ESCAPE THE DARKNESS - Chapter 1 by JULES
ESCAPE THE DARKNESS
Authors Quick Note Â– This story explores the idea about what might have happened if Strider had come to the Shire to forewarn Bilbo Baggins about the Ring Wraiths that would soon come hunting for the One Ring. Commences a few days before BilboÂ’s Birthday party and before Gandalf returns to the shire as well.
Strider had vows to protect Bilbo when the Ring Wraiths are sent by the Dark Lord but he is unaware that the legacy of who is to carry the Ring to be destroyed falls upon a totally different Baggins hobbit.
Disclaimer – I do not own any of these characters but enjoy writing them and their adventures together.
The Brandywine River
AuthorÂ’s Note: In this chapter there will be scenes drawn from the wonderful
movie adaptations by Peter Jackson. However, in this story, the arrival in Bree
is at a different hour of the day and their stay may appear to be a little longer
that than portrayed in the Fellowship of the Ring.
The scenes with the Ruffian are totally created by this author, however I have
tried to incorporate certain lines that fit well from the movie, but change the
flavour and mood slightly.
I have completely changed the idea behind how Frodo came to put the Â“RingÂ”
on his finger in the Prancing Pony. This is merely a different account of what
might have occurred outside both the book or movie realm. I had already
written the parts about the Ruffian dragging Frodo into the room instead of
Strider, and once that was done, realised that it was a perfect opportunity for
a different portrayal of how the ring came to be on FrodoÂ’s hand.
There will still be references to Frodo emotions and physical descriptions of
what the Â“wraith worldÂ” looks like when he puts on the ring. In this case,
I merely looked at the pictorial images in the Fellowship and added my own
ideas and expressions to what I thought Frodo might have experienced.
For now, our travellers are approaching the Brandywine RiverÂ…Â…Â…Â…
As Frodo walked away from the cave this morning, his travelling companions, both hobbit and human, were determined to keep a sharp eye on him as they continued their journey.
Sam and Pippin were concerned about FrodoÂ’s physical health after such a short
recovery time back at the cave after the overdose. His step today, was evidently
slower and he wore an expression that suggested it took a good deal of concentration to keep his movements coordinated.
Strider, too, was worried about the dark-haired hobbitÂ’s physical well-being, and he noted a distinct favouring from Frodo of his right foot since beginning their walk from the cave. Frodo had not mentioned any discomfort to his ankle in more than a day, perhaps due to other more recent events.
Frodo had even paused slightly on one occasion and appeared to be rubbing or
massaging the troublesome ankle. Whether it was to help improve movement or
to help abate any lingering ache the Ranger couldnÂ’t be certain. When questioned
gently about his actions, Frodo had merely given a brief smile and reassurance
that any discomfort was minimal and would not delay their progress further.
MerryÂ’s concerns for Frodo were more about the past or rather the memories that
had already plagued his cousin. First there were secrets revealed about horrific
moments in that storm whilst living at Brandy Hall. And even worse than that
if it were possible, was the threat of an even more tragic event coming back to
haunt Frodo; the death of his parents in the Brandywine River.
Frodo was usually a shy person when it came to revealing to others his true feelings, especially on such tender thoughts as those he might have about his parents. In the past, Merry would never have dreamed of outright asking Frodo how he felt about their premature and untimely death. Or how his cousin had learned to cope all those years living at Brandy Hall with the incessant gossiping and rumours that were rife amongst children and adults alike after the accident and funeral.
Somehow, Merry would need to come up with an idea of how to distract Frodo from his memories and keep his thoughts focused elsewhere until they had crossed the river. They still had a good distance before the river and many miles to walk before they would reach the banks of the Brandywine River.
The morning air was crisp and fresh and the group were able to enjoy their journey a little more than other days. The canopy grew thinner overhead in a few areas and the trees became further and further apart as the forest became sparse and no longer dominated their path.
Frodo had said very little that morning, content enough to listen to the idle chatter of Merry and Pippin. He exchanged occasional glances with Sam, making sure that his friend was alright. Sam smiled back encouragingly, but still looking for any sign that his master needed a rest or a drink of water.
Later that morning, Frodo paused suddenly for a few minutes as the distinct call of a small bird caught his attention. Sam was about to ask why his master had stopped. Merry and Pippin had travelled a few steps in front of their cousin, and now halted, ready to return to his side if requested to do so.
FrodoÂ’s companions didnÂ’t need to be so alarmed though as he listened more intently to the sound of the forest and the trees. His face lighting up with a genuine smile as he recognized what he was listening to.
Â“Do you hear it, Sam?Â” Frodo asked excitedly, then stopped the conversation again to make sure their little visitor was still about. Another burst of chirps and whistles made Frodo smile fondly again.
Before Sam could ask Frodo what he was listening to, he watched the dark-haired
hobbit, begin to move slowly towards a large tree a few metres to the left. The branches were high off the ground, but it was the first large bough that Frodo had his gaze fixed upon.
After taking a few careful, quiet footsteps, Frodo paused again, trying not to startle the little creature. Up until now, Sam and the others were still unaware of what it was that Frodo was seeing or hearing. A small chirp from the branch and Strider smiled himself, also recognizing the creator of such a delicate song.
Frodo began to take another step forward, but as he did so, this time he also extended his left arm and then his hand, until it was fully outstretched. He walked towards the tree as if expecting something to fall into the palm of his hand.
Merry and Pippin were curious by now and were about to utter a question to their cousin, approaching with rapid footsteps that rustled the leaves on the forest floor. FrodoÂ’s attention was still firmly affixed on the tree branch in front of him, so Sam gave them a shushing gesture so they wouldnÂ’t make any undue noise. Pippin frowned at such a request to keep quiet. He didnÂ’t even know why he was being asked to keep quiet and still, but he did so.
PippinÂ’s mouth dropped open though in awe and wonder as a small red breasted bird now landed on the very tip of FrodoÂ’s index finger. It fluttered its small wings as if unsure if the perch was safe or not. The little bird took a tiny step down FrodoÂ’s finger, unaware that his resting place was a hand.
Frodo moved his head ever so slightly towards Sam and Strider, his excitement and enjoyment of such a rare moment obvious. He had an admiration for such tiny creatures as birds. That they could come and go as their hearts desired and need only to spread their little wings to take them to the next place if they so chose.
Â“ThatÂ’s amazing, Frodo,Â” Merry whispered, smiling at seeing Frodo with a genuine smile for what seemed like a very long time. Sam was smiling too along with Aragorn. The bird sensed no danger from Frodo and had willingly perched on the finger in a display of trust that was rarely seen between such different living creatures.
Â“Always had a knack for animals and little creatures, Frodo has,Â” Sam whispered to Aragorn, repeating his comments from a few days ago when he had shared the private conversation with the Ranger about his friendship with Frodo.
The enjoyment did not last long though, and the reaction from the little bird, was one that Frodo would remember for a long time. From the thinly lit canopy above, a ray of sunlight glimmered through the trees and the leaves, a shard of light hitting the chain around FrodoÂ’s neck that encircled the ring.
The little red breasted bird saw the gleam of gold, but knew that it was not a trinket to be found. Somehow, the creature, though small and weak, sensed the evil and the power that the ring possessed. With a sharper chirp sounding like a warning to others of his kind, the little bird took flight.
Some may have seen it just as a trick of the sunlight and not as a threat as it appeared. The bird had merely flown away to go elsewhere. But the expression on FrodoÂ’s face told a different story. He knew what the bird had seen around his neck. A chain that was linked to a great evil. A source of unknown power and one that caused other living things to shun it and avoid it entirely.
FrodoÂ’s companions could not think of anything to say that would ease his heart of what had happened. To see the look on his face that the creature had at first felt safety, only to flee in fright, ate away at the hobbitÂ’s very core and soul. If little creatures like that bird had come to sense the evil he carried, why did his friends and family still travel with him?
Frodo turned and began their journey again, choosing not to make eye contact with any of his companions over the next hour or so. His mood, lightened a little by the chance encounter, was now sullen again and darkened as they walked. His thoughts had turned to the evil that had plagued their journey up until now. His steps felt all the heavier along with his heart.
The group soon stopped for lunch, Sam trying to bridge the gap that Frodo had carved between them since the little bird. Frodo accepted the offer of a hot drink from the stout hobbit, also accepting a plate of food, but putting it aside and barely touching the meal.
Frodo had tried to shake himself out of his mood by the time they started walking again. He forced himself to join in the discussions with Merry and Pippin, but quickly lost interest in the topics that the younger hobbits found to chatter about as they walked. Pippin was declaring himself to be the winner of a competition that Merry had been aware of some time ago, but thought had finished and himself declared the winner.
They tried to corner Frodo and take his attention elsewhere by demanding that he
declare one of them the winner. Frodo had graciously declined, explaining that he
had not been at the Green Dragon on the night in question. Therefore the unfortunate task then fell to poor old Sam who was not as eloquent at getting himself out of the debate as his master.
Strider found the entire episode between all four hobbits most amusing, but vowed never to get himself involved in matters concerning Shire folk or hobbits. He told them it was best for men not to involve themselves in the affairs of such intricate families. By the end of the discussion, the competition and who was the winner was still mostly unresolved.
The Ranger had advised the hobbits that they would camp earlier that evening. This was for two reasons, first to go a little easier on Frodo after only a dayÂ’s recovery, and also because they could all use a little extra rest tonight before trying to cross the Brandywine River sometime very early the next day.
Strider had not explained the exact route to the hobbits yet, but sensed that Frodo at least had a fairly good understanding of how close they were. Merry too had a good comprehension of the natural terrain and distances that they had travelled and how far they had to go. The hobbits would grow a little more uncertain about their path once they had crossed the River.
A campsite was chosen, and firewood gathered. They would have the luxury of a soft bed of grass underneath their blankets this night, but not shelter overhead. The sky was clear tonight and the stars shone brightly. A welcome change from the stormy skies and rain they had been forced to endure.
Sam was happy enough with FrodoÂ’s attempts at eating that evening not to object to how much was left on the plate. At least he was eating something. What he didnÂ’t know was that Frodo sought anyway he could as a distraction at the moment. Food, chatter with the group.
Over the last ten miles or so, he couldnÂ’t shrug the feeling that darkness and evil were approaching him again. He had wanted to voice his concerns to Strider without alarming Sam or his cousins, but saw the Ranger behaving a little more cautiously as well. He felt the change in atmosphere too, but just what Strider sensed, Frodo couldnÂ’t tell at this point.
Strider came over to Frodo after dinner, using his injured ankle as a way of striking up a conversation. Frodo had his cloak wrapped around him tightly, although the evening temperature was much milder than other nights on their journey. Sam was clearing away the dishes and Merry and Pippin were getting their own bedrolls ready for sleep.
The journey had been like nothing they had ever done before, and all the walking
soon made their bodies protest in tiredness. They were not used to walking so many days in a row before, but wouldnÂ’t dare voice a word of complaint to Frodo or Strider. They had promised to come along on this journey and do so to the end, no matter how far the distance.
Â“How is your ankle tonight, Frodo?Â” Strider asked as he knelt to inspect for himself. He noted some renewed puffiness to the outer skin. Signs that the distance they had walked today had aggravated the injury some.
