Crouching in the trees, practically invisible in the shadow of night, the woman studied the creatures around the crude campfire. There were eleven of them, and she could see some crates with the seal of Bree stamped on the sides. So this group was looting, then. Doubtless they'd come across some hapless travelers—merchants, perhaps—and stolen their goods after likely killing them all. Her eyes narrowed. They didn't usually come this far south, so the merchants should have been able to travel in peace. Well, no matter; she would see to it that they stole from no one else on this road.
The largest one snarled something in their harsh language, words she did not understand and had little desire to, but their meaning became clear when the orcs busied themselves breaking down their camp. A general dislike of light in general, while not making orcs solely nocturnal creatures, did mean they preferred traveling and hunting in the darkness. It was fitting, she supposed, that creatures of evil should prefer the night. She herself was decidedly not a creature of evil, though she often hunted at night, as well, due to the nature of her quarry.
Said quarry was currently being barked at by their leader (probably to hurry up), when the first arrow sailed into camp and straight through the speaker's temple. The others gaped for only a second, but it was enough time for another arrow to pierce the chest of the orc beside him. Squealing, they ran for their weapons (or drew them if they were wearing them), grouping together in a huddle and studying the trees, facing the direction the arrows had come from. One of the archers, eyes wide, fired in that general direction, obviously hoping to draw out their attacker.
Focused on the shadowy point where the orc's arrow had penetrated the tree line, the small group failed to notice the creeping shadow that approached from behind. Silently, the throats of the two in the back of the group were slit deeply, and the culprit was gone before the rest of the group could turn. The remaining seven had only just realized their companions were dead when two more arrows hissed out of the darkness, this time on the group's left flank, felling one and mortally wounding another. Taking no regard for their fallen comrades, the last orcs standing fell into a complete panic, running in all directions, swinging weapons and throwing rocks blindly. With a grim smile, the woman picked off the frightened creatures with her throwing daggers, then strode out of the trees to collect her weapons.
The wounded orc, unable to reach his short sword, stared with huge eyes as the figure approached him to finish its work and take back its arrow. A black cloak whirled around a surprisingly short form—his enemy was no Elf, obviously, or Man—and soft boots barely made a sound even when it wasn't trying to be quiet. Its hood obscured its face, but its eyes were visible; hard and cold, nearly black.
"What are you?" he squealed in fear, his breathing labored as the arrow's poison leeched through his veins, headed for his heart.
The eyes glinted. "Mangath," she growled, in what he recognized as a female voice, and he cowered at both the use of Black Speech and the reputation of the Phantom that orcs whispered about in fear; the ghoul that attacked from the shadows and eliminated entire parties of scouts and hunters.
His last thought was that someone really ought to do something about her, before her knife flashed in the waning firelight and he knew no more.
She was crouching on the floor next to her bed; head in her hands and knees pulled up against her chest, biting her tongue to keep from screaming as the awful cries of her mother reached her. Something was burning, too, the acrid smell stinging her nostrils. She jerked as the sound of a punch met her ears and her mother's cries intensified: "No! Not my son! Please, not my son!" She whimpered; her baby brother was the one good thing that had come of her mother's marriage to the Chief Dwarf of their town, and she loved him deeply. But Mother had ordered her, had used her Heart Name, she could not disobey; she had to hide, to stay out of sight.
She heard the trample of heavy boots outside her bedroom door and scurried under the bed, shoving boxes near the sides and curling up at the very head of the bed where the shadows were deepest. The little one held her breath as the large orc ransacked her room, emptying drawers and tossing toy boxes and books around. A scream that chilled her blood distracted him; and sensing death, he wandered out to the main room of the house. The little girl crawled out behind him; Heart Name or no, she could not stay there while her mother died.
The scene that met her as she crouched in the shadows, looking into the main room, made her heart stop and her blood run cold. Her mother lay in a widening pool of blood, run through by a cruel orc blade; her little brother—only seven years old, hardly out of nappies—squealing and struggling to reach his Ma. Her mother's husband lay dead on the other side of the room. The orc leader struck little Talos on the head, and he collapsed quietly. The girl bit her lip to keep from screaming.
"There's no one else here," the leader croaked. "Let's move on!"
