• ((ooc  Sorry about the wait.  😮

    Frodo clapped with everyone when Bilbo assented to give a speech. The old mouse stood up on a tall table and began to talk. When he said the name "Dugginses", Frodo cheered with the rest of his clan.

    As the mouse neared the end of his monologue, Frodo noticed something odd. Bilbo was fingering an item in his pocket, then brought it out and moved it behind his back. The younger mouse quietly waited for something to happen. Bilbo muttered something that Frodo couldn't make out. "I bid you all a fond farewell," the Hobbit finished. He whispered something again, and this time, Frodo realized that he was saying, "Goodbye."

    Then, Bilbo disappeared.

    In the back, Gandalf supervised the chore-doings of Pippin and Merry. When he heard cries and exclamations of surprise, he turned to see Bilbo gone and Frodo looking around in confusement. He guessed what was going on, and walked quickly up to Bilbo's house just in time to see the door swing open and shut of its own accord. "Bilbo, Bilbo," he muttered. He opened the door quietly, and the badger walked inside.

    "I suppose you think that was terribly clever?" he asked, startling Bilbo. The mouse had a walking stick in his hand, and he laughed so hard that he dropped it.

    Gandalf quickly curbed the merriment. "There are many magic rings in the world, Bilbo Duggins, and none of them should be used lightly." He continued on a different note, taking off his pointed hat. "What about this ring? Is it staying behind too?"

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    Full of Hobbit optimism and cheeriness, Bilbo ignored Gandalf, picked up his walking stick again, and laid it against the wall; then worked on packing his travel backpack with several of his much-needed oddities. However, when Gandalf posed his questions, Bilbo could refuse him no longer.

    “Oh, you’re probably right as usual.” Bilbo fetched his pipe and two separate packs of Old Toby and Longbottom Leaf pipeweed.

    “Listen, you will keep an eye on Frodo, won’t you? Yes, you will. Two eyes, as often as you can spare them. I’m leaving everything to him. And the ring, it’s over there in an envelope on the mantelpiece.”

    But none of that statement was true. The mantelpiece held no such article. Bilbo’s paw strayed to his waistcoat pocket.

    “No! Wait…it’s here in my pocket! Isn’t that rather odd now?” He removed the magical golden ring and began caressing it, turning it over and over between his fingers.

    “Yet, after all, why not? Why shouldn’t I keep it?” The last questions came in a doubtful whisper, nearly resistant and somewhat possessive.

    “Is it so hard to leave it behind, you would ask, Gandalf? No…and yes. I should not leave it behind. Now that it comes to it…I don’t feel like parting with it!” The old Duggins mouse had suddenly become extremely cross. “What business is it of yours anyway, what I do with my own things? I found it, it came to me! It’s mine!”

    Then came a whisper, one that did not belong to Bilbo, coming from a voice not his own.

    “It’s mine, my only, my own. My Precious!”

  • Gandalf listened in slight horror. "I think you should leave the ring behind, Bilbo. Is that so hard?" He heard the response, then said sternly, "There's no need to get angry!"

    Then he heard something disturbing. “It’s mine, my only, my own. My Precious!”

    "Precious . . . it's been called that before, but never by you," he replied softly.

    “What business is it of yours anyway, what I do with my own things? I found it, it came to me! It’s mine!"

    "I think you've had that ring long enough," Gandalf began.

    "You want it for yourself!" the changed Bilbo interrupted.

    "Bilbo Duggins!" Gandalf exploded. He felt power going out from him. "Don't take me for some cheap conjurer who practices in tricks!" His shadow filled the room as he seemed to grow slightly taller. "I am not trying to rob you, but only to help you," he said gently, his face softening. He hugged the smaller mouse instantly. "As long as we've been friends . . . trust me, Bilbo, as you once did. The ring must stay." He let the mouse go.

    The badger stopped Bilbo at the door. "Bilbo? The ring is still in your pocket."

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    "I'm late! The road is long! Yes, it is time!"

