One Geek To Rule Them All

Chapter 3

I own nothing but my OC.

Chapter 3: Into the Wild

After setting up a nice decoy for the enemy in the hobbits' room, they prepared themselves for bed and tucked themselves in for the night. Since the bed was large and the hobbits and Devin were small, all five of them could fit in it laying at opposite ends with their feet touching in the middle. Devin kept her soaks on so their hairy hobbit feet wouldn't tickle her, because as much as she liked hobbits, that would just be kind of weird. Kitty had stretched out on the floor with a blanket and pillow near the fireplace, while Aragorn sat in the armchair beside the window, keeping watch. Devin felt like she had been trying to sleep for hours, but she just couldn't, so she gave up and turned on her stomach to face Aragorn since Kitty was out like a light.

"Can't sleep?" Strider asked quietly when he felt her stare.

"No. To be honest, there's something that's bothering me." She answered lowly. "Do you remember how I told you we knew of certain portents and prophecies regarding this world?"

"Yes." He said, though he had been certain she had only said 'land' before, not world.

"Well, these… prophecies… they tend to be very specific, and I've noticed some discrepancies between what should have been and what actually came to pass. The end result was the same, but I can't help being bothered by it. It makes me wonder what else may have changed…"

"I see. Well, foretelling the future is not an exact art." Aragorn said reasonably.

"And you would know." She said, smiling knowingly at him. In the books, he had a limited gift of foresight due to his heritage.

"Yes, I suppose I would." He replied with a slight smile.

"But I was really surprised to see that you've already had Narsil reforged." She added. Aragorn blinked and stared at her, a little caught off guard by such a statement.

"What makes you say that?" He asked.

"Earlier, when you drew your sword, it was in one piece, but Narsil was supposed to still be broken according to what we know." She replied.

"It is still broken." He told her. Devin furrowed her brow in confusion. "The shards of Narsil are in Rivendell, where they are being kept under the care and protection of Lord Elrond."

Devin stared at him for a moment with furrowed brow, obviously troubled by what she had just heard.

"You should ask him to have it reforged for you." She said after awhile.

"Why?" He asked. "I have no need of such an heirloom from Isildur as proof of my heritage when I have no intention of becoming king. Or did your prophecy tell you otherwise?"

"I don't want to give too much away and end up spoiling the ending for you, but I will say this, Aragorn. You will need that sword before the end. Whether you wish to follow my advice or not is your choice." She said, frowning, slightly in disappointment as she turned away and lack back in bed. That hadn't been Aragorn's attitude in the book. He should have been on his way to Rivendell have the broken sword reforged as well as to escort Frodo and the others. Aragorn had not had the doubt she saw flicker briefly in his eyes at the thought of becoming king. In the book, he had been more prepared to fulfill his destiny, he had just been waiting for the right time. This version of Middle Earth was different. "For better or worse." She mumbled aloud, closing her eyes.

Aragorn stared at the strange girl for a moment longer, pondering her cryptic words, before glancing back out the window. They way she seemed to speak in riddles half the time reminded him of Gandalf. Perhaps that was part of the reason why he had been so quick to decide to give the girls a chance…

Devin hadn't been sleeping for long when several blood-curdling screeches pierced the night, startling her and the hobbits awake. Kitty was still fast asleep, drooling into her pillow. Nothing short of a bucket of cold water in the face could wake that girl up before she was ready to.

"Was that the Black Riders?" Devin asked warily. The sound alone sent shivers down her spine.

"What are they?" Frodo asked. Aragorn glanced at them.

"They were once men." He replied. "Great kings of Men. Then Sauron the Deceiver gave to them nine rings of power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question. One by one, falling into darkness." Aragorn glanced back out the window as another terrible screech was heard and watched as the Black Riders remounted their black steeds and took off into the night, leaving Bree without their quarry. "Now they are slaves to his will." He glanced back at them once the wraiths were gone. "They are the Nazgûl. Ringwraiths. Neither living nor dead. At all times they feel the presence of the Ring, drawn to the power of the One. They will never stop hunting you."

—/-|-\—

Despite Aragorn's ominous warning, the hobbits and Devin soon fell asleep again and didn't awake again until they heard a cock crowing rather enthusiastically in the inn-yard. They slowly sat up and began rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Aragorn pushed back the shutters with a clang. The first grey light of day was in the room, and a cold air was coming through the open window. Everyone but Devin started when a strange continuous beeping sound was suddenly heard. Aragorn glanced around the room and realized it was coming from the black rectangular device that a very drowsy Kitty was now pulling out from underneath her pillow. She had set an alarm on her smart-phone before going to bed since that was just about the only thing that could get her up short of an ice cube down the back of her shirt most mornings.

