Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 27, Part 27
The Healing of Legolas
(November 10, 1451)
Frodo had never known such
a feast in all his born days. It went without saying that
the elvish fare surpassed anything he'd ever eaten in the
Shire--bread as sweet as autumn sunlight and fluffy-soft
within a toothsome crust; fruits still savoring of the
honey'd blossoms that they sprung from; creamy cheeses,
exquisite in flavor, veined with wild berry jam or savory
with herbs; confections of the dark, rich nuts that elves
can find in Mirkwood; and more besides. Frodo sampled a
pastry of many flaky layers that tasted exactly like
walking through crispy drifts of maple leaves, and a
salad of delicate wild greens gathered right there in the
woods, and melting, buttery beans that satisfied the
heart as well as the stomach.
But it surprised Frodo (and probably others as well) how
well the hearty fare of dwarves set off these
delicacies--the boldly spiced sausages of rabbit and
other burrowing beasts, the smoked or pickled fish of
subterranean pools, the many root vegetables as dear to
dwarves as to hobbit-kind (a veritable rainbow of
potatoes, parsnips, beets, carrots, rutabagas, turnips,
onions, celeriac, and scallions, all swimming in
butter or gravy or sauce) but most especially, and in
considerable abundance and variety, mushrooms! Mushrooms
in blazing colors and mushrooms of no color at all, great
slabs of mushrooms served up like steaks, itty bitty
mushrooms stewed together in a broth, perfect discs or
globes, or peculiar shapes that looked like nothing Frodo
could compare them to. And oh, the many flavors! Meaty or
mealy, sweet or onion-sharp, flavors as subtle as
a morning mist, flavors so strong that they shocked the
tongue--Frodo sampled them all.
Nor did he lack for aught to wash it down with. Now
dwarves filled his mug with their own sturdy brew, now
elves poured forth a wine that sparkled like the laughter
of the stars, until songs bubbled up from him of their
own accord, answered by elves singing songs in return,
as piercing sweet as the first bird's trill of the
morning, or else he would hear in reply the deep-throated
ballads of the dwarven bards, moving in ways unfamiliar
to topside folk.
Even Eowyn joined in, singing her
favorite epics of Rohan in a high, sweet voice that
invoked those who rode to battle all too young and never
rode back--she even donned her mail again to capture the
music's theme for those who spoke another tongue; somehow
this seemed right for the evening, as others added
festive touches of their own over their robes or in place
of them. Again the elven minstrels plied the company with
ballads beyond the memories of men, wreathed now in
leaves or the season's last dried flowers, again the
dwarves chanted richly in their turn, with the firelight
glinting on their new-donned medallions and jewels, and
then Merry stood up for a lively ditty from Buckland,
wearing his green jerkin and sword-belt over his robes,
looking nothing like anyone in his tunes but dashing all
the same, then Eowyn again, and more came after her, song
whirling into song, each one different, each a motif
necessary to a greater music. It didn't seem to matter
that many there did not speak each other's tongues, for
the music lifted them beyond all words as the heart of
the songs welled up through throats and faces. Thus did
harmony rule the remainder of the night as the stars spun
When dawn unfurled its colors across the sky, Frodo felt
immensely sleepy and content, as full of good cheer and
hospitality as ever a hobbit could be (and glad to lounge
around in a robe rather than anything having a
waistband!) yet strangely reluctant to stretch out and
surrender to sleep, wanting this moment to last forever,
as he gazed up in wonder at the glory of color rising on
the world. But then the quiet conversation all around him
faltered, letting in the murmur of the woods and water,
as all turned back to the boulder, sensing where to look
by the prickle on the backs of their necks. There, for
the first time in his life, Frodo saw ents.
