As Frodo scrambled backwards from the wraiths, he cried out. Perhaps in some vain hope of being hidden from them, he slipped on the Ring. This did not aid him, but revealed the wraiths as figures of men, softly lit in fell light, their features indistinct yet terrible to behold. One seemed to stand taller than the others, and advanced upon Frodo sword in hand. Faltering in fear, Frodo attempted to find escape, but he was backed against stone.
As the blade flashed toward him, shrouded in some fell spell, a figure placed itself between he and the wraith. At first he thought Aragorn had returned, but as a high pitched shriek pierced the air he realized one of the lesser wraiths had betrayed it’s master. Gazing up at his unlikely savior, Frodo was forced to remove the Ring--for the wraith’s right hand burned as though he held a veiled star.
This was all the delay necessary, for not a moment later, Aragorn did return; armed not only with blade but with flame. He soon drove four of the wraiths into retreat, having lit some of their number aflame.
Something peculiar had happened to the fifth wraith, however.
Where once there was a less than substantial figure, long washed of individual will and mind; there now was a man, gasping from his wound. His armor was much mended and had an unsavoury cast to it--though if one were observant, the white tree of Gondor was still visible in places. Corruption was heavy upon his visage; from his far too pale countinance, to his eyes that fairly blazed with a fell light.
For all this, and even with his obvious pain, relief was the first emotion Aragorn saw as he looked upon the stranger.
“S-So it ends,” said the man, grimacing. “Did the child live?”
Aragorn realized he meant Frodo. Does he know nothing of Hobbits? He idly wondered, before answering, “Yes, he lives--I drove off the others.” Aragorn, had he been honest with himself, would have admitted that he was somewhat in shock. A Nazgul, turn on it’s brothers? Somehow be made flesh once more by the bite of a morgul blade?
The man’s features twisted in disgust, “So long I told myself I was not like them--to finally regain the Gift of Eru is a boon I had long abandoned looking for.” With that, he lost consciousness.
Aragorn, more out of reflex, then anything else, began inspecting the wound. Though most assuredly from a morgul blade, the pre-existing corruption seemed to somewhat nullify the effect. Painful though it was, the wound could be tended and was not likely to be fatal.
As Aragorn made a fire and boiled water to tend the wound, the hobbits stood at a distance observing--having already made thoroughly sure of Frodo’s health.
“Er, Strider?” Merry asked. “Is that normal? A Rider turning on their own like that?” He eyed the stranger’s prone form suspiciously.
Aragorn shook his head, “I’ve never heard the like. He appears to be a man once more. Why? Only those far wiser than I might say; but for the time being I think it my part to keep him as well as I might. For he did defend Frodo.”
Frodo frowned thoughtfully, “He looked different. When--when I wore the Ring. Lesser than the others, yet his right hand blazed with light.”
Aragorn stoked the fire, watching as the water began to simmer. Perhaps Frodo saw one of the nine rings? But then would not the others look the same? Aragorn firmly decided that matters of rings were best left well alone for the time being--especially those crafted to corrupt the race of Men.
As he went to clean the wound, the stranger gripped his arm. “Leave it. I can pass from this world in peace, let me,” he said resolutely.
“That, I cannot do,” Aragorn said, moving to tend his injuries. “There is, I think, a will greater than either of us in these strange happenings.”
The man’s face twisted in distaste at that, though he did not possess the strength to argue.
“What do I call you? The names of the Nine have long been lost,” Aragorn asked, drawing out what poison he could.
The man was silent for a time, “I was called Talion.” He recalled no more--memories of his origins lay just beyond the grasp of thought.
Strange name for one of the Nine, Aragorn mused, before binding the wound. “Talion. What is it meaning?”
Talion frowned in thought, a whisper of memory presenting itself. A soft voice humming something and a deeper voice roughened by the trials of life speaking Be steadfast as your name in all aspects of life, Talion. “Steadfast, I think, though now the memory is clouded. And what is your name?”
Aragorn nodded, seeing where the name might come from, though it did not shed any light on it’s owner’s origins. “Strider, I am called in these lands.”
Talion, by the look on his face, plainly noted that was not his right name; regardless of pain and muddled thoughts. But he said nothing, instead returning to the blissful darkness of unconsciousness.
When even the dawn of the next morning did not rouse Talion, Aragorn sighed before hefting the man onto the pony. The only reason that this was not a cruel burden to Bill was that for whatever reason, Talion did not weigh as much as a man of his stature ought. Aragorn wondered if there was not still something of a wraith about him. He did not have long to muse though. The attack by the wraiths now prompted him to make great haste with the hobbits to the safety of Imladris.
Of course, “great haste” is a relative term when accompanied by four hobbits, a pony which has seen better days, and an injured and semi-corporeal ringwraith. The terrain was rough, and the weather unpleasant--but what worried Aragorn the most were the other wraiths. At night he could almost see them. Circling, never coming too near; if he didn’t know better he would call the behavior cautious. He had expected them to try and reclaim what was theirs the very next night. Yet they did not, even leaving the Ring alone for the time being. It was strange and did not sit well with him.
The hobbits, who only vaguely trusted him before, now were doubly cautious. Afterall, he worked to heal one of the riders; he could hardly blame them for their suspicion. And while others might have found certain remarks about his ‘foul look’ quite offensive, he well knew what he looked like after months in the Wild.
The wound to Talion was apparently more dire than he had originally assessed--for after the first night the man did not reawake. Occasionally, he moved as though pained--or cried out for a Ioreth and Dirhael. Aragorn wondered at that. The names had a ring of Gondor about them, but far too recent for any wraith to care for.
Samwise Gamgee knew he was out of his depths. It was a simple fact. All this talk of rings and wraiths and kings of old. Sure, he had learned quite a bit about such things from Mr. Bilbo; but it’s a different matter when such unpleasantness walks about in the world! But Sam also knew he had a good head on his shoulders, at least for common sense--something he knew the other hobbits lacked a great deal of. To his mind, this all seemed mighty fishy. One of those black riders that’s been trying to murder the lot of them since before they left the Shire suddenly has a change of heart? And then this Strider--of whom they know nothing!--decides to try and mend the wraiths wounds? Mighty fishy business indeed.
Why, if he knew the way to Rivendell, he would have just taken all of them far away from Tall Folk and their nonsense. When a hobbit wished it, none of the Tall Folk could find them. Nifty trick, to be sure.
Unfortunately, Sam did not know the way to Rivendell. He frowned. Even Mr. Frodo, who had met some elves before, didn’t know the way. So Sam was left in the unpleasant position of having to trust that the man leading them wouldn’t betray them to their deaths. He did not like that, no sir.