Back to Middle-Earth-Part 10 - Twisting Fates

Re-cap: When we last left, our daring hero Thalinar(aka: Patrick) had been rescued by Eomer, Third Marshal of Riddermark from the malicious clutches of the blood-thirsty Uruk-hai. Our hobbit heroes, Frodo and Sam, and their guide and protector Ainariel(aka: Shannon) had completed their summit of Emyn Muil, only to find out that they were being tracked by a hissing, sniveling creature by the name of Gollum...
******

"That's what it is. It's that Gollum! Snakes and adders! And to think that I thought that we'd puzzle him with our bit of a climb! Look at him! Like a nasty crawling spider on a wall."

I agreed with Sam on every count. Nasty, creepy, crawling, clever...all in one skin. I was disgusted. Why couldn't he just let us alone?! My eyes watched him creep down, hissing and talking to himself. Absolutely repulsive. My hand lingered to my elven sword, half in defense, half in my own assurance. I could feel my stomach give little trembling lurches, like it was going to upchuck lembas. Schizophrenic, naked, froggy men were not in my job description. And I hadn't read far enough to know what good he was, or if he was any good at all.

"Do you think he can see us?" I asked, whispering under my breath.

"I don't know," Frodo whispered back, "but I think not. It is hard even for friendly eyes to see these elven-cloaks: I cannot see you in the shadow even at a few paces. And I've heard that he doesn't like Sun or Moon."

"Then why is he coming down just here?" asked Sam.

"Quietly, Sam!" said Frodo, "He can smell us, perhaps. And he can hear as keen as Elves, I believe. I think he has heard something now: our voices probably. We did a lot of shouting away back there; and we were talking far too loudly until a minute ago."

"Well, I'm sick of him," I whispered, frowning.

"As I am, too," Sam said, "He's come once too often for me, and I'm going to have a word with him, if I can. I don't suppose we could give him the slip now anyway." He drew his hood over his face and began to inch slyly towards the cliff.

"Careful!" Frodo whispered, slipping behind Sam and gesturing to me, "Don't alarm him! He's much more dangerous than he looks."

The slithering figure of Gollum was nearly three-quarters of the length down the cliff now. It appeared to me that he was having a little difficulty getting down, because I could hear his snuffling and hissing breath, then something like a curse. He lifted his head, and I saw a wad of saliva spew from his gleaming mouth. Oh, gross!I winced, He could have been a little more discreet! I had to remind myself that I was judging a creature who lived in a cave, wore a loincloth, and talked to a ring to pass the time. Manners weren't on his résumé.

Then came his voice, sputtering and almost icy, sending shivers chiseling down my spine.

"Ach, sss! Cautious, my precious! More haste less speed! We musstn't rissk our neck, musstn't we, precious? No, precious--gollum!" He lifted his eyes to the moon: two pale lights, piercing the night with their own luminous night vision. "We hate it! Nassty, nassty shivery light it is--sss--it spies on us, precious--it hurts our eyes."

"Is he talking about the moon?" I asked Frodo. He nodded, raising a finger to his lips, a gesture to tell me to be quiet. I took the hint and set my jaw tight against any more impending questions.

Gollum was quite low now, his hisses sharper and clearer and, above all, more terrible. His babblings were given me the creeps. Majorly.

"Where iss it, where iss it: my Precious, my Precious? It's ours, it is, and we wantss it. The thieves, the thieves, the filthy little thieves. Where are they with my Precious? Curse them! We hates them!" We hates you. How convenient.

"It doesn't sound as if he knew we were here, does it?" Sam asked, hushed, "And what's his Precious? Does he mean the--"

"Hsh!" Frodo breathed, waving at Sam to be quiet, "He's getting near now, near enough to hear a whisper."

Frodo was right, unfortunately, for Gollum had stopped again, cocking his bloated head and listened intently. I held my breath, eyes widening, for he had leaned in such a way that the moon's rays lit him, banishing all shadow. Sam was twitching slightly, restraining the urge to kill him on the spot. Frodo's blue eyes glinted with--what were they?--tears? What on earth had gotten into him? I looked at Gollum: tiny, almost fragile, his skin clinging to every bone as though there were no flesh or muscle, and his head with stringy threads of hair sticking far out from his skinny neck. His pale eyes were half unlidded, flickering in the moonlight.