Â“There is a little discomfort. It wasnÂ’t so bad up until after lunch, then I felt twinges of pain again,Â” Frodo admitted, remembering his earlier promise of being a little more open about his injury.
Â“The days of rest in the cave did it some good, but that has all been undone by todayÂ’s pace. It is not your fault though, Frodo. If our journey wasnÂ’t as pressing, I would have you rest in bed another day or two to ensure proper healing. But sadly, that is not an option until we reach Bree,Â” Strider commented.
Â“It will be fine to walk on by morning. If I rest it enough at night, there shouldnÂ’t
be any further delay than we have already had,Â” Frodo said.
Strider felt a little saddened at the hobbitÂ’s words, Â“Frodo, you are important to us
all. You are no burden and certainly cannot be held accountable for being injured.
I hope you rest well this evening, and your doubts are forgotten.Â”
Strider left Frodo to tend the fire and talk briefly with Sam. Frodo did attempt to
get the extra rest that would be afforded them tonight for the continued journey the next day. He gazed into the low flickering flames of the fire, pleased to now see Merry and Pippin asleep in their blankets.
Sam had lain awake for some time as well, as was most pleased that Frodo decided to share the time talking about the Shire and what events might be happening there now. Sam was concerned about how overgrown the gardens would be by now, but Frodo assured him that it was necessary for them to leave like they did in such haste.
Again that evening, Frodo found himself unable to sleep still. Sam had drifted off
after much persuasion that Bag End would still be there when they returned home.
Frodo promised himself and Sam this. He had to cling to hope and the belief that he would return to the Shire and his home. If he didnÂ’t have the promise of returning home, he might have found it more difficult to leave.
The flames of the fire had almost died out, and FrodoÂ’s eyes had begun to close, when they snapped open again and he sat up quickly. He had heard something. No, no, he had sensed it or the like. Yes, that was it. Something. He looked over towards Strider, but the Ranger didnÂ’t seem to notice the level of alarm already written over the hobbitÂ’s face.
Frodo was about to berate himself for being silly and wrapped his blanket a little more tightly around his shoulders. He laid down for a second, before sitting bolt upright again. This time, thought, Strider was also alerted to a presence in the darkened forest.
Frodo watched as the RangerÂ’s hand strayed to his sword, but hovered cautiously above it, ready to claim it if danger approached. No words were exchanged between the hobbit and the man, but Strider could see that Frodo was aware of something coming.
Strider cautiously aroused Merry and Pippin, whilst Frodo did the same for Sam. The others were gestured to get their belongings together without a sound. The Ranger was listening to the forest again, straining to hear any clues of what had startled the group.
The order to run upon command was given to the hobbits, their blankets now rolled away and their packs secured onto their backs. It would only take a quick flick of StriderÂ’s hand and the hobbits knew to flee as fast as they could away from here. But then, the forest went still. As still as death itself. The leaves ceased to rustle in the gentle breeze that had been present. The breeze itself had died away to leave only shadows and a chill in the air.
Sam had huddled over towards Merry and Pippin and Strider, already aware of which direction their flight would take once necessary. Frodo was cautiously making his own way over to the group, when the distinct shrill call ran through the canopy.
There was no mistaking what made such a high pitched squeal of anguish. A black rider. In search of the ring no doubt and the one who possessed it.
Â“Run, now!Â” Strider shouted to the hobbits, unsheathing his sword in one smooth movement of his wrist. The hobbits did so, in great fear of what pursued them.
Like they had only a day earlier, but this time the urgency was greater, because it
was moving towards them. There was nowhere to conceal themselves from the
Â“Mr Frodo, come on,Â” Sam urged, trying not to get too far ahead of his master.
But fear was driving the stout gardener and his feet were working too fast. His only thought was to run, much like Merry and Pippin, and so far it seemed the only way to escape these deadly foes.
The trees became their camouflage under the night sky. The night brought out all
the shadows of the forest, causing them to keep moving as fast as they could.
Strider had caught up with them and was now ran with the hobbits away from the Black Rider and his horse. The animalÂ’s snorting and breathing able to be heard.
Ducking in behind a thicket of trees and shrubs, the hobbits crowded together, listening to the darkness and trying to pinpoint where the Black Rider was. Strider had been sheltering behind a nearby tree and now came to join them.
Â“We have to get out of this forest. The Brandywine River lies only a few hundred meters from here. We have to find a way to get across unseen,Â” he whispered, his words though losing none of their importance as he spoke. Then the idea came to him about who knew the most about the river they were about to cross.
Â“Merry, is there a bridge or other way of crossing the Brandywine further down stream?Â” Strider asked. He knew that their haste to cross the river might be the only way of stopping the pursuit of the Black Rider.
Merry thought for a moment, knowing how important his answer would be. His answer could mean safety for his cousins and friends across the other side of the river. Confident that he had a plan, he replied.
Â“There is a ferry, about two hundred metres from here,Â” Merry said, looking about and surveying the surrounding area to make sure his calculations on distance were accurate. Â“Mucklebury FerryÂ” he announced, knowing that Frodo and Pippin would recognize the vessel he spoke of.
Â“But thatÂ’s on the water,Â” Sam protested, thinking about the river, but then realised it was their only way of escaping. Â“I will, for Mr FrodoÂ’s sake,Â” he added, but swallowed the lump of fear that had caught in his throat.
Â“We will help each other through this, Sam,Â” Frodo said, putting a reassuring hand on his friendÂ’s shoulder. Â“LetÂ’s go,Â” he announced, the others nodding their head in agreement. They had already spent too much time in one place behind an insufficient hiding place.
This time, Merry lead the group to start the run towards the riverbank, just as they went to make the dash though, the Black Rider and his horse appeared in front of them suddenly, cutting of their escape route. The horse snorted and grunted as the Black Rider pulled hard on the reins, making the animal turn in a sharp circle, trying to make a grab for one of the smaller folk.
Merry and Pippin had shrieked in terror at the animal before them, but allowed their feet to have a mind of their own and carry them off the opposite way. With the group scattering, Strider was forced to protect the hobbits as best he could and follow after them in the direction he had seen them flee.
Strider could clearly see Merry and Pippin in front of him, and Sam could be heard coming up close behind. In their haste to outrun the foe though, both hobbits and the man were unaware that one of them was lagging further behind. Sam had assumed that his master was with Merry and Pippin, seeing as how he was the faster runner out of the two of them.
Frodo had managed to keep up with his fellow companions for a time, but as they ran towards another tree, his already weakened ankle, caused him to stumble slightly. He didnÂ’t fall to the ground, but he had to clamp his teeth tightly together to prevent a cry of pain from alerting the Black Rider to their direction of travel.
Regaining his balance, Frodo attempted to increased his speed again, only to have
the ankle protest and give way again. By this time, the others had begun to run across a grassy meadow that lead to the river bank. Frodo fought back another moan of pain as his tried to stand on his ankle again.
He knew he had to run, it was the only way to escape the Black Rider. He started to walk and then run again, the pain now intensifying. He knew now that his ankle had been re-injured, but could do nothing.
Merry and Pippin, together with Sam, now scrambled over a small fence and then
ran down to the wooden pier to board the makeshift ferry. There wasnÂ’t a large craft, but it would carry them away from the Black Riders and enable them to reach the other side of the river safely.
Â“Quick, Pippin, the rope, untie it,Â” Merry shouted as the fear within him grew. He grabbed a hold of the steering pole and prepared to push the ferry away from the pier once everyone was safely on board.
Â“Merry, I canÂ’t get it to move,Â” Pippin said in alarm, his hands trembling slightly from his fear. Strider hurried over to try and assist the hobbit. The rope had become dry and stiff from infrequent use and was difficult to dislodge from the moor. The RangerÂ’s larger hands were much stronger.
Feeling the loosening of the rope and the ferry begin to move with the current of the river, Merry braced his pole against the bank and gave a mighty shove to push them away from the pier.
The sudden jerking movement as the ferry cast off, almost sent an unsteady and over-balanced Pippin into the cold water of the Brandywine River. A quick hand from Strider prevented the small hobbit from tumbling into the water.
Â“Thank you, Strider,Â” Pippin said as he tried to hide his trembling hands under his cloak. The air was still a little chilly, and his near drenching in the river had added to his sense of fear and alarm.
Sam looked about, noticing that his master was not on the ferry. Â“Where is Mr Frodo?Â” he cried to the others. Strider cursed as his not having noticed that the dark-haired hobbit was not with the group.
Another screech into the dark night from the Black Rider, caused Sam to look up, as did the others, to see the small form of his master, still to reach the fence. He could see that FrodoÂ’s gait was no longer a run, and he had stumbled twice in the last few steps. He was not to know that Frodo had re-injured his ankle, and tried to urge his master to run faster.
Â“MR FRODO!Â” Sam yelled out, his mouth dry with fear for his friend. His master showed no signs of having hear his desperate pleas, but still attempting to flee the perilous figure that stalked them.
What made his blood freeze in his veins, was the sight of the looming Black Rider
and its beast of burden on the edge of the forest. It seemed for a moment, that the
Rider had lost sight of the dark-haired hobbit.
Strider moved forward to try to act as a shield so that Frodo could board the ferry safely, but the ferry had drifted a good two metres from the pier.
Â“RUN FRODO!Â” Pippin shrieked, as he watched the pursuit with horror.
Â“FRODO!Â” came MerryÂ’s voice also, but he dared not let go of the steering pole he grasped in his hand, knowing that it was their only way of mastering the strong current across the river. His hands tightened around the wooden handle, a few splinters being driven into the palm of his hand from such grip.
Strider would not be able to easily abridge the distance without the risk of falling into the river himself. Any sudden movements like leaping from the ferry may cause the unsteady vessel to capsize, sending all of hobbits and himself into the Brandywine River.
Pippin was searching for a way off the ferry to help Frodo, and the Ranger had to hastily grab a hold of the small hobbit to prevent him leaping from the top of the craft. Sam was also looking for a way back to the pier to try and get to his master, but he baulked at the river, knowing that he couldnÂ’t swim.
Frodo tried in vain to put a small distance between himself and the Black Rider, his breathing now harsh and his cloak flowing behind him in the wind. Just when it looked as though he might reach the pier and be able to scramble aboard the ferry to escape, FrodoÂ’s ankle folded beneath him once more.
This time his fall was harder as he had been going at a pace. He hit the ground quite hard, much to the strangulated cries of Sam and Pippin from the ferry. Strider once again having to tighten his restraint on Pippin.
With fear driving him, and a grimace from the pain, Frodo got awkwardly to his feet, and tried to reach the pier once more. This time his steps were very unco-ordinated and every time his foot touched the ground, a jolting wave of pain would travel up his leg to his knee, causing him to cry out.
The snort of the Black RiderÂ’s horse, told Frodo that danger loomed closer again. He tried to move quicker, but his gait was severely hampered. He looked at the end of the pier and the distance between that and the ferry. He could see there was little other choice but to try and leap across.
Strider sensed what Frodo was about to do, and although he did not like it, there was very little choice. Â“Come on Frodo, you can do it,Â” he shouted, letting go of Pippin and preparing to catch the older hobbit before he landed.
Â“Come on, Mr Frodo,Â” Sam said as he too realised what his master intended to do.
