Middle-earth, and all who dwell within it, belongs to Tolkien. I am grateful to him for growing this beautiful garden in which our imaginations can play. Please review!
"Fili!" Betta shouted.
"Brother, behind you!" Kili shouted louder.
Hearing him, Fili jumped to his feet. He did not stop to ask what they were shouting about but drew his sword and spun around. He saw the animal between the hills, crouching down as it prepared to spring. If he had waited another moment longer, it would have sprung upon him and killed him with its heavy paws and sharp teeth, but now it saw that Fili had reinforcements on the way and it hesitated.
Kili came running down the hill with his sword drawn and a small axe ready to throw. Betta was behind him. She carried only her small knife, but her shout was loud and angry. In the empty wilds of Enedwaith, she had learned that when there was nowhere to hide, the only defense against wolves was courage and the show of force. If you were lucky, and they were not very many, and not very hungry, you might be able to scare them off.
It seemed to be true here as well, for the wolf was looking back and forth between them, reconsidering its chances now that its prey had weapon in hand and help coming.
Kili had reached the foot of the hill and gave a shout as he charged, sword in hand. Fili, too, now that his brother was there shouted aloud and moved as if he would also charge the animal, but their enemy had made up its mind. It retreated back into the shadows of the hill and seemed almost to vanish in the dark.
Kili skidded to a halt and Fili rubbed his eyes, wondering if they had tricked him. What little moonlight there was lit their clearing with an uneasy light, but between the hills on either side was dark shadow that could not be pierced even by keen dwarf eyes used to the pitch black caverns under mountains. Betta arrived at the camp with Kili, but Fili took her arm and pulled her back between him and the sheer northern wall. He was still looking into the dark, searching for shinning eyes; both dwarves knew that this was not the end of their troubles.
"You are not hurt," Kili asked his brother, sheathing his sword and taking up his bow and quiver.
Fili shook his head. "What was that thing?" he demanded. He saw the fear on Kili's face and was surprised. One hungry animal no matter how fierce would not affect his fearless brother in such a way.
"Wolves," Kili said. "There might be dozens of them. We saw them from the hill, but could not count their numbers." He pointed back the way they had come.
"These tracks are too large to be made by any wolf," Fili said, kneeling down to examine the disturbed snow at the edge of their camp.
"Wargs, then," Kili said. "Obviously they are dangerous."
"These are not wargs," Betta said. She had followed Fili to the edge of the camp and was also looking down at the tracks.
The dwarves looked at each other anxiously, but there was no time to ask where she had come by her information. Fili kept his sword in hand and began to gather what baggage they had that was not already piled under the hill. He kept his eyes on the two paths, east and west, that led to their small clearing.
"Move the ponies to the wall behind us," he told Betta. "The north side is not tall, but it is steep and must guard our backs as it may. We have no time to find cover elsewhere."
Kili had already taken out what wood they had and thrown it on the fire that was already laid. He coaxed the embers to burning again and then built two more hasty fires on either side of the camp, but they had not enough branches to make a strong barrier to attack. And what they had would not burn long enough to outlast a pack of hungry wolves.
Betta pulled up the stakes that tethered their ponies near the foot of the southern hill where they had been munching on grass and now huddled together, shivering with fear. They felt the change in the air and allowed themselves to be led behind the fires. The ground under the northern hill was hard, and it took all of her strength to sink the first stake through the frozen dirt and tie one pony down.
Then suddenly, on the other side of the southern hill, but still too far close for comfort, a wolf howled. Long and low and terrible was the sound, unlike any animal that the dwarves had heard before. They tightened their belts and tested their weapons, preparing for a long and hard battle.
The ponies neighed and pulled at the reins in Betta's hands, but she held on. She sank a second stake, but before she could tie the next pony, the first wolf appeared.
It came jogging between the hills to the west, following the same path that their small company had followed only hours before. First, there was only one, a thin creature more like in appearance to a dog than to a wild wolf, but it was larger and its hair was long and shaggy. Its eyes were red with blood. It stopped when it saw the camp and the two armed dwarves, and it sat back on its hind legs to regard them with uncomfortably intelligent eyes, seeming to gauge their strength and weapons, weighing their numbers against the might of its own pack.
Kili aimed his arrow at the wolf's chest and Fili drew his second sword. "Stay behind me, Betta," he called over his shoulder. "This is no task for your small knife."
Betta heartily agreed. She knelt down to tie the pony to its stake as the clouds parted above the clearing and the waning moon shone down onto their camp. It reflected with a sickly sheen off of the twin blades in Fili's hands. The wolf lifted up its head and howled at the moon.
If the sound had been terrible before with the hill between them, now it froze the blood and sent their ponies into madness. A chorus of howls answered the first, echoing up from behind the south hill. The ponies screamed and reared up, shaking their heads and pulling at their reins in Betta's hand. She had not had time to tie two of them, and this time when they pulled she could not keep her hold. Both animals broke free and fled, running as if they were being chased by the raging Carcharoth himself with the flaming jewel in his belly.
"Whoa! Stop!" Betta cried, but they did not hear or listen. She leaped after them, clutching at the reigns as they whipped through the air, but even if she had been able to catch hold, she could not have stopped them and would only have been dragged along in their mad flight.
Fili and Kili looked on but could do nothing. Kili dared not take his arrow from the string, and Fili could not sheath his swords that must be ready to defend his brother. Beyond the firebreak, the lead wolf still sat and growled as it watched the ponies escape. It made no move to give chase but raised its head again and again it howled. Out of the darkness, the other wolves came. Six of them appeared and sat in a line before the firebreak. They howled and the sound was so loud that it rang between the hills and Betta covered her ears.
The third pony that had been tied screamed with the others and reared up. When they fled, it had bucked and pulled at its stake but could not yet break free. Betta clung to its bridle, speaking calming words, but her voice was strained and her heart pounded in her chest. No stake could have been stuck deep enough to hold the animal when all six wolves howled together. It broke its tether and flung Betta aside. She fell to the ground, throwing her arms up to cover her head as the pony galloped over her. Only luck saved her from being trampled under its hooves.
Kili did not take his eyes from the wolf, but Fili saw her fall and he clenched his jaw, knowing that he could not help her. He was glad when she stood up again, but saw that she held her right arm against her side. She drew her knife in her left hand and turned her back on the ponies. They were lost and the wolves not yet defeated.
Fili turned back to the lead wolf, readying himself to fight. Their ponies were gone, and with them went any chance that he might have sent Betta and his brother away. Kili would wish to stay until the bitter end, but if there were indeed a whole pack against two dwarves, with ponies Fili might have been able to stall them and convince his brother to escape with Betta who was injured and could not have fought even if her arm were healed and strong. There was no escape now.
The wolves had seen the ponies galloping away, but not a paw was lifted to give chase. All eyes were on the dwarves and Betta, reflecting the flames of the fires. By that sign alone, Fili knew that they were no natural animals. They were no warg that he had ever seen, either, for their coats were tattered like shadows and their mouths dripped blood like slaver. Their teeth were longer and sharper than those of a common wolf. The leader, large but yet smaller than the others growled and, as if that were the sign they waited for, the others began to close in upon the camp.