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Watch the Clouds Go Sailing By  by Pervinca

 Watch the Clouds Go Sailing By

Chapter 14: Reunion at The Prancing Pony

Sam thought his lungs were going to seize on him when he finally reached the door of The Prancing Pony. He was certainly not up to running, but he had not stopped. Part of him sternly believed that he would find his daughter and son at the Inn, and that belief would not allow him to stop, despite the pain. Meriadoc and Peregrin were in no better shape. Panting, the three of them stumbled into the Inn.

Ellouise Butterbur greeted them kindly as they entered. She must have had more helpers that night, for she was not as run off her feet as usual. “Good evening, sirs. How can I help you? Rooms for three?”

“Well, actually,” Sam stammered, trying to find his breath to speak. “We wanted to ask you…”

“Lou? Lou!” a voice interrupted Sam. “I need you, Lou!”

Ellouise looked apologetic. “You’ll have to excuse me for a moment. Why don’t you go to the Common Room and make yourselves comfortable? I’ll find you as soon as I can.” And with that, she had disappeared.

“Strange lass, that one,” Sam mumbled. “Must be a relative of Mister Butterbur.”

“I think it may be his niece,” said Meriadoc. He had visited Bree more recently that his companions. The Common Room was warm and inviting. A group of hobbits noticed the newcomers, and greeted them gladly.

“I say, it’s the Master of Buckland!” one hobbit declared, recognising Meriadoc.

“And that’s the Thain and the Mayor with him,” another added.

Sam had almost hoped that they would not be recognised. He knew it had been quite foolish to think so. Their faces were known from Gondor to the Grey Havens. Soon, the three Travellers were badgered by questions about their coming to Bree. While Meriadoc and Peregrin tried to answer all the questions and even find space to ask a few of their own, Sam remained silent. He had the strange feeling that they were being watched. Sure enough, in a darkened corner of the room, three cloaked and hooded figures sat. One was of much smaller stature than the other too, and a cloud of smoke seemed to hover above them. From beneath one of the hoods, Sam caught the twinkle in the figure’s eyes, and a glimpse of an all too familiar smile.

He staggered a few steps forward, as if drawn to the mysterious onlooker. Meriadoc and Peregrin saw Sam walking away. Their voices caught in their throats as they saw what he had seen.

“It can’t be…” Peregrin whispered.

“Well met, Master Samwise,” the smiling figure said quietly, as the three hobbits drew near. He and his companions made space for them at their table. “Though, I would appreciate your discretion. We have gone unnoticed and unrecognised completely this night. A shame we cannot say the same for the three of you.”

“Strider!” Sam finally managed to whisper.

“Will you ever cease using that derogatory name for your king?” one of the other figures asked.

“Oh, Sam will call Aragorn whatever he likes, Legolas!” Meriadoc snorted.

Legolas laughed, but quietly. Though the other patrons had let the hobbits alone once they had sat down with the strange hooded travellers, Aragorn still wished for his presence to remain unknown.

“Yes, Legolas,” the third figure – the smallest of the three – grunted. “Just be glad that they have not yet come up with pet names for you and I.”

“You’re right, Gimli!” Peregrin cried. “We’ve known you all this time, and have never given you nicknames.”

“And let us hope it will continue to be so for another long time.”

“Strider, what are you doing here?” Sam asked, seizing the split second of silence. “And with Gimli and Legolas, no less.”

“To be honest, Master Samwise, we came to see you,” King Elessar answered. “Lady Arwen wished to visit her brothers in Rivendell, and Legolas, Gimli and I came with her. We decided that we greatly desired to see our little friends again. I have sent a confidential message to Bag End requesting that you come to meet me at the Bridge of Baranduin, but I suppose it shall now arrive to an empty house.”

“No, not empty. Just a house of anxious wives and children.”

“Then this is not just a pleasant walking trip for you to reclaim your youth?” Legolas asked. “You have urgency in your voice.”

“We’re following Pippin, Faramir and Goldilocks. You should know of them, if you have not met them. Pippin is my third son, and Goldi my third daughter. Faramir is Peregrin’s only son.”

“Following? Where have they gone?”

“We believe they are headed to Rivendell, following the paths that we took on our own journey. We were hoping to maybe find them here, but as yet, we have not been able to ask…”

“They’re not here,” said Meriadoc. “We managed to ask a few of the guests here. One of them said he saw three hobbits matching our description of them leaving two days ago.”

