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Warnings: I've been told this is rather sweet, but not to the point of diabetic shock.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JRR Tolkien. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Prequel to "Back to the Beginning." Legolas earns a certain sobriquet that he carried in later years.
This is a prequel to "Back to the Beginning" and will make the most sense if you've read that story.. For those who haven't, the short form is that Legolas and Gimli traveled to the Undying Lands together after Aragorn's death.. While Gimli was granted a longer life than he would have had if he had remained in Middle-Earth, he eventually died of old age.. Legolas returned to Middle-Earth to find Gimli reborn, only to lose him again to old age and death.. So ever Legolas seeks and finds and loves and loses....
Thanks are due to Madam Morrigan for the beta reading; remaining mistakes are my own stubbornness.
Frodo grumbled at the knock on the door. It was after midnight, much too late for a social call--couldn't anyone solve their own problems any more? Being mayor wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Settling arguments, late night interruptions.... He opened the door and looked out at someone's waist. He looked *up* at a gray-cloaked elf.
An elf! There hadn't been an elf in Hobbiton for a thousand years!
"Master Gardner?" the elf asked in the fair, sweet voice that he had only read about in his great-grandfather's copy of the original Red Book. How he'd pored over the book as a child, only half believing it, but wanting it to be true. An elf in Hobbiton! He came to himself, realizing he was staring, as the elf made as if to speak again. He bowed hastily.
"Master Frodo Gardner, at your service," he said. "Come in, come in, welcome!" He stood aside and ushered the elf inside. "The parlor's just in there, turn left. Would you like some tea? Cakes?" He closed the door and followed his guest into the best parlor. The elf sat on a couch much too low for him. "Some supp--" He stopped. Now that he wasn't craning his neck so high, he could see the bundle in the elf's arms, wrapped close in his cloak. He would have though it a hobbit were it not for the beard.
"Thank you, but no." The elf made a shallow bow, mindful of the sleeping--person--in his arms. "We have already eaten." He tucked the cloak more carefully around the sleeper, shading his eyes from the lamp's light with a fold of cloth. He looked up at Frodo. "I am Legolas Greenleaf." Frodo nodded, he knew that name from the book. Surely it must be the same one, even after a thousand years. The elves were immortal, that's what immortal *meant*. Legolas nodded to his burden. "This is Nain, son of-- *My* son." If he weren't an elf Frodo might have called his tone defiant.
Nain was a dwarf name, wasn't it? He peered again at the close-wrapped figure. "I thought dwarves were taller," he blurted.
The elf chuckled. "And so they are. He is but a child." Frodo opened his mouth, groping for words, and finally pointed to his own bare chin. "Even the women and children of Durin's Race grow beards, Master Gardner."
The Red Book hadn't mentioned that. Then again, his ancestors-by-courtesy were more interested in elves than dwarves. Before he could say anything or embarrass himself further, Jaz came bustling in.
"Frodo, what--" She stopped, staring, and then curtsied.
"This is my wife, Jasmine," Frodo told Legolas. She dropped another curtsy. "Jaz, this is Legolas Greenleaf. From the book?" She nodded, wide-eyed. "And Nain, a dwarf-child."
She peered at the child, and then cuffed Frodo on the side of his head. "Frodo, you lout, where are your manners?" She looked at Legolas. "You'll want some supper after your journey, I'm sure." She smiled a bit grimly. "From the looks of that child you've traveled some distance on short commons, sir."
"He has never gone hungry under my care!" the elf snapped, seeming to grow taller without moving. Frodo froze, understanding now what his namesake had written in the book about the rare and awful anger of the elves. The child stirred and the elf's stance softened. He looked down at the sleeping child with a tenderness that made Frodo regret anew their childless state. Legolas stroked the child's cheek with a finger and rocked gently until he fell back into deep slumber. Legolas looked back up at Jaz and spoke softly. "I ask your pardon, Mistress Gardner. He was half starved when I--found him. He has put on weight these past weeks, despite our travels."
