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TITLE: Watch Every Shadow
TIMELINE: October 1418, Bree
SUMMARY: What did happen that night in Bree when Merry took a walk?
DISCLAIMER: The characters and places are not mine, they belong to JRR Tolkien.
NOTE: Written for Marigold’s Challenge #3. Additional material JRR Tolkien. The title is taken from when Strider explains to Frodo, Sam and Pippin about the Black Riders.
So refreshed and encouraged they felt at the end of their about three quarters of an hour’s steady going, not hindered by unnecessary talk that Frodo, Pippin and Sam decided to join the company (in the Common Room, my comment). Merry said it would be too stuffy.
“I shall sit here quietly by the fire for a bit, and perhaps go out later for a sniff of the air. Mind your Ps and Qs and remember that you are supposed to be escaping in secret, and are still on the high-road, and not very far from the Shire!”
“All right!” said Pippin. “Mind yourself! Don`t get lost, and don`t forget that it is safer indoors!”
The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter “At the Sign of The Prancing Pony”, JRR Tolkien
Merry rose from the table in the parlour together with Frodo, Sam and Pippin, stretching as he watched them close the door behind themselves. He walked around the room a little, before sitting down in a cosy chair by the fire, drawing his pipe out and lighting it. He settled more comfortably, and started musing about the events of the past few days. He had wanted to join the others in the Common Room, as he wanted information just as much as they did. But someone had to do some thinking about what could lie ahead.
Their journey had become a bit more of an adventure than Merry had imagined, and the Old Forest had proved trickier than he had liked or remembered from earlier trips there. Merry could still feel some soreness in his ribs from being trapped and squeezed by Old Man Willow. Then there was Tom Bombadil. If it had been chance, Merry was not sure, but he was very happy that Tom had walked by just when the hobbits had so needed his help. And this morning Tom had come to their rescue once more, and Merry shuddered at the thought of the Barrow-wights. That could have been the end of them.
And then there were these Black Riders that Frodo, Pippin and Sam had seen up close in Green Hill Country. Merry remembered seeing the dim shadow of a black shrouded Big Person on a black horse at the Ferry, but he was glad he had not seen any of these Riders up close himself if they were as frightening as the others had said that they were.
They had made it to Bree, and Gandalf was not here. What should they do? Where should they go now? On to Rivendell? Frodo had said that the Riders were looking for Baggins. How would they continue, if they needed to hide and could not travel on the Road? Would they have to walk through the wilderness? And could they even find the Last Homely House if they did somehow manage to find the valley? It was well hidden according to Bilbo’s stories.
Merry rose and stretched again, almost dizzy from all the questions spinning around in his head. Maybe he would get some answers to all these nagging questions if he ventured outside for a bit. If they should have to stay in Bree for some days it would be just as well if he got to know the village a little.
Merry buttoned up his jacket and drew his cloak on, as the night was chilly and still quite misty. On his way out he heard the laughter, talk, and general merriment coming from the hobbits and Men that filled the Common Room. He had cautioned the others that their journey was bound to secrecy, so he slipped out the back door close by the parlour, heeding his own advice.
Standing by the archway of the Inn he pondered a bit which way to go. Looking about, Merry saw the Road that they had come by, and he could see the West-gate at the far end of it. Looking right in the dimly lighted street, he saw the Great East Road stretching towards something that looked like another gate in one direction. If they were going to Rivendell, they would have to go through that other gate, and Merry started walking more or less in that direction.
He walked slowly about, arguing with himself as he strolled between the tall stone houses of the Bree-men. Far above the houses, Merry could see the lit windows of the hobbit holes delved in the hillside. Not getting too many answers to his questions, and feeling that he should be going back, Merry turned from the path he had taken and started heading back towards the Inn. It was quite dark, and there was not much to be seen of the village, as the streets were not lighted with that many lamps, and the shadows were deep.
The mist had by now finally given way to a starlit sky, and Merry turned the corner of the Inn, stopping to watch the stars a little before going inside, his thoughts from earlier still working in the depths of his mind.
Suddenly he shivered. He drew his hood on, and gathered the cloak more securely about him. On the other side of the Road he thought for a moment that he saw movement, then it was gone. Merry stepped forward. What was that? Quickly he looked about, but no one could be seen. Still, he felt some kind of presence. Merry turned around, peering into the dark corners of the village, but he could not see anything. Turning back, he thought he saw it again… a darker shadow in all the blackness? He shivered again, feeling more clearly that someone or something was watching him. Merry moved forward and peered even more intently into the darkness beyond the lamplight on the other side of the Road. The shadow was gone now. But where was it?
Anxious and feeling a little disconcerted, and with a distinct feeling of being drawn with determination, Merry stepped fully onto the Road. There it was again, the shadow, sliding up the Road without a sound. Could this be one of the Black Riders? Only on foot instead of riding? Merry felt his feet making him walk in the direction the shadow had taken. He had a sudden urge mixed with dread, to find out what this shadow was and where it was going. If this was something that would harm Frodo, Merry was determined to do everything he could to stop it.
