Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 28, Part 28
Message From Gandalf
(November 10, 1451)
Late in the afternoon
Frodo woke up, refreshed, to a blade of grass tickling
his nose. He sat up and stretched--and leaves spilled
away from him, crackling with each move. For a moment he
wondered where on earth he had fallen asleep. Then, as
others also roused around him, rustling in their turn, he
remembered the merging. He turned to the willow tree,
where Thranduil stood gazing upon it without a word, and
where Gimli leaned upon his axe under its protection like
he could stand there forever if he had to. Already living
twigs had begun to weave a shelter above and around the
dwarf, though mortal eye could never quite catch them at
it--a withy dome against the coming winter storms.
Frodo remembered now, too, the dwarvish ritual of the
night before, and the long feast that followed it; he
frowned, because he'd never felt so healthy in his life
as right this minute--even the last traces of anemia had
left him. "Why don't I have the biggest headache in
the world?" he murmured out loud. He heard Uncle
Merry chuckle in response. As he turned to where Merry
lay beside him, still blanketed in leaves, Frodo felt
something brush his shoulders; he reached up and
discovered curls of his own hair grown out within a
matter of hours. In a rush he remembered that incredibly
sustaining water that he'd drunk that morning, and
moaned, "Oh no, Uncle Merry--I didn't!"
"Why not? Ent-draughts won't do you any harm--it's
done me a world of good, I can tell you. See? Already my
ankle's good as new." And the hobbit wiggled his
unbound foot up out of the leaves as proof.
"No, Merry--you don't understand. Papa'll kill me if
I come home taller."
"Ah. I see." Merry raised an eyebrow and
twiddled a leaf in his hand. "Sam never did quite
approve of Pippin and me growing, I suppose."
"Well, he did think it kind of unnatural--no
offence, Uncle Merry."
The elder hobbit's eyes twinkled--rather roguishly, Frodo
thought. "Now Frodo--would an ent, of all creatures,
lead you into anything unnatural?"
"Not for a tree, maybe, but..."
"Don't worry so much! You know you needed it."
Merry stretched luxuriously in the crackling leaves and
then propped himself up on one elbow. "You only had
a few deep swallows, anyway--that'll just add an inch or
two. Sam won't even notice. Why, I lived on ent-draughts
for days before I got this tall."
Frodo only whimpered in reply, wondering whether he dared
mention this in his letter. He could picture writing,
"I had no idea it was ent-draughts,
Papa--honest!" But then Papa'd want to know why
he didn't figure out the obvious. "Because I'd
just drunk more beer and wine in one night than I'd had
in my entire life ever..." Frodo groaned--he
couldn't write that! But Papa would insist on hearing
every detail of his friend's healing, and the feast
definitely qualified as a detail he couldn't exactly
omit. And then Frodo thought of some of the other
embarrassing details he'd already committed to ink in
"What's all this doleful noise I hear?" asked
"What on earth am I going to tell my folks back
Merry laughed and said, "I think you'd better tell
them everything." He flicked his leaf at the youth.
"That way it'll be old news by the time you get
home, not worth yelling about."
Frodo picked up the leaf and studied it. "You may
have a point."
"And if I know your parents," Merry said,
sitting up, "imagination will probably stretch you
to giantlike proportions, so that when they finally do
see you face to face, they'll be so relieved to discover
you well within the normal range for hobbits that they
won't mention your height at all."
"Thanks. That's comforting." Frodo was about to
add some examples of Mama's imagination, when he saw that
his elder had frozen when he caught sight of the willow
once again. "Uncle Merry? Are you all right?"
Merry scowled, but it could almost have been a wince.
"Oh, I'm fine," he said. "I'm not the one
imprisoned too tightly to move."
"Merry, listen to me." Frodo prayed for the
right words. "What Old Man Willow did to you, I
guess that was kind of like what Ted Sandyman did to
Buttercup Klaefield. It wasn't the normal way to go
about it; it turned things upside down, somehow. But this
is different. This is right. Legolas is in there healing,
and everything's going to be just fine." He turned
to the tree, himself. "Can you hear how the leaves
rustle, Merry? Doesn't that sound to you like a sigh of
Merry took a ragged breath, and then cast down his eyes.
"I hope you're right. I'd hate to think that I'd helped
him all this way to something horrible."
