CHAPTER TWELVE: FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY
As I was going to St. Ives I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks; each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits: kits, cats, sacks and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?
That old nursery rhyme, the literary embodiment of the trick question, played over and over again in his head as Jason Merrick drove the blue panel station wagon down the small road that was probably considered a 'motorway' in this parts. The journey had so far been uneventful, except for the disturbing number of cars making their way north as well. Jason doubted this road would have seen much traffic under normal circumstances but with the carnage taking place further south, he wasn't surprised to see more people fleeing in search of safer ground.
He'd attempted to turn on the radio but the stations that were still broadcasting and there weren't many, weren't playing music but reporting stories of destruction and panic in bursts of static. There was something about mass evacuation, some kind of threat that was moving across east towards London. Planes had been brought down, the authorities were baffled and then silence when the broadcast was suddenly disrupted. At this point, Jason decided to give up on the radio, sufficiently alarmed and pretty certain that Sam and Pip were even more fearful for their parents than ever.
Through the windscreen, he could see the rain shift from teeming to downpour as the clouds seemed to cover every inch of blue sky there was. The landscape looked grey and bleak and Jason wondered if Saeran could also have the power to alter the weather to suit his dark machinations. Driving past the small houses and the empty paddocks, still unspoiled for the moment, he wondered how soon the danger reached this point.
Jason didn't want to know and yet when he thought of the danger, he couldn't help worry about his best friend.
Though it would take Saeran's entire army to force him to admit it to the man, Jason missed the crazy Australian with whom he'd spent most of his career. They'd seen some mad times together, globe trotting across the planet, Eric writing the stories while he immortalized them on film. They'd been through wars and revolutions, famine and natural disasters but nothing like what they faced now. Armageddon was a first.
Jason worried that left to his own devices; Eric Rowan would land in trouble he couldn't get himself out of. The stakes was too bloody high when the consequence for bad judgment was death. Jason was so accustomed to being Eric's voice of reason, he feared what would happen if he wasn't there to remind the man of his limitations. It wasn't like before where the worse that could happen was Eric getting a dose of the clap like that time in Bangkok when he'd almost shagged that she-male. Once the idiot caught sight of tits, he never made it south of the border to check if plumbing was right.
Now Eric was going off with Miranda, Frank and the others to face down the same horror turned Sennen Cove into a bloody massacre.
Of course Jason understood the need to get the children to safety. In the last few months, he'd felt an inexplicable bond with the children of Miranda and Frank Miller. Legolas had explained that in the past, he was part of the quartet of hobbits that made up the Fellowship. It seemed so surreal to him, thinking that a hundred thousand years ago, he'd lived another life in a place called the Shire and been embroiled in world shaping events. But what was not surreal or fake was how protective he felt towards Sam, Pip and Fred.
If something was trying to harm them, there was nothing Jason Merrick wouldn't do to keep them safe.
Unfortunately, he could only keep the physical threats away from them. The emotional ones were not so easily soothed. As he drove past the houses and fields on the way to Gloucester where friends of the family would be happy to have him visit, he could hear the sniffles and the soft whispers coming from his charges in the backseat. Risking a glance over his shoulder, he wanted to make sure that they were alright just for his own peace of mind.
Sam was holding Pip who was still crying from being parted from his mother and father again. Even after all this time on Valinor, Jason knew the child had difficulty being away from his parents for any length of time. After what both Sam and Pip had gone through when they'd been captured by the Nazgul, Jason couldn't blame the child for being skittish. It was worse now and Sam, who was the bravest little boy that Jason ever knew, could do little to quell his brother's anxieties.
Facing the road again, Jason couldn't really blame Pip for being inconsolable. Even though Miranda and Frank had tried to shield them from what had been done to Sennen Cove, the destruction had been utterly confronting and it only stood to the reason that the children were astute enough to know something terrible had happened there. To say nothing about what was going on with Fred, who didn't sound like a little girl at all.
Children were never as dumb as grown ups thought and these children were smarter than most. Being sent away to the north of England when they knew their parents were going to face something terrible was hardly going to allay fears, more so after what they'd heard on Radio One and seen on the roads. However, there was nothing for it. There was no way they could remain. Tory was already dead, Eve captured by that bastard and Valinor was in ruins.
Where the others were headed, was no place for children.
"Don't worry you two, if there's anyone who can get through this in one piece, it's your mum and dad" he assured them, trying to sound cheery even though he suspected they could see right through him.
"You hear that Pip," Sam hugged his little brother closer to him. "Mum and dad will be fine. So will Uncle Bryan and everyone else."
Sam was actually more convincing than he had been, Jason thought and once again the New Zealander felt a surge of admiration for the boy.
Pip sniffled and pulled his head out from Sam's shoulder. "You think so?"
"I know so," Jason smiled. "Your mum is the toughest woman I've ever seen. She makes Wonder
Woman look like rubbish."
Pip managed a little laugh at that.
Jason was grateful for that much. "That's what I want to hear," he looked over his shoulder again, "now how about we get something to eat yeah?"
Neither child seemed terribly enthused but they'd been driving for a while now but Jason could feel hunger pangs himself so he had to imagine the children might be getting hungry too, even if their appetites were rendered somewhat inert by their situation.
