PartIII Chapter 2.7
Merry and Pippin to Fangorn Forest in the Seventh Age,
3 January 2001
The skies had opened up on this day in the new millennium in Middle-earth, and as if a plunging waterfall, the rain cascaded down, drenching the land and those below.
In this torrent, Merry appeared. A solitary small creature in a foreign time. Nothing looked as it should. Merry pulled on the hood of the elven cloak he wore, the fabric shielding him from the downpour. But where was he; where was Pippin? They had been warned by Gandalf that leaving before the dawn, they would be off their mark to some extent, however, Merry had not expected to be this far removed from the edge of the forest. He looked around, perturbed, at where his stood. He was in the midst of a wide plain, but this did not look like Eastemnet or the Wold; he was sure that where he stood, Fangorn Forest once began. He stared through the blinding rain, and saw in the distance the dark outline of a timberland edge… it had moved, he was sure. But now he had more pressing issues. Where was Pippin? He started to yell out his name, but a blustering wind consumed his call.
There was nothing for it, but he must search for his lost friend – but where? He pulled the cloak closer around him and started to walk in the direction of the forest.
He could not tell the time of day, or how long he trudged through the drenched fields, but he was confident that where-ever Pippin had appeared, he too would head for Fangorn. His feet were sinking into the muddy surface of the plain, and although it was not apparent when he first looked out to horizon, this terrain was undulating and he had first walked up a steep incline, and now he was descending into a ravine where the grasses grew wildly, almost up to his shoulder.
Still the rain pelted down, and still no sign of Pippin.
There was an eerie silence, only the sound of the rain and wailing wind could be heard, and the air was laden with the aroma of the earth and burgeoning grasses. He walked and walked, but he did not seem to be making any progress…it seemed that as he walked forward, the forest was moving further from him. He stopped and looked up; the sky was covered by a field of green-tinged clouds, which were whipped by the wind into sinewy streaks and sinister shapes. They grimaced down upon the hobbit, warning him that he was not welcome in this alien land. Merry shuddered. He was getting desperate to find Pippin and leave this foreboding place, but walk as he might; he seemed to be caught in a treadmill leading no where.
There was no relief from the savage rain and wind.
To Merry’s right there appeared to be a hillock, if he could only make his way over there, he might find some shelter from the gale. He started towards it, but it seemed that the wind had deliberately changed direction so that it blew directly at him, with every step it forced him back half his stride. With determination and doggedness that was his nature; Merry fought against the onslaught and reached the hillock. He crouched down and rested, for while the wind whistled all around him, he was sheltered from its fiercest assault. He realised that could not remain here for long, but he welcomed the respite from the battering it provided, and some time to recoup his thoughts and determine what he should do.
He was pondering on the options, when upon the wind came a plaintive cry. He listened again, yes, he was certain of it; it was Pippin, calling out for help! But the wind surged in whirlpools so he could not discern the direction of the call. He scrambled to the top of the hillock, and scanned the plain for any sign.
The rain had abated in its ferocity, but the squall continued relentlessly.
Merry could still hear the cry, but it was fainter, as if it was traveling away from him. Traveling away – how could it travel away… then he realised… the Entwash was just to his left, if Pippin was caught in the river, he could be washed down the waterway, and so would his call.
Merry raced down the hillock, slipping and sliding as the soused earth gave way beneath his feet; mud spurting up and covering his face with its slimy cold ooze. But he regained his balance and kept running. He could see the channel of the river and started yelling out Pippin’s name. The river was a turbulent torrent, engorged by the rain; it rushed along with debris of the forest and the plain.
‘Pippin, Pippin,’ Merry yelled out, ‘Pippin, I am here… Pippin, can you hear me?’
He waited, and received no reply. He edged his way down the bank nearer to the wild waters.
‘Pippin, Pippin…. Pip, Pip!’
‘Merry, over here; Merry I am over here…’
Merry looked across the convulsing waters, tree branches and whole trunks were churning in the tumult… and there was Pippin, gripping a bole which looked like it had been totally uprooted; it had been caught in a dam of debris.
And so they found each other, dear friends as they had become.
‘Hold on Pippin, I am coming to get you,’ Merry yelled across the din of the storm and flood.
But as Merry reached the dam, it started to give way under the pressure of the deluge, and the rushing debris, with Pippin aloft, started to slide down the channel.
Undaunted by the danger, Merry lassoed a rock on the bank tied the other end of the rope around his waist, and clambered across the mass of rubble toward where Pippin was stranded. The rain and wind increased in severity, now the rain with jarring drops pounded Merry, who struggled to keep his footing, but valiantly he inched ever-closer to his friend. He was an arm’s length away, when the dam gave way; Merry slipped with the jolt but pulled himself up on a log that had pierced the bank with such force that it sunk deep into its flesh and held firm against the raging rip.