Frodo patted him on the shoulder. "Elves have done
it before--sometimes just for the adventure. And Legolas
has gotten hisself properly prepared, with
willow-draughts and all. You saw how his color
changed--he was ripe for this. Merry, you know Treebeard
better than any of us--you know he wouldn't suggest
anything that would hurt elves."
"Or hobbits," Merry said, attempting to smile
again, as he pulled a leaf from Frodo's hair.
"You've got nothing to fear from a little
"Maybe you're right," Frodo said as they stood
up. "So--where do we go from here?"
A booming voice above them answered, "Back to the
healing-place, of course! You have all left a frightful
mess behind you, and it needs cleaning up. Besides, it
is, hoom, rather healthy to take on commonplace tasks
like that after mysteries. Gets your roots right back
into the ground where they belong. Come--I have a story
to tell you while we go about it."
Treebeard took off at full stride, disappearing before
anybody could blink thrice. Not that it mattered, since
as usual the forest opened up a clear path before them
exactly where Treebeard meant for them to go, while stout
branches barred any other direction. In a soft mumble of
voices conversing in different languages, the company
brushed off their last stray leaves and followed. Last of
all came Thranduil, after a lingering embrace of the
It took them no time at all to reach the poolside meadow
with the boulder in it; in fact, it rather surprised
Frodo how little distance they traveled, for it had
seemed like miles that morning. And yes, they had left
the place in a dreadful state. Treebeard scooped another
trench in the soil and said, "Food-scraps go in
here, where they will feed the soil--as I said, harrum,
greenlife has uses for it that you do not."
Elves, as the ones least bothered by cold, carried the
dishes to the pond to wash, while dwarves passed out bags
with which to gather up bottles, broken crockery, wax,
and anything else that they could melt down or crush and
then reuse. Frodo, Merry, and Eowyn went about helping
elves or dwarves, as came to hand, to fold blankets, dry
dishes, fill baskets, and otherwise pack up again. And
all, of course, carried scraps, crusts, corks, bones,
rinds, pits, peels, and whatnot to Treebeard's trench.
Neither hobbits nor human objected in the least to any
dwarf or elf who pressed upon them gifts of leftover
sausages, cheeses, pickles, preserves, and other
travel-fare to cheer them on their journey. And as they
worked, the old ent spoke:
"Hm, ah, after his trials ended, his duty done, his
task completed, the Maia Olorin, known to some of you as
Mithrandir, and to some as Tharkun, and to all as
Gandalf, also known by many other names, great and small,
beyond the patience of even elves to hear recited all at
once, after all these things this same Gandalf conferred
for a time with our old friend, Iarwain called Tom
Bombadil, also known as...ah well, you probably, hoom,
well, never mind. Ah, as I was saying, after Gandalf
conferred with Iarwain he came to visit for a time with
Merry murmured in Frodo's ear, "That's the brief
version for ol' Treebeard, if you can believe it,"
as they gathered up food-stained leaf-wrappings to pile
into the trench.
"Gandalf told me a tale in those days, that he
commanded me to remember and repeat exactly one day, when
the children of Yavanna and the children of Aule should
reconcile, and when elf and dwarf should join for common
cause in my woods, and when good shall spring from evil
for the sake of love, and when a hobbit shall return to
me. And hm, well, all these things have now come to pass.
Now I see the connection between them all, root and
branch, leaf and bark of the same tree--furthermore, I
see their connection to this tale of Gandalf's, indeed,
as oak to acorn--and connection to more besides, touched
by its farflung branches beyond the reach of my woods at
their greatest day. So I shall repeat to you, exactly,
the words which the wizard gave to me, adding nothing of my own,
as he commanded."
Here Fangorn changed his voice, coming as close as it
could to that of an authoritative old man--a voice rich
by turns in majesty, or colloquial in its warmth, always
full of love and life, empowered beyond mortals and elves
alike, yet not remote.
"'I told you, Fangorn, did I not, about my departure
from the flesh, after the battle with the Balrog? Yes,
yes, too hastily, I know! Do you recall--despite the
haste--my saying that I remembered much that I'd
forgotten when I took on a body in the first place? Not
all of that knowledge passed when I resumed this form.
Some lore I found most useful in my battles against
Sauron. Some...well, some turned out quite precious to me
on a personal level, yet important, too, in its fashion,
beyond the warming of my heart.'"
