For Maeglin for her birthday. Thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.
Barggh ignored the Small One who was approaching him. After all, such creatures were (physically) beneath his notice, always hurrying through the rocky slopes the Giants considered their home, and where they entertained themselves by tossing boulders one at the other or bowling them down the mountain passes. The Small Ones tended to be very fragile—Barggh had managed to crush two or three by accident before he’d finally accepted his mother’s warning that they did not make good pets or playthings. Not, of course, that they appeared to like being caught in a blind canyon for purposes of study by young Giants—they were like to lecture one and demand their freedom, and to turn up their noses at a fine mountain goat or yeti offered for their sustenance.
No, best to let them be, Barggh had decided about the time he was judged able to hold his own in boulder tossing with his father’s friends. As sentient beings, or so his father insisted, they weren’t considered proper prey for meals any way, and particularly as they would protect their own fiercely and objected so strenuously to being so used. Barggh’s friend Yonnit had acquired a good number of scars on his thumb and ankles when he’d thought once to seek his sundown meal among the hairiest of the Small Ones—not a good idea, that one! Barggh could have warned him….
Although the absolute worst were the dark, swarming ones that spawned in the lightless places within the mountains themselves. No one liked such creatures at all, not the hairy ones, the tallest ones, or even the Great Eagles, who nested on the crags above the Giants’ heads. The swarming ones tended to come out of their caverns and tunnels only on the darkest of nights, ordinarily, and were apt to mischief toward anyone they came across. They’d savaged Barggh’s little sister once, assaulting her feet. As a result, she would seldom agree to come down the slopes toward any of the lower rifts going east and west, and was self-conscious about her scars. Even Barggh’s mother agreed such creatures should be stepped on without compunction when they managed to come along one of the ways of the Giants, although their ichor tended to cause the soles of one’s feet to burn.
Barggh noted the current Small One primarily because he was climbing the steep slopes in an apparent attempt to approach the level of Barggh’s own face. He was the only Small One Barggh had ever seen doing such a thing, actually. His attention caught, the Giant watched with fascination as the creature climbed.
It was dressed all in grey, save for the enormous construction it wore atop its head, which was blue. Barggh crouched down some so as to see it more clearly. Like the hairy ones, its face was obscured by a great beard, although this one did not appear to be as harsh as those of that much smaller folk. Nor was it carrying the great shining axes that the hairy ones tended to prefer to use to protect themselves. No, this one wore a long stick of metal hanging from its waist, and carried what appeared to have been the stem of a tree bound to its back. He eyed that stem with interest, as it appeared just the right size to serve Barggh in cleaning between his teeth. Not, though, that he was likely to offer said item to the Giant, he realized.
“You!” it finally called, being not much lower than Barggh’s face now. “Would you mind helping me pin some orcs within the mountains?”
“Orcs?” Barggh grunted.
“The creatures that come from within the mountains. They’ve broken through into the pass, and are assaulting travelers, seeking to take them for slaves and the odd meal now and then.”
Unwilling to enter the quarrels of the Small Ones, Barggh started to rise and turn away, but then noted a few of the swarming ones coming his way, apparently following the scent of the Small One who’d addressed him. He grunted his displeasure, and moved forward to where he could stomp on the lot of them as they came into a clearer place. There! A few less of the foul creatures upon the mountainside.
“Hooray!” called the grey Small One. “Oy, you! That was well done!”
He turned toward the Small One. “You don’t like those?” Barggh asked.
The Small One was shaking his head. “Of course not! No one who is sensible likes Orcs!” he shouted.
“Those you call Orcs?”
Barggh thought for a moment. “You want to keep them inside the dark?”
Barggh gave a great smile. “You show me where—I will bring stones….”
His father and several of his friends helped in the end, and one rift from which the swarming ones had been issuing lately was filled with great blocks of stone not even the cleverest of their kind would be able to move with any ease. And on hearing the nature of the project, Barggh’s little sister came down from the heights, herself arranging several of the greatest stones so that should any of the lower ones was disturbed, others above would come crashing down to crush those that sought to move them. The Grey One assisted them as he could.
As they were finishing their task, he noted the scars on the feet of Barggh’s sister, and he paused. He caught Barggh’s attention. “They did that to her?” he asked. On learning this was true, he gave a great sigh, for such a small being, at least. “I will do what I can for her,” he said, and approached her carefully.
With the encouragement of Barggh and their father, she stayed still, although her brother realized she wanted nothing but to either stomp the thing flat or flee high up the slopes. The Small One freed the tree stem from its back, and gently held it to the clearest of the scars.
“Ooh!” she squealed.
The Small One winced, but held the stem steady----
At last he pulled away, and the glow that had gathered about him faded, but with it had faded the scars on Barggh’s sister’s feet. She was looking down with amazement, then turned to look at the Small One, her face splitting in a smile of relief. “Better!” she said.
“Good!” said the Small One. “It was little enough I could do to thank you all.”
But Barggh, his hand on his sister’s shoulder, watched after the creature as it hurried away down the slope. He noted that it was following the way that the last party of hairy ones he’d seen had taken. At last he and she turned to follow their parents back upwards, satisfied that no more of the swarming ones would be coming out of that rift, at least.
“And where were you during the night?” asked Bilbo of Gandalf.
“I was convincing a friendly giant to help stop up the exit the goblins have been using lately, as I explained I would try to do when we came this way before.”
“You can speak to such creatures?” Bilbo asked, intrigued. “Remarkable!” But it was with a strong feeling of relief he followed the Wizard back down the slope of the pass as they continued their journey homeward.