Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 18, Part 18
(October 26, 1451)
The first clue the
travelers had, late in the morning, that Legolas had
finally begun to stir, was a faint singing, sketchy but
sweet, fading in and out of the holly-rustle. They saw
then that his eyes had halfway opened, blinking
occasionally, in a fashion closer to normal elvish rest.
At last he sat up, sleepily, and stretched with the
exuberance of the ever-young. But then the mithril tinkled
softly, the tune faltered, and Legolas blinked in a daze
at the chain descending from his neck. His eyes followed
it to the waiting dwarf, and stared; the grief that
passed in the looks between those two would sear Frodo's
memory forever after.
At last the elf said, slowly but distinctly, "Of all
the evils I have ever done, Gimli, murdering your trust
in me shall always be the worst."
"Come along," Gimli muttered, averting his
eyes. "Let's get the necessaries taken care of
before we both burst." As they went off past the
hollies, still chained together, Frodo realized with a
pang that Legolas had lost the right to the most
fundamental privacy--and that Gimli had bound himself to
the same indignity, in order to watch over him.
Frodo asked, "Do you really need to chain him?"
Merry replied, "You saw how he led us randomly all
over the countryside. He cannot steer his own course
well. But if any interfere, they might wind up like the
King's Messenger--or worse."
"No--not worse! I know him, Merry."
"And I have known him better and longer than
you--enough to see that everything he once held dear
about himself is crumbling before the growing power of
his ring. Above all we must guard him from betraying
himself any further--he can't stand much more of that,
and we might lose him altogether."
"Crumbling--do you mean forever?" Frodo thought
of the scrolls, and paled.
"No, not if we can intervene in time. He will never
be the same, no more than a lightning-struck tree. But
the tree can still thrive, growing in a new direction,
and still be itself." Merry sighed, and Frodo saw
the age in him. "If we can get him through this
safely, he will be a much, much wiser elf."
All the while, saying nothing, Eowyn patted out oatcakes
to toast over the fire after the manner of Rohan, to go
with the last strips of venison, roasting on the spit
without art. Frodo sighed; here they had two hobbits and
an elf in camp, and the only one up to cooking just had
to be the human being! Then he thought about the hungry folk of
Mordor and felt ashamed of himself.
On returning, Legolas tripped and nearly fell into the
fire, but Gimli caught him and held him firmly till he
could get his feet under him again. "Your
pardon," the elf said, hand to his brow. "This
is nothing like wine." Gimli made no reply, nor
would he look at Legolas more than at need. As a matter
of fact, Legolas and Gimli had nothing to say to each
other throughout the entire meal, beyond words like,
"Pass the salt." Consequently nobody else felt
like daring any conversation, either. "Some reunion
of friends," Frodo muttered to himself. The elf
moved clumsily and his eyes had dulled, but if you didn't
know him, he could have passed for normal--for a human
being. Eowyn watched him closely but discreetly at all
times. She poured Legolas a cup of what appeared to be
water, though with a mossy scent. "Here," she
said. "This will make you strong for trials yet to
"Please, no. Whatever potion you gave me yesterday
has chained me quite enough already."
Gently she said, "Your mind was wild and needed
taming. But this is nothing you should fear. It really is
meant only for your body--you have neglected your health,
and lack the full strength that should be yours by
Reluctantly, Legolas accepted the cup. "My mind is
not a horse for you to break, Lady of Rohan," he
said, "but I suppose you know your medicine." He sipped the drink and winced. "It is bitter,"
he said, but he finished it.
"Many things are."
After the meal, Gimli took from his pack-beast a metal
spike with a crescent on top, that he drove into the
earth. Into this crescent he fitted a great brass horn
upon which he blew deep and mournful notes that
reverberated far through the ground, traveling some
distance; they could almost hear the tune vibrating in
their feet where they stood. The song seemed to speak,
burdened with a story of ancient fear, and the call to
answer that fear, not in battle but in reconciliation.
Gimli then took a long flute of wood, grown, not
carved, Frodo saw, set it to a different angle in the
same crescent, and played a similar tune--in surprising
volume--except that this one seemed to placate an ancient
anger. A wind whipped up; Frodo could have sworn that the
wind caught up the song and carried it away. Gimli did
not pack up this second instrument with the first, but
turned to Legolas and said, "You know about these
things--where is the richest soil?"
"Over there," said Legolas. His arm seemed
weary as he lifted it to point. "Plant the
mouthpiece end in the corner made by those two boulders.
There the autumn leaves blow and accumulate, and there
also the stones catch and channel water. It will take
root there, come spring."
"As I promised," the dwarf said, and they both
went over and set about the peculiar business of planting
a flute that was, after all, alive, if dormant, a cutting
waiting to become a tree. It tore Frodo's heart to watch
how gently Gimli would guide his friend's unsteady steps
through the rough terrain, yet still not look him in the
Frodo whispered to Merry, "Legolas seems to be
taking this rather well, all things considered."
