"BILL FERNY! BILL FERNY!"
Sam couldn't believe his ears. He was sure that was Frodo's voice, and close by too. He looked quickly at Ferny who was on his feet peering out into the gloom beyond the light of the camp. He muttered something to the other man who nodded and immediately took some Olag-Hai out into the blackness on the far side of the camp.
Watching them go Ferny yelled out. "I'm Bill Ferny! Who are you and what do you want?"
"You know exactly who I am and what I want, Ferny! I am Frodo Baggins and I want you to release my friend!"
Ferny's face twisted into a horrible smile. "Ah, Mr Baggins! What a pleasure it is to meet you again."
"I want you to release my friend! Now!"
Ferny's eyes flitted to the spot where the Olag-Hai had left the camp. "So you've said. What makes you think that I have him?"
"Some of my companions tracked you here. They saw Sam."
Sam watched as the Man returned without the Olag-Hai and spoke once again to Ferny who nodded.
"Where is the rest of your company now, Halfling? Where is Mr Stick-at-Naught Strider - and that Wizard he likes to keep company with?"
"They are back at our camp preparing to leave."
"Then why are you here?"
"They think the quest we are on is more important than any one of us and are going to continue regardless. They say there is nothing to be done for Sam."
"But you don't agree?"
"Sam's been my friend all my life. I cannot just leave him behind."
"And you won't need to, provided you have what I want."
"I have the ring here."
"So says you. Let me see it."
Frodo took out the chain with Aragorn's ring and held it up.
Ferny smiled. The Hobbit's light was dim and he was some distance away, but he was clearly holding up a ring. "Come closer so I can get a better look at it." He said slyly.
Frodo could sense rather than see movement to his right but he forced himself to remain calm and called out again " When will I get Sam?"
"As soon as I get the ring."
Sam's heart was in his mouth as he listened to the exchange. The other man had taken five of the Olag-Hai out of the camp, which left five still there, but all were focussed on the events unfolding outside the camp to the North. As Sam struggled to hear what was going on he felt a hand clamp down on his mouth and the surprise he felt was doubled when Pippin appeared before his eyes, cutting him free. A gentle pressure turned his face up and he saw Legolas looking down at him, his finger to his mouth cautioning silence as he removed his other hand from Sam's mouth. Sam cast a worried glance at the creatures and Ferny but they seemed oblivious to everything apart from Frodo and his promise of the Ring. When Sam was free, Legolas lifted him up silently and they all crept out of the camp towards the South.
Gimli was waiting for them in the darkness. He nodded a silent greeting to Sam before he and Pippin crept away into the shadows. Sam made to follow but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Legolas whispered softly in his ear "They have another part to play in this plan, as have we. Come Sam." Instead of leading Sam away from the camp, he was surprised when Legolas lead him back into it.
Frodo began to think that he was in danger of shouting himself hoarse and he was running out of things to say. "And you promise to let me and Sam go? And the others? If you have the Ring you should have no need for them."
"I give you my word. All I want is the Ring." Ferny turned as he saw his friend hurrying towards him.
"The Hobbit seems to be alone." The other man said. "Tirk and the others can see no one but him out there. Maybe he's telling the truth."
Ferny was stopped from adding his thoughts by an apple that hit him square on the back of the head. As he slumped to the ground, unconscious, his friend turned to see Sam smiling at him from the other side of the camp. No one moved for a moment until Sam yelled, " There's five of them to your right, Mr Frodo, I'd run if I were you!" With that Sam started to run away himself, followed by the remaining Olag-Hai. Behind him he could hear Ferny's friend shouting, "No! Leave him! Get the one with the Ring!" But the creatures seemed to pay him no heed at all as they closed in on their prey to the South.
As soon as he was out of the camp and surrounded by gloom, Sam was joined by Legolas. The Elf picked him up with apparent ease and set off at speed. The beasts were close behind but as Sam turned his head to try and make out where they were, a heavy mist descended making seeing anything virtually impossible. Legolas, whose feet didn't even sink into the boggy land below, continued to run as if nothing had happened.