Entering the outskirts of St Ives, he drove until he came across what appeared to be a restaurant called the Sheaf of Wheat Inn. It looked like one of those places that could only exist in the North Country and had a quaint charm to it. Pulling up to the pavement, Jason decided that it would do.
Besides, the way things were going, who knew how long things would remain normal.
Releasing the string of her bow, Ariel watched as the barrage of arrows soared into the air towards the great dragon that hovered above the ship upon which she stood. The deadly projectiles flew swift, their number so many that it was impossible to count. They came not only from the deck of her vessel but other ships in the fleet. However, not all the arrows reached their destination. The beating of the dragon's wings created strong shifts in wind that sent some arrows harmlessly into the river while others struck the its near invulnerable hide.
Still, some stayed true to its course striking the dragon in the only place it could be harmed, its underbelly.
The dragon reacted to this assault with a thunderous bellow of outrage followed by an equally devastating burst of angry red flame. Blood ran down the shafts of the arrows had protruded from its flesh and dripped upon the deck. However, the creature was by no means defeated. It was merely injured. It did not take kindly to its wounding and soared out of reach to prepare its next attack. This time, it approached ensuring that its vulnerability was no longer as exposed.
Rearming her bow, Ariel chanced a glance upwards to see how close the enemy was to reaching them. It made a sharp look in mid air before plunging towards them again and this time, she could not see its body, just the monstrous head. The beast came at them with its massive jaws agape, baring teeth that were the length of her forearm before it unleashed yet another column of fire upon them.
"Get down!" Rhuinae, one of the Noldor who stood at her side warned sharply, pulling Ariel down as the fireball passed over her head so near she could feel the heat of it moving across her back. The flame stuck the mast of the ship and set it and one of their crew ablaze. She watched in horror as the elf whose name she did not know utter a scream of agony, arms flailing as he staggered to the portside, pain driving him to move much faster than those who tried to come to his aid. He disappeared over the side so quickly that Ariel was still in shock when she heard the splash.
For an instant, she thought of her prince, reconsidering her hasty decision to leave him. Perhaps Legolas was correct. Perhaps the world was too dangerous for her to left unprotected. Maybe he was right, she wasn't ready to guard against the meaner things in the world.
The reality of her current circumstances did not allow her to ponder such thoughts too deeply for the danger was far from passed. The dragon and others like it were still in the air and the call to arms was sung across the ship once more.
"ARCHERS!" She heard and discarded thoughts of Legolas for now.
Getting to her feet, she saw the dragon taking advantage of the diversion it had created with the fire as it flew towards them for yet another assault. Lifting her bow, already armed, she joined her comrades and prepared to fend off the beast again, ignoring the smell of smoke and anxious voices of those who had been appointed to deal with the fire.
Throughout the flotilla of Teleri ships, scattered through this great river whose size reminded the elves of the Anduin, the elven host battled the watchers and the dragons that had laid siege to this city of men. Sauron had used the power of these formidable servants to gain mastery over the sea and the air by launching a lightning strike that had taken the Edain completely by surprise. It was an advantage he'd most likely have all the way to Barad-dûr. Thus the threat of them had to be dealt with now or at least curtailed long enough for the armies of men to regroup.
Amidst the chaos, a sudden bang was heard. The sounds came upon them so swiftly and loudly that some of them jumped in fright. Then they saw something flying through the air, a trail of thin white smoke following the odd, cylindrical shaped object. It struck the dragon in the face and the exploded. The dragon reared its long neck in surprise, distracted by this new assailant and halted in mid air, its belly exposed once again.
Not about to waste the opportunity, a hasty order to fire was given and another deadly barrage of arrows was unleashed upon the creature. Blood ran more freely from its wounds and it screeched in anger before retreating, leaving its winged brethren to do battle with the other ships as it went away to nurse its injuries.
As it departed, Ariel saw Elrond hurry to the starboard side of the ship. Following his gaze, she realised that he was staring at a ship that had come along side of their own. This was not a vessel of the Teleri and clearly constructed by man. It was noisy, had no sails, stunk of noxious fumes and made entirely of metal. It lacked the refinement or grace of seafaring vessel. The men on board appeared to be wrestling with a length of thick, grey rope, aiming the end of it at the elven ship.
Suddenly, the odd rope stiffened as if the thing had come alive in their hands and released a powerful rush of water. The frothy jet bridged the gulf between the two vessels, dousing the burning mast with powerful streams to battle the fire that was raging out of control. The flames struggled to prevail against the torrents but soon the water claimed victory with the remains of the soggy, blackened sail that was ruined beyond all repair, left in its wake.
It was an odd day for Captain Thaddeus Snow who commanded the Duke Class frigate, HMS Northumberland. It had started well enough when he and his ship spending their leave at Portsmouth where the ship had docked to take on new personnel and supplies. He anticipated returning to their duties in a number of days when he was summoned immediately to London of all places. The summons had seemed like nonsense and the panicked operator had claim that London was under siege, which sounded like more nonsense.
