An Autumn Journey

One: Farmer Maggot's News (prompt: Hay)

It was harvest time, and the fields flanking the Brandywine gleamed yellow with ripening grain. Young hobbits ran and played, clambering over stacked bales while their parents toiled in the sun.

Elladan turned his back on the golden afternoon. "Old Maggot had unsettling news," he commented. "Strangers in the Shire. Who, I wonder?"

"I know one person we can ask." Elrohir pointed to the long green shadow of the High Hay ahead. With a last glance at the harvesting merrymakers behind them, he and Elladan rode forward into the deep, dank cutting beneath gloomy trees and into the Old Forest.

Two: Into The Old Forest (prompt: Scythe)

The leaves had not yet fallen, but debris from previous autumns crunched beneath their feet – desiccated, skeletal leaves, and the prickly shells of chestnuts.

Elrohir pointed to a faintly shadowed track. "That way – unless the trees have moved again."

Dusk fell as their path led south, dropping into the valley of the Withywindle which cut across the forest like a scythe.

"Do you really think this is a good idea?" Elladan asked, his voice heavy in the silence.

"We need information – and who better to ask? The birds and beasts carry news to him from far away."

"Yes, but Tom?"

Three: Oldest And Fatherless (prompt: Reap)

"Well now, come now, Tom's a-seeing double! Come inside, my starlight friends, and tell me what's your trouble!"

Elladan gave his brother a long look and tried not to roll his eyes.

"Master Iarwain, we seek news," Elrohir explained patiently. "Strangers have been seen in the Shire – do you know of them? Have they passed through the Forest?"

"Hey now, come now, why are you a-fretting? Tom knows all the answers, and outside the sun is setting." He disappeared indoors.

As they followed him into the low-roofed house Elladan whispered, "You reap what you sow, brother. This was your idea!"

Four: Tom Bombadil's Story (prompt: Thresh)

"Come now, listen well, Tom has got a tale to tell …"

It was a long, rambling tale, and Tom's doggerel difficult to decipher. Nonsense it seemed, but as they listened they could thresh out the substance like wheat from chaff, and among the stream of words a story emerged. News of strangers in the forest; riders hooded and cloaked in black. Not dead, not alive, but somewhere in between.

Elladan felt a shiver run down his spine despite the brightly burning fire before them. He glanced at Elrohir. "Nazgûl," he breathed. "We need to take word to Imladris immediately."

Five: Bree (prompt: Sheaf)

They left at dawn, crossing the silent, mist-shrouded Barrow-downs. A pale sun rose above the hills, and as the mist burned away Bree appeared before them.

"We should call at the Pony. Estel may have been there and left news."

Elrohir nodded his agreement, waiting in the courtyard until Elladan reappeared, clutching a sheaf of letters. "He has been and gone," he announced grimly. "With several Hobbits in tow, and the Nazgul in hot pursuit."

Elrohir straightened. "We go after him."

Elladan hesitated. "No. He is long gone. We ride for home – and hope we find Estel on the way."

Six: Sons of Forgotten Kings (prompt: Harvest Moon)

Elladan and Elrohir took the East Road, searching all the while for some sign of Estel or the Nazgûl. They saw nothing, and the land remained deserted and oddly silent. Under a harvest moon they rode through the night, piecing together Tom's cryptic clues.

"He knows who Estel is! And young Frodo carries some evil burden."

"And Estel is wandering in the wild with the Nazgûl after him. If the wraiths find them first … we must warn Father and seek help."

"And then set out again with Glorfindel. Between us, we will find him – and bring him safely home."