Ents! Treelike giants, manlike trees--words could not
encompass the beings who towered over them. Pillars of
living, woodlike flesh, sometimes smooth and fluid in
shape, sometimes shaggy or gnarled or bent, all graced
with faces ancient even beyond the memories of elves, and
in each face gleamed eyes so deep and thoughtful that
they seemed to brim with time itself. The elves gasped in
awe while the color drained from the faces of the
dwarves. Eowyn clenched her fists as though to brace
herself for danger. Only Merry, Gimli, and Legolas looked
up with delight, though tempered with respect.
But then the ents raised hands to mouths in living tubes,
and a sonorous music settled down upon the company, as of
wooden horns, lulling for all its volume and its
weirdness. They sang first of strolls in the woods after
a long and fruitful day, as something the listeners could
approach. Then the music shifted, phrase by phrase, to
become one with the woods themselves, evoking something
still more serene beyond the understanding of footed
things, as the song told of sunlight bathing grateful
leaves, of mineral-rich water coursing up the roots, of
all the joys of simply standing and being as the seasons
turn within you and without. All who listened felt that
they slept sitting up, and it seemed to them that they
had never known peace until this hour, and that as long
as they lived they would never forget peace again.
"Follow," thundered the mightiest ent before
"Treebeard!" Merry cried, yet the cry did not
break the spell, but fit right in. The giant turned, and
Frodo saw that it could smile. Indeed, the dark eyes lit
with surprise and delight at the sight of the rosy-faced
With love the ent boomed, "Meriadoc Brandybuck,
Holdwine of the Mark, Master of Buckland of the Shire,
Chief Executive Officer of Brandybuck Mercantile,
Counselor to the King of Gondor and Arnor, and smiter of
the Witch-King of Angmar who had been Chief of the
Nazgul, known to his friends, most appropriately, as
"You remember!" Merry said joyfully. The hobbit
climbed the boulder, ankle notwithstanding, and gazed up
into eyes deeper than the ancientest of pools between the
Long, twiglike fingers reached down and lifted a greying
curl with surprising tenderness. "Hoom, hm...your
foliage begins to change already, my friend Merry.
Seasons move swiftly for mortal-kind...as they should, as
they should, but, hoom, you should visit me more often,
Merry, ah, while you can."
"And a good health to you, too, old friend!"
Merry laughed. He raised his arms and the ent picked him
up, setting him up on a gnarled shoulder, where the
hobbit looked perfectly at ease, one ankle neatly bound
up by the dwarven healers. Treebeard beckoned also to
Legolas. The elven face flushed warmly against his
willow-draught greenness like fruit just beginning to
ripen. Yet he sprang up the boulder as nimbly as if it
had been the bannister at the Prancing Pony; plainly his
strength had returned to him. Legolas, too, Treebeard
lifted up; he carried the elf cradled in his arms.
"Be of good cheer," the ent rumbled gently over
him, "and release all your suffering back to the
land and time which transform all things, for your trials
soon shall end." Treebeard raised his eyes then to
the gathering. "Hoom, yes, well, we must hasten,
though the end be slow--plant the seed while it is ready
to sprout. All of you--follow me." But he took what
for him must have been small steps indeed, with long
pauses between, so that all could follow closely at a
Frodo felt no fatigue upon that march, though no less
sleepy than before; indeed, he and all the company seemed
to have slipped into a kind of trance. They soon came to
the Gates of Treegarth, and the tall trees bowed to them
as they passed, and they walked down into the
autumn-gilded shade, the leaf-thick soil soft beneath
bare feet, the forest murmuring like a mother soothing
her children to sleep. The dreamlike state grew deeper on
them still in the shadows of that land, and into that
dream the forest sang to them. The leaves drifted down
about them and they felt as weightless as those leaves,
wafted along without effort. Though the journey seemed
long the sun that flickered in bars between the trunks
hardly changed its angle; Frodo could almost believe that
they had fallen between hours like a straying leaf, and
that suited him just fine.
"Hm, haroom...I see. We have arrived," said
Treebeard. They looked about themselves, and found that
they had reached a lazy stream with willows by the banks,
where leaves fluttered over silky water in a sighing
breeze--golden leaves with silver undersides, creating a
sparkling place that Frodo would gladly have stayed in
forever. But he saw Merry upon the ent's shoulder sit up
straight and try to rouse himself, blinking furiously.