The Black Rider had spotted his victim on the wooden pier and was bearing down on Frodo at a frightening pace.
Frodo took a few steps back, not daring any more for the horse and the Black Rider were quickly swallowing up the distance that offered between them. He hissed again in pain in his ankle flared again. He knew worse was to come when he would have to use both of them together to make the jump.
He knew he could not wait any longer, and with a cry of determination, went to leap from the pier to try and abridge the gap to the ferry. The pain in his ankle was almost more than he could stand, and made him lose his sense of balance.
Strider called out in concern as he saw the hobbit sway a little and then reel closer to the edge of the wooden pier. Frodo face lost some of it’s natural colour and he began to feel a little dizzy. Without any warning to his friends, Frodo fainted and fell, head first, into the cold water of the Brandywine River.
Â“FRODO!Â” Merry shouted as he saw his cousin topple into the water.
The Black Rider had now reached the end of the pier, needing to pull sharply on the reins to prevent his mount following the hobbit. The animal reared on its hind legs and gave a raspy whinny of protest towards its rider. With a shriek of frustration at having missed an opportunity to ensnare its victim, the Black Rider now turned around and headed back into the forest where it had come from. Screaming into the night to demonstrate its displeasure at having lost its prey.
Pippin was laying on his belly, now, trying desperately to reach out and paddle
in the water for a sign of Frodo. The water was dark and with no light source to
be found, seeing any object was virtually impossible.
The freezing cold water had the opposite effect on Frodo Baggins to begin with.
When he had fallen into the water he had blacked out and lost whatever slim consciousness he had been holding onto. Now, he was brought back to alertness very quickly by the cold water. His thoughts remained unfocused as be battled to stay afloat and reach the ferry.
Merry had shouted to Frodo to grab a hold of the steering pole, holding it out as far as he could, without letting go of it. He could see a dark shadow in the water and pointed the end of the pole towards it, hoping it was Frodo and that he could grab hold enough for them to help him onboard the ferry.
Frodo squinted into the darkness and his arm flailed about to find anything to hold
onto. The water was cold and his limbs were now numb, his lips tinged slightly blue. He was shivering and as he did so, lost a large amount of body heat.
His fingertips almost reached the tip of the pole. Strider was also lying down on
the ferry, reaching out to try and grab a hold of the barely conscious hobbit and
pluck him from the water.
The cloak that Frodo had been wearing around his shoulders was now water-logged and soaked. The saturated fabric so heavy that it weighed the hobbit down in the river and made staying afloat even more difficult.
With the assaulting cold and the pull of the river current from beneath, Frodo could feel his thoughts drifting. He lost all sense of where he was and what he was doing. His only thoughts were that he was incredibly cold and wet.
Frodo felt himself being dragged downstream by the unrelenting current. Normally, he could count himself as an excellent swimmer, but tonight, with his ankle throbbing and his leg feeling as if somebody was trying to wrench it off at the knee, it was just too much of an effort to make.
He tried to stop himself from going under, but was fighting a losing battle. With the last few threads of consciousness he had left, he saw that close to the back on the left hand side of the river was a fallen old log that fell partly over the bank and into the water.
If he could just grab onto the tip of it, he could hold himself up prevent his body being taken further down stream. It was his only chance. The cold was seeping into every cell of his body and his teeth were chattering uncontrollably. He could not remember when he had felt so cold. It was almost numbing and for a few brief seconds before he did spiral into the dark fog that surrounded him, he felt no pain at all.
At the last second, Frodo had grabbed out blindly towards the fallen timber. His hands had missed on first attempt and he doubted he had the energy for a second one.
Frodo was almost beyond the fallen log and out of the reach of the help he sought from the log, when his wet and sodden cloak caught on a smaller twisted branch. The small, but thick twig pierced the fabric and held the limp form of Frodo in the arms of the tree.
When Sam and Pippin could no longer see any sign of Frodo, Strider had done his best to get the ferry to the other side of the river. He had to make sure that these three hobbits were safe, before he could start looking for Frodo further downstream.
Merry steered the ferry to the opposite riverbank, and when it was close enough, Strider scrambled off it into the shallow water and pulled it further onto the wet clay to prevent it slipping back into the water.
Pippin got off the ferry, but never watched where his feet were going, instead, kept his eyes firmly fixed on the river where they had last seen Frodo. There just had to be some sign of him there. He didnÂ’t want to believe that his cousin had been pulled beneath the water and wouldnÂ’t resurface.
Sam was almost beside himself with worry for his master, but knew that with the river current being so strong, there was little that he and the other two hobbits could do. They would have to rely on Strider to find Frodo and bring him back safely.
Â“Sam, I will be as quick as I can, I promise. For everyoneÂ’s safety, you must stay
together,Â” he emphasised. Â“It might prove wise to get a small fire going, but only
a small one. No doubt Frodo will be quite chilled from the water and we will need to get him into dry clothes as quickly as possible. Do these tasks together. I will return.Â”
The Ranger left swiftly, not allowing for any reply from the remaining hobbits or
questions about their assigned tasks. They knew what needed to be done, especially to aid Frodo once he was found, but the fear from the Black Riders was still very near for them all.
Â“Pippin, I could use your help getting the fire started,Â” Sam said, his voice still not
strong enough to hide his nervousness. He knew that Strider was counting on them all to work together, but he brought the burden upon himself to try and keep his masterÂ’s cousins from thinking about his fate too much. Sam felt he owed it to Frodo to do this until the Ranger returned.
Â“I will try and find some dry clothes for Frodo in my own pack and get them ready,Â” Merry suggested, his reasons being close to SamwiseÂ’s. Â“His pack will be all sodden and muddy, if he still has it at all.Â”
Sam hadnÂ’t thought of that up until now, but now recalling about his master floundering around in the murky water, there would indeed be a distinct possibility of Frodo becoming separated from his backpack and belongings. He was saddened by this, of course, knowing there were things packed in his masterÂ’s pack that meant a great deal to him. But deep down, all Sam was mostly interested in seeing Frodo again, at any cost.
Â“They might not be as fancy as FrodoÂ’s, but they will suffice until we can get him some new ones,Â” Merry commented, holding up a shirt of his own that he thought might fit. The breeches may not be exactly to his cousinÂ’s taste, but they would keep him attired until they could buy new ones. Perhaps Bree would offer a number of places to restock not only food items, but also clothing and anything else that might have been forsaken along the journey.
Pippin had gathered some small pieces of wood to be used as kindling. Sam made the decision that if he was making a fire to keep them warm and Frodo when he and Strider returned, then it would be a good idea to get a pot of water boiling for tea. He didnÂ’t know how long the Ranger intended on staying on the river bank once his master was back safely, but if the tea was already made and waiting to be drunk, then he didnÂ’t see any reason why not.
Sam began to break the twigs up smaller still, lost in his own thoughts about his masterÂ’s possible fate and unaware that Merry and Pippin were watching his hands. His grip was strong enough to break sticks twice the diameter of what he was holding. The clear ringing snap of each twig only increasing and highlighting his own nervousness and that of the two cousins nearby.
For the next twenty minutes, the conversation between Sam and the two cousins, all but evaporated. The fire was flickering low, but darkness was still all around and made it impossible to know where Strider was or if he had found Frodo yet.
Pippin shivered a little, trying to get closer to the fire. Merry doubted it was the chill in the air that made his younger cousin and friend tremble. There were shadows out there tonight, even darker than the sky themselves, and they moved with a swiftness that left you breathless. Wrapping a comforting arm around Pip, Merry and Sam all tried in vain to take advantage of the warmth of the flames, desperately awaiting any news.
Strider made his way along the muddy river bank as quickly and as quiet as possible. Although his efforts now were centred upon the missing Frodo, he had to be vigilant and keep a sharp eye out in case the Black Riders returned.
The Ranger had to cling to the hope that the current had not taken Frodo too far downstream and that the semi-conscious hobbit had found a way to cope with the chill of the water and the strong surges that were known to occur in rivers.
The Brandywine river may have looked serene enough in the daylight, almost peaceful and tranquil one might have said. But the surface often shielded the unsuspecting swimmer or traveller from what dangers lurked just beneath the surface. No doubt the riverbed would be scattered with large boulders and rocks and tree branches that had succumbed to the waterÂ’s pull and now drifted with the current.
Strider was growing more and more concerned by the minute about any sign of Frodo. But just then something up ahead and noticed something laying partially at the edge of the riverbank.
As he quickened his pace, his gaze was fixed firmly on the shimmer he could see about 200 metres downstream. The object appeared white in colour, and for one very brief moment, Strider swallowed hard as he recognized what it might be.
Strider would never forget the image he saw before him. As he got closer to whatever it was he could see in the water, he realised with horror that it was indeed Frodo. The thing he had been able to see some distance back in the water was the whiteness of the hobbitÂ’s shirt. Frodo seemed to be caught up in some sought of tree debris in the river. The Ranger also noticed that the white thing in the water lacked any movement at all. He ran a little faster.
Strider saw with shock that Frodo small body was laying in the shallows of the cold water of the river. He reached the small form and tried to untangle FrodoÂ’s clothes from the branches that held him. All the time he keep beseeching the hobbit to give him some sought of sign he was still alive.
Strider placed two fingers on the cold flesh of FrodoÂ’s neck and almost sat back in the water himself from the relief of finding a faint throb of life. The Ranger found himself now also in the water, trying to keep FrodoÂ’s unconscious body afloat. He could see and feel the coldness of Frodo’s skin. The young hobbit’s skin was tinged blue and took on an almost translucent appearance under the night’s sky.
The Ranger kept calling FrodoÂ’s name and stroked the hobbitÂ’s freezing skin. There was no response. Whatever strength Frodo had when he ran out of fear from the Black Rider and mustered to get to the river and use to prevent himself from drowning in the water was now totally spent. Frodo laid still in Strider’s arms, unaware of the pleas from the man and the worried look from his face at his condition.
It took a great deal of effort from Strider to work Frodo free of the tree branch and now move him onto the bank of Brandywine River. The hobbit, although unconscious, was still trembling from the cold, his teeth chattered together relentlessly. Strider knew he needed to get Frodo warm and fast if he was to stand any chance of surviving.
Frodo had somehow managed to keep his backpack secured on his back. The cloak he wore now torn in a couple of places and the backpack itself, soaked through as well as everything inside. He dared not take the time to worry about it now when the owner was still in need of urgent care and attention.
Strider stripped off his own cloak and placed it tightly about Frodo. He knew that he couldn’t leave the hobbit where he was and thought that it would be safer to get him to Bree as soon as possible. First, Frodo would need to be warmed as much as possible, before they continued through the night.
Frodo was now lifted from the sodden riverbank and held close to the RangerÂ’s chest, both for protection and warmth. The hobbit limbs were trembling badly and his skin was much to cold to Strider.
As soon as Strider came within view, he found himself surrounded on all sides by the three other hobbits, wanting to know what was wrong with Frodo and why he was being carried.
Â“Be at peace,Â” Strider said, although he could see that they were just as concerned for their friend and cousin as he was. Â“Frodo is cold and exhausted from battling the river. We will warm him by the fire and get him into some dry clothes.Â”
Sam had already laid out a number of blankets from his pack and gestured Strider
to lower his master onto them beside the fire.
