Hey everybody. Here with another update just as promised. This new schedule could really work for me. And I know it's only been one week since I introduced it to you but remember to yell at me if I don't keep up with it. If I have a very good excuse then I'll be posting an author's note to let you know what's happening. I won't be leaving you wondering where I am for a month again.
To Be a King
Chapter 51:- On the Borders of the Shire
Lillymon sat on the edge of a stone balcony railing, idly kicking her feet for no real reason other than to keep herself vaguely amused, as she watched the proceedings going on down below.
Ever since Elrond's two sons had returned to the house, the Elves had been extremely busy. Usually the Elves were clothed in long flowing robes of various bright but natural colours but now most of them were donning lightweight but strong armour that shone in the light of the early morning Sun. All across the various levels of the safe haven of the Elves there was the sound of swords being sharpened and Lillymon could see dozens of Elves fletching their arrows or waxing their bowstrings, if they weren't firing them and seeing how many times they could hit exactly the same place on the target board.
It didn't take a genius to figure out that they were preparing for war.
Lillymon couldn't help but feel sad about it. She didn't think that this place was meant to look like this. It was meant to be a pleasant place, filled with song and merriment and fine foods and smiles. It was meant to be a wall of peace against everything in the outside world that swept around in chaos. It wasn't meant to be barracks. These people, though capable of fierce fighting and more than willing to, were not supposed to be going into battle. They should be speaking with the birds and tending to the nature they so loved.
That's what they wanted to do.
So that was what they should do.
Lillymon sighed. She also knew that you didn't always get what you wanted.
She shook her head and swung her legs up, falling from the balcony and buzzing her wings into action before she hit the ground, allowing her to practically float weightlessly amongst the bustling Elves. They all briefly turned to look at her as she passed, most of them still scarcely able to believe that a creature such as this was taking residence in their home. But they had been most hospitable. Lillymon had been given a lovely soft bed to sleep in, and though she hadn't had to use it yet, it was certainly far better than spending the dark hours nestled in spider silk. It still made her shudder to think about it.
She looked up at the sound of jet engines in the sky, seeing MailBirdramon and Sparrowmon, accompanied by their Eagle friend Beleram, coming in for a landing. They had apparently been out on a patrol of the surrounding area to make sure that no more Goblins were trying to sneak up on the house. She stopped to watch them land and speak with Elrond nearby. She couldn't hear what they were saying but there was no urgency involved in their mannerism, which let her know that they'd seen nothing amiss, so she continued on her way.
She spotted Beelzemon speaking with Elladan and Elrohir, the three of them standing over a map. She paused briefly to hear little snippets of their conversation.
"…going to be tricky," Elrohir was saying. "The fortress is well situated, much like our own home. An attack from the mountains above is impractical."
"Not unless you have wings that is," Beelzemon pointed out. "Walls alone will be of little hindrance to us in that regard."
"True, but there are far more than walls to contend with," Elladan countered. "We saw row upon row of towers for archers and so many catapults that it was bordering on absurdity. But what I want to know is what the tunnel is for. What are they digging down into the ground so furiously for?"
Lillymon continued onwards, entering the house with intent to do more exploring. She didn't really belong at a strategy meeting like that. She wouldn't have anything to contribute.
This Rivendell was truly an amazing place. She thought that Shoutmon could take a few tips from it. The fortress back home was impressive in layout and design but it could definitely be more elegant and beautiful. If she found Shoutmon again she should bring him here and show him.
She wandered through the library without her feet touching the ground and into a large chamber with an ascended platform running across one wall. She spotted Arwen there, speaking to Bilbo Baggins, who she had met the previous night and had been most enthusiastic about their meeting.
"…I fear for him," Bilbo was saying as Lillymon hovered over. "If he should perish on this venture then it'll be all my doing. Not directly perhaps but ultimately… If I'd perhaps been more competent back then then I would never have been separated from the Company. I'd never have found the Ring."
"And if you hadn't found it then the Enemy would most likely have gotten their hands on it by now," Arwen replied. "You weren't to know what it was. You knew nothing of Sauron and his creations back then. You cannot fault yourself for that."
"Nevertheless, it should have been me," Bilbo shook his head. "I was the one that found it. It was my burden to carry, not Frodo's. I should have undertaken the journey to destroy it."
"Frodo is doing what he has to do," Arwen said sadly. "…Every member of his Fellowship… is doing what they have to do." Her ears twitched and she noticed Lillymon hovering there, looking curious. She offered the Digimon a vague smile before her gaze shifted to a stone statue next to her. Lillymon's eyes followed, and saw that the statue appeared to be holding the fractured remnants of what had once been a sword. She wondered why they held such a pride of place there.
"Is… everything alright?" Lillymon asked, coming to land next to Bilbo. She was only slightly taller than the Hobbit, something that Bilbo had commented on the previous day, stating that he was thankful to have someone besides Glóin that he could talk to who didn't give him a neck cramp in order to look them in the eye.
"Yes, yes, everything's fine," Bilbo sighed. "Just… reminiscing on the past and… what could have been. I do sometimes wonder if it would have been better for everyone if I had just stayed in the Shire and never gone on that quest to Erebor with Thorin. Perhaps at this moment I would be sitting at home in Bag End, enjoying a good pipe full of Old Toby and watching the young Hobbits running around willy-nilly. Perhaps Frodo would still be relaxing under the Party Tree, breathing in the scent of ripening fruit, listening to the myriad of bird calls emanating from every shrub around them. The rolling green fields, the winding rivers. That's where he should be. Instead… I don't even know where he is."
