8. Black Riders in Bree
I sat huddled on my bench in the alcove and felt ashamed and subdued by what had happened. What if the fact that in my world the story of the rings was already complete meant that nothing could be changed, except for the worse? The ring had slipped onto Frodo's finger in spite of my foolish stunt, and now the enemy was alerted to the presence of a foreign girl… me… Small wonder that Aragorn had been furious with me. Good intentions do, after all, pave the road to hell…
Somehow I could not keep my thoughts off the enemies closing in on Bree. I felt unreasonable fear grown in my heart. Was that a dark shadow outside the window over there?
But the riders had come to the rooms of the hobbits only deep in the night, and the inn itself had never been attacked, I told myself. A small voice inside of my mind, however, kept nagging. But that was the story, which did not have a foreign girl falling over her feet in the common room…
I swallowed nervously and looked around for any unusual shadows. My heart was racing, its somewhat irregular beat echoing in my ears. I kept rubbing my clammy fingers across my thighs. I tried to keep my breaths shallow, but I felt already somewhat light-headed from a fear driven by pure instinct. It was the kind of instinct, which tells the rabbit to run no matter what, even though it will drive it right in front of the hunter's gun.
Suddenly the lights in the room were extinguished.
The corners of the room seemed to turn into fathomless abyssal of gloom. Tendrils of darkness seemed to unfold from the corners, tentacles of black shadows slowly glided through the room. They were searching for something. They were looking for someone.
I looked at the window, and my heart skipped a beat. I stopped breathing, frozen with panic.
The window pane was covered in frost. But behind the fragile flowers of icy mist frozen to the glass loomed a darkness, which was darker than the darkest moonless night, a darkness, which denied the very existence of light. A darkness, which cast a shadow into the room, which was almost as black as the horror, which waited outside the door.
I could not move.
I could not breathe.
All I could do was watch the tentacles of shadow slowly inching their way across the worn wooden planks of the floor towards the alcove. The tendrils of darkness had almost reached the snug where I was sitting.
I wanted to scream, but I could not even open my mouth.
Suddenly a lantern lit the room. The shadow hesitated for a second and then it was gone.
Seconds later a woolly head was thrust into my field of vision. It was Nob, the hobbit, still out of breath from running. "I found him, Mrs. Anniel, I found him, Mr. Brandybuck. But something's happened to him! I guess you'd better come with me!"
He turned on his heel, running of.
I grabbed my backpack and followed him as fast as I managed with my knees wobbly from fear.
Nob led me to the hobbit rooms in the North wing of the inn. At the end of a short passage I saw a small figure throwing open a door and running inside. Nob followed the figure as fast as he could, with me hard on his woolly heels. The room was a small parlour with a round table and a number of comfortable chairs. It was well lit by a large fire in the fire place, an oil lamp which was suspended from the ceiling by a brass chain and a chandelier with five tapering candles at the centre of the table.
The small figure I had glimpsed racing into the room was another hobbit, this one with dark, almost black hairs and dark brown eyes, which were wide with shock at the moment.
"… black riders!" he gasped the moment I entered the room just behind Nob.
Frodo jumped up from his chair. "Black Riders! Where?"
At the table two more hobbits were sitting, looking alarmed and frightened at the sudden entrance of their friend with his face white as a sheet and a dire warning on his lips.
"In the village!" Merry cried, and explained in a rush what had happened, speaking so quickly it was hard to understand.
Aragorn was in the room, too. He had been standing in the shadow next to the fire place, but now stepped into the light, his posture tall and commanding. Now he spoke and his voice was sharp. "Which way did it go?"
Merry jumped at the new voice and the travel-worn, not precisely confidence inspiring appearance of the ranger.
"Go on," Frodo urged his friend impatiently. "This is a friend of Gandalf's. I will explain later."
Merry told about his desire for a bit of peace and quiet and a breath of air, how he had seen the black figure and how he had followed it down the East road, drawn by its dark power against his will, and how he had observed it meeting someone by the hedge.