A thrill entered the voice that Fangorn duplicated so
well. "'I learned, Fangorn, the secret of the
origins of hobbits. I learned of my own hand in
the matter, if you can believe that. I learned the
policies they served, and why, from the moment I laid
eyes on the absurd little creatures, I loved them and
desired to spend my few spare moments in their
company--no matter how aggravating they can be! I cannot
speak of this yet to anyone but you, and our old friend
Bombadil (who had his own role to play in preparing the
land for their arrival--which he never bothered to tell
me before!) and I fear that when the time comes to reveal
it at last, I will have long sailed on, for my days here
shorten and my own home calls to me. So promise me again,
old friend, that you will repeat my words exactly, under
the circumstances that I have explained to you, however
unlikely they might seem. Good, good--I knew I could rely
"'The nature of hobbits is largely human--as human
as the Numenoreans, surely, who are counted by all as
men, though we know their blood mingled with elvenkind in
their ancient history. Hobbits, too, are a special kind
of men, though mingled with...but I get ahead of myself.
You always warned me about that failing, Treebeard, old
"'I should explain first the reason behind the
creation of hobbits. The Valar suspected that Sauron had
once again taken fair shape and walked among the children
of Iluvatar, though whether in form of man or elf or
dwarf, or as something else entirely, they could not say.
A shadow at times would fall between Valinor and Middle
Earth, fleeting, a mere smoke soon gone--yet sometimes
invisible smokes can poison more than those we see. The
Valar gathered to confer on this, among them my Master,
Irmo, Vala of Dreams. We, the Maiar, gathered nigh as
well, to sit at their feet and listen to their counsel.
"'After much thought and discussion, the Valar
resolved that we needed a special kind of hero, different
from anyone Sauron might suspect, perhaps a new kind of
creature entirely, though bred from those who already
existed within the Creator's consent. This kind would
need phenomenal powers of resistence to whatever Sauron
could summon against them--power to overcome pain,
hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and power most especially to
resist ensorcelment of every kind, no matter what trap or
lure the Dark Lord might assay. And yet--and here's the
tricky part--this new breed must appear to have no such
power whatsoever. Their only magic had to be a trueness
to themselves so strong that the magic of others could
hardly dent it. They could not appear the least bit
heroic or noteworthy, not to the eyes of one such as
Sauron, at any rate--we needed to create heroes that
Sauron would pay no attention to, until too late. How to
do it, Treebeard--how?
"'As sometimes helps in such councils, Irmo wove our
thoughts together into one dream--Valar and Maiar alike,
for sometimes minor ingredients can act as catalyst for
the more important ones--as we have often seen since,
haven't we, old friend? Some of those assembled could see
the dream quite clearly, some less so, and some not at
all, depending on their natures and their closeness to
the issue. Being a servant of Irmo, myself, I saw perhaps
more than most, from simple proximity.
I saw little
men--plump, ignorant, unexciting, uninterested in any of
the prizes most dear to the hearts of beings like Sauron.
They loved food and drink more than treasure and renown,
their own gardens more than power over kingdoms, and
their own families over armies and alliances. I saw that
they relished comfort greatly, and would complain loudly
at the slightest inconvenience--so that nobody could tell
how much they really could endure. I saw them squeak with
fear at mild threats or slight changes in routine--so
that none could see the reservoirs of courage they could
tap into, when called upon by causes higher than
themselves. Most of all, I saw that, for all their
faults, they could brave anything or do anything for
love--and that was something Sauron could never
"'In my dream I caught a detail that the others
overlooked. Bare feet, tough of sole, furry on top, meant
to always touch the earth without need for shoe or boot.
I gave it thought--this new breed had to connect somehow
to the soil--that interface between Yavanna and Aule. It
had not occurred to me before that Sauron drew his power
from an old wound caused by a fight between these two
Valar who loved each other--a bleeding crack in love
itself. But suddenly it became obvious--how could such a
rift not trouble all of Middle-Earth, when these two
Valar between them rule the life and the substance of the
earth itself? Sauron fueled himself on the power that
bled from that wound--on metal and minerals without life,
or else life severed from the earth. His enemy would have
to somehow bring the two together.
"'And by together, old friend, I do not simply mean a
matter of alliance, some mutual convenience. Alliances
aplenty have come and gone between peoples who disliked
each other but found each other useable. Sauron, and
Morgoth before him, shattered such bonds with ease. No,
love had to enter the picture, had to infiltrate life and
matter so completely that you couldn't separate one from the
other, just as you cannot separate mineral from organic
matter in the living soil when the land thrives as it
"'Aule forgot his love for his wife only briefly,
when he failed to trust her in the making of the
dwarves-- yet that breech did more harm than his
presumption in their making in the first place. The
obvious problem the wise have long known--dwarves cannot
fully comprehend the wonders of the works of Yavanna.
