Deep within the shady forest with its huddled, brooding trees that the horsemen of Rohan so feared, a pair of hobbits walked without regard to the long, tortured memories of the life surrounding them. Merry and Pippin were so relieved at their fortuitous escape that they barely gave their immediate surroundings any thought, save for the younger hobbit’s unconscious scans of the undergrowth for anything that might be construed as food. “No mushrooms, no berries – I haven’t seen so much as even a wilted little crabapple since we walked in here,” Peregrine muttered under his breath, looking into the thick branches that blocked his view of the sky as if those twisted limbs hid an answer to his belly’s nagging gurgle.
“Always thinking with your stomach, Pip,” Merry laughed, giving his cousin a light tap in the abdomen. “There’s plenty of moss and lichen.” The elder hobbit plucked a low hanging tendril of the former and passed it under his nose, as if savoring its aroma before dangling the unappetizing growth before his companion.
“Ugh.” Pippin made a disgusted face, turning slightly green when he smelled the rotting, bone-colored plant material. “There’s not much else here, though. No animals. No flowers. I haven’t even heard any birds. Just big trees, rocks, and moss.”
Tossing the offending “food” into the carpet of old leaves, Merry was inclined to agree with him. The woods would seem rather empty, compared to more lush glades like Lothlorien, were it not for the staggering maze of gnarled, moss covered trees that cast the forest floor into perpetual gloom. Merriadoc began to fear that he and his cousin had escaped sure death in the hands of the orcs only to find sure death by starvation in these thick woods. Although Merry thought that it had been starved into submission during the long, arduous march with the orcs, his stomach began to complain against this train of thought.
“You know, you’re right. And I am getting a little hungry. Why don’t we head for that big cliff over there? It looks a bit sunnier than the rest of this forest. Maybe we’ll find a berry bush or something,” he said, pointing out a sheer, stony hill where a meager wisp of pale sunlight fought its way through the tangled braches.
“We’ve got a little bit of lembas left,” Pippin noted with a hint of his normal optimistic good humor returning. “We could have a picnic, as if we were camping out on the edge of the old forest, just like we did when we were boys.” The flicker of wisdom and lost innocence Merry had noted during their escape from the Uruk Hai came once more over his cousin’s face, and Meriadoc paused for a moment in mourning for those spirited, jovial youngsters. They had both seen too much to ever be “just like when they were boys” again. Dear old Peregrine was trying to keep up appearances, though, just to keep up their badly bruised spirits. “Come on, lazy legs, I’ll race you to the top,” he laughed, and Merry followed after.
It was indeed much brighter as the young hobbits scampered up the rocky, barren hillside, which brightened their hearts, even if the ledge offered no berries nor other type of refreshment to soothe their complaining stomachs. This steep lookout seemed even more barren than the rest of the forest, with no life making itself evident above the lowest ledge save for a gnarled old tree at the summit: tall, thin, and bearded with a long tail of moss. Merry did not recognize its type, for the leaves were tattered and drooping, perhaps an oak or a very old elm, but he never had seen an oak with bark quite so scarred and knotty as that. But then, of course, Merry would have been the first to admit he knew very little of trees. Sam was the one who spent all his time in a garden; the young Brandybuck only went into the wild clutches of nature in order to procure frogs or other slimy, scaly, and many-legged horrors for his supply of pranks.
Pippin was the first to reach the top of the cliff, tapping the tree before his cousin. From the mischievous smile on his younger cousin’s face, Merry expected to never hear the end of Pip’s bragging, but then to the two hobbits’ mutual and complete surprise, the tree tapped them back.
It picked them up in a pair of spreading branches, blinked large yellow eyes that reminded Merry of a gigantic owl, and then looked straight at them as if they were a pair of interestingly shaped bugs, to be more precise, and then, quite unmistakably, the tree spoke. “Hurrrum…” it said in a deep, whispering, ponderous voice. “What have we here? What has disturbed my rest? We must not be hasty now… I have heard word of orcs, and of humans, several of such creatures in my forest, but these do not appear to be the former or the latter. Are they some type of orcish spy? Those tree-cutting, axe-wielding, flame-burning, branch-breaking orcs have been in my forest, but I must not be hasty. What sort of creatures could these be? Too small and hairy for a human, but not enough for a badger…”
“I’m a Took, sir, Peregrine Took. My cousin Merriadoc Brandybuck and I are hobbits, although normally folks call me Pippin, or just Pip, and him Merry.” As usual, Pippin was the first to find his tongue. Whether or not he had managed to do so by sticking his foot into his mouth in front of a very strong tree that was holding them both between its fingerlike branches was beyond Merry’s current knowledge. “I’ve never seen a talking tree before, sir, are you the only one who can? Merry and I did meet a tree that tried to eat us once, but that’s a whole different story.”
