4. Chapter Four
One of the hidden figures surged forward with an impressive howl, the long knife Kent had kept concealed during their surveillance raised above his head. Boromir shoved the choking hobbit against the wall and whirled to meet the man, his sword not raised but level with the man’s heart. Kent froze, his weapon raised dramatically but uselessly above his head, suddenly frightened eyes staring into the cool hazel ones of the warrior facing him.
Boromir said nothing, merely moved the sword upwards, drawing it lightly over the apple of the man’s throat. The thinnest trickle of blood welled up and began to run down the sweating skin. The man closed his eyes and then opened them, casting them to his sides. That was a mistake. Boromir’s eyes followed, seeking what help the man silently begged for.
“You,” he said softly, identifying the darker black of the second watcher’s cloak against the night, “come forward where I can see you.” Behind him, Pippin had finally become aware of something outside of his own wretchedness, and was hugging the wall close in confusion and fear.
The dark figure stepped away from the shadows but did not advance into the open. The glint of a drawn sword could be seen under the black cloak, but he did not offer to raise it.
“Come out,” Boromir growled, “or your friend here dies.”
“Kill him if you like,” replied a distorted voice, oddly muffled and hoarse. “He is a fool and deserves death.” Kent made a strangled cry of protest, drawing the Gondorian’s gaze back to him for an instant.
“You may lower your arm,” said Boromir. “Drop the knife.” The long blade clattered on the filthy cobblestones and the warrior’s sword withdrew slightly from the man’s bleeding throat.
“Did you not hear me? Come out where I can see you or your comrade dies,” Boromir repeated.
“Kill him,” the other repeated indifferently. “He has served his purpose. I know my way around this cess-pit of a town, now.”
Boromir and Kent both stared at the dark figure, nonplussed.
“Do you seek to rob us?” growled Boromir, not knowing what to do. “What is your purpose here?”
The dark form did not answer. Instead, it emitted a snarling laugh and in an astonishingly quick movement, was gone back into the dark.
Frustrated and angry, Boromir lowered his sword and caught the man by his cloak-clasp, shaking him. “You, then! Who are you, and what is your purpose here?”
“Kent,” the man gasped. “My name is Kent. He hired me to show him my town. Nothing more, I swear it!”
Boromir’s hand tightened in the cloak, lifting the cowering man from his feet. Kent’s hands flew to his neck, struggling to draw in air. “I have captained enough men to know when I am being lied to,” the warrior said softly, conversationally. “If you do not tell me the truth, you will die before another minute passes.”
The man goggled and Boromir felt a small hand tugging on his surcoat. “You’re choking him,” Pippin advised. The tweenager’s face had lost its green tinge but he sagged weakly against the wall, exhaustion and illness and retreating adrenaline dampening his spirit.
Boromir relaxed his hold and the man’s toes lowered to the cobbles. When he had air to speak, Kent coughed. “All right, sir! He paid me to help him take the little one, there. To take the dark-haired one, smaller than the others. To take him only, sir, not to hurt him. I swear it, sir!”
“Your swearing gives me little confidence,” replied Boromir dryly, sparing a glance for the pale-faced hobbit. “Why do you seek my friend?”
“I don’t know!” Boromir shook him again and the man cried out. “Truly, sir, I don’t!”
The warrior stared deep into the man’s fear-filled eyes, then flung him to the ground with a contemptuous oath. Pippin flinched, retreating back to the wall. The man stared at them for a moment in disbelief, then scrambled to a crouch and backed away. “Thank you, sir. You’ll not regret letting me go, I promise you. If there is anything I can do for you -”
“Get out of my sight,” suggested Boromir. The man gawked at him a moment, then turned and ran. “Come, Pippin,” the warrior said gently. “We must go back to the others. We are leaving now.”
“Boromir,” said the young hobbit softly. “I don’t think he meant me.”
The warrior gazed at him sorrowfully. “Neither do I, Pippin. Come, we must gather Sam and Merry and return to the inn at once.”
Collecting the other hobbits, Boromir stuffed all of their purchases into a sack he had obtained and herded them back along the narrow, winding streets. They smelled smoke long before they saw flames. Retracing their steps from the now silent marketplace, they turned the last corner and stood stunned. The man and the three hobbits gazed at the smoldering remains of the inn, faces blank, mouths hanging open in shock. Folk still ran to and fro, throwing buckets of water on the smoking timbers, rooting among the blackened debris. At last Pippin nudged his gaping cousin and leaned over to whisper in his ear, “At least they can’t blame this one on us.”
* * * * *
“Finally!” shouted Gandalf when the four moved closer, picking their way carefully among the ruins. Seeing the hobbits hopping over the still-burning coals, Boromir swept up Merry and Pippin into his arms and ordered Sam onto his back, the sturdy hobbit’s legs wrapped around his waist. Laden with hobbits and burdened with all their purchases from the marketplace, he struggled over the smoking ground. The man felt heat rising through his thick leather boots and was grateful to identify a patch of unburned ground where he could put them and the heavy sack down.
“What happened here?” Boromir asked, his dazed gaze seeking the other members of the Fellowship among the wreckage.