"Oh." Frodo looked at his wife and saw her blinking back tears. Her practical and no-nonsense image never fooled him, especially where a child was involved. "Well," she said briskly. "Another supper will do wonders for putting some meat back on his bones."
The elf laughed--a glorious sound, like the ringing of bells. "Truly, Mistress Gardner, we ate well not two hours past. He needs sleep now more than food."
"Then it's high time he had a bed." The elf started to speak, but she overrode him. "It's time we all sought our beds. It's gone midnight."
Jaz cooked enough breakfast for twice their numbers, Frodo thought, though he had more self-preservation than to say anything. Nain sat very close to Legolas on the bench and watched her bustle around the kitchen with wide, interested eyes. She came too close setting a cup of milk beside him and he shrank against the elf's side. Jaz frowned slightly, but said nothing.
After she stepped back Nain reached for the milk with his left hand. He looked puzzled at the white liquid, and then looked up at Legolas questioningly.
"Milk," the elf said. "You drink it." He laughed at Nain's expression. "Try it. It is good for you." He looked up at them. "Dwarves do not drink milk as a usual thing."
Perhaps not, but after one dubious sip the boy drank it quickly enough. Jaz leaned over the table with the pitcher to refill his cup. That appeared to be distance enough that he did not shrink away. She pushed a pile of griddlecakes onto each of their plates. Nain watched Legolas add butter and strawberry syrup to his and did the same, again using his left hand only. His right hand remained at his side, hidden below the table.
Frodo watched the child, hiding his scrutiny behind the mechanics of eating. The child was awkward; the use of his left hand did not come naturally. Halfway though the meal he dropped his cup, fortunately nearly empty. Legolas caught it before it could roll off the table. Nain hunched down on the bench as if expecting rebuke.
"No harm done," Jaz said, refilling the cup and piling more griddlecakes on his plate. "Would you like some ham?"
He looked at her in surprise, and then snuck a look at Legolas. The elf said nothing, apparently concentrating on wiping up the few drops of spilled milk with his napkin. "Yes, please," he said softly. It was the first time he had spoken; in fact Frodo hadn't been sure before that he could speak. He had a surprisingly low voice for one so young.
By the end of the meal Nain had lost all shyness around Jaz. Apparently the way to a young dwarf's heart was to feed them, just like with young hobbits. Old hobbits, too, for that matter. With Nain's assistance they had almost finished the mountain of food she had made. "Come on, now," she said to Nain. "Let's get you cleaned up. You have syrup in your beard."
He hesitated and again looked to Legolas. The elf nodded and spoke a few words in a guttural language Frodo could only assume was Dwarvish. He hesitated another moment, then followed her to the sink. He was already as tall as she, though not yet at his full height. He giggled as she washed his face with the cloth.
"Hands," she requested next. He held up the left. "Both hands," she said, smiling. He ducked his head, staring at the floor. Finally he held out his right hand, a twisted mass of scarred flesh. A look of horror and guilt flashed over her face; fortunately he didn't see it. "Well," she said. "Not much syrup here, but no harm in a wash up anyhow." Frodo knew the iron will that kept her voice steady and loved her for it. She washed both hands with equal thoroughness. "There, now you won't leave sticky fingerprints through the house." She crossed back to the table and picked up the plate of leftover griddlecakes. "Let's go feed these to the ducks, shall we?" She marched to the door. Nain followed her without even looking at Legolas. "You two," she said over her shoulder, "can clear the table."
Frodo took his plate and hers to the sink, while Legolas brought the other two plates and stacked them beside the sink where Frodo indicated. "Your wife is a most gracious lady," he said.
Frodo added water from the kettle to the dish pan and tested the temperature. "Not the way I would have said it, but yes, she is." Legolas held up the butter and what was left of the milk. "First larder, through that door." He waited until the elf got back. "What happened to the lad's hand?"
Legolas brought the last of the dishes before answering. "His mother was killed in a rockslide two years ago. He was injured. The hand--was the worst of it."
