Chapter 5 – Best Interests -
"With me, you will never know reason. I will blind you to everything else and drive you to kill your enemy. What am I? You are Rage"
Kathryn ran. She had never run so fast in all her life, desperate to keep her feet moving as fast as they could, ignoring the tattered rags of her dress as it caught around her knees and threatened to trip her at any second.
It only took her twenty minutes to find her way out of the fortress. When Smaug had invaded the Lonely Mountain so many years ago, he'd carved a direct path through the mountain kingdom. Doors had been smashed open, walls had buckled and cracked to fit the monster's great girth. He'd practically made an easy access tunnel. Thror, in his treasure-induced madness, had greedily wanted his precious vault of riches close by his throne. From the doors to the central chamber, it was almost a straight line forwards and upwards past the ancient throne room and through the entrance hall and she was out!
Kathryn hissed and covered her eyes against the bright sunlight. Her eyes stung as she struggled to adjust from the days in the dark with nothing but artificial light of the treasure and Smaug's fire. Blinking rapidly, she managed to clear her vision enough to gather her bearings and recognise her surroundings.
The Ruined City wasn't that far off, maybe an hour or two. She could probably make it if she ran and hid amongst the buildings. No. She remembered how well that one worked out for her last time. Besides, it was the first option and also the first place Smaug would look when he awoke. What about if she made it to Laketown? She could follow the River Running to the huge lake and make her way there. No. That would take far too long, during which time Smaug could find her and pick her off in the open terrain; and Laketown was made of wood – kind of a bad idea to draw a Dragon's attention there.
Looking off to her right, she saw a small woodland a small distance off from the mountain. It was a little to the west, perhaps a mile or so off. Just a sparse sprinkling of trees at the mountain base. The trees might offer her shelter and camouflage, the branches and thick trunks would make it difficult for Smaug to land or get low enough to snatch her up. And it was heading west, far away from here, perfect! Kathryn ran again, skirting around the gigantic statues of dwarves that flanked either side of the front gates. Cutting over the hills that could lead to Ravenhill, Kathryn hoicked up her skirts to enable her to run as fast as possible. This was when her life on the road came in handy: her endurance was enough to keep her going at a steady, brisk pace as she trekked ever closer towards the woods.
She wasn't far from the shadows of the trees when she began to tire. Her arms felt heavy, her bones like iron, the muscles in her calves and thighs screamed with renewed burning pain with every step. Her breathing was shaky and laboured as her mouth grew dry. She needed to stop, but her instincts kept screaming at her to keep going! Until she was within the midst of the trunks she wouldn't be safe enough to rest, and maybe not even then. She even doubted she would be safe if she went as far as the Grey Havens of the elves. An hour had passed since she'd made it through the front gates. How much longer would she be afforded before the hunt began?
That was when she heard it.
Smaug's blood curdling scream of fury and outrage blasted across the landscape, echoing off out into the horizon. Kathryn felt her heart seize as she heard the vengeful roar that thirsted for blood – her blood. Suddenly finding her motivation once again, Kathryn sprinted the rest of the way, crying out with relief as she reached the treeline, her arms grasping onto a nearby trunk in an attempt to keep her standing. The sting of splinters in her arms was a welcome sensation if it meant she'd made it.
With another thunderous roar, Kathryn saw Smaug erupt from the mountain in a ball of smoke and fire, even from this distance she could see his flame yellow eyes glowing with seething rage. He roared again once he realised that his prey was not in his immediate vicinity. Wings spread, tail lashing, claws gouging into the earth, a torrent of fire streamed from his jaws towards the heavens. He launched himself into the sky, driving his wings down, creating a powerful shockwave of air that battered the earth below him as he soared upwards. As Kathryn had predicted, Smaug went first to the Ruined City, thinking that that would be the first place she would go. It would take him a while to realise that she wasn't there, but not long. Then he would return to the entrance of the mountain and force himself to calm down in order to track her properly.
Kathryn didn't think she had enough time to get away. Mirkwood might be the safest place for her now, but it was too far. She needed days to reach it. A hiding place had to make itself available now. She was seriously starting to regret her decision. Perhaps it would have been better to stay in misery than face the horrors that would surely await her come her inevitable recapture. It had been a rash and desperate decision made by a rash and desperate woman. But now she had to deal with the consequences, she couldn't go back and just apologise; she needed to make the most of what she had.
Turning around, Kathryn took a deep breath to try and steady her heaving sides as she began to walk deeper into the forest. Autumn had fully set in now, a bitter chill running through with the wind, the trees bare to only leave the branches like hooked claws reaching for her. Kathryn trudged through, ignoring the shiver down her spine as she went, she just had to keep going, pushing herself further and further in.
