The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
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 overhead.
 
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 them.
 
"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 hobbit.
 
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 'Merry'."
 
"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 stars.
 
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 comfortable pace.
 
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 Frodo.
 
"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 wish."
 
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 bedtime tale.
 
"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 disheveled hair.
 
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!
 
"That 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 exposed.
 
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 bleed."
 
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 you, Merry."
 
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 indeed."
 
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 being."
 
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.

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