"Ah." No wonder he took to Jaz so quick if he lost his own mother--she was the most motherly person he knew. He rinsed the plates and put them in the drying rack. The elf reached for a dishcloth but Frodo waved him off. "They can dry by themselves." He took the cloth and wiped his hands instead. "We didn't have much time to talk last night. Perhaps you can tell me where you're headed?" And why he came to Bag End?
"We come from the Blue Mountains. We are traveling to the Iron Hills, or perhaps to the Lonely Mountain."
"A long way to travel with winter around the corner." It was only September and the warm weather made winter seem but a distant threat, but according to the Red Book it took Bilbo Baggins five months and much unpleasantness to reach the Lonely Mountain, though it did not look so far on the map. The Iron Hills were yet further.
Legolas nodded. "Nain is not yet strong enough to travel far or fast, nor can he cross the Misty Mountains in winter. If it were just myself there are enough wild places in the world where I could live till spring."
"But not with a child."
"No." Legolas closed his eyes. If Frodo had ever thought to see an elf he had never thought to see one look so tired. Legolas opened his eyes again. "I came to you, Master Gardner--or rather to Bag End--because I knew no other place to go. Will you help?"
Two Bagginses and a thousand years of Gardners would disown him if he would not. "Of course. There's more than enough room in this old warren for you to stay a dozen years, let alone until spring."
Jaz took the news in stride when they returned. "Well of course," she said to Legolas, after settling Nain down with a snack to tide him over until lunch. "You don't think I'm going to let you take that poor child off into the howling wilderness in the middle of winter, do you?" Legolas shook his head and then bowed low, hand over his heart. It was an elegant move; if Frodo tried that he would fall over and Jaz would laugh at him. Instead she turned pink.
Spring would be hard for Jaz, Frodo thought a week later, watching her make tea cakes with Nain's "assistance." He was giggling at something she said. She had practically adopted him as her own, and he clung to her almost as tightly as to the elf. He was a good lad, eager to listen to Frodo's tales of an evening or to help bring in the last of the tomatoes before the frost got them, but Frodo never let himself forget that elf and dwarf would be leaving in not so many months.
Still giggling, Nain snatched a still-warm cake from the cooling rack. Mock-scowling, Jaz made as if to rap his knuckles with her spoon. The boy froze, letting the cake fall to the table. Jaz continued the motion, tapping his hand very gently. Then she gave him a quick hug and put the fallen cake back in his hand. Frodo slipped from the room and out the door to the garden.
Legolas was reading Frodo's precious copy of the Red Book, seated under a tree in the late afternoon sunlight. "Well?" Frodo asked. "Is it as you remember?" It was so strange to talk to someone who remembered those events first-hand, who knew his many-many-great-grandfather.
"Aye." Legolas chuckled. "The view is rather--different--but events do not diverge largely from my memory." He seemed melancholy, despite the laugh. "Perhaps it is my memory at fault after so many years."
"Well, Old Frodo B. wasn't exactly taking notes as he went, either."
"No, we were all rather too busy for that." The elf shook off the memory. "How are Nain and Jasmine getting on?"
Frodo shook his head. Jaz had broken him of calling her Mistress Gardner so formally, but nothing would reduce him to calling her Jaz. "He's helping her cook."
"And has he driven her mad yet?" There was an element of seriousness lurking beneath his wry humor, Frodo thought.
"When the sun burns out and the moon falls from the sky," he said. "Maybe *then* she will grow tired of his company." He chuckled. "But I doubt it."
"I would not saddle her with his care; I do not wish to impose upon you more than I already have."
Frodo waved that away and steeled himself to his original errand in coming here. "Nain--He's grown quite fond of Jaz and he's even lost his shyness around me. But sometimes--" He took a breath. "Who beat him?"
Legolas's face took a grim cast. "His father."
"Is that--normal among dwarves?" Legolas shook his head. "Oh." Ill-use was rare among hobbits, but not, alas, unknown. Dealing with such cases was the worst part of being mayor. Had Legolas killed the father? Or had he stolen the child? From the elf's grim expression he could believe either, but he couldn't imagine asking directly. "Is--his father likely to come looking for him?" he asked instead.
