A Knife in the Dark
Disclaimer: All of Tolkien's creations belong to the magical realm of Middle Earth and to the great author's estate. They do not belong to me.
Please Take Note: As I'm sure you can tell, this is the first fanfic I've posted; however, I've been lurking on the site for a very long time, and I know how most things work. On the subject of reviews, I would like you to leave one if it suits you, but I won't force them out of you. Please be polite, because I can learn nothing from flames; constructive criticism, on the other hand, would be wonderful. Secondly, I'm looking for a beta reader who would be interested in helping me work on spelling and grammar- I have a tendency to forget words when I get an idea, which really isn't much good to anyone. If anyone is interested, please send me a message. Finally, I try to keep all of my facts in order unless otherwise stated, so if something jumps out at you with a red flag, please let me know.
On the Note of Originality: I found out after I was three or four chapters into this story that this idea had already been used. I pride myself on originality, and in no way did I attempt to steal something that did not belong to me. If the author (who I have messaged) does have a problem with this story, I will immediately take it down (with no hard feelings).
Okay, thank you for reading my lengthy introduction. I hope you enjoy the story.
Prologue: From Shadows
It was dark; but nighttime was normally so. Many hours had passed since the shadows had been transformed from jagged shapes into a flawless blanket, and indeed Earendil could even be seen peeking out from behind various wisps of cloud. The air was cool enough to chill, but nothing a warm fire couldn't combat in an instant. However, as fires were potentially hazardous in these dark times, most travelers would simply accept the cold rather than risk exposure.
Far beneath the stars and moon, a young man with an aged spirit sat upon a hill top, sucking thoughtfully on his pipe. Darkness was a curious thing, he decided. It was similar to himself in many ways; or at least, to his current self, that was. Lately, he had taken to changing his identity as quickly as his clothes; although, by his normal standards, this wasn't nearly often enough for either. Still, he knew that while Estel Elrondion of Rivendell preferred the daylight, and Aragorn, son of Arathorn, was impartial, darkness suited Strider the Ranger just fine. And luckily, that was who he had chosen to be this week.
Just as night and day were opposite parts of a whole, Strider, Estel and Aragorn were part of the many yins and yangs of this particular man's identity. Strider, essentially, was the darkness; calculating, cold and decidedly foul as a particular Hobbit had recently put it. Not particularly malevolent or merciful, Strider, like the darkness, could be a curse or blessing depending on one's point of view. Still, he made no apologies; Middle Earth being so wrought with peril that indeed, darkness was the only way to survive these days.
The man inhaled the fumes deeply, and looked briefly to the imposing form of Weathertop, less than half a league away. It had been the safest place to leave his companions, Strider had decided several hours ago. The Hobbits were incredibly endearing, but no one could disagree that they had a certain knack for attracting trouble. He hoped that Amon Sul, what with it's considerably large boulders and all, would protect the Hobbits from their usual (albeit unintentional) mischief as well as from the perils of Arnor.
Closing his clear, gray eyes, Strider eavesdropped easily on the lively conversation nearby, a simple feat for one who'd spent many years living amongst the Elves (one could argue, of course, that it was in fact Estel, not Strider who had lived his early life amongst the Firstborn. The Ranger, on the other hand, preferred to overlook such details because frankly, he was much too exhausted from a day of leading four dainty Hobbits through the Wilds to care). Strider picked out the words 'tomato', 'sausage' and 'nice, crispy bacon' before he quickly abandoned interest; if he had learned anything from the past few months he'd spent patrolling the Shire, he knew that once a Hobbit began talking about food, the topic was very unlikely to change for some time.
That was, of course, until he realized that in order to have sausages and 'nice, crispy bacon', the Hobbits required a means to cook it. And, in order to cook something, one generally required a fire. And a fire, which he had credited the Hobbits with enough sanity to decide against, would attract others of a more unsavory nature (particularly the demons they were running from).
Strider's suspicions were confirmed moments later by two very different but easily recognizable screeches. One was a cry, quite easily discerned. "Put it out, you fools!" the Ringbearer squeaked, and was followed by the sound of very large feet stomping against a very hard ground. The second voice, however, was a mix between a hiss and a shriek, and was a reason for far more concern. Jumping to his feet in a quick, practiced motion, Strider launched himself forward, and prayed to the Valar that he would reach the Hobbits in time.
Leaving all thoughts of Estel, Aragorn and darkness behind him, Strider dashed along the plains, fueled by a mixture of adrenaline and anxiety. Running a calloused hand over the handle of his sword, he pulled the blade free in a fluid movement, all the while quickening his pace. Already he could see the dark, cloaked shapes of the Nazgul moving soundlessly along the ground and fading into ruins of Amon Sul, where they sought their undeniably weak prey.
Strider leapt along the protruding rocks with a feline-like grace, and arrived at the scene just in time to hear the dull clank of metal hitting rock. A Hobbit has just dropped his sword, the Ranger realized, and had anyone been looking, they would have noticed his eyes widening in stupefied disbelief. Either way, he had little time to ponder this new development as one of the Ringwraiths approached the fallen Hobbit, his blade poised and his intent deadly.
