The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 26, Part 26
The Dwarvish Healers
(November 9, 1451)

Frodo studied Legolas as they traveled, not knowing what changes the future might bring, now that they finished the last leg of their journey together. The elf's skin had turned an unmistakable shade of sage; even his eyes had gone from gray to green, and the waning sunlight shone through his hair as though through new spring leaves. Yet otherwise he looked surprisingly hale, filled out with the girth and musculature normal to his kind, for Eowyn had not only insisted on feeding him frequently, but also set him tasks like chopping wood and hauling water to build his strength. His gaze seemed clear of madness for the moment, and his occasional wry comments showed a healthy sense of humor. Indeed, except for the odd coloration, no one would have suspected that anything had ever been wrong with him at all.
 
Late in the day the travelers reached the outskirts of Treegarth--Conquest of the Ents. Tall trees and shapely guarded the gate into that valley, which looked from a distance like a sea of fire, the autumn leaves sparkling in the sun and flickering with more than breeze. The ancient tower of Orthanc rose through and above their blaze like a black column of smoke, in four spiraling spires of indomitable stone, uplifting a stargazer's platform high over the forest. Frodo stared up in wonder at it, remembering all the stories told to him by Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin; he glanced over at the elder hobbit, who bore a stern look and sat straight in the saddle; Merry and his friend, The Took, had played a crucial role in Isengard's downfall many years ago. Gazing lower, Frodo discerned crumbled ruins, between the trees, of mighty fortifications; they looked crushed by the weight of centuries, much like Hollin, but Merry had seen it all happen in minutes at the hands of ents. Frodo shuddered to think what that must have been like.
 
As they rode Frodo again caught that sense of shadows flickering between trunk and trunk, or flitting overhead from branch to branch. And he heard again that murmur, not whispering in the sense of voiceless rasping, but rather like a musical kind of speech, muffled and far away, yet with a disturbing sense of also being near--near and out of reach. He raised May's lens before him; when he gazed through it, he saw ahead of him a kingly face, strikingly like that of Legolas yet ancient without age, crowned in autumn leaves yet imbued with immeasurable sadness, a great and wearying weight of sorrow that no one who had ever been loved by a family could mistake--not remote from mortal understanding in the least. Frodo lowered the lens; without it he could barely make out a shadowy figure waiting in the distance on the road ahead of them, before the living gate.
 
"Is that...?"
 
"Yes," Legolas barely spoke, his eyes dark with emotion. "King Thranduil. My father." Frodo saw Gimli reach back, and Legolas clasp his hand.
 
"There is nothing," said the dwarf, "that you must face, that I am not beside you." Like Papa for my namesake, Frodo thought. And the suffering he cannot share won't make it any easier.
 
They heard the tread of heavy feet behind them, that fell in step with the rhythm of a smith's patient hammer. A chanting of deep voices in strange and thrilling chords and shifts of key washed over them as they turned to see a troop of dwarves march towards them, bearing axes like banners--indeed, for they soon saw that these axes could have no use other than ceremonial, being made of jeweled gold. As the dwarves approached, Frodo felt more than saw the shadowy figures of the forest converge upon them as well. As though something moved in his heart to tell him what to do, he stood in his stirrups and held the Glass of May up high, catching the last rays of the sun; he turned it slowly in his hand till its light fell across Eowyn's eyes, then Merry's, then his own. Eowyn gasped out loud at the sudden sight of elves all around them, and Merry jerked visibly. And now Frodo, too, could see the elves even without May's gift in hand, as plainly as though they were hobbits in the Market Square.
 
Even Legolas looked at him strangely, saying, "There is more to that glass than any 'toy' that I have ever known or heard of, Frodo." Frodo said nothing in reply, but pocketed the lens; he felt weird, but also like maybe he should feel weird, like nothing could be more appropriate for this evening's business.
 
Eowyn said, "Why do I get the impression that, of all of us, the glass could only do that in your hand, Frodo son of Samwise?" She could not quite disguise the fear in her eyes; she might have gotten used to elves in the court of Queen Arwen, but seeing them out in the wilderness, close to her own land, brought up more primitive feelings in this daughter of Rohan. And rightly--for these were Silvan elves, and if they are good, they are also wild.
 
