The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 19, Part 19
(October 27, 1451)

Merry, Eowyn, and Gimli took turns watching through the night, leaving Sting unsheathed and in plain sight, since, as Gimli put it, "Legolas has turned himself into orc-bait." They did not trust the elf to keep watch, and Frodo needed all the rest he could get.
Even so, Frodo woke before the other sleepers. Gimli, who'd had the last shift of the night, sat in the gray dawn light like a thing of stone, axe across his knees, unmoving except for his eyes, which roved across the landscape or glanced down at the little sword. Soon, though, the evening's silhouettes came to life and color with the first flush of dawn. Frodo felt stronger today, quite able to get a breakfast started for the others. It's a good thing Lady Eowyn has so many extraordinary talents," he thought to himself, as he mixed several different nuts and grains for breakfast in the proportions that he liked, because she sure doesn't know her way around pots and pans! The dwarf did raise a quizzical eyebrow at the red-bark spice that Frodo stirred into the porridge, but said no word.
The smell of cooking food soon woke Merry and Eowyn. The Lady promptly dispatched Gimli to stir the pot as she bade Frodo take up Sting in fighting-stance. "We shall proceed in slow motion till you feel better," she said, "and practice only long enough for Gimli to burn the porridge," she said with a smile. "But your father-friend tells me you need much work yet on attack." As he complied, she remarked. "Oh, are you left-handed? That is well--it will throw your opponents off."
"Because it is so rare."
"Not with us," Frodo said, surprised. "Half of all hobbits are left-handed, and half right."
Merry laughed from the sidelines, saying, "We're a well-balanced people." The elder hobbit watched the sword-play with interest, leaning on his staff where he sat and throwing in comments, as Eowyn demonstrated some variations on the positions that had never occurred to him. But Frodo found it hard to concentrate; he kept peeking over at Legolas, waiting for the elf to wake up. He noticed that they all did.
Eowyn smacked him smartly across the ribs. "Eyes forward, Frodo! Engage me--good! Note how I block your attack weakly on the tip of my sword, but only to add your impact to my momentum as I swing it--thus--around to the other side and back at you again. Women and hobbits must learn to steal strength from their opponents whenever possible."
When Legolas finally stirred, they all caught themselves glancing his way, watching his every move. For though he made no hostile sign nor spoke an unnecessary word, none of them could mistake the change in his demeanor since the healer's drug wore off. A wild look possessed his eyes, and his posture reflected the defiance of a prince held captive by orcs. He obeyed all instructions docilely enough, but as though he expected them to kill him if he did not comply--not fearful, but unfriendly. Sometimes he would finger the fine mithril chain and study them from under lowered brows. When presented with his breakfast, he looked on it with suspicion and laid it aside.
"I understand," Eowyn said gently. "We drugged your food before. But you need to eat, Legolas, for you have grown too gaunt. Exchange bowls with any one of us--your choice." Legolas studied them each intently, then held his porridge out to Frodo.
"Life-Ward," he said softly. "You were not there at camp to help the others betray me." Gimli winced, but said no word.
When Eowyn brought out the strange water, Legolas would only drink it if she took a sip, herself. She hesitated, and then took a bold gulp that made her twist up her face even to the neck. "You're right!" she gasped. "It is bitter!"
Legolas shrugged. "So is captivity," he said, and downed his cupful all at once, without any expression at all.
After breakfast they saddled up as before, and rode on in silence, downslope through the foothill scrub, its autumn brilliance already dimming towards the brown and bare. But the tension built. Gimli led, his thick hands grim upon the reins, determined to take charge even of horseback riding if he had to, with Legolas behind him, grimmer still. Eowyn followed close with Frodo before her, watching both her charges with detached concern. Merry brought up the rear, leading Billie-Lass and the donkey.
"Mad," Legolas said suddenly. "Insane. Incompetent. Crazy." He did not look at anyone as he spoke. "Lunatic. Batty. Daft." He seemed to consider the feel of each word in his mouth. "Unwell. Unbalanced. Cracked."
"What are you on about now?" Gimli asked.
"Fey. Balmy. Unsound of mind." The words rang oddly in his elvish lilt. "Having a screw loose. A few apples short of a barrel. Bonkers. Nuts. Deranged."
"Stop it right now, Legolas."
"Mortals have so many terms for it--I should get used to them all. Touched. Out of touch. Having lost touch. Medical terms, mockery, euphemisms, slang. Maniacal, for instance. Or demented--let us not forget demented. Quite an impressive collection, really--including phrases as well as words. Not all there. Not quite right."
"Legolas, this is not doing you any good."
"Queer in the head. Mentally ill. Should I count crazed? Or is that merely a variant of crazy?"
"You shouldn't count any of it. You're being morbid!"
"Morbid--oh, there's a good one. Not specific to disorders of the mind, but serviceable. Very well, then. Morbid. Disordered. Wacko. Unhinged."
"Lady, please make him stop this."