However, it soon became apparent that something was a foot. Refugees were pouring down from the north, fleeing to safer ground relating stories about flying dragons, giant spiders and an army of monsters that were slaughtering everything in sight. Then came the radio blackouts and the intermittent transmissions that further alleged that whatever it was that attacking them, had managed to take out an entire squadron of RAF fighters and the army deployed to fight them on London Bridge was similarly wiped out.
At that point, Thaddeus decided that he'd work out later whether this was the result of mass hysteria or a genuine threat to his homeland and set sail from Portsmouth at best speed, bound for London. Upon reaching the mouth of the Thames, there was no denying something was wrong. Smoke was rising from London, the likes of which he'd never seen before. He'd seen footage of London during the Blitz and the stark similarities made his stomach churn in outrage. His mother used to tell him of how it had been in those days and the idea that London was enduring another such ordeal stabbed at his oath to defend Queen and country.
Wasting no time, he and his crew eagerly sailed down the Thames to source out the cause of all this destruction. It was true no one knew what to expect after listening to all the outlandish claims made by terrified civilians but he was a soldier and a soldier's duty was to protect his homeland.
However, what had staked a claim upon the Thames was beyond his understanding.
Every sailor heard the stories about sea monsters; such tales were as old as the sea herself. While Thaddeus knew of such stories, the discipline of the Royal Navy had precluded him for believing in them. He was a military man all his life and like any good soldier, made the appropriate sacrifices. He was accustomed to seeing all manner of things in his travels across the world and knew the ocean was indeed a lady who never gave up all secrets. He respected her as one respects any beloved mistress.
At least until he saw the tentacle thing that was snatching fleeing civilians from the embankments of the Thames and dragging them beneath the river screaming, until their blood created dark pools in the river before vanishing.
After that, what Thaddeus was inclined to believe was a little less demanding.
They'd prepared to fire on the things, harpoon the blighters, reduced them to cinders with the anti-aircraft missiles mounted on the deck of his ship when they'd seen the dragons in the air and the creatures looked like nothing St. George might have battled. These things were the bloody size of jet planes and moved almost as fast. When they roared, they created plumes of fires, crisscrossing each other in the sky. Fortunately, their attention seemed fixed on something further up river and Thaddeus decided that it was something that ought to be investigated. It could be civilians needing help, the army mounting a defence…anything.
At their fastest speed, they travelled up the Thames, attempting to reach the eye of the storm when they came upon a fleet. It was a fleet like none he'd ever seen before in his life. The memory of its first sighting would follow him into his dreams and probably into death. It was a fleet that made his breath catch in his throat, whose beauty transcended words and reached into of every true son of the sea, bringing tears of wonder and delight to their eyes.
It was beautiful, like something drawn in a painting had sailed right off the canvas into the real world.
It didn't take them long to realize that the crew of these ships were battling the dragons and the creatures in the water. Thaddeus came to the conclusion that if these men were fighting the creatures, then they might know where it was these monstrosities had originated and possibly, how to kill them. Certainly a good deal more effectively then their own lads had tried, if the disjointed reports he'd been hearing through the wireless had been any indication at how the British Army's confrontation with this enemy had ended.
If these people were fighting to stop these creatures than as Thaddeus saw it, they were allies, at least until he knew otherwise.
Elrond recognised the man immediately.
As he stood facing the commander of the vessel that had joined the battle and come to their aid, he was able to see clearly the mortal's features Eru continued to play his tricks upon them all, Elrond thought and a little smile tugged at the corner of his lips, filling him with a sense of comfort that even in these desperate circumstances Eru was guiding them, sending them allies in the most unlikeliest places.
Just as Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth had found them on Valinor, now another son from the Third Age had wandered into this tale. The End of Days, it seemed, was giving opportunity to warriors new and old for one last battle before the world was changed forever. This warrior, Elrond knew as he stood on the deck of his ship, holding the elf lord's gaze across the space between ships, wearing a uniform of dark colours and sporting a white trimmed beard.
In the Third Age, this had been Theoden, son of Thengel, who had fallen at the Pelennor Fields, the king of the Riddermark.
Elrond desired to thank Theoden's reincarnation for the assistance in dousing the flames that had all but consumed the masts of his ship but there was little time to trade such courtesies when the danger was far from over. The gaze of both man and elf darted to the sky in concert as they saw yet another dragon break away from the group to descend sharply towards them. Instead of thanks, it became more expedient to trade warnings. As formidable as the weapons of men were, there were no match for the dragons of Morgoth, who had no vulnerability save one.
"Aim for their belly!" Elrond shouted in perfect English, having learnt enough of the language from Eve during her time on Valinor. "They cannot be harmed anywhere else!"
The man stared back at him in disbelief at first, appearing as if he might protect but then reason prevailed, largely because, Elrond suspected, the unreality of the situation demanded belief in the previously unthinkable.
"We can distract them!" The captain shouted back, having caught on quickly that their previous tactic had worked to their advantage, unplanned as it was.
Elrond agreed. The weapon used earlier was a blunt instrument, all noise and thunder. The elves were capable of delivering the sharpened blow that would end the beast. Together, they might succeed. "Archers!" He called out to the elves on the deck. "Prepare your bows. Do not shoot until I give the word!"
