6. The Lion and the Gnat
“I think it’s misting.”
Sam heaved the sigh of one who has heard the same circular conversation far too many times and looked back over his shoulder. Pippin and Merry had been arguing over the weather patterns for a better part of two hours now. Pippin claimed it to be “misting,” while Merry argued for a light drizzle. Sam concluded it really didn’t matter what it was, because everything was still wet and not getting any drier.
“Pippin, there’s no such thing as ‘misting.’” Merry pulled back a thin branch and waited until Pippin had ducked under it before letting the stick swing back into place.
“Then what do you call this?” asked Pippin, gesturing his arms in a wide, upward arch. “If it were drizzling, we would be able to see drops of rain. As it is, I see no rain, yet I am growing wetter by the second. So you see,” he gave his head a sharp tilt for emphasis, “it is misting. OUCH!”
Merry did not wait until Pippin was in the clear before releasing a second branch.
“Mister Frodo,” called Sam as he trundled around a mossy tree stump, “I don’t suppose we’ll be resting anytime soon?”
Frodo inhaled deeply and attempted to calm his jumbled emotions. He was greeted by the bitter, nutty smell of wet autumn leaves.
“I’m sorry Sam,” he said apologetically, “but you know we have to reach the Ford by tonight. Then we can cross it tomorrow morning. If Lord Elrond captures us…” He shuddered at the thought. If Elrond were to gain power, nothing could stop him and it would be futile to try. The Elf lord did not posses Sauron’s physical strength, but his knowledge of all things was just as potent and deadly. ‘He would know everything we intended to do in order to stop him—perhaps even before we knew it ourselves,’ thought Frodo.
“Do you think it was he who killed the Elf?” Pippin regarded Frodo with wide-eyed expectancy.
“What are you talking about?” cried Frodo.
“Didn’t you hear?” asked Merry. “An Elf was attacked last night. I heard a rumor that his head was chopped off.”
Frodo gasped. He had retired early last night, for he was still feeling the effects of the Nazgûl blade.
“Elrond wouldn’t… he couldn’t… could he?” Sam blanched. To him, Elves were still mystical and to be revered. The thought of one Elf killing another seemed impossible.
“That’s not all,” whispered Pippin. “I heard it was the Elf that was supposed to join us in the Fellowship.”
Sam gasped and gripped Frodo by the tunic. “Wh-why would Elrond kill another Elf?” asked the horrified gardener.
“Don’t you see?” said Merry. “He can’t go after Gandalf. Gandalf’s too powerful. So he eliminates the second biggest threat: the Elf. It makes perfect sense!”
Sam, despite his terror, looked doubtful. “Wouldn’t Strider be the next biggest threat?”
“He raised Strider,” Merry pointed out. “He wouldn’t kill his own son. I think.”
A sickening realization dawned on Pippin. “What if… oh no!” he exclaimed.
Three pairs of impatient eyes were turned his way. “What if Strider’s already on his side? I mean, Strider did bring us here.”
The hobbits found themselves drowning in a wave of utter hopelessness and despair. Had the whole of Middle-earth been turned against them?
Snapping branches suddenly echoed throughout the forest.
“Listen!” gasped Pippin. “What is that?”
“Run!” cried Frodo, “They’re after us! RUN!”
Four startled and frightened hobbits dashed madly through the trees, seeking desperately to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their pursuers.
* * *
The crebain gave his wings a satisfactory flap and watched the hobbits fleeing below him. Orcs and Wargs could not penetrate the Elven boundaries of Rivendell, but the rules differed for those of the air. ‘Foolish creatures,’ thought the bird smugly. His scare tactics had worked perfectly. Now all he needed to do was fly back to the others and wait. The hobbits would deliver themselves.
* * *
Legolas (whose head, despite rampant rumors, was still intact) lifted heavy lids and was greeting by blinding light. He moaned and quickly shut them. He felt unnaturally disoriented and ill. ‘Did I drink too much wine last night?’ he wondered. ‘I have overslept! Father will have my head.’ The Elf tried in vain to recall what he had drank the previous evening and then stopped himself—thinking was far too painful.
Gritting his teeth, Legolas forced open his eyes. ‘Strange,’ he thought, ‘my head does not throb. It aches.’
He gingerly reached up to rub his forehead and was surprised when his fingers touched not skin, but a bandage. ‘What in the name of—’ Fragments of last night’s events flooded through his mind in befuddling waves.
