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Sunday, August 8th, 2010 03:58 pm
Rating: G
Author's Note: This story features my OC, “Trotter”, the hobbit Ranger who happens also to be Bilbo's missing uncle, Hildifons Took. It gives the details of an incident briefly mentioned in that story.
Summary: Trotter's out on patrol with his fellow Rangers when an unexpected opportunity to prove his mettle comes along...

Trotter's Triumph


They both reached for the last berry tart at the same moment, and then each snatched a hand back, as they realised the other wished to have it.

They eyed one another warily, then Trotter, with his customary hobbit politeness said sadly, “You may have it, Archer.”

“No, no,” said Archer, blushing. “You baked it.”

Trotter sighed. “We could share it.” Broken in half, it would barely make a mouthful apiece.

“I know,” Dirhael interrupted his two friends mischievously. “How about a wager? Winner gets the tart.”

Archer eyed him suspiciously. “You are one to stir up trouble, Poet!”

Trotter's face lit up. “What sort of wager?”

The Poet grinned, and glanced over at their chief, who sat leaning against a tree enjoying a pipe. “What do you think, Longshanks?” he asked.

Arador chuckled. “Leave me out of your nonsense.” The patrol had been searching for a band of sheep thieves that had been troubling the folk thereabouts. Fortunately, they had been seen-- it was clear they were Men and not Trolls. The Rangers had come across sign of them, only to lose the trail again, due more to ill-fortune than to the cleverness of the outlaws-- a herd of wild swine had obliterated their tracks. After a few hours of fruitless effort to pick up the trail again, the patrol had decided to stop and make camp. Trotter had, of course, made an excellent meal for them all, including some small tarts of berries he had foraged, mostly bramble-berries and bilberries, which he had baked amid the embers. As to the entertainment of a wager-- whatever Dirhael proposed, he was sure that it would be interesting. But he was chief, and he would stay out of it-- for now.

Archer repeated Trotter's question: “What sort of wager?”

“Perhaps your bow against Trotter's sling?” he asked casually.

Both Trotter and Archer grinned. They had tested themselves against one another on that matter in the past, and were very nearly even in their wins and losses.

But now Arador had a suspicious thought. “And what, pray tell, would be the target?”

“Well,” said Dirhael casually, “there is a tale I have heard, of a man who was considered the greatest archer of his land...”

As if with one voice, Arador, Archer and Trotter all cried out: “NO!”

The Poet looked much put upon. “I just thought...”

“No,” his chieftain repeated firmly. Dirhael sighed.

Recently he had heard a tale that seemed to come from the time of the war with Angmar, of a man who had been forced to prove his skill with a bow by shooting an apple from his son's head. Dirhael had been very much taken with the story, and on more than one occasion had tried to get someone to agree to try it, with himself as the bearer of the target.

“Even the legendary archers of the Golden Wood,” said Arador, “would not do such a thing for sport! You are old enough to know better, and should not allow your desire for a good tale to lead you astray. Even should you be unscathed afterwards, I for one do not care to risk the wrath of your lady wife. Ivorwen would skin me alive if I should allow you to partake of such foolishness!”

Dirhael looked abashed at this rebuke. Trotter picked up the disputed berry tart and presented it to Dirhael with a bow. “In payment of your performance,” the hobbit said with a flourish.

The Poet took the point; he also took the tart.

Archer snorted skeptically. “You do realise that this was probably his goal all along, do you not?”

At this, they all burst out into laughter, save the Poet, whose mouth was full.

Soon the others pulled out their pipes, and sat back to take their ease after the excellent meal Trotter had provided. To make amends for his earlier jape, the Poet entertained them with a old tale out of Westernesse, of an impoverished fisherman, his shrew of a wife, and a mysterious wish-granting fish.

When the tale had ended, Trotter stood up and dusted off the seat of his breeches. “We have more than two hours of daylight left. If it is all right with you, Longshanks, I think that I shall do a bit of scouting and foraging.”

Arador laughed. “It is probably more the latter than the former you wish to do, Master Hildifons! It would not go amiss if you found more berries!”