"And what was the term you used the other night, Merry? Not in my right mind. That assumes that I have a wrong mind, as well, and that I am in it."
Eowyn asked, "What do you feel, Legolas, when you recite this list?"
"Mad!" he twisted in his saddle towards her. "We elves invented language, yet we did not coin so many terms for this...this...humiliation! And you dare to call me morbid!" With that he hooked his chain around Gimli's throat even as he cried a word in elvish and his horse reared in response. They both fell off, tumbling to the ground as Legolas wrestled Gimli for the latch upon his belt, the dwarf gasping and turning red. Legolas freed himself and released Gimli, but immediately the dwarf leaped to his feet and seemed to run right up the elf's body, knocking him onto his back. Gimli had his axe at the elf's throat in an instant; pain mingled with the violence in his face as the sweat ran in his eyes and neither one dared move.
"So," said Legolas. "Would you slay me, then, Gimli?"
"No, but I would bleed you to make you too weak to run--and you'll not recover half as fast as that hobbit over there." After enduring the elf's glare a moment longer, he said, "Or we could do this more comfortably." He freed one hand from the axe to pick up the chain again. But no sooner did he have it, bent over as he was, than Legolas pushed him and his axe aside, wrenched the chain from his grip, and took off.
Eowyn cried, "Now, Merry!" and the hobbit whipped out the blowgun she'd given him and blew a dart into the fleeing elf's back while Eowyn rode after, Frodo holding on for dear life. Legolas spun around in pure fury--and Merry blew a second dart into his throat moments before Eowyn smote him with the flat of her blade. He grabbed her sword by the dull part near the hilt and wrenched her from her horse (as a third dart hit his flank) but she seized on him with the skill of a tomboy who'd grown up wrestling her boy-kin in the wilds of Rohan, with battle in her eyes and her hair flying about her. Frodo nearly tumbled from the saddle with her, but managed to set himself right again and caught the skittery horse's reins, his cloak skewed halfway around him and his hood fallen into his face.
"The harder you struggle," she gasped between grapples, "The faster your blood...the" Once he got the hood out of his eyes, Frodo watched from the horse's back as Legolas slowed and faltered, till Eowyn pinned him easily. Still his rage seemed only heightened by the pinprick pupils. This time the healer bound Legolas's hands, and then led him, stumbling and disheveled, back to Gimli, as Frodo rode beside. If anything, the elf's eyes seemed madder than ever, but before the end he had to lean on her to walk. When they reached the others, she plucked out his darts and handed them back to Merry. "You must clean and refresh them," she said, "In case of future need." She then lifted Frodo off of her horse and hoisted Legolas up instead, and next the dwarf, handing Gimli back the chain. "Come Frodo--we shall take the elf-trained steed. I should have thought of that before." To Gimli she said, "Give Legolas some water. He will have a dry mouth."
They rode forward once again. Frodo whispered to Eowyn, "Watch out--you have taken away control of his body, but I think the ring still magnifies his anger--that magic's stronger than anything you've got."
"I know," she whispered back, closely watching the furious elf, who braced his bound hands on the dwarf's back to keep his balance, fighting his drowsiness like a mortal enemy. Frodo thought, What if it's even worse than that--what if she has also taken away the last control he had left of his mind? He remembered Merry's words of the day before, of the greatest danger being Legolas betraying himself.
The elder hobbit said to Eowyn, "You called me 'Merry', just like the old days."
"Heat of battle," she said. "Please pardon the lapse."
"Not at all! I like it that way. 'Lord Holdwine' is the title your brother gave me, and it's good enough for fancy occasions, but Merry is who I am--especially among friends."
She smiled at him. "I shall try to remember that, Merry--except at Meduseld."
Now they traveled in silence as their prisoner nodded against the dwarf's back, or swayed into Gimli's back-stretched arm as the horses maneuvered the steep trail's windings between bush and boulder, tree and cliff. For awhile it did seem as though the darts had quite subdued their charge, and Frodo began to relax. But the rage in Legolas would leave him no peace.
"So here I go," Legolas said unexpectedly, in liquid words that each flowed into the other, "trussed up like game after Milady Manwoman hunted me down. I should not be surprised if I do wind up in the stewpots of Rohan--after all those years of fighting orcs, the House of Eorl must have taken war-brides."
Eowyn said, "Insult me all you want, if it makes you feel better."
"Actually, I feel queasy, thanks to the hobbit's poison darts. Nasty little sneaks and burglars, hobbits--dwarves choose their companions well." To Gimli he said, "If I get sick upon your neck, old 'friend', you have brought it on yourself for keeping company with thugs."
Merry said, "I have a root that can soothe an upset stomach, if you want." He rummaged in his condiment-bag for the tuber with the sweetly spicy taste.
"Have you no fear that I might bite your fingers the minute you hand it to me?"
"Not at all," he said, "That would be Gimli's problem." He brought his pony close and handed a piece of the root up to Gimli, who held it to his friend's mouth. "Besides, you look too green to resist. Go ahead and try it--you'll feel better."
