4. Journey to Annuminas
another reason for coming to Bree, beyond a roof over
their heads and a chance to hear the news, they needed
to buy food.
"You have families," Farmer Appledore said blankly,
"women and children?" the three Rangers looked at him
and he blushed. "Sorry, of course you must, it's just
I never realized -"
"You weren't meant too." Gil told him. Continued to
the tableful of Bree's leading citizens: "Normally we
buy our supplies through the Dwarves, but as you all
know last summer and fall were anything but normal."
Fervent nods of agreement all round.
"With none of the usual fairs or markets open we
were forced to fall back on our stores, unfortunately
almost all of those were lost when the enemy burned
our holdings -"
"Enemy?" Butterbur interupted. "Surely you don't
mean those brigands from down South?"
"No," Treebole agreed grimly, "he means the Hill
Folk of the North and the Mountain Orcs."
"And Stone Trolls, and Hill Trolls. Wights and
Sergollim and other things left by the Witch King
and the Great Enemy." added Silverlock.
The Rover silenced his companions with a look. "As
I said, we've had troubles of our own to deal with."
Butterbur didn't like the sound of that. He was
begining to suspect Bree's 'bad trouble' had actually
been a very small matter indeed, and much worse might
have happened had the Rangers not put themselves
between the Breeland and the greater threat.
"What about your women and children?" his Missis
said suddenly, pausing mid-pour, ale pot in hand. "If
your homes were destroyed where are they? Surely not
camping out in the Wild!"
Gil seemed to hesitate a moment before answering.
"No, most have taken refuge in Annuminas."
"The old capital?" Ben Mugwort gaped, "but it's a
ruin now. The enchanted forest grew over it, didn't
The Ranger shook his head. "No, the Elves took care
of the city for us. The buildings are sound enough to
shelter our people but we need to buy food if we are
to make it through the winter."
Of course the Breelanders immediately agreed to
sell, it was certainly better than letting their
surpluses of grain and vegetables moulder in the
storehouses but -
"Are you sure you can afford to pay?" Mugwort
blurted, adding hastily, "I mean we'd be glad to give
you a discount in you need it."
Gil smiled, "Thank you but that won't be necessary."
Mrs. Butterbur frowned at him. "I know you men,
this is no time for silly pride. If your folk are in
Astonishingly all three Rangers grinned. "I promise
you, Mrs. Butterbur, payment will not be a problem."
Gil's eyes twinkled. "You see, when our ancestors
abandoned Annuminas they left the Royal Treasury
The Breelanders gaped. "You don't mean vaults of
gold and silver?" Butterbur managed.
"In fact I do." Gil shrugged. "We were surprised
"Though we shouldn't have been come to think of
it," that was Silverlock, "it's not as if gold or
silver would have been any use to them in the Wild."
"Comes in handy now though." said Treebole.
The train of twelve large, heavily loaded wagons
jolted its way over the broken and grass grown stones
of the old North Road.
The Wild spread wide and empty around them, rolling
hills, stands of forest, jagged outcroppings of rock,
and here and there crumbling ruins that were once
towns or castles or who knew what. The sight of them
made Beomann's eyes sting.
The Wild hadn't always been waste, once upon a time
this had all been settled land - a grand and glorious
kingdom - and his ancestors had been a part of it. A
humble part but they'd obeyed the King's Law and
fought in his wars until the day the King and his
people had disappeared, leaving Bree to struggle on
as best it could alone.
Only they'd never really been alone. Adrift now in
this vast emptiness Beomann saw his homeland for
what it was, a tiny, fragile bubble of life and order that
never could have survived without the constant, secret
protection of the Rangers.
He found it hard to believe the Breelanders had
never guessed who those strange, green clad
wanderers and hunters really were. The old stories
said the People of the Kings were tall and dark haired
and possessed strange magical powers and lived for
And of course Rangers were tall and dark and
magical too. And everybody knew they lived much longer
than ordinary folk did. Why Strider, who was King now
according to old Gandalf, had been coming into the
Pony since Beomann's grandfather's time - nigh on
sixty years if it was a day.