There were choruses of affirmations and once again the elves rearmed their weapons, lifting the arrows to the air, in the direction of the beast sweeping down at them. This time however, the dragon had learned enough from earlier experience to not expose its underbelly. In the First Age, the dragons' fascination with precious stones was so that they could encrust their bellies with jewels to protect themselves from harm. These creatures had no opportunity to make any such modifications during their stay in the Forbidden Vault and yet even without the protection, they were still a force to be reckoned with.
On board the Northumberland, Thaddeus issued similar directives to his crew to discharge a volley of anti-aircraft missiles at the creature, having noted that the earlier shots had distracted it long enough to be wounded.
"FIRE!" He gave the order and the missiles escaped the launch platform with overlapping booms that soon became the rumble of its rocket propelled mechanism soaring through the air. The distance to its target was short and Thaddeus still held up hope that the captain of the other ship was wrong, that no living thing could stand up to the barrage of artillery he had sent its way. However, when they impacted, the explosion caused the creature's flight trajectory to shift drastically. It had been approaching in a dive but the missiles had made it pull up, its pale reptilian underbelly showing.
However, it was unhurt.
Four stinger missiles and the blasted thing did not have a scratch on it.
"SI!" The order came from the other boat and the phalanx of arrows shot through the air, taking a similar path as the missiles. The creature, still disorientated by the exploding artillery, did not see the new assault. The arrows struck home, so many that it was hard to keep count, but each one riddled that pale flesh, weeping blood from dozens of wounds all at once. The dragon bellowed in pain and fury, expelling bursts of smoke and fire as it screamed its outrage and indignation.
"It's working!" Barrows, his first mate declared. "I don't believe it! It's working! Those arrows are bloody hurting it! How the bleeding hell is that possible?"
"I don't know," Thaddeus said shaking his head, "but if those men know how to kill those damn things, then we take their advice until we know better."
On board the USS Connecticut, Captain Isaiah Hill was finding little patience in being unable to continue any further because ballistic missile submarines did not go cruising up major waterway of friendly nations without first alerting someone to that fact.
Wars started that way or at the least dishonourable discharges.
His boat in holding position at the mouth of the Thames because there was no way for the boat to continued. The maximum depth of the Thames was about 36 feet. The beam of the Connecticut was 40. Allowing the Teleri fleet to continue towards the city, Isaiah instead languished in his control room, attempting to contact Norfolk Naval Operations to let them know that London and Europe was about to be held siege by a dark lord from an age of elves, dragons and magic.
Yeah, he didn't hold out much hope for keeping his command either.
Miraculously, Norfolk and by extension, NATO was aware that something was happening, although they weren't totally prepare to commit to what that something was yet even though all evidence pointed to the obvious. Isaiah watched the news footage from the destruction in London and much of this corresponded with what he was being told by his superiors.
They'd received the reports that several Saab Gripens working with the RAF F3s had been downed at Cornwell before something disrupted their communications and kept any further information from reaching them. In an effort to gain intelligence, the Brits had dispatched their Devonshire light infantry into the area who had not been heard from since. By now, they were presumed dead.
Following that, civilians fled north and south in panic, revealing tales that frankly defied belief. Their assailants were claimed to be monsters, giant spiders and dragons. By the time this nameless terror reached London, the communications disruption that had kept the authorities and the country in the dark was lifted. The world saw what was happening to the city as graphic images of London burning because actual fire breathing dragons were razing the city to the ground, dragons that were impervious to all harm. The F3s that had sent against them were soon nothing but flaming wreckage scattered across the city.
London Bridge lay in ruins, parts of it now resting at the bottom of the Thames. Sea creatures had claimed the waters, snatching civilians and dragging them into the depths. A battle had been fought at Southwark with British forces the loser and now the communications blackout had resumed and no one knew what was happening in the city whose pyre could be seen throughout the country.
None of this surprised Isaiah or his crew who had been forced to live with the fantastic for longer than most. The army that Elrond and Cirdan warned of was unleashed upon the world of men and God only knew where it would stop. From inside the control room, he and his men viewed the destruction with muted horror, the new cameras showing the massacre in grisly detail. People were running, screaming in all directions. Shots of the dragons circling the sky made everyone shudder and what they'd seen in Valinor, was playing out here all over again.
"Jesus," Purcelli whispered as he stood in the control room with Hennessy and the others, watching the images playing out on the screen. "It's fucking unreal."
"Real enough," Isaiah frowned turning away from the screen unable to watch any more. "Turn it off," he barked a second later. Watching it was only demoralizing the crew and they had enough trouble without that.
Suddenly, the boat's sonar screamed alert with a loud ping that echoed throughout the ship, making everyone in the control centre jump.
"What it is?" Isaiah demanded.
Harris was already at work, staring at the digitized screen, his hands moving up and down the panel of his workstation, trying to calibrate the instruments to produce a more refined answer. "Working on it sir…" the young officer retorted, eyes shifting back and forth from screen to instruments before answering, "we've got multiple bogeys coming straight at us."
Both Isaiah and Purcelli crossed the deck in a matter of seconds and were leaning over Harris' shoulder to see what was going on. As stated, the sonar screen showed multiple signals on intercept for them. There were at least fifteen blips moving into sonar range. Were the things headed for open water or them?
"Don't fire until we know they're coming after us," Isaiah declared.
