KT SHY: MAN! It's been a while! Meh heh heh. It's a ridiculously wavy night out and the waves are SO loud but the stars are waaay brighter here than in the city. S'great fer inspiration… RIGHT! Okay, special thanks goes out to reviewers Herodias, Yuriko, and MelodySongSinger (you always write me such lovely reviews, sniff). Sammykins! Who luvs ya babe? And special, special thanks goes to the ever generous Starbrat who graciously forgave the delay :P. OH! You guys see the LOTR dvd yet? Yeaaaah! S'great! Can't wait fer the one that comes out in November… looks pretty tasty! ^_^

Disclaimer: The Bear scenario is courtesy of Shagster (the guy formally known as Shag Dowg)… you'll see what we're talking about in a bit…

Eye On the Prize

Act IV: Add in some cool title to reel the readers in later

See the Witch-King. He stands freakishly tall within a pool of black swirling mist that acts as a hem to the light-sucking darkness of his robes. If he were to remove the menacing cowl, all that would be visible to the normal observer – probably just before he or she went mad with fear – would be a magnificent crown and two glowing eyes. Not exactly something to write home about; when a girl wishes upon a shooting star for a man that's tall, dark, and handsome the Witch-King is probably the last person she wants climbing up her balcony spouting poetry and prose.

At the moment he is having a dilemma.

Part of the grander scheme of things was to ensure that the stand-in "Eye of Mordor" be seen by enough lackeys and individuals in high up places so as not to arouse any suspicion as to Sauron's leaving. It worked well enough, every citizen within Mordor (save the Witch-King… and maybe the Ring-bearer – though he wasn't too sure what that one was thinking) was convinced that nothing was amiss. Isengard was the problem. That craggy upstart wizard who insisted he wore many colours when everyone knew he wore white kept on ringing up the Palantir. It was unwise to ignore Saruman for long, but there was nothing for it. To top it all off the Ring-bearer was brooding now… and if he tried anything… well. The Witch-King wasn't sure if this Baggins had taken on any of Sauron's powers in the switch, he wasn't even sure if it had worked.

Maybe it hadn't.

Maybe it wasn't the Ring-bearer in Sauron's form pouting in the observatory; maybe his master had just gone loopy. He wasn't sure anymore… and that wasn't a good thing for the remaining sane overseer of Mordor's operations.

***

Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. His head bounced against his shoulder in a thick, listless rhythm. He was aware of other sounds too, the ominous rumble of thunder, the dull whump of clumsy feet marching on hard ground, the occasional crackle of dry leaves or the snap of a twig. It all felt so distant though, as if the noise was wrapped in a pita and being devoured by a sweaty businessman. Sauron lolled his head to the other side to save it from the constant contact with his arm and cringed as the bright sunlight penetrated his still closed eyelids. That did it. Someone would definitely pay for this. And if they had a problem with that, well, too bad for them.

Life was seldom fair.

He kicked out savagely with one hobbit foot (the equivalent of a brick wrapped in fluff) and grinned at the surprised grunt that followed the contact to what felt like a jaw. He squirmed out of the grip of the large orc that had been holding him and fell neatly into a tangled heap… if that's even possible.

'Mahahaha… oh damn.' He had never seen so many angry orcs… well actually the preceding statement is false for yes he had, he tended to employ the angry ones over the happy ones back in Mordor… but he'd never before seen that seething, unflinching hatred directed at himself! Man could orcs be scary…

He scrambled on all fours to get away from the nearest black gauntleted hand but was picked up by another. Sauron bit, kicked, and flailed his arms around and around trying to punch something but the Uruk-Hai made sure it was holding him up by the leg at arms-length to insure minimum damage. They had been expecting to deal with something about as threatening as a rabbit. Apparently rabbits took steroids and started tavern brawls these days.

'You acorn munching pork fiends! I'll grind yer bones to make me grub! I'll shove your grandmas down the stairs! I'll visit you at night and pick out every one of your nose hairs with tweezers! I'll…'

Smack.

He hadn't seen the backhanded blow coming but it would surely leave a bruise along the entire left side of his face. Involuntary tears of pain sprung up but the dark lord shooed them away. The surrounding orcs chuckled among themselves and were ready to resume their march back to Orthanc without anymore distraction. But this was the first time Sauron had ever been slapped… which meant that someone would now die.

He bared severely clenched teeth, flipped upright, grabbed the offending orc by the collar and hauled himself up to eye level. His pupils were so tiny they looked like pinpricks in a blue sea of madness.

