With thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.
Quickbeam strode steadily toward the borders of Fangorn Forest closest to Isengard, intent on learning who it was that was reported to be digging holes in the ground on a rise there. Once that rise had been the site of a rowan grove of great beauty. The slaves of Saruman had cut down the trees, dragging most off to feed the wizard’s furnaces but leaving the younger trees to rot upon the ground. Since the destruction of the Ring of Isengard grass had been allowed to grow there, and recently a few shapely young larches had taken root on it.
Must Men cause more damage there where once my beloved Callamistë lifted her beautiful crown? he asked himself. Well, I shall sort them out in short order.
But as he approached the rise in question he could hear voices that sparked memories.
"You think we should do this one or that one, Merry?"
Merry? Did this mean…? Quickbeam paused for a moment, listening more carefully.
"Oh, that one, of course, Pippin. It has to be that one."
The Ent began to smile. He placed a hand against the bark of the nearest tree, a great elm, communicating his pleasure to it, and reassuring it that these visitors would mean no harm.
Another voice spoke. "Well, this one is quite happy right here, don’t you know. It was most distressed when I took it out of its box until it felt the good soil about it and knew as this is soil as has known its kind afore."
A far deeper voice, that of a Man, answered. "Well, now I certainly understand just why you wished these young ones brought here. This hill will look lovely in a few years."
Two voices were raised in song, a hymn to Yavanna, the Ent realized—sweet Elvish voices. He now knew indeed the nature of the company that was occupied on the rise, and indeed he knew the identity of several of its members. Now his curiosity was roused indeed as he finally stepped out of the forest to learn why the High King of the Men of the West had come here accompanied by Hobbits and his wife and companions from among Elves. The voices of Hobbits joined those of Elves, and then the deeper voice of Aragorn son of Arathorn, the King Elessar of Gondor and Arnor, as the Ent finally came in sight of the party.
There was a grunt from the Dwarf Gimli, that most unusual Elvellon, as he pressed the blade of a spade into the ground and dug deeply, beginning another hole. Two wagons stood at the bottom of the rise, and Hobbits Quickbeam didn’t recognize were lifting out of one a wooden box in which grew a small tree. In the distance two tall figures were returning from the Entwash carrying buckets of water, and behind them came Men in the garb of Guardsmen from Gondor carrying still more. Quickbeam stopped once more, in surprise at the sight of the strange party and its activities. He heard a shrill cry of surprise from a very small Hobbit, a girl-child, he thought, and realized there were several Hobbit children and women at the foot of the rise, apparently setting out food for the company.
"It’s all right, dearling," a Hobbitess reassured the child. "That’s an Ent, and is likely a friend to your Uncles Pippin and Merry."
Another came forward, a smile on her face. "Are you Treebeard or Quickbeam?" she asked.
"Yes," the Ent replied, surprised at all the activity he saw. "I’m indeed Quickbeam. And what is this?" But as the two Hobbits carrying the box approached he realized precisely the intent of the party, and he held out a hand to stay them as he examined the small tree they carried between them. Even as small as it was, the sapling was clearly that of a rowan.
Merry and Pippin finished the tamping of the soil they’d been effecting about the bole of a smaller tree. "Quickbeam!" Pippin called out as they rose, his voice filled with delight. "We’d hoped to see you during this visit, you know!"
The one who’d been the companion to the Ringbearer looked up from where he was working about the trunk of another newly planted sapling, smiling briefly, but not pausing in his singing of the hymn, a hymn sung also by Legolas Greenleaf, the Lord Elessar Telcontar of Gondor and Arnor, and his wife Arwen Undomiel. Only when the hymn was done did these pause in their work, rise, and bow deeply toward the Ent.
A questioning call came from deeper in the woods, and Quickbeam turned to give an answer back, explaining as swiftly as he might the intent of this party. At last he turned back to the mortals who’d all risen and turned toward him. He stepped nearer those carrying the boxed tree, and they gently set the box down on the ground and stepped away. He leaned over the box and reached down a twiggy finger to softly touch the slender stem, the quivering leaves, and felt the delight of the small tree as it recognized his nature. He straightened enough to examine the faces of Merry, Pippin, and the Lord Samwise, then that of the King Elessar.
"Rowans?" he asked. "You have sought to plant rowans here?"
"Oh, yes, Quickbeam," Pippin answered him. "We remembered when you told us of how Saruman’s folk had destroyed so many of your groves, and we thought to do our best to restore one of them. We hope you don’t mind."
