Betcha didn't think you'd hear from me again!!!! You thought I was dead and gone huh? But no such luck, I'm harder to get rid of than a cockroach!!!  Hehehehehe….anyways, now that I'm back I hope I still have some people who want to read this. *Is there anyone out there?!*  Dreadfully sorry about the delay, I had a blasted computer virus and then my acute laziness syndrome kicked in and I had no interest in fixing the darn thing. But I'm back and with any luck that will never happen again. So here is my latest contribution to the world of fanfiction. I wrote this chapter listening to The Joshua Tree, Atchung Baby and All That You Can't leave Behind on repeat in my CD player so I guess I'd have to thank U2 for the inspiration. Most of their music seems to fit the themes that are running through this story and I find that it helps me if I listen to songs that I associate with my story, it helps me write. Plus Bono is gorgeous and has an incredible voice! Creed and David Bowie are also fairly helpful as well. I'm rambling, sorry about that. I'm sure none of you are reading this anyway…

This chapter, no, this story is dedicated to two of my favorite authors out there and two of the people who have helped me the most in writing this. MarsFireGoddes and Letainajup have been there for me to bounce ideas off of and help me fine tune the ideas that I had already decided to use. If it wasn't for their help I would never have gotten any of this done. So thank you both so much!!!! 

And now, for the rest of my thank-you's. RubyRedDragon: Good luck on reading the books, they took me quite a while to get through the first time I tried. And thanks for your continuous support, it means a lot! Letainajup: I LOVE YOU!!! Just in case you didn't now! Thanks for all the help you've given me! Dakki: Thank you! I think no matter how many people say it, hearing that you're the best is always a great thing! I'm still not quite sure on what to do with the fellowship number but thanks for the idea! Pricilla: Thanks for the review! And you'd better tell Heero not to slap you around or I'll sick all of the fellowship boys and Rei on him! I can't wait to read your next chapter. It's been up for a while but I just haven't had time to get to it. Curses! I hope Heero and Rei work out their problems soon! Black-Aura Sama: Thanks for the idea, but I'm pretty sure that most of the others Senshi got killed in the crystal wave. We'll see though! Felicia: Thanks! And yes, Rei will be using her powers for more important things, but it won't be for a while. Bluejello: Hehehe…I knew I forgot to explain something in the beginning. The reason I made Rei older was because in this story the youngest person that I could hook her up with would be Pippin at 22. And it could just be me but 14 and 22 is a little off. So I hope that unconfuses you! And thanks for still loving it! Elenhiril: I will definitely be e-mailing you soon, especially since the elves are about to make their grand entrance!! Thanks for all that I know you will help me with!! Yen-X-54: Of course I don't mind if you add me to your favorite author list, that's the greatest compliment you could give me! I hope you like this chapter as much as the others! Firenze: P-P-P-Please don't develop a stutter!! Here is the next chapter, sorry it took so long! Jess S: I'm glad you're enjoying this, but I don't think the other Senshi will be coming back. One or two of them might make cameos, but this is really Rei's story! And I'll try not to embarrass her to much with the elves, but Rei loosing her cool when she's embarrassed is enough to make me want to humiliate her!  Fanfiction Fanatic: WWWWAAAAAHHHHHHH! I don't want Boromir to die!!! But thank you for the reviews and the idea, I'll keep that in mind! Chibimegan: Thanks for the review. So you don't want Rei to end up with Legolas, huh. Who would you lie to see her end up with? Even if they do end up together I promise I will try to make it as believable as possible, but feel free to let me know when I'm writing to much cheese! And big thank you's to aquamoongemeni, Jen, Blue-Jedi Hobbit, Miyaka, Mystic Silver, Tahjako Hino, Mats Forsen, Elven Cherry Blossom, Sailor Omega,! Your guy's reviews mean so much to me. Without them I would never have had the courage to do any of this!! THANKIES!!!

And now, on with the fic…..

And If the Night Runs Over

And If the Day Won't Last

And If Your Way Should Falter

Along This Stony Path

It's Just A Moment

This Time Will Pass

                                    ~U2

 

                The rain beat down upon the companions as they raced through the dark to the west gate of the village. The wind whipped around them, sending their cloaks flying, and they were thoroughly soaked and in need of warmth and rest. It was Rei who reached the gate first but she waited for the hobbits to reach her side before she knocked.

            "Remember," Frodo said once Rei had knocked. "The name Baggins must never be mentioned. I am Mr. Underhill now."

            Everyone gave a quick nod as a slot in the gate above them opened. A pair of tired brown eyes glanced around for a few seconds before the slot slammed shut and another opened to feet below the first.  Again the eyes peered at them for a few seconds  before an aged voice said "Hobbits." The slot closed and the five stepped back as the gate swung open and a man in a tattered gray cloak stepped out. He held a lantern  in his hand and he looked at each of the companions in turn. "Four hobbits." He then raised the lantern and stared intently at Rei. Feeling nervous under the man's unwavering gaze Rei pulled her hood down to cover her eyes. "An elf…" The man whispered.