Trotter chuckled. That had been to the front of his mind. “Still, perhaps I will also find some sign of our quarry!”

“Do not stray too far, my friend.”

Trotter nodded and retrieved the cloth sacks he used for foraging, and silently vanished into the trees.

At first he had no luck. He had very nearly stripped the berry bushes nearest their campsite, and there were no convenient nut-trees near, save oaks, and acorns were only for the desperate— they were often bitter, and even more often, tasteless. He noted the area where they had finally lost the sheep-thieves. Wild swine were quite happy with acorns, and eagerly ate them. They had torn up the faint game path and any traces of the outlaws who had passed that way earlier. Trotter went on, at first more intent on seeing if he could find some more berry bushes. Then he spotted some bilberries. It was probably too shady for brambles. There were not enough there for more tarts, though there were certainly enough to make the morning porridge tasty. He picked as many as he could reach, not trying to greedily reach the upper berries, which he left for the birds. Then he thought he saw another bush further off-- but on reaching it, saw that it had even fewer berries on it.

He had nearly decided to turn back, when he spotted something a bit further on. Was it-- could it be? Mushrooms! Near a fallen and rotting oak was a magnificent stand of mushrooms, their round golden stems and velvety brown caps declaring them to be summer ceps, and most delicious. He began to fill one of the foraging bags with delight, though he had to take care, for summer ceps are more delicate than some other mushrooms.

One of them was ruined. Smashed flat! He glared indignantly at the ruin of what had been a perfectly huge specimen. How wasteful! It took an instant for the significance of what he saw to set in. And then he had to wonder: who had stepped on it out here in the middle of nowhere? Had he found sign of their quarry at last? He gazed more carefully: to the left of the remains of the mushroom was the faint imprint of a booted foot.

Trotter hesitated. It had been less than an hour since he set out. He could go a little further, make certain these were the right men, then go back to tell the others. But he'd only go on for about another quarter of an hour and then turn back. He looked up through the sparse canopy of the trees at the Sun's position. Yes, he could spare that much time, he thought. But no longer. If he were caught out after dark, his friends would worry.

Not even ten minutes later, his search was rewarded: the sight of smoke, the smell of roasting mutton and the sound of coarse voices gave him to know he had found their quarry.

Cautiously, very cautiously, he approached on silent hobbit feet, staying hidden from their sight. Four Men, roughly dressed sat about a small fire, picking their teeth. Three sheep were tied to a nearby tree.

One of the Men gave a loud belch. “We'll be to me brother-in-law's place by mid-mornin' tomorra,” he said.

“Hope as he'll pay us as good for these woolies as you said as he would, Willem.”

The one addressed as Willem spat out of the side of his mouth. “Don't you worry none, Mik. He'll pay up good. He'll mingle these in wi' his own, and none'll ever know he din't breed'em his own self. Then he'll sell'em for a pretty penny.”

A third one spoke. “Be glad when this is done. Herdin' these smelly things is too much like work for me. Woulda been a sight easier to just relieve a few travellers of their wallets on the road.”

“Don't be daft, Bart” said the last one. “Them Rangers been 'round these parts lately. Waylay a few fat merchants, we'd have'em breathin' down our necks, we would! They won't take no mind of a few sheep as could've strayed.”

“Garn! You may be afraid of the Rangers, Ted, but I ain't!”

As he watched the Men, a daring idea came to Trotter. He felt in his pockets for the good throwing stones he always kept there. Pleased to feel that there were enough to serve his purpose, he looked around. A large elm overhung the Men's campsite. He grinned to himself, and keeping low to the ground he made his way to it and shimmied up on the side of the tree facing away from the brigands. Moving carefully, he found a perch on a sturdy branch, which gave him a good view of his prey. He pulled forth one of the stones-- it was smooth and rounded and fit his palm perfectly. With one swift motion, he let it fly.

The stone struck Willem squarely in the back of the head, with scarcely a thud. The Man silently keeled over.

