Rangers and Rampant Fowls

by MerryK

It was not long after the War of the Ring before Faramir invited many of the Rangers of Ithilien and the White Company to join him in an evening meal. He had spent much time among these men as soldiers, but now that peace had come, he wished to know them as men. However, idealistic though his plan was, the men had been raised in the hierarchal society of Gondor, and were obviously uncomfortable sitting at the same status as the Prince of Ithilien. In the hour before supper would be ready, they all sat together, fidgeting a little and speaking not at all.

Damrod, however, was more open in his manner, and, after being encouraged by his fellow companions, managed to speak after some time. “My lord Faramir,” he said, “I wonder if I might ask for your opinion in a strange matter?”

“Of course,” said Faramir, making sure to be comfortable and easy in manner.

“It is somewhat a matter of history, which is why I spoke to you. Many strange things did I note in the War, but in the end I found explanations for all but one. When we were going from Ithilien to Osgiliath, I noticed that many animals were fleeing the area, not surprising when one considers the foul stench of the Dark Lord’s servants. So this did not seem strange, until I noticed some domestic beasts among the wild ones. But I was under the impression that Ithilien was abandoned by all its people.”

“So it is,” responded Faramir. “No one has lived there for many centuries.”

“But surely, lord,” spoke up Anborn, “the Steward’s house in Emyn Arnen once had farms. Perhaps those animals survived the many attacks of Sauron and their descendants live there still.”

“No, I think not,” responded Damrod. “In that case, the years of fending for themselves would have affected their appearance, while these animals appeared fresh escaped from a farm.”

Faramir frowned as he thought. “Perhaps, Damrod, we might know what species these beasts were?”

“Farmyard fowl, in the main,” said Damrod. “There were some birds which looked to me as hens, and also some geese.”

“But then the answer is simple,” said Mablung. “For these are flying creatures, and might have flown and gotten lost from a nearby fief.”

“Hens do not fly,” scoffed Damrod. “As shown by these birds' behavior, for they waddled and fluttered clumsily, which first caught my attention. No, they must have come from nearby.”

“Do not we raise such creatures in Henneth Annun?” asked Faramir. “Surely it is not impossible that one might have escaped our notice. But then, you said they were headed west, if I recall correctly.”

“I said not so,” said Damrod, “but west, indeed it was. It was just as we were to reach the river, and the animals were fleeing west, as if they meant to cross to safety.”

“That is not strange by itself,” said Faramir, “for animals are wont to flee impending danger, such as wildfires.”

“But there!” said Anborn. “I have it! These animals were fleeing from the path of Sauron’s hoard, and surely he brought men of Harad, who must farm the lands south of Ithilien. These birds, then, were driven from their homes by the passage of the Haradrim.”

“Nay, nay,” said Mablung, “Harad is far too much to the south for chickens to escape the farms and end in Ithilien.

“Perhaps,” said Faramir, “the answer is much more simple. Could it not be that there is a wild species of fowl that greatly resembles the domestic variety? The wildlife of Ithilien has not been documented since being abandoned.”

“Aye, that might be so,” said Mablung.

“I do not think so,” said Damrod. “These particular birds looked fat and well-fed, with coloring that is not found in wild birds, for it is not suited to blending into the surroundings.”

”Ah,” said Anborn, “but could they not have been the male of the species, and might not their bright coloring have been to attract a mate? How do you know that they were hens?”

The other men raised their eyebrows at the implications of this, but Damrod responded frustratedly: “They looked exactly like hens. I grew up in the farmlands of Lebennin; I know a hen when I see one.”

“We do not doubt your integrity,” said Faramir soothingly, “but every man can make a mistake, especially when he is headed towards danger and catches only a passing glance.”

“It was no passing glance; I stared quite fully at them,” protested Damrod stoutly.

Faramir shrugged, and then said: “But Damrod, you said that these birds were well-fed, yet how could they be so if they did not come from an active farm?”

“My query exactly, my lord,” said Damrod.

“Birds would feed well in Ithilien, so I would think,” put in Anborn. “It is not as if it is barren.”

“Are there not settlements in Nurn in Mordor?” asked Mablung suddenly. “Surely they raise animals there.”

“Are you saying that chickens can fly over the Black Mountains?” asked Damrod indignantly. “That is just as unlikely as that they migrated from Harad.”

“Surely you cannot be saying that chickens migrate,” put in Faramir, brows pressed together in a concerned manner.

“No, I know that they do not,” said Damrod with a sigh. “It was just an expression.”

“But perhaps it is not impossible that they are, indeed, domestic chickens,” said Anborn. “What if we consider that there is some farmer in Ithilien, perhaps a lone hermit, who raises chickens.”

“It may be a possibility,” said Faramir. “I do not think it at all likely, but in this strange case it might prove correct. It has been proven by history that there are unaccounted people in every land.”

“Nay, that makes no sense,” said Mablung, “If there is a hermit in Ithilien, he is obviously hidden in safety, for he has not been routed by Mordor’s troops all these years. And in that case, his chickens—well-fed, we established—would be in no hurry to leave a place where they were both safe and taken care of.”

“But if they were downwind of the Dark Lord’s army, they might have been overcome by terror,” said Damrod.

“It is not as if the armies were progressing along new paths,” said Anborn. “It is more likely that this hypothetical farm is upwind of wherever the hoards passed, or the birds would have fled the farm when armies passed through before.”

There was a pause, as they all thought about this.

“It appears to me,” put in Faramir after a moment, “that the question is no longer Did Damrod see domestic chickens in Ithilien?, nor Where did these domestic chickens come from?, but Why did these domestic chickens cross the River Anduin?”

“And more importantly,” put in Anborn, “why do we care?”

Mablung nodded slowly in answer to this, and Faramir smiled. Damrod was still frowning, thinking over in his head all that had been said. Since he had begun the discussion, the other men looked at him for what he would say now. He finally looked up.

“I have just thought of something,” he said. “When we overcame the Haradrim in Ithilien, among their baggage were many fine things for the officers, including sumptuous provisions. Perhaps they brought along the fowl, in cages, to provide fresh food for those in command, and some of these escaped in the rout.”

Anborn slapped his forehead in the gesture common to those discovering a point that should have been obvious, and Mablung nodded again. Faramir smiled, and thumped Damrod on the back, saying: “Well done, Damrod! For a moment, I feared that our children and grandchildren would be asking each other in the future the question Why did the chickens cross the river?, and that they would lie awake pondering the riddle. But logic provided an answer in the end, and we can rest our minds.”

The men all nodded, and Damrod smiled. “I am glad that I asked, for to be sure, it had been burning in my mind since first I saw it.”

“And now that we are finished, all that talk of chickens has made me hungry,” said Anborn, rubbing an empty belly. “Should not dinner be ready now?”

“Very well,” said Faramir. “And I do believe that it is chicken soup tonight, my good men.”

Damrod chortled, Mablung grinned, then Anborn added: “Ah, but there is another answer! For if our hypothetical hermit was raising chickens for food, perhaps they ran from him in fear of landing in a soup pot.”

There was a chorus of groans at this, and Anborn ducked as various articles were tossed in his direction. And soon, all serious discussion vanished, as it is wont to do among men, no matter what nationality, in bowls of soup, warm rolls, and large mugs of good ale. Faramir's evening was a success.

The End