Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 12, Part 12
"Dear Mama and
Papa," the letter began. "I'm just going to
write little bits at a time as I go, during halts, so
please bear with me. I'll try to get the dates on each
entry, so you can follow along on my journey." The
many pages looked worn before they even made their way
home, roughened at the edges, creased and smudged, a
little blurred around those creases where dampness
touched the ink. But the letters had the curious grace
that only a brush-pen can impart, and the margins bore
illuminations (after a folksy hobbit fashion) so that
each page looked like some antique from a scholar's
private cache, though written just that year.
"September 25, 1451--Did you know that May's little
glass has something called a mother-spell?..."
"...slept in the rain..." "...most
marvelous and curious tent...oliphants...you would laugh
to see it..." "...By the way, Papa--you
could've warned me about the sword lessons. I may never
walk again. No, Uncle Merry didn't hack my legs off--it
only feels that way...no swords yet...scuttling about
like a dratted crab..."
"September 26, 1451--Legolas does not like
well-traveled roads, but since nobody knows the
countryside better than an elf who has explored it for
thousands of years, we have no fear of getting lost in
the lands he leads us through. He tells us strange and
marvelous stories at every bend, every boulder, every
hill, every gnarled old tree that he remembers as a
sapling, of events he has either witnessed or learned
straight from the participants, from the days before
Shire-Reckoning. It's easy to forget how old Legolas is,
to look at him--he seems on the verge of coming of age,
just like me. But he remembers our home, Papa, when there
was no Shire."
"September 27, 1451--Merry's still making me scuttle
about like a crab. Has anyone in the Shire ever actually
seen a crab? From what I heard, I think that the
wickedest of dwarf-warriors get reborn as crabs (didn't
you say dwarves get reborn again and again?) locked in
their armor for the rest of their crabby lives, forever
scuttling about with bent legs and not allowed to
straighten. Anyway, I had plenty of time for way too much
exercise, plus plenty more time to rest afterwards, plus
time to listen to Merry lecture me interminably on the
dos and don'ts of battle, because Legolas spent all day
sitting on a boulder, gazing out over the grasslands,
nothing about him moving but the wind in his hair. I
suppose the ponies were glad."
"September 28, 1451-- The grass grows so high out
here that sometimes it seems like our ponies swim through
a sea of green. (Will Elanor really live in sight of the
ocean? I'm envious!) The ponies, of course, don't mind.
If they get any fatter, the people of Rohan will think
that the holbytla ride on pigs!"
Later entry, in the sort of large letters that people
tend to write by dim light: "Do you remember, on our
trip to the King's court, how we kids used to argue about
whether elves glow in the dark, but we couldn't put it to
the test because it never seemed quite dark enough
whenever we saw elves? And you'd never enlighten us,
Papa, you'd just sit back and chuckle to yourself. Well,
it's all true--they do. Tell my brothers and sisters. But
it's not like a candle or embers or anything, it's not
even like fireflies. It's more like seeing someone bathed
in a rich kind of moonlight, even when there's no moon.
But yes, they do glow. Or glimmer--perhaps glimmer is a
better word. And yes, they also sleep with their eyes
open, but not spooky and bug-eyed like I'd imagined. They
blink a lot, very slowly, in time with their
"September 29, 1451--We FINALLY got to practice with
swords today. Still in the sheathes, so tell Mama she can
stop fainting. Anyway, we didn't even whack them
together. Merry taught me the seven positions for attack,
and the seven matching positions for defense. He made me
repeat them over and over--I had no idea sword-fighting
could be so boring! Or so painful, without getting
anywhere near a wound. And mail--I am starting to get
mighty tired of chain mail. I can't see why Uncle Pippin
wears it for pleasure, because even something as
lightweight as mithril gets to you after awhile--it's
usually either too hot or too cold, and always too
sweaty. Uncle Merry never lets me take it off except at
night. But thank you Papa, anyway--better to wear it and
grumble, than not wear it and find out too late that you
"September 30, 1451--What fun to travel with an elf!
When the mood hits him, Legolas will sing and tell
stories all day long--it's like a party on horseback to
travel with him, with the autumn air for wine, and the
hoofbeats clapping time to the dancing grass that ripples
all around us. Today we came upon a copse of aspen trees
and Legolas made us all crowns of golden leaves. We have
left the regular road quite far behind by now, so I
didn't worry about appearing foolish to any other
Evening entry: "I just made an interesting
discovery. Remember May's magnifying glass? Well, when
you look through it at night, without any light but stars
and moon, you see through it what elves must see with
their terrific night vision. Colors in the dark. And
"October 1, 1451--The weather keeps getting colder
and colder, faster than the season changes; we seem
headed upslope. I've unpacked the shearling weskit and I
wear my cloak all day long. That's odd, because I thought
our way led downhill clear to the Gap of Rohan. The
mountains lay straight ahead of us, now, but I remember
from maps that they do curve.
