It was just plain unlucky that it started raining while they sailed down the river. Anne pulled her cloak tighter around her as the sky unloaded an unusual amount of rain on them. The raindrops were fat and thick and Anne swore she could practically see each one with her naked eye. Thankfully, Gandalf's cloak was waterproof, so she used it as a shield to protect her from the onslaught of rain.
The bad weather wasn't the only thing on their minds. The three black riders were still out there, intent on finding them. As they traveled down the river, they could spot the riders from time to time, making the journey even more nerve wracking. However, after several miles of sailing downstream, they couldn't spot them anymore. Anne wasn't sure if that made her feel better or more terrified. It was one thing to see your enemy, and another to know that they were out there, lurking just beyond your eyesight.
When they reached their destination, they got off the raft hesitantly. There was a certain type of security they felt in being on the water, knowing the riders couldn't get to them. On land, they knew they would be fair game. The only thing encouraging them to continue onwards was the fact that Gandalf was waiting for them at the inn of the Prancing Pony and could protect them.
"Everyone follow me," Merry whispered to the group. "And stay together," he added and gave Anne a pointed look.
She didn't have the chance to defend herself because he took off, causing the rest of them to run after him.
An all too familiar gut wrenching fear returned to Anne as she ran through the dark woods once again, darting from tree to tree as they made their way to Bree. Merry set a quick and demanding pace which Anne found hard to keep up with because of all the mud on the ground. The hobbits didn't seem to be having the same trouble she was experiencing; their big feet seemed to keep them steady throughout the journey. Anne on the other hand was slipping constantly, even falling a few times. She was quick to get up again and continue on, the need for safety outweighing her frustration.
They ran for several miles with no rest until they finally made it to the front gates of Bree. Merry stopped the group before they exited the tree line and turned to Frodo.
"We have to cross the road and wait for the door to be answered," he began, pointing to the massive wooden gates in front of them. "We will be out in the open…" he continued and trailed off.
He didn't need to finish. They all knew the situation; they would be vulnerable to an attack if the riders were close.
Frodo hesitated and looked to Anne for a long moment.
She thought hard about it then nodded at Frodo. He nodded back in agreement, ending their silent conversation. They both felt it. The looming darkness wasn't close. It had lingered and dissipated as they had drifted further down the river.
"We will cross the road," Frodo decided and moved forward, leading the way out of the woods and across the road.
Anne and the hobbits quickly followed behind him until they reached the security door attached to the oversized wooden gates.
Frodo knocked on the door seven times in rapid succession. The peephole opened to reveal an old man with a hooked nose.
"What do you want?" he asked in an annoyed tone, looking at Anne.
She pointed downwards to the hobbit in front of her which caused the old man to close the first peephole and open a lower one that put him at hobbit level.
"What do you want?" he asked snidely.
"We're heading for the Prancing Pony," Frodo answered in a skittish tone.
The old man closed the peephole and opened the door. He held a candle lamp up in the air so he could see them better.
"A woman and a hobbit?" he asked, shocked by the pairing. "Four hobbits," he corrected, seeing the other members of their party for the first time.
"Strange company—a woman and four hobbits," he mused aloud. "What business brings you to Bree?"
"We wish to stay at the inn," Frodo declared quickly. "Our business is our own," he added in a stern manner, ending all conversations on the topic.
"All right young sir. I meant no offense," he assured, putting his hand up in a placating gesture. "It's my job to ask questions after nightfall," he explained as he stepped aside to let them enter. "There's talk of strange folk abroad."
Frodo looked to Anne briefly but said nothing. The old man must have been talking about the black riders.
"Can't be too careful," he added as Anne passed by him. She kept her head down and followed behind Frodo, not wanting the old man to see her guilty face.
Once everyone had entered, the old man closed the door and locked it behind him. Anne could practically feel a weight being lifted off her. Knowing they were behind a guarded gate brought her a great sense of security.
They made their way onward, down the main stretch of road which unfortunately was a muddy mess of puddles and horse crap. The smell alone was enough to make Anne want to vomit. She tried not to think about it as her shoes slid and stuck to the moist ground beneath her.
