The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 20, Part 20
Gimli's Arrangements
(October 28, 1451)

Frodo expected that he would not sleep a wink all night, wondering about the dwarf's plans, but in fact, he had barely pulled the blanket over himself, it seemed, before Eowyn nudged him out again for sword-practice in the morning. Merry had already risen and bustled about cooking breakfast, dropping pans and cursing under his breath in a way that Frodo found completely uncharacteristic. But when Frodo offered to take the chore over, his elder insisted that he couldn't sleep, so he might as well make himself useful. Merry, in fact, got snappish at the very idea of receiving assistance, so Frodo shrugged and left him to it, following Eowyn to level ground nearby, as the rest of their party stirred, awakened by Merry's noise.
The sparring-partners' breath puffed little clouds in the cold air, and as they heated to their work and shed warming layers of clothes, even their bodies steamed. This time Eowyn made Frodo switch sword-hands frequently throughout the practice. "A warrior cannot afford a weak side," she told him. "We may only have a strong side and a stronger side. You were not prepared to fight with your 'wrong' hand, were you?"
"I survived, didn't I?"
"Barely--and only against an opponent distracted half out of his mind."
"Half?" Legolas looked up from repairing a rip in his sleeve from the day before. "How do you measure these increments of madness, Lady?" Without a shirt on, the others could see his ribs. "Do they teach such things in the instruction of healers?"
She stopped the swordplay and came to sit by him, as Frodo toweled off his sweat and sat down, glad of the shortened practice. Legolas had not yet bound back his hair; the loose strands gave him an orphan look, and his bare skin appeared cold and pale. The healer said to him, "It still troubles you, does it not, this naming of your illness?"
Legolas paused in his sewing, staring at her as one who longed to trust, yet could not, quite. "It does, Milady."
"And if we ignore that rent in your shirt, and never speak such words as 'tatter' or 'rag' or 'tear', will it mend itself?"
"My shirt feels no sting of pain."
"Nor sting of the needle you must plunge into it." Earnestly she said, "I wish that the healing of bodies and minds could proceed as painlessly as the healing of clothing, Legolas, I really do." Eowyn examined his work after he tied off the knot. "You have a fine hand with stitches; my mother would have approved." She handed the shirt back to him and said, "Wear it in good health--or at least better health. Every day, a little better health."
He shrugged the shirt back on, but said, "That cannot be, Milady." He looked over at Gimli as he spoke to her. "Did you know that elves can die of a broken heart? We are not immortal in all ways, Mistress of Herbs, and our ills do not always parallel those of mortal-kind." Gimli only now became aware of his friend's gaze, caught as he was in the act of feeling at his sore neck; the dwarf's blunt fingers had accidentally brushed aside the beard to reveal how the bruises had blackened, visible link by link, like a necklace of pain. " I have injured my friend," Legolas said simply. "I have no further desire to live." And he smiled--a faint curve of the lips, more rending than any tears.
"Balderdash!" Gimli exclaimed, dropping his hand into a fist. "What right do you have to take more offence at anything done to my person than I myself?"
Just then Merry called out, "Breakfast, everyone!" and brought around the bowls, limping slightly.
"I need no breakfast," Legolas said with the same sad smile.
"Of all the obstinate elvish nonsense!" Gimli sputtered. "Of course you need breakfast--your clothing flaps on you like a banner for stupidity." He stood up with a stomp and hauled Legolas up to his knees by the chain to stare him in the eye. "Listen to me! There is nothing--absolutely nothing noble about letting yourself die of shame. It does not mend any of your errors. It does not mend matters between us. The only way you can do that is to cooperate with the healing that I have set up with such great pains for you. If you refuse me that much, then you have betrayed me indeed."
"But Gimli, please! Consider all I may yet do on the road between here and there."
"Nothing worse than refusing to trod that road at all."
"Gimli, I tried to kill you!" Torment wrung his face as he clasped the dwarf's hand upon the chain.
"Well now, you didn't succeed, did you?"
Merry put in, "And you will not, Legolas." He limped over and put an arm around the kneeling elf's shoulders. "We're your friends, we're here, standing by you no matter what, and we will not let you do anything you cannot bear."
Eowyn knelt down and smoothed a stray lock from his eyes. "Gimli never was in any danger, Legolas, beyond a few bruises."
"No worse," said the dwarf, "than what I gave you the day you first told me of your ring-making schemes."
Frodo drew near and said, "We didn't chain you because we hate you, but because we love you! We only want to give you the restraint that you wish you had, yourself--so that you can stop being so scared of yourself." He took the elf's cool hand in his. "Wouldn't it be a relief, not to feel so scared?"
"Now come," said Gimli. "Sit. Eat." And they sat down again, but Legolas still would not touch his bowl, though he seemed about to waver. "Do you remember," said Gimli in a gentler voice, "the Paths of the Dead?"
"Yes," said the elf. "I do remember."
"Recall then also my terror in that place--my crawling, mind-breaking terror."
"I recall it."