Merry whispered back, "Legolas is still not entirely
awake. Tomorrow may be a different story
When they returned the dwarf said, "Now both sides
will know where to meet us," and he gazed out to the
Eowyn looked on him with respect. "None but you
could have brokered common cause between such strange and
The dwarf just shrugged. "What else do we have left,
except healing? We are both dying peoples."
"Who?" Frodo asked. "Which peoples?"
"Dwarves and Ents," Gimli replied, as he helped
Legolas pack up the camp.
Before Frodo could shake his surprise enough to speak,
Eowyn unwrapped his wound with swift, professional
fingers. She applied a stinging wound-wash that made him
gasp and forget everything that he wanted to ask, and then
bound him up again. He had to concede, though, that
afterwards he felt the better for it, so that he could
help with the packing if he moved slowly and only lifted
light objects, which was a good thing, since nobody else
knew how to put the dwarf-kit back together right (even
Gimli had forgotten how, over the years.)
Suddenly Legolas dropped the blanket he'd been folding
and grabbed the dwarf by the head, forcing Gimli's face
towards his own. "Gimli!" he cried. "Can
you see me? Do you know who I am?"
"Of course I do, Legolas--what folly is this?"
"Then look on me--please! Too long have mortals
glanced away from me and never on my face. Look me in the
eye if I have not destroyed all love between us,
"Nothing could do that, Legolas," said Gimli,
his gaze softening. After that he did not avert his
glance, though he could not disguise all the feelings
that he wished.
Eowyn murmured to Merry, "If Legolas can still
become so distraught today, then beware tomorrow!"
Merry nodded and looked grim. Eowyn discreetly handed him
what looked like a reed and a small pouch, and she
whispered in his ear. He slipped these into an inside
pocket of his coat, and nodded once again. She gave his
hand a brief clasp, then turned to her share of the
When it came time to leave, Legolas and Gimli shared a
saddle, as they used to do, except that this time Gimli
held the reins. Frodo was surprised to see Billie-Lass
laden with supplies (the pony looked surprised too, and
more than a little indignant to carry bags much heavier than a picnic lunch, though the donkey seemed
delighted with a lighter load.) Before he could ask about
this, though, he found Eowyn lifting him up onto her own
saddle. "I will need to keep a close eye on you,
Little Warrior, lest we ride too hard for your
"I'm not a warrior--I'm a gardener," he
"How like your father," she said.
Long they rode in silence, the hollies disappearing
behind them, as they wound through ruins so old that the
land had forgotten artifice had ever had anything to do
with the placement of these stones. Sometimes their trail
led upward, but more often down, always eventually down.
Evergreens soon gave way to windswept scrub in fading
At first Frodo listened to all the natural
sounds of the season all around him, but the stillness of
his companions started to wear on him, unrelieved whether
they paused to stretch and eat, or rode. Hobbits like to
sing, or at least chat, while traveling--not every
moment, but certainly now and then. The Lady Eowyn,
though, seemed to have no such need; silence on horseback
seemed as familiar to her, indeed molded to her, as her
well-worn riding-boots. Frodo now remembered Merry
telling him of his travels with her on the road to
Gondor, how he yearned for Pippin's voice, how she could
sometimes pass an entire day without a single word. So
Frodo wasn't too surprised when Merry burst out with,
"All right, my friends! I've told you all about our
adventures up to now--it's time you repaid me in kind.
How did you find us? How has your journey gone? And by
all that is holy, Gimli, what in Middle Earth have you
concocted between ents and dwarves?"
Gimli said nothing at first, but Eowyn barked a short
laugh, making Frodo jump. "We'd have caught your
trail far sooner," she said, "had not Legolas
dropped the King's Messenger, naked as a newborn, into
the town square of a Dunlending village that spoke not a
word of the Common tongue." Legolas couldn't help
but smile at her words, though he tried to bite his lip.
"It took him no little time to make his way back
"Mad, perhaps, but not dull of wit," the elf
drawled. "I trust he arrived safely and without
Gimli said, "Would it have stopped you if he'd never
woken up?" and the smile faded from the elf.
Frodo asked, "How did you know to look for us in
"I told her," Gimli said in a gruff voice.
"Where else would an elf go to seek ring-lore than
before the gates of Khazad-Dum? I'm the one who found the
hidden workshop, tucked into a cavern behind a crack in
the stone, impossible to enter save for an elf too slim
even for his kind." He shook his head. "I
should have known that it would take more than the pretty
craft of jewelers to lure an elf to dwell underground
among dwarves--even in the Glittering Caves of
Legolas said, "I grew up in a cavern-palace--it did
not take much transition."
