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Author’s Note: Italicized paragraphs are taken from The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter IX, “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony”
Disclaimer: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
A MERRY OLD INN
Three days after passing the borders of the Shire, thirteen Dwarves, a Wizard, and one rather weary hobbit found themselves approaching the town of Bree. Bree was the chief village of Bree-land, a small inhabited region, like an island in the empty lands round about. Besides Bree itself, there was Staddle on the other side of the hill, Combe in a deep valley a little further eastward, and Archet on the edge of the Chetwood. Lying round Bree-hill and the villages was a small country of fields and tamed woodland only a few miles wide. Aside from the presence of Big People, it was a peaceful little country, not much unlike our Mr. Baggins’ own home.
Bilbo looked about him curiously. There were Big People walking about, a great many of them, which made him feel more than a bit shy and exposed, but he was mightily heartened to see many broad and cheerful hobbit faces going about their business surrounded by the larger folk. The hobbits of Bree did not seem in the least timid in the midst of all those Big Folk, talking to them and doing business quite as if they were among fellow hobbits.
“We shall stay the night,” said Gandalf, “at the sign of The Prancing Pony.”
Thorin nodded. “It is early in the day to break our journey, but we can spend the afternoon getting more provisions. And,” he added, with a smile that was rare on his rather dour countenance, “the ale at the Pony is excellent.”
This news cheered Bilbo more than any he had heard yet. Excellent ale and a night at an inn seemed quite pleasant. Not for the first time, he wondered why adventures had got such an unfortunate name among the hobbits of his acquaintance. So far it had been a nice pony ride through unfamiliar, but not altogether unpleasing territory, with many strange and interesting sights. He looked curiously at the shop of a cobbler, and the large carving of a shoe that hung above it. How fascinating it all was!
Looking about at the buildings that loomed above the streets, he wondered why they were so tall. Perhaps because the Big People themselves were so very tall. He noticed that the houses had two or even three stories, and felt a bit apprehensive. What if they gave him a room so high up? Would he be able to sleep, perched up so high?
Soon they approached the inn. From the outside it looked a pleasant house. It had a front on the Road, and two wings running back on land partly cut out of the lower slopes of the hill, so that at the rear the second-floor windows were level with the ground. There was a wide arch leading to a courtyard between the two wings, and on the left under the arch there was a large doorway reached by a few broad steps. The door was open. Above the arch there was a lamp, and beneath it swung a large signboard: a fat white pony reared up on its hind legs. Over the door was painted in white letters: THE PRANCING PONY by BARTROLD BUTTERBUR.
Gandalf and Thorin went forward into the inn, followed by Bilbo and the other Dwarves. The place was bustling with quite a crowd for a weekday afternoon. A Man, shorter than many of the others about, but still quite tall to Bilbo’s eyes, with a sparse little fringe of hair, a pair of handsome mustaches, and a little round tummy that was quite hobbit-like in spite of the height of him, was busily directing all the people who were scurrying about like so many ants.
Gandalf cleared his throat. “Mr. Butterbur!”
The Man turned with a start. His broad face broke out into a pleasant smile. “Ah, Mr. Gandalf, is it? What can I do for you today?”
“We are travelling east, and would like to take rooms. There are fifteen of us: myself, thirteen Dwarves, and one hobbit. We‘ve ponies to stable as well.”
Old Butterbur’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Well now, Mr. Gandalf, you know we’ve always got a bed for you, no matter what! And it’s lucky that the rest of your party is Dwarves and a hobbit. For I’m that full up right now with my own kinfolk! Today my daughter Maddie is marrying Hal Appledore! If your friends was Big Folk, I couldn’t accommodate them. But I have plenty of room for Little Folk! Just give me a moment, I’ll have your ponies seen to!” The innkeeper raised his voice and gave a shout. “Nib! Ho, there Nib Sandheaver, you wooly pate! Come take these good folks’ ponies and see to them.”
A cheerful young hobbit with sandy hair and a red face came bustling up. “Yes, sir, Mr. Butterbur, sir!”
Thorin made a sign that Fili and Kili were to go with the hobbit lad and help see to the ponies. They nodded and followed Nib out.