Now elves and dwarves alike enfolded the travelers, who dismounted and waited for Thranduil and a distinguished, white-haired dwarf to approach them side by side. They bowed (except for Eowyn, who sketched a kind of curtsey, sweeping back imaginary skirts) but then Gimli raised his eyes and cried out, "Father! Have you come, too?" He would have run to embrace his sire, had not the chain stopped him.
 
"Indeed," said Gloin. "With my son involved in a matter grave as this." And the old dwarf stepped away from the elven king, and took Gimli into his arms, chain and all. "Strange have been your paths, my son, and stranger still the bonds of love that bind you--yet there are worse things to bind a heart than love. You have done well, Gimli--better than I could have done."
 
Thranduil hesitated, and then also approached his son. For the longest time the two elves gazed into each other's eyes, as the combined companies held their breaths, so much emotion in the two faces that they froze, unable to choose what to express. Suddenly the king lashed out and struck his son so hard across the face that Legolas reeled back, falling to the ground.
 
Legolas felt at his face and said, "I accept that, Father. I have done ill. At your feet I humbly ask forgiveness."
 
Trembling, Thranduil cried, "Humbly? After you have humbled your father as well, beyond what I thought I could endure? Never in all my long years did I imagine that you could bring such disgrace upon our family and upon your people!"
 
"Oh happy fall!" cried Gimli, as he helped Legolas to his feet. "Happy indeed the fall that can bring dwarf and elf and ent all to one accord, for the sake of peace, and healing, and love! What your son did he did for love of all who are not elves--would you take that back, whatever the consequences? How many great sins have elves committed--aye, and dwarves as well!--for pride or greed or jealousy? How many wars, o king, how many deaths and griefs greater than deaths have your kind and my kind together brought about for such base cause, that we later celebrated in songs and tales and feasts? Yet you strike your son for sinning out of love, and bringing about accord! Have you been humbled? Then let us all be humbled before the noble heart of Legolas--before we all rot in our pride and leave this Middle-Earth by decay rather than with dignity!"
 
Then King Thranduil cast down his gaze, and the pride fell from his face, and in a low voice he said, "Truly has Legolas spoken of you, Gimli son of Gloin, aye, and the Lady Galadriel herself, when they confessed that your eloquence rivals that of elves, and that your insight never ceases to surprise. For not only have you shamed me, but made me glad of that shame that brings me to my senses." Then with tears in his grey eyes he turned to Legolas, and embracing him said, "Forgive me my angry words, and I shall forgive you all! Even in my fury I wanted to see you well and prospering once more."
 
"Oh yes, father--with all my heart!" And Legolas wept long and hard upon his father's shoulder like a healing rain, washing much away. And those who watched wept also, and were glad.
 
When at last father and son parted, words in Sindarin and in the dwarvish tongue passed all around. Then the whole mingled company moved off of the road, carrying the travelers with them, down a broad path that seemed to open before them and close behind them, winding through the woods. Frodo could almost have sworn that he saw branches move out of their way to direct their steps as the trees desired, but he never could quite catch it happening for certain. To walk in that woods, even on the outskirts of Treegarth, meant to walk in a dream.
 
King Thranduil said, "We must conduct the purification before we pass the gates."
 
Gloin added, "Treebeard has prepared a place for us, as our healers requested."
 
They came thus to a clearing with a single low boulder in the center, broad and flattish on top, that gleamed a moonlike white in the stretching shadows. To the northwest side a brook widened into a pool, sheltered by the outstretched limbs of trees; frost glimmered pale around its edges. Mosses and soft, frostbitten grass carpeted the space.
 
An ancient dwarf, who hobbled along by the aid of two younger dwarves beside him, approached and said, in a voice strangely strong for all its quavering, "Unchain the patient. All of us guard his integrity together." Gimli undid the mithril chain from Legolas and himself, handing it over to his father. Next the elder pointed to the pool and said, "Bathe--healers, patient, and loved ones alike." Then he seemed to notice Eowyn for the first time (who was blushing fit to compete with the sunset) and barked some orders in dwarvish. Immediately dwarves spread cloaks over branches and screened off one part of the pool for her privacy.
 
As she disappeared into the foliage, Legolas bowed and said, "Since meeting Gimli, I have learned much of the gallantry of dwarves." The elder dwarf inclined his head in reply.
 