"You must have faith, Master Baggins," Arwen replied. "Faith that he will return to you and to all of us eventually. Your nephew has strength that you would not see merely by looking at him. Had he been weak, he would never have survived under the effects of the Morgul Blade for as long as he did."
"I know. And I shall have faith. Hopefully my sword and the mithril shirt I gave him will go some way towards protecting him."
Lillymon felt like she was intruding on the conversation a little, so she sought to change the subject somewhat by saying, "Your home sounds nice. That place where you said your kind come from. The Shire, was it? I might want to visit it sometime."
"Oh yes, it is a wonderful countryside," Bilbo replied with a fond smile. "Very little exciting ever happens there but it is a place of peace and bounty, much like here in Rivendell. Ah, I do sometimes miss the marketplaces and the sight of a country bumpkin of a Hobbit rolling a barrel of ale down a hill and then losing control of it in the process. I wonder what is going on there right this instant. Somebody is probably celebrating something out there, I'd wager. There's almost always something to celebrate."
Bilbo, for the most part, was right. Most of the Shire was indeed still going through its normal morning routine, hanging out the washing, tending to their gardens, setting out for a spot of fishing and everything else that the Hobbits typically did. The Shire was, after all, quite a large place even if it was small for a country. And most of the Hobbits there had no idea of the Goblin horde that was now bearing down on them.
Not so in the county of Buckland and some of the closer areas in the EastFarthing. The Hobbits there had spent a restless night, wondering if they would live through the next day to see another. All the elderly and the children who were not fit for battle had been evacuated, as well as many of the women, though there were many that remained behind with the boys.
It was nearing midday now and the Hobbits that remained were once again practicing their combat techniques for the fight that they knew was coming. Their instructor, Spadamon, stood on top of one of the Hobbit hills in which they made their homes to survey his trainees.
There was not an expert fighter among them but nevertheless Spadamon was pleased with their progress so far. Against a combat veteran they would most likely stand little chance but they had great enthusiasm and they were learning quickly. So far they were still practicing with staffs and sticks, and while most of them would only be able to fight with those, they did have some sharper weapons. Halbarad had managed to bring several long knives from the other Dúnedain that looked like a sword in the hands of a Hobbit. And of course they had their gardening tools. Though not designed for killing, they would certainly do some damage.
Spadamon did feel a little guilty about bringing them into the fight like this. They were clearly not made for a life of combat and he knew that if the enemy descended on the place then no matter how well he prepared them, not all of them would survive the battle. It would be like sending a horde of Lunamon into battle against a bunch of PawnChessmon. They were of similar size, but one easily had more combat practice than the other.
But they all deserved to be given the choice, and many of them were getting fired up at the thought of protecting their lands from the encroachers.
However, it appeared that the Hobbits were not all as unpractised at fighting as Spadamon had thought. Some of them had even taken the initiative and made a small cavalry force, bringing out some ponies from their nearby stables and practicing charging on them with their staffs acting like lances. The leader of those riders was a Hobbit named Paladin Took. Saradoc Brandybuck had called him in from the mainland of the Shire, letting him know of the oncoming invasion and Paladin had responded right away.
Apparently Paladin was known as the Thain of the Shire, while Saradoc was known as the Master of Buckland. Those two positions were apparently the only real military positions in the Shire, and were hereditary, being passed down from father to son through the Brandybuck and Took clans for generations ever since the last King of Arnor died. Truthfully neither Paladin nor Saradoc had ever fought a battle in their lives, but they'd taken their duty seriously and had studied up on previous battles and were even in possession of proper swords of their own.
And their positions mattered. The other Hobbits looked to them for guidance and leadership. And because they were looking to Spadamon, the other Hobbits looked to him too.
Spadamon had heard the two of them talking last night about their missing sons, Peregrin and Meriadoc, both of whom had mysteriously vanished to parts unknown a few months ago. They'd been talking about who would succeed their positions if they fell in battle the next day since they only had the one son each. Spadamon knew it was none of his business though, and had quickly moved on.
He hopped down from the Hobbit hill now and moved through the Hobbit fighters, calling out encouragement. "Always remember to keep your guard on. Never leave yourself exposed if you can help it. And you should practice with a partner so you can both watch each other's backs. You'll both be much safer if you've got someone covering you. Teamwork can be everything in these fights."
"You heard him!" Saradoc called out. "Split into groups of two and let's practice double-sparring."
As the Hobbits followed his example, Spadamon spotted Halbarad emerging from the trees nearby, flanked by a couple of other grey-cloaked men carrying longbows. The Digimon detached himself from the Hobbits and moved over towards him.
"Is everything alright?" Spadamon asked. "No problems?"
"Not if you don't count the fact that the Goblins are close now," Halbarad informed him. "We received word from Elegost. The Goblins are now within ten miles of the border and there were more of them than we previously thought. It seems that they sent out patrols beforehand to help guide the main force in the direction of the Shire and now the entire force has joined together."
"How many are there?" Spadamon asked, nerves spiking a little.
