After delicately balancing the Hobbit’s shiny new armour on Caethir’s poor horse, the two of them set off West out of Brockenborings, heading for Bindbole Wood. They had already decided that the quickest route to Bywater would be to head directly South as soon as they had crossed the stream and make for a little fishing hut that lay immediately North of Bywater itself. This was more out of concern for Gwaerennaur than a desire to cut their journey short. As they entered the outskirts of Bindbole, the afternoon sun broke through the trees as though to take possession of the shade created by the leaves.
The Elf and the Hobbit had fallen into a comfortable silence, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying a break from the constant hum of Halfling-chatter they had been encompassed by in Brockenborings. After half an hour of slowly pacing they came to the stream that eventually flowed into the Brandywine. There they paused to allow Gwaerennaur to have a drink and they watched the sunbeams dancing on the surface of the bubbling brook.
Caethir raised his head and looked West into the wood and then South to the path they intended to take. Lamuna had busied herself collecting a few fallen branches and tying them with some cord she had in a pocket, mumbling something about her cousin. She looked up grinning at the Elf and was about to make some observation when she noticed the frown furrowed on the Elf’s brow. Matching it with her own, she asked
“What is it?”
Caethir looked longer before answering and, drawing the shorter of his swords, he passed it caarefully down to the Hobbit.
“You should never leave your sword under your bed”
A sudden sense of panic and confusion took over Lamuna and she dropped her bundle of wood while reaching for the sword, crying in dismay as it fell with a splash into the stream.
“No! Ruby needed that for…”
“Shh!”, Caethir shushed, gently pulling his bow from his back and stringing an arrow.
Lamuna stood and turned to face the same direction the Elf was facing. Then she saw a few hulking black shapes scuttling down a small hill towards them.
“You still haven’t sorted your Spider problem, have you Lamuna?”
“How can I possibly…?” she began to say before realising he was not talking solely about her, “No, people try to ignore the signs”
“Never ignore the signs.”
Letting one arrow whistle over the Hobbit’s head, it struck its target, the spider’s legs crumpling underneath its body as it succumbed. It was then that several more spiders, incensed at the death of one of their own, picked up the pace – clamouring and hissing in fury. Lamuna stood with eyes wide, Caethir’s sword in both hands – realising that being heroic meant facing her worst fears. Two more arrows from Caethir at least disabled a couple of the spiders, but that left three more almost in sword range.
Lamuna took a deep breath and with as big a shout as the Hobbit-lass could manage she threw herself into the humongous furry body of the nearest one. Caethir tried to see what was going on but could not be sure that an arrow would not hit his tiny friend as well as a foe. So, unsheathing his other sword he also launched in.
“Go for the legs!” he yelled over the furious racket of the spiders who seemed to be dodging his blade, trying to get a bite.
Sweating with the effort, Lamuna closed her eyes and whirled around, slashing the legs from under one. She was just about to turn and attack another when she tripped over and fell backwards, crying out in pain as her back hit a sharp stone. One spider, seeing its mesh trap was successful, made for the now-stranded Hobbit, but failed to see Caethir’s foot which came kicking across its side before a sword ended its life from above. Regaining his balance he saw the remaining arachnid had got close to Lamuna’s head while the others had been focusing on the battle. Its fell glare and its poisoned fangs clicking in victory made the Hobbit squeal in terror. But in that blind panic she stabbed upwards with all her might with Caethir’s sword. The spider seemed to howl, then shudder before falling limp and black goo oozed down the blade onto the hilt.
The Hobbit rolled to one side and let go of the blade before breaking down in tears, sat hugging her own knees. Caethir cleaned his own blade on the grass and went over to his friend, kneeling down beside her.
“Are you hurt?”, he asked kindly, whilst carefully cutting the webbing from around her feet.
“I don’t…I don’t, think….so”, she managed through each sob, “Just – just my back a little.”
Caethir laid his weapon down and wrapped his arms around Lamuna’s shoulders.
“You have done a very brave deed here today. I think you will do many more in the days ahead.”
“I survived,” the Hobbit managed, calming her breath down, “and I feel disgusting!”
Caethir managed a chuckle and released his embrace to look his friend in the eye.
“If you ever come out from facing an ugly foe and smell like roses, I need to know that secret!”
Lamuna managed a little giggle, the adrenalin of still being alive kicking in. Caethir stood and kicked the spider’s body over to retrieve his other sword, the reek of the furry corpse catching even him off guard. He then sought out his fallen arrows and headed down to the stream to wash them carefully, giving his Hobbit-friend whatever time she needed. Gwaerennaur had laid down at the sight of trouble, but had been ignored by the spiders’ anger. The Elf kissed the horse’s nose then leant over to retrieve two sugary cakes he had purchased at Dwaling. Lamuna stood and tried to brush the dirt off her now-stained dress.
“Ruby will kill me! She only made this last week!”, she sighed shaking her head then suddenly sniffed the air, “Do you have cake?”
“It is a good thing I did not retrieve this cake until after the battle else neither of us would have survived!” Caethir observed with a smile of his own, “but yes, you’ll need this”
As Lamuna hungrily bit into her cake she turned her face South and pointed, unable to speak while enjoying the sweetness. Caethir nodded.
A flock of crows had risen up in a clearing and suddenly flew North. Except one, which turned against the winged tide and flew East.
“Does that mean anything, Caethir?” Lamuna asked between mouthfuls.
“Already you are thinking more clearly than many Halflings. Yes, but what I do not know. Birds are often messengers.”
“But who are they taking messages to?”
“I don’t know. At least not yet. Let’s get you home, you’ve earned a bath. And you can introduce me to whoever this Ruby is you mentioned.”
Giggling again, with the cake nearly consumed, they retrieved their belongings and Gwaerennaur and began the Southward trek to Bywater.