Shepherds of the Trees, Guides of the Little Folk

Just a bit of fan fiction set in Middle-Earth...seems to be a bit of a theme of mine at the moment...set in the Second Age, so quite some time before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, around the time of the Downfall of Numenor. Oh, and I almost forgot, it's got Entwives in it!

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3. Shepherds of the Trees, Guides of the Little Folk

   The Little People were, of course, impressed with Olo's findings. That night they feasted on vegetable soup, savouring every mouthful of the delicious hot broth. When they had all finished, Olo's father demanded of him: "Where did you find this, son?"

   Olo was, understandably, uncertain how to respond. What was he to say? 'A big talking tree carried me to a faraway land full of delicious food?' He paused. "Erm...well...."

   The people stared at him eagerly with wide eyes, and a few of them nodded encouragingly. Steeling himself for the inevitable looks of scepticism and scoffs of disbelief, he resolutely began his tale.

   When he had finished, the first reaction was as he had expected. The majority of the people flatly rejected the possibility of his claims being true. "It is the most ridiculous thing we have ever heard," they said. "We demand that you discipline your son for his lying tongue," some told his father. "That boy's always had his head in the clouds. Talking trees? Not surprising from a boy like him," grumbeld others, despite Olo being one of the most level-headed and reasonable of all the Harfoot lads.

   Yet there was one question which incessantly returned to confront those who had at first been so sure that Olo was lying: how to account for the food? There was certainly nowhere anywhere near the camp that held such bounties for the hungry. To obtain food in such abundance, Olo would indeed have had to search far and wide: much farther than he could possibly have travelled in the short time he was gone.

   Furthermore, those who knew Olo knew that, whatever some may have said initially in the heat of the incredulous moment, he had always been an honest, serious and level-headed lad. For him to suddenly start inventing wild stories would be most out of character. Some started to suggest theories involving Olo being enchanted or deceived by evil sorcerers, and perhaps the very food itself was an illusion or else laced with magic, but these theories quickly became far willder, more outlandish and unbelievable than even the tale Olo himself insisted upon as the veritable truth. Thus, as time went on, more and more people began to find the idea more credible that this tale, no matter how far-fetched it had at first appeared, was in fact not a complete fabrication.

   The question then became: what to do? On the one hand, the Brown Lands and nomadic foraging were the only things the Little People had ever known. This was an important factor for a group so stubborn and resistant to change as the Harfoots. However, on the other hand - and the huge significance of this to the Little People cannot be overstated -  there was the food, and a lot of it too.

   So it was that the Harfoot clan encountered a dilemma, caught between two equally compelling characteristics of their nature: their intuitive mistrust of anything new, different or unknown; and their passionate love of good food. There were zealous advocates on both sides of the debate, and indeed, so incredibly bitter did the internal quarrel become that it seemed at one point the community would tear itself apart over the question of the 'talking tree folk' (nobody seemed to pay much attention to Olo's insistence that they were called Entwives).

   The matter came to a head one day in Winter. The Harfoot who had been sent out to find food for the clan had returned empty-handed and, for the second time that week, the Little People went entirely without food that night. There is nothing that makes the concept of a change in circumstances seem so appealing as an empty stomach. Nobody feels any desire for change if they are satisfied with their current circumstances, and for a Little Person, there is perhaps nothing in life more dissatisfying than hunger. That night, there was likely not a single person in the camp that did not dream of the hot vegetable soup and sweet fruit they had savoured not so very long ago, and as the vivid recollections of the warm, thick liquid coming down their throat to warm their body and fill their bellies flowed their minds, the bitter contrast between their memories and their current situation became all too apparent. In the morning, there were very few who questioned the wisdom of following the Entwives, and those who did objected only half-heartedly and without any strong conviction.

   Thus it was that, before the sun had yet reached its zenith in the cold, blue sky, the entire community of Harfoots found themselves walking intently and steadily towards a lonely tree with the intent of holding a conversation with it, feeling a little foolish but also very, very hungry.

    Once they arrived, they were slightly unsure how to proceed. Nobody had had much (or any, really) experience talking to trees before, so nobody was entirely certain how one was supposed to strike up a conversation. Eventually, it was decided that Olo, as the only one who had had any dealings with the talking tree folk in the past, should act as their ambassador.

   Olo stepped forward, a little uncertainly. He was as clueless as the rest of them as to the actual formalities of starting a conversation with the Entwife - he had certainly not been trying to do so when he first met her.

   "Flaxhair?" he asked, hesitantly. There was no response for a little while. Then everyone in the crowd began to gasp as they saw two eyes open, the branches shake wildly and what they thought had been the trunk stand up and split into two thick legs.

   "Greetings, Little People," Flaxhair said. "Very Little People," she added with raised eyebrows as she took in the full extent of their diminutive stature.

   "Hello, Flaxhair!" Olo said with a relieved smile. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting an Entwife, you will understand why he was the only one to reply. They make quite an impressive sight - not one which is easily recovered from. "My people have given a great deal of thought to your offer. We believe that it would be folly to reject it. If you will be our guides," he said humbly, "then we will follow you wherever you may lead us."

   Flaxhair smiled brightly at Olo's words. "I have spoken with the other Entwives also. I went to them immediately after our meeting and called for an Entmoot to be held. I was surprised how quickly my request was granted; it would appear that the others can also feel the darkness which is so rapidly seeping into our soil and polluting our roots. In fact you are lucky not to have missed me: I returned early this morning and was just taking a nap."

    "Well, we are truly sorry to have disturbed you, but what was the decision of the Entmoot?" Olo wasn't exactly sure what an 'Entmoot' was, but it sounded important and authoritative and he assumed that its decision counted for something.

   "Well, the decision was not unanimous. It does not have to be, but it is generally preferred." She sighed. "The majority of the Entwives are in favour of our arrangement. They have decided to jouney to farther lands and brighter skies. Yet there are some - more than I would like - who have grown too attached to the Brown Lands during our time here. Mainly the elder Entwives. And there are also some who can feel very keenly the corrupting touch of evil in these lands, yet do not feel any inclination to guiding or accompanying anybody to anywhere. They believe that Yavanna appointed us to be Shepherds of Trees, not Guides of Little Folk. Our only allegiance should be to the earth and the plants and the green things we were created to protect." Her brow furrowed, and Olo suspected this argument had caused her to doubt her own resolve more than once over the course of the Entmoot, and probably still did now. "They would rather travel in search of the Ents, in hopes of regaining the joys of the ancient times, when Ent, Entwife and Entling lived together in love - though I doubt such idyllic times ever existed. They will find, I am confident, that Ents and Entwives are not as compatible as they seem to believe. It is ironic, but as time goes on, I am becoming more and more confident that Entwives were never really meant to be wives to Ents. We are wedded to the soil, and we cannot be wedded to each other." Her voice was melancholy and regretful, but also seemingly accepting and resigned.

   "So what of the others? What of those who do accept the arrangement?" somebody in the crowd shouted out rather loudly, ruining the sad atmosphere.

   Flaxhair cleared her throat. "We will guide you," she said simply. And with that, a smile gradually crept over the face of all that were present - the Harfoots because of the promise of food, but Olo and Flaxhair because, despite knowing each other for only a short time, they had grown somewhat fond of each other, and would have been sad to say goodbye.   

   "You will see, Olo," said Flaxhair, with a smile on her face. "Time will show that Entwives can be both Shepherds of the Trees and Guides of the Little Folk."

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