"Alright, I heard you already! Shut up!" She snapped moodily at the odd device as she stabbed at the screen with her index finger, canceling it before she gave in to the urge to throw it against a wall.

"What was that?" Merry asked as the hobbits all stared at her with wide eyes. "This, my dear hobbits, is a smart-phone. A magical device that can be used to do almost anything imaginable from waking you up in the morning to playing all your favorite songs and games. You can even use to talk to friends and family hundreds of miles away… usually. Unfortunately, there's no cell service out here." The hobbits blinked while Devin face-palmed and shook her head. What was she doing? What happened to trying to keep a low profile until they could get home?

"So, it's magic? Are you two wizards, then?" Pippin asked.

"No, she's messing with you. It's just an advanced piece of technology from our homeland. There's no magic involved." Devin explained. Besides, there's no way they could be wizards since they were all, without exception, actually Maiar sent to Middle Earth in the form of old men as a way to limit their power. But she was pretty sure the hobbits didn't know that, and they had enough to worry their curly little heads about already. As soon as they were all up and about, Aragorn led the way to the hobbits' bedroom. When they saw its state, they were glad they had taken his advice: the windows had been forced open and were swinging, and the curtains were flapping; the beds were tossed about, and the bolsters left in their places were slashed and flung upon the floor.

"Wow. They must've been pissed after realizing they'd been tricked." Kitty remarked.

Aragorn immediately went to fetch the landlord. Poor Mr. Butterbur looked sleepy and frightened. He had hardly closed his eyes all night (so he said), but he had never heard a sound.

"Never has such a thing happened in my time!" He cried, raising his hands in horror. "Guests unable to sleep in their beds, and good bolsters ruined and all! What are we coming to?"

"Dark times." Aragorn replied. "But for the present, you may be left in peace, when you have gotten rid of us. We will leave at once. Never mind about breakfast—a drink and bite standing will have to do. We shall be packed in a few minutes."

Mr. Butterbur hurried off to see to that their ponies were got ready, and went to fetch them a 'bite'. Kitty was just about to point out that she and Devin didn't have anything to ride, when Butterbur soon came rushing back in dismay. They ponies had vanished! The stable doors had all been opened in the night, and they were gone—not only Merry's ponies, but every other horse and beast in the place.

Frodo was crushed by the news, clearly wondering how they could possibly hope to reach Rivendell on foot while pursued by mounted enemies, but Kitty noticed Devin didn't seem at all surprised by this turn of events. Must've happened in the book, too. Honestly, she didn't remember too much about this part. She had skimmed ahead to the more actiony bits.

"Ponies would not help us to escape the horsemen." Aragorn said at last after giving further thought to the situation, as if he had guessed what Frodo was thinking. "We should not go much slower on foot, not on the roads I mean to take. I was going to walk in any case. It is the food and stores that trouble me. We cannot count on getting anything to eat between here and Rivendell, except what we take with us; and we ought to take plenty to spare; for we may be delayed, or forced to roundabout, far out of the direct way. How much are you prepared to carry on your backs?"

"As much as we must." Pippin said with a sinking heart, but trying to show that he was tougher than he looked (or felt).

"Well, Kitty and I are used to carrying up to sixty pounds thanks to all our heavy school books, and we're used to marching relatively long distances, so we could probably take a little more on." Devin said.

"Great. This is going to be like band camp training all over again." Kitty muttered darkly under her breath.

"I can carry enough for two." Sam said defiantly.

"Can't anything be done, Mr. Butterbur?" Frodo asked. "Can't we get a couple of ponies in the village, or even hire one just for the baggage? I don't suppose we could hire them, but we might be able to buy them." He added doubtfully, wondering if he could afford it. Kitty quickly put her hands over her earrings, covering them protectively. No way was she trading these babies; they were her favorite pair!

"I doubt it." Butterbur said unhappily. "The two or three riding-ponies that were in Bree were stabled in my yard, and they're gone. As for the other animals, horses or ponies for draught or what not, there are very few of them in Bree, and they won't be for sale. But I'll do what I can. I'll rout out Bob and send him round as soon as may be."

"Yes," said Aragorn reluctantly, "you had better do that. I am afraid we shall have to try and get one pony at least. But so ends all hope of starting early and slipping away quietly. We might as well have blown a horn to announce our departure. That was their plan, no doubt."

