The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
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, Frodo--the freedom?"
"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 belong."
"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 indeed."
"Anyway," said Frodo, " it's good to see Uncle Merry doing better today--no more pipeweed grumpiness, eh?"
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 day!"
"Bet you wouldn't mind Estella's arms about you, though, hugging off the cold?"
Merry raised an eyebrow. "Why Frodo, lad! What are you thinking?"
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 wrong things."
"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 warmth."
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 wood."
"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 at it.
"How did you come by that magnifying glass?" she asked.
"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."
Eowyn 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 do?"
"I want...but I can't." He could barely answer through his chattering teeth. "I have no warmth."
Frodo asked, "Does this always happen to avoid something?"
"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 her barrenness."
"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 remem..."
"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 cloak.
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 herself?"
"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 together?"
"Let it go, Uncle Merry," said Frodo. "Please."
"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 Merry."
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!"

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