‘Jump Pip, jump – I will catch you.’
The tree, upon which Pippin had perched, broke free and lunged with the barrage, Pippin sprung from it, and as he did it skipped beneath his feet, hurtling along with swirling tide.
Merry reached out and grabbed Pippin’s wrists as a huge log flew headlong at them. Merry saw the danger as if time was progressing in slow-motion, he yanked Pippin’s body, which was in mid-flight, out of the path of the bole, it careering instead right into Merry, hitting him with such force it catapulted him on to the bank.
‘Merry Merry – it is Pip…’
Pippin sat beside his friend, his tears falling as the rain. He took off his cloak and covered Merry. He dared not move him. He had stopped the bleeding from the gaping gash on his side, and the rain had washed the blood away from where it had pooled, a red sliver streaming down the bank and joining the thrashing throes of the river.
However, Pippin shook off his anguish; his friend needed now his help, not his despair. There were things he could do. He strung out his cloak with stays from sticks, this kept the rain off Merry, for the elven fabric repelled the rain. He cleaned the wound with the magic waters of the Entwash, and kept Merry warm beneath the parchment scroll which he had pulled out to cover him. He then set to work with the healing herbs Gandalf had given all those of the Quest, should they encounter injury or pain. He was surprised that he had remembered what needed to be done – for he was not confident of the others’ trust in him. The Athelas, for healing wounds, which Aragorn had touched so the full power would be released, Alfirin, which eased fever, and Elanor, for use when darkness overtakes the spirit. He carefully made up the brew as instructed by Gandalf, and spooned this into the semi-conscious Merry.
He then crouched close to his friend, buffeted by spraying mud and rain, and waited.
Mercifully the rain abated, and the wind dissipated to a muzzled breeze. Pippin saw the clouds crumble and part and flitter to the west. A cautious sun, pale and sad, hung half-mast in a sweeping sapphire sky.
The time, he reasoned was late morning. Sitting next to Merry, caught in his thoughts, he looked down and saw a pool of blood. Could this be Merry’s, could his wound have opened up again? As he reached to check on Merry’s wound, he felt an ache in his arm and a blood-drenched torn sleeve. He took off his jacket and saw that the skin off the back of his left arm had been ripped away…how could he not have felt the pain of this before? It throbbed viciously now. He took some of the Entwash he had brought for Merry, and bathed his wound...he then ripped up a shirt and bandaged his arm. He did not make up any of the Athelas brew, for he did not know if he had enough for Merry.
He leant over his friend, hoping to see signs of his regaining consciousness, but Merry remained in a fitful stupor.
Pippin awoke with a startle. He had not realised that he had fallen asleep – he reproached himself – how could he have done this?! He shook himself awake, then checked on Merry. As he did, Merry opened his eyes. Pippin jerked back in shock, then delighted exclaimed:
‘Merry, Merry – are you awake…can you hear me?’
Merry smiled at his friend:
‘Ah Pip, have we an adventure to tell the others….’
And the two hobbits laughed uproariously, Merry holding his side.
Pippin examined Merry’s lesion and it had miraculously healed, just a redness and tenderness remained, but the wound itself had closed-up.
So on the bank of the Entwash, the hobbits exchanged stories of their adventure. Of Pippin, how he appeared teetering on the bank of the upper Entwash, and when he had attempted to move from this, the bank had given away, and he was thrown into the river. Not being able to swim he was terrified, but his Elven cloak gave him buoyancy, and he was swept with the churning current until this tree uprooted by the storm, fell into the swell in front of him, and he managed to scramble on to it, and with it, was washed along with the tumid tide until it got fouled by other debris.
In the telling of their tales, thankful and relieved by their escapes and cherished reunion, they realised they were ravenous. They opened their supplies, thankfully unsullied by rain and river, and ate heartily of corncakes and bread, and quaffed honeyed ale.
It was now near the noontide. The sky had lost its angry hue and an amber orb cast a consoling spell upon Middle-earth, and the hobbits felt comforted and cheered, and although not where they had planned, they were safe and reunited. They mapped out their path to the forest, and started off. Merry was a bit shaky on his feet, but he had no pain. Pippin’s arm throbbed viciously, but he hid his make-shift bandage under his cloak, and stoically said nothing of it to Merry.
And so the hobbits set off over the plains, vulnerable as they were fair, fair of face and manner, two tiny specks in a vicious Seventh Age world.
As they walked, they chattered about the Shire and their adventures, and about the others.
Those who looked out from the forest, wondered at these strange creatures. They observed them and sent messages to others.
