1. A Forgotten Casualty
"Hobbits!" he thought. "Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer about this." He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.
The Fellowship of the Ring (Chapter 3: Three is Company)
The night was unusually quiet.
Granted that it was fall and that life was beginning to slow as winter crept closer, but it was a rather warm night for September and there should have been more activity. Squirrels should have been chattering away at one another, jealousy defending their hoards or seeking to steal another’s. Night birds should have been singing their piping songs and tormenting those who were more active during the day. At the very least, rabbits should have been capering about, looking for a late night snack or simply enjoying the warm weather while it endured. But there was nothing. It was as though the world held its breath.
Pushing his way through tall grasses, the fox flicked his ears back and sniffed the air. He was relatively young as foxes go, but he was not too young to recognize signs of danger for what they were. Something was happening or had already happened, and whatever that something was, it had frightened the nightlife into submission. Had he come across this a few hours ago, he might have attributed the silence to the three hobbits he’d seen, for such a sight was so startling it could have easily sent the entire forest into shock. But he was now several miles west of the hobbits and life should have resumed its normal pace in the wake of their absence.
Yet all was still silent.
Stopping and settling back on his haunches, the fox listened intently while his keen eyes scoured the darkness. He had heard the whispers, of course, that something was afoot in this land. He could not help but hear the hushed murmurs of dark beings and strange happenings. Some spoke haltingly of a new predator cloaked in shadows that hunted for blood and hungered for death. Just that morning, news had come of an incident at Sarn Ford involving the Rangers and swift attackers that none seemed able to describe. And now there were warnings against venturing into the northern parts of the country.
But talk of a tasty and easily accessible chicken farm up by Hobbiton had been too much of a temptation for this young fox. He was very much an opportunistic hunter, and he was now on his way to see if these delicious rumors were fact or fiction. Besides, the ominous whispers of new and dangerous predators were probably little more than the exaggerated fears of mice and sparrows that had encountered an unusually clever weasel. Prey had a tendency to make things larger and darker than was actually the case. Still, now that he was beginning to draw near Hobbiton, the fox was wondering if some of those rumors might not contain a grain of truth. The night was exceptionally quiet…
As a general rule, foxes are rather savvy creatures, choosing their battles carefully and sizing up situations thoroughly before involving themselves. This particular fox was no exception. Something was wrong, and until he knew what that something was, it was unwise to go further. Three hobbits in the night were one thing. The almost complete cessation of life itself was another matter entirely. The situation more than warranted a cautious investigation, and to this end, the fox began slinking toward the road. If something was amiss, the road was the first place to look, for it was upon the road that hobbits traveled.
The fox could think of nothing that a hobbit might do to so thoroughly intimidate all nightlife, but he had no other venues. Unlike men, hobbits had a way of blending with the natural world and causing little in the way of disturbances. Yet even so, they were still builders and architects to an extent, shaping and changing their environment to fit their needs. Unless the rumors were correct and there were new predators in the neighborhood, hobbits were the most likely candidates insofar as causing so strange a situation. And if there were new enemies…well, he would cross that ditch when he came to it.
The fox approached the dusty road slowly, his head and tail low and all his senses primed. Keeping to the thick underbrush and bellying forward, he eventually came within several feet of the road, and as he reached this point, he felt…something. A chill. A whisper. A touch. The fur across his shoulders rose, and his lips drew back in a silent snarl. There was a presence in the darkness. He felt it. He did not know what it was, and he now wished to remain ignorant. Every instinct in his being began urging him to run, and it was all he could do to stay still. He was too close to leap away, for he would be seen by whatever it was he sensed. He had to retreat slowly and carefully.
Backing away inch by painful inch, the fox kept his eyes fastened upon the road. His nose was now picking up the scent of a horse, but that could not be. What he sensed was no animal. The moon was bright and the stars twinkled merrily above, but there was a darkness upon the road that seemed to elude the light. His ears flat against his head and every muscle taut, the fox began a faster retreat, gradually losing his grip on caution as common sense gave way to terror.
And then something moved.
The fox froze. Caution reasserted itself and he sank to the ground, pressing himself against the earth and struggling to quiet the growls building in his throat. He could not give himself away. Not now. Something moved again in the darkness, and then the head of a horse briefly caught the moonlight as it moved slowly beneath the trees. So there was a horse! But that was certainly not all, for the fox could now see the horse’s outline and there was a rider upon his back. And in a flash of intuition, the fox realized that this rider was the source of his fear. And this rider was not a part of his world.
His blood seemed to congeal within him, and breathing became difficult. He longed to flee, but he was paralyzed by fear. His legs shook beneath him and his vision tunneled as he focused all his attention on the silent form upon the horse’s back. And as if sensing his regard, the figure turned a shrouded head and looked back.
Complete and total panic seized the fox. Never before had he been so frightened of anything. All his carefully honed instincts and cunning vanished. He shot away, knowing only that he had to escape. But the pounding of hoof beats came up fast behind him. Had he been in his right mind, he would have started to weave much as he did when avoiding the periodic fox hunts that the Brandybucks held. But he was not in his right mind. He was conscious only of the fact that he had to get as far away as possible, and to do that, he had to run.
But still the ground pounded away beneath him, shaking from the impact of a rapidly gaining steed. Risking one glance over his shoulder, he gasped in terror as a black horse swept over him. For one terrible moment, he caught sight of an endless void beneath a swirling black cloak. The very sight of it seemed to drain the life from him, and that was when he stumbled.
He struggled madly to regain his feet, his paws slipping on autumn leaves, but it was too late. Sharp hooves descended on his flailing form. He felt pain for only a moment before his spine was crushed. Then darkness flooded his mind, and he knew no more.
Reining his horse to a halt, the Nazgûl looked back toward the trampled body and sniffed disdainfully at the scent of cooling blood. The Witch-king would have probably frowned upon this little jaunt had he been present to see it, but Khamûl judged that the venture had been a useful distraction. The search for Baggins was beginning to take overtones of desperation, for it seemed that this Baggins had left Hobbiton and was now somewhere between Bag End and Buckland. It should have been an easy matter to find this creature, but these forests were not like Mirkwood. The Ringwraiths held little sway here, and though things still shrank from their presence, they did not give up their secrets. And there was too much life to track a single hobbit in the darkness! There was living blood everywhere, for this land was not yet tainted by the touch of Khamûl’s dark master. The sheer magnitude of it was beginning to drive Khamûl mad!
So he had loosed his frustrations on a passing fox. It was not entirely satisfying, but it would do for now. With his need to kill partially sated, he turned his horse back to the road and started eastward at a slow walk, stopping now and then to sniff for any signs of hobbits.
And behind him, the broken body of a fox shuddered once and then was still.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.