“A trait of the Tooks, running off on adventures, am I right, Master Peregrin?”

“That you are, Lord,” Peregrin replied, with a bow, for he was still a knight of Gondor, and Aragorn was his lord and master.

“Well, I believe that we may now be able to spend that desired time with you, my friends.”

“What do you mean, Stri…I mean, Aragorn?” Sam asked.

“Do you recall what I spent my time doing before claiming the throne? I dare say, the three of you have little hope of catching your truants, especially if they have decided to avoid the road. With Strider the Ranger at your aid, you may have more luck.”

“Luck indeed!” Peregrin cried. “It is beyond hope!”

“Nothing is beyond hope, Master Peregrin.”

“There you are, sirs,” Ellouise Butterbur panted, and she came to their table. “I am dreadfully sorry; my uncle needed me…”

“Your uncle is Barliman Butterbur, is it not?” Meriadoc asked.

“Why, yes he is? And you are Master Brandybuck! I thought I recognised you when you came in.” She looked at Sam and Peregrin. “I am willing to guess that you are Master Took and Gamgee.” They nodded. “You must come with me at once, then! Please.”

Meriadoc, Sam and Peregrin all looked at one another, before standing and following Ellouise. Aragorn also followed. Ellouise looked at him suspiciously. “And who might you be, sir? I remember you and your companions arriving earlier, but I do not see why you should wish to come with these hobbits.”

“I am an…old friend of your uncle,” Aragorn replied. “He may be pleased to see me, or he may not. I cannot be sure.”

Ellouise nodded and did not question him further. She led them to the same room that she had led Faramir, Pippin and Goldi to several nights previously.

“Back so soon, Lou?” Barliman laughed. “Did you forget something?”

“No, she found something,” Aragorn replied. Lou slipped out, leaving her uncle with his guests.

“Now, I recognise that voice, but I don’t remember where from.”

“Perhaps we might help you to remember,” said Meriadoc.

“Why, Mister Brandybuck!” Barliman cried. “And with Mister Took and Mister Gamgee with you! How lovely to see you again. But I still can’t seem to place your voice, sir.”

“That is understandable,” Aragorn said slowly. “For it has been a while since I last visited Bree. And even when I did so, I seem to recall you not being so fond of my presence…”

“Strider the Ranger!” Barliman gasped. He managed to bow. “I should be saying ‘Your highness’, shouldn’t I?”

“You may continue to call me Strider. I would prefer my presence to remain unknown.”

“Well, most people in Bree have short memories when it comes to faces. Not like me. When I see a face, I remember it to the end of my days. Now that reminds me of something…” Barliman thought for a moment before breaking out in a grin. “Of course, I had three young visitors just a few nights ago. Two lads and a lass, I believe you know them.”

Sam nodded. “My son and daughter, and Pippin’s son.”

“They’ve gone off on their own little adventure it seems. I do hope it won’t turn out so bad as yours did, Mister Gamgee.”

“Well, we hope to catch up with them. The Wild can be…wild. Those children really don’t have much of an idea of what’s out there. Stories are one thing, but actually being there yourself is a completely different matter.”

“Well, good luck to you, Mister Gamgee.” Barliman yawned. “If there’s anything I can do to help you, I’d be more than happy to do it.”

“Strider’s already offered his assistance,” said Peregrin.

“There is one thing we could use though,” Meriadoc said, slyly. “You wouldn’t happen to have a spare pony, would you? We ran off so quickly we forgot to bring one with us.”

“That I might be able to organise,” answered Barliman. “Speak with my niece, and she’ll do what she can. Now, if you sirs will excuse me, I am awfully tired…”

“Sleep well, Master Butterbur,” said Aragorn, turning to leave. Barliman was already asleep. Peregrin, Meriadoc and Sam all stood quietly, and followed the King out the door.

“I shall speak to Ellouise about acquiring a pony,” Meriadoc offered.

Aragorn nodded. “Legolas, Gimli and I have a room organised that should be able to fit three more, if you care on joining us. We will have to leave early tomorrow if we want to make a good start.”

They all accepted his offer. Of course, that meant that none of them got much sleep. They stayed up to the late hours of the night, exchanging stories and remembering the times they had together.

*   *   *   *   *   *

A/N: Another horribly short chapter, I’m afraid, but an important one! I always wanted to have Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make an appearance in this story. They were going to come into it later, but it works better this way.

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