Mountains, Papa! You and
the Bagginses could've put more description of them in
the Red Book, you know. I used to feel smug about having
seen mountains, when so many in the Shire never have. But
in so short a time I forgot just how magnificent they
are--who am I to feel smug about them? They're so big and
old and jagged and wonderful! And the colors--very
subtle, layered, changing as the day changes. I wouldn't
know where to begin painting mountains."
"October 2, 1451--There can be no doubt. When we
rode this morning the sun shone right in our eyes.
Legolas is now leading us east, not south. He and Merry
had words after we made camp. They thought they'd gone
out of my earshot, but sound travels far in the
grasslands, and even a deaf hobbit could've heard Uncle
Merry shout, "Hollin? Are you crazy? That's right by
Moria!" When they came back Merry told me that we
would detour for some errand that Legolas refused to
explain, but he didn't sound too happy about it. Still,
friends are friends, and sometimes you've got to stand by
each other even when you don't understand. At least I
think that's why Legolas won the argument."
"October 3, 1451--This morning we crossed tracks
with a couple cow-herds and their cattle. Papa, I could
not believe my eyes. Human beings keep cattle two or
three times bigger than our shaggy little red
cows--they're at least twice the size of our ponies! And
they're black and white, but in splotches like one of
those fearsome critters whose pelts decorate Brandy Hall.
I am so glad that they only eat grass!
Anyway, we took
advantage of the meeting to trade some of the preserves
Mama gave me for fresh cow's milk (Mama, please forgive
me) and oh, it tasted sooooo good! We'd stopped having
second breakfast some time ago, but even Legolas made an
exception today! (I have to, Mama--they won't be serving
hobbit-meals in Mordor so I might as well get used to it
now.) Then it started to rain, but I didn't care, not
after hot honeyed porridge with real cream on it. And red
bark spice. I have learned to like red bark spice."
Evening entry: "I like sleeping out under the stars,
with the soft sound of grass rustling all around me in
the evening winds. I like stars overhead, or clouds full
of moonlight. But it's good to have a tent when it rains,
like tonight. Legolas will not share it with us, though
these days he generally fashions his own shelter and has
not slept out in the rain since our first night together.
Our pavilion's a bit too small for him, I think, but also
Uncle Merry's pipeweed repels him, though he's polite
about it (aside from a little teasing.)
I thought the
pipeweed would repel me, too--you know how oddly some
regard me, just because I don't smoke, but since you
don't, Papa, I never saw much reason to pick up the
habit. But now I kind of like the smell of it, at
least--it has come to mean coziness, tucked away in a
brightly-colored silk cocoon, with the rain falling
outside on the cloth, so very close, and yet me all dry
and snug inside."
"October 4, 1451--We have gotten to the
sword-whacking phase of training, though the swords stay
in the sheathes. I have learned that a mithril coat won't
protect you from bruises--I look like a sunburned potato,
and feel like laundry that Mama smacked against the rocks
one too many times. But Merry says he'd rather see me
bruised than dead."
"October 5, 1451--Legolas kept us up all night
telling stories. They were all vivid and wonderful, but I
really wanted to get some rest, and I felt like shooting
him with his own arrows! By morning we were half dead,
but he got up as chipper as if he'd rested for a month.
Well, rested or no, training had to go on. Today we
practiced falling, appropriately enough, though it seems
silly to practice what you don't want to do. But Merry
says that if it has to happen, you'd better do it
"October 6, 1451--Legolas started in again last
night. Merry threatened murder. Legolas laughed and went
for a long walk, and returned with the morning light.
Didn't you say that elves can do with less sleep than
other people if they need to? I suppose that also goes
with if they want to. I'll just bet they throw the
longest parties, when they get the mood going.
Later entry: "We came across some chestnuts today.
My fingers are burnt raw from peeling them, but my oh my
what a treat, and well worth the trouble! We gathered up
enough to liven up our future meals. Thank you, Mama, for
all the recipes you taught me using chestnuts!
"October 7, 1451--Today we rode through the most
perfect, beautiful stand of maples you ever laid eyes on.
The leaves had that rich, purply red color that girls get
when they stain their lips with cherries before boys come
to court (which we're not supposed to know. Right--like
maidens just naturally get all purply-lipped from
thinking about us calling on them?) The leaves fluttered
all around us as we rode, slowly, drifting on the air
like air had become thicker somehow. Yes, I know we have
maples back home, too, but when you're out adventuring
you see things like that more--you really see them."
