8. Chapter Eight
“Take your hand from your throat,” the creature ordered, its yellow, slitted eyes gleaming in the wavering light of the lamp. Both claws still fondled the mithril shirt and Frodo looked at it sorrowfully. He did not regret its loss for its value, but Bilbo had gifted it him and he loved it for that reason. But if he had to sacrifice the lesser treasure to save the greater, so be it.
“Leave me alone,” the hobbit returned, eyes enormous in his white face.
The creature sneered at him, half a laugh and half a threat. “Or what, little one?” it hissed, lipless mouth drawing back over the needle teeth.
“Leave me alone or I’ll set my gardener on you!” Even as it came out, Frodo flushed at the absurdity and the creature laughed outright.
“I am truly terrified,” it snorted. Then it lunged for him, a fluid, boneless movement most akin to a striking snake. Frodo flung himself backwards, slipping on a partially consumed rat corpse, its innards wet and glistening. The hobbit struggled for equilibrium but could not find it amongst the pile of sharp, shifting bones. Frodo fell on his back and the creature was upon him.
The Ring-bearer felt a cold, clawed hand fasten around his fingers and start to pull his hand from his throat. The silver chain dug into the back of his neck, then the fine links gave and the chain snapped. Desperately, Frodo squeezed his hand shut even as the other pried it from his chest.
“What is this?” the creature snarled. “What do you guard so fiercely?”
Holding the hobbit down easily with one clawed hand splayed on the small chest, the creature pulled the arm from him and opened the hand, bending the small fingers back cruelly. Gold gleamed in the dim light. Agonized beyond measure, the Ring-bearer could only watch as the golden glow reflected in the creature’s eyes. The thing went still, its lipless mouth opening. “No,” it whispered. “No, it is impossible … this cannot be…” The slitted eyes moved from the Ring-bearer’s palm to his eyes, staring into them in shock.
Without warning, the hobbit relaxed. The creature rocked back, thrown off-balance from the sudden lack of resistance. Frodo pulled in his right leg and kicked for all he was worth, slamming his foot directly into the creature’s face. Bone crunched. The creature screamed, a high shrilling sound, and staggered back, dropping the mail coat to clutch at its flat nose. Blood streamed down its face, poured over the clawed hands.
Frodo scrambled among the bones, twisting over onto his stomach and gathering his hands and feet beneath him. The Ring lay in his hand, suddenly cold and so very heavy. Gaining his feet, he stood swaying as the creature rolled on the floor and shrieked, its black cloak twisting about it. Desperately the Ring-bearer eyed the window but could see nothing past the dark and the dust. There was no way to tell if it was on the second floor, or what lay beneath it. He had no choice. The creature finally stilled and raised its bleeding face, death in its eyes. The Ring-bearer braced himself to leap.
Wood exploded in a shower of splinters, dried-out, rotted timber crumbling. Dimly, Frodo saw an indistinct dark form burst through the door, tattered cloak sheltering its flesh. At the same moment, the window shattered in a torrent of shards, razored glass flying everywhere. The hobbit saw only huge, dark forms and then the creature rising to its feet, clawed hands drawing its sword.
All Frodo knew was that the door was open. Open! Frodo turned and ran past the rising figure, a small form, dark and silent, unnoticed in the confusion. He was though the doorway. He bounced off the opposite wall and only by luck turned down the stairs, falling the last few. Then he was up again and running, running as the sounds of battle filled his ears.
The dark figure that had come in through the window rose and shook glass from its slender form, long bone-handled knives ready in its hands. “Take him!” roared the other, as at the same moment the creature unleashed a shrilling cry of it’s own and leapt upon the Elf. The Elf turned aside its sword with knives crossed before his face, the sword catching and dragged to the side. The creature used the momentum to turn and swing itself around to face the other, a Man, dark of countenance and furious of expression.
Aragorn’s long sword thrust at the creature but with astonishing speed it slithered aside, turning the blade with a clash of its own sword. Black cloak swirling about it, it swung completely around, seeking to take the Man from the other side. Aragorn met its blade with his own and metal screamed, sparks erupting from both blades. With incomprehensible speed the creature pulled back, panting, its yellow eyes glaring at them in fear and hate. The Man and the Elf circled around it, seeking to take it from either side. Its hairless head whipped back and forth, blood still dripping unheeded from its nose.
“Where is the hobbit?” Aragorn growled. “What have you done with him?”
The creature did not reply. Panting, it stared at them, eyes traveling to the door. Legolas moved closer, blocking the exit. Small cuts bedecked the Elf’s face and his hair glinted with shards of glass, but he paid the gashes no heed. “You have no escape,” Legolas said softly, his fair face implacable.
The creature snarled at the Elf, hatred pulsing on its marred features. It did not answer but crouched lower, scrubbing at its face, breath whistling through the broken nose.
