3. Chapter Three
“Oh oh,” murmured Merry.
“Master Pippin?” asked Sam. “Are you all right?”
“Urph,” said Pippin unhappily. “I think … I think something must be disagreeing with me…”
“Couldn’t possibly be the half a cow you just ate,” Merry pointed out, “or the vat of potatoes, or the loaves of bread, or the honey and the deep-fried apples and the cheese and the frosted sticky bun and the meat-onna-stick and the strawberry shortcake you ate before we even got here.”
“Ohhhhh…” Pippin looked at them miserably, not appreciating his cousin’s recitation. Sam covered his ale and edged back.
In their concern over the tweenager and feeling safe and relaxed in the roadhouse, none of the diners noticed the two dark forms that sat in a corner of the smoky room, their cloaks drawn up and their faces hidden. One of the dark forms, a thin man calling himself Kent, nudged the other. “Are you sure that’s them? The dark-haired one looks very young.”
The other dark form withdrew distastefully from the nudging elbow. This one’s black hood was drawn low over his face, allowing no light to shine on his features. Black leather gloves covered his hands. The hood turned towards the odd assortment at the far table, the large Man and the three halflings, and the hood tilted consideringly. “It must be them,” this one finally responded, when Kent was becoming impatient for a reply. “We were told that the one we want looks young, though he is not. The others are larger, and blond. This must be the one we were sent to seek.”
“He doesn’t look well,” observed Kent, and indeed, the darker-haired form now had both hands pressed to his small mouth, his green-gold eyes widening.
The other leaned forward, hidden eyes intent. The small dark-haired one was rising, panic blooming in his eyes. One of the other halflings pushed himself to his feet, an arm around the dark-haired one’s waist. The sandy-haired one remained seated, sheltering his drink. The warrior stood also, reaching across the rough table lay a hand on the halfling’s shoulder. The small one was shaking his head at both of them, then suddenly whirled and darted out the back door.
The other halfling sighed and started to follow. But the warrior gently pushed him down and spoke to him, and after a moment, the blond halfling smiled faintly and rejoined his companion, applying himself to his cooling dinner. The warrior adjusted the great sword he wore at his belt and followed the little one.
Kent and the other rose, their movement masked by all the activity around them. They paid their bill and unobtrusively left, angling around the corner to the rear of the roadhouse. There the black-cloaked one pulled Kent into the shadows, and motioned with an oddly shaped hand to the scene before them.
The warrior was bending down to speak with the dark-haired halfling, who was looking up at him with an expression of woe on his sharp face. The little one nodded, shame-faced, at whatever the man was telling him. The man patted the small shoulder in sympathy and gestured to the door. The little one pulled in a great breath of air and nodded again. The man smiled at him and straightened.
Then the small one was lurching forward, diminutive hands reaching out to desperately clutch the warrior’s surcoat and hold himself up. The bronze head bowed and the little one was vomiting on the warrior’s boots, whimpers of wretchedness punctuating the awful heaving. Kent’s stomach twisted in involuntary sympathy. The warrior supported the little one gently, making no move to turn aside as the barrage of semi-digested food splattered on his boots, half-humorous resignation on his stubbled face.
“Now!” hissed the black-cloaked figure beside Kent.
* * * * *
Legolas had suggested stopping for a glass of wine on the way back to their inn, but Aragorn had vetoed the idea, disquieted by the intelligence he had received from the informer. The Ranger wanted only to return and confirm that the others were well, though he knew that Gandalf would allow no harm to come to the hobbits. The two moved swiftly through the almost deserted streets, the cold night deepening around them. After so long journeying in the Wild, it felt odd and dangerous to be enclosed by the tall, narrow buildings, their windows dark and blank. He tensed as they walked past each dark, foul-smelling alley, the shadows within seeming tricksy and threatening.
Lending Legolas one of his spare, tattered cloaks to disguise himself had been a waste of effort, Aragorn mused. The Elf moved with unconscious grace, a fluidity of motion that even the light-footed Ranger could not equal. None observing their passage could doubt that he walked with one of the Fair Folk. Good thing they were almost to the inn. Aragorn snorted to himself and was not surprised to see the Elf’s clear eyes turn to him immediately.
“What amuses you so, my friend?”
“I was just thinking of what the blacksmith said. About ‘our lot’ being stranger than most of the strangers passing through this little town.”
