Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Volunteer (11/23/06)
TITLE: There and Back Again: Tommy Bracegirdle’s Quest
By Stephen Paynter
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He paused. He needed to consider how to marshal so many incidents into an orderly account. He must start with the familiar if he was to engage his hobbit readership. Inspiration striking, he wrote:
I was a guest at Buckland Hall on the night that Frodo Baggins and his companions disappeared. I was just tucking into a particularly fine seed cake after my second breakfast the following day, when it became known that Frodo had departed in a hurry, leaving his handkerchief behind.
As a young hobbit I’d often listened to the tales of old Mr Bilbo Baggins and I remembered how he’d rushed off on his adventure without a pocket-handkerchief to his name. Not wanting Frodo to suffer similar hardships, I immediately volunteered to race after him.
Frodo had fled into the Old Forest, but deeming it wise to skirt that eerie place, I chose instead to head directly to Bree, where I expected to meet Frodo as Bree boasted a renowned inn. It was a long arduous journey, and I was frequently glad that I had an extra pony which carried all the provisions such an expedition demanded. I stopped hourly for a snack, and in this way kept the wolf from the door, as they say in the West Farthing.
Upon reaching Bree some days later I was happy to be shown directly to my room by the innkeeper. There I slept, and didn’t wake until late the following day. In doing so I missed not only Frodo, but the excitement caused by some unsavoury characters who’d shown an alarming interest in him.
After a good lunch, and replenishing my stores, I set off in hot pursuit of Frodo and his companions. It seemed he had fallen in with one of those vagabond Rangers that one finds beyond the borders of the Shire. By all accounts, this Ranger was leading Frodo into the wilds towards Weathertop.
I made good progress, in spite of stopping for regular meals, and I was within sight of Weathertop six nights later when the most uncanny lights and flashes came from its peak. Furthermore, the breeze intermittently brought disturbing and harrowing cries from that direction. I snuggled deeper into my bedroll, and hoped that Frodo also was far from this worrying business.
The next day I started early, going without my post-breakfast snack, as I hoped to close the gap with Frodo. I rode over one hillock in time to see a group of black-clad riders about to crest another in the far distance. The sight of them gave me quite a turn, and made my pony neigh in fear. This must have carried to them, for three of them peeled off and rode rapidly towards me. Rather than be evasive and try to out-run them, I dismounted and waited patiently. I calculated it would take them about an hour to arrive, so I set about making a hearty meal and enjoying a pipe of longbottom leaf.
When they reached me, I almost wished I had tried to elude them. They made my skin crawl as they circled me. Plucking up courage, however, I demanded to know what they meant by harassing an honest traveller. They weren’t the most talkative of fellows, and after hissing at me, they sped off after their companions. I could only hope that my presence had hindered whatever nefarious errand they were on.
I was sorely tempted to turn back to the Shire and let Frodo continue without his handkerchief. I think if I’d known the path ahead of me, and how I wouldn’t catch up with Frodo until the slopes of Mount Doom, I’d have given in to this temptation. But I had volunteered, and so, after pausing for elevenses, I mounted my pony and rode on.
Bilbo said that it’s a dangerous business going out of your front door. If you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept. In my experience, volunteering to follow a ringbearer is a good way of losing your footing.
With obvious indebtedness to J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings".
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