"Still not a huge number by their standards," Halbarad replied. "Goblin hordes can easily number in the thousands to tens of thousands if they swarmed enough. They may assume that they won't need a bigger force if they take the Hobbits by surprise. They think they can lay waste to the Shire without needing such numbers. As it stands there are still around seven hundred of them."
"That's a lot of enemies," Spadamon groaned. "And we don't even have two-hundred Hobbits as volunteers."
"And I have little more than thirty Men at my disposal," agreed Halbarad. "We are all warriors true, tried and tested in many a battle, but that is no guarantee we will survive an all-out assault. I believe that its time the practice came to an end. You need to get the Hobbits ready."
"Got it," Spadamon nodded. "I'll get them into their positions along the river. What are you going to do?"
"My Men and I are going out to join with Elegost's scouting party. It won't be too long before the Goblins enter the trees and when they do we'll be able to pick them off from the shadows. We intend to try and stop as many of them as possible from reaching the border, and so lessen the number that the Hobbits may have to face. It would be fortuitous if we could kill them all ourselves, but I would not count on that happening. We shall then fall back and join you for the final stand."
"Alright," Spadamon drew his sword. "Good luck."
"And to yourself," Halbarad agreed, before he turned and hurried away with the other two. Spadamon briefly watched as they seemed to melt into the treeline, merging with the shadows and vanishing from sight, before he turned around and donged on a nearby bell to get the attention of the Halfling fighters.
"Okay everyone," he called. "The time has come. The Goblins are close. The Rangers are going to hold them off for as long as they can but we must be ready when the Goblin force arrives. Practice is over. Soon will come the real battle. Everyone to their places!"
There was a clamour as the Hobbits all went into motion. Several of them hurried around gathering large stones to throw at the enemy while others pulled their arrows out of the targets they'd been shooting at to restock their quivers. The rest of them immediately went to grab something better than the training staves, seizing anything that came to hand like hammers, gardening utensils and the knives that the Rangers had managed to rustle up for them.
Saradoc and Paladin came over to join Spadamon, each clutching their short swords tightly.
"It's hard to believe that it has come to this," Paladin grimaced as he watched the Hobbits arm themselves. "My father and his father before him also took the post as Thain of the Shire, but they never actually had to go to battle."
"Yet there is no choice now," Saradoc agreed. "I always thought some of the families in the middle of the Shire were simple, believing that nothing from outside the Shire would come and affect us as long as we stayed within our borders and did nothing to aggravate anyone. Looks like I was right all along."
"And let's also make sure that those guys don't have that belief shattered with their own blood spilled in the process," Spadamon stated.
The other two nodded. "Wish that old codger Bilbo Baggins was here," Paladin said wistfully. "He might have had a few ideas too, what with that adventure he went on and all."
"We can make do," Saradoc said, as the three of them ushered the Hobbits towards their positions. "We'll have to."
Elegost ducked behind a tree-trunk, peering out across the plains beyond it with a grimace on his face. He'd been tracking the Goblins just as Halbarad had instructed but it had not been a simple task. The Goblins had moved over open terrain, forcing him to stay at a distance where he could make out very little, but now they were getting much closer and he was beginning to make out a few details.
The Goblins were not alone, it seemed. They had brought a few other creatures along with them to strengthen their forces. Elegost had never before seen Giant Spiders in this lands but there were quite a few scuttling along with the Goblins. Most of them were small by Giant Spider standards, indicating they were just hatchlings, but they were still about the size of large dogs. And there were a few that were even larger and these Spiders were being ridden by some of the Goblins themselves.
Elegost still couldn't pick out the Goblin King at this distance, but he could see something in the middle of the crowd that looked very much like an enormous curved tail rising above the heads of the others, with a huge bulbous stinger on the end. It could very well be the Giant Scorpion that the reports had spoken of.
"They're close now," said one of the nearby Rangers, an arrow already notched onto his bowstring, which was drawn back a little, as if he was itching to pull it back the rest of the way and loose an arrow.
"Stay your hand," Elegost warned him with a hiss. "Wait for them to enter the trees. We must not give away our presence until they are most vulnerable."
The scouting party stood with him steadied themselves, glaring out of the shadows at the oncoming mass of Goblins. They were close now, within a mile easily. Elegost could only imagine what the front lines were seeing – the tree line ahead that looked totally devoid of life. He and his fellow Rangers knew how to conceal themselves. The Goblins would have no idea that they were there until arrows rained down upon them from nowhere.
That was the plan at least.
"Elegost," came the faint call from a Ranger perched up in the branches of one of the trees. "They've stopped moving."
"What?" Elegost started, emerging from the shadows as much as he dared to gaze on the Goblin horde and noticed that they had indeed stopped their march. The front runners had turned around, and Elegost briefly wondered if they were actually going to retreat. But no, apparently they were all listening to something. Someone in the middle of the crowd had gotten their undivided attention.
"The King must be speaking to them," Elegost mused.
"Some King," another Ranger huffed. "Standing in the middle of his troops where he has the best protection. A proper leader should be leading just as the name suggests."
"Goblin leaders are not known for their valour," Elegost grunted.
"Something's happening," called the Ranger in the tree. "We've got incoming, Elegost. Incoming fast."
