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Hunting the Spider  by Ellynn

Haldar ran at full speed. That scream erased all his fatigue; suddenly, it was as if he hadn't marched for fourteen hours and slept only four hours before that. Everything else became irrelevant – he focused only on the fact that someone was in danger and that they had to save him or her.

We have to. I have to.

Then he came close enough, the trees were sparse enough, and he comprised everything in his gaze: two boys, one on the ground and the other on his feet, both of them motionless, and next to them a big black monster.

The body of the creature was spherical, about eight feet wide, and many legs protruded on all sides. It looked disgusting and unreal at the same time. It had a form of a spider, quite obviously, but he thought that something like this shouldn't exist. This is unnatural. Evil distorted spawn from the ancient days, were the thoughts that had crossed his mind. Yes, this was a spider, but this was no ordinary animal; this was not a natural creature.

The beast turned towards the rangers and hesitated for a moment – as if it was thinking what to do about this new threat in form of the armed men running towards it. As he was sprinting, Haldar's eyes scrutinized the massive black body searching for the weak spots. He wasn't sure if there were any; according to what captain Faramir had said, the whole body was like a huge armour. But he hoped that at least some part was vulnerable. Maybe the very middle of the belly, if we can reach it. Or legs. He thought that they should attack joints for the beginning, to destabilize the creature.

"Cut the legs and joints!!!" he shouted while running.

"Archers, aim for the head and eyes!!!" echoed Faramir's voice next to him.

The muscles were burning.

Almost there...

The monster moved. It quickly turned and Haldar looked in terror how a long pointed limb extended towards the boy who was standing – and that could not mean anything good. It could only mean death. He unconsciously lifted his sword – in an instinctive attempt to stop the worst. But in a futile one. He was still a few steps too far.

He already thought it was over, he already saw the prick stabbing the child's body, when in the last moment the boy startled and threw himself to the side. The prick passed through the empty space, and the furious scream of the beast ripped the air. Hoarse, guttural one. The loudest, the most piercing howl Haldar had ever heard from an animal.

This is no animal.

It was a relief to see that the thing didn't assail the boys again. Obviously it judged there was no more time for that – seeing so many enemies went towards it – and it started to flee to the opposite side. The two arrows then flew from behind, but they only grazed the big body and slid along its hard skin, not making any damage and confirming the report of the thick impenetrable shield-like skin.

"Aim for the head!!!" shouted Faramir again, running with a lifted sword.

"Cut the legs!!!" Haldar repeated his earlier words.

The monster ran towards the north – faster than Haldar expected, considering its size. The rangers released more arrows, but didn't manage to hit any of the vulnerable parts; the arrows hit the hard outer shell again and just bounced away. Haldar was sprinted further. His muscles screamed in effort, but he ignored it; all he saw was a big black monster. They were catching up, and with every next step he was closer. And closer. Endure. Find more strength. Just two or three steps more, and he would be able to deal a blow...

One ranger neared the creature from its right side, while Haldar and Faramir were catching up from behind. The man lifted his sword, but even before he could strike, the spider extended one of his legs and hit man's chest, throwing him several feet away.

Haldar noticed the man's fall with his peripheral vision, but didn't stop. Two more steps... Sweat poured down his brow, face and back, but he didn't care. One step... Pulling out all the strength, he did all in his power to catch the monster... and a moment later, he was there. In the reach of an arm. In the range of the hit.

In this close proximity the black body seemed even bigger, the legs even longer. But he didn't think of the opponent's size. He focused all his attention to one point – to the joint of the nearest leg – and hit with all his power, cutting as strong as he could.

Even the joint itself was more rigid than he expected. The sword deflected off back almost as if it had hit a rock, and his whole arm vibrated in response. But although no damage was visible, the beast screamed, and the next movement of that leg was not as nimble as before. His blow did obtain some effect, and that gave him more strength to continue. It was vulnerable!

A moment later Faramir attacked the spider from the left side and his sword hit the ankle of another leg, while another ranger neared from the right. But creature's speed surprised Haldar one more time. It swiftly turned; while still spinning, one leg knocked down the ranger on the right, and the other leg snagged Haldar's sword, almost kicking it out of his hand. He cursed, angry for allowing to be taken by surprise; errors like these could be fatal. He needed a second to regain balance – a second the monster seized to attack.

It assailed Faramir and him at the same time. Faramir was toppled by one of the legs, while open jaws lowered towards Haldar. He swiftly bent down and avoided the attack in the very last moment, and the big jaws snapped at the empty air. It was the nearest possible miss – the jaws actually grazed his leather armour. But in the very next moment the spider attacked again, and Haldar didn't manage to fight back. He was in a subordinate position and could not charge; he was only defending himself, he was only trying to avoid the frightening jaws, and couldn't do any more than that.

