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Disclaimer: this story is nonprofit and was written for purely entertainment purposes. All recognized places and characters are property of Tolkien Estates and New Line Cinema. I own nothing but my name.
~ Chapter 9: One With the Animals ~
The owl woke abruptly as he was rudely prodded with a stick. Ruffling his feathers and hooting angrily, he attempted, to no avail, to move out of reach. “Cease your cruelness at once!” he bellowed, blinking the sleep from his large yellow eyes.
“My most sincerest apologies,” called The One With The Stick, “but my situation is most urgent.”
The owl angrily hooted again and peered out from his cozy tree den. A funny man with a long beard and large hat was trying to poke him with a staff. A magnificent silver-white horse stood patiently at his side.
“Leave me to my rest,” the owl called. “I cannot help you! Now go away!”
But The One With The Stick persisted. “You were awake last night, were you not?”
“Of course I was,” replied the owl crossly. “I am always awake during the night. Because I SLEEP during THE DAY.”
The One With The Stick did not choose to acknowledge the owl’s bluntly stated hint. “I don’t suppose you witnessed anything unusual last evening? More specifically, a large flock of crebain—“
The owl clacked his beak in great fury. “Please do not remind me of that unruly army,” he hooted, “they scared away every last bit of game. I was unable to hunt successfully because of their incessant cawing and crowing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am most tired and more than a little hungry. Good day.”
“One last thing, if you will,” called The One With The Stick.
“What?” cried the owl in exasperation.
“Do you know, mayhap, which direction the flock was headed when they departed?”
The owl ruffled his feathers in irritation and pondered the question for several minutes. “South,” he answered thoughtfully, “slightly to the west.”
“Are you sure?” called The One With The Stick.
“Yes, yes,” snapped the owl. “I’m positive. Now go away!”
Gandalf tipped his hat in appreciation and turned to mount Shadowfax. “Thank you, my friend,” he called to the owl as he pulled himself onto the horse’s strong back.
The owl’s muffled reply was lost in the trunk of the tree.
“Let us make haste my swift friend,” the wizard said to his steed, “for I fear they are headed to Isengard.”
* * *
The flinty hooves of the great Shadowfax flew over the uneven terrain. Gandalf leaned down closer to the horse’s smooth, silvery neck and urged the brave steed on to an even faster pace. The stallion neighed thunderously as he increased his speed, and under his tremendous strides even the mountains posed no greater difficulty to him than a flat plain.
“Halt, Shadowfax,” called Gandalf after a time. “I feel that we may stumble upon something, though good or bad I cannot tell.”
Shadowfax snorted and slowed to a gentle walk. “Here,” said Gandalf, and made move to dismount. The wizard inspected the ground, looking for any clues. Shadowfax followed behind, carefully picking his way around fallen branches and tree stumps. He regarded Gandalf expectantly with his warm brown eyes as the wizard looked up at the sky and sighed.
“I have no idea what clue we are looking for,” admitted Gandalf.
The horse pricked his ears forward and shook his head as several rabbits bounded into the undergrowth. Gandalf blinked. “Perhaps they have seen something,” he murmured to himself.
“Greetings, small friends,” called the wizard, “I am Gandalf the Grey and I—“
“Gandalf?” squeaked one of the rabbits. “I say, Mossclover, I knew that had to be the work of a wizard.”
“Right-o, Nisbit, my good chap,” said the second, “’twas too strange a sight not to be.”
Gandalf was quite confused. “Begging your pardon, but what was too strange?”
“The Thing—“ replied the one named Nisbit.
“—that fell—“ interrupted Mossclover.
“—from the sky,” Nisbit finished.
“The what?” asked a perplexed Gandalf.
Nisbit and Mossclover hopped up to get a better view of the wizard. “You mean to tell us you didn’t cause The Thing?” Nisbit twitched his nose.
“No,” said Gandalf, becoming frustrated, “but if you describe to me what it was you saw, I may be able to give you some answers.”
Mossclover’s ears quivered as he thought back to the sight he had witnessed. “There was a great flock of birds—“
“Black, they were black,” interrupted Nisbit.
“Yes, they were black. And they flew overhead.”
“Then The Thing came!” cried Nisbit, his eyes growing wide.
