“Who’s there!” Kynta spun around, her hand gripped tighter on the lute. Nothing moved along the road and the moonlight was bright enough for her to see everything clearly. She was certain, however, that something was out there. Taking a deep, pouting breath, she slowly turned around and set off again, swinging her lute while humming Bilbo’s old walking song.
The Green Dragon had been busy tonight. Just as well, with all the gossip going on. Mad Baggins had vanished years ago, and now his nephew just up and moved to the borders of the Shire. Kynta cared little for the gossip, unlike a few of her friends, but she kept up on it. After all, Bilbo Baggins had had an adventure and, while she no longer ran off into the woods to pretend like she was fighting a dragon, she still day dreamed. Her mother said she had a gift for music – which seemed to have thrilled her as well as worried her. After her mother died, she had moved to Tookland to be with her cousins and uncles on her mother’s side. She didn’t know who her father was. Her mother didn’t tell her, or seemed to care. Kynta sometimes wondered if her father had ran off and had an adventure too, but hadn’t came back. A sad thought, to be true, but one that made her want to go find him. Or at least find out.
Before Kynta could move, a figure leapt from the bushes on the side of the road and tackled her to the ground. Kynta’s lute went flying as the figure wrestled her to the ground, pinning her arms. When she realized who it was, she stopped fighting. “Venza!” she nearly shrieked. “You could have killed me!”
The younger Hobbit grinned, tossing her short hair. Venza was a weird one, to be sure. She had came to Tookland a few years ago but didn’t say where she was from though given her foreign appearance, she was sure Venza hadn’t been born in the Shire. Not that she could figure out another place where a Hobbit would be born. “If I had wanted to kill you,” Venza grinned, “you would be dead.”
A giggle came from the side of the road and Kynta turned her head to see Calynda, Venza’s best friend, step out of the woods, her bow in hand. “I hate you both,” Kynta growled. “Now let me up! If my lute is broken your buying me a new one,” she grumbled as Venza rolled off and stood up, brushing her pant leg with a satisfied smirk. Kynta retrieved her lute. It was a bit scuffed but it looked like it survived the tumble. She still glared at Venza. “What are you two doing out so late?”
“Walking,” Venza said. “What are you doing?”
“Going home,” Kynta replied. “To a bed and a warm meal.”
“Which you’re sharing, right?” Venza smirked.
“Why is it that every time you attack me it’s to get food?” Kynta demanded. “You have your own home and your own pantry.”
Venza made a face. “I don’t live alone like you,” she said. “And I hate going home.”
Kynta turned her glare to Calynda who shrugged. Calynda was from the the northern parts of the Shire, close to Evendim. She had a simple taste in fashion, Kynta had decided, but it wasn’t like hunters could be very fashionable. Kynta was sure she had never seen Calynda clean…at all.
“Fine…” Kynta sighed. “But then you go home.” Venza let out a whoop before bounding off. Calynda fell into step with the minstrel.
“You really shouldn’t give in to her all the time,” the hunter grinned.
Kynta snorted, shifting her lute back to her back. “Yeah, well, I know her family isn’t very respectable in any way. She’s lucky to have you as a friend.”
“And you,” Calynda grinned. Kynta only rolled her eyes.
“Who goes there!” The shout startled all three Hobbit-lasses. Venza pouted, peering into the darkness before she grinned. “What is your business on the road? I’m a Bounder – answer me at once!”
“Bounder Boffin!” Venza grinned, spreading her hands wide as if showing she had no weapons. Kynta knew better. Venza was very good at getting in and out without being seen and, while denied, knew that she also liked carrying sharp objects. Or anything shinny. “Fancy meeting you out on the road!” Kynta snorted. Leave it to Venza to be dramatic.
“Oh, thank goodness! Hobbits. I’m awfully sorry. I just had a bit of a scare. Something doesn’t feel right tonight.”
“I’ve noticed it, too,” Calynda said quietly. Kynta looked at her but she was to busy scanning the road around them to make further on her comment.
Venza had slide up next to the Bounder and was patting him on the shoulder. “Why don’t we accompany you, Mr. Boffin,” she said. “After all, what would dare attack four Hobbits?”
Bounder Boffin smiled at her. “Indeed, Miss Venza. You are quite right.” He looked at her, then Calynda, then to Kynta. “You all looked well armed.”
“Almost all of us,” Kynta muttered. “I’m just a Minstrel. These two like to hunt.”
“Ah, well, here,” Bounder Boffin said, stepping up to his satchel and pulling out a dagger. “Nothing fancy, but it is better than nothing.” He handed it to Kynta who shook her head, starting to make excuses why she didn’t need it when Venza cleared her throat loudly and glared at her. Pursing her lips, Kynta took the dagger in her hands, looking at it like it would eat her. “Perfect, now, ladies. Where are you off to?”
“Tookborough,” Kynta said. “These two have invited themselves to dinner. And no,” she said when the Bounder’s eyes lit up, “I do not have room for four.”