Legolas laughed softly, starlight catching and reflecting in his luminous eyes. “Indeed, our Fellowship must be a passing rare sight to these simple townsfolk. A wizard, two Men, an Elf, a dwarf and four little ones… I wonder how Boromir is faring with the hobbits in the marketplace.”
“That is a sight I would enjoy seeing,” Aragorn replied with a grin. “From a distance, that is. I can well imagine Pippin is -” The Ranger broke off as the Elf’s hand tightened on his arm. Legolas went still, his tall form rigid, those far-seeing eyes staring into the distance. Aragorn followed his gaze but could see nothing to alarm him in the gloom.
“Legolas? What do you see?”
The Elf was silent for a moment, trying to understand what his eyes told him. Then, “Is that not Frodo’s window? The corner one on the second floor? There is something – a shape – on the sill. It is moving!”
His gaze so directed, Aragorn could indeed see something large hunched on the protruding wooden sill, a black shape that obscured the light coming from within the room. Even as he struggled to perceive it, the figure seemed to unfold itself, rising, and with astonishing agility, hooked strong fingers into the inn’s slatboard siding and pulled itself upright.
“Shoot it! Shoot it!” Legolas already had his bow off his back and had strung it, nocking an arrow even as the Ranger spoke. The figure stood, barely discernable in the dim light of the stars, turning towards them as it heard their voices on the still night air. The Elf’s arrow sped from his bow and the dark shape threw itself violently to the side, fingers digging into the window frame. In disbelief, the two watched as the arrow missed – missed! – and struck the poorly glazed glass, shattering it. Shards of glass fell to the dirt streets, clattering shrilly on the wooden boardwalk before the inn. Some of the broken glass fell inwards and Aragorn spared a moment’s fear to think of the Ring-bearer’s unshod feet.
The window next to the Ring-bearer’s room was thrown up and Gimli’s bushy-haired head appeared, his mustaches half-braided. The dwarf glared down at them, spreading his muscled hands on the sill and leaning out. “What’s going on down there?” he roared, his cavern-bred eyes identifying them easily in the darkness.
“There is something at Frodo’s window!” shouted Aragorn. Legolas had a second arrow fitted to his bow, seeking a target. The black shape had disappeared – no, there! While they had been distracted by the dwarf, it had pulled itself up the siding to the roof. They could see it only as a darker blackness against the night. Legolas let fly another arrow. The figure jerked, twisted around – had it been hit? They could not see. Gimli had pulled himself half out of the window, sitting on the sill and leaning backwards, trying to see above him.
Legolas swung the bow over his back and ran towards the inn, was in through the doors and flying up the stairs almost before Aragorn was aware he had moved. Gimli disappeared from the window. Aragorn backed up, trying to see more of the roof, his own bow now held at the ready. He heard muffled shouts from within the inn, then a thud that the Ranger could imagine as a thick body thrown against a heavy wooden door. Another thud, even as Legolas appeared at the second window, the one Gimli had vacated a moment before.
“Frodo’s door is locked!” the Elf shouted. “He does not answer! Gimli is trying to break down the door. Can you see anything?”
Aragorn’s keen eyes sought any movement on the roof, the arrow fitted to his bow swinging to the side, following his gaze. “No! No, I can see nothing! It has not come back over this side.”
Legolas leaped lightly onto the sill, one of his long bone-handled knives unsheathed and stuck through his belt. With ability that none of the mortal folk could equal, the Elf was outside, balancing on the sill, turning himself around and swarming up the building’s siding, long fingers finding sure purchase on the rough boards. The Elf paused for a moment in his climbing but Aragorn could not see why, could only see the Elf as a dim form against the wood. Then Legolas was reaching a long arm up to the roof’s eave and pulling himself over it.
A third thud and Aragorn winced at the impact of sturdy flesh against time-aged wood. The Ranger swept his bow from one end of the roof to the other, half-hoping, half-dreading that the dark figure would show itself. There were no buildings to either side to which it could jump, but what of the rear? Was there another path it could take, another route of escape?
All other thoughts were drowned out in a shattering blast of noise, an ear-shattering detonation that sent a shockwave of sound coursing through the courtyard. The few shards of glass remaining in Frodo’s window were blown out, the wooden casement tearing itself from the wall to smash near the Ranger’s feet. Aragorn fell back a step then sank to his knees, the bow falling from numb fingers as his hands went to his ears. Momentarily deaf, he knelt on the wooden boardwalk in the courtyard and stared up into the raging inferno of flames erupting from Frodo’s window.
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.