2006 Birthday Drabbles
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Gandalfs apprentice's 2006 Birthday Gifts: 2. Cuts Gone Wrong - by Dwimordene
Berty Heathertoes, drawn from his chores by the commotion and last on the trail, was out of breath by the time he caught up with the dogs. "Man oughtn't have to hurry himself if he's decent! He'll have his day laid out, no rushing needed," he panted resentfully, leaning on his pitchfork.
A lanky figure, muddy from the sodden field, slowly sat up as the dogs retreated to Berty's side. The one-time fugitive wiped at his face with a sleeve wet from the ditch the dogs had brought him down in. This accomplished little, other than to smear dirt further, and the farmer scowled. "What's your business here, boy?" he demanded, giving the sole of a well-worn boot a warning tap with the pitchfork.
"I apologize, Master Heathertoes," came the reply. "I'm to meet a friend in town, and—"
"'Nother trespassing Ranger, you mean," harrumphed Berty, and shook his head. And he gave him another tap with the pitchfork, a little harder this time. "No good! Up now, lad, and just you start walking back where you came from."
"Sir, please, I'm late," the young man pleaded, as he climbed to his feet. "It's six miles around, and but a half mile to the road from here—"
"And you'd've been on it long ago, were you decent folk. Here now," Berty said and paused, eyeing the bedraggled lad, who topped him by a head and more standing. "Aren't you the one they call 'Strider'?"
"I am, sir," came the cautiously hopeful acknowledgment, to which Berty only grunted.
"Lucky thing. Be your name, boy, and you'll only be half late. Wolf, Bear, up," Berty said sternly, and the dogs obediently rose, ears pricked attentively forward. Glancing up at the Ranger again, he warned: "Off with you now. My dogs'll follow so don't try any tricks, hear? Go! And next time," he added, to the lad's retreating back, "you keep off my land!"
For a time, Berty stood watching as the lad, after a shake of his sodden cloak, and a shrug of the shoulders to settle his pack squarely once more, lengthened his stride and indeed began hurrying away. Wolf and Bear padded in his wake, bristling still, and Berty shook his head.
"Wretched wild lot," he muttered as he turned and began making his way back to his hay stacks.
And so he did not see the lad's head lift, or his hands tighten to a white-knuckled grip on the straps of his pack, did not see wounded young pride stiffen his back. For the morning was now well begun, and Berty Heathertoes was a decent man: he had work to do and little time to spare for disruptions. By lunchtime, he had all but forgotten the incident, though he would remember it later, over ale with friends.
"Rascals all," he would say, to the approving nods of the upstanding citizens of the town. But other than hours whiled away rehearsing Breeland virtues against the vices of mannerless outsiders, it was of no consequence to one who had a farm to tend in the quiet lands round Bree-hill, where nothing ever happening was the measure of life.
'Not a "short cut", I hope,' said Pippin. 'Our last short cut through woods nearly ended in disaster.'
'Ah, but you had not got me with you then,' laughed Strider. 'My cuts, short or long, don't go wrong.'—"A Knife in the Dark," FOTR, 177.
To which I say: Liar!
Farmer Heathertoes is supposed to be an ancestor of the ill-fated Mat Heathertoes, who was killed when the ruffians swept through Bree during the war.
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