DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to
think about them day and night.
GUARDING THE SHIRE
Merry came out of the tent he shared with Frodo, Sam, and Pippin, holding
his pipe, and watched as Aragorn returned from assigning his men their
watches for the night. The company was traveling slowly north through
Rohan, on the way back to Lorien...Rivendell...and the Shire. The War was
over. Aragorn would soon leave them to return to Minas Tirith, but he was
traveling part of the way north with the Elves, hobbits, and Gandalf. One
last journey together.
Aragorn had asked that the Dúnedain who traveled with them take turns
keeping watch at night, and they were glad to obey their former chieftain.
Renegade Men and Orcs were still at large. Word had gone out far and wide
about the deeds of the Ringbearer and his companion; who knew what thoughts
of revenge or harm lurked in evil hearts still. It was just prudent to
Aragorn settled down near the fire, and Merry joined him. This didn't
surprise Aragorn, as Merry had been casting him furtive glances all day.
Something was up. They filled their pipes and smoked together in silence.
"Stri---- Aragorn," Merry started quietly, "May I ask you something?"
"Of course, Merry."
"Something has been bothering me since we first came to Rohan, since the
Rangers found us and rode with you to, to.."
"The Paths of the Dead," Aragorn finished for him.
Merry sighed. "Rohan was so large, and after you left we rode for so many
days. Being back here brings it all back. I had a great deal of time to
think about everything we had been through up to then. Well, one of the
things I thought about was what Sam told us you said at Elrond's Council.
About how the Rangers have been watching the Shire for ever so long. And I
wondered.." Merry paused. "Well, I wondered what you had been guarding us
from. And what may have happened when all the Rangers rode south to meet
with you and left the Shire unprotected."
Aragorn was quiet for awhile. "What you call the Shire," he began, "Is
part of the ancient realm of Eriador. It was and is some of the richest
farmland in Middle-earth, Merry. Perhaps *the* richest. A true prize.
The North abounds with greedy and unscrupulous Men who little consider the
rights of the hobbits to live there peacefully. You saw some of their like
in Bree, no doubt." Merry nodded, remembering. Aragorn continued, "The
Rangers were diligent in defending the borders from such as these. The
hobbits of the Shire appear at first glance to be defenseless, weaponless,
trained in nothing that could defend their land." Aragorn looked at Merry
with a smile. "I now see that belief to be false, my friend. There is
iron and steel at the heart of every hobbit I have met, and I have no doubt
any battle for the Shire lands would have been fierce. But a battle it
would have been, and much would have lain in ruin at the end. I truly do
not know what has happened there since the Dúnedain rode south; I hope all
is well when you return."
Merry stared in horror at this vision of a Shire laid waste. He was about
to speak when Aragorn continued.
"But we did not guard the borders ceaselessly, year after year, from
wolves, renegades, and brigands, just so the hobbits could live carefree
lives and eat seven meals a day in peace. Gandalf said.." He paused.
"What did he say, Aragorn?" Merry whispered.
Aragorn frowned, remembering. "I do not know where the Istari get their
wisdom, but Gandalf's interest in the Shire has been a long one. I have
traveled far with him and he has told me many things. Perhaps it is not my
place to speak about it.."
"Perhaps it is *my* place, Aragorn." Merry looked up, startled, at
Gandalf's voice. The wizard put a gentle hand on his shoulder, then sat
down with them. Merry kept silent, hoping Gandalf wouldn't tell him to go
to bed and stop asking questions.
"The fact that the Shire has lain unprotected for so many months has been
on my mind as well, Merry. Frodo wished above all that his leaving the
Shire with the Ring would divert all evil from it. There may be many
things unforeseen ahead for the four of you when you return home," said
Gandalf, "But I have no fear that you can meet any challenge now. You four
have grown greater than even you know. No, I am not concerned about any of
you now, nor your ability to set right whatever may be amiss in the Shire."
Merry gazed into the fire, hoping Gandalf was right. He wished they could
travel faster and arrive home sooner, but Frodo was going to Rivendell to
see Bilbo first and nothing would stop him. They weren't about to let
Frodo go anywhere without them, even now. Not ever.
"Merry, the reason the Rangers had been guarding the Shire was because I
asked them to. Compared to the turmoil brewing in many parts of Middle-
earth, the Shire had remained such a refuge, such a peaceful, beautiful,
innocent place. The time for the Dúnedain to come into their own had not
yet arrived, and it seemed a worthy use of their skills. I sensed there
was more to the place than met the eye, but I could not have explained why
I thought so. I could not explain it even to Aragorn and his men. I hope
my interest in the Shire did not bring unfriendly eyes upon it
Merry still said nothing, hoping Gandalf wouldn't stop.
"Years later, on the night of Bilbo's birthday party and disappearance, I
began to suspect that his ring might possibly be the One Ring. It was an
absurd notion, as all thought it lost forever, and yet I knew of no other
explanation for what I saw and heard that night." Gandalf did not
elaborate, and Merry sensed he shouldn't ask.
"That was 18 years ago. Just in case my suspicions were correct I asked
the Dúnedain to redouble their watch. They did so without question. I'm
sure it was a wearisome and thankless task."
"It was," Aragorn chuckled.
"The Rangers of the North could not be everyplace at once, there were never
that many of them. But Frodo kept the Ring hidden in peace for 17 years
due largely, I believe, to the efforts of the Dúnedain. And his own
strength of will." Gandalf looked over at the hobbits' tent, from which
soft voices could be heard.
"I suspect Bilbo, or Frodo more likely, will write down the history of the
War, Merry. Perhaps you can help fill in some of the pieces for them."
Gandalf smiled at Aragorn. "It would be well for the Dúnedain to receive
at least a line or two for what they have done!"
"I will, Gandalf." Merry looked up and saw the valiant Thalguron standing
across the camp, talking quietly with several of his men. He rose and
walked over to them.
"Good evening, Meriadoc. May I assist you with something?" Always kind and
respectful, Thalguron smiled at him in a friendly way.
"I just wanted to say... thank you, sir. Thank you for keeping the Shire
Thalguron's jaw dropped, and he exchanged an amazed look with his men.
They all appeared stunned. When he looked back at Merry his eyes were
"You are most welcome, my friend," he said softly. Merry bowed low and
wished him a good night.
Thalguron watched Merry return to his tent and go inside. His men
dispersed, leaving him alone with his thoughts. Aragorn walked over and
clasped him on the shoulder.
Thalguron turned to his former captain, now his king. "They are
remarkable, are they not? We never suspected that safeguarding the hobbits
would help end the Shadow and bring peace to all the lands." He smiled.
"However, if the valor we have heard of these four can be said of most
hobbits, perhaps all this time they have needed us not as much as we had
"Do not begrudge our long labors Thalguron," said Aragorn. "We have all
worked together to gain this peace."
"Aye, we have. Yet after so many years with no thought of.. no need for..
I admit it is good to hear.."
"Yes sir." He was silent for a moment, gazing at the hobbits' tent.
"Remarkable." He looked back at Aragorn. "A good night to you, sir."
"And to you."
Aragorn returned to his seat by the fire, where Gandalf was now contentedly
blowing rings of smoke into the night. They both smiled as a peal of
laughter echoed from the tent where Pippin and Sam were sharing some jest.
It was good to hear.
"Aragorn," said Gandalf softly, "Thank you for keeping the Shire safe."
Many thanks to "Ranger" for giving his kind permission for the use of his