    But Bilbo stopped short of going out the door, hearing Gandalf’s reminder, as little as he accepted it.

    “The ring? Oh, good gracious!” The old Hobbit mouse reached into his waistcoat pocket yet again, and withdrew the ring.

    “So it is.”

    Slowly, little by little, Bilbo tipped his paw downwards; from his paw fell the golden ring, not bouncing but hitting the floor flat with a noisy thump. Bilbo hurried swiftly out the door, looking back to make sure Gandalf was following behind him, and deeply breathing the night air.

    “I’ve thought up an ending for my book. ‘And he lived happily ever after, till the end of his days.’” Bilbo turned to Gandalf, sharing his hopeful smile.

    “Goodbye, Gandalf.”

    And with that, Bilbo Duggins left Bag End and walked away down the road, singing as he went.

    “The road goes ever on and on,
    Down from the door where it began.
    Now far ahead the road has gone.
    And I must follow if I can.”

  • Gandalf hugged the mouse one last time, then watched him go out of the door. The old badger looked down. He was standing above the ring. Slowly, the mage bent down to pick it up.

    As soon as his paws came close to touching it, he saw a fiery eye, spitting venomous words into his mind. Gandalf whipped his paws away and moved to sit by the fire, thinking. “Precious . . .” he muttered.

    A few minutes later, the door creaked open. “Bilbo!” Frodo called hurriedly. He looked around, and saw Gandalf. “He’s gone, isn’t he?” the mouse asked. He paused. “He talked for so long about leaving, I thought he’d never really do it.” He looked at the floor, and saw the gold ring. He picked it up and walked over to Gandalf.


    The big badger turned. Frodo was holding his paw open, with the ring sitting inside it. “Ah,” Gandalf mused. “Bilbo’s ring. He’s left everything to you. The ring is yours, now.” He held out an open envelope for the ring, and Frodo tipped his paw, letting it slide inside. “Keep it out of sight.” He stood up. “I have to go. Things to do.”

    “What? Why? You only just arrived?” Frodo protested.

    Gandalf turned and put his paws on the young Hobbit’s shoulders. “Keep it secret. Keep it safe,” he whispered, then rushed out the door.

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    In the far distant land of Mordor, where the shadows lay, the reconstruction of a building of ultimate evil was underway. Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower. Somewhere, in an overhead high chamber of unspeakable detail, a single screeching voice could be heard.

    "Shire! Duggins!"

    Smoke, fire, ash, and lava erupted from Mount Doom in response to the tortured cries. From the fortress of Minas Morgul, nine fox riders on nine black horses emerged, exiting the gates at a furious, desperate, and hurried gallop.

    Meanwhile, the gates of Minas Tirith, the capital of the realm of Gondor, were open to Gandalf. The Grey Wizard walked around with a guide heading to the city’s libraries. Removing his hat and lighting his pipe, he sifted through sheaths and piles of old papers. The guide later returned with a mug of tea. At last, came what Gandalf had been searching for.

    _"The year 3434 of the Second Age. Here follows the Account of Isildur, the High King of Gondor, and the finding of the Ring of Power.

    It has come to me, the One Ring, and it shall be an heirloom of my Kingdom. All those who will follow in my bloodline shall be bound to its fate, for I shall risk no hurt to the Ring. It is precious to me. Though I buy it with great pain. The markings upon the band begin to fade. The writing, which at first was as clear as red flame, has all but disappeared.

    A secret now that only fire can tell."_

    Back in the Shire, Farmer Maggot chopped up firewood in the evening light. Something approached, and Maggot’s dog barked, to which his owner looked up frightened. His dog backed up and disappeared into the Hobbit hole, in reaction to a black muddled red-eyed horse. Upon it sat a fox wearing metal gauntlets, spiked boots, and a flowing robe and hood in black. One of the Nine Riders from Minas Morgul: Khamûl the Easterling.

    "Shire! Duggins!"