He was not in Mirkwood, he had traveled to Rivendell… for Council. Then there was the Ring… The dwarf and the pond… Legolas winced as he recalled that particular incident. He had been walking with Aragorn and someone attacked them.
‘Aragorn!’ the Elf sat up quickly. Had Aragorn fared any better than he had?
He vaguely recalled the Ranger dragging him to Elrond. And then Elrond had given him something…and then…
“MITHRANDIR!” the Elf yelled out loud.
The door to his quarters was immediately opened and Glorfindel peered through the frame. “Legolas?” called the golden-haired Elf lord. “Is everything well?”
“As well as is to be expected,” he replied grumpily, “when one is drugged by a wizard.”
Glorfindel laughed and stepped into the room. “I hoped you would awaken soon.”
“Has the council meeting already ended?”
Glorfindel nodded. “My friend, you have slept for the better part of the day. The evening meal draws near.”
Legolas groaned and made move to draw himself up from the bed.
“Nay Thranduilion,” smiled the older Elf, “I would speak to you of our scouting mission to Mirkwood first, then you may rise.”
“Scouting mission to Mirkwood?”
Glorfindel could not help but notice the unnaturally strained tone in the Elf prince’s voice. “Yes,” he regarded the younger Elf curiously. “We assumed you wished to inform your father of your upcoming departure.”
Glorfindel raised a golden brow. “Legolas,” he said sternly, “I am quite aware of what I say and do not need you to repeat it for me. Do you not wish to return to Mirkwood?”
He was greeted with silence. “Legolas?”
Legolas unconsciously twisted a bed sheet in his hands and suddenly found the wall fascinating to stare at.
Glorfindel furrowed his brow in frustration. ‘Confounded prince,’ he thought. He had the sneaking suspicion that the Elf had somehow ended up on Thranduil’s bad side—again. Legolas had a knack for doing so. His mother had been Thranduil’s exact opposite, yet was blessed with infinite patience and a sweet, even temper. Legolas had managed to inherit all of her traits except the last few. Instead, he had been gifted with Thranduil’s stubborn pride and temper. As a result, the two rarely saw eye-to-eye and neither was willing to budge from his position.
Glorfindel decided the issue was a lost cause. “You are to join the eastern scouting party and I am to lead the group, which will consist primarily of Rivendell Elves. I technically have no commanding power over you due to your Mirkwood connexions, but it was decided that your knowledge of the area would be of the greatest asset.”
The Elf lord rattled on, but Legolas hardly listened. ‘Now I know I shall have to face the wrath of Father. Once again, his punishment has backfired.’ In attempt to preserve the timelessness of Elven life, Thranduil had forbid the Wood-Elves to make contact with any outside members of the forest. Several months ago he had been most displeased to discover his youngest son frequented the human settlement of Laketown*. Legolas did not wish to disobey the king, but his curiosity for news of outer lands had finally outweighed Thranduil’s orders. It had been more out of exasperation than anger that had caused Thranduil to send his youngest child to Imladris (“It is adventure you seek, my son?” he had sarcastically declared. “Then I shall give you one: ride to Imladris and inform Lord Elrond that the creature Gollum has escaped.”). Nonetheless, a punishment was a punishment, and Thranduil would not be happy to find that Legolas had somehow managed to use it to his benefit.
Legolas watched Glorfindel’s face as the captain spoke. ‘I wonder if he realizes he tends to blink quite a bit when speaking…’
* * *
“Father, may I inquire as to what you are doing?”
Elrond jumped and turned to face his lovely daughter. “Oh, I… I was just on my way to visit the hobbits,” he stammered.
Arwen was suspicious: Elf lords do not stammer. “You know perfectly well that this is my room. What is it you are hiding behind your back?” She craned her neck and attempted to peer over her father’s shoulder. “Is that a lock I see in your hands?”
The fair maiden put both hands on her hips and looked at her father questioningly. “One would think you were attempting to lock me in my room!” she laughed.
Elrond looked embarrassed.
Arwen’s eyes widened in shock as she realized that was indeed Elrond’s intention. “FATHER!”
The Lord of Imladris quickly kissed his daughter on the cheek, exclaiming, “You look stunning today, Daughter, and I have business to attend to so I reluctantly bid you farewell.” With that, he turned and swiftly walked (one might say ‘fled’ but Elf lords do not flee) down the hallway.
