1. Chapter One
Pippin hoped the Big Folk would allow them to enter the town. It was just a small town, after all, no larger than Bree had been. He was tired of dried meat and dried fruit and dried everything. They could find fresh fruit in the marketplace … milk … maybe some molasses candy? Merry would lend him some money, he was sure, or Frodo would give in to his pleadings and hopeful eyes, artfully brimming with a few tears.
Sitting beside Pippin and amusing himself by flipping his belt knife into the spongy turf, Merry was well aware of the direction of his younger cousin’s thoughts. Ah, Pip was completely transparent to the cousin who knew him so well. It had taken no great leap of logic to guess the direction of Pip’s thoughts. The tweenager had taken advantage of the Big Folk’s discussion to root in his pack for an overlooked snack, then finding only dried meat, had regarded the rock-hard strips with distaste. He had then looked at the signpost and dropped his eyes to Merry’s purse, licking his lips. Merry almost laughed at that.
In all truthfulness, Merry would be well pleased to spend a night or two in a bed under a roof in a civilized town. A few mugs of ale would go down a treat, too. It was too much to hope for that folk around here would know of hobbits and have suitable lodgings, but … a night or two on a feather bed instead of the ground … a real bath, not a hasty dip in a freezing stream...
Samwise was also thinking of supplies and accommodations, but not for himself. Frodo looked tired, he thought, covertly examining his master as Frodo sat silent next to him, his chin tucked on his knees and his cloak pulled about himself for warmth. His master needed rest and hot food, and a day or two of not being afraid at every rustle in the brush.
Sam exhaled and crossed his arms over his sturdy chest, shifting as he thought of just a day or two without fear of being hunted. Frodo’s eyes tracked him automatically but the Ring-bearer was already half-asleep, his eyes drifting shut from exhaustion. Frodo’s falling asleep where he sat decided Sam; his master needed rest and that was flat.
Sam rose and drifted over to the wizard and the Ranger, his hairy feet soundless on the loose soil of the woods. Merry and Pippin looked up and Sam grimaced and gestured to where Frodo sat, loose-limbed in sleep. The two exchanged a glance then rose. Merry eased himself down against Frodo’s back and Pippin curled himself against his cousin’s side, providing Frodo a soft, warm pillow. Frodo did not wake but relaxed against them, releasing a deep, tired sigh. Sam nodded his thanks and returned his attention to their guides.
The two were evidently having some sort of disagreement and the gardener did not want to interrupt. After a moment’s hesitation, he accepted Legolas’ gestured invitation and sat down on the hummock next to the Elf. “Take your ease while you can, Master Samwise,” the Elf whispered, his voice light and musical. “Our esteemed guides do not agree upon our route.” Legolas seemed entertained by this, but Sam noted the Elf was careful not to draw the debaters’ attention from their discussion.
“The danger is too great, Aragorn,” Gandalf was saying. “Such an odd assemblage as ours would be certain to draw curious eyes and comments. Such talk could reach the wrong ears too easily. I would not risk it.”
“We need supplies, Gandalf. Too many days of dried rations can ill affect the health, and the hobbits are not used to such fare. Without fresh vegetables and fruit, they will soon sicken. As will we.”
Sam screwed up his courage and cleared his throat. Legolas shot him an amused glance. “Beggin’ your pardon, sirs,” he began nervously, “but Mr. Strider’s right. We need food and a rest. And soap and clothes and salt and mendin’ supplies and a new fry pan and I’m out of seasonings and –“ Sam swallowed the rest of his list as the wizard’s gaze darkened on him. “And,” he continued doggedly, “Mr. Frodo needs a rest. He’s done in.”
The three turned their gaze over to where Frodo sat, dark head laid on his knees, sound asleep. “Well said, Sam,” Gandalf said with a sigh, capitulating. “We are all weary and will travel the faster for a rest and hot, fresh food. Wake your master, Sam. We must move quickly to reach the town before nightfall.”
* * * * *
Pippin almost changed his mind when they passed the wooden palisade and through the gates of the little town. He had forgotten how the many-storied buildings of Men seemed to loom over him, tilting forward over him, he was sure. They looked too tall to stand, ready to crash down upon passer-bys at any moment. Pippin stayed close to Merry’s back, his green-gold eyes darting anxiously about him.
As Gandalf had feared, the Fellowship navigated the streets through a sea of curiosity. One Man, or even one Man and a wizard could have walked through the dirt and weed-strewn lanes without comment, but two Men, obviously warriors, a wizard, a dwarf, an Elf and four little folk (and a pony) were practically a circus. The larger folk kept the hobbits to the center of their grouping but it was obvious to any eyes that the small travelers were not children, even if the townsfolk did not know what they were. The Elf was identified immediately and the townsfolk stared in awe to see his light, graceful form among them, a swan among the geese.
Aragorn ground his teeth as the Company collected more and more curious eyes and the townsfolk followed them through the town to a tall, two-story building of an Inn. The expressions of astonishment in the town folks’ eyes would have amused him, if that amazement did not call every idler’s eye to them.
Merry and Pippin surged past Gimli and into the Inn, heading with unerring accuracy for the taproom. By the time the Ranger caught up with them, their curly heads were at the bar and Merry was explaining, “We are not children. I am a hobbit, sir, thirty-six years old. My cousin here … well, all right, he’s not of age yet but he’s old enough for an ale in the Shire.”
