From canopy-level the forest somehow seemed less imposing. Sitting on Treebeard’s shoulders the trees seemed but saplings, not the ancient giants they were. Huge birds circling through the trees were no longer hawks about to dive down and carry Laramir off, but were as friendly and benign as sparrows on the window-sill. From this level she could see that the sun did in fact rise and set over this land just as it did the rest of Middle-earth. True, the thick upper branches kept her from feeling the sun’s warmth or even seeing it clearly, but just the vaguely less shadowy area descending into the west made the ancient forest seem more bearable.
This spectre of the sun had crossed the sky three times before Treebeard finally began to slow. “We must not lose our way,” he muttered, almost to himself, and scanned the horizon. Only then did Laramir notice that for the first time she saw not just trees but rocks as well.
“There used to be a path, yes, a cler way through the trees. Long ago, when Fimbrethil and I walked and talked together we came this way often; but I have not come here in many a year. The forest, it seems, has taken back the road.”
“What is this place? What mountains are these? And who is Fimbrethil?”
“My, aren’t you hasty! Three questions in one breath!” He laughed. “But two of these I can answer at once. These are the Misty Mountains. Beyond them is Rivendell, where elves yet dwell, and the Sea.”
“And the Halflings. Gandalf told me about them.”
“Halflings? Never heard of a halfling. But the world is full of strange creatures, to be sure, and newer ones than when I last journeyed abroad. At any rate, I have my home at the foot of these mountains, where the forest meets the rock. Or one of my homes: I have many homes, and in truth the whole forest is my home. But here is a safe place where we can talk.”
They were approaching the edge of the forest. A grove of willow trees barred their entrance, but as Treebeard stepped forward, the willow wisps fell back, forming an entrance hall. Behind stood a garden, very much like that in the Houses of Healing, with bushes and low trees and flowers and all. The one difference was, there weren’t any benches. Laramir wondered what the possible use of a garden without benches would be, because how else could you sit and enjoy it? But she didn’t ask, for she still wanted to hear about this Fimbrethil.
But Treebeard didn’t even pause in the gardens. He walked straight to the rock face, a cliff at the base of the Misty Mountains covered in a curtain of vines. They were so thick that Laramir couldn’t see what might be behind them, let alone get by them, but looking around she guessed they must hide Treebeard’s house. As Treebeard approached the vines seemed to thin, so that you could see inside, and the two travellers passed through. Earth covered the floor except in the corners, where instead fresh grasses were gathered into beds. The roof was solid rock, and the walls were rock covered by flowing water. (The water fell into dykes and flowed away into underground streams that watered Fangorn, Treebeard explained to Laramir.) A fire blazed in a recession in the stone wall well behind the waters, so that it seemed far off yet still warmed the room, and several vials of coloured liquid stood on the solid stone table in the middle of the room.
Laramir turned around, taking in this strange place, then looked back out through the vines. “The gardens were Fimbrethil’s idea,” Treebeard said absentmindedly. “To me, the whole forest was garden enough. But Fimbrethil wanted a special place, for the birds and animals of the forest. All she asked was that they keep the bedding fresh and the fire warm, and they have done their job well. I don’t think they had word of our coming; and I haven’t been here in some time, like I said. Of course they would do well to stay here; they knew what happened in Mirkwood.”
“My, you’ve lived an isolated life! Gondorians used to be known for being well-travelled. Mirkwood is, as you might guess, a forest. It’s east of the Misty Mountains, not that far from here. What do you know? Probably nothing.” He sighed. “Long ago, a being named Eru created all that you see. He also created the Valar. Now most of the Valar lived to serve Eru, but one, Melkor, wanted honour for himself. There was a great war, and Melkor was imprisoned. But then Sauron came, and he chose to become Melkor’s lieutenant. He lived in Mirkwood; the rest is ancient history–ask Gandalf–but you can imagine what he did to the animals and the poor trees. For a while all of Fangorn was afraid that Sauron or another like him would come here. So Fimbrethil thought to make this house into a safe place for them, so that some of each kind could survive, if anything should happen.
“Fimbrethil: You’ve mentioned her several times,” interrupted Laramir, “but I don’t know who she is. Should I?”
“The whole world should know of her. What a beauty, what a loss! But it doesn’t surprise me that you’ve never heard her name, for she lived many ages ago.
“Back when you and Gandalf first entered Fangorn, those trees that brought you to me–they were Huorns. Hurons are like Ents and not like Ents. Many years ago you would have been brought to me by young Ents. Laramir, in Minas Tirith you have men, women, in children. In the beginning there were Ent-men, Ent-wives, and Entlings — Ent children, that is — in Fangorn. We all walked together, and were happy. One of the Entlings was named Fimbrethil. All Entlings, and all Ents, are precious of course, but Fimbrethil, she was priceless beyond compare. She was the most beautiful Ent-child I ever knew, and as she grew she became just as beautiful an Ent-maiden, on the outside. But in her case this beauty was not just bark deep; it was a reflection of an inner grace. She genuinely cared about the Trees, and all that lay beyond our borders. We often walked together, Fimbrethil and I.
“But then, Laramir, something horrible happened. The Ent-men, like myself, loved to make new paths and find new trees. But the Ent-wives, and the Ent-maidens like Fimbrethil, loved gardens, and for things to stay where they put them in straight lines. And this garden was not enough for Fimbrethil: she had one with the other Ent-wives and Ent-maidens. We still walked, but less and less. And then not at all, for many years. And when I went to find her, because I realized how much I missed her company, she was gone. They were all gone. We lost them.”
Laramir looked puzzled, trying to understand this strange talk. How could you lose your wives? The point was totally beyond her, at least then.
“Well, that was a long tale! You must be hungry.” And he went to the shelves and took out two mugs, one larger and one smaller. He filled them with the blue liquid from one of the vials, and handed the larger mug to Laramir.
“Growing juice for growing things. Ent-draught, we call it, and it keeps you growing for a long time. Elves it makes their mind grow; they drank a lot long ago, when they still walked these woods. Dwarves, it makes their beards grow thick. I wonder how it will make a child of men grow. Drink up! You need your nourishment. All living things have a responsibility to grow as best they can.”
Laramir drank her entire cup, then Treebeard laid her down in one of the beds, while he himself went to stand in a corner. That night Laramir slept the best she had since she left Osgilliath, all those years ago.