The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 15 Part 15
He Owed Them an Explanation...
(October 24, 1451)

He owed them an explanation. He didn't even know if he could explain it all to himself, but Legolas unquestionably did owe his friends an explanation. He sat with his back to the stars and the black wall of holly, huddled in his cloak, hardly touched by the fire's last glow. His faintly luminous fingers trembled on a cup of tea, under eyes as dark as wounds in a moon-silver face.
"No," he said in answer to a question. "That is not why Gimli traveled south with me. We simply journeyed together as friends. I had no idea, as yet, what I intended to do. Not until after Mordor..." He shuddered. "We didn't kill him, you know."
"Who--Gimli?" Merry exclaimed.
"No--of course not. Sauron. We destroyed him, but that is not the same thing, quite--who knew that better than the Dark Lord himself, who always preferred his enemies destroyed to slain? His spirit, you see, still wanders Middle-Earth, gnawing at itself, having no power of its own, yet able to act out its spite here and there by offering suggestions to those desolate enough to listen." Legolas put down the cup. "No. I should not blame Sauron. I have no idea where the thought first came from--most probably myself. I only know why it came to me. Frodo, do you remember my story of the starving child lying on his mother's corpse?"
"Yes. I do."
"Did you not wonder that I did nothing to intervene, myself?"
"It did cross my mind, but I figured I wasn't there, so I couldn't judge."
"I judged," he said, taking up his tea again. "But you see, I had already intervened the night before, with a different woman. You must understand that I went into Mordor with naught but elven garb--I did not know the people of Nurn, and so did not trust them, so I had not planned on being observed. You must also understand that wild beasts still roam in every corner of Mordor, mostly at night."
"Okay," Frodo said, perplexed.
"This woman I speak of had some errand to run, apparently too urgent to wait for daylight, for I saw her dart swiftly from her home, glancing from side to side, terrified yet so terribly, terribly brave. But she had not gone ten yards from her door when a feral warg pounced upon her. I slew the warg, of course, but not before he had ripped her flesh in several places. I tended her the best I could, but she needed warmth to survive, and I had none." His fingers brushed Frodo's arm and then withdrew again. "Have you noticed that our touch is always cool? We elves need less heat than mortal kind, having awakened before the sun."
"Your handshake felt warm at the Prancing Pony."
"Wine does that," he said with a brief quirk of a smile. "But I had no such aid that night. As for fire, as bare as the countryside is, the people of Nurn send their children gathering sticks and twigs all day long to get enough wood for their grates at night, now that no orcs dig coal for them. I had gathered nothing for myself, having no need." Slowly the tension built in his voice. "So I carried the woman from door to door. I would knock, and sometimes someone would answer, look for the knocker to the left and right, but never straight ahead at me, and close the door again. Or sometimes I would knock, and I would hear someone inside say, 'What was that?' 'Oh, nothing,' another would reply, 'Just the wind snapping a branch against the house,' even though no tree stood near--no trees for miles in that desolate land."
His words grew swifter and higher. "One time I actually forced the door open, but before I could step inside with my burden, the residents slammed the door shut again, complaining about the strong wind and a broken lock, though no wind blew that night, and the lock had held well till I broke it myself." Anguish twisted his face. "I grew frantic. I ran from door to door, still burdened. I pounded, I shouted, I wept. I felt the warmth seeping from my charge, and it seemed that my wits fled, too, for I could think of nothing more to do except for that which had already failed!" He looked from face to face as if they had personally denied him the help he had sought. Then, in a voice so harsh that he didn't even sound like an elf, he said, "The woman died in my arms."
For a long time nothing made a sound save for the last crackles of the fire and the wind that rustled in the holly-trees. Frodo, lying by the embers, felt in his body just how easily his soul could have slipped away the night before, had he not had warmth to restore his life again.
Just as they thought that Legolas would tell them nothing more, the elf spoke again. "Something died in me, too, that night. I sat in the dirt beside the dead woman and watched the sun rise. Without me holding her, people came and found her, and carried her body away. Of course! All I'd had to do was leave her on the nearest porch, knock, and run away. My presence had killed her." He stared far beyond them, to nothing. Merry bowed his head and Frodo closed his eyes.
Then, not looking at them, his voice so low that they strained to hear, the elf continued. "I sat there in the street, watching the people come and go, kicking dust upon me as they passed, oblivious to me, and I felt oblivious to myself, for I did not brush off the dust, or indeed move at all. I did not feel that I could. I watched the second woman die that I told you of, right in front of me. I made no move to help her child, but only stared into his dark, unseeing eyes while heart and mind broke upon the hardness of that street in Mordor. For awhile, in our separate worlds, the child and I shared oblivion and mourning, he seemingly as invisible as I to the bitter denizens of that land who walked on by. And then one doubled back, hardly better off than the child's mother had been before, and lifted him up, and with that motion I, too, could move again."
He brought his gaze back to his friends. "Could you pour me a little more tea?" he said to Merry, extending his cup. "My tongue dries on the telling of such tales."
Merry reached back for the kettle on the coals, asking, "Frodo? You want some more, too?"