    "There’s no Dugginses ‘round here. They’re up in Hobbiton! That way!"

    The fox rode off in haste whilst Maggot retreated, but not before seeing eight others like it follow after.

    In Hobbiton, Frodo took up four mugs of ale from Rosie Cotton, and danced over to Merry and Pippin, who were standing on a table and singing.

    _"Hey, ho, to the bottle I go!
    To heal my heart and drown my woe.
    Rain may fall and wind may blow.
    But there still be…
    Many miles to go!

    Sweet is the sound of the pouring rain,
    And the stream that falls from hill to plain.
    Better than rain or rippling brook –!"_

    "There’s a mug of beer inside this Took!" Pippin proudly interjected.

    Cheers and laughs exploded from the proud Hobbits, and Merry and Pippin climbed off the table, continuing to drink. A table away, Sam and a crowd of other Hobbits sat discussing current events.

    "There’s been some strange folk crossing the Shire." The Gaffer began. "Dwarves, others of a less than savory nature.”

    "War’s brewing.” Noakes agreed. "The mountains are fair teeming with goblins."

    "Wives' tales and children’s stories, that’s all that is!” objected Sandyman. “You’re beginning to sound like that old Bilbo Duggins. Cracked, he was!"

    Gaffer simply laughed, taking no offense and looking over at Frodo bringing the ale. "Young Mr. Frodo here, he’s cracking! And proud of it! Cheers, Frodo and all!"

    "Well, it’s none of our concern what goes on beyond our borders." Sandyman settled the discussion, then turned to Frodo. "Keep your nose out of trouble, and no trouble will come to you!"

    The night wore on, and the Green Dragon emptied. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin were one of the last out the door. One of the other mice knelt down before Rosie Cotton as she bid them goodnight.

    "Good night, sweet maiden of the golden ale!"

    "Oi, mind who you're sweet-talking!" Sam said under his breath.

    "Don't worry, Sam!" Frodo reassured him. "Rosie knows an idiot when she sees one!"

    Sam smiled uncertainly. "Does she?"

  • ((ooc Sorry if I skipped a few parts.


    Frodo said goodbye to Sam, then walked up the steps to his front porch. The door was still shut, so he walked inside. Strangely enough, it was dark, and papers fluttered about in a draft from the window.

    He walked into the living room, where there was no fire. “Hello?” the mouse asked.

    Suddenly, a big paw clamped down on his shoulder and turned him around. The Hobbit found himself looking into the face of Gandalf the Grey. The disheveled badger stared at the mouse. “Is it secret? Is it safe?” Frodo nodded and led the badger to a chest. He opened the chest and rummaged about for a bit, finally coming up with the envelope given to him earlier. He turned and handed it to Gandalf.

    The badger immediately threw it into the recently started fire. “What are you doing?” Frodo asked in alarm. Gandalf sat back and waited for the paper to burn away, revealing the gold ring. The mage leaned forward and gripped the ring with a pair of iron tongs. He turned to Frodo.

    “It’s quite cool,” he reassured the mouse as he dropped it into the waiting paw. Frodo looked at it.

    Gandalf turned away. “Can you see anything? Is there anything on the ring?” he asked worriedly.

    “No, there’s nothing.” The wizard sighed slightly in relief. “Wait.” The badger turned. “There is something. It’s some form of Elvish, I can’t read it.”

    “It is the language of Mordor, which I dare not utter here,” Gandalf said. “In the common tongue, it means:

    One Ring to rule them all
    One Ring to find them
    One Ring to gather them
    And in the darkness bind them!”

    Gandalf sat with his pipe with Frodo across from him. The badger spoke. "This is the One Ring, forged in Mordor by the fires of Mount Doom, taken from the hand of Sauron himself by Isildur. Bilbo found it . . . in Gollum's cave. For sixty years, it has remained asleep. But now . . . it has heard its master's call."

    At that moment, both badger and mouse heard horrible whispers in their ears. They looked at each other. "But Sauron was destroyed!" Frodo protested.

