15. The Hobbit Wizard
The midday sun shone brightly as the three hobbits were shuttled across the sky. Clouds were few and far between, causing the pure blue sky to appear as though it were a canvas stretched out flatly above the earth. Unfortunately, as is the case with many a crisp autumn day, the pleasant vision of Middle-earth was annoyingly deceptive: the wind was blustery and the sunlight cold. Sam could not help feeling as though they had been somehow cheated by the weather.
Much to the Sam’s surprise, the crebain flock opted to rest yet again, despite their roost several hours before. His captors dropped him to the ground, which, he could not help but notice, was still quite out of reach when they released him, and promptly flew into the trees. Frodo and Pippin landed in a heap beside him. He sat rubbing his sore arms and was about to ask Frodo why they had stopped, when Pippin suddenly began scrambling the short distance to the mountain’s rocky outcrop.
“Water,” Pippin croaked. “There’s water!” Sure enough, the little hobbit was correct. A tiny spring gurgled forth from some deep well within the earth and streamed downward in gentle waterfalls. Frodo was quick to crawl towards the spring. How long had it been since they had drank? Two days? Three days? Sam felt his stomach rumble. They were in desperate need of food as well.
The crebain made no attempt to bar their efforts, and several of the winged monsters fluttered down to the spring and began drinking themselves.
Pippin drank and drank until his throat was no longer parched and his stomach felt as though it would explode. The water was cool and soothing; he could not recall a time when it had ever tasted so delicious. Taking one last loud sip, he wiped water from his mouth with the back of his hand. Maybe things weren’t so bad, after all. They were returned to solid ground, had water to drink, and he had his Elvish coin… His coin!
Pippin turned sharply to Frodo and Sam and patted his breast pocket. The gesture was lost on the crebain, but understood by the two hobbits. Frodo took his fill of water and stumbled (with a great bit of exaggeration, noted Sam) back to the spot the crebain had placed them. His companions followed his lead as he threw himself onto the ground in apparent defeat and curled up in a defensive posture.
“Why are we stopped?” whispered Pippin. The three lay in a circle with their heads facing inward. Hopefully, the wretched birds would not grow too suspicious.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” replied Sam. “We already rested a few hours before dawn. Well, we didn’t—but they did.” He cautiously glanced about him. No, the crebain did not suspect anything as of yet. “Strange,” he murmured. “They’re very quiet.”
Frodo kept his eyes closed in the pretense of one in exhausted sleep. “I think Hollin is just over this mountain.”
“Hollin?” asked Pippin.
“Yes. It’s a sort of flat plain—a break in the mountain chain. I know there are several villages, but I can’t really remember what else.” Frodo furrowed his brow and wished he had studied Bilbo’s maps with greater care. He’d meant to, of course, but had never quite gotten around to doing so. “If we flew over during the day, someone would surely spot us. My guess is the birds are waiting until nightfall.”
Pippin sighed. “Hollin,” he repeated. “I bet they have a lot of food there.” He began poking at a large puffball mushroom with his finger and watched as a dingy cloud of spores was released into the air. There were a large number of the golden-brown fungi in the area, all filled with sacs of dusty, yellow spores. It was too bad they were poisonous.
“I suppose now is as good a time as ever to escape, though I don’t have a clue how we’re going to do it.” Sam had been wracking his thoughts all day and still had not been able to come up with a way to use Pippin’s coin, short of shoving the thing down one of the crebain’s throats.
“Well,” began Pippin thoughtfully, “we could…we could… we could make those terrible birds look at my lucky coin and then escape while they weren’t looking.” He grimaced. The plan had sounded much better in his head.
Sam gave his head an almost imperceptible shake. “And how are we going to get the whole flock of them to look at the coin while we just sneak away?”
“I don’t know,” mumbled Pippin in defeat. “I suppose we could always sprout wings, or turn ourselves invisible.”
