For Those That See - Prologue

It was Sam's turn that day to take the first watch, but Aragorn joined him. The others fell asleep. Then the silence grew until even Sam felt it. The breathing of the sleepers could be plainly heard. The swish of the pony's tail and the occasional movements of his own feet became loud noises. Sam could hear his own joints creaking, if he stirred. Dead silence was around him, and over all hung a clear blue sky, as the Sun rode up from the East. Away in the South a dark patch appeared and grew, and drove north like flying smoke in the wind.

"What's that, Strider? It doesn't look like a cloud," said Sam in a whisper to Aragorn. He made no answer, he was gazing intently at the sky; but before long Sam could see for himself what was approaching. Flocks of birds, flying at great speed, were wheeling and circling, and traversing all the land as if searching for something; and they were steadily drawing nearer.

"Lie flat and still!" hissed Aragorn, pulling Sam down into the shade of a holly-bush; for a whole regiment of birds had broken away suddenly from the main host, and came, flying low, straight towards the ridge. Sam thought they were a kind of crow of large size. As they passed overhead, in so dense a throng that their shadow followed them darkly over the ground below, one harsh croak was heard.

A new sound pervaded Sam's hearing, one that he had never heard before. It began soft, but grew swiftly, buzzing like some great insect approaching. The birds wheeled overhead and swooped above their hiding-place again, calling to one another in coarse voices. Something appeared in the sky, approaching from the East; but what it was Sam could not say. It flew like a bird, a great eagle or a hawk, but it did not seem to be alive. It flew too straight, to stiffly, and when it came closer he could see that it did not flap, or call, or look about; it just flew on, droning ever louder. It seemed to be bird shaped in its basic form, but Sam could make out neither head nor feet.

The crows dived for it, calling in warning and wheeling about, harrying it cruelly. They crowded around it, croaking to one another in a great ugly chorus that seemed to fill the silence so that no other sound could ever make itself heard. Soon the thing, buffeted though it was by the crows, turned a wide arc in the air and flew back eastward. A few of the birds followed it, but the rest contented to let it go and resumed their searching flight.

Not until the last birds had dwindled into the distance did Aragorn stand. He moved to Gandalf's side, but the wizard had already risen and stood staring after the strange thing that had returned to the mountains. There was an unreadable look in his eyes, but when Sam turned he saw that all the Company had awoken, and from the various blends of confusion, curiosity and fear on their faces, he knew that none of them had an inkling of what the thing might be, or from whence it came.