The Magnificent Speaks

by Avondster


CHAPTER 5

Merry struggled to keep his emotions at bay, while Rosie (who seemed to disappear and reappear with refreshments at appropriate times) handed out her famous cookies to the children. Athelas took three, but wasn't so easily distracted. It was just beginning to get exiting!
"Go on Da, please!"
Merry looked into the eyes of his daughter. She was still so young… Younger than Pippin had been on that faithful day where his story was stuck now. Would she understand?
Pippin suddenly chuckled. "Hey Merry, do you know this is actually the first time I've seen you tell something to Athelas without her interrupting?"
Sam laughed out loud and a few of the older children giggled. Athelas blushed at the remark but smiled at her youngest uncle, who grinned at her teasingly.
Merry was also grinning. Pippin had guessed what he was thinking. And he was right. This was the only way he could tell his child of the dangers of the world and make her listen. If there was a way for her to understand, this was the one. He straightened his back. "All right then, I'll continue.

I was the first of us to wake the next morning. I woke up at four, probably from all the exitement I was feeling. I got up and started making preparations for both breakfast and packing, but after a few minutes I heard a voice behind me. "Let me help you with that, Mr. Merry, and you go and put the packs on the ponies and all."
Sam took the frying pan out of my hands. I laughed. "Do you ever sleep, Sam?" I would learn on our journey that Sam was a very light sleeper, ever watchful and started awake at the slightest sound. A good thing with so many dangers surrounding. But at that time, I didn't think about it and was just glad I had someone to help me.
I had wondered if he was upset with me about me 'betraying' him to Frodo. I stood around clumsily. "Look, Sam, I…"
A great noise echoed through the kitchen as I bumped into the rack with pans and a few of them clattered on the stone floor. We both dropped on our knees to pick them up. Pippin's sleepy head appeared out of the doorway. He looked so comical, with his blurry eyes and messy hair, we couldn't help but laugh out loud. Pippin grimaced and disappeared again.
"You were saying, Mr. Merry?" asked Sam.
"Well… about me giving you away to Frodo… I didn't mean to… I hope you…"
Sam shook his head. "Don't mention it, Mr. Merry. It's as you said: no more secrets."
Had I said that? I believed I had only thought it. I looked at Sam, who looked back with a glint in his eye. "Now, if you pardon me, please get out of the kitchen before you do any more damage." He waved the frying pan in mock threat, and I hurried out, thinking that there was more to this shy gardener than meets the eye.

I had expected Fatty, or at least Frodo, to wake up from the noise, but as I opened the door to my cousin's room, he was still fast asleep. I looked at him for a moment, and the thought crossed my mind that this might be the last time for a long while that Frodo would sleep so peacefully. I sighed and pounded on the door. Frodo bolted upright almost immediately and stared at me with large, bewildered eyes. I could see he had been dreaming, and it took some time for him to focus. "All right!" he cried. "What is it?"
"What is it!" I cried. "It is time to get up. It is half past four and very foggy. Come on! Sam is already getting breakfast ready. Even Pippin is up."
That remark seemed to give him strength to get out of bed, and he silently dressed while I urged him to go and wake Fatty up.

It took us a little longer than I expected to get ready, but finally we set off to the Forest. I looked back at the dimly lit windows of Crickhollow and tried to see the Hall in the distance, wondering when I would see it again.
At the Hedge we said goodbye to Fatty. I was a little disappointed he would not be coming with us, but on the other hand I was glad. Now it was just us. As much as we all loved Fatty, and he loved us, the four of us were some sort of family. Ever since I was a child, I had looked at Frodo and Pippin as more than just cousins. They were more like brothers. We were a family. Sam seemed to belong with us ever since Frodo came to live at Bag End. Of all the people I knew, these were the ones I wanted to go on adventure with.