"There is one crumb of comfort." Merry said. "And more than a crumb, I hope: we can have breakfast while we wait—and sit down to it. Let's get hold of Nob!"

—/-|-\—

In the end there was more than three hours delay. Bob had come back with the report that no horse or pony was to be got for love or money in the neighborhood—except one: Bill Ferny had one he might possibly sell, but he was known to be a thoroughly unscrupulous man, whom they had also noticed had been watching the hobbits while conspiring with a an ill-looking Southerner the previous evening. They suspected he might have had a hand in helping to sabotage them. It was a poor old half-starved creature.

"Bill Ferny?" Frodo said. "Isn't there some trick? Wouldn't the beast bolt back to him with all our stuff, or help in tracking us, or something?"

"I wonder," said Aragorn, "but I cannot imagine any animal running home to him, once it got away. I fancy this is only an afterthought of kind Master Ferny's—just a way of increasing his profits from the affair. The chief danger is that the poor beast is probably at death's door. But there does not seem to be any choice. What does he want it for?"

Bill Ferny's price was twelve silver pennies, at least three times the pony's value in those parts. It proved to be a bony, underfed, and dispirited animal; but it did not look like dying just yet. Mr. Butterbur paid for it himself, and offered Merry another eighteen pence as some compensation for the lost animals. He was an honest man, and well-off as things were reckoned in Bree; but thirty silver pennies was a sore blow to him, and being cheated by Bill Ferny made it harder to bear. The blame for the rest of the missing horses ended up falling on the squinty-eyed southerner once it became known that he had disappeared as well during the night, so Butterbur managed to avoid being harassed too much by the other guests when they came looking for their rides.

After breakfast, the hobbits had to repack and get together further supplies for the longer journey they were now expecting. The girls managed to squeeze a couple more things into their own pack after removing Kitty's trumpet case (which she never went anywhere without) and an open pack of Jammie Dodgers that were still waterlogged and just completely beyond saving.

"Let us never forget, that the Doctor once attempted to save the universe by passing one of these off as a self-destruct button for the TARDIS." Kitty said dramatically, sniffing, as they performed last rites for their tasty snack and lowered it down into the waste basket.

"I know. It's always hard to loose a good snack, isn't it?" Pippin said sympathetically, patting them on the back. He didn't understand the fandom reference, but he knew good food when he saw it.

It was close to ten o'clock when they finally set off. By that time, the whole of Bree was buzzing with excitement. Frodo's vanishing trick; the appearance of the black horsemen; the robbing of the stables; and not the least the news that Strider the Ranger had joined the mysterious hobbits, made such a tale as would last for many uneventful years. The road was crowded with people who were waiting to see the travellers start, and the other guests in the inn were at the doors or hanging out of the windows.

"Jeez, don't these people have anything better to do?" Kitty had asked before Devin reminded her that they probably didn't because there was no TV or internet in Middle Earth.

Aragorn had changed his mind, and he decided to leave Bree by the main road. Any attempt to set off across country at once would only make matters worse: half the inhabitants would follow them, to see what they were up to and to prevent them from trespassing. They said farewell to Nob and Bob, and took leave of Mr. Butterbur with many thanks.

"I hope we shall meet again someday, when things are merry once more." Said Frodo. "I should like nothing better than to stay in your house in peace for awhile."

Then they tramped off, anxious and downhearted, under the eyes of the crowd. Not all the faces were friendly, nor all the words that were shouted. Devin chose not to dignify such remarks with a response, but Kitty was only too happy to return the favor by flipping a few of them off. Aragorn seemed to be held in awe by most of the Bree-landers, and those he stared at shut their mouths and drew away. He walked in front with Frodo; next came Merry and Pippin; then Devin and Kitty; and last came Sam leading the pony, which was laden with as much of their baggage as they had the heart to give it. In fact, Kitty had taken one of the other packs to carry to spare the poor thing an extra thirty or forty pounds while Devin carried their pack. Kitty had a special place in her heart for horses since her family used to own a ranch back when they used to live in Texas. Actually, the poor pony already looked less dejected, as if it approved of the change in its fortunes and ownership.

After awhile, the hobbits took no notice of the inquisitive heads that peeped out of doors or popped over walls and fences as they passed. But as they drew near to the further gate, the girls saw a dark, ill-kept house behind a thick hedge—the last house in the village. In one of the windows they caught a glimpse of a sallow face with sly, slanting eyes, but it vanished at once. Frodo noticed it, too.