"Captain?" Purcelli stared at him in question.
"I'm not setting off a tomahawk missile in the Thames River unless I know that the boat is in imminent danger. Right now, I don't think that's the case. I think they're leaving, they're making for the sea and we're in the way."
"Captain…" Purcelli opened his mouth to protest but closed it before he could voice what was on his mind.
Not that Isaiah needed hear the words to know what Purcelli was thinking. It was a big assumption. However, Isaiah was convinced he was right. The creatures were clearly under direction of this Sauron character the elves were so afraid of and if this was about strategy, then there was nothing served by leaving the Thames and attacking one ship in such great numbers. No, the damn things were leaving, which meant it probably made sense to know where they were going….
"Wait," he said suddenly, a new idea coming to his head. "Belay that torpedo order. Full reverse." He hurried to the central display of the command centre and studied the map of the area. They were presently at the coast of Canvey Island holding position. "Take us around the point of Canvey and then go silent." He ordered after a minute. "Let the biologics pass us." Meeting Purcelli's gaze, he added, "I want to know where they're going."
"Aye Sir," Purcelli nodded, understanding better and knowing how to proceed. "All hands," he spoke into speaker. "We are going silent running. Repeat, we are going silent running." Shutting off the speaker he regarded his captain, "looks like we're hunting the big game."
Considering what they could see approaching them, Isaiah tended to agree. "They don't get much bigger than this."
London was burning and all was well.
Saeran stood at the courtyard of the Bell Tower once again, breathing in the intoxicating aroma of smoke and blood, thrilling to the cries he could still hear riding on the wind. In the distance, he could see the battle with his dragons and the elves, knowing that the while the great beasts may be wounded, their pains served a greater purpose. The dragons were keeping both elf and man busy while he had directed his army away from the city.
Astride Gnash, the winged creature's wings flapped like the beats of a dark heart as it brought Morgul to his master. His Nazgul could have swooped into the battle and ended the conflict with the elves with far more efficiency than the dragons but at the present, Saeran had need of their attentions elsewhere and it was an expenditure of time worth the price of a few wounds that would heal soon enough.
Morgul dismounted his mount and approached Saeran, head bowed. "All is prepared," he spoke. "The army is bound for Dover."
"Good," Saeran nodded. "Let them cross into Calais. The Uruks have emerged from their byre?"
"Yes," Morgul nodded, "I have sent Khamul and Dwaw to command them. They will ensure everything is ready for your arrival."
Saeran allowed himself a smile. "All our agents have awakened," he said as a matter of factly. With his new found power, he could feel them all. Not just the ones he had freed from the Forbidden Vaults but the ones who had been hiding for so many years. His rally of war had reached across the world, to the places where ancient beasts had hidden themselves in waiting, asleep in the bowels of the earth for the right master to draw them into the light again.
"Yes," Morgoth nodded, feeling the same connection in the shadow realm. Morgoth's creatures who had dug deep to avoid obliteration by the Valar at the end of the First Age, who had never answered to Sauron in the Third, now recognized their creator's power in his most trusted lieutenant. They would come because now Sauron had earned their loyalty. "The drakes are awakening in the north and even now they are breaking through the ice."
"Stay close to orcs and the trolls until we can update their weaponry," Saeran instructed. "Men still cannot withstand the power of your Black Breath and we must use to that cripple them. We will push them to the edge of desperation Morgul, until they have no recourse but to use their weapons of mass destruction. Let them burn this planet to a cinder and exterminate their race and the elves for all time. We will be there to pick up the pieces."
When it was all said and done, the irony of the situation would not be lost on those left behind. In the effort to send the children north to safety, they had only brought them closer to the enemy in London. Of course, by then such hindsight was too late and only the tragedy remained.
Jason had stopped at the small pub in St Ives, where he'd ensured they had a nice meal in the restaurant area even though on first glance, the place did not immediately recommend itself as an establishment for fine dining. Nevertheless, children had an indiscriminate palette and so long as fish and chips were on the menu, Jason was able to feed them something. Unfortunately, what appetite they were able to manage was soon swept away when the locals began gathering around the television, watching the broadcasts of what was transpiring in London.
Jason learnt that there had been 'trouble with the telly' all morning and even the wireless seemed to spitting out information in stops and starts. However, the resumption of programming gave no comfort to those watching. Scenes of death, carnage and violence was played out for the whole of England, perhaps even the world to see as what happened to Tirion in Valinor was now being repeated in the street of London.
The reaction ran the gamut from disbelief to terror and finally the only sensible thing for Jason to do, is to urge the kids to try and finish their meals before ushering them out of the place. The two children were terrified enough about losing their parents without being exposed to the rising fear of the residents as well. It wasn't as if Sam and Pip hadn't seen what had happened in Tirion; they had. To know that the destruction had chased them back to England could not be helping.
Besides, Jason wanted to get them to the safety of his family friends in Gloucester so that he could head back to find his best friend, to fight alongside Eric if possible and if necessary, die with him. Jason was blind to that outcome becoming a reality. He had never been a soldier but he knew there were causes worth dying for; that people were worth saving specially now that there were elves in this world and there was magic in the future.
