It had been a long night for me and Petals both, and after we finished eating we both turned in, me wrapped in my trenchcoat, Petals in a blanket he got from Legs.
The sun was just rising when Legs woke us both and told us it was time to get going. I found out why Legs had ditched Doc's boat when I saw something I had missed the night before: a horse and a pony both hitched to a tree about ten yards from the fire.
Legs and Petals were traveling almost as light as me, so it didn't take us long to get started. Hobbits are pretty light compared to the Big Folk, so the pony had no trouble carrying me and Petals both. Legs led the way, near the south branch of the Water, but not close enough to be seen from the other side.
"What's the plan, Legs?" I asked him.
"By now," he said, "Khamûl and his friends are going to be scouting along both banks of the Water, so we stick to the island as long as possible."
"Any chance we can stop in Frogmorton for breakfast?" asked Petals.
Legs shook his head. "They'll have someone watching Frogmorton."
"Crap," said Petals. After a moment he went on. "Legs, I been thinking over what you and Deuce told me about the rings, and I still don't get it. What did Sauron think he was gonna do? So he takes over sixteen elves. So what? What could he do with sixteen elves?"
"These weren't just any elves," said Legs. "Celebrimbor and his people were the most skilled craftsmen in the world. Once he had them under his thumb, Sauron was going to order them to make more magic rings. Then he'd use them to take over more elves, until he had every elf in the world working for him."
"So that was the big plan?" I said. "Take over all the elves?"
Legs said, "I think that was just one part of the plan. Do you know what Sauron did after he took over West Island?"
"According to Uncle Lucky," I said, "he turned the whole island into one big military camp, and talked King Goldie into launching an invasion of the Far West, where the Valar lived."
"I think that was what he was planning to do once he took over the elves. Organize them into an army, and send them off to attack the Far West."
I whistled then. "Sauron doesn't think small, does he?"
"So what went wrong?" Petals asked. "Why didn't his plan with the rings work?"
"Sauron wasn't counting on a couple of things," said Legs. "When he finally finished forging the One Ring and tried to use it, he found out two things he hadn't been expecting. One, while he had been creating the One Ring behind Celebrimbor's back, Celebrimbor had been creating three more rings behind his back. One for himself, and one each for his sons. Second, the One Ring let him read the elves' minds, like he planned, but it also let the elves read his mind. That's when they found out who he really was. And as soon as they did, they just took the rings off. After that, he couldn't take over their minds, and the whole plan went crash."
"Bet Sauron was ticked off," said Petals.
"I'd imagine so," said Legs. "Sauron was not the sort to take a setback calmly. Eventually, though, he came up with his Plan B: take the rings away from the elves and use them to take over dwarves and Men." Legs said "men" with the inflection that meant "the Big Folk" instead of just "guys in general."
"And so we've got Khamûl and the other ringers turning the Shire inside out looking for us," I said.
A few hours' riding brought us to the east end of the island. Legs led us across the south branch of the Water, then hurried us across the East Road between Frogmorton and Whitfurrows. The sky had cleared up after yesterday's rain, and the sun was beating down on us.
"Be glad it is," said Legs. "Khamûl and his friends don't handle sunlight well. We ought to reach the Bucklebury ferry and be across the Brandywine before sunset."
At noon Legs called a halt, and we all rested and ate. Hobbits have a reputation as big eaters, and after the day I'd had I was ready to prove it. We finished off the last of Legs' grub, and then it was back on the pony for me and Petals. We kept off the roads, and circled around east of Stock, crossing the Stockbrook near where it joined the Brandywine.
The sun was getting low, and we were coming up on the Bucklebury ferry road, when half a dozen masked hobbits jumped out in front of us, waving knives around. I looked back and saw half a dozen more on the road behind us, cutting us off.
One of the hobbits in front of us waved his sticker around and shouted, "This is a robbery! Nobody move and nobody gets hurt!"
The mask hid his face, but I'd know that voice anywhere. "Ace, you jackass," I called out, "cut the crap! We gotta get to the ferry!"
"Deuce?" The leader pulled off his mask, and just as I thought, it was my cousin, Ace Brandybuck.