Invisible! Frodo’s eyes snapped open. ‘The Ring!’ he thought in excitement. ‘Why, I could just slip it on and disappear! The birds would never find me.’ It was so perfect, why hadn’t he thought of it earlier? His hand reached of its own accord for the trinket around his neck. All he had to do was slip it on and he would be free…
“Frodo? Frodo!” Someone was calling his name. Frodo blinked and identified the voice as that of Sam. Sam! He had forgotten all about Sam. And Pippin. How had that happened? He felt appalled with himself. They were his friends, and it was by his own fault they were captured. And he, Frodo Baggins, had actually thought to abandon them—no, he had not even considered them. Who was he to deserve such companions? Merry had already sacrificed himself, whom would be the next to fall? Guilt and despair washed over him, leaving him with an ill and hollow feeling. He was a selfish traitor, and they were all doomed.
“Frodo!” Pippin gave him a small slap on the arm. “What’s wrong with you? Are you all right?”
“What?” Frodo mumbled. They were doomed, of course he was not all right.
Pippin gave an exasperated sigh and, grabbing Frodo by the tunic, sat up. “I think,” he stated, “we have a plan. Watch.”
The crebain grew menacingly silent as Sam stood up resolutely and placed both hands upon his hips. “Release us!” he commanded. “Release us at once!”
Frodo groaned. This was the plan? The birds cackled and cawed amongst themselves at the battered hobbit standing before them. What could the beaten creature possibly do?
“I am warning you,” thundered Sam, drawing upon his memories of an angry Gandalf. “Release us now, or we will disappear to a place you can’t get us!” Maybe it wasn’t Gandalf, but it was a start.
Black feathers fluttered down from the tree branches as the birds began hopping back and forth gleefully. The hobbit’s antics were hilarious. Disappear, indeed. How preposterous.
“Very well.” Sam grew severe and grave. “I have no other choice than to use my great powers of wizardry—“ at this, several of the birds actually fell from the branches, overcome by fits of shrieking, “—So long, you dreadful beasts!”
“Now!” hissed Pippin, giving Frodo a good yank on the arm. Frodo watched as Pippin and Sam began stomping frantically on the vast clusters of puffball mushrooms. A giant cloud of spores was snatched up by the wind, denser than the thickest fog. Suddenly Frodo understood. He joined his companions, and soon all was lost in the dingy haze.
Crebain are not the smartest of creatures, and thus the fact that the hobbits’ trick was merely a smoke and mirrors act was utterly lost upon them. They knew only that the strange hobbit had commanded he and his friends be released or they would otherwise disappear to a place the crebain could not get them, and then great billows of smoke had poured up from the ground at the hobbit’s command.
When the wind finally cleared the last remnants of smoke, the crebain were shocked to discover a most shiny token lying where the hobbit wizard had stood. They pecked and snapped at the mysteriously tantalizing thing for several minutes, but could not break it. Was this where the hobbits had vanished to? Admittedly, the shiny object was too small and thin for even a single hobbit to fit in, but wizards were powerful beings. If Saruman could create an army of Orkish crossbreeds, it was entirely possible that the hobbits had shrunken themselves and fled into the safety of The Shiny.
For lack of better options, the birds surrounded The Shiny and waited. The hobbits could not stay in there forever, and if they tried… Well, Saruman would certainly know how to get them out.
Three hobbits, coated in a fine layer of yellow dust, fled down the mountainside. Their legs, unused in the past few days, wobbled precariously and threatened to give out at any moment. Frodo’s were the first to buckle, and he found himself lying face-first in a pile of brittle leaves. Sam and Pippin collapsed at his side, and the trio sat gasping and shaking as their adrenaline wore off.
“We did it,” gasped Sam. “Thank goodness for that lucky coin of yours, Pip. I always said Elves was a good folk. Excepting that Lord Elrond fellow, though.”
Pippin nodded and flopped onto his backside. “Do you think the birds will be looking for us?”
Sam shook his head. “No,” he puffed, absentmindedly giving his fat lip an experimental pat to make sure it hadn’t re-split. “I think we fooled them pretty well. The Gaffer always said birds aren’t the brightest animals. Smarter than turtles, but that’s about it.”
