Mounted on him was a shape swathed in a thick, black cloak that hung loosely around the horse’s body. As they fully came into his view, Peregrin could smell the beast’s rank, cold breath upon his rosy-cheeked face. The horse pawed at the ground with his hoof, which Pippin noticed seemed to be oozing with black, stinking slime. From above him he heard the dreadful, fearful sound of sniffing, hard and long breathes coming in and out of the black faceless rider. Pippin’s head swayed, he suddenly felt extremely nauseous and dizzy. He looked up at the mysterious rider, a large black hood covered his features, so Pippin could not see his face. The ‘Dark Rider’ slowly swung his head around to Pippin, who now began to squeal loudly in distress and agony. He felt hopeless, he was loosing his memory, he had forgotten where he was and what he was doing there (was he seemingly loosing his mind as well?); scenes from his life and memory flashed painfully before his eyes. Wormtongue, Saruman, the Dark Lord, Théoden, Gandalf, the Hobbits, Faramir, Denethor.
A picture of the Shire appeared, though it seemed different. The sky was engulfed with thick black smoke. Enormous bird-dragon like creatures swarmed in the dark atmosphere like vultures waiting, and in this manner too they behaved, for below there stood the hobbits of the Shire. The birds waited spying on them, and if they spotted a weak or dying fellow, they would fly down and pick him off and carry him to somewhere to do unearthly things to the poor little creature. Pippin could smell the hatred and fear in the air. Hundreds of hobbits were chained together, orcs whipping them until their bare backs run red with blood. A large Uruk-Hai dragged three small hobbits from a crowd that had gathered in a burnt down old market square. They were thin and pallid. He fastened thick ropes around Sam, Merry and Frodo’s necks, they looked up to Pippin as if in a last final plea. The great ugly creature pulled, and fastened the rope to a post. A penetrating snap was heard, some hobbits kicked and wailed and screamed in grief as each in turn Merry, Sam and Frodo’s necks broke, it was a terrible sound to hear. Pippin could do nothing he wanted to, oh, how he wanted to slice and cut those orcs down, but he found he would or could not move, even though he struggled to. Orcs held them back with their long, cracking whips, or, if need be, their razor scimitar swords. A few fell dead at Pippin’s feet as the orcs lashed out in furry. It was too much for Pippin. He screamed and yelled, he wanted the images to go away, just go away! The more the rider stared and took in long soulful sniffs, the worst Pippin became. Sweat poured down his nose and forehead, he shook violently all over.
Two loud dogs’ barks could be heard in the distance. And then there was darkness.
A WELCOME HAND
Farmer Maggot gazed blankly out of his wooden cottage window, the night had fallen early today. It was a strange night tonight, his dogs had been barking at seemingly thin air, and the sky was wellnigh black now. He looked at his mantle clock. 6 o’clock it read, according to it, it was still evening. Though the outside was as shrouded with black as night.
He’d also heard tell of dangers about; tall strange riders in black again it seemed. He remembered when they first had come almost thirty years ago, looking for a young Mr. Frodo Baggins. He had known Frodo, but told the riders that,
‘No Frodo Baggins lives round ‘ere any more. Now get off my land, before I let my dogs out!’
He remembered it well.
The three dogs that had been lying sleepily at his feet, now had gotten up, raced to the door and had began to scratch, whine and bay at it dolefully.
‘All right! All right you three!’ the farmer complained, getting out of his warm chair. ‘Hang on,’ he half pulled open the heavy door and sniffed the air. ‘Tonight smells strange and all!’ he thought, ‘Like if a terrible storm or flood were comin’, but it was lovely out this morin’!’ One dog shoved his snout though the half-opened door and snuffed, then fell back yelping as if something nasty had stung him. ‘What’s the matter with you then?’ the farmer asked. ‘You smell something do you boy? Shall we go have a look?’ The dog looked up with an uneasy face in reply.
A blood-curdling scream echoed round the fields and into the small homely shack. The dogs growled and barked at the partly opened door. One dog; Fang, eagerly squeezed his nose into the open crack and slid into the cool outside air, soon companied by the two others; Wolf and Grip. Farmer Maggot went back inside leaving his front door open, he returned to the doorway carrying a large wooden handled scythe in his hands.
Two of the dogs had run ahead, barking into one of his largest barley fields.
‘Thieves! Robbers!’ murmured Maggot to himself. ‘They think they can hide from old Farmer Maggot, in his own barley crop! We’ll see about that shall we!’
In the far distance the two large, brown dogs were nuzzling and sniffing a poor curly, moaning, shaking thing that lay curled up in a ball in between the barley.
‘Rrriiddeerrrr!’ it yammered. As Grip and Fang continued to prod it’s back, with their wet noses.
‘Rrriiddeerrrr?’ Maggot asked himself, ‘What kind ‘a creature says that?’
‘Rrriiddeerrrr!’ it wailed again, more loudly this time.
Farmer Maggot cautiously poked the pointed scythe though the thick stalks towards the direction of the sound. ‘Who’s there?’ he called.
A loud and clear ringing sound came to Pippin’s ears. His head still spun, but he thought he ought to reply. For when he opened his eyes and his senses returned, it was a bit of a shock to feel two large dogs licking his hot and sweaty face, and a sharp steel scythe straight at his aching head. Pippin shivered and tired to sit up, but his own weight was too much for his poor weakened arms, he collapsed back down into a small heap, and groaned.
‘Well?’ repeated Maggot, his voice slightly shaking. ‘Who’s there?’ This time Pippin managed to reply. ‘PPP….P.P….Pere…Peregrin…Took…..sir.’
