The Old Forest

by Tinidril


The Old Forest
or People Don't Go in There

"Oh yes they do!" said Merry, "The Brandybucks go in--occasionally when the fit takes them. We have a private entrance. Frodo went in once, long ago. I have been in several times: usually in daylight, of course, when the trees are sleepy and fairly quiet." A Conspiracy Unmasked, FotR

"But you won't have any luck in the Old Forest," objected Fredegar. "No one ever has any luck in there. You'll get lost."

Fredegar's fussing brought to Merry's mind the one time Frodo had ventured into the Old Forest. It was long ago when he was a young lad and Frodo barely in his 'tweens.

A precocious 6 year old, Merry already knew every nook and cranny of the labyrinthine Brandy Hall. He also knew of, and had seen, the private gate leading through the great hedge and into the Old Forest.

It was on a fine summer day when Frodo was watching Merry that they took an early morning walk along the hedge.

"Couthin Fwodo, wanna thee a thecret Doo'h?" Pronouncing r's had always been difficult for little Merry, but now that his front teeth were missing, he had trouble with his s's, too.

Frodo raised his eyebrows, giving Merry a sidelong glance, and smiled. "A secret door, eh? Where is it?"

"Juth follow me, Fwodo!" and Merry tugged excitedly until they reached a small culvert partially overgrown with vines and shrowded with webs still glistening with dew. And if he hadn't been so close, Frodo would not have seen the passageway as anything more than a slight gap between the great boles of the hedge.

When their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they could see the rough brickwork lining a tunnel, leading down among the deep roots. A cool draft of moist, earthy air freshened their faces as they decended to an old iron gate.

There was no obvious latch. Frodo groped along the edges, trying to find a way to open it, without success.

"I know how to do it!" piped Merry, his shrill voice pinging an echo along the low ceiling.

He knelt down to the iron base and grasped what appeared to be an ornamental ironwork of leafy vines, squeezing as hard as he could, but failing to open the latch.

"Let me help you, Merry-lad," said Frodo as he added his strength to the effort. A satisfying 'click', and the gate groaned noisily on its hinge.

"Let'th go, Fwodo!" Merry would have dragged him through but Frodo stopped.

"No, Merry, I think we've had enough Adenture for today!" He was using that infuriating grown-up tone that always made Merry chaffe stubbornly at the bit. "Besides, it's almost time for Elevensies, and then it's rest-time for you, my lad."

"Aww!" Merry whined. Though secretly he was glad because he was beginning to feel hungry, and the mention of food had quite made up his mind to go along.

After a good meal, Frodo put Merry down for a rest in his room. The great Brandy Hall was never empty, so there was no lack of supevision. But as soon as Frodo closed the door, Merry was up with his forehead pressed against the window, wishing he could be on another Adventure. He fell asleep, head cradled in his arm, sitting on the window seat.

He woke when he heard Frodo enter the room, breathing hard and looking rather pale. Merry only looked at him with wide-eyed alarm.

"You know those stories they tell about the Old Forest? Well, they're true!" Frodo collapsed on Merry's bed and closed his eyes.

"What happened, Fwodo?" Merry's eyes were still wide, but now they sparkled with keen curiosity.

Frodo's eyes flew open, but to Merry's great consternation, all he said, after an involuntary shudder, was a whispered, "They're alive!"

Merry's reverie was interrupted by Fredegar's emphatic statement, "People don't go in there."

"Oh yes they do!" said Merry. "The Brandybucks go in--occasionally when the fit takes them. We have a private entrance. Frodo went in once, long ago. I have been in several times: usually in daylight, of course, when the trees are sleepy and fairly quiet."