19. Highlands and Lows
The Istari’s robes flapped behind him in huge billows; he resembled a sheet of grey laundry gone awry if anything. His tangled beard and hair flew in all directions and dandelion fluff and fallen leaves rose disturbed into the air as he dashed by. His staff swung perilously, nearly striking the wizard in the head several times.
Shadowfax ripped another mouthful of clover from the earth and alertly turned his head back to Gandalf. Then he eyed the birch grove.
The wizard reached the foot of one of the pasture’s loping hills and began to charge up it. Shadowfax could hear him shouting wildly. “EAGLES! WE MUST FIND THE HOBBITS! THEY DO NOT KNOW!” Shadowfax quickly made his choice. The Istari was a raving madman.
Panting in exertion, Gandalf came to the summit of the pasture. He paused a moment, then whirled around several times. He was positive he had seen Shadowfax grazing atop the hill. Where had the horse disappeared? “Shadowfax,” roared Gandalf, “Come! I’ve no time for games!”
A low nicker from behind caught his ear, and the wizard turned to see an Elvish mare gesturing her delicate head towards a stand of birch. The coppery horse regarded the wizard with her warm brown eyes as he glared at the trees.
Gandalf had to give Shadowfax some credit—the stallion blended in perfectly with the silver birches. The Elvish mare pricked her ears forward in a friendly manner while Gandalf tried to discern Shadowfax from the trees. She lowered her head and approached him, giving him a gentle nudge with her head. The wizard stroked her soft velvety nose and sighed in frustration. He felt the mare’s warm breath on his hand as she snorted in appreciation. The copper mare belonged to Elrond, and Gandalf knew the Elf lord was very particular when choosing his horses.
The wizard glanced at the birch grove out of the corner of his eye and caught Shadowfax’s head peering at him from behind a slender tree. Gandalf pretended he had not seen the stallion and continued stroking the mare thoughtfully, taking in her comforting horsy smell.
‘You have already “borrowed” Shadowfax from Théoden,’ the wizard mused, deciding the arrogant King of the Mearas a lost cause. ‘There is no harm in “borrowing” this beauty from Elrond.’ Of course, Elrond had not offered Gandalf his pick of steeds as Théoden had done. Gandalf stifled a very inappropriate laugh. Théoden had been livid; he had not expected the wizard to demand his prized stallion. Gandalf supposed Elrond would be furious too. Perhaps even more so than Rohan’s Lord of the Mark.
“It is for the sake of Middle-earth,” the wizard announced to the long-limbed mare. She bobbed her head in agreement and lipped at Gandalf’s hair. Gandalf gave a sharp nod to no one in particular, and, making sure Elrond was not in the vicinity to witness his rather questionable “borrowing,” the wizard swiftly mounted and rode off into the forest.
Shadowfax snorted in disbelief as the wizard rode off on an Elvish horse. And a mare, no less! His pride thoroughly insulted, the stallion stomped his forefoot and squealed in anger. With a flick of his long tail, he wheeled and trotted off in direct pursuit of Gandalf and the mare.
* * *
Merry sat miserably in his bed, several down pillows propped comfortably behind his back. ‘It’s not fair,’ he thought with a scowl. ‘I feel so useless!’ He gave one of the pillows a punch and winced as the movement jarred his broken collarbone. Everyone else was involved in the search for Frodo, Sam, and Pippin, except him. Even Bilbo could be found pouring over maps in the hopes of finding some clues as to the others’ whereabouts. Merry had begged them to let him help, but Elrond would not hear of it. The Lord of Rivendell ordered the young hobbit to bed rest, claiming that it would help the Elvish medicine to work more efficiently.
Merry scowled again. “You must rest, Meriadoc Brandybuck.” He raised his eyebrows and stuck out his jaw, attempting to mimic Elrond’s cool seriousness. The Elf lord’s aristocratic accent was more difficult to conjure. Merry cleared his throat and tried again. “You must—“ he lowered his voice and smoothed out the words, “—You must rest, Meriadoc Brandybuck.”
Merry snickered to himself. He set his face again and continued talking “in Elrond,” as he termed it. “I am a great healer. I order you to rot here in bed. Now I shall mutter my Elvish words of healing: lasta berta nin hilo jigger thingy woooo.”
