Immediately after Sam's exclamation that Sting was, indeed, glowing blue, of course Boromir and Aragorn were all intense, sweaty manly action---Aragorn rounding up hobbits while Boromir uttered the famous, "They have a cave troll." And then, yadda yadda yadda, all hell broke loose. Legolas proved himself yet again to be an assassin, performing feats a howler monkey would be jealous of; Sam bopped Orcs with a frying pan; and I was just---terrified out of my mind and searching for tender hobbit flesh.

Where had he got to, anyway? I *had* to find Frodo in this melee, so that if I developed some latent Mary Sue powers I could save his life and earn his undying gratefulness and the unmitigated use of his body at any time and for any nefarious reason I wished for all eternity. Did I say I just wanted to cuddle him? I quite possibly lied, I think.

But there was little time to think more, because Orcs were surrounding us and I'd never been so terrified in my life. Around me the air was thick with the sound of crunching bone and growls and shouts of "Aragorn!" and "Legolas!" and "Boromir!" and "Frodo!!!!!" (the last was me yelling) as the Big People of the Fellowship looked out for each other. Not me, though---I was a quivering lump of terror and lousy at defending myself.

Which miffed me a little. I mean---the least Aragorn or Boromir or Legolas could have done was to have stayed with me and shielded me with their bodies. They would have done that for any Mary Sue, even though most MSes were hell on wheels with weapons. But me---the one who REALLY needed protecting---did they lift one chivalrous finger to keep my precious feminine virtues intact and safe from Orcs?

No. Just, unfortunately, from themselves and Frodo. Hmmmph.

Grabbing a scimitar from the claws of a dead Orc at my feet, I tried to fend off the advancing creatures while I made my way toward where I'd heard higher-pitched hobbit voices. A moment later, I turned to see Boromir swinging his sword, his hair flying around him in sweaty strings.

"Better watch your back," he yelled, "for the Orcs would dearly love to get their filthy paws on you."

"Oh?" I'm sure I stood up a little straighter then and preened a bit. Of course the Orcs would want me---I was soft and female and had breasts. It felt rather nice to have someone *finally* acknowledge that, too.

Boromir continued, cleaving an Orc's head in two and turning to cut down another. "Yes, indeed. You would make a fine meal for them."

He moved off again and I'm quite sure missed the hand gesture I aimed at his back. And that gesture nearly cost me a hand, too, as an Orc swiped at me and I narrowly dodged its pass. There was nothing for it---I was going to locate the hobbit and grab him and make a run for it. I was going to be a yellow-belly and run scared. Otherwise, since I didn't appear to have any Mary Sue powers yet, I would die here very soon. Diediediediediediedie.

Whimpering and muttering words to myself such as, "where is he where is he where is he," I finally managed to cross the rocky bone-strewn floor of the chamber and locate my quarry hiding behind a very large, very wide column of rock. Merry, Pippin, and Sam were there, along with, mercifully, the ADORABLE ONE, his ivory skin all aglow with sweat, cheeks flushed with a bit of fever, and his eyes wide with fear as he brandished Sting. Oh, he was the bomb when frightened---how I wanted to take him in my arms and soothe him . . . run my hands through his ringlets . . . comb the fur on his feet . . . huddle on the ground and clutch at him while this fighting disappeared . . .

"Frodo, where are you? I'm coming to help!" I yelled over the din, immediately sidling up to him as he maneuvered about the rock to look at the action going on. I had to remind myself to sidle gingerly, though---Frodo's braces, which were still holding everything in place between my legs, chafed and itched terribly, and if I could have stuck a hand down there and scratched without anyone seeing, I would have.

And to make matters worse, I greatly feared the braces were coming loose around my hips. What I wouldn't have given just then for a even one of those Moddess belt---pad contraptions I used to shudder at in my mother's old Sears catalog.

But back to the Frodo at hand. For some reason, when he saw me, no relief was evident. Instead a look of alarm crossed that exquisite visage and he shuffled to the other side of the column as quickly as he could. Which was pretty fast and stealthily, given that he was a hobbit, though he was still very ill and sniffly, poor darling. His glances back toward me frightened me, though, and I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see something horrible after both of us.

I backtracked and hurried around to the other side of the column to join him and that's when I realized he had shuffled away again, that squeezable hobbit bottom just inches out of my reach. And suddenly it hit me---he was scared of me! *Little old me!* The one who was, after all, most concerned for him---*I* would have remembered to bring a rectal thermometer on the quest, unlike others I could name.

No sooner had my brain stumbled onto these thoughts than another problem presented itself---the brace ends that had been knotted about my left hip had come undone and were slipping down ominously. Not a good scenario, but with Orcs abounding, I hardly had time to do anything about it, so I prayed the other side would hold and squeezed my legs together tightly. It was hard to move around like this, but by performing a bit of a kangaroo hop, I could make do. Some elegant Mary Sue I made, walking around like a wallaby.

Oh dear, Frodo had escaped my clutches again and was now on the other side of the column, so of course I went after him. I needed to talk to him, to *reassure* him, to tell him I only wanted to hug on him a while, and that I would leave his orifices well enough alone. But just as I neared he looked back at me and his full lips froze open into hideous O of horror. Then, those ever-so-gorgeous baby blues grew round as saucers and I realized that this time he wasn't gazing at me after all---thank God for that, judging by his expression. And so I turned to have a look for myself.

The very, very, large, very vicious Cave-troll monstrosity was staring and hemming and hawing at both of us.





Our screams mingled together amidst the raucous activity going on about us. Obviously, Frodo lacked faith in my ability to protect him.

