Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 23, Part 23
(November 1, 1451)
The travelers said little
to each other throughout most of the next day, yet much
of the tension had passed; the quiet that settled on them
came of the peace that comes when hope pulls back the
veils that normally separate us from fully appreciating
the beauty of life. Trees and thickets increasingly
graced the countryside; they knew the land of the ents
lay not far off. All that day their senses seemed gift
enough in a world shaped by a kindly power; the mind
could not comprehend, for the moment, magic beyond the
tingle of a brisk breeze in the face, treasure beyond the
rich colors of leaf and blade and fruit, power beyond the
pleasure of breathing and seeing and feeling.
At noon Eowyn borrowed Legolas's bow (which Merry kept
for him) and brought down a fat brace of coneys that soon
sizzled merrily over a fire, redolent of smoke and the
wild herbs that Frodo picked along the way, stuffed with
oats and some pine-nuts that Frodo had gathered back when
they still traveled the foothills. All agreed that no
feast of kings and banquet-halls could match such a meal
in the wild with friends. Gimli growled most
enthusiastically as he sank his teeth into a juicy rabbit
flank. Legolas was not too proud an elf to lick the juice
from his fingers, eyes closed in pure ecstasy at every
savor. Eowyn gave the organ meats to Frodo, who did not
mind a bit; he swore that he could feel new blood building in
his body, a sense of tingling health to warm his veins.
Then they traveled on, immersed in silence once again,
needing no words to share what all friends know.
Farmlands now cropped up here and there, glowing with the
golden light of the season, all the brighter for the
deeper shadows left by a diminished sun. Frodo recognized
the scent of apples ripened with a kiss of frost in
distant orchards, accentuated by a musty hint of
cider-presses busy at their work--yet different somehow,
more aromatic than the apples of his home. The shocks of
grain they passed also smelled different from those grown
in the Shire, though he couldn't quite place his finger
on what had changed.
As the late slanting sun made the light still stranger
and more magical, Merry breathed in the autumn fragrances
with relish. "Ah, the sweet taste of the open air,
in lands far from the familiar! Do you feel it,
"Freedom? From what?"
"From the predictable, of course!" Merry
exclaimed. "And from borders--freedom from the fear
that if you cross a border, you will cease to
"But we don't belong. This is not our country."
"Embrace it, lad! There are far worse things in life
than being where you don't belong." At Merry's words
Legolas turned their way but said nothing.
With a smile Frodo said, "Isn't it a little late to
be noticing this?"
"Oh, I've felt it all along. But I had too much to
worry about until now to give our freedom the attention
it deserves. I want to make sure that you savor the
experience, too. Most hobbits miss it altogether."
"Uncle Merry, you have no idea." Frodo grinned
at his elder and felt the bond between them, no longer
merely that of child and father's friend, but of two
adults who travel the road together.
Legolas said, "Your words touch me, Merry. For at
one time I belonged to all of this land," and his
hand swept across the view, "but I do not feel that
anymore." He gazed out over the tidy fields and
orchards. "This is not my country. This is no longer
even my world."
The hobbits looked on him in sympathy. Merry said,
"But you will always have a warm place by my hearth,
Legolas--aye, and in my heart."
Legolas smiled wanly back at him. "For that I thank
you. Whatever their faults, hobbits are a kindly people
"Anyway," said Frodo, " it's good to see
Uncle Merry doing better today--no more pipeweed
The tall hobbit laughed. "How can anyone feel grumpy
when they regain their sense of smell in autumn, with the
harvest coming in?"
"It's a bit nippy, though," said Frodo, drawing
his cloak closer about him.
Merry just grinned and stretched in the saddle.
"Yes, as chill as Barliman's best brew--ai, what a
"Bet you wouldn't mind Estella's arms about you,
though, hugging off the cold?"
Merry raised an eyebrow. "Why Frodo, lad! What are
A little wistfully Frodo said, "Just that I wonder
what my own family's doing right now."