Nestling Legolas in the crook of one arm, Treebeard
lifted the injured hobbit and set him gently beside
"Here is a nice, mossy stone for you to sit
on," Treebeard said. "Quite comfortable, I am
told, for those who sit. You can take the weight off of that
hurt limb of yours, Merry." Yet Merry remained
standing, gripping Frodo by the arm. Treebeard gazed on
Merry for a moment, but Frodo could not fathom the
expression in those eyes. "Hm, well then, as you
Treebeard turned his attention to Legolas. It made a
strange picture, the gnarled old ent cradling the drowsy
elf in his arms, humming deeply over him. But Frodo had
gone way past distinguishing strange from normal anyway;
from the moment he'd raised May's glass up yesterday to
the present, nothing had seemed conducive to clear
thought in the least. The rest of the company gazed up at
Treebeard as though they awaited the next chapter in a
"Hoom, hum, Prince Legolas--are you utterly,
completely content?" The elf nodded, too lulled for
words. "Ah, that is well, then. Very well
indeed." Eowyn started just a little at his words;
she squinted at the ent like she, too, strove to stir
from the trance, running her fingers through her
It took Treebeard two great steps to reach the willows,
and the others followed in the light that flickered from
between the golden/silver leaves. He stood before a great
stump of a willow, much-scarred by the axes of the Uruk
Hai. Yet new boughs, silver-green and shapely had since
grown up from the stump, over the past thirty years, stout
enough to qualify as trunks in their own right, able to
reach high above their heads and drape gracefully down
again in a protective canopy. The branches swayed in a
sweetly sighing dance that comforted all who saw and
listened to it. Leaves drifted slowly down on them all,
flickering hypnotically as they spun in the air,
silver/gold/silver/gold...Frodo could hear Uncle Merry
muttering beside him, "Wake up, you fool of a
Brandybuck, wake up, wake up, oh please..." but the
younger hobbit soon tuned this out and sank into the
beauty of that living pavilion of gold and silver peace.
The very air smelled mossy-green and moist, like
breathing could sustain life by itself.
"There is something that you must all
understand," said Treebeard. "It has been said
that ents are for the trees. Yes, well, somebody needs to
be for the trees, but that is not such a separate concern
as you might think. That is, hum, the trees are for you
all, as all green life is for all red life--what we call
your kind, animal kind, hoom, well, you take my
meaning--and all red life is for green life back again.
It involves a mystery."
Here his voice dropped down to a whisper as of leaves
hushing against leaves, though they heard the words
distinctly. "The dwarves among you will confirm that
if you seal a chamber perfectly, the air becomes stuffy,
hm, yes, and soon it cannot sustain your lives at all.
Red lives breathe in what to them is good air; they take
what they need from it, and afterwards they breathe out
air that is no use to them at all. If left that way
forever, Middle Earth would suffocate!
is where the trees come in, and all green life. Green
lives breathe in--with great relish, I must add--all of the air
which your lungs reject, take from it that which suits them best, and
breathe out that for which they have no further use--which is
precisely the kind of air that your kind needs. Oh, it is a
marvel--such a marvel as can cause the truly wise to
tremble, though fools like Saruman could grasp it not,
even with the principles laid out plain before them. This
harmony between red and green life works in other ways,
as well. You know what happens, hoom, when you dig manure
into the soil, how the plants feed on it and thrive, and
give you food wholesome for your own use, in return? Have
you noticed how the green lives cannot eat meat nor fruit
until it has properly rotted and become unfit for you?
The green and the red transform each other's poisons and
refuse into each other's nourishing."
