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Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Title: Campfire Story
Rating: Australian G
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, and I certainly don't own the joke. No money was made from or solicited for this story.

It had been a hard day's travel, and every one of the Fellowship was tired, grumpy and irritable. Despite the warm clothes provided for them by the elves, the wind seemed to weasel its way into each and every gap in a seam, or between button and buttonhole, in between laces, even through the very weave of their clothing. Add to this a persistent and irritating drizzle of rain - never a downpour, but rather a steady mist - and it was understandable that the entire company were teaching one another different curse-words through sheer repetition.

It was when Gimli had reached the point of swearing loudly in Khuzdul (bringing winces not only from Gandalf, but also from Legolas) at the wetness of the firewood that Boromir consulted quickly with Aragorn.

"We shall need to raise their spirits, I think," he murmured. The taller Man glanced over at the rest of the group, and nodded. The four of the hobbits were looking exhausted, as well as cold and depressed. It would not do for the fellowship to fall to despair thus early in their quest.

"Fear not," the Ranger commented, "I believe that I know of a way to awaken the interest of the perian, at least."

The Gondorrim gave a grin. "More to the case if you can prevent the dwarf and the elf from their warring," he remarked, "although I do not expect the impossible of you. You shall have enough tasks of that sort when you come to ask my father to believe your identity."

The two shared a wry grin at the thought. The wholly unexpected friendship which had sprung up between the two of them had largely been built on a few choice recollections of Denethor's wrath on the part of the Ranger, drawn from his memories of his years serving in Gondor as "Thorongil". This had led to shared laughter, and exchanges on several other Gondorian notables, from perspectives which had forty years between them.

"Just see whether we can get the fire lit," the Ranger commented. "A hot meal would do us all some good. Then this is what we shall do... "

After some careful coaxing a small fire had been lit, and the cold fingers and feet of the company were being warmed by its heat. Sam had put together a savory stew using some dried meat, which now simmered at the edge of the fire, its aroma adding to the sense of comfort which was coming from the fire. Gandalf had drawn out his pipe, and had lit it using a coal from the fire. The smoke from the pipeweed, however, persisted in blowing in the direction of either Boromir (who bore this in good humour, for the most part) or Legolas. Such conversation as there was remained fairly commonplace, even desultory, being concerned with the weather.

Boromir saw his opening, eventually, in a comment made by Pippin about wishing he was back in the Shire.

"At least back in the Shire I've the chance to stay out of such a beastly cold wind," the young hobbit grumbled.

"Think you that soldiers have things any better than we do now, Master Took?" Boromir queried him. "The troops of Gondor often spend many a night under less shelter than we have here."

"The Rangers would have it even worse," remarked Frodo, "for they would not even have the company of others for comfort."

At this comment, most eyes fell upon Aragorn, who appeared to be considering something else. He looked up from his contemplation to glance at the assembled company.

"Aye," the tall Northerner commented. "There is much that the Rangers do which goes unnoticed by the ordinary folk, and also much that we do which is misunderstood. Then there are the few things which are noticed, for all the wrong reasons. For instance, at certain times of the year, no Ranger will travel certain parts of the forest near Bree without a mouse in his pocket.

One day, a young lad of the Breefolk happened to notice this, and enquired of the Ranger in question why this was so. The Ranger merely smiled, and told the lad, 'You have to be a Ranger to find out.' The lad took this in good part, but eventually his curiosity grew so that he was desperate to find out the secret of the mouse.

"So the lad went up to the next Ranger he saw, and said to him, 'I wish to become a Ranger, so that I may learn the secret of the mouse.' The Ranger looked at the lad, and told him, 'Come back when you can shoot the feather from a bird's wing at two hundred paces.' At this, the lad's face fell, and he walked away from the tavern. Yet the lad's curiosity still burned within him, so he worked and worked at his archery, until the day came when he could shoot a feather from the wing of a wren at two hundred paces.

"Then the lad went in to the inn, and he told the Ranger there that he could shoot a feather from a bird's wing at two hundred paces. 'May I become a Ranger,' he asked, 'that I may learn the secrey of the mouse?' And the Ranger looked the lad over, and found that the lad spoke truly of his archery prowess. Yet, a Ranger does not become so by archery alone. So the ranger said to the lad, 'Come back when you are able to chop down a tree as thick as your forearm with your sword.'

"And again the lad walked away disappointed, yet still his curiosity burned strongly within him. So he worked and worked at his swordplay, building up his strength, until the day finally arrived when he could fell a tree as thick as his upper arm with a single blow from his sword.

"Again the lad went up to the next Ranger he could find, and said to the Ranger, "I am able to fell a tree the size of my forearm with but a single blow of my sword. May I become a Ranger, and learn the secret of the mouse?"

"The Ranger looked at the lad, and tested his sword skill, and it was as the lad had said. Then the Ranger tested the lad's skill in archery, and found this none the worse. 'You are a good archer and a bold swordsman, yet there is another skill which is required of a ranger. You must be able to track a squirrel through dense forest for at least ten leagues.'

"At this, the lad's face fell once again. Once again the secret of the mouse drove him on. He was determined that he would become a Ranger and learn that secret. So the lad set to work, studying the flight of the birds and the tracks of the animals, until the day came when he could track a squirrel ten leagues and more. Once again the lad went unto the Ranger in the tavern, and he said to the Ranger, 'Sir, I am able to track a squirrel ten leagues in the forest, to fell a tree the thickness of my forearm with my sword, and to shoot a single feather from the wing of a bird at two hundred paces. I would become a Ranger, sir, and learn the secret of why you carry the mouse in your pocket.'

"And the Ranger looked upon the lad, and he took the lad forth and followed as the lad traced the path of a squirrel and followed this path for ten leagues through the forest. Then he tested again the lad's swordsmanship, and found this to be suitable. Finally, the lad's archery was tested, and found to be worthy. The Ranger nodded at the lad. 'You are worthy of becoming a ranger. You shall journey North with me, to be formally recognised as one of the Rangers.'

"At this news, the lad was almost overcome with joy. At last, at long last, he would learn the secret of the mouse. He packed up his belongings and marched north with the ranger, and there he was presented to the leader of the Rangers, who accepted him into the troop, and told him the secret of the mouse."

Aragorn paused in the telling. The company were spellbound, caught in the tale. He pulled out his own pipe, filled it, and settled down to smoke it,waiting for the inevitable question.

Pippin was the one who asked it, of course. "But, Strider, what was the secret of the mouse?"

Aragorn looked directly at the young hobbit, and said, straight-faced, "I cannot tell you. You have to become a ranger to find out!"

There was a slight pause, while they all considered the tale, and Strider's final comment. A grin appeared on the lean face of the Ranger, as he watched them all boggle at this unexpected ending to the tale. Gradually smiles appeared on the faces of each of the hobbits, then Merry groaned.

"Augh! That is truly an awful joke to tell!" and with that he hurled a bit of bread at the Ranger. At this, all of the company broke into laughter, both at the joke itself, and at the nature of the telling.


© Meg Thornton, 2002.

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