And then she realised how quiet it had become.
Even though most animals would have migrated or been in preparation for hibernation, Kathryn had still heard the noise of the woods as she had entered. Winter birds had called to one another, squirrels and chipmunks scurried about, owls hooted as the late afternoon sun drew into evening. But now, everything was deathly silent, as if the whole forest were holding its breath.
Then she heard the distant sound of wing beats.
Terror seized her heart, and Kathryn ran through the trees, jumping over roots, swerving around trunks, tearing up the ground in her wake as she ran for her life.
She looked around her, her tired body already soon wearing down as she pushed herself to run, but adrenaline could only get her so far. She needed a place to hide. But there were no caves, only a rock formation to the south of a small pond in a clearing up ahead. The only thing that she could see for shelter were trees, trees and more bloody trees!
Kathryn looked over her shoulder to see how close her pursuer was. She managed to see him just in time as a gigantic dark shadow came shooting towards her, coming closer and closer. On the long snake-like neck, Smaug's head swivelled this way and that as he searched the ground. Brilliant white flashed inside his mouth when he bared his fangs. He hadn't seen her yet, she still had a second or so to hide before he did.
Having no other choice, Kathryn sprinted forward with her last reserves of energy, and clamped her mouth shut as she leapt into the air over the pond. She straightened her body in the hopes of creating as little resistance between her and the water possible. With hardly a splash, she plunged into the water.
Searing cold almost made her freeze instantaneously. Kathryn would have cried out but kept a firm hold of her jaw so as not to drown. She sunk lower into the water, going to the slope of the back and holding onto the exposed roots of trees to anchor her under. Already her fingers were going numb, and she could feel the pain in her limbs where her blood was so cold. She looked up, eyes open and squinted to see through the murky water. Her hair wavered in the water all around her, partially obscuring her already poor vision in this underwater world. She kept her eyes trained on the surface above, waiting.
Aware of the resemblance of this reality to her vision, Kathryn did a quick check of the depths to make sure Smaug wasn't lurking below her, but she could see nothing.
She saw the light of the overcast sky above as a grey blotch on the water. And she saw a shadow pass over it.
Kathryn waited a few moments longer, her lungs screaming for air until they burned. Black spots dotted at the edges of her vision and her brain began to hurt from the pressure of the air inside her. Then with a huge release, Kathryn kicked off of the bottom of the lake, surging towards the surface. the breath she'd been holding pushed out of her in a fountain of bubbles.
She surfaced with a huge gasp, coughing as stray droplets of water were sucked down her throat with her eager breath. Lips turned blue, and already shaking, Kathryn used her stiff limbs to paddle to the shore, dragging herself onto land. Mud sucked at her limbs, the grime of dead leaves and rotten wood splinters sticking to her wet flesh. Kathryn paid it no mind as she collapsed. She lay there, heaving to regain her lost breath, her soaking hair now a brown-rust colour from the water. The rags of her dress clung to her body, making her more aware of the cold that seemed to be all around her. She felt so tired…
Suddenly sharp pain yanked on her scalp. Head jerked back, she hissed, reaching a hand to her head to find a hand clenching a fist around her long locks. Before she could react, Kathryn felt more hands on her arms as she was hauled roughly to her feet.
Opening her eyes, kicking and struggling, Kathryn came face to face with three armed men in leather armour. The one that held her hair – Kathryn assumed him to be the leader – was bald with a square jaw and rusty eyes. The one holding Kathryn's arm in one hand and the other around her waist in order to keep her standing, had greasy black hair coming down to his shoulders, stubble on his chin and a hooked nose. The one on Kathryn's left had hair as red Kathryn's – although greasy like his companion – and had a long scar that cut through his cheek and down his jaw on the left side. From the dirt that seemed to be smeared into their pours, the low standard armour and being armed to the teeth with an arsenal of different weapons, an unsettling realisation came to Kathryn.
Bandits, she thought with a hiss.
The leader studied Kathryn, his rusty eyes studying every inch of her face. She didn't like the way he stared, as if he were looking at a piece of meat, and his grip on her hair tightened.
"You're a long way from home, girl," he said in a cracked voice as if it had had years without use. "What ya doin' 'ere?"
"None of your damned business," Kathryn hissed, although she was cut off when the bald leader pulled her hair a little tighter, making her wince. "Let me go!"
"I reckon it is my business seein' as we pulled your sorry, shivering ass from the lake,"
"To which I thank you sir," Kathryn muttered sarcastically. "But you must let me go! Now!"
