1. Pints and Other Measurements
'A pint, sir? Are you sure? A Breeland pint is over twice the size of a Shire pint, you know.'
'I know. But I'm not from the Shire. And I most certainly am not a 'sir', young man.'
The stranger pulled back the hood of the grey cloak and revealed her face. She was very pale but did not look otherwise ill, her hair was black and her eyes green. While the shape of her face and her round nose suggested she was a hobbit, not to mention her short height, she looked like no hobbit Marron had ever seen.
'Are you going to stare all night? I recall I ordered a pint.'
What could he do? He brought her a pint. She paid with a small silver coin.
'Hey! This is the new money! With King Aragorn's face and all!'
'So? Minas Anor is full of those - it's the old money that's getting rare.'
'You have been to Minas Tirith?- Anor I mean, I'm still not used to places changing names all of a sudden.'
'Don't you have some work to do or something?'
Marron chose to ignore the woman's irritated tone. He looked round. The room was almost empty - the company of dwarves that had kept such a noise earlier on had all retired to their rooms, most of the Breelanders had gone home, and only some solitary drinkers remained. No, there was no work to do at the moment.
'Tell you what, that pint is on me, and you tell me all about yourself.'
The woman grinned mischievously and took the coin back from his hand. Her hand was cool, and very soft. Her fingers were long, almost like an elf's.
'All right. But don't expect any additional favours - it takes more than one night's friendship to get to know me.'
The woman ignored Marron's stammered assurances that he had no questionable ambitions.
'My name is Niphredil, and I was born next door to Paradise. Next island, to be precise. Tol Eresseä. I was the only child on the island - the elves have no children there. My family has a smial named Underhill, very close to the western shore. Every evening my mother and father walked to the beach and watched the Sun set behind the Blessed Realm. Sometimes I went with them. I always felt very sad that I could never go to that beautiful land. All our friends were old and wise, and I felt very young and stupid. My family, now, I had nothing to complain about my family. Did I say who my father is? No? Let me tell you, my father is Frodo Baggins. Heard the name, huh? Many a free bottle of wine that I've earned just by a casual mention of that name. And my mother? No shame there, either. She is a Maia. Not a very important one, but an Ainu nonetheless, Tinwen sister of Arien. Then I had old Uncle Bilbo, may he rest in peace. I was a kid still when he passed away. I got very angry about it, almost built a raft and tried sailing to Aman to complain to the Valar for taking away our dear old Bilbo. Eönwë talked me out of it. One of the few folks I really looked up to. I mean, I was surrounded by legendary people every day, Maiar, Elves, and the occasional mortal. I sort of got used to them. Eönwë was different, and you know why? Because he was the only guy with a sword on his belt in the realm of peace. And because he taught me to use a bow. I was a bloodthirsty kid, always asking for stories about wars and battles - I get it from my mother's side, I think - she has some balrogs in the family. It certainly isn't from my father. I must have been something of a pain in his side when I kept on asking questions about the Ring. Anyhow, I was raised by stories, and stories are what brought me to Middle-Earth. I just could not remain in one place any longer. Since West was not an option, I set out for the East. For Adventure. I said my farewells, was given a load of useful gifts by my parents; 'Your inheritance', they said. This cloak is one of them. It comes from Lothlórien.'
Niphredil Baggins paused to raise the pint to her mouth. She drank deep, and smiled.
'Would you like to see a secret?' Her hand wandered to the laces that bound her shirt.
The maiden took this for a positive reply and opened the laces to reveal - not her bosom, but a coat of gleaming, pearl-white metal. She answered the disbelief in Marron's eyes - the eyes he had only pretended to avert chastely.
'Yep. Mithril. Worth about the same as all of Shire put together. Perhaps more, as the price of mithril keeps rising - but on the other hand, the estimation was never precise.'
'The Mighty Ones did not give me the use of a ship - for none was to sail east, ever again. Instead, they transformed me into a bird for the journey. I would not choose to be a seagull if I was given that choice today. Wonderful birds, steady flight and all, and a clamour some call pleasant as their song, but you would not believe what those accursed creatures eat! Anyhow, I finally arrived to Middle-Earth, and chose to land in Osgiliath. I wanted to do some sight-seeing, you could say. So I shed the shape of a gull and stood alone in moonlight among the ruins. Or so I thought. Then I heard a voice:
'Did you drop there from the sky or what?' I turned around to face the speaker - a man in green leather, with braided brown hair, beardless.
'Actually, I did.'
'Who are you and where are you from?'
I felt he would need persuading - he reminded me of my father's story about his meeting with Faramir and the Ithilien Rangers. I thought fast and put on an act, in what I thought was a very convincing Quenya with Numenorean accent.
'Uien Niphredil, uien wanwa.'* As I looked at him I realised my accent had sunk with Numenor.
'Excuse me, can you speak Westron?'