Tveir mannskapur - eins og vera ert aðkoma. Þeir ert eini helmingur the stærð af a maður, en did ekki hafa the framkoma af dvergur. Þeir ert sanngjarn hár og horaður. Þeir vera í grey skikkja en neitun skóbúð. Þeir bera bakpoki , en birtast til hafa neitun vopn. Þeir virðast til vera ummyndun í a mállýska af Englendingar.
They are only half the size of a man,
but did not have the appearance of dwarves.
They are fair haired and skinned.
They wear grey cloaks but no shoes.
They carry packs, but appear to have no weapons.
They seem to be conversing in a dialect of English.
They were instructed to wait until they entered the forest.
Merry and Pippin walked through the expiring afternoon, now with quickened step realising they must reach the forest before nightfall. As they trekked, their thoughts turned to how they would make their way with Treebeard to Wellinghall, Treebeard’s house on the flank of Methedras, and meet Gandalf there on QD6. Until Gandalf arrived they had the set questions to ask Treebeard about what he had observed of discoveries, both of ‘great evil and good’ over the millennia of his existence.
As the sun paused hesitantly trying to see out their journey to its destination, its rays flush with hues of crimson and saffron being consumed by an ever deepening indigo sky, they came to where they were sure Fangorn Forest had once began. However, instead of the sentinels of the forest rising from the land, what seemed as metallic tracks, ran across it. These gleamed in the twilight, and they saw that they ran far into the horizon of the north and south.
They bent over to examine these tracks, Pippin exclaiming:
‘These appear to be made of the iron of the mines of Erebor. Perhaps a line of dwarves has fashioned these as a path for… a creature.’
‘What creature would need such tracks, Pip, and in any case, Gandalf said there were no dwarves, as we know them, in this age,’ Merry replied.
‘Then some being must have learned the dwarf skill of iron forging, for indeed these tracks show the workmanship of Gimli’s kin…’ Pippin reasoned, stepping onto and balancing on a rail, Merry following suit. As he was about to continue his sentence, there in the distant-north, something hurtled in their direction, they could feel its coming through the vibration of the tracks upon which they stood, then saw in the dying light, a cyclops bearing-down on them, its eye ablaze.
Merry cried out to Pippin:
‘It will be upon us with no-where to hide, Pip, we must make for the cover of the forest.’
So they both ran, ran as fast as they could, not stopping to look at the creature which they sensed loomed ever-nearer. They ran towards the safety of the forest as they once had, but now they had not time to reach it before the creature came within distance of striking. Pippin heard its thunderous roar, turned and stopped, then realising their plight as he could see the creature was almost upon them, yelled to Merry:
‘No time, fall down now; it may not have seen us!’
The two hobbits dropped like stones, panting with exhaustion and terror. They watched as the creature seemingly headed for them. They had never seen anything move this fast, not even Shadowfax. In full vision now, ominous silvery-grey and stretching for what seemed like forever, the creature looked more terrifying than the Nazgûl’s horrific winged mounts. It seemed to be lit up, rushing at them like a luminous leviathan snake. As it came up to them they could see that it sped along the track effortlessly. Pippin realised by its travels that it needed the track upon which to propel itself. It started to pass, and with it a ferocious wind gusted with such force that it buffeted the hobbits hidden from its sight, and its roar resonated like nothing they had heard before, Pippin stood up as the end of it passed, he was mesmerized by what looked which like other mammoth creatures, which it carried on its back.
Merry terrified, shrieked above the clamor:
‘Pip, get down, it might come back to us if it sees you!’
But Pippin realised this metal monster was not concerned about them; it was only interested in passing quickly across the plains to some place distant in the south. It had moved so swiftly that Pippin could not see if man or beast directed its path or was carried within its bowels, but he knew it was of what Gandalf had spoken:
‘Merry, I believe we have just seen the first of the miracles of the Seventh Age. I sense that there will be a lot that we will see that will be beyond our comprehension,’ he said in awe, then returning to dealing with their immediate mission, ‘come on Merry, we must find Treebeard before the deep of night.’
And so, as the sky changed from navy to charcoal, they came to the rim of the forest. A bulging moon appeared and it lit the heavens with a light that shimmered and swirled. The hobbits were thankful for its guiding rays.
They hesitated at the edge, Merry saying:
‘I remember the fear with which we entered Fangorn that other night, when it was the choice of orc or forest, but know now that a wondrous friend and ally lies within, so we should not feel any concern.’
However despite this pronouncement, both hobbits entered the cavernous woodland with trepidation. As in the Third Age, enormous trees loomed shadowy and gnarled; the air was grim and dank; it seemed that eyes were upon them but they sensed a difference. Across the woodland floor there lay blackened trunks, lying as forlorn corpses as they fell, now being consumed by lichen and mosses.