Certain dwarves and elves (Gloin and King Thranduil among them) joined the remaining travelers in disrobing for the bath. Several female elves who resembled Legolas joined Eowyn behind the screen, along with two aging healer-dwarves whose thinness of beard alone hinted at their genders. The rest turned aside, busy with preparations elsewhere in the woods.
 
One of the stripping dwarves smirked at Legolas, saying, "In over your head, are you? Glad am I to see the day when an elf would sue us for help in so embarrassing a matter!"
 
The eldest dwarf stalked over without assistance, grabbed this dwarf by the beard to jerk his face from Legolas to himself, and said, "Put your clothes back on, Momi--you cannot join us in the purifying pool with such polluting thoughts."
 
"But I have trained long and hard for you in the healing arts!"
 
"Then you have trained in vain, for you have failed. You are no healer."
 
When Momi would have argued Gloin stepped up, axe in hand (a sturdy, unceremonial iron axe, and sharpened well) and said, "Go--naked or clothed is up to you. But it had best be soon, for the walk back to the Lonely Mountain is long, and you have much ground to cover before winter, with no companions to help you." The young dwarf pulled on his clothes with such fury that he tore a sleeve, then gathered up his gear and retreated. Those who looked on saw a path that Momi stormed down, pack upon his back, but when they next glanced that way, no path remained; more than one dwarf shuddered, and not just at November's wind upon bare skin. After this the remaining healer-dwarves all hummed upon a single deep note that seemed to rumble right through the listener's chests and shake away the moment's unpleasantness like dust from a thrumming chord.
 
Now dwarves, elves, and hobbits plunged into the icy water, and they heard Eowyn and the other females splashing behind the screen, gasping but without complaint. The shock of the water made all thought flee, leaving nothing in its wake except a kind of chill purity. With chattering teeth they scooped up silt and sand and scoured themselves, and then rinsed off, and let the water carry away all grime of travel and impurity of heart alike. Dwarves wrung out their beards and elves poured water through their hair, and hobbits worked the cleansing mud through the fur upon their feet.
 
The rest of the dwarves and elves waited on the banks with towels and white robes to encase the bathers' shivering limbs as all climbed stiffly out again. Elven maidens went into Eowyn's space to tend to her and the other females, while another elf supplied Legolas with a robe to his own measure. Dwarves came with robes for the hobbits, but on assessing Merry's size, they conferred with the elves, who had to take one of their own robes and cut the hem a bit on the spot to fit him.
 
Merry laughed ruefully. "Too tall for one, too short for the other, I suppose." But the dwarves spoke eagerly to each other in their own tongue, pointing to him and nodding, gesturing first at his head above theirs, then down at his furry feet as though to confirm his identity, height notwithstanding. "Well, since you've noticed," said Merry, "it takes considerable food to fill up a hobbit my size--when do we eat?"
 
"Not until after the ceremony," said a dwarf by his side, robed in white like him. "Then comes the feast. That will probably be some time after midnight."
 
"After midnight? I shall faint! Are you sure?"
 
The dwarf shrugged. "We healers have fasted for three days to prepare ourselves--a few hours more matter little to us." His eyes twinkled as he said, "And if all that I have heard of the halfling folk be true, you can endure much more than you let on. But come--the night has fallen full; the rites shall shortly begin. At least you shall not mind standing barefoot--already my toes miss my boots!"
 
Legolas now lay upon the boulder, his head to the west, staring upwards at the stars with his hair fanned out upon the stone. A circle of twelve iron cauldrons full of fire burned all around him, each set at the twelve points of the compass, and each had its own white-robed attendant to cast in occasional aromatic handfuls of resins and herbs; the flames cast a fluttering red glow that chased shadows over the elf; in that light his skin looked almost normal. The rest of the healer-dwarves gathered within this fiery ring, along with Legolas's traveling companions, those elves who had shared the bath, and Gloin, who had learned to love Legolas for his son's sake. The boulder's sides darkened with their intersecting shadows, but Legolas seemed to hover, luminous, above it all. Those not directly involved in the ritual, elf and dwarf, thronged outside the fires. The forest seemed to lean in curiously, lending yet another circle of support.
 
