Paths Revisted: Chapter 4 - Assasins and blades
"What's wrong, Uleerniel? Did you hear something?"
"A song. An elfish song."
Suddenly the breeze carried the music through the trees so that Pippin could distinguish notes and words.
A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
Silivren penna miriel
O menel aglar elenath!
O galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
Nef aear, si nef aeron!
Then from behind the brush, a middle-aged man on a horse emerged. In a flash, Uleerniel was on her feet. Had this man been following us?
"Good day, Miss," bellowed the stranger as he dismounted.
"Who are you?" asked the startled Pippin.
The stranger looked down.
"Why, hello there, little hobbit. My name's Joc."
"Why were you following us?"
"Perhaps we just happened to be going in the same direction. I've just come from my home in Minihiriath and am on my way to Lorien. And where might you be headed?"
"First one small matter," Uleerniel interjected, "- you are not an elf, why do you fien to be?"
"I grew up in Rivendell."
"I've been to Rivendell many times, why did I not see you?"
"Must have missed me." Joc read their skeptical faces. "You need proof?"
He reached into his shirt and pulled out a silver medallion riveted with elvish writing.
"It's the pendant of Elbereth Starkindler! But that is an Elvish treasure..."
"Lord Elrond gave it to me when my mother died."
"I see." She paused in thought. "Would you do us the pleasure of dining with us tonight? I think we have traveled enough for one day."
"I'd love to. It will feel good to dine with an elf again after two years. And, I believe this will be my first meal with a hobbit."
The three sat down, lit a fire, and were soon enjoying delicious food. Joc was friendly enough; he made sure to shower both of them with stories of his childhood in Rivendell. When the three of them had made camp for the night, Uleerniel took Pippin aside and spoke privately to him.
"He seems very kind, Pip, but still we must be cautious - just in case. Let us take turns keeping watch for tonight. Tomorrow, when Theogwyn rejoins us, I will feel less vulnerable."
"All right," replied Pippin. "I'll take the first watch if you'd like."
"Thank you, Pippin. In that case, I shall retire. Wake me in four hours. Tenna' telwan."
"Tenna' telwan to you." he said with a sarcastic grin.
Uleerniel turned and smiled as she walked away.
The fire sputtered and popped as Pippin soaked in its warmth. "Too warm," he thought. "A cozy fire after a good meal and laughter makes one sleepy hobbit."
He lay back on his blanket being careful to glimpse around the grove occasionally. One more hour before he had to wake Uleerniel. A low snore was all that could be heard over the cackle of the fire.
"Joc! Would you quiet down over there?" He didn't say it, but he wanted to. The humming snore made him even more drowsy. "It's all his fault I'm tired," he said aloud. "Probably because of the ale he gave me... good ale always did that to me... after all I -" His eyes drifted shut. "Funny... I don't remember ever being so tired..." Pippin struggled to fight of fatigue.
His eyelids drooped and he gazed into the fire. He could here Merry's voice ringing inside his head. He could almost see Merry running towards him.
"Pippin!" He cried as he came. Laughter erupted from both as the two embraced warmly. "I've missed you!"
"Me too. It's been so long... how are your wounds?"
"Well. Eriathiel's been keeping to them non-stop; I think I'll die of over-attention."
Laughter again. It felt good to talk to Merry once more. The sun-light poured through the trees as the two chatted heartily. Pip, I have to tell you something...
Suddenly the wonderful dream turned into a gruesome nightmare.
A dark figure jumped out from a nearby tree and rushed toward the two. The sun faded away as if a heavy cloud passed over.
"Joc?" Pippin asked. "What are you doing here?"
"Nothing. That is, may I sit with you?"
Joc sat down next to the two. The trees grew taller, more darker. The air reeked with a putrid perfume.
"So, what are - " Before Pippin could do anything Joc had grabbed Merry and was thrusting a knife into his stomach. The trees and the ground melted into a swirling, dark cloud.
"Joc!" Pippin cried. His feet seemed glued to the mist below him. "What are you doing?"
Joc laughed vilanously and vanished into the cloud. Merry lay in pain. Blood oozed from his wound.
