Of Rangers and Cats by Linda Hoyland

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B2MeM Prompt and Path: Things that go bump in the night. Purple Path.

Format: Short story.

Genre: Humour, family, animals

Rating: PG

Warnings: None

Characters: Aragorn, Halbarad, Ivorwen, OFCS

Pairings: None

Creator's Notes (optional): Brann is based on both Harry and my late Leo.

Summary: Aragorn finds his holiday far from restful.

Aragorn tossed restlessly. He sighed. He had been looking forward to his patrol duties ending and spending some time under Aunt Inzilbeth's roof rather than sleeping in the open. Sleep, though was proving elusive. Beside him, Halbarad snored loudly. It was so different from his spacious, comfortable room at Rivendell with the large bed to himself and no sound save the distant waterfall to lull him to sleep.

What was that sound in the corner, a scrabbling, and a scuffling? He tried to ignore it and go back to sleep. Minutes passed while the rustling sounds increased and Halbarad's snoring grew louder. Unable to bear it any longer, Aragorn jabbed his cousin in the ribs with his elbow.

"Um?" Halbarad muttered sleepily.

"You were snoring fit to wake the dead."

"I was not."

"And what is that scuffling in the corner?"

"Mice, I assume." Halbarad yawned.

"Mice indoors? We need a cat," Aragorn exclaimed.

Halbarad burrowed deeper under the covers. "We have a cat." The blankets muffled his voice. "Mother is very fond of her."

"I know she is, but she is half blind with hardly any teeth left."

"What of it? She is good company for mother."

"We need a mouser."

"What now? It's the middle of the night!"

"I mean in the morning."

Halbarad's head emerged from under the blankets. "There is an old woman in the village who feeds all the stray cats. No doubt she could find you a good mouser. I don't know what you are fretting about, though, there are mice aplenty in the woods and fields and in the stable where we slept last week."

"That is where they belong!" Aragorn retorted but Halbarad's head was again buried beneath the blankets. Within moments, his cousin was snoring loudly again. The scuffling grew louder. Aragorn feared the sound was now coming from under the bed. What if it were a rat and not a mouse? There had never been any rodents inside the Last Homely House. Master Elrond would have been horrified. Rats and mice spread all manner of diseases.

He had no objection to rodents in the woods and fields. They had every right to make their home there. He was untroubled by their presence when he was wearing thick boots and gloves. He felt very vulnerable lying here in only his nightshirt and drawers. Aunt Inzilbeth would object though if he wore his boots in bed. He thought of donning his socks, but then remembered they were hanging outside on the washing line. Aunt Inzilbeth always insisted on washing his and Halbarad's socks and linens when they returned from patrol.

Aragorn wondered if he should have accepted the offer of the Chieftain's House to live in. Then he thought of the young family who were living there. He could also have chosen to live with Grandmother Ivorwen, but she had sugested he might be happier with some younger company. Therefore, it had been decided it was better for him to stay with his aunt and cousin during the brief respites he had from his duties patrolling the wilds.

The scuffling seemed to have gone quiet for now. Aragorn closed his eyes and finally fell asleep.

000

Early the next morning, Aragorn and Halbarad made their way to Dame Haleth's home at the other side of the village. Aunt Inzilbeth had proved surprisingly easy to convince that there was a need for a second cat. Stroking Lithui, her old grey cat, she said, "Lithui keeps my chambers free of mice, but maybe she needs some help upstairs in the loft. Be sure you find a nice friendly cat that won't upset her.

Everyone in the village knew Dame Haleth as a lover of cats. The lady had never married, preferring to fill her home with a variety of felines as well as feeding all the strays in the village. It was obviously feeding time when Aragorn and Halbarad arrived as a selection of cats in every size and hue were clustered around her doorstep.

"Do you have a good mouser for my mother, Dame Haleth?" asked Halbarad after they bade the lady good morning.

"She wants a sweet natured cat that will not tease Lithui," Aragorn added.

Haleth thoughtfully surveyed the cluster of cats around her ankles. Then she bent down and picked up a large ginger tom. "This is Brann," she said. "He's a proven mouser and the sweetest cat you can find anywhere. I'm loth to see him go, but I know Mistress Inzilbeth will look after him well."

"Thank you," said Aragorn, reaching to take the cat from her. The ginger tom settled in his arms and purred contentedly.

000

That night, Aragorn prepared for bed in an optimistic mood. After inspecting every corner of the chamber, Brann had settled down to sleep at the foot of the bed.

Reassured that no rodents would get past their feline guardian, Aragorn quickly fell asleep. He was lost in pleasant dreams of Master Elrond's fair daughter when a loud crash rudely awakened him. Brann had leapt from the bed and was tearing wildly around the room.

"That cat makes more noise than the mice," observed Halbarad, who was also woken by the din.

A squeak sounded from under the bed.

"At least it sounds as if he is despatching the mice," said Aragorn. Trying to ignore the bumps and thuds, he pulled the blankets over his face and went back to sleep.

Aragorn was awakened again by a thud as Brann landed next to his pillow. Then a paw tapped him on the head. "It's not morning yet," he muttered sleepily, pulling the covers more closely around him.

He was tapped on the head again, this time the paw had claws extended. What felt like a dozen paws pulled at the covers. In the grey light of dawn, he could see a dead mouse on his pillow.

000

Aragorn decided to take advantage of his Grandmother Ivorwen's invitation to spend a few days with her any time he wished. Maybe Brann would have disposed of all the mice by the time he returned to his aunt's.

"So how is your mother?" enquired Ivorwen as they ate dinner together that night.

"She was well when I last received a letter from her," said Aragorn.

"A good girl, my Gilraen, not stubborn like Inzilbeth," said Ivorwen. "I told her she needed a new mouser years ago. She could have had one of my Emig's kittens." She affectionately patted the plump tabby that sat at her feet. "Emig is an excellent mouser."

"I shall sleep peacefully tonight then," said Aragorn.

"As I was saying, your mother was always a good obedient girl. She accepted her destiny."

"Her destiny?"

"To give birth to you, the hope of our people. How it gladdens my heart to have you under my roof this night."

Uncomfortable at this talk of his destiny, Aragorn pleaded weariness and retired to bed.

Exhausted by his lack of the sleep the previous two nights, the young Chieftain quickly fell asleep.

It seemed he had only been asleep a short time when he was awakened by a scratching at the window. Scratch, scrape, scratch.

Aragorn tried to ignore the sounds and burrowed under the covers. The sounds continued. Maybe it was some intruder?

Aragorn wearily clambered out of bed. Clasping his sword in his hand, he cautiously peered out into the moonlit garden. A large branch from the cherry tree in the garden was scraping across the window in the night breeze.

Aragorn sighed both with relief and frustration. He could hardly risk rousing his Grandmother by pruning the offending branch in the moonlight. He passed a restless night and mentioned it to Ivorwen over breakfast.

"Ah, Dirhael's tree!" she exclaimed. "He planted it when we were first wed. I love to hear it tapping against the window. You will soon get used to it."

Before Aragorn could say anything, there was a knock on the door. It was Halbarad.

"Orcs have been spotted near the next village," he said. "We need to go out on patrol at once."

"You poor lads!" exclaimed Ivorwen. "You've hardly had time to rest after your last patrol."

Aragorn struggled to contain his delight as he bade his grandmother farewell. Maybe out in the wilds he might get a good night's sleep.

 TBC




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