This, exceptionally, is not a Faramir story, but there were other long-suffering people around in Middle Earth… so here is

Halbarad's story

Halbarad speaks from Rohan

How did I get here? You may well ask.

The story goes back much further than Galadriel's message. Being deputy Chief Ranger to Cousin Aragorn never was any kind of sinecure, I can tell you. Rangers are solitary at any time, and can be darned elusive, but Aragorn was elusiveness personified. Whenever things got busy, or sticky, or dangerous, where was Aragorn? Gone, that's where. It was always like that, ever since I qualified as a Ranger way back in '92, and I can remember my father grumbling about the same thing years before that. Sauron publishes his manifesto, orcs swarm everywhere, dark things creep out from every houseless hill between Rivendell and the Prancing Pony, and where's Aragorn? Undertaking great journeys and errantries away south to impress Miss Semielvish Arwen, who won't accept any credentials short of multiple kingship. It may have been nuts for the southerners – who have whole fortified cities crammed with trained troops, from what they tell me – but what about us poor overstretched northerners? Fifty of us when at maximum strength – which we never were, what with sick leave and vacations and hangovers and the rest – to cover every square inch of land between the Mountains and the Sea! Is that a logistical nightmare or what?

And to crown all, just when I'm tearing my hair over the latest duty roster, in waltzes His High and Mightiness and says crisis is upon us, Sauron has designs on the Shire, double the guard on it. Can't be done, say I. Has to be done, Hal, old man, says he. (I hate it when he patronises me.) Cancel all leave, he says, put everyone on watch and watch and accept no sick notes as an excuse for anything short of really serious death. Fine, say I, and tear up the roster and re-write it with Cousin Aragorn on watch and watch. Can't be done, says he, I've got to go. You've only just come back, say I. Too bad, says he, I have to look for somebody. Who's that, say I. I don't know, says he. Where is he supposed to be, say I. Haven't the faintest idea, says he. How long will it take, says I. As long as it has to, says he, and buckles on his ridiculous half-a-sword and gambols off into the wilderness, not to be seen again for a decade.

Well, somehow we did it. We guarded that smug, comfy little country day and night for seventeen long years, wearing ourselves to skin and bone, and what thanks did we get for it? You've guessed it – none. And just when I'm thinking it can't get any worse, I get a message from that interfering old thorn in the flesh and crony of Cousin A., our friendly neighbourhood wizard, viz. Nazgul on the prowl STOP Suspect they may be taking an interest in the Shire STOP Double the guard again STOP Urgent STOP Gandalf. Now by that time I'd scraped out the rangerly barrel, and all I could think of was to try to enlist the Hopeless Halflings in their own defence. So I ride up to the Brandywine Gate and beg the gatekeepers, almost on my bended knees, to keep watch night and day and not let anybody through who measures more than four feet in his socks. And what happens? I come along the very next morning and say, did you keep watch? And they say, sort of. And I say, what does that mean? And they say, it got chilly about midnight so we turned in. And I say, did you let anyone through? And they say, only a couple of horsemen, nobody to speak of.And I say, what were they like? And they say, black, foreign-looking, didn't like the look of them much. And I say, can I take a detachment into the Shire and look for these foreign gentlemen? And they say no, they can manage thank you. And I start to feel very, very tired, and I go home and have the 'flu for a fortnight, because I reckon I've earned it.

And while I'm sneezing and shivering, the whole thing boils over and Cousin A., with his usual genius for taking all the credit while avoiding the hard work, strolls back into Bree just in time to snatch a bunch of particularly irresponsible hobbits (which is saying something, I can tell you) from the jaws of the Black Riders that said hobbits were doing their best to fling themselves into, and takes them to Rivendell just in time to get the plaudits and the banquets and the languishing looks from Miss Arwen, while the rest of us go back to combating nasties out of the houseless hills. And Aragorn disappears again down south, with Gandalf and said bunch of hobbits. Good riddance, say I to myself, that'll take the pressure off us here, and I celebrate with a few pints of Butterbur's finest draught (it's improved a lot lately) and sleep it off under the table before going back to the nasties out of the houseless etcetera.

