Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 20, Part 20
Frodo expected that he
would not sleep a wink all night, wondering about the
dwarf's plans, but in fact, he had barely pulled the
blanket over himself, it seemed, before Eowyn nudged him
out again for sword-practice in the morning. Merry had
already risen and bustled about cooking breakfast,
dropping pans and cursing under his breath in a way that Frodo
found completely uncharacteristic. But when Frodo offered
to take the chore over, his elder insisted that he
couldn't sleep, so he might as well make himself useful.
Merry, in fact, got snappish at the very idea of
receiving assistance, so Frodo shrugged and left him to
it, following Eowyn to level ground nearby, as the rest
of their party stirred, awakened by Merry's noise.
The sparring-partners' breath puffed little clouds in the
cold air, and as they heated to their work and shed
warming layers of clothes, even their bodies steamed.
This time Eowyn made Frodo switch sword-hands frequently
throughout the practice. "A warrior cannot afford a
weak side," she told him. "We may only have a
strong side and a stronger side. You were not prepared to
fight with your 'wrong' hand, were you?"
"I survived, didn't I?"
"Barely--and only against an opponent distracted
half out of his mind."
"Half?" Legolas looked up from repairing a rip
in his sleeve from the day before. "How do you
measure these increments of madness, Lady?" Without
a shirt on, the others could see his ribs. "Do they
teach such things in the instruction of healers?"
She stopped the swordplay and came to sit by him, as
Frodo toweled off his sweat and sat down, glad of the
shortened practice. Legolas had not yet bound back his
hair; the loose strands gave him an orphan look, and his
bare skin appeared cold and pale. The healer said to him,
"It still troubles you, does it not, this naming of
Legolas paused in his sewing, staring at her as one who
longed to trust, yet could not, quite. "It does,
"And if we ignore that rent in your shirt, and never
speak such words as 'tatter' or 'rag' or 'tear', will it
"My shirt feels no sting of pain."
"Nor sting of the needle you must plunge into
it." Earnestly she said, "I wish that the healing of
bodies and minds could proceed as painlessly as the
healing of clothing, Legolas, I really do." Eowyn
examined his work after he tied off the knot. "You
have a fine hand with stitches; my mother would have
approved." She handed the shirt back to him and
said, "Wear it in good health--or at least better
health. Every day, a little better health."
He shrugged the shirt back on, but said, "That
cannot be, Milady." He looked over at Gimli as he
spoke to her. "Did you know that elves can die of a
broken heart? We are not immortal in all ways, Mistress of Herbs, and
our ills do not always parallel those of
mortal-kind." Gimli only now became aware of his
friend's gaze, caught as he was in the act of feeling at
his sore neck; the dwarf's blunt fingers had accidentally
brushed aside the beard to reveal how the bruises had
blackened, visible link by link, like a necklace of pain.
" I have injured my friend," Legolas said
simply. "I have no further desire to live." And
he smiled--a faint curve of the lips, more rending than
"Balderdash!" Gimli exclaimed, dropping his
hand into a fist. "What right do you have to
take more offence at anything done to my person than I
Just then Merry called out, "Breakfast, everyone!"
and brought around the bowls, limping slightly.
"I need no breakfast," Legolas said with the
same sad smile.
"Of all the obstinate elvish nonsense!" Gimli
sputtered. "Of course you need
breakfast--your clothing flaps on you like a banner for
stupidity." He stood up with a stomp and hauled
Legolas up to his knees by the chain to stare him in the
eye. "Listen to me! There is nothing--absolutely nothing
noble about letting yourself die of shame. It does not
mend any of your errors. It does not mend matters between
us. The only way you can do that is to cooperate with the
healing that I have set up with such great pains for you.
If you refuse me that much, then you have betrayed me
"But Gimli, please! Consider all I may yet do on the
road between here and there."
"Nothing worse than refusing to trod that road at
"Gimli, I tried to kill you!" Torment
wrung his face as he clasped the dwarf's hand upon the
"Well now, you didn't succeed, did you?"
