28. The Rousing of Fangorn
They spent that night in Quickbeam's Ent-house, which was nothing more than a green bank surrounded by tall rowan-trees, slender and bare, awaiting the return of spring. A sparkling stream from high in the Mountains tumbled from the top of the bank and splashed into a pool. Quickbeam stood in the spray of the icy water and laughed, and as the stars came out he began to sing, swaying from side to side. He laughed and sang another song when the night wind rose and hissed through the branches of the rowan-trees, and Legolas joined his clear tenor voice to the deep bass of the Ent's. Merry sipped the warm greenish draught that Quickbeam had given them and nibbled a bit of lembas. He fell asleep to their blended music long before they showed any sign of stopping for the night.
For two days Quickbeam led them south through the Forest. Sometimes Merry rode before Legolas on the grey mare, and at other times he perched on Quickbeam's broad shoulder. They told him the long tale of how each one happened to arrive in Rivendell, and gave a recounting of their adventures together, but without revealing the true purpose of the Fellowship. Quickbeam seemed well aware that they left out certain crucial details, but though he gazed at them quizzically, he did not pry.
Many times a day the Ent would stop: to inspect something he found interesting, or whenever they walked by a rowan-tree, or if he spied some sign of Orcs. Though his walking pace was remarkably swift, he seemed in no great hurry. He would study a new sapling or the mushrooms growing on a fallen tree with great intensity, or he would laugh and sing his song to his beloved rowans. He would seethe and stamp in rage when confronted with more evidence of the Orcs' invasion into his homeland.
Every so often Quickbeam would halt and stare intently into the shadows beneath the canopy of the Forest. He would lean forward and listen to the deep silence; then he would bring his hands up to his lips and call out with a rich horn-like sound.
"There are words in that call," Legolas said quietly, as they waited on the mare yet again for the Ent to resume their journey. "I wonder if he signals his brethren, to warn them of what is to come…"
"How many Ents are left?" Merry asked.
The Elf frowned. "Who can say? Bregalad calls himself young; yet he is, I deem, very old… Certainly his memory reaches back well beyond this Age of the world. What other Ents remain must be ancient indeed. They were never a numerous race. How many live still is not known to me."
"If they are all so old, will they be up to it, do you think? To a war, I mean…"
The Elf peered at him. "Think you, young mortal, that the passing of many years must always bring weakness and infirmity? One would think that you, having traveled far with Mithrandir, and having met Lord Elrond, he who was born three ages ago before Arda was changed, would have learned better…"
Merry blushed. "Well, I… I suppose I assumed that the Ents are mortal, after all. Quickbeam does look old to me, and so I thought…"
"They are mortal," Legolas said. "As is Mithrandir—as he has chosen to be, for his task on these shores. But just as the passing of many centuries has not brought the wizard to his dotage, so too the Ents. They are old—but they are also strong. At one time it was said that an Ent was stronger than stone. The Enemy of Old—of whom the Dark Lord is but a servant—made trolls in mockery of the Ents. And though trolls are very strong, they are weaklings in comparison." He paused, and watched Quickbeam. "They shall be 'up to it,' as you put it. What remains to be seen is whether they can be gathered together and moved to action in time…"
As the Ent continued on his way and they followed nearby, Merry's heart ached for the company of one of his own kind. Dear Frodo, how I wish I could speak to you and try to make sense of all of this. What on earth am I doing here? Why have I, of all people, stumbled into this adventure, so full of great and remarkable characters and with the stakes so awfully high? Even Pippin, he thought, would be willing to listen to Merry's doubts about his place in the sweep of pivotal events he found himself in the middle of. But Pippin was far away, on his way to Gondor with Boromir, and he feared he might never see his young cousin and closest friend again.
Well, you're here, anyway, Merry said to himself at last. No going back now. Better make the best you can of it, and hope you rise to the occasion, whatever it is that's in store for you.
Near the end of the second day of travel with Quickbeam, they approached the southern reaches of Fangorn. The trees grew more thickly together here, and the ground was tangled with vines and roots. The Forest was once more mostly ancient, gnarled oaks, and here and there a towering butternut. Legolas had dismounted and now led the mare forward, and Quickbeam had slowed his pace. They came to a narrow brook with slippery mud banks, and the Ent paused to look up and down the stream.