'So that's where that southerner is hiding!' he thought. 'He looks more than half like a goblin.'

Over the hedge another man was staring boldly at their group. He had heavy black brows, and dark, scornful eyes; his large mouth curled in a sneer. He was smoking a short black pipe. As they approached, he took it out of his mouth and spat.

"Morning, Longshanks!" he said. "Off early? Found some friends at last?" Aragorn nodded but did not answer. Devin rolled her eyes. That was so middle school. She had to grab hold of her friend when she noticed Kitty was rolling up her sleeves and shooting laser eyes at the oily jerk, probably contemplating getting revenge for the poor abused pony. Devin was really tempted to let her, but it was better if they left as quickly and quietly as possible. She wasn't sure hoe effective the police or whatever kind of law enforcement Bree had might be, and she didn't want her to end up in jail with an assault charge while Aragorn and the hobbits continued on to Rivendell without them. "Morning my little friends! Ladies!" Ferny greeted the rest of them. "I suppose you know who you've taken up with? That's Stick-at-nought Strider, that is! Though I've heard other names not so pretty, watch out tonight!" Devin and Kitty both shot him a look of extreme disdain. "And you, Sammie, don't go ill-treating my poor pony! Pah!" He spat again. Sam turned quickly.

"And you, Ferny," he said, "put your ugly face out of sight, or it'll get hurt." With a sudden flick, quick as lightening, the apple he had been munching on left his hand and hit Bill square on the nose. He ducked to late, and curses came from behind the hedge. "Waste of a good apple, that was." Sam said regretfully and turned back to continue on, only to find himself face to face with a grinning Kitty.

"Have a biscuit, Sam." She told him, generously offering him a couple of Oreos from the package she had just retrieved from their backpack and opened up especially to reward him for his excellent aim. Sam accepted the cookies and found them to be quite delicious.

—/-|-\—

At last, they had left the village behind; and the escort of children and stragglers that followed them had gotten tired and turned back after they passed through the South-gate. They kept on along the Road for some miles, passing some of the houses and hobbit-holes of Staddle on the gentler southern slopes of Bree-hill; down in a deep hollow away north of the Road there were wisps of smoke that showed where Combe lay; Archet was hidden in the trees beyond. These humble sights might not mean much in the face of what was to come, but Devin found it fascinating to see all these places in person after having grown up hearing and reading about them. She couldn't wait to see Rivendell.

Unfortunately, the rest of the journey was not nearly as pleasant as its beginning had been. Aragorn soon announced that it was time to leave the road and led them into the Wild, down to a valley. It was actually rather pleasant. The sun was shining, clear but not too hot. The woods in the valley were still leafy and wholesome.

"Um, Strider." Devin said, tapping Aragorn on the shoulder. He paused and glanced back at her. "I think we're about to lose Kitty and the hobbits." She warned him, pointing back at the five hungry hippos who had abruptly decided to stop and start unpacking the cooking-ware.

"Gentlemen, Miss Kitty, we do not stop till nightfall." He reminded them.

"What about breakfast?" Pippin asked.

"You've already had it." Aragorn said.

"We've had one, yes." Pippin agreed. "What about second breakfast?"

"It's a legitimate mealtime for hobbits." Kitty quipped, supporting the idea of an early snack. Aragorn just turned away and started walking again, expecting them to take the hint and follow. Devin shrugged and sent them an apologetic look before turning and going after him. They needed really to keep moving. This wasn't some casual picnic they were on; they were being hunted by creepy Ringwraiths.

"I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip." Merry said as he and Kitty pulled their packs back on, and she grabbed her trumpet case; and Sam and Frodo put the pots back in the packs on the pony's back.

"What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?" Pippin asked anxiously as he followed his cousin when he started walking.

"I wouldn't count on it." Merry told him.

"Whoa, heads up!" Kitty said when she spotted an apple flying towards them. Merry reached up and managed to catch it before it hit him in the face. He looked at the apple in his hand and handed it to Pippin, giving his cousin a pat on the back before continuing on his way. Pippin stared after his cousin and Kitty for a moment, wondering where the apple had come from, when another one came sailing through the air and bounced off his head. Pippin stumbled and glanced around bewilderedly, wondering where it had gone to.

"Pippin!" Merry called, urging him forward.