"I think it unlikely."
Which could mean anything, from father dead to father uncaring. Remembering Nain's flinch from Jaz of all people Frodo couldn't find it in himself to care too greatly. "What will you do when you reach the Iron Hills?" he asked instead.
Legolas gave a sad shake of his head. "I had thought to raise him myself. But seeing him with you and Mistress Jasmine I find I have not the skill. I have--acquaintances among the dwarves to the East. One of them will surely take him in."
Frodo nodded, reluctantly. "He is a dwarf, after all. He needs to be with his people."
Spring came quickly, though the calendar said it was late. The last snow didn't melt until early in April. Legolas seemed no more eager to push the weather than Frodo was to see them go, so it was the end of the month before they were ready to set out. Nain only picked at his food the last breakfast, though he had proved himself an enthusiastic fan of Jaz's cooking up until then.
The stable-boy from the Green Dragon was waiting by the gate with a saddled pony when they stepped outside. Legolas stared at the animal, and then turned to look at Frodo. Frodo crossed his arms and put on his best stubborn expression. "I couldn't find a horse tall enough for you in all the Shire, but the child at least can ride."
Legolas opened his mouth and Frodo stared him down. "There's money in the saddlebag and a few odds and ends you may find useful."
Legolas still looked stubborn, though not as stubborn as Frodo felt. "Nain needs to be with his people, I know that. We cannot ask you to stay, so the least we can do is speed you on your way. Let us do this, please."
Legolas bowed low. "I am ever more deeply in your debt."
"Nonsense," Jaz said. "There is no debt, only gift, freely given." She opened her arms to Nain and he ran into them. She hugged him tight and then held him out at arm's length. "You be good, now. Don't go falling off that pony, you hear?" The lad would have a hard time falling off; Frodo had picked a steady, placid creature. No fiery steed for his--for *this* child.
Nain surprised Frodo by running to him for a hug as well. He held him tight for a long moment before helping lift him into the saddle. After saying their farewells, Frodo and Jaz watched them walk down the road out of sight. If his eyes watered it was only from looking into the rising sun.
The summer passed slowly. Frodo found himself more than once wanting to show Nain the half-grown cygnets on the Pool or the corn ripening on stalks taller even than an elf. He missed sitting before the fire and listening to Legolas sing songs for which the Red Book recorded only words. He missed seeing Jaz smile.
Summer turned into autumn. Jaz was particularly quiet on the anniversary of Nain coming to Bag End, though they both pretended not to recognize the day. Frodo re-read the Red Book, paying close attention to Legolas and his extraordinary friendship with Gimli the dwarf. Surely for his friend's memory, if nothing else, he would make sure Nain was placed with a nice dwarvish family who would love him and take good care of him.
October brought with it bitter weather. Frodo was grateful for the fire late one evening and less than pleased by the knock on the door that drew him from its warmth. Whatever brought someone out on such a night was unlikely to be trivial or quickly solved. He opened the door, still hoping that whatever the problem was, it could be resolved without leaving his warm hobbit-hole.
Legolas stood on his doorstep, holding a sleeping Nain in his arms, exactly as he had one year before. "I am fated to arrive here after midnight, my friend," he said.
Frodo gaped. "Where is the pony?" he asked finally. It wasn't what he meant to ask, but no other coherent thought came to his mind.
"Stabled at the Green Dragon." Legolas ducked to pass the door and Frodo automatically shut it behind him. "You are well, Master Frodo? And Mistress Jasmine?"
He was asleep, that explained it all. He dozed off by the fire and was dreaming. Still, it was a pleasant dream. "Quite well, and yourself?"
Legolas smiled. "I am well, as is Nain, though somewhat weary from traveling."
"Of course." There was something he should be doing or asking besides standing around in the entry-hall, but in the way of dreams he couldn't think what.