Finally, when he was no more than a dozen feet right above our heads, he found no foothold and, with a whistling shriek of surprise, fell feet first. Even as he did so, his legs and arms curled around him, like a spider curls its limbs when it falls.

Sam was on Gollum in an instant. I called after him to wait, but there didn't seem to be time. The two wrestled a bit by the pale light, but in no time it all, it was clear that Sam was hardly a match for the long, clever limbs of Gollum. I rushed out to aid my little traveling buddy.

Grabbing Gollum by the back of his neck and wrapping my arm around him in a headlock, I pried him off of Sam while Frodo leapt from his hiding place with Sting, unsheathed. Gollum writhed in my arms, slapping my face with his scrawny fingers and turning round to bite my shoulder. I felt the searing pain of his teeth jabbed into my skin, and a cry of pain escaped my mouth, for it felt as though every nerve in my body was suddenly on fire. He climbed around onto my back, his weight throwing me down, and his clammy arm slid around my throat, pulling tight. I beat him with closed fists, but nothing seemed to work. But upon seeing Sting, I had an idea. With my free hand, I pulled out my elven sword, brandishing it with what little strength I had. Frodo follow me lead, grabbing Gollum harshly, and pinning him down.

"Let go! Gollum," Frodo commanded, with vengeance in his voice, "This is Sting. You have seen it before once upon a time. Let go, or you'll feel it this time! I'll cut your throat."

These were tough words for a little guy like Frodo, but he meant every one of them. I felt Gollum's grip go slack as he collapsed in terror of the glimmering elven sword. Even as I scrambled to my feet, holding my injured arm, tenderly, Sam ran to help me up.

"He bit you, that poisonous snake! Oh, what can I do, Ainariel?" Sam asked, leading me to sit on a rock. I was sincerely touched, but asked only for some water, for I feared that Gollum had broken the skin on my shoulder.

Frodo, in the meantime, hadn't let down with the fierce hobbit-warrior act, and held Gollum at sword point. Groveling in terror, Gollum spoke in his defense:

"Don't hurt us! Don't let them hurt us, precious! They won't hurt us, will they, nice little hobbitses? We didn't mean no harm, but they jumps on us like poor mices, they did, precious. And we're so lonely, gollum. We'll be nice to them, very nice, if they'll be nice to us, won't we, yes, yess."

I glowered at him as I pulled back my sleeve so Sam could rinse away the blood. I wasn't believing a word of the creature's story; nobody accidentally bites someone hard enough to make them bleed! Wincing at the pain as the water from Sam's waterskin, I looked to Frodo, asking:

"What are you going to do with him?"

"I say tie it up, so as it can't come sneaking after us no more," Sam said, and I thought this was quite a good idea. Gollum, on the contrary, squirmed agonizingly, beginning to cry a little.

"But that would kill us, kill us," he whimpered, "Cruel little hobbitses and elveses with swordss! Tie us up in the cold hard lands and leave us, gollum, gollum." He looked at me, with big, fat tears welling in his eyes, and glared, but I felt no pity. He had almost killed me, it didn't matter to me what we did with him, so long as he was out of our hair and fast.

"No," Frodo was saying, "If we kill him, we must kill him outright. But we can't do that, not as things are--"

"Oh, and why is that?" I asked, indignant, "And what things? If there's any time or place that's good for killing him, it's here and now."

"Ainariel, he has done us no harm!" Frodo exclaimed.

"Oh, hasn't he?" Sam and I asked, in unison, as Sam tied up my shoulder.

"What I can't believe is that you're actually defending that thing," I said, aghast.

"Yes, he meant to and he means to, I'll warrant, Master," Sam backed me up all the way, "Throttle us in our sleep, that's his plan."

"I daresay," Frodo mumbled, "But what he means to do is another matter." I rolled my eyes. This was ridiculous! I couldn't believe we were actually contemplating sparing the wretched thing! I rubbed my shoulder, carefully, and stood.

"Frodo, I will absolutely have to put my foot down on this one," I said, "I'm the head of this little endeavor, I'm going to have to go with Sam's idea. He can't be trusted, it's just too risky."