On hearing Sam's shouted warning, Frodo dropped Gandalf's staff, turned and ran as fast as he could. He could hear the creatures behind him closing in very quickly and his relief at hearing Sam's voice was very quickly overtaken by a real fear that he was going to be caught. No sooner had he formed that thought than a heavy mist descended on him. He continued to run but the creatures still seemed to be gaining. He turned to try and see his pursuers but in doing so he tripped over and fell heavily to the ground. As he frantically scrambled to his feet he was aware of movement very close to his left and heard a blood-curdling howl. He began to run away from the sound with renewed vigour but he suddenly felt that his feet were no longer hitting the ground. A moment later he found himself being carried by Aragorn.
Gimli and Pippin sat quietly in the darkness until all of the Olag-Hai had left the camp to either chase Sam or Frodo. Ferny's friend was standing over him nudging him none too gently with the toe of his boot, muttering and cursing to himself all the while. On receiving a nod from Gimli, Pippin moved quietly around the bushes to the place where Bill the pony was tethered and untied him. As he led him away however, the movement caught the eye of the Man and he hurried to step in front of the Hobbit, sword drawn.
"Well now, what do we have here?" The Man sneered. "Another one of Sammie's little friends that just can't leave Ferny's old pony alone."
He grabbed Pippin roughly by the scruff of the neck and sent him sprawling to the ground. As the Man advanced on the Hobbit he was distracted by the sound of someone clearing his throat behind him. He turned to see a very angry Dwarf wielding a very large axe.
"Leave my young friend be or bear the consequence." Gimli growled.
Merry stood beside Gandalf peering out into the gloom. He had been able to see nothing very much of the landscape below before Gandalf had brought down the mist but now he could see nothing at all. They were standing on top of a small hill that afforded a view of the camp and the surrounding bogs and grasslands – or it would have done if it had been light, but that didn't appear to prevent Gandalf from 'bending his thoughts' as he called it, to manipulate the weather below. Merry sighed and wished for the hundredth time since they had reached this spot, that he had something to do. The others may be in danger but at least they had no time to think.
If the plan failed and the others were captured, he, Meriadoc Brandybuck, would become the Ring bearer and what that would be like he couldn't imagine. He could see the toll that the responsibility had taken on Frodo and he wondered whether he could bear it half so well. He couldn't decide what outcome he feared more – that he and Gandalf escaped and he became the new Ring bearer or that there was no time for escape and Gandalf had to take the necessary steps to avoid the Ring falling into the hands of their enemy.
He longed to speak to Gandalf about his fears, but the Wizard's face was a mask of concentration that Merry dared not break and so he continued to peer into the gloom and hope that things were going well below.
Frodo felt Aragorn come to an abrupt halt and he found himself being handed to Boromir.
"Is he hurt?" The Man asked with concern, feeling the front of Frodo's shirt.
"No, the blood is not his." Frodo heard Aragorn say and he strained his neck to try and catch sight of the Ranger. " I managed to kill one of the creatures but not before it caught me with its claws." Suddenly they all heard something behind them and froze. Aragorn's voice came in a harsh whisper as he backed away from them. "There are still four out there and they are very fast, even in this mist. Run." With that he disappeared into the gloom and Boromir broke into a full run. As he did so, Frodo saw the mist open up before him and then as he twisted his head he saw it close behind him again. He whispered a silent 'thank you' to Gandalf as he closed his eyes and concentrated on holding on.
Sam was amazed at how smoothly Legolas ran, even with a heavy Hobbit on his back. He could barely feel the motion and he found himself wondering whether this is what it felt like to be an Elf. How different it felt from his own clumsy movements! Did all Elves move like this or did some run like Hobbits and Dwarves? He would have continued to ponder this if they hadn't suddenly emerged from the mist into a clear night.