"I don't know love," the bald man leered at her. "Don't you know there's a dragon flyin' round these parts? A woman such as yourself might get hurt, best to stay with us for a little… protection,"
"I doubt that," Kathryn scowled.
"What do you want done with her, Karst?" said the black haired man, his voice thickened by a stiff accent.
"Bring her back to camp," the bald man – Karst – muttered as he removed his hand from Kathryn's soaking hair. "Would be nice to have a little womanly company for a change," he added with a raised eyebrow as he evaluated her body with his eyes.
Katryn steeled herself against an involuntary tremble.
"She could be trouble Karst," the black haired man said.
"What's the matter Bensen? You scared of a little girl?" Karst eyed his companion with disgust. The black haired man – Bensen – shifted a little but said nothing. "Bensen, take the girl. Cutter, watch our backs for that flyin' lizard,"
The red haired man – Cutter – nodded, releasing Kathryn's arm to retrieve his bow. He watched the sky, arrow already notched and at the ready. Bensen took both Kathryn's upper arms in his big, strong hands and pushed her forward, directing her as they followed Karst with Cutter bringing up the rear.
They came to the rock formations that Kathryn had seen earlier, a small cliff formation pushed up from the earth. Kathryn's eyes constantly shifted from the Bandits around her to the sky above, her ears straining for the slightest sounds of wing-beats or a distant roar. But nothing, the forest was oddly quiet. As they approached the rock, Kathryn saw a thin crack in the wall, barely large enough for a man to walk through. Kathryn wouldn't have noticed it before at all if she didn't watch Karst walk through it into a form of cave, and then she noticed the flickering light from inside as if from a fire. Feeling the cold in her body again suddenly return at the thought of warmth, Kathryn began to shake and eagerly allowed Bensen to take her through the opening and into the small cave.
A man with short, scraggly blond hair sat by a fire, he couldn't have been no more than sixteen. He looked up as the group entered, and grinned to reveal crooked teeth and an angled jaw.
"Karst," the boy said, almost heartily. "I was beginning to think you'd been carried off,"
"Not bloody likely, Lesk," Karst chuckled as he came to sit leisurely by the warm fire.
"Where do you want the girl, Karst?" Bensen asked grumpily. At the sound of the word 'girl', Lesk looked up and locked his eyes on Kathryn, a grin spreading across his face as he beheld her.
"Oi-oi-oi! What's this then?" he called out.
"Little fish we pulled out of the water," Karst chuckled. He then looked at Bensen with a bored expression. "Put her in the back, tie her hands."
"Nothing followed us," Cutter said as he entered the cave.
"Cutter," Lesk sneered, an almost disappointed tone entering his voice. "I was beginning to hope you'd been gobbled up."
"Only by your mother," Cutter grinned when Lesk turned purple with outrage, standing as he withdrew a knife and –
"Enough, both of you," Karst barked. Both men glared at each other before sitting on opposite sides of the fire.
But Kathryn ignored them as Bensen took her to the back of the cave, placing her against the wall. A whimper escaped her when she realised she would receive none of the delicious heat of the fire from this far away. Bensen held both her wrists in one of his hands and wound a rope around her wrists with the other. When she was secured, he merely left her, pausing only to kick a huge bundle of leather in one corner. Kathryn stared as the bundle began to move, grumbling and growling as it began to sit up, so tall it's head almost brushed the ceiling. It looked around, almost sleepily, until it turned its face to Kathryn and –
"Shit!" Kathryn gasped, kicking herself away from the huge creature that sat not a few feet from her. The troll-like creature growled at her, baring its fangs from its black, slobbering mouth, its beady eyes fixed on her with hate. She squirmed to be as far away from the troll as possible. The others snickered but otherwise did nothing.
Everyone was silent as they watched the fire, and Kathryn dared to scoot a little closer. For the briefest moment, it allowed the warmth of the flames to seep into her body slowly but surely. Over time the smoke dried her hair somewhat and took some of the moisture out of her clothes. She then noticed that no one was paying attention to her, and so quietly shifted so that her hands were between her knees in an almost casual manner, making her seem relaxed, but hiding her hands from view as her fingers silently worked at the knots that bound her.
Knowing that they might discover her, Kathryn looked about for something to distract them. She was going to try and provoke another argument between Cutter and Lesk, but suddenly caught a whiff of a dreadful stench that seemed to underlay the scent of the smoke of the fire. Looking over to the corner by the monstrous Olog-Hai, she noticed a thick sack with a large round bundle that Kathryn couldn't quite make out the shape of. But she could guess it was something rather awful. A black smear stained the bottom of the bag, and as she her stomach twisted in repulsion when she realised it was blood.
"What's in the bag?" Kathryn asked, wrinkling her nose at the smell.