Evening entry: "I just realized, reading over what
I've got of this letter so far, that I keep calling Uncle
Merry just plain Merry. That's kind of weird, on account
of having a brother with the same name, but right now
he's THE Merry for me, and probably will be for the rest
of the trip. It's also weird that he seems to regard me
as old enough to address him as a peer. But hey, I'm
grown enough to ride forth on a mission for the King! And
that seems weirdest of all."
"October 8, 1451--Something happened today that I
don't understand. Some geese flew overhead, south like
you'd expect, honking as they went. But Legolas flinched
in his saddle like each sound hit him with a whip. We had
to halt till the geese passed; then we could ride again.
But he did not sing or speak, and if we spoke he'd tense
up again, same if our harness jingled, or anything. So we
made as little noise as we possibly could. After awhile
he called a halt, saying that the clop of the ponies'
hooves were getting on his nerves. Then he dismounted and
took off into the fields alone as we set up camp. Merry
says it's best not to follow him, and I agree. Merry's
taking a nap as I write this. The only sound I hear for
miles around is the wind."
"October 9, 1451--Legolas came back for breakfast,
and greeted us as if nothing had happened. He's been
pretty much normal all day. These delays, though, keep us
crawling at oxen-pace or worse. I haven't told you about
all of our pauses, because there have been so many.
Sometimes we will stop for hours at a time to hear one of
his stories. Sometimes he will just halt in his tracks
and stare at something forever, till we finally unsaddle
the ponies and leave him at it. We don't always travel in
a straight line but must veer this way and that to see
whatever Legolas absolutely must revisit. I think he has
so many stories to tell because he keeps taking us out of
our way to visit every spot where stories happened. If he
didn't keep recognizing places right and left, I'd have
sworn we were lost. But no, we just keep following his
whims, all over the countryside.
Papa, you introduced me
to a lot of elves in our family trip together, and I know
they're not like hobbits, but Legolas is something else
again! I asked Uncle Merry if he's always been this odd,
and he says no. I think Merry's finally getting worried,
Later entry: "One of the mountains ahead of us has a
distinctly reddish color. Merry does not like it, but
will not talk about it. He just keeps looking up at it as
we travel, or sideways at it when we sit over meals. I
remember what the Red Book says, though, Papa--I'm not a
fool. Uncle Merry may not want me to say it out loud, but
I will write its name down here: Caradhras. I'm sure that's what it is."
"October 10, 1451--Merry has gotten urgent about
sword-fighting. He comes at me so hard sometimes that it
scares me, but I'm getting better at fending him off. He
says I'd better learn fast, because soon he'll try me on
Later entry: "Another flock of geese flew south
right over us. We kept looking at Legolas, but he showed
no particular reaction. I don't know what's going on.
I did find him in a talkative mood, though. I pressed my
luck, as you'd put it, Papa, and asked him up front how
other elves were coping with the fading. He says more
elves than ever are going overseas, because fading only
happens in Middle Earth--everyone can see them once they
get to Elvenhome, and they won't have that nagging sense,
anymore, of being left behind.
Not all elves,
though--many of those who never saw Elvenhome actually
get a kick out of fading, if you can believe it. They go
into Dale and play tricks on men, hiding things or moving
them around, little pranks like that. Sometimes somebody
sees them, but not often, and not very clearly, and if he
talks about it other men laugh at him. I can see where
something like that could be a lark, if you kept a sense
of humor about you. But Legolas said that such elves as
like that sort of thing are getting stranger all the
time, and he shuddered--as if he's not!
And then there's other elves who
don't care two hoots about men or their opinions, and
would just as soon not be bothered by their notice
whatsoever, so fading doesn't mean much to them one way
or another. Legolas is not like that--he's shared good
times and hard with other kinds for so long that he can't
imagine losing mortal contact altogether. I asked him if
he even planned to go to Elvenhome at all, and he got the
most yearning look on his face, but then said, 'Not while
my friends yet live.'"
"October 11, 1451--Last night I dreamed that I heard
Legolas screaming. I ran to find out why, and saw an old
man with a long beard holding him by the hair over a
crevasse that glowed up red, real strange-looking.
Legolas fought like crazy but couldn't reach the man to
free hisself. I realized somehow in the dream that the
old man was Gandalf--at least as I'd always pictured
him--and that he wasn't trying to hurt Legolas, but that
Legolas had fallen in (or jumped in?) and Gandalf
couldn't grab him any other way, with him fighting so. I
woke up because Legolas really was screaming--I'd worked
that into my dream somehow. When we woke him up he laughed
and said his nightmare was absurd, really. He'd dreamed
that Gandalf had attacked him and tried to gnaw his
finger off! We all laughed at the ridiculous picture that
made, but it seems funny (different kind of funny) that
he and I should both get such similar dreams on the same
night--especially since I never met Gandalf."