“Merry! Pippin! Come back here!” Merry regarded the Ranger in surprise. Pippin hung back behind his cousin; this Innkeep did not have old Butterbur’s friendly face and the tweenager was a little afraid of him. “We will secure our rooms first,” explained Aragorn in a more gentle tone, “then see to our needs. All our needs.” Merry nodded and gave the still staring Innkeep a smile, pulling Pip back with him to the others.
This inn was not the equal of The Prancing Pony. The taproom was dark and not particularly clean. Stains discolored the rough-hewn tables and chairs and the sawdust on the floor needed changing. It stank. But it would be dark in another hour and neither Gandalf nor Aragorn were familiar enough with this town to seek another. With a shake of his grey head, Gandalf directed the Ranger to inquire after accommodations. Only two rooms were available and after a moment’s thought, Gandalf apportioned one to Legolas and Gimli and Boromir, and one for the hobbits and himself and Aragorn.
The hobbits dropped their packs and were out of the room before Gandalf had time to turn around. The wizard reached out and caught two small shoulders just in time; Pippin’s and Frodo’s as it turned out. “Lads,” he cautioned them, “I don’t want you wandering about without one of us with you. And you, Frodo … you should not leave the Inn at all.”
“But Gandalf,” the hobbit protested, his fatigue forgotten in the excitement of exploring this abode of Men, “I want to see, too. I didn’t get to see anything in Bree; the market wasn’t even open.”
“No, Frodo. It is too dangerous. Sam can buy what you need. You and I will go to the common room and have dinner and a drink.”
“Gandalf, please –“
“We’ll guard him, Gandalf,” Merry volunteered. “We’ll take Boromir with us, if you wish. No one would bother us with he or Gimli with us. Please let Frodo come.”
But Gandalf would not be swayed. “Frodo, no. Think of…” the wizard trailed off suddenly and looked around them, but they were alone in the dingy hallway. “Think of what you carry. You must not place yourself in jeopardy.”
Frodo squared his thin shoulders and the wizard’s heart sank. Bribery, then. “If you stay,” he said quickly, “I will tell you a tale of Bilbo’s Adventure that I am sure Bilbo would have omitted to tell you.”
Frodo looked at him narrowly, warring curiosities evident on his face. Gandalf’s wishes and his own good hobbit-sense triumphed. “All right, all right. I will stay.” Turning, he handed Sam his purse with instructions to buy whatever they needed. As the others turned to leave, he leaned over and whispered in Sam’s ear, “And some candy for Pippin. Whatever he wants.”
Sam looked over his shoulder and smiled, “Aye, sir.”
“And some for yourself and Merry.”
The smiled broadened. “Aye, sir.”
* * * * *
Frodo leaned back with a groan, rubbing his stomach. Despite his reservations about the place, the food had been excellent. The ale, too. He looked up just in time to see Gandalf smiling at him, smoke-rings drifting up from his pipe as the wizard leaned back in his chair. “And what are you so happy about?”
“It is good to see you eat again, my friend.”
Frodo’s answering smile faded. “I know, Gandalf. I’m just so tired, sometimes. The food seems to stick in my throat. And sometimes I can’t see or feel anything beyond –“
The Ring-bearer broke off, shuddering. He looked down at his hand, surprised to find it had risen to his breast. With a gasp, he forced it down. “I won’t think about that, now. I won’t. What did you say when Bilbo threw up in the barrel?”
Gandalf had leaned forward, his sharp eyes suddenly piercing. Now he relaxed with deliberate effort as he saw the hobbit regain control of himself, leaning back and working to produce another casual smoke-ring.
“I said he’d best clean it up, of course.” The wizard withdrew the pipe and tapped the bowl on the table. He smiled to see Frodo’s eyes follow it longingly. “I’m sure those cousins of yours will return with some pipe-weed, Frodo. Not Longbottom Leaf or Old Toby, of course, but this part of the world produces some acceptable substitutes.”
Frodo nodded, that strained, pinched look leaving his face as he relaxed. Suddenly he yawned, bringing up a hand before his mouth with an apologetic glance at Gandalf. “Excuse me, Gandalf. Time for bed, I think.”
Frodo gained his feet and reached out to put his hand on Gandalf’s shoulder as the wizard started to rise, too. “Gandalf, I am hardly likely to be abducted between here and our rooms. I am fifty years old; surely I can walk up some dark stairs by myself. Stay here and enjoy another ale, and gather some news.”
After a moment’s consideration, the wizard nodded and sank back down. Frodo resented being smothered, he knew that. And the Company’s need for news was urgent. Events were occurring of which he had no knowledge. News of the road ahead of them, news of the movements of armies, orcs and other foul folk…
“All right, Frodo. I’ll try not to wake you when I come in. You will be careful, won’t you?”
Frodo rolled his eyes resignedly, his expression martyred. Then he dropped the guise and laughed, his beautiful eyes sparkling. “Don’t worry, Gandalf. I’m so full that if a robber tried anything, I’d probably upchuck on him. That would surely discourage him.”
The wizard laughed outright, immeasurably glad to see the humor in his small friend’s face. Coming into the town had been a good decision, after all. Still, he kept the Ring-bearer in sight as the hobbit slowly climbed the stairs, one small hand trailing along the rail, shining in the dim light like a lily.
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.