While Frodo, Pippin, Sam, and Merry prepare for sleep in Bree, back in Crickhollow Fatty is alarmed when he sees ominous shadows approaching Frodo’s cottage. He runs out the back door to the safety of neighbors, and the ancient horn of Buckland is sounded in alarm to warn hobbits of danger. The horns force three Black Riders to openly ride out from Buckland after realizing that Frodo is not at the cottage.
Fatty and the Buckland residents’ actions in the face of danger from Black Riders once again demonstrates the toughness and resilience of hobbits. The Bucklanders practice a traditional form of heroism when they sound the alarm and take up arms to protect each other from an evil presence in their midst.
The next morning, back in Bree, Strider wakes Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin at first light. They discover that their original rooms have been ransacked, and all ponies and horses have been let loose from the stables. The group’s departure is delayed as they search for at least one pony to purchase as a packhorse to carry their provisions into the wild. The only pony for sale is owned by the malicious Bill Ferny, who demands an outrageously high price for the malnourished beast. After purchasing the pony, Strider and the hobbits leave Bree at mid-morning. Many of the town’s suspicious inhabitants watch the group depart.
Strider deals with the necessary minor evil that is Bill Ferny in order to outfit their party with an indispensable packhorse. The hobbits cannot hide their departure from Bree locals as planned, and are uncomfortable at the surveillance and suspicion that is directed their way after the strange happenings of the night.
After walking some miles down the main road, Strider cuts left to lead the hobbits into the wilderness. The small company spends two days walking through the woods without trouble until they reach the boggy Midgewater Marshes. It is slow and hazardous going through the marshes, and insects attack the hobbits relentlessly. On their fourth night since they set out from Bree, Frodo and Strider notice strange flashing lights far off in the distance. The next day, the group finally reaches the opposite side of the marshes. Strider points out the ancient ruins of Weathertop on a hill in the distance, explaining that it was once a watchtower for the men of Númenor. They strike out for the ruins to gain a view of the journey before them.
A miserable landscape reflects a miserable mind as the hobbits tire quickly during their struggles through the marshes. However, they do not give up in their quest together and put their trust in Strider’s navigation. Strider’s knowledge of the ancient men of Númenor again hints at his noble lineage.
Reaching Weathertop after a day’s march, Strider discovers signs of a great battle and a stone marked with hastily made scratches. He believes that Gandalf may have left the stone as a sign to indicate he was at the ruins three days earlier before great danger caused him to flee. Strider suggests that it was Gandalf’s power that he and Frodo witnessed flickering in the night sky three days ago—the wizard was likely attacked by Black Riders and abandoned his camp at Weathertop.
Strider’s powers of observation allow him to “read” recent history. If his reading is correct, then Gandalf undertook a battle of epic proportions with Black Riders before escaping them. The hobbits begin to realize the extent of Gandalf’s power when they imagine one individual combating multiple Black Riders; he can certainly do more than just make fireworks.
The party decides to light a small fire in a hollow on the side of the hill. Frodo suddenly sees black shapes moving toward the bottom of the hill, warning his friends that Black Riders may be approaching. Strider advises that they should stay put, as they are better protected by the fire. He shares myths with the hobbits to raise their spirits. This includes the Song of Beren and Lúthien, an ancient tale of an elf princess who fell in love with a man. Together they were able to successfully destroy an ancient enemy who was Sauron’s master at the time. Lúthien then chose to give up her immortality so she could join Beren in death. The hobbits notice a noble change in Strider’s disposition as he speaks of great deeds and peoples long past.
Cultures memorialize the feats of their ancestors in storytelling and song. In the story he sings to distract the hobbits from approaching evil, Strider describes the meeting and courtship of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel. The song weaves a vision that offers characters (and readers) insights into bygone eras and establishes the power of myth to both ground a narrative and to broaden its world. It will later be revealed that this story also reflects Strider’s own life, as he too is a human beloved by an elf (Arwen) who chooses to give up her immortality for his sake.
After Strider finishes his stories, Frodo, Pippin, Merry, and Sam rest and keep watch. The hobbits suddenly feel a sense of dread creep over them, and Strider organizes them with their backs to the fire in preparation for an attack by Black Riders.
Evil bears down on the hobbits, and they are organized into a defense by Strider. The Black Riders again show their power in not just their strength, but also the sense of dread that accompanies them.
Several dark figures suddenly materialize at the edge of the campfire’s light. Merry and Pippin throw themselves down in terror, while Sam huddles at Frodo’s side. As five Black Riders advance on the Ring-bearer, Frodo cannot resist the overwhelming urge to slip on the Ring. He does so, and at once can see the figures of the Riders more clearly—they have fearsome appearances and carry menacing weapons. The tallest of the figures, wearing a crown and bearing a long sword and a knife, springs forward at Frodo.
The light of the fire helps protect the hobbits from the shadowy threats of the Black Riders. Despite their terror, the hobbits show courage in that they do not abandon one another to the enemy. However, Frodo can no longer resist the evil power of the Ring; his loss of free will results in his entry to the shadowy realm walked by Sauron’s wraithlike servants.
Still wearing the Ring, Frodo leaps downward to stab the feet of his attacker, meeting the crowned Black Rider with a cry of “O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!” At the same time, he feels an icy stab to his shoulder. Reeling from the pain, he sees the bright figure of Strider leap into battle wielding a flaming brand (a burning piece of wood) in each hand. With a final push, Frodo manages to slip the Ring from his finger before he falls unconscious from the pain of his wound.
By invoking the name of an ancient Elvish deity, Frodo’s attack shows that words and language can be powerful weapons against evil. However, the hobbits are no match for the strength of the destructive Black Riders. Through his courage and strength of arms in driving away the evil beings, Strider proves his character to the group beyond doubt. Once more, it is fortuitous that there are constantly allies to step in and guide, and sometimes save, the hobbits during their journey.