"Sure, but not half as much as I want to hear the rest." As Merry poured tea all around, Frodo asked, "Did you ever find out what was so urgent that the woman went out into the night?"
Legolas shook his head. "No," he whispered, and drank tea, not looking at them.
Merry asked, "What did you do next, Legolas?"
"I returned to Gondor," said the elf, "made my report to the King, and then...I got lost. I slipped away to Dol Amroth because I hoped that the sea might heal me. Yet all it did was stir the yearning in my heart till I could hardly bear it. So I went inland again, wandering without aim, for nothing meant anything to me anymore. I haunted whatever little merchant towns and farming-villages I came across. No one knew me in those places--indeed, rarely did anyone see me at all. I could do as I pleased."
Legolas grinned, without any mirth at all. "Why not make the most of my worthlessness? I played pranks. I took whatever I fancied, just because I could, and tossed it aside somewhere else as soon as I lost interest. I...I stole wine." He turned his head from them, eyes downcast, smiling no longer. "Bilbo used to do likewise, I recall. Now I understand." He shook his head. "Once, warm and flushed and purposeless, I danced through a farmer's market, laughing loudly and singing as though pleased, kissing women who'd look flustered for a moment and then wonder why. I sampled whatever fruit I wished, rearranged merchandise, and most of all mocked all the obtuse human beings who wandered past unaware of my presence. Then one small child pointed at me and spoke to her mother, who laughed and said, 'My, what an imagination you have!' but the look in the child's eyes shamed me, so I apologized to her, and went quietly away, and played no more pranks."
He sighed and cradled the teacup like he tried to warm his hands. "After that I lived like a ghost, which is not to live at all. I grew thin for lack of interest in food or drink that I could only gain by theft, and ragged for having no one to remark upon my looks, and my hair blew uncombed in the wind, and I did not care, for I believed that nobody else cared, either."
Frodo said, "What about Gimmi--I mean Gimli?"
Legolas choked on his tea, laughing despite himself. "Gimmi? Gimli! Oh he cared, all right. When he did not hear from me, and sufficient time had passed to trouble him, he sought for me. Dwarves, of course, have no craft for tracking above ground, so he went to our old friend, Tar-Elessar, who put on rough and faded clothing from a hidden chest, left Lord Faramir in charge, and became Strider once again. Together they tracked me down.
"They found me in an alley, making terrible speeches to myself--an embarrassing moment, but I am through with hiding all my chain of embarrassing moments from you, my friends. Strider and Gimli took me to an inn and bought me a meal, and nobody recognized the King, and that further shamed me, for it troubled him not at all."
He picked up his cup again and sipped from it. "They took me back to Minas Tirith, where Strider again became Tar-Elessar, and I again became a member of society. There in the court people could see me for what I am, for Queen Arwen reigns undimmed beside her spouse, and many there besides have the blood of Elros in their veins; kin do not forget the face of kin. But I could no longer deny what I would encounter outside that city of stone, while inside it I chafed."
"I began to have trouble sleeping, till Arwen quartered me in a garden-bower of the Houses of Healing." Legolas laughed, bitterly. "Not surprising, since I felt like an invalid, and all regarded me as one. Healers tried to engage me in long conversations, inquiring about my childhood and other matters of greater import to a man than to an elf. They could give whatever name they fancied for my sorrows, but they have no leechcraft for my kind. And I had no use for their 'conversation'."
Legolas brooded into his tea for a moment, till he spoke again in a changed voice. "But then, a solution of my own came to me, thinking of the great store of knowledge kept in a tower nearby. So much of our ancient lore went west--the latest with Elrond and Galadriel. But what if men still kept some copies of the lore of rings locked away in their libraries, still scrawled in scrolls untranslated from ancient days?"
"What on earth were you thinking?" Merry cried. "How could any of the black arts help you?"
"Dare not to call black arts what you cannot understand!" The change in his voice shocked the hobbits. Then, in his normal tone, he said, "Black arts? Yet Gandalf the White himself wielded one of the Three--the evil did not come of ring-craft itself. I concede that some trouble came from the elven rings of old because Sauron had influence in their fashioning, though he touched them not. And all that they wrought came undone with him, as a result. Do you not realize yet what we fashioned the rings for? They slowed the fading almost to a halt for two full ages! In Sauron's defeat we ultimately defeated ourselves--and did so willingly, for the greater good of Middle Earth."
Frodo said, "But mortals mean more to you than to most elves. You found it too hard to let go of us altogether. I think I see, now, why you did what you did."
"Yes, Frodo," said Legolas. "I had hoped that if I could create a new magic ring, after the vanquishment of Sauron, with none of his power vested into it, I could achieve the same effect of the rings of old without their limitations. I would reverse the will of Sauron--rather than a ring of invisibility, I would create a ring of visibility! I would magnify my presence, and that of all the elves remaining in Middle Earth. I would magnify elvishness itself! So I studied, and found hints and allusions, which I pieced together for the clues I needed. I then returned with Gimli to the Glittering Caves and asked for lessons in metallurgy and the making of jewelry, to round my knowledge out."