'Do you have any idea who pays your wages and dental plans, you stupid stupid…!' In truth Sauron didn't pay for any of it as these were Saruman's orcs not his, but this hardly seemed to matter because of the arrow that suddenly decided to whiz past Sauron's ear and implant itself into the accosted orc. What had been taken as distant thunder before now manifested itself into the galloping of hundreds of hooves as the Riders of Rohan breasted the hill, bearing down on the orc patrol, arrows pulled back and ready to fly from vibrating bowstrings.

***

Legolas checked something off on his notepad. 'Alrighty… and that makes 356. How's your count coming buddy?'

Aragorn slew the last orc in the forest. 'I'd say 279, but since I got the very last orc it's gotta be a bonus.'

Aragorn ran a handy rag over the surface of Andúril until the blade gleamed pure again while Legolas yanked his arrows out of fallen orcs, "Thank you, thank you very much… eww…"

Suddenly a mountain bear scampered up to the two causing them to slow their actions and regard it cautiously.

The bear said, 'Hey guys, how's it hanging?'

Legolas was appalled by the up-front question. 'Why the hell should I give personal information to some punk ass bear!?'

'Oh, hold on a sec.' The bear then opened his word-hole and Boromir climbed out. 'Ah, father was right,' he breathed, 'Being outside of a bear's stomach is truly greater than being within one.'

The bear blinked at the man-become-lunch-become-escape artist, shrugged its big fuzzy shoulders, yawned, and then proceeded to lick itself as such hairy animals are prompt to do… excluding Gimli.

Boromir took in the shocked faces of his friends as concern for the whereabouts of Frodo, while in truth it was out of sheer amazement that anything would actually put something like Boromir in its mouth. He lowered his head and shamefully told them how the lure of the Ring was too much for him and that when he'd tried to take it by force Frodo had fled. Incidentally he left out the part about being stuck in the bear-trap.

'…I am a wretch,' he said dramatically, 'I wouldn't blame you if you refused to take up arms with me again.'

Aragorn stepped forward and clapped a hand on Boromir's shoulder in a brotherly manner. 'Fret not, you cannot blame the human within you. The Ring is an accursed thing… and together we will defeat it.' The two men plus one elf grinned.

'And besides,' continued Aragorn wrapping a checkered napkin around his neck and brandishing a fork and a knife, '… you brought me my favourite dish… live mountain bear.'

***

Lost amid the battle cries and screams of frothing chargers a small figure lay curled in a ball trying to make itself smaller still. It wasn't until arrows split the air landing only feet away that the creature figured it better bloody well run for it. Having spent most of the trip unconscious Sauron hadn't been able to take in much of the surrounding area at all. Now peering over the prone body of a heavily armored orc (obviously the heavy armor hadn't done much) he could make out the vague outline of a dark forest some distance away. He was getting tired of forests, but at the moment this one offered a chance for shelter and that was a chance he couldn't afford to pass up.

Okay… now.

Sauron dove forward and sprinted hard. He scooped up a fallen shield without breaking stride and kept on going as fast as his mad fuzzy feet could go. Out of nowhere a grey stallion came barring down on him, but reared (orcs is was used to, hobbits no) and Sauron had to roll to avoid the burnished hooves that would have otherwise come crushing down on his skull. He cursed at the pain of landing on the edge of the shield but forced himself upright.

He looked over to his left. There stood yet another of Isengard's wonderful Uruk-Hai. Instead of being preoccupied with battle though this one was looking straight at him.

'Oh muffin…'

He only had seconds to drop and bring the shield around as the super-orc loosed one of its black arrows at him. The impact of the bolt threw him onto his back. Despite himself, Sauron yelped as an iron-clad boot came down heavy on his ankle to keep him in place. The lone Uruk-Hai sneered, savage razor teeth complimenting its intimidating expression. It slowly and deliberately drew back the bowstring in a straight vertical motion and Sauron realized he was looking directly up into the face of death itself.

He grinned at it. 'Bring it on.'

The grey charger he had startled before tore out of a massive struggle just behind the Uruk-Hai, nostrils flaring and raw muscle connected to diamond hard hooves pounding the earth. Its rider, blond hair and beard streaked with grime brought his sword in a heavy arc directed at the Uruk-Hai's neck just as the horse leapt. It passed over Sauron, a creature of aerial grace, and continued its charge as the giant orc fell, its arrow having only missed by the merest of fractions.

There was an intake of breath, and then Sauron ruined the drama as only Sauron knows how, 'Well… Daymn!'

***

'So if your cousin's lost it and is gallivanting around the wood with this world's fate on a string… that must mean the others are desperately searching for him, which means we can cut their work in two by joining the cause.' Reasoned out Gimli.

