20. From Ancient Acorns...
Chapter Written by Angmar
"Fritha, the tree is not talking to you! Trees, plants and rocks and things like that simply do not behave that way! And, besides, even if they could, you can barely speak in Common Speech, and I do not think that a tree of Gondor would know Rohirric! Now stop imagining this nonsense and telling tales!" Frumgár's words slowed down momentarily and then resumed at an even more rapid pace. "Maybe you do not realize it, but I almost fell to my death just a while ago! And, oh, drat it all, I just discovered that I have ripped my breeches! They are my only pair, too!" he wailed forlornly.
There was another pause, and when Frumgár spoke again, his voice was angry. "I can hear you giggling from up here! Now be quiet! Ahh, that is much better... Tell you what I am going to do." Warily he looked up at the branches, which seemed to rise higher and higher above him until they almost blocked out the sun. "I will rest here a while, and then I am going to climb higher up in the tree. There is a fine branch which would be a good spot to sit and watch for enemies. Now play nicely and do not wander off and get yourself in trouble... and stop telling me about talking trees!" Frumgár had become worried about his little brother, concerned that their precarious situation had become too much for the little fellow, and that he was sinking deeper and deeper into fantasy. "Once you go too far into the world of make believe, can you ever really come back?" he asked himself.
An expression of injured dignity upon his face, Fritha muttered, "He never believes me!"
"That is because his skull is as hard as the heartwood of an oak! Stubborn as an oak, too." Another laugh rumbled from deep inside the tree, the sound reverberating like the echoing reminder of thunder. A quiver went up the tree from the tips of the roots to the tender shoots on the topmost branches.
"That was strange," Frumgár called down from his newfound perch in the higher notch. "I swear I heard someone chuckling, and then the tree seemed to shiver, as though it were the one who was laughing! But that is impossible! Trees cannot laugh!" He forced a chuckle. "Fritha, see what happens when you distract me with your silly tales! I know that was only my imagination, but I did have quite a scare there for a while! Everything is perfectly fine now, Fritha, so do not be alarmed!" A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead.
"I am not alarmed at all, Frumgár. Why ever should I be?" Fritha asked, his brow wrinkling in perplexity. "The tree and I are just getting acquainted!" He did not know how he understood the tree's words or how the tree understood him, but did it make any difference? The world was filled with magic, and it was just as common and ordinary to Fritha as the grass and flowers, the woods and streams.
"Not just any tree," the great oak grumbled, and Fritha was certain that two large amber-hazel eyes appeared in the trunk and blinked at him. A long, thin crooked stob resembling a nose jutted out below the eyes, giving the features a lean, penurious look. The bark drew back, revealing a set of gaunt lips and a narrow mouth set between them. Beneath that, the spur of a branch which had broken off years ago extended outward a few inches and formed a chin of sorts. Fritha thought that the knobby chin made the tree appear even more stern and determined.
"No, certainly not just any tree!" The oak closed his eyes, and when he opened them, Fritha saw that they were wide and round like enormous knotholes. "Young man, you may call me Oakheart, for that is the abbreviated version of my name. My real name charts my life's story, which is much too long to recount to you now. The sun would be coming over the eastern horizon, and you would still be sitting here before you had heard the whole thing."
Fritha sat down cross-legged in front of the great tree's trunk, gazing up at him in rapt attention. He wanted to hear every word. "Sir, I am certainly glad to meet you. You are the first tree I have ever known that could talk!"
"That is because you were not listening all the times before, young man." The corners of the tree's mouth twitched up in a smug smirk. "All so hasty, never pausing for a single moment to listen, but no one wants to listen to the trees anyway. It is the curse of our race!"
"My name is Oakheart!" he boomed so loudly that it was like the sound of a tree crashing to the ground. "Oakheart!" he boomed again. "And I am a..." He did not finish his sentence. "Even if I told you, a little boy like you would never be able to understand, so I will not confuse your mind!"
"Why, certainly, sir, I would be glad to call you by your name, Oakheart. That is a very fine name, and it seems so much like you. I was only going to say that I am listening now, and I am ever so sorry I never listened before. You can be sure I will in the future!" His eyes shining, Fritha's little face lit up in a smile.
"Hmmm... a sensible lad, a sensible lad. Then I shall talk to you, for you have sense enough to want to listen. You will understand that for well over a thousand years of man's time I have been growing here, sinking my roots into the soil, penetrating rocks and sometimes crushing mighty stones, even whole ledges, in my anger. Aye, I am angry, and you would be, too, if you knew all that there is to know! But you do not, of course! You are only a little boy. I will tell you, though, that in that time, kingdoms have risen to flame as bright and shining as shooting stars, only to plunge to the earth and burn into cinders."