“Gandalf burned down the inn,” drawled Aragorn, drawing even with them and checking the hobbits over quickly.
“I did not!” retorted Gandalf. “All right, I did, but it was an accident.”
Sam had been performing the same inventory as Boromir, and had come up one short. “Where’s Mr. Frodo?” he asked. Merry’s bright head whipped around, horror dawning on his features.
Gandalf let go of his aggravation and regarded them sorrowfully. Kneeling in the muck, he placed a hand on Sam’s shoulder and one on Merry’s. “Lads,” he said softly, “I have something to tell you.”
“Where’s Mr. Frodo?” Sam repeated, his voice rising. Beside him, Pippin was looking about frantically, and would have already dashed off in search of his cousin had not Boromir’s firm hand restrained him.
Aragorn also knelt and captured Pippin’s hands in his own. “You must not fear,” he told them, instantly wrenching up their apprehension, “Frodo has been taken.”
“Taken?” Merry repeated the word as if he did not understand its meaning.
Now Gandalf spoke. “Some creature … some thing … levered open his window and … took him … while I sought information downstairs. The first I knew, Legolas ran past me, shouting that something perched on the Ring-bearer’s windowsill, seeking entrance. I followed him up the stairs to find Gimli throwing himself against the door. It was locked … locked as I made Frodo promise it would be.” For a moment the old wizard looked his age, lined face tightening in grief and self-recrimination. “I called for the key, but the Innkeep could not be found and there was not time to seek him. So I ordered Gimli from the door and blew it down with Power.”
“White fire,” murmured Aragorn. He looked up at a resounding crash to see Gimli heaving a charcoaled timber off a section of slatboard siding, the dwarf roaring for Legolas as he did so. The Elf straightened from helping a group of men dig through some smoking wood to run lightly over to him, his feet touching the smoldering coals too quickly and lightly to burn. “Gandalf was … rather upset. The blast incinerated the door and roared through the room, catching the linens afire. It must have exploded the lamps and the lamp oil splattered onto the walls. Within seconds, everything was burning.”
“The room was empty,” Gandalf said, taking up the tale. “Frodo was gone. I threw out our packs and belongings while the others tried to douse the fire.”
“But we could not,” Legolas said, joining them. Gimli puffed up behind him, his thick hands black with smoke and soot. In them he held a section of siding, now broken down to manageable size. “The inn was very old and the wood dry,” the Elf continued. “The townsfolk formed a bucket brigade from the well, but little could be done. Everyone escaped, but the inn…” He trailed off and all eyes turned again to the isolated timbers and smoking ruin that had been the impressive two-story lodging-house.
“Gandalf,” rumbled Gimli. “Look at this.” The dwarf held out the wooden siding, pointing with a thick finger at a mark carved in the wood. “This piece of the building’s exterior survived the fire. I could not understand Legolas’ missing his mark, so I sought for a reason and found … this.”
Gandalf ran his finger lightly above the rough mark, tracing its curls and jagged spikes, confusion on his face. “It is a rune of some type, some magical mark… This was carved on the wood outside Frodo’s window?”
“Aye,” affirmed the dwarf. “Could it have caused Legolas’ arrow to go awry?”
The Elf crowded closer to look at the rune. “As I passed it in climbing to the roof, I felt a … a coldness. A feeling of …” Legolas seemed to seek for words, finding none that suited. “…malice … spite. Old anger and old hatred.” When Aragorn looked at him inquiringly, the Elf just shook his head, unable to articulate further.
The wizard’s hands lowered to the carven mark and he rubbed his fingers against it. “I feel magic in it,” said Gandalf. “I cannot discern its purpose, for it’s fashioning is unknown to me. But yes, Gimli, it might serve such a purpose. Keep it, and I will inspect it later in greater depth.”
“What about Mr. Frodo?” Sam could be silent no longer. “Aren’t we going ‘ta look for him?”
The Ranger’s gaze turned to the hobbit, looking keenly into the frightened round face, highlighted by a reddish glow as the few pieces of unburned wood caught and flared. “We will, Sam. I am hoping there is some trail from the rear of the inn, possibly over the roof of the stables.”
“The stables!” Sam cried. “Bill!”
“Bill is unharmed,” Aragorn hastened to assure him. “All the horses escaped. They are corralled two streets over. The fire started at the front of the building, and there was time to evacuate all the animals.” Aragorn rose to his feet and stared sorrowfully over the hobbits’ heads. “But I fear that, between the fire and the water used to put it out, the ground will have little tale to tell. I looked earlier but could only see the marks of men’s passing – the earth has been churned into a morass of mud.”
“We also have a tale to tell,” put in Boromir, leaving off staring at the smoldering destruction. “Pippin and I were accosted by a local and another, as we were … ahhh,” the man paused as Pippin stared at him beseechingly. “We were … taking a breath of air at the roadhouse where we ate. The first was an amateur, but the other… The other left the first, a man called Kent, to his fate and from him we learned that he had been hired to abduct ‘the smaller, dark-haired’ halfling, as he put it.”
“Frodo,” breathed Gandalf.
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.