Recap: The battle of Helm’s Deep has just finished. Most of the defenders are going back to Edoras, but Theoden, Eomer, and the remainder of the Fellowship of the Ring (including Novarwen) are taking the way through Fangorn and Isengard.
Novarwen had ridden through Fangorn Forest before, but it had made her edgy then and it still did so now. There was age redolent in the very breeze that stirred the leaves of the mighty trees, and it made her feel very young. She kept her eyes on Legolas’ head in front of her and focused her thoughts on the task ahead.
It was no pleasure trip, this ride through Fangorn, although Legolas seemed avid to see all of the forest that he could. There was a purpose to their detour on the road back to Edoras. The quickest way to Isengard and the tower of Orthanc was through Fangorn. Novarwen did not need to be reminded who lived in Orthanc. She shivered at the thought of Saruman, even with his powers gone.
Gimli twisted around in the saddle and looked at her. “Your brother says to tell you that we’re coming out of the woods.” He winked at her before turning around again, and Novarwen grinned to herself. Gimli knew perfectly well how she felt about Fangorn, and clearly was not above teasing her about her unElflike dislike of a forest.
Before too long, Novarwen could see a gleam of light over Legolas’ head. She sighed heavily with relief – they were finally coming out! She patted Brethil’s neck to calm him; her horse seemed to like the woods as little as she. Novarwen urged him forward as fast as she could decently go, until she was free of the forest and back in the sunlight – and looking up at the remains of a stone wall, upon which sat two small people who looked very familiar…
“Welcome, my lords, to Isengard!” called one of them, standing, and Novarwen’s face split into a huge smile. That was Merry, all right – she’d know that voice anywhere, even if it was a little unsteady with ale and pipeweed. He caught sight of her and amended, “And my lady, you’re welcome too.”
Novarwen stifled a laugh, but only just. Gimli, however, could not contain his feelings for a moment longer. “You young rascals!” he burst out, staring in astonishment at the lounging hobbits. “A merry hunt you’ve led us on, and now we find you drinking and – and smoking!” Novarwen wished she could see his face – it would probably be a sight to make even an Orc laugh.
“We are sitting,” Pippin remarked, sounding affronted at Gimli’s accusation, “on the field of victory, enjoying a few well-earned comforts.” Merry grinned affably, not noticing that Gimli was not yet appeased. “The salted pork is particularly good,” Pippin added.
“Salted pork?” Gimli asked, sounding as though he might yet be willing to forgive the hobbits.
Novarwen finally gave in to her impulse and laughed loud and hard. “Gimli,” she gasped between laughs, “you are surely welcome to join our young hobbits in their feast any time you wish! In fact, we’ll all have to raid their supply before the day is out.” The hobbits looked horrified, and Pippin even held his half-eaten apple closer to his chest. “But for now, my friends,” she called up to them, “would you consent to leap down and come with us to the tower?”
Merry looked at Pippin as if considering this, and then swung his legs over the wall and jumped onto the flooded ground. On Brethil, an average horse, the water reached his knees; on Merry, it was up to his waist. Novarwen leaned down and scooped him into her saddle. “You have had a little too much to drink, Master Hobbit,” she chided.
He craned his neck to look up at her. “Aye, I suppose I have,” he said thoughtfully. Novarwen grinned again and nudged Brethil on.
Gandalf had mentioned the Ents when they had found him in Fangorn, but Novarwen had never seen one before. So these are the creatures that laid Orthanc to waste, she thought, staring up at the enormous Ent that stood, barely ankle-deep, in the water before Orthanc. Somehow, I believe they could. “This is…?” she asked Merry, nodding her head to the Ent.
“Treebeard,” Merry answered. The ride seemed to have done him good – he was much more lucid.
Treebeard nodded slowly to greet them as they rode toward him. “Young master Gandalf,” he said in a slow voice, heavy with leaves and age, “I’m glad you’ve come.” Novarwen smothered an incredulous smile at Treebeard’s calling Gandalf young. “Wood and water, stick and stone, I can deal with,” the Ent continued, waving his hand at the tower, “but there is a wizard to be managed.”
“Well, let us have his head and be done with it!” Gimli growled. Not such a bad idea, Master Dwarf, Novarwen thought, catching his eye and giving him a tight smile of agreement. Even if Saruman had lost his powers, as Gandalf confirmed in response to Gimli’s suggestion, she wasn’t quite happy with the idea of him unpunished and with access to his instruments of wizardry. But then again, the Ents would not forget the murder of the trees, nor would they forgive the one who had given the order to cut them down. Perhaps living under the angry eyes of the Ents was plenty of punishment for Saruman. After all, she didn’t exactly envy him.
She had been lost in her own thoughts, but she came back to herself when something splashed into the water. Instinctively she relaxed her legs around Brethil, in case he had made that noise out of nervousness – but no, he was calm and steady. “Pippin!” called Aragorn’s voice. Novarwen looked down at the water and saw the hobbit lean down into it to scoop up something. When he straightened, he held in his hands a large black globe, with streaks of white running over and through it. “Bless my bark!” Treebeard gasped. Novarwen stared at the thing, all her senses prickling and screaming “Danger!” More than that, even – something foreboding, lurking…
“Peregrin Took!” Gandalf had ridden quickly to Pippin’s side. “I’ll take that, my lad.” Reluctantly Pippin held his prize up to the wizard. Gandalf barely touched it with his hands, Novarwen noted, but wrapped it in a fold of his cloak as quickly as he could. She felt herself breathe more easily when it was out of sight. What is that thing? she asked herself. Brethil noted her unease and neighed, picking it up himself; she patted his neck to calm him. And what did it mean, what I felt when I looked at it?