But it goes much farther than that--because of Aule's
lapse Morgoth has ever found Aule's servants most apt to
corruption, even in Morgoth's own absence, even among
those who hate him! Oh, but he can find use for hatred,
even against himself. Though the dwarves be flawed, they
themselves have not done nearly so much harm, and
sometimes considerable good; they are, through no fault
of their own, insensible, not evil--because Aule loves
Here some of the dwarves muttered among themselves.
"Insensible? Why, we have more sense than most
folks!" "We may be short, but we are anything
but stupid!" "Insensible to what, I might
"Nature," said Thranduil.
"Oh, well that!" the dwarves scoffed. "We
could study all its workings inside and out, if we had
"Indeed, and not understand her in the least,"
said the Elven King haughtily.
Frodo found himself disliking both the crassness of
dwarves and the arrogance of elves as the two peoples
argued with each other and their voices grew in harshness
and noise around him, disrupting the peace of that holy
glade. His annoyance built like a mosquito-whine in his
head that he couldn't get rid of, till it sharpened to
rage; he groped for Sting, but encountered only the folds
of his robe. And then the memory of the ritual returned
to him, along with the Eldest Healer's warning, and he
felt aghast at himself. Under his breath Frodo grumbled,
"Cursed Sauron--you're not far off, are you, you
Through all of this Treebeard stood by, drooping
slightly, as inanimate as a tree indeed. Perhaps he
hesitated to add a single word of his own until he
completed Gandalf's tale. Meanwhile, all work on the
clean-up ground to a halt as the squabble mounted to a
roar. Frodo caught sight of a couple of the younger elves
and dwarves starting to throw garbage at each other, each
yelling in outrage that anyone should do such a thing, as
though the others had started it; it seemed such a shabby
turn after an exalted night and day that Frodo felt like
Suddenly the Eldest Healer took up his ceremonial axe and
smacked it ringingly against the stone. "Listen to
me!" he quavered with authority. "I am at least
wise enough to know the limits of my wisdom. I have known
for some time that the topside world holds mysteries that
elude my grasp, though elves seem privy to its secrets.
But I have also seen priceless sculptures of the common
clay, while hoarded mithril-ore lay hidden in vaults,
unsmelted, unworked, and not nearly so fair." And
here he glanced at King Thranduil, whose people were not
accounted the most civilized among elves. "The use
matters more than the raw materials--and in that the
People of Durin have nothing to be ashamed of! Now let
the ent continue his tale, and keep in mind that he
merely repeats the words of another."
"Indeed!" cried Eowyn. "I, at least, shall
admit that I am less cultured than the least of the
elves, and less insightful than the densest dwarf--and I
see no remedy save to learn from tales such as this. Does
it mean nothing to any of you that we have been offered,
first of all peoples, a lore never shared until
"It means much to me," said Thranduil.
"Glad we agree on something," said the Eldest
Dwarf, as he sat down on a log with a "Hmpf!"
Nearby a sheepish elf offered a damp cloth for a dwarf to
clean the fruit mush from his beard, while another dwarf
plucked a chicken bone from the elf's hair.
So Treebeard continued to recite the words that Gandalf
had entrusted to him, as though no interruption had taken
place. "'I spoke to my master of all that I had
seen, in particular the detail about the feet. Irmo
deliberated, and then he sent me to hover about Middle
Earth as I had so often gone, as a spirit moving through
the dreams of men, and elves, and dwarves, and yes, even
sometimes in the dreams of ents, Treebeard! It never
occurred to me, in those days, that the Valar might
someday call upon me to take on bodily form and walk this
Middle Earth in waking life--had you told me then, I
would have recoiled in terror and refused! I did try to
refuse, in fact, when it came down to it, not least
because I feared Sauron as only those who knew his true
nature could fear. Apparently Manwe had more faith in me
than I had in myself, when he took me from Irmo's service." Here Treebeard chuckled,
imitating Gandalf. "'But I digress.
"'I went forth and moved the dreams of key persons
here and there, unimportant though they seemed to others.
Two in particular I entertained with visions in the
night. This is a story, as I said, about men, ultimately,
in a manner of speaking. But it begins with an elf and a
dwarf. Their names were M�rglin and Roin, and they fell
TO BE CONTINUED...