1. Dancing with Death
This story is primarily about the Rangers of the Northern Dúnedain. Tolkien does not go into much detail about their lives and culture so please allow me to be a little creative in developing this area. The time frame for this story begins shortly before Frodo leaves the Shire.
I menel darthant lim or le a i men taer athan le.
(May the sky stay clear above you and the road straight before you)
-----------------------Prologue: Dancing with Death
Thalguron, Captain of the Northeast Dúnedain Ranger company, lay motionless under the brush on top of the hill to the north of a small passage. The day had been long and only a couple of hours of daylight were left. If their quarry did not show up soon, the ambush that lay behind him in the trees around the clearing would be for naught. They had heard a report of the large wolf pack from some trappers and later it was confirmed by two elves scouting from Rivendell. His men had picked them up three days ago and had been shadowing them from a distance. The wolves had moved at a leisurely pace and had been on this path traveling south along the eastern edge of the Tower Hills for over a day. He hoped that they would continue on to this point and had set the trap the night before. It would be much easier to take them here than to try and catch them all in the open.
They had to be stopped soon for if they crossed over the hills, they would not be far from the northern borders of Bree. A pack this size would wreck havoc on the farms and outlying homes, and while they couldn’t get across the Brandywine into the Shire easily, it was still much too close for comfort. Their Chieftain, without providing any specifics, had made it clear that the small, furry-footed hobbits must be protected at all costs. He still had no idea why this pack was heading in this direction. Wolves mostly tended to stay away from the more populated areas and while he was not sure exactly where they had come from, he had heard no word of a shortage among the game animals that they normally hunted.
The huge, gray, alpha male led the pack at an easy trot along the path through the broken meadows and rills. His mate was close behind him and the rest were loosely bunched beyond her. He had abruptly led them out of their home grounds far to the northeast over two weeks ago when a sudden urgency had filled his mind, driving him south and west away from familiar territory. As they came around the base of a small knoll, the path turned west between two hills that formed a very short shallow canyon. Beyond that was a small clearing and the path continued on up through trees and brush, eventually crossing over the range of hills that they had been skirting. Just before reaching the mouth, he slowed and came to a stop while the rest of the pack bunched in close behind. There was something about the clearing and shallow passage that generated a vague anxiety. He lifted his head and slowly sniffed the wind, turning slightly from one side to the other. He carefully eyed the trees and brush but could not detect anything amiss. His mate came along side him with a small whine and he could tell that she was nervous as well. He started to turn away from the trail but that urgency lurking at the edge of his senses forced him back around. He looked one more time up the path and then led the pack between the low hills toward the clearing.
The Ranger captain tensed when the animals came into view and stopped. He let out an inaudible sigh after they continued forward and as the last of the pack moved past his location into the clearing, Thalguron rose up from the ground signaling the attack. A score of arrows sang from the trees and brush around the clearing and several men moved from their positions around him down to the path to prevent the pack from turning back. The rest of the rangers moved quickly out of the trees, loosing another barrage of arrows and then drew their swords and long knives as the wolves began to seek escape routes back into the trees and brush. The air was filled with snarls and howling yips as the arrows and blades found their marks. The men continued the chilling battle cries that they had begun when the attack was signaled and an occasional shout of pain was heard as they began to close in with the wolves. The clearing became a roiling mass of grays, blacks, greens and browns punctuated with flashes of steel and bared teeth as the battle raged toward its bloody conclusion.
The pack leader had almost reached the edge of the trees when the attack began. As soon as he had heard the first twang of a bow, he had whirled and turned off of the path toward the nearest cover. As he turned, he saw the rangers surrounding them as they moved out of their hiding places and skidded to a stop. Realizing his vulnerability out in the open clearing, he turned again and bounded toward the tree line at the edge of the clearing. In front of him, a tall dark man was drawing his sword and moving to cut off his escape. The wolf leaped at his attacker and just as he reached his target, the man slipped down beneath him. Instead of fastening his jaws on the man’s neck, his sharp teeth ripped across the upper arm and shoulder. Flashing past the fallen ranger, he sprang again for the trees. As he crouched for the last jump to safety, he was struck by two arrows and his legs faltered and collapsed, sending him sliding to a halt on his belly. The presence in his mind pressed him to get up and move on but muscle and sinew would no longer respond to his will. The sounds of the battle began to diminish behind him as the rest of the pack was destroyed and he took a final shallow breath and was still.
Thalguron walked quickly among the corpses of the wolves scattered around the rock strewn clearing, checking to make sure that none were still alive. He had already checked the members in his company for casualties and they had come through the skirmish fairly unscathed. There was only one major injury and the usual scrapes and cuts that accompany any close quarters combat. The gash across Fargand’s shoulder would take a while to heal, but he would be able to travel by the next morning. Everyone would get a few hours of rest before they finished the patrol although he would have to send Fargand with an escort back to the camp at the northern end of the Weather Hills.
