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Dangerous Folk  by Budgielover

“We will have to kindle torches,” Boromir said, using Pippin’s shoulder to climb to his feet. Pippin winced as Boromir squeezed his shoulder in thanks, then looked up at him as Boromir raised his voice again, “It is too dark. We could walk right past Frodo and never see him.”

“We can’t see him anyway,” Merry called over his shoulder. “He’s wearing the Ring.”

“Master Merry,” Gimli wheezed, trying to recover his arm from the hobbit’s determined grasp. “Slow down, I beg you.”

“Lighting torches will advertise us to any who might be watching,” Gandalf said. “Those orcs have by now ascertained that we are not an Elvish army, despite the evidence of their ears.” Gimli growled something under his breath but further retort was denied him as Merry towed him out of range.

“And would mark us as targets.” Aragorn stood, wiping his hands on a cloth. While the others spoke, he had been examining the dead goblin, noting with dispassionate interest the webbed hands and feet. The stinking entrails he ignored, but paid great attention to its eyes and ears and nose. “Remember that they have spears. I count over a score of bodies; those Legolas killed and those that killed each other in their craven escape. Which still leaves perhaps two score out there … outnumbering us five to one.”

“Four to one,” Sam replied, an edge in his voice. “I makes thirty of them to us – about even, I reckon it.”

“My apologies, Master Samwise,” Aragorn said with a slight bow towards the bristling hobbit. “I meant no offense. Nevertheless, we are outnumbered and Legolas has spent his arrows. From what I could determine from this dead one, their eyes are well suited to darkness. They could certainly see in the dark water of the lake, while Boromir and I could barely keep our eyes open.”

“That was due to the irritants,” Boromir objected. “My eyes still feel as if they are filled with grit.”

“I need no torch,” Legolas said. “The light of the stars will suffice. I will take the farthest quarter.”

“Merry,” Aragorn called as Legolas glided past him, “Come here. We must do this systematically, instead of hoping to stumble over Frodo in the dark.” Puffing like a bellows, Gimli looked relieved as Merry released him and hurried back to the others. “Teams of two as Gimli suggested,” Aragorn continued as the hobbits grouped themselves before him, “one hobbit and one Big Folk. Boromir, you and Pippin take from the boulders where Frodo was hiding to … to that flat expanse of ground. Sam, come with me. Tie up that pony first – to a rock, this time.” Sam nodded, twisting the pony’s reins in his hands. Not liking the smell of blood in the air, Bill whinnied and bumped Sam with his nose.


“I search better alone,” the wizard interrupted. “But I do not want the hobbits out of my sight. For all their cowardly natures, goblins are cunning creatures. They are justly known for playing dead or lying in ambush.”

“You can’t mean to keep us here!” Pippin cried in distress.

“We won’t stay,” Merry said, looking around at them all. “Not while Frodo is out there someplace, maybe unconscious – certainly hurt.” Gimli toiled up behind, looking anxious at this hobbit-revolt. “We are searching, too. And you won’t stop us.”

“You are staying with me, Meriadoc,” Gandalf said grimly. The flickering light of his staff blazed hotter and the Company shrank back at the expression on the wizard’s face. Merry blanched but did not give ground, only stepping a little to the side to place Pippin behind him.

“Gentlemen, this is not the time–” Aragorn began, but Sam interrupted him, whirling to rummage in the pony’s packs and emerge with something slender and dark in his hands.

“Wait!” Sam said, eying the angry wizard warily, “Wait! Here, Master Merry. Carry this.”

A pale light shone in the darkness. With a faint chime, Sam drew Sting from its sheath and handed the naked blade to Merry. Light glimmered around its edges but it did not truly glow, and several of them released an unconscious breath of relief.

“Near, but not too near,” Aragorn said, staring at the sword. “Carry the elven blade before you. It will give true warning of the nearness of goblins.”

“All right,” Gandalf agreed grudgingly. “But, Meriadoc Brandybuck, if you ignore that blade’s warning and place yourself and Gimli in danger, you will have me to answer to.” Merry nodded, his eyes fixed on Frodo’s sword.

“If that is settled,” Gimli rumbled, “then let us search. I do not trust these foul goblin-folk to stay away when the odds are so in their favour.”

“There is another, perhaps greater danger.” The search teams halted in their tracks and turned back to Gandalf. “Every moment Frodo wears the Ring,” the wizard continued, “he risks discovery by the Enemy. Sauron searches for him ceaselessly. The Eye almost saw him in Rivendell – I have no doubt it is seeking him even as we speak.”

Suddenly the cold of the night seemed to deepen and the Company looked at each other in fear. “But the Enemy is too far away, isn’t he?” Merry asked. “He couldn’t reach us here.”

“Not the Enemy himself, no,” Gandalf replied. “But he knows we took refuge in Rivendell. He knows which direction we must travel, if not by which road. If he knows approximately where we are, he can direct his minions to us.” Pippin shivered and Gandalf’s face softened. “Not the Nazgûl – they are not yet sent abroad again. But he has other evil things under his command. These will be drawn to the power of the Ring.”

