Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky

Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them.

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

            There was a long forgotten passage once, omitted from the original text for its insignificance. The passage was incoherent and, during Mithrandir's study, useless to the task that awaited the hobbit, Frodo Baggins. It seemed an absentminded scribble among the many pieces of parchment, easily overlooked and cast aside. It remains, still, a disregarded piece amongst the papers of lore.

            But for one small band, it was to be their last journey.

A silver dragon against the moon

Of flesh, blood, wisdom and magic.

Two for one under sky and stone

Where the light and darkness wreak their havoc.

The Witch Child

An Ill-Fated Encounter

            "Aye…ale to warm the soul…" Gimli, son of Gloin, lifted his drink in toast and easily tilted it, draining the contents with several large gulps. His beard twitched as he savored it, and upon finishing the drink he gave a loud contented growl and slammed the mug upon the wooden surface of the table. "Have yeself another, Master Pippin, in honor of my coming!"

            Peregrin Took, affectionately named Pippin, stared at the dwarf with large, innocent eyes. "Another?" he fairly squeaked, and he seemed to fall further against the table he rested upon. "I've already had myself six!"

            "Is that all, then?" Gimli burst into raucous laughter, slapping one thick heavy hand down on the table and upsetting Pippin slightly. "I will fetch you another yet-"

            The fireplace roared with a bright flame directly behind him, casting a warm glow on his back as the dwarf looked about, frowning passed several bystanders. There was a large group visiting with the Prancing Pony that stormy day. Outside the stained and faded windows the world of Middle Earth was a turbulent mess of heavy rain and crashing thunder. Lightning repeatedly surpassed the weak light of candles inside the Prancing Pony, casting an eerie silver glow upon the different faces of travelers and Bree folk. "Where is that Butterbur..?"

            "You shouldn't even be here," Pippin said to the dwarf. "Bree is on the border of the Shire. *No Men are allowed to enter or cross any of the lands of the Shire. I am amazed that you have not been tossed out on your-"

            "Men! I am not of Men!" Gimli turned and roared at the hobbit. "Nor will I be treated as such!"

            "But he is right, of course," cut in a quiet voice and the two friends paused in their conversation, turning their full attention to the newcomer. The stranger wore a green tunic beneath a long gray cloak, elven fashion if Gimli was correct. He came to stand beside Gimli as he spoke and under the drawn hood of the cloak a young looking man smiled in greeting.

            "Legolas, my friend!" the dwarf shouted merrily and he rose to his full yet heavy height. Pippin smiled widely as Gimli held forth a hand and the gesture was accepted by the elf, Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of Mirkwood. "A long time it has been, a long time!"

            "Indeed, Elf-friend," the elven prince agreed before turning his attention to Pippin. "Master Pippin, like-wise a lengthy parting. Do you find yourself well?"

            Pippin accepted his handshake as well. "Quite," he replied and he scooted over a bit for the elf to join them. "At last, an ally against Master Gimli. He would have me drink myself into an early grave."

            Gimli sat once more, Legolas quietly pulling forth a chair and seating himself between them both. "It is a good day and spirits are in abundance! Why not partake of them as was intended?"

            "We shan't 'partake' of them because as I said already, you and now our dear friend Legolas, are not allowed within any part of the Shire by law," Pippin argued, glancing from the dwarf to the elf who sat silent but with a faint smile upon his lips.

            The dwarf puffed up his chest in a gesture of irritation. "And a bitter law it is!" he barked. "We, the last of the Fellowship, are not even allowed to enter an inn whilst the true villains parade about still with living breath in them!" His hand strayed to his axe, resting at his side, almost reflexively.

            Legolas' smile was patient. "My friend, your temper still flares needlessly," he observed. And he cast a quick glance at Pippin. "Has Merry not arrived yet?"

            "Not yet," Pippin replied, looking toward the rain pouring outside the doors of the Prancing Pony. "I have not known him to be late many a time but no doubt he is stirring trouble somewhere."

            Meriadoc Brandybuck was the last of their group to arrive. Pippin had arrived several hours beforehand and Gimli even earlier. Pippin had found him throwing back drinks since he had first entered the Prancing Pony and Gimli had yet to cease.

            "And how go things?" Legolas asked, turning his attention to Gimli. He set aside his bow, a fair gift from the Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien given to him years before. With the bow went his quiver of arrows but his two blades remained strapped to his form.

            "Things go as they will, they do," Gimli responded, still looking about, no doubt in search of Butterbur, the owner of the establishment. "It has been many a year since I have traveled to the Glittering Caves and I find myself with a grave yearning to return."

            Pippin frowned at the dwarf. "Did you not just say a little while ago that you had gone just this passed Winter-" he let out a yelp and Legolas did not doubt his vision when the table jumped suddenly. Pippin flushed a deep crimson and reached down below the table with a grimace.