Â“Merry, could you please remove the backpack from him. I do not think we shall
have the time to allow anything inside to dry. We need to warm Frodo as quickly
as possible, but then continue our way to Bree tonight,Â” Strider explained.
Â“You mean to make it there tonight, Mr Strider?Â” Sam asked, not wanting to stay
where they were, but realising that the trip would take a number of hours and it
would be dawn before they would cover the remaining distance.
Â“I do, Sam,Â” Strider answered as Merry gently plucked the sodden wet backpack
from his cousinÂ’s shoulders. It was only when he placed his own hand on FrodoÂ’s
cloak and shirt, that he could feel how badly he was shivering from the cold.
Frodo gave a small moan at the touch and moved his head slightly, but remained
Â“He is so cold, Strider,Â” Merry commented out loud, as he gradually worked the
backpack off without moving Frodo too much in the RangerÂ’s arms. Â“We have
a fire going. We should get him as close as possible and then get some of SamÂ’s
nice hot tea into him,Â” he suggested, not knowing what else they could do for
Frodo this far from any settlement or in the darkness.
Â“Pippin, get those clothes I put aside for him and grab another spare blanket to
use as a towel,Â” Merry said to the younger hobbit as Frodo was now laid on the
blankets Sam had prepared. Pippin scurried off, only to return a moment later
with the clothes and blanket that were spoken of.
Strider had begun helping the hobbits to remove FrodoÂ’s wet clothes, but as they
worked together, he realised that the hobbits needed to do this for themselves.
He stepped back silently for a moment, still carefully monitoring everything that
was carried out, but sensing that it helped Sam, Merry and Pippin to know that
they were helping Frodo in some small way.
It was just after Frodo was clad into MerryÂ’s spare set of clothes that the pale and
cold hobbit showed some small signs of regaining consciousness. Strider now
knelt beside Frodo again, trying to encourage this even more with soothing words
and gentle fingertips to the hands and face.
Eventually, they were all rewarded with a pair of blue eyes opening slightly and
staring up at them. He closed them briefly again, as if trying to gain focus and
fathom what was happening to him.
Â“DonÂ’t startle him all at once,Â” Strider warned as Pippin tried to get closer to his
cousin. Of course, the hobbit meant well, and sought relief in the knowledge that
Frodo was conscious, but Frodo was still far from feeling well would no doubt
be alarmed by too much exuberance or excitement displayed.
Â“S-St-Strider,Â” Frodo stammered as his teeth chattered. He was so cold and the
shivering made him feel even more confused and miserable.
Â“It is indeed good to see you awake, Frodo,Â” Strider remarked in a quiet voice.
Â“If I help you to sit up a little better, do you think you could sip at some of this
hot tea that Sam has prepared?Â”
Frodo nodded slightly, not trusting his voice. He had heard the word Â‘hotÂ’ and
only hoped that the cup of tea that the Ranger was suggesting would help in
relieving his shivering and warm him a little on the inside and out.
Sam had already taken the cue and was pouring hot tea into a cup, while Pippin
and Merry aided Frodo in sitting up a little. FrodoÂ’s shoulders remained slumped
and his expression was one of tiredness and exhaustion. The paleness of his skin
attesting to the chill that the hobbit felt.
Â“Here you are, Mr Frodo, nice and hot, but cool enough to drink right away,Â” Sam
announced with a smile. It was only once the cup was settled firmly in his masterÂ’s hand and he was seated beside Frodo on the blanket to help steady the trembling hands, that the stout gardener got a closer look at his master.
Frodo brought the rim of the cup to his lips, watching those around him, trying to
piece together how he had gotten his wet and this cold. He recalled being in the
water, and trying to grab a hold of something. But for the most part, the rest of his ordeal in the water was yet to be remembered.
Frodo savoured the honey laced hot tea, allowing himself only one sip at first and
allowing it to work its way down the entire length of his throat before taking a second. It wasnÂ’t until the third or fourth sip that he could detect any wavering in the chill that tormented him. He still shivered, making Sam wrap the blanket he was draped in, even tighter around his shoulders.
Merry and Pippin had gathered up FrodoÂ’s wet clothes and cloak. They had been folded and placed in the backpack with all the other wet things. No doubt, new ones would have to be gotten in Bree. There was no time for them to be hung out to dry. Any more than a couple of hours in that condition would result in a risk of mildew.
With a little warmth now beginning to penetrate his extremities, Frodo now grimaced after taking another sip of tea. It seemed that the cold had delayed the pain of his ankle until now. The hot tea had allowed his blood to circulate properly once more, causing the pain to resurface and be noticeable once more.
Frodo tried to use a hand to reach down to the affected ankle and massage the pain. It was then, that he gave a whimper at the pain that he felt and the swelling of the ankle and foot that alerted Sam and StriderÂ’s attention.
Strider grasped FrodoÂ’s hand gently, but firmly away from the area, Â“I will examine your ankle first Frodo and then the rest of you. I need to check to see if you suffered any other injuries from being in the river.Â”
Frodo allowed his hand to go slack in the RangerÂ’s grasp. With the tea almost gone and the warmth beginning to seep into his muscles once more, the hobbit grew tired and his eyes began drifting shut with exhaustion.
Strider helped the hobbit to recline into a lying position, so that the ankle could be
examined properly. FrodoÂ’s eyes were fully closed and his head lolled to one side, indicating that he had fallen into a troubled sleep.
Strider was still concerned about the length of time that the hobbit had been forced to endure the cold water, in addition to the other physical injuries that he carried. Further illness was a distinct possibility for one so weak, especially given FrodoÂ’s proneness to respiratory ailments as Merry had informed them back at the cave.
The ranger felt as gently around the swollen ankle as he could without causing any pain or further discomfort to Frodo. The drowsing hobbit had emitted a few moans of pain when the fingers pressed too deeply, but gave no other form of protest.
Â“The ankle has been re-injured and will prevent any good walking from Frodo for
a couple of days. I will bandage it again for support like it was earlier in our journey.Â” Strider explained. The three hobbits watched intently as the Ranger did just that, wrapping the limb for support.
Once complete, he went to check Frodo for any other signs of injury from the river. Much to his relief and that of his hobbit companions, the only other notable injury was a scratch along FrodoÂ’s back from where the twig had pierced his shirt. It was very minor and would need no additional treatment to heal on its own.
Â“I must ask all of you now if you are able to travel further tonight. I wish to get
to Bree before morning to enable Frodo to rest in a proper bed and allow me to tend to his ankle properly. Being out in the night air does not help him but I need to be mindful that you all are weary from walking today yourselves,Â” Strider said.
Â“I donÂ’t think anyone of us could sleep anyway, Strider,Â” Merry replied, receiving
a nod of agreement from both Sam and Pippin. Â“We would be foolish to remain
here, with the threat of the Black Riders returning.
Â”If we make good time, then I estimate that we should reach the outskirts of Bree
before sunup. I can acquire a room in the back of the establishment that does not
drawn attention to ourselves, but will allow all of us, including Frodo to rest comfortably and out of the elements. We shouldnÂ’t be there more than a few days. That is where we are to meet again with Gandalf.Â”
The hobbits took a little reassurance in this knowledge. Strider had kept them safe and provided well for them, but the additional hope that Gandalf would join them on their journey, was very welcome.
Â“Pack away your belongings as quickly as possible now, I do not wish to delay further if it is your wish to complete the distance to Bree tonight,Â” Strider cautioned. Â“Samwise, please ensure that the fire has been dowsed enough and there are no embers left burning.Â”
Â“Are you to carry Frodo? I donÂ’t think he will be able to walk far,Â” Pippin said, looking worriedly over at his older cousin.
Â“Do not worry, Pippin, I will bear Frodo for the journey. His slight weight will be no hindrance and I do not want any pressure placed upon that ankle until I can tend to it properly,Â” the Ranger said.
Â“I will take Mr FrodoÂ’s backpack. Once we get settled in Bree, I will open it up and spread the contents out and see what can be salvaged and what will need to be replaced,Â” Sam offered.
With their immediate plans now in order, the next few minutes were used to gather all their belongings and be prepared to set out on the road, walking once more.
As they travelled this night, there was very little conversation as the hobbits still remembered being pursued by the Black Riders. The fear was still to fresh in their minds and was still evident enough on their faces. Their eyes wide and alert to anything that might approach the group in secret.
The group walked much closer together as well now, the darkness enveloping the
scattered forest of trees and giving the whole area a very eerie feeling. Strider noted the hesitation, tension and apprehension in the hobbits, knowing that none of them would rest properly, nor their minds be at ease until Frodo showed more signs of improvement and they were safe enough to allow themselves to relax.
Another three hours of walking, saw the hobbits grow tired, despite their inability
to relax. Thankfully, the Westgate was within sight. They were now on the outskirts of Bree and all that remained was to convince the gatekeeper to allow them into the town.
Strider paused for a minute, making sure that Frodo was still sufficiently warm within the blanket that was wrapped about him. He needed a speak of few words of warning to these gentle folk before entering such a place.
Â“Is he alright, Mr Strider?Â” Sam asked, peaking over the RangerÂ’s arm and peering at FrodoÂ’s slumbering features. There was a slight pinkish tinge to his cheeks now, indicating that some warmth was returning to the hobbit. He looked to be resting comfortably enough in StriderÂ’s arm.
Â“He will be better once we have secured lodgings and tend to his injuries properly, Sam,Â” Strider replied. Â“Sleep gives him relief from the pain in his ankle and any bad memories from the river that he might experience.Â”
Sam frowned a little at the RangerÂ’s comments about bad memories. He had not thought of that until now. The stout hobbit had not been watching the features of MerryÂ’s face to know that he had already suspected that Frodo had been experiencing bad memories, even before the awful fall he had taken into the Brandywine River.
Â“Have any of you ventured to this town before tonight?Â” Strider asked seriously.
Â“No, Mr Strider, I have never been outside the Shire as you learned earlier on our
journey. I think Mr Frodo might have though, when Master Bilbo was still living at Bag End. I seem to recall one such trip here, though I do not remember the reason for the trip.Â”
Â“Yes, I remember Frodo mentioning that he and Uncle Bilbo had been to visit here in Bree, also Sam,Â” Merry commented. Â“Pippin and I have not though, my father Saradoc Brandybuck has, but always thought it too rough and dangerously for hobbits, even though there are our kind living here permanently.Â”
Â“You are correct Merry that hobbits do live here in Bree among the Big Folk. Their existence is a tolerated one, but the appearance of strange hobbits from outside the town might draw unwanted attention nonetheless,Â” Strider remarked.
Â“I will speak on our behalf once we reach the Westgate. We must convince the gatekeeper of our need to enter without betraying the secrecy of our journey. Once entry is permitted, then we must go to the Prancing Pony and arrange for rooms for us all. Once settled, I will have food brought to the rooms and supplies to tend to FrodoÂ’s injuries,Â” Strider explained.
Â“I must emphasis that this town is much rougher than any other place you may have seen. The people here are from many different backgrounds, and are not always welcoming or obliging of strangers or those who do not belong. Do not be tempted to separate from our group nor be tempted by any of the Big Folk to part with anything they seek. They feed only on the need to make money for themselves, and at times, that may involve fraudulent, underhanded or criminal activity,Â” Strider continued.
