Babe in the Woods by Dreamflower

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March 7, 2011 Challenge

 

Overcoming prejudices is as hard in Middle-earth as in our primary universe. Write a story or poem or create artwork where the characters try to reach across racial or gender or any other barrier.


Babe in the Woods

“Neddy!”

“Neddy!”

“Neddy!”

More than one voice was calling the name.  Aragorn and Halbarad exchanged a look.  Clearly, someone must be lost in the woods.  The two of them were passing near Staddle, on their way to the Shire.

“Hobbits,” said Aragorn.  The voices were higher and lighter than those of Men.

Halbarad nodded.  Normally, hobbits would have been so quiet that the two Rangers could have come upon them without ever hearing them.  But these were making no effort at all to be silent, and their cries sounded on the verge of panic.  Moving silently themselves, they approached the searching hobbits—as they moved around a bend in the path, they saw the hobbits before the hobbits saw them.  There were three of them—one older, what the hobbits called a “gaffer”, an adult, and an older adolescent. 

“May we be of assistance, small masters?” Aragorn asked softly.

The eldest, jumped, and then fixed them with a glare of hostility, while the other two scooped up stones in a blink.  The youngest held his ready to throw.  The two Rangers exchanged a glance; both of them knew of the skill of hobbits with a stone.  They carefully stood with empty hands held away from their bodies and their weapons, and tried to appear harmless.

"I am sorry if we startled you," said Aragorn, as softly as he could.  "But my friend and I heard you calling, and wondered if you had lost someone?"

"Don't trust'em," said the eldest instantly.  "It's a couple o' them Rangers!" He said the last in a tone that indicated Rangers were something both nasty and perilous.

"Da?" the youngest put a hand on the third hobbit's shoulder for reassurance.

It was the third one who met their eyes, a defiant desperation in his own.  "I'm Tim Underhill.  This here's my older son Togo, and my father-in-law, Matt Brockhouse.  It's my younger lad Neddy as is missing." He bit his lip and Aragorn and Halbarad could see tears standing in his eyes before he blinked them away.  "He's only a little lad, only nine."

Aragorn felt a chill of fear.  A hobbit lad of nine would appear to Men's eyes to have no more years than a boy of six-- and would be very tiny and vulnerable prey in the woods.  "We'll help you search, Mr. Underhill," he said.  "I'm called Strider, and this is my kinsman Rover, at your service."  He gave the brief little nod of a bow commonly used in the north when an introduction was made.

"Don't have any truck with them," said Mr. Brockhouse fiercely.  "You shouldn't've told 'em Neddy's out there alone-- who knows what they'll do to him!"

Mr. Underhill shook his head.  "Two more pairs 'o eyes can't help but be useful.  It's going to be coming on for night soon enough.  We have to find Neddy!  You and Togo, you keep looking, too, and I'll go with 'em.  Neddy'd likely be a-feared of 'em if they found him without me."

Togo looked uncertain.  "Da, are you sure it's safe?"

Mr. Underhill looked at his son.  "You go on with your Gaffer.  You'll know who I'm with, and be able to tell of it, should aught go amiss."

 

While Aragorn waited, pretending to be deaf to the insulting conversation, Halbarad was already casting a look around, searching for a trace of a small hobbit-lad's passage.  "Strider!" he said.

 

Aragorn and Mr. Underhill went instantly to his side.  Mr. Brockhouse and Togo, watched them briefly, and then went off in another direction, yelling "Neddy!" again.

"What is it?" asked Mr. Underhill.

The two Rangers were inspecting a bilberry thicket.  "I'd say a young hobbit has passed this way," Aragorn pointed to where Halbarad had been inspecting the bush.  the bottom of the bush was completely stripped of ripe berries-- any that would have been in the reach of a tiny young hobbit.

Mr. Underhill nodded. "Aye, my Neddy's right fond of bilberries."

Aragorn peered at the ground closely for any sign of the child's passage.  A little hobbit would not leave much trace, but there was very little that could escape Aragorn's expert eye, and in just a few moments, they had a direction.  Less than a rod further on was another bilberry bush, stripped in the same manner, and just past that, they found a small handkerchief, stained with berry juice.

Convinced they were on the right track the two Men moved swiftly, and Mr. Underhill was only able to keep up with them out of his desperate need to find his son. 

They travelled on quickly, every now and then stopping briefly to look for more sign of their small quarry.  It was surprising how far a small child could have gone!

The light was fading into dusk, and Aragorn had stopped to find another faint trace of the little one’s passage, when Halbarad’s eye was caught by another trace.  “Strider!” he said urgently.

Aragorn turned and joined his kinsman, and his eye fell upon a far easier spoor to read.  He drew in a deep breath.  “We must find the child as quickly as may be!” he said sharply.

“What is it?”  Mr. Underhill was breathless.  It was all he could do to keep up with these long-legged Men.  Aragorn gave the hobbit father a look of pity.  “It’s fox sign…”

Mr. Underhill made a sound halfway between a gasp and a sob.  “Go!” he said, “Go and find my lad!  You can move more quickly without me!  Please find him!”

 Aragorn and Halbarad moved swiftly away, but not before they heard him mutter, “Please let it not be too late already…”

The Rangers were able to go more easily without having to wait for the hobbit to keep up.  The fox at least was taking no trouble to hide its trail—and its trail was clearly following that of the child. 

