Lovely. Nazgul. And look! More, Nazgul!
Sarah jabbed Aragorn in the side with her elbow. He made no move, except to lean his head closer.
"What is it?"
"My best friend, Maggie Rivers, though last I checked, she wasn't a Hobbit."
Aragorn gave a slight nod, then continued to watch the five hobbits, especially Frodo.
Sarah grinned with amusement as Maggie tried her first sip of beer, gagged, and spit it out. Then Merry slid in next to her, setting a tall, frothy mug on the table. Her mind supplied the lines as Pippin and Merry conversed, and Pippin ran off to find his pint. Barliman seemed to stop longer at the table then originally, but then again, there were two mysterious strangers starring at the hobbits.
Pippin's voice seemed to ring through the whole room. "Baggins! Sure I know a Baggins. He's over there, Frodo Baggins. He's my second cousin once removed on his mother's side, and my third cousin twice removed on his father's side, if you follow me."
Aragorn sat strait up. In one swift movement he reached in his boot, pulled out a long knife, and handed it to Sarah.
"Go stand guard outside our room. Let no one in save me and those with me. Now go!"
Sarah's long legs carried her up the steps two at a time. She set her back to the door, holding her knife outward. Less than a minute later, Aragorn appeared, carrying Frodo.
"Let only the other four pass." he said, before disappearing into the room.
Sarah pressed one ear to the door while trying to look down the passageway with the opposite eye. Snippets of conversation floated through the oak panels.
"Indeed. I can avoid being seen if I wish, but..." Aragorn's voice faded out for a moment. "-frightened enough," it came again. "I know what-" Sarah didn't get to hear the rest. She was jerked from the entry by a hobbit, probably Sam. He then proceeded to thrust open the door, Merry and Pippin tumbling in after him. Following g at a slower pace, and grinning at the whole scene, was Maggie.
Sarah threw back her hood. "Mags!"
"Sarah? Jimmy Cricket, it's you!" They rushed into a hug. Maggie was the first to break away. "Come on," she said, as she dragged Sarah through the door. They found Aragorn making plans with Frodo.
"-pillows under the covers," he was finishing as they walked in.
"Ara-Strider!" Sarah called as she pulled Maggie over to him.
"This is one of my lost friends, Maggie. Maggie, this is Strider. He's been looking after me since I arrived a week ago."
"Hello, Maggie," Aragorn began, but she interrupted him.
"A week?! But I've only been her since this afternoon!"
Pippins head wagged back and forth between the two friends. "Wait, best friends? Then you aren't a River from the North Downs? No Hobbit's ever been friends with a Big Person."
"I should think that's sort of obvious, Pip," whispered Merry.
"Hobbit?" Sarah laughed. She had entirely forgotten Maggie's new height. "Last I looked, Maggie was small, but not that small..." her voice trailed off as she really took in Maggie's feet and height. "You're a holbytla."
"Yes Sarah," Maggie sounded a bit exasperated, "as Merry said, I should think that's obvious."
"As much as I wish you two could keep talking," Aragorn broke in, "We really must take care of the beds. The Nine could be hear at any time."
Moving swiftly, the Big Folk and the Little Folk moved the packs from the Hobbit's room and placed long pillows down the beds. Then Aragorn ushered them back into his and Sarah's room, where they bedded down for the night. One by one they dropped off to sleep.
Sarah was awakened by the most blood-chilling scream she had ever heard. Everyone else was sitting up, and Maggie was inching closer to her.
Said Maggie gave her a weak smile, then started humming. "DUN dun DUN dun DUN dun DUN dun, DIN dun DUN dun DUUUUUN!"
Sarah had to smile back when she heard it. The Nazgul theme from the movie. She started humming the Morgal theme back at Mags. "DUN, dun, da-da-dun, DUN, dun, da-da-dun."
"What are you doing?" inquired Sam suspiciously. He still didn't trust either of them, even though they had both explained their story.
Maggie smiled innocently. "Just humming the theme from Lord of the-" Sarah hit her, "-Things," she finished with a scowl at her friend.
Frodo turned to Aragorn. "What are they?"
"They were once Men – 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. Now they are slaves to his will." He looked out the window at something the others couldn't see, then he turned back. "They are the Nazgul, 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."
With that ominous note, he turned away, leaving the others to fall asleep as best they could.
Early the next morning, Sarah was shaken into wakefulness by Aragorn.
"Sarah, wake the others. I go to procure a horse for us and a cloak for your friend."