            From underneath her hood Rei frowned at the gate-keeper. "I am no elf, sir." She said to him, confused on how he could compare her to the elves she had read about in fairy stories.

            The man raised his eyebrows and look that crossed his face stated clearly that he did not believe her. "We don't often get visitors of your kind out here after dark," The gate-keeper began once his inspection of Rei was complete. "So you'll pardon my asking what your names and business in Bree might be?"

            Frodo stiffened. "Our names and our business are our own." He replied, taking a step closer to Rei. He did not like the questions the man was asking nor the suspicious way he was looking at them.

            "I meant no offense, young sir." Said the man, "But it's my job to ask questions after dark."

            Merry then pushed himself forward and in his most commanding voice said, "We are hobbits out of Buckland and we fancied a travel with our friend here." He motioned to Rei. "We wish to stay at the inn."

            "All right, all right." Replied the man, stepping aside and allowing the group to pass through the gate. "But tonight you'll find that I'm not the only one who will question you. There's strange talk and queer men abroad. Your not the only guest at the Prancing Pony tonight." With that he turned away from them and shut the gate, setting a small lock into place. As they walked towards the light of the village the man bid them a good night and Frodo could clearly see him watching them in the light of his lantern. Frodo picked up his pace, eager to get away from the man and his question. 'Why was he so suspicious of us?' Frodo wondered to himself as they made their way through the darkened village, Perhaps Gandalf had already arrived and had been asking about them?

            Rei was also watching the man warily. She couldn't sense anything  from him to give her cause for worry, but something was bothering her. She glanced at the four hobbits walking next to her. Perhaps it was her lack of sleep that was making her jumpy. She had not gotten a full nights sleep since their first encounter with the black rider and she was beginning to feel the effects of it. She was worried for them all but Frodo was never far from her mind. Everyday she could feel the power of the Ring grow and she worried that he was also beginning to feel it. He seemed tired, jumpier, like he was carrying a load bigger than his small body would allow. Sometimes you could see the strain on him and others you would never know he was carrying such a burden. But never once did he complain or try to hand the burden to another. He knew it was his alone to carry and Rei respected him for that and made a silent promise that so long as he needed and wanted her by his side she would never leave him. She was in too deep and cared too much. Even if her friends did come now she wouldn't leave with them, though she was sure that if she explained the situation to her princess she and all the other senshi would stay and help as well. Usagi was far to kind to leave someone in need and she would always try to help, no matter the cost to her own life. Much like how Frodo, knowing the danger that carrying the ring would bring, took up the mission without question. And how she and Sam followed him, refusing to let him go into danger alone. There was nothing more important to Rei than friendship and after her time in the Shire she now placed Frodo on the same level she placed Usagi.  Taking a deep breath Rei slowed her pace and fell into place behind the hobbits so she could watch behind them and keep an eye on those walking in front of her.

            Sam's nervous blue eyes darted around him. He had never seen so many big folk in his life nor had he ever felt so small or helpless. Everything around them was so large. The people walking down the street towered over him, barely glancing down when they walked through the streets and sending the hobbits into a scattered frenzy to get out of their way.

            Only Rei refused to get out of their way, standing with her head held high and looking into each persons eyes as they ran into her. Had she turned and looked at the men as they walked away she might have noticed them turn to watch her walk away, each wondering what could have brought one of the eldar race into their village.

            Soon the houses became more spread out and in the darkness ahead of them they could make out a lone building with all it's lights on. As they drew closer the could make out the sign. At the top of it was a large white pony, reared up on it's hind legs and beneath it, painted also in white, were the words : The Prancing Pony by Barliman Butterbur. The group hesitated outside, each unsure of what they would find inside. Both Frodo and Rei were hoping that Gandalf  was waiting just inside, ready to take the Ring from them. Merry and Pippin were eagerly anticipating a soft bed and a warm meal, their first in many days. Only Sam alone pictured the black riders creeping towards them out of every shadow, swords drawn menacingly and their slow, labored breathing filling the darkness around them.

            After a few more moments of uncomfortable silence a cheerful song broke out from the inn and laughter could be heard wafting from the open windows. Rei stepped ahead of the hobbits and pulled the door open, signaling them to go in before her so she could watch them and their escape route.

            Frodo was the first inside and he took a long look around. It was one large room with only three doors. One leading in and out of the building and another leading in and out of the kitchen. Surrounding the kitchen was a long, square bar-table, effectively blocking access to the kitchen to all who didn't work there. On the left hand side of the room a stair case ran up and out of sight and Frodo assumed it lead to the upstairs guest rooms. The final door was at the back of the room, leading most likely to the hobbit sized guest rooms. He assumed this because most hobbits didn't feel comfortable when they were far off the ground and would not pay money for a night in which they would get no sleep. After another quick glance around the room Frodo stepped up to the counter and though he couldn't see over it, called "Excuse me."

            A short, round faced man came through the door to the kitchen carrying a round tray covered with mugs of thick, foamy beer. "Half a minute, if you please." He called over his shoulder as he walked into the crowd and disappeared. Frodo took a step back and stood next to Rei, who had thrown back her hood and was staring around the room with curious violet eyes.