* * *
Bilbo stopped his pacing as a light hand rapped at the door. He took a deep breath and sent a silent plea to the Valar. ‘And so it begins,’ he thought grimly as he opened the door.
“My lord Elrond, what a pleasant surprise.” Bilbo did not miss the lock the Elf carried in his hands. ‘He knows!’ the hobbit thought in anguish. ‘He has come to lock me up!’
“Ah, Bilbo. I must say I am relieved to find you here.” Elrond smiled down at the hobbit. “I cannot seem to find the rest of your kindred. Do you know of their whereabouts?”
Bilbo felt the icy grip of despair close around him. ‘You may have me, O Elf Lord,’ he thought furiously, ‘but I shall not go without a fight!’
“Do your best, Lord Elf!” he cried, “But I will never tell you where they are! You will never find them! Never!”
Elrond was stunned. “Bilbo Baggins, what is the meaning of this?” asked the perplexed Elf. “Where are the other hobbits? I have no time for games! Frodo must be warned of the Ring’s dangers before he unwittingly harms himself and those around him.”
Now it was Bilbo’s turn to be shocked. “You don’t want the Ring?” he asked, feeling his previous adrenaline rush fade away. “But I thought—we were told—don’t you want to take the Ring and use it for yourself?”
“I would never do such a thing,” exclaimed Elrond, looking somewhat horrified. “Bilbo, what gave you such an idea? Where is Frodo? Bilbo?”
The hobbit looked into the Elf’s wise, piercing eyes and knew Elrond to be truthful. Elrond regarded Bilbo with concern as the elder hobbit became ashen-faced and shaky. “Oh no, oh no,” Bilbo moaned. Elrond reached out a steadying arm to catch the hobbit as his knees gave away and he slowly sank to the floor.
“We thought you were going to take the Ring and use it,” Bilbo wailed. “So they fled from your halls. They have left the safety of Rivendell—they are gone!”
* * *
The four hobbits did not stop running until the full harvest moon hung heavily in the night sky and the rushing waters of the Ford could be heard directly in front of them. Exhausted beyond all measure, they collapsed onto the ground and allowed their aching limbs to rest.
Sam stifled a groan as he rolled over onto his stomach. “Do you think they’re still following us, Mister Frodo?” he whispered.
“Shhhh!” hissed Merry.
Sounds seemed to intensify in the darkened Elven forest, and trees cast distorted shadows in the pale moonlight. On any other night it would have been considered strangely beautiful, but given the hobbits’ current situation, the night was terrifying and eerie.
They strained their ears and glanced furtively about the deep shadows.
“Elves can walk silently,” whispered Pippin. “We wouldn’t be able to hear them. What if we’re surrounded right now?”
Frodo didn’t even want to consider that. “Shhh!” Merry hissed again.
The hobbits lay in wait for several minutes. All was silent.
Frodo sighed in relief and slowly sat up. “I think we’re in the clear,” he whispered.
The moment the words escaped his mouth, the dreaded snapping of branches reverberated through the trees yet again. In the silence of the night, the sound seemed thunderous.
The group was up and running before Frodo even had a chance to yell “Run!”
“To the Ford!” he shouted. “We must cross now!”
They burst through the trees and skidded to a halt at the banks of the Ford. The afternoon’s rain had caused the waters to rise, and the swollen river was frothing and foaming as it careened haphazardly through its bed.
“What do we do now?” cried Pippin in dismay.
The sound of their pursuers grew closer, and the hobbits whirled to face their foes.
“They’re coming!” wailed Sam as a dark shadow fluttered out of the trees and landed onto the bank.
Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin stared open-mouthed at their “foe.”
“Peep!” The crebain rustled his wings and let out a cry.
“A bird?” Pippin gurgled meekly. “We were being chased by a bird?”
Sam let go of his tight grip on Frodo’s tunic and rubbed his hand over his face. He was sure he was going to pass out or cry. Maybe both.
“A bird,” repeated Pippin. Merry began to chuckle. Frodo felt a foolish grin break across his face.
“We ran all day,” said Merry, desperately trying to smother the laughter building up inside his gut, “from a bird!”
That did it. All four hobbits collapsed in laughter. “You should have seen the look on your face!” howled Pippin as he pointed at Sam.
Sam was laughing so hard tears were streaking down his cheeks. “Don’t worry, ha hah, Mister Frodo,” he gasped, “I’ll save you!”