"Mrs. Anniel here was worried," Nob piped up. "Mr. Butterbur agreed and sent me out to look for Mr. Brandybuck with a lantern." He explained how he had found Merry, and how the hobbit had run back to the inn like a frightened hare. "And when I went into the separate room to tell Mrs. Anniel that I had found Mr. Brandybuck, all the lights were out and it was all cold and queer, and she was sitting as if frozen to the bench." The hobbit turned towards me. "My pardon, Mrs. Anniel, but you looked as if you had seen a ghost or something, all white and shaking."
Five hobbits looked at me, their faces full of curiosity, but Aragorn's expression was grave and worried. "What happened in the common room, Lothíriel?"
I swallowed, trying to calm my racing heart with no success. My voice sounded high and frightened when I spoke. "Everything went dark. The window was suddenly covered in ice. There were shadows on the floor, which seemed to be moving on their own, as if they were looking for something. But when Nob came, with his lantern, the shadows drew back. I don't know why it got to me like that."
Merry nodded. "Nor do I. I am not normally such a scaredy-cat. I don't understand what happened."
"I do," Aragorn said, "That was the Black Breath you felt, both of you. The evil power of the Black Riders lives in the shadows of night and fear. They must have left their horses hidden outside of Bree and slipped into town by stealth. By now they will know all the rumours about four hobbits and a strange girl staying at 'The Prancing Pony'. They might even decide to strike this very night!"
"What will happen?" Merry asked, his dark eyes wide with fright. My voice trembling I added. "Will they attack the inn?"
"I do not think so, " Aragorn said with a sigh, but when his gaze fell on me, a look of apprehension crossed his face. I shivered with the memory of the groping shadows in the common room. "Not all of them are here yet. And they rarely attack openly. Their strength is based on darkness and loneliness. A house full of light and many people they will only attack if they are desperate or certain of victory. And they are far away from… their home. However, their power lies in the terror they inspire. They manipulate lesser men easily. Already some inhabitants of Bree are under their spell and some of the travellers are sure to be in their clutch, too. Bill Ferny, the gatekeeper and some of the more polite guests…" Aragorn raised an eyebrow at me. I gulped and looked to the ground. I would try and act as if I knew nothing about what was going to happen from now on.
"Already we are surrounded by enemies," Frodo exclaimed. "What are we to do?"
"We stay here for the night. Do not go to your rooms. Those hobbit rooms are easily accessible from the outside, they are close to the ground and their windows face north. Nob and I will go and fetch your luggage."
Nob bowed and left at once. Aragorn stepped up to me. "Stay here; do not open the door for anyone but me. Do not tell them where you come from. Do not tell them anything you might think you know."
I nodded wordlessly, my heart in my mouth.
I walked over to the table and slumped down on a chair. It was quite small, but my knees were almost too wobbly to remain standing another minute. Frodo told Merry about the incident in the common room, Gandalf's letter and Aragorn. Then the hobbits turned to me, their eyes inquisitive, and Sam openly showing the same misgivings he had had about Aragorn, along with an unspoken comment about a girl's appropriate attire and behaviour.
"You'd better tell us who you are and why you did what you did in the common room," Merry said. I stared at their faces, Aragorn's orders still in my ears.
"Aragorn said I should not tell you. My name is Lothíriel, I am twenty-four years old and I come from… from… far away," I concluded lamely.
"That does not tell us anything," Sam objected. "And I don't think this… Aragorn, or Strider, I don't think he trusts her."
Pippin, the hobbit with the reddish-brown hairs and pointiest ears nodded. "You're right, Sam." He looked up at me. "Who tells us that you are not a spy?"
Merry watched me from across the table, suspicion and fear apparent on his face.
I gritted my teeth and felt a lump in my throat. I was in a strange world, where no one knew me, and everyone I met either thought I was an enemy or a whore. I felt tears rise to my eyes and blinked furiously. "I am not a spy. I am not an enemy. I am not a whore. Women wear what I do all the time where I come from. I have no idea how I got here and why I am here. I only wanted to help you."