Suddenly Legolas laughed. "Gimli smashed his hammer through a bench, right in the middle of a lesson, when he realized what I wanted it for. He slammed me against the wall so hard that he knocked the wind from me, and thence he hurled me to the floor, and sat upon me, and would not let me up again until I had promised to renounce all thought of making myself a ring."
The elf sighed and shook his head. "Why did I ever imagine anything good could come of something begun with a lie? And to my dearest friend in all the world! I should rather have let him chop my hand off before it got me into so much trouble--he would have done so out of love! But no, I lied to Gimli, Gloin's son. In his sight I used my newfound craft to make increasingly skillful jewelry, after the manner of the Noldor of old, not as fair, perhaps, but an honest homage to a departed people. And the women of Rohan loved the new style, and (through Gimli) paid with the horse-stamped coins of their realm."
Legolas smiled queerly. "What Gimli did not know was that I would don the garb of a man of Rohan, braid my hair in manner like to theirs, and practice commerce on my own account--he thought that I could bear no more this passing for a man. But for my desire I could bear anything. I used every coin that Gimli gained for me to purchase materials that my friend would never give me, so that in secret I fashioned a ring of my own--after the manner of the Noldor."
His smile became wistful. "Initially it helped. I felt renewed, more myself than ever--intensely myself. I returned to Gondor, so that Elessar could see with his own eyes that all went well for me again. I easily persuaded him to let me take the message to The Shire, since I felt that any help which I could bring to Mordor would complete the healing, not to mention the benefits of reunion with old friends. I felt up to any task, and a long journey to more peaceful lands seemed wonderful to me."
He shuddered, a shimmer in the dark, and his smile fled. "But I am not Noldo, and I do not have their lore. I must have omitted some step in the purification of materials, for a flaw stained my ring, and caused it to go out of balance." He looked desperately from face to face. "I cannot make it work for all elves, and I cannot make it work predictably for me. The ring has no power to make me any more visible to non-elves than before, for I realized too late that the problem is in them, not me--or rather, that there is no problem at all, no disease to cure, at least. Their world moves on, mine does not; I cannot hold them back, I have not the skill. Nor am I one of the Wise to wield such power as could bind all peoples together so that none get left behind. The ring can only work for me--erratically--and when it does, it works in ways I do not want."
And then the elf dropped low his voice, yet all the more intensely did he speak. "Merry, Frodo, it magnifies me. When the power surges through at random it expands upon a feeling, a thought, a perception, I can never tell what next, but it will take some aspect of myself and exaggerate it to a pitch of pain! If I do not find some cure, I shall go mad! Perhaps you think I am mad already."
"No," said Merry, "We know you are. And I'm lamed, and Frodo's bled half to death. It's okay, Legolas--friends take care of sick friends." A strange sense of relief stole through all three of them, to hear it said out loud, and said so matter-of-factly. How a wound must hurt, Frodo thought, when you don't dare reveal it for healing! Merry continued, "Just going to Mordor itself must've put you under a horrible strain to begin with, dear fellow, considering what you said about how the place affects elves these days. Add a terrible shock--or more than one--and you hardly needed any help from a mismade ring to push you over the edge. Why, I don't think you were in your right mind when you made the fool thing in the first place, and so cannot be held responsible!"
Frodo said, "Not for that, at least." The others stared at him where he lay. "Legolas, you still aren't telling us everything." Merry marveled at the sternness in so faint and young a voice. "I've met the King, and Papa told me more. Strider would never have sent you out on any such mission till you'd not only proved you were up to it, but that you could stay up to it." Frodo took the glass from his pocket and waved it weakly. "Perceptiveness, remember?" His hand dropped down again. "Tell us, Legolas, before you get yourself into any more trouble: what did you do to the real messenger?"
Legolas stared at them like one trapped by something monstrous. Merry pressed him, "Yes, tell us! You didn' wouldn't have killed him, would you?"
"Merciful Manwe, no!" the elf cried. " think I would...of course not! I am not violent in my madness, whatever else you might say of me. No, I sang him to sleep by the side of the road, for he was of the blood of Elros and still could hear my voice. And when he slept soundly, I stole his clothing and his badge." His voice became more agitated. "I had to do it--I had to! I had to play some further role, however small, in the healing of Mordor, if I was to have any hope at all of healing for myself. It was grief for that land that drove me to desperate measures in the first place, and though I chose it not, I poured that grief into my ring--its fate and mine are bound."
Frodo asked, "If the ring hurts you so much, why do you still wear it?"
"Because," said Legolas, "like Sauron, I poured most of my own power into it--a drop of blood into the molten alloy, a special chant, a deep gaze down into the liquid metal--it seemed surprisingly easy to make such a terrible mistake. Now I cannot endure without it. Destroy this ring, and I would be destroyed--even as we destroyed the Dark Lord. Merely take it off, and it drains me like a wound I cannot staunch."
"So you came here to Hollin," Frodo said, "To the last great home of the Noldor, where they forged the rings of old, hoping to find some artifact or record that will complete your knowledge--to heal your ring. Am I right?"
"Close, but not quite. I came to find a way to separate myself from it, and live."

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