Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 16, Part 16
The Chamber of Aule
(October 25, 1451)
The next day Frodo woke up
vastly better, though his arm still ached and he still
felt a little lightheaded with anemia. Notwithstanding,
Merry made him take the fighting-stance, move his sword
once each through positions one through seven for both
attack and defense (though it made Frodo grit his teeth
to do it) and then let him sit back down again, tuckered
out already. "We can't let your scar form in a way
that will bind you," Merry said. "We'll have to
keep that arm moving--gently, but thoroughly."
"Scar?" Frodo asked, remembering his Mama's
"Yes--an excellent aid to the courting hobbit. You
will take your shirt off during harvest, and the maidens
will bring out food for the workers, and the dear things
will make sympathetic sounds about the great scar upon
your arm. They will ask you how you came by it, and you
will tell them, and they will swoon. Then they will ask
if they can touch it. You, of course, being the
red-blooded hobbit that you are, will consent most
gladly. They will tell you that it feels satiny. And so
forth and so on; I'm sure you can imagine the rest."
He grinned under the thick, brown scar upon his brow, far
more prominent than Papa's old scalp wound. "Aha--a
blush! A definite sign of recovery for someone who nearly
bled to death."
Legolas looked up appreciatively from fixing their
breakfast. "I would not have believed, had I not
seen, how swiftly a hobbit can regain color after such a
blow as you sustained. It does my heart good to see you
in better health."
"Almost--I still feel a bit dizzy if I move too
"Then you may rest here, while I continue my search
of Hollin. I found some promising ruins yesterday, but I
will need to borrow your glass."
Frodo tensed. "How about if I go along with you,
"But you just said that you have not fully recovered
"Oh, that's all right. I can ride Billie-Lass."
Legolas laughed. "As carefully as she steps around
here, I would have to be lamer than Merry not to keep
up." Merry saluted him with the stick he'd been
using for a cane. "After your 'second breakfast',
then, we shall go forth, Frodo, you and I."
But later, as Legolas led Frodo and the pony some
distance from camp, the elf said, "So you have come
to mistrust me, my friend."
"Only when the word 'need' comes into the
conversation. You still weren't fully honest with us last
"Was I not?" the elf said softly.
"When you stitched up my wound, you didn't show much
confidence in your ability to sing me to sleep. In fact
you faltered, and the first jab woke me up--though you
did just fine afterwards," he hastened to add.
"I think your self-doubt came of having failed
before." He turned in his saddle to Legolas.
"Tell me the truth now, Legolas, or I shall never
trust you again."
After a long silence as they picked over the broken
terrain, the elf said. "You guess correctly. The
messenger did come awake, as I began to...to rob
him." He squeezed his eyes shut tight, walking no
longer. Frodo reined in the mare and waited.
"I...what have I become, Frodo! I cannot understand
why it meant so much to me, to travel to a gentler
countryside, and bring succor back to the land that broke
me, but I felt obsessed--I had to be the one to deliver
the message. And I had to look on hobbits once
again--small, peaceful creatures who heal swiftly, who
can resist the lure of mighty rings, who..."
"Legolas," Frodo pleaded, "Tell me what
you did to the messenger. I have to know how bad it
"Bad?" The elf opened his eyes wide and stared
at the hobbit, almost in fear, it seemed. "Yes. Bad.
I struck him. But only one blow. I swear to you by Mandos
and his Hall of Judgment that I only struck him once,
knocked him out, and made sure that he suffered no
further hurt than a probable headache. Believe me, Frodo,
please--not even an orc can swear lightly by
Frodo reached out painfully and clasped the elf's hand.
"I do believe you--now. But it breaks my heart that
you have learned to lie. When did that happen?"
"When people stopped believing my truths!" the
elf snapped, jerking his hand back. Then the fury fled
his face and left nothing behind but shame.
"Frodo--I am so sorry! I know you mean me nothing
but good will."