Merry put in, "And you will not, Legolas." He
limped over and put an arm around the kneeling elf's
shoulders. "We're your friends, we're here, standing
by you no matter what, and we will not let you do
anything you cannot bear."
Eowyn knelt down and smoothed a stray lock from his eyes.
"Gimli never was in any danger, Legolas, beyond a
"No worse," said the dwarf, "than what I
gave you the day you first told me of your ring-making
Frodo drew near and said, "We didn't chain you
because we hate you, but because we love you! We only
want to give you the restraint that you wish you had,
yourself--so that you can stop being so scared of
yourself." He took the elf's cool hand in his.
"Wouldn't it be a relief, not to feel so
"Now come," said Gimli. "Sit. Eat."
And they sat down again, but Legolas still would not
touch his bowl, though he seemed about to waver. "Do
you remember," said Gimli in a gentler voice,
"the Paths of the Dead?"
"Yes," said the elf. "I do remember."
"Recall then also my terror in that place--my
crawling, mind-breaking terror."
"I recall it."
"'Twas love of you as much as Aragorn that kept me
on that road, Legolas. At times I would gladly have died
rather than face another moment of such fear--but then I
would see you ahead of me, going forward, unafraid. I
would borrow your courage, when I had none left of my
own." Gimli's eyes never left his friend's.
"Now you have your own dark tunnel to tread--trust
that I am there with you, and not afraid, and that I can
lead you to the light at the other end, though you see it
Long did Legolas gaze back at him. Finally he said,
"You spoke of a cure..."
"And I shall tell you of it on the road. But first,
eat. You are yet too weak to endure what lies
ahead." And Legolas ate.
Frodo himself could hardly stand to wait while everybody
went through the tedious business of closing up yet
another camp. At other times the morning and evening
routines had always comforted him--stable points in an
ever-changing scenery. But today he would gladly have
left all the pots, pans, blankets, baggage, and
paraphernalia of travel lying right where they'd
scattered it, for crows and squirrels to puzzle over, if
it meant starting the journey any faster.
they saddled up and went on their way, in the final
stretch of hill country. Below them lay autumnal
grasslands turned to gold by frost; by all the signs,
they would reach the plains by nightfall. Frodo saw that
Merry, too, fidgeted in the saddle and listened
impatiently to hoof-falls and the faint jingle of their
gear when they really wanted to hear speech! The
hobbits barely contained themselves enough to let Legolas
be the one to ask of Gimli, "Tell me of this plan of
yours," as they passed through a small wood.
"Treebeard's really." Leaf shadows passed over
the dwarf as they rode, changing his face moment by
Legolas stared down on him, wide-eyed. "You would
dare go to Treebeard without me? You?"
"Of course! Haven't you been paying attention? Do
you see now why I could tell you nothing of my plans
before? You'd have forgotten the most obvious
"Well, I am now as attentive as I shall ever be--so
Merry rode up beside them. "Yes, please talk! We
hobbits cannot bear secrets very long." Frodo rode
up nearly as fast.
"Of course I went to Treebeard. No other creature
available remembered the days of the casting of the elven
rings--and though the ent knows nothing about metalcraft,
he knows plenty about elves. It was not so bad,"
Gimli said, though he shuddered. "The first moments
were a bit dicey, I admit. The minute I stepped under the
eaves of that forest, the branches around me seemed to
groan and click in a menacing fashion, and I swear I saw
boughs drop to bar my way. But I called out for Treebeard
and he came." The muscles tensed around Gimli's
eyes. "Aye, he came, a living tower whose steps
shook the earth beneath my feet, entire trees swaying out
of the way of their master. I felt in my bones a
certainty that he would crush me where I stood, and every
fiber of my body begged to flee, but for you, Legolas, I
held my ground." Then Gimli sighed, as though in
relief. "But then he recognized me as your guest
from years before, and parted the boughs, allowing me
entry into Treegarth without reservation--especially when I
told him from the first that I came out of concern for
Frodo said, "You still look frightened, just
"Do I? Dense are the woods where walk the Shepherds
of Trees--dense and tangled and unfriendly to my kind.