            The inn was full. Men, hobbits and what she assumed to be the dwarves she had heard about were all congregated in the room, chatting back and forth about what was going on in the world. The man and hobbits were nothing new to her but the dwarves had captured her interest. They were smaller, though taller than hobbits, and were dressed in  dark, earthy colors. Almost all of them had reddish brown hair and beards of the same color, many decorated with clasps of metals and braids. Ax's seemed to be their weapon of choice and she could see that they all carried weapons of some sort. At this realization Rei became nervous and upon further inspection she noticed that all of the inns  occupants were carrying a weapon. She could clearly see sword sheaths hanging and assumed that they all had a dagger or two hidden from view.

            Rei was about to voice her observation to her friends when the man who had been carrying the tray of beer returned with a smile. "Good evening, little masters." He said to the hobbits before looking up at Rei. "Welcome to the Prancing Pony, my lady." He said with a small nod  of his head. "If it's accommodations you'll be wanting we've a few really nice hobbit sized rooms available, and for you, my lady, we would make room."

            Rei nodded her thanks as Frodo stepped forward. "Are you Barliman Butterbur?" When the man nodded Frodo continued. "We're friends of Gandalf the Gray, can you please tell him we've arrived."

            Barliman looked at Frodo curiously. "Gandalf the Gray, you say." Frodo nodded but Barliman looked confused. "Now what does that name remind me of?" He thought to himself for a few moments before asking, "Might I ask your manes, sir?"

            Frodo paused, looking at each of his friends in turn. "Mr. Took and Mr. Brandybuck." He said, pointing to Merry and Pippin. "This is Sam Gamgee and this is Rei Hino." Taking a deep breath he continued, "And my name is Mr. Underhill."

            "Well, whatever it is I have forgotten again." Barliman said, straightening his apron. "But I'll remember as soon as I get a chance to think." He turned and yelled into the kitchen. "Nob, where are you?" He turned again to face the group in front of him. "Were awfully busy tonight," Barliman said. "But we don't often get a group of travelers out of the Shire so I'd be sorry not to make you welcome." He turned again and began walking towards the kitchen door. "Excuse me for a moment." He said to them before pushing the door open and shouting, "Nob, where are you, you woolly-footed slowcoach!"

            As soon as the door closed and Barliman was out of sight all the hobbits turned towards Frodo. Sam, who was wringing his hands nervously in front of him, asked "What are we gonna do now Mr. Frodo?"

            "I don't know Sam." Frodo replied slowly. "I guess we'll have to take rooms here and wait for him." Sam looked as though he wanted to say something else but at that moment Barliman came back to them with a sandy-hared hobbit.

            "This is Nob." Barliman said, introducing the young hobbit. "Now, where is Bob?" The hobbit shook his head. "You don't know? Well go find him!" The small hobbit gave the group a smile and a wink and then trotted off in search of his companion. "Now," Barliman began, "What was I gonna say?" He stopped speaking for a moment. "well, I've forgotten again, that's how busy we are tonight. If you weren't hobbits I don't think we would have room for you." He turned to Rei, "And for you my lady, we've cleared out-"

            "That won't be necessary." Rei said, interrupting him. "I'll stay with my companions."

            Barliman looked shocked but didn't say anything. He motioned for them to follow him through the door at the back of the room and down a short, narrow passage. Groping on his belt-loop for a ring of keys Barliman found the one he sought and opened a door , ushering them into a small, cozy parlor. "Here it is." He told them, "And I hope it suits you." He nodded to each of them in turn before heading to the door. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be going. I've no time for talking tonight. If you need anything ring that hand bell and Nob will come. If he doesn't then pull on it and shout." With that he turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

            The four hobbits each found themselves a chair to sit on while Rei walked to the small window and gazed out into the darkened night. She was worried. Why hadn't Gandalf arrived yet? And if he didn't show up what were they supposed to do with the Ring?  It was obvious that the Shire was no longer safe for them, especially for Frodo. She wasn't familiar with this world and she knew that they couldn't stay in one place to long, it would be too easy for the black riders to track them that way. They had to keep moving, but to where?  She doubted that the hobbits knew much of this world other than the Shire and the area closely surrounding it. Perhaps they could hire a guide. She wondered if anyone had any money on them. Merry and Pippin were used to taking whatever they wanted, food or otherwise, and they had been found in Farmer Maggot's fields during the escape from the Shire so she doubted either one of them had very much on them and she and Frodo had left in such a hurry she knew that they barely had enough for the room. That meant that hiring a guide was out of the question and she could think of no other solution to their current predicament.

            "Are you all right Rei?"

            Frodo's voice and the soft touch of his hand on her shoulder startled Rei out of her musings. Rei placed her hand over his and smiled. "I'm fine." She reassured him, "Just thinking."

            "Well, of your thinking what I'm thinking," Sam put in, "Then your also wondering why Gandalf hasn't shown up."

            Rei, startled by Sam's insight, nodded. "But more than that I was thinking of what we can do if he doesn't show up."