"'Twas love of you as much as Aragorn that kept me on that road, Legolas. At times I would gladly have died rather than face another moment of such fear--but then I would see you ahead of me, going forward, unafraid. I would borrow your courage, when I had none left of my own." Gimli's eyes never left his friend's. "Now you have your own dark tunnel to tread--trust that I am there with you, and not afraid, and that I can lead you to the light at the other end, though you see it not."
Long did Legolas gaze back at him. Finally he said, "You spoke of a cure..."
"And I shall tell you of it on the road. But first, eat. You are yet too weak to endure what lies ahead." And Legolas ate.
Frodo himself could hardly stand to wait while everybody went through the tedious business of closing up yet another camp. At other times the morning and evening routines had always comforted him--stable points in an ever-changing scenery. But today he would gladly have left all the pots, pans, blankets, baggage, and paraphernalia of travel lying right where they'd scattered it, for crows and squirrels to puzzle over, if it meant starting the journey any faster.
At last they saddled up and went on their way, in the final stretch of hill country. Below them lay autumnal grasslands turned to gold by frost; by all the signs, they would reach the plains by nightfall. Frodo saw that Merry, too, fidgeted in the saddle and listened impatiently to hoof-falls and the faint jingle of their gear when they really wanted to hear speech! The hobbits barely contained themselves enough to let Legolas be the one to ask of Gimli, "Tell me of this plan of yours," as they passed through a small wood.
"Treebeard's really." Leaf shadows passed over the dwarf as they rode, changing his face moment by moment.
Legolas stared down on him, wide-eyed. "You would dare go to Treebeard without me? You?"
"Of course! Haven't you been paying attention? Do you see now why I could tell you nothing of my plans before? You'd have forgotten the most obvious details."
"Well, I am now as attentive as I shall ever be--so talk! Please!"
Merry rode up beside them. "Yes, please talk! We hobbits cannot bear secrets very long." Frodo rode up nearly as fast.
"Of course I went to Treebeard. No other creature available remembered the days of the casting of the elven rings--and though the ent knows nothing about metalcraft, he knows plenty about elves. It was not so bad," Gimli said, though he shuddered. "The first moments were a bit dicey, I admit. The minute I stepped under the eaves of that forest, the branches around me seemed to groan and click in a menacing fashion, and I swear I saw boughs drop to bar my way. But I called out for Treebeard and he came." The muscles tensed around Gimli's eyes. "Aye, he came, a living tower whose steps shook the earth beneath my feet, entire trees swaying out of the way of their master. I felt in my bones a certainty that he would crush me where I stood, and every fiber of my body begged to flee, but for you, Legolas, I held my ground." Then Gimli sighed, as though in relief. "But then he recognized me as your guest from years before, and parted the boughs, allowing me entry into Treegarth without reservation--especially when I told him from the first that I came out of concern for you."
Frodo said, "You still look frightened, just recalling it."
"Do I? Dense are the woods where walk the Shepherds of Trees--dense and tangled and unfriendly to my kind. Thick roots twine over all the ground, as tall as dwarves and hard to navigate, within living tunnels of trunk and bough, where little light leaks down and nary a lamp relieves the dark. And Treebeard..." He paused. "I respect Treebeard more than fear him. Only a fool would take him lightly."
Merry nodded. "Even I knew that, from the first I laid eyes on him--and we hobbits are notorious for taking everyone lightly."
Eowyn laughed at a memory, but spoke no word.
Gimli said, "Treebeard bent to me, and lifted me up, and carried me to speak to me--a terrifying experience, but he knew my love for you, Legolas, by how I permitted him this liberty. Never have I traveled so fast and at such a height! He bore me to his own quarters where we talked the night away."
Merry interrupted. "Did he share ent-draughts with you?"
Gimli hesitated, then said, "Only a tiny bit--what would fill a cordial glass, no more." He fidgeted under Merry's knowing grin. "I was curious."
"I thought you looked a wee bit taller." Merry's eyes twinkled.
"Just the one sip. I asked for plain water after that, explaining to him that my people mostly build halls to our own size--Khazad-Dum, of course, being a magnificent exception. But I admit it did taste good." Gimli smiled shyly and would not meet the hobbit's eyes. "Treebeard did say one odd thing in response, though--that I have grown in more ways already than many could measure, and might have trouble fitting anywhere as a result." Gimli shook his head, marveling. "He has the strangest eyes..."
"I remember," Merry said with a smile.
"We were born--the dwarves and the ents--out of a marital quarrel among the Great Powers of the Earth. I discussed it with him--I think that we were the first dwarf and ent to actually sit down--figuratively speaking--and address the issue directly. I told him that for far too long we had acted out of the quarrel, and not out of the marital bond that preceded and followed it--our creators, after all, do love each other. And I told him that the roots of his realm sink deep into ours, and that we could not live without the fruits of his--neither could exist without the other's blessing, in some form or another. To my surprise he agreed with me right off, and said that the feud had gone on far too long; it made no more sense even to his ancient memory."
Legolas said, "I still wonder what gave you hope to even inquire of the ents, let alone brave their presence."
