Written for: Levade
Request: I'd love to see a story about the Rangers, maybe the Yule just before the Ring War, and see how they celebrate – maybe how they feel about watching over the Shire as they celebrate (I don't know if Hobbits celebrate Yule at the same time as Men?) and a scene from Rivendell or just in their own homes. Seems to me they would have had a bit of foreboding about what was to come with all the trouble they were seeing and that makes you appreciate what you have all that much more. Would love to see Halbarad and Aragorn, but OCs are certainly fine too.
Setting: Outskirts of the Shire/Rivendell
Characters: Strider, Halbarad, Arwen, and Elrond
Rallying Before the Darkness
The night was crisp and chill, but the sky was cloudless. A multitude of stars twinkled up in the heavens, while the moon perched, full and golden, in the distance. The sounds of merriment could be heard from afar. The rolling hills of Hobbiton were dotted with bright lights and smoking chimneys. Every now and then, the shrieks of excited children could be heard as the evening passed – for soon, it would be Yule.
Everything was bright and happy, save for two shadowy figures sitting near the foot of a large oak tree. Their hoods were drawn up against the cold, their faces obscured. Dressed in the woody hues of black, green, and brown, the two cut a sharp contrast from the jolly light and color of the Shire. The pair sat quietly in the dark, enjoying from afar the spirit of the Hobbits.
The dark figure on the right shifted, pulling down his hood. Despite the chill and his relaxed position, Strider was still not off his guard. His sword sat on the ground beside him. He lowered his pipe and sat in quiet contemplation of the bustling hamlet below him.
Likewise, the figure beside Strider drew down his hood. He glanced up at the sky. Fluffy, grey clouds were beginning to creep in upon the otherwise perfect sky. "We shall have snow tonight, Captain" he said quietly.
Strider nodded and said, "We shall, Halbarad. I have smelled it in the air for some time now. The Hobbit children shall be happy."
The other Ranger nodded, and for a time, Strider and Halbarad sat in silence. Strider looked over, after a time, to see Halbarad frowning and looking lost; biting down on his pipe stem in such concentration that the future King thought it was a wonder that it had not broken.
Strider shifted and rubbed his face tiredly. Would that he could spend a night in one of those quietly smoking holes where food, fun, and family were never scarce. But he well understood what being a Ranger meant and what those duties demanded…and those duties did not include napping the days away inside a warm Hobbit hole.
"If you keep on like that, you'll break it." Strider said quietly. Halbarad started and turned to his Captain and fellow Ranger.
"What?" He asked, looking confused. Strider pointed with his pipe at his friend.
"You were so intent on something that you were nearly biting through your own pipe."
The other ranger smiled and said, "I was merely thinking about Gandalf." Strider arched one of his eyebrows in an impressive impersonation of his foster father and waited for an elaboration. "What does he mean by it?" Halbarad asked, seemingly talking to himself aloud.
"Mean by what?" asked Strider.
"Gandalf has assigned the Rangers to guard the Shire: its people, its land, its borders…but for what purpose? This is not Bree. There is no malice among these people. Hobbits are among the most honest and true beings in all of Middle Earth. They care for nothing other than food and a few comforts. They have no urges towards evil, so why are we here instead of patrolling somewhere else where the law has run rampant and is in need of help?"
Strider considered carefully before answering. He shifted slightly, settling himself more comfortably. They would spend the night under the shelter of the large oak. "The Shadow is moving." He began quietly. To Halbarad it almost seemed as though Strider might be afraid. His face, though stern and thoughtful, was betrayed by a flicker in his eyes. "We shall soon be moving. I know you feel it too."
Halbarad nodded. He had felt it. A slow, shifting, creeping evil. Times had grown hard. Crops were failing and people were growing hard. Even those who had been more forgiving in the past were succumbing to the black. "But," Strider interrupted Halbarad's musings, "the Hobbits have no such malice. Most of them may be less than tolerant to those who are not Hobbits, but they are a kind and caring people. It is this same kindness that will see us through the dark times ahead."
Halbarad raised an eyebrow questioningly. "You believe this?"
Strider stirred and then stood, quietly as a mouse. "Gandalf has assigned us to this post – and I have never yet known him to lead me astray. We will soon take our leave of this place. The borders are safe for the time being and the next patrol is soon coming."
Companionable silence once again settled between the two men. The evening grew and the stars slowly inched across the sky. Gradually, the lights from the burrows below winked out as all of Hobbiton settled down for the last sleep before Yule.
There was a light crunch in the brush nearby and like the well trained Ranger that he was, Aragorn's hand slid onto the hilt of the sword. Two more Rangers stepped into the clearing. "Captain," the smaller, thinner of the two said, "we are here to remove you from your watch." Strider nodded and stood as Halbarad did likewise.
Leaving the next two Rangers to continue their watch, Strider and Halbarad made their way easily and unencumbered through the brush. Yule Eve was drawing to a close and Yule itself would soon be upon them. Halbarad clapped his hand upon his captain's back. "Tonight shall be wonderful. A warm place to sleep. A bed and a fire – imagine! It has been so long since last we enjoyed such comforts."
Strider grinned, his smile warm, then frowned. "Halbarad, I intend to return to the Last Homely House for Yule. Though the Elves do not celebrate Yule as Men and Hobbits do, it is still pleasant to be among my family for the time."