            Though they had all been thinking the same thing, Rei stating that Gandalf might not show up caused all the hobbits to glance at her nervously. It was obvious then that Rei had become the leader of this journey and that the hobbits looked to her for the answers to their questions. She sighed, wondering what Usagi would do in this situation. Sliding her back down the wall, Rei sat on the ground and began twirling the ring that Usagi gave her around her finger. 'Usagi, I need you.' She called silently. Taking a deep breath she looked back up at her friends. "I don't know what to do in this situation other than to keep moving, but I don't know where to go, I'm not familiar with this place."

            After her admonition the room was silent for a few moments, each person silently hoping the same thing : that Gandalf would come. It wasn't very long until Nob, the hobbit servant they had met before, came bustling in with a tray full of food and drink and more candles to light the room.

            The tray that had been brought was piled high with hot soups and cold meats. Fresh loaves of bread were lightly steaming and the butter melted easily. Mugs of beer were brought for all, though Rei sent hers back and asked for water. After Nob finished setting the table there was a loud knock on the door and when it was opened they found Barliman standing on the other side. "I don't know whether or not you would care to join the company after you've finished your dinner," He said to Frodo, "And perhaps you'd rather rest but the company would be pleased to welcome you if you cared to join us. We don't get many outsiders--visitors out of the Shire I should say – and we'd love to hear a bit of news or a song." He walked back to the door." But as you please, goodnight." With that Barliman turned and walked out, closing the door softly down behind him.   

            The company ate in silence for a while, each person content for the time being with food and drink. It was Pippin who eventually broke the silence. "I think I'll go down to the common room for a bit, just to see what's going on." He turned to look at Rei." Will you accompany me, my lady?" Ha asked, bending at the waist and offering her his arm.

            Rei smiled and placed her hand on his arm. "I'd love to, kind sir." She said to him. "I want to see one of those dwarves up close." She laughed. "Plus it would be nice to have a few moments relaxation. Maybe I can even get a glimpse of a map or two. With all the travelers down there someone's bound to have one" She glanced at Frodo , Sam and Merry. "Are you guys going to come with us?"

            Frodo nodded and stood up." I'd like to go with you guys." He said as he walked to their side.

            Sam had jumped up as soon as Frodo had agreed to go and he needed no words to tell anyone that he was also going. Only Merry remained sitting. "I think I shall sit here quietly for a while. Maybe I'll come out a bit later." The group started towards the door but Merry's voice stopped them. "Mind your P's and Q's," He told them, "And don't forget that we're supposed to be escaping in secret and still on the high road and not very far from the Shire."

            Pippin smiled at him. "All right." He said to his friend. "And you mind yourself too. Don't get lost and don't forget that it's safer indoors."

**********

            The common room was where everyone in the inn congregated to drink and smoke and talk about the goings on in the world. There was a blazing fire at the far end of the room for warmth and light. Candles were placed on a few tables and shelves to help illuminate the room, though the light was dim and veiled with smoke. It seemed to Rei that everyone in the room was smoking out of  a long, thin pipe. As she glanced around the room she saw Barliman talking to two dwarves and a couple of dangerous looking men sitting at the bar, dirty and grim, each holding a mug of beer and talking amongst themselves while the hobbits looked cheery and content as they too talked amongst themselves. There were others , sitting in the dark corners of the room, but she was unable to make out what they were because of the shadows that surrounded them.

            As Rei and her companions entered the room, however, all talk died down as all the heads turned towards them. It was Barliman who broke the silence as he walked towards them. "Welcome." He said quickly and began introducing them to the group. Rei caught a few names like Rushlight, Sandheavers and Ferny, though she was seldom sure what faces went with what names.  And much to their dismay there were quite a few Underhill's  who could not imagine sharing a name with someone they weren't related to and after a few moments of uncomfortable questioning they accepted Frodo in their hearts as a long lost cousin.

            It wasn't long after they entered the room that they were all separated, though not for long. Pippin had found himself a seat at the bar and ordered a mug of ale while Frodo talked to a group of local hobbits, using the cover that he was writing a book to gain as much information about Bree and the area surrounding it as he could. Sam again refused to leave Frodo's side and had situated himself between Frodo and the locals, creating a barrier so if there were any trouble Frodo could get away faster.

            Rei had felt a little intimidated at first, being the only woman in the room, but her trepidation quickly turned into confusion. She had no reason to be afraid because all of the men in the room were afraid of her and the dwarves stubbornly refused to even meet her gaze. At first she thought it was her imagination but each person she attempted to talk to had stuttered a small greeting to the 'lady' and had left her side in a hurry. 'I'll never get any information this way.' She thought dismally.  Looking around the room she saw Frodo, Sam and Pippin sitting at a large, round table and with a sigh she walked over to join them. "Hey guys." She said as she sat in the chair on Frodo's left side.

            Pippin smiled at her and was going to say something when Merry sat down next to him with a large smile and an even larger mug of ale. "What's that?" Pippin asked in awe.

            Merry picked up his mug and brought it to his lips. "This my friend," he paused to take another sip. "This is a pint."

            Pippin's eyes lit up. "It comes in pints?" He asked incredulously. The 'mmmffff '  he got from Merry seemed to convince him for after a few moments he jumped up and slammed his hands down on the table. "I'm getting one." He called to them as he walked away.