Mossclover’s nose twitched nervously. “It screamed like an eagle.”
“But it fell like a rock,” finished Nisbit.
Gandalf winced. He had a horrible feeling of what “The Thing” might actually be. ‘I am not sure a hobbit would survive such a fall,’ he thought, and silently prayed to the Valar.
“Can you tell me where this, ah, ‘Thing’ fell?”
Mossclover squeaked in dismay and dove back into the underbrush. “Don’t think so, old chap,” cried the rabbit, his voice quivering most unnaturally. “Better to hide from the snake than eat the bad carrot!”
Gandalf supposed there was some wise logic behind the rabbit’s statement, but what it was even he was at a loss to comprehend. “Eat the bad…? What does that have to do with…? Oh never mind! Please, just point me in the general direction of where It fell.”
“Now, now, settle down old boy,” said Nisbit as he began delicately chewing on a dandelion stalk. “We’re excitable folk, you know. Easily stressed.”
The words ‘rabbit stew’ began running through the wizard’s head as he fought to remain calm. Fortunately, Shadowfax decided he’d had just about enough as well. Faster than lightening, the stallion barred his teeth and bolted towards Nisbit. The horse attacked so swiftly that Nisbit didn’t even begin to scream until after he noticed a large chunk of his bobbed tail fluff hanging from Shadowfax’s lips.
“Over there, off the cliff, it fell there!” howled the rabbit. “That’s where The Thing fell! Oh my poor, poor beautiful tail! What will Fiona think of me now?”
Shadowfax snorted and eyed the rabbit smugly. The de-bobbed Nisbit sobbed pitifully as he crawled back into the underbrush. “…the thanks I get for being helpful! My poor, poor bob…”
With a flick of his long tail, Shadowfax turned to Gandalf and allowed the wizard to mount. “I agree,” muttered Gandalf out of the corner of his mouth, “it serves him right.”
* * *
The stallion and wizard made for the area Nisbit had directed them. Time passed, yet still there was no sign of The Thing. The sun had reached her zenith and soon would begin to sink westward. Gandalf was growing quite worried. He fretfully tapped his staff against the base of an oak tree and aimlessly scanned the mountainside for the millionth time. Ahead of him, Shadowfax mulled about, occasionally snuffling at this patch of dirt or that rotted tree stump.
For reasons unknown, Gandalf felt himself compelled to look over the edge of a steep drop-off on his left. Dropping down on all fours, the wizard cautiously approached the crumbling edge of the cliff. Shadowfax stamped his forefoot and snorted warningly as several stones gave way and clattered haphazardly down the cliff’s face.
“Do not worry,” called Gandalf, dismissing the horse with a wave of his hand, “I assure you I proceed with the utmost care.”
He peered downward. A bitter wind, which was normally broken by tree branches, flew up the sheer cliff unhindered and into the wizard’s face. Gandalf narrowed his eyes against the stinging gale as they began to water uncontrollably. One hand tightly gripping a scraggly tree root, the he cupped the other to his mouth. “Hellooooooooo! Can anyone hear me? Helloooooooooo!”
The wind merely swallowed his words as it rushed by.
Leaning over the edge even further, the wizard strained his eyes. A few hardy, gnarled trees grew in various spots along the cliff’s wall. Were his wind-whipped eyes playing tricks on him, or was there truly something entangled in that thickly-needled pine tree?
Gandalf’s heart leapt. ‘My eyes do not deceive me! There is an unmoving being snared within those branches, and I bet my staff it is a hobbit!’
Scrambling away from the cliff’s edge, the wizard wasted no time. “Come Shadowfax,” he fairly shouted, his hair and beard windblown and standing on end. “We have a hobbit to rescue!”
The silvery-white stallion shot Gandalf a look, which clearly said, “I shall not go prancing over cliffs to rescue anyone,” and laid back his ears. After all, they were supposed to be chasing the crebain flock. And as far as Shadowfax was concerned, the hobbit in the tree was certainly not going anywhere. It was far more rational, the horse concluded, to ride after the others and then save the treed hobbit on the return trip.
Thus Gandalf the Grey found himself with yet another dilemma. Now that one hobbit was discovered, how exactly was he going to be retrieved?
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