19. Out On a Limb
The oak was an immense elder of the forest, dwarfing the other trees which seemed to gather at its feet like mere supplicants. The girth of the mighty king of the grove was so great that even if five men joined hands, they could not reach around the base. Frumgár smiled. Though its bulk and stature were awe-inspiring, even a young boy should be able to scale its great height. Only a few feet from the ground, the tree divided into two great trunks and the lower branches were within easy reach. Between the two sections, there was a low notch, like a step, inviting Frumgár to climb the tree.
Frumgár gazed up into the boughs spreading high over his head and considered the best way to climb the tree. One side grew towards the west, while the other slanted towards the east, much like two arms pointing in opposing directions. Which was the better side to take? After deliberating with himself, he chose the fork to the west, which seemed to be the easier of the two ascents. Bracing his hands against the trunk, he stepped up into the wide notch. He stood there a while, his right hand rubbing over the rough surface of the gray, lichen-covered bark. The tree went up and up and up, rising far above all the other trees. How glorious it would be if the mighty oak grew all the way up into the heavens, and he and his brothers could climb far away, right into the clouds... and... disappear?
There was only one word that Frumgár found to describe the tree: noble.
Leaning to the side, he lay his head against the gnarled skin of the tree. Well, trees had skins, did they not? At least he had always thought of their rough exterior coverings as being some sort of skin that protected them from the elements, just the way people's skin protected them. He inhaled deeply of the rich earthy odor of wood. He remembered the days not so long ago when he and his brothers had spent hours playing under the sheltering arms of the great trees back in Rohan. Was there any hope that they would ever see the friendly woods near their home again? Were the woods even there anymore? Perhaps the orcs had burnt them all down!
Something rough and unpleasant tickled the back of his neck. Startled, he sucked in his breath, turned around and looked. "Just a twig," he reassured himself. Discovering that he had been holding his breath, he expelled it in a long sigh of relief. "How silly of me! I had not noticed that shoot before," he thought, somewhat nervously, as he extracted a strand of his lank blond hair which had become entangled around the twig.
Frumgár gave the sprout a backward glance and then began pulling himself up branch by branch until he reached the limb that he had spied from the ground. "Careful now," he cautioned himself. "It is a long way down." He stole a glance below him, but quickly looked away as a pang of nausea clenched his gut. Steadying himself by holding onto the branch above him, he cautiously edged his way out on the limb until he came to the middle.
From this height over thirty feet above the ground, Frumgár could see the land that stretched all around him. Turning his head to the side, he gazed at the faint gray line that was the tree-lined bank of the Anduin, now lying far behind him. His eyes then swept over the western plain until they came to the White Mountains, their snow-topped peaks rising to dizzying heights. Far away towards the west beyond his range of vision, the road forged its way northward. Would there be soldiers marching along its winding length? Soldiers marching to the Mark? Soldiers who would pillage and loot and steal away more little children like his brothers and him?
Beyond the indiscernible road, Frumgár saw the shape of a great forest which hugged the base of the mountains and extended up the slopes. Fródwine had told them that the those distant woods would be their destination for the evening. "Another night of trudging through the darkness," Frumgár groaned and remembered the painful corns on his well-calloused feet. Sometime that night the boys must make their way across the military road. What if they met a patrol? What would they do then? The idea terrified him, and he refused to think about it for the time.
Some distance down the stream, Fritha giggled as he caught a minnow between his cupped hands. Frumgár felt comfortable enough on his lofty perch to turn back and wave at him, but the little boy was too caught up in his games to notice. At first Frumgár saw nothing stirring across that broad sweep between the oak and the river, not even the creatures of the air. Then he caught a movement far beyond the oak and the willows, deeper into the copse of trees.
"Fródwine! What is he doing, way out there? He was supposed to be sleeping. Evidently he has slipped away on another one of the solitary scouts that he so loves. I wish he would tell us before leaving, but he has been so moody of late. I wonder where he is going this time?" These unannounced absences deeply disturbed Frumgár. He worried that Fródwine would never return. How silly! Of course, he would return. He must not think such things!
"Fritha!" His voice was agitated as he called down to his little brother, who was still splashing in the creek. "Did Fródwine tell you where he was going?"
Looking up from his play, Fritha sucked in his lips before replying timidly, "No, I did not even know he was gone. Last I looked he was asleep under a willow. He must have sneaked away when I was playing." Feeling uncomfortable under his brother's scrutiny, Fritha shifted nervously in the water. "Did I do something wrong, Frumgár? I stayed right here as you told me and did not go downstream!"
"No, Fritha, you did nothing wrong. It is only that sometimes I become so frustrated with Fródwine's games. I did not mean to take my irritation out on you."
Pushing his damp hair out of his eyes, Fritha smiled up at him, and then dashed away upstream, minnows darting before him as he splashed through the water.
"If Fródwine wants to act that way and throw Fritha and me into botheration, then let him!" Frumgár thought with disgust as he spat over the side of the tree and hit a tattered old bird's nest attached to the limb below. "After he sulks in the woods long enough, he will get over his pout and be right back. While he is out there, though, I hope he sits in a patch of stinging nettles! Would serve him right!" Frumgár thought with vengeful satisfaction.
