The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
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 words.
"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 fast."
"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, instead?"
"But you just said that you have not fully recovered your strength."
"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 night."
"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 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 is."
"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 Mandos."
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 while...friend."
"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 something."
"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 persisted.
"Please--for friendship's sake. I just want to hear you ask."
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 elvish hands."
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 came clear.
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..., 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. All things.

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