With wide, and a little fear in their expectant eyes, the hobbits all nodded in agreement, heeding the RangerÂ’s warnings. Their naivety of the ways of those who sought to take advantage of others clearly evident. Strider only prayed that he could keep them all safe for the duration of their stay and that their eyes would be shielded from much that he had warned them about.
Strider now approached the Westgate, the three hobbits huddling behind his larger
frame, but peering around him as they watched the Ranger as he rapped on the door.
Pippin could only look up in awe at the sheer size of the Westgate. Its wooden panels and iron hinges looking very formidable indeed and towering over them all in height. He did not fully understand the need for such a fort-like door on the perimeter to the town. Were they trying to keep those who dwelled within the townÂ’s boundaries? Or did they seek to keep out less unappealing visitors?
The first knock from Strider went unanswered, so he rapped a second time, with a little more force. A harsh cough came from Frodo bundled in the RangerÂ’s arms, causing them all to frown in concern and be thankful that they were close to being able to get him into a warm bed.
A jarring of the bolts on the opposite side of the door caused the hobbits to jump back a little in fright. There were a number of peep holes in the doorÂ’s face and it was difficult to know which one was being opened.
Â“Halt, who goes there,Â” came a gruff voice, from a peep hole beside Merry.
Â“We are merely travellers wishing to stay after many hours of walking,Â” Strider
spoke. The peep hole closed and the bolts of one a little higher up were now
A face appeared through this one and scrutinized the visitors. Â“Hobbits, three of them, and a Ranger,Â” the man said in surprise and a little suspicion creeping into his voice.
Â“Four hobbits,Â” Strider correcting, indicating Frodo who slept in his arms. Â“Please, we need to seek accommodations. This hobbit is beyond weary and his companions are in need of rest and food.Â”
Â“Sounds all very strange to me, hobbits and men being in each others company,Â”
the thin man said. Â“My name is Harry Goatleaf and its my job to ask questions after nightfall about the comings and goings from here. There have been some strangers about lately, and none to pleasant either.Â”
Â“You have done your job admirably, Gatekeeper, but we merely seek to enter Bree and rest. Our activities do not extend past sleeping and regaining our strength,Â” Strider urged.
The thin manÂ’s features narrowed towards Strider for a moment longer, as if trying to recognize him from somewhere before. Without saying anything further, the peep hole was closed, but then the larger, iron bolds could be heard being unlocked.
Inwardly, the hobbits gave a sigh of relief as it appeared they were to be granted
entry into the town after all. They shied away underneath his piercing gaze as they passed by, but gave small words of thanks for his courtesy.
Sam couldnÂ’t help but feel that he didnÂ’t like the man. He couldnÂ’t quite put his finger on the cause, and he had never met the fellow before, but his demeanour and the way he had looked at all of them with suspicion didnÂ’t sit well on the stout gardener. StriderÂ’s warnings now echoing in his mind very clearly.
As the group continued its way down the narrow streets of the town, the horizon was becoming a kaleidoscope of colour as the night gave way to dawn. Merry and Pippin looked about in amazement and wonder at the various new sights and sounds that struck them from all angles.
Â“What where you are going, rat,Â” came a voice to PippinÂ’s left as he almost walked into a large, burly man. A firm hand on the hobbitÂ’s shoulder guided him around the trouble, as he swallowed hard. He gave a small smile of thanks to Strider, but this was clearly a different world to anything that these hobbits had ever seen.
Pippin could see all sort of market carts, bearing goods and fresh produce. His stomach burned with hunger, but he dared not stray from the group to sample what was offered. The foods were plentiful and very different from what he was used to seeing at the markets in Tuckborough.
Â“We will eat soon, Pip,Â” Merry whispered into his cousinÂ’s ears. He too, wished to be able to walk around at his leisure and taste what was on offer, but given the dangerous nature of the streets, knew that they would not do so safely without StriderÂ’s guidance.
Â“There it is,Â” Sam announced excitedly, and then admonished himself for having spoken out loud about their intended destination. Strider assured him that no harm had come, and that no inference could be drawn from Sam speaking of their lodgings.
Another harsh cough from Frodo within the bundled blankets, caused the group to keep to their task and enter the establishment without delay. But it was upon entering the Prancing Pony, that the hobbits truly knew themselves to be far away from the Shire and anything remotely familiar to their kind.
Fortune was on their side, for at this time of the morning, the place was virtually empty and they were able to enter without having the local patrons pay particular attention to them. The sight of a man travelling with four hobbits would certainly be something for most to remember if asked to recall.
Strider approached the tall bar, addressing the inn-keep that was cleaning a few tankards in a copper tub. The man was wearing a stained shirt, but gave a friendly enough smile. The hobbits were at a disadvantage, not able to see or hear what conversation was being exchanged.
Merry grew a little curious when the inn-keep seemed to know Strider. He certainly extended a ready handshake to the Ranger, as if they had not seen each other in some time. Strider too, appeared at ease with the man, although up until now, not informing any of the hobbits that he had frequented such a place in the past.
The conversation between Strider and the man now grew more audible, and the
hobbits found the inn-keepÂ’s attention on them and Frodo.
Â“The nameÂ’s Butterbur. Barliman Butterbur. This here is my place and you are most welcome, young sirs. DonÂ’t often get Shire folk coming into these parts,Â” the man offered in greeting.
Merry pondered this again. Was the inn-keep about to tell that they were hobbits from the Shire? Or had Strider mentioned something in the muttered conversation that had been had earlier between the two men? He was intrigued as to how the man had come to know their origins. Was it their clothes that gave an indication. Or their appearance? For now, his questions went spoken and unanswered, but he was curious all the same.
Sam now drew in a small breath as he heard the inn-keep pay attention to his master still resting in StriderÂ’s arms.
Â“What happened to that one?Â” Butterbur inquired, noting that the hobbit had a different appearance to the other three that stood behind the Ranger. This one had pale features and a heedful of dark hair. Even the hobbits in Bree didnÂ’t have hair that colour.
Â“We have travelled many hours, and this young hobbit grew a little more weary than the others. He had hurt his ankle and I will require you to bring me some supplies once you show us to our room,Â” Strider answered.
Â“A room you say? Do you know how long you intend to stay in Bree?Â” Butterbur asked, thinking this was a little out of the ordinary for a Ranger from the northern parts. He had to admit that he had recognized Strider when he came in. The strong features not easy to forget. But there seemed an air of mystery about this whole affair, with him keeping company with hobbits, and Shire folk at that.
Â“No more than necessary,Â” Strider replied, leaving the question of how long unanswered.
Â“You will be needing separate rooms, then, for the hobbits and yourself? We have some nice hobbit sized rooms out back. Nice and cosy they are for the likes of your friend there,Â” he asked, still trying to ascertain the identity of the sleeping hobbit.
Â“Yes, a hobbit sized room with four cots, and a large room for myself,Â” Strider answered. Pippin was about to open his mouth in protest, but was quickly shushed by Sam before any comment could be made. Pippin had been concerned that Strider planned to leave the four hobbits alone at night or at least when in their room. Sam whispered assures to Pippin that the Ranger knew what he was doing.
Â“Right you are then, I just need you to sign there for your room, and for the hobbit
there, to sign for the other room, and I can give you keys and show you the way,Â” Butterbur said.
Â“Mr Underhill is sleeping at present, and I have no immediate plans to awaken. I will sign your registers on behalf of us all, will that suffice?Â” the Ranger asked, a little anger creeping into his voice at the consistent questions.
Â“Mr Underhill is it?Â” Butterbur said as he handed two small brass keys to the Ranger and then walked around the bar, ready to show them to their temporary lodgings. Â“You sure he is alright? Not sickening is he? I can get a healer for you if thatÂ’s what you be needing?Â”
Â“No, thank you, he will not need the services of a healer. I would appreciate it if you did not alert anybody about which rooms we are staying in. We will partake our evening meal in the main barroom, but for the remainder of the day, I wish for food and whatever else we require to be brought to us,Â” Strider replied.
Â“Certainly, I will make sure of that. No one will disturb you until you or the young masters wish to journey out of the rooms at your own leisure,Â” the inn-keep assured them. Â“I will have fresh linen brought to your rooms and plenty of blankets. I will also have food and drink prepared as soon as I go back to the front desk.Â”
Â“I am grateful for your hospitality,Â” Strider commented as they reached the rooms. He bid good-day to the inn-keep and took Frodo with him into his room. Merry volunteered to take his, PippinÂ’s and SamÂ’s belongings. Sam was determined to follow Frodo.
Â“Why did we need to get two rooms?Â” Merry asked, the question on the tip of his tongue for some time, but now that the inn-keep was out of sight, he needed to know.
Â“Merely a precautionary measure, Merry,Â” Strider replied as he gently laid Frodo down on the large bed. I intended for you all to stay in one room with me, but to keep up appearances whilst we are here in this town, and to still retain the air of secrecy about our task, then I chose to have two rooms. Nobody would think to draw any mischief out of hobbits who were staying in rooms meant for their kind.Â”
Â“I take it then, we will have to be careful about entering or leaving the room, and chance not being seen,Â” Merry surmised.
Â“Only for today until I can take care of Frodo properly. We are not in the forest now, and there may be those who would seek to impede our journey,Â” Strider continued.
Â“You mean, stop us? But why would they do that?Â” Pippin blurted out, thinking that perhaps the Ranger was only trying to protect them. They had already encountered the evil Black Riders and he couldnÂ’t fathom what or who would be more dangerous in this town to himself or his other companions.
Â“The ring that Frodo carries belongs to Sauron, Pippin. And he will stop at nothing to regain it into his possession. He may have acquired the services of spies or thugs to try and find out who has the ring, and they may try to take it by force.Â” Strider explained.
At this statement, all three hobbits looked down at the sleeping form of Frodo, knowing that it was he that was most in danger. If what Strider was saying turned out to be true, then these thugs and spies would be looking for Frodo. Each of them silently promised themselves and Frodo that they would not let him come to harm at the hands of others if they could prevent it.
A knock at the door, made the hobbits jump slightly. All three of them tried to conceal there presence in the room behind the door as Strider went to open it. Â“Who goes there?Â”
Â“It is only I, Sir, the house boy with your linen and blankets,Â” came the meek reply from the other side of the door. Strider berated himself for being so edgy, but still kept alert, even after he had opened the door.
Â“Thank you,Â” Strider said as he took the linen and blankets from the teenage boy. The lad didnÂ’t say anything, and could scarcely race fast enough away in fear that the man was cross at him for disturbing him.
Strider was about to begin tending Frodo, when a second rap came to the door. Once again, the hobbits concealed themselves. The Ranger was growing a little agitated at being disturbed twice in the previous 5 minutes after only being in the rooms for a very short time.
Â“Yes,Â” he answered the door, jerking it a little more roughly than he had intended.
Standing before him was Barliman Butterbur, bearing two trays laden with food and drink as he had promised.
Â“My apologises, Mr Butterbur, I did not expect you again so soon,Â” Strider greeted the man, feeling a little awkward at having sounded so gruff.