"Yes, yes," he muttered in a deep rumble. "I catch the scent of his draughts… None like them, none as rich… Rhmmm… We have reached the Wellinghall Stream…"
Quickbeam turned up the stream, and with Merry on his shoulder, he walked along the edge of the water. The land began to rise, and soon the bare end of a rocky ridge protruded out between the trees, its face sheer above the brook.
"Tether your horse, Master Elf," the Ent said to Legolas. "We climb now… Rhmmm… up there." He pointed with his root-like finger to the top of the rocky knob. A broken tree-trunk sat in the sunlight near the edge of the ridge, the apparent victim of a summer storm of long ago.
Without waiting for a reply, Quickbeam scrambled up the steep slope, hardly disturbing the hobbit who rode on his shoulder. Legolas looped the mare's tether over a low branch and hurried to catch up.
Quickbeam stood before the gnarled, broken trunk and began to hum a very deep note. Merry felt it like a deep thrumming in his bones. He glanced down at Legolas, who stood utterly still, staring up at the crown of the dead tree, draped with a thick hanging mat of dried moss. Quickbeam stopped humming, and he bowed stiffly. Merry gripped his shoulder to keep from sliding forward.
"Eldest…" he said softly. "Fangorn… Awaken, Eldest. Spring comes… Rhmmm… There are tales to hear…. Deeds to do… Awaken."
The hoary tree trunk stirred, and the lowest note he could imagine might still be audible to his ears vibrated in Merry's head. Slowly, the note rose in pitch and loudness until it became a deep cacophony of grumbles and groans.
"What… Haruummm… What day is it, young Quickbeam? Harruummm… The air carries yet the chill of winter. Why do you wake me so early?"
Then the 'tree' opened its eyes, and blinked in surprise.
"Harruumm… What is that…that tiny thing? What…or who in Arda sits upon your shoulder, Quickbeam?"
The younger Ent grinned. "He is of the Smallest… and with him is one of the Eldest… Rhmmm… Ha hah! And they have come seeking the Strongest, Fangorn! Wake, Treebeard! Wake Eldest! The time has come! The Day of the Ents has arrived!"
* * *
Night fell in Fangorn Forest long before Quickbeam paused in his slow speech to Treebeard in the low-pitched language of the Ents. The pair of Onodrim had moved a few dozen feet away, up the slope of the ridge, and they leaned toward one another, quivering in turn, and swaying slowly together as with the wind. But there was no wind, and the night was quiet except for their low rumbling voices, rising and falling. Merry sat on the ground, and Legolas stood at the edge of the rocky knoll, leaning outward and listening intently. The hobbit sighed and yawned.
"How long are they going to talk, do you think?" he whispered.
The Elf glanced at him sharply. "Patience, Meriadoc. They are Tree-Shepherds, and trees generally do not move with haste. The Eldest Tree Shepherd of all will undoubtedly require much convincing to act--for holding still and waiting has been their defense for many thousands of years."
"It can't have been all that successful of a defense," Merry said. "If there are so few of them left, I mean… And the trees they shepherd can't get out of the way of Orc axes!"
Legolas frowned and looked toward the Ents, for suddenly their voices ceased. The depth of the silence that followed revealed to the travelers how constant the Entish voices had been.
Quickbeam straightened and strode toward them. His face was solemn. "I have told him your names, and a brief portion of the tales you told me, and that you claim to be friends of the Grey Wizard," he said. "I was about to begin to tell him of the Orc-sign we saw on our journey, when we overheard the Young One's words."
He peered down at Merry, and the hobbit flushed red. Legolas looked at him sternly. "You must be more patient, Meriadoc!" the Elf hissed.
"I'm sorry," Merry mumbled. "But I just can't help thinking of Frodo, rushing downriver toward…" He shivered. "We can't help him directly anymore. But we need to do our part in all this, and we can't wait forever!"
Quickbeam rumbled, and his deep green eyes sparkled in the faint moonlight. "Even for an Ent, 'forever' is a very long time, Master Merry," he said. "Though the Eldest does not make decisions in haste, you shall not need to wait that long. Rhmmm… Treebeard has suggested that we retire to one of his houses for the night, the one he calls Wellinghall. It is not far… Rhmmm… for an Ent, that is. He and I shall continue our speech as we walk, and you may follow."