The four finally managed to gather themselves together and settled down comfortably on the bank. The laughter had released much pent-up tension, and all were feeling much more optimistic. Sam had managed to stuff a surprisingly large quantity of food into his side pouch during breakfast, and the hobbits ate the swiped bounty with gusto.
“Here you go, Little Terror,” said Pippin as he tossed the bird a few crumbs. “Not that you deserve this.”
Sam smacked Pippin’s hand as he threw the bird a few more crumbs. “Stop that,” the gardener ordered. “That’s food for us—not the birds. The Gaffer always said, ‘don’t give away what you can’t afford to.’”
Pippin grumbled as he rubbed his hand. Merry tossed a few crumbs to the bird when he thought Sam wasn’t looking.
“Look, he has a friend.” Pippin pointed to the second black bird that fluttered down from the trees.
“See, now look what you started,” said Sam as a third, fourth, and fifth bird joined the group. “They think you’ll feed them all.”
Much to his annoyance, Merry and Pippin began feeding all five birds. “Maybe they’ll warn us when the Elves come,” Pippin said hopefully.
Merry brushed the final crumbs away from his hands. “All gone, my friends,” he said cheerfully. By this time, the crowd of birds numbered no less than twenty.
Frodo yawned. “I suppose we should get some sleep,” he said. “We’ll have just as difficult a journey tomorrow.” He picked himself up and began walking over to a fallen tree stump.
“Shoo, shoo,” he muttered, waving his hands at the chirping birds. They seemed to be growing in numbers, but perhaps his tired mind was playing tricks on him.
“OW!” One of the birds nipped at his finger. “Which one of you little monsters…”
Frodo trailed off and noticed that there was indeed a large number of crebain in the area. “OW!” He was nipped again and retreated back to his three companions. They were faring no better.
“Stop that!” roared Sam, swatting furiously at air. His ear stung where the bird had pecked him.
“AAAHH! This is the thanks I get for feeding you?” Merry tried to kick the bird nipping at his feet.
The four hobbits found themselves standing in a circular formation with their backs to one another. Frodo gasped.
The trees had become alive with chirruping birds. The rush of many flapping wings and shrieking black shadows filled the night air, and the gigantic flock took to the sky. The great host blocked out the moon as they circled and dove in unison.
“Frodo,” Sam murmured uneasily. “I don’t like this.”
As if on cue, the massive cloud of crebain encircled the hobbits. Round and round they flew, trapping the four in an impenetrable wall of talons, beaks and feathers.
Then they attacked.
Frodo buried his head in his arms as the birds ripped and tore at him. The creatures were merciless. He heard Sam cry out in pain and turned to see the beasts pecking furiously at his friend’s hands, which he had thrown up to protect his eyes. With beaks akin to small daggers, the crebain savagely stabbed the defenseless hobbits. Needle-sharp talons raked across Frodo’s cheek and he felt the stinging wetness of blood slide down his face.
“Stop!” he screamed to no avail. “Please, stop!”
Pippin was weighed down as several birds perched upon him and began grabbing various parts of his clothing. He cried out in pain as their wicked claws dug deep into his flesh and pierced the skin. Panic overwhelmed him when he realized the crebain intended to fly off with them.
“Help!” shrieked Pippin as he was lifted off his feet. “Someone! Anyone! Heeeeeeeelp!”
Merry somehow managed to fight off his attackers and latched on to Pippin’s ankle. “Don’t let go,” sobbed Pippin, caught in a deadly tug-of-war between his cousin and the crebain.
Sam and Frodo grabbed hold of Merry’s waist, and the three frantically tried to pull Pippin down to earth. Pippin struggled with all his might against the talons that held him fast. Enraged, the crebain attacked with even greater ferocity, inflicting countless wounds upon the four.
The sheer number of the raven-feathered beasts finally overwhelmed the hobbits, and there was little they could do as the birds succeeded in overpowering them all.
Beaten and bloody, Frodo closed his eyes as the wind howled around him and the ground grew increasingly smaller beneath his feet. The crebain screeched in delight, and the four hobbits were borne swiftly through the night sky. Where they were headed was anyone’s guess.
How’s THAT for some action, eh? ;) Okay, so attack of the birds is probably not that original or exciting, but you’ll never see an Orc or Warg fly off with the characters (I guarantee it).
*Laketown: The human settlement near Mirkwood. The Wood Elves trade with them for various goods. (Special thanks to Aralome Finarfin for helping me out with this one).
I am assuming “crebain” is singular and plural, similar to “deer.”
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.