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Dangerous Folk  by Budgielover

“Albai! Albai!” The cry rang about him, the orcish word for Elves made even more ugly and distorted by the mouths that uttered it. Praying that Legolas was not alone, that the others were not far behind, Frodo seized his chance.

He slipped on the Ring and immediately his world turned pale and muted, the stone surrounding him less real than the cold wind that tore and slashed at him. The band of gold around his finger seemed the only colour in this terrifying place, and he had to resist the desire merely to gaze upon it. With a small jump, he was over the dislodged top-stone and out of the small pile of boulders that had sheltered him from being spitted and eaten.

He slid to the ground soundlessly, landing with a lurch on his injured leg. For a moment, the world spun and darkened around the edges. A small gasp escaped him but it was lost in the howls and hoots of the goblin-mob. From behind Legolas was coming more shouts, words he felt he should know, but he had no time to analyze them. The sun was sinking, casting deceptive shadows on the ground. It would be all too easy to stumble, and once down, he did not know if he could struggle to his feet again. Head down and arms tucked into his sides, he scooted past the gaping goblin leader towards his one visible ally.

No, bad plan. He had not time to count them, but perhaps half a score of goblins stood between he and Legolas. They were milling about, shouting, brandishing their swords and thudding their spears into the earth. Even if calling out did not betray him, Legolas could not possibly make out his voice over the clamour. Frodo dodged to the side as one of the goblins, huge, slope-shouldered and nearly twice his size, bulled its way past him. Another followed it, screeching its battle-eagerness in shrill yowls. Frodo evaded the two but there were so many others, moving about so quickly. He could not stay here; he would be discovered. Using every ounce of his natural gift of hobbit-stealth, Frodo crept towards the outskirts of the action, hoping to circle ‘round the side of the hill and rejoin the Fellowship.

All around him, confusion reigned. The din was nigh unbearable to sensitive hobbit-ears. He heard the leader bellow behind him but he spared no time to look. Undoubtedly his escape had been discovered. Another goblin barrelled toward him and he pulled up short, missing it running him down by inches.

It could not possibly have heard him but it stopped, its bulging eyes sweeping from side to side in puzzlement. Frodo stilled and sank to one knee, willing it to pass by. The dizziness was returning; hungry, weary, near-drowned and now hunted, he did not know if he had the strength to continue. The goblin snarled, its lipless mouth curling back over the pointed teeth. Then its nostrils flared, and Frodo realised it did not need to see him. It could smell him.

Blood. Fresh blood. Frodo looked down, down at the blood drying on his arm from the goblin leader’s spear and from its claws in his leg. He clamped one hand over his arm, aware the thin linen of his shirt would hold the blood-smell. The goblin raised its head, sniffing, and took a step towards him.

A great clatter halted it, followed by howls of dismay. The creature swung towards the noise, distracted and suspicious. Frodo could not see what had caused the racket, but the opportunity was too good to let pass. Summoning every ounce of strength left in him, he sidled past it.  

The goblin twisted back to stare at where he had been a moment ago, its ugly face transported by rage. Adding its howls to the others’, it raised its spear and drove it into the earth where Frodo had crouched not five heartbeats before. Again and again the goblin stabbed, blindly now, and Frodo used each stab into the earth to mask another soundless step away from it.

What was happening? He could not see – tall forms were all around him and it took all of his quickness to avoid them. He bumped into one and it whirled, claws slashing, looking surprised when it saw nothing. Then goblins were running past him, some throwing down their weapons, some clutching them or using them on their fellows, freeing the way for their own passage from this place. He would be trampled. Unable to outrun them, Frodo was pushed along with them as the tide sweeps with it small bits of flotsam. He turned and darted whenever he could find an opening but they were a solid mass behind him, and he could not break free.

For all that they were adapted to water-life, they were swift. He could not outrun them, could not break through them. Then weariness and dizziness and his injuries betrayed him, and he fell. One of them tripped over him, near crushing him. It could not see what had felled it but it rose up on its arms, cursing, only to be slammed back down to the ground by another tripping over it. That one’s fall tripped another, and all of their combined weights bore down on him. They were crushing the life out of him, as surely as the water of the lake. As the darkness rose up and swallowed him, his last thought was that he was drowning for the second time.

* * *

The hobbits’ cries brought Gandalf, Boromir and Gimli striding towards them with Sam following tugging on Bill’s bridle, the pony’s half-packed packs flopping.

“What is it?” Gandalf demanded. “Where is he?”

“Not here,” Aragorn replied succinctly.