"I studied anything I could find that might shed light upon your situation, Legolas. At last, in the archives of my people, I found something of Hollin's history, since they were allies of Khazad-Dum. In ancient scrolls and chiseled stones I read of dreadful giants, treelike in aspect, that used to walk freely in the elven woods--creatures that could only have been ents--and that the Noldor knew them well. I figured Treebeard must have known Celebrimbor personally."
Legolas shook his head. "I grew up in a remote cavern palace, in a backward nation, too long isolated by Sauron's shadow on Mirkwood Forest, and though I ventured more than once beyond our borders I traveled oft alone, and rarely met my kin--there is so much of my own people's history unknown to me." He turned his gaze down onto the dwarf in front of him. "But my ignorance goes even beyond this. Long-years came and long-years went, and I never guessed that the best friend I would ever have might be born under a mountain I could see from my father's balcony, less than a march and more than a world away."
Gimli blushed. "As for why I hoped," he continued, "I also knew that the elves cast many lesser rings--what did Gandalf once call them? Essays in the craft. 'Essays' implies a learning curve, trial and error. So I figured that you couldn't have been the first elf, Legolas, to make a serious mistake in the attempt." He touched his friend's hand upon his shoulder. "And I was right--long ago Treebeard had helped in the treatment of elves who mismade rings, in a way unique to his kind. But 'twere best done if we can cleanse you first of any hovering evil that influenced you to err in the first place."
"Sauron," Legolas sighed.
"Many dark spirits have offered their counsel to those who desire power out of despair--some date back to the days of Morgoth," Gimli told him. "Treebeard told me all about them."
Merry said, "And Treebeard knows how to put them to flight? Good for him!"
"No, he doesn't," said the dwarf. "That posed a problem. He left that to the elves, themselves. At first I despaired, for even Treebeard knew that the methods of the Noldor in this matter resembled nothing that the elves now practice. But when Treebeard described what he could remember I took heart again." His eyes lit up. "The relevant branch of Noldor medicine so closely parallels Dwarvish healing that I am certain they must have collaborated on it! So I have enlisted some of the greatest healers of my people to dare the Treegarth with us and to play their part."
"Dwarf healers?" Legolas exclaimed. "But they never reveal their methods to outsiders!"
"Times change," Gimli said sadly. "To whom shall we pass on our secrets? The latest generation of dwarves has borne no girls whatsoever." They rode in silence with bowed heads for a time. Frodo thought of his own self-pity over traveling far from his own kind's maidens, and felt ashamed of himself. Then Gimli chuckled uneasily. "To be perfectly honest, we have mainly kept our medicine secret for fear of ridicule. We are a rational people, but in this we tap deep into something that we do not fully understand, ourselves, and we cannot, with any certainty, prove that our methods work at all."
"You do not reassure me, Gimli son of Gloin."
The dwarf shrugged. "Our treatments always make me feel better. But that could be subjective."
"How did you even persuade your healers to attempt such a thing--for me, an elf, in the company of ents?"
"It did not come for free. Messages have flown between Mirkwood, Gondor, and the Lonely Mountain since you disappeared. King Thranduil made great pledges to anyone who can help his son, and I have added my part to it, besides--for my own hoard is not small."
"My father..." With hardly a move made, they could almost see Legolas crumple in on himself. "So he knows."
"Did you imagine that you could hide such a thing from him, old friend? Yes, he knows. Everyone who cares about you knows. Even Sam and Pippin know, for messengers came inquiring about the gardener that the Shire was supposed to send. It was Sam who told us about your wearing the messenger's uniform, and your strange behavior at the Prancing Pony. As he put it, 'and the more I thought about it, after, the stranger it got.'" Gimli turned to Frodo. "Your parents are worried about you, Frodo--you must write them at the first opportunity."
"I'll bet they are," he said faintly, nearly as nonplussed as the elf.
"But do not believe," Gimli continued, "that treasure alone motivates the healers of my people--some of the best refused most of what we offered, asking little more than traveling expenses. They are tired of old feuds and grow lonely in the echoing halls where too few children scamper. I am not the first dwarf to rethink the matter of our origins. If we cannot halt our own departure from this world, we can at least manage our last days gracefully. Your healing may well become a symbol of healing for us all."
Legolas thought long on that. "You accept matters more gracefully than I--but that is like you, Gimli, to outdo elves, time and again, in whatever we pride ourselves in the most. At least it comforts me to know that some good may come of my folly." He squeezed the dwarf's shoulder. "I am moved, Gimli--so deeply moved that I cannot tell you, by all the trouble you have gone through for my sake. And your people, too!" His voice broke as he said, "And to think that I rewarded you with violence!"
"Think no more of it, old friend. Would I go through this trouble in the first place if you had no need of it? You would have stood by me in reverse circumstance."
"But what about Fangorn--Treebeard? I have never heard of this cure, and I have lived long."
"The elves who made such errors concealed both disease and treatment as best they could. No one ever knew who had no need to know." Gimli grinned suddenly. "Have I never told you that pride has ever been the downfall of the elves?"
"Too many times," Legolas groaned. "So what does it entail?"
"Merging," said the dwarf. Legolas fell silent, and would not say another word, no matter how the hobbits pressed for more.

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