Chapter Seven: The Spreading of Fire
<strong>November 1, 1419</strong>
“Do try and be happy, Merry,” Frodo smiled warmly at his cousin in the growing light of dawn that had begun to creep across the trees of the Old Forest. It somehow seemed much less threatening to Frodo than before; it was tamer in a way. “It’ll do your heart good to see the Shire again.”
Merry looked up from the ground to face Frodo. He turned his eyes to the West and sighed. “I know, Frodo. I’m happy to be going back to the Shire, only…”
“Only it won’t be the same.” Frodo finished his thought. “Not without Pippin.”
Merry nodded solemnly and turned to Frodo. “It’s so odd; him not being here to see it again, I mean. It’s all he wanted, Frodo,” Merry felt something catch in his throat and hoped no one noticed the shimmer of tears in his eyes. “It’s all we talked about usually: coming back home.”
He turned his gaze to the ground and closed his eyes against the feeling of pain. He felt a reassuring hand on his back and he turned to face Frodo’s concerned eyes with a sad smile. “I’m alright, Frodo. I’ve had my time to grieve; now it’s high time I learn to move on with my life.”
“When you’re ready, Merry,” Frodo returned Merry’s small smile. “Only when you’re ready.”
Sam lifted his pack onto Bill and wiped the beads of sweat off his brow. He patted the pony’s muzzle absentmindedly as he stared off in the direction of the Buckland Gate.
“It all looks a bit different in the light, don’t it?” he said in a conversational tone.
Frodo and Merry stood and turned to the direction Sam nodded in. Strange clouds overhung much of the horizon, and there seemed to be a threatening mist rising from the land.
“You’re right, Sam.” Frodo said. “And there seems to be something a bit off by the air here. I don’t remember fog ever hanging over the land quite like that.” He shrugged. “But maybe we’ve just been off for too long and seen too many things.”
“Is it fog?” Merry mounted Stybba and squinted in the faint light towards the West. “Or is it smoke?”
“Neither belong in the Shire, if you ask me.” Sam shook his head. “There’s something wrong.”
<strong>November 3, 1419</strong>
Merry held his sword high and watched the ruffians run from its glittering blade. He turned to Sam and Frodo beside him with a fire in his eyes. In the short time they’d been in this dismal place, his eyes have wandered to the land that was the beautiful Tuckborough, Pippin’s home, and the sight of it now filled him with rage.
“We’ll raise the Shire.” His voice was strong and his tone final. “I’ll ride to Tuckborough and Buckland and bring back an army.” He swung himself onto his pony and turned it sharply.
Frodo nodded, slightly worried about the look on his cousin’s face, and gripped the reigns of his pony. “Watch your step, Merry. And keep your head!” He called after Merry as Stybba galloped off into the distance.
The ringing of the Horn of Rohan echoed as far as the Misty Mountains and resonated with the strong sounds of valiance and determination. Hobbits poured out of their homes and onto the street to gape at the form that rode by in a blur, looking tall and heroic on his pony. Merry spotted one of his cousins and pulled Stybba to a halt.
“Berilac!” Merry called at the dazed looking Hobbit. “Don’t stare at me like you don’t know me, you fool! Do you remember the name Merry Brandybuck at all or has your Chief robbed you of your memory as well as your freedom? Now take one of your ponies and ride to Buckland. Raise notice with the Brandybucks and tell them to prepare for the battle of the Shire. Bring them out here and wait for me to return with the Tooks.”
He looked at the blank expression on the Hobbit’s face. “Can you handle that, Berilac?”
Berilac gulped before nodding quickly and rushing to the nearest house to ask for a pony. Merry dug his heels into his stead and was off again, riding to Tuckborough as fast as Stybba would take him.
The Tooks rose instantly at the sound of the great horn and ran from their holes to see what the fuss was about. Gasps left their lips as a taller and greatly changed Merry than the young lad they’d known before stood before them, a strange look across his face and his eyes alight with determination.
“My dear Tooks!” His voice rang loud and clear, yet shook slightly with anticipation, and the whispering of the hobbits ceased immediately. “Many of you may recognize me as Merry Brandybuck, your cousin and friend that set out with Pippin Took, son of the Took and Thain, those long months ago. Two set out from Buckland and Tuckborough, yet one stands alone before you now.” Small gasps from the hobbit women could be heard as the Tooks tried to comprehend what this news could mean.
“We traveled through many dangers and survived many fights, yet yours and mine own worst fears have come true and Pippin is never coming back.” Merry’s eyes glistened in the torchlight and his voice shook slightly before returning to its former strength. “And now I have returned to find the enemy has once again tried to overtake the Took family! We will not allow it! The enemy is in your homes, and it is the same enemy that killed your brother, your son, and my cousin!” The intense fire in Merry’s eyes seemed to spread across the field of hobbits before him. “The enemy has already murdered one Took, and they all must pay! Grab your ponies now and follow me to teach them a lesson they won’t soon forget!”
A roar rose up in response to Merry’s speech as Took lads ran to their stables and grabbed the reins of their fastest ponies. They armed themselves with pans and gardening tools and rode out to surround Merry, who turned and ordered his pony on. Though loud and strong, his Horn just barely drifted over the roar of the Tooks and beating of the pony hooves behind him as the group rode off to Bag End to avenge their loss.