2. Hundreds and Hundreds
"You've killed my companion," Legolas said sorrowfully.
He jerked his head to avoid collision with a chandelier.
The four-legged Legolas, tail high, followed at the two-legged's heels.
"I am not killed," Gimli insisted.
The young Gamgees had circled Gimli and had not heard Legolas enter. They looked up at the strange voice and as one shrank back. They had never before seen someone brushing the ceiling beams with the back of his head. Let alone ever seen
"An elf!" Elanor squeaked. She slapped her hand over her mouth, face red.
Legolas stooped ever lower and gave Sam and Rosie an elegant bow. He smiled at the children, and Elanor's red deepened. Her siblings gaped.
Sam grasped for words and missed. As substitute, he patted Legolas-dog, who with a driveling tongue was demanding the praise he was owed. Rosie alone kept her composure.
"How do you do, Master Legolas?"
"Very well, if very wet, my lady."
A small storm erupted behind the elf.
"Dada! Legolas was bad." Little Rose stomped in, lower lip pouted, her little fists on her hips.
Sam hesitated. "The tailed one, dear?"
"This one, I fear," said Legolas, pressing his chest. "She commanded me sit, so I did, and the hound did on me likewise."
"But you're not bad," said Rose, sounding as though she thought the elf was being silly. "But Legolas, he's bad, always… took'd Dolly and buried her three times!" she explained.
Legolas knelt. A small glimmer shone in his eyes.
"My lady, for rescuing me from the storm's wrath, I owe you my gladness and wellbeing. Since I cannot repay you suitably, consider me your servant forever."
There was a strange silence for a moment before Rose's reply.
"Forever is… almost one-hundred years, isn't it?"
"Something near," said Legolas.
Rose-lass nodded, content.
"Are you well, Master Dwarf?" said Legolas.
Gimli found his feet, again the pillar of dignity. "Very."
Gimli was still damp. And though Legolas' hair was matted down, his rich green clothes were dry. It appeared elven cloth was more successful at repelling water than dwarven.
In that brief moment of silent awe, Merry had again warmed up his tongue. "Are you really Legolas? Did you bring the Lórien bow? Can I see it? Where's Arod? Can I--"
Rosie gave him a look. "I think we need to let Masters Gimli and Legolas rest."
"Thank you, my lady," said Legolas and then addressed Merry. "Yes, I am Legolas. Yes, I keep the bow with me as a keepsake. If your parents agree, I shall show it to you later. I let Arod run free fifteen years ago in Rohan." He waved to Rose-lass and followed into the hallway Sam, Gimli, and the hound, who sniffed in the wake of Gimli's red stockings.
"I don't mean to be rude, dear Legolas," Sam exclaimed. "I am glad to see you, as well!"
"As am I, Samwise!" Legolas added earnestly, "I hope this is not inconvenient."
"No! Quite not. This hole is used to unexpected guests."
The hallway was straight as a knife, but rounded to a half-cylinder at the ceiling, supported by hefty arching beams of dark thick-grained wood. The floor was tiled and carpeted. Little towns and farms of wooden blocks and knitted animals hedged the way, while tasteful knickknacks and generations-old mathoms graced the walls. Walking alongside the elf and dwarf, Sam was brought back to their night-marches in the Misty Mountains. "You two have changed little, almost none at all," he said, more to himself.
"But I'd say you have changed some," said Legolas. The precarious low ceiling did not seem to bother him. "Half owed to appearance. You've been fed well and that's no wonder – you need your strength. I envy you."
Sam looked over, then up, forgetting Legolas' height. "Why is that?"
Legolas gestured to the hall, at the scattered blocks, the toy animals.
Sam couldn't imagine envy in Legolas and could not see any such emotion in his face. Always too honest, elves, and they never can explain what it is they mean! And whatever mood possessed Legolas, it vanished like candle flame in a breeze; he was smiling to himself again. Yes, too honest… and too here-then-there… Now, dwarves were honest in that they plainly told you they will tell you nothing and their moods were steady as stone. Sam found himself studying Gimli, wondering what he, a most important dwarf now, thought of the cluttered old hole. But the furry visage revealed nothing.
They halted by the round door to the guest room. It was the opening the dog had been waiting for. His back bristled and he dived on Gimli's stocking, digging his teeth into the loose end. Gimli had a moment of perilous wobbling.
"Legolas, heel!" Sam grabbed the giant hound's collar, till with a canine sigh, he released the red material.
Legolas started and shook his head. "Might I ask--"
"Frodo-lad. His idea."
"I see. He's a good ear for names."