When I closed the gate behind us and we entered the Old Forest, I felt strangely divided, so to speak. Here I was, leaving behind everything I knew, to go on some wild adventure. Behind this gate lay the world as I knew it, before me lay a dangerous and unknown future. For a moment I hesitated. Then I saw Frodo, silhouetted in the mist and looking at me, and my doubts were pushed aside. He needed me.
"There!" I said firmly, not knowing whether I was talking to myself or the others. "You have left the Shire, and are now outside, and on the edge of the Old Forest."
As we rode on, I told Pippin some stories I knew about the Forest, although I don't know why I told them, as they were not very comforting to him, considering we were IN the Forest at that very moment.

When I had finished my story, Pippin, and the others, seemed even more apprehensive. And I must admit I, too, felt uncomfortable, as the enmity of the Forest towards us became almost tangible. I kept cheerful, though, I figured showing my uncertainty would not get us any further. I was the one who knew the Forest, after all, and I felt it was my duty to get us through. I didn't know of what use I could be later on, but for now, Frodo would be able to rely on me to lead them this far. With this in mind, I led them on, looking back every now and then. Frodo seemed to be the least troubled of all. He did not look comfortable, of course, but he also looked at me in a way I knew he trusted me. The others did look rather doubtful. Sam seemed concerned and Pippin downright scared. He suddenly called out to the trees, begging them to let him through, and I felt my stomach squirm. Don't do that, Pip, you silly Took! I wanted to yell to him. But I kept my tone casual and my words polite. If I hadn't done either one of those things, he would be upset even more.

It was far from easy, finding our way through. Every now and then I felt my pony stumble on some sort of obstacle, and I kept looking around to see if I could find anything that I recognised from my previous visit. At a certain point I nearly panicked. We had gotten to a place I did not know at all. Could it be? Did the trees in this forest really move and did they deliberately make me lose the way? Or was my memory just this bad and had I taken a wrong way somewhere? If so, how could I get us back? I looked around frantically, realising too late I should try to look a little less concerned. But Pippin, reading my face correctly, had already spotted it. "It has not taken you long to lose us," he said. I cringed at his words, casual as he tried to make them sound. I looked up high, as if looking for help there - and saw a small gap in the roof of leaves. And under it: the Bonfire Glade. My panic lessened, and I could now see other things I could recognise.
Riding on to the Glade, the thought struck me that if these trees indeed moved, we would have a long way ahead of us yet, and my knowledge of the Forest wasn't going to be so helpful to us after all."


CHAPTER 6

The children all released their breaths at the same time, it seemed. Even being the children of the leading characters in this story, they were still gripped by the exitement and tension of its telling. All the previous versions of it they had heard seemed to be swept away from their minds, and they listened as if hearing it for the first time.
Merry examined the eager faces of his audience for a while, before taking a deep breath and continuing.

"On the Glade, we could not feel the ill of the Forest on us so heavily, and that gave us courage. But once we were back beneath the trees again, it seemed to have doubled. Or maybe we just felt like that, I don't know. We were all starting to get more anxious, and I started to fear that our noble Quest would not even make it out of the Forest. Still, I kept my head up and pretended not to feel the tension, not to hear the strained silence.
That is until Frodo started singing.

When we were children, Frodo told me to sing a song when I was afraid or sad. "Where words fail, music speaks," he often said. One of Bilbo's favorite sayings.
When I heard Frodo's clear voice singing - muffled by the strange, thick air so that I would not have understood the words, had I not known the song - my heart sank. This meant that he, too, was afraid. And he had a right to be, I thought angrily. He trusted me to find the way through and I failed him! What a fool you are, Merry Brandybuck! You are just as scared as the others! But I would die before showing it. What would we be then? Four scared little lost Hobbits. That would not get us anywhere.

It only got worse. At lunch on a tall hill, I looked out for directions. There was still much forest left to go through, and I would have to make sure that we would not lose our way and end up by the Withywindle, or worse: the Barrow-downs.
But my first fear was already fulfilled: after hours of wandering around I finally saw something I knew; but I wasn't sure I was happy with it or not. The Withywindle river. As I went to explore I found a path, and that gave me some hope. Perhaps this river wasn't so bad as everyone said. I led us on, hoping that the end of the path would show us nothing but the way out.