"Sir," Fritha interrupted as politely as he could, "perhaps I should not ask this, but how do kingdoms flame like shooting stars?"
"A manner of speech," Oakheart replied irritably. "Do not interrupt."
"Sir, I am sorry." Fritha bowed his head. "I will not interrupt you again."
"Harumph! As I was saying... or trying to say... Nothing is as it once was, anywhere!" Oakheart's woody brow creased in a deep frown. "There used to be villages near this grove, but they were raided and burnt in the spring! There have been too many dreadful things, and I have seen my share of them." The tree seemed to shudder again.
"When I was but a sapling, Eärnil was king of Gondor. The Witch-king came from the far North and besieged the city of Minas Ithil." Oakheart's eyes grew big and wide, and his voice lowered. "After taking the city, he turned the valley into a place of evil and dread, where all who are foolish enough to venture are soon driven mad by illusions and phantoms. The vegetation that grows there now is most unwholesome, for an evil enchantment lies upon the valley. Even if a tree looks sound and worthy, it well could be evil inside, for nothing is as it seems in that dreadful place. Many years have passed since then, and now the evil spreads throughout the whole world, and that is only a little of what has happened!"
"Sir," Fritha exclaimed, not truly understanding much of what Oakheart had told him, "I surely do not intend to go there! It was kind of you to warn me about the terrible place. I must say that I am happy I met you."
"As you can see, little boy, you should never refer to trees as 'just trees!' We are not, hmm, hm, brainless blockheads, like some I could mention..." He laughed as his large round eyes glanced upward to Frumgár, who was in the boughs above studying the distant western horizon.
"Sir, do you mean my brother, Frumgár?" Fritha asked politely. "Well, sir, I admit sometimes that his head seems to be made of wood, but it really is not."
"Dead wood through and through, I will wager!" Another shudder of treeish mirth went up through the oak's trunk, but this time Frumgár was lodged securely between two branches and scarcely budged. "Dead wood, full of rot, bad to the core! Terrible thing when that happens to a tree. They will not last long after their heartwood begins to decay!"
"Brisk wind up here again," Frumgár muttered to himself as he gripped a branch tightly.
"No, no, sir," Fritha shook his head, "his brain is not rotten, for surely I would have noticed it before now... the smell, if nothing else. He is a good boy, and means no harm."
"Means no harm? You say he means no harm, young man? Not the way I hear it, not the way I hear it at all!" The bark around the tree's lips tightened, drawing them into a firm line and pinching them even more severely, as though the wood had grown around a blade of metal. The tree's eyes narrowed until they were thin splinters of subdued light.
"Oh, sir, do not think ill of my brother! I am sure whatever he did, he meant nothing by it!" A frightened, pleading look in his big, innocent blue eyes, Fritha looked up at the tree.
"I should hope he meant nothing by it!" Another shudder rocked the tree from root to limb, and Oakheart's eyes opened wide, shimmering from golden brown to deep amber, the color of oak leaves in the autumn.
"The wind is really rattling the branches up here! If it does not calm soon, I might be forced to climb down," Frumgár complained as he wrapped his arms around the branch and held on tightly.
"Calm down, calm down?" The tree looked incredulously at Fritha. "I have every reason to be upset! Young man, I am placid by nature. I can bear in good humor when folk climb upon my arms, even dislodging some of my bark, but I will not stand for threats! Your brother came clamoring up my trunk, boasting that he would saw off my branches, pound nails into my flesh, and build a tree house on my shoulders! Do not think me hard-hearted, but I absolutely will not put up with such harassment! If he keeps this up, I am going to toss him to the ground! Make no mistake of it, young man! I am good as my word, and my word is as solid as I am!" Oakheart's voice rose in anger.
"Oh, sir," Fritha's lower lip trembled and his eyes watered up with tears, "do not say such terrible things as that!"
"As bad as an orc, as bad as orc! That boy is every bit as bad and perhaps even worse! But you, young man, seem to be made of a different fibre. Are you absolutely certain that you are related to that young rascal? You do not seem like it. Not at all! As different as night from day!" The tree shivered, as though a light breeze had stirred the branches. His eyes shimmered like sunlight reflecting off a stream. "Perhaps you are a foundling and were adopted into his family? Hm, hm?"
"No, sir, I am not a foundling. We are brothers, sons of the same father and mother, Fasthelm and Goldwyn of the Mark. He is named Frumgár and I am Fritha, and I am the youngest of our family."