Frodo grimaced. “I still think we should hide, though. Just to be certain. Then perhaps we can travel down to Hollin.”
Pippin’s countenance brightened considerably. He still associated ‘Hollin’ with ‘food.’ “Right, well what are we waiting for?” He stood up and brushed himself off, setting his face into a resolute frown. “We can’t risk getting caught again.” A momentary flicker of sadness shone in his eyes. “I think Merry would have been proud of our escape,” the young hobbit said softly. He quickly turned his face away from Frodo and Sam, and dashed away the tears that threatened to fall. He would be strong—for Merry’s sake. He had to be.
Frodo gave Pippin’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze and tried to swallow his rising guilt. The younger hobbit’s shoulder quivered the slightest bit beneath his hand. “I know he would have, Pippin.”
* * *
Gandalf allowed himself a sigh of relief as he caught sight of the graceful Elvish structures of Rivendell nestled within the trees in the valley below. He pulled his cloak tighter around the still form of Merry. The hobbit no longer felt cold and clammy, but his skin still held a most unhealthy grey pallor.
Shadowfax snorted and increased the speed of his gallop. Was there ever any doubt he would deliver the hobbit to Rivendell?
“Halt.” The silvery stallion abruptly sat back on his haunches and skidded to a stop, so startled was he by the sudden command. Gandalf was thrown forward and luckily for him (though most unfortunate for Merry) was pillowed by the hobbit he carried in front of him. The wizard quickly checked to make sure Merry had not received any further injuries, and was again thankful for the unconscious state of the young Brandybuck.
Several Elves materialized from the forest; they recognized Gandalf immediately. “You have returned, Mithrandir!” one of the fair folk exclaimed. “Yet you have only one hobbit. Were there not four gone missing?” The tall Elf reached out and began stroking Shadowfax gently upon the horse’s velvety nose. The steed snorted and nickered in pleasure.
“Yes,” replied Gandalf in great haste, “But it is a long tale, and as you can see, I am in need of Lord Elrond’s aid.” He watched as Shadowfax tossed his head and neighed. The Elf’s eyebrows shot up and he turned to glare at Gandalf.
“Your horse informs me he rescued this hobbit from a tree, though you attempted to convince him otherwise. I did not take you as one who left those in need at the mercy of Fate, Grey Pilgrim.” Several pairs of Elven glares were lanced his way.
“Horse—rescued—otherwise—“ sputtered Gandalf indignantly. “Why, you deceitful, ungrateful, big-headed lout!” He gave Shadowfax’s mane a solid yank. The horse squealed in fury and twisted his head around in order to grab a hold of the wizard’s beard. Two could play this game.
The Elves exchanged glances between themselves ranging from amusement to confusion. It is not every day one is audience to a hair-pulling contest betwixt horse and Istari.
One of the Elves, carefully dodging the nipping Shadowfax and mane-pulling Gandalf, scooped Merry from the wizard’s arm and gently lay the hobbit upon the ground. Gandalf was extremely grateful; now he could yank the mane of that lying braggart of a horse with both hands.
“Ai, what painful wounds have been afflicted upon this gentle hobbit!” The fair group clustered around the still form of Merry and began examining his hurts. The Elf whom Shadowfax had conversed with delicately traced the line of Merry’s collarbone, feeling the broken bone beneath his sensitive fingers. “He must be taken to Lord Elrond immediately. My heart aches to see this poor child in such a state.” He turned to one of his companions and spoke quickly. Merry was promptly swept up by Elvish arms and whisked away to Elrond’s house of healing.
* * *
“There, there young Merry. All’s safe and well now.”
Merry shifted and groaned. He was dreaming of Bilbo.
“I told you he would awaken soon.” An Elvish voice. It reminded him of Elrond. How wonderful: there was a soft bed beneath him, Bilbo at his side, and the protection of Lord Elrond and the Elves of Rivendell.
Merry stiffened. Elves? He squeezed his eyes shut even tighter, afraid of what he might find were he to open them. A wrinkled hand patted his own, and the voice of Bilbo spoke again. “Merry, it’s all right, I promise.”