Merry sat before Legolas on the horse, and they followed behind the pair of Ents as they strode through the forest and up the stream. Midnight had come and gone when they reached the Ent-house of the Chief of the Ents. Wellinghall was a protected, green dell on the shoulder of a rising slope. The stream they had been following cascaded from the top of a wall of stone and curved around the edge of the glade. A shallow cave was hollowed out near the waterfall.
Merry thought his face would split open from yawning as they dismounted near the cave. "I don't think I can keep my eyes open for another minute," he whispered.
The Elf's smile was faint. "Sleep then, Meriadoc. I shall wait and listen to the speech of the Onodrim."
"Wake me if they decide anything, will you?" He yawned again as he crawled onto a low bench just inside the cave and pulled his cloak about himself.
Legolas nodded once; the hobbit was already asleep.
* * *
Merry woke to the glimmer of golden light and the sound of wind in the trees. He groaned and stretched. A few piping bird calls echoed on the rocky wall above his head. He opened his eyes and frowned, studying the stony roof of the cave, and for a moment he couldn't remember where he was. Then he heard the deep sound of an Ent voice.
Are they still talking? he mused. He sat up and swung his legs off the side of the bench. The two Ents stood at the edge of the green dell, gazing out on the tree-covered slopes that fell off south and east, their low rumbling voices rising and falling. Merry looked around. Legolas wasn't in sight.
Now I wonder where he's got to? All alone again, Merry thought. And with no idea as to why I'm here, or what I'm supposed to do… Well, he wasn't precisely alone, for Treebeard and Quickbeam were near enough. But as for what to do... When I didn't know what to do, as a lad, dear Frodo taught me a method… He recalled his older cousin's words. 'Only works if you have the time to stop and think before you must act, of course, and many a time will come when you won't have that luxury… But here's what I do, and what Bilbo taught me: first, take stock. What are your options?'
His options, Merry considered, were two: do nothing and continue to wait, or go and join the conversation of the Ents. I can't imagine Strider just waiting, or Gimli… and certainly not Gandalf… Well, there's really no other option at all… He slid off the bench and walked toward the edge of the dell.
The hobbit stood quietly next to Quickbeam, his neck craned as he gazed upward. The Ents swayed slightly, their thick heads tilting slowly toward one another, then away as each took a turn murmuring. Their low voices seemed much softer now, as though they were whispering. Merry was reminded of a light breeze filtering through the trees.
The Ents appeared to be totally unaware of him. Merry waited for what seemed to him a polite length of time—one minute—and then he shifted from one foot to the other and cleared his throat.
"Good morning," he said brightly. The deep voices ceased instantly.
Both Ents twisted slowly and leaned over him, peering down solemnly. Merry looked up into Quickbeam's bright green eyes, then into Treebeard's deeper, grey-green ones. He was struck by how much older Treebeard appeared: his rugged face was lined with wrinkles, and his beard and hair were as grey as Gandalf's, though thicker and coarser, especially at the roots, where his beard seemed like twigs. They did not blink, and for the passage of several heartbeats they were silent as they regarded him. Now I've done it, Merry thought. They think I'm terribly rude, and whatever progress Quickbeam's been making has just been ruined…
But the corners of Quickbeam's eyes began to wrinkle, and Treebeard's thick lips twitched.
"Hrmmm…" The Eldest Ent spoke first. "Good morning indeed, Young Master Merry," he said. "Did you sleep well, Small One?"
Merry smiled and bowed. "Yes, indeed, thank you very much. And you, my Lord Treebeard?"
The Ent's brow rose, and his eyes narrowed; but a small smile played on his lips. "Ah, well… hrmmm… I had no desire for sleep, for I have just awakened from a rather long nap…" He gazed sharply at Quickbeam. "Although, my nap might have been longer still…" He turned back to Merry and smiled more broadly. "This hasty friend of ours, Quickbeam, and I, have been speaking of many things… Hrmmm… Night is a good time for long speech. And…" Treebeard frowned toward Merry intently. "There is no such thing as a 'Lord' among Ents, young one. Hrmmm… That would be very queer, would it not, Quickbeam?"
The younger Ent laughed as he swayed back and forth. "Ho ho! Lords amongst Ents! One might call himself a lord, but no other Ent would care about it… Rhmmm… A fine jest, indeed…"
"My people have no lords, either," Merry said. "We have heads of households, such as my father, and the Thain, really just the chief of a rather large family, and the mayor of our largest town, but no one takes them very seriously."
