3. Chapter Three
Gandalf sighed and turned full-circle in the improvised windowless cell, his sharp gaze falling on the simple cot with its single blanket and the small wooden table that held the emptied plate and cup, the only furnishings. The room had originally been used for the storage of herbs and medicines, some of a toxic nature – hence its status as one of the few rooms in Imladris with a lock. “So now we have another problem,” he mused softly. “Who penetrated a locked door and killed him?”
Unspoken but not unthought in their minds was the immediate fear that the intruder had had an accomplice, with orders to silence his partner should he fail in his attempt upon the Ring-bearer. Did another unknown killer seek an unguarded moment to take Frodo’s life and steal that which he carried, to the ending of all light and hope on Middle-earth?
The Elf-lord returned to the thick wooden door and ran his slender hands over the finely-wrought lock. “I commissioned this lock long ago from Glóin’s people. It was made to open only for the rightful lord of Imladris. We might ask the dwarves here to examine it, but I feel no tampering with its magic.” Elrond leaned against the door and closed his dark eyes, silent for the moment. “Aragorn, will you help me test it?”
The Ranger rose from beside the body as Elrond closed the door then stepped away from it. Aragorn tried the handle but it did not budge. He threw his strength against it, still without effect. The Elf-lord stepped gracefully back and it immediately opened under his light touch.
The wizard had watched with a slight grimace as Aragorn hit the door and bounced off. “Elrond… Does the magic recognize those of your blood?”
The Elf-lord frowned, his dark eyes sparking with sudden anger. “Of course. Elladan and Elrohir and Arwen may also open it. But my children would never do such an evil thing.” Though his voice had not risen or tightened, the Master of Imladris stood very straight and thunder gathered on his high brow.
“No, of course not…” the wizard leaned against his staff. “Of course not. I confess I am at an impasse. Someone did not want us to question this assassin. He or she or they have quite successfully prevented us from learning who sent him.”
Absently rubbing his shoulder, the Ranger turned from them and again knelt by the body. He fingered the man’s tunic then leaned closer to peer at the silken cord. “I think… I think the cord belongs to his tunic. I think it is the tunic’s belt.” Reluctantly, he caught a handful of the dark hair and titled back the man’s head, easing the blood-soaked beard away from the cord. “Yes… See, it is the same fabric.”
Aragorn reached down and wrapped his fingers around the belt, tugging gently to loosen it from the dried blood and the man’s stiffening fingers. It still stuck and Aragorn pulled harder. The belt came free of the man’s throat and dangled limply in the Ranger’s grasp. “Odd,” Aragorn murmured, “it feels warm. No, hot –“
The thin roll of fabric quivered once, then struck like a snake. In the briefest of instants, it had coiled itself around Aragorn’s wrist then leaped for his throat. Aragorn cried out and fell backwards, writhing on the floor as it twisted itself around his neck.
With an inarticulate cry, Elrond was by his side, twining his long fingers under the cord and pulling with all his strength, trying to clear room for his foster son to breathe. Aragorn gagged, his face turning blue, throwing himself from side to side and inadvertently interfering with Elrond’s efforts to free him. His back arched as the thin cord curled away from the Elf-lord’s fingers and tautened, painting blood on the unprotected skin.
Then Gandalf was there, shouting at Elrond to withdraw. “Hold him! Hold him still!” One hand still straining under the cord, Elrond threw himself across Aragorn and pinned his shoulders to the floor. The wizard raised his staff and drove the narrow end next to Elrond’s fingers, between Aragorn’s throat and the strangling cord. Elrond swiftly withdrew his fingers and the wizard forced his staff sideways, slicing the cord into the skin at the back of Aragorn’s neck but clearing space for him to win a breath.
The wizard shouted a single word as he twisted the staff hard against the cord. Aragorn choked as he felt the fabric flame like a burning brand around his throat. Smoke erupted from the belt, black and oily, and it seemed to writhe along its length. With a foul smell, the belt made a faint hissing sound and turned to powder.
Elrond helped his coughing foster son to sit up, blood still flowing freely from the wound. Gandalf knelt on his other side and laid his gnarled hands against the flow and it slowed and stopped. As the Ranger wheezed and gasped, the Elf-lord and the wizard examined the wound and brushed the stinking black powder from his garments.