Moving silently along the same part of the Road as he had earlier in the night, Merry found himself stalking this shadowy presence to the end of the Road, where it disappeared behind a tall hedge. Merry snuck closer, his sharp hobbit hearing catching a very quiet conversation on the other side of the hedge. One voice was hissing, the other one mumbling.
“Did you find him?” Merry heard the murmuring voice say. He could not make out the reply but he felt his very blood grow chill.
“What do we do now then?” A second murmuring voice asked, but the hissing voice cut him off, sounding angry. “What…?” The first murmuring voice said again.
Merry stepped closer, anxiously trying to hear better. If they were looking for Frodo, he would need to know as much as possible. Listening intently, Merry could not make out more of the conversation, and turned, thinking it was high time for him to go back to the others. He could do with another mug or two of the fine ale at the Prancing Pony after this, and he needed to tell Frodo about the nights events.
Then something happened that Merry never in his life had experienced: He became overcome with terror, so frightened that he started to tremble. Teeth chattering and body shaking, he felt both his brain and body go numb. Merry had never been this afraid before, even in the clutches of the willow, and he could not place the something or someone that frightened him so. And he could not move!
Out of nowhere he felt everything grow cold, and he felt himself falling. Merry felt the impact his body made with the cobbles on the Road before everything went black.
How long he lay there he couldn’t tell but suddenly Merry felt himself drawn into the nightmare of his life – his worst fears suddenly coming true. He felt himself sinking. Deep, deep into dark, cold waters. Flailing and kicking, trying to get to the surface, he struggled wildly, but something held him under. He felt his mind go blank, the edges of his consciousness disappearing into blackness, and absentmindly he wondered what he was doing in the water in the first place. He needed air, or else he would drown. Abruptly he felt his lungs sucking in too much air as he came to the surface with a jolt. He had just barely managed to catch his breath before the whole almost-drowning happened again. The second time he resurfaced, he stayed above water. His lungs were aching, and Merry tried to swim to the unseen shore, but something held him in an icy grip.
“Tell me, halfling.” A demanding, evil voice so cruel and full of malevolence that it was beyond comprehension was talking to him. Merry had already been trembling with fear but it was nothing to how overcome he was now.
“Baggins?” The voice bade.
“No.” He managed to get out, not quite sure what the bone-chilling voice wanted. Could this be the hissing voice by the hedge? Merry could not see much as he was lying on the edge of the Road, just outside the reach of the lamplight. He saw something shadowy and black, Man-shaped. Merry tried to turn his head, but still he could not move. How could he have been swimming if he could not move now? He felt like if his mind was coming back to him a little, but then the something started asking questions again.
“Where is he?” The evil presence took stronger hold of Merry and the cold grip was searing through Merry`s arms and shoulders as he lay on his back on the cobbles. “Give me Baggins!”
“Don`t k..know.” Merry said, stuttering with fear and protecting his cousin out of instinct, shoving all thoughts about Frodo away.
Again he felt himself plunging into the waters. His lungs ached, screaming for air. His vision got blurry and he felt heavy and weak.
“Where do I find Baggins?” The voice demanded again as Merry resurfaced.
“T…told you… D… Don`t k-know.” Merry stuttered, so shaken with fear that he could barely think or speak any more.
“Take him inside.” Merry heard the voice say to someone. Then the evil presence left him, and he lost consciousness.
“Mister Brandybuck! Sir! Wake up!” Merry was shaking, but this time it was physical, and he found himself lying in the middle of the Road. A worried hobbit`s face, that he recognised as Nob from the Inn, was looking down at him. “Mister Brandybuck, sir! Are you all right?”
Merry sat up, feeling a bit shaky after his ugly dream, and thinking that there had been something more, something that he couldn’t quite remember, but he shook the feeling off, getting to his feet.
“Yes… I… I`m not dead, am I?” He managed to answer, shaking his head to be rid of his dream and drawing in deep breaths to be sure of that he actually was breathing.
Nob took his arm and steadied him. “No. You`re not dead. Are you sure you`re all right? You look a bit shaken, sir.”
“I thought I had fallen into deep water.” Merry said.
Remembering the shadowy presence he had seen and that he needed to tell Frodo and the others at once, he started running towards the Inn. He scrambled up the stairs and ran through the hallway until he came to the parlour.
Inside, he shut the door firmly, gasping, wide and frightened eyes looking at Frodo. “I have seen them Frodo! I have seen them! Black Riders!”
A/N: Merry has two dreams where he feels like he`s drowning. The first is in Tom Bombadil`s house, where he thinks the house is flooded. The second one is in his experience with the Black Rider in Bree.
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