So, I eventually managed to grind out what will do as a chapter for this story. Still don't have near as much time as I would like, and it's been so long since I've worked on some of these that it's hard to remember what I was doing with them, but I'm trying.

Chapter 8

The Hobbit drew a deep breath after explanations and introductions had been passed around. "All right," reluctance mingled with resignation in his tone, "I'll trust you."

"Thank you," Sa't said quietly.

"We will protect you," Strider added firmly. "We leave at first light."

xxxx

Dawn came, and with it the group of two humans and four Hobbits set out with the addition of a scruffy-looking, somewhat underfed pony that Sam dubbed 'Bill'.

Sa't walked next to Strider, discussing the best route to Rivendell without taking the roads while the both of them kept an eye out for the clearly out-of-shape Hobbits.

The group had to move a great deal more slowly than either she or Strider would have liked, but Sa't pointed out that the Hobbits would get in shape from their travels. And really, it could have been worse. Some of the people she'd known on Earth had been unable to walk more than a few feet for anything from injury to outright obesity. At least the Hobbits were only a bit pudgy.

And barefoot. She'd noticed that the night before, and it didn't seem to bother them, but if they had to go over anything sharp, well… injured feet were a literal pain to deal with.

Still… not like they could do anything about it at the moment. She put the thought aside. They'd deal with such problems if they arose.

It wasn't until the Hobbits stopped, crowding around the pony and beginning to remove pots and pans from packs—really? They'd brought more than just a single pot?—that she and Strider headed back to confront them.

Second breakfast? Sa't tried very hard not to snicker as Strider went back to walking, clearly expecting the Hobbits to follow—Sa't did follow, but kept her attention on what the Hobbits were going on about.

More meals than should be healthy, and how did they keep from dying of heart attacks by fifteen? She smiled when an apple arched through the air to hit Merry in the chest—the only concession that she or Strider would be willing to make, at this point—and laughed aloud when the second apple pegged Pippin in the head.

Strider glanced her way with a small smile, glad to hear her laugh. It was a rare sound.

xxxx

Weathertop. Sa't glanced around what was left of the guard tower curiously, "How old is this ruin?"

"Younger than you," Strider quipped.

Sa't rolled her eyes, "That much is obvious."

"I believe it is a little over five hundred."

"Interesting architecture," Sa't murmured, examining a crumbled wall. "Mostly Old English, with a little Greco-Roman mixed in."

"You are speaking in terms I do not understand again, sister."

"Hmm, sorry. Places from my world. Greece and Rome used similar building techniques, very open and airy, but different decorative measures. A mix of the two became known as 'Greco-Roman', and the English peoples had a very severe, harsh type of architecture. Thick walls, low, flat ceilings. This has the thick walls, but higher ceilings… I'll stop now."

Strider chuckled as the Hobbits just stared, "Sa't, your wellsprings of knowledge never cease to amaze."

She shrugged, "Never know when building techniques will come in handy."

"True," Strider offered a small smile, "I will scout. Stay here with the Hobbits?" his tone made it a question.

Sa't nodded, "Be careful."

"Always."

xxxx

Sa't settled quietly near Frodo, despite the fact that something about him made her skin tingle—a sensation like but not like another Immortal nearby. Instead of a buzzing sensation in the back of her head, it was an all-over buzz that faded as she acknowledged the source.

It had to be the One Ring—the item of power he carried that the group had explained in the telling of the history of Souron. Poor kid, to have to deal with something like that.

The other Hobbits lit a fire as Frodo curled up to sleep, and Sa't let them, remembering what Strider had said of the Nine. They didn't like fire, and if they were nearby, they would be drawn to the Ring anyway, so there was no point in trying to hide.

When Frodo woke up and saw the fire, immediately tensing, Sa't moved from her spot leaning against the rubble and laid a calming hand on his arm. "It's all right. Fire is our best defense against that which hunts you."

The panic left the Hobbit's gaze and he turned his attention to Sa't, "What do you mean?"

"That's right, we didn't have time to tell you last night. They are drawn to the Ring. They can sense its general direction, so if they are near here, they will find us. But they are afraid of fire, for whatever reason. They can be driven off with it, though legend says they cannot be killed."

Frodo frowned.

Sa't thought back, remembering what she'd been told of the Nine and their connection to the Ring—while in Rivendell, she'd been persistent in seeking answers. She hated not knowing about the world she now lived in, and hated not knowing what threats there were.

"Is there anything else you can tell me about them?" Frodo asked.

Sa't glanced briefly to where the other three were happily making supper, then nodded. "The Ring calls to them. It wants to return to its master. It is sentient, in a way, and will play on your fears and desires. If you want to put it on, it would probably be a good idea not to. The Nine don't live, not really. They are wraiths, shadows of their former selves, twisted and reshaped into something wholly under Sauron's control. If you're wearing that Ring, they will see you, no matter how hidden you think you are."