The innkeeper turned to Thorin. “If you follow me, I will show you to the rooms. Mr. Gandalf, your room is at the top of that stair, you know the one.” He handed the Wizard a large silver key, and Gandalf went off without a word. Now Mr. Butterbur turned back to the Dwarves and Bilbo. “With so many, you may need to double up on the beds, though.” He led them up a wide passageway, past the kitchens on one side and the common room on the other. They turned right and went into one of the wings that was dug out into the hill. All the while, he was talking to them. “It’s been that busy here, what with the wedding and all, that I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. We have all Hal’s people, the Appledores from Archet here, and of course most of my wife’s people, from Staddle. But we are going to have a fine time of it, and you are all welcome to join in the celebration tonight in the common room. All the food and the ale is on the house tonight!” He took out a key and unlocked a door, lower than other doors they had passed along the way.
“Here you go, sirs, there’s two little bedrooms with four beds apiece, and a nice little parlor. I don’t know as how you’ll want to arrange your sleeping, but if you need any extra pillows or blanket, just let me know. I have to get back out there now, no telling what folk will get up to without me to tell them what to do! But you just make yourselves comfortable. If you need anything, ring the handbell…”
He led them into the rooms, and then turned and went off, still talking cheerfully, not seeming to notice that he no longer had an audience.
Bilbo looked about the cheery little room. There was a fireplace, with low comfortable chairs set in front of it, and a little round table. A large handbell stood upon the table, and Thorin picked it up and gave it a ring.
Soon, a jolly youth who bore a great resemblance to their host appeared. “Good afternoon, little Masters! I’m Bartson Butterbur, the innkeeper’s son.” He had brought candles and towels, and water, with which he filled the ewers in the bedrooms. “Is there aught else I can do for you?”
“No, laddie,” said Thorin, “I do think that is enough for now.”
They turned then, to the matter of beds, thinking it well to settle it now, rather than to wait until they were tired and sleepy at the end of the evening, when tempers might be short and people cross. Thorin, of course, because of his importance, was given a bed to himself. And Bombur was so fat that no one could possibly have shared a bed with him. The rest of them drew lots for the privilege, and Bilbo found himself sharing with Balin, in a bed just alongside one of the little round windows. Fili and Kili had not been there, but as they were brothers and used to sharing, it did not much matter. They soon came in to tell Thorin that the ponies had been seen to, and that all was well in the stable.
Then Thorin thought to send Dori and Nori out to market, to buy up some more supplies. He gave them a small pouch of coin. “Now, I tell you,” he said, “bargain shrewdly. Just because we are saving money tonight in the matter of food and drink does not mean that we have it to throw about.”
Now Bilbo was very inquisitive about the town, and so he offered to go along with Dori and Nori, he said to help them carry the packages, and so he did, but that was not his main reason. His real reason was to have a chance to look about and see the sights, for our Mr. Baggins was nothing if not curious.
Thorin had a great many instructions he wished to give Dori and Nori before they set out: what items they needed, and how they were to bargain. (“Mind you, don’t pay the first price that’s asked, for goodness’ sake! And make sure that you get good value for our coin!”) So Bilbo went out to stand upon the front steps of the inn and take a bit of air until the two Dwarves were ready to join him.
As Bilbo waited on the steps of the inn for Dori and Nori to emerge, he suddenly felt something soft bump him behind the legs. He gave a frightened squeak and turned to look.
“Well, bless my buttons!” he laughed, as he saw it was a large ginger cat, which had determined to rub itself against his legs. Now, Bilbo was fond of animals, so he stopped for a moment to stroke its soft back. The cat rubbed its head under his hand, and began to purr most pleasantly.
But just then, Bilbo heard a bark. Puss suddenly hissed, its fur standing out in all directions, and ran down the steps and shot across the courtyard.
A white terrier, with a black patch over one eye, and one black ear came trotting up, and instead of chasing after the cat, sat down and looked after it, with a knowing grin on its doggy face, looking so comical that Bilbo could not find it him to be cross at it for chasing away the cat.
Dori and Nori chose that moment to come out of the inn, grumbling to themselves about all of Thorin’s instructions. ( “Does he think we are children? It’s not like we haven’t bought provisions before!”)