As they continued, Anne found that Bree was very similar to a medieval town. There were fenced off portions of pasture used for various animals on both sides of the road. She saw horses, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens as they made their way further into town where the buildings were located.
The houses reminded Anne of the Tudor styled homes she saw when she visited the United Kingdom as a child. A little part of her found a thrill of excitement at seeing houses that reminded her of Harry Potter.
As they continued toward the inn, Anne noticed she got many stares from the local inhabitants. Based on the gatekeeper's shock of her choice of companions and the stares from the locals, Anne surmised that hobbits and the races of Men didn't really mix that often. And, as she thought back to the elves and dwarves from Frodo's story, she guessed that everyone pretty much stuck to their own kind.
The rain continued its torrential downpour as they walked and Anne hoped that the inn would be warm and cozy. She was freezing and her hair was soaking wet. She had tried to secure her hair under the hood of the cloak but it was made for Gandalf who was more than a foot taller than her. The difference in height caused the hood to hang over her eyes so she couldn't see or it kept falling off of her head when she tried to place it further back so she could see. In short, it was fairly useless for her.
Anne tripped over her feet and almost fell in a mad dash to get out of the way when a wagon passed in front of them, almost running them over. The group quickly moved out of the way as the large wagon rolled by but the back wheel of the wagon hit a puddle and splashed Sam and Pip with muddy water.
"Excuse you!" Anne shouted at the rude driver who shot her a dirty look. "Watch where you're going, Jerk," she yelled and shook her fist at him.
The hobbits looked shocked at her choice of words as if she had just cursed like a sailor.
"Calm down," she told the hobbits and rolled her eyes. "That's practically table talk where I come from."
They continued on and soon Anne noticed that the residents of Bree were quite callous toward the hobbits. Several times the hobbits had to rush out of the way of town residents and wait for them to pass because they refused to move over (even just a tiny bit) so they could all fit on the road.
It was starting to really bug Anne to the point that she was ready to go into a tirade. She mentally promised herself that when the next rude person walked by, she would let out a string of curses so vile it would really make the hobbits blush. Luckily, she didn't have to resort to such measures because they finally had reached their destination.
A green sign with a rearing horse as its logo read, "The Prancing Pony" in a neat, gold script.
"We're here," Frodo announced with relief.
He grabbed the handle and struggled to open up the door.
"Here, let me," Anne insisted and grabbed the handle.
She easily swung the door open and gestured for the hobbits to go in first. Anne walked into the establishment after Sam and let the door close behind her. She smiled as the warmth inside surrounded her like a thick blanket. The hobbits took off their hoods and shook their hair free of clinging droplets of water. Anne's hood had already fallen off again so instead, she twisted her hair and wrung some of the rainwater out.
The establishment was loud and boisterous and smelled of alcohol and tobacco smoke. Anne realized as she looked around that it was more like a tavern than a hotel. She figured the inn was just a side gig of the more prominent bar and restaurant situated in front of her. Of course, she was being very liberal with the labels as it wasn't really a restaurant as much as it was a bar with a few tables. It didn't matter though. Anne's stomach growled in hunger, alerting her to its famished state and demanding sustenance.
"I'm hungry," Pip announced from in front of her, apparently feeling fiendish himself. There were several grunts of agreement from Sam and Merry who seemed equally starved.
"Let's find Gandalf first," Frodo suggested and began looking around. "Can you see him Anne?" he asked since she was the tallest member of their party.
Anne looked around the bar then over at the tables but couldn't find Gandalf. "I don't see him."
"Maybe you should ask up front," Pip suggested, pointing to the front desk, which was really just part of the bar.
Frodo nodded and made his way over to front desk with the rest of the group closely behind him.
"Excuse me," he said in a polite tone.
Anne could see a man with his back to the group. He turned around and looked at Anne while he continued drying a mug that was in his hands. He smiled and walked over to the desk.
"How may I help such a beautiful young lady as yourself?" he asked kindly.
Anne smiled and pointed down again. The older man furrowed his brow in confusion and leaned over the desk to look down.
"Oh hello. Good evening, little masters. I didn't see you," he apologized sincerely. "What can I do for you?"