Frodo sighed and said, "Let's get moving, shall
we?" and he felt his weakness and fatigue weigh down
on him. Frodo did not look at Legolas after that, but as
they resumed their journey, he told the elf, "I'm
not sure if you know of all the terrible things that my namesake
said and did to my father when the madness of the Ring
came on him. Maybe Papa only told the family--I can't
say. All those things hurt--oh boy, did they hurt! But
Papa endured it all for the friend he loved, because he
knew it was the Ring, not Frodo Baggins, at the root of
it." He sighed. "I guess I'm my father's son,
just like Mama said. But I'll stand by you, Legolas. I'll
see you through this mess you're in."
"Thank you," Legolas replied, almost inaudibly.
"Yet you have known me for so short a
"Known you?" Frodo laughed. "I've known
you my whole life, Legolas! No one alive can tell a story
as vividly as Papa." Gently he added, "And he
told me of a good person, Legolas. Someone worth standing
by through any kind of trouble." Sorrow disturbed
the elven face, but Legolas tried to smile.
"Besides," Frodo teased. "I'm your
'Life-Ward' now, right? That should count for
"It counts for much."
They entered a district of weedy pavements and great,
vine-draped blocks that even Frodo could recognize as
ruins. A cold wind blew through the crumbled walls, and
moaned like a lament. On a neglected lawn they stopped
before a broken statue, or rather a relief, extending
from a great, free-standing, arching wall of stone. It
depicted a vine-crowned queen, as tall as any tree, still
fair beyond mortal measure, though the seasons had
hollowed out the eyes to havens where the birds made
nests. Now mosses clothed her in their own green velvet,
over curves suggestive of swelling fruit or limbs in
shape like slender boughs. Her shattered arms lay on the
ground before her, still outstretched, still offering her
stone fruits and carven sheathes of grain. Behind her a
skillful hand had chiseled a lush background teeming with
every kind of plant and animal, from birds and
butterflies above, to flowers and lizards beneath her
feet, and all things furred, feathered, or scaled
between, gamboling or hunting or grazing or just
rejoicing in their stone-depicted lives. And, etched in
still smaller detail, one could glimpse between the
trunks of wild trees scenes of orchards blooming next to
well-tilled fields. The sweetness of the Lady's smile and
the kindly tilt of her head moved Frodo like nothing he
had ever seen before, even in the Palace of the King.
"Yavanna," Legolas said softly. "Vala of
all that lives upon the earth, and its abundance, and its
care." He paused, respect calming even his urgency,
before saying, "And on the other side, Aule."
He led them around, and the reverse of the statue showed
a great smith of terrifying might and majesty, muscled
with the power of mountains, his weather-cracked brow
lined with the wisdom of the ages, the fragments of his
tools still held in fists so great that Frodo could have
been a knuckle of that hand. The background for his side
showed structures made by work and knowledge, from the
tallest, fairest towers and spires, down through twisting
stairs and balconies of delicate work, on through
palace-walls and pleasant arched arcades that offered
glimpses of their hidden gardens, thence to massive gates
with well-wrought bars and hinges, finally reaching hints
of deep-delved mines shadowing the base. The stern face
smiled mysteriously, as though about to impart grave
secrets to a chosen few, but Frodo felt awed, certain
that that few could not include a nobody like him.
"Vala of the substance of the Earth, and all things
crafted from it, and of all artifice."
"Creator of dwarves," Frodo breathed beside
him. "Teacher of the Noldor."
"So you know about that. I might have guessed that
Bilbo translated such things." He helped the hobbit
down from his pony. "Now I must require your
magnifying glass, Frodo."
Frodo started to draw it out of his pocket, then stopped.
"Certainly--if you ask for it."
"If I...what insolence is this?" And a look
came over the elf that frightened Frodo, but he
"Please--for friendship's sake. I just want to hear
In sarcastic tones Legolas said, "May I please
borrow your magnifying glass, Frodo?" Then the look
passed and he stared at Frodo in sudden grief.