    "No, Frodo. The spirit of the Dark One survived. He can't take physical form yet, but he survives in the form of a great eye. His life force is bound to the Ring, and the Ring survived. He is bending all his will towards it, seeking it with all his strength."

    Frodo packed quickly as Gandalf spoke to him. “You’ll have to leave the name Duggins behind. It isn’t safe here. You need to take the Ring as far away from here as possible.” The badger heard a noise outside the window. The pair froze.

    Gandalf crept over to the opening, reached out with his staff, and promptly smacked someone over the head. Frodo heard a cry of alarm. Gandalf reached over, yanked out a mouse, and slammed him into the table. “Samwise Gimgee!” the badger wizard exploded. “Were you eavesdropping?!”

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    “Gandalf! I haven’t been dropping no eaves, sir, honest! I was just cutting the grass under the window there, if you follow me! I heard raised voices, nothing important! Just something about a ring, and a Dark Lord, and something about the end of the world. Please, Mr. Gandalf, sir, don’t hurt me! Don’t turn me into anything unnatural!”

    Sam eventually found himself hurrying after a rushing Gandalf and Frodo, the wizard leading them and a horse out of the borders of the Shire. They reached a woodland and took a temporary stop. Gandalf gave some cautionary advice to Frodo about not putting on the mysterious Ring, or else some terrible thing would happen. And just like that, in half the blink of an eye, the Grey Wizard was gone on the horse. The two nervous and concerned Hobbits set off at a brisk walk to the calling of birds. They walked through a field, a farmhouse, a waterfall, then another field decorated with a scarecrow.

    Sam stopped in his tracks, with Frodo turning back to look at him.

    “This is it. If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”

    Frodo patted Sam on the back, urging him to take another step and remembering the words of Bilbo concerning great adventures, words of great encouragement and excitement.

    “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you’ll be swept off to.”

    Reaching another woodland, dinner and pipeweed were set up. Frodo relaxed in a tree, lifting up his head. They ran up a hill and peered over a fallen tree trunk, to see a procession of Wood Elves, both on horse and on foot.

    _“O Elbereth Starkindler, white-glittering slanting down
    Sparkling like a jewel, the glory of the starry host!
    Having gazed far away from the tree-woven lands of Middle-Earth,
    To thee, Everwhite, I will sing, on this side of the Sea,
    Here on this side of the Ocean!

    O Elbereth Starkindler, from heaven gazing afar!
    To thee I cry now beneath the shadow of death!
    O look towards me, Everwhite!”_

    “They’re going to the harbor beyond the White Towers,” Frodo explained. “To the Grey Havens.”

    “They’re leaving Middle-Earth,” Sam commented. “Never to return. I don’t know why…it makes me sad.”

    That night, back at camp…

    “Everywhere I lie, there’s a dirty great root sticking into my back!”

    “Just shut your eyes and imagine you’re back in your own bed, with a soft mattress and a lovely feather pillow.”

    “It’s not working, Mr. Frodo! I’m never going to be able to sleep out here!”

    “Me, neither, Sam.”

    Dawn rose over the fields. A black horse trotted over the hills, ridden by a Black Rider.

  • Gandalf held his cloak behind him as the horse pounded along the dirt road. Up ahead loomed the great black mass that was Orthanc, something of a dark mar of a silhouette against the mountains. He took a deep breath and let it out. Hopefully, the elder wizard would listen to him.
    Smoke rises once more from the tower of doom . . . He reached the stairs of the tower and dropped from his horse. Saruman, standing at the top of the steps, swept down them with all the grace a propriety that befitted a creature of his stature and wisdom.
    . . . the shadow takes shape in the darkness of Mordor; the hour grows late, and Gandalf the Grey rides to Isengard seeking my counsel . . . Saruman was a large, powerfully built wolf, entirely white in color. Dressed in a cloak and robe of the same shade, he also carried a black staff, with four elegant prongs at the top supporting a silvery-white orb. His eyes were piercingly bright, with jet black pupils that looked as if they could see through the darkest mist. “For that is why you have come, is it not, my old friend?” he called. His voice was like a roll of thunder that had sounded miles off and was just now reaching Gandalf’s ears.
    Gandalf bowed slightly. “Saruman!”