"Then your people and ours have something in common… Hrmmm… How very interesting," Treebeard said slowly as he reached down toward the hobbit.
Once again, Merry found himself rising in the air as Treebeard gently grasped and lifted him. The Ent cupped his palm and Merry sat so that their faces were nearly level. He peered intently at the hobbit.
Merry did his best to hold still and be patient while the Eldest Ent scrutinized him. Is it rude to stare back at him? he wondered. He decided that not only was it not rude, it was somehow expected, for it seemed that Treebeard wished to search directly inside him. So he looked back into those bright, intelligent eyes, so strange and yet somehow familiar. Quite different than being under the Lady Galadriel's intense gaze… More like a mix of Legolas and Gandalf, and maybe of Bombadil, too… but really, not like any of them…
"Hrmmm… I think you are not evil," Treebeard muttered at last. "And I think you know far more than you have told young Quickbeam of what is passing in the outside world," he grumbled. The hobbit's face flushed, and one of Treebeard's brows rose with curiosity. "Hrmmm… I see that I am correct…"
Merry's brows wrinkled with sudden worry. Lord Elrond warned that treachery was ever a risk, even amongst those who ought to be friends… Are the Ents to be trusted? Treebeard frowned back at him, as if trying to discern the reason for the hobbit's change of expression.
"Hrmmm… I believe that you can be trusted, Small One, for I see no Shadow inside your eyes… Hrmmm,,, But I would feel better about it if you would be more forthcoming with me." Merry swallowed hard as Treebeard's eyes searched his. "What is most curious to me, is this: why are you here, Master Merry of the Smallest Race? What brought you so far from your home, and what do you intend to do out here in the wild world?"
Why indeed? the hobbit thought. His frown softened, and his eyes fell. Once, he would have answered such a question without hesitation: he had come on this unlikely journey for Frodo, to help his cousin and protect him however he could. But now, with Frodo and Sam gone on to where he could not follow… He lifted his chin and looked steadily into Treebeard's eyes once more. He drew in a deep breath and spoke as truthfully as he knew how.
"I am here to do my part, against… well, against Evil. My people are small, it is true, and we live a comfortable enough life in an out of the way corner of the world, and mostly no one knows about us… We stay within our borders and out of everyone else's business, and they stay out of ours, and that's they way it has been for years and years…" His face grew more serious. "But there is a time when being left alone and being comfortable is no longer enough." His chin jutted out again, and had Pippin been there to see him, he would have said that Merry looked just like Frodo when he was facing down Ted Sandyman. "You see, a time came when I finally understood what others were doing—and had been doing for years—to protect me, without my even knowing it. And I had to choose whether to step out of my comfortable, safe ways, and take a chance--even if it meant that I might not ever get back to my homeland--or, just hide away again..." He looked into the Ent's deep eyes, and his voice grew hoarse as he thought of Aragorn and the thankless, hidden guard of the Rangers of the North, and of Gandalf's long vigilance—and of Frodo. "That's why I'm here, Master Treebeard. Because if I don't do what I can, even as small as I am and as little as I can offer, then how can I ask anyone else to do it for me?"
The two Ents stared at him solemnly in silence for what seemed like an eternity, although it was, in truth, only a minute. Finally Treebeard spoke.
"Hrmmm…. Well. Very curious," he murmured. "Master Merry, if others of your race are like you, your people must be remarkable, indeed." The hobbit colored slightly, to the Ents' amusement. Treebeard continued. "We have heard the Elf's version of what is afoot in the outside world…hrmmm… and what he suggests that the Ents do about it…" Treebeard paused and frowned. "But Elves are, after all….hrmmm… Elves. Immortal folk. Different from…us… Hrmmm... I would know things from your vantage point, Small One. Will you tell me your tale—your whole tale--with honesty, and with truth?"
In one brief moment, Merry considered his options. Would old Gandalf have encouraged Legolas to come here if the Ents were not trustworthy?