He was right. A large portion of the Goblins had broken away from the main force and were rushing on towards the forest ahead of the others. Many of them were the Spider Riders, their arachnid steeds' legs going nineteen to the dozen as they thundered over the turf. Many Spiderlings and Goblin footmen were with them, just behind, while the remainder of the Goblin host continued forward at their previous pace.
"He's sending out a scouting party," Elegost growled. "Just like we did."
"There's only five of us here though," another Ranger grunted. "Their party is much larger. And they're coming straight for us."
"What do we do, Elegost?"
"Pull back," Elegost instructed. "We'll use the shadow techniques. Keep yourselves hidden at all times. But wait until their scouting force has entered the trees enough that the rest of them will no longer be able to see what's happening. We mustn't let them know that we are waiting for them."
The Rangers nodded, darting into the trees and slipping between the trunks with an agility that only an Elf could hope to beat, though of course the Elves were far better at it even than them. Elegost took a moment to analyse the oncoming scouting party a little further before he joined his Rangers, slipping out of sight.
They could prepare no longer. The time for action was nigh.
The Goblin patrol and their Spider companions reached the trees in a matter of minutes, plunging helter-skelter through the trunks without a second thought. At the helm was a relatively burly Goblin riding on the largest of the Spiders and carrying a pole with three skulls perched on the top, all facing out in a different direction. He hissed as his eyes pierced the gloom beneath the trees, very much relieved to be out from underneath the glare of the Sun.
The scouting party had been instructed scout out the edges of the Shire and find the best places for the main force to cross over and begin their assault. And if they did well, then the King would reward him handsomely. If he did not, then he would lose his head. Simple as that.
But he was pretty confident in his success. After all, the Hobbits of the Shire had no idea they were coming did they? They'd be easy prey indeed. Spider and Goblin alike would be feasting on Hobbit flesh before nightfall.
The Spiderlings took to the trees, scuttling up the trunks and darting through the branches as if it was some wild obstacle course race. The Goblin Spider Riders had their swords drawn, several of them with their tongues lolling out as if they could already taste the Hobbit's blood. They could almost smell it too, just waiting to be theirs.
Some of the Goblins in this force had even been present during the first invasion of the Shire in years past, when their King's head had been knocked right off his shoulders by a particularly large Hobbit called Bullroarer Took. But the Bullroarer would be long dead now. And this time they would revel in the carnage.
But suddenly the company was drawn up short when an arrow whipped out of nowhere and skewered the head of one of the Goblin Riders, who was only able to usher a grunt of shock before his life left him and he toppled from the Spider. Instantly the scouting party practically came screeching to a halt as they stared at the body in shock. But that was there mistake, because they were suddenly much easier targets for the archers.
Arrows speared through the leaves around them, instantly causing chaos and panic amongst the scout force. One arrow thudded into the underbelly of one of the Spiderlings, which screeched and toppled from the tree, its flailing legs grabbing another Spiderling and dragging it down with it. A Goblin swordsman took a shot right through the chest that knocked him backwards and pinned him to the abdomen of a Spider, which squealed and spun around, stamping another Goblin into the ground under its feet. Another Spider ended up bucking its Rider off as two arrows slammed right into its face and it reared up in pain, falling backwards and trapping the Rider under its body as its legs curled over in death.
The Goblin scouting force was already in disarray, but their commander raised his skull totem and screeched orders in their own Black Speech. "Form up!" he yelled. "Archers, fire!"
"At what?!" yelled another one.
"EVERYTHING!" the commander yelled, ducking as an arrow came shooting out of nowhere and narrowly missed slicing a line through the top of his head. The Spider Riders sheathed their sword and drew their bows, standing up on their steeds' backs and loosing arrows into the trees, trying to pinpoint where the archers were coming from.
The Goblin commander quickly took more control of the situation and ordered the Spiderlings in the trees to spread out and search the ground below. They immediately scuttled off to carry out their orders, but many of them were met with arrows from below rising up faster than rain fell and knocking them from their perches with steely precision.
One of the Spiderlings though spotted a shape moving down below, dodging between the trees, and immediately pounced down upon it, trailing silk from the tree and screeching news of its find to the others. But before it even hit the ground, Elegost exploded out of the bushes and carved upwards with his swords, slicing into the Spider's underbelly and impaling him in mid-air. Elegost heaved him off and seized the sticky silk strand trailing from the dead arachnid, turning around to look as more of them came hurtling towards him.
Elegost backed away as around five Spiderlings gathered together as they poured through the trees right at him. Quick as a flash he attached the sticky Spider web to the middle of his next arrow, notched it to the string and let fly. The arrow whipped up, trailing the silk line and stabbed into the Spider at the back of the group. Elegost then seized the line and heaved on it. It stretched a little like elastic but the Spider it was now attached to was pulled from its perch, causing it to shoot forwards and slam all the others from the trees as well as it passed by, pulled by the elastic thread. Elegost sliced through it with his sword as he ducked past and then set to work on the rest of the Spiders.
By now the Goblin forces were regrouping and sending volleys of arrows into the trees. Most of them stuck into the trunks but one of the Rangers had to dive out of the way to avoid being hit. The Goblin commander ordered the archers to aim high and keep the Rangers pinned down, firing over the heads of the Spider Riders as they charged into the trees at breakneck speed. One of the Rangers swept out from behind cover to fire another arrow, only to find a Goblin sweeping past on a Spider. The Goblin cleaved down with its vicious blade, slicing through the bowstring and the Ranger's front, slaying him instantly.