“What the?” Bart jumped up. Mik gave a curse and dove flat to the ground. What Ted would have said or done was moot, as Trotter's second stone caught him and laid him out flat. He ducked down for an instant as the two remaining villains looked round wildly. It never occurred to them to look up. Mik crawled over to Willem and tried to rouse him. Bart drew a wicked looking knife and yelled “Show yourself, you coward!” and then began cursing most foully. Trotter's third stone went to his temple, and he fell as though pole-axed to the ground.

Mik stared in shock at his three unconscious companions. “Leave me be! Please leave me be!” he screamed, and then he began to blubber. Trotter very nearly felt sorry for him, but he remembered only too clearly his own time as captive amid similar ruffians. So he sat up, and let fly one more stone. Mik's wails were instantly silenced.

Trotter waited a few moments, to be sure none of them were feigning their senselessness, and then he scrambled down.

He surveyed his victims with a certain amount of satisfaction. He, he alone and with no help, had subdued them! “Don't get too smug, Hildifons Took,” he told himself. “They could come to any moment if you haven't killed them.” A quick check of the pulse at their necks showed him they all still lived. He went behind the tree where he'd left his two foraging bags and removed the drawstrings. Then he went and rolled the Men so that two pairs of them lay back-to-back. Pulling their arms behind them, he tied them together. Then with a bit of effort, he pulled the belts from two of them and fastened their ankles securely. He stood back, and looked at them. He'd made sure it would be too difficult for them to untie themselves, and he had also made sure that each pair of trussed-up thieves was not close to the other. He checked for weapons, finding nothing more than knives, which he took and threw some far distance away. Just then, Bart stirred, and glared at him. The Man drew his breath to speak, but Trotter took his last stone from his pocket and clocked him again.

He pursed his lips. They were fairly helpless, but he'd have to go get the other Rangers. He couldn't handle taking them in on his own. If he left them and they woke up, they might make a fuss.

He fetched his bags and regretfully emptied them, though he was careful as could be with the mushrooms. After all, he'd be back! Then he took each bag and put it over two of the Men's heads. The bags were coarsely woven, and they'd have no trouble breathing, but it might discourage them from yelling. Then he carefully put out the fire, for it would not do to have it burn unattended. He glanced up at the sky.

His foray had taken far more than a quarter-hour. But perhaps his news when he got back would keep his friends from being too angry at him.

Trotter turned and looked once more at his captives. Then whistling a jaunty tune, he started back towards his patrol's camp.

The Sun was finding her rest as he neared the spot where the swine had torn up the trail. It was getting quite dark, and he could spot a few stars between the branches above him, when he heard a voice calling: “Trotter! Trotter!”

His friends were searching for him!

“I'm here!” he called, and stopped moving, so they'd find him more easily.

The other three converged on him. “What took you so long?” asked Archer.

“Are you all right?” asked Dirhael.

“Well, erm...” at the expression of mingled relief and fury on Arador's face, Trotter very nearly forgot his news. But then he found his voice. “I found our sheep-thieves!”

“What?” Scolding forgotten, Longshanks immediately turned to business. “Where? Are they likely to get away?”

Trotter couldn't help it. He chuckled. “I don't think so. I left them all four trussed up as tight as a Yule goose on a spit.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, and he was the subject of three pairs of astonished grey eyes. Finally Arador nodded. “You can explain yourself along the way, Trotter. Take us there.”

Trotter was tired-- after all, he'd already made this trek before, but his elation overcame his weariness, and he was only too glad to explain his actions as they walked back. He basked in his comrade's praise of his cleverness, and Arador was especially pleased that he had managed to subdue the rogues without endangering himself. “Although, Trotter, if you had not been able to knock all of them out, and any had remained conscious, you would have been treed until we could find you.”

The others laughed. They'd never known Trotter's stones to miss, but Trotter understood his chief's concern, and decided to keep it in mind if ever there was a next time.

He was quite satisfied to show the others his captives, still arranged as he had left them. From beneath one of the bags a voice was steadily cursing, but the rest were silent.

The other Rangers laughed at the comical sight, but Trotter had something else on his mind. He went over to where he had emptied the bags, and sighed with relief. His bounty was undisturbed. “I think,” he said, “that we shall have fried mushrooms for breakfast tomorrow.”

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