Without looking back, Halbarad smiled and said, "I have known for some time now that you intended to return to Rivendell." Strider opened his mouth to question how it was that Halbarad could know, but the other Ranger smiled and clapped him on the back. "Old friend," he said kindly, "I know you too well. You have seemed distant and wistful for some time now – even more so while we were around the Halflings. It was clear to me that a visit back to Rivendell should be happening soon. And Yule is as good a time as any, even if the Elves do not celebrate."
Strider returned the smile and clasped his friend's shoulder warmly. "Indeed," he said softly, "you do know me too well."
"I shall tell the others where you have gone," said Halbarad, "You will be missed Captain. Please be kind this Yule – especially to yourself." And with that, Halbarad was gone, off rustling through the foliage toward the nearest Rangering hut. Though the Ranger huts were usually empty as Rangers kept odd hours and preferred the outdoors, it was almost certain that Halbarad would find some company for Yule. Around the holiday, solitary though Rangers were by nature, they always seemed to find their way to the nearest Ranger hut just in time for Yule.
Strider knew from past experience that a Yule spent in a Ranger hut could be quite an affair. Anything, ranging from card games to drinking contests could happen, depending upon the Rangers currently present. Strider smiled as he thought back to younger days: things had been simple then. The lives of Rangers were still similar even now, but the world was changing. He could feel it.
Originally, it was had begun as almost a tickle. A minor irritation or perhaps an indication that something was not quite right. Over the months it had grown – a feeling that something important would happen very soon. In other circumstances, perhaps he would have ignored it, but there were other signs as well. Creatures, before unseen in such regions, were moving. The time was coming for a build up to something important. Though Strider did not know exactly what, he hoped that time with his foster father could shed some light on the situation.
Strider traveled light and fast, moving through what remained of the night and into the morning. The time to Rivendell passed uneventfully. The forest was quiet, somewhat more foreboding than in years past. It was with welcome relief that the Last Homely House came into sight that night. Greeted by the welcome sight of the twins, Elladan and Elrohir, as well as his beloved, Arwen, Strider could not help but grin. It seemed forever since the last time something had made him smile so widely that his cheeks hurt – and it was a welcome relief.
Elladan and Elrohir moved forward as one and clasped him warmly on the shoulders. Arwen smiled softly and embraced him. He reveled in the smell of her raven hair and the warmth of her body. If only he could stay this way forever in her arms. However, despite the Yule season, there were things to be done. "Is there still anything for supper? I'm famished." Strider declared. Arwen wrapped a slender arm around his waist and said, "Of course, my love." Dinner was a simple affair – some cuts of meat on fresh, warm bread, some chilled fruit salad, and a tall glass of Elf made wine.
Strider sighed. He merely wished to go to bed. He was at home with his family and his beloved – and he was full, warmly drowsy, and at peace. However, there was business to be done. Meeting his foster father in his study, the pair talked well into the dawn. Strider did as best as he could to fill his father in upon all that had happened on his patrols since last they had met. Finishing off with his parting from Halbarad and subsequent trek back to Rivendell, Strider paused, suddenly unsure as to how to broach the subject. But his reticence was not lost on the Lord of Imladris.
"There is something else, my son?"
Strider nodded and began, "Lately I have felt –" He stopped and tried again. "There has been the strangest feeling – more like a sense that-"
Lord Elrond interrupted, "A sense that darkness is moving?" Strider nodded. Elrond's eyebrows quirked ever so slightly. To someone who had not grown up with the Elf, it would have seemed like nothing. But Strider knew better. His father was worried.
"It is true." He proclaimed, standing up and striding from his chair. "For some time now we have been watching. Mordor's shadow grows. Their empire is rebuilding. And soon, very soon now, within the year we believe, they will attack. The Age of Elves is over, but the Age of Men may not be allowed to falter."
Striding back and forth in the chamber where he spent most of his time, the Elf Lord was a force in motion. "However," he said, drawing to a halt, "it is not Men who will see this battle through to the end."
Knowing that his foster father possessed the gift of foresight, Strider leaned forward in his chair and raised his eyebrow in an impressive imitation of the Elf Lord. "Not men?"
Elrond gave a short shake of his regal head and pierced Strider with a look that spoke volumes. "Not men, my son, but Hobbits."
Were Elrond prone to joking, Strider would have laughed. Hobbits? Surely this was a jest. Certainly he knew of Bilbo and his exploits, for how could he not? But in his time spent guarding the Halflings, Strider had seen nothing to indicate any kind of valor or bravery in the folk. They were honest and true – but there was no warrior spirit hiding away in their tiny chests. Only a love of food, family, and green things. How they could win a war Strider could not see. As though reading his mind, Elrond said, "Yes. Hobbits. You have wondered, I am sure, on many occasions why it is that Gandalf has assigned the Rangers the task of safeguarding the Shire. It is their spirit, that sense of innocence and love. Only one so pure could defeat the darkness that has long festered in the hearts of wicked men and evil beings."
Strider nodded. "Very soon, my son, the time will come for you to play your part in this matter." Again, the Ranger nodded. "You know what you must do."
Strider sat up straighter in his seat and said, "I am ready." His father nodded. Indeed, he had been waiting innumerable years to see his foster son fulfill his destiny. It would be a long and treacherous road and the Halflings were so small. But Elrond knew that this too must come to pass. The Shadow was moving – but so were they. They would be ready.