“Well, come along, Mr. Baggins, if you’re coming!” said Nori curtly. A few days earlier, Bilbo would have been quite offended by this rude address, but he was very gradually coming to learn that the Dwarves used this gruff manner among themselves as well, and so he ignored the tone of voice and followed along obediently.
Bilbo trailed behind them, looking all about at the tall houses and shops. Some of the shopowners were Men, who had hobbits working for them; but there were also shops belonging to hobbits, who had Men working for them. It was a curious arrangement.
He followed the Dwarves to a bakery where they purchased a number of journeycakes. The good smells and the sight of the lovely cakes and biscuits and breads quite made the poor hobbit’s mouth water. But he had come away from Bag End without so much as a copper in his pocket. And though Gandalf had brought him pocket-handkerchiefs and pipe-weed, he’d not brought Bilbo any coin. The Dwarves were seeing to his travel expenses, but Bilbo had no doubt that did not include such treats as this. He sighed, for he should have been better prepared.
Dori and Nori also purchased dried beans and dried fruit and dried meat, and Bilbo prevailed upon them to purchase some dried mushrooms as well, which would go very nicely in soup or stew. In addition, they bought oats for the ponies, and any number of other useful provisions. The three of them were quite laden down by the time they finally turned their steps back to The Prancing Pony. They took the provisions to the stable, to stow among the gear they had left with the ponies. Poor Bilbo was quite glad to have a chance to put down the heavy bags he had been carrying.
He staggered back and tripped, nearly falling into a stall that held the inn’s milk cow, a spotted creature with one broken horn. She looked down at him with mild brown eyes, snuffed him gently, and uttered a plaintive “Moo!”
“Oh, botheration!” exclaimed Bilbo, rising and brushing the straw and hay off. He glared at the two Dwarves, who were obviously trying not to laugh at him.
They finally returned to the Dwarves’ rooms, where they discovered young Master Bartson was just delivering a lovely afternoon tea. Bilbo, who had quite worked up an appetite on the shopping expedition, was heartened to see scones and cakes and biscuits and little sandwiches, in addition to nice large pot of tea, as well as a good sized pitcher of ale. Gandalf had joined them there, and was seated on the floor, as the furniture in this room was sized for Little Folk and not for Big.
They had an excellent repast, and afterward enjoyed their pipes. Then they discussed their plans for the evening.
Gandalf and Thorin decided to remain there in the room, and discuss the journey, but Bilbo and the other Dwarves decided to join the jolly celebration in the common room of the inn. They could already hear the strains of music, for the wedding had taken place, and the party afterward had begun.
When they arrived there, they saw that the tables and chairs had been pushed back against the walls to clear a space for dancing. Bilbo looked with interest about the room. The furniture there was in several different sizes, to accommodate both Little Folk and Big; over the bar were shelves, with rows of gleaming pewter plates and dishes, mugs and tankards in two sizes, and a rack of silver spoons for the eating of stew.
Mr. Baggins found himself seated on a low bench, between Balin and Dwalin, and soon Gloin arrived bearing tankards of rich brown beer. Bilbo’s eyes grew quite round at the sight of them, for the Dwarf had brought not the smaller ones meant for the hands of Little Folk, but the larger ones used by the Big Folk.
“I must say,” said Gloin with a grin, handing round the drinks, “that this is so brown a beer as I have not seen in a very long time!”
The other Dwarves grinned, and the hobbit took a cautious sip. Oh my! he thought, this is indeed good beer.
They sat and listened to the music, provided by a tall and lanky fiddler who dipped and bobbed as he plied his bow. The music was lively, and it was most entertaining to watch the tall folk dancing. The bride, a plump and lively maiden clad in butter yellow, with flowers twined in her hair, was flushed with pleasure, as she danced with the groom, who spun her about alarmingly.
He had noticed that the beer in his tankard was almost gone, when Mr. Butterbur came by with a large pitcher. “Are you enjoying yourselves, Little Masters?” he asked, and he poured more beer for them. “It’s not every day a Man gets to see his only daughter wed!”
“It’s very nice, Mr. Butterbur,” said Balin, “and your daughter makes a lovely bride.” The other Dwarves, and Bilbo, nodded agreement.
