15. Chapter 15
Tarkil nodded slowly, “I can understand why. Though she may remember me – I met them a few times before the fire.”
“You say you got them? The men that murdered my daughter and my granddaughter?” She squinted up at him against the bright sunlight as they stood on the lawn in front of her house.
“Yes, ma’am, only one survived and we handed him over to the mayor of Southlinch for proper punishment according to Bree law, not that he could run very far, he broke a leg and an arm.” Tarkil explained, “He said a lot of them were forced into thievery by the other fellows, said they threatened his wife. I am not sure I believe that. But that is not for me to judge.”
“Too many southerners coming this way, and they all speak of trouble to follow,” she looked up at the Ranger, “I can’t say I ever paid much attention to you Rangers but it’s nice to know you were there for Lilly.” She paused and then pursed her lips, “Are you sure you got the thugs that killed my daughter? There has been an awful lot of trouble around – even killings up in Bree itself from what I hear.”
He nodded, “I am sure it was them, Mrs. Heathertoes.” He fished in his pocket, removing a small silver locket that glinted in the sunlight as they stood on the lawn in front of Lilly’s new home. “The thief’s wife returned it when she found out he had stolen it – said she did not know what he had done to get it.”
She gasped, “Ruby’s locket! Reg gave that to her on their wedding day. I thought it had been lost in the fire.”
A young woman came to the door of the house, the small girl peeked out from behind her, clutching her skirts.
“Come here, Lilly,” Mrs. Heathertoes urged her granddaughter, “This is the Ranger that saved you from the fire. Midge, bring her closer. This poor man has come all this way to see her.”
Midge stepped a few paces further making it off the small porch, but Lilly still clung behind, fearful. Tarkil squatted down a few feet away. “Lilly? Do you remember me? I had dinner with you and your family back in the spring.” She didn’t speak but nodded her head once as she clutched Midge’s skirts tighter. “I made a promise to you the night of the fire. I promised I would find the men that hurt you and your family. I wanted to let you know, I found them and they will not hurt anyone ever again.” There was still no reaction, so he held up the locket, “I brought something for you, I thought you’ would like to keep it safe.” Her eyes went wide, “Momma’s!” The child thrust out a small hand and grabbed the locket, clutching it to her chest, then ran back into the house crying.
“I did not mean to upset her, Mrs. Heathertoes. I thought she should have it. I know not much survived the fire that night.” Tarkil worried as he stood up.
“No, she’ll be all right. You’re right, it’s the only thing she has of her parents now. She still has nightmares of that fire and doesn’t remember much else anymore.” She sighed, “It’s probably better that way, I suppose.”
They stood on the lawn chatting for a few minutes more before Tarkil bid her farewell. He led Nálo down the lane, then mounted his horse and headed for the Greenway. A few miles north, he ran into Gethron and Huznat. “Where are you fellows off to? I thought you were still guarding to the south?”
Gethron turned in his saddle, “We are being pulled from those posts. News has come from Rivendell. They need Rangers to head south to Gondor – Halbarad is gathering all that are available and the rest of us are being reassigned. They are pulling everyone from around the Shire and Bree.”
Tarkil shook his head, “And there is still so much trouble here -- we caught that one group yet we know there have been thefts and problems since. What will these people do to protect themselves? They have relied on us for so long, they forget we are even here.”
“It cannot be helped, war is brewing to the South. And looks like it is headed our way. Angrim will not be coming up for a few days yet, there are still a few Rangers he needs to contact so he asked me to give the orders to you.” Gethron filled in Tarkil with all the latest details. “You will have to come with us to gather your gear, but Halbarad will probably allow you to come back to say good-bye to that girl of yours.”
~ ~ ~
The two brothers cantered down the Greenway a few weeks later and as they left the road to head down the old Andrath Road, Haldon asked, “Do you think she will wait for you?”
“I hope so, Hal,” Tarkil worried. “It is strange, when I first met her, I thought she was sweet and pretty, but I never imagined I would fall in love with her the way I have.”
“Angrim had a fit of rage when he heard about it, you know.” Haldon chuckled, “That was right around Yule when you checked in and we had our little, um, disagreement. You know how he is about Dúnedain marrying outside of our kind and ‘thinning the blood.’ “
“I have fallen in love with her.” His brow furrowed, “And even when I do ask her to marry me, I am not sure Henry will ever allow it. I do not think he was too pleased to hear I would be taking Poppi back to the Angle if we married.” Tarkil suddenly grinned wryly at his brother, “But if we do marry, and given that Mallor married a Rohan woman, you realize that means it shall be up to you to continue our line?”
“I shall do my best, little brother, but there are so many beauties to sample that my choice is difficult. Still I envy you – Poppi is quite a girl, she will make you a good strong wife.” Haldon’s grin faded. “Yes, I envy you to have that love with her. What if you do not return from defending the south? How long will she wait?”
Tarkil glanced sharply at his brother, “What? Are you wanting to have another go at her?” He held up his hand, “I know, it was a poor attempt at humour.” He didn’t want to consider what could happen in the south that would cause him not to return. “But those are strong words coming from someone with your record. For all the times you say you have been in love, what do you know about marriage?”