“Hurrum, hobbits, I have never heard of hobbits before. They are not spoken of in the old poems, the lists of names of all the creatures.” The owl-eyed tree mumbled to itself. “Leaf and lichen, root and twig, how strange and hasty these are. Giving away their proper names with no thought or word of having the kindness returned. How do they know that I will be careful with them? There are folk in this forest who are kind to hasty strangers and those who are not, you know. But curious, one cannot fault them for that. Hurrum, hroom, now, how to answer the small hasty folk?” the being pondered. “I am called Fangorn by the elves, or Treebeard, in your tongue, if you prefer. My real name would take much too long to say, for names tell stories in my language, and my story is a long one, indeed. But I am no talking tree so much as a shepherd of trees, the eldest of my people. We ents are not a prodigious species, never have been, since we are long-lived, and there have been no new ents since the entwives were lost to us. But how is it that you came to be forgotten by the other free folk?”
Merry shrugged and decided to speak up. The ent creature seemed as odd to Meriadoc as he must to it, but the slow thinking, slow moving old Treebeard made him think of one of his numerous great-uncles, who was willing to humor the little ones with a story of his past, but was quickly worn out by observing wild childish antics. “Many small creatures tend to be forgotten, none more so than hobbits, for our folk generally wish to be left alone in their hobbit-holes.”
“That sounds like a very proper wish, indeed.” Fangorn gently placed the hobbits upon his gnarled, woody shoulders. From this new vantage point, Merry could see that even if the ent only moved slowly, his long strides had carried his small passengers quite a distance from the hill as they talked.
“Now where are we going?” Merry questioned himself, not even certain he had said it aloud until the tree-shepherd responded. Pippin watched the rate of their progress avidly, counting the giant’s long strides as the ent glided along the forest, each pace starting from his long root-like toes and then continuing through his stiff, tree-trunk legs. Merry imagined the walk might look very comical indeed, if any could keep pace with Treebeard to watch.
“We are headed for one of my homes, deep within the forest. I like to hear of news from the outside world, but not too quickly, not too hastily. I cannot bend to sit, but I imagine you young hobbits may wish to rest,” Fangorn replied to Merry’s query. “Root and twig, but I am becoming somewhat hasty in my ancient years, even as my oldest friends get slower and slower, becoming more like the trees they guard. I mean you no harm, my hasty young hobbits; we will be quite safe from orc attacks where we are headed, and I would prefer not to be interrupted.”
“How far is it to your home?” Pippin asked, losing count of the ent’s great strides.
“I suppose it would be considered far by your reckoning,” Treebeard replied after a few more “hurrums.” “It is very deep in the forest, on the side of another – what do your folk call them again? Oh, yes, hills – hill, just on the edge of the mountains. Why do you ask?”
“Pippin and I just don’t have very many supplies,” Merry replied. “We only have a little bit of food, although I suppose it will stretch to almost five days, as long as we’ve got water.” He bit his lip as he dug through his pockets for lembas crumbs.
“And we don’t have any sleeping rolls nor blankets, neither,” Peregrine added helpfully.
“Do not worry too much about those things, young hobbits,” Fangorn’s rumbling voice contained the hint of laughter. “My home has very nice places to sleep, and I have a potion that is exceptionally good for growing things: hroom, yes, I believe my entdraught will keep you green and growing for quite some time.”
“But that doesn’t settle the matter of the journey along the way,” Merry argued.
“Our journey is nearly at an end, young Merry,” the ent chided him, and indeed, Treebeard and his hasty passengers were fast approaching a garden, in which the bounties of the forest were gathered in a riotous celebration of life, contrasting pleasantly with the grim, gnarled trees that made up the rest of Fangorn Forest. “Simply because I am deliberate in my thoughts does not mean that I am slow to action once my mind is set.” The tree-shepherd who shared his name with his forest laughed, and then a reminiscent expression came over his craggy wooden visage. “This garden once belonged to Fimbrethil, one of the most beauteous ent-maidens it has ever been my pleasure to meet. She and I used to take long walks in this forest when the world was young. But that was before she and the other entwives were lost to us.”
“How did they die?” Even Merry, who admitted to himself that he was still quite young and hasty, flinched at his cousin’s forthright phrasing of his question.
“I did not say that the entwives were dead; simply that they were lost to us,” Treebeard corrected. His deep voice, which reminded Meriadoc of whispering leaves, now took on tones of thunder, but quickly softened. “We ents care for the trees and the wild things, but the entwives have always preferred order amongst their charges. They were the first to grow farms and gardens, and taught the other races, as well. On their last journey, for the ent-wives were ever wandering about the lands of the free peoples, they disappeared and were never heard from again. I believe they were headed north, but how far and for how long I cannot say.”