            "What was that you were saying there?" Gimli asked in a gruff yet nonchalant tone.

            "Nothing at all, really…" Pippin mumbled.

            Gimli turned his attention back to Legolas. "And when will you be coming back with me to the Glittering Caves then?"

            "Perhaps after we visit with Treebeard once more?" the elf replied innocently. And he looked about as the dwarf said something unintelligibly in his brusque manner. Merry should have arrived with Pippin but he was not worried. Sooner or later the last of their group would arrive. All friends for several years they were, members of the Fellowship chosen to escort Frodo Baggins of the Shire to the Land of Mordor to rid Middle Earth of the One Ring, once and for all. And so he had and Middle Earth had been saved.

            But not without a price for Frodo had weakened after the task had been completed and he had long since gone out to Sea with Mithrandir, Gandalf the Gray, accompanied by Elrond of Rivendell and Galadriel of the Golden Wood. Not long for him, as he had seen generations pass, but long in that he found himself missing the departed at the most thoughtful of his quiet moments.

            Samwise Gamgee was married now, with a large family and though they would have gladly had his company he was needed at home. And Strider, now known as Aragorn, son of Arathorn, to all of Middle Earth, was the proper King.

            The last of their Campaign had long been laid to rest in the raging waters of the Rauros, borne away through the Osgiliath and the mouths of the Anduin, out to sea. Boromir, son of Denethor, had died in the early days of their campaign and with him had gone the Fellowship for Frodo had chosen then to go alone, followed only by his faithful Sam.

            Legolas remained silent as he mourned still, and he absentmindedly searched the Prancing Pony, blue eyes cast about. The inn was crowded with mostly hobbits, but now and again was the laughter of a group of Men, or better the loud voice of a dwarf. Even children, as he caught sight of a small male child sitting in the back of the Prancing Pony, feet swinging far above the floor. He frowned faintly at the child but held his tongue, searching about for the child's mother at the very least. But the child sat alone, nursing a small cup of liquid by himself.

            "Do you not agree, Legolas?" Pippin asked.

            The elf turned quickly back to the conversation at hand with a small nod. "Indeed. The sun will shine yet," he replied to a question he had not consciously heard. And he cast yet one more glance at the child.

            **Coming in through a back door floated a figure, dressed entirely in black with a large hood casting a deep shadow upon the face. Black gloves hid the hands and black boots muddied the wooden floor of the Prancing Pony. The dark form seemed to hesitate where he stood and slowly he turned his head in the direction of the child.

            Pippin frowned at the elf and glanced over his shoulder to see what held his companion's attention. And upon seeing the black form his eyes widened, lips parting.

            From the front of the Prancing Pony the doors swung open, admitting a gasping hobbit with a head of curly hair. "Pippin!" he shouted across the inn, hunching forward to catch his breath. And his next sentence caused even Gimli to stop. "The Nazgûl!"

            A moment later, outside the swinging doors, black horses reared their heads, coming to rest as their masters dismounted. Four riders, clothed in the same form as the figure in the back and wielding long swords of glistening silver. The roar of thunder had hidden the pounding gallop of the horses, swallowed the noise whole.

            Gimli sprang to his feet rather quickly for a stocky dwarf and he pulled forth his axe with a loud rumble. Legolas swiped for his bow, swinging his quiver back upon his shoulder, but he faced the back of the inn where the first black form was converging on the small child. Pippin rose not as quickly but just as alarmed, slowly unsheathing his elven blade. "Merry!" he cried and the hobbit at the door scrambled backward as the black riders swooped in, long robes flowing.

            "How is it possible?" Gimli asked in a very quiet tone.

            "Only four," Pippin murmured faintly.

            "Five," Legolas said shortly and he lifted his bow, leveling an arrow.

            The figure in the back headed in the direction of the child, already reaching out a long, black-gloved hand. The hand would wither the child away, smooth skin cracking and crumbling away under the dead breath of the Nazgûl.

            And all around, the people of the inn were suddenly rising and screaming, figures darting this way and that to avoid any of the Riders that had arrived.

            "Fire!" Merry shouted back to them as one Rider turned and loomed before him. The hobbit clamped down, staring up at the black form, skin paling.

            Legolas did as he was commanded, letting loose the arrow. His aim was true but the Black Ringwraith recoiled, hand swiping the arrow in mid-flight.

            Beside him Gimli had taken the order another way, reaching a stubby arm into the fireplace and pulling forth a smoking piece of wood log. With a grunt he wound up and flung the wood piece at the Black Rider coming down on Merry, letting out a battle cry as the burning piece set the dark robes on fire. A piercing shriek came from the Ringwraith and it flailed in sudden madness, shrinking away from the flames.

            "Legolas!" Gimli shouted.

            "The child!" Legolas said in reply. He aimed once more, another arrow already in place.