“Not a problem dear,” he chuckled. He extended his arm, which Venza took with a grin and they set off. “Now, what news do you have for an old Bounder.”
Venza talked. Calynda and Kynta followed behind. Kynta had managed to get the stupid dagger on her belt but it felt awkward and strange. She preferred her lute over any weapon. Of course, she was certain the Bounder was right. It was better than nothing. After all, what could a lute do to a bear or wolf?
“Oh my! Did you hear something?”
“The wind?” Venza asked, sounding innocent. Kynta knew better.
“No,” Bounder Boffin said, pointing down the road. “There, down the road. Who could that be?”
The four Hobbits remained in the road. Kynta felt Calynda shift stances, reaching for one of the arrows at her hip but didn’t really move. Venza remained on the Bounder’s arm as if they were really just out for a stroll (Kynta was hoping the Bounder wouldn’t be missing anything in the morning…Venza was known to pickpocket anything).
“I’m hungry. We’ve been walking for at least an hour!”
“You ate my loaf of bread and yours already, Mr. Pippin.”
“Now Sam, don’t be stingy! I know you have another. Let’s have it here!”
“Poor Sam! You’ll never have a peaceful meal again…Hello, who’s this?”
The three travelers, also Hobbits, stopped as they neared the Bounder who cleared his throat, moving away from Venza who feinted a pout. “More travelers at night! And who might you be?”
The last of the companions to have spoken stepped closer. Kynta peered at him. She knew this Hobbit…from somewhere. “Well met, my good Bounder. My name is…Underhill. And here are my fellow travelers, Samwise Gamgee and Peregrin Took.” Kynta blinked. She was quite sure she should know these hobbits. She moved to stand next to Venza who had her eye on the three as well. Kynta was pretty sure it wasn’t because she was trying to figure out names.
“Why, I’ve never seen so many hobbits out of bed! On such a strange night, too.”
“Strange,” said the one called Pippin. “But it is a lovely night for a stroll!”
“Hush, Pippin…” Underhill said, waving his hand to quite his companion before turning back to the Bounder. “What do you mean, strange? Have you seen anything odd along the road?” Kynta didn’t miss the nervous tone of Underhill’s voice. She was still trying to remember where she knew him.
“Mercy! What is that?” Sam asked suddenly, before the Bounder could start replying, He pointed down the road causing all the Hobbits to look. Kynta felt it, too, whatever it was, and it did not feel pleasant at all.
“I think…I think we should get off this road at once.”
“You don’t need to tell me that twice!” Pippin cried, bolting after his companions.
“Bother,” Bounder Boffin, said, standing very confused as the three hobbits vanished into the woods. “How very odd…”
Calynda coughed. “We have company,” she said, grabbing Kynta’s arm and dragging her to the side of the road. Venza pulled the bounder with them but it was too late to hide from the galloping horseman. As the black steed came closer Kynta found herself feeling terrified. Gravel flew from it’s hooves as the horse came to a stop before them. Kynta couldn’t look at her companions, only at the cloaked black figure who seemed to sniff more than it should. She felt cold…so cold…
“Stay, Halflings,” the rider hissed, jerking on its mount’s mouth roughly. “Where is Bagginss?” The hobbits remained in fearful silence. “Speak!”
“Th-there aren’t no B-Bagginses in these parts, sir,” Bounder Boffin suddenly squeaked, shaking his head.
“Little fools…” and the rider took off down the road again, toward Hobbiton. Once the rider was out of sight, the four Hobbits took deep breaths and finally moved. Kynta looked at Venza and Calynda. Both looked pale. She knew these two hobbits to be some of the bravest in the Shire. They looked as terrified as she had felt!
“Gracious me! Did you see that, Venza?”
“Yeah…he’s headed to Hobbiton…”
Kynta’s eyes went wide. Frodo Baggins! She knew she had recognized the one called Underhill. And the black rider was looking for him. But why? Did it have to do with Bilbo? Was that why he moved? She was about to voice her opinion but the other three were already planning to go through Odo’s farm to avoid the black rider. She would have to tell them later, over a warm meal and some nice wine. “Kynta! Let’s go!” Venza called out. “Unless you want to talk to that nice rider again.”
Growling, Kynta ran to catch up. The three of them raced through the farm only to be caught up in webs that were everywhere.
Bounder Boffin let out a screech. “Spiders! How I detest spiders!” Two floated down from the top of the trees causing Bounder Boffin to go as still as when the rider had stopped before them.
“They’re huge!” Kynta gaped.
“Size counts for nothing,” Calynda said, pulling an arrow from her quiver, strung it to her bow, and aimed. “They only look big because they’re all legs,” she added with a bit of a smirk. The arrow flew and with a horrible screech that grated on Kynta’s nerves, the spider tumbled before it could even land. The second was already scuttling toward them. Bounder Boffin was of no help and Venza seemed to have thrown away her facade, drawing a dagger which gleamed in the moonlight. She smirked, waited for the opportune moment, then pulled off a maneuver that Kynta had no idea she was capable of doing. The dagger landed in the creature’s abdomen and, with a shuddering convulsion, died. Venza smirked, pulling her dagger back out.