Thick roots twine over all the ground, as tall as dwarves
and hard to navigate, within living tunnels of trunk and
bough, where little light leaks down and nary a lamp
relieves the dark. And Treebeard..." He paused.
"I respect Treebeard more than fear him. Only a fool
would take him lightly."
Merry nodded. "Even I knew that, from the first I
laid eyes on him--and we hobbits are notorious for taking
Eowyn laughed at a memory, but spoke no word.
Gimli said, "Treebeard bent to me, and lifted me up,
and carried me to speak to me--a terrifying experience,
but he knew my love for you, Legolas, by how I permitted
him this liberty. Never have I traveled so fast and at
such a height! He bore me to his own quarters where we
talked the night away."
Merry interrupted. "Did he share ent-draughts with
Gimli hesitated, then said, "Only a tiny bit--what
would fill a cordial glass, no more." He fidgeted
under Merry's knowing grin. "I was curious."
"I thought you looked a wee bit taller."
Merry's eyes twinkled.
"Just the one sip. I asked for plain water after
that, explaining to him that my people mostly build halls
to our own size--Khazad-Dum, of course, being a
magnificent exception. But I admit it did taste
good." Gimli smiled shyly and would not meet the
hobbit's eyes. "Treebeard did say one odd thing in
response, though--that I have grown in more ways already
than many could measure, and might have trouble fitting
anywhere as a result." Gimli shook his head,
marveling. "He has the strangest eyes..."
"I remember," Merry said with a smile.
"We were born--the dwarves and the ents--out of a
marital quarrel among the Great Powers of the Earth. I
discussed it with him--I think that we were the first dwarf
and ent to actually sit down--figuratively speaking--and
address the issue directly. I told him that for far too
long we had acted out of the quarrel, and not out of the
marital bond that preceded and followed it--our creators,
after all, do love each other. And I told him that the
roots of his realm sink deep into ours, and that we could
not live without the fruits of his--neither could exist
without the other's blessing, in some form or another. To
my surprise he agreed with me right off, and said that
the feud had gone on far too long; it made no more sense
even to his ancient memory."
Legolas said, "I still wonder what gave you hope to
even inquire of the ents, let alone brave their
"I studied anything I could find that might shed
light upon your situation, Legolas. At last, in the
archives of my people, I found something of Hollin's
history, since they were allies of Khazad-Dum. In ancient
scrolls and chiseled stones I read of dreadful giants,
treelike in aspect, that used to walk freely in the elven
woods--creatures that could only have been ents--and that
the Noldor knew them well. I figured Treebeard must have
known Celebrimbor personally."
Legolas shook his head. "I grew up in a remote
cavern palace, in a backward nation, too long isolated by
Sauron's shadow on Mirkwood Forest, and though I ventured
more than once beyond our borders I traveled oft alone,
and rarely met my kin--there is so much of my own
people's history unknown to me." He turned his gaze
down onto the dwarf in front of him. "But my
ignorance goes even beyond this. Long-years came and
long-years went, and I never guessed that the best friend
I would ever have might be born under a mountain I could
see from my father's balcony, less than a march and more
than a world away."
Gimli blushed. "As for why I hoped," he
continued, "I also knew that the elves cast many
lesser rings--what did Gandalf once call them? Essays in
the craft. 'Essays' implies a learning curve, trial and
error. So I figured that you couldn't have been the first elf,
Legolas, to make a serious mistake in the attempt."
He touched his friend's hand upon his shoulder. "And
I was right--long ago Treebeard had helped in the
treatment of elves who mismade rings, in a way unique to
his kind. But 'twere best done if we can cleanse you
first of any hovering evil that influenced you to err in
the first place."
"Sauron," Legolas sighed.