"Troll head," Cutter answered. "Customer in Framsburg wants it. Found it down near the Mountains of Mirkwood,"
Ah. So they were mercenaries. "Strange," Kathryn thought aloud. "Trolls haven't been down from the mountains for an age,"
"That's what I said," Bensen muttered.
"Shut up, the pair of you," Karst snapped from where he'd tried to lay down and catch some sleep.
They were silent, but after a while, Kathryn asked: "You're going to Framsburg?"
"Cutter is," said Bensen quietly. "He'll get the reward money whilst the rest of us head to the Iron hills; heard there's work there for security in the mines,"
"What?" Kathryn felt her blood run cold. "We're heading back east? N-no! That's the wrong direction!"
"We know the way, girl!" Karst growled at her. "Now shut it."
"No, you can't take me with you! You can't!" Kathryn felt her blood pumping in her ears with fear. If she headed back east towards Erebor, then she would just be heading straight back into Smaug's waiting claws!
"I said SHUT IT!" Karst bellowed at her.
"I will not!"
On his feet now, Karst stormed towards her, until he drew so close, he leaned his face into hers. The rotting food between his teeth overpowered her nose and she could see every stinking, greasy flake of skin on his face. "Shut your mouth or I'll find something to shut it with!"
She spat in his face.
Karst recoiled, and then glared at her with murder in his eyes. The woman had only a moment to realise what she'd done. With all the power he possessed, Karst hit her across the face. Kathryn felt her cheek erupt in pain as she was knocked to the ground. She could feel her bonds were coming loose, but she needed just a little more time! Her face stung from the blow and she felt a little dizzy as she tried to push herself up with her elbows. She heard Karst mutter something although she couldn't understand what he –
Kathryn gasped as she felt a huge hand wrap around her throat and lift her into the air. Her purple eyes went wide as she saw the Olog-Hai standing beside Karst, his grip on her throat light but firm enough to constrict the air she breathed. Kathryn clung to his fingers with her bound hands, trying to dislodge him.
"Drop her," Karst demanded. The Olog-hai did as instructed, dropping Kathryn. The rocky floor scrapped the skin off her knees and palms when she hit it. She tried to scramble away but a boot kicked at her stomach. Breath from her lungs exploded out of her mouth. She couldn't scream, could barely remember how to breathe. The blow rolled her onto her back. Karst's hand gripped her hair and pulled her head back, exposing her throat to him. He pinned her with his knees on either side of her hips, the other hand holding her wrists as he glared down at her.
Kathryn froze. Her blood turned to ice, her body went stiff and her breathing becoming erratic as she realised how vulnerable she was at this precise moment.
"You got spirit on you girl," Karst whispered in her ear, and Kathryn's skin crawled as she felt his breath lick over her neck as he leaned in close. "I like that. But some girls need to know their place."
Releasing her hair, he used his now free hand to try and lift the tattered remains of her skirts –
Realising what he was doing, Kathryn erupted into a panic attack. Feet kicking out madly, she struggling against him, trying to keep out of his reach as he made to grab her. She bucked and writhed, horror making her sob in denial for the evil he was about to commit. One of her knees connected with his groin, and he groaned, but held her wrists tighter as he seethed. Releasing her skirts, he slapped her across the face again, igniting new pain in her as she was knocked aside. Her head hit the wall, causing a flash of blinding pain across her vision.
Dazed, she absently felt something warm and sticky trickle down her temple. Disorientation passed, and she was aware of laying on the floor, and Karst had her properly pinned. When she tried to extract herself from his loathsome touch, nothing happened, and panic began to engulf her as she felt something build up in her throat. Karst hoisted up her skirts and air hit her inner thighs. Terror took hold. Hyperventilating, she struggled and writhed and –
Finally, she screamed.
The answering roar was so loud that trees outside creaked and cracked in the hot, dry wind that was created as if from nowhere, blowing into the cave and whipping at the flames of the fire, making it flicker and almost go out. A deathly silence filled the cave as everyone looked to the opening, not daring to breathe, not moving a muscle.
But Kathryn knew that roar, and prayed to the Valar that it was him!
A huge shockwave passed through the earth as something landed heavily in the clearing by the lake not too far off. Then, they heard the heavy footfalls of giant feet as they struck the ground, walking slowly. The sound of deep inhales echoed as the creature outside scented the air. A gigantic, red reptilian foot passed by the opening crack. It walked on slowly, the thunder of a growl vibrating the air as the great dragon searched for his prey. Seeing that flash of familiar brilliant crimson, Kathryn felt something dawn inside her – hope.
