The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 28, Part 28
A Message From Gandalf
(November 10, 1451)

Late in the afternoon Frodo woke up, refreshed, to a blade of grass tickling his nose. He sat up and stretched--and leaves spilled away from him, crackling with each move. For a moment he wondered where on earth he had fallen asleep. Then, as others also roused around him, rustling in their turn, he remembered the merging. He turned to the willow tree, where Thranduil stood gazing upon it without a word, and where Gimli leaned upon his axe under its protection like he could stand there forever if he had to. Already living twigs had begun to weave a shelter above and around the dwarf, though mortal eye could never quite catch them at it--a withy dome against the coming winter storms.
 
Frodo remembered now, too, the dwarvish ritual of the night before, and the long feast that followed it; he frowned, because he'd never felt so healthy in his life as right this minute--even the last traces of anemia had left him. "Why don't I have the biggest headache in the world?" he murmured out loud. He heard Uncle Merry chuckle in response. As he turned to where Merry lay beside him, still blanketed in leaves, Frodo felt something brush his shoulders; he reached up and discovered curls of his own hair grown out within a matter of hours. In a rush he remembered that incredibly sustaining water that he'd drunk that morning, and moaned, "Oh no, Uncle Merry--I didn't!"
 
"Why not? Ent-draughts won't do you any harm--it's done me a world of good, I can tell you. See? Already my ankle's good as new." And the hobbit wiggled his unbound foot up out of the leaves as proof.
 
"No, Merry--you don't understand. Papa'll kill me if I come home taller."
 
"Ah. I see." Merry raised an eyebrow and twiddled a leaf in his hand. "Sam never did quite approve of Pippin and me growing, I suppose."
 
"Well, he did think it kind of unnatural--no offence, Uncle Merry."
 
The elder hobbit's eyes twinkled--rather roguishly, Frodo thought. "Now Frodo--would an ent, of all creatures, lead you into anything unnatural?"
 
"Not for a tree, maybe, but..."
 
"Don't worry so much! You know you needed it." Merry stretched luxuriously in the crackling leaves and then propped himself up on one elbow. "You only had a few deep swallows, anyway--that'll just add an inch or two. Sam won't even notice. Why, I lived on ent-draughts for days before I got this tall."
 
Frodo only whimpered in reply, wondering whether he dared mention this in his letter. He could picture writing, "I had no idea it was ent-draughts, Papa--honest!" But then Papa'd want to know why he didn't figure out the obvious. "Because I'd just drunk more beer and wine in one night than I'd had in my entire life ever..." Frodo groaned--he couldn't write that! But Papa would insist on hearing every detail of his friend's healing, and the feast definitely qualified as a detail he couldn't exactly omit. And then Frodo thought of some of the other embarrassing details he'd already committed to ink in unguarded moments...
 
"What's all this doleful noise I hear?" asked Merry.
 
"What on earth am I going to tell my folks back home?"
 
Merry laughed and said, "I think you'd better tell them everything." He flicked his leaf at the youth. "That way it'll be old news by the time you get home, not worth yelling about."
 
Frodo picked up the leaf and studied it. "You may have a point."
 
"And if I know your parents," Merry said, sitting up, "imagination will probably stretch you to giantlike proportions, so that when they finally do see you face to face, they'll be so relieved to discover you well within the normal range for hobbits that they won't mention your height at all."
 
"Thanks. That's comforting." Frodo was about to add some examples of Mama's imagination, when he saw that his elder had frozen when he caught sight of the willow once again. "Uncle Merry? Are you all right?"
 
Merry scowled, but it could almost have been a wince. "Oh, I'm fine," he said. "I'm not the one imprisoned too tightly to move."
 
"Merry, listen to me." Frodo prayed for the right words. "What Old Man Willow did to you, I guess that was kind of like what Ted Sandyman did to Buttercup Klaefield. It wasn't the normal way to go about it; it turned things upside down, somehow. But this is different. This is right. Legolas is in there healing, and everything's going to be just fine." He turned to the tree, himself. "Can you hear how the leaves rustle, Merry? Doesn't that sound to you like a sigh of relief?"
 
Merry took a ragged breath, and then cast down his eyes. "I hope you're right. I'd hate to think that I'd helped him all this way to something horrible."
 