Poking fun at the Elf lord, however, soon grew tiresome. Merry leaned his head back and began counting the number of leaves sculpted into the ceiling. He reached fifty-eight, then a bird chirruped outside his window, startling him and causing him to forget which leaves he had been counting.
“That’s it!” he cried in frustration. “I refuse to be worthless anymore! Don’t worry Pippin, Frodo, and Sam—I’m coming!” With a great sweep of his good arm, the hobbit threw back the covers and swung himself over the side of the bed.
Unfortunately, the sheets became entangled around the cast on his leg. Merry lost his balance and fell ungracefully to the floor with a loud THUMP. Tears sprang to his eyes as both his leg and collarbone, not to mention his forehead (which met the ground with a painful crack), caused white-hot flashes of pain to sear through his body.
“I’m. . . coming,” he panted, grunting as he dragged himself across the floor.
It took him a good ten minutes to reach the door. Merry looked up and was about to stretch to the door handle when he noticed that, to his surprise, the door was already open. Lord Elrond stood leaning against the doorframe.
Merry groaned. Why were Elves always so quiet in their movements? The hobbit set his face into a determined scowl and looked up at the Elf lord. The task required an even greater craning of the neck than usual, for Merry was still lying on the floor. “If you’ll excuse me, Lord Elrond, but I need to go find my friends.”
Elrond’s face did not betray his thoughts, though Merry thought he saw a twinkle in the Elf’s eyes. “Meriadoc Brandybuck,” he began sternly, “you were told not to leave your bed. And how do you intend to search for your companions when you are barely capable of walking?”
“I can walk,” Merry sullenly replied. “I’m just resting for a moment, that’s all.”
Elrond arched a brow and silently reprimanded the hobbit with his stern grey eyes. Merry looked away and felt himself blush. Then, to his horror, Elrond knelt and gently scooped him up as though he were nothing more than a small child. Walking swiftly to the bed, Elrond deposited Merry back into it and tightly wrapped the covers around the hobbit. Merry discovered he could barely move, so secure were his blankets.
He could do naught but watch as Elrond, softly humming to himself, stepped out of the room momentarily and returned with a cup of steaming tea. The Lord of Imladris brought the cup to Merry’s lips. “Drink,” he said pleasantly.
Merry clamped his lips shut and averted his head. “No thank you, I don’t really like—“
“Drink,” Elrond ordered.
Merry gulped and downed the hot tea in five seconds flat. “There.” Elrond smiled. He gave Merry a fond pat on the head as he rose to leave. Merry tried to dispatch his fiercest glare upon the Elf lord, but found it to be most difficult because the room was blurring and his eyelids had grown so heavy...
* * *
Pippin’s sneeze, amplified threefold as it bounced to and fro between various boulders peppering the mountainside, was the first sound to greet the dawn.
Then came a loud sniffle, which preceded a whispered “I’m sorry,” to be followed by a muffled smack and an irritated “Ouch!”
Frodo, Sam, and Pippin had managed to stumble across the crumbled ruins of some long-forgotten folk, and spent the night sheltered underneath the weathered remains of a collapsed wall. Sam had built a small fire, assuring the others the birds were long gone, and cooked a surprisingly sustaining meal of mushrooms (which grew plentiful in the mossy, decaying settlement) and lichen, wrapped in broadleaf and seasoned with wild garlic. Pippin was at first wary of eating lichen, or as he termed it, “tree mould,” but the young hobbit’s stomach won him over in the end.
Thus, it was a well-rested trio, albeit somewhat torn and tattered, which began to descend the heights once the morning broke. The forested mountains had gradually become more barren as they were shuttled southward by the crebain, and now the land had a decidedly highland texture to it. Trees were few and far between, and the land became a mixture of short grasses, boulders, and rocky ravines.
Sam turned and glared up at Pippin. “Mister Frodo, I think he’s trying to call the birds back.”
Pippin sniffled again and hopped down from the boulder he had been climbing over. “I am not. I can’t help it.”
“At least cover your mouth,” grumbled Sam.
“Come on you two,” chided Frodo, who was in the lead, “Bickering won’t help us get to the bottom any faster.”
Pippin climbed atop another boulder. “It’s too bad we can’t fly.”
Sam snorted incredulously. “Did you hear that, Mister Frodo? We’re stolen away by birds, and when we finally manage to escape, he—“ Sam jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Pippin, “—wishes to go back up in the air!”
Frodo only shook his head and tried not to smile.
