1. A Ranger's Duty
The life of a Ranger is fraught with danger. We awaken every morning, not knowing if we will see the dusk that evening. In some areas of Eriador, as many as three of their fellows die every day. The deaths of these brave Men - and women - shall not be in vain, and I vowed to avenge them. But sometimes, protection is not a Ranger's only duty.
I stiffen, prickles reverberating down my spine. Someone is close... Though not blessed with the heightened senses of my Elven forebearers, decades of roaming the unloving wilds of Middle Earth has taught me much. I listen intently, knuckles whiteneing as I grip the hilt of my sword.
A sob fills the air; a child, and an injured one by the sound of it. I follow the sound of the crying amongst the trees, not wanting to call to the child lest I startle him or her. To one lying hurt in the darkened forest, where unseen eyes watch your every move and trees loom like sinister watchtowers all around, the hardened voice of a Ranger would not aid matters.
What in the name of the Valar is a child doing wandering the woods this late at night, anyway? Dusk was many hours ago, and the moon shines high above in her fullest splendour. Could the young Halfling be lost? What is an Orc had slipped through the net of protection and -
I mentally slap myself, drawing such thoughts from my mind. But that does not remedy the situation. Somewhere in the proximity of the trees, a poor, innocent lamb is miles from home, hurt, afraid and alone - I sense no others. At least, none living...
Suddenly, though a gap in the trees, I see the slightest, weak movement. The sobs grow louder, echoing in ears, melting the icy prison I have wrapped around my heart; a cold that I had though only the love of an elf maiden could thaw.
Peering round the bough of a tree, I feel pity flood my veins. Covered in dirt, curled into a ball of protection, one thumb in his own mouth, is a little boy. His brown eyes are clouded with tears, his arm twisted awkwardly. The bone is undoubtedly broken, and a painful break it must have been.
I bend down and crawl towards the young hobbit, praying that I don't look too frightening with my haggard appearance and array of weaponry.
The little boy looks up at me, eyes wide with something that looks like a cross between fear and relief. Fear of who I am and what I might do to harm him; relief at my arrival. One of my grimy hands reaches out to brush a lone tear from his cheek, as he slowly and reluctantly pulls the thumb from his mouth.
It is only now, during this first real contact with any of the Halflings, that their fragility strikes me like an arrow. Gandalf once described them as being, "not unlike children in appearance." And I assume he was talking about an adult. Words cannot describe how diminutive this forlorn little one is, terrified and wounded, with only an imposing Ranger for company.
"Who... Who are you?" he whimpers, though whether it is more from the pain or fear, I cannot tell.
"Hush, little one," I whisper, trying to make my voice as soothing as I can. Having spent most of my years in the Wilds, I am unaccustomed to sentiments. "I am here to help you."
Fresh tears meander down his delicate cheeks, like water from the Bruinen Falls. "My arm hurts. And I'm cold."
Almost immediately, I unpin my cloak and wrap it around the child like a blanket. "Is that any better, little one?" He nods gratefully, trying to smile, but failing miserably. "What is you name?"
"Peregrin..." he mumbles through the agony he must be feeling. "But my friends call me Pippin. You can too, if you want."
This show of openness overwhelms me for a moment. People often shun Rangers such as myself, especially Men. Sometimes, my comrades return from their leave-taking not refreshed in mind, but bitter, having been shunned by their own families. It is times like that I wonder who is luckier, me or them: they at least have a family, whereas mine is rapidly dwindling. My mother is growing weaker by the day. My cousin Halbarad believes that her time on Middle Earth is almost over.
"Who are you?" Peregrin, or Pippin, as he seems to prefer, pipes up, tugging at the sleeve of shirt with his unbroken hand.
Drawn from my reverie, I pause before answering. "My name is Strider," I reply, pulling the pack off my shoulders and rummaging in it for a silver flask. It was a parting gift from Arwen, filled with a tonic to ease pain. I unscrew the lid carefully and tilt the flask to Pippin's lips. "Here, drink this. It may help soothe your pain."
He swallows nervously, face contouring into a wave of disgust at the bitter taste, and I do not blame him. Elven food may be delicious, but their tonics are some of the vilest around. But foul or not, the potion seems to be taking effect. I see him relax, burrowing contentedly into the warmth of my cloak. Now, even more so than ever, he looks like a babe. Indeed, I doubt that his is more than two foot tall.
With some measure of reluctance, I tug the cloak away from his body so I can attend to his injured arm. The skin is pale and discoloured; there is nothing I can do to heal the wound, save place it in a sling and allow time to do what my hands cannot.
Although the tonic has eased Pippin's pain, I am unprepared from the yelp of pain elicited by my hands tender stroking of the injured limb. "Hurts..." he whimpers pitifully, and I feel the sting of tears in my eye. "Hurts so much..."
"I am sorry, Pippin," I tell him, brushing a flyaway curl from his tiny face. "But you to let me bandage your arm; otherwise, it will not heal. Sometimes a little pain is needed to aid the healing process. Trust me," I beg him, "I am a healer."
His face screwed up in dislike, he carefully shifts his arms towards me. Unveiling some bandages from my pack, I set about placing the arm in a sling, taking quietly to distract my infant patient.
"How old are you?"
"I'm almost ten!" He replies proudly. "How are old are you?"
A rueful chuckle escapes my lips. "Quite old, Pippin. A lot older that you are, at least."
"Oh." He looks confused by my ambiguous answer, but does not question me any further, and leaves me to my ministrations.
"There, is that any better?" I ask, supporting his tiny back as he sits. Pippin nods. "Now, more importantly, where do you live, and why are you all alone in the woods at this time of night?"
"I'm lost," he says meekly, bowing his head. "Me and my friends were hiding from one another in the woods, and I thought that I'd climb that big tree up there," he points at a huge elm that looms over us both, encompassing us in its shadow. "And I waited from them to come and look for me." A sob rises in his throat. "But they never came, not one of them! I waited and waited and it got dark, but they never came." He dissolves into a violent fit of tears, and sweep the child into my arms and hold him, knowing his emotional pain. 'Twas a trick the elven children favoured playing on me as a child. All I can do is offer Pippin an unwavering comfort.
"I tried to climb down," he mumbles. "But I fell!"
My heart cries out in pity for this little one. To have not only your pride hurt, but a serious physical wound also in the one day would break many children. Yet, behind those eyes laden with tears, I see a strength and determination; perhaps, also a mischievous streak? I'm not sure. Pippin seems so innocent.
"Your parents must be worried," I whisper. "Do you want me to take you home." He nods his consent. "Where do you live?"
I smile. A Took then - I would never have guessed. Tooks are - by nature - the more adventurous brood of Halflings. I remember Gandalf telling me of one particular Halfling: Bilbo Baggins. He was part Took, if my memory serves, and turned out to be quite an adventurer. I cannot help but wonder if this child will turn out like that too.
"Come along then." I sweep him easily into my arms, amidst his innocent, childlike giggles, which I soon join in with.
Perhaps protection is not a Ranger's only duty; comfort in times of need is equally important.
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.