A Ranger’s Best Friend|
Aragorn finds that a pleasant memory can provide a welcome escape from worry and stress.
The cheerful chorus of insects seemed to be carried on the gentle breeze as Aragorn lowered himself wearily to the ground, resting his back against the sturdy base of a large oak tree.
Reaching into a worn leather pack, he extracted a small linen bundle. Unfolding the cloth, he withdrew what remained of his meager food store and began to munch on a morsel of bread. He was used to insufficient rations, but he found the lack of companionship harder to bear. Where was Halbarad? Aragorn had not had a message from him for days, despite their plans to meet here on this very day. Had his friend encountered some danger? Aragorn reminded himself wryly that this would not be unusual and that the experienced ranger was more than capable of dealing with any unforeseen threats. Then again, it only took one arrow from a surprise ambush to slay a man. What if-
A rustle from a nearby bush distracted him from his worry over Halbarad’s delay with the threat of a more immediate danger. Aragorn swiftly drew his sword from its sheath and leapt to his feet. He doubted danger here in the idyllic Shire, but long years of wandering in the wild had taught him to be constantly wary. A memory came to him of the words of warning spoken long ago as he departed from the sheltered safety of Rivendell.
“Never doubt the ever growing power of the Enemy, Aragorn,” Elrond had advised. “The moment you are caught off guard could be your last.”
Aragorn had read the unspoken words in his eyes: And you know what that would mean for the free peoples of Middle Earth- defeat. You cannot fail in watchfulness.
I won’t, Ada. I promise.
Aragorn stepped closer to the clump of underbrush, treading almost silently. His fingers grasped the sword hilt with practiced skill as he waited for some further indication of the presence of an enemy.
The next sound was unmistakably a snarl, but to Aragorn’s relief, it came from a dog instead of an orc. A yelp of pain followed. Aragorn had learned something of the elvish way of charming beasts from his brothers in Rivendell and decided to try to persuade the dog to allow him to approach. Maybe he could discover the source of its pain. “Come, my friend. I wish you no harm,” he whispered, kneeling and holding out a hand to the animal. Timidly the beast raised its head and studied Aragorn with wary eyes, the growls dying in its throat.
“It’s all right. I only wish to help you,” Aragorn murmured soothingly. He crept closer and noticed that the dog was covered in scratches and hopelessly tangled in the brambles surrounding it. Once the beast had sniffed the ranger’s hand and seemed reassured by the woodsy scent that lingered on the man, Aragorn began to run his hands over the dog’s fur. Gratified to feel the dog’s body relax under his touch, the man devoted himself to discovering a way to release the animal from its thorny prison. Withdrawing a knife from his pocket, he carefully cut aside the bramble.
The dog gratefully followed Aragorn back to his resting place beneath the tree, where its trust was rewarded with a scrap of bread crust.
“I used to have a dog of my own,” he commented to his new found friend. Leaning back and closing his eyes, Aragorn let his mind stray to a time when he was not the Chief of the Dunadan, a man burdened with the knowledge that he was the final hope for his people. Then, he had just been a normal child delighting in boyhood pleasures.
“Ada, where’s Glorfindel?” Estel asked mournfully from his post at the window. “He promised to be here for my birthday, and it’s almost evening. He will miss the feast.”
Elrond sighed, figuring this must be the tenth inquiry he had received in the past hour alone. “Estel, I am sure-“
He was interrupted by an excited shriek from the child, who had just spotted the golden haired warrior striding into the yard. Estel flew out of the room, and Elrond was finally left in peace.
“Glorfindel! You’re late,” Estel complained once he had reached his friend’s side. When he noticed that Glorfindel’s arm, concealed under his cloak, was curled up near his chest, he immediately felt guilty for worrying about his own birthday celebration when the elf might have been in danger.
” Are you all right, Glorfindel? What happened to your arm?”
“I’m not injured, Estel,” Glorfindel assured him. A yelp came from under his cloak, and Glorfindel grinned at the boy. “It’s your birthday present,” he admitted.
He drew back the folds of his cloak, and Estel spotted a glimpse of brown fur. Two inquisitive black eyes peered out to be met by a pair of equally curious grey ones.
“It’s a puppy!” Estel clapped his hands joyfully.