Then the creature spit some slime towards him. Haldar couldn't dodge aside in time, and some of the black liquid spluttered his face. The skin burned him very much, and he started to cough intensively because of the stench. He fell on his knees, and the only thing he saw were wide open jaws and a huge black mountain dangerously close above him. It does not have to sting me, it would suffice if it just lay on me...

The head was stooping towards him, and he saw with the corner of his eye that one leg was extending towards Faramir, who was only now starting to rise after the first hit he had gotten. Haldar didn't have to see the end of the long leg to see how it looked like – in the past days he had seen the tracks countless times. If the claw hit an unshielded body part, it was surely equally deadly as a sword.


Then, in the last moment before the monster caught him with its jaws, he stretched his right arm and plunged the sword in one cluster of spider's eyes. The beast shrieked again, and more slime and poison sprinkled him. But he rose to his feet using the last of his strength; he gripped the hilt with left hand too and, clenching his teeth, continued to push the sword deeper and deeper.

Save Faramir. Save the others.

The beast started to squirm violently and Haldar had the impression that he had turned into a leaf in the strongest wind. Every move of the spider threw him left-right, lifted him off the ground and shook him in all directions. But he didn't relent – he directed all his strength in his fists. He was seizing the hilt, focused on that one goal. Not to let it off. And to destroy the creature.

He didn't see other rangers coming from all sides – when still dealing the blow, he had closed his eyes in an instinctive, unconscious attempt to protect them from the slime. He didn't see how they started to cut spider's legs, and how they finally stabbed the head and the softer belly. He was just gripping his sword, while the cacophony of screams and hits echoed around him.

Then, at some point, he realized that the movements of the beast were becoming slower. And slower. And finally, after what felt like an eternity, they stopped.

He was still holding on to his sword. He was still clenching his teeth. His eyes were still closed. A lot more moments passed before he realized that everything was still, and he slowly became aware of the rest of his body; until that moment, all his concentration and strength were directed into his fists. Based on the pressure he felt on his hip, he concluded he was half-sitting and half-kneeling on the ground – as the beast languished and its head sank, the movement pushed him down, because he was still linked to the beast by his sword.

The next sense he became aware of was the smell. His stomach retched and he almost threw up. At the same time he wondered why he couldn't see anything, and then he finally realized his eyes were still shut.

What would he discover once he opened them? The thought of reality he had to face – of eventual dead bodies he might see around – froze his heart.

He shook his head trying to shake off the slime, blinked slowly, and then opened his eyes. But there was no change – everything around him was still black just like when his eyes had been closed, and in the first moment he got scared that the poison had blinded him. But then he realized that he was leaning on the carcass and that huge black body was only an inch away from his face, filling his whole field of view. He moved away a little and looked around, still blinking. The shapes around him were a little blurry and he didn't manage to clear his view yet. But he slowly started to discern figures. Faramir was on his feet, and from what he could see, others were too. He heard a merry laughter and cheering to victory.

Eru, thank you.

"Are you all right, captain?" He heard Borlas' voice and felt a hand on his shoulder. Faramir approached from the other side, and together they helped him get up.

Was he all right? Well, the sprinkled portions of the skin still burned a lot, and he felt somewhat shaky after being tossed on all sides. And he was... he hated to admit it, but he was exhausted. Now that everything was over and he started to relax, now that adrenalin stopped to take effect, he just could not deny that he was tired. You are old. But yes, in spite of everything, he was fine. And not just fine, but great. They made it. They killed this dangerous creature. And, as it seemed, nobody got hurt.

"I am, my friend," he replied and allowed himself a smile of relief. "I am."

He looked at the monster lying in front of him. Stinky monster, he thought and quickly moved away to a distance safe for his nose. And huge. Even lying on the ground, the body was as tall as he was in its highest point, and the legs' length equalled that of an average man's height, at the very least. A tremendous enemy... but finally eliminated. The inhabitants of Ithilien would now be safe.

As he soon discovered, they did not go without consequences after all. The ranger knocked down in the beginning had a broken arm, while Faramir had a long cut on his left shoulder and upper arm. But it was only superficial, fortunately; his leather armour and jacket prevented a deeper and more difficult wound.

The rangers then escorted the boys to their houses. A young man from the village – Turin, Haldar repeated the name in his head, not to forget it – the apprentice of the healer who, two weeks ago, was one of the first victims of the spider, tended the broken arm and Faramirs's cut. The youngster put the balm otherwise used for burns and skin-healing on the captain's face and neck, apologizing all the time that he couldn't figure out anything better. But Haldar just waved his hand and smiled, saying no apology was necessary. Not that the boy could know a cure against something he didn't even know existed.

