1. With Eager Feet
"I killed at least a dozen of the foul creatures!" Gilavir said proudly.
"And one almost slew you as they did your sire," Aragorn said sternly. "You need to draw your sword faster in future. Orcs are swift moving and vicious. Never underestimate them. Our task is to protect the Shire, lad, but we need to keep ourselves alive that we might achieve that aim."
"Yes, sir, I'm sorry. I'll be more careful in the future." Thoroughly crestfallen, Gilavir flushed.
Aragorn clapped him on the shoulder. "No need to look so woebegone, lad. You fought well. I just want you to remain in one piece. Not to mention that your mother would most surely kill me, should any ill befall you, when you are supposed to be under my watchful eye. I want you to practise drawing your sword more quickly."
"Yes, sir, I will, sir."
Aragorn repressed a smile as the newest of his Rangers immediately snatched his sword from its sheath and began practising. Stars, the lad was so young! He wished fervently that he need not lead mere boys into battle, but the Rangers were now so few in number, they had to take every willing and able-bodied man.
It seemed an age ago since he was eighteen like young Gilavir. After several cold wet nights of battling Orcs in the wilds, he felt every one of his seventy- four years. No, he corrected himself, seventy- five. Today was his seventy- fifth birthday. Not that it would be any different a day than any other, save to remind him that the years were passing and his hopes of winning Arwen's hand were as far away as ever.
"Is something wrong, sir? I promise I will be more careful in future." Gilavir's voice roused him from his reverie.
He forced himself to smile. "Nothing, lad. I was just hoping that Halbarad will have a good fire and something to eat ready for us when we reach the campsite.
It was Gilavir's turn to look glum. "Supplies were running low. I hope the others had good hunting while we were gone."
"Don't set your hopes too high, Gilavir, this is not good weather for game," said the older man. "A scrawny rabbit is the best we can hope for!"
Gilavir pulled a face. "My mother could make anything taste good!"
"We Rangers will have to ask her for cooking lessons then!" Aragorn jested.
The two trudged wearily along. They had reached the road that bordered the Shire and were still some distance from their camp. The rain started to fall more heavily and the two men drew their cloaks more closely about them.
To raise his spirits and those of his young companion, Aragorn began to sing ,
"The road goes on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."
"I like that song," said Gilavir. "I have not heard it before, though."
"Master Bilbo of the Shire, who now dwells in Rivendell wrote it," said Aragorn. "Though it is a Hobbit song, it could be about Rangers too."
"Gee up, Dolly!"
The men started at the sound of the feminine voice ahead. The command was repeated followed by a cry and a most unladylike exclamation.
The two Rangers rounded the bend in the road and came upon a sorry spectacle. A cart was stuck in the mud, its axle snapped in two. A Hobbit woman of middle years was cautiously climbing down from the driver's seat to inspect the damage, while the pony nibbled the grass on the verge.
"We must aid her!" cried Gilavir.
"Careful, lad." Aragorn laid a restraining hand on his arm. "The Shire folk fear us. We do not wish to alarm the lady."
The woman turned around and saw them. "Can you help me, sirs?" she called to them. "I'm stuck in the mud and my Griffo won't be back from market until sundown."
Astonished at this turn of events, Aragorn and Gilavir hastened towards her. "Gladly, mistress," said Aragorn. "Help me get the cart out of the mud," he instructed Gilavir. "We need to get it to the side of the track before we can mend it."
"How do we do that?" asked Gilavir.
"We can cut a branch from a tree and make a temporary repair until the lady can take her cart to a wainwright," said Aragorn.
The two Rangers set to work with a will, but it was hard labour and the cart was stuck hard in the mire. They pulled and shoved. Aragorn started singing Bilbo's song again as they worked.
"However do you know that song?" asked the Hobbit woman. "It is one my kinsman made up!"
"You are kin to Bilbo Baggins, mistress?" asked Aragorn.
"He's my cousin on my mother's side," said the Hobbit woman. "But where's my manners? I'm Daisy Boffin, at your service."
"I'm delighted to meet a kinswoman of Bilbo's," said Aragorn. "I am called Strider and this is my friend Trotter."
Gilavir glared. He had acquired the nickname from Barliman Butterbur who said he always was seen trotting behind the older Rangers.
"You know Bilbo, Mister Strider?" asked Daisy. "I wonder whatever became of him going off like that. No doubt, the wolves ate him or something, poor Bilbo! Nothing good ever comes of wandering off in the wilds! It's the Took in him to blame, but that's not on my side of the family, thank Goodness!"
"I saw Mister Baggins only last month and he was in good health, Mistress Daisy," Aragorn said gravely, but there was a twinkle in his eye.
"Well, that's right good to hear," said Daisy. "Though what a respectable Hobbit is doing going wandering off I've no idea. I just hope he hasn't given young Frodo any of his queer ideas!"
Aragorn simply smiled and turned his attention back to mending the cart. "There," he said at last. "That should hold until you get home, Mistress Boffin. We will be on our way now."
"I cannot let you leave without some reward," said Daisy.
"It is our pleasure to help you," said Aragorn. "We seek nothing in return."
"Nonsense!" said Daisy. "You both look half-starved and I'm not letting you go without some supplies. Come with me, the farm is not far."
"We do need supplies," Gilavir whispered to Aragorn as they followed her up a steep track towards a farmhouse.