"Oh, Merry!" He kneeled over his friend, pressing fabric to the cut.
"Pip...I...I have to tell you something...
The laugh returned and with it a burst of light. Joc, now dressed in dirty black, materialized to the left and fell upon both of them with knives.
Pippin's eyes popped open. He was gasping and trembling.
"What an awful nightmare." He sat bewildered and a bit uneasy.
"What was Merry trying to tell me?"
He heard muffled sounds coming from behind him. The dream? - surely not! Pippin dared not turn around or even move... but he had to. Luckily the fire had gone out long ago. All was dark.
He crawled on his elbows making as little noise as possible.
A stifled screamed came from behind him. That could only be Uleerniel. He reached a low shrub and peeked from behind it. "Why did I ever trust Joc?" Pippin looked up at the large form of Joc bent over his friend - he seemed to be tying her up.
"I have to stop him! But how? How?" Frantically Pippin looked around him for a weapon... he wished he had a sword with him. A large limb lay close on his left and he grabbed for it, only to find the rotten branch broke away at his touch.
Pippin heard a smack and looked up to see Joc covering Uleerniel's mouth tightly and hitting her across the face. Rage filled him. Without a thought to weapons or safety Pippin plunged over to Joc and fiercely grabbed at his neck, pulling Joc's head back.
"Stop it!" Pippin shouted angrily.
Joc laughed and reached to dislodge the small hobbit. Pippin felt around frantically for a tighter hold, but there was nothing. He gripped onto Joc's color and felt a metal chain.
"The pendant!" he thought. He grabbed at it and pulled with all he had.
Joc began to gasp for air. "You're dead... little one!" He pulled out his dagger and began to stab at the air behind him, trying to find a target.
Pippin twisted the chain quickly, still pulling hard. The metal bit into his hands and cut off circulation; through the darkness he could vaguely see what it was doing to Joc. He was wheezing now, and his breaths came fewer and slower. Finally, he was unconscious. Pippin loosened his grip and ran to release Uleerniel.
Her voice was raspy, but she choked out the words,
"I thought it was all over, the quest I mean." She took a deep breath and added, "We must question him when he wakes up. We will use every means possible to gain information. One thing is for sure: we cannot trust anyone."
Early the next morning, while it was still dark, Theogwyn slipped out of the inn down the back stairs. Weaving her way among the side streets, she was soon on the outskirts of the hamlet. Going up to one of the hovels, she knocked four times, waited a moment, and knocked again, but only with three raps on the door. Frowning that nobody was answering the door, she went around to the back of the shack. Knocking on the back door in same pattern, she was surprised that nobody was opening the door. She stepped back a moment and thought. My informant should be here. All the times that we have met before, he always answered after the first set of knocks. What could be wrong that he wasn't answering his door? He should have been expecting me....
All of a sudden, a thought occurred to her. What if her message was intercepted? Suddenly, she felt exposed, standing on the doorsteps, outlined against the dull wood in the pale gray that preceded dawn.
Pushing the door open, she slipped inside and closed the door behind her. There was no fire in the fireplace, no candles lit in their sconces, no windows to let light in, not even an ember glowed to shed light on the interior of the hut. Summoning a bit of Elvish magic, she softly chanted a spell that would give her a light, but would allow no one else to see it. Suddenly, over her palm was a ball of light, glowing in strange blue-green tones, throwing its flickering light over everything in the room. Glancing around with out moving, Theogwyn saw the body of her informant on the ground, a knife stuck in his back. She stiffened, feeling a momentary regret for the man who helped her many times before. But what could he have found out about the men in black that would get him killed? She thought.
I hope I can find whoever did this and make him pay Theogwyn thought with stolid resolve.
Looking around the room one more time, she noticed a short figure hunched in a corner, with a dagger held in a throwing grip. Dismissing her ball of light, she began to move silently as a shadow, she slipped around to the side of the figure, and clapped one hand around his mouth and the other quickly disarming him. Whipping out her elven rope, she tied him up in a way that was fast and easy, but impossible to get free of. Once she was satisfied that he could not escape, she moved to the candles on the wall, and pulled out her flint and steel and lit one of them, and then using the one she had lit, moved around the room lighting the others.