Pippin paused from his position atop the rock. “No, but it would be faster,” he insisted. He began to flap his arms experimentally. “Did you notice that they didn’t flap their wings straight up and down?”
Sam, again turning back up to Pippin, looked at the young hobbit as though he were daft.
“It was more a figure-eight pattern,” continued Pippin. He slowed his arms and began moving them in carefully sculpted figure-eights. “It only looked like they went up and down because they moved so fast.” He increased the speed of his arms until Sam thought he looked as though waving frantically to the rocks on either side of him.
‘Either that,’ decided Sam, ‘or his hands are burning.’ He shook his head in exasperation. Trust Pippin to notice the crebain flight methods.
Pippin bent into a low crouch and sprang from the boulder, arms waving furiously in the air as he tried to keep the figure-eight pattern. He landed on the ground with a grunt and put out his hands to prevent himself from tumbling over headfirst. He sighed in disappointment as he stood up and brushed the dirt from his palms. “I can’t move my arms fast enough.”
“Hobbits don’t belong in the air, Pip,” offered Frodo, breath hanging in misty puffs in the chill air.
Sam nodded in agreement. “That’s right. We belong on the ground, and I think that’s where we should stay.” He turned a severe eye on Pippin. “Now enough of this business about flying and such.”
Pippin opened his mouth to reply, but sneezed instead.
“How long do you suppose it will take us to reach the Anduin?” he asked, staring dubiously at the pale blue sky. He stuck out his hand experimentally as the odd snowflake tumbled down from above.
“I’m not sure,” replied Frodo. “Perhaps three or four days.” The trio had decided the river Anduin would carry them towards Mordor far faster than their own legs were able. Sam pulled his cloak tightly around his stout frame. “Look,” he cried, pointing to the cheerful thatched roofs and cropped fields below.
Frodo sighed in relief. “Thank goodness,” he breathed. “I was beginning to worry we would never reach the bottom.”
Sam fingered the three gold coins in his pocket. “A bowl of stew and a cup of ale would have me set for the whole winter,” he happily declared. His stomach rumbled in agreement.
The three hobbits increased their pace, watching the welcoming village grow larger as they descended down the grassy slopes. Sheep, newly shorn, lifted their heads and bleated as the trio passed by. Several knobby-kneed lambs trotted curiously after them.
“Allo! Voz-et do?” A thin and wiry boy, pale-skinned and freckled, regarded them with open curiosity. He wore heavy boots and thick woolen clothing. Ginger-colored hair stuck out haphazardly from beneath his beige woolen cap, and the wind had painted his cheeks almost as red as his hair. He looked to be no older than eight years of age.
Frodo shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry,” he called in the Common Tongue, “but we don’t understand.”
The boy set down his knapsack--which Pippin could not help but notice contained quite a bit of food, picked up a stout shepherd’s staff, and ran up to meet them. A handsome black dog with white muzzle, chest, and paws loped at his heels. The dog’s long-haired tail wagged kindly. “I said hello,” said the child, a bright grin resting upon his countenance. His accent was smooth and flowing, and Frodo decided it was quite pleasing on the ears. “Where did you come from? It is dangerous for us to play up in the mountains. Where are your parents?”
The wiry child stopped short when he noticed the hobbits’ strange dress and unshod feet. “You are not children,” he exclaimed in awe, pale blue eyes staring unabashedly at the trio.
“No,” replied Pippin cheerfully. “We’re hobbits. I’m Pippin. That’s Sam, and this is Frodo.”
Sam gave a shy wave and Frodo smiled.
“Hob-bits?” asked the boy, his brow furrowing while he tasted the strange word on his tongue. He peered at their slightly pointed ears. “Are you a kind of Mountain Elf?”
Sam’s eyes widened. “Did you hear that, Mister Frodo? He thinks we’re Elves!”
Frodo laughed. “No, no. We’re not Elves. Just hobbits. Halflings or Pheriannath, if you prefer.”
“Are all. . . hobbits. . . this short?” asked the pale boy. These strange creatures from the mountains intrigued him.
Pippin nodded. “Yes, we’re all about this height.” He looked wistfully at the boy’s knapsack. “Say...” he trailed off.
“Oh,” the boy quickly replied. “Allin. I am Allin.” He gestured to the dog sitting quietly at his feet. “This is Nwahr*.” The dog barked in recognition of his name and opened his mouth in the friendly grin only canines possess. His fluffy tail thumped on the cold ground.
