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.
"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
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
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
"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
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
"But I have trained long and hard for you in the
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
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
"Why did nobody tell me of this?" the old dwarf
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
"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,
"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.