Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 17, Part 17
Friends and Captors
(October 25, 1451)
"The secret must be
here," the elf husked in trembling words, on his
hands and knees, passing the magnifying glass over the
powder on the floor. "It must still, somewhere...is
that a letter of the tengwar script?"
"Stop it," Frodo said. "It's just dust.
"It cannot be dust for I am not dust I still live!
so it the answer I mean must still be here I must keep
looking or I will surely crumble and blow away at the
first breath of future to come through the you know I
should have known that something so fragile as the past
but of course I thought it had to be strong to support
the weight of so much power but then the strong have no
need of magical power do they so I say it must be here
because I need it because I am anything but strong!"
Frodo went over and wrenched the lens from his hand.
Legolas fell back from him and stared at him in shock.
"Legolas, listen: we're wasting time here--time we
could better spend finding some other solution.
Think--elves are not the only ancient power in this
world. What about the ents? We can at least talk to
Treebeard--he's right along the way, in
Treegarth." He thought with a sinking heart that of
course the shepherds of trees would have no knowledge or
interest in anything to do with artifice, but he had to
offer any hope he could. "If that doesn't work, we
can try Tom Bombadil--he's ancienter than anyone, and a
help in time of need. If worst comes to worst, you can
always seek healing in the west..."
"I shall not abandon Gimli!"
"Gimli--what an excellent suggestion! Let's go visit
Gimli and the dwarves. They have some knowledge of these
things, after all--they used rings, too, you know."
He felt like he babbled like a lunatic, himself, but he
knew he had to keep talking to anchor the elf onto
something besides his own tormented thoughts. "Come
along now--Gimli will be so glad to see you, I'm
sure." He tugged at the elf's elbow and got him up
on his feet. Frodo led Legolas out like a child twice his
size, but trudging up the stairs soon made the sick
hobbit's ears ring and the pulse hammer in his head. He
had to sit down as soon as they reached sunlight. Legolas
leaned against a wall that he slowly slid down, till he,
too, sat, staring far away without sight.
Frodo watched old leaves blow through the ruins, and he
watched some birds fly south, and he watched the shadows
shift across the ground. His stomach growled--he wondered
how many meals he missed just waiting here for nothing,
and how much he could afford to miss in his weakened
state. Yet he didn't dare leave Legolas alone, so close
to Moria and still wearing that accursed ring. Not that
he could do much good in his friend's defense right now.
Frodo muttered to himself, "This is no good."
He looked at the immobile elf, and then out across the
miles of rubble; until this day the hobbit had never
actually felt small. "Legolas has finally cracked
the whole way--it's plain as daylight. Uncle Merry's got
a bad foot, and with my thinned blood I'm worse than
useless!" He smote the rock beside him.
"What'll we do now--sit here in the ruins of
Hollin till we starve or goblins find us?"
A quiet voice beside him answered, "Oh, I am not quite
so bad as that. I just...it was a terrible shock, is all.
You must understand that, Frodo. It was a terrible,
terrible shock." The elf stood and dusted himself
off carefully, but he held himself as though a touch would
crumble him just like the ancient scrolls. He gave Frodo
a hand up. His voice still shook, but he tried to sound
nonchalant as he said, "Shall we rejoin Merry back
"Sure, Legolas." Exhaustion overtook Frodo and
ached in his wound. He let the elf help him back onto his
pony and they set out over the tumbled land. "You
know, Legolas, you had it right the first time."
"About what?" the elf asked as he guided them
through a maze of half-fallen walls.
"Sauron. It really was him--don't you see? Sauron as
he is now: a mere blowfly, laying eggs in any available
wound. Your soul got wounded by your helplessness in
Mordor. That wound should have healed, in time, except
something kept irritating it, kept it from closing, so to
speak. The 'maggot' hatched when you first conceived of
making--of all things!--a ring. But you were obsessed
before you even made the ring. You lied to Gimli,
Legolas--whose work is that?"
Legolas stopped, and the tears streamed down his
beautiful face. "I cannot entirely blame any other
spirit but my own. I listened. I entertained the thoughts
suggested to me." Savagely he shoved down a wall,
and the crash echoed like everything in the world
collapsed at once. "There can be no ring of power
made without the influence of Sauron!" He reeled
from his own violence and gasped for air. "Sauron
invented the entire concept."
"At your weakest moment, sure, you listened.
Nobody's perfect, not even elves." Frodo reached out
to the elf's shoulder, though it hurt him. Legolas looked
at him. "Let's go, Legolas. Let's leave this place
behind us." And they resumed their journey.