Legolas didn't break stride as he began to run uphill.
Gimli spoke to Pippin. "Stand up, Master Took, and bring the pony over here."
Pippin looked warily at the drawn sword that still pointed in his direction, but began to do as Gimli asked. As he rose to his feet however, Ferny's friend drew his sword back as if to strike a blow. Pippin drew back reflexively but the blow was never made. The man felt the full force of Gimli's axe and fell to the floor, never to get up again.
Pippin got to his feet and edged around the dead man until he stood in front of the Dwarf. "Thank you Gimli." He said with feeling.
"You are very welcome, young Hobbit." Gimli said handing Bill's reins to Pippin.
"What will we do about Ferny?" Pippin asked, eyeing the still unconscious Man.
Gimli followed the Hobbit's gaze. "No matter how deserving, I will not sink my axe into an unconscious body." The Dwarf said. Pippin thought he sounded a little regretful. "And I can see no advantage to taking him with us." Gimli continued, shrugging. " We will leave him here. Come! Let us go and join our friends."
Boromir came to a halt, panting. The creatures were very close behind but the Man could not yet see them. He had no weapons that would be effective against a foe such as this, so flight was his only option, but he was beginning to doubt whether he could outrun them.
He began to run again.
"Frodo." He rasped between gasping breaths "You need to look out behind me and tell me when the creatures have caught us. Can you do that?"
"Yes." Frodo said. In fact his gaze had been fixed over his friend's shoulder for some time. "What will we do when I see them?"
"I will try to hold them off and you will run as fast as you can."
"I will not leave you." Frodo said firmly. " In fact, if there is someone to stay and fight then it should be me as my weapon is Elvish and may be of some use."
Boromir would have chuckled if he had had the breath. "You have a stout heart, Frodo Baggins."
Frodo felt pleased by this acknowledgment coming, as it did, from a Man who set such store by bravery and honour. "So do you, Boromir." He returned sincerely.
Their conversation was interrupted by an Olag-Hai leaping towards them from the shadows, snarling and brandishing a heavy hammer.
Boromir threw Frodo to the ground and stepped in front of him to face the danger. "Run! Aragorn will find you. Just run as fast as you can!" But before Frodo could move an arrow struck the beast in the neck, and another between its dreadful eyes. The creature looked at Boromir as if confused and then slumped to the ground.
Aragorn ran up to them. "Elvish arrows." He stated simply as he urged Boromir on and picked up Frodo.
"Sam!" Merry jumped to his feet and rushed to help his friend down from Legolas' back.
"Hello, Merry! I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see your face again!" Sam beamed. "But as you see I'm safe and sound, thanks to Legolas here."
The Elf smiled at him "It was my pleasure Samwise Gamgee. But now I must leave you again to lend what assistance I may to our other friends." He turned towards Merry. "You know where we are to meet?" Merry nodded. "Then I will see you both there later." With that he sped off down the hill again. Merry was just beginning to wonder where he got his energy from when he heard his name being called.
"Merry? Why won't Gandalf talk to me?"
"Ah, he's busy at the moment." Merry said quickly, pulling his friend away from the Wizard. "I'll tell you all about it on the way to the meeting place. The bad news is that I promised them that I would make you run all the way there…"
Aragorn stopped momentarily to try and get his bearings. It was difficult, even for him, at night and in this mist. Behind him he heard Boromir panting heavily.
They had known that outrunning and outmanoeuvring the beasts on the north side would be hard. On the south side many, if not all, pursuers would be caught in the bogs – especially if you could run across areas that were deadly to others as Legolas could. On this side all they could do was run and rely on the mist to disorientate their foes.