Farmer Maggot lowered the scythe.
‘A Took eh! Don’t get many of them round ere’ nowadays! So may I ask Master Took, what are you doing in my barley field?’
‘I….I………..’ tried Pippin, but the words failed him, and he fell unconscious.
When he awoke he found his head had stopped spinning and that he felt much stronger. He was in what looked to be the Maggots’ house, if he remembered correctly, from when he last visited some thirty years ago. He lay in an old feather bed. Next to him sat an old female hobbit who began to bathe his head with an old, dampened cloth.
‘Hullo deary,’ she said cheerfully. ‘Feeling better? Old Maggot will be back soon. He’s been very eager to hear how you got like this, oohh you poor thing! Whatever did this to you did it well an’ proper!’ she continued sympathetically.
Pippin smiled, he didn’t feel like talking much right now, especially not to Old Maggot.
There was a warm welcoming fire in the grate, a wooden stick leaning against the stone fireplace, and on the small wooden table next to him lay a miniature sized plate of cheese and bread, and a glass of cool water. She noticed he was looking at the food and water. ‘Would you like some?’ she kindly asked. He shook his head softly, ‘No thanks,’ he whispered.
Pippin thankfully closed his eyes again and went to sleep.
He was woken a few hours later by the sound of heavy boots shuffling around the house, opening his eyes he saw the unwelcome sight of Farmer Maggot, sitting in his chair by the fire. The three enormous dogs at his feet.
‘Aarrhh!’ he said, looking over to Pippin, and getting out of his chair. ‘We were wandering when you were going to wake up Mr. Took. I am very anxious to hear what has been happening in my barley fields, and how you got there.’
Pippin tired to think of something clever to say to get him out of trouble, but his brain ached at the thought of it.
‘….To tell you the truth Mr. Maggot I….well I came here to take,…well borrow some of your foods.’
‘To steal them more like, you young rascal!’
‘Just a few cabbages, mushrooms and some wheat, that’s all!’ Pippin continued nervously, pulling out his brown bag from under the bed sheets, which still contained the barley wheat. Holding the bag he sat up, and emptied the contents onto the floorboards.
‘Dear, dear!’ replied Maggot to the sight of his best barley on his floor. ‘And what did you take them for? To feed your starving hobbit family?’
‘Well, something like that.’ Pippin replied, thinking about the others, and where they were now.
‘You can keep them, I have no need for them now that they’re all bruised an’ all. But promise me that you’ll never trespass on my fields again. Or my dogs will see to you.’ He paused. ‘You get some rest now young Mr. Took, get your strength up. You’ll be needing it from what I gather.’
‘What does he mean by that?’ thought Pippin.
‘I have travelling friends and a horse waiting on yonder for my return, if you please Mr. Maggot they will by worried,’ cried Pip getting out from the warm bed, half wanting to know the whereabouts of his friends, and half wanting to desperately leave the company of Maggot.
‘You will do no such thing. Your horse travelled up to the house earlier on, I presume looking for you. He is safe and stabled, curious beast though,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘And your friends, well your friends. Ahh, we shall see by morning.’
Pippin heaved his sore limbs back into bed and snuggled deep down under the soft covers. Closing tight his eyes, he tried to go to sleep, but the images that he had seen in the field kept coming back to him. Hearing heavy footsteps of Mr. And Mrs. Maggot going into their bedchamber, Pippin opened his eyes to the bare room. He gazed around it to just make sure he was safe and alone, and shut them tight again, and after a while the images seemed to silently float away, until he lay peacefully a sleep.
In an unseen nook by the far side of the room, lay crouching a huddle of people. All were fast asleep from exhaustion, except one, who was sitting up looking dolefully at the soft bed where Pippin silently snored. The light from the raging, red fire danced across his pretty Rosie-cheeked face, the fire sparks glinted in his warm brown eyes. He sighed and lay down to sleep.
Pippin sat up. He had been finding sleep unbearable, nausea had crept over him again, but at least he had had slept a few hours it seemed. There was still a great strong fire in the grate, warm and comforting. He gazed over to the small round window. A black hooded figure stood there looking in at him. The Rider let out a tremendous unearthly wail, turned and galloped out of sight. Pippin shivered and lay back down.
He tried to draw his legs up to his chest for comfort, but he couldn’t move them, ‘Something heavy must be on them,’ he thought. ‘I wander what? The dogs maybe?’ cautiously he sat up again. Actually there were two heavy things laying on his legs. Though he greatly welcomed both of them. The shape on his right leg was larger than the other, and by the firelight he could make out its curly light brown hair, kind face, smallish round stomach and grey travelling cloak which was loosely thrown over his torso. The other was younger and fairer in appearance. He had very curly blonde hair, red cheeks, and he also bore a scar across his forehead that he had received on his travels while fighting orcs. Over his large beige shirt he wore a mustard coloured waistcoat.
Pippin smiled, he reached over and ruffled the blonde haired hobbit’s curls affectionately. Merry stirred and looked up.
‘Hullo,’ whispered Pippin trying not to giggle, ‘Where did you come from then?’
Merry bolted up, and shook the sleeping Sam who lay next to him on Pippin’s bed awake.
‘Sam! Sam!’ he cried, ‘Pip’s awake! Look Pippin’s ok! He’s awake!’
‘Ok! Ok! Mr. Merry hang on!’ he wailed at Merry, who was so pleased and excited, that he had not noticed he was causing Sam’s face to turn a funny colour of purple. Merry let go of Sam.
