Dimple's eyes flickered open. He gasped a deep breath like it was his first and sat up with the jingling of chains. Squinting in the soft lime light coming off the cavern walls he saw his ankles and wrists bound by golden chains. He pulled at the metal bindings, his tiny hands, clenching and unclenching trying to slip through the links but his efforts only tired him. The hobbit collapsed into a ball, and let his thoughts trail back home.
'Drat it! I wish I was at The Green Dragon.' He imagined the sights and welcoming smells of the inn. 'Mmmmm...tucking into a good hearty pork stew, and a mug of Ol' Gaffer's brew to accompanying it. I'd really like that right now instead of this horrid place.'
'Show a little respect, creature of life or the wight of Killian Cudéal will take offence.' The Grey Lady whom he'd come to call, materialised through the wall to the hobbit's left.
An aura of sparkling blue surrounded her, the once delicate elven features, were now gaunt and bony with woe. Her white tresses and dress fluttered about caught in a breeze that the hobbit couldn't feel. She floated to the altar and towered over Dimple, her glowing green eyes staring down at him.
The hobbit wanted to cower away but was unable to because of his restraints. Instead he buried his face in his arms from the frightening apparition. ‘Oh my, oh my. When will this nightmare end?’
'This is no vexation of your mind, Hobbit.' She laid a finger upon his chest.
Dimple's body spasmed stiff and he heard his own shrieking in his ears. It was like she was driving a serrated ice sliver though his flesh and twisting it. After a few moments of torture, she relented and stood back.
His chest was heaving and he looked up at her. The hobbit saw her sorrow staring back at him before her cruel mask concealed it.
'Know this living creature; I do not take pleasure in what I have to do.'
'Then why do it?' Dimple spluttered, wiping away tears. 'I done nothin' to yer.'
'No you haven't, but your companion has something I want. The only way I will get it, is through your pain.' She drew closer to him again.
Dimple struggled to get away but couldn't. 'Wait, I'm sure Mr Sam will give you what you want.'
'Oh, he will.' Her spectral finger dug into Dimple's skin again sending spikes of icy pain into his chest. 'For your sake.'
His screams filled the cavern again.
'Dimple!' Sam awoke and found the world turned upside down.
His face rested against warm fibre softness that stunk of damp wool. He spat out some of the mohair strands that had gotten into his mouth.
Sam tried moving his hands but couldn't, they were bound and pinned behind his back. The hobbit squirmed around panicking at his fettered predicament. 'Help, someone help me!'
'Sam, stop or you'll fall off!' Frewen voice sliced through his rising fear.
'Frewen? What do you think you're doing?'
The dwarf brought her mount to a halt and leaned over. 'I'm taking you to Erebor, Master Hobbit.'
'You can't.' Sam struggled again. 'Release me this instant!'
'Sam, I don't want to gag you or have to knock you out again.'
His memories like curls of smoke were brought back into the light. Sam recalled losing his temper when Baldrin had told him to abandon his friend. When he had stomped off towards the stairs, a dull blow struck the back of his head and a curtain of darkness wrapped him up into slumber.
'It was you, who hit me.' Sam struggled against his bindings. 'You won't get away with this.'
'I beg to differ, Mr Gamgee. No one asked me any questions at Brandywine Bridge, once I told them you're a thief and wanted by the dwarfs of Erebor. I have no doubt they'll ask me any questions when we get to Bree and I tell them the same.'
'But I did no such thing!'
'They won't know that.' Her shoulders slumped, tired of the conversation. 'There are more lives at stake here than your friend, Sam. His sacrifice will be honoured.'
'How can you do this? Dimple made no such choice. It's my fault he's in danger and my responsibility to get him back.' Sam calmed himself and softened his voice. 'Please, just let me go. I know I can rescue him, and I promise you this elven maid will not get her spectral hands on the bracelet.'
'I wish I could believe you, but I cannot do...'
A chorus of howls rent the air. Frewen twisted in her saddle, scanning the road behind them. 'Curses, warg riders are upon us.'
She produced a dagger from her belt and slashed at Sam's leather bindings. The hobbit pulled himself up onto the saddle. He shook his hands to bring feeling back into them and yelped when his two broken fingers stung. Sam found they were bandaged and secured by a piece of metal.
Frewen noticed Sam's examination of her handiwork. 'I told you I'd bind your wounds.'
His words of thanks were forgotten when he saw what kind of animal he was seated upon. 'My word, if only Mr Frodo could see me now,' he muttered. 'I'm on a war ram.'
'Hold on to me, Sam.' Frewen bent over to the ram's ears. 'Fly, Albin.' Frewen kicked the ram into a gallop.