Merry looked kindly at him. "Homesick, despite
everything? I'm sorry--perhaps I reminded you of the
"Not exactly. But this land resembles the Shire in
so many ways that the little differences keep throwing me
for a loop--not that that's bad," he added quickly.
"Everything you said was true. But it does put me in
mind of home."
Merry said, "Aye, and that's not a bad thing,
either. I can dare many things knowing that when I turn
my pony around, and ride into Buckland once more, warm
lights will glow from the windows of Brandy Hall, and
voices will call ahead of me, and then I will see
Estella running towards me, fistfuls of skirt in her
hands as her feet fly over the lawns, and joy glowing
from her face to see me again. I will climb down from my
pony and she will fling her arms around me and drive all
the chill of travel from me, and she will lead me
home." He smiled at the thought.
But Frodo hardly heard him. He did a double-take on
Legolas, who had crumpled in on himself.
"Lady Eowyn," Gimli called out. "Could you
come here a moment?"
"Now what?" Merry said, as Eowyn rode up to
Legolas and Gimli.
"It's Legolas, Lady. He's shivering."
Merry glanced at Frodo with wide eyes. "That's two
days in a row that he has had problems," Merry whispered.
Eowyn asked the elf, "What seems to be the trouble, Legolas?"
as she took his hand.
"C-cold," he stuttered. "I-I have no
Eowyn looked surprised. "But elves rarely suffer
chills--not unless they have endured snow for many days
unsheltered." She felt his cheek. "You are
cold!" She rose in her stirrups and called,
"Halt! We need to make a fire." Then she looked
at Merry with his bandaged foot, Frodo still not up to
full strength, and Gimli chained to Legolas. "I need
to make a fire," she amended.
Merry pointed to a nearby copse. "One of those trees
looks thunderstruck; I'm sure you can find dry
"I have no warmth," Legolas explained, and his
shudders grew more violent as Gimli and Eowyn helped him
off the horse.
It did not take long for Eowyn to come back with wood.
Gimli had already made a ring of stone for the fire,
searching as far as the chain would stretch from the elf
huddled in cloak and blanket with chattering teeth. Frodo
used May's gift with the sun's last light to start the
blaze, because Gimli had too much to occupy him, chafing
his friend's hands and tucking his blankets close. But
when Frodo raised the lens, Eowyn started and gazed intently
"How did you come by that magnifying glass?"
"My sister loaned it to me," Frodo said.
"Your sister? But..."
"Lady!" Gimli cried. "He's worse--the
fire's not helping him."
Eowyn knelt by Legolas and felt his hands and face as he
shuddered almost convulsively. Then she slipped her hand
into the breast of his shirt and withdrew again, unsure
of herself. "There is no medical reason for
this," she said. After some thought she added,
"I have seen such cases before, though. A troubled
mind can make an illness out of nothing."
poured all of their salt into a pan and heated it, dry,
before the fire even had time to form proper
cooking-coals. "I had a soldier under my care whose
temperature would soar to dangerous heights whenever
ordered to guard a certain ford, and so he could not
go." She poured the heated salt into a bag and tied
it tightly shut. "At last we sent the soldier
home--and his former companions died to a man at that
same ford, ambushed by Easterlings." She pulled off
the elf's boots and wrapped his feet in a blanket with
the fire-warmed salt. "Another time I treated a woman
who feared to walk to market; there her neighbors gossiped
against her, for she had made grave errors." Now she
heated a towel, flapping it over the flames. "When
the woman could avoid the marketplace no longer, and she
resolved to shop the next day, the bones of her feet
broke overnight in her bed while she slept." Eowyn
wrapped the smoky towel in a turban around the elf's
head. Then she clasped his hands and asked,
"Legolas, is there something that you do not want to
"I want...but I can't." He could barely answer
through his chattering teeth. "I have no
Frodo asked, "Does this always happen to avoid
"No," said the healer, thinking back. After
reflection, she said, "My teacher did have a patient
who showed every sign of pregnancy except for the
presence of a baby, because she wanted one so badly. She
stayed 'pregnant' for seven years before she could accept
"So any emotion can cause it."