Frodo patted him on the shoulder. "Elves have done it before--sometimes just for the adventure. And Legolas has gotten hisself properly prepared, with willow-draughts and all. You saw how his color changed--he was ripe for this. Merry, you know Treebeard better than any of us--you know he wouldn't suggest anything that would hurt elves."
 
"Or hobbits," Merry said, attempting to smile again, as he pulled a leaf from Frodo's hair. "You've got nothing to fear from a little ent-draught, lad."
 
"Maybe you're right," Frodo said as they stood up. "So--where do we go from here?"
 
A booming voice above them answered, "Back to the healing-place, of course! You have all left a frightful mess behind you, and it needs cleaning up. Besides, it is, hoom, rather healthy to take on commonplace tasks like that after mysteries. Gets your roots right back into the ground where they belong. Come--I have a story to tell you while we go about it."
 
Treebeard took off at full stride, disappearing before anybody could blink thrice. Not that it mattered, since as usual the forest opened up a clear path before them exactly where Treebeard meant for them to go, while stout branches barred any other direction. In a soft mumble of voices conversing in different languages, the company brushed off their last stray leaves and followed. Last of all came Thranduil, after a lingering embrace of the willow tree.
 
It took them no time at all to reach the poolside meadow with the boulder in it; in fact, it rather surprised Frodo how little distance they traveled, for it had seemed like miles that morning. And yes, they had left the place in a dreadful state. Treebeard scooped another trench in the soil and said, "Food-scraps go in here, where they will feed the soil--as I said, harrum, greenlife has uses for it that you do not."
 
Elves, as the ones least bothered by cold, carried the dishes to the pond to wash, while dwarves passed out bags with which to gather up bottles, broken crockery, wax, and anything else that they could melt down or crush and then reuse. Frodo, Merry, and Eowyn went about helping elves or dwarves, as came to hand, to fold blankets, dry dishes, fill baskets, and otherwise pack up again. And all, of course, carried scraps, crusts, corks, bones, rinds, pits, peels, and whatnot to Treebeard's trench. Neither hobbits nor human objected in the least to any dwarf or elf who pressed upon them gifts of leftover sausages, cheeses, pickles, preserves, and other travel-fare to cheer them on their journey. And as they worked, the old ent spoke:
 
"Hm, ah, after his trials ended, his duty done, his task completed, the Maia Olorin, known to some of you as Mithrandir, and to some as Tharkun, and to all as Gandalf, also known by many other names, great and small, beyond the patience of even elves to hear recited all at once, after all these things this same Gandalf conferred for a time with our old friend, Iarwain called Tom Bombadil, also known as...ah well, you probably, hoom, well, never mind. Ah, as I was saying, after Gandalf conferred with Iarwain he came to visit for a time with me."
 
Merry murmured in Frodo's ear, "That's the brief version for ol' Treebeard, if you can believe it," as they gathered up food-stained leaf-wrappings to pile into the trench.
 
"Gandalf told me a tale in those days, that he commanded me to remember and repeat exactly one day, when the children of Yavanna and the children of Aule should reconcile, and when elf and dwarf should join for common cause in my woods, and when good shall spring from evil for the sake of love, and when a hobbit shall return to me. And hm, well, all these things have now come to pass. Now I see the connection between them all, root and branch, leaf and bark of the same tree--furthermore, I see their connection to this tale of Gandalf's, indeed, as oak to acorn--and connection to more besides, touched by its farflung branches beyond the reach of my woods at their greatest day. So I shall repeat to you, exactly, the words which the wizard gave to me, adding nothing of my own, as he commanded."
 
Here Fangorn changed his voice, coming as close as it could to that of an authoritative old man--a voice rich by turns in majesty, or colloquial in its warmth, always full of love and life, empowered beyond mortals and elves alike, yet not remote.
 
"'I told you, Fangorn, did I not, about my departure from the flesh, after the battle with the Balrog? Yes, yes, too hastily, I know! Do you recall--despite the haste--my saying that I remembered much that I'd forgotten when I took on a body in the first place? Not all of that knowledge passed when I resumed this form. Some lore I found most useful in my battles against Sauron. Some...well, some turned out quite precious to me on a personal level, yet important, too, in its fashion, beyond the warming of my heart.'"
 