"Sma–!" her quick cry for help was suddenly cut short when a pale faced Karst covered her mouth with his hand.
But outside, Smaug heard the little noise, and he froze upon hearing the first part of his name on that unmistakable voice. Head whipping back around, his fiery gaze fell upon the small crack in the rocks that he had not noticed before...
Inside, Kathryn could only hear the silence, she couldn't even hear the massive creature breathing. She hoped and prayed that he had heard her, that he had not left to search somewhere else. Though mere minutes ago she had been desperate to be anywhere that the dragon wasn't, the truth was ultimately made clear to her now that he was her best chance of survival now. Smaug was horrid and egotistical and selfish, but he would not violate her body or other unspeakable horrors. The worst he could do to her was give her death. And there were far worse fates than that.
They all waited on baited breath as the silence outside grew.
Finally, unable to stand the tension, Karst motioned to Lesk, jerking his head towards the cave entrance. Lesk turned a paler shade of white, licking his suddenly dry lips as he shook like a leaf. Karst glared at him, and that seemed to awaken something in the boy. A tremble in his hands, he slowly withdrew a slingshot and grabbed a rock off the floor. Held taught in his sweaty hands, Lesk dared to move forward.
They all watched him as he slowly shuffled forward, eyes searching out into the darkening world beyond as much as the entrance would allow. He looked back at Karst pleadingly, but Karst just jutted his chin forward for him to go. Lesk swallowed loudly, knees knocking together, before stepping out into the light. He looked around, wide eyed with fear. Nothing appeared. Bolder, he took another step out from the cliff's shadow. The dark and barren trees held nothing. Slowly, Lesk's shoulders began to relax. Smaug was gone. Kathryn felt her heart sink at the prospect. Lesk turned back towards the cave, a relieved smirk upon his –
With a blur of red, giant jaws descended upon the boy from above the cliff. Large teeth punctured through his chest and ruptured his insides. Lesk screamed and was suddenly lifted into the air and out of sight of the others. A loud "SNAP", and Lesk's screams were cut short. Half of his body fell to the ground with a wet SPLAT.
"LESK!" Karst screamed, leaping off of Kathryn and charging for the opening, sword at the ready. Cutter and Bensen were hot on his heels, screaming their war-cries as they charged out, weapons drawn.
Kathryn scrambled to her knees, quickly untying the last of her bonds and running for the opening. The Olog-Hai had to suck in his bulging gut in order to squeeze through the crack that was too small for him. But the Seer managed to jump through it ahead of him before he could block the entrance.
The sight before her made her gasp. Smaug was standing in the clearing, his tail and wings flattening the trees on either side of him, but even then he didn't have much room to manoeuvre. That didn't matter though, with his long serpentine neck, he struck out at his attackers like a cobra, little more than a flash of red and gold scales and white teeth. He tossed Bensen into the air, catching the screaming man with a snap of his powerful jaws, severing the man's spine and killing him instantly. Smaug allowed the body to fall to the ground with a disgusted snort.
Suddenly, the Olog-Hai was through the opening and sprinting across the small battlefield, its roar bellowing out as it charged. Smaug had been about to blast his remaining enemies with his fire, but turned in time to see the Olog-Hai charge at him, a massive two-handed sword in its hands. The Olog-Hai swung the blade, aiming for Smaug's neck that was close to the ground where the dragon had been leaning forward to attack his next victims. Smaug lifted himself out of the way just in time, and snapped at the troll with a growl which the Olog-Hai blocked easily with a swing of his sword, batting the Dragon's jaw out of his way.
Smaug chuckled darkly, a condescending look in his eyes. Kathryn knew that look, his arrogance reigning supreme. He thought this to be amusing! His ego would be telling him that nothing could harm him, that there was no one worthy enough to slay him. But he still turned to solely face the Olog-Hai, giving it his full attention, ready for battle.
Kathryn saw movement, and noticed that Cutter was moving off to the side as the Olog-Hai challenged Smaug, the archer trying to get a better angle as he readied his bow. Without thinking, Kathryn ran to the body of Bensen, ignoring the urge to vomit at the sight of what was left of him. She quickly picked up his light mace, snapping the chord that tied it to his belt. A part of her was screaming as to why she wasn't running already! She couldn't answer it. Hurrying back towards the small stone cliff, she did her best to climb up the incline until she was directly above Cutter. The archer aimed his arrow at the dragon's left eye. Smaug had not noticed, for his attention was focused on the Olog-Hai that was doing its best to evade and deflect the dragon's blows. She saw the moment when Cutter tensed, preparing to release –
"HEY!" she shouted, and jumped.
