King's Folk, The: 1. The Rangers Return

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1. The Rangers Return


Barliman Butterbur was in his downstairs room
struggling with the Inn accounts when the door slammed
open.

It was Beomann, his oldest boy, round eyed and
panting "Dad! the Rover just walked in." his father
dropped his pen and shot down the corridor to the
common room.

The Rover was sitting in the Rangers' usual corner
by the fireplace with the sparse handful of other
customers clustered around him, all talking at once.
The Innkeeper pushed his way through them to find the
Ranger looking a little bemused by this unaccustomedly
warm welcome. The first words out of Butterbur's mouth
sounded plaintive even to him. "Where did you go?"

"There was bad trouble away up north and in the
east." the Rover answered. "We had to go deal with it."

"We had some pretty bad trouble right here,"
Butterbur told him. "fighting even. Some people were
actually killed!"

"So I've gathered. I'm sorry."

The Innkeeper pulled out a chair and sat down.
Shaky with relief, and a little ashamed of himself for
being so. "The Road's not safe these days, we've got a
nest of brigands somewhere out there in the Wild -"

"Not any more." the Rover interupted quietly, grey
eyes suddenly very cold.

Butterbur stared at him, swallowed hard. "There's
other things too," he said a little huskily. "Wolves,
and ghosts or something like it gibbering around the
hedge at night."

"Wights." the Ranger said grimly. "That's bad. I'd
not have expected them to grow so bold. Don't worry,
we'll see to it."

Butterbur looked at him, really looked, and saw the
pallor beneath the grime and lines of strain and
control around mouth and eyes. "Are you all right?"

The question clearly startled the Rover and he
hesitated a little before answering. "Well enough."

"You don't look it." the Innkeeper said bluntly.
"You'd best stay here tonight. A hot meal and a good
sleep in a proper bed is what you need."

The steely grey gaze softened. "Thank you, I will."

Butterbur stood up, hesitated. "Rover, what's your
right name."

The other Man smiled, something Butterbur couldn't
remember ever seeing a Ranger do before, said gently.
"I am Gilvagor son of Armegil."

He should have known it'd be something outlandish.
The Rover read the thought in his nonplussed face and
laughed aloud. Another thing Butterbur couldn't
recall ever seeing a Ranger do. "Make it Gil. That
should come easier to your tongue."
***

Butterbur was yanked from his slumbers by a
pandemonium of voices floating up the main stair. He
rolled out of bed, pulled a dressing gown on over his
nighshirt and padded downstairs, his good wife at his
heels, to confront a passle of distraught townfolk
clustered around a hysterical, tearstained Woman
wrapped in homespun shawls.

"Here now, what's all this?" he demanded and the
Woman, The Widow Thistlewood from Alderedge Farm,
threw herself into Mrs. Butterbur's arms sobbing.

They're gone! They took them, they took them!"

"Took who?" his Missis asked, guiding the other
Woman to the settee before the hall fire.

"My babies!" the Widow wailed, "Tom and Daisy!
Skeletons, skeletons in white robes! They crawled
through the windows and dragged them out of their
beds!"

"When?" Gil's voice clove through the confusion like
a sword. Mrs. Thistlewood, struck silent, sat mouth
open staring at him. "When?"

"Just now." she answered, staring as if she
couldn't look away. "I ran after them but lost them in
the fog."

"I heard her wailing and calling and brought her
here." Will Rushlight, the west gatekeeper, put in.

"We may still be in time if we move fast." the
Ranger said, half to himself. His eyes swept the
assembled Men, bright with a strange silvery light.
"I will need help."
***

Barliman Butterbur never really understood exactly
how he came to find himself walking through a chilly,
eldritch fog towards the dreaded Barrow Downs with his
clothes pulled on anyhow, a torch in one hand and a
wood axe in the other, surrounded by a dozen or so
neighbors similiarly armed. The Rover strode at the
head of their ragged column, grim and purposeful, the
fog rolling aside before him.

The Breelanders found themselves following him,
against all reason, off the road right into the
sinister downs. It was bitter cold, unaturally so, and
shapes moved in the mist on either side. Steel
whispered as Gil drew his sword, the long bright blade
caught the starlight, glistening, and the shapes and
the fog that cloaked them seemed to draw away in fear.

They came at last to a long barrow hunched beneath
the steep face of a down, its dark door gaping open with
a cold, dead air flowing from it.

The Rover turned to face them. His eyes glistened
like his sword and power went out from him like heat
from a fire. "Fear is the Wights' chief weapon, so do
not fear! They fear the light and brave Men, so stand
firm and you will prevail. I count on you to keep them
from my back - for those two children's sake." He
turned, and ducking his head disappeared through
the black door.

The moment he vanished the fog, and the things in
it, drew closer encouraged. Panicked Butterbur thrust
his torch into a mowing skull-like face and it shrank
away. Geoff Heathertoes swung his scythe exactly as if
he were harvesting grain and a boney arm clattered to
the ground, wriggling in a tattered white sleeve. The
fog drew back.

Panting hard, the Men exchanged looks, spirits
rising. It was true then, they *could* do this - if
they kept their nerve and held their ground.

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.

Story Information

Author: Morwen Tindomerel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/27/03

Original Post: 03/29/03

Go to King's Folk, The overview

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