Leaving St Ives, they travelled along the coast on roads that were considered little more that trails really. The cell phone they'd picked up when they landed in England again was barely picking up a signal though Jason didn't know if this was due to the same disturbance that was affecting radio and television broadcasts or because they were in an area with poor service. He considered calling Miranda and Frank to let them talk to Sam and Pip to cheer the little ones but abandoned the idea. He didn't want to disappoint the children if they were confronted with poor reception and couldn't get through.
They'd been on the road for almost two hours after leaving St Ives, their progress slower because they were avoiding the motorways, although the frequency of cars had not abated. What was going on in the south was certainly affecting people even here. Nearing Crow, the North Atlantic and Warren Bay flanked them, revealing a stretch of uninspiring beach that disappeared into a rocky shore followed by jagged cliffs that seemed bleak as they were grim. Looking at this vista, Jason could well believe that this was the country where Bronte had written her gothic novels.
With the ocean on one side, the hilly forested terrain of Kings Head Coppice on the other, the sun had reached its zenith in the sky and was setting, dragging shadows of late afternoon behind him. Jason wasn't even sure what he was seeing until seconds before the attack came. What emerged through the trees had done so with such speed there wasn't even time to swerve, just shout at Sam and Pip to hold on a split second before impact.
The last thing that Jason remembered thinking before everything became chaos was; it's a wolf.
The beast that easily dwarfed the modest hatchback they were driving, slammed against the side of the car with such force that vehicle skidded sideways across the road before flipping over the shoulder and tumbling down the small incline to the beach. It came to a shuddering halt when its bulk reached sand and sunk into the grainy surface.
It took a few seconds for Jason to recover and when he did, he couldn't shake the disorientation completely. He had trouble breathing and when he coughed, pain lanced through his chest like a hot knife and blood passed his lips, running rivulets down the corner of his mouth. The pain was radiating outward from beneath the muscle and when he tried to move his arm, there was difficulty flexing his fingers without more pain. He was badly hurt and he knew it but he couldn't even think about that when he remembered Sam and Pippin.
Brushing broken fragments of windscreen of his shirt, he turned over and uttered a small groan as the pain stabbed at him. Sam and Pip were strapped in and looked as dazed as he had a moment ago. However, he saw no serious injuries on them other than a nasty gash on Sam's cheek from the shattered side window and Pippin was whimpering in fear. Jason let out a silent prayer of thanks that neither child was more affected than that though the trauma of the collision couldn't be easy to cope with either.
Jason shot a glance up the hill to see the wolf standing there, surveying the scene. He sucked in a breath, feeling a surge of fear running through him. The thing was as big as bloody house, he thought and even though he knew it was a wolf, he knew that this was one of Saeran's monsters. Not the one that Ariel had shot dead on Anemone but something worse and instinctively, he knew that it was here for Sam and Pip. As he saw those yellow eyes narrowing its gaze as it fixed on them, something in Jason snapped and he started out of the car, ignoring the pain, ignoring the gush of blood that surged up his lungs and threatened to choke him, rushing out to act before the creature came down and slaughtered them all.
Kicking the door open, he stumbled out of the driver's side as it started to climb down the hill. Another grunt of pain escaped him when he tried to stand but ignoring it, he hobbled over to the trunk which gratefully opened without any trouble because the wolf almost upon him. Bryan had insisted that he carry a decent cache of weapons when they'd left and at the time Jason thought he might have been overreacting, however in retrospect, he guessed the former MI6 knew what he was talking about. Just because they were heading away from danger didn't meant danger wouldn't stay away.
Now you get it Jace, a voice that sounded not unlike Eric, snorted inside his head.
Grabbing the first weapon he saw, a Sterling submachine gun they'd taken from the destroyed police station in Sennen Cove, Jason cocked the weapon and turned the barrel on the wolf.
At the sight of the weapon, it halted its purposeful advance and instead seemed to stroll leisurely towards Jason, as if it was unconcerned by the threat of the human in front of it. Jaw agape, dripping with saliva, Jason never thought it possible that any animal could look evil. Animals acted in accordance with their nature; there was any malice in it but this thing…this thing looked like it could be the devil himself. Worse than that, it looked as if it was considering how to attack.
The wolf paused a few feet away from Jason who though puzzled by the action, was not about to waste the opportunity and tightened his finger around the trigger, preparing to fire when suddenly, the wolf lifted its head and spoke.
"Give me the children of the Shield Bitch and you may live…"
The barrel dropped slightly in Jason's hand out of sheer shock.
It was talking. The wolf was talking! He could hear words coming out from it, clear as day. Its voice was unearthly, half way between a growl and the tremor of the heaving earth, unnatural, but nevertheless a voice.
"You are sack of flesh full of broken bones. I can smell your blood leaking into your ruined organs." The wolf sneered. "How long do you think you can protect them? Shall we wait here until you bleed the death and I take them anyway."
"SHUT UP!" Jason shouted. "Come one step closer and I'll blow your fucking head off. I don't give a fuck if you can talk or not!" What the creature said had struck home far more deeply than Jason would have liked. He knew he was in bad shape and the fucking beast was right. It only had to wait him out.