Suddenly I felt the warm touch of a small hand on my cold fingers. I looked up and into Frodo's bright blue eyes. He looked worried, but sympathetic. "I believe that you wanted to help. I don't think that you belong to the enemy." He turned to the others. "Look, I don't know how she knew, but maybe that's not important. But imagine if I had simply vanished into thin air in front of the crowd that would have been far worse than the commotion she caused with her tumble. Think about what Ferny could have told the… enemies if he had witnessed me becoming invisible! They might even decide to attack the inn openly, if they were sure about… things." He shuddered, and the others looked very frightened indeed at his suggestion of this awful alternative.
"Thank you," I whispered.
Frodo nodded and sat back down next to Sam. He talked to his faithful servant and friend in a low voice. Sam looked at me with a mutinous expression on his face, but then he nodded and turned his gaze away from me. Merry and Pippin did not say anything, but I could almost see their sharp minds thinking things through. No matter what Aragorn decided to tell them about me, they would work this riddle out eventually. I sighed.
Merry finally bent over Gandalf's letter, and was still reading it and trying to understand all its implications when Strider and Nob returned with the packs of the hobbits.
Nob explained grinning about how he had fashioned almost life-like forms of sleeping hobbits with additional blankets and cushions to deceive anyone looking through the windows into believing that the hobbits were in their beds, deeply asleep. But Aragorn did not sound convinced when he told them that he was hopeful to hold the fort of the parlour room until the morning even if the disguise was penetrated.
We piled the bags and gear on the floor, shut the windows, barred them with the heavy inside shutters and pushed a low chair as a barricade against the door. The hobbits spread out their blankets in front of the hearth and lay down with the soles of their hairy feet pointing towards the warmth of the fire. I moved two low chairs front to front and curled up on them in the corner. Aragorn stacked the fire for the night and put out the lamp and the candles. Then he sat down in the chair in front of the door. The hobbits whispered amongst themselves for a while, but soon fell asleep, the sound of their snoring slowly fading into deep slumber.
I watched Aragorn silently smoking his pipe for a long time, trying to understand what had happened to me, and why it had happened.
Eventually I fell asleep, too.
Although I had known that the bedrooms of the hobbits would be invaded during the night and the beds destroyed, the cushions slashed open, I was just as frightened as the hobbits, when Aragorn led us into the hobbit-rooms in the morning. Knowing things and seeing things for one-self are two very different things, and I could all too easily imagine torn and bleeding dead bodies in the place of the ravaged mats and cut bolsters.
When Barliman Butterbur came hurrying into the room, completely flustered and upset, telling us about the missing ponies, I wanted to kick myself. How could I have forgotten about the ponies! If I had remembered about the ponies, they could perhaps have been taken to a safer stable or a guard could have been appointed! The company could have been at the Weathertop in time to meet Gandalf and Frodo might not be wounded by the dark rider, and…
I gritted me teeth once again, and wanted nothing so much as to beat my head against the wall. I simply could not think of any other reason for my presence here than that I should try and change things, try to prevent some of the dangers, which befell the companions on their dangerous journey. Up until now I had failed abysmally.
Or was Aragorn right, and I could not change things?
I stayed silent at breakfast and during the three hours' delay caused by the loss of the ponies.
At around ten o'clock we were finally ready to get going. The pony, which had been purchased from Bill Ferny, was a small bony animal. It looked as frightened as I felt and would not let anyone close to it safe Sam.
There was quite a crowd of onlookers gathered at the sides of the streets, watching our mottled company with undisguised curiosity. We said farewell to Mr. Butterbur, Nob and Bob and walked down the main road of Bree, as there was no way to get away unnoticed.