“We must find him before they do,” Aragorn said. “And in this, our hobbit friends surpass us.” Merry nodded, his expression calculating. “You have a better chance of finding him than we,” Aragorn told them. “Seek low to the ground. Listen for breathing; look for any disturbance of the earth. Boromir, Gimli, guard them.”

“Just you hang on, Mr. Frodo,” Sam whispered, his hand tightening on his own small sword. “We’re coming.”

* * *
“Look,” Pippin urged, tugging on Boromir’s surcoat. He pointed ahead; before them rose a dark mound of shadows, their composition made even more indistinct by the silverly light of the risen moon. The man squinted to make out at least three shadowed, unmoving forms. “There are several of them there,” Pippin whispered. “All of the other … bodies … have been alone.”

“Carefully,” Boromir breathed. “Let me go first.”

Pippin dropped back as the soldier moved forward, drawing his sword in imitation of Boromir. Feeling somewhat ridiculous, Pippin glanced around them but no one was looking at him; the others were all far away, intent on their own searches. Sam was practically going over the ground before him inch by inch; not a caterpillar would escape his notice. Merry was even farther, Sting shimmering faintly as he held it aloft before Gimli and himself. Pippin balanced himself for action as Boromir used his sword to prod the topmost body … but there was no need. The black form neither attacked nor retreated, but only slid bonelessly down the others onto its face, already starting to stiffen.

“Dead,” Boromir said in disgust. “At least I can return one of Legolas’ arrows, as well-shot as always.” He stepped closer and bent down to pull the arrow from the corpse’s back. It was then that Pippin saw the second orc’s eyes snap open.


The orc’s coiled attack caught Boromir just as he made the instinctive mistake of looking up at Pippin’s shout. The creature swept an arm under Boromir’s feet and he went down with a bellow, his sword flying from his grasp, one arm caught awkwardly beneath him as he hit the ground with numbing force.

The orc flung itself on him, struggling to wrap its clawed hands around his throat, seeking not only to strangle but to use its claws against the thin, vulnerable skin of Boromir’s throat. It snarled, its pointing teeth flashing white in its black mouth. Boromir heaved, trying to throw it off, then locked his hands around the creature’s, tearing at the goblin’s fingers, struggling to bring up a knee between them.

Crack! The sound of breaking bone was drowned by the goblin’s scream. It jerked one hand away from Boromir and reared back, but not to flee. Instead it curled its broken hand into a fist and slammed it into Boromir’s head, too maddened by pain and rage to recognize the injury. Already stunned by his fall, Boromir could not block or evade the blow, or the one that followed it. His head whipped to the side, blood flowing from his temple.

Pippin’s blood pounded in his ears, and all his world seemed to slow to focus on the two struggling forms before him, one a friend he was already learning to love and one an enemy who had hurt his kin. Dimly he was aware of shouts coming from all quarters, but paid them no heed. In desperation, Boromir rolled, using his greater body weight to drag the goblin sideways. But instead of being thrown off, it lunged forward, gnashing those pointed teeth, trying to strain past fabric and leather into skin. Boromir kicked and Pippin heard it grunt, then both were twisting and the orc was on top, half astride Boromir, its legs clamped around his body. Boromir struck at the creature’s bulging eyes but it only turned its head away, its hands tightening around Boromir’s throat. In the weak light of the stars, Pippin saw his friend’s eyes start to dim.

If Pippin made any sound, he was not aware of it, nor was he aware of choosing to move. In he darted, driving his sword between the creature’s shoulders, feeling it jar against bone. He saw the goblin straighten and felt it stiffen. Burning hot liquid inundated his hand. Then he was springing away as Boromir’s hand came up from his side, his long knife locked in his grasp, and drove it through the creature’s heart.

Time speeded up again as the creature slowly toppled to the side. Revulsion on his face, Boromir pushed the corpse off. It rolled to Pippin’s feet and lay rocking slightly. Panting, Pippin kept his sword up, as Boromir had taught him, but it did not move again.

“Hah! Foul … thing!” Boromir gasped, tearing at the stiffly embroidered collar of his surcoat. “Are you hurt, Pippin?”

Pippin shook his head, mesmerised by the sight of the goblin’s slack face. Boromir looked at him keenly, then dried off his knife with a cloth and handed the fabric to Pippin. “Always clean your sword, soldier. Remember that.”

“Yes,” Pippin whispered, sheathing it just as the others descended upon them.

Everyone seemed to be talking at once, asking him if he was all right, when Pippin thought they should be asking Boromir if he was all right. “Yes, yes, I’m fine,” he said to Merry’s white face. “I was barely in the fight – Boromir killed it. Merry, leave off – I’m fine!” This last was directed towards Aragorn, who had captured his bloodied hand to examine it. Aragorn ignored him, turning the hand over carefully.

