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Tales from the Rangers - by Jeferson D'Ander

Tales from the Rangers
by "Skinner"
North Farthing, Shire
August, 3018 T.A.

The late-summer rain pattered down upon the wooden roof of the Two Birds Tavern in a steady, rhythmical beat. A dozen or so of the best Hobbits in the village of Long Cleave had gathered to warm their bodies before they journeyed home for evening supper and the quiet fires of their home hearths. With mugs tilting and wholly feet propped up the conversation swirled around many of the ordinary topics. Soon the Keeper popped in from the kitchen, bearing a pitcher brimming with a new round of dark, foamy beer.

"I had the queerest visit today, round about dawn." Began the fat little tavern keeper, as he circled the common room topping off the crocks. "The Skinner paid me a call, don't ya know."

"Now there you go again, Nortleman." Retorted Trombolo the Miller as he puffed blue clouds of Old Toby pipe weed into the air above him, "Starting odd stories to keep us here drinking your beer when we all would be better off heading home for the evening."

"Oh, this ain't no story." Defended the Keeper. "He came by just as I said, on that great shaggy war-horse of his. Loaded with all manner of furs and skins. He had a treme

ndous wolf hide, head and all, laying right there on the top of his pile. It's dead eyes just staring right at me! I had just sent Little Tulko out to fetch the eggs for the breakfast when he came jumping back through the door. There be a dark rider out back! He says, all quivery and silly. So I grab a lantern and go to take a look. There was the Skinner, just sitting astride his great mount like a stone statue, all hooded up and cloaked. What would you be wanting so early in the morning? I says and then he says in a deep booming voice, I have some skins that I would like to trade or barter with you if I could? Well, I took one look at the furs and knew that I could get quite a margin for them in Waymeet or even Hobbiton, so I says, Let me have a look at them there. Mostly they was buckskins, but then there was that wolf fur. Beautiful it is. All dark grey and black. It alone will fetch a tidy sum, a tidy sum indeed. So I says, What will you be wanting for the whole lot? And he says naught but a bag o' salt, some parchment paper, writing ink, and horseshoe nails! Now, ain't that a queer order list! But I says, Deal, and after I have Tulko fetch it all, The Skinner up and rides off into the sunrise. I'll be gettin' ten or twenty times that amount when I trades the furs down south! What do ya think of that?"

"Strange is, is strange does!" Proclaimed Old Moldur from Greenfields. "Them Big Folks is all queer if you ask me."

"You'll never see as dark and shadowy a character as the Skinner anywhere in the North Farthing. I have heard that he holes-up nearby the haunted lake up north country" Added Sam Carpetsaddle from near the fireplace.

"I haven't heard tell of the Skinner being seen in these parts for quite some time." Added Bobart Nortook as he tapped his pipe clean upon the armrest of the chair he sat within. "Nor any of the Big Folk for that matter.'

"For certain." Replied Nortleman. "But it be all the truth! You can ask Little Tulko, if you don't believe me."

"Big Folk, up here in the North Farthing, what is becoming of the Shire?" Grumped the Miller.

"Aye, you said it Trombolo!" Blasted Glanis Bucknorth from the corner, "Mayhap we all would be better off in the protection of our own homes!" And with that he stomped to his feet and stormed from the common room.

With the good mood broken, nearly everyone followed him out of the tavern and soon Keeper Nortleman found himself alone in the tavern, cursing his luck and his choice of stories.

The rain drizzled upon the hatless head of Bobart Nortook all the way from the Two Birds Tavern to his home up the Cleave from the lower portion of the village. The Long Cleave was a deep, narrow valley cut from the rim of the upland moors by a river that flowed from out of the high country that surrounds Lake Nenuial. After falling from a series of cataracts the river Bindbale continued down the deep gorge and passed through the village of Long Cleave, which was founded at the base. A large mill turned upon the fast moving river serving a lowland countryside dotted with little farms and holdings. Other than the tavern and the mill, only a community warehouse comprised the "down Cleave" portion of the village.

As Bobart climbed a wooden stair that was built into a steep sided section of the ravine, the rain slackened and even quite as he opened the round door of his little smial. Warm light pored from the hobbit hole, spilling golden upon his glistening, wet form.

"Oh, do come in quickly!" Began his wife, Marilee Nortook, as she came to the door and beheld his dishevelment. "Robi," she said over her shoulder to the youngsters in the background, "cast another faggot upon the fire, your father is dripping wet!"

After a hot meal of coney stew and seed cakes, Bobart sat before his hearth within his favorite stuffed chair gripping a steaming mug of tea between both fists. His three children, Robart, Dobart, and little Sallie played with small wooden figures at his feet while Marilee cleaned the supper dishes.

"Dear," began Bobart, "The most remarkable stories floated around the Birds tonight."

"Of what sort?" She replied.

"It seems that none other than the Skinner paid a visit to Nortleman this morning."

"How can that be?" She laughed, "Are children's stories walking about the Shire these days?"

