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Chapter 4: Weathertop
They had not gone far on the fifth day when they left the last straggling pools and reed-beds of the marshes behind them. The land before them began steadily to rise again. Away in the distance eastward they could now see a line of hills. The highest of them was at the right of the line and a little separated from the others. It had a conical top, slightly flattened at the summit.
"That is Weathertop." Aragorn informed them. "The Old Road, which we have left far away on our right, runs to the south of it and passes not far from its foot. We might reach it by noon tomorrow, if we go straight towards it. I suppose we had better do so."
"What do you mean?" Frodo asked.
"I mean: when we do get there, it is not certain what we shall find. It is close to the Road." Aragorn said.
"But surely we were hoping to find Gandalf there?" Frodo said.
"Yes; but the hope is faint. If he comes this way at all, he may not pass through Bree, and so he may not know what we are doing. And anyway, unless we arrive almost together, we shall miss one another; it will not be safe for him or for us to wait there long. If the Riders fail to find us in the wilderness, they are likely to make for Weathertop themselves. It commands a wide view all around. Indeed, there are many birds and beasts in this country that could see us, as we stand here, from that hill-top. Not all the birds are to be trusted, and there are other spies more evil than they are." Aragorn explained.
The hobbits looked anxiously at the distant hills. Sam looked up into the pale sky, fearing to see hawks or eagles hovering over them with bright unfriendly eyes.
"You make me feel uncomfortable and lonesome, Strider!" He said.
"Aww." Kitty said, leaning down to give him a hug, making the hobbit blush.
"Just be wary of any black birds. Not everything with wings is an enemy. After all, Gandalf is friends with the eagles, isn't he? It was with their help that he, Bilbo, and Thorin's company were able to escape from a pinch during their adventure." Devin reminded them.
The hobbits took heart at that, knowing what she said to be true after having heard the very same thing from Bilbo on more than one occasion.
"What do you advise us to do?" Frodo asked Aragorn after a moment, getting back to the topic of Weathertop.
"I think," answered Aragorn slowly, as if he was not quite sure, "I think the best thing is go as straight eastward from here as we can, to make for the line of hills, not for Weathertop. There we can strike a path I know that runs at their feet; it will bring us to Weathertop from the north and less openly. Then we shall see what we shall see."
All day they plodded along, until the cold and early evening came down. The land became drier and more barren; but mists and vapors lay behind them on the marshes. A few melancholy birds were piping and wailing, until the round red sun sank slowly into the western shadows; then an empty silence fell. The hobbits thought of the soft light of sunset glancing through the cheerful windows of Bag End far away. And the girls thought of how they used to laze about on the Gladwin family's back porch, watching the light dance and shimmer on the surface of their small duck pond while the ducklings, Spock, Kirk, and McCoy swam and played together. Devin hoped the big neighborhood tomcat wasn't trying to eat them again. She had asked the neighbors to keep an eye on them, but that cat was a sneaky son of a kitten.
At the day's end they came to a stream that wandered down from the hills to lose itself in the stagnant marshland, and they went up along its banks while the light lasted. It was already night when they at last halted and made their camp under some stunted aldertrees by the shores of the stream. Ahead there loomed now against the dusky sky the bleak and treeless backs of the hills. That night they set a watch, and Aragorn, it seemed, did not sleep at all. The moon was waxing, and in the early night-hours a cold grey light lay on the land.
Next morning they set out again soon after sunrise. There was a frost in the air, and the sky was a pale clear blue. The hobbits felt refreshed, as if they had had a night of unbroken sleep. Already they were getting used to much walking on short commons—shorter at any rate than what in the Shire they would have thought barely enough to keep them on their legs. Pippin declared that Frodo was looking twice the hobbit he had been.
"Very odd," said Frodo, "considering there is actually a good deal less of me." This earned a chuckle from Kitty. "I hope the thinning process will not go on indefinitely, or I shall become a wraith."
"Do not speak of such things!" Aragorn scolded him quickly with a surprising earnestness.
