Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 11, Part 11
(September 25, 1451)
Frodo opened his eyes upon
a scarlet creature with a snake coming out of its face
above the most enormous fangs he'd ever seen. With a cry
he hurled himself away from the pavilion wall, only to
hear Uncle Merry laughing. He turned from the painted
oliphaunt to see the older hobbit already dressed and
puffing on his pipe, watching him. He also saw his
clothes for the day laid out for him--including the
mithril shirt that Papa had stashed in his pack. Then he
saw that Merry himself wore a green leather jerkin with
the white horse of Rohan on the breast, and his hand held
"Go ahead--put it on. It goes between your
undershirt and your overshirt, unless you want to
advertise it--then you wear it over everything."
Frodo picked it up, hesitating, and felt the mail flow
through his fingers, cold and fluid like some kind of
water-cloth. Then he shrugged it on, feeling less like
his old self than ever. "Do you fear some kind of
danger?" he asked.
"Not yet, but we should be ready for anything. And
we've got some training to do before breakfast."
"Training?" Frodo was hobbit enough to feel his
heart sink at the words "before breakfast."
Merry nodded. "I promised your father. There's a
fairly flat area just east of this thicket. Meet me there
when you're ready."
They went out into a blue morning of mists and
silhouettes, each leaf and twig dripping jewels of last
night's rain. As they passed Legolas, Frodo saw such
sweet, slumbering bliss in the muddy face that he
wondered if sleeping in the rain might not feel
good--refreshing, perhaps. After Frodo washed his face
and whatnot, he joined Merry out in the grasslands. Merry
stared southward to the horizon, over rolling hills and
pastures fading into haze.
"Can you see beyond that river, there, Frodo?"
"You mean that denser line of fog, way in the
distance? Yes, I think so."
"You're looking on the outskirts of Rohan."
Frodo gaped at him in such surprise that Merry laughed.
"Your eyes can fool you, with so little to stand out
between here and there--it's a lot farther than it
appears. It'll take many days to reach the first
villages, let alone Edoras. But at least you've got some
idea of what's ahead of you. And now..." he said as
he pulled up a water-skin, "time for practice.
Here--drink up, first. You'll sweat so much you'll think
you're at summer harvest." As Frodo obeyed, Merry
said, "We'll use the swords still in their sheathes,
at least to begin with. But first you'll have to learn
the proper use of your legs."
Merry made Frodo stand, advance, retreat, and pivot with
his knees always bent, as the rising sun burned off the
mists, and Frodo's thighs burned, too, from unfamiliar
exercise. They never did get around to using the swords,
sheathed or not. Merry taught him to sweep the ground in
arcs with every step, to feel out rocks and branches
hidden in the grass while keeping his eyes in front of
him. But never once did the old warrior let him
straighten up. "Your real power is in your legs,
Frodo, more than your arms. You want to always have some
give in your body, like the bow-springs on a fine
carriage. Keeping your knees flexed gives you that extra
Frodo fell to the grass with a groan. "I've got all
the bounce of a teacup right now," he complained.
Merry laughed as he helped the youth up. "Time for
breakfast, I think."
"Thank goodness!" As he hobbled back to camp,
travel by pony seemed more desirable with every step. But
before they got there, Frodo smelled a horrible odor,
like burning hair. "What's that stench?" he
"The silk tent!" Merry cried. "I must've
left my pipe in it!" They ran back, but the tent
looked exactly as they'd left it, the pipe settled
harmlessly on a stone outside. The smell came from the
freshly laundered wool blanket steaming itself dry on a
couple spits over a fire, tended by one scrubbed-up elf
in the best of spirits.
Frodo said, "I don't care what elves cook for
breakfast, but I'm not eating that!"
Legolas laughed--a far more wholesome laugh than on the
night they'd met. He glanced at the "dwarf-kit"
which he'd laid out--empty--beside the fire. "Oh, I
would never dream of competing with the son of Sam Gamgee
in the culinary arts."
Merry said, "Indeed, Frodo--what's for
Frodo moaned theatrically, and limped as noticeably as
possible when he fetched water for their porridge, but
the two old friends just sat there by the fire grinning
at him, their unpacked bowls and spoons ready and
waiting. As Frodo rummaged through their store of food,
Merry called out, "I've got a spice that's just
perfect for porridge, ground from a red tree's bark.
