Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 21, Part 21
(October 29, 1451)
Eowyn woke Frodo before
the dawn for his practice, though his blanket crackled
when he stirred. Merry's faint snores came from the
Oliphaunt Pavillion pitched nearby, which Frodo had
declined last night under a cloudless sky; now, as he
shivered over the dim glow of last night's coals and
prodded them back to life, Frodo saw his elder's wisdom.
Frost had turned every cobweb into a giant snowflake,
glimmering in the twilight's blue, and all things
sparkled with a faint sheen of ice. Every sound rang out
in the sharpened air--the clatter of their gear, the
rustle of a pheasant taking flight, the sussuration of
the predawn breeze. Eowyn led Frodo through some
exercises to warm up his limbs in the chill; then they
stamped their footsteps in the frost, circling in their
swordplay, flattening the frozen grass.
"No, no, no!" she cried. "Block me
strongly, closer to your hilt. Use the weak defense only
when you intend to add my momentum to your own."
"I know that." He dropped his sword and walked
away. "I should know that." He leaned
against a rock outcropping and gazed out over the rolling
meads, pallid in the rising light, fading with the year.
"My mind's just not into it--and yes, I know, orcs
won't wait until I'm in the right mood for
But instead of scolding him, Eowyn joined him and asked,
"What troubles you, Frodo?"
"It's my birthday--for what it's worth." He
gazed out to the northwest, in the general direction he
believed the Shire to lie, but all he could see was miles
and miles of dying grass.
"Why, how wonderful! We shall have to celebrate--I
shall tell the others..."
"No, please don't. Uncle Merry would be mortified
that he forgot." Frodo suddenly chuckled. "Not
that I blame him--even we Gamgees have trouble keeping
track of so many birthdays in a family like ours."
"Indeed," Eowyn said with a smile. "Your
father is a legend for more reasons than one."
"Hey, don't leave Mama out of it--she did all the
work!" Frodo laughed again.
"You...noticed?" Frodo asked, puzzled.
"Ah--I thought you didn't remember. Too much
excitement on the day of Tolman Gamgee's birth, I
daresay. I midwifed for your mother in Gondor."
"That--that was you?" Frodo's eyes lit up.
"Yes--I see it now! Of course!" He gave the
healer a hug. "You have brought such joy into our
"As you said," she replied, laughing,
"your mother did all the work."
But the light soon faded from Frodo's face, as he sighed.
"My first birthday away from my family."
"Ah. I remember what that felt like, myself."
"Multiply those feelings by the size of a family
like mine. We've become our own little village, in our
way--only more than that." Yearning filled the
hobbit's face, as the wind ruffled his hair like a
mother's hand. "A whole community of people with
pretty much the same quirks, and the same inside jokes;
we reinforced each other's eccentricities and
habits--good and bad, I admit--and over all lay this
blanket of love, that felt like it could keep me warm and
Eowyn nodded, leaning on her sword. "I have had
patients who hid their heads under their blankets and
never wanted to come out. But look out there, to the
east!" Dawn rose in the sky, a magnificence of color
flooding the heavens, up beyond the mountains even to the
highest star; its radiance took flame in every cloud and
brought life and warmth back into the world. "You
miss such sights," said Eowyn, "when you stay
wrapped in the narrow comforts of your bed."
Frodo stared out beside her, beyond words. Some of his
adventuresome spirit returned as he went back and fixed
them breakfast. Instead of porridge he made toothsome
griddle-cakes for all, liberally honeyed in the mix, and
spread with the last of his mother's jam. He didn't tell
the others that this was his birthday present to the
company. At one point Eowyn leaned over and said,
"You might want to cook a little more than usual
today," then went to take care of the animals.
Before Frodo finished cooking, though, Eowyn returned to
pour a cup of the bitter water for Legolas, saying,
"That breakfast smells so good that I know you will
want it as the last thing your tongue remembers when we
ride, rather than this."
"Have no fear, Lady. Your potion no longer tastes
bitter to me."
She looked at him oddly, then nodded and said,
"Interesting." She passed the cup to Merry to
give to Legolas.
"Say," Merry remarked, sniffing the cup before
handing it over. "That smells like
ent-draughts!" He studied Legolas. "But you
haven't shown any signs of growing--not even your hair.
And ent-draughts were never bitter."
Eowyn said, "You hit close, though not on the mark,
Merry. It is willow-draught." Legolas choked on the
drink, but finished it.
"Willow draught?" Merry exclaimed.
"But willows are evil!"
"Not all," said Gimli, of all people. "Not
even most. Treebeard introduced me to some very nice
"That may be--or not," Merry snapped. "But
I want nothing to do with any willows! They could have
fooled you, you know. And I don't want Legolas to have
anything to do with them either--not vulnerable like he
is right now."