Elegost cried out like a wounded animal as he saw the Man fall and dove forwards, dodging expertly between the trees and actually managing to cut an arrow in half with his sword in mid-flight as he passed. He dove out in front of another Spider Rider and slashed his blade into the Spider's mouthparts, before stamping on its head to push it down and plunging an arrow directly into the Rider's neck. He then leapt off the Spider and flung another arrow like a giant dart to hit another Goblin archer right in the eye, and then hit it in the other eye with a shot directly from the bow.
Nevertheless, despite the Rangers' success, there was only so much that they could do even from the shadows with their limited numbers. Elegost heard another Ranger yell and tumble out of a tree with a Spiderling clinging on to him, having been discovered in the canopy firing from above. The Man was desperately holding off the Spiderling's gnashing fangs as more Spiders and more Goblins closed in around him.
Elegost ran forwards, but was beaten to it when a sudden hail of arrows met the Goblin and Spider ranks, felling them were they ran. Then suddenly, Halbarad charged out of the trees and seized the Spider by three of its legs, heaving it off his fellow raider and swinging it around like an Olympic Hammer, sending it flying back towards the Goblins where it was skewered on one of their swords.
Halbarad helped the other Ranger to his feet and they dove for cover as arrows came flitting in towards them. An answering call of arrows shot back at the Goblins, several arrows dinging off one another in the air, indicating that the rest of the Dúnedain had arrived.
"Looks like you started without us," Halbarad said grimly as he stuck his sword out to decapitate a Goblin that was dashing past his hiding place.
"We had little choice. This scouting party pulled ahead of the others," Elegost replied.
Halbarad nodded. "Then we must make sure that none of them report back to the others. Make sure none of them leave."
The Goblin commander was having similar thoughts because he had just ordered several Spiderlings to run back and take the news of the ambush to the King, but even as the Spiderlings split away from the main army they were mown down by arrows burying themselves in their crusty flesh. The commander snarled angrily and tried to rally his Spider Riders to charge forward and clear a path for the others, raising his skull totem and thundering forwards. Many of the others fell into place behind him, crashing over the forest floor like several runaway freight trains.
Halbarad didn't wish to call out instructions to his men to counter this attack, but he didn't have to. The Dúnedain were all quick thinkers and really Halbarad was only leader because he was personally closest to Aragorn. All of them were potential leaders and they responded quickly and immediately, flitting through the shadows and leaping out of cover as the Spider Riders reached them. Swords flashed through the air as several of them landed on the Spiders' backs and hacked at their Riders, filling the air with the sound of Goblin screams as many of the Riders were sent flying with gaping sword wounds, whereupon the Rangers plunged their blades into the backs of the Spiders' heads, sending them to a crashing stop. The commander pulled back quickly before he and his Spider could meet the same fate, stringing his bow and firing at the Dúnedain, managing to hit one in the shoulder and bring him down.
One Dúnedain however pulled out a knife and stabbed the Spider in the back instead. Wrenching the knife sideways he actually manage to make the Spider turn around, screeching and staggering, and send it charging right back towards the Goblin leader. The leader didn't see it coming until they were almost on top of him, whereupon the Ranger leapt clear and the two Spiders slammed into each other. The Goblin commander was thrown off and rolled away, clutching his skull totem like it was some precious gem before he got up, watching the two Spiders angrily scrabbling at each other with furious hisses.
"Your orders, sir?" a Goblin cried in Black Speech, right before his forehead sprouted an arrow and he fell backwards.
The Goblin commander lolloped back to the rest of the army and screamed, "Fire! We need fire!"
"We are firing!" yelled another Goblin, and the commander promptly removed the idiot's head from his shoulders right in the middle of the fight.
"Set alight your arrows!" he screamed. "They can't hide if there are no trees!"
The Goblins cackled and pulled out arrows soaked in oil. One expertly struck tinder to flint setting one arrow alight, and swiftly passing it round so more of them could be lit. Soon the Goblins that remained were hailing flaming bolts into the trees, illuminating the darkness and allowing them to briefly see some of the Rangers and fire on their hiding places.
But the fire arrows did more than that of course. The dry spring air allowed the fires to catch quickly, and surge up through the leaf-litter, setting alight fallen branches and clinging to the trunks. The Spiderlings that were still in the trees pulled back as the flames began to spread swiftly.
"The scum!" Halbarad snarled and responded by stepping out of cover with his arrow already notched to the string and sighting right at the Goblin he had identified as the leader. Right as the leader spotted him out of the corner of his eye and turned towards him, Halbarad released the arrow, which slammed right through his the middle of his head and caught the one behind him in the neck, felling it too. The skull totem that the commander had been carrying flipped through the air and landed base-first into the ground, standing up like an incredibly eerie flagpole.
But of course that wasn't going to stop the fire and Halbarad and the other Dúnedain were forced to pull away as the flames rose higher, like writhing tendrils of living matter trying to claw their way up the trees to get at the leaves.
"That fire's going to burn its way right to the edge of the Brandywine if it isn't stopped," Halbarad called out to the nearest Rangers, loosing arrows through the flames and nailing Goblin after Spider after Goblin. "Any suggestions anyone?"