“Aragorn,” called the Elf softly. The Ranger risked a glance, aware now of how quickly the creature could move. The Elf held up something that glinted in the dim light. With a sinking heart, Aragorn recognized the mithril mail shirt.
“Where is he?” the Ranger demanded again. “Tell me and you will die cleanly.”
The creature straightened and the sword dropped, its point to the floor. Neither Man nor Elf relaxed, but they took a step closer, their weapons still on guard.
The creature smiled at them, the blood from its nose shining on the needle teeth. Then it raised a clawed hand and traced a rune in the air and fire erupted in the rescuers’ clothes.
With a startled cry, Legolas dropped his knives, slender hands beating at the flames that had exploded from his borrowed cloak. Aragorn cried out wordlessly, trying to tear his from his body. Both threw themselves to the dirty floor, rolling, seeking to smother the flames.
With a snarling laugh, the creature slithered between them to the door. It limped, the rags beneath the cloak dark with blood. “Your second arrow shot true, Elf,” it snarled at Legolas. “I will rejoice in the knowledge that you burn to death.”
Hands batting at the flames enveloping his clothing, Aragorn shouted, “Where is the hobbit?”
“Hobbit,” the creature repeated softly. “So that is what the little one is called.” Fire spread from the writhing figures to the floor, igniting what remained of the rat corpses. Flames licked along the dried wood of the floor, up the walls. The creature covered its broken nose with a clawed hand and turned back to survey the scene. Smoke already was filling the room, fed by the air from the broken window. “I will name it so before I kill it and take the Ring for myself.” Then it was gone, booted feet thudding on the stairs.
Legolas cried out as his long hair caught fire, flames racing up to lick at his face. Aragorn forced him down, pushing the Elf flat and forcing his head against the floor, smothering the flames with his chest. His own back was on fire but the heavy leather coat retarded the flames. Surging upwards, Legolas pulled out from under him and flipped Aragorn over onto his back, pressing him against the floorboards.
“We must get out!” the Elf shouted over the snapping of wood and the crackling of flame. “Aragorn, get up!”
Coughing, Aragorn dragged himself to his feet and looped an arm over the Elf’s shoulders. Legolas winced as the arm tightened over his burns but caught the arm and held the other tight, half-dragging the Man towards the door. Both crouched, trying to stay below the level of the smoke as it rose and filled the upper air. Aragorn stumbled, going to his knees, and with strength unheralded in that slender form, Legolas pulled the Ranger to his feet and dragged him to and through the door.
Fire came after them as they staggered down the stairs, chasing their footsteps, licking at their ankles like an over-eager puppy. Fire raced up the matchstick walls, crawled across the ceiling. The entire building was going up. The two gained the entrance just as the timbers bracing the door fell, blocking the passage behind them. Coughing and hacking, Legolas and Aragorn staggered across the alleyway to the shelter of another building.
Cries and shouts echoed in their ears. Already the townsfolk were in motion. Men were running and pointing at the burning building, calling for water and bellowing at each other. It was not so difficult for the two to remain unnoticed in the excitement and uproar. They leaned against the sheltering wall and pulled clean air into their lungs. “We must find Frodo,” gasped Aragorn, when he had the air to speak.
Legolas coughed deeply, painfully. “That … that foul thing has a lead on us. How can we trail him in this confusion?”
Aragorn placed his hands on his knees and bent over, struggling to clear the smoke from his chest. He spat, the saliva dark and clouded. “We must –“
“Them! Them’s the two that started it!”
The two raised their eyes to see a man pointing at them, anger on his face. Those fighting the fire paused to stare. In the flickering light, Aragorn and Legolas saw the thin, strained features of their guide, Kent, standing behind the man as the man raised his arm to point.
* * * * *
Frodo ran for as long as he was able. When he could no longer run, he walked. The twisting streets confused him. He did not understand how the towns of Men were planned – there did not seem to be any logic to the winding alleys and courtyards. Panting and choking, he at last paused in a darkened doorway, huddling against the wooden entry, trembling from cold and exhaustion. His wrists burned from the ropes and his face ached from the slaps, but worse yet was the leaden fatigue of his limbs. He sagged against the door, scarcely able to keep his feet.
His hand was clenched so tightly that it was cramping and he had to use the other to ease it open. His fingernails had cut bloody half-moons into his palm. With a laugh that was half a sob, he recalled his resolution to stop biting his fingernails. In the center of his palm crouched the Ring, perfect and round and golden, glinting at him, self-aware and evil. He could almost feel the malice emanating from it. With a gasping moan, he closed his hand over it and thrust it and the chain into his breast pocket.
Unable to stand another moment, the hobbit slid down the doorframe and hunched into a freezing lump in the darkness. Frodo drew in his legs and wrapped his arms around them, seeking what warmth he could. Only now did he feel the many places he had been cut and gashed by flying wood and glass. The rat-bite burned fiercely, the first warning of infection. He pulled the tattered remains of his shirt and waistcoat about him and shivering, laid his head upon his knees to await the dawn.
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.