A thrill entered the voice that Fangorn duplicated so well. "'I learned, Fangorn, the secret of the origins of hobbits. I learned of my own hand in the matter, if you can believe that. I learned the policies they served, and why, from the moment I laid eyes on the absurd little creatures, I loved them and desired to spend my few spare moments in their company--no matter how aggravating they can be! I cannot speak of this yet to anyone but you, and our old friend Bombadil (who had his own role to play in preparing the land for their arrival--which he never bothered to tell me before!) and I fear that when the time comes to reveal it at last, I will have long sailed on, for my days here shorten and my own home calls to me. So promise me again, old friend, that you will repeat my words exactly, under the circumstances that I have explained to you, however unlikely they might seem. Good, good--I knew I could rely on you.
 
"'The nature of hobbits is largely human--as human as the Numenoreans, surely, who are counted by all as men, though we know their blood mingled with elvenkind in their ancient history. Hobbits, too, are a special kind of men, though mingled with...but I get ahead of myself. You always warned me about that failing, Treebeard, old friend.
 
"'I should explain first the reason behind the creation of hobbits. The Valar suspected that Sauron had once again taken fair shape and walked among the children of Iluvatar, though whether in form of man or elf or dwarf, or as something else entirely, they could not say. A shadow at times would fall between Valinor and Middle Earth, fleeting, a mere smoke soon gone--yet sometimes invisible smokes can poison more than those we see. The Valar gathered to confer on this, among them my Master, Irmo, Vala of Dreams. We, the Maiar, gathered nigh as well, to sit at their feet and listen to their counsel.
 
"'After much thought and discussion, the Valar resolved that we needed a special kind of hero, different from anyone Sauron might suspect, perhaps a new kind of creature entirely, though bred from those who already existed within the Creator's consent. This kind would need phenomenal powers of resistence to whatever Sauron could summon against them--power to overcome pain, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and power most especially to resist ensorcelment of every kind, no matter what trap or lure the Dark Lord might assay. And yet--and here's the tricky part--this new breed must appear to have no such power whatsoever. Their only magic had to be a trueness to themselves so strong that the magic of others could hardly dent it. They could not appear the least bit heroic or noteworthy, not to the eyes of one such as Sauron, at any rate--we needed to create heroes that Sauron would pay no attention to, until too late. How to do it, Treebeard--how?
 
"'As sometimes helps in such councils, Irmo wove our thoughts together into one dream--Valar and Maiar alike, for sometimes minor ingredients can act as catalyst for the more important ones--as we have often seen since, haven't we, old friend? Some of those assembled could see the dream quite clearly, some less so, and some not at all, depending on their natures and their closeness to the issue. Being a servant of Irmo, myself, I saw perhaps more than most, from simple proximity.
 
I saw little men--plump, ignorant, unexciting, uninterested in any of the prizes most dear to the hearts of beings like Sauron. They loved food and drink more than treasure and renown, their own gardens more than power over kingdoms, and their own families over armies and alliances. I saw that they relished comfort greatly, and would complain loudly at the slightest inconvenience--so that nobody could tell how much they really could endure. I saw them squeak with fear at mild threats or slight changes in routine--so that none could see the reservoirs of courage they could tap into, when called upon by causes higher than themselves. Most of all, I saw that, for all their faults, they could brave anything or do anything for love--and that was something Sauron could never understand.
 
"'In my dream I caught a detail that the others overlooked. Bare feet, tough of sole, furry on top, meant to always touch the earth without need for shoe or boot. I gave it thought--this new breed had to connect somehow to the soil--that interface between Yavanna and Aule. It had not occurred to me before that Sauron drew his power from an old wound caused by a fight between these two Valar who loved each other--a bleeding crack in love itself. But suddenly it became obvious--how could such a rift not trouble all of Middle-Earth, when these two Valar between them rule the life and the substance of the earth itself? Sauron fueled himself on the power that bled from that wound--on metal and minerals without life, or else life severed from the earth. His enemy would have to somehow bring the two together.
 
"'And by together, old friend, I do not simply mean a matter of alliance, some mutual convenience. Alliances aplenty have come and gone between peoples who disliked each other but found each other useable. Sauron, and Morgoth before him, shattered such bonds with ease. No, love had to enter the picture, had to infiltrate life and matter so completely that you couldn't separate one from the other, just as you cannot separate mineral from organic matter in the living soil when the land thrives as it should.
 