The frequency of skirmishes that they fought was increasing at an alarming rate lately. In fact, as he moved among the wolf carcasses, he was disturbed at the number that had been in this pack. In all of his years as a Ranger, the size of the packs had usually been ten to fifteen individual animals, but this pack numbered almost thirty. Bending over to retrieve an arrow from the throat of one of the beasts, he noticed that the general size of the animals seemed larger than usual as well. If a small unit had been caught out alone against this pack, the outcome probably would have been far different. The odds of facing thirty wolves with only five Rangers, even as good as his men were, didn’t bode well. They had had all he wanted to handle with a full company of twenty-five as it was.
From the reports he had been getting from the North Dúnedain Rangers based near Lake Evendim, they were experiencing the same phenomena in their region. Lefrin, the captain of the South East company in the South Downs district, and Halbarad, the captain of the South company at Sarn Ford, had been noting increases in activity in their patrol areas as well. He had not had any recent news from the Angle, the home area of their families, and he hoped that all was quiet there. Lately, good news was rare and he frowned as he realized that he didn’t expect to hear anything but dark tidings in the near future. The increase in sightings of orcs, trolls, wolves, and even a few wargs, was unsettling. Something was causing the evil creatures in Eriador to stir further afield and in greater numbers.
He headed back to the edge of the tree line where most of the company was gathered around three small cooking fires. Even though they had just completed a battle, guards were already posted to make sure nothing else came upon them unannounced. You didn’t live long in this country if you weren’t careful all of the time. With quiet pride, he scanned the faces of the men who wore the white star of the Dúnedain Rangers on their breast as they stood or sat throughout the camp. They were all good, solid men and, though some were young yet, they were all well trained, seasoned fighters. Woodcraft, tracking, and weapons training began early in the life of a child born to the Northern Dúnedain, boys and girls alike. The older Rangers who could no longer sustain the hard miles and long hours spent on patrols trained them. Most had even had training from the elves in Rivendell.
Though women did not participate in the patrols and combat skirmishes, they provided the bulk of the defenses for their homes. The Dúnedain were fewer in number than ever before and since Aragorn, their Chieftain, had doubled the number of men patrolling the borders of the Shire, the only men remaining with the families were too old or badly maimed to go out. This had caused anxiety among the men, who had to leave families without their protection, but the women were a tough lot and were capable of handling most situations that arose and Rivendell was not far away. Thalguron prayed a silent prayer to Eru that it would continue to be enough.
A sudden squawk and grunt of pain caused him to turn his attention to the fire where the healers were tending to Fargand. “Do you not think I am already injured enough?” he growled at the man who was tending the deep wound high on his right arm and shoulder. “I would like to again be able to draw blade or nock an arrow.”
“Quit whining and be still or you’ll only make it worse. You’d think you’d never had a scratch before, the way you’re carrying on”, the healer retorted. Fargand mumbled something under his breath but calmed himself as the healer went back to his ministrations.
“If your footwork were more clever or you were as nimble as most, you would be over here enjoying your supper rather than serving as an embroidery piece”, called one of the men seated near another fire.
Fargand turned his dark eyes toward the speaker and raised a bushy eyebrow. “Next time I’ll be sure to let YOU try and dance among the rocks while you face the biggest wolf in Eriador.” Looking back at the healer he muttered, “Did that wound come from wolf fangs or by chance was that oaf bumbling around behind me as I fought the beast?”
The healers shared an amused glance and the first one grinned down at him. “Unless Delrion has grown much larger teeth since last I checked, be assured it was a wolf. Henceforth if that is going to be your normal fighting style, I had better acquire a great deal more thread e’er I am in Bree next.”
As Fargand made ready to reply again, Thalguron cut him off. “Surely you can find a better time to try new steps for the ladies, Fargand. Unless, of course, you had it in your mind to take the wolf for a turn around the clearing before you parted ways. If you would prefer dancing to fighting, I am sure you would be welcome back in the homesteads. Were I you, I would probably try to separate the two more clearly. Both can be dangerous if you have not your wits about you.”
The men roared heartily at the Captain’s jibes. Fargand was known to fancy himself with the ladies and was actually very light on his feet for such a large man. Fargand remained quiet as the healers finished their sewing and bandaging and Thalguron moved to the fires and helped his plate for supper. The men continued to talk quietly among themselves and as the evening wore on, the watches were set and everyone began to settle down for the night. Excitement waned and exhaustion came as it always did to those who face death victoriously. Slowly, the noises of the camp diminished until the only sounds were the snores of the men and the crackling of the fires.
A/N: This is my first public offering of any kind of fan fiction. I hope that you enjoyed it. Whether you did or didn’t please review and let me know what you think. What doesn’t kill us always makes us stronger. Special thanks to TreeHugger and shirebound for their assistance and encouragement. Thanks to oracle2001 for also prompting me to get started. Please feel free to email me if you wish. I will respond someday.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.