Â“No harm done,Â” Butterbur replied, trying to hide the surprise look he had worn at
the RangerÂ’s sharp tone. Â“I know something of what hobbits like to eat and selected a small sample of everything I had on the menu. I hope it is to your liking.Â” As he placed the trays in the RangerÂ’s hand, he tried to peer inside the doorway and get a better look.
Â“Thank you, but if you will excuse me. I would like to sleep after travelling all night,Â” Strider said, hoping that the inn-keep had not gotten any glimpse of Frodo sleeping on the bed on the opposite side of the room.
This time, Strider locked the door behind him, ensuring that they would not be disturbed further until necessary. They now had food and beverage enough for all, and linen to cover the bed. Due to StriderÂ’s choice of a larger room, there were four beds. One large double size where Frodo rested now, and three smaller single ones.
Â“Go ahead and eat, while I tend to Frodo and his ankle. If he is awake when I am finished, I will try an get him to consume a little and some water. After that, I hope that both he and all of you sleep a good few hours and recover your strength,Â” Strider said.
Â“I will help you, Mr Strider. I wouldnÂ’t feel comfortable and all, eating when Mr
FrodoÂ’s still hurting and all,Â” Sam commented. Maybe I can encourage him to eat
a bit with me, since he will not likely be feeling up to it anyways.Â”
Strider smiled at SamÂ’s elaborated way of telling him that he wished to remain with Frodo. The Ranger had already suspected as much, and had no intentions of stopping Sam from being with his master. More than likely his assistance would be needed, once he started examining the injured ankle more closely.
Very gently, Strider sat on the edge of the large bed, and lifted Frodo slightly, allowing Sam to slip soft pillow underneath the dark curls. A soft sigh escaped his lips, as Frodo nestled into the softness and slipped deeper into sleep.
Merry and Pippin sat at a table not too far away, happy to let Strider and Sam tend to Frodo, but aiming to keep a eye on the proceedings as they tucked into some of the food. PippinÂ’s plate was laden up with all sorts of dishes that Barliman had prepared. He intended to sample them all, and was pleasantly surprised by the richness of some of flavours and textures that invaded his senses.
Â“Wrap another blanket around him, and then I want you to stay beside him. I will need to probe a little deeper around his ankle, and it will hurt some. It is unfortunate, but I must be sure what damage has been done before I treat it. He may need you for comfort if he becomes too distressed from the pain,Â” Strider told Sam.
Now, in the light of the room, Strider was clearly able to see the extent of the swelling to FrodoÂ’s foot. The skin surrounding the bottom of his ankle, had barely begun to heal from the previous injury. Bruising had once again started to form and this time the colour was a few shades darker.
As carefully as he could, Strider pressed his first two fingers around the swollen tissue to detect any broken bones or torn ligaments. Frodo, who had been sleeping, felt the pain and pressure and had turned his head on the pillow and whimpered out loud.
Â“Shhhh, Mr Frodo, Mr StriderÂ’s taking real good care of you, I promise. He just needs to check your ankle to see how bad it is,Â” Sam soothed, putting a supportive arm around his master.
Strider continued his examination, but when he had pressed on one particular area of FrodoÂ’s ankle, the pain had been so immediate and intense that Frodo had sat bolt upright in bed and screamed aloud in pain.
Â“I am sorry, Frodo,Â” Strider apologized as Sam tried to calm down his master and allow the examination to continue. Â“I will be finished in a moment.Â”
And true to his word, he stood up again, and thought about the best method of treatment. Â“I will soak some bandages in some water once more Frodo, but these herbs will be much stronger than the last ones I used. They will help to bring down the swelling while you rest and the cloth bandage will support the ankle as it begins to heal itself.
Frodo comprehended a little of what was being said to him and nodded as he heard the Ranger say something about bandaging his ankle. The pain was very bad and even with SamÂ’s soothing words, it was not relenting.
Â“Would you like something to eat, Mr Frodo?Â” Sam asked his master, trying anything he could think of to keep FrodoÂ’s mind off his ankle and the pain that he was experiencing.
Frodo shook his head immediately, not entertaining the idea of food at all.
Â“What about a drink of water then?Â” Sam said quickly, not knowing what else he
could do at this point in time. He was relieved to see Frodo give a brief nod.
Pippin had heard the request from Sam for water and poured some into a mug
from the pitcher that had been provided.
Frodo took a few small sips of the water, allowing them to coat the back of his
throat. When he pulled his head away from the mug, his chest erupted in another
harsh cough, causing him to grimace in pain from his lungs and his ankle.
Still feeling incredibly cold, Frodo grasped at the blankets around his shoulders
and pulled them together around his shivering form tightly once more. Resigning
himself to the pain, he now laid down and turned slightly on his side, hoping that
his exhaustion would over come the pain by allowing him to fall into a dreamless
Â“You go right ahead and rest, Mr Frodo. I will stay right here with you. I am
not going anywhere,Â” Sam said as he fussed about the blankets and adjusted them
several times to ensure his master would be warm enough. He tried to help bring
on sleep by rubbing the centre of FrodoÂ’s back in a circular pattern. This he hoped would also aid in preventing any further harsh coughing.
Strider now proceeded to soak the bandages from his backpack for a full half an hour in a basin of warm water. Then he used SamÂ’s help further to begin wrapping it securely around FrodoÂ’s ankle. The slumbering hobbit not responding at all to his administrations, his exhaustion now complete.
With Merry and Pippin declaring themselves full from the wonderful feast they had, the two cousins found themselves growing weary. With Frodo now tended to and sleeping soundly on the bed, there was not need for them to be watching him all the time. Strider led the two sleepy hobbits to one of the single beds and ensured that they too were warm enough. They would sleep as deeply as Frodo, the walking being arduous on them.
Â“I will leave for a moment, and return the food trays to the inn-keep. I will lock the door behind me. Do not let anyone into this room, I will use the key to let myself in again,Â” Strider informed Sam. He could see that Samwise would to be asleep beside his master before his return. Sam nodded at StriderÂ’s warning, finding his own body relaxing despite himself in the warm of the blanket that was draped over him and Frodo.
After leaving a small plate of the remaining food aside for himself, Strider left
the room, and locked the door. He now made his way back to the kitchen
and went to speak to Butterbur upon another matter that could not wait until later.
Â“Ah, I see you have enjoyed your meal,Â” the inn-keep smiling broadly. Â“I trust it all to be to your satisfaction?Â”
Â“Yes, thank you. What the hobbits did not eat, I have left in the room for later. But I will send word to you if they require more before then. I now need to ask you if you have seen Gandalf the Grey?Â” Strider asked, his eyes searching the inn-keep for any sign that he might have been withholding such information.
Â“Gandalf?Â” the man said, his face turning down into a frown as he tried to recall such a name. Â“Gandalf?
For a moment, Strider waited for any news that might have been left by the wizard.
Â“Oh, now I remember. Elderly chap, big pointy hat,Â” Butterbur said as a vague description came to him through the cobwebs of his mind.
Strider nodded, happy to have the inn-keep at least identify with the person whom
he was seeking. There couldnÂ’t be too many mistakes made about seeing a wizard. Surely a town such as Bree would not have seen the likes of Gandalf too often.
Â“I havenÂ’t seen him for six months,Â” Butterbur said, content to go back to cleaning his glasses, at first not knowing that his words had dealt such a blow to the Ranger.
Â“Not seem him?Â” Strider said, repeating the manÂ’s own words. Gandalf had told
him specific details about his intended route and they had included Bree. What
could have happened between Hobbiton to an Istari and the path Gandalf would have taken?
Â“No,Â” Butterbur said again, trying to read what this might mean to the Ranger and
the group of hobbits that he had arrived at the Prancing Pony with. The fact that
they were wanting to meet up with the likes of a wizard, intrigued the inn-keep even more.
Â“Perhaps he has been delayed,Â” Strider offered, not wanting to believe that their
journey had become even more unfortunate. Â“Please give me a message immediately if he should be seen here.Â”
Â“Aye, I will, Sir,Â” the inn-keep promised. Strider left to return to his room and the
hobbits. He had to find a way to convince them that GandalfÂ’s disappearance would not hamper their journey further.
When Strider entered his room after speaking with the inn-keep Butterbur, he smiled to note how silent the room was. All four hobbits were soundly asleep, and that is where he intended to leave them until they were ready to wake. There was nothing so pressing that it couldnÂ’t wait until after they had gained a few more hours sleep.
Strider too lay down on the bed left for him. Even though not wanting to admit a
little tiredness on his part, it would not do him nor the hobbit any good to deprive
himself of sleep. If he did so, he might risk being alert to any danger that may be
lurking unseen. His sleep would be light enough to hear anybody attempting to
leave or enter the room.
About three hours after Strider returned to the room, Frodo stirred from his slumber. What had disturbed him, he could not say, but he sat up, trying not to wince out loud at the pain still present in his ankle.
Frodo looked about the room and noted Sam and his cousins getting some much needed sleep themselves. He looked over to his right and saw that Strider also slept or dozed lightly, his sword close by in case of trouble.
Frodo did not want to move overly, and disturb Sam. Clenching his teeth tightly and swinging his legs over the bed, he remained seated until the initial dizziness eased. It took approximately 10 minutes for him to think himself ready to get up from the bed. He knew he had to be mindful of his injured ankle. No doubt both Strider and Sam would chastise him if they heard him or saw him walking about.
To his relief, someone did begin to stir, but it was neither the Ranger or his trusting friend Sam. Merry opened his eyes and was about to shout in alarm at seeing FrodoÂ’s unsteady step. But a quick shushing gesture from his older cousin, making him forget any noise he had intended to make.
Merry got to his feet, noting that PippinÂ’s sleep was deep and more than likely
he wouldnÂ’t be disturbed. He walked across to Frodo who had yet to take a second step. Bearing most of FrodoÂ’s weight, Merry led him to sit on the last unoccupied single bed that had been meant for Sam.
The distance had been less that three or four steps, but clearly had been painful for
Frodo. His face scrunched into a grimace and his eyes closed tightly against the wave of pain that travelled from his foot up his entire leg. Merry expression was full of concern and he pondered whether he should wake Strider or not to ask for something to ease his cousinÂ’s pain.
Frodo had already guessed at what Merry was thinking of doing, Â“I will be alright, Merry,Â” he whispered, his voice barely audible.
Â“No, you are not, and donÂ’t try and deny it, Frodo,Â” Merry began to say sternly.
But upon seeing Frodo close his eyes to another bout of pain, his heart softened as
well as his expression. He now sat beside the dark-haired hobbit and put a hand
on his shoulder.
Â“You are not alright,Â” he said softly, but firmly.
Frodo gave the best smile in return that he could manage. Â“Sorry, Merry, its just
that I have been trying to mull over a few things in my head over the last hour.
I woke up and couldnÂ’t go back to sleep. At first, I couldnÂ’t put my finger on a
reason, but all I can do now is think about the river last night.Â”
Although their voices were hushed, a man and two other hobbits had awoken and
though still feigning sleep, listened intently to the quiet conversation between
the two cousins. They had no wish to disturb what was clearly a private moment
between Merry and Frodo.
Sam had to try hard to make the worry on his face disappear and for him to still
appear asleep. His face was turned away in the opposite direction, and when he
opened his eyes a little, very cautiously, he could see that Strider was awake as well.