The hills drew nearer. They made an undulating ridge, often rising almost to a thousand feet, and here and there falling again to clefts or passes leading into the eastern land beyond. Along the crest on the ridge the hobbits and girls could see what appeared to be the remains of green-brown walls and dikes, and in the clefts there still stood the ruins of old works of stone. By night they had reached the feet of the westward slopes, and there they camped. It was the night of the fifth of October, and they were six days out from Bree.
In the morning they found, for the first time since they had left the Chetwood, a track plain to see. Kitty praised the Lord. They turned and followed it southwards. It ran cunningly, taking a line that seemed chosen so as to keep as much hidden as possible from the view, both of the hilltops above and of the flats to the west. It dived into dells, and hugged steep banks; and where it passed over flatter and more open ground on either side of it there were lines of large boulders and hewn stones that screened travelers almost like a hedge.
"I wonder who made this path and what for." Merry said as they walked along one of these avenues, where the stones were unusually large and closely set. "I'm not sure that I like it: its has a—well, a rather barrow-wightish look. Is there any barrow on Weathertop?"
"No. There is no barrow on Weathertop, nor on any of these hills." Aragorn replied. "The Men of the west did not live here; though in their later days they defended the hills for awhile against the evil that came out of Angmar. This path was made to serve the forts along the walls. But long before, in the first days of the North Kingdom, they built a great watchtower on Weathertop, Amon Sûl they called it. It was burned and broken, and nothing remains of it now but a tumbled ring, like a rough crown on the old hill's head. Yet once it was tall and fair. It is told that Elendil stood there watching for the coming of Gil-galad out of the West, in the days of the Last Alliance." The hobbits gazed at Strider in wonder, but the girls were not surprised by his extensive knowledge of old lore in addition to the ways of the wild. Devin smiled softly as she brushed the tips of her fingers against one of the old stones.
"My mother would have loved this." She said. "She was an archaeologist: someone who specializes in the systematic study of past human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery. She was really good at it. She'd bring me back souvenirs sometimes, bits of broken artifacts that weren't worth preserving in a museum, but that she couldn't bear to throw out. She said they were reminders of where we came from and how far we had come; that they were solid memories, moments of long-lost lives preserved in time."
"She must be worried about you," Pippin said, "your mother."
"No." Devin said, smiling sadly. "She isn't. She died soon after I entered high school, when I was thirteen." She let her hand dropped and continued walking on ahead, following the trail. The hobbits and Aragorn stared after. Pippin was sorry he had asked now. He hadn't meant to drag up bad memories. Aragorn stepped forward and silently walked beside the petite girl, saying nothing. He knew what is was like to lose one's mother. He glanced at her, and she glanced back up at him when she felt his stare; and he knew that she knew he understood. She gave him and appreciative smile before focusing her attention back on the path in front of them.
"Don't feel bad, Pippin." Kitty said, patting him on the shoulder as she and the hobbits also began slowly moving forward again. "Devin's tougher than she looks. She knows you didn't mean any harm, and she's not upset. She misses her mom—her dad, too, since both of them are gone now—but she doesn't let it get her down. She says it's better to have loved and lost than never to have been loved at all. When she thinks of her parents, she doesn't think of their deaths; she thinks of their life together and all the good times they had." She explained, flashing them a smile before jogging to catch up with the other two humans. "Devin, I'm tired! carry me?" She teased her short friend as she threw her arms around her from behind, only half joking.
"Ack! Get off, Kitty—you're too heavy!" Devin exclaimed, stumbling under the combined weight of her friend and the bags they were both carrying. Aragorn smiled wryly at their antics but shushed them for being too loud. The hobbits smiled softly as they watched. They really were good friends, weren't they?
It was already midday when they drew near the southern end of the path, and saw before them, in the pale clear light of the of the October sun, a grey-green bank, leading up like a bridge on to the northward slope of the hill. They decided to make for the top at once, while the daylight was broad. Concealment was no longer possible, and they could only hope that no enemy or spy was observing them. Nothing was to be seen moving on the hill. If Gandalf was anywhere about, there was no sign of him.