“Right—Allin,” continued Pippin. “You wouldn’t happen to mind sharing your lunch with three hungry travelers, would you?”
The ginger-haired boy shook his woolen-clad head. “Not at all.” He scampered back to his foodstuff, grabbed the sack, and quickly returned to the hobbits. The boy watched in amazement as they ravenously consumed his lunch. “Are you sure you cannot grow any bigger?” he asked incredulously, wondering where the small folk stored all the food.
Pippin shook his head and took a swig of cider; despite the fact his mouth was already stuffed with bread and cheese. Frodo paused to swallow a mouthful. “We haven’t eaten in quite a while,” he explained apologetically, reaching for another roll. Sam tried to agree, but could only produce a muffled grunt, as he had shoved an entire strip of dried lamb into his mouth. Pippin sneezed, and unwilling to spit out the food crammed into his mouth, started choking. Sam gave the young hobbit several hearty thumps on the back.
“Even my Onkleh Teebow could not eat as much,” the shepherd boy said in awe. “And he is this big!” Allin stretched his hand as far above his head as he could. “Why have you not eaten in several days? Are you being punished? Who is punishing you?” The faithful dog Nwahr softly padded around in a circle before settling at the boy’s feet. “Did you get into a fight?” he asked, noticing the group’s battered appearance. “I got into a fight once. With Filleep. But he started it, not I.”
Pippin gnawed on a rough crust of bread. “We were attacked.”
Allin’s pale eyes grew round. “Attacked? Attacked by whom? Were you in a real battle? With swords and stabbing and blood and Aargh! with an Oooh! and a Yaaaaah!” In his excitement, the boy jumped to his feet and began whirling and ducking, stabbing at imaginary foes with an invisible sword. The black dog raised his furry brows and glanced at the hobbits with his chocolate eyes, as if to say, “Forgive my boy, he sometimes gets carried away.”
Dispatching his last foe with a deft flick of the wrist, Allin plopped back down onto the grassy hillock. Despite the cold gusts of wind and occasional snowflake, he unlaced his outer tunic and removed his woolen cap. His hair matted to his forehead and stood out at odd angles. “Some day I shall be a great warrior,” he stated proudly. “Like my father and his father before him.”
“I do not doubt it,” replied Frodo, accepting the sheepskin flask from Sam and gratefully taking a sip of cider. He passed the flask to Allin, who took a long draught.
“Actually, we were attacked by birds,” said Pippin. “Crebain.”
Allin leaned back and cocked an eyebrow. “Those little black birds?”
Sam grimaced and touched his healing lip. “Nasty little beasts.”
“Yes,” agreed Pippin. “There was a huge flock of them. They swooped down and carried us off, just like that! It was dreadful.” A shadow passed over his face as he was again reminded of Merry’s fate.
Allin let out a breath of disbelief. “They flew into the sky with you? Mon Valo! Why?”
Sam shifted uncomfortably and Pippin fell silent. “They were... they were trying to stop us from reaching the river Anduin,” replied Frodo after a moment.
Allin nodded gravely. “Ahh. There was a large flock of l’wazoh nwahr*—crebain you say—that flew overhead yester-eve. My sister Laure was frightened and began to cry.” He sat up straight and puffed out his chest. “I did not cry, though. I was not scared. I looked at the great flock and shook my fist at them—just like this!” Allin scowled ferociously and shook his fist at the empty sky. “And then I yelled to them: Mushay rapeedimont l’wazoh nwahr! Jeh nay pehr pah!”*
“That was very brave of you,” Sam commented politely. He wondered if the boy had been huddled under the safety of his bedcovers at the time.
“Why are you traveling to the Anduin?” asked the boy as he fondly scratched the dog behind his satiny black ear.
“To ride the river,” Pippin replied quickly.
“To fish,” said Sam in the exact breath.
“To visit my aunt,” replied Frodo at the same time.
Allin looked at them in confusion. “Er, we’re going to visit my aunt so we can fish and ride the river,” Frodo stated lamely.
Allin shrugged. “Does she have a nice boat?”
“What?” asked the hobbits in unison.
Allin again shot them a curious glance. “A boat,” he repeated. “Battoh. Does she have a nice boat?”
“No,” responded Pippin without thinking. “We don’t have a boat.”