Jason saw something move in the corner of his eyes and a sidelong glance told him that on the top of the hill, Jason knew that the wolf wasn't alone. There were smaller versions of it waiting, watching the outcome of this brief détente between him and their leader.
"Do not be foolish," Draugluin hissed. "I am the greatest of the werewolves. I went to my first death by a hero of the First Age, now returned to serve my master's most power lieutenant. He desires the children of his enemy, brought to him unharmed. What chance do you think you have against me? If you leave them, you may go. My master gave no instructions for you. Step aside and survive in what time is left to you and your world."
"I said shut up!" Jason shouted and pulled the trigger intending to provide a warning for the animal to scatter. He reasoned that these creatures from the past had no idea about guns and bullets. Hopefully the noise would frighten them away, keep this from becoming a fight.
The explosion of sound felt like reality had been ripped violently in half and it echoed throughout the beach, causing the wolves on the top of the hill to retreat out of sight. However, their pack master remained where it was, unimpressed and even more sinister if such a thing was possible. It seemed that this wolf was not so easily frightened and stared at Jason with yellow eyes, daring him to do his worst.
Inside the dented car, the sound of gunfire shook Sam out of his disorientation. He looked through the broken glass of the back windscreen, to peer at the sight of Uncle Jason facing off the biggest wolf the boy had ever seen. It was like a giant, Sam thought before he turned to Pip, remembering that it was his job to take care of his little brother. Pip was crying and the sound made Sam's heart clench in his chest. It was too much like when those terrible Ringwraiths had stolen them from mum and dad. Sam had sworn then that he never wanted to hear his brother cry like that again but now here they were, in similarly dire circumstances.
"Pip," he whispered urgently, trying not to draw the attention of the monsters outside of the car. "Pip you have to stop crying. We need to get out of here." He explained.
Pippin Miller was still trapped to his child seat and was terribly frightened. He wanted mum because mum knew how to keep him safe but she wasn't here and neither was dad. In their absence, Sam was the next best thing and his brother's insistent voice made him bring his tears to a stuttering end. "What…what…happened?" He asked.
"We were in an accident," Sam said sighing with relief, reaching over to undo the straps of the seat. He had often helped Pippin out of his seat in it in the past to help mum when she was busy taking the shopping into the house. "Come on, we've got to go. Can you move?"
Pippin tried experimentally to flex his foot one after the other and nodded. "Uh huh."
"Good," Sam smiled at his brother, hiding his own fears as he took Pippin's and tried to climb out of the vehicle without notice. "I want you to just look at me Pip," he instructed his brother. "Don't look at anything else, just me, just keep your eyes on my back, okay?"
"Why?" Pippin asked, starting to become agitated, his eyes wanting to look away from his brother.
"Because I said," Sam repeated himself. Pippin was very small and afraid. If he saw what Uncle Jason was facing, it would be too much for him. "Please?"
Pipping nodded, swallowing and obeyed his brother as they started to move out of the car.
"One more step and it won't be a warning shot, do you hear me?" Jason warned, raising the gun barrel once more, this time ready to kill the thing if it didn't move off. As it was, he didn't know why he didn't already start shooting. Because you don't know if you can hold out if it comes down to a fight. His head was starting to pound and he felt weaker. The sound of the others growling on the hill became muted and he wondered if they were reacting to the scent of the kids. He needed time, time for them to get away from this creature that was undoubtedly here on that fucking ring wraith's orders.
Figures the bastard would come for Miranda's children.
"I can smell your fear human," Draugluin continued to goad. "It makes the flesh so much saltier, tasty. I will enjoy tearing the skin from your bones after you are dead…"
This time, there was no warning shot. Jason fired, cutting off anything else it had to The bullets tore through the creature's flank as it raised its massive head and uttered a roar of pain, a sound so terrible it almost felt like the thunder eclipsing the roar of the ocean as it crashed on the rocks not far away. It growled outraged at Jason before retreating up the embankment, disappearing behind the hill. Its departure should have made Jason grateful but he wasn't. He didn't know why the creature had run away but he knew he hadn't hurt it enough to chase it off. It would be back and soon.
With little time to waste, he limped back to the car to see Sam and Pip emerging from the vehicle. While bloody and bruised, they were walking and Jason was grateful for that. They were in better shape than he was.
"Jason!" Sam cried out. "Where are the monsters?"
"Nevermind that," he said reaching into the driver's seat and searching for the cell phone that had been on the dashboard when the car had been run off the road, stopping to glance over his shoulder to see if the thing had come back. He found it lodged under his car seat and grabbed it. Turning back to Sam, he pressed the device in the little boy's hand. "I need you to take this and run, head for those rocks over there." He gestured to the rocks around which the tide was swirling around. "You'll get a bit wet but the water will confuse their scent okay?"
"But…but...what about you?" Pip started to stutter.
"I'll be right behind you," he said dismissively and saw Sam staring at him hard. The boy knew he was lying.
"You have to go now," Jason ordered as he heard the growls return and this time, there wasn't just one, it was all of them. The bastard was coming back in force. "Go!" He barked, "before they come back!"
"Uncle Jason," Pip hugged him around the waist and just that embrace nearly made Jason spew more blood. "Don't leave us alone. "The child begged and hearing it was a knife in his heart but he knew the score. He'd sworn to Miranda they'd be safe and if it was the last thing he did, he'd keep that promise.
