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Fear  by Ariel

Chapter 2 - The Watcher

Unobserved by the boys below, a hobbit child sat perched high amid the branches of the very oak into which the necklace had disappeared.  Young Frodo Baggins had been very proud of himself for managing to climb that tree.  It was tall and its lowest branches were higher than he could reach, but he'd found a way up by walking carefully along an arching branch that he had found lying against the trunk.  It was quite an accomplishment for so young a hobbit lad and he was elated with the feeling of freedom and daring of being so dizzyingly high off the ground.

He'd been pretending - something he always liked to do - and the tree's inviting heights offered too tempting an enticement for him.  From its boughs he could imagine himself deep in the shadowy realms of Mirkwood, seeing wood elves at banquet in the distance under the dark, sundappled shade or imagining a pack of hungry wargs circling the tree's base while he searched the sky for eagles.  Old Uncle Bilbo's stories were his favorites.  He'd first heard them when his mother and father had taken him visiting in Hobbiton.  He would listen for hours, curled up on his elder cousin's knee, as Bilbo rattled on about elves and dwarves and far places no other hobbit had ever seen.  Many times he'd drift off to sleep dreaming of the world Bilbo's warm voice evoked, of grand adventures in lands far beyond the Shire.  Everything that Bilbo talked about seemed wild and wonderful, even the aspects he described as dark and unpleasant.  Elves and men and dwarves had to be more exciting than the inhabitants of the peaceful, green valleys of the Shire Frodo had always known. 

Frodo saw the boys when they first came into view, but they were too far away for him to hear what was being said.  It looked like they were arguing, from the tenseness of Marmadas' back, but as Frodo couldn't hear them, he only worried that they would see him and command him to come down at once.  Anytime he started having fun adults put an end to it.  He was never allowed to do anything really interesting.  But this time he was determined.  He'd managed to evade his nurse, and sneak out of the hall without anyone noticing.  He wasn't about to let the boys below ruin his adventure.  He slid back against the tree trunk and kept very quiet and still in the shadowed heights to wait for them to go away. 

It wasn't until one of the boys began to run towards his tree that Frodo started to wonder what was going on.  It was Dody Brandybuck, his cousin, being pursued and it didn't look as if he would get very far.  Marmadas Brandybuck, another of Frodo's cousins, was close behind but just as Dody made it to the foot of the tree he stopped and threw something high into the air.  Frodo followed the object and was amazed when it turned and caught the morning sunlight.  So bright!  The sparkly thing soared, higher and higher until, at last, its chain caught on a branch at the very tiptop of the tree.  The momentum of the throw caused the gems to whip around several times, wrapping themselves tightly around the twig.  Frodo stared, aghast, for he had never before seen anything so lovely in his life.  Why would Dody throw something so beautiful away?  Frodo looked down at his cousins and saw them manhandling Dody.  They obviously couldn't understand why either and quickly broke up into pairs, searching the ground,… for the necklace, Frodo assumed.

They must have thought it dropped to the ground again past the tree, for they seemed to be headed into the woods up against the hedge.  Frodo smiled.  They wouldn't find it there.  Only HE knew where it truly was!  He glanced up and studied the bright bauble entrapped above him.  It must be a very important piece of jewelry to inspire such frantic activity.  The boys below were certainly looking for it with single-minded determination.  What would they do if he brought the necklace down to them?  Probably take it, mutter thanks, and a moment later forget he even existed.  Frodo had been ignored by his older cousins often enough to be pretty sure of their response.  But what if he got it and brought it back to the Hall?  Surely someone was missing it?  It was most decidedly not a toy, but a very valuable treasure.  Treasure?  Frodo peered at it more closely.  Yes!  Treasure!  Here was a bit of a dragon's treasure!  And he was just the thief to steal it!  The lad grinned ear to ear.  Retrieving the necklace would be as daring as sneaking into a dragon's lair to steal a great jewel out from under the dragon's nose!  This would be an adventure to rival even one of old Uncle Bilbo's tales!