And they left, finally. The girl rushed out of the shadows to her brother. His little heart was still and he was not breathing. "Nadadith," she choked. She felt her heart shatter when he didn't respond with his customary toothy grin, and turned to her mother, who was panting shallowly. The little one grasped her hand. "Khagan," she murmured, shaking her gently. "Kahomhilizu, Khagan!" Her mother gave her a tiny smile and squeezed her hand weakly. "My sweet one," she wheezed. "Promise me you'll live well."
The girl took a shuddering breath and nodded, "I promise, Khagan. Please don't leave me…"
"Shhhh," her mother soothed. "Be blessed, my Deorynn. Tak natu yenet, mizim."
The girl felt her mother's spirit leave her body only moments later, and finally, she screamed.
Deorynn started awake, breathing hard and covered in a cold sweat. She hated dreaming about her family's death, hated it. The sun shone in her eyes, and she blinked at the mid-morning light, cursing quietly under her breath. She had meant to start early today, though she supposed she earned a rest the previous night; between gathering and cleaning her arrows and daggers, piling and burning the filth she'd killed, and hauling the crates to the nearest ferry (not far, thank Eru) where they'd be noticed, picked up, and returned to Bree, it had been well past midnight before the night's work was through. She had retreated further up the river bank then, to a much smaller road where travelers chose to ford the River Lune rather than pay the ferry, and fallen asleep in a small copse of trees just out of sight.
After refreshing a bit in the river, Deorynn sat down under a tree to eat and take stock of herself. One of her blades had chipped when it missed her target and instead hit a rock a few days prior—while still useful, it did need to be repaired. All her blades needed to be sharpened, though she needed a new whetstone for that. She was running low on rations, too. She considered her options: she could stay on this side of the river and do her business in Celondim or Duillond; but after her recent experience with the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, she was eager to leave Ered Luin behind her. There were some quality craftsmen in Hobbiton-Bywater, which was fortuitous since she had some hides to trade as well. Also, she had a niggling desire to go see Rivendell, which would mean passing through the Shire anyway.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a pair of dwarves riding down the road toward her upon shaggy mountain ponies. She did not move—they would likely not be antagonistic to a mere passing traveler—but she averted her eyes and turned slightly, hoping they would not notice a woman traveling alone on the road. They had not seen her yet, but were getting rather close enough for her to see them.
They were young, it was clear, perhaps not much older than she. The one with hair the color of sunlight caught her eye first—his blue eyes and ready smile were rather disarming. He nudged the one next to him—dark-eyed, but with a mischievous grin on his face—and they both laughed. With a painful throb, her heart reminded her that that was what she would have had with Talos. The blond one even looked a bit like him—not his hair color, for Talos had been dark-haired as the night—but his blue eyes shone the same color, and with the same vivacity and flair for life.
They had spotted her, and she had been staring too hard to turn away before they noticed she was definitely not a man. Fortunately, they simply waved and called "good morning!" before continuing to the river crossing. She waved back, but did not smile.
Sighing, Deorynn forced herself out of her reverie and gathered her gear. It took only a few minutes to shake out and roll her blankets, and restock her gear in her pack before hauling it over her slim shoulders. She brushed herself off and headed for the river. The traveling companions were by now in the middle of the Lune, the water barely reaching their knees on their ponies' backs. Deorynn smiled, almost wishing she had a pony to cross with—the water would reach just above her head in the middle—but she did enjoy swimming, and any gear she had that was sensitive to damp or wet was already wrapped carefully to avoid moisture. She took off her cloak and stuffed it in her pack—it would only slow her, trailing behind and getting wet and heavy.
She had only just started across when there was a sound of alarm from the front. The dark-haired one's pony had stumbled and was now panicking at the current. His companion was turned about in the saddle, looking behind him, calling his name. Deorynn could see that the young dwarf was having no luck getting control of his mount, and he was likely to get tossed in a moment. Picking up her pace, she gestured to the other dwarf to go on ahead—no need for both of them to end up in the water. He acquiesced, in that he moved his pony forward again, but he refused to stop watching.
Deorynn was about twenty feet away when it happened. The pony slipped a second time and panicked completely; dumping the dwarf and all their supplies into the river as it went under, fighting and squealing as it tried to get its footing again. It should have been easy enough for the dwarf to just push himself off the pony and stand up in the middle of the river, even if he couldn't swim; but something wasn't right. He was flailing about, seemingly dragged by the animal, and Deorynn understood with a start; his foot was caught in the stirrup.
That could end badly.