I immediately dashed toward Frodo, intending to push him (oh, how I would die for glorious hand contact against that hard mithril-coated chest . . .) as far away as possible to safety. Unfortunately, however, the whole wad of crap between my legs shifted and I realized with a loudly muttered oath that one end of Frodo's braces had slipped out and was now visible, swinging down under the left leg of my athletic shorts.

No time to worry about it. No time. No time. Must move, and move quickly.

But when I tried to hobble toward the ADORABLE one, I only made it a hop or two before being jerked back roughly and falling flat on my butt. Then a cold, leathery thing brushed my leg and I knew, to my horror, that the Cave troll had wrapped a huge hand firmly about the braces end sticking out of my shorts. And was now pulling me toward him.

Holy crap. Holy crap.

All sorts of curse words came to my mouth, and many made it out, mingling with hobbit screams for Aragorn and Legolas. Yelling in a most undignified manner, I scrabbled for some sort of hold on my hands and knees---but the troll was winning this tug-of-war. Clearly the only thing to do was untie the braces altogether and free myself. It was either lose my dignity entirely or be eaten, and I supposed the latter was . . . well, probably a worse option.

The troll continued to pull until the brace end was stretched out between us at least a couple of feet and I felt the breath leaving me as the ends I was fumbling to loosen tightened around my right hip and bottom. Help, help, help . . . please let me get out of this with no one the wiser and with head and both legs and arms intact. Please please . . .

I had just nearly extricated myself when a gleaming blade sliced right through the tautly stretched brace, freeing me so quickly I fell to my stomach and got the wind knocked out of me. Thank goodness, the rest of the braces were still knotted about me and in no danger of coming loose. Finally catching my breath, I looked up to see my rescuer.

Oh dear God. Aragorn stood there for one split second totally immobile, gazing with a slightly puzzled, curdled-mouth look at the raggedy end of the brace on the ground before he was forced to fend off the Cave troll again. The hobbits, in the meantime, had moved nearer, and even in the midst of my embarrassment the thought came that Frodo looked so sweet and brave with his short sword and pink runny nose.

Unfortunately, Frodo caught sight of his missing braces lying chopped off on the floor, and he stopped dead still, his nose wrinkling. It was his undoing. Aragorn was momentarily stunned by a blow to the head, and I was not able to reach Frodo in time, and so it was that, just as the battle was dying around us, my sweet unaware hobbit got speared by that horrible, hideous Cave troll. Just below where his pink nipple probably lay, if I'd been lucky enough to see it.


He clutched at his front, his face creased in a rictus of pain, and then he collapsed in the most darling fashion, the poor doll. I hated to see him in such pain . . . hated it . . . but I knew he was wearing the mithril coat and would be all right. Therefore, this was just more of an opportunity to see Aragorn tending to him. Why mess with canon?

I rushed to Frodo's side, *of course*---for I wanted to be the one to lift him and announce he was still alive. I would hold him as he struggled to take air back into his lungs and feel his body move beneath my hands, I would. And if he vomited on me, I would consider it an honor. But damn it, I wasn't as lightning quick as Sam, who hurled himself at my legs and knocked me over. Nobody was as fast as Sam when he was in a hurry to get to his master, and he could be quite brutal, too. Gimli had nothing on him, trust me.

Well, it appeared I was mistaken---Aragorn was a virtual race horse when it came to Frodo. Oh, delicious . . . so delicious to see the concern in the ranger's face. The terror. The despair. As Sam and I and the others gathered about the now quiet chamber, Aragorn knelt and turned Frodo over, gently lifting him up and much farther onto his lap than was *really* needed.

"He's alive!" Sam exclaimed, and around me I could hear sighs of intense relief.

"I'm all right. I'm not hurt," Frodo said, breathing heavily. His words were punctuated suddenly with an appallingly painful-sounding sneeze, and he pressed grubby hands over his ribs, trying to ease the pain. I was pretty sure he was only a hair's breadth away from throwing up. Pre---tty sure.

"You should be dead! That spear would have skewered a wild boar, or even her," Aragorn said with a jerk of his head toward me, while Gandalf uttered his standard line about there being "more to this hobbit than meets the eye." Well, no &#^@---and I wanted to see it, too! All of it . . . oh yes, I'd gladly examine every inch of him that didn't meet the eye.

Now, Frodo looked down and seductively pulled his shirt open, revealing glimmering mail and even more impressive skin beneath. It was supremely obvious to me---being the only woman in the group, of course---that "this hobbit" was not so innocent as he appeared and was quite enjoying everyone's open--mouthed gape as he began to do what appeared, at first, to be a strip tease.

"Mithril," Gimli muttered, and I think he *might* have been the only one there truly captivated by the metal vest and not the hobbit inside it. Because Aragorn and Boromir, especially, had to cop a feel of the mithril, rubbing their hands all over Frodo's chest in slo-mo. But I saw them touch his skin more than the metal and their fingers lingered---at least, I'm sure they did---over the areas where his nipples lay much longer than necessary. And I also noticed that Frodo's eyes widened a bit when they caressed him, too, and his cheeks flushed an even rosier pink than usual.

I desperately wanted a feel of hobbit as well, but just as I leaned over and stretched my fingers toward him, Frodo snapped his shirt shut and sighed, falling back exhausted into Aragorn's embrace as if his strength had just given out. Of course, this had two effects on me 1) I wondered if he'd planned that deliberately before I could touch him, 2) I really couldn't complain, could I, since seeing Frodo collapse into the ranger's arms was, well, basically what I lived for?

To be continued