Good. She could tell from his expression that Frodo was unsettled. Might keep him for reaching for that thing, thinking he'd be invisible.

A tingle along her spine, an unholy shriek in the air.

"Get to the fire!"

Twin katana would be no good against these. Sa't forced herself to re-sheathe the blades she'd drawn on instinct and dove instead for sticks from the fire, burning at the ends, flicking a coal into the air with her shoe only to bat it towards the advancing wraiths like a baseball.

Mildly to her surprise—she'd never been great at aiming baseballs—it hit one in the hood, sending it stumbling back with a scream like nails on slate, flames bursting from it as though it had been doused in gasoline.

Five. Where were the others?

The Hobbits behind her, holding their own flaming branches—where was Aragorn?

No time to worry about that. Protect.

The Nazgul swept forward, and everything dissolved into heat and cold, strike and counterstrike, Frodo singled out, scrambling away—

Sa't moved, not even aware of Aragorn appearing with sword and flaming torch in hand, driving back the remaining wraiths, shoving Frodo aside—the strange knife scoring a shallow cut on the Hobbit's shoulder before imbedding itself in her side.

Agony.

xxxx

"Mm-'n-shwt*" she groaned as she came back to herself, feeling her Quickening crackling through her, fighting something icy and painful in her side.

"Sa't," Aragorn's voice, somewhere between concerned and outright frightened, before continuing on in that strange Latin-cross language that they called the 'Common Tongue'.

Her fuzzy mind couldn't piece together what he was saying.

M'wt, but that hurt!

Seconds ticked by as she struggled to piece together what had happened, and came up with—"Frodo," she managed, half-gasp, half-groan, forcing herself to think about the language she was speaking, "Is he…" he'd been scratched by whatever had stabbed her.

Worry on the face slowly swimming into view above her, "Better off than you," Aragorn stated tightly, "Morgul blades must stab to truly pose a danger. He will be feverish for several days, but he will recover."

Sa't let her eyes slide closed again, feeling. The remains of the blade in her side were slowly being eaten away by her Quickening, the wound closing in the wake of burned-away shards. "So will I."

"Are you certain?" a tinge of hope underlying fear, now.

"Be a few hours," she managed. "Need to sleep." Or die, she didn't add. Either would help her heal faster, though a temporary death would be more effective than sleep. Requesting death, however, would greatly unsettle those she was with, so she held her peace.

xxxx

Sa't felt substantially better when she woke some hours later, lying across Bill the pony's back, though there was a ache that had not yet vanished. Her Quickening had settled somewhat, though it still flickered indignantly at the site of the almost-healed injury. There was no doubt that whatever weapon had inflicted the wound held some death-driven power, for an ordinary dagger-strike would have vanished in minutes at the most, and even steel shards left behind would be burned out within an hour or so.

Sa't grimaced as she shifted, testing the extent of lingering damage.

Immediately, Aragorn was by her side, eyes dark with worry.

Strider, she reminded herself firmly. The Hobbits didn't know his true name. "Frodo?" she asked, glancing to the bundle in his arms.

"He sleeps. The fever is taking its toll on him, but athelas has eased the poison from his wound. He will recover."

"Good," Sa't twisted, freeing herself from the rope holding her on the pony's back and dropping to the ground. She stumbled, balance a little off, then shook her head and straightened.

The Hobbits gathered around, relieved smiles on their faces, questions tumbling from their lips.

Strider had visibly bitten back a protest, but Sa't waved a hand at him, "I'm a little sore, but it's passing. Will he sleep through being transferred to Bill?"

Strider considered, "Perhaps," he offered, but sound from behind made him reconsider stopping to secure Frodo to the pony. Shrieks, distant, but the Nazgul were on horseback. They could close the distance quickly.

"We must continue," Strider stated, low urgency in his tone. "Their horses will not be able to take the mountain trail."

xxxx

Halfway up said mountain trail, the pony could barely make it, and he was smaller and more surefooted than the black horses could have a hope of being. Several times Sa't and the Hobbits had to brace him against the slope, but brave little Bill struggled on.

They crested the mountain at a small pass that turned into a game-trail near a spring-fed pool, making descent much swifter and safer than the climb.

Sa't hid her weariness, not wanting to worry the Hobbits, and drew on millennia-old discipline to push past her desire to simply lie down and sleep. They didn't have time for that. With horses, the Wraiths still had a chance at cutting them off if they didn't hurry.

Still, something was wrong about the mostly-healed injury. The fact that it had lingered so long was—worrying. She could feel her Quickening flickering like heat-lightning on a desert night, almost angry at the remnants of the wound.

If it had such an effect on her, what would have happened to Frodo if that thing had landed a solid hit?

On second thought… she didn't want to know.

xxxx

*Mm-n-shwt translates roughly to 'water and shade', which-while unconfirmed by actual history-seems like a reasonable curse for a desert-area like Egypt.

*M'wt translates to 'Mother'