"Sure, Legolas. Here you go." Frodo handed it
over. "No, it's all right--you don't have to say
another word. I know that you can't help it." But the elf
stood there, barely holding the glass in his
mortification, standing tiny beside the enormous statue,
looking so frail that Frodo half-feared that the wind
could carry him away. He hasn't been eating
enough--again, Frodo thought. I shall have to keep
an eye on that. "Tell me what you mean to do
with my sister's glass," he asked.
Legolas started as though waking, and walked over to the
statue's pediment, which stood taller than either of
them. "I have reason to believe that a door exists
in this structure, and that it leads down to a library.
There, perhaps, I can learn what I need to know." He
passed the glass over the surface of the stone,
searching. "The light that would have revealed it no
longer shines upon this world, not in quite the same way.
The stars have shifted, so much time has passed, so that
once-plain signs fade from sight by night or day. But
through this lens, I believe, I can see anything made by
Frodo sat down nearby, weary already. Legolas glanced
back at him. "Go ahead and lie down, Frodo--the
grass is soft over there. Lie with your head level with
your heart, if you can." Then he turned back to his
work, searching the stone with long and trembling
fingers. Frodo dozed in and out, but if any dream came to
help him, he forgot it.
"I have it!" The elf's cry woke him up again.
"Here--I was right! The glass revealed all." He
pressed his hands to the stone and sang a song like none
Frodo had heard before, now high and sharp like the
shrill of steel against steel, now deep and low like the
groaning of the earth, and all in the Quendi tongue--accursed to
Teleri elves, but Legolas had learned much.
The entire statue shuddered; Frodo felt it in the earth
beneath him and sat up in alarm--too fast for his thin
blood, for he nearly blacked out. He half-expected the
monolithic smith to waken, perhaps to smite them for
impertinence, but instead a door groaned open in the
pediment beneath, slowly in an agony of gritty hinges
struggling against the weight of time, but submitting to
the song that insisted, unrelenting, till the passageway
Immediately Legolas ducked in. Frodo hurried after, down
the stairs, though it made his heart pound to run even a
little. The elf's natural glimmer triggered a chain
reaction in the walls; wherever he passed a rainbow
luminescence spread upward to the roof and fanned across
it, in designs of vines and growing things luxuriating
over pillars and arches. Birds of glowing paint flew
overhead, wearing crowns and collars of cunning fashion.
Fish leaped in the images of great urns the size of
mountain lakes. Deer with bejeweled antlers peeked from
around lintels and shelves. Trees worked great roots into
soil, depicted in cross-section, and buried treasures lay
among those roots. Portraits of elves worked fields with
strange-shaped plows, or placed bouquets in comely vases.
A mountain stood wreathed in trees and birds upon the
wing, and a painting of an elf painted the same mountain
in miniature. Every scene depicted the marriage of Nature
and Artifice, or of mineral and living matter, in some
fashion or another. The explorers had no need of lanterns
in that place, though the strange illumination made
Frodo's mortal eyes blink more than once.
Legolas halted before one door in the great chamber, and
for a moment awe held him back as he read the luminous
words that arched above it. "Here," he
whispered, "lies all the compendium of elven lore
regarding rings of power, untouched since ancient
days." He pushed the door open, with a whoosh of air
suddenly admitted into vacuum, and strode in, where none
had stepped since Hollin fell in the Second Age. Around
him Frodo could see shelves and shelves of scrolls,
trembling in the draft...
...no, not trembling--crumbling! Crumbling into dust with
the unaccustomed rush of air.
"No!" The elf shouted, then
"NOOOOOOO!" he screamed, as he snatched up
scroll after scroll that fell to nothing in his hands.
"Noooo," he sobbed, on hands and knees, in the
dust of the knowledge of the ages, as Frodo stood by
helplessly, thinking, Time moves on. All things fade.