Tales from the Rangers: 1. Skinner

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1. Skinner

The Village of Long Cleave,

       The North Farthing,

      The Shire,

August 3018 of the Third Age, 

            Middle Earth

        The summer rain pattered upon the wooden roof of the Two Birds Tavern, steady and rhythmical. A dozen or so of the best Hobbits in the village of Long Cleave gathered to warm themselves before heading home for evening supper and the quiet fires of their cozy holes. With pipes puffing and wooly feet propped the conversation turned around a number of ordinary Hobbit topics – until…

            Nortleman Took, the Innkeeper, popped in from the kitchen, holding a pitcher of dark, foamy beer. "I had the queerest visitor today, round about dawn." He circled the room topping off mugs. "The Skinner stopped by."
            "Now there you go again, Nortleman," replied Trombolo the Miller, puffing blue clouds of Longbottom Leaf into the air. "Starting strange stories to keep us here drinking when we'd all would be better off heading home for the evening."
            "Oh, this ain't no fish story," continued the Innkeeper. "He came by just as I said, on that great shaggy war-horse of his. He was loaded with all manner of furs and skins. He had a tremendous wolf hide, head and all, laying right there on top – its dead eyes staring right at me. I had just sent Little Tulko out to fetch eggs for breakfast when he came jumping back through the door. There be a dark rider out back, Tulko says, all quivery and silly. So I grab a lantern and go to take a look. There was the Skinner, sitting astride his great horse like a stone statue, all hooded up and cloaked. What would you be wanting so early in the morning? I says and then he says in a deep voice, I have some skins that I would like to trade if I could? Well, I took one look at the furs and knew that I could make a good profit down in Hobbiton, so I says, Let me have a look at them. Mostly they was buck skins, but then there was that wolf fur. Beautiful it is. All dark grey and black. It alone will fetch a tidy sum – a tidy sum indeed. So I says, What will you be wanting for the whole lot? And he says naught but a bag o' salt, some parchment paper, writing ink, and horseshoe nails. Now, ain't that a queer order list. So I says, You have a deal, and after I have Little Tulko fetch it, the Skinner up and rides off into the sunrise. I'll be gettin' ten or twenty times that amount when I trade the furs down south. What do ya think of that?"
            "Strange is..., as is strange does," said Old Moldur. "Them Big Folks is all queer if you ask me."
            "You'll never see as dark and shadowy a character as the Skinner anywhere in the Shire," added Sam Carpetsaddle from his seat near the fireplace. "I've heard that he holes-up nearby the haunted lake."
            "I haven't heard of the Skinner being seen in these parts for quite some time," said Bobert Nortook, tapping his pipe clean on the arm rest of his chair. "Nor any of the Big Folk for that matter."
            "For certain," replied the Innkeeper. "But it be the truth! You can ask Little Tulko, if you don't believe me."
            "Big Folk…, up here in the North Farthing, what is becoming of the Shire?" said the Miller, shaking his head.
            "Aye, you said it Trombolo." Glanis Bucknorth shouted from the corner. "Maybe we're all better off in the protection of our own holes." And with that he stomped to his feet, storming out of the room.
            With the good mood broken, nearly everyone left the tavern and soon Innkeeper Nortleman found himself alone in the tavern, regretting his luck and his choice of stories.

*          *          *

            The rain drizzled upon the curly head of Bobert Nortook all the way from the Two Birds Tavern to his hole up the Cleave. The Long Cleave was a deep, narrow valley cut from the rim of the moors by a river that flowed from out of the high country. After falling through a series of waterfalls the river Bindbale continued down the deep gorge, passing straight through the village. A large mill turned upon the fast moving river serving a lowland countryside of little farms. Other than the tavern and the mill, only a community warehouse comprised the "down Cleave" portion of the village.
            As Bobert climbed a stone stair built into a steep side of the ravine, the rain stopped. He opened his round blue door, warm light spilled out.
            "Oh, do come in quickly," laughed his wife, Marilee Nortook, coming to the door and seeing him soaked. "Robi," she said over her shoulder to the youngster in the background, "throw another log on the fire, your father is dripping wet."
            After a hot meal of coney stew and roasted taters, Bobert sat before his fireplace holding a steaming mug of tea between both fists. His three children, Robart, Dobert, and Sallie played with small wooden horses at his feet while Marilee cleaned the dishes.
            "Dear," said Bobert, to his wife. "The most remarkable story floated around the tavern tonight."
            "Of what sort?" she replied.
            "It seems that the Skinner paid a visit to Nortleman this morning."
            "How can that be?" she laughed. "Are children's stories walking around the Shire these days?"
            "It seems. But Nortleman had his facts straight."
            "Dad, who's the Skinner?" asked Robart.
            "You mean what is the Skinner, Robi."
            "Bobert don't go a frightening the children!" Marilee shouted from the kitchen.
            The hobbit winked at his son. "The Skinner is a dark character from the northern moors, who rides around the land on his great black horse under the cover of night. They say… he rides after children who don't obey their parents and stay out too late."
            Robart's eyes got big and he began to ask another question when Marilee suddenly gathered the children, moving them toward the bedroom. Bobert could hear Marilee trying to change the mood and he smiled into his mug of tea.

*          *          *

            The next day dawned with broken clouds and a wet smelling wind from the west. The rains held off through the morning, leaving the afternoon lit by flashing bits of sunshine. Upon a little lawn that stretched above a bend in the river, Robart and several other young hobbits sat talking.
            "...and my Dad was saying that he rides after children that stay up after dark," Robart said to his friends. "But I don't believe it. My Dad's always telling tales."
            "I believe it," Rory Nortook said. He was an older cousin of Robart. "I believe it because I've seen the Skinner with my own eyes."
            "When... how... where?" Several hobbits shouted at once.
            "Come on and follow me. I know how to summon him up from the haunted lake. My older brother Hobello told me how. Come on!"