'Yes, sir.' I had been identified as a foreigner - now what?
'Good, because my High-Elven is not as good as I thought - I did not understand a word you said.'
'Pardon? Who are you, actually?'
'I think I asked first, young lady.'
'I'm probably older than you, young sir.' I was twenty-six and proud of it.
'Not very likely, unless you are in your second thousand.'
'What? But you are just a Gondorian!'
'Meaning you aren't? It would be impolite to repeat my question, but as a servant and friend to the King I need to know at least who allowed you to enter this country.'
'Well... I hoped to charm you without proof, but I do have a passport that I think a friend to the King would recognise.' I showed him this.
Marron did not understand. Niphredil had gestured vaguely at her neck.
'The... um, mailshirt?'
'No! He did not look as harmless as you.'
'Your cloak, then?'
'All cats are grey in the dark.' Niphredil lifted the ornament that clasped the mentioned garment.
'A beautiful brooch, miss.'
'The man at Osgiliath appreciated it for other reasons. It is the mallorn-leaf of Lórien.'
'You don't say...! But then - that cloak...?'
'The very same. Stupid of me to wear it in a place like this - it took me ages to get you notice me!'
Niphredil laughed and drank deep - she was now halfway done with the pint.
'The man stared at my "passport", then, to my complete surprise, he showed me a similar one on his neck.
'Who are you?' I asked, dim-witted as always.
'If you have a right to wear what you wear, you should know me.'
I thought a moment, but of course it was obvious - I had never seen either a human or a sindarin elf, and now had mistaken one for the other.
He bowed most gracefully.
'Pleased to make your acquaintance, miss Niphredil...?'
'Niphredil Baggins, honoured to meet you.' I gave him my hand, and he kissed it.
'Baggins?' He seemed to measure me up. 'How is your father?'
'Fine, and happily married. Recovered. At peace. Must be worried for me a bit. But not half as much as my mother. Her name is Tinwen, by the way. Tinwen Híniel Cal-Urúnya Maialaurë El-Carnil Elai Hawkfeather Baggins. She's old as everything, and very pretty, and she loves him absolutely.'
'Surely not "old as everything"?'
'Oh, but she is! Older than you, certainly. She's a Maia, you see.'
'But that makes you...'
'I'm mortal. And not half as pretty as Lúthien. No magic powers, and I sing really bad. That makes me a Baggins, no more and no less, and with a pretty mother.'
'I have never seen Lúthien Tinúviel, so I cannot make a comparison, but I assure you you have your father's features and a beauty of your own.'
'Those were his words, I swear it. A beauty of my own, by Anar!'
Niphredil sipped the beer. Then she brought the pint down with a heavy thud, startling both Marron and a small dog who had tried to sleep under the table.
'Legolas took me to Ithilien, where we interrupted a party of elves and men in the woods. When I saw mortals I was surprised how different they were from elves. I was introduced to everyone and everyone was introduced to me, but I remember only Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn. He was no doubt a noble man, but at the time I only stared at his curly beard. She was very polite and it was the first time I saw a woman who was not ten times or more beautiful than me. Fair she was, but her short life was passing swiftly and her brightest youth was a memory only on her face. Yet she smiled and was at home among the fairer elves, and at once I wanted to be like her. Not Big, I mean, but so unselfconscious. She also told me of Meriadoc Brandybuck as she had known him.
'She remembers Master Meriadoc?' Marron exclaimed.
'You know him?'
'Sure I do, he's my uncle.'
'Are you a Brandybuck? Here in Bree? Very nice to meet you!'
Niphredil reached her hand to him. Marron stared at it, thought a moment, clasped it, thought better, and kissed it.
'Marron Brandybuck at your service!'
Niphredil giggled and tried to cover her blush by emptying her pint.
'Would your service get me some wine?' she asked.
'Of course. Red, white, or apple?'
'Apple, and sweet, thank you.'
'Master Brandon, what is the sweetest apple wine we have?' Marron asked.
'That would be year 19, I think, the bottles labelled "late"'.
'We still have some of those?'
'Yes, but only the bigger bottles. I noticed your customer is a hobbit.'
'I'll ask her.'
'Her?' Brandon exclaimed, but Marron was gone already.
'Would you like a large bottle of our sweetest, or a smaller one of a more ordinary sort?'
'The large of course, I can take it with me tomorrow!'
'As you wish. It makes three silvers.'
'You won't give it as a gift?'
'I'm sorry, but I'm a poor hobbit only, and I should really ask three and a half, for it's first-rate.'
'I was joking. I'm sorry, Marron.'
Soon he brought the wine, and Niphredil refused to pay anything less that the full value. Marron made to leave, but Niphredil clasped his arm.
'Do sit down and drink with me!'
She poured for Marron in the one glass he'd brought, and for herself a generous measure in the emptied beer-pint. Then she raised the pint for a toast:
'This is for future good relations between Bagginses and Brandybucks!'