“The Shire’s in the north,” Merry spoke up as Fangorn’s yellow eyes wandered regretfully over the garden and the wild guardian trees surrounding its colorful, neat rows. “Our folk have always been fond of gardens and farms. Perhaps the entwives went somewhere around there,” the hobbit attempted to reassure his gigantic new friend. Treebeard smiled slightly, but remained in silent thought.
“Speaking of farms and gardens,” Pippin said with a hand upon his belly, “One thing that we love the most about them is the food they give us. There wouldn’t happen to be such food here, would there?” he asked hopefully.
“It is yet much too early in the season for this little garden plot to provide you with good things to eat,” Treebeard smiled gently at his guests. “The birds and creatures that inhabit this patch of forest will probably have eaten anything that matured too early in here anyhow. But if you will join me in my abode, there is a draught that I have been told outstrips most other forms of nourishment awaiting us. Let us retire, and you can tell me of the events beyond my forest.”
Entering a ring of thin, vertical rowans that formed a living wall at the back of the garden, the three entered a large, and to the hobbits’ hole-dwelling eyes, most unusual house. The walls were made of living trees, growing close enough together that their branches intertwined to form a solid structure that would be impenetrable to the worst of a rainstorm, and the ceiling constructed of their tightly woven upper boughs. There was no furniture as Merry and Pippin recognized such, but soft piles of leaves and a natural, mossy material made wonderful sitting places for the small travelers as Treebeard gently removed them from his shoulders. With frequent interruptions from one another, Merry and Pippin began to narrate their adventures so far for Treebeard. He appeared to recognize the name of Gandalf – “The only wizard who really ever cared for the trees,” as Fangorn sadly referred to him – and wondered why the hobbits spoke of him in the past tense. “You speak as if he were a tale that has come to its end,” the ent studied them bemusedly.
“And a sad end it was,” Merry replied mournfully. “He fell into darkness while leading us out of Moria.” Pippin sniffed and nodded, saluting an unseen memory with his mug of entdraught before polishing off the last half of the container in one sip.
“Wizards are full of clever tricks, young Meriadoc,” Fangorn replied with a gentle twinkle in his eyes. “And Mithrandir is more clever than most. I would not be so hasty as to count him out for good yet.”
“Gandalf would need more than cleverness to make it out of that fall in one piece,” Merry replied. Treebeard did not comment, but nor did he abandon a slight twinkle in his eyes as he sipped deeply from his much larger glass of clear entdraught. “But anyways, after we got out of Moria, we entered Lothlorien. It’s a very pretty forest, but the lady who rules there isn’t highly thought of by most humans or dwarves. Gimli was ready to jump at every birdcall upon our entry, and I heard that Mistress Chev’yahna had a right row with Lady Galadriel.”
“Well, I heard that it was with Boromir, but they seem to have made up pretty well, eh, Merry?” Pippin interrupted with a lewd wink as he elbowed his cousin. “I don’t know why some folks don’t like Galadriel. She was really nice to us,” he continued thoughtfully, leaning his refilled cup against his bulging stomach.
“Are she and young Celeborn still taking care of the trees, then?” Treebeard asked.
“Yes, it’s really beautiful in there,” Merry replied, trying to fend off the satisfied drowsiness that came with a full stomach after so long on a starvation diet. “All those yellow leaves…” he trailed off.
“Root and twig, I am glad to hear of that small comfort at least,” the ent replied. “Now if we could only find a way to make Saruman remember his duty to the forests. Hurroom. You were lucky to encounter such friendly Wargs; the wolves about Isengard have started to not only stop defending their homes from the tree-killing, branch-spoiling orcs, I have heard tell that they welcome them and help with their destruction. Well, the moot will find a way to settle this.”
“Pardon me, but what’s a moot, Treebeard?” Merry butted in to the ent’s rambles.
“A moot is the great ent council, in which we debate matters of extreme importance to our society. We do not have them often, and decide upon a course of action in an even greater time, but in the morning we go to decide what we should do, if anything, in reaction to the affairs of men, elves, and orcs.”
“But I thought that you were on our side,” Pippin said, surprised.
“‘Our side?’ I did not realize that you had already drawn sides,” Treebeard’s yellow eyes took in the young hobbit owlishly. “If it comes to that, I suppose I am on my own side, and that of the forest. But my side and your side may go along with one another, for a time yet. Tomorrow, we shall see for certain, when the ents meet for our moot.”