Pippin spoke in a hushed voice, as if fearful of being overheard:
‘A fierce fire must have passed through here long ago, but after last we came. What if…if Treebeard…’
‘Do not think of this Pip. Here, let me take out the medallion and gem.’
Merry unpacked his backpack, took out the pouch containing both, and positioned the gem; it fitted tightly into its slot. The gem came to life in a pulsating green. Treebeard was being called.
The Ancient One shielded its light from detection beyond Fangorn.
Of the One in the East, he saw a split-second slither of green light – then nothing. He would have investigated further, but his attention was drawn to others: a first-born and a maiden. Traps had been set.
Just as this occurred, Merry and Pippin heard a crashing through the undergrowth – could this be Treebeard already - Merry knew instantly it was not. He wrapped the gem and medallion together and put it under his vest, just as four men rushed into the clearing.
Even in the faint moonlight that pierced through the treetop canopy and reached the clearing, the hobbits could see the fierceness of the intruders’ expression. Men bigger build than Aragorn, with black markings on their face like the Haradrim, they shouted at them in words they did not understand. Merry and Pippin stood shoulder to shoulder, swords drawn. The men looked at one another, and jeered, pointing long barreled objects at the hobbits. To Merry and Pippin these looked neither sharp nor particularly menacing, at least not as dangerous as the spear or mace of an orc, so they stood their ground as Merry announced:
‘We come as friends…envoys of the King of the United Realm.’
The men hesitated, then one screamed an order to the hobbits, and reached to take Merry’s sword. Merry stabbed at his hand and the sword sliced deeply into his flesh, blood spurting out profusely from the wound, but the man did not falter at this, and hit Merry with such force in the face, that he reeled and fell to the ground. Pippin jumped onto the assailant, pounding and punching, but the attacker sniggered and threw him aside. Both hobbits were restrained and tightly bound-up. The men having taken their possessions, including the medallion and gem, marched the hobbits into the heart of the forest. There they came upon a campsite, where other men were gathered. These men looked at the two captives as they were led to a tent. Inside, the man whom Merry had stabbed, handed them over to another. He examined them, then the possessions the men had taken. He came to the medallion, and Merry saw that the gem was still in place and glowing. This man tried to remove the gem, but it would not budge. He placed the medallion on a table and motioned the guards to take the hobbits, and they were led away to the edge of the campsite and tied up to a tree, with a guard stationed to watch them. As the night progressed, they could see that the men were breaking camp, and their guard was distracted by the goings-on.
The hobbits tried to untie their bindings, but to no avail, the ropes were too securely knotted.
‘Merry’, whispered Pippin, ‘Do you think Treebeard will have been called.’
‘I am sure Pippin, he is already on his way, and will find us soon.’
The guard looked at them, shouting an instruction, then came over and untied Pippin and retied him to another tree, a distance from Merry.
And so they stood, the time dragged on… There was a commotion on the other side of the camp, then exploding noises were heard… and there was a rush of men into the forest, the guard moved away and another soldier rushing past, yelled some news to him, he looked back at his charges, then ran to the middle of the camp, where a wounded soldier was brought back from the fray. The smell of fire permeated the camp… Merry became concerned that they would be left to burn if a fire took hold in the forest.
‘Pippin…’he shouted out…
‘Ah Master Merry, do not look around or make a sound… I am here to rescue you,’ and Merry felt his bindings loosen then drop….
‘Is it you Treebeard?’
‘Go and unbind Master Pippin’, then step into the forest, I will be there waiting for you.’
Merry rushed to Pippin, untied his bindings, and the two hobbits bounded into the forest, just as the guard turned and saw them disappear into the trees; he fired his rifle, and a shot hit Pippin in the leg. Pippin did not know what it was, but he felt his leg give away beneath him. He yelped in pain, and Merry who had rushed on, rushed back and supported the limping Pippin. The guard was now rushing up behind them, and having the hobbits in his sites took aim, but just as he was to fire, a colossal branch came out of the forest and propelled him into the air, his shot missing its mark, whizzing past Merry’s head. Then a gargantuan hand came out of the forest, gently scooping up the hobbits, Pippin writhing in pain.
‘Ah, Master Pippin, has been shot,’ Treebeard pronounced, ‘We must get him to the Entwash without delay…’
‘Shot, Treebeard, what is shot?’ exclaimed Merry…
‘Oh there is time later to explain, Master Merry… have you anything to bind his wound,’
‘I have this kerchief…’
‘Then use it, tie it tight…’ Treebeard spoke as he started to pace like Merry had never known him before to do.