"Ainariel, he needs us! And we may need him! Oh, please, don't do this!" Frodo pleaded.

"Frodo, if you want a pet, we'll get something nice, like a goldfish," I replied, "but I'm not going to risk wasting trying to tame some creature that isn't worth it. Now, tie it up before you get attached!"

"Ainariel, I bear the Ring! It should be my choice!" Frodo exclaimed.

"I wear rings, too, does that make me all-powerful? No. Listen, my little traveling buddy, just because you're chosen and carry a little piece of gold doesn't mean that you can make us all bend to your wishes," I said, my frustrated level off the charts, "Besides, it's a two to one vote, in favor of tying him up. It's only fair this way."

Frodo pouted a little, folding his arms across his chest and stumping off to stand somewhere else while Sam and I did the dirty work. Sam allowed me to pull off several cords from his backpack, and we tied them all together to make a thicker rope. The idea wasn't to kill him, but to keep him stuck in one place long enough so we could get away. So while Sam held my sword at Gollum's throat, I tied the creature to a large, unmovable boulder. The results were terrible.

"It hurts us! It hurts us! You will kill usss, no, preciousss! Don't kill us!" he screamed, sobbing and twisting, "You are cruel! Terrible, terrible, cruel! Oh, they will find us and kills us! Help me, oh, help me!" I looked down at him, shocked. Who would find him?

"Who will find you?" I asked, trying to be gentle. He convulsed a little, sighing between sobs, as though he were utterly exhausted.

"Oh, don't ask Smeagol! Poor, poor Smeagol!" he cried, trying to wipe his eyes, but with his hands tied, he couldn't reach. Reluctantly, I wiped his eyes for him. His eyes wandered to my face, his lip trembling. He said nothing at all, but looked a little confused. I remembered what he had said about elves with swords and wondered if he had meant me. He hated Elves, that much I knew, so he probably wondered why an Elf was wiping his tears. But I wasn't an Elf, so that should be a good enough reason.

When Sam and I were done tying him, I called to Frodo, asking if he was ready to leave. Gollum gave several screams of pain and terror of being alone, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. It was time for us to go. I pulled out my maps and compass, and we headed southeast. Gollum's piercing cries followed us, and even then I wondered: Had I just sealed our doom?
******

The sun rose into the pale sky as Patrick's head lolled around, groggily. What had happened? Where was he? He groaned, trying to raise his head, but found that he sat on the front of a horse. Hardly able to keep himself upright from fatigue, his head flopped back onto a strong shoulder behind. His eyes rolled up and he look into the solid face of a rider.

"Oh, hi," he said, smiling a little. The rider looked down at him, giving an amused smile.

"Good morning, lad," he said. Questions buzzed through Patrick's brain, but it took a few moments to sort them out, so a long pause had cause the rider to look away again.

"Who are you?" Patrick asked.

"I am a Rider of Rohan," he replied, "You may call me Dawnhelm."

"Nice to meet you," Patrick returned, "You can call me Thalinar. Why am I on your horse?"

"The Third Marshal said I was to guard you," Dawnhelm answered.

"Eomer?" asked Patrick. Dawnhelm nodded. The horse jumped a stone, knocking Patrick about. He grasped his throbbing head, wishing for a way off.

"Where are we going?" was Patrick's next question.

"We are banished," was Dawnhelm's answer.

"Oh, crap!" Patrick mumbled, under his breath.

"I'm afraid I didn't understand you, Thalinar," Dawnhelm said, "Would you repeat what you just said?"

"Um, that's all right. I didn't say anything," Patrick said, rapidly. The last thing he needed was to explain crap to Dawnhelm.

He was feeling a little better by now, and so he straightened himself to check out where he was. They were riding across open plains with a speed to challenge an eagle. The sky shone a pale blue and the sun shone aloft in the heavens above with great brilliancy. The meadows over which they rode were dulled from the toll of winter, but Patrick could only guess at how wonderful they looked in spring. And yet there was an air of solemness and melancholy that trembled through the land, like a country that was torn and very quickly approaching threadbare. Patrick didn't know why, but it almost made him want to cry. Almost. But not really.

Suddenly, a voice rung up over the hills after them:

"What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?"

