Note: this is my first foray into non-Star Wars fan fiction. I hope you like it. ~~~~~ Eáreal, a woman of a town in the northernmost regions of Gondor, scrambled up the road, fighting the rain. She was heading for the Iron Hills; her husband had fallen ill and he usually made the trip to the Dwarf-cities for supplies, so it was up to her. She had been unsure about the safety of it, but he'd assured her that Dwarves guarded the roads consistently enough that there shouldn't be any problems. Reluctantly, Eáreal had taken their horse, loaded him up with foodstuffs, and taken him up the road. It had not been long before the rain had begun. Eáreal had insisted on walking simply because the horse was too burdened down with the supplies. She was beginning to regret it and seriously considering dropping some of them and mounting the horse. Her brown clothing was soaked through and she was shivering. "Curse this weather," she muttered to herself. "Wish it would let up long enough for me to just get there." She pushed on. She could see the beginnings of the winding slope to the mountain ahead. If she could just get there, the outcroppings should be enough to protect her from the rain somewhat. Stubbornly, she continued to walk, the cold rain battering her. She was almost to the slope when she thought she heard something above the rain. She reached over and pulled a small dagger from a sheath on the horse's saddle. She doubted it would do any good but she didn't want to be unarmed, and her husband had taught her how to fight, so maybe she could at least convince someone that she was too much trouble to bother with. She hoped. Those hopes were dashed when a trio of large Men emerged from the shadows. The one in the middle was large, fair-haired, wearing dark clothing and a hood. He wielded a large, flat-bladed sword. The one on the left was bald, bearded, wielding some kind of club. The one on the right was clean-shaven, black-haired, with a one-handed ax in each hand. "Well, well," the man in the middle said. "Look what we've got 'ere." "Leave me alone," Eáreal said, fear creeping into her voice. "Gonna cut me with that wee knife?" asked the man with a laugh. His compatriots laughed too. Eáreal fearfully backed towards her horse, which bucked and brayed unhappily. The man with the axes grinned and strode forward. Determined, the woman raised her dagger. She would not let her supplies be stolen without a fight. The man sneered at her, knocking the dagger aside with one ax. The man with the club grabbed her with his free hand and shoved her aside. "Leave her alone!" a voice called above the howl of the rain. The three men turned. At the foot of the mountain pass stood a single Dwarf. Young, with long black hair and not much in the way of a beard, he was clad in a dark cloak and had a quiver of arrows and a bow on his back. In his hand he wielded a Dwarf-sword. The leader, the man with the flat-bladed sword, stepped toward the Dwarf. "Or what, half-pint?" he rumbled. "Or you will have to contend with me," the Dwarf said. "Now, step away." The leader sneered and gestured toward his two men. They stepped away from Eáreal and headed for the Dwarf. "Very well, then," the Dwarf said with an energetic smile. "Let's go." ~~~~~ Kíli leapt forward, his sword flashing. His blade caught the blunt end of the bald man's club. The clean-shaven man swept his axes at Kíli's side. The young Dwarf, still grinning, disengaged from the Man with the club, easily blocked the axes, and spun them aside. The first Man raised his club and Kíli kicked him hard in the gut. He stumbled back. Kíli swept his sword toward the ax-wielder. The Man blocked his blow with one ax and slashed with the other. Kíli neatly side-stepped the blow and hit the man on the head with the butt of his sword. The Man dropped one of his axes and held the side of his head, wincing. Kíli lunged again at the club-wielder. The Man swung his blunt weapon at Kíli's head, attempting to knock him out. Kíli ducked under the blow and slashed at the Man. The club-wielder was forced to step back and Kíli followed up with a quick slash at his bicep. The Man growled as blood flowed down his arm, but did not disengage. "Kíli!" a voice called. Kíli whirled in time to see the ax-wielder standing, raising his remaining ax to split Kíli from head to groin. Kíli braced himself for the blow...and suddenly a knife sailed through the air and planted itself in the Man's back. The Man dropped. Another Dwarf, blonde-haired, with slightly more beard than Kíli had, dropped from an outcropping and drew a pair of Dwarf-swords. "Thanks, brother!" Kíli said. Fíli nodded. "Now, go help that woman! I've got this guy." Kíli nodded. While his brother engaged the club-wielder, he ran at the leader, who was headed back for the woman. The Man raised his sword and the woman dropped, holding up empty arms in a vain attempt to defend herself. Kíli, seeing he never would reach her in time, whipped out his bow and quickly set an arrow. He let it fly, and it buried itself in the Man's back. The Man gasped, dropped his sword harmlessly to the ground, and died. Kíli whirled. Fíli quickly and effortlessly dueled the club-wielder and landed half a dozen blows within a few seconds. Bleeding from the minor injuries, the Man slowed. Groaning, he raised himself up to deliver a final blow, but Fíli easily dodged it and slashed him with both swords in the gut. The Man collapsed, dead. "Let's go," Kíli said urgently. He and his brother raced off into the night...towards the Shire. ~~~~~ Eáreal stood and looked around, shocked. All three of her assailants lay dead, one with an arrow planted in his back, one with over a dozen slashes across his body, and one with a gap in his torso where a knife had recently been. Of her rescuers, there was no sign. Eáreal picked up her dagger and returned it to its sheath. "Thank you," she said softly to the empty night. Then, turning, she began the long plod up the mountain trail.