A Breeman Still
On nights such as this; when the storm winds blow, and the rain lashes down; the good folk bar their doors, close their shutters, and keep by the fireside, for it is said that evil walks abroad then. But if that is true, then it is also true that those who hunt evil must also walk those foul and fearsome nights. So it was, though they muttered against him for all that he was one of their kind.
A Breeman by birth, solitary and taciturn by nature, a hunter and bowman by choice. It was not unnatural that he, more than any, far more than any, kept company with the Rangers, spent many of his few words with them. Rangers never were popular in Bree then; before people understood who they truly were. They were outsiders, and outsiders make few friends anywhere as a rule. Bree was no worse then than anywhere else. Folk is as folk does, as the saying goes, and people have always been clannish, so you can't blame them. Especially when you think of how the Rangers must have seemed to them. Quiet, stern, hard; travel-worn and often weary, dirty & tired whenever they came by; seldom seen, speaking little; even their names, if you could get one, or their nicknames were queer. Just think - Strider! And all know what he turned out to be!
So he had few enough friends, and all too many too quick to think ill of him. When Bill Ferny's cow vanished, some said "Why him? He can down a deer, or snare a coney any time he wants. What would would he want with a whole cow? What would he do with a whole cow!" Others, though, they spoke of the enmity that lay between him & Ferny. None knew what were the roots of that dislike, but then Ferny was never popular in Bree, so I doubt any cared much. It was a few weeks later when the girl was found on the outskirts of town with her throat torn out after one of those evil nights. Then it changed.
The whispered word was "Werewolf!" It was known that he was abroad that night; those that hunt evil, remember? But who would believe he stalked what took Ferny's cow, when half the town that cared thought that, maybe, he'd taken it himself? Afterward, some said that it was Ferny himself started that rumour out of hatred. Ferny might have been disliked but he was better than a weasel for rabbits, if it was information you wanted. So if the tale did come from Ferny, it was like as not to be true. So they thought, so they said...
And there he was - distant, solitary, queer... Little seen, and then often with Rangers. Is it any wonder that the Bree folk found it easy to believe the worst and blame him? But whatever else he was, a fool he wasn't. Straws blow only one way in the wind, and he knew the winds well enough. They never saw him again. One morning, though, a morning after another of those foul nights, some 4 weeks later; when Alf Burdock's chickens had all been taken, Will Appledore had lost three sheep, and they weren't the only to suffer; when Harry Goatleaf rose to unbar the West gate, what did he find? A stake with the head of a great wolf upon it; a warg, if you can believe such tales! His rune scratched beneath it on the wood.
There were a few who said that that meant that it was his head, see? That he was a werewolf after all, and now he was dead. But Ferny was one of those, so few enough believed it. Most realised the truth - he'd hunted down that wolf, or that warg, slain it, and left its head at the gate; a message to shame the town. Ashamed they were, those that had spoken against him. But he never came back. Never. I've travelled though; I know a little more. Sit ye quiet and I'll tell ye...
This is no tale you'll have heard in Bree; I have it from the south, where he went after, and him that told it, well! That's a tale in itself! He found the carcass eventually in the eaves of the Old Forest. That's a strange, a wild and dangerous place still; it was worse then, and few men or hobbits dared the place. How Ferny's cow was taken so far is a strangeness of itself. Likely as not, it was an ill-kept & scrawny beast, much like its master was said to be. Nevertheless, a wolf is not so big a beast as to to drag a cow all that way. Even a warg, well, I've never seen one. If they weren't all killed in The War, I doubt there'll be another seen west of the mountains ever again. But if you ever go west and come by Bamfurlong, Hamfast Maggot's hounds are as big as any you'll see. The goblins of the mountains, it is said, used to ride wargs sometimes, but goblins aren't big creatures, somewhere between a man and a hobbit for height, so I reckon Young Maggot's hounds are about the size that a warg would have been.
And goblins is what we we come to, you see. When he found the carcass, what there was of it, it hadn't just been eaten, it had been butchered! That troubled him. He'd never seen a goblin then, so he couldn't be sure of the signs, but the track of a wolf's paw in soft earth is easy enough to read. And wolves don't butcher! So it seemed to him then that it must be goblins and wargs, though neither were more than a tale to him. There didn't seem to be many, by the signs, but even so! There were rumours of goblins being seen again out Oatbarton way, in the north of The Shire, but he'd never been so far. And wargs, wargs was another matter entirely, and no light one.
He scoured that place, found a leather strap, worn through, and an old buckle; made things, an ill omen. The next thing he needed was a Ranger to talk to, but they were harder to find than Ferny's cow at that time. Most had left, gone south to seek their chieftain, and it was only then that folk began to understand, dimly, what they'd been doing all those long years; warding Breeland and The Shire. After a long tramp, he found one, Halros it was, he that the King made warden of Arthobel when he renewed the old north kingdom. Halros had stayed so that there was someone to keep watch over the Shire. Arthobel was his reward for his faithfulness. He's an old man now, but he lives still, for the Rangers are a long lived race.
He found Halros up near Brockenborings in the end, a mighty long tramp, and his worst fears were confirmed. Halros gave him wise counsel, bade him be cautious. The night the girl was killed, he hadn't quite made it back to Bree. He was halfway between West Gate and what is now Adso's Inn, somewhere south of the old Sweetgrass place. He came in next morning, wet and weary, grim-faced and dirty. It took only a little while for him to hear the news; that was the warg's work. It was only a little longer when the whispers started. He knew then that he'd never return, but first there was the matter of the warg.
The tracking of the beast and its goblin friends is no tale to tell. Muddied footprints here, coarse hairs on a bush there, broken twigs that speak of something passing, it's not the stuff of high renown, but he found them right enough, though it took him long enough, and Bree was raided for livestock twice and Staddle once by then. Six goblins, and the warg seemed to be the leader. He never knew their speech, never dared get close enough to listen, but it seemed that it was the warg giving orders. He was careful to stay upwind so it couldn't smell him; never lit a fire to give himself away. Six goblins and a warg, and only one man to face them is long odds.
But goblins and wargs aren't fond of the daytime, they'll lie up somewhere if they can. The first one he killed south of Halecatch Lake while they were sleeping in the woods. Just one shot with the breeze in his face, and he slipped away to the East. The next day at dusk he took another as they were rousing in the South Chetwood. They hunted for him in something of a panic, but a hunter knows how to stay still, and they never found the tree he'd hidden himself in.
He lost them when they ran across the Marsh, but after Combe was attacked, he found them again in the North Chetwood, and another goblin died. They fled further north then, afraid of the arrows that came from nowhere. When the fourth died, it was too much for the last two. They broke, tried to desert the warg. It killed one. The other? Let's just say it didn't make it very far. And that just left the warg.
He took it on a clear, bright night, brazenly showed himself for the first time to that slavering beast. It must have known its fate, but attacked anyway. One clean shot took it in the breast, and it died at his feet. The head he left at West Gate, as you know, but where he went afterwards? Ah well, there's another half to this tale, but my throat is dry, so you'll have to wait a little before I tell you that!