The necklace had wrapped itself around a slight branch just below the surface of the tree's canopy.  It was definitely out of Frodo's reach from where he currently sat, straddling the crook of a large limb, but as he considered the lay of the branches above him, he thought he saw a way he could reach it.  The limbs were smaller up there, but he was light and strong, and he thought they should hold him enough to reach the necklace.  Frodo jumped up and began to climb higher, moving through the branches like an otter, shinnying up the trunk with the fearless abandon of indestructible youth.  He had never been a timid or hesitant child - his elders considered it a part of his charm - and as he clambered up the tree he did not notice, or even consider, how dizzyingly high he was climbing. 

There was a branch just below where the necklace was trapped and Frodo stepped out onto it, preparing to crawl out to where he could reach it.  Unfortunately, he hadn't thought through the factor of his own weight when he'd made this plan.  Though he was small and light, the branch dipped lower and lower the further he crept along it.  By the time he'd gotten directly under the necklace, the branch had dropped down too far for him to reach it.

"Bother…," he muttered, and moved back to the base of the branch.  The only way he was going to get at the necklace was by climbing along the selfsame branch it was tied to, but that was at the very top of the canopy.  If he clambered onto that, there would be no other branches beside it for him to hold onto.  He frowned, thinking.  There really was nothing else for it.  If he were going to reach the necklace, he would have to attempt the climb.

The limb was thin, and arching, but being so close to the open sky, it had many side branches and lots of leaves.  As Frodo worked his way along it, he had to fight the exuberant growth to even find the main stem, let alone grip it, but he managed.  Slowly, he progressed and the still sparkling gems came nearer to his reach.  Yes, from this branch he could easily get them.  Just a few more feet…

Like the previous branch, this light bough was bending under Frodo's weight, but since the necklace was attached to it directly, he hadn't thought that would cause any problem.  He would still be able to reach it no matter how much it bent, or so he thought.  He pulled along the branch for what he thought would be his last effort and suddenly found himself tipping dangerously.  The thinning branch flexed like a whip, dipping even more precariously and causing Frodo to slide further down its length.  Although he held on with all his strength he was soon dangling, helpless, head downward on the branch. 

Frodo swallowed his panic and forced his brain to think.  He'd gotten himself into this and the only ones around to get him out of it were his cousins below.  Oh, how they would taunt and scold him if he called for their help!  And they would find the necklace if he did that too.  He would suffer the humiliation of having to be rescued and be deprived of any glory he might have earned for finding the treasure.  No, he needed to do this himself.  He shifted a bit, and realized that if he could get himself turned around on the branch, he could probably drop down to the bough he had been standing on earlier.  Yes!  He could do this.  And if he was VERY clever, he would keep hold of the branch he was on and still be able to free the necklace. 

He slipped his ankle over the small branch and prepared to slide carefully off to the right.  The slight bough shifted and Frodo heard a sudden crack.  There was a sickening drop as the narrowing limb fell beneath him.  It was not broken off completely and Frodo's fall was checked with a jerk but the motion jarred his grip on the stem loose.  The ground rushed towards him and, with a sudden lurch, Frodo realized how terribly high he was.  Panic stricken, he clamped his thighs around the branch, trying to hold on with his legs, but all he succeeded in doing was plastering slippery green leaves to it.  He was sliding… and then falling.  His hands clutched desperately and met nothing but leaves that ripped off in his fingers.  There was a bright sparkle in the corner of his eye, the necklace rushing past his face, and then a blinding, painful flash as his head struck the branch below.  His fingers clawed at the bark, but whether he was too stunned or just not strong enough to grasp the branch he never had time to wonder.  His small body whipped around and he continued his fall backwards.  He started to scream but the next blow his body received silenced him.  The back of his head struck something infinitely harder than the small branch that had grazed his forehead and his mind exploded into starry blackness.  He didn't even feel his arm breaking when his body thudded into the lowest branch, nor the cool duff against his cheek as his limp form dropped to the forest floor.


TBC.... No, you think I would leave you here?!?

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