"Well, you see," he began, "The whole thing started with a relative of mine, quite an ordinary fellow named Bilbo Baggins who found himself, more or less by accident, on an extraordinary adventure with a group of Dwarves and the wizard, Gandalf the Grey, whom I believe you know…"
* * *
Legolas had ridden to the southern edge of Fangorn Forest before daybreak that morning to see if he might gather news. The Elf was restive, for he could feel the simmering anger in the very air all about the realm of the Onodrim. War is upon us, he thought. There is no time to waste… He was ever aware of a powerful and cunning mind to the west of him. Curunir. The White Wizard had come on rare occasions to his father's great underground stronghold in the north of Mirkwood. He remembered how strikingly different it had felt to be in the presence of Curunir in comparison to the intense but hidden fire within Mithrandir, or the earthy, comforting warmth of Aiwendil. Curunir's spirit had felt cold—like metal, or stone--and he had been uneasy in his presence.
It is well for us—for all of us—that Mithrandir discovered his fellow Istar's treachery…and well that he escaped from his clutches in time to warn us. He frowned. What if Mithrandir not found a way to free himself from Angrenost! The Elf shuddered as he considered what inevitably would have come of the Grey Wizard's continued imprisonment by the White. He would undoubtedly have been passed from one evil fortress to another…
But no such horror had come to be, fortunately. And if he had interpreted Mithrandir's hints correctly, the walls of Angrenost were not unbreakable, as long as one launched the proper army against them.
As dawn was arriving, he reached the verge where the forest bordered on the vast plains of Rohan and rode forward from beneath the trees. Legolas loved woodlands, but Fangorn was unusually close and oppressive. He sighed and drew in a deep breath of the bright free air of the grasslands. A gust of southern wind played with his hair, bringing a hint of the fresh scent of the snow-capped White Mountains with it. Golden light swept toward him from the East as the Sun reached heavenward.
"What do you say to some speed, Brennilroch?" he murmured to the mare. She tossed her head and nickered, and suddenly took off at a gallop.
Legolas allowed the horse to choose her own path for a while, then he lightly pressed his heels inward on her flanks and steered her to a green mound that stood above the plain. She slowed as she labored up the slope, and stamped and snorted as she reached the top.
"Rest, my friend," he said as he slid from her back. "We will return to Fangorn—and to the Wellinghall stream—very soon."
The Elf stood and gazed in three directions, shading his eyes from the slanting light. Far to the East was a cloud of dust, and at its base, a crowd of dark figures ran clumsily but swiftly toward him. Yrch! Strange, that they are on the move by daylight... Nearer and just to the west of South he saw a large group of mounted men, the sunlight glinting on the tips of their many spears and their yellow hair streaming behind them as they cantered into the dawn, seemingly unaware of the enemy encroaching on their lands from the East. West, he could discern no detail, but over the plains hovered a haze of smoke, and by a sense just beyond the limit of sight he knew that many men and Orcs moved there, back and forth. War had come to Rohan, and as a great spider sitting in his web, Curunir in the fortress of Angrenost was at the center of it, sending his sticky strands outward to ensnare his victims.
But he caught no glimpse of what he most longed to see: any of the other members of the Fellowship. Somewhere, East, South, or by now, perhaps even West, were Frodo and Sam, Mithrandir, Pippin and Boromir, Aragorn and Gimli. Were they safe? What dangers had they encountered, and had they come through them? Would he ever see any of them again?
He sighed. Alas, there is no way forward for me but to go back whence I came this morning. He caught the mare's tether, slipped gracefully onto her back, and turned North toward Fangorn, and back to the only member of the Fellowship of whose location he felt certain.
* * *
Merry now sat atop Quickbeam's shoulder as the Ents made their way downstream along the waters of Wellinghall. The hobbit frowned anxiously. He had finished his long tale, leaving out almost nothing, including what he had told no one else: of the lingering chill that still clung to him after his brief encounter with the Black Rider in Bree; of his worry for Pippin all alone in a great City of Men; and of his dread that Frodo would return from his dark journey forever changed—or not at all. His heart thumped as he described the horrifying final images he had seen within the Lady's Mirror, of a vast battlefield and a great shadow falling over him. Treebeard had listened intently, asking question after question, but then had fallen into silence. Quickbeam hummed and rumbled as he strode forward in a thoughtful way, but Treebeard made not a sound.
Merry's worry grew with each rustling step the Ents took. I've told him far too much… He'll refuse to help us… How will I explain this to Legolas? I've spoiled our only chance…
Finally the old Ent sighed a low, sonorous grumble from the depths of his chest. Quickbeam looked at the Eldest expectantly, waiting for him to speak.