    The two wizards strode slowly through the beautiful gardens of Isengard, white trees lining the greenway where they walked – reminiscent of the gardens of Valinor where the tree of Nimloth once stood, the place never failed to calm Gandalf, no matter his state of mind. The sapstrength of Minas Ithil seemed to course through the ground. He could feel it.
    Saruman interrupted Gandalf’s musings. “Are you sure of this?” he asked.
    Gandalf brought himself back to the conversation at hand. “Beyond any doubt.”
    Saruman put a paw on his chin, a thoughtful expression taking over his face. “So . . . the ring of power has been found?”
    The urgency of the situation struck Gandalf once more, and he said, “All these long years, it was in the Shire -- under my very nose.” The pair of them quickened their step.
    “And yet you did not have the wit to see it! Your love of the Halfling’s leaf has clearly slowed your mind!” Saruman slammed his staff into the ground firmly to emphasize every word.
    “We still have time . . . time enough to counter Sauron . . . if we act quickly!”
    “Time? What delusion has seized your mind to think that we have time?” the elder wizard demanded.
    The two rapidly made their way into the tower and into a small antechamber. It was cluttered with old books and musty scrolls, no doubt full of wisdom and knowledge of ancient things gone by and lost to the maw of time. In the center of the room was a short, thick pedestal, covered with a single piece of graying cloth.
    Saruman sat down beside this pedestal. “Sauron has regained much of his former strength. Of course, he cannot yet take physical form, but his spirit has lost none of its potency. Concealed within his fortress, the lord of Dark Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and skin and fur. You know of what I speak, Grey One . . .” The wolf paused. “A great Eye, lidless, wreathed in flame.”
    Gandalf took a shallow breath, and whispered, “The Eye of Sauron . . .”
    “He is gathering all evil to him.” The white wizard sighed. “Very soon he will have summoned an army great enough to launch an assault upon all of Middle earth.”
    “You know this?” Suspicion entered Gandalf’s voice. “How?”
    “I have seen it.” Saruman placed a paw on the cloth-covered object in front of him.
    Gandalf’s eyes narrowed. “A palantir is a dangerous tool, Saruman.”
    The wolf raised the cloth from the pedestal, revealing a smooth black orb underneath, flashes of light traveling through it and refracting all around its stone surface. “Why?” he asked, a smirk on his face. “Why should we fear to use it?”
    “They are not all accounted for, the lost seeing stones . . .” Gandalf threw the cloth back over the palantir, not daring to touch the relic. “We do not know who else may be watching.”
    As he dropped the cloth, his paw brushed the smooth stone underneath, and in his mind flashed an image of a fiery eye, widened and furious. Smoke rose from its surface as it stared at him.
    Gandalf drew his paw away quickly.
    In the main chamber, Saruman slowly sat down in his throne. “The hour is later than you think. Sauron’s forces are already moving . . . The Nine have left Minas Morgul!” he muttered.
    Gandalf, walking into the room, started backwards. “The Nine?”
    “They have crossed the river Isen, and proceed to the furthest extents of the land, disguised as riders dressed in black.”
    “They have reached the Shire?!” Gandalf started moving back towards the doors.
    Saruman shrugged carelessly. “They will find the Ring . . . and kill the one who carries it.” A slow smile spread across his face as Gandalf spun around to leave the tower.
    The doors slammed shut in the badger’s face.
    He quietly turned to face Saruman. All the other doors in the chamber closed themselves in an instant.
    “You did not actually believe that the will of a . . . halfling could do battle with that of the Eye?” Saruman stepped down from his throne. “There are none who can.”
    Gandalf’s face grew horrified.
    “Against the power of Mordor, there can be no victory.” Saruman took another step. “We must join with him, Gandalf. We must join with Sauron. It would be wise, my friend.”
    The badger tightened his grip on his staff. “Tell me . . . friend . . . when did Saruman the Wise abandon reason . . . for madness?” He demanded.
    In mere seconds, Saruman had thrust his staff forwards and sent Gandalf spinning into the wall behind him. “Fool . . . !” the wolf started, but was cut off when his opponent blasted him backwards. He hit the floor, the wind being quickly knocked out of him.
    Back and forth, the pair battled, sending each other hurtling through the air. Blood flowed freely from both wizards heads and bodies. The force sent from each staff was sickening.
    Finally, Saruman gave a scream of rage and dragged Gandalf’s staff from him, yanking it from the badger’s paw and summoning it to his own. Gandalf was flung to the floor.
    “I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly,” the wizard growled, his teeth audibly grinding against each other. He held up both staffs in a crossed shape, and Gandalf began to spin on the ground, crying out in agony. “But you have elected the way of pain!” With that, he sent the badger flying up, up, up, spinning all the way, until he hit the top of the tower and blacked out.