Gimli forgave the affliction to his sock in his delight at the little guest room, decorated in practical hobbit-fashion with a many-colored quilt, carved candle-holders, and jugs on the walls and dressers. And best of all, a snug fireplace, stocked with timber ready to be lit. He turned to Sam and beamed. "All the comforts a dwarf could desire."
"We can fix up the parlour for you, Legolas. Everything to you is shrunk, I suppose," said Sam, pink with the strain of holding back the hound, whose snout was wandering toward the dwarf's feet.
"Oh no! I can sleep anywhere, just as well against the wall. You need not trouble yourself."
Sam reminded him that standing was the problem.
Legolas nodded, nonplused. He said he'd work out something. Then he spoke in his odd sylvan tongue to the hound. He sat down and thumped his tail without a fuss.
Gimli quickly kindled a fire. Legolas claimed one of the two rucksacks. They wanted to wring out their belongings, and Sam left them. Legolas-dog set himself as guard, curling up at the door, head on paws.
Sam thought, speaking of Frodo-lad, where was he? He couldn't believe Frodo had not heard the uproar in the front hall and not come to investigate.
He crossed the hall to a closed door and gripped the handle in the door's middle. It creaked open. The room was dark, only phantom shapes of toys and two large lumps that were Merry and Frodo's beds broke out from the shadows. Sam widened the door a bit more, allowing the rectangle of light to hit the farther bed.
He expected to find Frodo asleep. Not so.
The lad lay with back on the quilt and legs slumped over the side. His feet swung with careless gusto. He stared up, counting the dark grains in the ceiling, for what Sam could tell.
Sam swung the door fully open now, and suddenly the dam on his words crumbled.
"Frodo! You must come out! Come and see – you will think your dad is telling tales – they are here! The famous Legolas Greenleaf and yes, Frodo, Gimli son of Glóin himself! The very same your dad and Mr. Frodo journeyed with all those years back. Up now! You can meet them in a minute!"
Frodo addressed a fly on the beam. "They're not real."
"You'll feel foolish saying that, Frodo," Sam said sternly. "After you've seen them with your own eyes."
"They're stories," he said, still to the fly.
"Are you unwell, Frodo-lad?" said Sam.
The boy shook his head. "I'm tired."
"You'll be rested enough to come out, then, in ten minutes?"
"I'll be tired."
"There will be no more of this nonsense. You'll do them a disfavor if you don't come out to meet them."
The fly hummed to the window and investigated the pane. Frodo's eyes followed.
Sam sighed, but kept his voice grim. "You will come out, in any case. You will not be upsetting Mother Rose."
He shut the door and slumped to the wall. Frodo'd been that way lately… since Yuletime… no, before. Sam did a mental count of his fingers, yes, early autumn, when the Goodbodys moved into no. 3 New Row after old Mrs. Rumble moved out to live with her daughter.
Once Frodo's were the roundest eyes at a reading of the Red Book. He'd plead to hear the Moria parts, cheered when Gimli or any dwarf came in. He was most partial for dwarves. He'd handle with reverence every item of the modest collection of dwarf-made curios in the hole. With Merry and Rose he'd play Three Hunters, wielding a stick with an old pillow case stiffened with leaves tied at the end, which passed for an axe.
Now he wouldn't come to a reading even if it meant bed early. He no longer joined his siblings in romping about the Hill for orcs. The role of Gimli had been passed to little Pippin.
Sam couldn't pull the whole story from him, but he knew Frodo'd been teased by the local boys – the Goodbody twins came to mind as the main culprits – because of his steady talk of balrogs, rings, and walking trees. Sam smiled suddenly, remembering how it was to barrage the other boys with nonstop 'oulandish nonsense.' He never minded their eye rolls and banter much. But Frodo took those things harder.
It hurt Sam to see his son regard the Red Book as a batch of fairy tales. But he knew Frodo's heart was still nestled in the Book's pages… it just needed some stirring…
"This will do the trick," Sam thought outloud. "He can't deny them with his eyes and those Goodbody lads will be forgotten."
The dog gave him a doleful look, then rested his head back between his paws.
"Goodness! You eat as healthily as the children!" said Rosie. Her wide eyes approved.
"All owed to the artistry of your cooking," said Gimli with an appreciative smack. He was on his third serving and not slowing.
Only Legolas had passed him, presently advancing through his fifth plate of potatoes. "The kitchens of Imladris are legend, the taverns of Dale are rumored to be magicked. This I can say: your cooking surpasses them all." He promptly refilled his mouth.