With a snort of contempt, Frumgár turned his attentions back to the mountains in the west. As he allowed his eyes to roam across the quiet, peaceful valley, his anger gradually tempered. Though everything was barren now, the countryside must have been truly breathtaking at one time, and he hoped it would be once again in the future. Still, as the early afternoon sunlight cast mottled shadows over the ground, there was a certain stark beauty to be observed in the grays and browns. Frumgár was reminded of early spring in the Mark.
The view from the grand old oak was superb. "This tree would make a marvelous place to build a tree house!" he exclaimed softly, talking to himself. "All that would be needed would be wood for the platform, frame, roof and sides. If this were the Mark, we would borrow Father's saw and take down some young trees. There are plenty of them around here..." The branch beneath his feet swayed slightly, as though a breeze had suddenly sprung up. His foot slipped on the limb, but he quickly righted himself. "We could chop off the branches and sprouts that were in our way, then nail up the platform and begin to construct the house...
"Oh!" His right foot suddenly slid off the branch! Clinging to the bough above him, he teetered, feeling for the wood with his foot. The limb quivered even more, and Frumgár's other leg shot out from under him! He was dangling in midair, thirty feet above the ground! If his hands let go... "Oh, my!" he thought frantically as his eyes skimmed over the ground far below. "Oh, MY!" His feet danced over the branch beneath him, slipping off even though he thought his footing had been secure.
"Oh my! Oh my!" He was becoming dizzy. He closed his eyes tightly to keep himself from looking down. His arms were aching with the strain of clutching the branch above with all his might, and the rough wood hurt his fingers. Frumgár had never been a stout lad, and he doubted that he had the endurance to hold on much longer! He frantically groped with his feet, trying to find a stable position. The branch shook. "Like a dog when it flings the water from its coat," Frumgár reflected grimly. He must stop flailing his legs so wildly! Maybe he was making the situation even worse by kicking the branch away in his struggles. Sweat beaded up on his forehead and trickled into his eyes.
He felt for the branch with his toes and found he could barely reach it. Gasping for air, he hesitantly touched the wood with the sole of his right foot. He put the foot down firmly. The branch did not move! His footing was solid! Cautiously, he moved his left leg forward. Soon he would be safe!
He had almost aligned his left foot with the branch when the bough above him gave a violent shudder. He grasped the branch tighter with his hands, but they were weary from supporting his weight for so long. Despite his struggles to hold on, he felt the fingers of his right hand slipping off! "Ohhhh MY!" Frumgár wailed as he lurched painfully to one side. He gripped the limb above him with one hand, his left leg hanging over nothing. His right foot unsteady on its precarious roost, the leg began to tremble and twitch from the strain, and then to his shock and horror, slid completely off the branch. "Ohhhhh MYYYY! I am going to FALL!"
He could not look down! He must not look down! That would be sure folly, perhaps even death! Forcing himself to gaze straight ahead, Frumgár swung his body to the right and wildly grabbed for the upper branch. His fingers grazed it, but then slid back. The branch was beyond his reach by only a few inches! His body swung back and then sagged heavily. He felt the pull of his weight dragging him down, his straining arm and shoulder muscles begging for release. Yet he knew he could not allow that, for to do so was sure death! Gasping for air, his chest heaving, his body aching from the tremendous effort, he must rest a moment and try to catch his breath. If he could not grab the branch this time, he did not think he would have either the fortitude or energy for another attempt.
Gathering up his last remaining strength, he took in a deep breath and tried again. He looked up at the branch and willed himself to reach that unyielding bough. "I will do it this time!" He closed his eyes, gritting his teeth against the pain. He reached upward, giving his body a mighty swing as he did. His fingertips touched the branch and he gripped it, holding on tightly. He heard what sounded like a mocking laugh, but he concluded that it was only the breeze. Under his feet, where before there had been only emptiness, there was now solid footing, almost as though the bough had moved beneath him. "Oh my! I have succeeded, and I did not fall!"
He was exhausted from his terrible ordeal, his perspiration-covered body streaming moisture, sweat running down his shoulders and back and trickling down his buttocks. Steadying himself with his hands, he stood upon the branch, his feet firm and secure, his head slumping forward as he gasped and panted.
"Oh, Frumgár, why did you stop! Please do it again!"
Frumgár heard Fritha's high-pitched voice and bubbling laughter from below him. "I want to see you swinging from the limb and kicking your feet. It was as though you were dancing in the air! I want to see you do it again and again!" Fritha jumped up and down, clapping his hands together and giggling.
"Fritha," Frumgár choked out between gasps, "I was not doing that on purpose! I almost fell!"
"Frumgár, what did you say? I cannot hear you down here," Fritha called from the base of the tree, his head cocked to one side. "Speak louder!"
"I almost fell!" Frumgár repeated hoarsely.
"And he would have, too, had he gotten on the wrong side of me!" came a deep, bass voice which seemed to be coming from the tree itself. The sonorous words were spoken as unhurriedly as the slow dripping of rosin from a cut in the great bole of a pine.
"Oh!" Fritha gasped, his eyes growing large. "The tree is talking to me!"
"Fritha, quit making up tales!" Frumgár called down.
"But the tree really really IS talking to me, Frumgár!"
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.