Â“What do you mean about the river, cousin?Â” Merry asked, admitting to being a little curious about FrodoÂ’s statement. He could certainly understand the apprehension in FrodoÂ’s voice about floundering around in the water and being swept away by the strong current.
Â“I didnÂ’t feel it when I was running towards the river, but after I fell in and the water began swirling around me, it was almost as if someone else was there with me,Â” Frodo said, his expression pleading for Merry to understand what he was trying hard to explain.
Â“Your parents?Â” Merry said with a touch of sadness. He caressed the back of FrodoÂ’s hand with his thumb for reassurance. He saw Frodo swallow the lump that was caught in his throat and saw the beginning of tears welling in those blue eyes.
Frodo turned his head away, the tears trickling down his face. Â“You and most
others would think me a fool, but I know what I felt,Â” he said through a emotion
Â“Nobody here in this room thinks that, Frodo,Â” Merry replied to his cousinÂ’s harsh
view of himself. Â“I am sorry that you had to travel to the river again and be forced to relive some of those memories that you hide so well inside.Â”
Â“They might say they understand, Merry, as you say you do. But what you would doubt is that for a brief moment, my heart was in another place,Â” Frodo admitted for the first time. He wondered if he should burden his younger cousinÂ’s heart so with such words, but knew that he would not dare share thoughts and feelings with anyone else. Not even Sam.
Â“Another place?Â” Merry asked, seeing his cousinÂ’s eyes change as if FrodoÂ’s was seeing something in the distance that he could not.
Â“At first, I fought against the current. Kicked and struggled against the water that was slowly pulling me down, until my legs and arms did not have the strength to keep moving. Then, as the water started to rise above my shoulders and threatened to take me under the surface, I heard a voice. Or perhaps two.Â”
Â“What did these voices say to you?Â” Merry asked cautiously, something telling him that he didnÂ’t like where this conversation was heading.
Â“They were soft as a summer breeze and it was difficult to hear them, but just when I thought the fight hopeless and that I would indeed drown, they became incredibly clear. It was a man and a woman, whom I can only assume were my parents. I could not see any shape to identify who might be speaking, but the voices filled my head and made me feel like I should not be afraid of them?Â”
Â“And?Â” Merry encouraged, part of him wanting to know, and part of him not.
Â“They were saying to let go. That if I wanted to they would take me to a safe place where I could always stay and never worry about being hurt again. I would feel safe and would be loved and know the meaning of love again,Â” Frodo said, his head bowed a little as he spoke, not wanting direct eye contact with his cousin.
Â“Maybe it was the cold water that gave you these vivid pictures in your head,Â” Merry suggested, not knowing what else to say when his cousin was talking about hearing the voices of his long since dead parents. Perhaps it brought him comfort after almost drowning in the same river.
Frodo looked intently at his cousin for a moment, suddenly realising for the first time perhaps in a long time, just how much the hobbit before him had grown. Not only physically either.
Strider had seen them though some evil times already, that could not be denied.
Sam had been more than the dutiful servant on this trip and become more of a friend and companion than Frodo could have ever hoped for. Pippin, too had his own exuberance about him that gave to those around him, the energy to keep going. He had done much on this journey to keep Frodo young at heart and spirit, even if he didnÂ’t know it.
On the other hand, Merry, was different altogether. Whilst it was true that he had a youthful energy all of his own, that he often shared with Pippin. There were times when Frodo found other qualities in his personality. Some of those traits others may not have noticed right away. They were ones hidden beneath Merry, cheeky exterior that he rarely let others see unless he chose too. Frodo was fortunate to be counted as one of those special few.
Right now, here is this room, Merry had presented himself as someone who was just there to listen. Not to offer soothing words. A silent strength that Frodo had learned to draw on and lean on over the years. He silently prayed that such a strength would one day shine for all to see.
Â“No, it was no dream,Â” Frodo said, looking up as he spoke. Â“And you want to know what the worst part is?Â”
Merry nodded his head for Frodo to continue, not trusting his voice to speak. If what he had already heard wasnÂ’t the worst, then what else could have happened out there on the Brandywine River?
Sam bit his lip slightly to keep from crying out and jumping to his feet, alerting everyone else in the room that he was awake and listening intently to what his master was saying. His heart was beating a little faster at the apprehension that he was feeling about what Frodo would say next.
Â“Right before my eyes failed me and I began to lose cohesive thoughts and the pain in my body grew; for the briefest of moments, I truly wanted to heed their words and Â‘let goÂ’. To be free of this world and join my parents if it was them that spoke.Â”
By now FrodoÂ’s emotions were clearly visible and he accepted the embrace of his
younger cousin, letting the freshness of the hurt to his old scars run through him.
Â“Can you forgive me for thinking such a thing. I cannot deny that I would love to
see my parents again, but know that the time is not now. Is it so foolish to miss them all over again after many years have passed?Â”
Â“No, its not foolish at all, Frodo,Â” Merry said, allowing a few tears of his own run
freely down his face for Primula and Drogo. They would have been so proud of their son that had grown into an adult hobbit and carried on their name in honour.
Â“Lets get you a drink of water and then you should try and get some rest,Â” Merry
said, seeing how much of a toll such emotions had taken on Frodo. The older
hobbit not realising that he was on a different bed. At the moment, it didnÂ’t matter which bed he used for sleep, so long as he got some much needed rest.
Â“I am sorry for disturbing your rest, Merry,Â” Frodo said, accepting the water from
Merry and then attempting to nestle back into the warmth of the blankets. Merry
retrieved a second blanket from the bed Frodo had occupied earlier and now draped it over his cousin. FrodoÂ’s eyes began to slowly drift close. After a long and deep sigh, he allowed his breathing to slow more and tried to empty his head to find respite from his memories and the pain in his body.
Merry stood looking at his cousin as he slept, trying to read what other dark thoughts might be plaguing Frodo. Â“Do not let the ghosts from your past influence your future, cousin. You will be needed in this world for a long time yet, Frodo Baggins. For what purpose, is still yet to be seen, but my heart tells me that your deeds will be great.Â”
Merry was lost momentarily in his own thoughts, until he felt someoneÂ’s hand on his shoulder. He turned to see a sympathetic, but understanding Strider standing at his side, observing both him and Frodo.
Â“He has fallen asleep again,Â” Merry mentioned absentmindedly, not knowing that everything that had been exchanged had been overheard.
Â“So I see,Â” Strider whispered. The Ranger was cautious enough not to make comment about the conversation he had been a silent party to. He never breathed a word to Merry and certainly wouldnÂ’t betray FrodoÂ’s trust. There were some things that he would not repeat. Â“He is still experiencing pain from his ankle,Â” he now added, trying his best to examine Frodo without touching his patient and risk waking him.
Â“So much has changed in such a short space of time for him,Â” Merry said as he thought about the last month or so. It wasnÂ’t just the journey that they now found themselves taking into places unknown. BilboÂ’s disappearance had affected Frodo profoundly, more than any of them had foreseen. Perhaps even more so than Frodo would admit himself.
Strider could see that Merry was beginning to sink into the same melancholy mood that his dark-haired cousin was in. Perhaps there was something that they could do here whilst in Bree that would stop that from happening further to the both of them.
Â“Sam, Pippin, come here please,Â” Strider now instructed them, gathering the three
awake hobbits to the table so that their conversation would not awaken Frodo.
Â“I cannot allow you to wander the streets of Bree on your own as they are far too
dangerous, even for men at times. If you give me a list of the supplies you require
to replace, then I will obtain them,Â” Strider said.
Â“What do you want us to do while you are out?Â” Sam asked, not exactly understanding what the Ranger was trying to do.
Â“Yes, Sam, for now. After I have returned, Frodo should be awake enough to join in a meal in the innÂ’s main bar room. He might need a little coaxing at first, but with a little subtle help from us all, I want him to forget the danger that has pursued us thus far and unwind a little. Just the four of you,Â” Strider explained.
Â“You want us to go in there alone,Â” Sam asked nervously. Merry and Pippin were not nervous, but their eyes shone with excitement of what the bar-room atmosphere would bring.
Â“I will be close enough to observe and protect you if called upon, but I will allow you to entertain yourselves whilst you eat and partake a little of the local ale,Â” the Ranger answered.
Â“Ale?Â” Pippin squeaked, barely able to contain his excitement. He looked at Merry and saw the same look of anticipation playing out on his cousinÂ’s features. Â“What kind of ale, Strider?Â”
Sam smiled a little at the two cousins, never ceasing to be amazed by their ability
to find their feet again so shortly after a dark and dangerous journey. They appeared to have forgotten the evil in the forest, and saw StriderÂ’s offer as an opportunity too good to pass up.
Â“It is brewed a little quicker than what you would be used to back in the Shire, so
beware. Though the taste is quite enjoyable, so long as it is consumed in moderation,Â” Strider warned.
Â“Pip, we can treat it just like another night back in the Shire at the Green Dragon.
That should get Frodo out of his dreary mood. He might even join us in a pint, if he feels up to it,Â” Merry said to his younger cousin.
Â“Remember gentlemen, Frodo is still recovering from his ankle injury. No strenuous activity or weight placed on his foot. I want him seated at all times. You can bring him what ever food and drink he asks for,Â” the Ranger heeded to them.
Â“Oh, of course. We wouldnÂ’t dream of letting Frodo walk on his sore foot,Â” Pippin said.
Â“Now, Master Merry and Master Pippin, I donÂ’t thinkÂ…Â…..,Â” Sam began to say
when he realised that anything he had to say would probably go ignored. The two
hobbits were now chatting incessantly with each other, making plans and organising who was going to be doing what.
Strider and Sam exchanged glances and then smiled, knowing that were merely
excited. Frodo had not even agreed to go yet, and here they were, planning out the entire evening. And a long one by the sound of it.
Â“Sam, could you make a list of what you and Frodo will need replaced and I will
do that now while Frodo rests. When I return, we can try and coerce him into
joining us for that meal, but only if he wants to. Otherwise I will have food brought to the room for him as before.Â”
Sam diligently set out to explore his pack and his masterÂ’s to see what needed repairing or replacing. In the case of most of FrodoÂ’s clothes, that was almost all of them, the mud from the bottom of the Brandywine staining the fine linen shirts until they were the colour of egg shell. Those stains would not be able to be removed easily, if at all without damaging and weakening the fabric to a great degree.
Strider set off in the early afternoon, planning to be only gone an hour. Frodo still slept during this time and the other hobbits remained quiet for his sake. He was able to find most articles on SamÂ’s list without trouble, although the woman at the drapery did think it odd that a man would be purchasing hobbit size clothes. She had given him a suspicious glance, but his steely outer appearance prevented her from actually voicing her questions directly to him.
The Ranger had approached the door to his room, unaware that his movements were being watched from the shadows. The stranger watching found the presence of someone from the North in Bree to be very curious. He decided to keep his watchful gaze on the man to see if anything information about his activities could be gained. The observerÂ’s name was Bill Ferny.
When Strider had re-entered his room, he was pleased to see Frodo beginning to stir a little from his deep slumber. He set the parcels he had brought back with him on a table. Sam took a brief look at the contents, nodding his head in appreciation that most of the items off his list were within.