They stayed kneeling on either side of the Ranger until color had returned to Aragorn’s face. When he had breath to speak, Aragorn coughed a final time and said in a hoarse, strained voice, “So now we know how the intruder died.”
* * * * *
In another part of the Last Homely House, unknowing of what had transpired in the windowless cell, the four hobbits had managed to eat every single scrap of breakfast. It was an effort, but they applied themselves diligently. Their laughter and talk had rung out of the Ring-bearer’s room until Sam saw that his master was growing weary. With gentle shushing motions behind Frodo’s back, Sam managed the calm the two younger ones and set them to talking to Frodo softly. Stuffed beyond comfort, Frodo fell asleep before they had gathered up the dishes. Merry smiled at his cousin’s peaceful, slumbering face - his plan to tempt Frodo into eating with a surfeit of mushrooms had succeeded.
Pippin, too, had eaten too much and wanted nothing more than to go lie down and take a nap. He burped uncomfortably and stifled a groan. Just before Sam shooed them out the door, the youngest hobbit leaned over Frodo and whispered, “Sleep well, Cousin. You’re safe, now. We’re all safe.” Pippin kissed him gently on his pale brow and carrying one of the trays, followed Merry out of the bed chamber.
In the adjoining room, Merry turned back for a moment and motioned for Sam to join them. “You’ll let us know when he wakes?”
Sam nodded. “I’ll send word. I think he’ll sleep most o’ the day, though. Lord Elrond said he won’t feel much like moving about for a few days. He lost a lot of blood he couldn’t afford ‘ta when that Man hurt him.”
The smiled faded from Merry’s blue eyes. “We should hear something from Lord Elrond soon.” Glancing around to see Pip waiting at the door, he moved closer to Sam and said softly, “Here, take this.” Shielding the movement from Pippin with his body, Merry transferred his tray to one hand and with the other, handed Sam the small dagger he wore at his belt.
Startled, Samwise took it automatically. The dagger was small but very sharp, and balanced for throwing. His brown, calloused hand tightened on the hilt. “I will,” he said softly, and raised his eyes to meet Merry’s. “I will.”
* * * * *
Elrond required Aragorn to strip to the waist so that he could treat his bruised and bloody throat, and the bruises that his foster son had given himself as he had thrown himself about on the hard wooden floor. Gandalf’s staff had torn a shallow gouge along the Ranger’s skin when the wizard forced the staff under the cord, and Elrond washed it and the other injuries carefully before binding them with athelas-soaked linens. Aragorn counted the gouge small cost for his release from the murderous magic.
His voice rasping as if from a bad cold, Aragorn said, “I think I might predict what news your rider will have for us, Elrond, if he is successful in his search.”
Applying another padded bandage to a bruise flowering on the back of Aragorn’s shoulder-blade, the Elf-lord looked across to Gandalf. “My rider departed but early this morning. We know where the Man joined the delegation. Even if my Elf were to find the tailor and gather what news he can provide, it will be a week before he returns. Assuming, of course, that our intended-murderer had his fine clothes made in that town. The tailoring could have been done elsewhere, or the Man’s employer could have provided the garments. I am certain he provided the belt.”
The wizard rose from where he had been sitting beside Elrond, holding the narrow roll of linens while Elrond pulled from it what he needed. Placing the roll on the stool upon which he had been sitting, Gandalf began striding up and down Aragorn’s room. His friends watched him with pain in their sorrowing eyes.
After some few moments, the wizard whirled and faced them. “It is possible that some other agency commissioned this. It is possible that some other agency could provide such an evil instrument of death. But,” the others could see what this admission cost him, “I agree that, most likely, it is the work of Saruman.”
Gandalf lowered his grey head. “We were friends, once. I admired him. Saruman the White was the wisest, the most learned, the best of us... Even as he imprisoned me on the pinnacle of Orthanc, I prayed he would realize the folly of his ambition and return to us.
“That he could, by foul craft, create such a thing as that innocent-looking belt cord, I do not doubt. That he could enchant it to strangle his minion, did he fail, I do not doubt. And now, at last, I do not doubt that he could send a murderer after an innocent hobbit, one very dear to me, if he thought it would gain him possession of the Enemy’s Ring.” Striking the linens aside, Gandalf sank back onto the stool and cradled his head in his hands.
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.