Format: short story
Genre: drama,h/c, childhood, animals
Creators notes: With grateful thanks to just_jenni. Aragorn's men also feature in “Voice in the night” and “The Owl Screeched.” The full story of Brann is told in “Of Rangers and Cats.”
“We can track the enemy no further tonight,” said Thorongil. “We will make camp here beneath these trees.”
The soldiers in the small scouting party thankfully unburdened themselves of their packs and weapons. Thorongil kindled a camp fire and the group huddled around it. It was a chill spring night and the soldiers were thankful for the warmth.
Ulfast, the oldest of the group filled a pot with water from a nearby stream and put it on to boil.
“A pity we don't have a rabbit to roast,” said Turgon, another of the men.
“We are tracking the enemy, not game,” said Thorongil. “There are several villages nearby that may need protection. Our rations will have to suffice.”
The water boiled and Thorongil added some herbs to make tea. The men cradled their mugs in their hands and sipped it. They were not quite sure what was in their captain's teas but they always felt better for drinking them.
The men then reached in their packs and pored over letters they had received just before they set out.
Ragnor, Thorongil's young lieutenant had received two letters and was smiling as he perused them by the light of the camp fire.
“You have good news?” asked Thorongil.
“My parents and sisters are well and my sweetheart is missing me,”Ragnor replied. “My father wrote there was a fever in the village but he was able to help the sufferers with his healing skills.”
“Your father sounds a fine healer,” said Thorongil.
“I disappointed him by becoming a soldier,” said Ragnor. “He tried to teach me but I had no patience for hearing old folk groan about their aches and pains.”
“You'll be old one day, lad,” said Ulfast.
“It was learning the names of dozens of herbs too and how to use them,” Ragnor replied.”Sword and shield have far more appeal to me.”
“One can be both healer and warrior,” said Thorongil.
“How did you manage to become so skilled in both arts?” asked Ragnor then bit his tongue at his boldness. Thorongil was an approachable and much loved captain, but he clearly disliked speakingof personal matters.
Thorongil look a swig of his tea before answering. He did not seem angered by the question. “I had very good teachers from early childhood,” he replied. “My foster father was a great healer and taught me his arts.” He abruptly changed the subject. “What news in your letter, Turgon? Good tidings, I hope?”
Turgon frowned. “My mother is still nagging me to wed. She-”
The sound of a loud cry followed by sobbing rent the night air.
“Whatever is that?” asked Ragnor.
“An animal maybe?” said Turgon.
“ That is no animal. I shall investigate,” said Thorongil, snatching up his sword and shield.
“Have a care, captain!” said Ragnor.
“You are not my mother, lad, but I appreciate the concern. I know it could be a trap. Draw your swords and remain on guard here.”
Thorongil strode off in the direction of the cries. They seemed to be coming from a nearby field. As he drew nearer, he saw the field was surrounded by a large ditch and it was from there the cries were coming. Grateful for the bright moonlight, he peered into the ditch and saw something moving. Cautiously, he crept closer , his sword drawn and beheld a little girl. Luckily, the ditch wasn't filled with water, but the child was covered in mud.At the sight of him, she started to scream.
Thorongil sheathed his sword and knelt down. “Be easy, little one,” he said. “I mean you no harm. I am called Thorongil. What is your name?”
The little girl stopped screaming now Thorongil presented a less fearsome appearance. “Mummy said not talk to strange men,” she replied.
“That is usually sound advice to heed,” said Thorongil. “I think ,though, you are in trouble and might need my help to return to your mother.”
The little girl thought for a moment. “You'll take me back to Mummy?”
“I promise I will.”
“But you don't know where she lives and I'm lost and cold and hungry!” The little girl started to cry again.
“I am a tracker and skilled in finding people,” said Thorongil gravely. “I will find her for you. You have my oath. Now, will you permit me to assist you out of this ditch?”
The little girl nodded. “I'm Nellas but I like to be called Nell.”
“That's a pretty name,” said Thorongil. He reached down into the ditch and gently lifted Nellas out. She cried to stand up but wobbled and sat down again with a cry. She was shivering in the chill night air. Thorongil took off his cloak and draped it round her.
“You are injured!” Thorongil exclaimed. “Where does it hurt, Nell? I am a healer.”
“You said you were a tracker,” Nellas said suspiciously. “My ankle hurts.”