Niphredil was too tired to continue her tale, so Marron in turn informed her of recent and less recent events in the Shire. Somehow they emptied the entire bottle, and Niphredil found it harder and harder to keep her eyes open.
'Am I boring you?' Marron asked after she yawned the fourth time.
'No, it's my bedtime.' So saying she finished her wine, shook the bottle and saw it empty.
Niphredil then picked her bag and a long bow from the floor and asked if the room she had ordered before was prepared. Marron went to check, and came back with a lantern to show her the way.
'The only room for one we have is human-sized, hope you don't mind?'
'No, I will only be less likely to fall from the bed!'
She laughed, then suddenly stumbled and would have fallen had Marron not steadied her.
'I think you should take my arm, Miss Baggins. You are very tired.'
'Drunk, you mean!' Again she laughed, but took the offered arm and leaned on it heavily.
Marron helped her take off her cloak and hung it on the doorknob, because the hooks on the wall were too high for a hobbit.
Niphredil tried to climb into the bed and failed, because it was high as a table for her. Marron helped her up as if onto horseback.
'Come here.' A command.
'Don't be silly. I won't eat you alive. I just want to finish my story.'
'All right.' He climbed up and sat on the edge of the bed. Niphredil was under the blanket and her hair covered the pillow in a dark haze. Her eyes were closed.
'That night in Ithilien... I also drank too much. And I was... bothering him. Legolas, I mean. I even kissed him! I asked him to sit with me, and then I just clung to him! He didn't want to make a scene, so he endured me. And then I fell asleep with my head in his lap, and he sat there until morning. He was too nice to me, so polite, didn't want to wake me nor leave me. And when I woke up in the morning I had a terrible headache, and he brought me some athelas! Athelas, for a headache! I've been dependent of the herb ever since, I often get headache you see. I apologised to him and he said it was nothing, he was glad to help, I had been no trouble at all. I was still feeling miserable so he just held me in his arms and told me everything was fine, and he kissed my cheek and put a flower in my hair to make me smile, just to make me smile. We were alone, the others had gone sometime in the night.
'What you must think of me!' I managed to say at last.
'I think you are just plain wonderful. You enjoyed yourself last night, many people do now and then. In my father's court it is ordinary to drink like you did, I understand it. Also, you did not get angry or sad, so it was pleasant to be in your company.'
'Even for you?'
Then he stared at me with those large elf eyes. That was when I fell in love.
'Especially for me. Niphredil, it has been a long time since any maiden has so flattered me... don't cry!
I mean it! My sweet one! Can I hold you?' And he... he buried his head in my hair, and kissed my neck, and whispered my name in my ear. Then he kissed me, on the mouth, and held me very close, until I stopped crying...
Niphredil trembled, and Marron saw tears streaming from her eyes. He was at loss. Finally he gave her his hand to hold, and she grasped it violently. Suddenly she drew him upon her body.
'Hold me! I am so alone!'
'Miss Baggins, you should not...'
'Why not? I have no-one else!'
'But I do. I am sorry. I have a sweetheart in Buckland.'
'Oh! But could you just hold me, as if I were your sister, and your sister had a broken heart?'
So he lay down beside her and held her tenderly. Niphredil Baggins cried herself to sleep in the arms of a man she had just met, much as she had her first night in Middle-Earth.
When she slept - and not entirely without snoring - Marron crept out the room with the lantern. Brandon was waiting for him in the corridor.
'Well, well! At least you had the decency not to stay till morning! I would very much like this to remain a respectable inn.'
'Mr Butterbur, it's not what you think!'
'Indeed? You fill a woman's head with alcohol and follow her to bed! Did she resist much? Did you pay her wine, or did she perhaps pay you with it?'
'No! We only talked!'
'I disagree. I distinctly hear her ask you 'hold her'.'
'All right, and I did. With our clothes on and a blanket between.'
'Why would anyone bother with such nonsense, or believe it?'
'For things no big man can understand. For innocence and broken hearts, for friendship and for faithfulness.'
'All right, I let this be a warning. Never go into a customer's bed. Never drink a customer's wine when working. And never let our respectability be questioned. Or you will be fired and your relatives informed of all the details.'
'Yes, Mr Butterbur. No, Mr Butterbur. I promise, Mr Butterbur. My word of honour as a Maggot.'**
*’Uien Niphredil, uien wanwa.’ means something like ‘I am Niphedil, I am lost.’ Let’s pretend my bad Quenya is Numenorean Quenya, OK?
**Yes, he uses a false name. I am writing this the same time as 'The Bree Letters', where this and Marron's sweetheart get explained. I am also writing another letter-form story, and also having a block there. (Kohaku & Chihiro, anime based).
One more note: Minas Anor. Why not? It's the Leningrad-St.Petersburg thing, and there is no more Minas Morgul for a watch-tower to watch.
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.