The two had been trying all evening to outdo the other in the flirtation of Mistress Rose.
She laughed, secretly very pleased. She'd stretched a meal for eight hobbits into eight plus two ravenous outlanders and scoured the hole of all dust and dirt, all at an hour's notice to boot.
To be fair, she'd had the help of her ten extra hands. As soon as her guests had left the front hall, Elanor began mopping the floor, Merry set up the table, Rose-lass sliced roots and vegetables, and Pippin with Goldy's 'help' gathered up all the balls, blocks, and animals from the passageway, all with only Rosie's lightest prods.
The toweled-down Legolas and Gimli had emerged to a different Bag End.
But they still had needed to endure a half-hour of painful waiting as the smells of roasting turkey and potatoes teased their noses. It was a suffering well-rewarded.
The table was magnificent, laid with a crisp white tablecloth – the good one. It was piled almost to the point of buckling with a golden turkey, platters of steaming rolls, dishes of lightly crusted roasted beans and potatoes, bowls and bowls of gravies, butter, and preserves. The butter-fried mushrooms had center place. Blue and yellow wildflowers Elanor had picked that morning splashed the table with color.
The peace was threatened by the question of who would get to sit by the elf and dwarf. They finally agreed on turns, and hobbits had plenty enough occasions in a given day at table for each young Gamgee to have at least two goes. That meal, little Rose settled by her indebted elf, who lounged in a corner on a low stool so he could tuck his long legs to the side. Then sat Goldy at one head, and Sam took the seat next to her, a strategic location to cut up her food.
Merry and Pippin flanked Gimli. Merry asked him between bites for his favorite color (blue – no gold – no, difficult question, that), how many axes he had (five battle axes, presently not in use), and the most pieces he'd ever a cut a goblin into (Gimli made out his mouth was full of potatoes).
Rosie took the other table head to keep near baby Hamfast in his wheeled crib. He lay on his back, talking in a secret language to his toes. By Rose-lass's other side sat Elanor, sneaking Legolas shy worshipful glances. Frodo's seat on her left was vacant.
Sam was irritated, but he did not want to create a scene during the chaos of setting out supper. But after supper, now… the boy was stubborn, goodness knew from where he'd gotten it.
He excused Frodo's absence with a 'he's not feeling well.' Legolas and Gimli gave their sympathy, but Rosie was aware of what that meant and silently agreed to let Sam handle it.
Around mouthfuls, Legolas and Gimli wanted to know everything. So did Sam, but first he wanted to clear up one matter.
"Why through the cellar?"
"My horse and Gimli's pony needed stabling. That task Gimli left me – wisely," said Legolas. "And I wanted not to be seen on the road."
Sam shredded Goldy's turkey. "Of course, I see. The King's Ban. But… Legolas, you're not one the Big Folk, so to speak. I don't think it holds for elves..."
"In that sense you are right," said Legolas, buttering a roll with a flash of his wrist. "But if the folk of the Shire are any way like to my own folk, tongues will wag and I will become twenty Big Folk riding upon dragons."
Sam confessed that was true.
"So we believe we've not aroused the entire countryside," said Gimli. "A merry time, that was. Would have saved me a few grey hairs had the elf stood not so unnaturally high. But I do think…" He appraised Legolas' plate over his mug. "Given a week here, he'll be able to pass off as a largish hobbit."
"But Mr. Gimli!" Merry broke in.
"Say 'pardon,' Merry," said Rosie.
Merry continued without taking a breath, "But, pardon, Mr. Gimli! Did you come all the way from Gondor just to visit us? Did you? That's far away. Hundreds of miles! You have to cross mountains! And rivers! Dad showed me. He's hundreds of maps. Some in red and gold ink! But Mr. Gimli, you didn't come," Merry lowered his voice a tad, "You didn't come treasure-hunting, did you? Coz that happened exactly to Mr. Bilbo when the dwarves came here that one time in April and…they…" He took a gulp of air.
"Well." Gimli glanced at Legolas. "I can't say anything without Masters Meriadoc and Peregrin."
"It is treasure!" Merry bounced on his chair.
"Well, not quite, not quite." Gimli tugged a ring in his beard, distressed as to how to answer with tact. All eyes were on him.
"If we told all now, we would have no surprise later," said Legolas, engrossed in the study of the small flowers etched on his silver fork.
"Surprise!" Merry's shout was joined by Pippin, Rose, and Elanor's.
"Yes, or, well…" Gimli shot Legolas another look.