Before Frodo had a chance to answer, the man cut in and continued talking. "If you're looking for accommodation, we got some nice, cozy, hobbit-sized rooms available. Always proud to cater to the little folk," he declared with a kind smile.
Anne liked him. So far, he had been the only person in Bree who was friendly to the hobbits. And the way his eyes crinkled with delight as he addressed them told her he was a good guy.
"Now what can I do for you Mr.…uh…," he trailed off, unsure of Frodo's name.
"Underhill," Frodo answered quickly. "My name's Underhill."
"Underhill," the older man repeated suspiciously. He didn't look too convinced that Underhill was Frodo's name but he didn't ask any questions. Instead, he went along with Frodo's pseudonym like it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"Right! Well what can I do for you Mr. Underhill?" he asked again.
"We're friends of Gandalf the Grey," Frodo explained. "Can you tell him we've arrived?"
"Gandalf?" the older man repeated.
Anne watched as Frodo nodded his head.
"Gandalf?" the man repeated, mostly to himself this time, like he was trying to recall the name and who it belonged too. His brows furrowed as he thought for a moment before his eyes lit up with excitement.
"Oh yes, I remember," he nodded his head eagerly. "Elderly chap. Big grey beard, pointy hat," he continued, describing Gandalf to a tee.
Frodo nodded and smiled as relief washed over Anne.
Thank goodness. This would all be over soon.
"Not seen him for six months," the man revealed.
It felt like a bucket of ice had been poured over Anne. Her stomach dropped as her heart beat sped up in panic. What did he mean he hadn't seen Gandalf for six months?!
"Are you sure?" Anne asked anxiously.
"Quite," the man assured her. "He visited around the time my brother came to visit. That was six months ago."
The hobbits all huddled around Frodo who turned around with a grim face. He looked at Anne and gave her a sad smile.
"What do we do now?" Sam whispered to Frodo.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "Gandalf said he'd be here."
"Maybe he's just running a bit late is all," Pip suggested.
Anne wasn't sure if she believed him or wanted to believe him so bad that she just went along with it.
"I think Pip is right," she agreed with confidence. "Let's just wait a while for him to show up," she suggested.
Merry and Pip agreed right away but Sam looked to Frodo to make the final decision.
Frodo remained silent for a while as he thought. "I think Anne is right. We will wait for Gandalf," he decided and nodded at her.
"Hey, it was my idea!" Pip shouted and was quickly elbowed in the ribs by Merry.
"Shut up Pip," he scolded and then turned and smiled at Anne.
Anne laughed despite herself. Those two were quite the show.
"Well if we're going to stay a while, maybe we can eat," Sam suggested, eyeing a bowl of soup on a nearby table.
"I'm not going to lie. I'm so hungry I could eat a horse right now!" Anne declared as she rubbed her growling stomach.
There was a collective gasp from the hobbits around her as their eyes widened in complete horror.
"It's just a saying!" Anne explained quickly, trying to quell the hobbits shock. "Calm down. I wouldn't really eat a horse. It just means that I'm really hungry."
The hobbits all looked relieved at her explanation; except for Pip, who was still staring at her with side eyes, unsure if he really believed her.
Anne rolled her eyes at him.
"Well what will it be Mr. Underhill?" the older man at the desk inquired, gaining everyone's attention again. "Will you be needing some rooms?"
"It might be a good idea to reserve a room for the night…" Sam whispered to Frodo, "…you know, just in case."
Frodo nodded in agreement.
"We will need two rooms," Frodo answered, looking at the innkeeper. "Just for the night."
Anne balked. What did he mean two rooms? As much as she wanted her privacy, she did not want to be alone—not when dementors were chasing her!
"Do we really need two rooms?" Anne asked, whispering in Frodo's ear.
He looked at her strangely. "Of course we do. Where would you sleep otherwise?"
Anne sighed. It was probably all sorts of inappropriate in Middle-earth if she shared a room with hobbits—especially male hobbits. She would just have to suck it up and be brave. She was in a guarded town she reasoned. She would be fine.
"One hobbit-sized room and one regular room," the innkeeper mumbled to himself as he checked his book. "Yes, we have availabilities for both. Will any of you care for baths?" he asked, looking them over.