            Robart hesitated. He didn't believe his Dad's story, but the thought of running off to look for the phantom, was another matter. "I don't know."

            "Scared?" Rory said, scowling at Robart.

            The little hobbit stood. "I'm not scared."

            "Fine, let's go."

             It was simple for the young hobbits to leave the valley, reaching the flat moorlands above. The path rose out of the gorge, heading north onto the moorlands. The four young hobbits stood by the waterfall as it fell over a shelf of rock, disappearing into a billowing mist behind them.
            "The place is not far," Rory said. "Me and my brother come out here together, but that was before he got married and moved to Oatbarton. He told me how to summon up the Skinner. My brother and his pals did it all the time."
            "How far is the place?" Robart asked as thunder rolled from the storm clouds.
            "It's just over that rise," Rory said, pointing to the north. "All we do is wait for sundown and then we say the chant. Then the Skinner comes."

            Robart looked at his cousin. "You've seen the Skinner before right? With your own eyes?"

            Rory shrugged, muttering, "Sure… well, not really. Not with my own eyes."

            Robart stopped. "What?"

            "Come on." Rory tugged his little cousin. 

            Venturing out of the valley the four Hobbit boys soon found an ancient standing stone in the middle of a clearing surrounded by a prickly thicket. Thunder again rolled when the sun sank into the stormy cloud bank. Lightning flashed in the dark sky as the lads formed a semi-circle around the natural column of rock. The wind suddenly whistled through the dense thicket, causing Robart to scoot a little closer to his cousin.
            "Be brave boys," began Rory. "Don't let the weather steal your courage. Seein' the Skinner will be worth it. All we gotta do is say the chant:"

          Shadow by day, shade by night.
          Shadow by day, shade by night.
          Skinner we call to you, come to our sight.
          Skinner we call to you, commanding you with all our might.

          Shadow by day, shade by night.
          Shadow by day, shade by night.
          Skinner we call to you, come to our sight.
          

             The hobbits repeated the chant over and over when suddenly the wind howled through the thicket, growling through the thorns. Lightning flashed and in that flickering moment a black horse and rider leaped suddenly into the clearing. Upon the wild steed the cloaked rider raised a bow above his head. "Get you gone! Fly from here and never come again!" The horse reared, pawing it's hooves into the howling wind.

"The Skinner!" screamed Rory.

            With blinding speed the Skinner nocked an arrow, aiming at the little hobbits. The arrow sang as the rider shot it over Robart's head, sinking deeply into the thorny thicket behind the boys. Rearing his horse again the Skinner shouted once more, "Get you gone! Fly!"
     Robart was the first to move, dashing through a gap in the thicket and running for the valley. The other hobbits were soon on his heels, running wildly for home. Looking back Robart saw the Skinner wave his great bow above his head, still screaming at them. The lads rushed to the path, scrambling down toward the village. The last thing Robart Nortook saw as he tumbled down the trail was the Skinner standing in his stirrups, shouting. The hobbit boys never stopped, each ran straight to his hole and then under the covers of his bed.

*          *          *

            As the rain started falling, Mathros son of Brugeon the Dúnedain Ranger sat upon his horse patting its neck, calming the steed. He watched the last of the hobbit boys disappear down into the valley. Chuckling, he slipped his bow back into its sheath along his saddle. Mathros turned the horse back toward the thicket. The rain slanted sharply and thunder boomed as the Ranger passed the standing stone. Climbing from the saddle he bent down looking into the prickly thicket. Mathros parted the brambles so that the head of the Hill Troll appeared. The Ranger admired the arrow that protruded from the eye socket of the creature. The dead Troll's red tongue hung limply between its large, pointy teeth.
            "I guess you thought you'd have as easy meal of hobbit boys, did you?" muttered the Ranger. "Skinner? I haven't been called that in a long time, a long time indeed."

            After snatching up the sack from the ground that contained his salt, sheep skin, and nails, he took the reigns. Stepping into the saddle, the Ranger swung his horse around heading back out onto the stormy moor, continuing to chuckle to himself.

            "Skinner."


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: Cirjin

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/16/12

Original Post: 10/06/11

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Comments

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Tales from the Rangers

WindSurfBabe - 27 Nov 11 - 2:46 AM

Ch. 1: Skinner

The first thing that struck me about this piece is how inredibly well-written it is - in the sense that the tone, the vocabulary and the pace are dead-on hobbit style. It does feel like I am there, within the story, wasting some pleasant time away in the tavern and then wandering in the dark with young hobbits. I can feel their fear, can hear the quiver of bravado in their voices as they chant.

The ending is unexpected - and both realistic and worthy of the tale. Thank you for sharing this.

Tales from the Rangers

Aiwendiel - 05 Dec 11 - 2:52 PM

Ch. 1: Skinner

This is really great -- entertaining and nicely written. I hope this is the first in a long line of Tales from the Rangers!

Tales from the Rangers

Dwimordene - 27 Dec 11 - 9:43 AM

Ch. 1: Skinner

Well, you've hooked me - Rangers hanging out about the borders of the Shire, looking disreputable? Misunderstandings and taking advantage of superstition? Hobbits venturing out and discovering the truth? I'm there!

Very well-written - the characters feel at home in their setting, and the use of superstition - and of unreliable tellers of tales who come in the guise of parents as well as of children - is fantastic. It lets you play off the reader's knowledge of who the Rangers are, but also to be surprised by how this particular one uses his own status in story to get his job done without revealing himself. Nicely played!


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