The one Dwarf and three Hobbits sat cross-legged in the shade of a large leafy oak as the sun beat her unmerciful rays upon the shriveled underbrush. Their nearness to Mordor's borders showed in the tired and craggy look of the plant life all around. It also showed in the apparent lack of any living creature for miles save for themselves. Things were dreadfully quiet.

Sam tried to lighten the mood, 'Yeah! Divide and concur, as me gaffer always used to say. Look out world! Here comes the Small and the Tall Troops!'

'The Small and the Tall Troops, really?' Pippin scrunched up his face, 'I was gonna suggest the shrimps and the p…'

'Small and tall.' Merry cut in again giving his younger cousin a withering look.

***

Mid-afternoon found three tall figures trekking across forested country at a relentless pace. Fallen orcs and various instruments of war lay scattered in their path but they evaded them easily.

Legolas and Aragorn made virtually no noise, but that was okay because Boromir was making enough noise for the both of them.

'Be QUIET you big, fat, loud thing!' Legolas shrieked.

'Don't be ruuuuude,' chided Boromir, 'Rude guys NEVER get the girls.'

'Can I kill him? I swear, it's as if the whole balance of order in the universe was thrown off cuz he's still alive.'

Aragorn hissed at them to be still and then crept into a clearing, casting furtive and penetrating glances all about, especially into the shadowy and misty patches of land. The fog had settled quickly as if the forest had made to blanket the carnage that had taken place within its depths. Aragorn moved ever so slowly, silent feet kicking soft tendrils of mist and dirt in a way that suggested years of intense training in stealth, or high-budget special effects equipment. Finally he found what he'd been searching for.

In a swift movement he gestured the others to his side. While Legolas's arrival was announced only by the elf's quiet breathing at his shoulder, Boromir came with a snap, crack, thud "Oh crud!" Wump, flump, and finally…

'What do you see Ranger?'

'Orc tracks.' He pointed. 'Heading back into the river.'  At his words the three looked up across the Anduin to the western shore.  There shattered on the beach were the remains of a dozen crudely designed wooden rafts.  That explains how they got to this side, Aragorn scowled.

'And you think they have Frodo with them?' Legolas grimaced at his own question. 'Of course they do, why else would they all up and leave at the same time.'

'Wouldn't it be prudent to also retrace their tracks?' suggested Boromir looking back in the direction from whence the tracks came. 'It's a horrible thought but what if they killed the little one and left him dead…'

Aragorn shook his head no. 'Alive or…' he paused, '… dead, they wouldn't leave the body. But Frodo's alive I know it… and we're going to find him.'

Boromir grinned, 'Then what are we sitting about for?'

'At the moment…' Aragorn began, and then pointed a little ways up stream where one of the Lorien boats was half submerged in the water.

'How'd that happen?' the Gondorian asked genuinely surprised.

'Well, when you and Frodo took off with one boat each,' the tone was cold and Boromir tried to sink into himself as Aragorn continued, 'That left the six of us to try and follow in the last boat, the result being rather obvious.'

The half sunken boat decided at that moment to give a loud BLOOOORP! then drop completely into the river.

The silence was painful.

'We haven't time for this…' Aragorn muttered angrily.

'Look, I hid my boat out of habit when I beached here, so I'm sure the Uruk's weren't able to find and destroy it, I can show you…' Boromir began by way of apology, and in seconds the three were sprinting down the beach to where the boat was indeed well hidden under a densely-thorned bush.  They pulled the white craft out and began pushing it toward the water when Legolas asked, 'What of Gimli and the Hobbits?'

Aragorn hesitated, but knew what must be done.  'They'll be alright, Gimli will look after them… we have to get to Frodo.'

Legolas nodded and it wasn't long until they reached the western shore, leaving the boat in plain view so that if Gimli and the Hobbits should see it, they'd know where the Men and Elf had gone.

Aragorn turned to look at his two companions, 'For certain this will not be simple, and they've already much lead on us.  But we will make such a chase as shall be accounted a marvel among all the free folk of this world!'

'Then it is time,' grinned Legolas

Boromir finished for him, 'Lets hunt some orc!'

The three strapping and handsome males stood then. They felt great. They had said all the right dramatic things. They were fired up. They were determined. They were in the prime of their life… well except for Aragorn who was 80 something… and Legolas who was a couple centuries old - but still a youngun in relation to his kind - and Boromir was probably "over the hill" too… but dammit! They were ready to kick some righteous ass!!

To be continued… I mean it this time…

KT SHY: Well, I've officially revamped this chapter.  If you're new you won't notice it but for those of you who are EOP veterans, you'll see how I've added the whole boat scenario.  See, I don't know how I got away without explaining it last time; it was as if the characters were magically transporting themselves from shore to shore!  As always, feel free to leave a review, I'll be glad to hear from you!

Tootles! ^_^