"Yes!" Anne shouted eagerly.
Everyone turned to look at her.
"I mean," she began more calmly, "That would be great. Thank you."
The older man nodded and wrote down something in his book. "If you all would like to eat first, I can tally up your dinner bill into your total and you can pay then," he suggested, having overheard their discussion.
Frodo smiled politely. "That would be greatly appreciated."
The older man smiled back and then gestured for them to go ahead and seat themselves.
The place was hectic with rowdy and drunk patrons laughing the night away. Several customers were arguing and Anne noticed some serious weaponry displayed as they made their way past the bar and into the dining area. As they continued squeezing past people, Anne caught one man feeding what looked like a ferret. Apparently, there was no such thing as health codes in Middle-earth. Anne shuddered at the rodent and hoped there weren't any such animals lingering in the kitchen.
A group of men huddled together at one of the tables watched her as she walked by and gave her flirtatious smiles and winks which she ignored. She heard one of the men call out to her but she didn't respond; instead, she acted as if she was deaf.
Finally, they approached a free table toward the back of the dining area near the wall. It was a small table which is probably why it was the only available table left. It was crafted especially for little folk. The hobbits all took seats around the table and Merry purposefully left the seat next to him available, pushing Pip out of the way when he tried to sit in it.
"This one is for you, Anne," he offered with a bright smile.
Anne bit her lip and tried not to smile at his obvious displays of affection. "Thank you Merry," she said and took a seat next to him and across from Frodo and Sam.
"I would have saved you a seat too, except Merry got to it first," Pip explained with a slight pout.
Anne laughed. "Well it's the thought that counts," she said and gave him a smile.
She saw Merry give Pip a dirty look but chose not to comment on it.
Anne adjusted herself in the small chair and tried not to think about how ridiculous she looked sitting at the table. It was like being forced to sit at the children's table during Christmas dinner.
"Well what will it be?" a woman asked as she approached the table.
"Five soups of the day with bread please," Frodo ordered politely.
The woman nodded and was off, weaving throughout the crowd with ease from practice. The woman came back with some mugs full of water and dropped them at the table before she left just as quickly as she had arrived.
Anne grabbed the mug and drank it all in large gulps, like a man who had been stranded in the desert. All that running had made her quite thirsty. The hobbits might have judged her for her lack of grace but they were too busy gulping down their own mugs of water to notice.
"That felt good going down," Merry said as he slammed his mug on the table. "But I know what will feel even better," he said looking at Pip with a sly smile.
"Ale!" Pip shouted with joy.
The two jumped up from their chairs and made their way over to the bar, running through the crowd like children hyped up on too much sugar.
"You can stay here Mr. Frodo, I'll get you a mug of ale too," Sam promised, looking at Frodo. He turned his attention to Anne. "Would you like for me to get you some as well?" he asked politely.
"No, thanks. I'm good," Anne replied, waving him away.
Sam went off and Anne watched as he joined the other two hobbits at the bar. She returned her gaze to the table only to see Frodo giving her a concerned look.
"Are you doing okay Anne?" Frodo asked from across the table.
Now that it was just them, they could talk openly.
Anne thought about it for a moment. "Honestly, I don't know. Things are so crazy right now. All I want to do is go home—alive," she finished with a worried look.
"I know what you mean," Frodo agreed solemnly.
"I felt you, you know," Anne began uncomfortably, "earlier—in my head," she revealed just above a whisper. She didn't want anyone else to hear her. She felt foolish enough just saying it Frodo. She didn't need other people to think she was crazy too.
"I know," Frodo answered just as quietly. "I felt you in my mind as well."
Anne's eyes widened at his admission. So she wasn't crazy. That was good.
"Why are we connected? How are we connected?" Anne asked quickly as her mind raced with a million questions.
Frodo shrugged and looked down at his hands.
Anne sighed. He was clearly just as confused by the situation as she was. Anne felt her frustration growing steadily within her. She needed answers!
"Well who were those black riders?" she asked, trying a different question.
"I don't know," Frodo answered. "But Gandalf will know," he assured her.
Their private conversation was cut off abruptly by the return of the other hobbits to the table. Each hobbit was carrying a mug of ale, except for Sam who held two.
