3. 3001 Third Age, Mid-October
1) Bilbo Baggins, Barliman Butterbur, the town of Bree and its environs, the Prancing Pony are all copyright J R R Tolkien, and are used without permission in this work of fan fiction.
2) While Bill Ferny is a character created by J R R Tolkien, his father Joe is my own creation.
3) This story is dedicated to Anglachel and Dwimordene, brilliant writers both, and suppliers of plotbunnies to the masses of Henneth-Annûn. Without those plotbunnies, this probably would have arrived about two months earlier.
4) No money is being made from this story. Magda says she doesn't get paid enough as it is, and there's no way she's going to share her tips with me.
3001 Third Age, mid-October.
The arrival of the mixed party from down the West Road had caused a minor stir in Bree, as had their booking rooms at the Prancing Pony. I've no idea whatsoever why that last caused a stir, since we're the only establishment in town which offers accommodation, but there you go. I suppose it was all connected with the fuss and bother that had been happening over in the Shire for the past month. We hadn't seen much of it here in Bree, but everyone knew that a lot of money was being laid out, and that a lot of merchants had been through.
That last had kept me busy. I'd had no more time than to jot down a quick list of all the merchants rushing through the place, as well as a quick indication of what they appeared to be selling and to send that up to the Angle by bird. What with all the merchants passing through delivering goods to the Shire, as well as the ones passing back, selling what they had over, I'd not had a chance to do more than turn around and draw breath for the past month or more. However, it appeared to have died down in the last few weeks. Nary a merchant to be seen since about a week ago. Now here was this party of hobbits and dwarves, come from the direction of the Shire. Something more for my report, I think.
I greeted them all when they came into the tap. The hobbit was a cheery chap, like most of them are, although he had the air of someone who hadn't been sleeping well for the last couple of days. His clothes were travelworn, but also a bit baggy on him, as though he'd suddenly lost weight. Also, I noticed that whenever he thought people weren't paying attention to him, he'd sink into a kind of stillness. The stillness vanished whenever he was spoken to, or whenever he perceived that someone was watching him, but it was still there, in the background. I had the suspicion that he hadn't been well - he reminded me of how some of the local children would be after an illness. All fun and games and jollity on the outside, but easily tired, easily made restless, and easily provoked to the point of crying.
Fortunately, that last wasn't something I had to worry about with him. Instead, I served him and his comrades their ale and remained in my place behind the tap. It was my task this night to watch the cash box - there'd been some money missing the previous night, and although none of us said anything, Barliman, Nob and I all suspected the light fingers of the Ferny clan had been itching again. Question was, of course, whether it was Joe, or his son Bill. Either way, we weren't leaving the cash box out of sight of one of us, preferably two. So, Nob was on table service (food, drink and empties collection), I was on the tap and the cash box, while Barliman supervised.
This put me into a perfectly good place to hear much of the discussion that ensued. One hobbit and five dwarves, all talking away about some party or another. Possibly this had something to do with what had been happening in the Shire, recently. I couldn't resist asking questions. It's my job, after all.
"Excuse me, sirs," I said, putting my comment into a quiet moment in the conversation, "but I couldn't help but hearing of the party in the Shire. Would that be something planned for Yule?"
The old hobbit shook his head, smiling broadly. "Oh no, no, no. There's nothing that grand planned for Yule in the Shire. Oh no. The party we're talking about is the party for Mad Baggins!"
"Oh, that sounds interesting, sir," I said, playing up to the hobbit. I could see he had a tale, and I could also see that he was bursting to tell it. "Could you tell us all about it?"
"For you, dear lass, anything!" he replied, laughing. "Truth to tell, it's a tale which is worthy of being told to as many as possible, for it is a tale of special magnificence."
By now, a number of people in the common room had begun to listen in eagerly. The old hobbit looked around, appreciating his audience. I could see him beginning to perk up, to take an interest in the people around him.
"The tale," he continued, "concerns Mad Baggins." He paused dramatically, clearly expecting a response. When he didn't get one, he decided to carry on with the tale, although I suspect he embroidered it a fair bit. "Mad Baggins is the greatest Hobbit hero of a generation," he said. "He travelled far and travelled wide, slaying trolls, meeting elves, rescuing captives from captivity, fighting giant spiders, and captivating all with his bravery and valor, until he travelled at last to the far-off Lonely Mountain, and there he slew a dragon, and captured its treasure."
Now what was there in that to make the dwarves chuckle so? A couple of them had even choked on their ale.
"But that was many years ago, and Mad Baggins had long since returned to the Shire. He'd filled up his hole with the gold and jewels, and was the richest Hobbit in the Shire. And for a while he enjoyed that: eating off gold plates, sleeping on silk and linen, wearing fine clothes and brocades. But after a while, he grew weary of riches, and he desired more adventures. For an adventurer's life is a fine life, with no man to answer, none to call master, and none to call servant.