With a roar, the Ranger barreled forward, and successfully distracted the Nazgul from the Halfling, which he now recognized to be the Ringbearer, Frodo. A loud clang later, and blade crossed blade in a deadly dance. With wild but calculated swings, Strider managed to nick his opponent several times, until the great cloaked beast retreated from the frightened Hobbit. There was little time for relief, however; within moments the remaining four Ringwraiths fell upon the Ranger with powerful swings.
"Run, Frodo!" Strider commanded, parrying a sharp stab meant to cleave his heart in two. "You must take the others and flee! Flee to Rivendell!" From the corners of his eyes, Strider watched as the Hobbits disappeared into the darkness, throwing frantic glances at their protector from over their plump shoulders.
Metal struck metal time and time again, but neither party gained any advantage. Strider was by far the better swordsman, but the Nazgul countered him with sheer numbers; whenever one dark creature felt the pierce of the Ranger's blade, another arrived to take its place. Gradually, the Ranger felt himself being forced towards a large pile of boulders, which at one point must have been part of a wall. It was a clever maneuver, Strider acknowledged, as he narrowly avoided a thrust to his thigh; in close quarters, he would be unable to drive or parry with total freedom.
A misstep backwards sent the Ranger stumbling over a gnarled tree branch. With a quick step, he righted his balance almost immediately, but he felt something small fall from his left pocket. Dimly he noted that his pipe must have fallen from within the confines of his cloak, but now was really not the time to bend down and pick it up. He was willing to kill for pipeweed, but not really prepared to die for it.
The stone wall was very close now, and the Ringwraiths began to press their advantage. Each stroke was powered with sheer strength, causing Strider's arms to shake with each block. He was slowly being herded into a corner, a bind from which he would be unable to escape. Furrowing his eyebrows in concentration, he looked for a possible way to extricate himself from his current predicament. Suddenly, he flung his lean body against the rocks and rebounded with such force that he was shot towards his enemies with an alarming speed. Taken by surprise, the nearest Nazgul hesitated for a moment, and the dark Ranger slipped by him. Then, Strider launched his greatest assault.
Stepping onto a large dais, he attacked his opponents with an incredible force, for he was no longer confined by the previously tight quarters. His speed and strength were terrifying to behold, and the Ringwraiths quickly fell back with outraged shrieks. His blade was almost invisible, mere glints of moonlight in the darkness. The Nazgul began to retreat, until eventually, one disappeared altogether.
The sudden smell of burning wood then caught Strider's attention for a fraction of a second; the fading embers of his pipe had lit one of the many branches littering the floor aflame. With a dramatic somersault, he dove to the ground and scooped up the makeshift torch. It was the perfect tool, for all creatures of darkness despised the light and heat. Armed with a new weapon, he swung the flaming branch around, and scattered the terrified Nazgul in every direction. Loud wails of pain echoed throughout the Watchtower as one by one, the Nazgul were engulfed by the darkness to which they fled.
Suddenly, from behind, Strider felt a bone-chilling cold sweep through his shoulder, followed by a overwhelming wave of pain. With a loud gasp, Strider's sword hand flew to his left shoulder, mere inches above his heart. Vaguely, he heard his sword hit the ground, and he grimaced at the irony of the situation. Hadn't he just been mentally chastising the Ringbearer for a similar action? However, he had no more time to think, for the evil blade was then ripped free. The unexpected jolt sent the Ranger reeling, as the earth and sky began to trade places. Dropping his torch as well, he fell to his knees, and his mouth twisted in a soundless scream.
Despite the sheer agony now pulsing through his body, the victorious hissing above him made Strider's blood boil. He would be damned if that foul creature took him while losing nothing. No, he was damned already; therefore he was the one with nothing to lose. Grappling for the still flaming torch mere inches from his hand, he flung the burning branch towards the cloaked figure with all of his strength. The satisfying sound of wood connecting with a body sounded in the night, followed by a screech of rage.
His black cloak aflame, the Nazgul dropped his blade and fled haphazardly from the Watchtower to join his kin, which were undoubtedly still lurking nearby. Everyone is losing their swords tonight, Strider noted sarcastically.With a smug smile that did not quite reach his pain filled eyes, Strider examined the fallen blade with an almost detached interest. About an eighth from the point was missing, he noticed, meaning that a small fragment of the Morgul Blade had been lost-
Oh sweet Valar. Lost. That meant that a piece of that accursed blade was still within him. The fact had taken an abnormal amount of time to register. However, now that it had, Strider had finally grasped the severity of his condition. Several nights ago, he had told the Hobbits the tale of the Nazgul, and how they came into being. Great Kings of Men, who had fallen into darkness, had been his exact words. Collapsing into a shivering heap, the injured man, strangely, felt whole for the first time in decades; none of his identities could be extracted from the other, as they were all united by a common emotion. Estel of Rivendell, Aragorn the Heir of Isildur and Strider, Ranger of the North all felt true fear as the dark fragment pulsed angrily beneath their skin.
.End of Prologue.