"Are you sure you didn't want one?" Sam asked as he sat back down at the table, handing Frodo his mug of ale.
"I'm sure," Anne replied as Merry and Pip took their seats.
"You're missing out!" Merry assured her as he took a sip. "This is quite good ale."
Anne was going to reply but the waitress and innkeeper showed up with their meals. They placed the bowls on the table and left before they came back with plates of bread.
Despite her reservations on the cleanliness of the place, Anne had to admit that the food looked good and smelled wonderful. She decided she wouldn't think about the health code violations and would just try to enjoy her meal.
She took a bite of the bread and moaned in delight as the soft, warm substance pleased her taste buds. She took another bite and moaned again. She heard Merry spit out his ale and start choking. She turned to look at him and both he and Pip were staring at her with wide eyes.
"What?" she groaned, already knowing where the conversation was headed.
"Do you always make those noises when you eat?" Pip asked tentatively.
Anne rolled her eyes. It was this again. Couldn't she eat her food the way she enjoyed, without the world thinking she was some kind of sex maniac?
"Yes, I do," she answered tersely. "If you don't like it, you can get over it because it's how I eat!"
Merry and Pip looked at each other and there was an unspoken conversation before they both looked at Frodo and Sam who shrugged.
Annoyed, Anne turned her attention elsewhere and noticed several people in the dining area were looking at them.
"Is it me or does it seem like a lot of people are staring at us?" Anne asked as she continued to look around.
"It's probably from all the noises you're making," Pip said absent-mindedly as he tore off a piece of his bread.
Merry hit him upside the head.
"What was that for?" Pip asked outraged. "You were all thinking it!"
"Yes Pippin," Merry agreed annoyed with his honesty. "But you don't say it out loud. That's rude."
"So it's not rude to think it but it's rude to say it?" Pip asked for clarification.
"Exactly!" Merry said proudly.
Anne sighed. Everyone was starting to get on her nerves.
"I think I will get a drink after all," she said and stood up.
She never drank beer before (since she was under the legal drinking age) but she didn't think it was that big of a deal. If she could drink in Europe at twenty, she figured she could drink in Middle-earth at twenty too.
She made her way to the bar and had to pass by the table of flirtatious men once again. They gave her lewd gestures but she ignored them and kept walking. When she got to the bar, she sat down on an available stool and waited for the bartender to see her.
The bartender finally turned around and Anne smiled as she realized it was the innkeeper. He must be constantly busy, she thought as he came up to her.
"What would you like to drink Miss?" he asked politely.
Anne didn't answer. She didn't know what kind of drink she would like. She looked around and pointed to a random man at the other end of the bar. "I'll have what he's having."
The old man nodded and went to work, filling up a large mug with ale.
"What's a pretty lady like you doing here?" A man with horribly brown teeth asked as he sat on the barstool next to her.
Anne noticed that it was one of the men from that rowdy table of men who kept giving her lewd looks. Anne chose to ignore him and not answer. She found that when she ignored men, they would lose interest and leave her alone. However, this man seemed unperturbed by her uninterested demeanor.
"Such a pretty thing like you shouldn't be hanging around those little folk," he spat in disgust.
He was really starting to irk her now.
The innkeeper dropped her mug down onto the bar before her and gave the man pestering her a stern look.
"Leave her be!" he ordered in a hard tone.
The man next to her put his hands up in surrender and laughed.
She grabbed her drink and was just about to leave when Merry showed up.
"Ooh what's that?" he asked excitedly as he eyed her large mug.
"That little master, is a pint," the innkeeper answered. "Would you like one as well?"
"Oh yes," Merry nodded repetitively in anticipation.
Anne inwardly sighed but remained where she was. She didn't want to stay anywhere near the man next to her but she didn't want to leave Merry alone with him either.
"I've never had a pint before," Merry said aloud. "This will be quite the experience."
Suddenly, two more of the men from the lewd table joined their friend who was next to her.
"Any luck?" she heard one of them ask.
"She's harder to tame than a wild mare," the man with bad teeth replied and laughed.
"Well perhaps you've lost your touch," the other man said. "Let me have a try."