Which would have been fine if we'd been left in peace to do it, because after a lifetime's experience with nasties out of the houseless etcetera, you get kind of used to them and you learn to say 'Boo!' in a way that makes them run like rabbits. But were we left in peace? Of course not. A few weeks go by and we get a message from Arwen's goldenhaired Granny to say that Aragorn wanted every last Dúnadan to join him in Rohan. So much for defending innocent northerners against nasties out of the houseless etcetera. If Chieftain Aragorn is in a spot of trouble, it's Rangers to the rescue and Nazgul take the hindmost. Sorry, Shire, sorry, Bree, you'll have to make out on your own and perhaps, just perhaps, that'll teach you to be grateful for what we've been doing for you, for the first time ever.

So I send urgent messages here, there and everywhere, darn the chain mail, polish the ceremonial sword, ransack the countryside for edibles and it's all aboard for the jolly journey over the Misty Ms. Thirty of us, there were, because that's all of us that could be contacted in the forty-eight hours which was the time-limit imposed by Arwen's gran. Oh, and the Terrible Twins, of course, Elrond's brats, who spend their indistinguishable lives trying to be Aragorn, as if he'd be more bearable in triplicate. And I mustn't forget Aragorn's special personal steed, because although Rohan has been specialising in horses since forever, they apparently don't have a single one that's worthy to carry his High and Mightiness, and a nice arm-wrenching job I had leading the horrid beast over the mountain passes, I can tell you. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough useless clutter, we had to take a pretty embroidered flag that Miss Arwen had been working on for the past couple of centuries as a present for her sweetheart. No accounting for taste, is there?

So we dematerialise from the north and just pop up in Rohan, do we? If only. If I told you everything that happened on that journey, we'd be here till the middle of next week. I could try to sum up, viz. Day 1: howling blizzard. Day 2: attacked by wargs. Day 3: attacked by crows (don't laugh, these are supercrows and they pack a peck, by golly they do). Days 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8: attacked by Orcs. Day 9: attacked by wargs, crows and orcs. Day 10: attacked by Rohirrim, who seem quite unable to distinguish between friends and foes, silly … riders that they are. Day 11: we finally catch up with Cousin A. Does he say, welcome? Does he say, all praise to Halbarad for his epic journey worthy to be remembered in song forever? Does he heck. Hello, he says, I wasn't expecting you, hope you haven't left things in too much of a mess back home, how many men have you brought with you? Thirty, say I. Is that all, says he. That's all there were, say I. Oh well, says he, I dare say I could have done better, but you might just come in useful, is that my horse you've got there. Yes, say I. You needn't have bothered, says he. I'll murder you and feed you to the wargs, crows and orcs, say I. No, I didn't really say that, but by golly I thought it.

Then he introduces us to the local kinglet, a quite decent old fellow who was, for a change, quite polite to us, and off we all go to his house, and just when I'm thinking that I might get a decent night's sleep for the first time since forever, in comes Cousin A. and says get up, we're going on a journey. Where to, say I. To Minas Tirith, says he. That's nice, say I, always wanted to see the place. There's a snag, says he. I might have known it, say I, tell me the worst. There's a few hundred thousand orcs and wild men between us and it, says he. Makes a change, say I. We're not going that way, says he, we're going via the ghosts. Heck, say I, do they have houseless hills in the south as well. And how, says he, and after the ghosts it'll be corsairs, and after the corsairs we'll tackle the orcs and wild men, oh and the Nazgûl, of course. How lovely, say I, when do we start? Now, says he.

So here I am, packing for ghostland. What wouldn't I give for a pint and a ploughman's, back in Butterbur's amiable establishment in glorious Breeland! But it'll be a long time before I get the chance again – if I ever do.