"I can answer Merry's first question." The elf's bright, amused voice fixed everyone's attention. "Yes, visiting the Shire was our first interest. We'd planned on it for many years. But one thing leads to another, or so it's said. We'll stay for as long as we're not nuisances to you. And then we will press on west." He waved in the direction. "To the Towers, the Blue Mountains, the Havens--"
Sam's chair scraped back and he leaped to his feet. "You're not leaving!?"
"No," Legolas said gravely. "No, I'll not leave this shore as long as my friends remain here. I swear to that, Samwise."
Sam sat down, blushing. Legolas gave him a small smile and his tone brightened again, and everyone forgot Sam's outburst. He hoped. "This is how our journey came about: this past winter Gimli and I made a bargain. If we survived the ale of Lord Faramir…"
"Nigh didn't." Gimli shivered. "He's been experimenting. But while he can explain the brewing process with a scholar's precision, implementing it goes over his head."
"Yes, but we did survive. So Gimli agreed to accompany me to Mithlond and I to his relations in Ered Luin--"
"And any other business… Legolas wants to keep it secret – err, a surprise," grunted Gimli.
"How was the journey…" Elanor spoke. Now the eyes were on her. She almost didn't continue, till she looked into Legolas' kindly interested face. She took a deep breath. "I mean, when did you start… I mean, it'd take a long time, and there's so much that can happen in-between…"
"We started early in the year. We would have started before Yule, but even in the south the winter came harsh and early. We counted on spring breaking the chill before we came too far north."
"But not too much that the roads thawed to mud…" added Gimli.
And they talked of soupy roads, stubborn horses, and the inconvenient fallen bough.
Elanor's eyes glassed over. "I wish I could follow the road on and on." The awareness of their gazes hit her again. "Um, you're lords of Ithilien and the Glittering Caves, aren't you? Mustn't someone take care of them?"
"My nephew, with the guidance of his father, under the advice of my sister," said Legolas.
"For what may arise, my brother," said Gimli. "He won't be one to preside idly over the Cave's ruination. I hope. We discovered a new system of caverns ere I left… "
"He won't, I'm sure – what do you call it – chisel the wrong stones," Legolas said airily.
Gimli made no response. The table was silent until Mistress Rose slyly lifted her eyes.
"Now, Master Gimli," she said. "I don't mean any impertinence. But I have wondered, do you have a Misses?"
"Ah, that." The dwarf tapped his nose. "Is a secret."
"You are quite fond of secrets." Rosie laughed. They turned to Gondor doings as the plates emptied. Gimli might have taken the conversation to the repairing of Minas Tirith's walls in gory detail, but Legolas redirected him to the juicier tale of the completion of the Gate.
Aragorn had made a great to-do about it, Gimli explained, not caring to mask his pride as Chief Engineer. There was some tipsiness among the elves of Ithilien and the dwarves in the square… which erupted into a battle of singing… Queen Arwen fled, saying the temptation to join them was most unqueenly. But Aragorn stayed on, declaring it was his duty to preside over the duration of the feast. And no voice rose louder than his.
"Is Arwen very pretty, Master Gimli?" said Rose-lass.
"Very. A darker Lady Galadriel – hairwise, that's to say. And she's some ways merrier, some ways sadder." Gimli paused to think.
"But the surprise…" started Merry.
Rosie had vanished from the room a minute before, and now re-appeared balancing two pies. Gimli hurried to her and took one. The first was blackberry topped with a golden crust, flaky and buttery, dusted with tiny diamonds of sugar. Amber juices had welled through the neat slits in the top crust and crystallized into rolling ribbons. The second was strawberry of the plumpest and reddest berries, dappled with cream. But the Gamgee children scarcely paid their afters mind; their eyes were kept occupied while Legolas downed three liberal-sized slices.
Merry lowered his fork enough to talk around. "But about the--!"
"Yes, Merry, I will write to Masters Meriadoc and Peregrin tonight," said Sam.
"We can go berry-picking!" Pippin swung his arms and had a perilous adventure with his cup.
Ignoring this, Rosie said, "We'll see." Visits from the tall and rather burly hobbits usually brought raucous berry-picking, chaotic mushroom hunting, or disorderly sled rides. Rosie was fond of them, but found she was rather thankful when they left and peace was restored.
"You do like berries?" Elanor said earnestly.
Very much, Legolas and Gimli affirmed.
"I eated a berry with my nose. Oncet," Goldy declared and demonstrated with a strawberry.
"Yes you did, dear," Sam said and firmly wiped her face.
After supper, Sam checked up on Frodo and found he really was asleep. He sighed. "What'll I do with him?"