She collided with Cutter's shoulders, the mace in her hands catching the back of his head. The pair of them went tumbling, sprawling to the ground. Kathryn rolled over, but as soon as they came to a stop, she jumped to her feet. Cutter lay in the dirt, winded, dazed, possibly flittering in and out of consciousness. Good. If he could play dead for long enough, he might live long enough to regret this fight.
The Olog-Hai was suddenly sent flying over her, landing heavily beside Karst. Although wounded with a bad gash along its ribs, it slowly got to its feet. The mercenaries looked battered and broken, but such hate and loathing filled their eyes, it was a painful reminder of every superstitious fool that had ever blamed her for their woes. No pity could be found for the rapist and murders, not even when faced against a gigantic fire breathing monster. Kathryn now stood in between them all, and she could feel the burn of Smaug's eyes upon her back. And without looking back at him, she took a very big deliberate step backwards, walking back until she was standing between his front legs, protected within his shadow as she glared at Karst.
"Witch," he hissed.
"I prefer the term 'seer'." She snapped dryly.
Without another word, Smaug roared, and, with his enemies in the exact same spot and no one else to stand in the way, he let loose a belly full of fire. Kathryn couldn't see past the thick flames, only the faint silhouettes of the two figures within as they screamed and writhed in agony. She turned away and closed her eyes. Yes, she felt no pity for them. Yet that didn't mean she wanted to see such a horrible death. But soon, even their screams were eventually silenced as they became naught but ash.
Kathryn sighed, her shoulders slumping as she felt exhaustion overtake her. Her hand cradled her head, and felt the wetness of blood and wondered –
With a cry she was suddenly pushed to the ground, the breath knocked out of her lungs as a huge pressure was placed on her chest and body. The weight threatened to crush her ribs, sandwiching her between it and the unrelenting earth beneath her. Kathryn looked up, eyes bulging, to see Smaug stood above her, his hand pinning her to the ground. Though he only allowed a tiny fraction of his weight onto her, it was enough to nearly pulverise her. Yet that fact didn't seem to dissuade him, his eyes burning into her soul.
"S-Smaug!" Kathryn strangled out, trying to remove his hand from her but it was obviously useless. "Smaug! Please! I – ARGH!"
She cried out in fear as Smaug deliberately pushed a little harder, forcing the air out of her body until she couldn't breathe and her bones began to protest from the pressure. The dragon's eyes glinted with malicious intent as his lips quivered to reveal his teeth in a silent snarl.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't crush you!" he growled, the words barely recognisable through the blood-thirsting rage in his tone. "Give me: One. Good. Reason!"
Kathryn struggled to choke out the words with what little breath she had. "I-I…I… chose… you!"
~~ *** ~~
Smaug flew through the sky, his blood boiling inside of him with his rage. Smoke curled out of his nose and from between his teek, making him itch to blast something. Fire gurgled in his gut, making the scales on his chest shine ominously. He held the human in the harsh grip of his hand, not even remotely concerned by the fact that he might have been holding her a little too tightly.
They came to the Lonely Mountain, and Smaug didn't say a word as he snarled upon landing just outside the gates and stormed his way into the fortress. When he came to the central chamber of the lower halls, not even the sight of his precious gold was enough to calm the raging storm inside him. A quick glance with his incredible eyesight and he knew that no one had been here and taken anything from his treasure. He snorted to himself; as if they would dare. Like all dragons, Smaug knew his hoard so well he could tell if even a single gold coin was missing.
But he drew himself away from the hoard. Stomping through the chamber, he came to the cage hanging from the ceiling, left open and neglected ever since he had released its prisoner. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, Smaug threw the human woman inside it, and slammed the door shut behind her. She crumpled on the floor, slowly picking herself up. Withdrawn, almost sad, she huddled on the floor. Yet her behaviour was not like before, now she seemed… regretful?
Smaug huffed, allowing the smoke from his nose to wash over her. A warning of his temper that he was barely controlling. He then turned away from her, determined not to allow his anger to overcome him and harm her, although she deserved it. She'd drugged him and then made her escape when he had forbidden it! In a sense she had stolen a part of his hoard, stealing her voice from him… and people knew very well what he did to thieves.
Frankly, Smaug was more outraged at the fact that she had drugged him! He'd gone to sleep as he always had, and had felt nothing amiss. Deep slumber had been so inviting and so easy to fall into, despite the fact that he'd known he should keep his guard up. Yet he'd found himself unable to care. Through the half-sleep before real darkness had overtaken him, he'd heard her leave, and something in him had been furious, battling against the fatigue to wake up. And again, he'd… not cared. True-sleep had claimed him for a short time, and perhaps it was the adrenaline, the instinctive knowledge that something wasn't right, that had fought against this lethargy. When he'd finally shaken it and awoken, the feeling of unease grew. Throwing aside the tiredness that had consumed him, he'd only been out for a short while. But even awake, his vision was blurred, his limbs heavy and his mind fuzzy. It took too long to get himself alert, to remember what was so important. Searching around the chamber, he found that indeed, the human was gone. A red haze had descended over his vision as he had realised what she'd done, and nothing had been able to calm him as he roared his rage and erupted from the mountain in a blaze of fury, smoke and fire.