Sam eyes met Pippin’s, Sam rubbed his hard; sleep had not yet left them. He stared in wander at Pippin, and smiled. ‘We thought you were dead Mr. Pippin, sir!’ He cried. ‘When we saw how bad you were, and old Maggot told us how he found you. We had not much hope, but me and Mr. Merry here hadn’t given up on you yet sir. I said to myself, I did, Mr. Pippin is strong of heart and will, he will get through this. Though I must say, sir, that even Mr. Gandalf had his doubts the way you were. Though you look the world better now, since when we last looked on you. White as a sheet you were then, and first hot like a fire and then cold like snow to the touch, sometimes you screamed and called out in your sleep too, sir!’
Pippin had also marked that they were still laying on his poor squashed legs, and that they were going numb. ‘I’d love to hear your story and you to hear mine, but there is one request I would like to make to you.’
‘Certainly,’ cried Sam, ‘What is it?’
I don’t mean to be offensive, but could you both please move your behinds from my blue legs? In which you have both been suffocating for some time now!’ They both looked down, and saw that indeed they were on Pippin’s sore legs. ‘Sorry,’ they mumbled, moving themselves. Pippin thankfully stretched his small legs long and hard.
‘We are so glad that you are ok Pip!’ said Merry at last.
‘Earlier Sam,’ said Pippin butting in, ‘You mentioned Gandalf. Are you implying that he is here now? Is Frodo here with you too?’
‘Oh good!’ cried Pippin. ‘Then come, tell me how you came here, and I will tell you my account and story.’ Cried he again, flinging one arm over Merry’s shoulder and the other over Sam’s.
A tall grey hue, followed by a small one, loomed in the dark corner.
‘Peregrin Took!’ cried Gandalf, who suddenly seemed much more taller and baleful than usual. The fire dimmed, all grew dark and silent, a wind whistled though the house. They all shivered and stared, at Gandalf aghast. He no longer seemed like an old, bent, weak man, but a terrible sorcerer about to pounce on his unsuspecting victim, which was Pippin. ‘What is the meaning of this! Waking everyone up in the dead of night, do be quiet!’ After a moment he added more softly, ‘Though I am very glad you are ok, but do not disturb the peace in this hospitable home again, or I shall do something you regret!’
Pippin cowered into corner of the bed, he swallowed hard, he could feel the sick in his throat.
A little fire seemly sprang out of the ashes again, and crackled happily to itself as if it had succeeded in its little joke it had played on them.
Gandalf turned to Frodo who stood behind him. ‘Gandalf..can I….?’ Began he, ‘Now Frodo. We have a long journey ahead of us and I know that you are very curious about Peregrin’s disappearance. But really we should all just rest our heads now and let our eager mouths do the talking in the morning. We must have an early start.’ Frodo nodded in agreement, though he wore a look of discontent and dismal on his innocent face. Gandalf studied him for a moment. ‘Five minutes, I’m giving you Frodo, and that’s all! You will not have enough time to hear each others tales but at least you can thoroughly check over your Took.’
Frodo looked up a wide grin spread across his face. He trotted over to Pippin’s bed and sat down on it.
‘Pippin!’ he cried, but ere he could continue Peregrin had sharply risen from his bed, with a muffled, ‘Excuse me!’ and had hastily made for the front door. He coughed and spluttered as he swung it open. Cool, fresh nightly air leapt up his face, but this had no comfort to him. His face had returned ghostly white again and his eyes bulged, red and full of cold, bitter terror. No light danced in them now. Merry, Sam and Frodo hurried out of the door after him.
‘You all right, Mr. Pippin, sir,’ asked Sam, trying to keep up. Pippin through himself to the floor of Farmer Maggot’s dirt yard. He shook all over with fright.
‘Pippin!’ yelled Merry, ‘What are you doing? Are you hurt?’
Placing one hand on his thigh and one on wet dirt he managed to struggle up to his feet, Pippin’s heart beated faster with each long-hard breath he took, he wobbled and fell forwards again, but by resting both hands on his thighs he found he could remain standing in a bent position, until the other hobbits reach his side
‘Pip! What’s the matter?’ pleaded Frodo.
Pippin’s head which had been facing the ground, slowly turned towards Frodo’s. He was still white and his eyes bulged more than ever, the others took a step back, Pippin’s looming, grinning face staring at them. He looked mad! A loud malicious snigger issued from his mouth. The hobbits stared in disbelief.
‘Mr. Pippin, sir, what have they done to you?’ Sam squeaked. Fear gripped them all.
‘Fools!’ he hissed. ‘Fools! Can’t you see this is folly! You have no chance of defeating Sauron, he is more powerful than any of you can imagine! He will crush you!’
Merry’s hand slid inside his brown cloak to his sword hilt; he was wise enough to bring it.
‘You cannot defeat the Dark Lord with petty blades! Nothing will diminish him!’ Pippin stood up now proud and tall like a king, his keen blade whistled as he drew it from its sheath. A cruel look waxed his formerly jolly little face.
Merry also drew his sword.
‘I will not fight you Pippin, I don’t know what happened to you, or to the real Pip, the Pip I know, but I do know you are not him and that the that Pip we all know still exists!’
‘Only the weak and cravenly chose not to fight when it is asked of them!’ Pippin roared, his eyes forming into piecing, deadly slits, he kept them fixed on the hobbits watching and deciphering their every move.
Pippin edged his way over to Sam, Frodo and Merry, and began to circle them as a wolf does with his prey.
