“Maybe you should stay here, Pip,” Merry said, hoisting his pack onto his back.
“I’m not going to be left behind!” Pippin stamped his foot. “Not a chance.”
They were standing outside of Bag-End, waiting for everyone to emerge. They’d just finished a hearty breakfast and were ready for their travels. Everyone was gathered by the front gate waiting for Jill and Frodo to finish cleaning up.
“Merry may be right,” Sam said quietly. “Your mother will certainly kill us if we take you along.”
“Stop acting so high and mighty,” Pippin said angrily. “It isn’t like the two of you have reached your majority either. We’re all still in our tweens and we are all going to be in a barrel full of trouble when we return from our trip. But we’re going anyway.”
“How old are you, Pippin?” Eustace asked, genuinely curious. He’d lived in the Shire enough times that he knew Hobbits didn’t reach their majority til they were thirty-three, and Pippin did seem a great deal younger than that.
“You can’t laugh,” Pippin said.
“No laughing. I can handle that,” Eustace replied.
Pippin sighed. “I’m only nineteen. But I’m fine! I don’t need to be babied. I can go on this trip. It’s just to Bree, after all.”
“Nineteen,” Eustace sighed. “You are a good deal to young to be traveling with us.”
“It’s too late now,” Pippin said as Frodo and Jill exited Bag-End. “We’ve made all our plans. I can just follow you if you leave me behind and I will too.”
“Are you arguing about Pippin’s age?” Frodo asked as he joined the group. “I think he’ll be fine. We’re just going to Bree, after all. It’s going to be dangerous, but he’ll be back home soon enough. We all will.”
“Can we just get going then?” Pippin asked.
“Lead the way,” Eustace said.
Pippin enthusiastically led the way down the road away from Bag-End, and away from Hobbiton and way from the Shire.
Away to the South, Faramir had related his dream to his brother who in turn had told their father Denethor.
“Seek the Halfling and the Sword that was Broken,” Denethor said slowly, stroking his stubbled cheek as he repeated the words of the dream. “I do not even begin to understand why Isildur’s Bane would be in the land of the Halflings. I would advise sending someone to Rivendell to discover the answer to this riddle.”
“Then I will ride for Rivendell at once,” Faramir said.
“No, no. I don’t want you to go,” Denethor said. “I don’t trust you to bring back Isildur’s Bane. It is too great a mission. I’ll send your brother.”
“Me, father?” Boromir asked.
“Do I have another son?” Denethor asked. “Yes, you. You must go to Rivendell, discover the truth about your brother’s dream, and bring back Isildur’s Bane. It belongs to our people. We are the heirs.”
“Isildur’s Bane is the One Ring,” Faramir said. “That is not something that should be brought to Gondor, to tempt us. And it would be unwise to put it so near to Mordor.”
“What do you know of wisdom?” Denethor asked. “I am asking this favor of your brother. You need not trouble your mind about it.”
Faramir and Boromir made eye contact. Boromir shrugged and tried to smile at his brother. Then he turned to his father. “I will go, father. I will see what I can discover.”
“And bring back a mighty gift for me!” Denethor said.
“I will do my best.”
Within a week’s time, Boromir was on his way to Rivendell.
Deep in the Misty Mountains, Gollum was crawling his way towards the gate of Moria.
“We do not likes it here. We hates the sun. The windses. But we likes it in our cave, oh yes. Yes we do. But the goblinses! We do not likes them. No, we don’t, precious. But they’s better than the sun. yes. We must go to the goblinses caves. We will be safes there. He won’t sees us there.”
Gandalf rode up to the gate of Isengard and under the archway and through the tunnel that led into the lush gardens that surrounded the tower of Orthanc. He rode straight up to the long staircase that led into the tower. As he dismounted, Saruman came slowly down the steps.
“It has been long since you have visited here, Gandalf the Grey; long since you have sought my wisdom and advice.”
Gandalf gazed at his old friend warily. “I bring news, Saruman. I do not seek advice.”
“But perhaps you should. Come, walk with me.”
Saruman placed a hand on Gandalf’s shoulder and guided him down one of the many paths that led through the gardens around Orthanc.
“Tell me, what is your news?”
“I have found the One Ring,” Gandalf said. He watched Saruman closely and saw the light that entered his eyes. A greedy light.
“Ah. So it is not lost beyond all hope.”
“No, it is not. It was in the Shire, all these years. Bilbo had it.”
“Bilbo’s ring? Who would have guessed it? You certainly did not.”
“No, I did not. I have been blind.”
“Very,” Saruman agreed.
“But we still have time,” Gandalf said. “Sauron is searching for the Ring. But we can still find a way to either hide it away.”
“You cannot hide the Ring from Sauron.”
“What would you propose we do?” Gandalf asked wearily.
“Use it,” Saruman replied. “Only to defeat Sauron. Then it could be hidden away. For use only when the world is in great need.”
“The Ring won’t answer to anyone but Sauron himself,” Gandalf replied.
“You do not know that for certain, Gandalf. We could perhaps wield it, you and I. Think of the power! To be used for good, of course.”
Gandalf did not reply.
“What have you done with the Ring?” Saruman asked. “Does Bilbo still have it?”
“No, no. Frodo does.”
“Ah. You grow foolish in you old age, Gandalf. To entrust such a prize to a Halfling? You should have brought it here to me.”
“You would have liked that, I suppose. But I did not think it would be wise.”
“The Halfling will not be able to keep the Ring from Sauron. He will find him, and he will kill him.”
“I have more hope.”
“Hope? What a foolish word. Hope. Sauron has already resurrected the nine. They are on their way to kill the Shire.”
“The nine? How do you know this?”