They were soon at the edge of the Entwash. Treebeard fashioned a bed of leaves and blossoms, and tenderly placed Pippin on this. He cupped his hands, and scooped up the precious waters, bringing it over to where Merry had laid open the wound, a hole both on the front and back of Pippin’s leg. Treebeard poured the water over the gaping holes:
‘It is fortunate that the bullet has gone right through. Master Merry, over there in the forest grows Athelas and Alfirin. Find these herbs and I will show you how to brew them up for Pippin.’
‘Treebeard, Gandalf has given us these herbs and shown us what to do.’
‘Then Gandalf has equipped you well.’
So on the banks of river where their first exploit began, the patient now the healer, administered the medicinal brew.
‘If Master Pippin can stand the journey, it would be safest for us to proceed to Wellinghall, away from the fighting…’
‘Treebeard, dear friend, I am mightily better already, let us travel to your home,’ Pippin responded gratefully, realising that he had relief from the pain in his leg, and the throbbing of his injured arm.
As they were about to leave, Merry remembered the medallion and gem, and their backpacks with the scroll and quill. They must recover these if they had any chance to succeed in their mission.
‘Treebeard, there is much to tell, but we must retrieve our possessions from the camp, vital treasures given us by Gandalf…’, he gasped with fretfulness.
Pippin and he explained what had occurred, and Treebeard agreed they must recover these objects. So with the hobbits on board, Treebeard strode back towards the campsite. They arrived, just as the soldiers were finalising their mobilisation.
‘They stay only a few days at a site, moving in the dark-of-night. Merry I can place you at the rear of the tent, then I will cause a disturbance on the far-side of the camp, then it is up to you.’
Merry could see by the shadows thrown, that there three people in the tent. He waited for Treebeard’s diversion. There was restless movement of men around the campsite, so Merry hid in the bushes until the feint began. Then from the forest came a chilling cry, like the bellowing of attacking battle-trolls, and the forest, trees and undergrowth, moved and came alive in a frantic way. The three shadows disappeared from the tent. Merry crawled underneath the canvas and saw that everything was in disarray, boxes were piled high, in the throes of being packed. The medallion was no longer on the table.
Frantically Merry started to search through the boxes. He found their back-packs, but realising that he could not carry both, he transferred everything in his pack to that of Pippin, including the scroll and quill, both of which had been untouched by their captives. The medallion and gem were not packed with them. As he finished his repackaging, he heard voices outside the tent flap… Desperately trying to get out of the line of sight, he knocked over an attaché case which had been placed near the table. The tent flap was lifted, and the shapes stood conversing at its opening. Merry was backing into the rear of the tent, when he tripped over the medallion which had fallen from the case. Amazed at his good fortune, he picked it up and crouched behind the stack of boxes, when there was a blood-curdling snarl and shouting, the shapes turned and began to yell instructions.
Merry crawled to where he had entered, holding onto the medallion, he slid out, pulling the backpack behind him.
He emerged right in the path of a soldier rushing past. The soldier reached for his weapon. Treebeard had not explained the power of these fire-sticks, but Merry had seen the injury they could inflict from afar, so with the agility of a cat, he jumped at the soldier, wielding the medallion with all his strength at his head. The soldier fell to the ground. Merry grabbed at the back pack, but as he did, he saw within the tent the shadow of a figure leaning to pick it up on the other side of the canvas, just inches away. Merry yanked the strap and the backpack scrapped through; he picked it up, not looking back, as he heard yells and sounds of commotion, he bounded into the dense brush… he ran and ran… he did not know where he was running… In the darkness he tripped over root and log, but righting himself he hurtled through the forest. He could hear others rushing behind, yelling as they went, and trying to surround him in an attempt to cut off his escape. As he ran he heard their crashing through the undergrowth, now close… closer… he ran on.
With all that had happened that day, Merry was almost spent, he legs ached and the pack weighed him down, but he dare not jettison it. He had just cleared a log, using up all his waning energy in scaling across it, when a gigantic craggy hand reached down and pulled him up twenty feet, up into the lofty reaches of the forest.
Merry was so weary he became completely disoriented - had he imagined this? But the hand caring perched him on a broad ancient limb, and Merry looked up into the face of his rescuer, an Ent, not Treebeard but Quickbeam; Quickbeam, the Hasty, who had befriended him during the EntMoot.. Although elated about their reunion, both Ent and hobbit remained mute as just below, five figures rushed by. In the murky moonlight Merry could discern that these were no ordinary men, for it looked as if they had horns in place of eyes and could see in the night, for they speed through the forest avoiding all obstacles. They ran off in different directions, gesturing rather than speaking. Merry sat tight, holding his breath in anticipation of being discovered; they merely had to look up.