Something exciting woke in Frodo's brain, but the rest of
him stood there swaying on the edge of sleep and couldn't
capture it, except to say, "That's the thing! That's
exactly what I need to make the Dark Land bloom!" It
seemed for a moment that all of Legolas's difficulty had
the express purpose of revealing this marvelous secret to
his heart, deeper than mere lessons of the mind. Then in
another instant he glimpsed a great and fearsome
intelligence that could draw many wondrous purposes at
once from this and any other cause, even from the worst
disasters that Frodo could imagine, all turned to good. His
heart soared with hope for Legolas, and May, and Mordor,
and everyone and everything that had ever troubled him,
so that he almost couldn't tolerate the bliss.
While Frodo struggled to ponder all these thoughts, only
to give up on pondering and let them flow through him,
instead, Treebeard dug with one great toe a trench that
exposed some of the willow's roots. Again the ent spoke,
in a deep and gentle rumble. "Are you at peace,
Prince Legolas, Son of Thranduil? Are you happy?"
"Truly happy," Legolas murmured where he rested
in the giant hands.
"It is well, then." And Treebeard wrapped his
fingers tight around the elf, leaving only the left arm
Frodo heard Eowyn hiss, "Anaesthesia!"
as Treebeard gazed solemnly down on Gimli and bent toward
the dwarf, holding Legolas out to him.
"Do it now, Gimli Son of Gloin!" the ent
commanded. Gimli blinked for just an instant, and then
sprang forward, alert, to seize his friend's hand,
groping for the ring. The elf's arm jerked back
convulsively as Legolas cried out, but Gimli grabbed it
fast, found the ring by feel, and ripped it off with a
gush of blood. Legolas's scream tore them all out of the
trance in one great shock. Frodo thought at first that
Gimli had maimed the elf like Gollum had his namesake,
but all five fingers remained--except that one had lost
some skin, frozen to the metal like flesh and silver had
grown together into one unholy alloy. Gimli ran to the
trench and tossed in the bleeding ring, then fell to his
knees, gasping, and stared down.
"It is done," he said after a moment. "I
saw the roots close over it." Then, in a smaller
voice Gimli said, "I had not expected him to
Treebeard said, "Harrumm, well, no one should wear a
magic ring continually like that, or you cannot take it
off so easily again. No matter, no matter, I have seen
such things before." Treebeard carried Legolas, now
limp in his arms like a wilted thing, to the willow. The
tree groaned loudly. Where two tall boughs had grown
together, fused into one, the tree cracked wide open to
receive the elf, but Merry sprang to the breach, sword
out before him.
"NO!" The hobbit cried. "I cannot allow
this--you're not putting him in there!"
Eowyn pulled her own sword and stepped forward.
"Legolas will die if he does not soon follow his
ring," she said. "Do not force me, old friend,
to become a warrior again in order to heal." And her
grey eyes flashed, leaving no doubt of her resolve,
though her voice trembled as she said, "Not against
The hobbit stared at her, the tears coursing down his
face, but he held his weapon steady. "Some things
are worse than death," he said. "And elves do
come back--don't they?"
A hoarse voice rasped, "Merry...please." To
everyone's shock, Legolas raised his head and gazed down
on the hobbit; already the elf had begun to wither, his
face as lined as Eowyn's. But the cracked lips tried to
smile as he husked, "It is all right, old friend. I
choose this. And...and I need it."
Merry's eyes widened as wildly as if he had been the mad
one, and the sword dropped from his hand. Then he turned
to Eowyn and fell into her open arms, sobbing against her
mail-clad breast, as Treebeard swiftly stepped past him
and thrust Legolas into the crevice.
With closed eyes and mouth slightly open the elf sank
back into the heartwood like one exhausted leans against
his last support. The blood ran down the wood where his
hand pressed against it, till fine, pale fibrils grew
before their eyes and closed around the finger to staunch
the wound; as they did, the lines smoothed away from his
skin once more. Slowly the wood closed over the elf as
they watched, but not before Frodo saw a lace of fine,
rootlike tendrils creep across Legolas, meshing over
limbs and belly and neck, probing into mouth and ears and
covering the eyes, and then the bark sealed shut, as the
company stood by, gaping in horror and in hope.
