Hobbits pursued by Nazgûl through the Marish
Event Type: Military/Strategic
Age: 3rd Age - Ring War
Date: September 25, 3018
An event in Frodo's Departure from the Shire; see that entry for an overview:
Frodo finished his breakfast in silence. Then standing up he looked over the land ahead, and called to Pippin.
'All ready to start?' he said as Pippin ran up. 'We must be getting off at once. We slept late; and there are a good many miles to go.'
'You slept late, you mean,' said Pippin. 'I was up long before; and we are only waiting for you to finish eating and thinking.'
'I have finished both now. And I am going to make for Bucklebury Ferry as quickly as possible. I am not going out of the way, back to the road we left last night: I am going to cut straight across country from here.'
'Then you are going to fly,' said Pippin. 'You won't cut straight on foot anywhere in this country.'
'We can cut straighter than the road anyway,' answered Frodo. 'The Ferry is east from Woodhall; but the hard road curves away to the left — you can see a bend of it away north over there. It goes round the north end of the Marish so as to strike the causeway from the Bridge above Stock. But that is miles out of the way. We could save a quarter of the distance if we made a line for the Ferry from where we stand.'
'Short cuts make long delays,' argued Pippin. 'The country is rough round here, and there are bogs and all kinds of difficulties down in the Marish — I know the land in these parts. And if you are worrying about Black Riders, I can't see that it is any worse meeting them on a road than in a wood or a field.'
'It is less easy to find people in the woods and fields,' answered Frodo. 'And if you are supposed to be on the road, there is some chance that you will be looked for on the road and not off it.'
'All right!' said Pippin. 'I will follow you into every bog and ditch. But it is hard! I had counted on passing the Golden Perch at Stock before sundown. The best beer in the Eastfarthing, or used to be: it is a long time since I tasted it.'
'That settles it!' said Frodo. 'Short cuts make delays, but inns make longer ones. At all costs we must keep you away from the Golden Perch. We want to get to Bucklebury before dark. What do you say, Sam?'
'I will go along with you, Mr. Frodo,' said Sam (in spite of private misgiving and a deep regret for the best beer in the Eastfarthing).
'Then if we are going to toil through bog and briar, let's go now!' said Pippin.
It was already nearly as hot as it had been the day before; but clouds were beginning to come up from the West. It looked likely to turn to rain. The hobbits scrambled down a steep green bank and plunged into the thick trees below. Their course had been chosen to leave Woodhall to their left, and to cut slanting through the woods that clustered along the eastern side of the hills, until they reached the flats beyond. Then they could make straight for the Ferry over country that was open, except for a few ditches and fences. Frodo reckoned they had eighteen miles to go in a straight line.
He soon found that the thicket was closer and more tangled than it had appeared. There were no paths in the undergrowth, and they did not get on very fast. When they had struggled to the bottom of the bank, they found a stream running down from the hills behind in a deeply dug bed with steep slippery sides overhung with brambles. Most inconveniently it cut across the line they had chosen. They could not jump over it, nor indeed get across it at all without getting wet, scratched, and muddy. They halted, wondering what to do. 'First check!' said Pippin, smiling grimly.
Sam Gamgee looked back. Through an opening in the trees he caught a glimpse of the top of the green bank from which they had climbed down.
'Look!' he said, clutching Frodo by the arm. They all looked, and on the edge high above them they saw against the sky a horse standing. Beside it stooped a black figure.
They at once gave up any idea of going back. Frodo led the way, and plunged quickly into the thick bushes beside the stream. 'Whew!' he said to Pippin. 'We were both right! The short cut has gone crooked already; but we got under cover only just in time. You've got sharp ears, Sam: can you hear anything coming?'
They stood still, almost holding their breath as they listened; but there was no sound of pursuit. 'I don't fancy he would try bringing his horse down that bank,' said Sam. 'But I guess he knows we came down it. We had better be going on.'
Going on was not altogether easy. They had packs to carry, and the bushes and brambles were reluctant to let them through. They were cut off from the wind by the ridge behind, and the air was still and stuffy. When they forced their way at last into more open ground, they were hot and tired and very scratched, and they were also no longer certain of the direction in which they were going. The banks of the stream sank, as it reached the levels and became broader and shallower, wandering off towards the Marish and the River.
'Why, this is the Stock-brook!' said Pippin. 'If we are going to try and get back on to our course, we must cross at once and bear right.'
They waded the stream, and hurried over a wide open space, rush-grown and treeless, on the further side. Beyond that they came again to a belt of trees: tall oaks, for the most part, with here and there an elm tree or an ash. The ground was fairly level, and there was little undergrowth; but the trees were too close for them to see far ahead. The leaves blew upwards in sudden gusts of wind, and spots of rain began to fall from the overcast sky. Then the wind died away and the rain came streaming down. They trudged along as fast as they could, over patches of grass, and through thick drifts of old leaves; and all about them the rain pattered and trickled. They did not talk, but kept glancing back, and from side to side.