"Well, Master Merry," Treebead said at last, "Hrmmm… If I ever have the pleasure of conversing once again with the Grey Wizard… hrmmm… Master Gandalf… I will be certain to tell him that he was correct to allow you to join your kinsman in this difficult task… Hrmmm… He chose well." The Ent gazed solemnly at the hobbit as he sat upon Quickbeam's shoulder. "Alas, I doubt that I shall have such an opportunity…. Hrmmm… for the Grey Wizard, you say, has gone far away, to the Dark Land, and I fear we shall not see him again…" He was silent again for a few minutes. Then he stopped striding and raised his hand, pointing one long gnarled root-like finger upward.
"But as for the Ents," he said in a suddenly loud voice, "We have another Wizard to deal with… Hrmmm… And he is all too near! Quickbeam," he boomed, as he slammed his fist upon his other hand. "We have work to do! We must rouse our people! Hrmmm… The time has come for us, as it comes to all folk, big and small, weak and strong: the time to choose, whether to hide from the world, or whether to stand up and join the struggle! And I say that the Ents must march… hrmmm… to war!" He smashed his fist again. "To Isengard!" he roared.
"To Isengard!" Quickbeam shouted, and Merry's heart raced within him as they began to march down the bank of the stream.
* * *
Legolas heard the echoing thunder of Ent voices as he led the mare back up the Wellinghall Stream and frowned. The deep bass notes certainly sounded like the voices of Treebeard and Quickbeam. They are on the move, then… The feeling of rage that pressed in upon the Elf had increased. He looked about. The silent, motionless trees seemed not merely still, but taut with suppressed anger. They were waiting. But for what do they wait?
To a woodland Elf, the trees of Fangorn were unusually lively and aware, much more so than in other forests. He could almost hear them whispering, though he could not quite catch the words. Perhaps these Olvari, so long under the care of the Onodrim, have grown more like them… as is the case, it is said, with sheep and shepherd… Could the trees of Fangorn themselves be called to war? Would the Forest tear up its collective roots and march? Perhaps the Onodrim had more of an army to call upon than anyone knew… Perhaps Mithrandir knew… or was he only guessing?
The booms came closer, and Legolas realized they were coming down the stream toward him. He sincerely hoped that the Hobbit was with them, and he wondered what had prompted the Ents' decision to leave Treebeard's Enthouse. I need but wait… They are nearly upon me…
"Be calm, Brennilroch," he said soothingly, as he stroked the mare's nose and neck. The horse trembled as the ground began to throb like a great drum as the Ents came nearer. "There is nothing to fear, they are friends…" he murmured. Then a sudden stab of anxiety pierced him. Could something have gone awry? Perhaps they have turned against us… and I left the Hobbit alone with them…
"Merry!" he called out loudly. "Meriadoc, are you there? Are you safe?"
For an anxious moment Legolas heard nothing but the pounding footfalls of the Ents. Then a high voice sang out.
"We're coming, Legolas!" the hobbit cried, and his piping voice carried easily over the deep rumbles. "Hi-ho, hooray! The March of the Ents has begun!"
Legolas had only minutes to wait before the looming figures of the Ents came into view between the gnarled oaks. Merry was perched on Quickbeam's shoulder, and his face was shining as he waved. Legolas mounted the mare so that his head would be high enough to converse with the Onodruin.
It took but a short time for him to ascertain exactly what the hobbit had done this morning. The Elf could not conceal his horrified alarm.
"You told them…what?" he said hoarsely.
Merry's eager smile fell. "I know I took a chance, Legolas, but I thought I could trust them, and…"
"How could you, Meriadoc!" Legolas groaned. "After all the warnings of Master Elrond, and Mithrandir…"
"Berate not your young friend, Master Elf," rumbled Treebeard. "Merry is very hasty, it is true… Hrmmm… But his are a hasty folk, I deem… And his quick trust was not misplaced." His voice fell even lower. "Indeed, his courage… hrmmm… and his trust was exactly what was required. For by opening his heart to us, your young friend succeeded… Hrmmm… where others might have failed." His grey-green eyes gleamed as he peered at Legolas. "That great evil stalks Fangorn has been abundantly clear for some time… Hrmmm… And that Saruman is the source of that danger is no news to me at all. Hrmmm… But when young Quickbeam—and you--spoke of a strike against the White Wizard, I could see no wisdom in it… hrmmm… For even if the Onodrim could bring down the walls of that fortress, I saw no end to the wars and evil yet to come… Hrmmm… But Merry's tale gave me hope… Hrmmm… Hope that the Shadow might yet be overcome, and by none other than the Small Young Folk of the Shire…" Treebeard turned to the hobbit, and his lips twitched upward into a smile. "Let it not be said," he said, his deep voice growing louder, "That when all other races of the Free Peoples played their part, only the Onodrim did nothing against the Darkness…. Hrmmm… As have the Smallest, so shall the Strongest… Hrmmm… The Folk of Fangorn shall come forth from their secret realm…" His ancient face grew solemn. "We shall march to war… Hrmmm… though it may well be the Last March of the Onodrim."