Goldy and Hamfast needed putting to bed, a task that required the attention of both parents. In the meantime, Legolas and Gimli kept the other children entertained with exaggerated tales of their exploits. Pippin trembled with excitement because he had never been permitted up past eight.
"This one time," Rosie warned. "Straight to bed when you start yawning."
The children had more questions, Merry the largest contributor. "Especially about horses! I want a great big horse for my birthday!" He squirmed finally into silence when Legolas said he would show him his horse tomorrow.
In the unusual quiet, Legolas inspected the Red Book on the pedestal. Gimli fiddled with the dragon-shaped paperweight and concluded it was of at most 2950 Erebor make.
But the children did not thrive in quiet. Rose-lass shortly spoke up: "Mr. Legolas, how old are you?"
Legolas' finger, running down a page, paused. He smiled. "That, dear one, is a Secret."
Gimli whispered, "He doesn't know."
"Guess!" Merry yipped.
"Don't be rude, Merry!" said Elanor, half horrified, half curious.
"Perhaps… perhaps…" Legolas looked around, as though hoping for a simple comparison to pop out and introduce itself. "More, at least, than the age of the Shire inhabited by hobbits."
The Gamgees frowned.
"That a-hundred?" said Merry.
"No, two," said Rose in an imperious tone.
"But older than Granpapa Gamgee was?" said Merry, undaunted, looking at Legolas.
"Certainly, and certainly older than even Master Dwarf here…"
As Gimli began his reply, Sam and Rose entered with the dog, who padded in the most direct line for the dwarf. Pippin yawned from a chair that had been made with wider hobbits in mind.
Sam noticed Legolas standing over the book. "We read the Red Book on special occasions, and I believe this is one as ever will be. What part would you like to hear?"
Legolas left the pedestal to plop on the floor amid the young Gamgees. "The beginning, naturally!"
The wolfish Legolas-dog had rooted himself on the hearth, one eye on Gimli's stocking.
"Aragorn wants a copy," said Gimli, relocating his feet, while his hand made its unconscious way behind the hound's ears.
"Yes, I had hoped to make one…" said Sam. He had always felt uncomfortable that only one Red Book existed. If something happened, and there were countless things… so he always checked that all the candles were extinguished and the windows were stuck tight. The room was, in fact, the only door in the house he locked when the family went out. Elanor had offered to start copying the book and practiced her script every night on scrap parchment to prove it.
"I want to fill the last pages first," said Sam. "Only, I'm not as clever at putting together words as Mr. Frodo is. It'd make for an unfit end, if you understand me."
"Nonsense!" said Legolas. "I've read some of your additions. They are loyal to what Bilbo and Frodo began. But they could stand well even on their own – you've a honed insight and you express it without clutter."
Sam's face burned, feeling pleased though he knew Legolas was only being polite.
He took his place by the pedestal and cleared his throat. They looked up at him, wide-eyed and motionless. For the next hour, Sam's clear, strong reading voice was the only sound to be heard, excepting the gentle snores of Pippin.
He ended at a likely place. Then Rosie was off to bed with the children. They complained, silencing only at Sam's look. As they shuffled off Merry made the elf and dwarf promise not to vanish overnight.
Pippin needed to be carried by his dad. Sam hastened back to the study, and in a barrage of ink wrote letters to Masters Meriadoc and Peregrin, then remembered the unfinished letter to Ordin Burrows and whisked on the address.
He did not notice that Legolas had vanished until the elf returned to the room to announce, "The clouds have fled, all but the most stubborn."
He intended to go out. Gimli protested loudly.
"I know how not to be seen." Legolas had the old Lórien cloak in hand. Gimli did not find that to be a compelling case.
"Well, Gimli," said Sam, sealing the last letter. "This has been an extraordinary day. I think a smoke is in order."
A grin slipped past Gimli's grumbles.
The hobbit and dwarf settled themselves on the porch, an ample supply of Old Toby at hand. As Legolas had said, wispy clouds frisked over the stars and were growing steadily more disperse. The air was wet and clear. A sweet scent drifted from the wet earth. Not a blade of grass stirred. It was a primeval stillness, broken only by the gentle snap of distant doors closing.
Sam's thoughts skipped around the evening's events as he looked at the flickering stars. At last he took a deep breath and let them out. "What are you doing here? In truth, Gimli?"
Gimli chomped his pipe-stem and didn't answer.
They saw Legolas' cloaked head weave out of view behind some hedges. "Off to sleep in a tree," said Gimli, snorting smoke. "Elves." He turned his face to Sam. "Never argue with their whims. Just hang on and don't look."