Despite their best efforts to allow for these difficulties, things were not going to plan. The creatures did not seem to be as confused by the different scents and prey as they had hoped and had remained together, albeit in a loose group, rather than splitting to follow Aragorn when he handed Frodo to Boromir. And the creatures were much faster than they had allowed for. Although he and Boromir had led them around to the south side in a large loop and they were now close to the bogs that might afford them some advantage, neither man had much energy left to either run or fight. As Aragorn had found to his cost, arm-to-arm combat with the Olag-Hai was difficult and exhausting and although the creatures could be killed with arrows, they needed to be at close range and he had only two Elvish arrows left. Boromir's sword was no use to them and Frodo's Sting, although Elvish, was too small to be wielded by the Man. If more than one beast caught them they were done for.
Aragorn came to a decision. "Boromir, take Frodo and continue. Stay away from the wet ground. Go east until you find Legolas or you find your way out of the mist."
"Very well." Boromir reached out for the Hobbit.
"What about you?" Frodo asked, although he suspected he already knew the answer.
"I will try and pick them off as they follow you. It should be much simpler now that we know that arrows will kill them."
"How many arrows do you have?" Boromir frowned.
"Enough." Aragorn lied. "Now go!"
He waited until the Man and the Hobbit were out of sight and then followed in their footsteps slowly, walking backwards; facing the danger that he knew would come.
Legolas had found and killed two of the Olag-Hai that had managed to escape the bogs on the south side. He could detect no others so he turned towards the north and his friends.
"Bill!" Sam jumped delightedly to his feet.
"Well, that's nice isn't it Gimli?" Pippin declared. "You and I go to all the bother of rescuing him and we don't even get a 'thank you'. But Bill, on the other hand, gets a hero's welcome."
"Hello, Pip." Merry said, secretly relieved to see his young cousin. "I'm glad to see that you made it out of danger with your tongue in tact."
Sam chose that moment to envelop Pippin in a hug however, so the young Took could do little more than make a face at his cousin over Sam's shoulder.
Sam didn't quite dare hug Gimli but he shook his hand enthusiastically, whilst Pippin began to tell them all about Gimli rescuing him from the clutches of Bill Ferny's friend.
When Legolas found Boromir and Frodo they had left Aragorn only five minutes before. As he led them to the edge of the mist they told him, as quickly as their exhaustion would allow, of the circumstances that had led to them separating from Aragorn.
"Do you think he'll be alright?" Frodo asked in a small voice full of worry.
Legolas smiled kindly down at him. "Aragorn is very hard to kill. But all the same, I will go and see if he needs any assistance." He pointed at the faint path ahead of them. "Go quickly. Sam is safe and I saw Pippin and Gimli on this road a short time ago. I will catch up with you when I have found Aragorn."
The Elf disappeared almost immediately back into the gloom whilst the Man and the Hobbit started towards their friends as fast as their limbs would carry them.
Aragorn retrieved two arrows from the dead Olag-Hai at his feet. He couldn't hear anything immediately behind him and wondered whether he could make the bogs before another one caught up with him. He decided to try…
"And then Gimli swung his axe and the scoundrel fell to the ground. Dead!" Pippin finished dramatically.
Merry grinned. "Well it appears that we have you to thank for my cousin still being in one piece, Gimli. It is a wonder that after half an hour alone in his company you didn't sink your axe into him!"
Gimli patted the indignant Pippin on the shoulder. "On the contrary, I found young Master Took to be a brave and worthy comrade and I am glad that we are to continue on this quest together!"
Pippin puffed up a little and Merry groaned.
All heads turned to see Frodo running towards them. Sam leapt to his feet to meet his friend and the two embraced, weeping from the relief of knowing that the other was unhurt. After he had a moment to collect himself, Sam nodded his thanks to Boromir who had slumped to the ground and was gratefully drinking some water that Merry had given him. "Where are the others?"
Frodo caught Boromir's eye as he replied. "We were forced to separate from Aragorn and Legolas has gone to find him."
