Haldir was still standing there lost in thought when a sentry behind him coughed quietly to announce his presence. He turned and raised an eyebrow.
"Marchwarden, the Ents are here…"
In the glade outside there seemed to be a new knoll of trees just inside the perimeter of the clearing. Three were tall creatures, tree-like, save they had long upper limbs with knobbly, thin-fingered hands and their trunks were bifurcated, allowing them to walk with great, long strides. The three others were huorns, equally tall, but many, many branched, their leaves were fuller and thicker and their lower limbs were many and root-like. They did not stride but flowed across the ground with the motion of a centipede, the thick roots each moving in turn; though the greatest difference was the great, well-deep eyes of the Ents, windows to fea as old as Arda. All of them bore pale, freshly healing scars in their bark, as if they had been hewn at with axe or blade.
The walking wounded were dressed for travel and carried packs. The few more severely injured elves were wrapped in cloaks and drugged near senseless to keep pain at bay; they were strapped to litters. In an orderly fashion the camp was dispersed, the wind-curtains and banners taken down, beds, tables and benches taken apart and stored on the flets; when their supporting corner-columns were removed the slightly domed wooden roofs that sheltered the platforms formed 'covers' for the camp furniture, neatly formed into stacks on the floor below. Linen, bedding and other goods went into sealed compartments built into the floors. It took some time to stow everything and lower the roofs by ropes and pulleys, but all knew well the routine of breaking this semi-permanent camp and worked with practised efficiency.
Rations were distributed for the journey, water-flasks filled at the spring; finally they began to climb up into the huorns who were to carry them, or were lifted and placed among their branches by the Ents. The Ents had chosen the most amenable of the wild tree creatures who had agreed to aid the Elves, and would carry them to the far edge of Fangorn so that they might reach Lorien more swiftly. The Elves had belts and ropes and tied the injured into place, Boromir among them, though he sat with Lord Celeborn and Haldir in the branches of one of the Ents. The man moved like a sleep-walker, aware and responsive to suggestions, but frequently slipping back into a drowsy half-sleep.
Altogether, some sixty or so Elves left on their strange transport, heading north. They passed by the five newly dug graves at the edge of the glade, low mounds not yet grown over with turf. All bent their heads in reverence, and some were moved to fresh sorrow for lovers and brothers-in-arms who would not be seen again unless they too journeyed to the Halls of Mandos. A voice quietly lifted in a lament for passing and many joined the melancholy melody.
The Ents guided the huorns as they moved into the depths of Fangorn, deeper than even the Elves would have willingly gone without guides such as these. Things of the Great Darkness still sheltered in the deep, sun-less glades and dingles of the forest, fearsome creatures between the Dark and the Light; not always evil, but simply wild and governed by nothing but their own needs. They would not pause on their journey, neither would the elves disembark for any reason save the direst necessity, the Ents had made that quite clear to Lord Celeborn when they had agreed to his suggestion.
They had no control over the wild things, nor did they want it. As long as the creatures did no harm to the trees, and built no fires; if they lived on the few animals that found there way into Fangorn, or ate the birds, then they were not the Ents concern. But neither could they guarantee that 'elf' would not be on the Wild Things menu if one was to stray into their path. The creatures would shy away from the Ents, who in the past had proved that they brooked no interference in the business of looking after the trees. The dark things did not live in complete harmony with the tree-shepherds, but they co-existed in a respectful truce one with the other.
With vast strides and the smooth movement of many sturdy roots, the convoy travelled rapidly, covering the ground far more quickly than the elves could ever have done on foot, and they travelled by a more direct route. Soon, the forest darkened into dense, trackless swathes of trees, some leaned aside to allow their passage, some stretched out and sought to snag at the Elves sitting among the branches and dislodge them. The Ents boomed and sang slow songs with many words as lengthy as entire sagas, and the errant trees sulkily withdrew and quietened. Day turned to twilight and then night, but under the thick canopy it seemed merely that the gloom had become darker still.
Many Elves cast their hoods over their heads and retreated into reverie, wrapping themselves in their cloaks, drawing close to each other when they could, huddling down into the crooks of the branches. The creeping sense that they were unwelcome and barely tolerated reached them all, and made the injured whimper in their drugged sleep. The healers soothed them, but all felt the chill of the venomous hatred that seeped out of dark hollows and stony outcrops at their passing. Even the weather conspired against them as heavy clouds covered the stars, so even that comfort was lacking.
Boromir moaned softly and twisted in disturbed dreams, acutely sensitive to the animosity around him. Celeborn and Haldir took turns to hold him fast to where he was tethered by leather belts to the Ent's broadly branched shoulder, and their presence and warm arms about him quieted his nightmares. In truth, even they were not completely conversant with many of these places, there were paths here even Lord Celeborn had never travelled. The night wore on, and they slid through it on a meandering course, as great ships plough a zig-zag path before the wind as the cross over the ocean, moving always north but avoiding ways that were impassable and finding the route of least resistance. The deep, bone-shivering 'hoooom' of the Ents became the familiar counterpoint to the background noise of eerie rustling, squeals, snarls and hisses of the forest floor.
They crossed the River Limlight where it entered the forest from its mountain home just before dawn, at this time still more a rushing torrent of ice and snow-melt than river. The Ents continued to cross the plain, telling Lord Celeborn they would take the Elves along the foot of the mountains until the Sun rose, but no light came from the east. Good to their word the Ents strode across the plain, but after a few leagues the huorns moved more slowly, fearful of the open space, and still there was no light, only sinister clouds of enveloping darkness above distant Mordor. Lord Celeborn called the convoy to a halt.
"You have done us a great service to carry us so far and so swiftly. We are now no more than ten leagues from Lothlorien. But the Darkness has begun, and we would not hazard you further, friends."
Dreamleaf, the Ent who carried them, considered this slowly, then reached up to help them descend.
"It is a great-vast-blackness that comes upon us all. We will retire into the depths of our forest, as we have always done - for these wars are not of our making. All of the Ents wish you, the Elder Children, well. We still remember how valiantly you fought the wicked might of the other Dark One. We hope you may find light and strength to defy the evil, and that peace may come to you again. We will be here – and you may shelter with us when you may."
This was the gist of the long, slow speech – which was joined by many low 'hooooms' and booms of agreement by the other two Ents; during which time the Elves disembarked from their transport, grateful to be so near to Lorien. They could not travel as swiftly as they usually did because of the injured, but they would soon be home. They quickly assembled themselves into groups of litter-bearers and the walking-wounded, with pickets of sentries surrounding them; the aim being to travel in groups in a line rather than a long column, so they could stay in sight of each other the more easily to lend assistance in case of attack. Ahead of them, dim gold in the distance, were their beloved woods of Lothlorien; behind, the deep and sinister browns and greens of Fangorn.
But to the east where the sky should have been pale blues and brightness was nothing except the cloudy, slag-grey murk of belching fumes and smoke above Mordor, through which savage lightening flashed, jagged blades in the dark. The Elves shuddered and turned their eyes north to their home, and as one set off across the dividing plain at a loping run – and Boromir, Captain of Gondor – lord of the Stone-land, ran heedless amongst them.
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.