No one seemed to have remained inside the house. Children and teenagers were following us and at the sides of the road the adult inhabitants of Bree were standing and watching us. Some of them were cheering us on, quite good-naturedly, but many of the shouts and jeers were mean and insulting. And quite a few of them were directed at me. When the first stone narrowly missed my head, Aragorn made me walk between him and Frodo.
It was a miserable way to leave Bree, and not even Sam's well-aimed throw of a hard apple at Bill Ferny's nose improved the atmosphere markedly. I was relieved, when the escort of jeering children finally got tired of their games and jokes and turned back to Bree.
The road was muddy from the rain, which had fallen during the night. I had to watch my steps to prevent me from slipping in the sludge. We stayed on the road for several miles. The road curved around Bree-hill, and then sloped down towards a densely wooded country. Aragorn pointed out Staddle on the south-eastern incline of Bree-hill and the thin trails of smoke, which indicated the village of Combe.
Finally we left the road on a narrow trail leading off to the North. Aragorn led the way in confident, long strides. The hobbits, small as they were, followed him swiftly, and the pony seemed to be quite eager to leave Bree far behind. Realizing that I was by no means a ranger and not even up to the speed of small hobbit feet, I dropped back to bring up the rear. It was not easy to keep up the pace Aragorn and the hobbits set, and soon I had no room for any thought but walking, breathing, walking.
Aragorn had explained where we were going, though his explanations could not have meant much more to the hobbits than they did to me. He would walk towards Archet at first, but pass it on its eastern edge, and then head as directly as possible for Weathertop Hill, going through the Midgewater Marshes to cut off some extra miles of the road.
Although I was hard put to it to keep up the speed of Aragorn and the hobbits, the walking was not actually unpleasant. The sun was shining, and the woods of the valley were still green and smelt of humid earth and plants and leaves. If I had had any notion of where we were going to begin with, I soon lost any sense of direction with the many turns and twists Aragorn took us, to throw off any pursuit.
But whether it was luck or the superior skill of the ranger, we did not meet anyone at all that day. I fell asleep instantly in the evening, exhausted by the long day's walking.
The next day I had blisters on my feet and wanted to scream at every step I took. Apart from that, the day was quite peaceful and brought us to trail, which led steadily towards the East.
Aragorn scolded me in the evening for not telling him about my feet. He slathered the blisters with a foul smelling, yellow ointment. In the morning I felt a new woman.
The third day saw us leaving the Chetwood. We had reached an empty expanse of grassy plains, now and then interspersed with hedges and thickets of thorny bushes. There were any number of small trails made by animals, and I have no idea how Aragorn knew which of the thousands of paths was the right one. Around noon the ground became damp. We were getting close to the marshes now, and between boggy patches we passed small dark pools of water and wide areas of reeds and rushes. The air was full of the singing of many birds living in this wilderness of grass and water.
During the afternoon it became increasingly difficult to pick out passages and trails. Even Aragorn had to watch his steps now and had to turn back and retrace his steps now and then to lead us another way to keep our feet dry. The open stretches of water in the swamp-lands around us grew with every mile we left behind us. Above those dark expanses of water flies and midgets were hanging in great silvery clouds.
I spent five minutes coughing after I had inhaled some of those midgets. "Wait a moment," I called out to the others and put down my backpack.
"I am being eaten alive," Pippin complained, and Sam wondered what the midges might live on when they could not get hobbits.
I pulled out a thin silken scarf out of my pack and knotted it around my nose and mouth to keep of the midges. Then I remembered something even better. I had a bottle of mosquito repellent among my things.
I took out the yellow plastic bottle and held it triumphantly into the air. "I have something to ward off the midgets. You slather it onto your faces and the uncovered skin of your arms and legs."
The hobbits crowded around me. Sam looked at the bottle suspiciously, but his face was red and blotchy, so he decided to try the lotion, too.
Aragorn looked at the bottle and the foreign letters on its bright yellow surface apprehensively. When he looked up at me, I knew that he did not trust me yet, and that the strange material of the bottle and the alien writing had not, in fact, aided my case. But he did try the lotion, smelling it, tasting it and applying it to his face and arms.