She doubled her stroke to catch up. The other dwarf was shouting in panic by now, seemingly torn between allowing her to help, and going after his partner by himself. She didn't have time to call to him, just prayed he would stay on the other bank. She didn't need two dwarves to rescue. After a few more seconds, she caught the pony, who was still struggling to gain any sort of footing on the slippery rocks and against the current—not so swift at the crossing, but much swifter fifty feet downstream—and dived underwater. She grabbed the dwarf's foot—securely caught in the stirrup—and twisted. She nearly gasped river water as his other foot connected with her face, hard, and came up for air, furious.
"Stop fighting me, you fool!" she roared. "I'm trying to help you!"
He froze, probably in shock at that tone coming from a female, but she had no time to care. Diving again, she twisted his foot this way and that until it came loose. He immediately thrashed away from her, and she grabbed the pony's reins as she came up.
"All right!" she called to him. "Follow me to shore! Swim with the current, not against it!"
He gasped as he came up for air. "I can't swim well!"
"Hold onto my belt, then!"
"But you're a….a…."
"Do you want to drown?!" she retorted. He shook his head, mute. "I thought not! Now grab it!"
He did as he was told, and she took a moment to calm the screaming pony, guiding it toward shore, following the current. The animal got its feet a moment later. It took several minutes before she felt stone beneath her own feet again and called to her soggy tagalong, "put your feet down!" He did, and they staggered onto the bank, the light-haired dwarf awaiting his companion anxiously. He rushed to him and threw his arms around him, checking him over for injuries.
"Are you hurt, nadad? I thought…" his brother shushed him, not allowing him to finish the sentence, hugging him roughly.
So they are brothers, then, Deorynn thought vaguely as she bent over to catch her breath, noting with some surprise that there was blood dripping onto the gravel bank. It was only then she noticed the pain in her face, mostly on her cheek and forehead, but also in her nose. She reached up and touched it, feeling for the damage. It wasn't broken, thank Aulë, just bleeding; and it looked like the dwarf's boot had scraped her forehead a bit as well. Wiping her fingers on her leggings, she fumbled for a scrap of cloth to stem the flow of blood from her nose.
A hand entered her vision, holding a gray cloth that would work perfectly, and she took it before looking up. Her green eyes met rich brown ones, over an apologetic grin, and the young dwarf helped her straighten. She was still trembling.
His brother, too, was smiling, and they bowed to her in sync. "Fíli—"stated the blond.
"—and Kíli," said the brunet, before they chorused together, "at your service."
They would have to forgive her if she neither bowed nor curtseyed after the manner of dwarves at the moment, as the nosebleed was making her slightly dizzy, but she did manage a short nod and a small smile for them. They really did seem decent lads, and also quite handsome.
Though she kicked herself for thinking it.
The younger looked troubled as she swayed. "I am so very sorry for kicking you," he said, truly looking quite regretful for it. "I didn't realize at first what was happening. Please, let us do something to help you."
Deorynn's smile warmed, and she placed a hand on his shoulder. "Doe deed for dat," she said, forgetting for a moment the rag, eyes widening as she realized how silly she sounded. She barely repressed the urge to laugh, but she couldn't help it when she saw the twinkle of mirth in Fíli's eyes, too. She chuckled at herself, as did Fíli, but Kíli still looked torn between guilt and concern. She turned away from them. "Wod bobent, please."
Pulling the blood-stained rag away from her face, she wiggled her nose and wiped off any excess blood before turning around.
"As I was saying," she said, still smiling. "There is no need for you both to do anything more; just promise me you'll be safe on the road."
Kíli looked relieved that she seemed fine, but he still wasn't letting her go with just that. "Please, I insist, at least take some salve for your forehead." He dug in his pack and pulled out a clay jar, wet on the outside, but tightly sealed. "It's witch hazel, should help with the pain and speed the healing process." She took the jar gratefully and applied some of the rich cream to her forehead and cheek. Smiling, she returned the container, gave the young men a dwarfish curtsey, and turned to go.
They both shouted, and she turned round once more, sporting a cheeky grin. "Wait!" Fíli called. "We don't even know your name!"
"You have no need of my name," she stated, though her smile made the words gentle rather than harsh. "You are both safe. That is what matters."
And she was gone, leaving the brothers standing speechless on the riverbank.
A/N: Hello! Welcome to my first Hobbit story! :) I'm not very long-winded, but thanks for tuning in, and I hope you enjoy this!
*Kahomhilizu, Khagan!—Please, mama!
*Tak natu yenet, mizim—Until next we meet, my sweetheart.