7. A Turning at Yule-Tide
The large crowd in the common room at the Prancing Pony were fully into the festive mood of the Yule season with cheers and toasts and songs abounding. Both the Big and the Little Folk were feeling merry, and the Yule-tide greetings flowed easily between the two groups.
Barliman Butterbur was at his best, running busily about with one thought driving out another as always but keeping the satisfaction of his guests upper-most in his mind. Well, their satisfaction and his income. Yule always being a busy time for inn and tavern keepers. When there were a few moments for spare thoughts to register in his mind, Barliman was a bit troubled by some of the patrons in his house this night. Not that the more unsavory sort were unusual at the Pony, but there seemed to be more than the usual trouble makers in his common room. But, there it was, the thoughts came and went in rapid succession, and he had no time to sort them out.
"I heard tell that there's them what say it's neigh the time we chase these two-footed mice out of the larder, so to say, and take the land for ourselves," Bill Ferny said and looked slowly around at the nodding heads at his table and in the crowd surrounding it. "Aye, some of the best land for leagues around, I hear tell, me not bein' a farmer and all. I goes by what I hear, and that be what I hear. The best land for leagues, and those little half-pint hobbits livin' off the fat o' it like it be their due."
Bill was rewarded with more nodding of heads and angry murmurs. This was going to be so easy! His pockets were heavy with the gold he'd been paid to "give those furry-footed little Shire-rats their comeuppance." And he was more than happy to do what others were so willing to part with their gold to have happen. He had suffered a great deal of humiliation because of those four hobbits who had taken up with old Strider the Ranger. Yes, Bill had some new friends, southern friends with money and an urge to cause the Shire-rats as much trouble as possible.
One of those southerners stood and with a lightening quick hand grabbed one of old Barliman's hobbit tavern girls by the hair and held her up.
"See men!" he hollered. "'Tis no trouble at all to snare one of these hobbit coneys!" He shook the poor screaming lass by her hair as she dangled in the air three feet off the floor.
Todo Bunce and Moro Toadfoot, two of Bree's Little Folk, rushed the man in an effort to help the struggling lass, and a few of the patrons, big and little, ran to find Barliman and tell him of the attack on his little barmaid. With a near effortless sweep of his free hand, the broad built southerner sent Todo and Moro flying back into the crowd that had cleared a circle around the man and the hobbit still swinging from his fist by her hair.
"See men!" he hollered again. "'Tis no trouble to beat them off! Two with one blow, and I could take out thrice as many easy as that!" He swung the girl around the circle of wide-eyed onlookers. "Why have you weaklings left them to their own ways all this time? What sort of men are you that you do naught to take their little land from them?"
He grabbed a male hobbit from the crowd by his hair and held him up for the crowd to see before smoothly and easily crashing the heads of the two hobbits together. The barmaid and the patron hung limply from the huge fists.
"Put them down and now!" The crowd parted as the proprietor of the Pony came thundering into the room. Few Bree folk had ever seen Barliman Butterbur angry. Fights at the Prancing Pony were usually settled quietly by simply removing the combatants so as not to disturb the other patrons, but this time the old innkeeper was furious. He had always had a soft spot in his heart for the hobbits who frequented his house or worked for him and felt a strong obligation to defend them. Barliman stood nose to nose with the southerner, legs spread to a sturdy stance and his fists resting on his hips.
"You will put those two hobbits down, and you will put them down now!" he growled through clenched teeth.
"What do you think, men? Need I put the coneys down?" The southerner shook the unconscious hobbits as he turned his back to Barliman, looking Bill Ferny and Harry Goatleaf in the eye and giving them a nod. They pushed through the crowd to stand one on each side of him. The burly southerner turned to face the innkeeper again. "I seem to have some here what agrees with me, and I'm sure there be a good many more."
There were murmurs of agreement and disagreement from the on lookers as everyone looked to Barliman to see what his next move would be.
"That is my employee you have there, and the other is a guest in my establishment. They are in my house and under my protection. You will do as I say! Put them down!"
For the first time the southerner's voice was quiet. "Of course, how foolish of me!" he said in a chill voice. "Of course, an employee and a guest. But soon a slave," here he threw the barmaid away to his right to crash into the crowd. "And a begger!" he spat out and tossed the other hobbit to his left where he smacked against the bar and dropped to the floor. "Shire-rats!" he yelled.
"Hobbit-filth!" cried Harry Goatleaf as he kicked the legs out from under a nearby hobbit, then kicked him in the ribs.
"Fur-footed vermin!" shouted Bill Ferny who grabbed two hobbits who were trying to get away and swung them into each other, stunning them. He then punched one in the head and brought his booted foot down hard on the barefeet of the other.
The southerner snatched up another hobbit and, holding him by the wrists, swung him around like a club to hit Barliman across the head. The hobbit and the innkeeper both cried out in pain. Another swing of the hobbit caught Barliman in the stomach, winding him and dropping him to the floor. A snapping was heard as one the hobbit's arms broke. There was a sudden flash of polished steel and a long double edged sword blade rested at the throat of the southerner.
"I think we have all heard enough of your hate filled words, and seen enough of your vile actions." The words of the Ranger who held the sword were quiet with an edge in his voice that made it clear he was not to be trifled with. With a nod of his head he indicated another Ranger who had come out of the crowd to stand on the other side of the southerner. "You will gently hand the hobbit over to my friend."
The face of the southerner was set in a sneer above the sharp sword that lay firmly against his throat, his eyes blazed with hatred. Many of those who had been gathered around Bill Ferny's table started to slink quietly out of the room. The southerner gently released the injured hobbit into the arms of the other Ranger who gave him into the care of some hobbits in the crowd before drawing his own sword to stand at the ready. The first Ranger then helped Barliman to his feet.
"What do you wish done with these dogs, Mr. Butterbur?" The Ranger asked as he now rested the point of his blade at the southerner's heart.
The crowd stood wide-eyed with amazement. They weren't accustomed to such actions from Rangers who usually sat by themselves in the darker corners of the Prancing Pony. The Bree folk had ignored and not trusted these tall, strange men, yet now, here they were defending the Little Folk and treating old Barliman with respect.
"Well," Barliman's voice was shaky but his gaze was firm, "that one you have at the end of your sword there, well, he's a stranger and can be run off with no bother. But those two," he said nodding first toward Bill Ferny then to Harry Goatleaf, "those two are Breemen. It's not my decision alone what's to be done with them."
"Put them out!" someone in the crowd yelled out.
"Run 'em out o' town!"
"Aye!" the call came from every part of the common room.
"'Tisn't a proper town vote," said Barliman, "but I think it will do close enough." He looked the Ranger squarely in the eye. "I think you and some of the fine folk of Bree should show these three the outside of the gate!"
A fair-sized crowd followed the Rangers and the three troublemakers to the West Gate. They marched the southerner, Bill Ferny and Harry Goatleaf the short distance westward on The Great East Road to where it joined The Greenway before the residents of Bree returned to town and barred the gate. The Rangers disappeared into the woods but did not let the threesome out of their sight until they were well away from Bree heading south on The Greenway.
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.