But when he had finally found the woman, he found her in the company of filthy, stinking humans. Some part of him had believed they had stolen her from him, as it was evident that she didn't want to be with them by the bruises that had suddenly appeared on her arms and face. And then she had fought against them, had come to him. Even when given the chance to escape, to run further from him, she'd stepped towards him instead. That part still dumbfounded Smaug, he hadn't believed she'd done that… Although he had to admit… he felt an odd sense of satisfaction when she did. But then his rational thinking had remembered that she had been the one to drug him, to run off, she had merely chosen him because he was there, because he would "protect" her. Well, he had shown her how untrue that had been. He'd been so angry with her that once his enemies were dealt with, he'd been more than willing to crush her for the insult of what she'd done. He'd almost meant his question rhetorically about if she could give him a reason not to kill her. Because he'd thought that none would satisfy him. But then she'd said the words:
"I chose you."
Smaug snarled, the sound echoing off of the walls of the chamber as if a thousand blood-thirsty dragons were all around him, crying out with him. Laid down upon his bed of treasure, Smaug growled to himself. Something odd was in his stomach. Perhaps it was the filthy human he'd accidentally swallowed. He hadn't meant to eat half of the filthy boy – revolting as he was – but he hadn't complained. But no, this didn't feel like simple indigestion. No, his stomach felt heavy, twisting as something sour plagued his being, making his lip curl, the feeling intensified when he thought about what the human had done. And then it dawned on him, was he feeling… betrayed?
The dragon-dread snorted in disgust. Don't be ridiculous! He scolded himself. How could he feel betrayed? He had known that the human would take the first opportunity she would get to escape, he had known it all along. But, for some reason he thought of the pig and bag of vegetables he had stolen for her, the whole "meeting her half way" had been her idea, had it not? And after he had conceded to it, she had betrayed him, turned traitor and ran from him. Smaug shook his head, he was acting like a filthy mortal creature, why should he feel anything other than rage for what she had done?
But that was in the past now, and she was back in her cage where she belonged. He would now make sure she never escaped, and he would now make her life a misery so that she would remember not to cross him again. Never before had Smaug taken a mortal into his hoard, and honestly he was considering never doing it again once this human had expired. None of them were worth the trouble. Inferior vermin - the lot of them!
"Smaug…" came a small voice from the cage, and Smaug opened one glowing eye to glare at her. She was sitting up next to the bars, looking at him, her face almost calm if not a little… sad. "Smaug, I know that this perhaps means nothing to you, but… I wish to apologise for what I did,"
He growled, loud, low and menacing as he turned his head to face her. His lips quivered to exposed his fangs to her, smoke curling from his nostrils. To her credit, the human did not back down, she only looked from his mouth back to him, the only sign that she was a little uneasy.
"I should not have drugged you. I admit it was desperate and foolish, but I was a desperate fool. I couldn't stand to be cruelly treated." She said. "Escaping was pointless, and I am sorry for running, for going against your orders. But I want to thank you… yes, thank you for saving me."
"You're right," he said, and saw a flicker of hope enter her eyes. "Your lies mean nothing to me."
"Smaug," she sighed, her eyes sad as she pleaded with him. "Are we to go back to the beginning? Are we to go through this dance again?"
"No, there will be nothing. You will be in that cage until I decide to let your body die, and long after I watch your soul wither and burn," he growled. She flinched, but quickly recovered herself.
"Smaug, please, I give you my word, I won't try to escape, I'll stay here of my own free will, I'll –"
"I already gave in to your words once, and you turned traitor to them!" he hissed, rearing up to glare at her with one piercing glowing eye. "You have done nothing to show me that you will honour anything you say!"
"I chose you," she murmured. Ah, and there it was again, the bane of his existence it seemed. Smaug, snarled again, snapping his jaws close to the bars of the cage threateningly.
"Your whining is useless human, so be quiet and accept your fate!"
Silence. Smaug turned away, roaring his anger and frustration, smashing his tail against the side of the chamber, causing a shock wave that almost collapsed part of the ceiling under its strength. With another roar Smaug unleashed his fire, belting it out onto the wall, charring it black and melting the stone beneath its heat.