"Just as I thought!" Daisy said triumphantly. "Come on!"
"Thank you, Mistress." Aragorn conceded defeat. "We are unaccustomed to any of your folk not fearing us."
Daisy smiled. "I used to fear the Rangers," she said, "but a few years back, my cousin Peony took pity on one she found in her barn suffering from the Fever. She said he was a decent sort of fellow that their cat took a liking to. He was half starved too!"
Aragorn was seized by a sudden fit of coughing. Gilavir regarded him in bewilderment.
"You don't have the Fever do you?" Daisy asked anxiously as she led Dolly to her stable. "You look soaked to the skin!"
"I had it years ago, Mistress Boffin," said Aragorn. "You catch it from an infected person's breath, not from getting wet."
"That's not what my old mother said!" Daisy protested. "You must dry yourselves by my fire while I look out some food for you."
"You are soaked too, Mistress Daisy," said Aragorn. Followed by Gilavir, he ducked through the low doorway and found himself in a cosy parlour.
"I'll just put the kettle on and then I'll change my gown," said their hostess. She placed a large copper kettle on the hob and then disappeared into the inner room.
"I should like a warm drink, sir," said Gilavir. He settled himself down on the hearthrug beside his Chieftain, the chairs being too small to comfortably accommodate either of them.
"Don't call me sir in front of strangers," said Aragorn in a low voice that only his companion might hear.
"What do I call you then, sir?" asked Gilavir. "Surely Mistress Daisy means no harm to us?"
"Strider will serve," said Aragorn. "Indeed, Mistress Daisy means us no harm, so we must not bring harm her way."
"What was it that made you cough so just then, sir, um, Strider?" Gilavir asked.
"It is too long a tale to tell now. Suffice to say that I was the Ranger that Mistress Daisy's kinswoman took pity on."
Gilavir gazed at him wide eyed.
Just then, Daisy bustled back into the parlour. She threw more logs on the fire then proceeded to make some tea. Her china cups looked so tiny and delicate that Aragorn feared his large hands might crush them. While the men drank the tea, Daisy disappeared into the back of the house.
She was gone for some time and Aragorn and Gilavir began to wonder if she had forgotten their presence when she reappeared dragging a large sack almost as big as herself. "Here you are," she told the Rangers. "A few provisions for you."
"This is far too much, Mistress Daisy!" Aragorn protested. "We cannot take your food."
"Of course you can," said Daisy. "I have enough and enough to spare, and if it weren't for you two, I'd still be sitting in the rain with Dolly."
"Then we thank you, Mistress," Aragorn said gravely. "May the stars always light your path! Now we must be on our way, our friends will be waiting for us." He looked towards Gilavir, who lay sprawled on the rug, half asleep. "Come on now, Trotter," he said firmly, "We must join our friends before nightfall."
"Yes, si- um Strider," said Gilavir scrambling to his feet and taking the tied sack that Daisy held out to him. "Thank you for the tea, Mistress."
The two Rangers set off in the direction of the forest where they had arranged to meet Halbarad and his men. The rain had stopped but water still dripped from the trees. Gilavir stumbled along under the weight of the sack. "I wonder what is in it?" he said.
"Don't get your hopes up too high, lad," Aragorn cautioned. "Most likely oatmeal or potatoes."
"You are always telling us to have hope for the future, sir," said Gilavir. "Yet twice today you have told me not to hope for a decent supper!"
"The future lies in the hands of Higher Powers," said Aragorn. "Our supper is a more mundane affair!"
Aragorn recognised the bird cry that was Halbarad's signal and answered in kind. A few minutes later, Halbarad emerged from the depths of the forest. "I was beginning to fear some ill had befallen you both," he said, embracing his kinsman.
"We were delayed helping a Hobbit woman whose cart was stuck in the mud," said Aragorn.
"She gave us this," Gilavir answered. "I think it is sack of stones!" He thankfully handed over his burden to the older Ranger.
Halbarad untied the sack and peered inside. A huge grin spread over his dour features.
"What's in it?" asked Gilavir.
"Never you mind, lad, go and gather some firewood. Aragorn, would you mind having a look at my son? He was slightly wounded earlier."
"Gladly." Aragorn made his way to the far side of the clearing where Barahir was resting with a couple of other young Rangers. He was relieved, but somewhat puzzled to find that nothing worse ailed Halbarad's eldest son than a bruised shin, hardly something that merited a healer's attention. He lingered with the men asking them what had befallen in his absence. Barahir informed him that they had killed a few Orcs, and spent the rest of the time hunting with little success.
"Supper is ready!" called Halbarad about half an hour later.
Aragorn returned to the campfire and was amazed to find a veritable feast spread out. There was cured ham, fine cheeses, bread and butter, potatoes, and even a fruitcake and some apples!
"Happy Birthday!" cried Halbarad. "I planned a celebration but feared it would be but meagre fare. Your Hobbit friend has provided a feast fit for a king!"
Just then, Gilavir returned with an armful of firewood. He gaped at the food in astonishment.
"You were right to be hopeful, lad," said Aragorn, clapping him on the shoulder. "Now eat your fill."
There was excitement in the camp that night. The Rangers dined better than they had for many a week, and told tales of old and sang songs long into the night.
As he finally prepared to drift into sleep, Aragorn mused that his seventy- fifth birthday had been a most agreeable one.
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.