As the men disappeared, both Ent and Hobbit started to breath easier, but then in the distance they heard the baying of hounds.
‘We must leave, Master Merry, although we chance discovery… for these foreigners do not, and must not know, of the existence of Ents, but the hounds will track you here, we must get across to the Entwash,’ Quickbeam whispered in his hulking hoarse voice, and without waiting for Merry’s reply, he steeped out with such a pace, Merry nearly lost his balance on his perch.
So Ent and Hobbit journeyed through the forest. Along the way, if Quickbeam heard the rustling of undergrowth, he stood still, until the men passed in the ferment of their search. They were nearing the river, when a group of searchers rushed from the bushes, Quickbeam froze. They could hear the howling hounds bounding through the forest. Just at Quickbeam’s feet, two of the men stopped, took off their horns and started to converse in an agitated manner. Clearly they were frustrated and angered by their failed search for the escapee. Ent and hobbit were trapped; the howls were approaching. However, the howling changed to yelping – the hounds were confused about the direction of the scent – with this, the men speed off in the direction of the hounds. They had just disappeared into the forest when Quickbeam strode out again in a desperate attempt to reach the safety of the Entwash. Merry had opened the back pack in which to place the medallion, for he was still holding it in his hand after the fray with the soldier back at the tent, and had taken out a pocket map of the forest, to see if he could keep track of their movement.
They could hear the rush of the furious waters of the Entwash when Quickbeam almost walked into a scout running the other way. Quickbeam froze hoping that the scout would think that seeing movement in this tree was an apparition of his night-vision goggles. As Quickbeam came to the sudden stop, the map that Merry held, flew out of his hand and floated to the forest floor.
The scout shocked at what he thought he saw, a tree moving, stopped in his tracks. He took off his goggles and rubbed his eyes. He walked around the tree and felt it, trying to reassure himself it was no artificial decoy. Merry held his breath – on the verge of detection, the map lying in the debris below and the sounds of the hounds and hectic searching just beyond the thicket.
The scout started circling the tree, and he came to the map. He picked it up and pondered for a second, then looked up, and squinted. Quickbeam and Merry did not move a muscle. The scout put on his goggles, and seeing Merry, started yelling, taking out his gun:
‘Hann er hér! The njósnari er hér…’
Quickbeam waited no more, he flung his massive arm at the scout, flinging him into the air, and then started bounding towards the river.
They could hear the commotion of search and discovery behind them, but Quickbeam knew that his giant steps would get them to the river way before their foe. He had already decided on his perilous tactic when he reached it. Originally he was intending to go down-river, to take Merry to his home in Derndingle, but now he knew he must travel up-river, for no one would expect that anyone would take this action, against the frenzied and treacherous current.
As they reached the waters, still raging, he warned Merry:
‘Hold on Master Merry, for we trek against the flow,’ his sonorous voice consumed by the thrashing of the river’s swell.
Quickbeam plunged into the torrent, striding against the gushing surge, Merry holding on, buffeted by the river’s storm. His steps were forceful, but they barely made headway against the barrage, but determinedly each stride, saw them move upstream towards were there was a bend in the river; once past this they would be out of sight of where they had entered. The rain returned, in beating sheets it poured. It muffled the howling of the hounds, but Merry and Quickbeam knew they were near, near to the river.
Finally they rounded the bend. They had no idea if Quickbeam’s ploy had worked, but the howls had not followed them upstream. With the torrential rain, the sky had darkened, the moon and stars disappeared, it was pitch-black, but Ents, like the men with goggles, could see in the darkness, so Quickbeam continued unhampered. There was only one place that would be safe, hidden and guarded by the forest, at the foothills of the mount of Methedras, Wellinghall; the home of Treebeard. As he walked Quickbeam called out in Entish, an echoing cry that resonated across the forest, telling Treebeard that he had Merry and was advancing to Wellinghall. Across the treetops returned a call from Treebeard, acknowledging Quickbeam’s message and confirming that he would meet him there.
So both Ents made their way to the virgin springs of the Entwash, where Treebeard’s sanctuary was hidden.
‘Master Merry, we will meet Treebeard in his home, you will be safeguarded there,’ Quickbeam told the hobbit, quickening his pace northwest.
Merry was spent, but with all that had happened to him in the day and this night, for now it was in the early hours of QD5, he felt an exhilaration mixed with a sense of surety, for he was at last on his way to Wellinghall, to Treebeard, and the unfolding of his mission.
As they reached the sentinels to Wellinghall, the rain stopped and a brilliant star-studded sky appeared above the sanctuary’s canopy.