And even more important – that which completely erased his pain and burning on the skin, was the moment when he had seen the boys in their parents' embrace. The moment in which he saw gratitude in their eyes. And immense relief. Tears of joy. Yes, that was the best cure.


Six weeks later...

Faramir sat on Éowyn's bed and held his newborn son in his arms. Everything went fine, according to Anneth's words – even easier and faster than she had expected. The mid-wife then retreated, leaving them alone. Éowyn looked somewhat tired, but not much, and the smile lit her face. She observed the bundle in Faramir's arms, too.

He couldn't take his eyes off that tiny face and hands. My son. I am a father. He still did not quite comprehend. It seemed like a miracle. This little being he held was a part of him and a part of Éowyn. He was perfect. Beautiful. His heart grew in his chest and he thought it would burst of strong emotions. I am not dreaming. I really am a father.

He thought of his family, which he had lost much too early. Mother. Father. Brother. How he wished they were with him now, to be able to see this wonderful occasion! His mother's premature death was caused by an illness, but his brother and father he lost because of the War, as did many others; he often thought that there was not a single family in Gondor that hadn't lost at least one member because of war. He remembered the times when they had lost Gondor's territory little by little and when they had not known if there was any hope, or Sauron would cover all Middle-earth in darkness.

He held the bundle closer and kissed baby's forehead. Sleep peacefully, little one. If he had to describe how happy and thankful he was because his son would grow in a different world – in peace and serenity – he wasn't sure if he could find words. True, the events from a few weeks ago showed that their fight was not completely over, but there were fewer and fewer servants of the Enemy left in this world, and the last victory was an additional step towards safer Middle-earth.

Little one, I will do all in my power that you never need a sword.


The journey to his house would last a little longer than he thought, Haldar discovered as he was passing his village by, and as he continued to ride towards Mindal. More precisely, he concluded that much longer was a better description, because he had to go further north and return afterwards. He didn't plan this in advance; the change of plan happened in a moment and almost surprised him. But on the other hand, not too much. He simply had to go to Mindal, and somewhere deep inside he knew he would do it sooner or later. Well, this day was equally good as any other.

The task given to the squads he led was now successfully and completely fulfilled. They inspected the whole labyrinth of the tunnels at the Pass and saw they were empty; they also confirmed that in the part of Mordor near the Pass there were no more orcs. Then they caused the collapse of all the entrances – the one on the western side, and three on the eastern side of the mountain. Actually, the rangers left that part of the task to a group of dwarves who currently dwelled in Minas Tirith and repaired the city walls. As soon as the dwarves heard that their help was needed to destroy the lair of one creature of Darkness, more of them volunteered than was necessary for the mission.

Truth be told, Haldar would swear that, after all the entrances were buried in tons and tons of rock, he saw regret on dwarves' leader's face. He smiled when he remembered it. It was more than obvious that the dwarf had been imagining how those tunnels could look like if they were theirs – cleared, readjusted, tidy, lit by dwarvish fires; he probably dreamed of searching for the ores, too. But it was not possible now, so closing the passage was the best option at the moment – so that some other ill-intentioned inhabitant of Mordor would not use it.

His men went to their well-deserved rest. He was riding all the way from Vinhir garrison, but when he came near Ornost, he listened to a sudden impulse and continued northwards. Yes, he wanted to hug his wife and daughter and to relax in his home, but he concluded that ten miles to Mindal was not such a huge distance, after all. What was a delay of several hours after being absent for two weeks? Not much, he decided and hurried his horse to canter a little faster.

However, when he came close to his target, he did not enter the village but led the horse around, walking among the trees next to the forest edge. Finally, he reached the northern side of the village and the location where they had fought the monstrous creature.

Standing hidden behind one tree, he first observed the meadow between himself and the village. On the day when they killed the spider, later that evening they burned it on the meadow, wanting to remove all traces of the foul beast's corpse from their land. He was now pleased to see that vegetation had already erased the traces of the pyre; new grass grew and covered the black site of the fire.

Then he saw the two houses at the end of the village. The adults worked in their gardens, and he saw three children – two boys and a girl – watching over several cows on the meadow on the other side. He couldn't see their facial expressions nor hear their laughter – they were too far for that – but their happy bouncing and relaxed movements told him all he needed to know.

They were carefree and safe. And still alive, still here in this world, with their families. And it could have easily been different. He smiled. Well, maybe on that day on the slopes around Henneth Annun he could not have done anything different, and he could not have saved his son. But his deeds saved some other persons – he contributed to saving someone's sons. And that fact probably saved their world. Both on that day before the War, and three weeks ago. Well, that was important too, after all.

He turned around and headed towards his house, more tranquil than ever during the past three and a half years.

~ The end ~


Thanks to everyone who read, and especially to those who reviewed. Your support meant so much to me.

And huge thanks to Marta Bee. *hugs*

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