Anne cringed and tried to keep her temper under control as her anger continued to rise. She was already in a bad mood and they were just adding to her troubles. She was wet, hungry and exhausted. The last thing she needed right now was to be hit on.
"Hello Miss," the man's friend greeted her with a wide smile.
She noted his teeth weren't as bad but his hair was greasy and his nails were caked with dirt and grime.
"Perhaps you would be interested in joining me for a drink?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"That's going to be a hard NO from me," Anne replied with an extra bite to her words.
She hoped he would take a hint.
"Well then, how about you join me for a night of fun?" he asked in a salacious tone.
She heard Merry gasp from next to her and knew without having to be told that the man had insulted her. He was probably calling her a whore by Middle-earth standards.
That was it. Anne's anger boiled over and she slammed her mug on the bar and turned her attention to the man.
"How about I cut out your tongue and feed it to the dogs outside?" she asked menacingly. She felt a tickle of something dark awaken within her like a single flame of concentrated malice flickering to life.
The man's eyes went wide and she heard Merry gasp again—probably because of her this time.
"I didn't mean any offense," the man claimed as he backed away from her slowly. His friends were looking at her like she was some kind of serial killer as they backed away with him.
Anne smiled savagely as she felt the darkness flare up in excitement.
"Best to leave me alone then. I'd hate to keep your eyeballs as souvenirs," she threatened dangerously. Something inside her was blooming with a need for destruction and pain.
The men stumbled backwards quickly and made their way back to their table.
Anne wasn't satisfied. She wanted to hurt them. She wanted to cause them pain. She wanted to break bones.
"Are you alright Anne?" Merry asked from the floor next to her, touching her arm gently.
Anne blinked several times as the dark thoughts plaguing her mind faded away like a storm cloud dispersing.
"—I don't know what happened," Anne answered honestly. "I'm not sure why I said those things."
Merry looked uneasy but he gave her a small smile. "Well, they are gone now and no harm was done. Best to forget all about it," he finished, waving away her troubles.
"One pint for the little master," the innkeeper interrupted, handing the mug of ale over the counter to Merry.
"Oh thanks," Merry said, grabbing the mug from him. "Come on Anne," he said looking at her. "Let's get back to the table. I can't wait to make Pip jealous!"
Anne smiled at him and picked up her mug as she tried to forget her troubled thoughts. She really didn't want to think about what just happened. She had enough problems as is without tacking on a Kathy Bates from Misery personality to the list.
Anne sighed and followed Merry to the table, noticing that none of the men from the lewd table commented on her appearance or even looked at her as she passed.
"What' that?" she heard Pip ask in shock as they sat back down at the table.
Merry smiled. "This, my friend, is a pint," he answered smugly and took a sip of his drink.
"It comes in pints?" Pip asked excitedly. "I'm getting one," he said eagerly and ran off.
"You've had a whole half already," Sam chastised but Pip was already gone.
Anne took a sip of her ale and grimaced. It tasted like moldy-bread but then again, she was pretty sure all beer tasted like that. She ignored her displeasure at the taste and continued to sip her drink as she ate her meal.
Anne was just starting to feel the effects of her alcohol when Sam spoke up.
"That fellow's done nothing but stare at you since we arrived," Sam said, pointing in the direction behind Anne.
Curious, she turned around to see who Sam was talking about. In the corner, next the fireplace, sat a hooded man smoking a pipe. He was clothed in a black cloak which gave off an aura of mystery. It didn't help that his face was hidden in the shadows, the only light coming from his pipe as he smoked.
Anne quickly turned around as a prickly sensation blossomed over her skin. That guy looked all sorts of dangerous.
Great. Now we have the Middle-earth version of the Winter Soldier stalking us!
"Excuse me," Frodo said, halting the innkeeper as he walked by. "That man in the corner. Who is he?" he asked discreetly pointing his chin in the mystery man's direction.
The older man looked to the man before he spoke. "He's one of them Rangers," the innkeeper began with a serious look. "Dangerous folk, they are, wandering the Wilds."
Anne swallowed thickly.
"What his right name is, I've never heard," the innkeeper continued. "But around here, he's known as Strider," he finished and walked off.
"Strider," Frodo repeated to himself and looked over at him again.