“Not–” His face blanched white, Gandalf whirled in a circle, his cloak billowing as he stared into the lengthening shadows. “Meriadoc!” Gandalf bellowed, interrupting the hobbits’ shouts for their cousin, “You and Peregrin come to me – now!” Rather to Aragorn’s surprise the two obeyed, pulling up before the wizard with frightened, anxious faces. “We will find him,” Gandalf said more gently. “But you must not stray from our sight with so many of those foul creatures out there. Let Aragorn look.”

“The yrch had something cornered here,” Legolas said, stooping to peer into the little pile of rocks. The elf had not lowered his bow, remaining alert and watchful. “Something that was fighting back, to judge by their actions.”

Aragorn knelt before the narrow tunnel of rocks, just deep enough to shelter a hobbit. Sam might have had difficulty forcing his way through, but Frodo would have fit easily. “I need light. Gimli, would you–”

Before the dwarf could even pull out his tinderbox, Gandalf’s staff blazed into radiant light. The wizard muted it, positioning himself behind Aragorn, leaning the staff down close to Aragorn’s head. The Ranger eyed it warily then ignored it, intent on examining the rocky shelter. A long smear on stone caught his attention.

“Gandalf. Here.” As Gandalf angled the staff to better illuminate the dark smudge, Aragorn placed a fingertip against the stain and rubbed. It transferred easily to his finger. He sniffed it carefully then ventured a taste with the tip of his tongue. “Blood.”

One of the hobbits made a queer, choking sound. Aragorn did not look up to determine which. There was a rustle and Merry squeezed under his arm, peering at the mark almost nose-to-rock. “Maybe it is orc blood.” Aragorn felt a shudder pass through the small, solid form, but Merry’s voice was matter-of-fact. “There’s a lot of that around.”

“Orc blood is black,” Aragorn reminded him.

“Frodo,” Gandalf said heavily.

Aragorn nodded and inched backwards, catching his shoulders on the rocks and scraping them. Merry stayed a moment longer, staring at the long stain. As Aragorn rose, Gimli handed him his coat and the Ranger shrugged into it absently. “Something was here. Something the size of a hobbit.”


Legolas had arrow to bow before most of them could register the hissing word. One of the shadowed forms stirred and before any of them could react, an elven arrow was arching towards it.

“No!” Gandalf shouted, thrusting his staff into the air. The arrow burst into flame in mid-air and fell to the earth, charring into ash inches short of its intended target. Legolas followed it, his face grim, and stood over the still form with drawn knife.

The goblin cringed but made no attempt to flee. It could not, Aragorn saw. No elven arrow pierced it; none survived whom Legolas had shot to kill. A great sword-cut had opened this one’s side, cutting around from side completely across its front, mixing its entrails with dust on the ground. It had been savagely wounded by one of its fellows, caught in the path of a larger orc as it sought to escape. It would not live long.

“Keep the hobbits back,” Aragorn murmured to Boromir and the soldier complied, calling them to help him to ready the pony. After one glance at the dying goblin, Merry turned his back on it and chivvied Pippin and Sam away. Aragorn handed Legolas back his knife then retrieved his own weapons from Gimli; even mortally wounded, the Ranger knew well the treachery of orcs.

He knelt by its head, out of the spreading puddle of black blood seeping from it, making certain it saw his knife. “Hobbit,” he repeated back at it. “What hobbit? Where is the hobbit?’

He had spoken too fast; the creature’s few words of Westron did not suffice. It shook its head, its bulging eyes blinking. Its gaze fastened on Gimli.

“Ale? Ale?”

“It wants dwarf-ale,” Aragorn said, his flat tone not conveying the surprise he felt.

“Ale?” it begged. “For hobb-itt.”

“Gimli, give it your flask.” Aragorn could give the dwarf grinding his teeth as he handed his treasured flask to the creature. The goblin snatched at it and tore out the stopper with its teeth, up-ending it to gulp thirstily. Hardened warriors all, the four that surrounded it had to turn away for a moment as the dark, pungent liquid oozed onto the ground from the creature’s violated stomach.

The goblin released the flask. It fell to the earth but Gimli made no attempt to retrieve it. “Hobb-itt of the Shire,” it said clearly, blinking at them.

Now Gandalf knelt. “Where is he?”

The goblin grimaced, baring it pointed teeth. Perhaps it was an attempt at a smile or perhaps it was a snarl. “Dead,” it said.

Gandalf thrust his face close to it. “You lie,” the wizard whispered softly. “He escaped from you into that little pile of boulders. And from there … where?”

“Dead,” the goblin repeated, its voice slowing. “Soon. Very soon. Speared. Spear poisoned. Soon dead.”

“Where is he?” Gandalf rasped, desperation making his tone harsh. “Tell me!”

“It is no use,” Legolas murmured above them. “Its heart no longer beats.”