‘That’s enough!’ a voice called harshly. A shot of pure white light sped past their heads and singed their ears. It cannoned into Pippin who flew back across the ground and there lay sprawling in the dirt. Gandalf strode out from the doorway where he had been standing, and over to the moaning Peregrin. He poked and prodded Pippin with his staff, Pippin groaned a few times in response, until Gandalf had stopped poking him and had hauled him to his feet.
There he stood wobbling, the wizard trying his best to keep a firm hold of his arm to stop him running off or falling over. Though Pippin intended to evaluate neither of these prospects. The other hobbits remained at a safe distance from Pippin and Gandalf, in case of another reaps from Pippin. They studied Pippin carefully for a while, and then slowly began to edge closer to the two.
‘Peregrin Took!’ said Gandalf slowly, ‘What were you doing?’ Pippin looked up at Gandalf, his eyes brimmed with tears. There was a long pause.
‘I’m sorry Gandalf. I really don’t know what came over me!’
‘It is not to me you should be apologising to Pippin, it is to your fellow friends here.’ he explained gesturing to the other frightened half-lings. ‘You drew your sword Peregrin. What if I hadn’t been here stop you in time? You would have surely slain us all!’
‘I did not realise, I do not remember!’ the hobbit pleaded, trailing into silence.
Gandalf smiled. ‘I understand it must have been very hard for you. Rest now little one, and we will see by morning.’ He paused and turned to the others who still stood still and silent.
‘Meriadoc and Sam would you kindly help your sick companion to his bed, please.’
Sam who had been profound in thought and disbelief looked up.
‘Oh! Yes Mr. Gandalf.’
They trotted up to the crumpled form of Pippin, and heaved one of Peregrin’s arms over Merry’s shoulder and the other over Sam’s. In this manner they managed to half drag, half carry Pippin towards the house.
Gandalf was in front of them and was already nearly to the house.
‘Gandalf, what was that streak of white light we saw? Would it do any damage to Pip?’ Frodo asked.
‘No.’ Gandalf sighed, as his head was full of weariness, ‘It was just to disable Pippin for a few minutes, and it should not have caused any damage, though I hope it has brought him to his senses!’
Pippin’s head shot straight up, he remembered what had happened, he remembered what he had done, he had attempted to fight his best friend, Merry! He might have hurt or worse killed someone!
The nausea and pain had returned again also. The feeling of vomit played in his throat. He swallowed hard.
‘Please….please stop………I think I’m going to be…’
Merry and Sam let go of Pippin and he fell to the floor. Pippin’s heart and breathing rate increased again, but time Pippin was in control.
‘Are you all right Pip?’ asked Frodo, who had been walking just behind them.
Pippin coughed and spluttered, and regurgitated over the floor.
They breathed a long thankful breath, exchanged glances and smiled.
‘Poor Pip,’ said Merry, ‘Well, that’s it, get it all over with now,’ laughed he patting Pippin’s back.
When he had finished Pippin felt much better, the use of his limbs and head had come back to him, and with the help of Merry he managed to hobble back into the warm house.
They lay him down on his bed, and almost immediately he fell into a long peaceful sleep.
‘Look at him,’ Merry chuckled, ‘and only on our first day too!’
‘I feel things will soon become a lot worse for us all, but we must all be weary now, we must have travelled about twenty leagues today by my reckoning,’ yawned Frodo.
Exhaustion now gripped the others and soon they were fast asleep, dreaming of what ill fate would bestow them next. Gandalf though remained awake for a while watching and studying them all intensely, leaning against his old woven ash staff. He stood there by the fire in this means, until he was fully reassured and satisfied. He them himself sat down to rest by the hobbits, but kept one eye open.
The wooden cottage gently rattled at the presence of a new and little wind sprite whirling it’s way around the house. The old timbers creaked and cracked dangerously atop of Pippin’s head. He shivered and sat up. The house was quiet, there were no reminiscence of the hobbits or of Gandalf, nor even of the Maggots or their dogs. Pippin scrambled out of bed and hobbled over to a three-legged stool set against the window, and onto this he clambered and cautiously he peered out of the glass. As soon as his eyes had become accustomed to the new and bright early-morning light, he became aware of four figures standing by an old horse-drawn wain. Stepping down, Pippin hastily rushed outside to greet them a good morning.
‘Good morning!’ he cried, rushing into the fresh, moist air wearing nought but his shirt and trousers.
‘Ah!’ said Gandalf, resting the remaining packs on Bill the pack pony’s back. ‘I see that our intrepid explorer has risen, and not too soon, for we will take our leave of our hospitable sanctuary before long.’ A quizzical look emerged on Gandalf’s features as he eyed Pippin’s dishevelled apparel. ‘Peregrin! Did not you hear me? We are soon to depart!’ Pippin nodded his head. ‘I heard you Gandalf,’ he replied. ‘Peregrin please study yourself.’ Pippin did, and discovered that he and his clothes were not in the most perfect of conditions. ‘Oh!’ said he, ‘Shall I go and dress then?’ he asked. Gandalf nodded, hauling another pack containing food provisions onto Bill. Pippin went back inside to clothe himself, while the remaining hobbits continued to help Gandalf and Mr. Maggot to load the horses and Farmer Maggot’s cart (for today was market day in the nearby village of Archet, which Farmer Maggot attended weekly).