Sam glanced behind him. In the jostling ride he saw the bobbing heads of their goblin pursuers and their mounts, large grey beasts resembling overgrown dogs. Sam counted at least eight riders.
'They're getting closer!' Sam screamed over the noise of the hooves and slapping wind. 'We won't make it to Bree!'
'What do you wish me to do Master Hobbit?' She shouted back. 'I can't make us disappear.'
Sam could see a familiar line of trees to his right. 'Head for the Old Forest.'
'You're not serious are you? Those woods are haunted.'
'Well that's better than the alternative, don't you think?'
Frewen cursed and steered her ram towards the forest. The hoofed mount wasn't meant for speed and their pursuers were gaining fast.
The wall of gnarled stumps and branches closed in. They broke through the bracken and bushes, to enter a world of faceted light and smothering air. Their mount dodged between the tree trunks and avoided the thick roots spread across the forest floor.
Frewen pulled on the reins bringing them to a halt. They were in a small open space surrounded by oaks and pines. She jumped off, pulling out her war hammer and tossing Sting to Sam. The dwarf grabbed her pack and slapped her ram's rump. It sprinted off, continuing its run into the shadows.
'Prepare yourself, Sam. We'll face them here.'
'Are you cracked? We're outnumbered.' Sam glanced at the closest oak, forming an idea. He pushed the dwarf towards it. 'Get on up there.'
The crashing of leaves and branches alerted him that their pursuers were closing in. 'We won't win this day with your dwarf bravado or stubbornness.'
Frewen shook her head, and scrambled up the tree. Sam followed not far behind. They were high in the canopy when the goblins burst through the thicket. The pair stiffened and quietened their breathing, holding tight to the bulbous branch they were perched on.
The goblins stopped, and their wargs sniffed the ground. The hunting party wore crude iron and leather armour. They were all armed with wicked and cruel weapons of their race
The leader of the riders, whose bald head was covered in jagged scars, circled the clearing. 'That stumpie and halflin' are about 'ere somewhere.'
A goblin whose one hand was a black iron hook, coughed out a laugh. 'You shoulda 'ave kept yer eyes on 'em, Cruck. Kruun's goin' to skin yer.'
'Shuddup, Smag. Grax 'ere has picked up somethin'.'
Cruck's warg sniffed the ground following the pairs' scent towards their hiding place. Sam glimpsed Frewen tightening her grip around her warhammer.
A rustling deeper in the forest, caused the wargs' ears to perk up. All the goblins turned to the direction of the sound.
'There, I see them!' Cruck kicked his mount and loped off into the brush.
The goblins yelled and whooped, the sounds of their passing diminishing in the distance. The pair waited in the branches a little while longer, making sure their pursuers were gone.
Sam climbed down first followed by Frewen. They remained silent, listening, but there was nothing, not even the usual forest sounds.
'That was fortunate.' Sam sighed and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He made a move in the direction to exit the woods when Frewen barred his way.
'Where do you think you're going?'
Sam stepped back, his hand grasping Sting. 'Like I said, I'm going to go save my friend.'
'I can't let you do that.' Frewen put up her war hammer. 'I don't want to hurt you, Sam. Stand down and come with me to the Lonely Mountain.'
Sam unsheathed Sting facing off with Frewen. 'I'm not going with you.'
'If it means carrying your broken body I will do what I must.' The dwarf made ready to charge.
'Wait.' Sam resheathed Sting and put his hands up. 'Don't you understand he's my friend? I have to rescue him. The bracelet is the only thing that's keeping him alive. Once he's safe, then I'll take it to the Lonely Mountain on my word.'
Frewen didn't answer but continued to close in.
Sam retreated looking for a way to escape. 'Haven't you done anything for a friend no matter what the consequences were?'
Frewen hesitated, her good eye twitched. Her left hand released its hold on the hammer to brush at the eye patch like she had a stray tear.
The dwarf slung her war hammer into her belt and crossed her arms. 'What are you proposing?'
Sam scratched his chin in thought. 'I'm going to the Barrow Downs to free my friend that much is certain.'
'That's not much of a plan. Those wights will see you before you get within a league of that place.'
'If Mr Frodo and I can walk the plains of Mordor, then entering the deads' domain should not be so difficult a task.'
Frewen glanced over at the forest's exit. 'You're determined to do this aren't you?'
'Yes.' Sam stood to attention. 'Yes, I am.'
Frewen sighed. 'Very well then, lead on, Mr Gamgee.'
'You're coming with me?'
'Of course. I promised Baldrin to take the bracelet bearer to Erebor, and that means I go where the bracelet goes.'