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B2MeM Challenge: This prompt by lindahoyland: Are the Rangers ever seen in the Shire? If so what do the Hobbits make of them? Do the Rangers ever openly help the Hobbits or have the Hobbits ever helped a sick or injured Ranger?
Hirluin wakened, startled at his surroundings at first, he blinked and shook his head. Of course, he was among the hobbits. He looked around; he realised he was in a barn. It was small, well made and tidy. He was quite comfortable upon a pallet of hay, and he could see Belan looking over at him from the low wall of the next stall over.
"Eh, you're awake then!"
He turned his head to see the farmer, Master Hob, sitting next to him. "Are you feeling a bit peckish?" he asked.
Hirluin was surprised to realise that he did indeed feel hungry. His appetite had not been good since his injury--which had been just as well, since he had little he could have eaten and not much time for it either. He nodded.
"Hari! Go tell the missus our guest is awake. I know she wants to feed him."
Dilly arrived in a few moments with a large pot that had a most savory smell. Hari was carrying dishes. They appeared rather large for hobbits; then he realised that the spoon was actually the dipper from the well and the bowl was a mixing bowl. Dilly put the pot down next to Hirluin, and the smell made his mouth water.
Dilly looked over at her husband. "Hob, can you help him sit up?"
As the hobbit, with Hari's aid helped the Ranger to a sitting position, Hirluin could not help a painful gasp. But he waved the hobbits' concern away. "Do not trouble yourself. I must sit up to eat, and I must learn to put aside the pain." Truthfully, he felt a wave of lightheadedness, but it passed. Dilly was dipping some of the delicious smelling stuff into the bowl, and he found himself watching with rapt attention.
"Can you hold it and feed yourself?" she asked.
He nodded, and took the bowl and the dipper. It was broth, but there were very tiny bits of meat and vegetables floating in it, and it was a rich deep brown colour. He dipped up a bit of it and sipped. It was hot, but not hot enough to burn his mouth. It was just salty enough, and he closed his eyes in bliss. He had not had hot food since he'd been injured; only dried meat and fruit and waybread, and when that had run out he'd not even felt like thinking about food. He found he was eating eagerly.
"Here, now, Mr. Hirluin, slow down a bit! You don't want to make yourself sick." She took the now empty bowl. "We'll wait a bit, and if it sits well with you, you can have some more."
He nodded, seeing the wisdom in her words. Truthfully, he was full, though his mouth was seeing fit to argue the matter. He said as much to Mistress Greenhand, who put her hand to her mouth and stifled a giggle.
He laid back down upon his pallet, and soon had drifted once more into a profoundly deep sleep.
The second time Hirluin wakened, Mistress Greenhand served him more of the delicious broth, along with some fresh brown bread to dip into it. She left after he ate, and he was able to make his way to a corner of the stall where a small chamber pot had been placed. After he had finished he slowly returned to his pallet, and soon fell deeply asleep once more.
When he woke again, it was full dark; he could see very little, but he could hear crickets chirping. He was alone, but he did not feel like going back to sleep. He kept thinking of the danger these small people were in. They had kindly taken him in, a stranger with a wild story, and offered him hospitality and healing. The thought of what the orcs--goblins as the hobbits called them--would do to his new friends, made his blood run cold.
Just then he heard the creaking of the barn door, and the hissing of whispered voices.
"Rob Headstrong, I don't care if you are the Shirriff, you are not to wake up that poor Man! He needs his rest!" That was clearly Mistress Greenhand.
"Now, Dilly, let the Shirriff do his work..." and that was the Farmer.
"Missus Dilly, I don't want to do any harm to this Big Person, but I need to learn about this story of his. He may be all you say, but he sounds mad. Goblins! Why would goblins care about the Shire?" a third voice hissed.
"Do not fear to wake me," Hirluin said, his voice sounding louder than usual in the previous quietness. "I was not asleep."
He heard the creak of the stall door, and the hobbits entered. One was carrying a dark lantern; he raised the shutter. The faint light seemed almost glaring to Hirluin, but he blinked a few times, and soon his eyes had adjusted to the light.
Two of the hobbits were the Greenhands, but the third was a stranger. The third hobbit was slightly taller and a good deal stockier than Hob, and though Hirluin could not see the exact colour of his hair, it was dark.
He came near to the pallet, and Hirluin sat up once more, not without a gasp of pain as his injury pulled slightly.
The new hobbit came into the stall, and gave a nod of his head. "Robur Headstrong, Chief Shirriff in the North Farthing, at your service," he said.
"Hirluin, son of Dirluin, Ranger of Eriador, at yours, Shirriff Headstrong."
"What's this I hear you are saying about goblins?" Hirluin's heart sank. He could hear the skeptical tone of the Shirriff's voice.
Maintaining a serious mien, Hirluin gave a brief account of his encounter with the orcs. "There are about one-hundred of the beasts still left, and they are fierce, cunning and merciless. I was able to move quickly with the help of my horse, since they are still afoot; but they will soon be approaching your northernmost border. You must warn the people to flee or to hide, for there is no hope with such a dreadful foe."
"You want to panic the entire Shire?" The Shirriff looked indignant. "You are just one person, and you have outrun them. And hobbits are very good at hiding. Besides, how bad can these 'goblins' be?"
"More terrible than you may imagine! Are you going to do nothing?" Hirluin allowed his anger to show. What a stubborn hobbit!
"The Bounder has headed over Greenfields way to see if he can find anything out. He'll report to me, and then we'll decide what to do."
Hirluin was fuming. But he dared not say more and antagonise the fellow. It was going to be up to him. If only he knew who was the right person to approach...
He could tell that both the Greenhands were angry, but Dilly set her face. "Come along, Shirriff Rob, we'll get out some blankets and you can bed down by the hearth. It's too late to ride home. Hob, would you stay and see that our guest gets some more water?"