            "But you've had a whole half already!" Sam called nervously after him. It did no good though, for Pippin was already seated at the bar, his small legs not even reaching the floor. The Bree-landers that were sitting next to him appeared to take an interest in him and soon the whole bar erupted in laughter.

            Sam, however, found none of this funny and kept glancing distractedly  to the far corner of the room. It was then that Re followed Sam's gaze and saw a man sitting there, half hidden in the shadows. He wore a long cloak of deep green that he had pulled up and used the hood to cover his eyes. The cloak was well worn and dirty, as if he had been traveling for a long time without stopping. But aside from his appearance Rei felt a power emanating from within him, a strength. Though she didn't think it was magic or anything of that sort, she couldn't define it nor understand it. It seemed to flow just beneath the surface , sometimes strong and sometimes barely there but always beyond the edge of her grasp.

            He seemed to be staring at Frodo, though the deep shadow that he was sitting in prevented her from being sure. "That man has done nothing but stare at you since we arrived." Sam said softly, breaking Rei's concentration and study of the man.

            Frodo glanced nervously in the direction that Sam motioned and frowned when he saw the man sitting in the shadows. After a long moment Frodo returned his gaze to his friends and Rei could see the fear in his eyes.

            "Excuse me." Rei said quickly, stopping Barliman as he walked by with a tray of food. "Who id that man?" She asked, her eyes pointing to their shadowy observer. "I don't believe he was introduced to us."

            Barliman bent at the waist. "He's one of those ranger's. Dangerous folk, they are, wandering the wild." Barliman lowered his voice so that only the four at the table could hear him. "What his right name is, I've never heard, but 'round here, he's known as Strider." Barliman stood straight again and picked up his tray from the table where he had set it. "Funny you should ask about him-" He began but gave them only a smile and a nod as he was called away by the demand for more ale, leaving his last comment unexplained.

            "Strider." Frodo repeated in a whisper, shoving his hands in his pockets as he often did when he was nervous. Wiggling his hands Frodo felt the cool, smooth gold of the Ring. He lifted it lightly and held it in his palm, closing his fingers around it. With the Ring in his grasp he suddenly realized how foolish he felt and wished that he could just disappear. He pulled the Ring out  of his pocket and began to twirl the golden band in his fingers. "Baggins…" a soft whisper spoke in his ear. "Baggins…"

            "Baggins? Sure I know a Baggins." A familiar voice rang out through the common room. Glancing swiftly at his companions Frodo saw Merry drinking silently from his mug and Sam also glancing around the room for the origin of the voice. Rei, He noticed, had gone pale and had one hand pressed to her forehead, as though it hurt. He began to reach a hand across the table to her when the voice began again. "Frodo Baggins. He's my second cousin twice removed on my mothers side and—"

            "Pippin, NO!" Frodo yelled, jumping up from the table and running towards the bar where Pippin was seated. Unbeknownst to him, the man called Strider had indeed been watching his every move and also rose from his seat the moment that Frodo jumped up. He watched the scene unfolding, keeping a close eye on the hobbit running for the bar.

            After a few tense seconds Frodo finally reached the bar. "Pippin!" He said loudly, grabbing his friends shoulder to turn him around.

            "Steady on!" Pippin cried as he whipped around, flinging his arms out to balance himself and knocking Frodo over in the process.

            Frodo hit the ground hard, knocking the Ring out his grasp and into the air. Frodo's gaze shifted tot he ceiling as he watched the Rings arc and decent. He reached his hand up to grab it before anyone else could and the Ring slipped quietly onto his outstretched finger.

            Rei watched as Frodo fell to the ground and stood to help him but as the Ring slipped onto his finger she felt a searing flash of white hot pain streak through her mind. She stumbled a bit before the world around her faded and she dropped to the ground unconscious.

            Sam and Merry both rose from the table and rushed to where Rei had fallen. After a quick inspection Sam again rose and glanced to the place where Frodo had vanished, muttering under his breath "Leave it to a Took."

**********

            Frodo's eyes opened and widened in fear as he took in his surroundings. It was clear that he was still in the Prancing Pony but everything seemed to be made out of mist. The bar, tables, chairs and even the man appeared to be made out of thin wisps of black vapor. He pushed himself up onto his knees and reached out to touch the chair next to him, but his hand passed through it as if it weren't even there. Then, suddenly, the temperature in the room jumped at least ten degrees and beads of sweat broke out over his face. Turning slowly to find the source of the heat he saw that the far wall of the inn had vanished and a great eye, lidless and wreathed in flame was watching him. He stumbled backwards, falling from his kneeling position, and began to crawl, trying to put as much  distance between himself and the eye as possible. But the further he crawled the larger the eye seemed to become until it was so large that no matter where he looked he could se it. "I see you…" A deep voice rumbled, causing Frodo to stop in fear as the ground beneath him began to shake. "You cannot hide." The voice continued. "There is no life in the void . . . only death. . . "