Eowyn said, "Then it is well, dear friend, that you
are not his physician."
Legolas laid down the cup and said, "Now I know in
full what you have planned for me. But I thought that none
have attempted such a thing since the dawning of the world.
Who now remembers the way of it?"
Gimli said, "Treebeard, for one. And it has been
done--not merely attempted--more often than most even
among the elves have heard, and more recently than you
might think. Treebeard even knows of elves today who have
chosen this course as a way to face the fading--for who
knows how long?"
Legolas tried, but failed, to sound casual as he asked,
"And how long might I need to merge?"
Gimli answered. "A year or two at the least, ten
years at the most--mortal years, at that. Not too long
for your kind." He muttered into his morning tea,
"And no, you do not know in full," but Legolas
did not catch the words, though Frodo did.
Merry burst out, "Ten minutes would be too long, if
you're talking about what I think you are! How can you even
consider suggesting such a thing, Gimli, to someone you
call a friend? Why, it's absurd!"
Gimli said, "You have no idea, Merry, what you are
"Oh, don't I? I have a lot more personal experience
than you realize."
Eowyn pushed a plate of griddle-cakes before him. "I
know you think you do. Now eat something--you will feel
better for it."
"You'll all regret not listening to me," he
grumbled, but at the sight and smell of food he ate
ravenously even for a hobbit.
Eowyn just smiled. "How many days has it been, old
friend, since you smoked?"
Merry looked up from his food, crumbs and jam all over
his face. "Why? What has that got to do with
anything?" When Eowyn just chuckled he said,
"All right, then! A couple days. I haven't really
had much pleasure in smoking, don't you know, since I
told you about my fears for the Rohirrim and the effect that
pipeweed might have on them. It is one thing to confide
these fears to fellow hobbits, another to say them face
to face to a human being--one with a brother I taught to
smoke, myself." He averted his eyes, blushing.
"I'd be a perfect hypocrite, wouldn't I, if I
carried such a message while still enjoying a pipeful on my own account?"
Eowyn leaned over and hugged him, laughing. "You are
wonderful, Meriadoc Brandybuck! Even if you do become
cranky and unbearable for my brother's--and my
people's--sake." Helping herself to some of the
cakes before Merry gobbled them all down, she said,
"It seems that the irritable phase has come late
upon you--perhaps it will leave early, then, and you
shall have no further complications."
Merry frowned. "You sound as though you have some
experience with this. Are the rumors true, then?"
"All too true, I fear. You have supplied me with the
last information that I needed to confirm it. Once we see to
Legolas's needs I shall send messages to Tar-Elessar and my husband,
asking leave to stay in Rohan and help with the medical
crisis--and crisis it will be, if King Eomer commands all
of Rohan to foreswear the halfling's pipe at once--why
Merry! What is wrong?"
"The halfling's pipe," he said shakily.
"What a horrible thing, to hear our name associated
with illness and early death--and it's all my
Legolas took the hobbit by the arm. "Say no more,
Merry--I cannot let you rob me of my place. Wallowing in
guilt is my job." Merry stared at him, and
suddenly they both burst out laughing. Merry gave him a
mock-shove and they pretended to fight, but wound up
hugging each other, mainly to keep from falling over with
"Don't forget your breakfast in your
merriment," Gimli said, but his eyes twinkled.
"Eat up and let's get moving. I want to cover many
miles while the terrain favors us."
All that day Legolas entertained them with elven songs.
Frodo's Sindarin did not go much past what he needed to
read horticultural texts, so it surprised him how much he
did understand in these ballads, recognizing many
tree-names in the lyrics, as he struggled to puzzle out
the stories woven around them. Some of the personal names
applied now to elves, now to trees, interchangeably,
adding to his suspicions, though he could not decipher
enough to confirm them. He glanced over at Merry,
wondering just how much Elvish his elder understood.
Probably a great deal, considering his trade relations
with Gondor, where some still spoke a human dialect of the
language. And sure enough, Merry scowled, and did not
look entertained. But that could just be from missing his
pipe. On the other hand, Frodo recalled the stories Papa
told them about Merry and Pippin's misadventure with Old
Man Willow; it did not sound the least bit therapeutic.
How on earth could anything like that help Legolas? Or
did he miss the mark entirely?
And the cure involved something worse, something Gimli
did not want to break to Legolas all at once. Frodo
shuddered to even try and imagine what lay ahead. The elf
sang on, poignant beauty wafting on the air. Frodo wished
that Legolas could sing forever, always riding towards
hope and never quite having to actually arrive. Hope
sounded dangerous, somehow; you couldn't seem to actually
seize it without some dread action. Frodo shrugged.
Judging from his father's tales, it had always been thus.