But Gimli only turned and gave him a smouldering look,
before continuing his tale. "We had to smash through
a curtain of rainbow agate with opalescent inclusions, in
order to widen the passage, but I did the blasphemy
"That was a shame," said Legolas.
"Yes," the dwarf said pointedly. "It
was." To the others he said, "There also I
found the clothing of Rohan, and, in a lead-sealed jar,
that venomous metal that dwarves have not traded in since
Khazad-Dum closed her gates to Sauron's deceits. And
other substances I found there, fell and difficult to
obtain, and still more difficult to dispose of."
Again he twisted in the saddle and glared. "Had you
no idea what such matter could do to the mortal fools who
traded with you?" Legolas turned as pale as Frodo.
"We are still searching out your confederates,
Legolas, and have already filled the Houses of Healing
with sadder but wiser smugglers."
"I..." Legolas swallowed and began again.
"I did not read so far. It...it hurt them?"
"It hurt them." Gimli kept his eyes forward as
he steered them through a narrow passageway in a
veritable forest of boulders. "Some of the minerals
you sought are poisonous for mortal-kind to touch, some
to breathe their dust, and some can even radiate
misfortune to any human being who draws near, if handled
wrong--and who these days knows in full the
right-handling of such material?" Gimli led the
company through a cleft to a more open path. "We had
our reasons to stop mining the ores you craved--and you'd
have known that if you'd paid attention to anything but
your own desire."
Merry brought his pony up beside the horse.
"Legolas--please," he said, "admit, at
least, that you did not want to read so far."
Eowyn concurred. "It is the only way back to
healing, Legolas--now, while you may yet bear it. See the
full reach of your folly, beyond one messenger's bruised
Legolas stared ahead, breathless as one stricken, his
face so bloodless that Eowyn brought her horse up close,
prepared to catch him if he should faint. At last he
whispered. "I admit...all." Then the color
rushed back into him as he cried, "My deeds have
been nothing but folly since I departed from Mordor--and
I repent all of it!" Without thinking he struck
Gimli's shoulders emphatically, but the dwarf bore it
"Not all," said Frodo. "You did a pretty
good job of stitching up my arm."
"You would have no wound, if not for me," said
the elf. To that Frodo had no reply. "It...it is
hard to believe," Legolas said, with a sudden,
surprising smile, "the relief--to have it all
revealed at last, to myself as well as others, to be done
with lies and urgency and the grinding labor of
pretending that nothing is wrong." He sighed, and
actually laughed. "To surrender to my
"Worthlessness?" Emotion crackled through
Gimli's voice. "Have you any idea how many days and
nights I have searched for you, old friend? Like pounding
through great spans of rock to find a single diamond in
the rough, more precious to me than the Arkenstone. Days
on the back of a horse three times my height, nights
poking through every spider's haunt and goblin's nest in
this forsaken land, knowing that somewhere you suffered
beyond my imagining, far from any comfort I could
give--for only mortal illness could make you lie to me,
Legolas--did you think I wouldn't know that?" He
clasped the elf's hand tightly. "Do you think I want
anything from you at all except to see you well?"
"Mortal illness," the elf murmured in a dreamy
voice. "Yes, I suppose you could call it that. When
I lingered in Dol Amroth, I did once throw myself off of a
cliff into the sea..." and Gimli hissed in surprise.
"The waves washed me back up onto the beach
unharmed. Not even Ulmo, Vala of the Sea, wanted
"That's not true!" Frodo protested. "He
wants you to live, not drown."
"And who are you to speak for the Valar?" For a
brief instant the elf's gaze sharpened on him.
"I...I don't know," Frodo admitted. "Maybe
nobody in particular, but I did speak for him before,
somehow, just the other night. You know it, too--that was
Ulmo, wasn't it. Maybe the Valar love you so much they'll
use any messenger that they can get their hands on just to
keep you going. Maybe you need to hear that more now than
you ever did in your life--but you've done too much good
in the world to throw yourself away!"
"Easy," Eowyn said to him, her fingers pressed
to his wrist. "Your pulse is shooting up." She
leaned over to examine his face. "And you have
become as white as bone."
"Yeah, Frodo," Merry put in. "With the
sunken eyes you look downright skullish."
Eowyn reined in her horse. "I say that the time has come to
halt--no more riding for today, and no more
"But Gimli still hasn't explained about what dwarves
and ents have to do with each other," Frodo
protested, sounding even to himself like a petulant child
resisting a nap.
"Nor am I going to," said the Dwarf. He glanced
back at his friend's clouded eyes. "Now is not the
Frodo tried to resist as the healer lifted him from the
horse, but the minute Eowyn laid him down on a
grass-pillowed blanket, he fell inconveniently asleep.