The reuniting of Ents and hobbits was filled with joy, for in the separation there were many moments of consternation. Pippin had almost fully recovered, except that he still walked with a slight limp…but the pains and horrors of their ventures, all recounted in animated chatter, were soon forgotten in the excitement of their reunion. They toasted with drafts of the Entwash, and all felt invigorated yet calmed in this safe-haven.
Quickbeam announced that he must leave; he had to return to his home before the daybreak, when it would be more dangerous for him the travel in the forest. The hobbits and Treebeard bid him farewell, and watched him disappear, embraced by his woodland kin.
Merry and Pippin were now alone with Treebeard, and although bone-wrenchingly weary, they wished to explain their mission. Treebeard lifted them onto a platform in one of the sentinel trees on the inner rim of his sanctuary, so they could speak to him eye-to-eye.
The air was still and crisp. Not a sound was to be heard except the droplets of rain, which had clung to the leaves of trees in the downpour, now making their hesitant final-descent to return to the earth. It seemed as if they were cocooned in a glistening world of wonder; silver slivers of light slicing through the canopy and bathing them in sparkling splendor. And in this cocoon the radiance mingled with the aroma of the forest, of decomposition and renewal, to bring a sense of rebirth, a hope for Light’s regeneration.
The hobbits looked closely at Treebeard. For it seemed that the passing centuries had made scant impression on this benevolent being, although he seemed to be taller , his green-grey hide lighter and his bushy beard greyer , but his solemn eyes were no less bright or penetrating.
Similarly, Treebeard looked at his Masters Merry and Pippin. They also seemed not to have aged, these halflings of the Shire, although they had definitely grown in height if not also in breadth. Yet Treebeard could discern a difference, these hobbits before him now were not those of the Third Age. Pippin still had the unruly dusty-gold crop of hair, his eyes were the same crystal blue, and when he smiled, he still beamed with an eager and fun-loving expression, but there was a reserve, a thoughtfulness not there before; unmistakably Treebeard saw that Pippin had been changed by his experiences in the War of the Ring. Merry, darker in complexion and hair colouring, with attentive hazel eyes, had always been more serious, the organizer and more level-headed hobbit, but there was still in him the halfling-spirit, that adventurous and tenacious nature – yes Treebeard was sure, whatever had happened had not dashed this zeal – yet…
Merry saw Treebeard examining him as he, him, and he laughed saying:
‘We are examining each other for what is different since we met in the Third Age,’ then overtaken by the reality of what they had gone through since they had met, and on this very day, he continued in a somber tone:
‘For us of the Shire, Treebeard, we have changed very much since we raided Saruman’s cellars after the rout of Isengard; we have seen how no-one is immune from the tentacles of The Dark, and it is for this reason that we have come to seek your aid.’
Then Merry and Pippin explained to Treebeard their mission and what it was the Quest needed from him, and that Gandalf would be joining them on Quest Day 6, the day after the morrow.
When they had finished, Treebeard paused, then ponderingly reflected:
‘Ah, that sounds like an immense assignment, and you even have ‘Quest Days’, that sounds most organised. If you want me to tell you all that I have seen across these Ages, and all I have heard from the mighty eagle, Gwaihir, my comrade who rules the airs and winds of the World as well, then this will take an eon of time.’
‘We only have until the day after the morrow Treebeard,’ Merry responded anxiously.
‘Ah, in a hurry you are; then, we will need some measured thought about how to pass through the threads of time, with markers of what is most important in this search.’
‘Gandalf has given us a way to sort through these events,’ Pippin added.
‘Ah, it is good that we have Gandalf’s wisdom to direct us; otherwise it would be as if we were afloat in the heavens trying to sort out the stars.’
The air was warm; the chill of the earlier driving wind and rain had gone. All was quiet, save the soft rippling rustle of the leaves from the sentinels that stood guard. Everything seemed subdued – reflecting the hobbits’ mood, which had moved from effervescent exuberance of being reunited and announcing their task, to the pensiveness of reflection of the magnitude of what lay before them. The moonlight had faded in intensity, no longer dazzling but shimmering in dappled beige beams, and the pungency of earth’s renewal was supplanted by the sweet fragrance of lush ferns and grasses growing amongst the roots of the sentries.
‘Hoomm, young Masters, tell me how we should begin,’ sighed Treebeard, yet unflustered by the enormity of what lay afore:
‘Tell me of Gandalf’s directions. For although I have witnessed and heard much over these Ages, I do not understand all that has occurred. So I will not have explanations for much of what I have seen. What I know is that world has changed over these Ages with both good and evil. The earth, water and sky are not as they were. I have seen there has been little peace and future for all the creatures and kingdoms that existed in your Third Age. And some of that time have already faded into oblivion, dare I say, even those of the regal realm of elves seem to have lost the gift of immortality, which I have been told, an elven sage prophesized a millennium ago. How that has come about I know not, and shudder to contemplate.’