Aragorn was running into the bogs as fast as he could whilst readying an arrow in his bow for the moment that he would turn on the creature that was on his heels. He threw himself to the ground twisting as he did so and let an arrow loose in the face of the Olag-Hai behind him. Fast as lightning he fitted another arrow to his bow and buried it into the neck of the creature. It fell heavily on his legs but he wasted little time in pulling himself free. Still gasping for breath he bent down to retrieve his arrows when he heard a noise close to his left and saw a blur of movement. In a split second he dropped his bow and his hand went to his sword, but before he had a chance to draw it the Olag-Hai that had been charging towards him stopped and fell to the ground, three arrows embedded in its horrible face. Aragorn didn't need to turn around to know to whom he was indebted. "Thank you, Legolas."
The Elf came forward to retrieve his arrows. "Are there any more? I have accounted for five, six including this one."
"Then there are no more; and I am glad, for my strength is all but spent."
Surprised by this admission, Legolas approached the Man with concern, noticing for the first time how haggard his friend appeared. He prodded Aragorn's chest gingerly as he examined the cuts there. " Your wound looks deep. Are you in much pain?"
"No, but I have seldom felt so weary." He caught the Elf's sceptical look. "Truly, Legolas, I am well. I have some herbs in my pack that will ease my discomfort and I believe that they, combined with some sleep, will see me almost fully recovered by tomorrow."
"Then let us get back to the others." Legolas flashed the Man a smile. "Before Frodo starts insisting that our companions set out again to rescue us!"
"They should be back by now." Frodo muttered.
Gimli stepped before the pacing Hobbit, forcing him to stop. "Patience, Frodo. They have not been gone so long that we must assume the worst. Legolas, I am told, is an excellent tracker and they are both fearsome warriors. I have no doubt that they have found each other and are on their way here as we speak."
"But he was hurt! And those things were so close. He may not have been able to fend them off!" Frodo looked at Boromir. "We never should have left him." He said sadly.
Sam spotted the Ranger and the Elf over Frodo's shoulder. "I don't know, Master Frodo. I reckon Strider is big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself." He grinned.
"Thank you, Master Gamgee."
"Aragorn!" Frodo rushed up to his friend. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, Frodo. From what Legolas tells me I believe that I must look a great deal worse than I feel." His attention was diverted away from Frodo to Sam who had grabbed his sleeve.
"I don't know what to say, Strider. Thank you don't seem nearly enough."
Aragorn clapped the Hobbit gently on the shoulder and smiled. "I'm just glad to have you back with us and in one piece." He frowned a little. " How is your head, Sam?"
Sam felt the side of his head where the Olag-Hai had hit him with a stone. It had swollen into a large bump and was making his head ache. He shrugged "It's just a bit tender, that's all."
"Well, remind me to give you something for it when we get our packs." The Ranger looked around. "Where is Gandalf?"
"Behind you." The Wizard said joining them. "Well now, Samwise Gamgee, what trouble you have caused us! What have you to say for yourself?"
"I'm sorry, Gandalf. Truly I am. I only went after Bill because he ran off. I didn't realise that he had sensed his old master until it was too late and I was caught."
Gandalf gave up all pretence at sternness. "Well, I am glad to have you back."
"So am I." Frodo said with feeling.
The rest of the Fellowship nodded and murmured their agreement.
Aragorn stood. "We cannot stay here long. We need to get the Ring and resume our journey."
Legolas looked at his friend quickly and frowned. "How far do you intend to go tonight?"
Gandalf noted the look of concern the Elf had thrown at the Ranger and decided to intervene. "We will go as far as the rocks. We need to go there to get the Ring and our packs and I think we all need to rest following tonight's excitement." He looked pointedly at Aragorn.
"But won't the enemy know where to find us?" Merry asked.