Gimli shook the elf. "You hear that, Legolas? It's
only emotion--snap out of it!"
"No," said Eowyn. "It is not so simple.
The bones really broke. The fever nearly killed the
soldier. Legolas could die of this--especially with the
magnification of the ring."
Legolas looked up and said, "I h-have no warmth."
No warmth... Frodo suddenly remembered.
"Lady," he said. "You didn't happen to
pack any brandy, did you?"
"Of course I did. Any sensible traveler would
"Give him some--quickly!"
"But that will not actually warm him, Frodo. It robs
heat from the vitals and rushes it to the skin, creating
an illusion of..."
"And an illusion's gonna kill Legolas if you don't
counter it now!"
"Never mind," said Gimli, "I have some of
my own," and he pulled a flask from his pack. When
the dwarf knelt by Legolas and held the flask to him
Legolas took several wincing gulps at once; his shivering
abruptly stopped as his cheeks flushed and his eyes
closed in relief. He tipped back his head and let the
towel slide off with a sigh.
Frodo took the elf's hand from Eowyn. "Hot as
humankind," he pronounced, and Legolas laughed
faintly, but then his smile faded. He slumped against
Gimli, the sweat starting on his brow, and said, "I
tried to save her."
"I know," Gimli said, patting his back. "I
know." And he helped Legolas shed blankets and
Eowyn stood and shook her head. "So--the old trauma
found a new way to bedevil him." Then she turned to
Frodo. "That was very...perceptive of
you," she said, but Frodo did not feel at all
complimented by her tone. As Merry directed Gimli in
raising the Oliphaunt Pavillion, Eowyn said quietly to
Frodo, "Tell me--which of your sisters claims the
elvish lens, and how did she come by it?"
The heat from the fire felt more uncomfortable by the
minute, as the world grew darker all around. "May.
Queen Arwen gave it to her at her birth. Tom, her twin,"
he said with a desperate wink, "got a stuffed
pony." He nodded to Legolas, who watched them with
his chin upon his knee. "And yes, come to think of
it, our Tom does have an amazing hand with animals."
"Warm-hearted li'l hobbits," Legolas murmured
muzzily just when Eowyn was about to say something.
"Of course. Ponies would love your brother. Bill
loved your father, did he not?"
"Come," said Gimli to Legolas, as the wind
began to blow cold again. "Rest in the tent's
shelter until supper," and he and Merry helped the
elf into the protection of the silk.
Eowyn sighed with relief as soon as the others
disappeared. "Oh--May! Good. I had feared the poor
bairn had lost the only advantage we could give her after
her mother's rejection. So--Mistress Rose adopted May
"Shut up!" Frodo hissed, but too late--Merry
had already emerged from the tent, and his keen hobbit
ears caught everything.
"May's adopted? But why didn't Sam call on me to
witness...wait a minute. I thought May came back with the
Gamgees from Gondor. No hobbits live in Gondor."
Merry turned to Frodo. "Your parents told me May was
Tom's twin." His hurt expression crinkled the scar
on his brow. "Now why would Sam lie to me about
something like that--after all we've been through
"Let it go, Uncle Merry," said Frodo.
"And the only other hobbit lady in your company old
enough to...ohhhh no. Not Buttercup Klaefield! Your
mother told us she hired Buttercup to give a hand with
the children, but we all knew she wanted to help the poor
girl escape the gossip and the memory...are you trying to
tell me Buttercup was pregnant?
"I'm not trying to tell you anything, Uncle
Eowyn said, "But surely the whole Shire must have
known, since Miss Buttercup and Mistress Rose gave birth
on the same day. They must have both ripened visibly
before they left."
Merry said, "That's not so visible with hobbits. We
like our women plump."
Frodo nodded. "Bellies are pretty," he said. He
was about to change the subject to comparing how
different cultures see beauty, when he noticed Merry
counting on his fingers.
"But that could only mean..." Then his face
turned a deep red, as he shouted at Frodo, "How
dare you bring his child into the Shire!"