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Animals of Middle-earth

Rating: T

Word Count: 1,280

Disclaimer: The characters of “The Lord of the Rings” were created by J.R.R. Tolkien, not by me. I am only borrowing them, the better to pay tribute to his genius, as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. No violation of copyright is intended: please do not sue.

Summary: Finding themselves to be objects of suspicion, Strider and Halbarad must find a thief.





“This is beneath the dignity of a Ranger,” Halbarad said.

Strider said nothing.

“Not only beneath the dignity of a Ranger, but of a Dunadan,” Halbarad added.

Strider still said nothing.

“Beneath the dignity even of a Man,” Halbarad prodded.

There was still no response from Strider. Halbarad let out a gust of breath in a great sigh. If his kinsman and Chieftain was determined to ignore him, there was nothing Halbarad could do. Aragorn might have received the name “Strider” because of his long legs and even longer stride, but when necessary he had the patient immobility of a mountain. Halbarad lowered his voice and spoke more quietly, less aggressively.

“Truly, my lord, do you believe that watching a chicken coop is the best use of our time?”

At last, Strider seemed to pay some attention; at least, he turned his stormcloud-gray eyes in Halbarad’s direction. “Yes, I do. Have you forgotten how the people of this village looked at us? I am certain they believe that, as strangers in town and Rangers at that, we were the ones who stole their chickens last night.”

“What of it? We both know that we did not. We might simply have left town,” Halbarad argued.

Aragorn shook his head. “And we would have left distrust behind us, still simmering. Our men might have to pass this way again, Hal; if so, I would not have them be suspected of being chicken thieves. As you said, *that* would be beneath the dignity of a Ranger.”

The other Dunadan was a bit sullen, but he knew his Chieftain was right. Catching the thief was the only way to remove the cloud of suspicion.

He settled back, but could not resist one last complaint. “So, we remain out here, in the cold, waiting for a fox to raid a henhouse—”

“Quiet,” his Chieftain hissed. “I saw something.”

Halbarad instantly fell silent, and his own gaze raked their surroundings. After a moment, he saw it; a small, dark shape, moving stealthily to enter the building where the chickens roosted.

Both Rangers moved quickly out of their places of concealment; but before they could reach the henhouse, the dark shape had both entered the building and exited it just a moment later, clutching a hen. The eyes of both Rangers were keen, their night vision good, but neither could tell exactly what the creature was.

The creature’s night vision seemed even better than their own, for it started suddenly at the sight of them, then turned and ran for the trees at the edge of the farmland. It moved with a strange, loping gait, and its speed was astonishing. It moves like nothing I have ever seen, Halbarad thought, amazed, as beside him, Aragorn fixed an arrow to his bow.

The creature seemed to hear the sound of the arrow being nocked; it dropped the chicken and ran for its life. It reached the trees just an instant before the arrow would have pierced it, and without an instant’s hesitation, scuttled up the trunk, climbing easily from branch to branch, until it vanished into the darkness of the trees. By the time the Rangers reached the base of the first tree trunk, the creature was gone.

“What was that?” Halbarad breathed. Had he not seen it for himself, he would not have believed it.

“I know not,” Strider said, retrieving his arrow as his kinsman picked up the small, still-warm body dropped by the creature. “It moved like a monkey, but it was no animal. Nor was it any child of Men or Elves.”

Halbarad looked at his Chieftain, puzzled. “What is a monkey?”

“A small, rather manlike animal sometimes kept for amusement by the Haradrim,” Strider answered. “But this was no monkey, no animal of any kind. The hen’s neck was wrung, not bitten.”

Halbarad glanced down at the feathered corpse in his hands, and saw that as usual, his Chieftain was correct. By this time, the dog was barking and lights were going on in the farmhouse behind them. “One good thing has come of all this,” he said, trying for a silver lining.

Strider glanced at him questioningly.

“If the farmer invites us to stay, we will have chicken for dinner tonight.”

~ooo0ooo~

They were indeed invited to stay, not just by the farmer, but by the entire village. Having been chased away from one farm by the two Rangers, the creature had not given up that night. It had gone to another farm, and there, its prey had been more than a chicken. The creature climbed through a window and attacked an infant in its cradle, biting the babe’s neck and drinking its blood. The child’s screams had roused the household barely in time. The babe was saved, but the creature—its dark and ugly shape glimpsed by more than one person—had escaped.

Strider examined and treated the child, doing what he could to soothe the infant and keep the bite marks on the once-chubby neck from becoming infected. His healing efforts had done much to reassure the locals; that and the fact that more was at stake now than the loss of some chickens did much to make the villagers line up on the side of the Dunadain. Although there was a bit of muttering about how none of this had happened before the Rangers passed through, most of the locals understood that the Rangers could not have been guarding a henhouse on one farm and then been responsible for an attack on a child at another. Before the morn’s end, the locals were begging the two Rangers to find and destroy the creature that now threatened not only their livestock but their children.

Strider and Halbarad searched the village and the area surrounding it for any sign of the creature. For the first day and for part of the second, their search yielded but little. At last, at an insignificant muddy pool of water some distance from the village, Strider found some faint tracks.

Halbarad was amazed at the change in his Chieftain. A flush of excitement appeared in Strider’s often-grim face, and his gray eyes glittered with interest and anticipation. Rising from his position of examining the small footprints, he turned his gaze to Halbarad and spoke. “Go back to the village. Tell their elders that the creature has departed, and is not likely to return. Tell them that I shall track it, wherever it may go, until I have found and captured it. When you have done that, Halbarad, I charge you to return to our people and lead them in my absence. For I fear the journey that I must undertake will be long, but necessary.”

Halbarad was dumbfounded. “Necessary? Aragorn, is it truly so important that you find this creature? Is it not enough that we have driven it away from the village?”

Strider clasped the other man’s shoulder. “Indeed, kinsman, it is most necessary. This is a quest given to me by Gandalf the Grey, who does nothing without purpose; and this is the first sign I have seen in a long time that gives me hope of fulfilling his charge upon me.”

“But what is this creature?”

“It is called ‘Gollum.’”

~ooo0ooo~

“I, too, despaired at last, and I began my homeward journey. And then, by fortune, I came suddenly on what I sought: the marks of soft feet beside a muddy pool. But now the trail was fresh and swift, and it led not to Mordor but away. Along the skirts of the Dead Marshes I followed it, and then I had him.”----Aragorn, speaking at the Council of Elrond, LotR

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