With the matter of second breakfast somewhat resolved, the group continued on without any further unscheduled stops. Aragorn guided them confidently among the many crossing paths, although left to themselves they would soon have been at a loss. He was taking a wandering course with many turns and doublings, to put off any pursuit. Whether because of his skill or some other reason, they saw no sign and heard no sound of any other living thing all that day: neither two-footed, except birds; nor four-footed, except one fox and a few squirrels. The girls bonded with the hobbits a bit more by discussing favorite foods and teaching them a few road trip games, which Aragorn allowed provided they promise to keep their voices down. The next day, they began to steer a steady course eastwards; and still all was quiet and peaceful. Devin and Kitty made supper and helped the hobbits discover the joy of pizza as a result. On the third day out from Bree they came out of the Chetwood. The land had been falling steadily, ever since they turned aside from the Road, and they now entered a a wide flat expanse of country, much more difficult to manage. They were far beyond the borders of the Bree-land, out in the pathless wilderness, and drawing nearer to the Midgewater Marshes. When the girls saw where they were headed, they paused momentarily to pull out some bug spray and quickly applied it to themselves and offered to share some with the others, but they declined, finding the smell offensive. The ground soon became damp, and in places boggy here in there they came upon pools, and wide stretches of reeds and rushes filled with the warbling of little hidden birds. They had to pick their way carefully to keep both dry-footed and on their proper course.

"You're sucha Disney princess." Kitty commented when she accidentally disturbed a group of concealed birds, and a small finch flew up and landed briefly on Devin's head before hopping off and taking flight once again. Aragorn and the hobbits didn't understand the reference, but both the girls seemed to find it rather amusing.

At first, they made fair progress, but as they went on, their passage became slower and more dangerous; their level of comfort began to plummet drastically. The marshes were bewildering and treacherous, and there was no permanent trail even for Rangers to find through their shifting quagmires. The flies began to torment them, and the air was full of cloud of midges that crept up their sleeves and breeches and into their hair. The only ones who were completely unaffected by the pests were Devin and Kitty, whom seemed to have some invisible force-field around them, as no midges dared to land on them. Aragorn was not so fortunate, but he bore his discomfort with grace and dignity. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the poor hobbits, who were less used to coping with swarms of biting insects.

"I'm being eaten alive!" cried Pippin. "Midgewater! There are more midges than water!"

"What do they eat when they can't get hobbit!?" Merry asked, slapping his neck in an attempt to kill one or two of the ones currently biting him.

They spent a miserable day in this lonely and unpleasant country. Their camping-place was damp, cold, and uncomfortable; and the biting insects would not let them sleep until they had applied some of the foul-smelling bug spray, which stung when it hit wherever they had already been bitten. There were also abominable creatures haunting the reeds and tussocks that from the sound of them were evil relatives of the cricket. There were thousands of them, and they squeaked all around, neek-breek, neek-breek, unceasingly all through the night, until the hobbits were nearly frantic. They didn't know how Aragorn and the girls could stand it.

The next day, the fourth, was little better, and the night almost comfortless. Though the Neekerbreekers (as Sam called them) had been left behind, the midges still pursued them; and they were beginning to run out of bug spray.

As Frodo lay, tired but unable to close their eyes, it seemed to him that far away there came a light in the eastern sky: it flashed and faded many times.

"What is that light?" Frodo asked Aragorn, who had risen, and was standing, gazing ahead into the night.

"I do not know." Aragorn answered. "It is too distant to make out. It is like lightening that leaps up from the hill-tops."

Devin, who was also awake, remained silent as she watched the distant light-show, knowing that it was most likely being caused by Gandalf, as he fought the Ringwraiths at Weathertop. She said nothing so as not to worry the others, for she knew Gandalf would be all right. He would make it safely to Rivendell ahead of them. Of course, some might think it would be better if they joined up with wizard sooner, but she wasn't sure what that would do to the story. Deciding when to interfere and when not to was difficult—it was like if you had gone back in time to WWII after Hitler was already born and in power; how would you help the allies without screwing up the timeline? If you told them they would win in the end, would they relax their guard and end up being defeated because they were too overconfident? What if you told them how to pull off the invasion of Normandy too soon, and they ended up losing a crucial battle? It was things like this that made Devin decide to take a leaf out of Star Trek's book and start following the 'Prime Directive' of non-interference. It was true there were some events that seemed to have already gotten off-track somehow, such as Aragorn's unwillingness to fulfill his destiny and become king; and she knew she and Kitty might have to step in and help correct that, but aside from errors of that nature, they should try to keep their nose out of it as much as possible. Especially since they didn't plan on staying for long. They needed to go home; she was really worried about what might happen if Kitty ran out of her medicine…

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