We continued through the marshes, and to my intense relief, the repellent worked.
When we made camp that night, Sam came up to me and told me gruffly, that, with good stuff like that maybe I wasn't in league with the enemy after all. Aragorn was watching me from the other side of the fire. It would take more than a mosquito repellent to convince Aragorn. And as I had no real knowledge about what had happened to me and what exactly my presence in this story, in this world might mean, I had no real arguments to win him over.
I spent the night listening to the deafening concert of the myriads of crickets living in the marshes. The hobbits found the "Neekerbreekers", as Sam had dubbed them, enervating. To me, the sound was comforting, reminding me of peaceful summer evenings in another world.
If we made it to Rivendell, would Elrond or Gandalf know why I was here? Would they be able to tell me if I should stay? And why? Or if there was a way back to the world I had left?
My midge repellent was gone in the middle of the next afternoon. Millions of midgets, four hobbits, one man, one woman and only one small bottle of lotion: an obviously lost cause.
I chucked the empty bottle into one of the dark pools at the edge of our trail and hoped we would get out of the marshes soon.
We spent the fourth evening in itching misery. Falling asleep I noticed flashes of lightning at the eastern horizon. Thinking that a thunderstorm on top of those miserable marshes would really make my day, I fell into exhausted slumber.
On the fifth day we finally left the marshes behind us. I sighed with relief, when I noticed that the ground was rising again and the pools and stretches of reeds and rushes were growing smaller and finally diminishing into a line of straggling reeds at the edges of the trail.
In the east a line of barren hills became now clearly visible in the distance. At the right of the hill range a lonely peak rose significantly higher than the others. It was almost conical in shape, but its summit was strangely flattened, and there seemed to be the remains of building on top of it. The sky behind it was dark and grey, creating an atmosphere of gloom around our destination. Weathertop. I swallowed hard. I had to tell Aragorn what I knew. But how? He had told me to remain silent about what I knew. But I could not, couldn't I? Not about what I thought was going to happen at the Weathertop!
The landscape we were passing through grew increasingly desolate and dry. Only a few birds gave melancholy trills, which echoed through the wilderness and sent shivers down my spine.
We made camp in the shelter of a group of gnarled alder-trees and set a watch for the night.
Sam woke me at midnight for my turn. Groggily I got up and walked a few times around the camp, trying to walk as noiselessly and soft-footed as the hobbits. When I was sure that I had cast off any sleepiness, I returned to the fire and sat down, keeping my eyes to the darkness. I had read about keeping watch in some novels about American Indians. You don't look into the fire, but away from it into the darkness, or you won't notice anything creeping up on you.
Even though I remained on my guard, looking off into the shadows to keep my night-sight, I was taken by surprise when Aragorn suddenly sat down next to me.
My heart was beating like a drum, and I felt the rush of adrenaline in my blood.
Aragorn waited for me to calm down, and then he spoke in a low voice, which was barely audible. "You worry about something. You look at the Weathertop and you are frightened. What do you know about it?"
I swallowed nervously. I had to tell him, didn't I?
I continued to stare into the night. Finally I whispered, "In the tales I know, you are attacked by the black riders at Weathertop Hill. Frodo is wounded. He almost dies."
Aragorn sighed almost imperceptibly. "I do not think there is any way to escape the attack. I have feared an attack there for days now. I am afraid that those flashed of lightning we saw on top of that hill two days ago was Gandalf, caught in a fight. I only hope he managed to draw at least some of the enemies off our trail. Lothíriel, I am not one of the wise, or the powerful; I cannot tell you why you are here, or where you should go. But if you can find counsel at all, you will find it at Rivendell."
I felt choked, silly tears of relief pricking at the corners of my eyes; Aragorn sounded friendlier than ever before, except when he had told me he did not believe that I belonged to the enemy at the Prancing Pony.