White-robed dwarves led the loved ones of Legolas to stand closest around the boulder. Then two young dwarves carried a chest to the foot of the rock, and from it the eldest lifted a huge, jagged mass of crystal with many uneven points grown from a single heart, white maybe, yet with all colors coruscating through it in the restless firelight. He held it high over his head, chanting deeply in the untranslated tongue of the children of stone and forge. With the assistance of his helpers, he climbed up onto the boulder to place the crystal-cluster on the elf's breast, then struggled down again and backed into the circle of loved ones. He brushed aside his kneelength beard to pin in place a silver brooch of elvish workmanship--an eagle in shape, set with a beryl. Merry gasped at the sight of it, as the light kindled green fire in its depths.
 
"I stand in place for another loved one of Legolas Greenleaf who could not be here tonight," the sage declared, in a voice loud for all his age. "The care and thought of Tar Elessar burns brightly in this gem." He then took Thranduil's hand to his right and to his left the hand of Gimli. "Each of the inner circle shall take the hand of the ones next to you, to either side, and close ranks around your beloved. Contemplate your love for Legolas Greenleaf as steadily as you may. Do not let go no matter what. If any one of you should faint, those to either side must hold the fallen one's hands firm. If two side by side should look in danger of slipping from the waking world, let one of my apprentices step forward and clasp their hands quickly--but nothing must break the circle of love!"
 
Frodo took Merry's hand to his right, and the cool fingers of an elven maiden to his left. He saw Eowyn on the other side of Merry, and Gloin nearby, next to Gimli. The rest of the circle consisted of elves that Legolas had befriended over the centuries, or else kin. Frodo wondered just how much of the tale of Legolas had never come to him. What, for instance, had ever happened to his mother? No elvish woman stood beside the King, but Frodo didn't suppose that Thranduil gave birth all by himself. Then Frodo put such thoughts aside as distracting to their purpose, and thought on Legolas himself, alone.
 
For the longest time nothing appeared to happen--they just stood there. And stood there. Merry's stomach grumbled so loudly that Frodo had to fight back a chuckle before it dared escape. But mostly he heard nothing but the water flowing beyond them, the restless whisper of the fires, and the rustle of the trees. Shadows overlapped shadows on the boulder to cause deeper shade between them, dancing in spikes that all pointed up to where the patient glowed above them in his firewashed white robes. Frodo looked on Legolas and tried to focus on his love for the elf, but that seemed strange--his love didn't seem a thing to think, but rather something that just was. What exactly did it mean to "contemplate" your love for someone? He stared at Legolas, and thought about good times together, and about how much he wanted to see him well, and hoped that this sufficed.
 
After hours, it seemed, Frodo thought he heard the elder-healer moan, very faintly at first, but soon Frodo realized that he hummed a kind of chant. Others picked it up; soon all the healer-dwarves rumbled on the same deep tune. Then some harmonized in moving, unexpected chords, and all began to stamp in time, and the forest reverberated with their stamping and their chanting. Frodo saw that most of the older healers surrounding them held out crystals of their own, pointed towards Legolas, glinting with each flicker of the fires. The mass of crystal upon the patient's breast began to glow with its own light, feebly at first, seeming only an illusion of reflection, and then very definitely shining cool and white, a radiance distinct from the surrounding flames, pale upon the underside of Legolas's jaw. At last it burned so bright it hurt to look on it directly, like a star come down to settle on the elven breast. The chants grew louder and the stamping firmer, and the arms that held forth crystals did not falter though the hours crawled on.
 
Frodo began to feel dizzy, from hunger and so much aching time spent standing in one place, from incense smoke and shivering light, hypnotic music and the pounding beat. His hand sweat in Merry's, but the elvish touch on his other side felt cool and steadying. Beside him Merry gritted his teeth, trying to keep all his weight on his good foot. To distract himself Frodo repeated in his mind all of Papa's stories about Legolas, and all of his own memories of their travels together--the songs the elf had sung, the gentle way that Legolas had tended to his wound, the voice above the pit that distracted the orc and saved his life. He almost giggled when he remembered the stinking blanket drying over the campfire, or the tipsy antics at the Prancing Pony, or the night when the story-happy elf simply would not shut up. Then he remembered Legolas's own tales of Mordor and the descent into madness in his grief for mortals, and Frodo felt his eyes grow moist, but he could not free a hand to dry them. The more uncomfortable his flesh became, the more the hobbit retreated into memories, until he came very close to blanking out his flesh entirely--he felt Merry and the elf pull him back up to his feet the minute he sagged down to his knees, surprised by what his body did. And the chant went on...
 