It was with relief that both Men heard a sound, just a whimper, and then a yip.  They put on a burst of speed toward the sound, and came upon a bramble-bush.  A vixen was prowling back and forth in front of it.

 “Go ‘way!” sobbed a high childish voice.  There was a thump, and the vixen yelped again and gave a little jump back.  She backed up a little, but still paced back and forth in front of the child’s hiding place.

Halbarad unslung his bow, but Aragorn put a hand of restraint on his arm.  “She’s nursing kits,” he said.  “Perhaps there’s another way!”  He stooped and picked up a small stone, hefting it in his palm.

“I said go ‘way!” came the voice from the bush, and the vixen received another pebble on the nose.  As she jumped, Aragorn threw his stone with a shout: “Hoy!” It struck her on the rump.  Finding herself attacked from two sides, she tucked her tail between her legs and ran away.

“Hopefully she will find more acceptable prey now.”

There was a rustle, and then a little face peered out fearfully from the bush.  It was scratched and berry stained, and the brown curls were a tangled mess, with twigs and leaves ensnared among them.

 

“Neddy?” Aragorn called softly.

 

The little hobbits eyes went round, and the face vanished.

“Go ‘way!  I’m not s’posed to talk to strange Big Folks!”

“That’s a very good thing, Neddy, but we are not strange.  We know your name.  Your father sent us to look for you.  He has been searching for you, and so have your brother and your grandfather.”  Aragorn and Halbarad both knelt down, so as to appear less huge and threatening.  “Won’t you let us take you to your da?”

“I don’t know your names.”

“I’m Strider.”

 

“And I’m Rover.”

 The little face peeked out again.  “Those are silly names.”

“Neddy, your da is worried about you.  Won’t you let us take you to him?”

Hesitantly the child came out on hands and knees.  He winced as he crawled out, and then stood up and limped over to them, stopping about three feet away.  His left leg had a ragged gash in it and both knees were badly scraped.  He still looked rather nervous, and Aragorn feared he might dart back into the brambles if they startled him.

 “How did you get hurt, Neddy?”

“I fell down when I was trying to get away from the fox.  The rocks were sharp.”

“Ah,”  Aragorn was at a loss as to what to say next.  He wanted to pick the lad up and examine him, and carry him back to his father.

Halbarad reached into the pouch at his side and produced a pear.  “Are you hungry, Neddly?”

Food did the trick.  Neddy came close enough to take the pear.

“Thank you,” he said politely.

It took only a little more coaxing, and Neddy allowed Aragorn to pick him up.  He cradled the child in his arms; though Neddy was nine, he fit into Aragorn’s arms like a tiny babe.  Aragorn cradled the little hobbit’s head against his shoulder, and they turned and headed back to meet with the worried father.

The little face was warm and sticky with berry and pear juice, and as the child relaxed, his arms went trustingly around Aragorn’s neck.  Aragorn softly sang a Sindarin lullaby as they walked, and before long Neddy was sound asleep.

It was full dark when they came upon Mr. Underhill.  His older son and father-in-law had joined him, and they could hear Mr. Brockhouse grumbling.  “You see!  They run off and left you!  I knew you shouldn’t’ve trusted them two…”  He broke off, startled, as he saw the Men coming.

But Mr. Underhill had eyes only for his son.  “Neddy!” he said, a sob in his voice.

Aragorn bent and transferred his precious cargo into the father’s arms.  Neddy stirred briefly, “Da,” he sighed, and then snuggled in more closely.

“You have a brave little fellow there, Mr. Underhill.  When we found him, he was holed up in a bramblebush holding the fox off by throwing stones!”

Togo, who stood next to his father, reached out and touched his little brother’s head softly.  “Did he really?” he asked proudly.

“Indeed he did,” Aragorn answered.  “Well, you have your little one back now.  He seems to have suffered only scrapes and a cut.  Had I light and water, I would tend them, for I have some training as a healer.”

 “Won’t you come back to the smial with us, Strider and Rover?  I know the missus will want to thank you, and we can feed you supper.”

Aragorn and Halbarad exchanged a look, and then a smile.  “We’ve learned never to turn down a chance at hobbit cooking!” Aragorn answered.  “And then I can check Neddy’s injuries, and make sure they are not more serious than I think.”

Mr. Underhill held his child more tightly.  “I will never be able to thank you enough,” he said.

“It was our pleasure to be of service.”

The small group walked in silence for a few moments.  Mr. Brockhouse was lagging behind, walking with his head down.  Halbarad dropped back to walk alongside him.  “Are you all right, Mr. Brockhouse?”

There was no answer at first, and then the elderly hobbit mumbled, “I owe you fellows an apology.”

Halbarad did not ask why.

“I never heard of no good about Rangers.  I never really met one afore.  You’re not like I thought.”

“Appearances are against us, I fear,” Halbarad answered.

Mr. Brockhouse gave a brief chuckle. “That’s so, I’m afraid.  But someone as old as me ought to have more sense than to just go by appearances or what other folks say.”

“Everyone does that sometimes,” Halbarad said.  “Tell me, is your daughter a good cook?”

The old hobbit laughed.  Neddy stirred in his father’s arms.  “Gaffer?” he asked sleepily. 

“I’m here, Neddy,” he said.  He turned his face up to Halbarad.  “I thank you, you and your friend, for the life of my grandson.”

Halbarad reached down and gently placed a hand on his shoulder.  “You can show your thanks by thinking a bit more kindly of Rangers in the future.”

“Aye, I can do that.”

 

 

 

 




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