Patrick's head whipped around, desperate to see the speaker. Aragorn! The riders also swerved, charging round to face to newcomers. Lo and behold--they were the companions of Patrick: Aragorn, and Legolas and Gimli with him. Patrick smiled in spite of the fact that it hurt his swollen eye. The riders, synchronized and almost choreographed, encircled the Elf, the Man, and the Dwarf with their horses, and nearly half had their weapons at the ready. Patrick saw Eomer advance to Aragorn.

"Who are you, and what are you doing in this land?" Eomer demanded, his spear a foot away from Aragorn's heart.

"I am called Strider," answered Aragorn, "I came out of the North. I am hunting Orcs." Patrick observed in fascination of the customs of the people as Eomer dismounted, handed his spear off to another, and drew his sword, facing Aragorn eye-to-eye. A little anxious perhaps, Patrick called out to Eomer before any problem could arise.

"Sir, they're friends of mine!" he shouted, from the back of the procession. Eomer turned to him, as the other three looked in his direction.

"Dawnhelm, bring him here!" Eomer called. Dawnhelm's horse trotted forth, as the other riders parted and made way.

"Let me at him! Let me at him! I'll kill him!" Gimli called, and Eomer helped Patrick off the horse. Gimli, though he only came to Patrick's chest, threw his arms around him, obviously relieved to see him alive.

"You are the fiercest, luckiest, most rugged man alive!" he exclaimed, "Bless you, laddie!"

Patrick looked up to Legolas, who was stifling laughter, both of them a little shocked at Gimli's outburst. Patrick smiled at Gimli, not quite knowing what to say.

"It's nice to see you, too, Gimli," Patrick replied, backing away a little, but slumping up against Legolas for support, for his cut leg wasn't appreciating the weight.

"Well, this is a joyous reunion," Eomer was saying, "Tell me, these orcs you were hunting, did some bear the White Hand of Saruman?"

"Yes," Aragorn answered, "and from the return of our friend, I see that you found our orcs first. Am I to understand, then, that you do not serve the Power of the Dark Lord?"

"I serve only the Lord of the Mark, Theoden King son of Thengel," answered Eomer, "We do not serve the Power of the Black Land far away, but neither are we yet at open war with him; and if you are fleeing from him, then you had best leave this land. There is trouble now on all our borders, and we are threatened; but we desire only to be free, and to live as we have lived, keeping our own, and serving no foreign lord, good or evil. We welcomed guests kindly in better days, but in these times the unbidden stranger finds us swift and hard.

As for the orcs, we came upon them last night, near the borders of the Entwood. Your friend was the only human we were able to salvage. His maltreatment I can only guess at, but perhaps he will tell you more. From what I have observed, they bore him much malice and no pity. They did not feed him, nor let him drink. His wounds were left untouched, but we have done what we could for him."

There was a sickening silence for a few moment's time before Gimli spoke.

"You did not see two hobbits, then," he said, solemnly.

"Hobbits?" echoed Eomer, "What can they be? It is a strange name."

"A strange name for a strange folk," Gimli replied, "But these were very dear to us. It seems that you have heard in Rohan of the words that troubled Minas Tirith. They spoke of the Halfling. These hobbits are Halflings."

"They would be small, only children in your eyes," Aragorn interjected.

"I did not see such people, but tell me, do we walk in legends or on green earth in broad daylight?" Eomer asked, "Halflings!--"

"They were hauled off by some orc named Grishnakh long before I was found," Patrick interrupted. They looked at Patrick, each pained with sorrow.

"We have failed them, then," Legolas said, quietly, "Any orc would not let them live."

"Oh, I don't know, there's always that fighting chance that they could have gotten away," Patrick hinted as subtly as he could, trying to be optimistic. Disapproving, pessimistic glares shut him up quick, though.

"Strider, you may try the Northern borders--"but Aragorn was ready to reveal himself to Eomer. He threw back his cloak, displaying his elven blade that glittered in the sunlight.

"Call me Strider no longer!" he declared, "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dunadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil's son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again!" Eomer blinked at the sudden outburst, but bowed his head in slight reverence all the same. There seemed to be an essence around Aragorn that hadn't been there before. He seemed to grow and glow and look like an almighty being rather than a ranger.