“Piece of cake,” she grinned. “I’ve had practice up in Scary.”
“Scary?” Kynta asked.
“Yeah, they have a spider problem in their mines,” Calynda said with a shrug as she cleaned off the shaft of the arrow she had pulled from the first spider. “Venz and I have been up there a few times. Blasted things keep coming back.” Kynta frowned. She hadn’t heard that rumor yet.
The four pressed onward. Kynta kept looking over her back, fearing she would see a black rider or spiders after her. They pass through one more gate to find more spiders blocking their path. “Really?” Kynta asked to no one in particular. “Just how many of them are there.”
Venza snorted. “I’m bringing you to Scary after this,” she said before she joined Calynda in eliminating the threat. One got past them, an arrow shaft stuck in its side. “Dammit, Kynta! Your dagger!” Venza cried. Kynta had been reaching for her lute. Right…she had a dagger too! She unsheathed it just as the spider reached her and she stabbed at it, eyes closed and scared stiff. The spider hissed, backing up …taking her dagger with it.
“Dammit,” Kynta said as the creature recoiled, turning back to her. This time she did grab her lute, her fingers flying over the strings on accident. The creature screamed as if hit. Kynta blinked, then did it again, deliberately, putting all her desire to kill this creature at the forefront of her mind. The spider writhed in the ground, then lay still.
Kynta stared at it.
Had she just killed it…with music? She looked at the lute in horror, completely baffled.
“Lets go,” Calynda said, grabbing Kynta’s arm and propelling her after the other two.
“But…I think I…”
“We’ll figure it out later,” Calynda promised.
“Ah! At last!” Bounder Boffin cried. “We’re safe! And I don’t see any more spiders! Hooray!” Kynta was too shocked to care. She had killed a spider with her lute. She was sure of it.
“Brigands!” a new voice shouted, causing all four to look up. “We’re being chased!”
“Help! Help!” a blond-haired hobbit-lass cried, hot on the first’s heels.
“Mundo Sackville-Baggins! Celandine Brandybuck! What are you doing here?” Kynta knew both these hobbits, though the first was someone she would rather drown in the Brandywine River.
“What does it look like, you ninny?” Mundo snapped. The lute forgotten, Kynta cared at him. “We are being chased by brigands! Do something about it!”
“Come, let’s cut through the farm!” Celandine cried, tugging at Mundo’s sleeves. “We can lock them out!”
Bounder Boffin paled. “But…but there are spiders behind that door, and a terrible horseman on the road! We only just escaped.” Venza rolled her eyes but kept her mouth shut.
“There they are!”
The brigands rounded the corner and in the confusion and panic, surrounded the group of hobbits. “Brigands! Help!” Bounder Boffin cried.
“Really…” Venza sighed, reaching for her dagger. “I should just join the Bounders and save us all from scardy-cats like you,” she grumbled, then turned to face the new threat. Spiders were one thing, Talk Folk were quite a different story.
“Keep away, you brutes!” Celandine cried as one of the brigands grabbed her by the shoulders. Another went after Mundo thought the rest seemed skeptical when Calynda raised her bow defiantly and Venza let the moonlight flicker on her sharp dagger, a smirk on her lips. Kynta had her lute and dagger in hand but could only blink, not sure just what she should do.
“You’ll not be getting away from us this time, Mr. Baggins!” the one that had Mundo grinned, showing off his bad set of teeth. Kynta blinked, realizing they were looking for Frodo Baggins, too. She kept her mouth shut. Let them take Mundo. He was a whiny ninny anyway. “You’ll be coming to Archet with us. All of you.” Kynta’s mouth dropped open. Okay, wait just one minute. Why all of them? Didn’t they just want their “Mr. Baggins”? “The Rider will decide your fate there.” If they meant the rider Kynta was thinking of, she had just gotten herself into a mess, that was for sure.
“Oh,” Bounder Boffin cried out, as one man grabbed him. Calynda and Venza were unarmed quickly, though they put up a fight. Kynta’s lute and dagger were easily taken from her hands and the group was pushed forward.
“Ouch!” Mundo yelped.
“You villains,” Celandine sobbed. “What do you want with Mundo?”
The leader smirked over his shoulder as the six hobbits were herded along. Venza was glaring at them, no doubt planning some brilliant escape plan. “Your Mr. Baggins is wanted by someone who is lending us great aid in exchange for finding him.”
“The Blackwolds will have unimaginable power now, thanks to your Baggins!” another crowed.
Kynta bit her lower lip, her head down mostly because she knew a smirk was playing on her lips.
What would happen when these Blackwolds learn that Mundo wasn’t the right Mr. Baggins?