For the Beauty of the Earth
Theme: One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.
Author's Notes: A sequel to "With Eager Feet". With thanks to Deandra. The picture prompt can be seen on my LJ.
Summary: Autumn's beauties fail to impress Aragorn and his hungry Rangers.
These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
"For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Gracious God, to Thee we raise,
This our grateful hymn of praise.
For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light." - Folliot S. Pierpoint
Autumn in the Shire was an especially beautiful time. Today, though, the orange, red, and golden splendour of the trees failed to lift the spirits of Aragorn and his companions.
They had spent the past three nights despatching the Orcs that threatened the Shire's border with only meagre rations to sustain them. This morning had seen the first sharp frost of the season, a bitter reminder that winter was on the way.
To make matters worse, a group of Hobbit lads had pelted them with conkers and shouted insults when they trudged past the tree behind which the boys were hiding.
"After all we do to protect them!" Gilavir complained bitterly, rubbing his arm where one of the conkers had hit.
"It is what we do," Aragorn said mildly. "It would destroy the peace we seek to preserve if they knew what dark creatures threaten them. Are you hurt, Gilavir?"
"I imagine I will have a bruise," the young Ranger replied.
"I will look at it when we get back to camp," said Aragorn. "You must learn to duck faster, lad."
"Someone else is coming," said Halbarad. "Maybe we should leave the road for a while?"
Aragorn looked in the direction of the sound of hoof beats. As soon as the pony and cart rounded the bend in the road, he recognised it and the Hobbit woman who was driving.
"Greetings, Mistress Daisy!" he called.
"Well, I never did!" cried Daisy. She reined the pony to a halt and beamed at him. "If it isn't Mister Strider and Mister Trotter and …. "
"I am called Stalker, Mistress," said Halbarad.
"It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mister Stalker. You are just the very folk I wanted to see. Luck is with me today!"
"We are?" Gilavir sounded incredulous. Aragorn nudged him sharply.
Aragorn inclined his head towards her. "How might we be of service, Mistress Daisy?" he asked.
"My Griffo went and dislocated his shoulder a few days back. The healer says it will take weeks to mend. Winter is coming and we've hardly a stick of firewood in the house. My Tosto's a good lad, but he's away staying with his cousins."
"We would be happy to help you, Mistress Daisy," said Aragorn, forcing a smile. Truth to tell, he was weary, cold, and hungry and nothing appealed to him less than the prospect of spending the morning chopping wood.
"My farm's just this way," said Daisy. She guided the trap over a low bridge overhung by trees. The three Rangers trudged wearily behind her.
"Maybe she will give us some food again?" Gilavir whispered to Aragorn.
"Don't count on it, lad. We rescued her last time from being stuck in the mud. This time, we are simply doing an errand for her. It will soon be winter; Mistress Daisy will need all her supplies."
They had reached Daisy's farm now. She gestured towards a recently felled tree. "I would be grateful if you could chop that up for me, please," she said. "Griffo hurt his shoulder when he was felling it for our winter fuel."
The three Rangers set to work. They were somewhat hampered by the fact there was only one axe and a Hobbit-sized one at that, but with Halbarad chopping, Aragorn sorting and Gilavir stacking the freshly cut logs, they made short work of the tree and soon filled Daisy's woodshed to overflowing. It was hard work, but at least they were no longer cold.
Aragorn knocked on her door to tell her the wood was chopped. She beamed at him. "Thank you so much. Now you must come in and have a bite to eat."
"We expect no reward, mistress," said Aragorn. "We must be on our way."
"Nonsense!" said Daisy. "A right good turn you've done me. You and your friends look as if you could do with feeding up a bit. In you come and warm yourselves by the fire. Griffo's upstairs resting, so you young ones can keep me company for a while."
The three Rangers carefully wiped their feet on the tiny doormat and ducked inside Daisy's home. A delectable scent immediately assailed their senses. Daisy gestured for them to sit down at the scrubbed table opposite the fire, and served them plates piled high with a delicious stew, flavoured with herbs. There was also fresh crusty bread with knobs of golden butter and generous helpings of turnips, carrots, and swedes, washed down with elderberry wine. Just when the three Rangers felt they could eat no more, Daisy produced an enormous apple pie with a crispy golden crust and served with lashings of fresh cream. The Rangers loosened their belts and tucked in. It was not until after they had all eaten second helpings that Daisy finally cleared the plates away.
"Thank you, Mistress Daisy for a delicious meal," said Aragorn.
"It's been a right pleasure seeing my cooking appreciated," said Daisy. "I can't care what anyone says, but you Rangers are good men. You will always be welcome to drop by for a bite to eat when you are passing."
"Thank you, mistress, you are a good friend to us," said Aragorn as they took their leave.
With full bellies and thankful hearts, the three went on their way. The afternoon sun slanted between the magnificent trees making the autumn leaves glisten like gold. The sunlight caught the brook that ran beneath bridge and made it sparkle like diamonds. A filigree of gossamer-like spiders' webs glistened amongst the brambles. A song thrush sang joyfully from a treetop and Aragorn's heart soared. He breathed the crisp autumn air and savoured its freshness. This was what he and his men fought tirelessly to preserve; that the Shire should remain a haven of peace and beauty for all who dwelt there.
Gilavir started to hum a cheerful harvest tune and his companions joined in. Their boots crunching the freshly fallen leaves, they strode back to their campsite with joyful hearts.