3. Lightning Bolt
'It'll be just a quick and quiet survey,' Pippin repeated. 'Duram, the head forester, and I will ride a little way into the Forest, then along the edge, see if we can find any signs of what's coming out of there. We found some tracks inside the Hedge, but they're not clear. Something's climbing over and back again, but that's all we know at this point.'
'I don't like it,' the Master said again.
'Well, I don't like it either, but if someone else doesn't go first you know your son will, as soon as his double vision clears up.'
'When do you want to go?'
'At first light. I want as much daylight we can get; I want to ride from the top of the Forest to the bottom and back to the Gate.'
'All right,' the Master agreed, grudgingly. 'But at the first sign of trouble I want you to turn your ponies' faces out of the Forest and kick them into a gallop.'
'You don't have to tell me what to do. Socks will probably take it into his own head to get us out of there,' Pippin answered.
'And the forester, too?' Saradoc asked wryly.
'O aye,' Pippin responded. 'And his pony as well, all on his back, if need be. He's a wonder.'
'That's not the half of it,' Saradoc muttered.
Pippin slipped out while Diamond was still asleep. It was less awkward that way, though he hesitated a moment to gaze upon her sleeping face. It was for her... and their child... that he was doing this.
A stable lad was holding Pippin's Socks and Duram's pony, a sturdy dun, when he and the assistant forester walked out to the yard. Pippin double-checked all his gear and stashed the bags of food, enough for them both, in his saddle bags. He loosened his sword in its sheath, then looked over to the forester with a nod.
Duram had been finishing his own preparations, and together the two sprang into their saddles and turned their ponies' heads to the path leading to the Gate. After going through the Gate they would ride northward along the Hedge, then over to the Forest. They would enter the Forest at its northernmost point in Buckland and work their way southward.
The guard at the Forest Gate, partway down the Hedge from the northernmost tip, would be watching for them; should he see them galloping towards the Gate from the Forest or along the Hedge he would swing it open to facilitate their escape.
At the moment, though, all he had to do was to let them through the Gate, and stare after them as they rode northwards along the Hedge.
Merry awoke feeling better this morning; the double vision was almost totally gone and his head no longer gave a twinge if he moved suddenly. He whistled on his way to the Master's study and greeted his father cheerfully.
'Glad to see you feeling better,' Saradoc returned.
'Thanks,' Merry returned. They got down to the business of the day, and it wasn't until elevenses that Merry looked up to ask, 'Where's Pippin?'
His father hesitated, then answered, 'He rode into the Forest today. He and Forester Duram wanted to make a survey of the edge, see if they could find any tracks that might reveal who or what is raiding livestock.'
'Rode into the Forest? Just two of them?' Merry demanded. 'I don't like this. I don't like it at all!'
'You took the words right out of my mouth,' the Master admitted. 'He argued me into letting him go.'
'He could argue a farmer into calling the sky green and the grass blue,' Merry said in frustration.
His father chuckled. 'That he could.' He sobered. 'Perhaps he can argue the trees into helping us catch whatever's hiding in the Forest.'
There was a clatter of hoofs in the yard. Merry looked out to see a lathered pony dancing on the stones. A rider flung himself from its back and ran to the Hall.
'This doesn't look good,' he muttered. The Master and his son did not wait for bad news to come to them, but strode down the corridor to meet the messenger.
He was standing in the entry hall, panting, and at the Master's step he looked up in mingled relief and dread. 'I've sent for the healer already,' he said, '...and they're saddling your ponies as we speak, and preparing a wagon.'
'What is it?' the Master said.
'Forester Duram's pony galloped to the Gate,' the messenger said. 'He'd been shot with several arrows. I came as quickly as I could for the healer; he was still breathing when I left.'
'Arrows?' Merry asked. 'Could there be outlaws living in the Forest? Have the ruffians returned?'
'That's what we're going to find out,' his father said grimly. He turned back to the messenger. 'And what of the Steward?' he demanded.
The hobbit shook his head. 'No sign of him, I'm afraid. Only the one came back.'
'Right,' the Master said. He raised his voice to a bellow. 'Merimac!'
His brother came quickly at the call, wiping his mouth; he'd been enjoying elevenses in the great room.
'Arm as many hobbits as know how to use a sword, bow, or pike, mount them on ponies and meet me at the Forest Gate.'
'Right,' the other said calmly, and was off with remarkable speed for all his bulk.
Merry saw Jewel and Lightfoot led out into the yard, and touched his father's arm. His father nodded, grimly, and they strode to the ponies, mounted, and were off to the Gate at a gallop.
They found one of the Gate guard cradling the forester in his lap, face down, partly covered with a blanket. As Saradoc and Merry dismounted, the guard lifted the blanket away, to reveal the black-feathered arrows protruding from the back.
Merry staggered, reeling back. He might have fallen had his father not caught his arm to steady him.
'What is it, Merry?' he asked, staring intently into his son's face. He had never seen such a terrible look, not even when his son had described the charge of the Rohirrim and destruction of the Dark Captain of the Nazgul.
'What is it?' he repeated.
Breathing hard, Merry shook his head.
'There are orcs,' his son said slowly, 'orcs in the Shire!' Moving as a sleepwalker, he fumbled his silver horn from his saddle pad, brought it to his lips, began to blow the horn-cry of Buckland.
AWAKE! FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.