The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 10, Part 10
Off the Road
(September 24, 1451)

Legolas soon led them off the well-trod road into a small wood by the side. "Elves pass this way," he said, as he took them onto a narrow, shadowed path, glimmering in slender beams of sunlight that intermittently pierced a lofty ceiling of jewel-bright autumn leaves. They rode slowly, pushing aside branches and moss as they went, or at least the hobbits did. Legolas threw out his arms to either side and let every leaf, twig, tendril, or strand of moss brush over him, face and limbs and chest, his eyes closed in relief and his lips slightly parted. Frodo smelled a richness in the air that must've always been there in the natural world, but that he had not noticed till then, at least never so sharply as today. He breathed in green, gold, scarlet scents, tart and spicy, soft brown bark scents, sweet and resinous, heavy dark earth scents that reminded him of Papa, all because he watched the elf breathe in so deeply that he somehow seemed to borrow an elf's perceptions of the world.
They came to a hillock so deep in moss that they couldn't hear their ponies' hooves at all--a green and cushioned world, canopied in a gold brocade of leaves. "Elves camp here," Legolas said. He dismounted, but not with the grace that Frodo had come to expect--shakily, rather.
"Are we stopping?" Frodo asked. "So soon? It's not even lunchtime yet."
"You must forgive me," said the elf, "but I have not slept since I entered Bree." And he cast himself down upon the moss. In an instant his eyes lapsed into the slow, rhythmical blinks of elvish sleep. Frodo looked to Merry in bewilderment as the hobbits dismounted and tied their ponies up.
"Nine days," said Merry. "That's a bit much, even for an elf." He unpacked a blanket and spread it over the sleeping figure. "You might as well make yourself comfortable, Frodo--I don't expect he'll wake until tomorrow."
Frodo studied Legolas where he lay. "He's not doing too well, is he." He turned to Merry. "Is this normal? You said that mortal lodgings annoy elves--but to the point where they don't sleep at all?"
Merry squatted down beside the elf. "No, that's not right. We stayed together quite some time in Gondor, and he slept just fine." He studied the face before him. "He does look thin--but then elves run towards slender builds in the best of times." He stood up while Frodo unburdened the ponies. "It could be nothing--maybe in these latter days all elves have become a bit...fragile." He went to help Frodo.
"Uncle Merry," said Frodo suddenly as he brushed his pony down. "What do you know about fading?" The older hobbit did not reply, but his hands fell away from his own steed. "Uncle Merry?"
"You have no idea what you are asking," Merry said, staring far away.
"Then that's the best reason to ask, as Papa always says. You started to fade a little yourself, didn't you, after you struck the Nazgul?"
"That was different. That had pure evil behind it." Merry shuddered, the color drained from his face. "And I didn't "fade" so much as get lost...somewhere dark."
"What about my namesake?" Frodo persisted, as he set up camp, while his elder stood there with clenched fists. "Everybody says that he nearly faded from the morgul-wound before Elrond saved his life."
"Again, different. Poison, with a spell behind it."
"But they used the same word. And after him and Papa destroyed the ring, he started to fade again--more slowly, but he did. Papa had to send him west to get well."
"That has nothing to do with whatever Legolas is going through right now."
"How can you be sure? Papa says that people started to treat the other Frodo like he wasn't even there." He walked back to the sleeping elf. "Do you suppose that he's in pain?"
"No, Frodo." Merry came over and put an arm around the young hobbit's shoulders. "No. This is different. It comes of something natural, not connected to the Dark Lord or any other evil. It's just a kind of aging, really. Elves were only put on Middle-Earth for just so long--and while that's a whole lot longer than a hobbit or a man, or even a dwarf or a tree, still, all things have their limits. And they should, Frodo. Otherwise this world would become old and crowded and tired. Sooner or later we all make room for something new. Maybe all our friend needs is help accepting that."
Yet for some reason, the minute Merry said "natural," Frodo's heart said , No...not entirely... He found May's toy gripped in his hand in his pocket. He released it, shrugged, and went in search of wood for the campfire, for he felt a bit chilled. At least, if they caught one of those rays of sun just right, the magnifying glass could prove useful for something after all. But the clouds closed overhead and began to drizzle.