“Well, it’s very kind of you to say so!” He moved on, offering more beer to the other guests. It was not the last time that evening that the pitcher would be offered round.
Now Mr. Baggins enjoyed his beer and his ale as much as the next hobbit, I daresay, but he really was not used to drinking in such large quantities. At one point, he was seen singing and dancing upon one of the tables, to the vast amusement of other guests there:
“Whistle or wassail about town,
The wedding guests all clapped and cried for more, and Bilbo was about to sing the song again, but soon the room began to spin alarmingly about him. He swayed and nearly fell from the table, and when he began the song again, he found he had forgot most of the words.
“I think,” said Dwalin, “that our burglar has had as much beer and ale as are good for him.”
“I think that you are right,” said Gloin. “What are we to do with him?”
Balin shook his head. “I do not know about you, but I think that I am going to take him and tuck him up in bed, before he hurts himself. He will have quite enough of a sore head in the morning.”
So Balin, with Dwalin’s help, got the hobbit down from the table, and one on either side of him, holding his elbows, escorted him down the passage to the rooms they had been given.
The parlor was wreathed in smoke, as Gandalf and Thorin sat talking. Gandalf looked up, as they entered the room, and raised his great, bushy eyebrows, as he asked “What have you done with my burglar?”
“Why nothing, Gandalf. He has simply made himself a bit too merry!”
Indeed, Bilbo did sound a bit merry, as he was still trying to sing, but he was all muddled as to the words, and kept having to start again.
The Dwarves took him into the little bedroom, and put him into the bed, not even trying to undress him, or put him into his nightshirt, or anything.
“Good night, Master Hobbit!” said Balin. “I hope that you will not feel too badly in the morning.”
“G’night, Blin-Balin, why would I beel fadly? I mean bad feely? I mean…”
Balin chuckled. “Shh, Mr. Baggins, go to sleep.” And he went out and left him there.
Bilbo lay there and looked out the little window that was right by the bed. He could see the Moon from there, round and full, and the face of the Man in the Moon grinned down at him, filling his vision as he dropped off into slumber.
When he fell asleep, he had a most strange and wondrous dream. He was in the common room of The Prancing Pony once more, listening to the fiddle, but instead of a Man, it was being played by a large ginger cat. The little white terrier was running about the room, not barking, but laughing. Through the room’s large window, not a proper round window, but a big square one such as the Big Folk used, he could see the spotted cow dancing about. As he watched the cow’s antics, a carriage pulled by four white horses came down from the sky, to land beside the cow. Out got a Man, tall and lanky like the fiddler--but instead of the fiddler’s face, he wore the Moon for a head.
Bilbo, in the way of dreams, knew that this was the Man in the Moon. The Man in the Moon entered, and was served up with a gigantic tankard of the brown beer, and began to tap his foot and bob to the music. Bilbo noticed then that the dishes and spoons upon the shelf had begun to also dance about.
All became a merry party, as the cat played its fiddle, and the dog laughed; but the Man in the Moon was soon tipsy, and all the wedding guests had to help him outside, so that he could go back into the sky.
The music was so lively that the cow leapt over the carriage, as the horses took off with their Master snoozing inside, just as the Sun came up.
It was the bright Sun, pouring her rays into the window that wakened Bilbo, who found the light far too bright. Oh, my poor head! he thought. For it seemed to feel as though he had a hundred Dwarves in his poor skull, all pounding away with hammers. He had a nasty taste in his mouth, and was unpleasantly surprised to discover that he had slept in his clothes.
Confusticate and bebother these Dwarves and their adventures! Not for the last time, he wished he were home in his cosy hole, with a cup of willow-bark tea and some nice dry toast. The Dwarves had all they could do that morning to rouse him from his bed, and he was cross as could be the whole day long.
He could not much remember the party the night before, and was most embarrassed to learn he had danced upon a table--not something for a respectable hobbit to do! But he never forgot his most peculiar dream, and many years later, when he had returned from Adventuring, he cast it into rhyme, and made a song of it, which was much enjoyed by young cousins of his acquaintance.
* Old nursery rhyme, found at http://www.collingsm.freeserve.co.uk/7/12.htm
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