“I have seen it.”
“You still fool around with that Palantir? After all of our warnings? It is too dangerous! You do not know who may be watching!”
“I know who is watching,” Saruman replied.
Gandalf stopped walking. “Yes, I thought so. How long have you been aligned with him?”
“That does not matter. What matters now is whether or not you will join us.”
“Yes. Gandalf, there is no defeating Sauron. It is either death, or join him.”
“Then I choose death.”
Saruman looked at Gandalf incredulously. “I had not expected such an answer from you, my friend.”
“Then you do not know me at all.”
“Death it is, then.” Saruman replied, suddenly striking Gandalf with a blast of magic from his staff. Gandalf had been expecting such an attack and quickly blocked it. But Saruman was relentless and eventually Gandalf had to admit defeat. Saruman locked him up on the very top of Orthanc. From there, Gandalf watched as the weeks went by and the world below him changed. Orcs began to swarm around the valley below Orthanc. The trees were cut down. Great caverns were carved into the ground. It was a wretched sight.
Pedir watched the sun setting, the sky turning orange and yellow and gold. He sighed, leaning against the lodge at Sarn Ford. Sunsets would never get old.
“Are you well, father?” Elenion asked, leaning out the door.
“Supper is ready.”
Pedir turned away from the sunset and entered the lodge. Iorlas was filling up a plate of food for himself and Elenion had just grabbed a plate of his own.
“Who’s on watch tonight?” Harunir asked.
Pedir studied the group around him and then shrugged. “Draw straws. I don’t care.”
“I’ll take the first watch,” Elenion offered.
Soon after the meal, Iorlas went to bed. Harunir and Pedir sat by the fireside talking. Elenion made sure he had his sword and his bow and then he went outside and sat on the ground, leaning against the side of the lodge. He lit his pipe and watched darkness creep over the land and all the stars begin to shine brightly in the heavens.
It was summer, so he did not expect to be cold. But as the minutes passed, Elenion began to shiver. It was cold. An unnatural cold.
Elenion got to his feet, staring around him. Something was not right.
Then came an unearthly high-pitched scream. Pedir and Harunir came running out of the lodge just as three horses with riders cloaked in black came galloping up to Sarn Ford.
“Who goes there?” Pedir asked.
He was answered by another unearthly scream.
Then three more of the riders joined the first group and they charge the three men. With swords drawn, the Rangers ready themselves for the fight of their lives.
After so long exposed to the wind and rain atop Orthanc, Gandalf was finally able to catch a moth that flutter by one afternoon. He whispered softly to it, sending it for Gwaihir lord of the Eagles in the hopes of a rescue. He was not disappointed.
It was not many days before Gwaihir appeared, scooping Gandalf off the top of Orthanc in the middle of the night. The orcs down in the valley saw him and shot a few arrows, but they did not reach the Eagle.
“Where to, old friend?” Gwaihir asked.
“Rohan, if you please.”
“As you wish.”
Gwaihir flew Gandalf over the plains of Rohan and close to Edoras, though far enough away to not cause a scene.
“Here I shall leave you, old friend. Safe be your journeys!”
“Thank you, Gwaihir. If you would be so kind as to take a message to Radagast the Brown? Tell him my suspicions were true. Saruman has indeed joined forces with Sauron.”
“It is grave news I bear.”
“Yes, it is. Fare well, my old friend.”
Gwaihir left the ground in a flurry of wings and was soon out of sight. Gandalf leaned heavily upon his staff which he had retrieved from Orthanc before his rescue. Saruman was not as clever as he thought he was. It was only a matter of time before Gandalf had been able to counter the spells on the trap door that kept him on top of the tower. Once he was able to enter Orthanc he went straight to Saruman’s office to retrieve his stolen staff and then returned to the top of the tower to await the arrival of Gwaihir. And now he was slowly making his way toward the gates of Edoras. Theoden needed to be warned of the danger Sarumen presented now that he was aligned with Sauron.
Hamfast Gamgee sighed as he slowly walked toward Bagshot Row. It been days now, since Sam had disappeared, along with the other guests at Bag-End. Gone. Without a word to anyone. Not even a note for his old Gaffer or a letter to his sweetheart Rosie. Not that Rosie and Sam were allowed to court yet, no sir. Hamfast wasn’t about to let his son, still in his tweens, do such a thing. But there was no denying the attraction between them.
But what was the use in thinking about that? Sam was gone, to who knew where? It was exactly like old Bilbo, except that Bilbo had gone alone and Frodo had dragged a whole party of respectable hobbits off into the wilderness or wherever the devil he had gone. It was not natural. It wasn’t how it was supposed to be. It was…
It was freezing.
The Gaffer pulled his cloak more tightly about him. “Awful cold for a summer night,” he mused aloud.
There was a hiss behind him and quickly spun around, raising his lantern to see along the dark road. “Who’s there? What do you want? I ain’t afraid of you!”
“Baggins,” a creeky voice hissed. “Baggins.”
“Mr. Baggins isn’t at home. You’ll have to come back in the morning, or more likely in a year or so. When those Baggins leave the Shire and run off on adventures, there’s no telling where they go or when they come back.”
The voice hissed again and Hamfast Gamgee shivered from head to toe. That was not a natural voice. What was happening to this world? Where had the sanity gone?
Suddenly a tall horse galloped passed Hamfast, with a rider cloaked in black riding it. It turned towards him as it passed him and Hamfast was almost certain there had been no face where there ought to have been one.
“Pull yourself together. Of course there was a face! Why wouldn’t there have been a face? Just one of the Big Folk passing through. Maybe an old friend of Bilbo’s. It’s no concern of ours.”