Would you care to try it?"
Frodo felt in no mood for any of Merry's exotic
spices--at least not first thing in the morning.
"You'll have to settle for honey, and pretend
there's cream to go with it."
As Frodo grumbled over the steaming porridge, Merry
turned to Legolas. "You realize, friend, that from
now on your blanket will smell like smoke."
"So? After you trammeled all of our supplies into a
tent with you last night, while you indulged your
peculiar taste for pipeweed, everything we have now
smells like smoke."
Merry picked up his pipe with a flourish and relit it on
a twig from the fire. "Ah, the scent of home sweet home.
Speaking of homes and other lodgings, Legolas, next time
you do business with Brandybuck Mercantile, why don't you
stay at Tom Bombadil's? I'm sure he'll have you--he likes
elves. And he has his ways of getting messages to
Legolas did a double-take. "You would brave the Old
Forest for me?"
"Oh, come now! Do you think I smuggled myself into the
Battle of Pelennor for nobody in particular?" The
hobbit looked genuinely hurt. "The way you keep
underestimating your friends, Legolas, I'm beginning to
wonder if we're the ones fading."
"I apologize. I have suffered so many
disappointments that...never mind. You are right, of
course--somehow I believe that even if you no longer knew
me you might risk yourself for me anyway."
"Besides, Legolas--sometimes I venture into the Old
Forest for the sheer deviltry of it." He puffed
happily on his pipe, grinning at a memory. "The
Master of Brandy Hall, after all, has to keep his juniors
awed at whatever he might dare next."
"Breakfast's on," Frodo said, and ladled out
After receiving his food from Frodo, Legolas handed the
hobbit his sister's glass. "Here. I borrowed it to
set the fire. You should never just leave it about, Frodo--not
after it fought off a wight for you."
"You know about that?"
Legolas laughed with a sound as joyous as birds in
spring. "But you were there when your father told me
the whole adventure--or at least your body was. I think
your mind went off dancing with some maidens of your
people." As Frodo blushed, Legolas asked, "How
did your sister come by it, anyway?"
"It's a gift from the King, from when my family
visited the court. She was born there, you know." He held it twinkling in the sun,
as he remembered his very first adventure.
"From the Queen, rather, I'd say--the work is
elvish." Legolas smiled on the lens. "And it
has quite a lovely mother-spell upon it."
"Really? What's a mother-spell."
"Pass me some more of that porridge, Merry--this is
delicious!" Frodo noticed that the elf ate as much
as the hobbits--and could use it. "What is a
mother-spell? Merely something that we like to add to our
toys, in affection for our children." For a moment
his face clouded. "Not that I have seen a child born
of elves in this, the fourth age," he murmured to
himself. Then, more brightly, he said, "Children
learn by playing, as I am sure you have noticed. We simply
add a little something to enhance the lessons. An
elf-made toy sword, for instance, enhances valor. A doll
enhances nurturing. A ball enhances agility. And a
magnifying-glass enhances perceptiv..." Then he
stopped, and Frodo saw a change in the elf's face.
Legolas laughed, but nervously this time. "Yes, of
course--the ability to see more deeply and in
detail--perhaps that explains why you could see me for
what I am right away, though you had never met me
before." He pretended to be pleased; Frodo saw that
"What a pity--you mean that by the time I get home
my sister May will have lost all of that marvelous
insight of hers?"
"Only if she wants to. We love our children and
force nothing upon them. If the enhancements suit their
natures, children hold onto them, and let them grow like
seeds well-watered and nourished. If they prefer
otherwise, the seeds will not take root once they put
aside their toys. They are gifts, not commands."
Frodo held the glass tightly and decided that this was
one seed he intended to husband with all the
gardening-skill that he possessed. Carefully he asked,
"And if I examined you through this lens, Legolas,
what would I see?"
The elf's eyes widened for just an instant, and then he
smiled with false cheer. "Pores, of course. Just as
with any magnifying glass. It is not a palantir,
Frodo." But they both knew what Frodo now confirmed:
that the elf had something to hide.