"These are indeed strange days," Eomer muttered, "Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass."

There was another moments silence and the vision of Aragorn's greatness passed, and he was a ranger once again.

"We will journey to the North-borders in search of our friends," Aragorn said, at long last. Eomer turned and gave orders to his troops to spare horses for the strangers, then turned back to Aragorn.

"Be wary of the snares of Saruman," he said, "He is a wizard both cunning and dwimmer-crafty, having many guises. He walks here and there, they say, as an old man hooded and cloaked, as many now recall. His spies slip though every net, and his birds of ill omen are abroad in the sky."

"We will be wary," Aragorn replied, nodding.

They mounted their horses, Hasufel and Arod, Patrick and Aragorn on Hasufel and Gimli and Legolas on Arod. Farewells were exchanged between the Riders and the Company, and then they parted, the Company galloping their way towards the Northern borders and Fangorn forest.
******
The afternoon was waning when they came to the eaves of the forest and to an open glade where they found a place of great places of burning, smoldering ashes of orc bodies. The air reeked of dead flesh, and there were giant goblin heads on stakes. The ground was raised in some areas where the Rohirrim dead had been buried. It was a solemn place, and yet wild with so many orc heads literally popping up from the ground.

The Company paid them little heed as they fished around the site for any clues to where their missing hobbits might have gone. Patrick knew all along where they were, but if he wanted to keep his companions as close to the original as possible, he wouldn't tell them. By nightfall, they still couldn't find a trace.

"We can do no more," said Gimli, sadly, "We have been set many riddles since we came to Tol Brandir, but this is the hardest to unravel. I would guess that the burned bones of the hobbits are now mingled with the Orcs'. It will be hard news for Frodo, if he lives to hear it; and hard too for the old hobbit who waits in Rivendell. Elrond was against their coming."

"But Gandalf was not," Legolas objected.

"But Gandalf chose to come himself, and he was the first to be lost," answered Gimli, "His foresight failed him."

"`Even the wise cannot see all ends'," Patrick quoted, "There is yet hope," and all eyes turned on him. There was a moment of utter stillness, and a few crackling noises from the mounds of carcasses. And then Gimli raised his ax.

"I do not know how you seem to know all these things," he said, crossly, "but if you know where the hobbits have gone or are going to, tell us now!"

"I can't say!" Patrick exclaimed, quite furious with himself for being so open, "It would ruin everything!"

"Everything of what?!" Gimli roared, ignoring Aragorn's attempts to silence him, "Who really sent you?! Are you here to distract us, or assist us?! What was the promised price from Saruman when he bought you?!"

"Nobody bought me, Gimli!" Patrick shouted, his anger turning from his self to the Dwarf, "There are certain things I can't say, on account of--other things."

"There you go with `things' again!" Gimli was livid, "Answer me: what things?!"

"Like meetings with really important people that will change the entire fate of the war if they are not met!" Patrick burst. Gimli exhaled audibly, trying to act sane.

"Like whom?" he asked, "Whom are we going to meet, and where are the hobbits?"

Patrick stared at Gimli's ax, knowing the Dwarf's temper and wondering what he was supposed to say. This wasn't in the book, and he was feeling a little lost as to what he was supposed to do.

"The hobbits," he said, softly, "are in the goods hands of Treebeard the Ent. He will look after them well."

"An Ent? We have not heard of Ents for ages! I was under the impression that they no longer existed!" Aragorn exclaimed.

"Well, think again!" Patrick said, smirking.

"And whom are we going to meet, Thalinar?" Gimli asked the grave question. Patrick leveled his eyes with Gimli's, returning Gimli's grave look for one of his own.

"The old man, cloaked and hooded, that Eomer spoke of was not Saruman," he said, and narrowed his eyes as he looked around at the Company, making sure that they all knew he was absolutely serious.

"Who is he, then?" asked Legolas.

"He is Gandalf."

******To Be Continued...

Author's Note: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not think that I have something against Gollum!!! I love the little guy to death, and I even have another fanfic that I posted months ago to make people pity him!! So, please, don't give me nasty comments on leaving Gollum behind!! It's all about twisting the fates to make you...keep wondering! It's the art of suspense. ~Ainariel


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