Thorongil laughed. “I am many things. Will you permit me to tend your ankle?”
“Will it hurt?”
“I shall endeavour not to cause you pain.”
Thorongil knelt beside her and gently removed her shoe. She wore no stockings. The ankle looked swollen and he gently felt it. She flinched as he touched her. “ Your ankle is sprained. It will soon heal and be as good as new again. How did you come to be lost, Nell?” he asked to distract her.
“My kitten is lost and I went to find her. I looked and looked but I couldn't find her then I wanted to go home as I was hungry and wanted Mummy but I couldn't find the way and I fell over. Poor Snowball, I love my kitten as she purrs so loudly and now she's gone away!” Nellas started to cry again.
“I wager Snowball is waiting at home for you,” said Thorongil. He poured some water from his flask on to a cloth and bathed the injured ankle, washing off the mud. He then reached in the pack of healing supplies he always carried and started to apply a salve . Shall I tell you a story, Nell?”
“I like stories,” Nellas sniffed.
“Long ago, I had a beautiful cat with bright ginger fur. I called him Brann and he slept at the foot of my bed each night.” He started expertly bandaging Nellas' ankle. “One morning, I woke up and there was no sign of him. I waited all day, Brann never came home, so I went to look for him. I feared he might have gone in the woods where there are wild animals so I went searching. There was no sign of Brann,though. It started to pour with rain and my clothes were dripping wet so I had to go home. Can you guess you was sitting by the fire when I got home?”
“Brann?” She wriggled excitedly.
“Yes, Brann had come home all by himself. I expect Snowball will have done too. All done now, your ankle should soon heal. Now I will I take you back to my camp fire where some other soldiers are waiting and we will see about taking you home to your Mother and Snowball. Will you permit me to carry you, Nell?”
Thorongil smiled at her unique pronunciation of his name and scooped her up in his arms , his sword buckled at his side and his shield on his back.
When he approached the campfire, Ragnor came running to meet him.
“Captain! We were becoming anxious.”
“I came across this young maiden in need of help. Nell, meet Ragnor, he is a soldier and tracker like me. We need to find where Nell lives so we can take her home.”
They reached the campsite and Thorongil set Nellas down by the fire and introduced her to the rest of his men. He filled a mug with water and gave it to her.“Now tell us about where you live,Nell,” he said. “Then we will find your Mother.”
“I live in Tumcalen,”she said. “There are lots of fields and a river.”
Thorongil groaned inwardly. That description could apply to almost every village in Gondor!
“I know the place,” said Turgon unexpectedly. “I had an aunt who married a farmer from there.”
“Then you can lead us to the place,” said Thorongil.He scooped up Nell again.
“Let us all accompany you,” said Ragnor. “You cannot easily draw your sword while carrying the child.
“Very well. We can find another camping place.”
Ulfast doused the campfire and the soldiers picked up their gear. Ragnor shouldered his Captain's heavy pack and they set off.
The village was less than half a league away. When the soldiers arrived they found the place in an uproar. Villagers, brandishing torches scurried hither and thither calling Nellas' name. A little apart from the others, a woman was weeping bitterly. Thorongil approached her and said, “Here is your daughter, mistress.”
The woman grabbed Nellas from him and slapped his face. “What have you done to my Nell?” she screamed. “Just look at the state of her.”
Thorongil hardly flinched. He waved back his men who moved forward protectively. “I have not harmed your daughter, mistress. I found her in a ditch but an hour or so ago. She has sprained her ankle and cannot walk. I bound her ankle and brought her straight home. She needs, food, a bath, clean clothes and rest. I will give you a salve to help her ankle heal.”
Nellas hugged her mother tightly. “Thorgil is kind, he brought me home like he said.”
Just then, a white kitten appeared and wound herself around the woman's legs.
“Snowball!” cried Nellas. She tried to wriggle free from her mother's grasp. Thorongil picked up the kitten and held her so Nellas could stroke her tiny head.
“I'm sorry,” said Nellas mother. “I was just so worried about my little girl. Thank you for saving her.
“We shall prepare a feast to celebrate Nellas' return,” said another woman. “No one has eaten all day as we were searching for the child.”
“You must join us then rest here for the night,” said Nellas mother.
“We would be happy to,” said Thorongil. “It gladdens my heart we could restore your lost daughter to you.