            Frodo pushed himself off the ground and began to back away, trying desperately to pull the Ring of his finger. But the sweat on his hands and his frantic movements caused his hand to slip off the gold every time he tried. Again the ground rumbled underneath him, sending him flying to the ground. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes Frodo slowly reached his hands up and slid the Ring off his fingers and as soon as he did he found himself lying on his back on the floor of the Prancing Pony with scared and confused faces looking down on him. He glanced around the room and saw his friends leaning over Rei who was lying on the ground, her hair spilled around her like a river of silk. He began to sit up when a pair of rough hands pulled him off his feet and threw him towards the stairs. He hit the wall and went down only to be picked back up. Raising his head he looked into the cold gray eyes of Strider. "You draw far to much attention to yourself, Mr. Underhill." Frodo took one last look at his friends and saw that Rei was now sitting up and looking around the room for him. Their eyes met for a brief second before he was flung up the stairs and out of sight.

            Once they reached the top of the stair case Strider continued to push him roughly down the hall. After a few seconds of tense silence Strider pushed a door open and threw Frodo inside.

            The room was dark, lit only by a small blaze in the fire place and three candles sitting on the windowsill. Frodo stood in the center of the room watching nervously as Strider slammed the door behind him and walked to the window. Once there he pulled the drapes shut and used his fingers to extinguish the flames on the candles. When he was done he turned to Frodo. "What do you want?" Frodo asked in a small voice.

            "A little more caution from you," He replied as he pulled the hood off and revealed his face for the first time. He was young, though a few wisps of gray could be seen in his hair and the stubble that graced his face. His hair hung to his shoulders and was stringy and dark, looking as though it hadn't been washed in far to long. He walked swiftly to the window and looked out into the darkness as though he was expecting someone. Once he was satisfied with what he saw he turned back to Frodo and continued,  "That is no trinket you carry."

            Frodo tightened his grip on the Ring and took a step back. " I carry nothing." He protested  

            "Indeed." Strider scoffed.

He took a few steps towards Frodo and looked as if he was going to say something but at that moment the door flew open and Rei stood in the door way and the hobbits ran in after her. Sam, who was carrying a tall candelabra pushed himself in front of the group and shouted "Unhand him or I'll have you, Long-shanks!"

Strider stared intently at the group for a moment before smiling and re-sheathing his sword. They all had a weapon, or something they intended to use as one, in their hands. The two smaller hobbits each carried a chair that was two times bigger than them and the larger hobbit had a long candelabra. Only the girl was a real threat though, for it seemed that she had robbed some unlucky dwarf of his ax. It was not the weapon she held that made Strider consider her a threat, it was the way she held it. As if she was no stranger to battle. She held it close to her body, in a defensive position and look on her face was one of pure concentration. Her legs were slightly separated, effectively keeping her balance and allowing her to move quickly if she needed to. This girl was a warrior and it was obvious to him that if she had to she could hold her own, against even him. Strider raised his hands in front of him to show that he meant them no harm and smiled down at Sam. "You have a stout hear, little hobbit. But that will not save you."

Rei let out a sigh and went to sit in the chair by the window. She dropped the blade of the ax to the ground but kept her hand loosely on the hilt, ready to grab it up again if necessary. Her other hand she brought to her forehead and wiped away the thin film of sweat that had formed. Frodo walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and smiled at him, though the smile was strained. "What do you want?" Frodo asked again.

"Are you afraid?" Strider questioned.

Frodo looked him in they eyes. "Yes."

"Not nearly frightened enough." Strider said grimly. "I know what hunts you." Strider walked to the fire place and set his hands upon the mantle. "But to start at the beginning." He turned and faced the group. " I was on my way to Bree when I came upon four hobbits and a young woman at the west gate. I need not repeat all that passed between them but one thing that was said did interest me. 'The name Baggins must not be mentioned, I am Mr. Underhill now.'"

"I don't see what interest my name has for anyone in Bree," Frodo said angrily, "And perhaps you should explain why it was interesting to you."

Strider looked at Frodo. "I was looking for a hobbit named Frodo Baggins." At this statement Frodo's eyes widened and he was thankful for the reassuring squeeze he felt from Rei's hand. "I had learned that he was carrying something that concerned me. Now don't mistake my intentions for I will take better care of this secret than you have and care is needed." Again Strider walked to the window and peered out. "Watch every shadow, black horsemen have passed through Bree."

Frodo sank into the chair next to Rei. "I should have known," He said miserably, "I should have guessed from the way the gate keeper was questioning us." He stared at the floor for  a few moments, wondering how many others knew of their secret.

"Do not loose all hope." Strider said gently, "For it is still here. You will have to leave Bree after tonight, for after your mishap in the common room they will be drawn here and will watch it night and day. You can travel while the sun is up, but you wont get very far and they will come upon in the night, in some dark place where there will be no help." He paused for a second and allowed them a chance to think. "I will be your guide," He continued, "I know all the lands between the Shire and the Misty Mountains for I have wandered over them for many years. I am older than I look and might prove useful." Again he paused and in the silence Rei could hear his soft breathing. She raised her head to look at him and was surprised to see that his face was pale and fear was evident even in his eyes. Every now and then he would look over to the window, though Rei didn't believe that he was seeing anything. His eyes were empty, as if he were reliving some distant memory or listening for sounds in the night. "Tomorrow you will make your escape, if you can, and I can take you by paths that are seldom trodden, if you'll have me."