"What are you doing here so far from home?" the tree asked suspiciously. The bark on the right side of the tree's mouth twitched. "Have you come here to slash off our boughs, chop us all down, destroy the forest, and throw us into the fire and burn us for firewood? Like orcs, I say, like orcs!" All of the oak's many branches seemed to quiver at the same time.
"Oh, no, sir, my brother and I never came here for anything like that! We are running away from the orcs. They are after us and want to take us back as slaves!" Fritha looked fearfully over his shoulder. Perhaps this great tree was not so friendly after all.
"Orcs? Orcs? You said orcs!" The tree's expression became enraged, his eyes almost bulging out, the pupils rimmed in red, his mouth open wide in protest. "I have a score to settle with those scoundrels! All of us do, for that matter, every last one of us, even the willows, and they are capricious folk. Let the slightest thing happen, and all of them will weep and start shaking like aspen! Weak at heart and with little endurance, the willow-folk are brittle by nature, quickly shattering when the storms of life assail them."
All along the stream bank, a long, murmuring sigh, much like a moan, rose up. As Fritha gazed around him, he saw the graceful willows swaying, their long fronds touching, twisting and intermingling, as though they were wringing their hands.
"Young man, see what I mean!" the oak's voice boomed like a drum. "Mention orcs, and the willows will go to pieces! They are weeping, and they have every reason to weep, for our spring was stolen!"
"Well, sir," Fritha piped up, a wispy smile upon his lips, "I should say that all of us were robbed of our spring."
"Exactly right, young man! I knew you were a good sort the first time I laid eyes upon you!" The tree's eyes softened as they looked more kindly at Fritha. "When the Great Enemy sent His thick, corrosive cloud across the land, the foul vaporous darkness covered every bud, every leaflet, every twig, every branch and every bole with a thick layer of foul grime! The tree-folk felt the poison penetrating even to our roots! The willows weep for their seedlings, for they had no hope whatsoever without the sun and rain. Frail anyway, they shriveled and dried up before they had the chance to know the full joy of their youths or even to grow their second ring. It was terrible!" The tree closed his eyes, his lips sealed shut, and when Fritha searched for his face, he found that the bark had completely hidden it from view.
"Please, sir," Fritha pled, reaching out to touch the trunk with his little fingers, "do not go all cold and wooden on me! Please finish what you were saying!"
The tree's round eyes popped open with a sharp noise that sounded like the snapping of a twig. "You have never heard the cries of the leaves in their death agonies! You did not have to watch helplessly as their tiny mouths gasped, opening and closing, as they struggled to breathe through the coating of sulfuric soot hurled upon them by the wicked Enemy! The whole forest wept when the leaves died, first turning yellow and brown before at last fluttering lifelessly to the ground." The round hazel eyes closed as the tree sighed mournfully.
"Oh, sir, I certainly have never seen or heard anything like that, and if I had, I would be ever so sad!" Sniffling, Fritha wiped his nose with his sleeve, and then placed a finger to the tree's knobby chin. When he drew the finger back, the little boy gaped in amazement at a translucent drop of sap on his fingertip. The tree was weeping!
"As stout as I am, I could scarcely breathe with all the filth which had encrusted my skin." The mighty tree moaned sorrowfully. "I feared that my fiber must be weakening, for I was feeling all itchy under my bark. I am not too proud to admit that I feared for my very life. I knew that if the darkness lingered, I would eventually fall prey to parasites, or fungus, wilt or blight. I thought there for a while that beetles or wood mites were burrowing under my skin, but it was only the thick dirt which covered my body. It itched, boy, I tell you it itched! Then when the great rain came and washed it all away, I was as merry as a young sapling. With the great downpour and the return of the sun, I knew down to my roots that there was hope once more for the forest and all the creatures that it shelters!"
Fritha giggled and clapped his hands together. "Oakheart, sir, I am powerfully glad that the darkness has gone away, and I pray that it will never return."
"Young man, you are a wise one for just a young sprout, but your brother now, hm, hm, he is a hasty one..." The tree paused, listening. "Hark, the birds have stopped singing, and no woodland creature stirs! What is that clamorous noise? There are visitors coming to this grove, and unwelcome ones, too!" Oakheart's eyes and mouth suddenly snapped shut, the bark rolling back over them until there was nothing to be seen but his long pointed nose and knobby chin.
"Oakheart! Where did you go? Please come back!" Terrified, Fritha looked about for a place to hide, but it was too late.
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.