"We’ve been growin’ young rowans in my brother’s nursery for some years, and Lord Strider here agreed to do the same in Gondor. Then, as we was comin’ down for a bit of a quick visit, like, we brought the trees with us and he met us with the rest. I’ve not felt any animosity between our trees and his, and it appears as all is glad enough to be planted here on this hill." Lord Samwise turned to examine their handiwork with an obvious feeling of satisfaction.
There was movement on the edges of the forest, and a few more of the younger Ents looked out to reassure themselves that Quickbeam’s report was accurate.
A young male Hobbit came up and bowed deeply. "Mr. Quickbeam?" he asked. "It’s an honor, sir. I’ve read about you in Uncle Frodo’s book and all."
Lord Samwise introduced the lad. "This is our oldest son, Rosie’s and mine. This is Frodo-lad. Elanor members you, she does," he added, indicating the older Hobbit girl-child, "but I fear Daisy there was took by surprise. She’s been findin’ even Men a bit on the tall side and overwhelming."
Amused, the Ent bowed deeply toward the tiny child. "I am sorry I startled you, small one," he said. He looked back toward the King. "And you, also, are a party to this, then?" he asked. "I am deeply honored, Lord Elessar. Full worthy did Treebeard name you, and I see he was indeed right." He looked down on the small tree in its box, again smiling.
"It is far later than we’d intended when we first discussed this plan," Aragorn answered him. "But it’s the first time Sam’s been able to make the journey in many years, and we did so wish him to be a part of the replanting. It is long since we’ve seen any of your people as we’ve passed the Tree-garth or traveled the road toward the North. But it is little enough we’ve done to repay your aid and service to the Free Peoples of the West. I only hope that this gives you pleasure."
"Indeed it does," Quickbeam said gently. "It isn’t our way to purposely plant specific trees as you are doing; but I can only rejoice to see how all of you have sought to do us honor."
The strange Hobbits retreated back to the wagon as Quickbeam examined the work already done. So far eight rowans had been planted, and twelve more waited their turn. As they passed the blankets spread by their womenfolk, the Hobbits would take a roll or pasty or other item, continuously eating as they could as they labored. Elladan and Elrohir of Imladris and Men of the King’s guard brought countless buckets of water from the Entwash to water the trees as they were planted, and eventually Ents joined them in this labor.
At last the final tree was brought out—this last one not a rowan but an oak. With Quickbeam’s advice they took it to the top of the rise, and one last hole Gimli dug. When at last Quickbeam indicated he felt the hole was deep and wide enough, the King and Sam carefully removed it from its box and respectfully held the ball of earth holding its roots in place as Pippin and Merry and their sons began shoveling the loose dirt back into the hole to refill it as Elladan and Elrohir poured in buckets of water. As the remains of the soil was tamped down, at last Hobbit and Man withdrew their hands.
Sam looked up to meet the Ent’s eyes. "This one was intended to honor both our Frodo and Treebeard, you see. It’s an oak as has always growed atop the Hill where Bag End is dug, and we wanted to bring a memory of what was Frodo’s beloved home here. This one grew from an acorn as fell from the old oak, one he picked up and had put in with a collection of pine cones and chestnuts and hazelnuts and acorns as he’d been gatherin’. I hope as this pleases your folk, and that when you tell Treebeard he’ll be glad of it."
"He rarely leaves the depths of our forest," Quickbeam said, "for although the people of Gondor and Rohan are respectful enough, those of other folk do not appear to understand the need for trees and wild places. But I will tell him. And again I thank you—all of you, Hobbits, Elves, Dwarf, and Men, who have sought to restore the beauty of the lands. And that we have an oak here fathered by a tree beloved by the Ringbearer himself does us great honor."
The party left at sunset, riding eastward into Rohan where a company of Riders awaited them, driving the two wagons that had carried trees south from the Shire and west from Gondor. Quickbeam remained on the rise, in the midst of the small rowans and standing near the infant oak, reassuring the saplings that they were not now abandoned but would be well cared for.
As the night advanced other Ents came to join him, and near dawn Treebeard himself came out of the forest. He heard Quickbeam’s story, and walked softly about the hill, approving the planting in the growing light of morning, finally climbing to examine the small oak.
"Hoom, hom," he said, "every time I almost give up on the hope mortals can learn, we are shown some sign that there is yet integrity and understanding among them. And as long as the likes of King Elessar and the Hobbits of the Shire remain in this world, there remains also at least a respect for what was and ought to be. I think we can take heart that Fangorn and the Old Forest will be allowed to grow and prosper." And gently he caressed the small oak, and delighted in the pleasure Quickbeam showed as he once again reassured the small rowans that they were well placed and would remain beloved.