Again the room fell into complete silence. Sam looked around the room and when his gaze settled on Frodo he said. "No! This Strider warns us to take care and to that I agree and let it begin with him." Sam now stood and walked over to Frodo's side. "He comes out of the wild and even Barliman warned us that these ranger's are dangerous folk. He knows more than any of us would like and now he wants to lead us into some dark place where no help will come! Do not trust him!" Sam warned again.

Strider said nothing to Sam's outburst, merely turning his eyes to Frodo. Rei caught his gaze and held it for a few seconds. "No." She said finally. "I don't agree." Frodo turned and looked at her, his eyes asking for a reason. "Appearances can be misleading  and I don't think he is how he appears to be." She said, rising from her chair and walking to the window. "But a few things still bother me." She turned to face Strider. "Who are you, who are you really? And how do you know so much about—about our business?"

Strider smiled. This girl was no fool. He had to admit that her appearance threw him in the beginning. The pale skin and dark hair. Everything about her reminded him of the Evenstar.  When he first saw Rei outside the village he could have sworn that it was her and it was only after he got closer that he realized she was a different person. It was her eyes, they were the most amazing shade of violet that he had ever seen. No one in middle-earth had eyes like that. He was even further shocked to find that this girl was human when everything about her cried elf. She was graceful and her voice sounded soft and musical, even when she whispered. Her beauty was another thing. Never in all his travels had he met any human he could compare to the elves yet this girl was more beautiful than any of the eldar-race, save only the Evenstar. Her raven hair fell down her back like a river of silk, coming to an end just above her knees and it moved like a living thing, reflecting the light and shining lavender. Her eyes were bright and intoxicating. He felt as if he could get lost in them and judging from the way Frodo watched her he could tell he wasn't the only one who felt that way.  It was obvious even to him that the young hobbit was enamored with her and it wasn't hard to see why.

It was only when Rei cleared her throat that Strider broke his inspection of her. "I will answer your questions, though if you don't trust me now I don't see how you believe my story.  Still, I will tell you all you want to know."

At that very second a knock sounded on the door. When Pippin opened it he found Barliman standing on the other side with a troubled look on his face. "If I've done any harm, I'm sorry, but I've only just remembered. Y'see, I was told to keep an eye out for a hobbit by the name of Baggins."

            "And what doe that have to do with me?" Frodo asked slowly.

            "I was also told that this Baggins might be going by the name of Underhill as well. It was Gandalf who told me all this." At the name Gandalf, Frodo let out a sigh of relief. "A wizard they say he is and my friend whether it's true or not. Though if he turns me into a block of wood or turns my ale sour for what I've done I'll know the truth."

"What have you done?" Pippin asked, speaking for the first time since they entered the room."

"What?" Barliman asked, looking lost for a moment. "Oh yes," he replied snapping his fingers. "A few months back, three I think, Gandalf walked into my room and gave me a letter to send to the Shire. I promised to do it the next day, but one thing led to another…I have it here though," He reached into his pocked at pulled out an envelope and read the address. "Mr. Frodo Baggins, Bag End, Hobbiton in the Shire."

Frodo ran to Barliman's side and pulled the letter out of his grasp. The writing on the cover was definitely Gandalf's. Frodo then looked up at Barliman in anger. "Why did you never send it?" He asked.

"I didn't keep it on purpose." Said Barliman quickly, "I just couldn't find anyone that I trusted that was willing to go to the Shire and I couldn't spare any of my own employees and then one thing after another drove it from my mind." Barliman looked down to Frodo with apologetic eyes. "I'm sorry about what happened and I'll do whatever I can to help set matters right, you only need to ask it of me."

Frodo nodded and opened the envelope, pulling out the letter inside. He unfolded the paper and began to read out loud. "Dear Frodo--"

He paused and looked up at Barliman who was still standing in the room. Frodo met his eyes and then looked to the door. Barliman got the hint and headed for the exit. "Your secrets are safe with me. Call if you need anything."

Once he was out of the room Frodo continued to read the letter :

Dear Frodo,

Bad news has reached me here. I must go off at once. You had better leave Bag End soon and get out of the Shire as fast as you can. I will return as soon as I can and I will follow you if I find that you are gone. Leave a message for me here if you pass through Bree, you can trust the landlord. You may meet a friend of mine on the road : A man, lean, dark, tall, called by some Strider. He knows our business and will help you. Make for Rivendell.  There I hope we will meet again. If I do not come Elrond will advise you.

                             

                                                                                    Gandalf

PS~

 Make sure that this is the real Strider, there are many strange men on the road.

All that is gold does not glitter

not all those who wander are lost

The old that is strong does not whither

Deep roots are not reached by the frost

From the ashes a fire shall be woken

A light from the shadows shall spring

Renewed shall be blade that was broken

The crownless again shall be king

"Why didn't you tell me that you were Gandalf's friend at once!?" Frodo cried in surprise, "It would have saved time."