The other Rangers seemed to be at a loss, but that was when something weird happened. Both sides of the conflict noticed it at the same time – the flames suddenly stopped building and spreading and started to do the exact opposite, being pushed back in the direction of the Goblin forces and dying down in the process. A strong wind had suddenly started billowing in from the West, surging out of nowhere as if in response to the flames, putting it out before it could become a full blown forest fire.
"What's happening?" Elegost asked, loosing another arrow of his own and the wind catching it, speeding it along so fast that it went through two Goblins and stuck in a Spider, which was a new personal best for the Ranger.
Halbarad was momentarily bemused but then his ears started to register something. A new sound, which definitely had not been present on the battlefield before.
"Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster."
"I don't believe it," Halbarad almost had to laugh in his disbelief. He'd been guarding these lands for all his life and although he had had to put down a few random Goblin incursions in his time to protect the Halflings, never once had he seen Tom Bombadil head onto the battlefield. But then again, these Goblins had started to burn the forest. Tom never seemed to understand what a threat to his life would be, but a threat to forest he understood perfectly well.
And there he was, with the aforementioned blue jacket and yellow boots practically shining as he danced boldly across the battlefield, skipping and spinning merrily as he went. The Goblins were astounded at the singing, dancing lunatic that had appeared before them and loosed several arrows for them, but Tom batted them aside with his hands with ease without breaking his stride even once. In fact it didn't even look like he'd deliberately taken a swipe at any of them. His hands were just always in the right place.
The Rangers cheered and charged forwards, abandoning their approach in the shadows and all of them drawing their swords. Tom Bombadil took the fore, though he possibly didn't even notice this fact and grinned as he reached the Goblin hordes and sang at them as he passed through them.
"Get out, you lost souls! Go back to your holes!
Descend down into the deeps, never come again you creeps!
Come on, go, go, run along, here is where you don't belong!
But if stay you must insist, perhaps you'd like to meet my fist!
Old Tom does not wish to fight, but your presence is not right!
He will not spill a drop of blood, but he'll make you eat the mud!"
And away he went, dancing through the Goblin and the Spiders with a hop, skip and jump and, just like with the arrows, his hands flew out to the sides with every twisting, spinning step to slam the enemies every which way. It barely looked like he was tapping them on the shoulder but they went flying as if fired from a slingshot. He bounded upwards to land on a Spider so hard he flattened it to the ground, its legs collapsing underneath it, and jumped from Spider to Spider in a similar inhuman manner, sending any Riders flying with an effortless spinning kick.
The Rangers were right behind him, falling upon the confused and terrified enemy with ruthless energy. No mercy was shown, for there would have been none in return were their positions reversed. Halbarad sliced a Goblin's head off and sent it flying into the face of another and whipped around stab another through the belly. A Spider Rider tried to run him over but the Ranger dived onto his shoulder and rolled beneath the Spider, hacking upwards to cut into the Spider's abdomen as it passed and then spring onto its back to seize the Rider and slice his neck with his blade.
All around him the story was the same, for the most part. A couple of Rangers still fell when a Spider leapt on them from behind a bush or a lucky Goblin arrow surged out of nowhere to hit them in the back, but for the most part they were driving the Goblins back. And many of them had thought to skirt around the edges and come at the Goblins from behind, leaving them almost totally surrounded.
But watched Tom Bombadil was the strangest thing of all. Though Halbarad would have had no idea what a Saturday Morning Cartoon was if you mentioned on to him, that was the closest thing you could compare Bombadil's performance to. He'd stopped singing, but was still dancing and it sounded like he was trying to have a pleasant conversation with the enemy as he pounded them into the ground.
"Hello there!" he beamed, as he kicked a Goblin upside the chin sent him flying so high his body landed in the tree and caught in the branches. "It's very nice to meet all of ye!" he added as he bounded in circles, seizing two Goblins by their shoulders to slam them into each other as he danced right over one of the larger Spiders and leap into their crashing down onto another Goblin backside first while sending the other two flying.
One Goblin tried to take advantage of him being on the ground and hacked down at him, but Bombadil surged up and seized his hand, snapping the weapon in the process. "Sorry if I shake your hand too hard!" he grinned as he pumped the Goblin's hand up and down so hard that the Goblin's feet left the ground and his body went up and down with the motion like a ribbon. Tom sent him crashing into several others and went spinning, humming and "Dol Merry Dol"ing through several more by swinging his feet up high and planting them into the stomachs of the Goblin's in front of him and then slamming them into the ground.
One of the Spider Riders shrieked and motored forwards right at him through the throng. Bombadil stopped dancing and raised his hat to the Spider before yelling, "Put it there!" and thrusting out his hand, slamming the Spider in the face hard enough to throw him backwards like a cannonball and crash into a tree, flinging the rider off into the air. "Ooh, I put it there first!" he laughed, raising his hands up to catch the flying Rider and spinning him around his head several times before tossing him away like a rag doll.
Another Spider, which had managed to climb up the trunk of a tree nearby, sprang right off it with a foul screech and sail right towards him, but Bombadil two-stepped backwards and out the way. The Spider landed right in front of him and reared up to a height taller than Bombadil himself and hissed, legs splayed in strike position and venom dripping from its fangs in a hideous, ghastly display.
