'Tell me about the Black Riders, Daddy.'
Pippin settled Faramir more comfortably on his lap. Faramir lay back against his father's arm. He liked to watch Pippin's expressive face when he was telling one of his stories. He never knew quite which way Pippin would go- sometimes he was quite reflective, sometimes he exaggerated, but always he told a good tale.
'Let's see. What day was that?' he said, teasing his son.
'You know, the day you went into Farmer Maggot's crop!'
'Oh, I remember. The one time Merry convinced me to pick a few mushrooms from Farmer Maggot. He grew the best mushrooms, you know.' Pippin looked sideways at his son's skeptical face. 'The best. We couldn't resist. Since we were already there, we decided to get a few carrots and a cabbage, too. But we found we weren't very good at sneaking, because one of Farmer Maggot's dogs sniffed us out and started up a grand howling! It was no time at all before old Maggot himself came running up, looking mighty put out, I must say. Over a few mushrooms! He had a big scythe with him, so naturally Merry took to his heels. I would have faced up to it, but...'
"C'mon, Dad,' interrupted Faramir. 'stick to the story, (and the truth,)' he muttered under his breath.
Pretending not to hear, Pippin continued. 'It was while we were running away from Farmer Maggot that we bumped into Frodo and Sam. Literally! We were running as fast as we could, considering we still carried some carrots and cabbages. And they were walking along between the rows. I ran straight out and smack into Frodo. Well, what a surprise! Merry and I had just been thinking of going up to Hobbiton to visit him, which is why we were hoping to take him some mushrooms, you see - he used to borrow them as well, you know, until one time Farmer Maggot's dog chased him and gave him quite a scare! You can imagine how surprised we were to see him, and Sam with him.
'Of course, we didn't really have time to explain what we were doing at that moment, so next thing there were four of us running away! I can still see it in my mind's eye. I was leading, but somehow the field of corn came to a sudden end. I found myself standing at the top of a steep bank, so naturally I stopped, like a sensible young hobbit. But the others weren't quite as observant. Frodo ran right into me, and Merry into him. But it was Sam that tipped us over. He smacked into Merry so hard that we all tumbled over the edge and tail over top down the hill to the road below - thump, thump, thump, thump! I was on the bottom, so all three landed on me, and I almost landed on a pile of - but then I spotted some more mushrooms. Naturally, as soon as I said the word, Merry and Sam stomped all over me to get to the first!'
Pippin's face was alive with the memory; a smile touched his lips. 'We never did get to eat those mushrooms.'
'Black Riders,' prompted Faramir.
Pippin's smile faded. He took a deep breath and tightened his arm a bit, which had relaxed with the memory of that sunny day.
'That's when things got a bit unusual. In fact, a lot unusual. We were gathering the mushrooms into a bag when Frodo suddenly called out in a very strange voice, quite unlike himself, to get off the road. We could tell right away he was serious, so we all jumped over the roots of the big tree at the side and hid out of sight under it. I didn't really think Frodo knew what he was talking about, after all we were in the Shire! so I was still counting the mushrooms when we heard a slow clopping along the road, like a very big horse. But it was odd - it wasn't the normal sound of a pony heading somewhere, nor even the sound of a big person riding through the Shire. It was sort of threatening, and the horse was making a deep snorting sound. We sat as still as fieldmice. Frodo looked up to see what it was, but he sat so still and worried that we all followed suit. But it was very hard to stay still because next centipedes and worms started to crawl out of all the spaced and holes nearby; it was quite horrid. That's when the snuffling started'
Faramir stayed very still as Pippin's voice took on a faraway sound, as if he were reliving the day it all began for him.
'The snuffling is what upset me. Frodo behaving oddly - well he has always had his own way, going off by himself for days on end. The horse - that could be explained, and even the worms are normal creatures. But the snuffling wasn't like any noise I ever heard before or since. It was like something was sniffing us out - quite a nasty feeling. Merry threw the bag of mushrooms (a pity, but there you are) up onto the road, and that attracted the thing's attention. At that point I hadn't seen anything, but when we got up as quick as quick to run away, I caught a glimpse.
'I know what it was now, so it is a bit hard to remember my thoughts back then. I saw a very large black horse - blacker than black, and shiny, almost slimy looking, I would say. The rider was all black, too, cloaked, hooded, no face to be seen. It had a threatening feel to it, somehow, so we all took to our heels, running as quickly as the trees would allow. Frodo ran like someone being chased by a demon, and I suppose he was. When he finally stopped for breath, we could get nothing out of him "What was that?" asked Merry. Frodo just stood and looked at his hand as if horrified by it. He was far away in his own mind. Then he just said, "Sam and I have to get to Bree." Leave the Shire! I was starting to really be afraid, now, and confused. What was going on?
'Bless Merry's quick thinking. He knew the quickest way was to take the Buckleberry Ferry. We started off toward the ferry through the woods, going as fast but quietly as we could, but by the time evening fell, we could feel there was more than one rider looking for us. We heard the snorting of the horse and the clatter of armour on our left, and hid deep in the undergrowth; then we heard another sound, a kind of scream that sent shivers down to my toes. We slipped between the trees - I was very frightened by then, I don't mind admitting - but suddenly a Black Rider burst out of a space between the trees.'
Pippins voice was now tight and his face showed the play of emotions as he remembered them. Faramir hugged him, to keep him from going too far away. 'He went straight for Frodo, paying no mind to any of us. We ran fast as we could to the ferry, even Sam leapt the fence before it, but the Rider kept cutting Frodo off. We were all screaming for him, "Frodo, Frodo," as if that would make any difference, but he had to weave and dodge and took a step to the left which tricked the horse. He turned and pelted toward the ferry. We had already pushed off when he finally made it, and took a leap to get on board. The Rider was so close behind him that the horse had trouble stopping on the dock.
Pippin shuddered and, to Faramir, his hand felt cold. 'The screaming that came next. Well, it wasn't human. And we could see there were three riders, riding fast toward the Brandywine Bridge. We were safe for now. But I still remember thinking, well that's a long way from lifting cabbages!'