“Yes, it is, mellon nin,” Glorfindel knelt and held out the small creature. “Consider it a present from me in honor of your birthday.” When he heard Gilraen’s soft footsteps on the door step and then at his side, the elf faltered. “If your mother doesn’t mind, that is.”
No protests came from that direction. In fact, Gilraen was already kneeling beside her son, stroking the animal with almost girlish delight. She had always regretted that Estel, raised by elves among the privileges and splendor of Rivendell, had missed out on so many of the simple childhood pleasures she had enjoyed in her youth. Glorfindel found himself rewarded with the rare pleasure of receiving an appreciative smile from the mother of the heir of Isildur.
“Oh, I have to show Ada!” Estel suddenly remembered, scooping up the puppy and heading for the door.
“Um, Estel-“Glorfindel scrambled after his young friend, and Gilraen gave him a curious look.
“I assume you asked Lord Elrond before selecting a puppy for Estel?”
“Not exactly,” Glorfindel hedged, watching nervously as Estel disappeared in the corridors. “I had hoped the joy in Estel’s eyes would be persuasive enough. All the same, perhaps I had better prepare my lord for this surprise.” Dodging Gilraen, he darted through the halls and scrambled up the flight of stairs leading to Elrond’s quarters.
You, who slew a balrog, cannot even catch up to a mortal child? Glorfindel berated himself. Estel‘s voice could already be heard in Elrond’s study, and a peek inside revealed that he was proudly showing off his new pet.
“It’s a fine animal, Estel. Take care to keep it out of trouble.” Elrond turned and gave Glorfindel a look that clearly said Estel would not be the only one held accountable if the puppy caused mischief.
“I’ll name him Beren,” Estel continued, blissfully ignorant of the silent conversation occurring between his friend and his foster father.”The Lay of Luthien is my favorite tale, and the marking on my puppy’s chest looks like a Silmaril.”
His attention diverted from Glorfindel, Elrond lifted the puppy to inspect the truth of this claim.
“So it does. The name is well chosen, Estel,” Elrond agreed, and Glorfindel released an inaudible sigh of relief. His master approved of the gift he had given Estel; well, he at least had forgiven it. Elrond, however, had not finished and was looking gravely at his foster son.
“There’s just one problem.”
Estel looked up in confusion. “What’s that, Ada?”
“The puppy’s a girl.”
The dog stirred and whimpered at Aragorn’s side, drawing the man out of his memory.
“I decided the name Luthien would do just as well,” Aragorn finished aloud with a chuckle, reaching over to fondle the dog’s ears.
“Luthien? Like the beautiful elf queen with the Silmaril?”
Aragorn glanced up and saw a young hobbit with dark, curly hair staring at him with soulful blue eyes. He wondered that the child had heard of the elvish queen out of ancient legend; as a rule, the Halflings had little knowledge about the history of the First born and shunned association with elves. Aragorn was not given any more time to ponder this unusual circumstance: the wide blue eyes were studying him.
“That’s my dog,” the hobbit child stated. He did not seem overly troubled that the Ranger was cuddling his pet, despite the reputation the Dunedain unintentionally held in the Shire.
“Then I must thank you,” Aragorn replied, making his voice reflect the Bree dialect. Even with a hobbit, he couldn’t be too careful. “His company has made this last half hour quite pleasant.”
The whisper of rustling leaves and soft footsteps was heard once again. Aragorn’s sharp eyes noticed the familiar green cloak and brown breeches: the garb of a ranger. The hobbit whistled softly to the dog, and both had disappeared before Aragorn could blink.
“I think you frightened him, Halbarad.”
“This is the welcome you give your friends?” Halbarad feigned indignation.
“If they’re late, yes,” Aragorn teased.
“Truly, I am sorry about the delay.”
“That is fine, for I enjoyed the rest,” Aragorn hastened to reassure his friend. Halbarad sat down beside him, and both relaxed in a comfortable silence.
Halbarad’s thoughts were soon busy with the reports he had heard of enemy spies. They had come closer to the boarders of the Shire than they had dared to for years, and he needed to advise his rangers to double their watch. And then there was Aragorn. His thoughts soon changed to concern for his friend’s well being. As the Heir of Isildur and the Chieftain of the Dunadan in these troubled times, he must be under such stress…
Aragorn noticed the worry on his friend’s face and decided to give Halbarad the same gift the dog had just given him. He broke the silence. “Halbarad?”
“Have you ever had a dog?”