The Unsuited Sentinels
By Anarion Tari Culnama and Altariel Culnama
The Fellowship paddled sinuously down the River Anduin, their oars dipping in and out of the pristine water and propelling the canoes to the fore. The sun was sinking low in the West; it would be below the mountain peaks within a good twenty minutes. Aragorn surveyed the parallel shorelines with vigilance, looking for a suitable place to halt for the night. Nothing stood out to him at first; much of the bank was dense forest consisting of stately deciduous trees and overflowing with thick vegetation.
They continued on in silence, all except Merry and Pippin, naturally. The young Hobbits made it a point to fill the other’s ears with their mindless chatter all the day long.
Presently, Aragorn noticed a small gravelly inlet which might suit their purpose. He took a sideward glance at Legolas in the other canoe. His fair elvish features were drawn with concern: he could sense danger lay in wait nearby. Aragorn squinted towards the shoreline once more and shrugged at the elf. Legolas shook his head. Aragorn came to a decision.
“Paddle to shore,” he called back to the lagging canoe. Aragorn directedhis canoe in an oblique manner, and by and by, he leapt out and heaved the light-weight watercraft up onto the gravelly shore. The other canoes followed suit and were brought up onto the gradually sloping bank parallel to Aragorn’s canoe. The members of the Fellowship unloaded their small amount of provisions from the boats and carried them further inland.
Their small camp took shape only a short distance from the bank of the rushing river.
The terrain near the shore had a gradual acclivity and remained mostly level throughout the wooded shoreline. Beyond were seen a few lofty peaks rearing their eminent heads above all other landforms. The laurel flourishing in masses about the trees was a vivid green in color, and the leaves of the undergrowth shone vibrantly in the waning sunlight of the dusk. The bright and cheerful chirping of the birds rang clearly throughout the forest.
By the disappearance of the sun and the emergence of the moon, the camp was set up and the fatigued travelers felt inclined to repose.
“Think I’ll turn in,” yawned Merry, stretching sleepily.
“I’m with you,” agreed Pippin, as he fished in his pack for his extensive blanket.
“Now wait a moment, young ones,” said Boromir, stopping Merry with a sturdy hand on his shoulder. “We must first decide to whom the task of sentinel will fall to-night.” Merry mumbled something unintelligible and grudgingly turned around.
“It should be those two,” grunted Gimli. “They have yet to take up the watch duty.”
“No- but,” protested Pippin. “Please- I wouldn’t be a good look-out.”
“Everyone must play his part, whether he excels at it or no,” scolded Aragorn. “Perhaps it would prove helpful to try something new for a change.”
The two Hobbits unwillingly found themselves the nightly sentinels. After the others had settled around the smoldering fire to sleep, Merry and Pippin stood watch down by the shore, ready to warn of any peril that lurked in the surrounding woods, though the languor of the night soon became tedious to the young Hobbits. Merry gave a prodigious yawn and sat on a nearby log.
“I almost wish some danger would show itself,” said Pippin drowsily. “I don’t feel I can take this all night.” The young Took peered into the encircling gloom of the forest.
“I wouldn’t know if anything did show itself,” he complained with a whisper. “I can’t see well enough to tell a bush from an orc.” Merry made no reply. He still sat, face forward, apparently staring out at the river shimmering brightly in the silver moonlight.
Pippin sidled up to him and was just about to make another remark, when he happened to take a fleeting glance over at Merry and noticed he was asleep. The hobbit elbowed him abruptly in the shoulder and Merry started awake.
“You know the penalty for sleeping on guard-duty, soldier!” reprimanded Pippin.
“Come on Pip,” explained Merry. “I’m very tired, that’s all.” Pippin seized Merry roughly by the arm and dragged him to his feet.
“You can’t fall asleep, Merry!” admonished Pippin. “Who will I talk to?”
“Well,” said Merry, crossing his arms. “In that case, you’re going to have to do things to keep me awake.”
“Such as?” inquired Pippin, studying a fingernail.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Merry. “How about we play a game?”
“What sort of a game?” asked Pippin.
“What about a staring contest?” suggested Merry. “My cousin Prisca and I used to play it all the time, when we were bored to death, that is.” Pippin nodded.
“That describes the moment,” he said. “All right, let’s do it.” They each sat on opposite ends of the mossy pine log and began. They stared fixedly for at least a minute before Merry started laughing and blinked.
“What?” questioned Pippin.
“You look like an owl when you stare!” Merry got out between bursts of laughter.
“Ha ha, very funny,” said Pippin, noticeably amused.
The hours of darkness had become rather lovely. The moon shone onto perfectly white clouds and diffused throughout them, making the night a good deal brighter.
A dead tree loomed eminently near the shore, an ideal place for a sentinel’s post, according to Merry. Pippin approached the tree half-heartedly.
“Uh, well,” he stammered. “Merry, I feel I’m of much more use on the ground.”
“Nonsense,” said Merry, shooing him back to the base of the towering pine. “Sentinels are required to perform perilous tasks.”