"That's right kind of you, Mistress Dilly." The Shirriff followed his hostess out of the barn. Hob scowled after them.
"Old fool! But that's a Headstrong for you! We told him you was telling the truth, but he don't want to 'make a fuss' if nothing happens."
"Is the Bounder more reliable?"
"Aye. But he'll be going right out of the way. We need someone to go West, to Long Cleeve. Mister Jago Longhole's the only Squire up this-away, and if he sends a messenger to the Thain, it'll be listened to."
"Why not go directly to the Thain?"
Hob gave him a shrewd look. "Well, it's a goodly distance for one thing, almost to the South-farthing. The Squire can make sure as a messenger can get fresh ponies at the inns, and so ride right through. Faster to convince him we need the messenger."
"I shall go myself, if you would be so kind as to give me directions."
"You can't." Dilly had come back to the barn. She glared at him over the stall door. "You aren't well yet."
"Aside from that, you'd never make it on your own anyhow. The way across the moor is full of bogs and such."
"Nevertheless I must try. I do feel much better than I did when I arrived."
Dilly sniffed to show her opinion of that statement.
Hob pursed his lips and nodded at him. "You'll need a guide. Take me with you, then. I know the way well. I can keep you and your horse from falling into bogs, and get you there the quickest way."
"Hob!" Dilly's voice was sharp.
"Daffodill Greenhand, you know well that this is no lark. If we don't get a message to the Thain we'll be overrun with them goblins! You saw what they did to Hirluin there, and he had a sword and all to fight back."
She nodded reluctantly.
Hob turned and looked back at Hirluin. "Can that big horse of yours ride straight through?"
"How far is it?"
"Nigh on seventeen leagues, give or take a few furlongs."
"It seems that it is the middle of the night now?"
"Then if we leave now we should be able to arrive by midday. It is dark, and we will, by your account be riding on treacherous ground. By morning we may be able to pick up speed in the daylight. Belan is strong, but your extra weight will slow him a little bit. We shall not be able to ride at top speed, I am afraid."
"That's a long sight faster than we can go in our waggon when we go to visit Myrtle. It takes us nigh on two days."
"Well," said Dilly, "If you are set on this, I'll make you up some packets of food you can eat from the saddle, bread and cheese and pasties and such, and some apples. And fill a couple o' waterskins."
By the time that Hirluin had Belan saddled, Dilly had returned with a canvas satchel of food that could be tied to the saddle. Hirluin lifted Hob up to sit before him, wincing with pain. He feared he had pulled his wound again, and hoped it did not start bleeding afresh. Then he mounted, and Dilly stood at the barn door to watch them ride away into the darkness.
For the first few hours, they made good time. They were upon a road, and Belan could alternate trotting and walking. But soon enough they came to a fork in the road.
"Which one do we take?" One road stretched to the East, the other to the South.
"Neither one nor the other," said Hob. "South'd just take us on to Greenfields, which'll have us going down the length of the moors; West'll turn South and take us to Long Cleeve, but that's a longer way. It's made to avoid the moors. So we heads straight on, Mr. Hirluin and just cut across a corner of the moors. But we'll need to go slower, for a little, until the Sun shows herself and I can see the markers."
"Dawn is not far off now, I ken," said Hirluin. They rode at a moderate pace for a while. Every now and then, Hob would ask Hirluin to stop, but only for a second, as the hobbit tried to get his bearings. Soon the Sun rose, and they picked up the pace. Hirluin drank gratefully of his waterskin, and ate one of Dilly's mushroom pasties. Hob simply kept up a steady pace of eating, frequently offering Hirluin food. But the Ranger was beginning to feel his pain again, and had little appetite.
Now Hob could see the markers set to mark the bogs, and began to steer them around them. Soon they curved to the West.
"T'won't be long now," said Hob. "It's nigh on time for nuncheon." Indeed, the hobbit's stomach began to rumble. Hirluin could not help but wonder in amazement. Hob had eaten steadily through the morning, and even now was munching on an apple.
"Look!" Hob pointed South, where Hirluin could see the sparkle of a distant river. "That's the Water. We'll follow it up to Long Cleeve. There's a road again, as runs alongside the Water."
Hirluin was grateful. Belan was tired, he knew, and he himself was beyond exhausted. But the thought of what would happen if the hobbits remained unwarned burned ever in his heart and gave him strength to ignore his pain. They found the road as Hob had said, and rode upon it as it rose uphill. The hill was cleft in two by the river, and on the northern side was a rocky ridge, almost a low cliff. The southern bank was not so high. As they rode they began to see a few hobbits going about the day's business who gaped in astonishment. While Dwarves were sometimes see in this part of the Shire, it was very rare to see one of the Big Folk.
As they rode, Hirluin noticed the cottages that made up a small village. But just beyond it rose up another hill, at the apex of the ridge, riddled with round windows and not a few doors. Hobbits began pouring out of the doors like ants whose mound has been disturbed. All of them gathered around at a respectable distance. Hirluin dismounted stiffly, fighting off dizziness. He turned to help Hob down, leaning against Belan for support. As Hob half slid to the ground, Hirluin's knees buckled, and he found himself kneeling on the ground, fighting off pain and nausea.
An older hobbit with an air of authority about him stood forth from the crowd. He looked at Hob. "Farmer Greenhand, could you please tell me what is going on?"
"Mr. Longhole, this here's Hirluin, a Ranger, and he's come all this way, wounded and sick as he is, to bring us a warning."
"A warning? Of what?"
Hirluin summoned up all his strength to look at the hobbit. "Goblins, sir. An army of them, headed for the Shire." His head bowed and his hands were on his knees. He was utterly spent.
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