Evening entry: "I am getting very, very, very tired
of cooking every single meal for these lazy, ungrateful
bums. And you do this what, six times a day, Mama? I
don't know how you stand it."
"October 12, 1451--Rain, rain, rain, all day long.
Gloomy. I'm writing this under my cloak--that's why my
handwriting's so bad it looks drunk. I wish. Nothing to
drink but water--more than we have any use for. Legolas
is in a mood, too. No songs, no talk, just brooding in
his saddle. He has refused all food, and hardly even
answers when he's spoken to."
"October 13, 1451 The sun broke out today, a
sudden spill of light busting through the clouds like
butter overflowing mashed potatoes, casting the most
perfect rainbow you ever laid eyes on. Legolas burst into
song just to see it. I wish I knew songs for rainbows and
the sunlight's return."
Later entry: "Every day is marvelous out here, full
of beauty and new surprises, but Mama, Papa, sometimes it
gets old. The sight of mountains in front of me and seas
of grass all around me don't always thrill me anymore. I
miss all of you terribly. Tell May I especially miss my
favorite little sister, but don't tell the others,
because I'm not supposed to have favorites. But I do
have to say, though, Papa, that it took me a bit by surprise
when Uncle Merry said that May had inherited your wise
heart. I thought at least that he and Uncle Pippen knew
about her origins. But I took my cue from you when you
did not correct him. And of course you were right--May
does have the Gamgee heart, through and through. How she
came by it is nobody's business. And with her getting
born the same day as our Tom, it does kind of make them
twins, like we tell everybody. Anyway, I couldn't ask for
a better sister."
"October 14, 1451--Today we worked with live steel.
It scared the living daylights out of me, but I turned
every blow but one, and that the mithril caught. Tomorrow
I will have to sew my weskit, though. From now on I'm
wearing the mithril on the outside of my clothes."
Later entry: "I keep thinking about those
maple-leaves looking like a courting maiden's lips. It
occurs to me that I am going where there are no maidens
of my people for miles and miles around, and that I don't
know how long I'll have to live without my own kind. I
had a very lonely day."
"October 15, 1451--Legolas had another bad spell. We
were passing through a thicket when he hid his face in
his hands and cried out that the leaves were too bright,
they hurt him, make the autumn stop. We finally threw a
blanket over him, led his horse out of the thicket, and
sat with him very, very quietly, till he calmed down.
Uncle Merry cursed that we brought no brandy with us, but
I don't think that would've helped enough. I may not be
all that clear on what fading is, but Papa, this is not
it! If anything, it's the complete opposite--Legolas
seems too extreme in all things. Something else has gone
"October 16, 1451 We got a late start today.
Legolas slept till noon, and then he didn't want to eat.
Now he slumps in the saddle like he still feels
half-dead. No songs."
"October 17, 1451--Legolas seems okay today. Just
like any other elf. But I never know what to expect of
him next. Sometimes even when he's happy it seems like
too much. Never mind fading--he's become the center of
our attention! Is that all this is? Is he maybe just
trying too hard?"
"October 18, 1451Mama, sit down. I got my
first practice nick today, on my right arm. It was no big
deal. It didn't bleed much. Legolas boiled some shavings
off a tree root and poured the tea onto the wound before
bandaging it up. He said this would prevent infection. He
showed me which tree and how to prepare the wound-wash.
Merry looked a little pale, but then said that if that's
the worst I'll ever get, I'll be lucky. My fault, for
letting a rabbit distract me. Battles don't halt for
rabbits, Merry said. Keep your eye on your enemy's blade,
he said, and from now on I'm going to pay
"October 19, 1451--We're back to working with
sheathes. Uncle Merry is teaching me close-quarter
fighting, and how to pry a weapon right out of your
opponent's hands. He talked a lot about how even the
mightiest warrior has some weakness, and if you watch for
it, you can put yourself on equal footing with darn near
anyone--that's how he helped slay the Witch-King of
Angmar. He also showed me tricks to make size not matter,
though it's not like he has much to worry about on that
account. In fact, he says, we hobbits can consider
ourselves lucky that we have low centers of gravity.
Everything is in how you look at it."