‘It is one thing that Gandalf wished us to explore with you Treebeard, but Gandalf’s directions are..,’ said Merry breathlessly.
But before he could state these, Pippin interrupted:
‘But b’fore, Treebeard, tell us of the fire-sticks of men, of the “bu”… “bullet” that you spoke of that pierced my leg, and…and of the luminous leviathan snake that flowed across the plains where the Fangorn Forest once stood.’
‘Ah, Master Pippin, both are inventions of your future, part of the so-called progress of man. The firestick is a weapon more powerful than the sword, which has long been forgotten except in museums and re-enactments of the past; which men like to do, play at re-creating the past… but that is story for another time. The firesticks are called guns and rifles, and propel at tremendous speed a cast-lead object, called a bullet, that explodes from the barrel and bites into the flesh of an enemy… a device that has developed over the years from a clumsy object to a deadly killing machine, some propelling many bullets at once…Oh Pippin, you have seen only the simplest of weapons of present-day man… these can take the form of fiendish cannons, that can destroy a whole building with a single blow, and some are mounted on armored machines that sped on the ground on chains and fly in the sky…’
‘Machines that fly in the sky?’ gasped Merry.
‘Fly like eagles and fellbeasts?’ exclaimed Pippin.
‘Yes… When we search through the creations of men, you will hear of many marvelous and many monstrous things…’
The hobbits stood mouths opened, shocked at the thought that the creations of men threatened to be worse than those they had seen of the Dark Lord.
But Pippin was not to be daunted long by these thoughts, and asked:
‘And the luminous snake Treebeard, is that one of the marvelous or monstrous things?’
‘Ah Pippin, that depends on were you stand… but let us not linger with these thoughts, we have much to do. But I will say that your snake is called a train, and curiously connected to our previous words, because of its speed, labelled a bullet train. It carries people, produce and armaments across the land at lightning speed, driven by a power beyond the imagination of the visionaries of our Third Age. But all will be revealed in our search, so let us return to Gandalf’s way to determine where we start and where we seek.’
Merry wishing to return to their mission, responded:
‘The Light’ said:
Look among the powers of great evil and good,
One discovery may be used, as it in the future stood.’
Pippin chimed in:
‘At first we wondered why we should look at those of “great evil”; but Gandalf reckoned that, as in our Age, some things are brought into being because at the time they seem to be things of good, but these, in other hands, ways or time, have launched great evil instead.’
‘Ah, hm, yes, this is true,’ muttered Treebeard.
‘But when to start, for it may be a miniscule event that we search for that could be easily overlooked. Gandalf has instructed us to tell you to start at the dawn of man’s modern invention, from what was called the Age of Enlightenment. For he believes it is an invention or discovery from this Age to the Seventh Age that will give the advantage to the Quest. Treebeard you need to provide us with all you have seen or known. Gandalf will sense the one that will be right for the Quest. For while there may be devices of greater importance in the progress of man, they will not be the right one for The Light’s final task… as yet to be defined.’ Merry then shook his head, for he did not understand how this would, could, all come together… and wondered how Treebeard could find his way.
But Treebeard did not complain about the uncertainties, he hesitated in thought then pronounced:
‘Ah, young hobbits, what is asked for is a herculean undertaking. I will need time to put my mind in order. I will produce the events in sequence without judgment. You can record these with your magic scroll and quill and Gandalf than can choose those he may wish to deliberate on. Hm, but this will take time, so you should rest now until the dawn, for soon this will come upon us. I will journey methodically through time to find those events that have come before me.’
Merry and Pippin all at once realised that they were exhausted, too exhausted even to think of food, yet their minds ran with thoughts, of the events of the day and those foreshadowed for the morrow. Merry spoke for both of them:
‘Treebeard, we are so weary, our bodies ache for sleep, but we fear that we cannot find any rest, for our minds race terribly…’
‘Ah, you have had such a day, and one looming on the morrow, but fear not, I will make a brew of the waters of the Entwash and Elanor; this will expunge the mind of its troublings.’
Treebeard poured silvered water on golden flower, and a mist arose and engulfed the hobbits as they drank, and their torments eased. They climbed into a bed of silky leaf, frond and petal, and watched as Treebeard stepped into the open, lit by the glimmer of a mellowing moon surrounded by a sea of shimmering stars. He stood motionless, recovering from the past that which would shape the future.
As Treebeard searched and sorted, the hobbits feel to sleep, and the night gave way to the dawn.