After a few minutes Pippin returned outside. ‘Good,’ said Gandalf, ‘Then we will be getting on and parting our ways now.’ He turned to Farmer Maggot. ‘My dear old Maggot! Do look after yourself; there are strange folk aboard, as you well may know! But do not trouble or meddle with them or they will you. The Sun has already waned too long in the autumn sky, so fair well to you Mr. Maggot of The Shire do protect it while we are gone!’ And with that he mounted and waited for the others to get astride their ponies also. Merry, Sam and Frodo mounted their ponies; Farmer Maggot hauled his small round body into his cart. For the company would ride together until Archet, where Farmer Maggot would depart for market, but it was yet undecided which road our ring-seekers would take.
Pippin wavered next to Fatty Lumpkin uneasily, he was pondering how he felt and if he could manage a horse. ‘Hurry up Pip!’ the hobbits called, who had already began to meander off without him. Peregrin took a deep breath. Putting his left foot in the stirrup he swung round and essayed to mount. For a few brief moments he perched precariously in the saddle. His head started swimming and wretchedly wheeling, he abruptly slipped off his saddle and thumped onto hard, cold earth not far below.
‘Pippin!’ cried Frodo, turning Wisenose back around towards Pippin who was now rubbing his tender torso and arms. ‘Awww!’ he yowled, ‘That hurt!’
‘Pippin what are you doing?’ queried Merry.
‘Oh! I’m falling off, what does it look like! I don’t feel too good that’s all!’ Pippin bawled back.
Gandalf and Farmer Maggot were now so far ahead and caught up with their own predicaments that neither had noticed the vacancy of the hobbits; not at least until Sam galloped up to them shouting and bawling to Gandalf, who then turned round to see he was missing three half-lings.
‘Mr. Gandalf sir! Mr. Gandalf sir!’
Gandalf and Farmer Maggot halted. The wizard turned his horse, Nightstream, about to face Sam who was galloping up to him. ‘Whoa! Slow down young Gamgee! May I ask what is the matter?’ Sam reached Gandalf out of breath, puffing and wheezing. He was bright red as an evening sun, Sam swallowed. ‘It’s Mr. Pippin, sir!’ he breathed, ‘He was try na’ mount his pony and he just fell off, he don’t look too good neither sir!’
Gandalf sighed. ‘Alright I’m coming, but Peregrin better not be fooling around or there shall be trouble!’
‘Maybe I should come as well!’ cut in Maggot.
So they headed back along the winding brown gravel path, passing the tall stalks in which Pippin had hid the night before. They towered over Sam and Farmer Maggot, though Gandalf could see well over the top of them. And from afar he had spotted Pippin lying in a heap with Merry and Frodo tugging at him to get up. Gandalf’s dubious and elegant horse shadowed Pippin as Nightstream loomed above his head.
‘Peregrin!’ Gandalf sighed, dismounting. Then his exterior lightened. ‘Can you walk?’ Pippin swayed his legs and straightened and curled them to try and replace them. After a while of conclusive research he looked up and replied, ‘I can try.’ And he did so, though with not much accuracy. Pippin first aim was to stand, which he compassed. The second was to walk, and in this endeavour Peregrin did not prosper, granted that upon his first his legs collapsed from underneath him, and on the second and the third then he gave up.
‘No!’ answered he quite dazed. ‘Can you ride?’ pressed Gandalf. ‘We can but try?’ said Frodo to Pip. Gandalf lifted Pippin onto Fatty Lumpkin, and again his head spun and he was discharged off his seat. ‘No, I believe not!’ he replied, painfully, from the floor. Fatty Lumpkin swished his tail and snorted indignantly towards Pippin.
‘What shall we do? You cannot ride or walk.’
‘Well, he could ride upfront in the cart with me, and I could take you to Archet, and you could stay there the night and see how Mr. Took is in the morning?’ suggested Maggot. Their faces lit up.
‘Why my good hobbit that would be marvellous! Yes! That is what we shall do!’
So at last they set off, Pippin sitting wearily next to Farmer Maggot in his cart, the others mounted on their rides, Gandalf leading Fatty and Nightstream.
It would be a fair ride to Archet, and would take them a good few hours of the lasting sunlight to reach it. They would have to ride at a good pace from now on with no stops (except to cross the Brandywine River) to get there in time for tea.
Frodo silently added up the miles and leagues it would take; ‘about thirty or forty is my guess. We must have travelled an awful long way yesterday. Though everything looked the same, so I suppose we wouldn’t have noticed the journey’s length.’
Though the thick dells they travelled.
They had been riding for about an hour though the wild full lands of the Shire. With its long flat plains, mischievous miniature hollows and dales; which were sort with cryptic meanings and messages unfound. Slow timely steams that suddenly branched out into long thick fast flowing trunks leading around corners and places unknown trickled passed them. A corner of beauty was the Shire, in a vast and defiled world. If you travelled to the ends of the Earth, you may not come across a place of prosperity and wander as was the Shire; even the Elven homes could not now match up to it, for they were fast fading.
Beyond the large thickets of woods they were now travelling though: lay open fields which were inhabited by few but half a dozen hobbits, through there running south and out to the Sea coursed the fast and flowing Brandywine River.
West of the River laid Buckland; the ancient home of the Brandybuck family; and further still west was the Old Forest: which none but the courageous and adventurous hobbits entered (which were very few).
And following the Brandywine’s winding course, about twenty miles North, you would come upon the Brandywine Bridge: there was only one other crossing the River and that was by the small Brandywine Ferry.
The greeting afternoon sun’s heartiness rushed over Pippin and warmed his cold and feverish body. He felt mildly content, though a thought reoccurred to his intention, ‘How did Gandalf and the others know how to find me?’
And this is what he learned of the tale:
The concourse of fading and darkening spirits, continued on deep into the ill-looking forest.
