Black Birds of Evil Intent
“Flocks of birds, flying at great speed, were wheeling and circling,
and traversing all the land as if they were searching for something; and they were steadily drawing nearer.”
LOTR; FOTR B2 C3
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Crebain were large birds of the crow-kind, native to Dunland and Fangorn Forest. During the War of the Ring they were seduced into the service of Saruman.
The birds that were named Crebain in the later part of the Third Age of Middle-earth were birds much like crows, but larger in size. It is not known if Saruman bred the Crebain with other foul creatures or if they were changed in some way through dark sorcery, but it is known that they spied out the lands surrounding Isengard the help the wizard in his his war with Rohan and his search for the One Ring of Power.
It is written in the Red Book of Westmarch that the Fellowship of the Ring encountered various flocks of crebain on their arrival in Hollin. Fearing that they were used as spies by Saruman, the Fellowship spent an entire day in hiding, without a campfire.
That morning they lit a fire in a deep hollow shrouded by great bushes of holly, and their supper-breakfast was merrier than it had been since they set out. They did not hurry to bed afterwards, for they expected to have all the night to sleep in, and they did not mean to go on again until the evening of the next day. Only Aragorn was silent and restless. After a while he left the Company and wandered on to the ridge; there he stood in the shadow of a tree, looking out southwards and westwards, with his head posed as if he was listening. Then he returned to the brink of the dell and looked down at the others laughing and talking.
`What is the matter, Strider?’ Merry called up. ‘What are you looking for? Do you miss the East Wind?’
‘No indeed,’ he answered. `But I miss something. I have been in the country of Hollin in many seasons. No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at all times, especially birds. Yet now all things but you are silent. I can feel it. There is no sound for miles about us, and your voices seem to make the ground echo. I do not understand it.’
Gandalf looked up with sudden interest. `But what do you guess is the reason?’ he asked. `Is there more in it than surprise at seeing four hobbits, not to mention the rest of us, where people are so seldom seen or heard?’
`I hope that is it,’ answered Aragorn. `But I have a sense of watchfulness, and of fear, that I have never had here before.’
“Then we must be more careful,’ said Gandalf. ‘If you bring a Ranger with you, it is well to pay attention to him, especially if the Ranger is Aragorn. We must stop talking aloud, rest quietly, and set the watch.’
It was Sam’s turn that day to take the first watch, but Aragorn joined him. The others fell asleep. Then the silence grew until even Sam felt it. The breathing of the sleepers could be plainly heard. The swish of the pony’s tail and the occasional movements of his feet became loud noises. Sam could hear his own joints creaking, if he stirred. Dead silence was around him, and over all hung a clear blue sky, as the Sun rode up from the East. Away in the South a dark patch appeared, and grew, and drove north like flying smoke in the wind.
`What’s that, Strider? It don’t look like a cloud,’ said Sam in a whisper to Aragorn. He made no answer, he was gazing intently at the sky; but before long Sam could see for himself what was approaching. Flocks of birds, flying at great speed, were wheeling and circling, and traversing all the land as if they were searching for something; and they were steadily drawing nearer.
`Lie flat and still!’ hissed Aragorn, pulling Sam down into the shade of a holly-bush; for a whole regiment of birds had broken away suddenly from the main host, and came, flying low, straight towards the ridge. Sam thought they were a kind of crow of large size. As they passed overhead, in so dense a throng that their shadow followed them darkly over the ground below, one harsh croak was heard.
Not until they had dwindled into the distance, north and west, and the sky was again clear would Aragorn rise. Then he sprang up and went and wakened Gandalf.
`Regiments of black crows are flying over all the land between the Mountains and the Greyflood,’ he said, `and they have passed over Hollin. They are not natives here; they are crebain out of Fangorn and Dunland. I do not know what they are about: possibly there is some trouble away south from which they are fleeing; but I think they are spying out the land. I have also glimpsed many hawks flying high up in the sky. I think we ought to move again this evening. Hollin is no longer wholesome for us: it is being watched.’
`And in that case so is the Redhorn Gate,’ said Gandalf; `and how we can get over that without being seen, I cannot imagine. But we will think of that when we must. As for moving as soon as it is dark, I am afraid that you are right.’
`Luckily our fire made little smoke, and had burned low before the crebain came,’ said Aragorn. `It must be put out and not lit again.’
`Well if that isn’t a plague and a nuisance!’ said Pippin. The news: no fire, and a move again by night, had been broken to him, as soon as he woke in the late afternoon. ‘All because of a pack of crows! I had looked forward to a real good meal tonight: something hot.’
`Well, you can go on looking forward,’ said Gandalf. `There may be many unexpected feasts ahead for you. For myself I should like a pipe to smoke in comfort, and warmer feet. However, we are certain of one thing at any rate: it will get warmer as we get south.’
‘Too warm, I shouldn’t wonder,’ muttered Sam to Frodo. ‘But I’m beginning to think it’s time we got a sight of that Fiery Mountain and saw the end of the Road, so to speak. I thought at first that this here Redhorn, or whatever its name is, might be it, till Gimli spoke his piece. A fair jaw-cracker dwarf-language must be!’ Maps conveyed nothing to Sam’s mind, and all distances in these strange lands seemed so vast that he was quite out of his reckoning.
All that day the Company remained in hiding. The dark birds passed over now and again; but as the westering Sun grew red they disappeared southwards. At dusk the Company set out, and turning now half east they steered their course towards Caradhras, which far away still glowed faintly red in the last light of the vanished Sun. One by one white stars sprang forth as the sky faded.
Guided by Aragorn they struck a good path. It looked to Frodo like the remains of an ancient road, that had once been broad and well planned, from Hollin to the mountain-pass. The Moon, now at the full, rose over the mountains, and cast a pale light in which the shadows of stones were black. Many of them looked to have been worked by hands, though now they lay tumbled and ruinous in a bleak, barren land.
It was the cold chill hour before the first stir of dawn, and the moon was low. Frodo looked up at the sky. Suddenly he saw or felt a shadow pass over the high stars, as if for a moment they faded and then flashed out again. He shivered.
`Did you see anything pass over?’ he whispered to Gandalf, who was just ahead.
`No, but I felt it, whatever it was,’ he answered. `It may be nothing, only a wisp of thin cloud.’
`It was moving fast then,’ muttered Aragorn, `and not with the wind.’
From The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in the chapter “The Ring Goes South”