Allin drew up his skinny knees to his chest and loosely hugged them. “If she does not have a boat, how are you to fish and ride the river?”
Frodo blinked, realizing they had not actually thought of how they would procure a boat. He, Sam, and Pippin had simply decided they would take a boat, and that was that. It was a rather large problem. Frodo wondered how they had managed to overlook it.
Pippin’s face looked as distressed as Frodo felt. “How are we supposed to travel without a boat?” he cried.
“I don’t know,” murmured Frodo, frowning.
“Perhaps your aunt will buy one,” suggested the boy.
“Who?” asked Frodo, still lost in thought.
Allin blinked. “Yes, the one you are going to visit.” These hobbits were such a strange folk! He was about to ask them if they were ill, then bit his tongue. It was very impolite to suggest such a thing.
“Yes, of course,” mumbled Frodo. How on Arda were they going to get a boat?
Allin picked at his wooden shepherd’s staff while the three hobbits silently brooded. Tiny, perfect snowflakes began to fall softly from the heavens, though they melted the moment they met the ground. The boy re-laced his outer tunic and pulled his woolen cap back over his head. The loyal dog Nwahr rested his paws over Allin’s outstretched legs and laid his chin upon the boy’s knees. The ginger-haired child patted him affectionately.
“ACHOO!” Pippin sniffled loudly. “Excuse me.”
The hours slipped by uneventfully as Allin tended to his father’s flock and told the hobbits of life in Pahtoh. It was a small village, one of many scattered throughout the pass. According to Allin, his people were descendents of great nomadic tribes who used to roam the vast expanse of Hollin and beyond. They were a sturdy, rugged folk; farmers by trade and warriors at heart. “My ancestors fought in the Last Alliance,” the boy proclaimed proudly, fire burning in his pale eyes. “Alongside the Elves and Dúnedain.”
The hobbits, in turn, sang songs of their kindred and regaled the boy with delightful tales of lore as only the hobbits themselves can tell. Frodo was in the middle of recounting a story Bilbo had told him as a child—about a resourceful hobbit named Wilbo Caggins and how he was forced to outsmart the wicked Modelia Rackville-Caggins, a decrepit, bitter hobbit woman who wanted to steal his fortune (Frodo privately suspected Lobelia Sackville-Baggins had never heard the tale)—when Allin suddenly stood and squinted into the gradually darkening sky.
“What is it?” asked Frodo.
The ginger-haired boy shaded his eyes with a pale hand. “L’wazoh,” he murmured. “A bird. And a very big one at that!”
“A bird?” asked Pippin, his voice containing an undeniable ring of panic. The boy nodded, and, as if on cue, the dark speck above them slowly descended and became more visible. Sam shuddered. The bird was monstrous. Its wingspan was greater than five Bag Ends stretched end-to-end.
The hobbits shrank close to the hard ground and Allin stared slack-jawed as the great bird wheeled above them. It let forth a cry that speared straight through them. Sheep bleated in terror and fled down the hills as fast as their knobby legs would carry them. The black dog Nwahr cried out in a strangled yelp before tucking his tail between his legs and whining at the feet of Allin. The villagers working the fields in the land below immediately halted their tasks and called to one another, their voices containing a mixture of fear and awe. Some claimed it was a great dragon; others said it was the spirit of some long-departed Vala.
“Come!” cried the boy to the quaking hobbits. “We will run to my father’s house. The giant bird will not find you there!”
* * *
The great eagle Landroval circled and cried once more, voice carrying fierce and long on the cold wind. His keen amber-flecked eyes caught sight of the three hobbits, boy-child, and black dog fleeing below him. Why did the hobbits flee?
Confused, the brother of Gwaihir the Windlord abruptly halted his descent. He would not risk startling the villagers any more than he already had. He decided to seek the hobbits out in the morning. With a final cry, which sent shivers down the spines of those below, he gave his massive wings a powerful flap and wheeled back up to the icy heights.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Allin’s language is nothing more than phonetically spelled French. Many apologies for its slaughter—it really is a beautiful language. It’s been four years, so the grammar might be a bit sketchy.
*Nwahr: Noir. Black.
*L’wazoh nwahr: l’oiseau noir. The black bird.
* Mushay rapeedimont l’wazoh nwahr! Jeh nay pehr pah!: Mouchez rapidement l’oiseau noir! Je n’ai peur pas! Fly quickly black bird! I have no fear!
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.