"How old are you, Gil?" Beomann asked suddenly.
The Rover, riding beside the wagon on one of the
big, shaggy horses Rangers used, shot him an amused
look. "About your father's age I'd say, just short of
Beomann looked at him hard. It wasn't easy to gage
Gil's age. When he got that grim Ranger look he seemed
older than the hills but if he chanced to smile or laugh
he looked no older than Beomann himself. He was
"That's not very old as my people measure it. By
our standards I'm still little more than a boy."
"How old do you get?" Hobbits lived a bit longer
than Men but not even they considered sixty young.
The smile vanished. "If our lives aren't shortened
by violence or hardship or grief, perhaps a hundred
and fifty years or a little more. My kin may, with
good fortune, live sixty or so years beyond that. But
we've had all to little good fortune these last
And there was that look again. Gil's reaction to
questions was unpredictable. Often they amused him
but sometimes he'd go all sad and grim, like now, as if
reminded of things he'd rather forget.
But then he'd see Beomann's face fall and make an
effort to cheer them both up. "Silverlock's just a
youngster, like me, but Treebole there is a hundred
and nineteen, old even by our measure."
Beomann stared slack jawed at the tall Ranger's
long back as he rode next to the lead wagon. Treebole
didn't look young but he certainly didn't look *that*
old! Of course all three Rangers had been coming into
the Pony as long as Beomann could remember and none of
them had aged a day in all that time.
"I can't understand why we never figured out who
you Rangers really were."
"You weren't meant to." Gil replied.
"You said that before," Dick Heathertoes said from
the driver's side of the wagon seat. "What do you mean
"That you saw and thought what we wanted you to see
Both Breelanders stared at him. "You mean you used
magic on us?" Dick asked nervously.
Gil frowned. "I've never really understood what you
country people mean by the word 'magic' you seem to
use it for so many things."
"Well," Beomann groped for an example, "what you
did in the barrow was magic."
"That was Power." the Ranger agreed. "But fooling
the eye is a small thing in comparison, would you call
that 'magic' too?"
"Yes!" said both young Men in unison. Gil shook his
head bemused. "What would you call it?" Beomann wanted
Gil shrugged. "A trick, a play. It's a simple thing,
we learn it as children. Why I might even be able to
teach it to you."
"No thanks!" they chorused in lively alarm. And Gil
"Are you doing it now?" Beomann asked, and the
Ranger smiled again.
"No, it's no longer necessary."
Beomann looked at him hard, trying to see a change.
Gil was still recognizably the Rover he'd known since
he was a boy, yet he'd never really noticed the fine
aristocratic features under the scrub of beard and
dirty hair or the quicksilver brightness of the wide
deep grey eyes. The old stories said the King's People
were beautiful and Gil was, but somehow Beomann
had never seen it before.
"I don't like the idea of being under a spell." Dick
"Oh it's not a spell." the Rover assured him
quickly. "I promise you those of us who can use such
arts do not do so lightly, and certainly never on our
own people without their leave."
Beomann suspected what Gil meant by a spell was not
what Dick meant by it, but kept his mouth shut. Dick
seemed reassured and Beomann wanted him to stay that
As for himself it wasn't the magic he minded but
the deception. Their King hadn't abandoned Bree but
he'd hidden himself from its people even as he'd set
his own to guard them. It wasn't right.
Beomann felt a sudden, irrational surge of
resentment. Bree Folk had belonged to the King too!
Maybe they didn't have magic like the Men from Over
the Sea but they'd kept his laws and fought for him
too. It wasn't *right* he hadn't trusted them!
But how could he say that to Gil, or Silverlock or
Treebole after all that they and the other Rangers had
done for Bree down the long years? It was Strider, the
King, he had to say it too if he ever got the chance -
or had the nerve
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