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    Samwise hurried frantically around and around an endless field of corn, walls flanking him on both sides for miles and miles across. The summer had yielded and blessed the field of Farmer Maggot with a plentiful mass of crops. One admittedly had to stop every now and then and admire the diligence of the Shire's most determined mouse. There was truly no garden and farm greater than that of Maggot, and Sam as a passionate gardener found himself deeply humbled by it all. But that didn't stop him from spinning on his own mouse heels in desperation, calling out a name over and over again.

    "Mr. Frodo? Frodo?! Frodo!!"

    The brown mouse materialized down the road, and Sam heaved a sigh of relief. "Mr. Frodo! I thought I'd lost you."

    "What are you talking about?" The young Duggins asked in concern.

    "It's just something Gandalf said," Sam fearfully confessed as he walked closer into Frodo's eyeline, his walking stick thumping in the thick farm dirt. "'Don't you lose him, Samwise Gimgee.' And…and I don't mean to."

    Frodo snorted and laughed innocently. "Sam, we're still in the Shire. What could possibly happen?"

    Whoomph! Whoomph!

    From the walls of corn came running - or falling, rather - two mice, landing on Frodo and Sam and knocking them to the ground. Sam groaned under the weight and shot his eyes open to see whom had run into them.

    Of course: Meriadoc Brundyback and Peregrin Rook, bloody dimwits.

    "Frodo!" He heard Pippin say in surprise. "Merry! It's Frodo Duggins!"

    The weight of Merry lifted from Sam's chest as the former got to his feet. "Hello, Frodo!"

    Sam was faster than both of them. He grabbed Pippin forcibly by the waist and hurled him off of Frodo. "Get off him! Come on, Mr. Frodo!"

    Frodo stared wide-eyed and horrified at the vegetable litter before him. "What's the meaning of this?!"

    But he and Sam were cut off by their fellow mice forcing heaps of carrots, cabbages, and potatoes into their unwilling arms.

    "Hold these, and these!" Merry begged.

    Sam realized the truth before he held it. "You've been into Farmer Maggot's crop!"

    Any reasonable debate was cut off by the sound of a dog barking, and the foursome watched in terror as a long tall scythe appeared over the corn, accompanied by a furious and gruff voice.

    "Hoi! You get back here! Wait till I get this through you! Stay out of my field! You'll know the devil when I get to you!"

    They were already running before he'd finished his last sentence. Sam dropped the vegetables and sprinted after them, as fast as his legs would carry him.

    "Don't know why he's so upset!" Merry cried out in front of him. "It was only a couple of carrots!"

    "And some cabbages!" Pippin reminded from the head of the straight line, clearly not helpful in the current situation. "And those few bags of potatoes that we lifted last week! And then the mushrooms the week before!"

    "Yes, Pippin, but my point is…he's clearly overreacting! Run!"