"Don't look at him Frodo!" Anne admonished. "The last thing we need is another enemy. Let's just play it cool until Gandalf gets here," she begged with pleading eyes.
Frodo looked at her again but his eyes were glazed over like he wasn't really looking at her. Suddenly, Anne felt the same vibrational force pulling her into a dark lullaby, threatening to consume her. Her head felt heavy all of a sudden as her eyes started to close. She swayed ever so slightly as a voice whispered. She could just make out the word—Baggins. It repeated the same word over and over again, and Anne felt once more that she was in a trance, unable to pull herself free from the link that had been made. Her body suddenly felt heavy and weighted down by an oppressive anchor, keeping her rooted in her chair. Baggins, the ominous voice whispered again.
"Baggins?" Pip asked loudly from the bar. "Sure I know a Baggins."
Anne's eyes shot open at Pippin's declaration. An uneasy dread filled her stomach.
"He's over there," Pip continued pointing in their direction. "Frodo Baggins. He's my second cousin once removed on his mother's side," he told to the crowd of shady looking men gathered around him.
Frodo jumped up and ran to the bar.
"Pippin!" he shouted as he grabbed him by the shoulder.
Pip shoved him off of him and Anne watched in slow motion as Frodo fell, causing a gold ring he was holding to fly upwards out of his hand. Time seemed to slow down as Anne watched the ring fall and slip onto Frodo's finger before he disappeared.
Before Anne had a chance to register what was happening, everything changed. It felt like she was sucked into a vortex, out of her surroundings and into a void where nothing existed for long—like a space between worlds.
Dark shadows surrounded her like ghosts that never stayed still. She could make out nine dark figures that were made out of shadows but something about the way they looked reminded her of the black riders in the woods.
You cannot hide, a voice whispered. Anne knew that voice. It was the voice that chilled her bones. The voice that caused her heart to skip a beat.
I see you, the voice said from behind her. Anne turned around and froze. A bright light like the sun was burning in front of her. A dark oval shape rested in the center where no light shined. Once again, she was reminded of a black hole in space. The bright light around the darkness held an array of yellows, oranges and reds and made Anne think of a blazing fire. The longer she looked at it though, the more the scene reminded her of an eye—a demonic, frightening and soul crushing eye.
There is no life in the void, the voice whispered and Anne felt complete isolation shoot through her. She felt immensely lonely, like the only star in the universe amongst a sea of black. Tears trailed down her cheeks at the desolation she was experiencing.
Only death, the voice added in a harsh whisper. Anne clutched at her chest, scared the voice would kill her when suddenly, the shadow world faded and she was sitting in the Prancing Pony once again.
She looked around the table, trying to get her bearings, but found herself sitting alone. She looked to the bar which was in pandemonium as people gasped and shouted obscenities. She heard something about witchcraft but didn't have time to think on the matter as Sam, Merry and Pip were running towards her with panicked faces.
"Come on!" Sam shouted as he reached the table. "We've got to go save him!"
"Save who?" Anne asked confused. "What happened?" she asked in alarm.
Nothing was making sense.
"That ranger took Frodo!" Merry shouted as he picked up a candle holder nearby. "Grab something! Anything!" he demanded.
Anne watched as Pip picked up one of the stools they had been sitting on. Not knowing what to do, she picked up the closet thing to her—Merry's empty soup bowl.
"Let's go!" Sam yelled, running toward the stairs in the back of the dining area. The hobbits trailed after him with Anne right behind them.
They ran up the steps and stopped.
"Which room is he in?" Merry whispered.
Sam looked down the hall and noticed the light streaming under the door of the room at the end of the hall.
"That one!" he shouted and raced down the hall.
Anne hesitated for a moment. She was terrified. She had never been in a fight and didn't know what to expect once they entered the room. All she knew was that she didn't want Frodo to get hurt. They were a team—a ragtag group of hobbits with a rambling woman—but a team none the less. If someone was going to hurt one of them, they would have to fight all of them, her included.
It reminded her of the Three Muskateers. "All for one and one for all."
She just hoped they wouldn't all die.
Anne took a deep breath, steeling her nerves and took off down the hall behind the hobbits.