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Merry leads the other three hobbits to Crickhollow, where Frodo has bought a small house under the pretense of moving there permanently, in order to disguise his departure from the Shire. Crickhollow is in Buckland, which, though populated by Hobbits, is very different from Hobbiton or Bag End. Buckland is surrounded by the Brandywine River and the Old Forest, both of which are somewhat perilous. Hobbits from Hobbiton fear water, as none of them can swim, and the Old Forest is strange and frightening, its trees seeming almost predatory. To protect against these dangers, the Bucklanders built a hedge and keep their doors locked at night, which is unheard of in Hobbiton.
The weary travelers are given a bath and supper. Frodo decides that he must finally tell Merry and Pippin that he is, in fact, leaving the Shire for good—a fact that Frodo thought was a complete secret thus far. Frodo is highly surprised when Merry reveals that they have known for some time—not only about Frodo’s plans to leave, but also about the Ring and the great peril. With Sam as eavesdropper, the other hobbits have pieced together a good bit of Frodo’s situation. Frodo does not want to subject his friends to such dangerous circumstances, but Merry and Pippin both insist on coming along. They are his friends and they understand the danger at least as well as he does—which is to say, not very well at all.
Despite his surprise, Frodo is happy to hear that his friends wish to join him. Because of the Black Riders, Frodo decides that the next day they must set out away from the road, cutting through the Old Forest that borders on Buckland. Though the Forest is ominous, at the moment it seems safer than an encounter with the Riders. The other hobbits agree to Frodo’s plan. Their friend Fatty Bolger will stay behind to keep up the pretense that Frodo is living at Crickhollow.
That night, Frodo dreams he is looking out a window over a dark forest, in which he hears the sounds of animals sniffing around, looking for him. Then he is on a barren field. He hears the sound of the Great Sea, which he has never heard in real life, and he smells the smell of salt. He sees a tall white tower before him and he struggles toward it to climb it. Then there is a light in the sky and the sound of thunder.
The next morning, the group sets off early, through a heavy mist. Merry leads them to the main path into the forest. They plan to head northeast and follow the road at a distance. They enter the Old Forest, but immediately lose the path. The Forest is hot and stuffy, and it seems as if the trees are listening to the hobbits and even moving to block their progress. The hobbits find the path eventually, but it begins to turn in the wrong direction, toward the heart of the Forest. Leaving the path, they find that every time they head north, the trees seem to block their way, only permitting them to go southeast, deeper into the forest.
The hobbits reach the River Withywindle in the middle of the Old Forest. Passing under an enormous, old willow tree, they suddenly feel so hot and sleepy that they sit down. All except Sam fall asleep with their backs against the tree. Sam fights off drowsiness and goes to find the hobbits’ ponies, which have wandered off. Sam hears two noises—a splash and a click like a lock fastening. When he returns to the others, he sees that Frodo has fallen into the river at the foot of the tree and is seemingly pinned down by one of its roots. Sam hauls Frodo out, and Frodo says he is certain that the old tree pushed him into the river. Turning around, Frodo and Sam see that Merry and Pippin are caught inside the cracks of the trunk of the tree, which has closed around them. The hobbits smack the tree and then try lighting a fire near it. However, the tree begins to squeeze Merry, who yells that the tree is telling him it will crush him if the hobbits do not put the fire out. Frodo, panicking, runs down the river yelling for help. He is surprised to hear an answer—the sound of nonsensical, jolly singing.
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