"Many dark spirits have offered their counsel to
those who desire power out of despair--some date back to
the days of Morgoth," Gimli told him.
"Treebeard told me all about them."
Merry said, "And Treebeard knows how to put them to
flight? Good for him!"
"No, he doesn't," said the dwarf. "That
posed a problem. He left that to the elves, themselves.
At first I despaired, for even Treebeard knew that the
methods of the Noldor in this matter resembled nothing
that the elves now practice. But when Treebeard described
what he could remember I took heart again." His eyes
lit up. "The relevant branch of Noldor medicine so closely
parallels Dwarvish healing that I am certain they must
have collaborated on it! So I have enlisted some of the
greatest healers of my people to dare the Treegarth with
us and to play their part."
"Dwarf healers?" Legolas exclaimed. "But
they never reveal their methods to outsiders!"
"Times change," Gimli said sadly. "To whom
shall we pass on our secrets? The latest generation of
dwarves has borne no girls whatsoever." They rode in
silence with bowed heads for a time. Frodo thought of his
own self-pity over traveling far from his own kind's
maidens, and felt ashamed of himself. Then Gimli chuckled
uneasily. "To be perfectly honest, we have mainly
kept our medicine secret for fear of ridicule. We are a
rational people, but in this we tap deep into something
that we do not fully understand, ourselves, and we cannot,
with any certainty, prove that our methods work at
"You do not reassure me, Gimli son of Gloin."
The dwarf shrugged. "Our treatments always make me
feel better. But that could be subjective."
"How did you even persuade your healers to attempt
such a thing--for me, an elf, in the company of
"It did not come for free. Messages have flown
between Mirkwood, Gondor, and the Lonely Mountain since
you disappeared. King Thranduil made great pledges to
anyone who can help his son, and I have added my part to
it, besides--for my own hoard is not small."
"My father..." With hardly a move made, they
could almost see Legolas crumple in on himself. "So
"Did you imagine that you could hide such a thing
from him, old friend? Yes, he knows. Everyone who cares
about you knows. Even Sam and Pippin know, for messengers
came inquiring about the gardener that the Shire was
supposed to send. It was Sam who told us about your
wearing the messenger's uniform, and your strange
behavior at the Prancing Pony. As he put it, 'and the
more I thought about it, after, the stranger it
got.'" Gimli turned to Frodo. "Your parents are
worried about you, Frodo--you must write them at the
"I'll bet they are," he said faintly, nearly as
nonplussed as the elf.
"But do not believe," Gimli continued,
"that treasure alone motivates the healers of my
people--some of the best refused most of what we offered,
asking little more than traveling expenses. They are
tired of old feuds and grow lonely in the echoing halls
where too few children scamper. I am not the first dwarf
to rethink the matter of our origins. If we cannot halt
our own departure from this world, we can at least manage
our last days gracefully. Your healing may well become a
symbol of healing for us all."
Legolas thought long on that. "You accept matters
more gracefully than I--but that is like you, Gimli, to
outdo elves, time and again, in whatever we pride
ourselves in the most. At least it comforts me to know that
some good may come of my folly." He squeezed the
dwarf's shoulder. "I am moved, Gimli--so deeply
moved that I cannot tell you, by all the trouble you have
gone through for my sake. And your people, too!" His
voice broke as he said, "And to think that I
rewarded you with violence!"
"Think no more of it, old friend. Would I go through
this trouble in the first place if you had no need of it?
You would have stood by me in reverse circumstance."
"But what about Fangorn--Treebeard? I have never
heard of this cure, and I have lived long."
"The elves who made such errors concealed both
disease and treatment as best they could. No one ever
knew who had no need to know." Gimli grinned
suddenly. "Have I never told you that pride has ever
been the downfall of the elves?"
"Too many times," Legolas groaned. "So
what does it entail?"
"Merging," said the dwarf. Legolas fell silent,
and would not say another word, no matter how the hobbits
pressed for more.