            In the front of the inn Merry reached down and took the smoking log into his hand, waving it toward the remaining Nazgûl. "Out!"

            The Ringwraiths advanced on him, one more lighting on fire as the first fled with a whining scream through the front doors. Merry swung the log bravely, pulling out his own elven blade as he did so. The remaining Ringwraiths came forth, one swiping furiously at Merry, the other winding about and diving toward the back. The burning piece of wood flew from Merry's grasp, bouncing as it hit the floor off to his left and he was left alone, a small form before the looming shadow that was the Black Rider.

            "Legolas! Merry!" Pippin cried fearfully.

            Uncertain, Legolas whirled to survey the situation at the front and barely pausing a moment he took his arrow off the string of elf hair and lunged to the fireplace, setting the arrow aflame. He returned it to the bow once more and let it fly, jaw clenching with the gesture.

            The arrow pierced the Ringwraith in the middle of his back, the flames leaping onto his robe and engulfing his form as if he has been made of fuel. The creature withdrew from Merry, squealing in an unholy pitch, and he lurched, thrashing against the fire.

            The last of the Ringwraiths flew passed Gimli and Legolas, the Bree folk fleeing in the opposite direction to escape it. In a moment of insanity, Pippin hurled himself after the Ringwraith, elven blade clutched between both his tiny hands. The blade grazed the creature's side, ripping into his robes, and forcing the Nazgûl to issue forth a shriek. Pippin himself faltered, falling to his knees, his blade clattering to the floor beside him.

            "Pippin!" Merry shouted from the front.

            Legolas was at his side in a moment, leaning down toward the hobbit. "Come, Pippin! Ere the creature-" and he looked up as the Ringwraith turned to face them both, screeching in rage, his blade gleaming in the copper light of the fireplace. But as it confronted the elf and the hobbit it hesitated momentarily.

            In the back of the inn the last Ringwraith came within inches of the child, hand reaching, but the child swung away, lips parted, large eyes catching on the Ringwraith hovering before Legolas and Pippin. He raced around the Black Rider in front of him and the Ringwraith followed, not as quickly.

            The Black Rider before Pippin suddenly whirled, diving with a shrill scream and he took hold of the child from behind.

            "No!" someone shrieked frantically.

            The two wraiths converged on the small child, surrounding him as he flew for the back door. The burning log of wood flew passed Pippin's ear, striking the Ringwraith Pippin had attacked, and the Ringwraith toppled, still clutching the boy.

            The other Black Rider reached for the boy and as Legolas rose, Gimli's axe cut through the air, narrowly missing his head but stabbing into the wall beside the door, effectively blocking the wraith from the boy.

            Pulling forth a blade, Legolas dropped his bow and twirled, putting his back to the last Ringwraith. And with a duck of his head he ran his blade through, expecting the bitter coldness of the Black Rider to numb his figure.

            He was not expecting the blood that caught on his hands and clothes.

            With a wide-eyed frown he looked over his shoulder at the cloaked figure and yanked his blade from the creature's body. The Black Rider wavered for a moment and Legolas reached out, ridding the creature of the large hood.

            A drop of blood fell from the corner of the girl's mouth as she heaved in pain.

            "A female?" Legolas asked in disbelief.

            Turning her dark eyes fearfully the girl suddenly cried out, "No!" and Legolas whirled in time for the remaining Nazgûl to plunge his sword into the child's body, between and below his shoulder blades.

            The boy crumbled to the floor silently, deep crimson blood spreading out across his back into a widening stain.

            The woman lifted a pained hand to her mouth, tears springing to her eyes and both she and Legolas stiffened as the Ringwraith rose to its feet and faced them, looming over them coldly.

            Gimli threw himself into the fray with a ringing cry, wielding two logs of burning wood. He swung wildly at the Ringwraith, beating him back and away from his elf friend. Flames leapt onto the remaining Nazgûl, causing him to rear back with a furious scream and, as if debating his next course, the creature turned and fled, vanishing out the back door.

            Gimli followed with the flaming logs, running out into the rain and looking about for the creature.

            Heart beating unnaturally fast, Legolas looked toward Pippin who was slowly rising with Merry's help. And then he faced the girl once more as she slid slowly down the wall, her trembling and bloody hand pressed to her mouth in disbelieving devastation at the boy's corpse sprawled across the wooden floor.

            "What have you done?" she whispered faintly, tears slipping down her face. And she lifted her gaze to Legolas. "What have you done?"

* In some book we read it was said that because of what happened when Frodo and the hobbits returned to the Shire, no Man would be allowed to step foot back into the Shire. We could be wrong and if we are, feel free to tell us. We don't We'll happily bite Legolas, though… =)

** We don't know if there's a backdoor to the Prancing Pony but if there isn't…humor us. ;)

Feel free to review but if you flame us wickedly we'll burn your house down. Thanks!

 - Aes and Cass