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
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
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
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
"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.
"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--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,
"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
sooner...it...hits...your...brain." 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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Stop it!" Merry said. "This isn't you,
Eowyn said, "Oh yes it is--a part of all of
Gimli muttered, "The part we keep decently
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
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
Gimli threw him from the saddle with a clatter of the
chain. "How dare you twist even our friendship into
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
"Are you sure that you want to take the risk?" she
"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,
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
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.