They come with fire, they come with axes, biting, burning...destroyers
and usurpers, curse them! And so it is my habit sometimes, when I am in a
somewhat...haroom...hasty mood, to set myself down near to the borders of
Fangorn forest and listen...for orcs.
On this night in winter I was dozing in an ash grove. I had spent a few days in conversation with Ashwing, quite a master of treelore but not as clever as he likes to think. Then I felt a tremor in the trees around me, like a wave rushing through the green heart of the woods. It grew and grew until it became a great roar of anger. Axes! Trees were being felled within my very hearing and the whole forest cried out. Ashwing for once was speechless, but I had to find out what was happening, so I crept up to the edge of the forest and there in the moonlight were not orcs but great uruk-hai, cutting branches and young trees for firewood. My heart swelled with rage and hasty thoughts spun through my mind. But I waited, which is what Ents have done since time began; closed my eyes and waited...
Soon another sound came, and I knew the noise of battle. Steel on steel instead of on wood, and I was glad; let them destroy themselves. I dozed, when suddenly I felt footsteps on the forest floor. Orcs fleeing into the forest? How foolish! I curled my roots into the soil and watched through narrowed eyes...
Two little orcs dashed into the glade at my feet. I wanted to stamp them into the ground, so great was my anger, but I have never been hasty and this was no time to start. In any case, they seemed unlike any orcs I had ever seen; they did not wear those grey weeds and rusty armour and they bore no steel blades or axes. They wore bright colours and clothes woven of warm wool and stitched linen. I sniffed and thought they smelled of grasslands and ploughed fields and autumn hedges. Strange orcs! They had bright curly heads and they ran softly on bare feet, not shod in iron like orcs....I hesitated and watched to see what they might do next...
‘They’ve gone!’ said the one dressed in a sunshine-coloured waistcoat to his companion, but even as he spoke a third orc broke through the trees, heartlessly tearing branches and leaves aside.
‘I’ll rip out your filthy little innards...’
Strange, these orcs did not seem to be getting on with each other! I was pondering the variety to be found in orcs these days when the third one raised a blade....a BLADE!...and went to do certain harm to the first two. Before I could make up my mind what to do next one of the little orcs seized hold of my beard and climbed up my trunk!
Now I am not easily roused, but when a little orc uses one as a ladder something hasty is bound to happen. I opened my eyes to get a good look at him.
He was definitely a mortal, not an Elf. An Elf would have hailed me and we could have talked long into the next week or so. But he had something of their light way of touching a tree, I give him that. He was small, only half the height of a man, and when he saw me looking at him he took fright and let go his hold on my trunk. I really should have let him fall but something prompted me to catch him as he fell. It was like catching a sparrow, and I heard the breath driven out of him. The orc with the blade had by now cornered his friend and was about to finish him off but I decided to put a stop to that and stamped on him.
And that was how I met the hobbits, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrine Took. Hasty names, but then they were hasty folk, and too small to take their time about things. Time, on the other hand, is what Ents have above all. I have more than most; I am older than nearly anything on Middle Earth, even the Elves. I have outlasted every age, every war, every being. Which I tried very hard to explain to the hobbits!
‘What about Saruman?’ demanded Meriadoc of me when the Entmoot I had called precisely to debate these matters was not proceeding as hastily as he wanted.
‘What have you decided about him?’
‘Now Meriadoc, don’t be hasty!’ I rebuked him.
‘Hasty!’ he said, and the Ents gathered for the moot shivered their leaves in horror at his impetuosity. But he paid no attention, and pointed to the South.
‘Our friends are out there, they need our help!’
For a moment I did not answer. I felt a tremor in the ground, a wind in the topmost branches. I felt change coming over the Earth. Sauron might conquer and we Ents be no more the worse. He might be defeated and we would be no wiser even. But the little one was right, far away great events were in hand that would change the Earth forever. Their little feet were the footsteps of doom to us, and to many who had walked the earth since the start of time. Yet I feared to be hasty...I went back to the Entmoot and we continued our debate. At last I bore to the impatiently waiting hobbits the judgement of the Ents.
‘We must weather this as we have always done. This is not our war..’ Meriadoc looked about him at beings older and wiser than he and cried
‘But you’re part of this world...aren’t you?’
It is a strange thing with mortals, when they grieve they weep. We Ents are not so easily moved. We are not so hasty as to spill sap in such a reckless way! But now I observed the little one called Meriadoc weeping for these friends of his, cast away in some great war. I tried to comfort him.
‘You are young and brave, Master Meriadoc. But your part in this tale is ended....’
Strange! The thought of escaping danger meant nothing to him, he only grieved the more. I could do nothing else, and left him to be consoled by his companion.
The one called Peregrine was even smaller and lighter than Meriadoc. He reminded me of those little field mice that creep up and tickle me, he had a cheerful face and bright eyes and seemed timid and quiet. Yet when I placed the two hobbits on my topmost branches to bring them to the Western borders of Fangorn he clambered to the very top and sat looking out fearlessly. Meriadoc sat in silence, and we might be Ents but our hearts are not made of wood, and I knew he was broken-hearted.
Hardly had I set off when Peregrine started shouting;
‘Stop! Stop! Turn round....take us south!’
‘But that will bring you close to Isengard’ I said, aghast; to be honest I had grown very fond of these little mortals, and would not wish to place them in danger. But Peregrine was not to be denied.
‘The closer to danger, the further we are from harm’ he said, nonsensically. In my heart I feared that they wished to throw their already short lives away helping their friends. But what on earth could something as small as a hobbit achieve? I sighed and agreed. I like going south, somehow it feels like going downhill.
And so I fell into the little creature’s trap; I strode out into the place where the glade of Nan Curunir had stood expecting to meet my friends and found....only burned and blackened stumps. All my trees were dead. It was the beginning of the end of our Age. I summoned the Ents to go to war, for I knew then that it would be the last march of the Ents. The world had changed, and we were part of the world....
‘This looks strangely familiar’
‘Because we’ve been here before. We’re going round in circles!’
‘You’re right! I can see the car park..’
‘Give me that map, Paddy!’
‘It’s not my fault! Everywhere looks the same. I don’t like forests.’
‘I’m not saying it’s your fault, but we better find this tree before we freeze to death.’
‘Whose New Year’s resolution was it to drive down from Dublin in the dead of winter to look at a tree?’
‘It’s not just a tree, it’s MY tree, planted for me by the government. We all got one to mark the millenium.’
‘No, no, Russell. It was a good idea, we all thought so, it is just the map-reading that is rubbish...’
‘I think if we take the lower path from the ridge we will find it. I’m not leaving without seeing my tree...’
From the top of the hill the neat gravel path led off in three directions. All around stretched rows of saplings. Snow clouds gathered on the brow of the Galtymores and a keen wind blew from the East.
‘I need a hot whiskey’
‘Soon, Paddy, soon. We are definitely getting close. The numbers are...here it is!’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, it is CRDP0807182, here it says it on the certificate!’
‘It’s a bit skimpy, isn’t it?’
‘It’s just a baby, Mick’
‘What kind of tree is it?’
‘It’s an oak.’
The wind suddenly died down and snowflakes began to fall, slowly and softly, but the three young men stood looking at the tiny yearling tree. At length Russell said;
‘When man landed on the moon what did he find?’
‘What?’ said the others together.
‘Nothing. Just a big cat litter tray. No life, no colour, nothing. We had to leave the world to find out we are part of it.’
The snow intensified, the wind rose again.
‘What is that noise?’
‘It’s the wind in the tops of great trees.’
‘What great trees? There is nothing here but twigs!’
‘There will be, there will be....’