As if he had read my thoughts, he continued in a soft voice. "I really don't believe that you belong to the enemy. But the knowledge you bear is a most dangerous weapon. You must take care with everything you say or do. Don't throw away anything that might hint at your origin ever again." He rose and moved off into the darkness, scouting around the campsite.
I remained where I was, blushing with shame. I had not stopped to think for a second before I had thrown away the empty bottle of midge repellent. How could I have been so stupid! I could not know who or what had been watching, and what clue a stupid, worthless plastic bottle might give to an enemy. How could I have been so stupid! After all, I knew from the stories just how easily long lost objects tended to be found in this world.
Once again I had messed it up. I could only hope that I – or the others – would not have to pay for my mistake later on.
During the next day we were noticeably getting closer to the hills. They rose in an undulating, ragged ridge, almost a thousand feet high, and the overgrown ruins of destroyed buildings now and again visible on their slopes and in narrow ravines leading away from the trail hinting at a dark history of these lands, a history of war and violence.
We made camp on the western slopes of the hills. Six days ago we had left Bree. In Middle Earth it was the fifth of October, but on earth it was the seventeenth of August.
The next day Aragorn led us to a clearly visible trail, which ran along the feet of the hills to the South. The path took advantage of every cover the wild landscape of boulders, dells, steep banks and thickets of thorn bushes offered. It reminded me of trenches of the First World War, which I had seen in the woods of Verdun in France. When Merry asked if there were any barrow-downs in the vicinity, Aragorn's explanation confirmed this impression.
He told us that in the days of the last alliance between elves and men a watch-tower had been built on the Weathertop and the trail we were on was one of many used to transport supplies to the forts of the hills and the tower itself. "It is told that Elendil stood there and watched for the coming of Gil-galad out of the West."
"Who was Gil-galad?" Merry asked in an innocent voice.
A slow, melodic voice answered him in three stanzas of beautiful verse.
I felt a shiver run down my spine, as I looked at the dark, forbidding line of the hills, hearing about the High King of the Elves and his dark fate in days long gone and almost forgotten.
Only when Aragorn admonished Pippin not to speak the name of Mordor out loud, I managed to rouse myself out of my revelry. I had often wondered about Gil-galad and his story, which was not really told in "The Lord of the Rings", and I had never accomplished finishing "The Silmarillion". Here, at the foot of the gloomy hills of the Weather Hills, the shadows of Middle-earth's heroic past seemed to reach out to me, making me imagine gleaming spears and bright elvish eyes in the sun light millennia ago.
In the afternoon we reached Weathertop itself. We chose a bowl-shaped, grassy dell as a camp-site. Aragorn, Frodo and Merry made for the top of the hill, whereas Sam and Pippin went in search of a spring and some dead wood for a fire. I was left behind with the gear and the pony.
Shortly Sam and Pippin came back chattering excitedly. Apparently they had found a spring and what they thought to be a camp-site of other travellers. I could not remember this event from the books. It had been simply too long ago, since I had read the books.
Aragorn and the others returned from the summit with worried faces. Aragorn had taken me aside and said in a low voice: "The enemy is here. Watch the hobbits while I take a look at the spring."
I nodded, swallowing hard. The hobbits sat huddled around the dell, while I crouched at its rim, staring out across the slopes of the hill. Watch the hobbits! And what should I do if the enemy came upon us now? Try to beat the riders with a stick of wood?
Although I had some skill with a blade from associating way too much with members of the various fraternities of Erlangen (many of them still kept the tradition of ritual fencing alive, and I had trained with one or the other of my student buddies for those mock duels), I had no sword and I had never in my entire life tried to inflict bodily harm on someone else. I was more than relieved, when Aragorn finally returned, although his news were not very uplifting. The hobbits had unwittingly destroyed any real traces at the spring. It was impossible to tell if the other travellers, who had stayed there had been rangers, Gandalf himself or enemies.