Greened tree limbs stretched out over their path, and if the sky had been a visible sight to them, they would have seen that day had long passed and the moon had began to wax across the sky.
Breathing became unbearable; the very air choked you on its stale, deadly and putrid odour.
It had a strange effect as well on the hobbits: since they had entered the forest a sudden rush of doziness had taken them, and drained them all so that they knew not what was reality and what was a dream, and as they rode they wavered dangerously on the edge of repose.
The humidity also was intolerable: every beast and rider streamed with sweat, and panted like hunted creatures.
Even the wizard seemed oddly strained of his abilities. Though he would not tarry in the forest and said so.
Whispers grew among the trees and for a while Sam thought that his feverish mind was playing tricks, but the whispers increased and grew nigh and more apparent: soon all could hear. Though the tongue was strange Merry felt he had heard it before.
No one had spoken since Pippin had left, all now became intent on listening for sudden movements and hidden dangers.
Though maybe because of their weariness or lack of light, did they not see eight shades moving swiftly up from behind them, from the west, and were flanking amid the trees off yonder.
Gandalf raised his head, the snuffed:
‘Death is in the air!’ he murmured, ‘Quickly ride! Riders, the riders are abroad!’
Nightstream: light-footed and agile like his brother, sprang away; a great horse who out ran all beasts. The Riders gave chase.
The beasts wove in and out of many trees, murmurs in the woods started yet again and grew and grew until all thoughts were blocked by the strange booming voices.
Then they ceased.
The riders drew nigh an encircling spinney, their barks were old and joined closely by limb, branch and trunk, the companions were trapped.
Gandalf swerved Nightstream round to face the oncoming enemy.
‘Stand now! We shall show these demons what power they cannot diminish, the power of good!’ came Gandalf’s battle cry.
The hobbits also turned just behind Gandalf; swords already drawn, and ablaze with might.
The cloaked shadows now flanked out of the trees and halted in front of Gandalf and the cowering Halflings.
Eight there were and bore no master, for the Witch-King rode elsewhere. And as they held their poisoned swords aloft their unseen heads, red fire flickered and scorched the blades. And all the beasts (save Nightstream) in a gush of furry and frustration reared up, and spittle ran from their mouths.
‘Go back night devils, and never return! Go back to the shadow!’ cried Gandalf.
‘We have heard your mouth say many a distorted word Mithrandir!’ hissed they, ‘Long have you spoken of our fall but you shall see we cannot diminish!’
And with that they thrust forward their swords and charged in madding tortured wrath.
Gandalf’s staff quivered and shone out bright, it drew all surrounding light to it ready for the counter attack.
From far above their brows something stirred. A quailing of birds bursting into sudden flight. And a rolling voice.
‘Hom! Hoom!’ it bellowed, ‘Hoom! Hom!’
However the Black Riders were unhindered by the rumpus, and rode on.
Suddenly a large barked tree limb, crashed down through the trees, to the amazement of the Riders and hobbits, and smote the foul shapes and their beasts; the impact of such a force sent black horse and rider flying backwards into the westward trees.
The shapes in the cloaks that lay scattered on the Earth sunk away, the iron crowns lay empty; the horse’s broken-forms a pitiful sight to see.
There was neither movement nor speech for some time from the hobbits; fear restrained them from moving, and especially from turning around to gaze upon a sight that could in a few seconds also render them dead.
Presently Gandalf had wandered over to the fallen cloaks and after thoroughly inspecting them, he came to the conclusion that the Ringwraith spirits had fled; though he knew that they would return again in new bodies maybe and they would be more resolute.
He returned to the hobbits’ sides, and gave a little laugh.
‘Ha, ha! Do not be fearful my young companion’s. Nay, there is nothing to be afraid of: turn and behold our rescuers!’
Sam who had held his eyes tightly shut, now gathered his courage and turned.
What he beheld was the strangest sight he had ever encountered.
Taller than the Oliphaunts of the South, greater than anything he had ever seen: old, yet strangely enchanting and beautiful.
Great long limbs, with old gnarled hands and long twitching fingers. A smooth green-brown bark like hide covered its torso and arms, the head and legs had a thicker more wrinkled skin stretched over it.
It was clothed from neck to toe in a green moss; and Sam also noted the seven toes on each foot which branched out and sunk into the surrounding earth.
Men-like and yet not, more Tree-like.
Though his attention dwelled mainly on the eyes: deep, and solemn, brown with a slight hue of green; and they considered and smiled at you like you were a child conceived by their love. A part of them seemed so slow and timely, dwelling mostly in the affairs of the past, and exulted in the joy of reliving the memories; yet they where also contently fixated in the present. Their voices were booming and sonorous, and Sam recalled the similarities to a high-sounding woodwind instrument.
Dumbness took him. His two other companions still had their backs to the creature; standing so still as if nature had taken them and cast them into stone statues to forever remain there through the ages.
Sam reached to Frodo’s shoulder and gently prodded it.
‘..Fr..Frodo…’ he stuttered.
Frodo’s eyes opened and he too turned to behold the Earth spirit. Merry turned too.
They all sat in ore goggling at this strange oddity. No one spoke.
Merry, at length broke it:
Gandalf, who had been patiently waiting for the hobbits to turn, now said:
‘Yes, Merry it is what you might call an Ent, but this, if I am not mistaken is actually an Entwife.’
‘Hom! Yes indeed I am as you say an Entwife, but what might you be? Hoom?’
‘We are hobbits,’ replied Frodo, ‘we dwell not far from here, this is my great friend Samwise Gamgee, and Meriadoc Brandybuck,’ he said gesturing yonder to his two kin.