On the western flank of Weathertop they found a sheltered hollow, at the bottom of which was there was a bowl-shaped dell with grassy sides. There they left Sam, Pippin, and Kitty with the pony and their packs and luggage. The other three went on. After half an hour's plodding climb Aragorn reached the crown of the hill; Devin, Frodo, and Merry followed, tired and breathless. The last slope had been steep and rocky.
On the top they found, as Aragorn had said, a wide-ring of ancient stone-work, now crumbling or covered with age-long grass. But in the center a cairn of broken stones had been piled. They were blackened as if with fire. About them the turf was burned to the roots and all within the ring the grass was scorched and shriveled, as if flames had swept the hill-top; but there was no sign of anything living. Standing upon the rim of the ruined circle they saw all round below them a wide prospect, for the most part of lands empty and featureless, except for patches of woodland away to the south, beyond which they caught here and there the glint of distant water. Beneath them on this southern side there ran like a ribbon the Old Road, coming out of the West and winding down, until it faded behind a ridge of dark land to the east. Nothing was moving on it. Following its line eastward with their eyes, they saw the Mountains: the nearer foothills were brown and somber; behind them stood taller shapes of grey, and behind those again were high white peaks glimmering among the clouds.
"Well, here we are!" Merry said. "And very cheerless and uninviting it looks! There is no water and no shelter. And no sign of Gandalf. But I don't blame him not waiting—if he ever came here."
"I wonder." Aragorn said thoughtfully, looking around, while Devin moved closer to examine the cairn. "Even if he was a day or two behind us at Bree, he could have arrived here first. He can ride very swiftly when need presses."
"Hey, y'all." Devin called out, waving the ranger and two hobbits over. "What do you think of this?" She asked, holding out the stone from the top of the cairn. It was flatter than the others, and whiter, as if it had escaped the fire. Aragorn picked it up and examined it, turning it in his fingers.
"This has been handled recently." He said. "What do you think of these marks?" On the flat under-side Frodo saw some scratches: |" |||.
"There seems to be a stroke, a dot, and three more strokes." He remarked.
"The stroke on the left might be a G-rune with thin branches." Aragorn said. "It might be a sign left by Gandalf, though one cannot be sure. The scratches are fine, and they certainly look fresh. But the marks might mean something quite different, and have nothing to do with us. Rangers use runes, and they come here sometimes."
"What could they mean, if Gandalf made them?" Merry asked.
"I would say that they stood for G 3, and are a sign that Gandalf was here on October the 3rd, three days ago." Devi said.
"I agree." Aragorn said. "It would also show that he was in a hurry and dangers was at hand, so that he had no time or did not dare to write anything longer or plainer. If that is so, we must be wary."
"I wish we could feel sure that he made the marks, whatever they may mean." Frodo said. "It would be a great comfort to know that he was on the way, in front of or behind us." Devin glanced sympathetically at him and paced a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sure he is." She said. "I'd bet he's on his way to Rivendell as we speak."
"Perhaps." Said Aragorn. "For myself, I believe that he was here, and was in danger. There have been scorching flames here; and now the light that we saw three nights ago in the eastern sky comes back to mind. I guess that he was attacked on this hill-top, but with what result I cannot tell. He is here no longer, and we must now look after ourselves and make our own way to Rivendell, as best we can."
"How far is Rivendell?" Merry asked, gazing around wearily. The world looked wild and wide from Weathertop.
"I don't know if the Road has ever been measured in miles beyond the Forsaken Inn, a day's journey east of Bree." Aragorn answered. "Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise. It is a strange road, and folk are glad to reach their journey's end, whether the time is long or short. But I know how long it would take me on my own feet, with fair weather and no ill fortune; twelve days from here to the Ford of Bruinen, where the Road crosses the Loudwater that runs out of Rivendell. We have at least a fortnight's journey before us, for I do not think we shall be able to use the Road."
"A fortnight!" said Frodo. "A lot may happen in that time." That would be two weeks.
"It may." Aragorn agreed.
'It will.' Devin thought, biting her lip. She wished she could warn Frodo of what was coming, but again, she wasn't sure what would happen if she did. The only comfort was that she could at least be sure that he would survive.