Treebeard pressed against the willow as though listening
deep into the wood. Long he stood there, as the others
waited, scarcely daring to breathe. At last Treebeard
stepped away. "Hoom, well done," he said,
nodding. "We acted in good time. Enough of the joy
remained to seal him well and painlessly." He turned
to the gathering. "The love in your feast together
has made it so." Again Treebeard gazed towards the
willow; kindliness, sorrow, and hope mingled in his
complex eyes. "The exchange between them shall be
complete," he said, "each nourishing the other.
Legolas shall feel the turning of the seasons even as the
willow feels it, and recover a balanced relationship with
time. As the months wear on, the roots shall crush his ring,
break it down to its elements, material and spiritual
alike, so that the part which belongs to Legolas shall
return to him, little by little, filtered from the metal
and fed back into him through the roots, each portion
restored to where it belongs."
Gimli muttered, "A pity we couldn't do this with
Frodo's ring." Then he glanced at Sam's son and
said, "The other Frodo, I mean."
"No," Merry breathed, still holding onto Eowyn,
face still averted from what the others witnessed.
"I could not have born it. Would that we had
journeyed with Legolas to the Cracks of Doom--aye, with
orcs against us all the way!"
Gimli asked the ent, "How long?"
"At least a year," said Treebeard.
"Possibly more. It might take some time to break
down something as complex as a magic ring, to where it
can release all of his soul back to his own keeping. And
hoom, I told you that before."
Gimli walked forward and touched the trunk. "Then I
shall live here, under this tree, for that time. I shall
guard this willow against axe or fire or tearing forces
of the storm, until he returns to me again."
Gloin said, "The dwarves will bring you food."
"And the elves," said Thranduil.
Frodo asked, "Can he hear us in there?"
Treebeard nodded. "In ways you cannot imagine.
Unhasty information seeps into him slowly and thoroughly.
He shares all of the perceptions of his willow host, and
of all the surrounding trees that link with her. Nothing
said or done in this wood shall go unremarked by Legolas
Greenleaf for the duration of his stay."
Gimli said, "Then I shall sing to him,
betimes." He gazed up into the branches overhead.
"Oh, would that I could converse with him, and he
back with me again!"
Treebeard smiled. "It is not impossible. You must
spend time in contact with the willow, learning to listen
in ways other than your ears. But do not expect to hear
words, Master Gimli! Trees have other ways to talk."
Merry shuddered against Eowyn as the healer comforted
him, remembering the taunts and threats of Old Man
Willow. Treebeard shook his head appreciatively, gazing
down on Gimli. "I would not give such hope to any
other dwarf. But hoom, you are a special case--special
Treebeard then spoke to the entire company saying,
"Rest now, for you have endured a storm of blessings
that could bend you to the snapping-point, if we do not
take care. And after you rest I must share a tale with
you, entrusted to me when the boughs of this willow had
not yet sprouted from the ravaged stump. Hoom, I shall
tell you what I learned from Gandalf the White, a story
he told me to reserve for this time that he foretold,
never before revealed to elf, dwarf, hobbit, or human
Frodo gaped with astonishment at the news--but the gape
turned into a yawn. Too much--he'd had entirely too much,
in several different ways at once. It came to Frodo that
he had not slept since the predawn light of the day
before, and that he had never felt more exhausted in his
entire life--shaking, swaying exhausted, and intensely
thirsty, besides, but somehow not drained, not
like the night he got wounded. Overwhelmed, rather.
With weary eyes he saw that earthen jugs circulated
throughout the company; he watched an elf hand one over
to Gimli, nestled among the willow-roots. When a jug came
to Frodo he drank deeply of the mineral-rich water, cold
and delicious past all feasts. His head spun; he could
not resist sleep another second. He cast himself down
onto the soft forest floor, only dimly aware of gigantic
beings solicitously brushing drifts of warm, dry leaves
over him and other sprawled shapes all around, before he
plunged into a sleep as drowning as an ent's deep eyes.