"Why thank you for asking," Bombadil said, and seized the startled Spider by its four outstretched front legs in his hands. "Of course you may have this dance. One, two, three, step, one, two, three, step," and to the massive astonishment of everyone around him, most especially the Spider, he began whirling the giant arachnid around like a dance partner. He weaved through the remaining Goblins swinging the Spider into them like a bat before dancing backwards, pulling the Spider with him and ignoring the gnashing fangs right in front of his face before swinging it around again and again and again, sending Goblins and smaller Spiders flying like bowling pins, the Spiders' back legs furiously scrabbling to try and keep up.
"Ho, you certainly know how to use your feet, don't ya?" Bombadil grinned, before he eventually dropped the Spider's legs and let it slump to the ground. "But I'll let ya go." And he booted it in the mouth and sent it rolling backwards like the bowling ball it had practically just been.
Bombadil placed his hands behind his back and toe-stepped back around, all the other Goblins remaining looking at him with fear in their eyes now. But Bombadil just offered them a smile and said, "You want some of my advice here lads. It's bad manners to come charging through a man's backyard and destroy his garden. You never know what kind of person you've disturbed. One moment your running along, happily pillaging and murdering, and the next moment someone leaps out at you and yells… 'BOO!'
The Dúnedain were just as unprepared for the Goblins for this, much like everything else, but at least they were out of the firing line. All of the Goblins that were standing in front of Bombadil at the time were blown backwards as if by a sonic blast. There was no visible disturbance in the air to suggest anything of the sort, but the moment he yelled 'Boo' they were all flung sky-high, coming to crash down like they had fallen from the clouds like rain.
"Please do visit anytime," Bombadil swept off his hat and took a bow.
And that pretty much ended the battle.
There were few of the Goblins and Spiders left alive by this point, and miraculously only six of the Dúnedain had lost their lives in the fight. Still, the Dúnedain immediately went into action, mowing down any that tried to flee back the way they had come and meticulously moving across the battlefield stabbing their swords into the carcasses. One thing a Dúnedain Ranger learned well was to make sure that your enemy really was dead and not just faking it.
Elegost quickly directed several of the Rangers to double back to the edge of the forest. They may have defeated the scouting party, but it was only a temporary reprieve as the main force was still on its way there, and they needed to keep track of their progress too.
Halbarad, meanwhile, stepping over to speak with Bombadil, who was still jigging up and down on the spot with a bright smile. He'd never before seen Bombadil sad about anything, though admittedly he didn't see that much of man. But if there was ever anything that could make him stop smiling, then Halbarad didn't want to see it.
"My thanks to you, Bombadil," he bowed his head. "I was not expecting you to join in the fight like that but it is much appreciated all the same."
"Well I could hardly sit back and do nothing when there's afoul invaders setting fire to the woods now can I?" Bombadil tutted heavily. "The Huorns of the Old Forest were getting restless. I could sense the moment the flames rose, aye. Word travels quickly between the trees. They haven't got much else to do but talk to each other."
"I shall take your word for it," Halbarad said. "And I had no idea you were such a good fighter."
"Fighting? Oh ho, my lad, that was no fighting. It weren't nought but a dance that was too much for them to handle, so it was."
Halbarad was not sure how to respond. "Well… it… certainly did the job," he said. "Thanks to you many of my Men are still alive. No doubt we would have lost more without your assistance. But the fight isn't over yet. The rest of the Goblins are still oncoming. Can we count on your support there too?"
"Oh sorry boy, but I must fly," Bombadil chortled. "Why that skirmish interrupted my such for fresh mushrooms in the forest. Fair lady Goldberry is making one of my special favourites tonight and we can't be having it without mushrooms now can we?"
"Oh not to worry, my boy. Old Tom Bombadil is sure you'll do fine," he patted Halbarad hard enough to send him stumbling forwards. "And he's not leaving you high and dry. It won't be long before you'll be getting some more help."
"So you will help us?"
"Those mushrooms won't find themselves. They're not Huorns you know. They don't walk about," Bombadil tipped his hat knowingly. But you'll see. And I am betting you'll be quite astonished too. Wish I could see the look on your face but Jolly Tom must be getting away. Send greetings from Goldberry and I too that little Digimon."
"Uh… alright," Halbarad tailed out as he watched Tom Bombadil go gallivanting back off into the trees, whipping behind a tree trunk and vanishing out of sight. He shook his head. He could get angry at the fact that Tom wasn't going to be there for the main battle and was leaving them behind like this but there would be no point to it.
Tom Bombadil was a man of many contradictions but one thing was for sure – his mind didn't seem to function in the same way as most people's. He wasn't insane, far from it – he was perhaps wiser in his own way even than the Wizards – but he didn't seem to understand the weight and significance of most things. He led a life that was carefree to the most extreme, and such things as an impending attack, the advancing armies of Sauron or the potential end of the world didn't seem to register with him as something to be concerned about.
He wondered if Tom Bombadil would be that affected at all if Sauron did win and took over the world. It was a question that would probably never have an answer. Or at least hopefully wouldn't.
He decided it would be best to get back to work and focus on the upcoming assault. He went with the other Rangers, pilfering fallen arrows from the ground that could still be used on the bowstring, both their own make and the Goblins'. They'd need as many as they could get after all.
"Halbarad!" cried one of the other Rangers, running forwards from the trees with a look of bewildered shock on his face. "Halbarad! We have trouble!"
"Trouble?" Halbarad looked up sharply. "Of what sort?"
