The Middle-earth Guide to Inns and Alehouses?
1. The Middle-earth Guide to Inns and Alehouses
On the road to Bree, late september 3001
Was he making a mistake after all by leaving? Would Frodo manage by himself? Had he been right to leave his ring behind? What about... ? Bilbo sighed; suddenly abandoning the Shire seemed no more than a foolish impulse.
"Bree!" Búri called, shaking Bilbo from his thoughts.
Bree! Bilbo's sense of adventure reasserted itself. Frodo was perfectly capable of managing on his own, the Shire would still be there if he ever wanted to go back, and if he was honest with himself, being rid of his ring was a relief.
Then again, there were Gandalf's warning words that he still didn't know what to make of. Perhaps he shouldn't have left the ring with Frodo after all... If Gandalf was right, and the thing was dangerous, maybe he should have taken it with him to Rivendell. He stopped and started to turn to look back towards the Shire, then sighed again and shook his head before resolutely taking another step forward.
Of course, Bree itself wasn't that exciting. It was not all that far from the Shire, and it was familiar; but he hadn't been east of there since his adventure. First things first, though, and before they headed into the Wild, they would stop at the Prancing Pony for a night.
"Master Baggins, isn't it?" the man who brought him his beer asked. "It's been a while since I've seen you here." Bilbo didn't recognise him, but the man went on quickly. "Ah, of course... I'm Barliman Butterbur, and the last time you visited here, the inn was still my father's and I was but a lad of fifteen or so, and thin as a beanpole." He patted his ample stomach to indicate how he had changed. "If you don't mind my saying, you have barely changed," he added.
"Others have said that as well," Bilbo replied as non-committally as possible when the innkeeper's flood of words paused at last.
"So, Master Baggins, where are you and these Dwarves you're travelling with headed, if I may ask?" Butterbur said as soon as he had pulled up a chair and sat down, barely giving Bilbo a chance to reply before he went on again. "Apologies if I'm prying. I know you Shire hobbits aren't much for travel; yet here you are, and in the company of Dwarves as well, and somehow you look as if you're not just visiting for the best beer in Bree – which, if I may say so, is as excellent as ever. You look as if you're going someplace, and are pleased about it to boot, if you don't mind my saying so."
Butterbur's observations were all too astute, and Bilbo gave him a considering look. The man might sound as if no thought beyond pouring the next pint crossed his mind, but he was no scatterbrain.
"No, I don't mind," he said. "And you're right. Shire hobbits are not generally an adventurous lot, are we? But you're also right. I am headed somewhere. I'm going east." His plans still went little further than that, except that he would visit Rivendell first. And beyond that, who knew? He certainly wanted to go as far as the Long Lake, see Erebor once again, see how the Lake-men had rebuilt their town, visit Dale, perhaps the Elves in Mirkwood as well – though he'd rather avoid running into any spiders; he'd had quite enough of those to last him a lifetime.
"East? Whatever for? Only Dwarves and Rangers go there."
"And this hobbit," Bilbo replied. Regin and his brothers had spoken with Butterbur earlier to buy what they needed for the next part of the journey, and it was not surprising that the innkeeper was trying to find out more about such an oddly-assorted party of travellers.
"If you say so," Butterbur said.
"I do say so. But what of these Rangers?" Bilbo drained the last of his beer and set his mug down with a satisfied sigh. "Another half, thank you," he added at the innkeeper's questioning glance. Soon a barmaid came over to bring the requested item.
Butterbur looked around almost furtively. "See that lot over there in the corner?"
He hadn't really noticed them before, but when Bilbo glanced at the corner Butterbur indicated, he saw there were indeed some Men there, quietly talking among themselves. "Yes," he replied. "What of them?" It was difficult to make out much in the dim light, beyond that they were a scruffy looking bunch; Bilbo did notice that there was always one keeping an eye on what went on in the inn's common room. On their guard, but against what? This is Bree, not the dark reaches of the Wild.