"Frodo? What--" Jaz stood in the hall, staring, and then shook herself like a dog coming out of the water. "Well, don't just stand there!" She led the way to the bedroom Nain had used all last winter. "Hold him while I put sheets on the bed." Legolas looked like he was prepared to hold him until the end of time, but Jaz hurried all the same. Once the sheets were smoothed to her satisfaction Legolas put him down and Jaz tucked him in. The lad murmured but did not wake.
Without his burden Legolas looked more tired than before. "I need not impose upon you this time," he said in the parlor after refusing tea or food. "If you know of a small house in this neighborhood I can pay in gold."
Frodo looked at the length of his legs, stretched out in front of the couch he sat on. "Not too small a house, I think. There's one in New Row that might suit you. The ceilings should be high enough."
"We're always happy to see you," Jaz said. "Both of you. But why--"
Legolas studied the floor. "Dwarves value the work of the hands above all else."
He looked up. Grief and fury battled for mastery of his face. "Both hands."
Frodo stretched in the sunlight coming in the bedroom window. It looked like they were going to get a nice day to make up for yesterday's bluster. He looked at Jaz sleeping, looking truly happy and peaceful for the first time in months, and decided not to tell her of his dream. Let the past go.
A soft sound intruded into his laziness, drawing him into full wakefulness trying to identify it. It sounded like--crying. Jaz still slept at his side, it was not she. He got up and slipped down the hall towards the sound. Nain stood alone in the parlor, hacking at his hair with scissors--Jaz's good sewing shears, no less. Last night was no dream!
"Nain?" he asked, taking the scissors from him and holding him close.
"I don't want to be a dwarf," he cried. "I want to be a hobbit!" The lad had grown since last spring; he was now taller than Frodo.
"They didn't want me," he sniffled. "Because of my hand. Nobody wants me."
"That's not true," Jaz said, coming up from behind him, still dressed in her sleeping robe. She looked not at all surprised to see him or the ruin of his hair.
"No, it is not," Legolas said as well, coming in from the garden and kneeling by the three. "You are loved, never doubt that." He wiped the tears from Nain's face.
"Can I be a hobbit instead of a dwarf?" Nain asked him, still clinging to Frodo.
Jaz fingered the ragged braid. "It will need to be cut to even it out, anyway," she said, looking over at the elf.
"There is more to a dwarf than hair and beard," Legolas told Nain. The lad just looked at him. Legolas smiled, sadly. "You can be anything you want, child."
Frodo fetched a stool from the kitchen and sat the child down while Jaz unbraided his hair. Hanging loose it fell nearly to his waist, at least that part which Nain had not hacked off. She cut it very short, shorter even than most hobbits wore theirs, in order to get it all the same length. At Legolas's instruction she trimmed his beard as close as she could get it with scissors alone. Legolas fetched a basin of soapy water.
"You must hold quite still," he warned. Nain nodded solemnly. Legolas wet his beard and then drew a dagger. Frodo winced at the sight of the sharp steel so close to the child's throat, but Legolas wielded it with a sure hand. Each pass of the knife revealed more bare chin, left more hair lying on the floor. Finally he sheathed the blade and wiped Nain's face dry with a cloth.
With his hair cut and beard shaved, the boy looked most remarkably like--a dwarf with short hair and no beard. "Am I a hobbit now?" Nain asked.
Frodo nodded. "If that's what you want to be."
*On the second day of Yule in the year 2525 of the Shire Reckoning, Master Frodo Gardner, Mayor of Hobbiton, and his wife, Mistress Jasmine Gardner, adopted Nain to be their son. Nain Gardner lived the rest his life in the Shire and, despite his origins, was accounted almost respectable by his neighbors. Following in his adoptive father's footsteps he served three terms as mayor, but he was most noted for his skill in growing peaches. Much to the delight of the local gossips, he never married, sharing the house at Bag End instead with his life-long friend the elf. He adopted in turn three children left orphan during the terrible winter of 2649. Thus, with the occasional hiccup, the line of Gardners of the Hill continued for many generations to come.*
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Issue No.: 2.6
Site Last Updated: 11 May 2003