He stood there heaving, his little burst of anger complete. He suddenly didn't know what to do with himself.
"I'm sorry…" came a small, regretful voice.
Smaug snorted, returning to his bed of gold as he settled amongst his treasures, willing himself to go to sleep and ignore this human's pathetic attempts to satisfy him. He coiled around himself, getting comfortable as he tried to get himself to sleep. But no matter what he did, his mind would not rest. Thoughts plagued him like insects buzzing around inside his skull, not letting him be. He thought of the human, of her words. Had she meant them? Was she truly sorry? Smaug doubted it, all the while thinking about those filthy humans in the woods, knowing that she had only come to him to escape their grasp. But Smaug had smelt their scent all over her, could practically taste the aftermath of her fear, and thinking that they had done something to her, he felt his stomach boil as an uncontrollable rage filled him again. At the thought he wanted those pests alive once again so that he might punish them a second, slower, more torturous time. Despite her actions, the woman was still a part of his hoard, and Smaug never allowed anyone or anything to tarnish his treasures.
But what if she was right? Had she chosen him? During the fight, she had had plenty of time to make her escape, running once again – although Smaug would have caught her before she could have made it a mile – but instead she chose to stay and… defend him. He snorted at the insult, as if he, the mighty Smaug, needed defending! He was worth an entire army all by himself, for none, not dwarven armies, not human heroes or elven magic had slayed him yet, and none ever would. And yet, she had known he would win the scuffle, and still fought for him. Somehow, Samug felt something uneasy as he considered the weight of that decision. She had not fought him as he had brought her back to the mountain and imprisoned her once again. There had not been any kicking or screaming. She had accepted her punishment. And then he thought of her words, of her promise to not escape, to stay of her own free will. Why would she offer such a thing? He knew it was because she desired another opportunity to run. Even when she wanted to be 'not treated so cruelly' and met half way, it was all a ruse.
The human was a puzzle if nothing else.
And then, Smaug heard a beautiful, melodious voice…
"Moon and starlight guide my way,
Wash away my tears today,
Lead me back to where I came,
Lead me to his arms again,
Till that time I'm incomplete,
Till then, in dreams we meet...
Banished come break of day,
I await the night to take the pain away.
He promised to meet upon the dawn
Till then, I'll always hold on,
With love, both bitter and sweet,
Until in dreams we meet..."
As the song died away, Smaug was left with food for thought. Kathryn had never sung such a song before. In fact, he had never heard of such one before. It was only a fragment, she hadn't even made it past a single verse. Something had choked in her and she wouldn't continue. Though he had heard her sing many time… this felt different. Personal. A secret she had sung more to herself than to him.
Smaug sighed, and didn't bother trying to force himself to sleep, and allowed himself to think. He thought of everything, of the past, of his hoard, of why he had kidnapped the girl, of why he imprisoned her, of her words, meeting her half way, of what she had done, and then… of her choosing him. He thought for so long he wasn't even aware of the night coming in full bloom and passing over as the dark shadow of night yielded to the light of the morning sun. It almost shocked him that he had thought the whole night away. Looking up at the cage hanging from the ceiling, he heard the muttered curses as the human dreamed her restless dreams – not another vision but merely nightmares – Smaug knew that his mind had been made up.
Without considering to be quiet or considerate of the ungodly hour, Smaug went to the cage and opened the door. Reaching inside, he plucked the human into his grasp and brought her out. She awoke with a start, her heart beating so wildly he could feel it through her bones on the pads of his fingers. He saw the confusion across her face as he put her down upon the gold. When his fingers unwound themselves from around her body, she made not a single move. Not a step, or a twitch of her finger. She did not try to run. They stared at one another, and Kathryn didn't move as he let his eyes fix on her, although he didn't try to put his dragon-spell upon her.
"You would give me your word that you would stay here, of your own free will," Smaug stated, his eyes narrowing as he allowed a subtle hint of a challenge to enter his voice. "You would not leave, you would not try to escape and you would do as you're told?"
Kathryn was not stupid, he could see it. She knew that if ever there was a time to not lie to him it was now. But she still answered straight away.
"If you would provide me with food and protection, then yes. Yes, I will stay."
"And I'm to just take your word for this like a fool?" he hissed, lips quivering in a growl. "How do I know that this promise will be kept?"
"Because I have no where else to go," Kathryn murmured simply, sadly.
They stared at each other, Smaug's eyes narrowing as he watched her, looking for any form of deceit or traitorous intent. When the silence seemed to have gone on for a while, Kathryn spoke up.
"Truce?" she offered.
Smaug growled a little as he looked at her. "So long as you keep your word."