"I meant no harm," Legolas said, not looking at
Frodo. "I wanted nothing more than to regain the
ability to serve the mortals that I have come to love--that,
to me, is the only healing. Whatever the outcome, I
shaped this thing with good in mind." He held up his
fist to regard what none could see except for him, with a look one might see in the face of an
unrequited lover: of desire, delight, and despair,
bordering on hate. Frodo had never realized before how
sheer emotion, all by itself, could exhaust a person if
kept at too high a pitch--not until he'd seen that drawn,
Frodo said, "The thing is, though, you made the ring
based on obsession, and it turned everything into
obsession. Sauron knew you were in no condition to go
making any rings when he pounced on you." Frodo
wished he had better words to offer than the truth, but
Papa never taught him lies could heal. "You say you
poured your will into the metal as you cast it--an
unbalanced will, Legolas. You know what? I think you
followed the old recipe for rings of power just fine--the
only flawed ingredient was you."
Legolas quirked a lopsided smile at that, with half a
laugh, though the pain in his eyes remained. "Me. I
might have known."
Mountain twilight had begun by the time they arrived at
camp, giving the elvish ruins and the wilds all around an
otherworldly, violet cast. When they pushed through the
scratchy protection of the holly trees, they found that
Merry had already made dinner and only waited to serve it
to them--a venison stew filled out with their dried
vegetables. "It's not a Gamgee meal," he said,
"But I think it'll do the job."
Frodo exclaimed, "Do the job? Any meal that I don't have
to cook has to be delicious!" He inhaled the aroma
with closed-eyed bliss. "If this is my reward, I'll
have to get wounded more often."
"Eat up, then, lad--you look like you could use it.
The only color in your face is your bruises."
Legolas said, "I should have been here to cook for
you. Your ankle..."
"...is better already, thank you. Besides, I hardly
had to get up off my knees to fix it. Here--eat your
In fact Frodo found the stew rather too spicy, but he
wasn't about to discourage Merry's initiative. He just
drank more water as Legolas explained the outcome of
their expedition. Merry kept reminding Legolas to eat,
which the elf did in an automatic sort of way, showing
surprisingly little emotion about what had nearly
destroyed him mere hours before. In fact, Legolas seemed
to grow progressively more detached, even almost
cheerful, though his voice became softer and slower,
slurred towards the end, and finally entirely silent as
the bowl slipped from his grasp and Frodo watched him
sway, blinking in the languid rhythms of his breath.
Merry hobbled to his feet and eased Legolas down onto his
own sleeping-roll, suspiciously handy for the task. Then
the elf's eyes fluttered closed and did not open again.
"Uncle Merry," Frodo said hesitantly,
"what exactly did you put in his stew? And how? And
"What? Just a little something from an old friend,
carefully measured according to instructions. How? I had
it already in the bowl before I ladled in the stew, which
I spiced enough to hide the taste. Why? To make this go
as smoothly as possible, of course."
"Make what go..." and then he saw two figures
emerge from hiding amid the holly trees. One was a
magnificent human woman of mature age, with a few holly
leaves still clinging to the long golden/silver hair that
fluttered over her mail-clad shoulders. She looked both
older and younger than her years--older because she had
never been the sort to shy from the weathering touch of
the open air, so that time had graven her history in a
wealth of fine lines upon her face, beautiful in their
way; younger because she'd kept her body lean and supple
all this time, notwithstanding the womanly curves that
childbirth had endowed her with, so that she could no
longer be mistaken for a man even in the livery of a
The second figure, a red-bearded, ruddy dwarf, needed no
introduction beyond the agony of care in his face as he
ran over to Legolas and knelt beside him, turning the
face gently and studying it. Then, scowling, he fastened
a collar around the sleeping elf's neck, and attached to
it a fine and glittery chain of what could only be
mithril, securing the other end to his own belt.
"This cost me a small fortune," he said to his
unconscious friend, "but you are worth it three
times over. At least its light weight shall not gall
you." And then his eyes watered and he turned away
from the others.
"Gimli," Frodo said. "You're his friend.
Gimli of the Golden Lock." The dwarf made no reply.
"You gave my father the cooking-kit." At that
Gimli looked up and ventured a wan smile.
"You must be Sam's boy. Frodo, is it? The eldest
son? We were told to keep an eye out for you."
"Frodo Gamgee, at your service," the hobbit
said and bowed, feeling weird about making drawing-room
introductions under such circumstances, but not knowing
any other way to handle the situation. He turned to the
human being and said, "And at yours, my lady. For am
I not correct in recognizing the Lady Eowyn of
"You are," the lady said with a smile.