We were leading the ponies now, and walking; it was too difficult to ride on the oneven ground full of obstacles. The afternoon seemed to be nearing, and it was extremely hot. The air itself seemed to be sweating, flies were simply everywhere.
I felt more tired than ever before in my life. It was as if there was some sticky substance on the insides of my eyelids, that made it extremely difficult to open them again when I blinked. My head fell down several times before I jerked awake again temporarily; I stumbled every now and then. Then I tripped over something I recognised as Pippin. He had fallen flat on his face on the path. I nudged him, and we crawled to a shadowy place against a willow, before falling fast asleep.

I jerked awake when I suddenly heard a snapping click beside me. I was in a little hollow under the willow, and the presence of the tree was so strong I could almost hear it think. In a split second, I tried to wriggle out; but while I was doing that, I felt an iron grip take hold of me. It was like my waist was in between a pair of scissors. I could not move, and even if I could, I would not have dared.
I could see Pippin through a tiny hole in the wood. He was not moving, either. Was he being held as well, was he just too afraid or… no, I could not think about that.
Where were Frodo and Sam? Would they come and save us?

After a while, I could hear voices coming near me. I felt clammy hands grab my feet and pull, and hear Sam's groan as he tried to open the crack, but it was no use. I heard their voices mumble, but the sound was so muffled I could not make out what they said. One pair of feet moved away and came back. There was a silence of seconds that seemed to take ages. Then, the grip of the tree tightened, and an excruciating pain in my side told me that they were trying to force the tree to let me go.
I did not know whether the voice I heard was only in my mind, but at that point, I didn't really care. "Tell them to put it out!" it said.
I kept my silence, and did not know if I did it out of bravery or fear. The tree squeezed harder and I let out a scream of pain. "Tell them!" the tree hissed, "tell them or I'll squeeze you in two!" I heard Pippin scream in fear or pain beside me.
"Put it out!" I yelled, not sure if they could hear me. "Put it out!"
I heard Frodo yell something back I could not understand. I just kept telling them to put it out, each word with immense trouble and pain.
Finally, the tree loosened its grip a little, and I assumed they had put the fire out. But I could not hear them anymore now. I kept very silent, and tried to move my feet. Perhaps I could get out. But instead of getting out, more of me was getting in. I could hear the tree make a sound like he was laughing, and resisted the urge to try and hit it; I did not want my feet to be chopped off.

It was still quiet and I was just wondering if maybe they had given up and moved on - a thought that pained me even more than the tree's grip - when I heard them come back. I immediately scolded myself for thinking Frodo would ever leave me behind, but stopped when I heard another voice, much lower than a Hobbit's voice. It was singing words I could make out, but not understand. There was something in that voice that made it different from any other I had ever heard. I wasn't afraid anymore all of a sudden. The feeling came back in my limbs and I could move again. Then I felt two strong hands seize my legs and I was pulled out with surprisingly little difficulty.
I blinked against the light as I looked into the eyes of the man before me. I immediately realised he was old. Older than anything I had ever seen before.
I heard Pippin fall on the ground beside me and got up with some difficulty to look at him. He was wide-eyed and pale, but seemed to be alright. My gaze wandered to Sam, who looked puzzled and immensely relieved at the same time, and Frodo, whose hair and clothes were damp - for a moment I wondered why, but I forgot to ask.
We thanked Tom Bombadil, because that's who it was of course, in stammering voices, and followed him as he led the way to his house. Sam explained to Pippin and me what had happened. Frodo just walked on beside him, sometimes looking up at us with something in his eyes I could only describe as immense grattitude.

Then we walked into a glade and looked upon the most welcoming house we had ever seen in our lives."