"I don't think there are any of the Olag-Hai left…" Gandalf looked at Legolas and received a nod in return "…and if Bill Ferny has awoken then he is probably half way back to Bree by now." The Wizard smiled. "I think we will be safe, provided that Sam manages not to run off again." Sam reddened but said nothing. As they all dragged themselves to their feet the Wizard looked around. "Peregrine Took, did you manage to retrieve my staff on your travels?"
The Fellowship sat around the small but comforting fire, finishing off their meals, telling stories and singing songs.
Aragorn sat a little away from the rest, smoking his pipe with Frodo by his side, listening to the others and sharing in their good spirits.
"Thank you for helping me get Sam back." Frodo said quietly during a sad Elvish song that Legolas was singing in a sweet low voice.
"I was worried about him too, Frodo." The Ranger replied.
"If it hadn't been for you I am not sure that the rest of our company would have agreed to the rescue." Frodo looked at his friend. " We really have been nothing but trouble to you since we met in Bree." Frodo smiled sadly. "And no matter how hard we try, I am afraid we will be little else but trouble to you in the future."
"Trouble follows you because you have accepted a responsibility that few could bear, Frodo. I choose to accompany you because your mission is important, but also because you, Sam, Merry and Pippin are dear to me." He smiled. "You are no burden."
"And you could not be dearer to us." Frodo returned seriously.
They were distracted from their conversation by Gandalf, who had entered the shelter and was making his way directly to Frodo. He dropped Gimli's muddy glove in Frodo's lap and sat down next to Aragorn. Frodo fished out the Ring and put it back on its chain, removing the one that Aragorn had given to him earlier and handing it back to him. As he did so Legolas finished his song to appreciative applause from his audience and Pippin jumped to his feet.
"Hobbits are a simple folk and we cannot compete with the songs of Elves in terms of beauty, but Frodo knows an excellent song that he made very popular in the village of Bree! Frodo, come on!"
"Try not to make it quite so spectacular this time, Frodo." Aragorn said quietly.
Frodo rolled his eyes at the Ranger as he got to his feet and made his way closer to the fire to begin his song. "There is an inn, a merry old inn beneath an old grey hill…"
The Wizard and Isildur's heir were content to enjoy the song for a while in amused silence until Gandalf spoke.
"How is your wound, Aragorn?"
" Legolas cleaned and bound it for me. It bled a lot but it is not serious."
"I am glad to hear it." The Wizard nodded. He looked at the merry company before him and puffed on his pipe. "I do believe that tonight's events have had a positive effect on our fellowship, despite the seriousness of the circumstances."
"Yes. But you know as well as I, that the risk we took with the Ring cannot be repeated." Aragorn said seriously. "The fault lies with me, I fear, for I could not put aside my fondness for Sam, but it cannot happen again. We were fortunate this time."
"I know, although we must all share the blame. But for now let us rejoice that our company is stronger now than it was," Gandalf looked at Gimli and Legolas sitting side by side, laughing at Frodo leaping over Boromir's legs as he sang his song " and let us be thankful too, that there is a glimmer of trust even amongst the most divided of our party."
Aragorn nodded. "Long may it last, old friend." He laid his head back to lean on the wall behind him and sighed as he felt his weariness overtake him. "For we are sure to face darker times than this before our quest is at an end."
"True." Gandalf mused and they fell into silence once more. When the Wizard next turned to look at the Man he found that he had fallen into a deep sleep. Careful not to disturb him, he silently left Aragorn's side to join the others as Frodo's song drew to a close.
At Gimli's insistence, Boromir began an old song of Gondor.
Not wishing to interrupt the singer but anxious for an answer to something that had been puzzling him, Merry whispered softly to Gandalf. "Why do you suppose that Bill Ferny wanted the Ring anyway? Did he want to wield it?"
"I doubt it very much." Gandalf said softly "I think it more likely that he saw an opportunity to make money and sold his services to the highest bidder."
"Money!" Exclaimed Merry in a harsh whisper. "Well! He's nothing but a ruffian and a highwayman! And if I ever meet him again I shall tell him so!"