They stood silent for awhile on the hill-top, near its southward edge. As Devin stared down at the Road, suddenly she felt a vague sense of dread and became aware that two black specks were moving slowly along it, heading westward; and looking again, saw that three others were creeping eastward to meet them. She gasped and immediately ducked down low to the ground.
"Look!" She whispered urgently to the others, pointing downward. At once Aragorn flung himself on the ground beside her behind the ruined circle, pulling Frodo and Merry down with him.
"What is it?" Merry whispered.
"I do not know, but I fear the worst." Aragorn replied lowly. Slowly they crawled up to the edge of the ring again, and peered through a cleft between two jagged stones. The light was no longer bright, for the clear morning had faded, and clouds creeping out of the East had now overtaken the sun, as it began to go down. They could see all the black specks, but neither Devin, Frodo, nor Merry could make out their shapes for certain; yet something told them that there, far below, were Black Riders assembling on the Road beyond the foot of the hill.
"Yes." Said Aragorn, whose keener sight left him no doubt. "The enemy is here!" Hastily they crept away and slipped down the northern side of the hill to find their companions.
Sam, Pippin, and Kitty had not been idle. They had explored the small dell and the surrounding slopes. Not far away they found a spring of clear water in the hillside, and near it they found the footprints not more than a day or two old. In the dell itself they found recent traces of a fire, and other signs of a hasty camp. There were some fallen rocks on the edge of the dell nearest to the hill. Behind them, Sam came upon a small store of neatly stacked firewood.
"I wonder if old Gandalf has been here." He said to Pippin and Kitty. "Whoever it was that put this stuff here meant to come back it seems."
Aragorn was greatly interested in these discoveries.
"I wish I had waited and explored the ground down here myself." He said, hurrying off to the spring to examine the footprints. "It is just as I feared." Aragorn said, when he returned. "The three of them have trampled the soft ground, and the marks are spoilt and confused." 'Oops, my bad.' Kitty mouthed quietly as he continued. "Rangers have been here lately. It is they who left the firewood behind. But there are also several newer tracks that were not made by Rangers. At least one set was made, only a day or two ago, by heavy boots. At least one. I cannot now be certain, but I think there were many booted feet." He paused and stood in anxious thought. Devin and Kitty exchanged a knowing and troubled look. That scene was coming.
Each of the hobbits saw in his mind a vision of the cloaked and booted Riders. If the horsemen had already found the dell, the sooner Strider led them somewhere else the better. Sam viewed the hollow with great dislike, now that he had heard news of their enemies on the Road, only a few miles away.
"Hadn't we better clear out quick, Mr. Strider?" he asked impatiently. "It's getting late, and I don't like this hole: it makes my heart sink somehow."
"Yes, we certainly must decide what to do at once." Answered Aragorn, looking up and considering the time and the weather. "Well, Sam," he said at last, "I do not like this place either; but I cannot think of anywhere better that we could reach by nightfall. At least we are out of sight for the moment, and if we moved we should be much more likely to be seen by spies. All we could do would be to go right out of our way back north on this side of the line of hills, where the lad is much the same as it is here. The Road is watched, but we should have to cross it, if we tried to take cover in the thickets away to the south. On the north side of the Road beyond the hills the country is bare and flat for miles."
"Is there no escape then?" asked Frodo, looking around wildly. "If I move I shall be seen and hunted! If I stay, I shall draw them to me!"
"Just chill, dude." Kitty said carelessly, digging though Devin's backpack. "Here, you can have a piece of our last Snickers."
"There is still hope." Aragorn said, laying a hand on the distressed hobbit's shoulder. "You are not alone. Let us take this wood that is set ready for the fire as a sign. There is little shelter or defense here, but the fire shall serve for both. Sauron can put fire to his evil uses, as he can all things, but these Riders do not love it, and fear those who wield it. Fire is our friend in the wilderness."
"Maybe." Muttered Sam. "It's also as good a way of saying 'here we are' as I can think of, bar shouting."
"But if they find us, and we don't have a fire already going, we may not even live long enough to regret it." Devin said grimly.
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