"Yet Mad Baggins knew that were he just to leave his Hobbit hole in the Shire, he would not get far. For the folk of the Shire disapprove of those who wander. They feel that people should stay where they were put. To the Shire-folk, it was long since time that Mad Baggins had set aside wandering, leaving the roving life behind. Mad Baggins could not leave openly, for he would be required to explain his actions to each and every hobbit he passed on the road, at length, and in detail. Why, it would have taken him a year to get through Hobbiton alone!"
There was an appreciative chuckle here from the local hobbit-folk, some of whom had always been of the opinion that Shire-folk were often a little too busy about others' business at times. There was an equally appreciative chuckle from the rest of the Breefolk, who knew that the local hobbits were just as inquisitive, if not more so.
"So, in the end," the old hobbit continued, "Mad Baggins came up with a clever plan to distract those who were far too interested in his business, rather than being concerned with minding their own. He announced that he would be holding a party of special magnificence. This, of course, set the whole Shire to talking and speculating as to what that Mad Baggins was up to now. He let them talk. He had something planned, something special, something which would startle the respectable Shirefolk out of their complacency!"
At this point I noticed the old hobbit's face. He was taking a positively malicious glee in the telling. A suspicion began to grow in my mind that perhaps this old hobbit wasn't as detatched from the events of the tale as he made out. I decided to keep my suspicions hidden for the while, though. Instead, I refilled the cup of the storyteller, listening closely all the while.
"Well, anyway," the old hobbit continued, "Mad Baggins planned carefully. He prepared for the party most assiduously, determining every detail of the festivities, but spending most of his time in planning his grand jest on the Shire-folk. Eventually the day of the party dawned bright and clear. Half the Shire had been invited, and the rest were showing up anyhow, so people started flocking to the Party Field early. By the time the guest of honour arrived, the party was already in full swing. Mad Baggins did the standard hostly duties, giving out gifts to all the partygoers, as well as meeting and greeting people. The party was a great success, and eventually it came to be time for the formal part of the party.
"All of the party-goers demanded that Mad Baggins give them a speech. So up got Mad Baggins, onto a barrel beneath the Party Tree, and gave his farewell speech. When he said 'goodbye', he vanished in a puff of smoke, and was never seen again! The Shire has been talking about nothing else since."
I took another look at the tale-teller. He had a look on his face that compared with that of a lot of the gaffers in Bree, as well as a number of the hobbits from Staddle and elsewhere when they were recalling a wonderful trick they'd played on a friend as children. I kept my peace, though, through the cheers, the questions, and the drinks that were purchased for the old Hobbit as the townsfolk showed their appreciation for his story. Eventually at the end of the night, it came time for the dwarves and the hobbit to be escorted to their various rooms. I offered to show the hobbit on his way, even though this wasn't strictly my task. Barliman accepted this gladly, so that he could keep an eye on the cashbox.
"Goodnight, Mr Baggins," I said, having brought the old hobbit to the room where his baggage had been put, and checked that the fire was lit, as well as hot water supplied. I was quite pleased to see him start a little at my comment.
"Goodness, no, I'm not Mr Baggins," he said, sounding rather flustered. I just looked at him, giving him a smile as I did so.
"I'd say you were, sir," I told him. "I'd also say that the tale you told is going to be so popular that the identity of the teller is going to change in no time flat. Enjoy your journeying, sir. Maybe you'll come back through Bree on your return, and tell us another tale."
At that he gave me a rather sad smile. "If I come back through Bree, I shall give you a tale worth the knowing of. However, I don't know that I will be returning to the Shire at all. I thank you for your assistance, Miss..."
"Breeton. Magda Breeton at your service, sir," I told him, bobbing a curtsey as I did so. He bowed to me in return, then came over to me, and pushed something into my hand.
"A bit more of a thankyou," he said, ushering me out of the room. As I got outside the door, I took a look at what he'd put in my hand. A gold dwarven crown. More money than I'd owned in my life, and this hobbit gives it to me as a tip. Something fishy there, and no bones about it. I realised he was buying my silence, and privately, I decided that silent I'd be on the matter in Bree, but the Rangers needed to know about it, and more particularly, the Chieftain needed to know. I'd best send a bird to the Angle, and find out when "Strider" was due through. Failing that, I knew that my Aunt Tangliniwen would be heading back this way some time soon. She'd find a way to get the message through to the Chieftain, if anyone could.
I hid the coin within my purse, and decided to have a word to the old hobbit on the next day. Just private-like, before they all set out. Flashing that kind of coin about was a sure recipe for trouble, and I'd heard that the roads were starting to become dangerous. After all, he'd bought more than my silence with that amount of money - he'd bought my speech on matters that could be troublesome.
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.