“I should have made you take Sting; of course you’d be the one to find trouble–”

“Hoy! I resent that, Merry!” Pippin responded, beginning to overcome his shock.

“True, though,” Sam muttered. Pippin glared at him but Sam only smiled blandly.

“He did very well,” Boromir said, rubbing his throat gingerly. “Had he not wounded it enough for me to gain a breath, things might have turned out very differently.”

“Aragorn! Here!”

Gandalf’s deep voice cut through the questions and reassurances like a sword through butter. Aragorn dropped Pippin’s hand and shot to his feet. In two bounds he had cleared the diminished pile of dead orcs and was racing towards Gandalf. Gandalf was kneeling in the dirt, tears shining in his eyes, his arms wrapped around something which left mud-caked smears on his robes, but there was nothing in his hold.

Aragorn flung himself down beside Gandalf and almost snatched the unseen weight from him. Gandalf resisted for the barest moment, then surrendered his burden. “He’s cold,” Aragorn whispered, his voice rough as gravel. “Cold as ice–”

“Is he breathing? Is he breathing?”

“I can’t– We must take it off him–”

“Don’t touch it! Here, use this!” Gandalf tore off his cloak and ripped an unravelling strip from it, shoving it into the Ranger’s hand as he bundled the rest around the unseen form. One-handed, Aragorn shifted the burden in his arms to pull Gandalf’s cloak around it, cradling it against him, using the cloth to shelter his hand from the touch of the Ring. There was a flash of something – not light, Pippin thought, never light – then Frodo’s limp form was sagging against Aragorn, his face hidden in the Ranger’s jerkin.

“Sam! Blankets! Gimli – build a fire!”

The Fellowship scattered. Gimli thudded to his knees before them, sparks already leaping from his tinderbox. “Wood!” the dwarf roared. Pippin obeyed; snatching up every twig he could lay hands on in this barren, miserable land. A moment later, Gimli was showered with wood from three sides, which he trained up to bonfire-size in seconds.

“Is he alive?” Merry was dancing around the kneeling figures, a branch forgotten in his hand, afraid to go closer, afraid to retreat, afraid to hope and afraid to find out for certain.

“He’s breathing,” Aragorn said tersely, “and I have a heartbeat. We must get him warm. Then–” he looked at Gandalf and something stiffened in his face. Pippin was astonished to see a flash of anger in the Ranger’s eyes. “We must do what we can for him. First, warmth. He is near frozen.”

“Legolas?” Aragorn did not look up as he spoke, he was laying Frodo as near as he safely could to the flames and removing each piece of stiff, muddied clothing. After a moment he tore off another piece of Gandalf’s already disintegrating cloak and wrapped the Ring in it, tucking it safely inside Frodo’s shirt.

“None of the yrch will approach us, Aragorn.” Though Legolas did not raise his voice, Pippin heard the steely anger in it. The elf stationed himself at the crest of hill above them, his bow held at full-draw over their heads, its deadly point swinging as Legolas’ elven senses isolated and identified each night sound. Pippin looked about them uneasily, all thoughts of not drawing an attack gone in the immediate emergency.

“He was buried under the orcs,” Boromir murmured, disbelief in his voice.

“They kept him from freezing entirely,” Aragorn replied without looking up. His hands were moving over Frodo, squeezing carefully, testing limbs. “Claws,” he said grimly, examining deep scores in Frodo’s leg. In the moonlight, his blood looked as black as that of the orcs. “…but the leg was already injured. It is not the source…” Frodo moaned faintly as Aragorn examined a gash in his arm and Aragorn bent closer. Pippin realised that Aragorn was smelling the cut. “And being so sheltered perhaps saved him from being killed outright as the creatures fled our approach. Ironic, if you think about it.”

“I don’t care to think about it,” Sam snapped. “Would something hot help him? Tea, or broth? He’s had nothing in him for hours. I’ve coffee – coffee with honey–” Frodo was visible only as a white face bundled in what seemed to be almost every blanket the Fellowship owned, his dark hair his only defining feature.

“Why isn’t he waking up?” Merry had finally realised he was still holding the branch and added it to the fire. He knelt opposite Aragorn and rested a hand on the blankets. “Frodo? Wake up, Cousin!”

“You must tell them.” Aragorn was looking over Frodo’s head at Gandalf, and his face was set and stern. There was no compromise in Aragorn’s voice, and the hobbits understood at that moment that something terrible had been kept from them.

“Tell us what?” There was an undercurrent of anger in Merry’s voice, fuelled by fear.

Gandalf said nothing, not seeming to hear Merry’s question. It was Aragorn who answered. “It is worse than near-drowning in a freezing-cold lake, Merry. Or being wounded by goblins." He paused, pulling the blankets closer around the still form. "The spear that wounded him was poisoned, and enough time has passed for the poison to enter Frodo’s blood. He is dying.”

* TBC *

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