Now he saw a speck of blackness in the crystal, a tiny eclipse to the light. As he watched the blotch slowly swelled up deep within the stone, uneven in its growth--an expanding cancer trapped in the crystal heart. The chant and stamping quickened and grew fierce. Frodo found himself muttering under his breath, "That's it, you miserable blowfly--get away from him! We love him and you can't have him!" as though he understood what was going on. Darkness flooded the crystal, which began to tremble and tinkle before their eyes.
 
CRAAAAAAAK! The crystal exploded! Everyone gasped, and then laughed--of all things they laughed!--as the tension broke and the eldest dwarf let go the hands he'd held, and all then followed suit. Frodo sank to the ground with a sigh of relief, surprised at the sweat pouring off of him in the evening cold. Apparently Merry toppled even faster; Frodo found his elder sprawled next to him, massaging his own ankle. Legolas sat up on the boulder, laughing as well, blood dripping from his chin where a shard had hit him, till a healer climbed up and held a cloth to the wound.
 
"That always happens," the dwarf explained. "Part of letting the evil out. The important thing is that nobody else got hit--that would indeed have been a bad sign."
 
Frodo climbed back to his feet at the gestures of several smiling healers. He and all the other loved ones of Legolas Greenleaf hurried up to help the grinning, shaky elf down off the boulder--hands of all shapes and sizes reached up to him. "You cannot believe," Legolas said over and over, "How light I feel--how utterly weightless!"
 
"The feast will change that," Gloin said cheerily, as those who'd waited outside the circle brought forth fragrant baskets of food and drink. Frodo saw that a couple healers tended Merry's ankle, and then carried him between them to the feast. The light grew dimmer as dwarves extinguished the burning cauldrons in hisses and steams, but ordinary lanterns and campfires soon brought better illumination, and the stars shone clean and brightly overhead.
 
"I feel so good!" Legolas repeated, leaning against his father, who helped him walk. "So much weight has gone from me!"
 
Frodo whispered to Eowyn, "Why is he so weak? I thought he'd be stronger after all this trouble."
 
"So he is," the human healer whispered back. "But he has gone through a kind of surgery of the soul, and that takes some temporary toll. The feast should fortify him. All goes as it should, Frodo; his recovery has begun."
 
That satisfied Frodo. Then his stomach growled and he remembered his hunger. He joined the celebrating dwarves and elves, hobbit, and human being, and eagerly reached towards a basket of bread. "Ow!" he cried as he stretched out his arm. To Frodo's surprise, blood spread on his upper sleeve. The entire gathering fell silent as every dwarf in the clearing stared at him. "What?"
 
The elder-healer hurried over as fast as his arthritic hips would let him. Gnarled fingers shoved back the sleeve and probed the old wound sharply. "This did not happen tonight?" he asked.
 
"No," said Frodo. "I got it fighting an orc outside Mor...Khazad-Dum. But I thought it long since closed."
 
"Why did nobody tell me of this?" the old dwarf demanded.
 
Frodo said, "We didn't know it would matter--it's pretty much healed up, anyway, or was till now."
 
"Hmmm...that is something, at least." The healer drew a polished piece of quartz from a pocket of his robe and pressed it to the wound till the bleeding stopped. Frodo felt the stone thrum oddly against his skin--or thought he did, anyway; he might have imagined it. The ancient held up the stone to the light, studying the pattern that the hobbit's blood had left on it. At last he said, "No, Frodo Son of Samwise, you have not been breached--but you have been marked." He wiped the stone off, shaking his head, and pocketed it again. "He will bedevil you, you know, perhaps for the rest of your life, whispering temptations, always whispering. Do not listen to him! Do not let him in!"
 
"I won't!" Frodo said, quite alarmed. He waved at the barrels rolling in. "Uh, does that mean I shouldn't join the party?"
 
The old dwarf chuckled grimly and said, "Oh, I think it would be just fine for tonight--nothing here will tempt you, and besides, your enemy hates mirth and celebration. But I would exercise caution, young halfling, under any circumstances that might leave you open to evil whispers. You must stay vigilant, always."
 
"Uh...I see." Frodo didn't see at all, but he had to say something.
 
"Stay vigilant," the healer repeated, and then melted back into the crowd.

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