After half an hour Pippin said: 'I hope we have not turned too much towards the south, and are not walking longwise through this wood! It is not a very broad belt — I should have said no more than a mile at the widest — and we ought to have been through it by now.'
'It is no good our starting to go in zig-zags,' said Frodo. 'That won't mend matters. Let us keep on as we are going! I am not sure that I want to come out into the open yet.'
They went on for perhaps another couple of miles. Then the sun gleamed out of ragged clouds again and the rain lessened. It was now past mid-day, and they felt it was high time for lunch. They halted under an elm tree: its leaves though fast turning yellow were still thick, and the ground at its feel was fairly dry and sheltered. When they came to make their meal, they found that the Elves had filled their bottles with a clear drink, pale golden in colour: it had the scent of a honey made of many flowers, and was wonderfully refreshing. Very soon they were laughing, and snapping their fingers at rain, and at Black Riders. The last few miles, they felt, would soon be behind them.
Frodo propped his back against the tree-trunk, and closed his eyes. Sam and Pippin sat near, and they began to hum, and then to sing softly:
Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go
To heal my heart and drown my woe.
Rain may fall and wind may blow,
And many miles be still to go,
But under a tall tree I will lie,
And let the clouds go sailing by.
Ho! Ho! Ho! they began again louder. They stopped short suddenly. Frodo sprang to his feet. A long-drawn wail came down the wind, like the cry of some evil and lonely creature. It rose and fell, and ended on a high piercing note. Even as they sat and stood, as if suddenly frozen, it was answered by another cry, fainter and further off, but no less chilling to the blood. There was then a silence, broken only by the sound of the wind in the leaves.
'And what do you think that was?' Pippin asked at last, trying to speak lightly, but quavering a little. 'If it was a bird, it was one that I never heard in the Shire before.'
'It was not bird or beast,' said Frodo. 'It was a call, or a signal — there were words in that cry, though I could not catch them. But no hobbit has such a voice.'
No more was said about it. They were all thinking of the Riders, but no one spoke of them. They were now reluctant either to stay or go on; but sooner or later they had got to get across the open country to the Ferry, and it was best to go sooner and in daylight. In a few moments they had shouldered their packs again and were off.
Before long the wood came to a sudden end. Wide grass-lands stretched before them. They now saw that they had, in fact, turned too much to the south. Away over the flats they could glimpse the low hill of Bucklebury across the River, but it was now to their left. Creeping cautiously out from the edge of the trees, they set off across the open as quickly as they could.
At first they felt afraid, away from the shelter of the wood. Far back behind them stood the high place where they had breakfasted. Frodo half expected to see the small distant figure of a horseman on the ridge dark against the sky; but there was no sign of one. The sun escaping from the breaking clouds, as it sank towards the hills they had left, was now shining brightly again. Their fear left them, though they still felt uneasy. But the land became steadily more tame and well-ordered. Soon they came into well-tended fields and meadows: there were hedges and gates and dikes for drainage. Everything seemed quiet and peaceful, just an ordinary corner of the Shire. Their spirits rose with every step. The line of the River grew nearer; and the Black Riders began to seem like phantoms of the woods now left far behind.
They passed along the edge of a huge turnip-field, and came to a stout gate. Beyond it a rutted lane ran between low well-laid hedges towards a distant clump of trees. Pippin stopped.
'I know these fields and this gate!' he said. 'This is Bamfurlong, old Farmer Maggot's land. That's his farm away there in the trees.'
'One trouble after another!' said Frodo, looking nearly as much alarmed as if Pippin had declared the lane was the slot leading to a dragon's den. The others looked at him in surprise.
'What's wrong with old Maggot?' asked Pippin. 'He's a good friend to all the Brandybucks. Of course he's a terror to trespassers, and keeps ferocious dogs — but after all, folk down here are near the border and have to be more on their guard.'
'I know,' said Frodo. 'But all the same,' he added with a shamefaced laugh, 'I am terrified of him and his dogs. I have avoided his farm for years and years. He caught me several times trespassing after mushrooms, when I was a youngster at Brandy Hall. On the last occasion he beat me, and then took me and showed me to his dogs. "See, lads," he said, "next time this young varmint sets foot on my land, you can eat him. Now see him off!" They chased me all the way to the Ferry. I have never got over the fright — though I daresay the beasts knew their business and would not really have touched me.'
Pippin laughed. 'Well, it's time you made it up. Especially if you are coming back to live in Buckland. Old Maggot is really a stout fellow — if you leave his mushrooms alone. Let's get into the lane and then we shan't be trespassing. If we meet him, I'll do the talking. He is a friend of Merry's, and I used to come here with him a good deal at one time.'
The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 4, A Short Cut to Mushrooms
Elena Tiriel 13Jan12