Welcome to October 4, 3018 of the Third Age. This is the day after Frodo and Aragorn witnessed the Nazgûl’s attack on Gandalf at Weathertop. We’ll let Gandalf start it off:
“At sunrise I escaped and fled towards the north. I could not find hope to do more. It was impossible to find you, Frodo, in the wilderness, and it would have been folly to try with all the Nine at my heels.”
Gandalf here wished to do two things. First, he wanted to draw some of the Riders off the path he hoped Frodo and Aragorn were on. Second, he wanted to get to Rivendell as quickly as possible so that he could send help.
In notes, Tolkien related that Gandalf “follows the Hoarwell up towards the mountains. [Four Riders] are sent in pursuit (mainly because [the Witch-king] thinks it possible he [Gandalf] may know of the whereabouts or course of the Bearer). But [the Witch-king and Khamûl] remain watching Weathertop.”
At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf knows that he drew only four Riders away, but hoped that would come in useful. At some point (probably in a day or so), the four Riders will head back south.
As for Aragorn and the Hobbits, they continued their march east, and could see “a line of hills” in the distance. The one on the right with the conical top and slightly flattened summit was Weathertop.
Aragorn suspected that they might reach it by noon the following day.
He and Frodo both hoped that Gandalf would be waiting there, but Aragorn wasn’t exactly hopeful. He figured that the Nazgûl might also be waiting at Weathertop. “It commands a wide view all round. Indeed, there are many birds and beasts in this country that could see us, as we stand here, from that hill-top.”
He also warned that “Not all the birds are to be trusted, and there are other spies more evil than they are.” That’s sort of unsettling. Thanks.
Aragorn suggested that they continue straight east to the line of hills and approach Weathertop from the north. “Then we shall see what we shall see.”
That night they “made their camp under some stunted alder-trees by the shores of the stream.”
A Short Digression About Birds and Hobbits
At this point in their lives, the hobbits, having been schooled by Bilbo, understand that the birds are not what they seem. From his stories (related in The Hobbit, they are familiar with at least the Eagles, a raven and a thrush.
While the Eagles are obvious (and kind of neutral good), the ravens “are different” from crows as Balin the Dwarf explained. Crows are “nasty suspicious-looking creatures.” They’re rude and taunted the dwarves and Bilbo with “ugly names.” The ravens, however, were not like that.
Balin explained that ravens and dwarves used to be tight, “and they often brought us secret news, and were rewarded with such bright things as they coveted to hide in their dwellings.” In Middle-earth, ravens are awesome. They’re long-lived and have amazing memories, which they pass along to their children!
In most cases, ravens cannot be understood, though they can perfectly understand what one is saying. In The Hobbit, the 153 year old Roac son of Carc could croak in almost perfect Common Speech.
Thrushes seem to have similar traits. To Bilbo, Thorin said that “The thrushes are good and friendly.” They too were long-lived, and they seemed to posses a certain kind of magic, at least by dwarf-interpretation. It was a thrush that told Bard of the “hollow of the left breast” of Smaug.
So apart from the crows, which just seem to be sort of dickish, the hobbits have grown up with the idea that birds are more or less good. Even in the Silmarillion, the Valar, especially Yavanna, had birds all around them. Manwe was known as the Valar to whome “all birds are dear.”
There was Beren (of Beren and Luthien fame) who was called “the friend of all birds and beasts.” And speaking of Beren, in his quest for the Silmaril, when all seemed lost, it was three “mighty birds” (eagles, of course) who rescued them.
In Numanor, atop the mountain Meneltarma was a “temple” to Illuvatar – the only place of such worship in all of Middle-earth. When people would walk to the top, “at once three eagles would appear and alight upon three rocks near to the western edge … They were called the Witnesses of Manwe, and they were believed to be sent by him from Aman too keep watch upon the Holy Mountain and upon all the land.”
Whether or not Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin knew all of these things hardly matters, they definitely would have had the idea that birds were at least to be trusted. And now here’s Strider telling them differently.
Sure, there were “carrion-birds,” like vultures, but they were simply doing what they were supposed to do by nature. But largely, birds were not something to be feared. Except for now.
The birds that Strider is talking about were probably Crebain, which was, not surprisingly, Sindarin for crow. But these were not crows, per se. As we’ll see after the Fellowship leaves Rivendell, flocks of crebain were sent out by Saruman. They’re natives of Fangorn and Dunland, but can clearly travel quite a distance.
From what is said, Strider seems to have a pretty good understanding of this, as well as the other spies more evil than the crebain (which make me think that the crebain are just mercenaries). The other spies are probably like our squint-eyed friend who we met back in Bree, though who can say what other things might be lurking out there.