Merry slowly opened one eye, then the other. ‘Please let this be a dream. Please let this be a dream,’ he silently repeated to himself. Unfortunately, he was not dreaming. His heart sank. He was now a captive of Rivendell. Bilbo and Gandalf and yes, Elrond too, stood peering down at him from his bedside. “Please Lord Elrond, don’t hurt me!” he blurted out. Suddenly all the emotions he had bottled up during the past few horrific days spilled forth. “I don’t want the Ring! You can have it! I would give it to you but I don’t have it! Oh please oh please don’t kill Frodo! Please!” The young hobbit’s shoulders heaved as he began sobbing uncontrollably. He pulled the bedcovers over his head with his good arm. “Don’t hurt me! Please don’t hurt me!”
Elrond was not sure of his exact feelings as he watched Bilbo attempt to calm down the injured hobbit. What did Merry think he was going to do to him? He clasped his hands behind his back and waited for the hobbit to collect himself. When at last the sniffling hobbit had settled down, the Lord of Rivendell began to speak.
“There has been a most unfortunate misunderstanding, Meriadoc Brandybuck. I do not want the Ring, nor have I ever desired to take it from Frodo.”
Merry sniffled and hastily wiped the tears from his cheeks. “What?” He found himself extremely muddled. “But the Elf told us—“
“The message became… distorted,” Elrond interrupted. “My apologies for not delivering it in person. I fear I must take some of the blame for what has befallen.”
Merry looked to Bilbo and then Gandalf for conformation of Elrond’s words. The two nodded solemnly. He was dumbfounded. He and his kindred had actually run from the safety of Elrond straight into the welcoming arms of the enemy. ‘What were we thinking?’ Merry thought with a groan. ‘All it took was one twisted message, and we scampered away faster than scared rabbits!’ The more he thought of it, the more foolhardy he realized their plight had been.
“I did not realize what had occurred until it was too late. By then, you had already fled my lands.” The Elf sighed heavily and unclasped his hands. “You are extremely lucky Gandalf found you when he did, young hobbit.”
Merry glanced at Gandalf again and the wizard smiled kindly back at him. “Thank you, Gandalf,” he said gratefully. It was amazing how the wizard managed to show up just when he was needed most.
The wizard chuckled. “Think nothing of it, my dear hobbit. It is as I told Shadowfax,” a dark look of annoyance flashed across his face at mention of the horse, “you have an important role to play, and I would have hated to see you leave us before it has been fulfilled.”
‘Strange,’ thought Merry. ‘I do not remember his beard looking so frayed.’ He shook aside those thoughts. “Gandalf,” he asked hopefully, “You have rescued me, were you able to reach Frodo, Pippin and Sam as well?”
Gandalf only offered him a sad smile, and Bilbo gave his hand another pat. “Nay, Merry, I was not.” Merry’s face fell. The others were still at the hands of the crebain!
“They will be rescued as soon as they are located,” stated Elrond. “I dispatched the Eagles immediately following Mithrandir’s departure.” The Elf lord tactfully avoided Gandalf’s accusing stare. Of course he had thought the wizard capable of rescuing the hobbits, but a little extra help never hurt anyone.
“You what?” squeaked Merry.
Elrond raised an eyebrow. “I sent for the Eagles to locate your kin. Do not worry, Meriadoc.”
“Birds,” Merry gurgled. “You sent MORE BIRDS?”
Elrond blinked. “Nay, Master Hobbit—they are Eagles, not crebain.”
“BIGGER BIRDS?” yelped Merry.
“Merry, calm yourself,” Gandalf ordered. “It is well-known that the Eagles are not aligned with the dark forces of Mordor.”
“Do Frodo, Sam and Pippin know this?” cried Merry.
An uncomfortable silence followed.
Elrond bit his lip in embarrassment. “I’ll go find Shadowfax,” mumbled Gandalf, and bolted, with an impressive amount of speed for an ancient wizard, out of the room.
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.