Â“How are you feeling, Frodo?Â” Strider enquired, waiting some time for the hobbit to gain his bearings a little. His face drew into a frown as he tried to regain some of the time he seemed to have lost whilst asleep. Conversation that had occurred was a little hazy and those discussions now eluded him. He faintly recalled talking to Merry, but could not remember what had been said.
Â“Much more rested, thank you,Â” Frodo answered. Just as he said that, his foot began to ache a little from the injury. The pain was bearable and not the continual throbbing it had been when they had first arrived in Bree.
If it were possible, that part of their journey was a little distant in his mind. He didnÂ’t remember coming into the town at all. He remembered Sam and Strider leaning over him briefly while he was lying on a bed. But not much else until now.
Â“We should rest quietly for another hour or so until dusk and then go and eat our
evening meal inside the Prancing Pony. Though I have to warn you that there will
be local patrons beginning to come in as the hour grows darker,Â” Strider informed the hobbits.
The hour soon came and the sun began to set outside, Frodo and the other hobbits
readied themselves to enjoy a little company on this night. It would certainly be
different from most they had experiences on their journey so far. Merry and Pippin were the most excited, scarcely able to keep still for their restless spirits and the promise of a good time to be enjoyed.
Frodo could see that this might cause some problems for them all, and as gently as
he could, without wanting to spoil their fun, he decided to talk to them as their
older cousin. Â“Lads, I know you want to enjoy yourselves and have a good time
this evening, but please remember that we are a long way from the Green Dragon
back in the Shire.Â”
Sam nodded his head in agreement of his masterÂ’s words, Â“ThatÂ’s right Sirs, my Rosie wonÂ’t be behind the bar to serve you tonight.Â”
Â“DonÂ’t worry, Frodo and Sam, we will behave ourselves. As you say, it might not
be the Green Dragon, and there would be few places that could stand up to such a fine establishment, but this is the first chance we have had to relax,Â” Merry said on behalf of them both.
Â“We shall have a grand meal and half a pint of ale and be satisfied with that,Â” Pippin added, smiling at Merry with a gleam in his eye. Pippin knowing full well that the tankards served in this place would be meant for men. Half a pint of ale in that size mug would be the equivalent of three full pints back in the Shire.
Frodo and Sam exchanged dubious glances, but promised themselves that they would be keeping a close eye on them just in case. Strider laughed a little at the antics between them all. Frodo rarely found himself falling into the role of protector and guardian, but did so tonight, erring on the side of caution tonight, and being aware of the journey still before them after Bree.
Three hobbits and the Ranger now exited the room, Strider looking about to check the immediate area. Bill Ferny who was still watching the room and door from his darkened corner, now sat up with sudden interest. He swore to himself that this group together was not a chance thing.
Men did not often keep company with hobbits and vice versa. If they were seen together it was barely in acquaintance as far as the local hobbits of Bree. Bill Ferny tried to think of all the reasons why a Big Person might be in the company of four hobbits. Their appearance and that of their clothing, indicated to him that they were not local folk.
What made Ferny take notice even more was the darker-haired hobbit that stood out from the others. The other three had a similar colour hair and were readily engaging in conversation with the Ranger. The fourth one, kept silent as he waited for the Ranger to lock the door behind them. His eyes wide as he looked about, clearly feeling a little awkward in a place such as this.
Bill Ferny watched Frodo with a little more interest, and almost gasped in surprise when the hobbit turned slightly. They were all wearing fine clothes, except for the Ranger who was dressed in usual attire for his occupation. The dark-haired hobbit was wearing a white shirt with a jacket and breeches. The top button of the shirt was not fastened securely, thereby revealing a little glint of gold as the light hit it briefly due of the way he was standing.
Ferny kept as still as possible, but his gaze never wandered too far from this most interesting of hobbits with his treasure hidden beneath his linen shirt. He would have to wait until the right time to get the hobbit on his own and find out for himself, what the treasure was. For now, the Ranger was too close and too alert to try anything.
A table was soon found to seat them all and the hobbits sat down, two on either side. They were seated towards the rear of the room, with a large staircase to their left. Sam beside Frodo and Merry and Pippin. They had yet to gain the attention of the barmaids, but looked about the room, taking in the atmosphere and the sights and sounds that came at them from every corner of the room.
Strider was sitting at another table a little further away. He had spoken to them before leaving their room about what others would derive from seeing them in each others company. It had been decided that the hobbits would sit at their own table, with the Ranger keeping a close eye on them from another table in the corner of the room.
After a short time, Merry and Pippin appeared to relax better than Frodo or Sam.
Frodo still rubbed at his injured ankle and his colour was paler than Strider would
have liked. By now drinks had been ordered and received. Merry and Pippin happy to indulge in the amber coloured liquid. The taste to Sam was a lot sharper then what his Gaffer made back home. Frodo had not touched his drink yet.
Soon, the acrid smell of tobacco smoke caused the air to be pungent and choking. The hobbits finding their eyes watering even after only a short time. Back in the Shire, the smoking of pipeweed had become somewhat of an art and the hobbits prided themselves on such a pleasure to be enjoyed in each others company. But this was different and they had no desire to share any of the company within the establishment.
Laughter could be heard through the room and that combined with ordinary, but
enthusiastic conversation, caused the noise to be at deafening levels. Pippin had
said something to Merry, but had to shout what he wanted to say three times to be
Frodo was growing more and more uncomfortable in these surroundings and it was becoming a challenge to mask it from his friends and Sam. When he finally decided that he wanted some space and fresh air, Frodo whispered quietly to Sam and got up from the table.
Frodo had told Sam that he was merely headed to the outhouse, not wanting for Sam to interrupt his evening. His intention was to return to the room they occupied, but at that moment, he forgot that Strider had the key. Sam had almost offered to go with his master until his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
Strider had seen Frodo whisper something to Sam and watched as the hobbit got up from the table gingerly on his ankle and started to walk as best he could to a side door. The Ranger was not able to follow immediately, for fear of drawing attention to his association with the hobbits. He waited a few more minutes before getting up and trying to follow.
Frodo had exited the door and stood for a few moments, working out the position of his room from this entrance. When he was satisfied that he knew which room was the correct one, he started to hobble the short distance, still forgetting that he did not have a key to the locked door.
Frodo went to turn the handle on the door and only then recalled that Strider had the key. He sighed out loud as he realised that he would have to endure some additional discomfort to his injured ankle to retrace his steps back to the bar-room to retrieve the key from the Ranger.
He had scarcely enough time to turn his head when a large shadow approached him from behind. A small wave of fear ran through him, as he felt the figure physically grabbed him from behind by the shoulders. Frodo went to demand his release when he felt a rough hand placed over his mouth.
Frodo tried to struggle with his assailant and escape the captorÂ’s grip, when all of a sudden he was attacker moved to drag him to another nearby room. Again he tried to free himself, but the hand over his mouth tightened more and the arm encircling his waist felt as though it was beginning to crush his chest. The frightened hobbit began to become disoriented and dizzy from the lack of oxygen.
He didnÂ’t have time to try, and get a look at who was forcing him to go, or why. The man had altered his grip a little to the back of his collared jacket, and continued pushing Frodo forward, showing no amount of concern if the hobbit was to trip or fall because of this. Bill FernyÂ’s frustration grew as he lifted his struggling hostage off the ground, whilst trying to avoid the large sized feet that kicked out.
Â“Strider!Â” came a brief plea, as the door was opened and the hand was removed from his mouth for a brief moment. Frodo found himself flung inside a darkened room and the door slammed shut behind them to prevent any possibility of escape. He tried to regain his footing after stumbling after such harsh treatment and rubbed his hands together to massage the palms where he had fallen hardest.
From where he stood now, the hobbit was able to look upon the man who had snatched him. The man was unshaven and unkempt. His clothes were stained, and reeked of someone who had not bathed in a long time. The man was large set, and quite obese, but, nonetheless much stronger than Frodo would have been able to overpower on his own.
Â“What do you want?Â” Frodo asked his assailant, trying to hide his fear.
Â“I want that little piece of gold I saw you carrying your neck earlier, halfling,Â” the man barked, walking towards the trembling hobbit in a threatening manner.
Â“I carry nothing,Â” Frodo replied, but his own actions giving himself away, his hand flying to his throat and encircling the gold chain he felt between his fingers.
Â“WeÂ’ll see about that,Â” the man said, and roughly grabbed the hobbit so that his arm was wrapped around FrodoÂ’s slender neck.
Â“No, let me go!Â” Frodo cried out.
Frodo tried desperately to get the manÂ’s arm to release, even just a little, feeling his air supply slowly being cut off. His blue eyes were wild with fright, as he fought and struggled to gain his freedom.
Â“You are not going anywhere my little friend,Â” the man hissed in the hobbitÂ’s pointed ear as the manÂ’s free hand began feeling around FrodoÂ’s shirt for the elusive gold trinket.
The manÂ’s large hands pawed at his shirt and jacket, not caring if he tore the fabric or not. His fingers were calloused and rough against the smooth skin around his neck.
Â“No, you canÂ’t have it. No, you mustnÂ’t take it. Let me go!Â” Frodo said for a second time in desperation, but his voice now sounding hoarse and barely above a whisper.
The man knew none of the ringÂ’s history or its evil purpose. His eyes only saw greed and his mind and actions were driven by that avarice. He only sought what he thought was treasure that should not be in the hands of someone so small.
TO BE CONTINUEDÂ…Â…Â…Â…..
Okay, thatÂ’s it for this chapter. I did mention at the end of the last one that there would be only two more chapters. This is a little undecided now, as this chapter was supposed to have a lot more happening in it, but due to the length, I split it again.
Up until now, it is assumed that Frodo has not put the ring on, and has not seen the Â‘Great EyeÂ’ nor alerted the Black Riders to its whereabouts. That will all be very early on in the next chapter as well as the journey from Bree to Weathertop.
I have not decided entirely what will happen between Bree and Rivendell, save for FrodoÂ’s stabbing on Weathertop. That will happen a little differently, only because I didnÂ’t like how it was portrayed in the FOTR, but still wanted a diversion from book canon.
The parts about the man grabbing Frodo and looking for the gold chain were written months and months ago, some time last year. It wasnÂ’t until very recently after trying to think of the cast of characters that would inhabit Bree that I decided it would be Bill Ferny. We will see more of Bill Ferny and Harry Goatleaf much much later in the storyline. My Bill Ferny does not follow the book as such and his description is entirely invented for the purposes of this story.
The scenes from the Brandywine River, apart from being aspired by Peter JacksonÂ’s wonderful movie adaptation, come my another fandom story for Bonanza that I wrote, called Â“Gypsy CursesÂ” where I had another character floundering around in the water. If you recognize the scenes from somewhere else for those who read all my stories, this is most probably where you saw it. The only difference being that I did not think Frodo was ready for a bullet in addition to his other injuries *smile*.
Like I mentioned, a lot I wanted to write for this chapter held off until the next one, like the continuation of the Bill Ferny scene which has been split for this chapter, much as I tried not to.
Please let me know you are reading this story and let me know what you think. To the few who have, my humble thanks cannot be enough praise. I truly appreciate every review I get and save them all. If you havenÂ’t told me what you think in the other chapters, let me know this time around.