The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 18, Part 18
Confrontations
(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 come."
 
"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 right."
 
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 eye.
 
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 altogether."
 
When they returned the dwarf said, "Now both sides will know where to meet us," and he gazed out to the southeast.
 
Eowyn looked on him with respect. "None but you could have brokered common cause between such strange and bitter enemies."
 
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, Gimli."
 
"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 packing.
 
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 health."
 
"I'm not a warrior--I'm a gardener," he grumbled.
 
"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 autumn garb.
 
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 home."
 
"Mad, perhaps, but not dull of wit," the elf drawled. "I trust he arrived safely and without lasting harm?"
 
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 Hollin?"
 
"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 Aglarond."
 
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 myself."
 
"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 jaw."
 
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 with patience.
 
"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."
 
"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 me."
 
"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 conversation..."
 
"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 time."
 
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.

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