33. Homeward Bound
Terror flowed from the still figure, cold and pain and despair, and the four riders that sat paired on their horses felt their hearts darken and their eyes dim. Their limbs were frozen, their blood ice. Not horse or Elf or hobbit could move as the Ringwraith shifted slowly in its saddle and drew its long sword. Nothing could be seen of any human features under the black hood but it seemed to the petrified watchers that the featureless face smiled, and it kicked its mount brutally in the side, urging it a step forward.
Merry pushed back against Elrohir, taking unconscious comfort in the Elf’s strong frame. The Elf sat motionless, the reins so tightly clenched in his long hands that the leather cut into his skin, drawing thin lines of blood across his palms. But resolution burned in his dark eyes, and looking over to Elladan, Merry saw the same look there. Then the hobbit felt gentle hands about his waist, and he was being dragged over the saddle to drop to the earth with an unavoidable jolt that jarred his broken arm agonizingly. Merry stumbled, going to his knees, then reached up to catch the Elf’s stirrup as Elrohir kneed his great grey stallion to stand beside that of his brother’s.
Pippin was struggling, fighting against Elladan’s placing him on the ground and out of immediate harm’s way. The tweenager had wound his small hands tight in the Elf’s cloak and from somewhere within himself, had summoned the presence of mind to hiss, “…no! You won’t put me down like a sack of laundry! Elladan, we can fight, too!”
“You cannot aid us, Pippin,” came the Elf’s soft reply. “Elrohir and I will fight the better for knowing that you and Merry are safe. It is two against one … despite what it is, perhaps we can take it.”
“You can’t fight that thing,” growled Merry from his one-handed grip on Elrohir’s stirrup. “You know you can’t. That … that monster can’t be finished in such a way. Gandalf told us so. You’ll just be throwing your lives away.”
Elrohir shifted his weight in the saddle and the stallion obediently stepped away from Merry, pulling the stirrup from his grasp. Elladan had drawn his sword and it gleamed coldly in the morning sun. His face set, Elrohir drew his own sword and moved to stand beside his brother, their horses tossing their heads, white-rimmed eyes staring at the unnatural not-horse the Nazgûl sat. Furious with impotence, Merry reached across with his left hand and drew his small sword, only to have it waver and almost fall from his uncertain grip. He tried to grasp the hilt in his right hand, but the hand would not obey and he cried out as it slipped from his hold.
Then Pip was by his side, taking the sword and sheathing it in Merry’s scabbard. “Not that way,” Pippin whispered, his eyes never leaving the still tableau before him. The hobbits felt the unseen eyes of the creature turn to them momentarily, then dismiss them, its attention once more on the young Elves. “Merry,” said Pippin softly, “listen to me -”
Elladan and Elrohir also turned their attention from the halflings, seeking within themselves the serenity and strength to deal with the Nazgûl. Even their lord father had never faced one of the Nine directly. Their minds following the same path as they had done since birth, the twins hoped that the little folk would survive and be able to tell their father and kin of their demise. They could not destroy the Ringwraith, they knew, but if they could take from it it’s mount, render it formless … then it would have to return to its master, empty and shapeless, until it could find a new mount to ride and a new form to wear. If they could win just a little respite for the Ring-bearer…
After coming to the entrance of the narrow passageway, the Ringwraith had halted, apparently watching with relish the fear and pain its presence caused its victims. Who could say what, if any, thoughts passed through the cold mind under that black hood? Perhaps it only wanted to feel their terror and despair, drink in the horror it engendered in them. But the single step forward was a challenge. And the twins moved to meet it, their horses shaking their manes in fear.
The black mount reared, great disfigured hooves pawing the air. Then it came to earth again and the Ringwraith urged it into battle.
It seemed to the Elves that the beast lurched, and for the first time the Nazgûl seemed uncertain. The hooded figure leaned forward in the saddle as its mount staggered. All eyes were drawn to the beast’s front hooves, where a leather sling was wrapping itself around the thick ankles. The beast snorted, not understanding, and strove to take another step.
Another slender rope of weighted leather sang through the air and wrapped itself around the first, pulling it tighter. The beast half-reared and came down off-balance, unable to steady itself with its forelimbs immobilized. Their hands now free, the hobbits knelt and gathered rocks to them. Then the black beast was being peppered with small, sharp stones and it screamed in fury and pain.
Merry and Pippin pitched more rocks, their hearts in their throats as the beast staggered again, its rider pulling cruelly on the bit. More stones they held at the ready but they were not needed. The black horse threw up its head, blood and foam dripping from its mouth. Then it was falling to the side, going down, its enormous body slipping from the narrow path. The Black Rider was jerked to the side by the animal’s momentum, unable to spring free, constrained by the rock wall of the cliffside. Its awful shriek rang out to join the beast’s as the two fell to the rocky earth, and then slid from the narrow path to tumble down the cliff. Those above watched in horror as the rider was rolled under the great beast and the two fell down the steep cliff, the sound of cracking bones drifting up to them on the wind.
