42. The Halfling
Khamul was a little stiff after being smashed into the ground from a great height, but she had worked it out by the time the hard riding began. They skirted the border of Laketown and went straight onto the path through Mirkwood. Neither gave a damn who saw them.
No spiders attacked them, no black squirrels chattered from the treetops. The forest was deathly still. If Khamul hadn't seen the spiders for herself she would've thought the forest had been cleansed of evil.
"Seems almost pleasant, doesn't it?" she commented.
Morion, not sharing the mood, nodded. "It's fine."
"Something bugging you?"
Khamul frowned. Something was quite clearly bothering Morion, but he either didn't trust her or didn't care enough to tell her.
Whatever was bothering Morion grew more pronounced as they continued through Mirkwood. He was glancing into every shadow, expecting to be attacked maybe, or just having a bad case of nerves.
As for Khamul, she was loving this trip except for her gloomy companion. The sun was shining bright, the forest was green, there was the chirping of non-malevolent birds, and small animals scurried around without the least thought of violence.
"We can't follow the road," Morion said as they left Mirkwood.
"What? Why not?"
"It goes past the orc-killer's house."
"He's a shapeshifter. He can turn into a bear, and he is very dangerous."
Khamul laughed. "We can kill him easily!"
"I don't want Gandalf knowing the Nazgul are abroad."
"He already knows it."
"He suspects it. That's a far different thing than knowing. He must not know."
Khamul sighed. "Fine," she snapped. "But if we lose the Ring because of this…"
Taking a roundabout way, the riders found themselves at the small village of Bree, a place Khamul promised never to set foot in again, but had broken that promise when she'd tracked down Arathorn. She'd hoped never to come back here, but fate was not kind.
"Have you seen a man dressed in gray and a Halfling pass this way?" Morion asked the fat bartender.
"Oh, a couple of days ago, I believe I did. Gandalf the Grey, I thought."
"Where were they headed?"
"Back to the little fellow's home, I thought."
"Which would be…?"
"Well, where all Hobbits live. The Shire. Hobbiton, I suppose."
"You wouldn't happen to know this, er, Hobbit's, name?"
The bartender frowned, screwing up his face as he thought intensely. "No, I don't recall it."
"Well, we know where we're going," Morion said as he walked out of the Prancing Pony. "We don't know what the Halfling's name is though."
"We'll catch up with him," Khamul said. "We won't have to learn his name once he's dead!"
The two ringbearers rode like the wind. Their horses frothed at the mouth but continued thundering on.
They hitched a ride on a ferry and came into a fine green land.
"I've seen this place before," Khamul muttered.
"When I was coming back from Fornost."
Khamul had neglected to tell Morion of that aspect of her adventuring. "It's a long story," she said.
"What were you doing in Fornost?"
"Getting a Haradrim chieftain to fight the Gondorians. Look, it's in the past. Arthedain's gone."
"Did you have an opportunity to end the Line of Isildur?"
"No," Khamul lied.
"Good. Of course, if you did, you would've killed them. I know how much you despise the House of Elendil."
It was spring and the air was full of scents of flowers. The leaves on the trees were a bright, fresh green. The grass grew tall and thick. The sun played on meadows full of flowers.
"Nice place," Khamul said.
"Yes," Morion said. He sounded distracted, bothered, again. Khamul gritted her teeth and told herself not to ask him about it.
"Follow me!" Khamul hissed suddenly, urging her horse off the road and into a lush meadow.
"Where are you going?" Morion asked, following her.
"I'll show you! Be quiet!"
Khamul led him up over a hill and down into a thickly forested area. "Leave the horses!"
Creeping forward, the two ringbearers came to the path. Not far away two riders were coming up the road. One was an old man dressed in gray with a wooden staff and a sword at his side. The other was short and riding a pony. He had curly brown hair, a round face, and a long dagger hung at his waist. Imagine such a thing wielding a sword! It almost made Khamul laugh.
"The Halfling!" Morion gasped.
"Yes, that's him," Khamul said. "That shortcut let us overtake them. We can ambush them now. You fight off Gandalf, and I'll kill the Halfling. Once I get the Ring we can run for it."
Khamul tensed and started to draw her sword, ready to spring into action as soon as the riders came near. Ten seconds, she thought. Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three…two…one… Now!
Just as Khamul began to bolt from her hiding place, Morion gasped, clutching his heart.
"Not now!" she hissed, shaking him. Gandalf and the Halfling were passing them by. The Ring was going to be lost!
"Go!" Morion gasped through clenched teeth. "Get…the… Ring!"
"What's wrong with you?"
It was either the Ring or Morgoth. There wasn't anything Khamul could do for him, but she doubted she could take on Gandalf and kill the Halfling at the same time.
"Never mind," she muttered, sheathing her sword. "There'll be another time."
"Morgoth doesn't…want us…to get…the Ring."
"I figured that."
As soon as the riders were well and gone, whatever was paining Morion let up.
"You okay?" Khamul asked.
"I bet that'll happen again if we try to kill the Halfling again, won't it?"
"What do we do now then?"
"We return to Minas Morgul and see what ghastly damage has been wrought by whatever fool decided to take charge."
"Or whatever's left of Minas Morgul," Khamul muttered.