowed, feeling weird about making drawing-room introductions under such circumstances, but not knowing any other way to handle the situation. He turned to the human being and said, "And at yours, my lady. For am I not correct in recognizing the Lady Eowyn of Ithilien?"
 
"You are," the lady said with a smile. "Though I hardly expect formality out here in the wilds with my old saddle-mate, Holdwine, once again." She gave Merry a playful nudge, which he returned, and the two smiled at each other--but only for a moment.
 
"But what brings you here, so far from your own realm?"
 
She looked sadly down upon the elf. "He does. I have been tracking him. Tar-Elessar could not ignore an assault upon the King's Messenger, though he is wise enough to know that Legolas needs healing more than punishment." She knelt down, removed the silver badge and pocketed it, then checked the collar for looseness. "And who better to apprehend a beloved, dangerous lunatic than one who is at once warrior, healer, and friend?"
 
"Dangerous?" Frodo exclaimed. "For knocking a man out? In the Shire we would lock a brawler up overnight to cool down, and release him in the morning."
 
"But this is not the Shire, and it was not a brawl. Compulsion made him injure another--compulsion over what should have been a minor impulse. What other impulses will he have tomorrow, that his madness will enlarge unto extremes?" She felt the pulse in the unconscious elf's neck, and nodded. "He shall sleep until tomorrow, and shall then be drowsy all that day, cushioned somewhat from the pain, I hope, yet able to ride, and if he wishes, to converse." She shook her head. "After that, who knows?" Eowyn spread a blanket over Legolas and said, "I cannot tell you how it grieved me to learn that he did not find what he sought here in these ruins--I held back from his capture in the hopes that he might cure himself." She palpated the elf's left hand till she found the ring by feel. "Ah--here is the crux of his affliction!"
 
"Take it off!" Gimli cried. "Tear it from him, if you have to!"
 
"I fear it is too late for that. As he is now, he cannot part from it easily. You know that." She turned to the dwarf. "And your plan is a good one, Gimli Gloin's son. We will stick to that, and we will strengthen him for it."
 
"Good, but drastic--can I help it if I wish for any other way? We don't even know if he can take such a step willingly anymore."
 
Eowyn reached out an arm around the dwarf's shoulders as she spoke. "Take heart, Gimli. He is not the first of my patients to complicate a simple breakdown with an ill-made and tenacious home remedy." Then she chuckled. "But I must say, our elf has found a more creative way to get himself in trouble than most!"
 
Gimli shoved her arm away and snarled, "How can you laugh at a time like this?"
 
"I apologize. It is my profession. If we healers lacked a sense of humor, we would all go mad, ourselves." She stood again, dusting off her knees. "And I specialize in madmen, having gone myself deep into the realm of desperation, and returned."
 
Frodo said, somewhat sharply, "He is not a madman. He is a mad elf."
 
"I know, little warrior," she said gently. "I know." And she revealed a green gemstone hung around her neck. "Queen Arwen, last of the Noldor and canny in the craft of magic jewels, fashioned this for me, so that I may plainly see Legolas for who he really is, nor wander in my attention to him. His image and his voice shall never dim for me so long as I still wear it."
 
Frodo said, "Why, that's marvelous! We should make hundreds of such gems, and..."
 
"Hundreds?" The dwarf stood up, faintly jingling from the chain. "First know the price of one. Arag--Tar-Elessar and I strove for three days and nights without rest, staring into that stone, to cast into it, from the very stuff of our souls, the mirror of our love for and knowledge of Legolas Greenleaf. And then Queen Arwen had to call us back, with all the art of her father's teaching, and we rested many days afterwards in the Houses of Healing. Anyone less hardy might have died from the ordeal."
 
Eowyn said, "And it has its limits. Beyond Minas Tirith, I can only perceive Legolas clearly of all his kind. Had I been able to find orcs as easily, you'd have not been attacked the other night. As it stood, we did not even know of the assault till my dear friend Holdwine revealed it to us." She looked softly on the elder hobbit. "He told us all of your adventures from the Shire onward."
 
"The orcs...of course! They're fading, too. And that means..." The implications of orcs becoming increasingly hard to observe suddenly made Frodo feel faint again. Eowyn caught him just in time and laid him down on the ground with a pack beneath his feet. She pressed his fingernail, examined the result, then briefly pulled down the lower lid of his eye. "I fear that you are still quite anemic, Frodo Gardner; you should never have ridden out so soon."
 
"What? What did you just call me?"
 
"Frodo, son of Samwise Gardner. That is how we name your father in Gondor, Rohan, and Ithilien. For among us the common people support the nobility as those who have trained from birth in the arts of war and the protection of the people, in discipline handed down from parent to child, so that it is marvelous to us--and a point of especial heroism--that a gardener, with no prior training whatsoever in deeds of arms and chivalry, should step forward and achieve such feats as did your father, Frodo son of Samwise. We would honor him no matter what his background for the deeds he did. But we honor him especially in light of who he is."
 
"Frodo Gardner," the hobbit murmured to himself. "I like the sound of that." He looked up at her as Eowyn changed the bandage on his arm, examining his wound and approving of its treatment. "I hope I can live up to it."

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