Forgotten for the moment, the mare Inmara moved past the stallions to the side of the cliff and looked down. The old mare stood quietly for a moment, then shaking her pack, caused the multitude of wildflowers she carried to drift down upon the still, broken forms.
* * * * *
“Elladan! Elrohir!” Forgetful of his dignity, the Lord of Imladris ran to almost where the crevasse began and stretched out his arms to his sons.
The two young Elves swung down from their mounts and lifted down two much smaller forms, confusion at the state of the path warring with the delighted smiles on all their faces. The host of Imladris surged forward also, causing the dwarf to roar with astonishing volume, directing them back from the uncertain ground at the brink. Laughing in relief, Elrond ordered his people back, motioning to his sons and the hobbits also to retreat. Gimli grumbled something under his breath, and it was perhaps good for the fragile relations between Elves and Dwarves that none heard his remarks. None but Aragorn, who laughed and kept his silence.
Amidst much waving and calling back and forth, news was exchanged of the Ringwaith’s fate and the destruction of the way. Aragorn, sure-footed and careful, guided by Gimli’s shouted instructions, cautiously inched his way across the slide area till he at last was pulled to safety by the twins. The three brothers hugged each other in joy and relief, and then swept the hobbits into up their embrace.
“Merry and Pippin saved you?” repeated the Ranger, disbelief in his voice.
“You needn’t sound so surprised,” responded Pippin, wiggling to be set down. Elladan did so, laughing.
“It was Pip’s idea,” put in Merry, who was having his arm examined by Aragorn. The Ranger gently pushed Pippin’s curly head out of his line of sight, the youngster watching his cousin’s treatment with attention.
“It is certainly a tale for the bards,” Aragorn said straight-faced. “With slings and stones, you were able to accomplish what a mighty Elf-lord and his host could not with an avalanche.” He laid the knife back against the break and carefully wrapped up the hobbit’s arm, aligning the wrist straight and checking that the bandaging was not too tight. Merry grimaced. Seeing that, Aragorn gave the hobbit’s shoulder a gentle squeeze and rose to his feet. “We will have to turn the horses and go back, select another path. If we ride without stopping for lunch or dinner, we can be home before sunset.”
“We haven’t any food anyway,” replied Pippin sadly.
Aragorn solemnly reached into his belt pouch and produced two strips of dried meat, which he gave to the young hobbits. Pippin wrinkled his nose but took the rock-hard offering. “There,” commented the Ranger. “Now, we must go. Elrond awaits the information you gathered on the mercenaries, Elrohir. And I have no doubt that Frodo and Sam and Bilbo await the return of these two young miscreants.”
“Miscreants!” objected the hobbits in unison.
Aragorn laughed and laid a hand on each small shoulder to guide them back to the horses. “As I recall, you still have several days of penance to serve in Rivendell for your … um … activities.”
Pippin choked on his bite of dried meat. “Oh… Oh, yes. But Aragorn! Wait until I tell you about my bread sculpture!”
Merry groaned and covered his face with his good hand as the Ranger swung him up before Elladan.
* * * * *
“Do you see them yet?”
“No, Mr. Frodo.” Sam took a final look out the window then hopped down off the bench and reseated himself beside his master and old Mr. Bilbo. The sun was westering and it was growing cold. Despite the two messengers that Lord Elrond had sent back, one with news of the failed avalanche then another reporting the scouts’ safe return, the hobbits were anxious. The second messenger had had little to say about the hobbits, except to report that one had his arm in a sling.
After watching the reunited scouting party depart (Aragorn riding the old mare), Elrond had ordered his people home. Lights were being lit now around the hidden valley, their soft glow illuminating the windows and courtyards of the Last Homely House, the scent of fall flowers in the air. The hobbits waited impatiently, Sam making good use of his time by arranging a small feast of dishes dear to the hearts of hobbit-folk. Those dishes sat now in Frodo’s room, steaming gently on hot bricks, their enticing aromas drifting on the cooling air.
At last they heard the eager rush of bare feet on the polished floors, and two small forms burst from the corridor into the room. Merry and Pippin skidded to a stop at the sight of their cousin and friend, who, along with Bilbo, had risen to greet them. Frodo was pale, unsteady on his feet – he had obviously been ill again. Sam was favoring a bright-red welt on his forearm and sporting a spectacular black eye. The cousins felt themselves being inspected in return. Merry, bruised and battered with his arm in a sling, and Pippin, a nicely-swollen cut under his eye and his clothes dirty and torn. Four voices rang out with identical words – “What happened to you?”
* TBC *
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.