“Oh, I shall marry, little brother, never fear. I will settle down with a proper Dúnedain woman and we will raise a houseful of sons.” Haldon assured him. “I just wish you had not volunteered to take Dirghel’s place on this journey. You will probably be safer guarding the High Pass than you will be heading to Gondor.”
“Let us not get into that again, Hal. And you deserve to have a houseful of daughters – to pay you back for all those anxious fathers who had to watch you come to their door.” Tarkil spurred Nálo on to a canter, calling over his shoulder to his brother, “Come on, let us not dally, the less time on the road, the more time I have with Poppi.”
~ ~ ~
“Tarkil!” Poppi ran down the porch stairs as he rode down their lane. “I thought you would be back last week – what took you so long? I was getting so worried.” The ranger dismounted, lifting her in his arms as he embraced her to steal a quick kiss from her before her parents could cluck their disapproval.
“Hello, Haldon,” she greeted Tarkil’s brother as he reined in his horse beside them.
“Poppi my dear,” Haldon greeted her politely but stayed on his horse.
She put an arm around Tarkil and leaned close once more for another quick kiss before she pulled away. “Look at you, you’ve got greaves on, and – is this mail?” Her brow furrowed. “And there’s a helmet on your pack! Tarkil? Have you been in a battle?”
“We have to talk, Poppi,” he told her gently. He led her away from his brother, seeking privacy while still allowing her parents an unrestricted view, conscious of their protective stares as they stood on the porch watching him with their daughter. “I have to go away for a while. We head south to Rohan and Gondor; I am not sure when I will be back.”
“You mean it might be more than a few weeks, maybe a couple of months? But you’ll be back by my birthday, won’t you? You’ll be back by then, surely!” her voice rose in anxiety.
He shook his head, “War is breaking out in the south, and we go to protect our captain and help him regain his throne.” He saw the confusion on her face. “I cannot tell you how long it will take, but Poppi, would you … would you wait for me?” He took a deep breath as he caressed her hair, “I love you, Poppi Rushlight. I would like to know that you are here, waiting for me.” He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, unable to bear the look on her face.
“But why must you go?” her words were muffled in his chest.
“Because I am needed. The Captain needs all the men he can get to help him win this war.” He continued stroking her hair, revelling in the soft scent that wafted up and filled his senses.
“Is Haldon going?” he could tell tears were starting.
“Yes, Haldon is going with me.”
“But I thought you said your mother wouldn’t let her sons serve the same post together?” She started to sob. “Why can’t he go and you stay here with me?”
“Aragorn needs us -- both of us – we have trained our whole lives and sworn to serve him, my love. And there are others with families already. I could not stay in good conscience knowing I had made another man take my place. I do not wish them to leave their children fatherless. I have seen too much of that already. But would you wait for me? Will you be here, will you see me when I return?” He closed his eyes as he bent his head over hers, kissing her hair, breathing in her sweet scent and felt the warmth of her against him, trying to gather it in his memory for the long days ahead.
She clung to him tighter, sobbing harder, “Of course, I’ll wait. I love you, too!”
Henry came closer, a scowl on his face, wondering what Tarkil said to upset his daughter. “What seems to be the problem here, lass?”
“He … has … to … leave! He’s going to … fight!” she wailed.
Tarkil looked over at Henry, “War is breaking out – the armies of Mordor are marching north. If we do not stop them, they will head up here and swarm over this land.”
Henry nodded, “It’s what you have to do, son. We’ll look after her, don’t you worry. When do you leave?”
“Today, sir. Halbarad – our commander -- gave me enough time to say good-bye to Poppi, but I must leave now.” Tarkil admitted, feeling Poppi stiffen against him.
Poppi pulled away and stared up at him with reddened eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Now? You can’t even stay for lunch? You’re just … going? Now?”
He gently wiped the tears away with his thumb and nodded. “I am sorry, we must travel in haste and gather as many men as we can on our way. The others have already passed by. Haldon and I must catch up with them now -- I cannot stay any longer as much as I wish to.”
He saw a strange look come over her face as she straightened and swiped at her tears, “I love you, Tarkil Dúnadan. I will be here waiting for you when you return. I suppose I must get used to such things. After all, you’re a Ranger.”
Pride filled him at her determination – Haldon was right, she would make him a good wife. He smiled down at her, “Yes, my love, I am a Ranger and I protect this land. And its people.” Including one sweet lass I love more than any other.
Henry put a hand out and grasped the Ranger’s hand in a firm grip, “Tarkil, you take care.” He turned away and took his wife inside the house, Tarkil smiled at the opportunity they gave him to say a proper farewell.
The tall ranger lightly brushed his fingers across the Bree-land girl’s forehead, then tangled them in the curls of the long hair behind her neck and pulled her close. “I love you, Poppi,” he whispered then pressed his lips against hers and tasted her deeply, wishing the kiss could last forever in his memory.
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.