Undaunted, Merry pulled from a bag a tightly-packed bundle of a dense and brightly colored silk, along with a roll of hide. In no time at all he had thrown a rope over a bough and raised up the most gaudily merry little pavilion that Frodo had ever seen, complete with a leather floor. Lines of scarlet oliphants paraded around its circumference, blue monkeys capered, and green fronds of plants unknown to The Shire waved in brilliant dye, in between bands of intricate designs in all possible colors, all on a golden ground. Merry cheered up considerably with the work, and whistled as he and Frodo loaded their supplies into the tent. It felt much warmer within, even without a fire. The cloth held a strange, faint scent that Merry said came from a kind of wood used to perfume things like this.
They tried to rouse Legolas to join them, but the elf pushed them away without coming fully awake, grumbled as he wrapped the blanket tight around himself like a hooded cloak, and fell fast asleep again, with the rain now pouring down and his blanket soaking up the mud. Merry shrugged and said, "Well, you can't force a fool to come in out of the rain."
"Maybe it's better for him," Frodo said, "if he's sick of staying indoors. And I've never heard of elves catching cold." They took shelter in the pavilion, themselves, wrapping cozily in blankets, sitting pillowed on their bags of clothes. "Uncle Merry, do you have any paper to spare?"
"Sure. I always carry extra. And I suppose you'll need pen and ink, too." But when Merry brought out the supplies, instead of an inkwell, he opened up a little metal case with a shallow cup in it next to a cake of something that looked like charcoal.
"What's that?" Frodo asked.
"Ink. They make dried ink in the east--it's better for traveling. If there's one thing I can't abide, it's having an inkwell spill all over my luggage. Here--you fill the cup with water, and mix the ink as you go. The eastern pen is more like a brush; dip it in the water, then work it against the cake of ink, and there you have it. It's elementary, once you get the hang of it." He demonstrated. "See? What do you want it for--got a poem in your head?"
"No, I want to write home."
"Already? But the nearest mail-drop is the Prancing Pony--don't tell me you want to turn back."
Frodo bristled a little--did Merry think him a child? "Not at all. But if I write as I go, off and on, I'll have a letter worth sending by the time we reach Rohan." He wrote down, "September 24, 1451," but then he laid the pen-brush down again. "I don't know what to write," he sighed.
"Small wonder, since you've only been gone a few hours." Merry lit himself a pipe, then got out a little book of poetry, and his spectacles, and started to read. Frodo stretched out on the leather floor with the moss underneath, and listened to the rain thrumming softly on the silk overhead. Animals cavorted above him in blazing colors, animated when the wind made the cloth buck and ripple.
"Merry, doesn't Legolas have a friend among the dwarves--Gimmi?"
"That's Gimli--and don't you ever slip up and call him Gimmi to his face, for pity's sake! He's sensitive enough about allegations of dwarvish greed." He went back to his book.
"It's a shame he didn't come along; I bet he'd know what to do about Legolas."
"What to do about Legolas is leave him alone--you can't go around fixing friends to death, Frodo. You're making way too much about way too little. Now let me read in peace, all right?" He bit down hard on his pipe and turned his back.
Frodo sighed and picked up the paper again; if he couldn't write anything, he could at least decorate the margins. The pen resembled a really good paintbrush, and Frodo had a certain talent for rustic designs. "Gimli's far away in the Lonely Mountain, anyway," he murmured half to himself.
Merry laid his book down. "No he's not, come to think of it. I supplied an expedition of dwarves that he led to the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, just a year or two ago." He smiled suddenly. "That's right in Rohan. Imagine that!"
"Do you think that's just coincidence?"
Merry sighed. "Now what are you on about?"
"No, think about it. If Legolas went into Mordor on the King's behalf, he would've come down from Mirkwood a couple years ago--about the same time Gimli left the Lonely Mountain. They must have traveled together."
"Maybe, maybe not," Merry said around his pipe. "If they did, it's hardly surprising for a couple good friends." He picked the book up again.
"What if Gimli's worried, too, and keeping an eye on Legolas?"
Merry slammed the book to the floor, then pulled a ledger from his pack and tossed it at Frodo, saying, "Here. Check these figures and make sure that they add up right. You've got way too much time to think about nothing, lad." Then he picked up his book a final time, adjusted his spectacles, and refused to answer to anything except meal-calls for the rest of the day.
But that night, as Frodo lay in his blankets, peeking out the tent-flap at the faint glimmer of the sleeping elf through a blur of drizzle, he asked, "Merry, in all your travels, did you ever know Legolas, or any other elf, to sleep out in the rain voluntarily?"
Silence. Then Merry said "No," and turned over.

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