Then Treebeard turned toward Quickbeam.
"We shall come together in Entmoot… Hrmmm… It has been a long time, a very long time indeed," he muttered.
"Where is Entmoot?" Merry asked, from his perch on the younger Ent's shoulder.
"Entmoot is not a place, but is an event… hrmmm… An exceedingly rare event," Treebeard explained. "Entmoot is a gathering of all the Ents--all that remain awake enough to be roused, all that are willing…"
"There has not been an Entmoot in a thousand years," Quickbeam said. "And it has been longer still… Rhmmm… since we went to war…"
"It has been Three Ages," Treebeard said grimly. "We were called, and we came… Hrmmm… to Thangorodrim…" His eyes narrowed, and he seemed to gaze far off, toward the North. "It was there, at the Great Siege, that I first met… hrmmm… the one who is now called Gandalf… He was rather… hrmmm… different then…"
Merry blinked in awe. The hobbit sought out Legolas's eyes, but the Elf simply raised one brow and shrugged slightly.
"May I suggest that you wait at Wellinghall," Treebeard said, "if that pleases you… hrmmm… for it might be not be wise for… hrmmm…. strangers to accompany Quickbeam and I, as we seek out our folk."
Legolas frowned. "How long, Master Fangorn, do you believe it will take to gather the Onodrim?"
The Eldest swayed slowly back and forth. "We can move swiftly, when the need arises, but first we must find them all… It may take a two days… hrmmm… It may take more… hrmmm…"
Quickbeam interjected. "But then we shall have to convince the others to take action… rhmmm… And that, my friends, may take a good deal longer…"
"Two days," the Elf muttered, "And the meeting of the Onodrim will only just have begun…"
"All the more reason that we should part from you," Treebeard said. "Quickbeam, assist our young friend down from your shoulder…"
The younger Ent lowered Merry to the ground, and the hobbit stepped toward the horse of Lorien. But the Elf was frowning more deeply. He spoke.
"Master Fangorn, Master Bregolas," he said with a bow of his head. "And my friend, Meriadoc…" He gazed down at Merry, standing on the forest floor nearby. "I believe that I am no longer needed in Fangorn Forest." He stared at the hobbit, who looked stricken. "Merry, you will be safe here, with the Ents…" He looked up at Quickbeam. "You will keep him safe, will you not?"
"But Legolas," Merry cried. "Where are you going?"
The Elf regarded him sternly. "I go to seek our other friends, who, if all has gone well with them, should come soon to the Gap of Rohan. My heart cries out to me that battle is nigh, and that I shall be needed." He leaned down and caught Merry's hand and pressed it tightly. "Even now, Aragorn and Gimli speed to war, and I should be with them," he said softly. "And a battle is no place for you, Meriadoc…"
Merry's face flushed as Legolas released his hand and straightened. The Heir of Buckland blinked hard and held his head high.
"Be safe, yourself, Legolas," he whispered hoarsely. "And if you see our friends again---any of them--be sure to give them my best…"
Legolas smiled faintly. "That I shall most certainly do. Until we meet again, Meriadoc, may Star and Sun light your path." He nodded formally to the Ents, and with a whisper and a slight movement of his heels, the mare turned south. In a moment, his figure was hidden by the boles of the trees, and he was gone.
Merry's throat was tight, and his face felt hot. Alone, again… But no, not alone… He looked up, and Quickbeam and Treebeard were leaning over him with curious, small smiles on their strange and aged faces. Treebeard's eyes twinkled.
"I believe … hrmmm… that our folk will not find you such a stranger after all," he rumbled. "If you are willing, Master Merry… hrmmm… you may sit upon my shoulder now, and accompany me as I seek for the remnant of the Ents."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.