Aragorn sat back on his heels as Gandalf straightened slowly, leaning on his staff. The black body before them seemed somehow smaller in death, a phenomena all of them had witnessed many times after life ended. Already it smelled, the contents of the carcass reeking as it continued to ooze and drip fluids. It would smell worse soon, as the others around it already did, and be no more than a meal for the carrion-crows come the morning.

Gandalf turned abruptly and strode away, anger and fear in every line of his body. Pivoting back, he snapped at Aragorn, “Can you track him? From the boulders?”

“No,” Aragorn said, looking into the distance. Twilight had deepened and the first cold stars were shining. “Not in the dark, over ground trodden and overrun by so many.”

“He put on the Ring, didn’t he?” Aragorn jumped to find Merry at his side; unnoticed, the hobbit had joined them and was looking at the dead goblin.

“Merry, Pippin–”

“Sam and Boromir are with him. He doesn’t need to see this.” Merry looked away from the corpse, his expression sickened. The flickering light of Gandalf’s staff made the sight worse, somehow. “We’d all best get used to things like this, hadn’t we? For as long as Frodo carries that damned Ring.”

None of them seemed to know how to respond to Merry’s question, or to the bitterness in the young hobbit’s voice. Aragorn settled for placing a hand on Merry’s shoulder as he climbed to his feet. The young hobbit staggered slightly but held firm. “He did, didn’t he?” Merry persisted. “Put on the Ring?”

“It is the only explanation,” Gimli rumbled in his slow, deep voice. “We know he was here – the goblin confirmed that. ‘Hobbit of the Shire.’ I have heard Master Frodo introduced himself to others so.”

“He would,” said Merry wearily, but a hint of pride wove through his voice. “Be courteous to orcs, he would. Probably gave them a bow. Ridiculous Baggins.” Abruptly Merry sat down and cradled his head in his arms, his shoulders shaking.

“The moon will be rising soon,” Legolas murmured. “We must find Frodo.” Unspoken the goblin’s words echoed in their minds. Speared. Spear poisoned. Soon dead. Aragorn looked down at the quietly weeping hobbit, weighing whether he should convey what they had learned to Frodo’s kin.

Gimli looked at Merry and behind him, to where the shadowy forms of Boromir and Pippin waited by the pony. Sam was busy with the packs, lashing them closed and tight with muffled ferocity. To the dwarf’s cavern-bred eyes, it was easy to make out the tall form of the Man as he knelt to talk to the tweenager, eye-to-eye, both intent on their conversation. Standing eye-to-eye with taller folk was a consideration Gimli was just beginning to appreciate.

“Aye, we must,” he announced. He waggled his eyebrows at Aragorn over Merry’s head, unaware that his gesture was of little value as his helmet hid it. “I suggest we divide into parties of two – one Big Folk and one Little, and search.”

Merry looked up, tears glistening unheeded on his face. “But if he’s already gone–”

“It is unlikely that he has gone far,” Aragorn interrupted. “He would be very weary –and he would know that we would not be far behind. I think it much more likely that he would find a good hiding place, and wait for us.” If he can hear us calling. If he is conscious. Aragorn took a deep breath, steeling himself. “We must find him quickly, Merry. Frodo has been–”

“Abducted, nearly drowned, probably half-frozen, and without supper for far too long,” Gandalf’s voice rode over Aragorn’s with unnecessary loudness. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli stared at the wizard blankly. Gandalf ignored them. “We must find  your cousin quickly to remedy all of those predicaments, Merry.”

The hobbit climbed to his feet, scrubbing at his face. “You are right, Gandalf. I claim Gimli as my search partner.” A shadow of a smile flitted across Merry’s face at Gimli’s startled expression. “Hobbits don’t see in the dark as well as Dwarves. Come on, Gimli – you and I will find him first.” With that, Merry latched onto the surprised dwarf’s arm and began towing him determinedly in the hobbit’s chosen direction.

“I do not agree with your decision not to tell them,” Aragorn murmured to Gandalf. “If Frodo dies, they will never forgive you.”

“If Frodo dies,” Gandalf murmured back so softly that his breath did not even stir the hairs of his beard, “their forgiveness will matter little.” Only one who knew the wizard as well as Aragorn would have heard the grief and love in Gandalf’s voice, or been able to discern the shine of tears in his eyes from starlight. “The whole world will be devoured by unending darkness, and nothing we can do will atone for the loss of the Ring-bearer.”

* TBC *

Just a quick note, friends ... once again I am changing my website, this time for good. Budgie now has a domain and one sparkly, COOL website: You will find links to all my published stories and newest works there, including the upcoming Chapter 7 of  Dangerous Folk. Please stop by!

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