"Sam..." Jason started to pull away, agonised by that plea but ignoring it because this was the only way. "You need to take Pip and go now."
Sam nodded, saying little but understanding all too well what was being asked of him. He took Pip by the hand, slipping the cell phone in his jacket before they started running towards the rocks at the shore. Jason watched them go, praying he had made the right decision. There was no help that could get here in time and he knew, he was no longer in any shape to protect them. Besides, it was more than just his promise to Miranda and Frank, there was something deep inside of him that couldn't let them be hurt, even though he was shit scared and was starting to understand that he might not survive the next hour.
Legolas would say it had to do with being a part of the Fellowship and maybe it was but one thing Jason did know for certain; he couldn't keep up with Sam and Pippin, not in the shape he was in. He'd slow them down and get them killed.
For them to survive, he needed to even the odds a little.
Hurrying back to the trunk of the car, he grabbed another magazine of bullets before spotting something else amongst the weapons that Bryan had left him. He stared at it for a second, a plan solidifying in his head. Considering the outcome, Jason found that it was oddly liberating. He glanced again at the children running for dear life towards the rocky shore and knew that he had to give them their escape. Taking a deep breath, he strengthened his resolve and chased away the terror that was lurking in the back of his mind, threatening to take charge of him.
The beast reappeared and ended any further debate. Jason grabbed what he needed and climbed back into the vehicle, using it as armour for as long as he could. This time there was no waiting. He unleashed deadly barrage of gunfire on the wolves as they came down the hill.
Only when they charged at him, did Jason realise why the big bastard had retreated. It sent its smaller companions ahead, allowing them to take the brunt of the barrage. Jason watched them tumble down the incline as the bullets ripped into them. They let out yelps of pain as their legs buckled beneath them and they rolled down the hill in balls of sand and fur. Their bodies landing with an ugly squelch of bone when they reached the bottom.
The leader, the one who claimed to be father of all werewolves had smartly sacrificed the others like pawns in a chess game, barrelling over the bodies of its fallen comrades, seemingly oblivious to their passing. Its jaws widened in anticipation of the kill and the wolves that did make it to the beach started to veer away from Jason and the car. He didn't let them get any further than that, cutting them down just as savagely as the others, refusing to leave any of them alive so they could go after Sam and Pip.
Jason was wasting his bullets and he knew it but Jason was no marksman, he was a blunt instrument at best and right now, he was hoping to take out as many of the damn things as he could to give Sam and Pipping the best chance of survival.
The rest of the pack had fallen to the wall of bullets but Draugluin was known for his craftiness and he allowed the others to lead the charge because they were most useful as fodder. By the time, Draugluin came upon the metal shell in which the human had chosen to hide, his brothers were dead but it did not matter. The great wolf leapt atop the vehicle, his meaty paws leaving dents in the already crushed car. He ripped the top of the car away like it was nothing, flinging the cover to the side, like a child discarding a toy he no longer wished to play with.
Jason looked up and saw the wolf peel the top of the car away it was paper and knew that there was no escape. He was dead anyway. He could feel it inside. It was becoming harder to breathe and the pain in his chest had become this heaviness he knew to be his lungs filling with blood. He'd lasted as long as he could and at least the other wolves had gone. All he had left to do was deal with was this monster.
The Sterling had a few shells left but not nearly enough to take out a behemoth like the creature poised to lunge above him. The massive creature was staring at him with menacing glee apparent in its yellow eyes. Spittle from its open jaws fell against his skin and the heat of its breath made the hair on his head sway a little. He could smell the wolf's fetid breath and was certain he smelled rancid human flesh on its enormous teeth.
"You could have walked free human," Draugluin sneered, unable to resist a last opportunity to gloat, "it mattered little to me whether you lived or not but you dared to slay my brothers. For that I will make you beg me for your death when I peel your skin off your flesh like a ripe fruit. You would have died anyway but now I shall make sure you die in agony."
Jason swallowed thickly, ignoring the taunts meant to frighten him because his fingers were moving furtively out of sight as he pulled the pin on the hand grenade attached to belt that carried a half dozen more like it. Bryan knew he wasn't a soldier that giving him sophisticated weapons that required expertise was pointless. No, the former spy had given him weapons that were easy to use, with maximum efficiency. Jason wished he could have thanked the man for that.
Looking up at the beast, he thought he might see his life flash by his eyes in some dramatic fashion but there was nothing of the sort, just this feeling of sadness knowing that there would be no tomorrows, no way to say goodbye to those who mattered.
See you in the next life, you dumb Aussie, Jason thought to himself as he saw the wolf lunge and spat out words he knew would have made Eric Rowan proud.
"I hope you fucking choke on me."
The explosion that erupted a second after Jason uttered his final words was so large that it tore the car and everything in it apart. A large fireball followed, engulfing what remained in a conflagration so fierce that it rose up in the sky like a phoenix taking flight, for all to see. It was a fitting pyre for Jason Merrick, once known to all as the hobbit Merry in the company of the Fellowship, who now went into legend with the great hero Beren as a slayer of Draugluin, the sire of all werewolves.