"Would you have believed me?" Strider asked.

"No, I wouldn't have." Frodo replied honestly.                                                             

"I didn't think that you would, though I must admit," He added with a small laugh, "That I hoped you would. A hunted man sometimes longs for friendship." He looked down at his travel worn clothes and sighed, "And my looks are against me,  I would not trust a person who looked as I do."

"And yet I believed that you were a friend before we got the letter." Frodo interrupted. "You scared us many times tonight but I believe that a servant of the enemy would look fairer and feel fouler, if you understand me."

            Strider laughed. "So I look fair and feel foul?"

            "All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost." Rei repeated. "Then the verse applies to you." Strider nodded. "Then it's settled. We would be grateful for your help, we were at a bit of a loss on what to do since Gandalf never arrived. The only thing I could think of was to keep moving but I didn't know to where."

            "You were right to think that and that's exactly what w need to do now." Strider said, rising to his feet and gathering his belongings. "We need to get out of the Prancing Pony now, the servants of the Dark Lord will be drawn here since Frodo used the Ring and it would be unwise to stay."

**********

            The night was black. No light could be seen for miles  and in such a darkness no one saw the five riders race through the streets. Behind them the gate lay on the ground, broken and splintered and the lifeless hand of the gate-keeper could be seen protruding from underneath it.

            They raced through the city, their black robes flying around them, until they reached the sign of the Prancing pony. The lead rider stopped and dismounted, the metal of his shoes clinking in the silence. He sniffed the darkness and then let out a terrible shriek, alerting the other riders. One by one they jumped off their horses and made for the door to the inn, pushing it open and breaking any lock that had been set.

            They entered the inn and headed straight for the door at the back. One after another they opened each door until they came to a room with four hobbit sized beds and one makeshift mattress on the floor. The riders walked in slowly, making no sound, until they each stood by the side of one bed. They unsheathed their swords and turned them so that the gleaming blades faced down. They were still for a few moments and then the leader let out a shrill cry and they all plunged their swords over and over into the bed.

            Seconds later they re-sheathed their swords and reached their armored hands down to pull the blankets back and upon doing so their shrieks grew louder and longer. Five torn and shredded pillows lay on the beds where the hobbits and their friend should have been. One of the riders let out a disgusted growl and turned for the door.

            Once outside they mounted their horses and headed for the gate, their angry shrieks echoing through the city as they raced over the fallen gate and disappeared into the night.

********** 

            Frodo woke with a start. His heart was pounding and could still hear the cries of the riders in his mind. He looked around the room and saw that Rei and Strider both sat by the window, the light of the fire shinning in both their eyes as they peered into the darkness. He laid back down and closed his eyes. He was almost asleep when he heard another shriek and this time he knew it was no dream because the other hobbits had woken up and were now looking worriedly at Strider. 'What are they?" Frodo asked, wishing, but afraid to know, what it was that was hunting them.

            'They were men once," Strider replied softly, not taking his gaze from the window. "Great kings of men but Sauron the deceiver gave to them nine rings of power. Blinded by their greed they took them without question, falling one by one to the darkness." He took a deep breath before he continued. "They are the Nazgul, Ringwraiths. Neither living nor dead. At all times they feel the power of the Ring." He turned to Frodo, "They will never stop hunting you."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Wow! Can't believe I finished! I'm rather proud of this chapter and I hope you guys enjoyed it. Too! I would have gotten it out sooner but I was computerless. That was partially my own fault though, I was just to lazy to get it fixed. But I have it know and I have the urge to write (Probably since I couldn't for so long) so expect shorter periods between new chapters!

A couple of things. I'm taking a poll. I've received a few e-mail asking for Rei to be paired with certain people and not to be paired with certain people. So, if you don't mind, just tell me in your review, or e-mail me (marzy001@msn.com) and let me know who'd you like to see Rei with. And if you know who Rei is going to end up with don't say anything. *Looks at Letainajup* And while your at it why don't you tell me who your favorite Lord of the Rings character is. If you have one, that is.

Next, I'd just like to say thank you to all of you who are still reading this. It means a lot to know that someone actually enjoys my writing as much as I do. Especially all of you who e-mailed me and kindly reminded me how much you were enjoying this story and hoped that I would finish it. I make no garuntees, though if I do stop writing I'll give you all a short version of how I had planned it to end so you'll at least know. Again, thank you so much!!!!!

And finally, would anyone be offended if I killed Gimli and let Boromir Live? I really am not looking forward to writing his death. I still cry every time it happens in the movie…He's my favorite Lord of the Rings character ever…I'd never really change the story that much, but wouldn't it be nice if he lived. But I guess Boromir has to die, huh. Curses!!!

Next chapter:

Now that Strider had joined the party everything seems to be going as planned but a chance encounter with the Nazgul might end things before they start. And when all hope seems lost the Evenstar shines brighter than ever…

Stay tuned for chapter 6 : The Horsemen Cometh

*yes, I stole the chapter title from my dear friend V-Babe. But if she has a problem she can bring on the bikini's and the mud pit! I love you Iris!!!*