"It burns my tongue."
"But you do feel better, don't you?" the hobbit insisted.
"I suppose--and I am sure that Gimli will thank you for that. Have you any roots or herbs to smooth the wrinkles from a face?"
"Estella, my wife, swears by the blended oils of grapeseed, apricot kernels, and calendula."
"You should sell it to the Lady of Ithilien, for she looks twice the age of her husband by now." Eowyn rode on, unmoved. "As I am sure he has noticed. Did not the Numenoreans of old ban marriage to folk of lesser longevity for precisely this reason? I seem to recall a tragic tale of a king of Numenor in such an ill-made match."
"Stop it!" Merry said. "This isn't you, Legolas."
Eowyn said, "Oh yes it is--a part of all of us."
Gimli muttered, "The part we keep decently covered."
Legolas caught the mutter and laughed till he reeled in the saddle. He threw back his head and sang, "My souuuul rides bare-rump naked to the worrrrrld." Leaning precariously from the horse, he turned to Eowyn and said, "Do you have wrinkles there, too, Milady? Would Lord Faramir tell you if you did?"
"Lord Faramir loves me as I am," said the lady calmly, "Even as Queen Arwen loves Elessar. Our men do not fear time as their ancestors did of old." She turned a keen gaze on him. "Why--do you?"
Gimli said, "Forgive him, Lady--he has no idea what he's saying."
Legolas said, "Oh, quick to the defense of both of us--quite the gentledwarf is Gimli of the Golden Lock. Never insult a lady in his presence, for his people have so few." He leaned close and murmured, "Is that why you love me so, Gimli--because you will never, ever have a wife?" And with bound hands he caressed the dwarf's cheek.
Gimli threw him from the saddle with a clatter of the chain. "How dare you twist even our friendship into ridicule!"
For a moment Legolas just lay there, stunned, as the foul mood abandoned him in the dust. Then, bound as he was, he struggled to his knees, his face dead-white, and said, "Kill me. Please! Kill me now!"
Gimli stared down on him, all wrath fled from his face, leaving nothing behind but horror. "How many ways can you find to break my heart?" he gasped.
"Yes--that is why! I have become nothing but a source of pain to everyone who matters most to me. Please, Gimli, if you do love me, kill me before I hurt you again--I beg of you! You have no idea what torture it is to constantly need to apologize for acts which you not only cannot yourself forgive, but cannot even comprehend. How can I continue on this way, never knowing what I might do next? And there is no cure save death!"
"But there is a cure," said the dwarf.
"What? What?" Legolas fell from his knees to sitting sprawled upon the ground. "Why haven't you told me?"
"Did I not? But I have yet to find you in a state capable of understanding me--I doubt if I could explain it to you now."
"Of all the stolid, stubborn, dwarvish idiocy!" Legolas laughed and wept for joy, the tears streaking the dust upon his face, as his cheeks colored of a sudden like health rushed back in. "You could have at least told me that I have hope!"
"I thought that my hunting you down would have told you that. Had I believed your case hopeless, I'd have concealed your tracks better than you could, yourself. Lady Eowyn, could you help my friend back up into the saddle? And untie his hands so that he can hold on properly--for my arms are short and tire of reaching back."
"Are you sure that you want to take the risk?" she asked.
"I know him. The danger has passed. He has gotten everything out of his system except that drug of yours." Eowyn unbound the elf, and steadied him as he mounted by himself. Legolas smiled strangely and in tentative fashion, but he smiled nonetheless. "Hope," he murmured. "I should have counted on you all along, my good Gimli. 'Sdoubtless something dwarvishly pragmatic and eminently workable--not at all obvious to those of us who live with our heads in the stars."
"Not that pragmatic," said Gimli, "and we shall see how workable." He looked exhausted by his friend's swift changes in mood. "But a solution, yes."
Legolas asked, "Would you really have defied everyone to keep them from capturing me?"
"Of course," said Gimli. "I would rather see you become a wild beast than a broken thing in a cage. I'd have tracked you, and watched over you, and kept you from harm--while I kept you from harming others. I would have hunted for you, if you could not hunt for yourself. I'd have reminded you to eat and assured you of every necessity, and if aught remained that you had no use for, I'd have done without it myself. But none who sought you would have ever found you, while I lived."
Legolas whispered to himself, "While you lived..." and stared far off with haunted eyes. But then he straightened up as best he could. "Gimli, Eowyn...everyone. About what I said earlier..."
"Forget it," Gimli said. "You could have no more helped it than if you really had lost your breakfast on my neck. Illness is always inconvenient."
"You have no idea of the horror..."
"It will not last forever."
"You will explain to me how..."
"Tomorrow. Yes. When you can comprehend." But as the dwarf turned a kindly face up to him, a gap opened between his beard and braid. Legolas stared, eyes wild and wide, at the chain-link bruises slowly darkening on the throat of Gimli, Gloin's son. Merry and Frodo exchanged glances; this would not end here.

Previous Installment Main Page Next Installment