Although Sam objected, because the fire might alert any watchers, we followed Aragorn's advice and lit a fire in the most sheltered corner of the hollow. With something hot and filling in the stomach even this dreary day of waiting for night-fall and the enemy was improved somewhat. As dusk settled across the dreary land around us, the air grew cold. I shivered and slipped into my one warm woollen pullover and closed my leather jacket to the last button.
The grey slopes of the hills rapidly vanished into shadow. It was October here, and the night fell quickly and darkly. I sat huddled close to the fire in the company of the hobbits, who had wrapped themselves into their warmest clothes and still seemed cold. Aragorn, on the other hand, seemed to feel quite warm in his single green cloak. He had lit his prettily carved pipe again, his keen eyes surveying the darkening slopes of the hill around us, as he began to tell us some tales about the past ages of Middle Earth, to take our minds off the waiting and the fear.
When he told us the lay of Lúthien Tinúviel, his voice so very dark with an emotion none of the others could place, I felt tears flowing freely down my cheeks. I thought that I knew everything would turn out well for Aragorn and Arwen, but the happy end of this story was a long way off, and I was mortally afraid that it was not as certain as I wished it to be.
Aragorn noticed my tears when he had finished, and gave me wry, lopsided smile, acknowledging my compassion with a brief wink.
I looked away and noticed a pale light glowing at the summit of the Weathertop. Then a cloud was blown away above us, and the moon appeared above the hill. Merry and Sam rose, walking about a bit and stretching their arms and legs grown stiff from sitting on the ground unmoving for hours. I suddenly felt nervous, as if unseen eyes were observing me from just behind my back. I turned around trying to peer across the edge of the hollow, but I could not see anything. Aragorn was watching the moonlit expanses of the hills intently.
Was that a movement or only the wind in the coarse, high grass on the ridge?
My heart started to race without any apparent reason. I felt my palms grow clammy with the sweat of fear.
What was going on? Was the enemy closing in on us?
Just when I had finished that thought, Merry and Sam came running back to the fire, convinced that they had seen dark shapes moving towards our camp.
My stomach did a nauseous flip, and I rose to my feet, weak-kneed with fright.
Aragorn kept calm. He thrust long branches into our hands. "When they attack, light those branches in the fire. Keep close to the fire, with your faces outward. And now hush!"
Silently we sat around the fire, the seconds moving with agonizing slowness. I swallowed dryly. The hobbits were so small, not any taller than children, and their only weapons were the knives they had acquired on the barrow-downs. And I had no weapon at all.
My heart was beating frantically, adrenaline surging through my body, driving away all remnants of fatigue.
Suddenly a dark shadow rose above the rim of the dell, and I could not suppress a yell of fright. Four black shadows towered above us, darker than the darkest night. We jumped to our feet.
"Light the branches," I hissed at the hobbits and stuck my branch into the fire.
The hobbits obeyed. Aragorn drew his sword in a glittering flash of silver metal.
The shadows advanced, and the dark terror, which had kept me frozen to my seat back in Bree, was over me again, its horror increased four folded. I gritted my teeth to keep them from chattering and stepped next to Frodo. Merry and Pippin tried to get in front of Frodo, to shelter him with their bodies. But when the shadowy forms of the wraiths raised their black swords, the hobbits threw themselves flat on the ground screaming with terror. Aragorn leapt forward, in one hand the sword, in the other a flaming branch, but he managed to draw off only one of the black figures. The other three kept moving towards us.
I felt Frodo shaking next to me, and then he dropped his torch.
The tallest of the dark figures seemed to reach out to Frodo.
To my frightened gaze the gesture was executed almost in slow motion.
Another step and he would have the ring, I thought.
I screamed at the wraith, German curses echoing through the night.
The wraith kept coming.
I took aim with my flaming branch and threw myself right at the wraith with all the strength I had.
He must have felt my jump long before I moved.
He aimed an easy kick at me and hit me right at the temple with his steel capped boot.
I did not even notice how I hit the ground.
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.