"Never the less, he seemed to have his facts straight and his tale plausible."

"Dad, who is the Skinner?" Popped Robart from the floor.

"You mean what is the Skinner, Robi. Not who is the Skinner."

"Bob, don't go a freighting the children!" Shouted Marilee playfully.

"A dark character from the northern moors, who rides the landscape upon his great black horse under the cover of night, doing who knows what. I do know that they say he rides after children who don't obey their parents and stay out too late."

Robart's eyes became saucers and his chin dropped. He began to ask another question when his mother suddenly intervened and whisked the children to bed. Bobart could hear Marilee trying desperately to divert the conversation to something more timid and he smiled into his steaming tea.

The next day dawned with broken clouds and a wet smelling wind from the west. The rains however, held off through the morning hours and left the afternoon with scattered flashing bits of sunshine. Upon a little lawn that stretched green above a twisting bend in the river, Robart and several other young hobbits sat talking.

"…and he was saying that he rides after children that stay up after dark!" Robart repeated to his friends. "But I don't believe it. My dad is always telling tales."

"I believe it." Responded Rory Nortook his older cousin. "I believe it because I have seen the Skinner with my own eyes."

"When… how… where?" Several hobbits shouted at once.

"Come on and follow me. I know how to summon him up from the haunted lake! My older brother Lobello told me how. Come on!"

It was a simple matter for the young hobbits to leave the cloven valley and reach the high moors that stretched away to the north. A path rose from out of the gorge and wound to spot where the valley stretched down and out of sight. Four young hobbits stood watching the river fall off a shelf of rock and disappear into a billowing mist bellow.

"There is a place that me and older brother used to go for picnics." Began Rory as they stood staring down into the deep mists. "We used to come up here all the time, before he got married moved to Oatbarton. He told me how simple it is. He and his pals used to do it all the time."

"How far is the place?" Asked Robart as thunder softly rolled from out of the west.

"It's just over that rise." Rory said pointing to the north. "All we do is wait for sundown and then we say the chant. Then he comes!"

The four hobbits ventured out of the valley and soon found an ancient standing stone centered within a bowl shaped depression that was rimmed with a prickly thicket. Thunder again rolled from the west when the sun sank into a massive stormy cloudbank. Lightning flashed in the dark sky as the lads formed a semi-circle around the granite obelisk. The wind suddenly whistled through the dense thicket and caused Robart to scoot a little closer to his cousin beside him.

"Buck up boys." Began Rory. "Don't go lettin' the weather steal your courage. Seein' the Skinner will be worth it. All we gotta do is say the chant:"

Dead by day, roaming by night.
Dead by day, roaming by night.
Skinner we call to you, come into our sight.
Skinner we call to you, commanding with all our might.

Dead by day, roaming by night.
Dead by day, roaming by night.
Skinner we call to you, come into our sight.
Skinner we call to you, commanding with all our might.

The hobbits repeated the chant over and over when abruptly the wind ripped through the thicket and a low growl seemed to issue from the undergrowth near the lads. Lightning flashed and in the flickering moment a black horse suddenly leaped into the clearing. Upon the wild steed a cloaked rider raised a short bow above his head, "Get you gone, fools! Fly, fly from here and never come again!" The horse reared, pawing it's fore hooves into the howling wind. The Skinner with blinding speed knocked an arrow and aiming the weapon at the frozen hobbits let the missile fly. The arrow sang as it passed over the heads of the hobbits and sank into the thicket. Rearing his steed again the Skinner blasted, "Get you gone! Fly!"

Rory was the first to move and he dashed through a gap in the thicket and madly raced for the valley. Instantly the other hobbits were on his tail and wildly bolting for home. Behind them the Skinner gallop his mount waving his great bow above his head and screaming for them to fly home. Somehow the lads were never overtaken by the horseman but were eventually able to scramble back down the cleft in the gorge and slide down the trail toward the village. The last thing Robart Nortook saw as he tumbled down the trail was the Skinner, his horse once more pawing the air, waving his bow wildly and screaming maniacally. The hobbit lads never stopped and never look back but each ran straight to his hole and then to his bed.

As the rain suddenly came crashing to earth, Círjin sat upon his horse patting it's sweating neck and trying to calm the beast. He watched the last of the hobbit boys disappear down into the vale and chuckled as he turned the horse back toward the clearing. The rain slanted sharply and thunder boomed as the Ranger once again passed the standing stone and climbed from his horse. Bending down he peered into the prickly thicket and reaching out parted the brambles enough for him to see the head of the Hill Troll that he had killed with his earlier shot. The Ranger admired the arrow that protruded from an eye socket of the troll.

"Skinner." Círjin shook his head. After snatching up the sack from the ground that contained his salt, sheepskin, and nails, he caught up the reigns to his horse. Stepping into the saddle, the Ranger swung his steed around and trotted north, heading back out onto the stormy moor, chuckling to himself all the while.

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