‘And I am…..’ he hesitated.
‘And he is Frodo Baggins,’ said Gandalf.
She eyed them and studied them close and slow, and then at length added;
‘Hoom! Hom! Yes, we have seen folk like these about before though never chanced on speaking to one; terribly hasty they seem!
Oh how rude of me, I did not introduce myself my name is Willow-wand Tree Shepard of Pinewoods.’
‘I am…..’ started Gandalf, though Willow-wand interrupted;
‘You do not kneed to introduce yourself Mithrandir you are known to all trees and Entwives in this forest.’
She smiled at him.
Presently the hobbits espied many other enrapturing eyes peering out between many opening glades behind Willow-wand.
‘My dear Entwife we thankyou wholly for your service and rescue,’ said Gandalf.
‘Hom! Hoom! Happy to help! Any foes of the Dark Ones are friends of ours!’
And now Gandalf asked a question, that he knew if it were true all darkness would be lifted from their hearts:
‘A few hours ago now mayhaps, did you by chance see any young fellow, a kin of my companions here, ride on horse-back past you?’
Again whisperings and sighing was heard echoing through the trees.
‘Hrm! Hom! Hoom!…Yes I believe so, yes around mid-day a most hasty creature came across my path, and disturbed my slumber as I remember!’
‘I am sorry for the inconvenience of his loud feet disturbing you, he is a companion of ours, and he has strayed; it would lift our hearts to find him again!’ said the wizard.
‘He headed off south-east towards the great tree circle of Fimbrethil.’ She raised a greening limb yonder.
‘Maggot!’ mumbled Merry, ‘He’s gone to Farmer Maggot’s crops I bet!’
‘Yes it looks that way,’ said Gandalf, ‘so we must make haste now to find him. I deem he has reached there some hours ago now; though what has become of him we shall see!’
And so the ride to Maggots’ and the search for the lost fellow began.
So the tale of how Gandalf and the remaining hobbits found their lost companion is concluded.
And Pippin’s thoughts wandered back to reality;
Their horses walked briskly on, in the waning afternoon light. Soon the sound of flowing water reached their ears, as they drew nigh to Brandywine Ferry or Bucklebury Ferry as some Brandybucks had come to know it by.
For some time now strange thoughts had plagued Merry; he couldn’t help in thinking he might have left some things behind in the Hall.
He halted. So did the others filing behind him.
‘What is it Merry?’ called Frodo.
‘Hang on!’ he replied hopping down from Pawfoot, and up to the wain and climbed astride it.
‘Excuse me Mr. Maggot!’ he said gently reaching round Maggot for his baggage.
He sat in the cart ruffling through it’s contents, and sighed.
‘I thought I forgotten something’s!’ he cried in triumph.
He turned to Gandalf.
‘Oh! Gandalf I’ve forgotten my clean and spare clothes, and…and my pipe! Please can we stop at the Hall, since we’re so near?’
Gandalf seemed suddenly very old, and tired. He sighed. And at length he spoke:
‘…All right, all right Meriadoc. Yes, we shall then stop at the Hall, but…and this is to all of you, no more stops!’
Merry was filled with joy again: he would need his pipe; in hours of need hobbits could not go without a pipe!
Merry mounted Pawfoot and they continued.
They turned down the Ferry lane, it’s large whitewashed stones shone brightly from its straight and well-kept edges. A hundred yards or so there ran the Brandywine River, in which floated a broad wooden landing-stage. And beside it bobbed a large flat ferry-boat, which was moored to the bank. Standing nigh the water’s edge were two white bollards, which glimmered in the Sun, as the Great Trees of Valar once did.
Among the reeds there wavered wisps of mist like curling steam, wreathed by tall elegant bull-rushes that danced in the wind. Sending the mist swirling away across the water, then to be touched by the radiant sun and evaporated to the heavens.
Sam helped Farmer Maggot’s pony over the gangway and onto the ferry.
‘I’ll go first with Pippin and the cart, and then I’ll come back for the rest of you. We’ll have to go one horse and rider at a time then,’ Merry said, picking up a long pole from the shore. He climbed onto the Ferry, and pushed off with the pole. The Brandywine River flowed gently under them, as they crossed; and Pippin felt it’s slow paddling movement very palliative.
They soon reached the other side; more white lamps were there ready to greet them as they landed. On this side there was a steep bank, and up it an old winding path climbed from a landing, which lay further on. Merry lead the pony and cart of the Ferry and turned back across the water to fetch the others; who remained patiently on the other side. In front of Peregrin and the wain, now loomed Buck Hill; and out from it shone the many red and yellow windows of Brandywine Hall; Merry’s home. Even though it was probably the eldest home in the Shire, it was still the most grand and well-respected home a hobbit could own.
Merry soon returned with Sam, Frodo and Gandalf and their rides; but last he returned and collected his own; Pawfoot.
He quickly and thankfully returned to the bank; as Pawfoot was not keen on the river, and was thoroughly objecting to it. Though Sam had been also shouting instructions and encouragement across the water of what to do, Merry still struggled on the Ferry with his horse. But at last they were all across the river safe and dry; all save Merry, for Pawfoot’s antics had caused him to fall in the river, luckily Merry could swim. Now they could continue their journey.
Merry rushed in to the Hall.
The Hall inside was magnificent: wooden, with many tapestries, drapes and things of rarity and splendour. The colour of the walls resembled a warm autumns day; brown, red and yellow. The main hall was vast compared to some, in size, with many separate doors opening up left, right and centre. A smell of toast and bacon and mushrooms cooking was in the air, and Merry stopped to admire it.