    Suddenly they reached a cliff top, where Pippin stopped dead in his tracks, only to be bumped into by Merry, Frodo, and then Sam. Before they could decide what to do, they were already tumbling down the hill, landing one on top of another in a humiliating heap.

    "Oh, that was close!" Pippin noted, relieved as he looked at an obvious pile of horse manure that he would've landed in had he fallen a meter closer.

    "I think I've broken something!" Merry groaned, and he pulled out from behind his back a broken carrot, which he pitifully whined over.

    "Trust a Brundyback and a Rook!" Sam grumbled in irritation as he sat up.

    "What?" Merry tried to reason blamelessly.  "That was just a detour! A shortcut!"

    "Shortcut to what?" Sam growled at his friend.

    Pippin pointed at something sitting on the ground, and the quartet's faces immediately brightened.


  • Unseen by the mice, an otter lay hidden near a stream. He had been watching the Shire for some time as Gandalf had asked him. He had more questions than answers. What were the Nazgul doing so far west, even invading the Shire? And where was Gandalf? He should be with these ones. They seemed unconcerned by everything that was happening, and that was not good. He was following these foolish mice, and so far, keeping out of sight. But it was doubtful that they would make it all the way to Rivendell on their own if he knew the Nine. He would be content to watch, at least until they went to Bree, which they would if they had any sense at all. Bree, where he was called contemptible names like Strider, and that by a fat innkeeper who lived within a days march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay the place in waste if it was not guarded constantly by his fellow Rangers.
    He slipped into the water and waited.

  • Frodo chuckled as the other mice threw themselves at the clusters of fungi growing beneath the nearby trees by the road, and started walking up to where they were. He swished his tail a little and looked up at the surrounding branches, their leaves letting in little rays of sunshine and creating dappled shadows in the dusty pathway.
    When he reached said path, he started to walk in the direction he assumed would take him to Bree. However, before he’d gone more than a few meters, he felt a strange sensation in his paws, like tingling, and the way to the town started to seem somewhat blurry, moving in and out of focus despite the fact that he was looking straight ahead. Something like a distant scream reached his twitching ears. He shivered. “I think we should get off the road,” he called back as the others continued to be focused on their ill-gained vegetables.
    A swirling wind, carrying with it a good deal of rather stale, dry air, began blowing past the little mouse, and he shuddered again. A small, but rather loud, part of him realized that something very evil, and very dark, was coming their way. He spun around and started running back.
    “Get off the road! Quick!” he shouted, grabbing Sam by the scruff of his neck and pulling the hapless mouse along as he jumped off of the greenway and under a nearby root that jutted out from the uneven ground. The other two looked at each other, then dove after the other mice, some of Farmer Brown’s crop flying from their fumbling paws as they did so.
    Seconds after they’d gotten themselves hidden and quieted their frantic whispers, the little group heard the thud of four heavy legs against the ground of the road, and heavy breathing to accompany it. “What is --” one of them began, but Sam interrupted.
    “Shh . . . be quiet!”
    The creature -- whatever it was -- came closer, faster, until it began to slow down, coming to a full stop right next to the hushed foursome’s hiding place. There was a snorting, a stamping of claws, and a jingle of armor as something else began to move. Frodo chanced a look around the edge of the root and spotted scales, the flicker of a blacked tongue, a glimpse of a furious, wildly red eye. Something wearing a long black cloak stood right above the little mouse, its species and face darkened by the cowl.
    It leaned down and sniffed around the root.
    Frodo caught his breath, a feeling of mounting dread rising within him. The other mice quietly, fearfully, shifted away from the opening in their refuge. Everything was silent for a moment.
    Then Frodo had a thought.
    He reached into his tunic and pulled out the ring. The Ring. He slowly raised it to his other paw.
    The beast’s head whipped around to look at where Frodo was, underneath the earth and root. It began sniffing again.
    Frodo fought the scream welling up in his throat as he came closer and closer to slipping the Ring on. If I just put it on . . .
    Go on . . . it seemed to whisper to him. I can protect you . . .
    Frodo’s paws shook. I shouldn’t, he thought, but couldn’t defend himself against the overwhelming urge. He started to put it on.
    Then Sam’s own paw gripped him firmly by the arm, dragging him back from the pit he was rapidly sinking into, and back to reality.
    The beast stopped sniffing for just a second, but that was all that Merry needed. He grabbed his bag of vegetables and threw it into the brush at the side of the road. The cloaked creature looked up suddenly in the direction of the noise, and the mice took off.
    “What was that?!” Merry demanded.
    Frodo looked down at the Ring in his paw as he ran, fear clouding his eyes and mind.