"'Aule forgot his love for his wife only briefly, when he failed to trust her in the making of the dwarves-- yet that breech did more harm than his presumption in their making in the first place. The obvious problem the wise have long known--dwarves cannot fully comprehend the wonders of the works of Yavanna. But it goes much farther than that--because of Aule's lapse Morgoth has ever found Aule's servants most apt to corruption, even in Morgoth's own absence, even among those who hate him! Oh, but he can find use for hatred, even against himself. Though the dwarves be flawed, they themselves have not done nearly so much harm, and sometimes considerable good; they are, through no fault of their own, insensible, not evil--because Aule loves them.'"
 
Here some of the dwarves muttered among themselves. "Insensible? Why, we have more sense than most folks!" "We may be short, but we are anything but stupid!" "Insensible to what, I might ask?"
 
"Nature," said Thranduil.
 
"Oh, well that!" the dwarves scoffed. "We could study all its workings inside and out, if we had any interest."
 
"Indeed, and not understand her in the least," said the Elven King haughtily.
 
Frodo found himself disliking both the crassness of dwarves and the arrogance of elves as the two peoples argued with each other and their voices grew in harshness and noise around him, disrupting the peace of that holy glade. His annoyance built like a mosquito-whine in his head that he couldn't get rid of, till it sharpened to rage; he groped for Sting, but encountered only the folds of his robe. And then the memory of the ritual returned to him, along with the Eldest Healer's warning, and he felt aghast at himself. Under his breath Frodo grumbled, "Cursed Sauron--you're not far off, are you, you miserable blowfly?"
 
Through all of this Treebeard stood by, drooping slightly, as inanimate as a tree indeed. Perhaps he hesitated to add a single word of his own until he completed Gandalf's tale. Meanwhile, all work on the clean-up ground to a halt as the squabble mounted to a roar. Frodo caught sight of a couple of the younger elves and dwarves starting to throw garbage at each other, each yelling in outrage that anyone should do such a thing, as though the others had started it; it seemed such a shabby turn after an exalted night and day that Frodo felt like weeping.
 
Suddenly the Eldest Healer took up his ceremonial axe and smacked it ringingly against the stone. "Listen to me!" he quavered with authority. "I am at least wise enough to know the limits of my wisdom. I have known for some time that the topside world holds mysteries that elude my grasp, though elves seem privy to its secrets. But I have also seen priceless sculptures of the common clay, while hoarded mithril-ore lay hidden in vaults, unsmelted, unworked, and not nearly so fair." And here he glanced at King Thranduil, whose people were not accounted the most civilized among elves. "The use matters more than the raw materials--and in that the People of Durin have nothing to be ashamed of! Now let the ent continue his tale, and keep in mind that he merely repeats the words of another."
 
"Indeed!" cried Eowyn. "I, at least, shall admit that I am less cultured than the least of the elves, and less insightful than the densest dwarf--and I see no remedy save to learn from tales such as this. Does it mean nothing to any of you that we have been offered, first of all peoples, a lore never shared until now?"
 
"It means much to me," said Thranduil.
 
"Glad we agree on something," said the Eldest Dwarf, as he sat down on a log with a "Hmpf!" Nearby a sheepish elf offered a damp cloth for a dwarf to clean the fruit mush from his beard, while another dwarf plucked a chicken bone from the elf's hair.
 
So Treebeard continued to recite the words that Gandalf had entrusted to him, as though no interruption had taken place. "'I spoke to my master of all that I had seen, in particular the detail about the feet. Irmo deliberated, and then he sent me to hover about Middle Earth as I had so often gone, as a spirit moving through the dreams of men, and elves, and dwarves, and yes, even sometimes in the dreams of ents, Treebeard! It never occurred to me, in those days, that the Valar might someday call upon me to take on bodily form and walk this Middle Earth in waking life--had you told me then, I would have recoiled in terror and refused! I did try to refuse, in fact, when it came down to it, not least because I feared Sauron as only those who knew his true nature could fear. Apparently Manwe had more faith in me than I had in myself, when he took me from Irmo's service." Here Treebeard chuckled, imitating Gandalf. "'But I digress.
 
"'I went forth and moved the dreams of key persons here and there, unimportant though they seemed to others. Two in particular I entertained with visions in the night. This is a story, as I said, about men, ultimately, in a manner of speaking. But it begins with an elf and a dwarf. Their names were Mírglin and Roin, and they fell in love...'"
 
TO BE CONTINUED...

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