He walked up to one door of the West-wing, and opened it. The room was also large, and fashioned much the same as the hall except resembled sea spray, with different shades of blue and white on the walls. Many scrolls and books and clothes cluttered up the floor.
To his left stood tall, an old four-poster bed. On it perched two large packs. He wandered over and slung them on his back. And as he did so, something small, resting next to the bed caught his eye. On a rickety drawer; which served him as both drawer and bedside table, was a gold ring.
A ring he had long forgotten, he did not know how it had come to be moved there, on the table, from inside the drawer where it usually lived. But there it was.
Merry gazed at it. It seemed so beautiful, and shone in a glimpse of sun, which did not come from the outside. Powerful, even, for a minute; then the vision faded and it was once more just a plain ring, passed down from his father. His lucky ring as he had called it. It had also served its part in Merry’s relationship with Estella; it had been Merry’s old wedding ring.
‘Dad’s old lucky ring,’ he said to himself. ‘Well it brought him luck, maybe it shall do the same for me!’
And with that he pocketed it and walked out.
He said one last goodbye to the Hall and left, to meet the others who had been waiting patiently for him at the front of the house.
Merry returned and mounted, now at last they could continue.
When they had started their journey to Archet with Maggot, he had made it plain and clear, that, ‘I will not go though that beastly Old Forest, if you excuse my pardon Mr. Brandybuck, but that place is bad through and through! I won’t go in there!’
So now they had to take the long way round; though Pippin, Frodo and Sam were still weary of it; from the experiences they had last time.
Their route would be north from now on, twenty miles; until they reached the Brandywine Bridge; there on they would travel east around the confines of the Old Forest, passed Bree and to their goal, Archet, which lay just outside Chetwood.
So the company carried on in a brisk march on their rides, towards Brandywine Bridge, hoping to reach it by mid-afternoon. As they were passing Brandywine Hall, a few of Merry’s distant and younger relations, skipped outside and followed the company’s small caravan; they were bright eyed and light haired, and as they pursued, their melodic voices softly chanted in unison:
In the Autumn when the grass grows long,
And the trees and berries bloom.
When wandering travellers hear our song,
They follow to their doom.
But when we sing of a star,
A star that’s far above.
Do you listen where our voices are?
Could it be the calling of a dove?
Where oh where do you travellers go?
Oh where oh where do you be?
Do you go to conquer and over-through?
If I were yours would you come and claim me?
In your new realm far, far away,
We will live among the heavens fair.
And last until the end of our day,
I will fade with you without a care!
Sing with me!
Sing with your voice so fair!
Of where your people did then flee,
And the magic rings they bare!
Rings of power, rings fate,
So bare your shining sword, your mirrored shield,
If the Dark Lord finds them it’ll be too late!
Fight for freedom upon the field!
It was a song of old; about the fair wandering Elves.
The hobbit-children followed them then, along the wet banks of the Brandywine; and did not cease until the group had began to advance on the Bridge; then Merry and Sam were forced to rid the company of their nuisances, and send them back to Brandywine Hall.
‘Go on you bunch! Off with you! You’ll have to go back to the Hall, or old ‘Doderic’ won’t be too pleased with you! Go on! And you too little Marroc!’ he called to the youngest male hobbit, who was still in pursuit.
Marroc turned and soon scampered back; after he had found the others had tired of the game, and returned home.
The bank now thinned out to a wet bog, which ran into the river. And stretched over this, was a sturdy wooden bridge. Though there was no need to cross it, as they were on their desired side.
They dismounted; as they found their horses could not travel too well over the soft marshland soil; and carefully led them up the steep hill. The grass was damp and soothing for the hobbit’s feet; little gullies ran down the bank’s slopes, and fed and moistened the reeds and grass. Small willows shaded the river and provided a place to rest; though not for long if they wanted to complete the journey by nightfall.
On they rode, passed the ominous Old Forest; where strange and timely forgotten things lay. The baleful reaching arms of trees, like large spindly hands with long pointed squeezing fingers, trying to grasp at them. Yellow lichen dangling from them.
Though strange as it seems, there did seem to be less of them.
And as they passed the busy town of Bree; which could be heard by the keen hobbit’s ears from some miles away, the Sun sank her tired head behind the Hills and dusk settled in.
Archet is a smaller town than Bree, it lies outside Chetwood. Many Men and Hobbits dwell there (though not as many as Bree). It deals mainly as a small growing market town. And is also rising in popularity, becoming another of the favourite drinking spots for Hobbits and Men alike; though it must be said the men of Archet are a lot more cleaner and civilized then the men of Bree.
Archet has no gates; unlike it’s twin, Bree. But instead was surrounded by magnificent, Silver-beech trees; which did in fact provided an excellent source of cover and secrecy.
It owned one main travellers inn, which supplied beer and accommodation; which was named ‘The Silver Beech’, and on the whole very clean and respectable.
The four riders, Pippin (who still remained next to Maggot in his cart) and Farmer Maggot, rode up the long winding rode through Archet, passing many Men and Hobbits and great silver-beeches along the way. The Men of Archet are tall and roguishly handsome, tanned skinned, dark haired, light eyed and jolly; though through the soft rain, to Pippin, the inhabitants looked less than welcoming.
Amongst the nightly rush of people they saw a great yellow-brown building looming from the shadows. It bore weltering flowers in the window boxes, and large square windows on the top-floor, and round ones at the bottom. Over the lamp lit doorway there hung an old, creaking yellow and red sign, which read:
‘The Silver Beech Inn and Pub.’