  • Aragorn was watching the mice from his vantage point. So far, nothing, but then the area darkened, and he saw it approaching them. A Ringwraith, a Nazgul! Their steps were dogged even before they left the Shire. He crept closer, loosening the sword in the sheath. Then, he saw a flash of gold. Even from his distance, he knew it was the Ring. ** Don't do it!* he thought in a commanding mode. He saw one of the mice grab the arm of the mouse who was doing it, then another threw something, distracting the beast. All four of them ran, and he ran from where he was. That was close. They didn't know how close to disaster they really were. He would guard them and then meet them at Bree. He hoped it wasn't too late. But where was Gandalf?

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    The darkness of night fell fast upon the four mice as they hurried frantically through the woods. Mist swirled around them, obscuring their vision. In the distance, they could clearly hear the cold blood-curdling scream of the mysterious Black Rider. The mice dodged and hid behind every tree they came across, calling out to each other at every available opportunity.

    "Anything?" Sam called out to Frodo.

    "Nothing!" replied the Duggins a few meters ahead.

    "What is going on?!" Pippin demanded impatiently as he stumbled towards Frodo's side.

    Merry came up behind Frodo and looked him in the face. "That Black Rider was looking for something," he observed in a serious tone. "Or someone!"

    "Get down!!" Pippin cried out, and they all hurriedly crouched down on the ground, concealed in the brush and trees.

    Sure enough, the Rider came into view. The four terrified mice shook in their cloaks and furry feet, but remained silent. Unsatisfied, the Rider rode off of the hill it stood upon and into the night.

    "I have to leave the Shire," Frodo desperately told Merry and Pippin. When Merry met his gaze, he added, "Sam and I must get to Bree."

    "Right..." A thoughtful look crossed Merry's eyes, then realization. "Buckleberry Ferry! Follow me!"

    The mice stood up low and ran off through the trees. Suddenly, the Black Rider appeared in front of Frodo! Almost frozen in terror, they bobbed and weaved chaotically in an attempt to dodge the wild horse and its phantom rider.

    "Run!" Pippin screamed.

    "Frodo, this way!" Merry called to the Duggins. "Follow me!"

    The Brundyback mouse led the way to a fence leading to the river bank, which himself, Pippin, and Sam leaped over to reach the raft.

    "Get the rope, Sam!" Merry ordered again.

    "Frodo, come on! Hurry!" Sam screamed in desperation as he uncoiled the rope from the jetty.

    Merry and Pippin pushed the ferry away from the shore, and Sam boarded as it began to drift down the water. Behind them, the Black Rider was rapidly closing in on Frodo.

    "Run, Frodo!" "Come on, Frodo, faster!" "Hurry! "Jump!"

    Frodo took a flying leap from the wooden dock and landed on the ferry, collapsing his friends into a heap. The Black Rider skidded to a frantic stop, the horse snorting and whinnying. The mysterious commander on the horse's back screeched and screamed but made no further moves before turning around and returning the way it came.

    "How far to the nearest crossing?!" Frodo asked as Sam helped him to his feet.

    "The Brandywine Bridge, twenty miles!" Merry informed him, prodding the craft down the river.

    On the horizon, the Black Rider followed two others of its kind down the road.

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