The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

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

Chapter 21, Part 21
Frodo's Birthday
(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 fighting!"
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.
"Yes--I noticed."
"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 family, Eowyn!"
"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 cozy forever."
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 willows."
"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 talking about."
"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 doing."
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 mirth.
"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.

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