"Though I hardly expect formality out here in the
wilds with my old saddle-mate, Holdwine, once
again." She gave Merry a playful nudge, which he
returned, and the two smiled at each other--but only for
"But what brings you here, so far from your own
She looked sadly down upon the elf. "He does. I have
been tracking him. Tar-Elessar could not ignore an
assault upon the King's Messenger, though he is wise
enough to know that Legolas needs healing more than
punishment." She knelt down, removed the silver
badge and pocketed it, then checked the collar for
looseness. "And who better to apprehend a beloved,
dangerous lunatic than one who is at once warrior,
healer, and friend?"
"Dangerous?" Frodo exclaimed. "For
knocking a man out? In the Shire we would lock a brawler
up overnight to cool down, and release him in the
"But this is not the Shire, and it was not a brawl.
Compulsion made him injure another--compulsion over what
should have been a minor impulse. What other impulses
will he have tomorrow, that his madness will enlarge unto
extremes?" She felt the pulse in the unconscious
elf's neck, and nodded. "He shall sleep until
tomorrow, and shall then be drowsy all that day,
cushioned somewhat from the pain, I hope, yet able to
ride, and if he wishes, to converse." She shook her
head. "After that, who knows?" Eowyn spread a
blanket over Legolas and said, "I cannot tell you
how it grieved me to learn that he did not find what he
sought here in these ruins--I held back from his capture
in the hopes that he might cure himself." She
palpated the elf's left hand till she found the ring by
feel. "Ah--here is the crux of his affliction!"
"Take it off!" Gimli cried. "Tear it from
him, if you have to!"
"I fear it is too late for that. As he is now, he
cannot part from it easily. You know that." She
turned to the dwarf. "And your plan is a good one,
Gimli Gloin's son. We will stick to that, and we will
strengthen him for it."
"Good, but drastic--can I help it if I wish for any
other way? We don't even know if he can take such a step
Eowyn reached out an arm around the dwarf's shoulders as
she spoke. "Take heart, Gimli. He is not the first
of my patients to complicate a simple breakdown with an
ill-made and tenacious home remedy." Then she
chuckled. "But I must say, our elf has found a more
creative way to get himself in trouble than most!"
Gimli shoved her arm away and snarled, "How can you
laugh at a time like this?"
"I apologize. It is my profession. If we healers
lacked a sense of humor, we would all go mad,
ourselves." She stood again, dusting off her knees.
"And I specialize in madmen, having gone myself deep
into the realm of desperation, and returned."
Frodo said, somewhat sharply, "He is not a madman.
He is a mad elf."
"I know, little warrior," she said gently.
"I know." And she revealed a green gemstone
hung around her neck. "Queen Arwen, last of the
Noldor and canny in the craft of magic jewels, fashioned
this for me, so that I may plainly see Legolas for who he
really is, nor wander in my attention to him. His image
and his voice shall never dim for me so long as I still
Frodo said, "Why, that's marvelous! We should make
hundreds of such gems, and..."
"Hundreds?" The dwarf stood up, faintly
jingling from the chain. "First know the price of
one. Arag--Tar-Elessar and I strove for three days and
nights without rest, staring into that stone, to cast
into it, from the very stuff of our souls, the mirror of
our love for and knowledge of Legolas Greenleaf. And then
Queen Arwen had to call us back, with all the art of her
father's teaching, and we rested many days afterwards in
the Houses of Healing. Anyone less hardy might have died
from the ordeal."
Eowyn said, "And it has its limits. Beyond Minas
Tirith, I can only perceive Legolas clearly of all his
kind. Had I been able to find orcs as easily, you'd have
not been attacked the other night. As it stood, we did
not even know of the assault till my dear friend Holdwine
revealed it to us." She looked softly on the elder
hobbit. "He told us all of your adventures from the
"The orcs...of course! They're fading, too. And that
means..." The implications of orcs becoming
increasingly hard to observe suddenly made Frodo feel
faint again. Eowyn caught him just in time and laid him
down on the ground with a pack beneath his feet. She
pressed his fingernail, examined the result, then briefly
pulled down the lower lid of his eye. "I fear that
you are still quite anemic, Frodo Gardner; you should
never have ridden out so soon."
"What? What did you just call me?"
"Frodo, son of Samwise Gardner. That is how we name
your father in Gondor, Rohan, and Ithilien. For among us the common people
support the nobility as those who have trained from birth
in the arts of war and the protection of the people, in
discipline handed down from parent to child, so that it
is marvelous to us--and a point of especial heroism--that
a gardener, with no prior training whatsoever in deeds of
arms and chivalry, should step forward and achieve such
feats as did your father, Frodo son of Samwise. We would
honor him no matter what his background for the deeds he
did. But we honor him especially in light of who he
"Frodo Gardner," the hobbit murmured to
himself. "I like the sound of that." He looked
up at her as Eowyn changed the bandage on his arm,
examining his wound and approving of its treatment.
"I hope I can live up to it."