Sarah lay still for a few minutes after he had left, reluctant to get up. Slowly she rose, then bean to sing loudly to the tune of Happy Birthday -
"Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning good morning,
Good morning to you.
It's time to get up,
It's time to get up,
It's time to it's time to,
It's time to get up."
"Did you have to?" groaned Maggie, sitting up. Frodo was also awake, but the others were still softly snoring.
"Strider told me to get you guys up," Sarah rejoined, "but I don't think I did a very good job of it." She nodded at the sleeping Hobbits. "They're still in dreamland."
Frodo looked at her balefully. "I'm with Maggie," he said. "Was that song really necessary?"
"Yep!" was the answer. "Hey Mags, let's get 'em with the Water Buffalo"
Maggie gave a wicked grin, and Frodo looked apprehensive. "On the count of three. One...Two...THREE!" Together they began to sing – The Water Buffalo Song.
"Oh, everybody's got a water buffalo,
Your's is fat but mine is slow,
Where we get them I don't know
But everybody's got a water buffalo-oooooo!
Took my buffalo to the store,
Got his head stuck in the door,
Spilled some Lima beans on the floor
Oh everybody's got a water buffalo-oooooo!"
Pippin, Sam, and Merry sat up looking extremely confused around 'your's is fat', and Aragorn came in around "Took my buffalo to the store'.
"Wha-a-a-at is that?" yawned Pippin, when they had finished singing.
"A silly song with Larry," Sarah replied, then looked at Maggie expectantly.
"The part of the show here Larry comes out ans sings a silly song," finished she. They were stared at.
"So Aragorn," said Frodo, after an awkward pause, turning to the addressed. "What is your plan? You clearly have one."
"Follow me," he answered, throwing a cloak at Maggie.
In the space of a few hours, they had left Bree and the road far behind. Sarah was walking up close to Aragorn, drinking in everything he was telling her about woodcraft and finding your way.
Frodo's voice broke into their soft conversation. "Where are you taking us?"
"Into the wild" was the gruff reply, but Sarah could see a smile on his face, and, as he bent down to inspect some moss, he whispered to her, "The lesson in caution has been well learned."
As they continued on, Sarah could barley catch indistinct murmurings coming from the five Hobbits behind them. Aragorn, it seemed, could hear them quite clearly. Quietly he gave the gist of what he had heard.
"They do not know if they can trust the two Rangers and their odd Hobbit friend. They appear to be referring to you as 'Trotter'." He paused, then said loudly, "To Rivendell, Master Gamgee. To the house of Elrond."
"What does Maggie have to say about all this?" Sarah asked.
"Nothing," was the reply. "She seems to be falling behind and out of earshot."
They continued on in a comfortable silence for a the rest of the day.
For three days the odd group traveled through the wild. Gradually, the land became snowier, and , much to her chagrin, Maggie had to borrow one of the Hobbit's spare suites.
Whilst Maggie was generally accepted by the Hobbits now, Sarah, as she was a 'Big Person', and in league with the dangerous Strider, was left almost completely alone. Thus she was up front again with Aragorn when they realized that the others weren't following.
Sarah turned around, while Aragorn looked over his shoulder. "Gentlehobbits," he called, "we do not stop until nightfall."
Pippin looked incredulous. "What about breakfast?"
"You've already had it." Aragorn replied, nonplussed.
"We've had one, yes," Pippin answered matter-of-factly. "What about second breakfast?"
Aragorn shook is head and walked on. Sarah stayed for a moment.
"Maggie, you only eat three meals a day. Four, if you count snack."
"I have a Hobbit stomach now."
Sarah copied Aragorn's gesture and followed him into the trees. She found him picking the last few apples hanging from a gnarled branch. He hefted one, (not that there was much to heft) and tossed it over a hedge. He was about to throw the next one when Sarah stopped him.
When Aragorn handed it to her, she lobbed it into the air. A moment later, they heard a loud thunk and a cry of "Pippin!"
"Oops?" half said half asked Sarah.
That afternoon Sarah found out why you must always bring mosquito repellent when you decide to go adventuring in the Midgewater Marshes. She quite agreed with Merry's statement:
"What do they eat when they can't get Hobbit?"
Finally, about a week out from Bree, they broke through the edge of the Marshes. Weathertop loomed dark above them.
Aragorn looked up at it. "This was the great watchtower of Amon Sul. We shall rest here tonight."
With that, they began plodding toward the ominous hill.