"Useless layabouts, and no better than vagabonds or ruffians," Butterbur muttered now, his tone dismissive. "Be careful on the road; I'm sure you don't want them taking an interest in you and your business." He cast a wary glance at the corner where the Rangers sat.
Regin, the only one of the three Dwarves who had come to the common room with Bilbo, said gruffly, "Not entirely useless. They're sometimes willing to hire out as guards for travellers, and then they're usually reliable enough from what I hear. But what I've always wanted to know is how they can afford those silver brooches they all have?"
From Butterbur's expression, Regin's comment didn't much improve his opinion of Rangers, but he shrugged as he replied. "Those fancy cloak pins of theirs? Odd as it is, as far as I know, there's nothing untoward about it. And they wear them as if they're some sort of badge; half of them even wear them indoors."
Bilbo could not make out what the other two were talking about without staring openly at the corner where the Rangers sat. He was also not quite sure what to do with Butterbur's warning. The innkeeper had been serious enough with it, and Bilbo reckoned that, even if he didn't travel himself, he'd hear much from visitors, so to disregard the warning would be unwise. At the same time, Regin, who had been travelling across Eriador for years, disagreed.
"Anyway, Rangers aside," Butterbur soon went on, "It's getting late. Is there anything more you need, beyond what we already agreed? Since you're heading east, you'll need all the supplies you can carry."
Bilbo looked at Regin, but the Dwarf shook his head. "No, I don't think we need more. We'll get fresh bread and more dried meat at the Forsaken Inn, and we can hunt and forage."
The next morning, while waiting for the Dwarves to come downstairs, Bilbo considered again whether they should have taken Butterbur up on his offer after all. Money was not an issue, and they would be travelling for weeks. On the other hand, they had not brought a pack pony and had to carry everything themselves. His pack was already heavy with everything he was bringing along, and, as Regin had said, they could always hunt.
Not even the thought of missing meals could sour Bilbo's mood. Gandalf had tried to instill some care into him, and the least he should do was to keep his warnings in mind, but so far, the journey had run smoothly. The weather was good, bright and clear autumn days, and that would most certainly not last; but right now even the thought of being out in the rain and wind felt good.
He looked up as he heard someone come down the stairs, but it was one of the Rangers, rather than his companions. The Ranger only gave him a brief glance as he crossed the room, but Bilbo took the opportunity to study him closer. This one didn't wear his cloak pin indoors, but he certainly looked no less unkempt than he and his companions had the night before. There was something about the man's bearing that seemed to suggest that he didn't think as lowly of himself as others did, and Bilbo wondered briefly what the truth of the matter was. The next set of footsteps coming downstairs did belong to the Dwarves, and soon all thought of ragged strangers fled in the face of the hearty breakfast Butterbur served them.
They only left Bree close to noon, and Bilbo was starting to regret not having ordered a second breakfast when he had the chance. He let Regin set the pace. The Dwarf seemed inclined to a leisurely ramble, and Bilbo didn't mind the lack of progress, but both Hanar and Búri wanted to press on.
"Were you planning on getting to the Forsaken Inn this week?" Hanar asked his brother rather testily when they stopped for lunch no more than a few miles past Staddle. Regin's reply was in Khuzdul, so Bilbo didn't understand what was said, but neither Hanar nor Búri complained further afterwards.
All three Dwarves walked in sullen silence for the rest of the afternoon. Bilbo refused to let a quarrel between his companions ruin his mood, and thus he stepped along cheerfully, humming snatches of walking songs and trying out new bits of rhyme that came into his head as he walked.
They halted about an hour before dark, leaving time to gather firewood and prepare dinner. Even if they still weren't speaking to each other, the Dwarves made as quick work of setting up camp as they had every night on the journey from Hobbiton.
The day started foggy, but as soon as the sun rose, the fog dispersed, and the weather turned out sunny and, for the time of year, warm. The Dwarves were still quieter than normal, but at least they weren't as grumpy as they had been the previous day.
