This, Sam thought, was without doubt a very foolish idea. His gaffer would've said so, in not so many words, and even Merry might have said it, though he suspected Merry would've come along anyway. That was a Brandybuck for you, and in any case, what they'd seen out yonder – well, it was still foolish, but it was hard to make it measure to other things for dangerous.
Pippin, though, he probably could make it measure, which was why Sam hadn't asked him or Merry, since telling Merry meant probably telling Pippin. And he didn't want to trouble Mr. Frodo, who had enough cares, and there was definitely no reason to tell Rosie. Which meant he hadn't told a single living soul, in fact.
But here he was, standing before the gate in the Hedge and wondering if he would be back for supper at Crickhollow or not. And what would happen if he were not. No good, he thought, and drawing a deep breath, plunged through gate, clutching his little gift close.
He'd been all over the Shire of late, pulling dead stumps, planting new seeds – making a garden fit to match the Lady's gift to him. Such wanton destruction had left him tearful sometimes, and mad others, and he did his sowing with a vengeance, as might be said. Old Saruman and his Ruffians and all their works had to be rooted out, one and all, like weeds – only way to properly repay them, in his mind, to leave nothing they'd done untouched. One hobbit could not repair all things, but he'd done as much as one hobbit possibly could. And when he could do no more, he'd thrown his little patch of Lórien into the air and the care of the winds for the Shire's rebirth.
A few little grains, though, had clung to the sides of the box, refusing the winds, and leaving him with a puzzle. What to do with them?
He could've used them all on Bag End and the New Row and made Rosie a garden the likes of which few had ever known in the world, outside of the elven lands. But his own mood and memories of all the horror of the Quest had set him thinking – thinking that maybe, just maybe, there were others who deserved a reckoning. Deserved maybe something like an "I'm sorry", because really, who was to say what the real matter had been, all those years ago? Treebeard's old eyes stuck in his mind, and he remembered walking with Merry and Pippin around Isengard, in amid all the trees, listening to them recall – in that scattered, quiet way of folk who didn't need to say a lot to get a lot said – everything that'd happened there and in Treebeard's forest. And he remembered the sudden, eerie feeling that'd come over him, as if the trees were bending in to listen, and the wind in their branches had sounded like a lament, as if they, too, were mourning in the remembering, using Merry and Pippin to get their sighs out.
The trees of the Old Forest had been like that, but angrier – wrathfuler, as he thought it. They were remembering something, and who knew what? Hobbits had come late to this part of the world, something everyone knew, but nobody thought about it. They'd found the land empty of all, save trees. Who counts trees, though?
The faint little path that issued from the Hedge-gate had long since given up, and Sam, winding his way amid the great, dark trunks of the trees, kept an eye on the light in the sky, and steered as nearly northeast as he could. The hairs on his arms were all astand, and he had that gooseflesh feeling down his back and neck, but the air was still. No one was whispering, but he knew he was watched. Did they remember him? he wondered. Could the trees of the Old Forest remember one particular hobbit, or did they see only hobbit-shape?
Like them Black Riders, the horrible thought occurred to him, and made him shiver. Seein' only our shadow shapes in their minds.
He almost gave up right then, truth be told. If there were one thing not to think of in the Old Forest, it was Black Riders. But he recalled his purpose, gathered his courage, and determined himself to go "just a little farther", and hope that he would come upon his aim.
And in fact, as luck would have it, he did. Of a sudden, the forest opened before him, and he was faced with the ring of trees about the Bonfire Glade. To Sam's eyes, not a thing, not a single stalk, had changed – time had flowed right around the little clearing and left every nettle and hemlock untouched, if not, indeed, frozen. It struck him as a desperate holding forth, for some reason – like a scar that would not be permitted to fade.
Sam stood there in the center of the clearing, wavering as he looked about. Maybe he shouldn't have come, but...
"Late's better than never, and an apology's always timely," he muttered, repeating the words his gaffer had been so fond of. So he opened Galadriel's box to the last few gleaming grains of earth, and ran a finger about to collect them. Then he went about the old burn-mark ring and, as near as he could, laid one grain at all the quarters of the compass, before going to the center of the glade to leave the last two clinging granules. He gave the earth a little pat and straightened up.
The air was as thick as before, and thicker, and he'd the sense of many more eyes, if eyes they were, peering at him. Was it his imagination or did he hear something moving in the earth, like a hundred knobby roots crawling forward unseen to taste or touch or whatever it was trees did to soil? A scratchy, brambly silence filled the air, and Sam shook himself. Finish the job, my lad!
"Just to say," Sam said, and coughed to clear and settle his voice. "Just to say, it's not been so neighborly between us and you. Don't know the why of it – just hasn't been, but maybe we know better now what it's been like out here ever since... things... happened. Nobody deserves that. Thought, ah, thought maybe this would help and show our, er, regards. Er..."
Still nothing, and Sam, never one for fine speeches and many words, stumbled to an awkward halt. After several moments standing there, helplessly, he sighed, and, feeling just a little foolish, made the trees a deep, sweeping bow, and then retreated as gracefully as possible.
The forest was still thick and dark as he made his way back – hopefully! – towards the gate in the Hedge. And within some little while, perhaps a quarter hour, he could see it, that dark line between the trees' trunks, and he sighed with relief, speeding up a bit.
But as he got within view of the tunnel, something brushed his shoulder. Sam stopped dead in his tracks, for it wasn't wind, and it was no spider – he reached up and hesitantly felt at the great sweep of moss that draped there, then glanced up at the tree from which it hung. The tree did not move.
Sam, after a moment, cautiously stepped out from under its mossy fingers, and said, "Beg your pardon," and bowed again, and continued on his way. But as he walked, he felt many a strange caress against his skin, as it seemed the trees somehow, without him seeing it, grew closer, so as to brush up against him with their leaves and ivy and moss. Not to grasp or cling, but they were simply there. It made for a ticklish path, but Sam didn't complain of it, and he was careful not to break any branches or twigs or leaves off as he went.
At length, he reached the tunnel and passed within its sheltering thicket, and then out into the bright sunny lanes of the Shire. There he paused and closed his eyes, exhaling with relief. His skin still tingled with sensation, and he had a feeling he was covered in dust and strange pollen, but he'd made it in and out, and the thing was done.
Looks like I'll be back for supper, he thought, and whistling, headed down the road for Crickhollow.
That evening, he and Merry and Pippin sat outside and supped, and chatted, and watched the sun go down, and the stars come out.
"Will you look at that," Merry said, marveling at the fiery color, and the winking bright Evenstar gleaming in it all.
"And feel that wind!" Pippin added. For of a sudden, a cool breeze came calling, and such a breeze! Not a gale or a gust, but a steady blowing, and yet, as the hobbits sat there, they became aware of a strangeness to it – it was as if it were many winds, all laced together, buffeting this way and that, making little swirls and eddies to tease at a body from all sides, but gently. And though it was not strong, it did seem to whistle as it went...
Merry and Pippin gave each other a look, then glanced at Sam, who was staring back along the wind's path, transfixed. "Sam?" Merry asked.
"It's from the Old Forest," he murmured. "The airs – they're from the Forest."
"The Old Forest?"
"Yes. It's the trees," Sam said, face shining with wonderment. "They're... singing!"
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.