When she finished, she turned back to the man lying on the floor. She knelt down next to the man and began searching him. She found two daggers, both poisoned, a short sword, a handful of poison darts, a pouch with a dragon embossed in red, with money inside, and...her note!!! Suddenly, cold shivers ran down her spine; she had been found out! Calming herself down, she told herself that this was not the time to be jumping at shadows. There was a slim chance that the man on the floor hadn't read the note, but she wasn't counting on it
Pulling the man onto a tabler, she secured the ropes to the table legs, and then began questioning him.
" Who are you and why are you here?" Theogwyn asked, her voice hard as steel and cold as ice.
" You won't get anything out of me, you half-woman! I know who you are." the man said in a gravely voice that dripped with hatred.
Chills ran up and down Theogwyn's body. There were only a few who knew who she was, and if they knew her name, she was in trouble. She had to pump this assassin for information, then dispose of him.
" Ahh. Your voice betrays you. I too know who you are. You are the assassin known as the `Shadow Bite'. There are ways to make even an assassin like you talk. It's a good thing that these walls are thick, for then nobody will hear you scream." With a hard look in her eyes, Theogwyn pulled out her dagger and whetstone and placed them on the table. " Will you answer my questions or will I have to wrench them from you by force? For even though I'm a woman, I know how to use my knife, and am not afraid to." She said.
The assassin began to look nervous. He could see in Theogwyn's eyes that she meant business. He started muttering " It's all Joc's fault. I knew I shouldn't have let him talk me into coming here. All that he is is trouble. I knew that it would be foolhardy to try to take on- ..." All of a sudden, he realized what he had been saying. He clamped his lips and wouldn't say anything else, but once she used a little `persuasion', he started spilling what she wanted to know, and even some things that she didn't.
After a few more hours of interrogation, Theogwyn took the body of the assassin to the woods and buried it. Also, she took the body of her informat to the back yard and buried it. As she stood over his grave, she whispered a little prayer to Illuvatar " May you keep him in your light and guide him to the halls of peace."
Brushing the dirt from her hands, she went back into the hovel, and took what supplies that were there. Some waterskins, dried meats, dried breads, and two blankets comprised what all was in the shack. She gathered them together, and made a bundle out of them with a blanket, making sure nothing of what she packed had been poisoned, or otherwise tampered with.
Then she went back to the inn and sat on the cot and thought about what she had learned It took her a while to sift through all that she had been told, even things that she hadn't wanted to know. If Joc isn't the mastermind behind the attacks, who is? What is this Joc up to? Why would he be headed for Riven.....dell. Oh no!! The thought hit her like a ton of mithril. This Joc was going after Merry and Ullerniel!!!! I must leave right away, in hope of catching up to them before this Joc does!
With a sense of urgency, she began packing what little that she had, adding the supplies she had picked up. Lugging her pack downstairs, she went to saddle her horse. Once Windrunner was saddled, she went in search of Ithilios.
" I know I said I'd be here longer, but something's come up. I need to leave early. But, charge me for the room for the rest of the time, in case someone comes around looking for me." Ithilian nodded and said
" I'll look for your return, Little Ranger. May Illuvatar keep you in his shadow." Glancing around to make sure there was nobody around he gave Theogwyn a quick hug and then went back into his rooms.
Out in the stables, she packed extra feed for Windrunner, and then mounted. Slowly trotting out of the stables, she turned back and saw Ithilian standing in a window, waving good bye. She waved back and then started the long road to the river, where she said that she would meet Uleerniel and Merry. I hope I get there in time to warn them about Joc, she thought. " Hurry! Hurry!" She cried to Windrunner. As they galloped down the trail, she prayed to Illuvatar that Joc would not be able to harm her friends.
Riding up to the stream where she was to have met Uleerniel and Pippin, she saw a suprising sight! Uleerniel and Pippin were in the middle of questioning a reluctant man that had to be Joc. He was tied to a sturdy oak tree, with each hand tied to a different branch, and feet tied to the trunk.
She sat quietly, just within hearing range, and listened to Uleerniel question him, with her sharp elvish ears picking up every word.