“Well,” groaned Pippin. “All right.” He turned back to the tree and quickly twisted to look at the other hobbit again.
“And you will come up right after I’m up?” he questioned.
“For sure,” reassured Merry, waving him off. Pippin placed an uncertain foot on a lower branch and pulled himself up a pace. He immediately felt the sensation of an abraded ankle and instinctively reached down to caress it.
“The bark is rough,” he whispered down to Merry.
“Don’t worry,” Merry assured him in answer. “Just keep going.” So Pippin did. He clambered cunningly higher and higher up in the lofty tree, moving nimbly from limb to limb. Once, a sheet of rough bark crumbled off of a branch and he lost his footing and nearly fell, but he was able to haul himself up just in time. He persisted on and up until he virtually swooned at looking down. But he forced himself to look. Merry was a faint shadow gaping up at him near the base of the tree. Pippin gulped and turned back to the task at hand. He tightened his grip on the limb with both hands before taking another step up. Though the tree was scarcely more than thirty feet tall, from the top it appeared to be the highest of all places above the earth. At long last, Pippin reached the zenith. Pleased, he gripped securely a thick branch and signaled with a wave down to Merry. He watched as the hazy form of the other hobbit sought hand and foot holds on the limbs up the side of the tree. Pippin was worried in spite of himself. But Merry did not falter. Within half a score of minutes, Merry was right beside him.
“What did I tell you?” panted Merry. “This tree is perfect for a look-out tower.” Pippin seemed to have only just noticed this unmistakable fact. The height commanded a magnificent view: the terrain below shimmered beautifully in the rising moonlight. From the pinnacle, one could see far superior to someone upon the ground and over a much greater distance. Both Hobbits gazed downwards in wonder. To their right was the slight glow of the remaining coals of the fire. To the front was the gloom of the woods. And on their left, the glimmering river. It was all too breathtaking to say the least. Pippin and Merry sat in silence for the space of an entire minute, a thing unheard of before. But presently, some sense of their task returned to them and Merry instantaneously took command.
“Peregrin Took,” he said robustly. “Do you see any foes?”
“No,” replied Pippin, shading his eyes with a hand. “Nothing in sight.”
“What about to the west?” asked Merry, readjusting his grip on the top limb.
“Uh,” said Pippin. “Which way is west?”
“You don’t know which way west is?” questioned Merry in feigned disbelief. “Shame on you!”
“Am I supposed to know which way west is?” asked Pippin.
“Oh sorry, Pip,” apologized Merry. “I was just fooling.”
“Ha!” said Pippin. “Just fooling? Who did you think you were fooling, hmm? I didn’t take you seriously for a moment.”
“Oh, didn’t you?” asked Merry, giving Pippin a playful shove. That, regrettably, was the worst thing he could possibly have done at the moment. For as he did, both he and Pippin heard a distinctive cracking noise.
“What’s that?” asked Pippin, looking frightfully around.
“I don’t know,” whispered Merry, silencing him with a hand. “Let me listen.” The noise grew louder and bolder in intensity. Merry and Pippin soon found to their horror what it was. They felt the tree shuddering underneath them as it tottered this way and that and finally decided upon which route it would descend.
“Hold on tight!” shrieked Merry as they fell. They clung like leeches to the dead boughs. Very luckily for them, the tree’s roots were eroded away near the gravelly bank, and as such, they toppled in the general direction of the river. Both were screaming as loud as a Hobbit is capable of. All at once, they made contact with the water, and with a deafening splash, the tree was half submerged, and the water at the impacted areas leapt on high.
The clamor of screaming and a nerve-jarring splash roused Legolas and Aragorn. The elf’s hand sought an arrow. Aragorn’s went to the hilt of his sword. Both swiftly rose and raced for the river. The mist was rising leisurely from the water as they approached, and they could clearly mark what had happened. Just beyond the canoes, a great upended tree was wedged between a cleft in the bank, its end a mass of torn and broken roots. The immense trunk led far into the pale eddying water. Wondering what had been the cause of the great fall, they cautiously crept nearer. To their surprise, they heard panicky voices.
“Hurry Pippin!” said one. “I’ve got your arm!”
“No, you haven’t,” said the other. “That’s a branch!”
“Oh well,” came the first. “I’ve got it now.” They hurried to the Hobbit’s aid. Merry was atop the felled tree, attempting to heave Pippin up out of the water and onto the slippery log. Aragorn remained near the shore, but Legolas went deftly over the length of the tree and swiftly pulled the young Took up out of the swirling water. Presently, the Hobbits were back without much damage, though they were both in grave shock. The other companions were aghast to learn what had taken place as they stirred from their repose.
After warming up around the now rebuilt fire and a hot morsel, Aragorn provided them with a stern talking to.
“I suppose this means I will be taking over the watch?” assumed Legolas.
“Indeed,” said Aragorn, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “I think the unsuited sentinels need their rest.” Unsurprisingly, Merry and Pippin were not called upon for the nightly watch duty again.
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