It was still light when they reached the Forsaken Inn. Bilbo looked at it curiously. The main building sat alone on a low hill, with stables and such in a circle behind it, out of sight from the Road. It was sixty years since he'd been here, and the building had looked quite intimidating to him then. In fact, he didn't remember all that much about it, other than having to sleep in an upstairs room, since the inn had no rooms on the ground floor. That was unlikely to have changed, and other than that he had no idea what to expect.
"Why is it called the Forsaken Inn?" Búri asked. Bilbo was curious about that as well; it was an odd name for a place that was still used, yet he had never heard that there was a particular tale attached to the name.
Regin shrugged and didn't reply, but after a moment's thought, Hanar answered. "Mostly its location so far outside Bree, I've heard. And it looks rather forbidding from the outside."
That was certainly true, Bilbo thought. The woodwork could do with some paint, and the grey slate roof made the building look even more dark and unwelcoming.
Someone had come outside, and judging from the man's grim expression and the long cudgel he carried, as much to see if they were dangerous, as to welcome possible guests. "Greetings," he called. "What brings you here?"
"We seek a meal and a night's lodging," Regin answered.
"Welcome, then," the man answered. "I'm Will Rushlight, the proprietor. You're in luck for the lodging. I've a room free, so you can take that between you, rather than sleeping in the dormitory."
Regin gave him a sceptical look. "I'll want a look at the room first," he said as they followed the innkeeper inside.
While Regin and the innkeeper went upstairs, Bilbo followed the other two Dwarves through a narrow hall into the common room. The common room was smaller – and surprisingly full – than that in the Prancing Pony, but it did look better than the outside of the building would suggest.
Hanar went over to the bar to order their beers, while Bilbo and Búri sat down immediately at an empty table near the back.
They hadn't even started on their beers before Regin joined them. "The room will do. It's certainly better than the dormitory, even shared between four," he said as he sat down. "It's expensive, but at least his price for the supplies we want is fair."
"Not a cheery place, though," Búri observed, taking a sip from his beer.
"Not surprising," Hanar muttered as he followed suit. "This is nowhere near as good as in Bree."
"The Forsaken Inn has never been as good as the Pony," Regin said. "This place gets mostly travellers. It isn't a village inn where more than half the custom comes from locals dropping in for a pint and a cheerful evening."
"Is it always this busy?" Bilbo asked. Obviously, the kind of visitors made a difference in the mood in an inn, but if the Forsaken Inn depended so on travellers, would it be this crowded? The road east was not that well-travelled.
"Not usually," the Dwarf replied, "But I reckon any traders going east will want to cross the mountains before the start of the bad weather; and those Dwarves there look like they're heading for the Blue Mountains. They'll want to be settled in before the winter."
The explanation made sense, but Bilbo would himself be happy to spend the winter in Rivendell and not think about travel beyond the mountains before the spring. He certainly didn't want to rush the journey in an attempt to cross the Misty Mountains before winter.
Their beers finished, Regin waved a serving man over to order their dinner. While they waited, Bilbo looked around the common room again. He had already noticed that he was the only hobbit there. Now he added the observation that most of the guests looked as if they had been travelling for some time, which fitted in with what Regin had said.
Soon, their meal arrived, and, realising he was quite hungry, Bilbo reached for his bowl of stew. It didn't look very appetising, but looks could deceive and the Dwarves were tucking in as if they meant business, so Bilbo shrugged and stuck his spoon in.
He looked despondently at the greasy mess on the spoon, and forced himself to take a bite. As awful as it looks... Before he had a chance to attempt a second bite, on the other side of the room, two Men shoved back their chairs and jumped up. One immediately started pushing the other, who raised his fists as if to throw a punch. Now both stood very still, talking to each other, very intently, but too softly for Bilbo to hear what they were saying.