Later entry: "Legolas got tired of our supplies and
took the day off from travel to shoot a whole mess of
squirrels for me to cook. The dwarf-kit heats so evenly
that with the lid on I could cook up a squirrel pie in it
with our remaining flour, never mind having no oven. The
elf was right--it made a splendid change of pace! And I
added chestnuts in with the meat, and they soaked up some
of that good squirrel gravy, and oh, you couldn't ask for
a finer meal!"
"October 20, 1451--I have learned the following
facts that Papa never put in the Red Book: 1. No matter
how hard you try, you can never get as clean washing with
mud in a cold creek as you can with soap and hot water.
2. The closer we get to winter, the less often any of us
try. 3. Unwashed elves smell sort of like alfalfa--not
bad, actually. 4. Unwashed hobbits smell more like basil.
[crossed out.] not very fresh basil. [crossed out.]
composting basil. 5. The colder it gets, the less you
care how you smell."
"October 21, 1451--Today we were just riding along,
nothing in particular happening, when Legolas suddenly
started chuckling quietly to himself, then he got louder
and louder, till he nearly fell off his horse laughing.
It did my heart joy to see him laugh! But when we asked
him what the joke was, he said it was that we all must
drink water--there is no escaping it. "He" will
know. "He" knows everything. (I don't know who
"he" is.) That made no sense to either Merry or
me. That's when I saw that even as he laughed he had this
terrible look in his eyes.
I got Uncle Merry aside and
asked if maybe we shouldn't be following Legolas wherever
he's headed--maybe the King doesn't know that something
has gone wrong with his messenger. Merry at least agreed
with me that a lot more's going on than fading, and it's
getting worse all the time, but he seems to think that
Legolas is looking for some kind of help and we've got to
stand by him and see how it plays out. King Elessar will
understand about our delay. He's a friend, too, crown or
no. He's been shipping food to Mordor for awhile now
(some of it from the Shire, so Merry knows) and he can
keep on doing that awhile longer. What Merry didn't say I
thought of after--we have nobody else to follow, for
miles and miles around."
"October 22, 1451--We have arrived in the outskirts
of Hollin. We're right up there in the foothills of the
mountains, now, and it's chillier (the fur on my feet has
grown winter-thick already.) Everywhere I look I can see
lovely, gangly plants gone wild, of kinds that any
gardener would recognize as needing proper attention in a
garden. Uncle Merry looks tense all the time, though,
turning to look this way and that, and his hand never
leaves his sword."
Later entry: "I found a whole stand of rosebushes
today, all leggy and overgrown with weeds, but just full
of bright orange hips like tiny pumpkins. I gathered as
many as I could, and we had rosehip tea. You're right,
Mama--it's good for what ails you. I had just started on
a scratchy throat from staying out in all weather all the
time, and now I feel just fine. But I'm saving some back
to see if I can plant the seeds. Wouldn't you just love
it, Papa, to grow elven roses?"
"October 23, 1451Boy do I wish you were here
to help me figure out my dreams, Papa. Last night I
dreamed that I held up May's magnifying glass and gazed
into it, and I saw the ocean! Oh, it was so
wonderful--always tumbling green and white up close and
blue in the distance, but you couldn't quite tell where
the blue left off and the green began. It had a sharp,
tangy smell that I can't describe, not like flowers or
anything you'd expect to enjoy, but enjoy it I did. Don't
ask me how I could smell through the glass, but you know
what dreams are like. For that matter, I could also hear
the ocean; it made soft whooshes and high shushings, and
deep, thrilling roars--I can't get it right. Someday
you'll tell me if I'm close, though, Papa, for you've
seen the sea, yourself. From somewhere behind me I heard
a voice say, 'He knows.' In the dream I felt
glad that he knew, whoever he was, and completely at
Evening entry: "We reached a tumble of rocks, today,
that Legolas said were ancient ruins. I can sort of see
that, at certain angles, but at other times I'm not so
sure. In fact, I'm not much sure about anything he says
anymore. It all made for very rough terrain, with high,
stony piles and unexpected pits, and slabs that looked
secure but would tip underfoot. It went on for miles and
miles. The ponies picked their way through it all slow
and trembly, and even the horse did not look happy. When I brushed Billie-Lass down for the night, she kept nuzzling me and giving me odd looks, as if to say, 'Do you really think we should go this way?' No, Billie, I don't know what to think.
"Now Legolas has gone off on foot to explore, even though it's
dark, but there's that elvish night-vision to
consider--I'd probably break my neck clambering around
all that rubble with no light, or at least break my
ankle. We hobbits shall stick close to camp tonight.
Uncle Merry wants us to take turns watching all night
long--he says he thought he heard howling in the
distance. I'm writing this by firelight; Merry says we
have to keep the campfire bright and strong till morning.
If it doesn't sound too strange to say, I think he is