"It's the Goblins. The main force of the Goblins. They've disappeared."
"What?!" Halbarad asked sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I mean they're not there anymore, sir. When the scouting force stripped away and went first the rest of the army continued on towards the tree-line at a modest pace, following the same path as the scout party. They should still be heading in this direction, but instead they're not there at all. We've completely lost sight of them."
"Do you think they somehow got wind of the battle and decided to retreat?" Elegost asked with a frown. "Perhaps they heard the sounds of combat or saw the smoke rising from the trees from the fire."
"But that makes no sense," Halbarad shook his head. The fire didn't get out of control enough to send up a plume of smoke to suggest anything more than a large campfire. And they must surely have been too far away to hear us if they've gotten away so fast."
"But they can't have retreated," the Ranger scout said. "We can't even see them in the distance with their tails turned. I mean we cannot see them at all."
Halbarad frowned, trying to piece the puzzle together. It made no sense. An entire army of Goblins couldn't simply disappear. The only explanation was that they had found out about the battle and fled but that made no sense either. Where would they have run to if they couldn't still be seen on the horizon. And how could they have found out about it?" He was pacing up and down at this point, trying to work out what was going on.
And that was when he saw it.
The grisly looking three-skulled staff that the Goblin commander had been carrying was still standing upright in the ground like a horrible wooden gravestone. But the empty eye sockets of the skulls were glowing white, ever so faintly but they were. Halbarad peered into them and suddenly the answer came to him.
"Fell sorcery!" he cried, slashing down with his swords and carving the stick in two. The skulls clattered to the ground and the glow in the eye sockets went out. "The staff was acting like a seeing stone. If someone else could see what the eyes of the staff were seeing then they would have found out about the attack the moment you started shooting at them, no matter how far away they were."
Elegost went pale. "And they could have acted accordingly," he breathed.
"But they still couldn't have retreated far enough for us to not see them across the plains even then," said the scout ranger.
"They didn't turn around," Halbarad muttered. "They went faster. And they went another way. Dúnedain! With me! Rally to me and double back to the river! With haste!"
The Rangers reacted immediately and banded together, dashing back the way they had come through the trees towards the borders of the Shire.
"I imagine they're fighting right now," Paladin murmured from where he was crouched in the bushes on the east side of the Brandywine River. "Keeping our enemy at bay for us as long as they can. And to think we never knew about those brave Men, working tirelessly to protect us from our own naivety."
"Who knows how many other times over the years our ancestors have not needed to take up arms because those Men are there to do it for them," agreed Saradoc. "I have to admit it makes me feel somewhat inadequate as the Master of Buckland."
"Ssh, you guys need to keep it down," Spadamon murmured from where he was perched on a branch several feet above their heads.
The Hobbits were crouched along both sides of the river, hidden away in the vegetation as much as possible. They were all nervous and on edge. None of them could hear the sounds of fighting but they were sure it wouldn't be long now before they did. This was a day that none of them had expected to come and now that it was here they were all very much wishing that they weren't.
But they were all prepared to defend their homes and families, no matter what the cost.
And Spadamon admired them for that.
"We may need to help the Rangers when they return," Spadamon was saying. "We need to be ready for action the moment we hear it. They may on the defensive, being pushed back, and when that happens we may need to storm in and distract the Goblins while they pull back. We all need to work together here. Hobbits, Men and me. That's when we'll have the best chance, if we do that."
"We understand that," Saradoc nodded. "We'll be ready, not to worry."
But then the attack came five seconds later. And they weren't ready for it.
None of them were expecting the ground in front of them to suddenly explode upwards in a massive shower of earth and moss. The Hobbits all along the bank screamed and most of them almost fell into the river.
But then they all watched in absolute horror at the monstrosity that emerged from the hole. Its bright red and black carapace glistened in the sunlight that filtered through the trees, its massive pincers clacking before it as it hauled its long form out of the tunnel that it had made. Its small beady eyes regarded the defenses before it, its eight long legs drumming the ground and as it finished clambering onto solid ground. And, with the speed of a bullwhip, its tail emerged, lashing up and over its head to hang poised to strike at a moment's notice, the viciously hooked tip glistening with green venom.
The Giant Scorpion made no sound from its mouthparts, but that sound of its pincers clashing in anticipation was more than enough to terrify every single Hobbit present.
And perched on its shoulders between its front pair of legs was a large, bare-chested Goblin, holding a skull totem exactly identical to the one of his former commander in one hand and a wicked-looking, jagged scimitar in the other. He was garbed in nothing but a large red loincloth, a makeshift belt slung over one shoulder to hold his sword and jagged helmet perched on top of his head. And his head was long and gaunt, with massive yellow eyes that made him look like the world's most hideous owl.
And in a horrible, rasping voice, he screamed, "The Shire is mine! Attack!"
And the Goblin and Spider hordes poured out of the hole behind him and rushed the quailing Halflings.
Geehee. Oh I may have made that ending very evil but hey, that's what I do. Really hope you enjoyed this chapter, cos I did. That fight scene with Tom Bombadil was perhaps just as silly as the way Aayla Secura took out Asajj Ventress in Secret of the 327th. Perhaps even more so, but then again, that's just the way Bombadil is.
'Til next week.
Coming up:- Chapter 52 : Gorkil the Goblin King