Bilbo had to force himself not to stare, especially once some of the two brawlers' companions stood up as well, attempting to soothe the argument and make them sit down again. They didn't appear to be very good at it, tempers flaring to the point that one reached to draw a long knife. The others attempted to stop him, but he lashed out, leaving one of his fellows clutching at his arm before they could calm him.
Almost immediately the innkeeper appeared, wielding his cudgel, and with three more men behind him. This was enough to stop the fight, and those involved quickly left the common room, the injured man supported by one of his fellows, all of them still looking angry.
The whole thing was disconcerting, Bilbo found. This was nothing like home. Of course, people argued, sometimes heatedly, but he couldn't even remember any argument at the Green Dragon going beyond fisticuffs. Almost without thinking, he let his hand stray to his pocket and the reassurance of the knowledge that he could disappear if necessary. Then he almost gasped. His ring... How could he have forgotten? He slowly withdrew his hand, reluctant to admit to the impulse even to himself.
The next day, as they stopped to eat their lunch, Bilbo was glad they had made an early start. They had made good progress, it was a good day for walking, and it was a good day to be out in the Wild. Sitting by the side of the Road, looking far ahead, he saw a long smudge of darkness stretching along the horizon. Was it his first glimpse of the Misty Mountains? Likely not, it probably was no more than a distant haze of fog. Even if it wasn't the mountains he saw, the thought was pleasant, and Bilbo felt as if he had crossed another threshold. Beyond today, until they reached Rivendell, there would be no home comforts, no sleeping in beds, soft or otherwise, no foamy ale, no meals that they did not cook themselves. The Forsaken Inn did not compare to the Pony, but it had been the last time they would sleep in a real bed until Rivendell.
Comparing the Forsaken Inn to the Prancing Pony... Bilbo shook his head and laughed out loud.
"What's so funny?" Hanar asked.
"Just a fancy," Bilbo said, "And not all that funny, perhaps, but I was thinking that rather than telling the tale of the Quest to Erebor and speaking of great deeds, once I find the time to finish writing about my adventures, I should perhaps be telling people which inns to stay at, which ones to avoid and what the good points of all are."
"If they have any, of course," Regin muttered, glaring back darkly.
"It could have been worse," Búri said. "At least the bed was clean, and the food wasn't very good, but it was unspoilt."
Regin laughed scornfully. "Búri, the food was utterly awful."
Bilbo said nothing, but a sudden flare-up of an itchy spot on his ankle reminded him that his bed at least had not been clean, and he'd been turned into some pest's midnight snack, or perhaps the bedbugs preferred Hobbit over Dwarf. But Búri was right, the food had not been rotten. It had been greasy, overcooked, underseasoned and apparently left to cool for half a day before being served, but it had not been rotten.
"A travel guide?" Hanar said, looking thoughtful. "That would be useful, I think. Take the Golden Perch. A fine place, friendly, and their beer is excellent, but half the time you risk dying of thirst before you get your beer, because the service is so slow."
After Hanar's observation, which Bilbo, much as he liked the Golden Perch, had to admit the truth of, the Dwarves caught on to the idea. For the rest of the day, as they walked, Hanar and Regin spun ever more outrageous tales of the inns they had visited over the years. Búri, who was the youngest of the three, and hadn't travelled as widely as the others, had little to add, except the occasional exclamation of disbelief. Had Bilbo really intended to write such a book, he thought, he could have filled it easily with the Dwarves' tales, though he doubted travellers would find them of much use.
"From hearing you, it's surprising anyone would ever want to leave home," Bilbo said after Regin had finished describing a drink he claimed was the favourite of some of the wild tribes far to the east of Erebor. "Fermented horse milk? What's wrong with plain beer?"
He would likely never journey to these lands, but Bilbo's curiosity about them stirred. The world outside might well be more dangerous, but it was also more interesting, and he knew he had done the right thing by leaving the comfortable predictability of the Shire. Even so, he still missed his ring...
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.