Old Butterbur’s right glad of the King, and so he should be, for now the Greenway’s safe to travel again the Prancing Pony’s got business such as it never had before in all my years, and we Hobbits live long. And a good thing too, I say: for though there’s certainly ruffians on the road, enough honest folk are a-travelin’ too that we’ve no need to let in any o’ them disreputable types, no sir. These days we’ve coin enough without ‘em. And Barliman agrees with me, he does.
Why just this afternoon he says to me, “Nob,” he says, “stand by the door, will you? And mind you don’t let no rough folks in.” So I did as I was bid, never mind how I was to do it! I ask you, how was I, a hobbit, to keep out Men without so much as a stick to defend myself – and they twice my height or more, I shouldn’t wonder, and with swords and all! But ‘twould be more’n my job’s worth to say so to old Barliman, so I went to watch the door.
Not that I couldn’t see the purpose of it, mind. The King’s to be in Archet in but three days’ time, and folk are comin’ from all over to see him, from up and down the Greenway and many from the Shire, and all passin’ through Bree. Some of ‘em have petitions, but I reckon most of ‘em just want to see, just so they could say they’d been there.
Marvelous, isn’t it? A King at last? After all those years sayin’ “when the King comes back,” and never really believin’ any of it, well, ‘tis hard for me to get my head around. Seems so high up, all of it, above Bree and the Pony and all of us everyday sort.
Well, high up or no, the Pony was fuller than it had been in years. Many travelers were stayin’ here, and many more o’ the Bree-folk were stoppin’ in that night for a pint o’ beer and a few hours o’ gossip. Fine folk, those travelers, many of ‘em: many o’ the finest names in the Shire, and all the most upstandin’ merchants o’ Bree there too, drinkin’ pints o’ good Pony ale.
The evenin’ was just settlin’ into night, and I’d not yet seen hide nor hair of any sort of ruffian, when another familiar face showed at the door.
“Oh, clear off,” I told him. He just smiled.
“Hello to you too, Nob.” I scowled, fierce-faced as a hobbit can be.
“You heard me, you old stick-at-naught,” says I. “We don’t need none o’ your rascally type ‘round here.” I glared at him, wishing I had a cudgel or somethin’ in case he needed persuadin’.
“No room, anyhow,” I added. “Clean full up, what with all them folk comin’ through on the way to see the King.” I stood in the doorway, looking as intimidatin’ as I could. I kept my eye on the sword-hilt peekin’ out from under his cloak, but he made no move to grasp it.
“I just want a place to sit out of the cold,” says he, “and a pint of the good old Pony brew I remember so well. I won’t be staying the night – and I do have coin to pay, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Come to think of it, he seemed as if he did. His clothes, though far from flashy, were nicer than those he wore when I saw him last, and his face and hands clean as a whistle. Why, I’d bet there wasn’t even no dirt under his nails – and wasn’t that a far cry from when he came regular, a few years back. Still, clothes don’t make the hobbit, nor the Man, and I wasn’t fooled. He was still the same old rascal through and through.
“You won’t be comin’ in at all,” says I. “Why, now the good King Elessar’s cleared the roads, we’ve travelers enough – respectable travelers – so’s we don’t need take no coin from ruffians like you.”
I was right about him: he was as rascally as he’d always been. Why, he laughed when I spoke the King’s name, and if that ain’t just the sign of an ill-mannered fellow then I’m an elf!
“Now look here, Nob,” he began, but I let him get no further.
“Clear off, Longshanks,” I told him again, “afore I set the King’s men on you. Comin’ round here in your nice new clothes – stolen, I shouldn’t wonder! – and thinkin’ it’d make me think you respectable! Why, a clean face and a new cloak can’t change a man’s nature! A dirty face and grimy clothes wouldn’t make of a noble man a rascal such as yourself, nor can a good washing make an old tramp like you anything but! You can always tell, that’s what I say. You can always tell.”
Well, that last showed old Strider what’s what.
“No pity, then, for a hungry man on a chilly night?” he asked, but I gave him no reply, and after a moment’s silence he let out a sigh.
“I had hoped, with the dark days ending – but no,” says Strider. “If that’s the way the wind’s blowing, then I’d best be off. I can see my coin’s no good at the Pony anymore.” He turned to go, with a queer sort of sad smile on his lips. Odd, that, but then them Rangers always were.
Well, it wasn’t more than a few minutes after Strider had gone that old Butterbur came huffing and puffing out of the common room.
“Any trouble, Nob?” he asked.
“No sir,” says I, “no trouble. Why, old Strider came to the door but I told him, clear off, and he did, sure enough. No need for that sort ‘round here no more!”
Barliman’s fat red face went white.
“Strider?” he asked. “Strider the Ranger, and you’re sure?”
“Sure as my name, sir,” I answered proudly. Why, surely ‘twasn’t nothing, tellin’ off one o’ the Big Folk like that, and him with his sword and all!
“Nob, you addle-pated –“ Barliman broke off and rushed to the door, peerin’ this way and that as if the Ranger might still be standin’ in front of the Pony, but ‘twas no use. He was gone, and good riddance, I say!
Barliman had an odd look in his eye, but he sent me back to the common room, told me to help with the clearin’-up. I’ll try and catch him for a moment later tonight, to talk about my takin’ a day or two off.
Truth be told, what with all the Bree-folk talkin’ about nothin’ but, I’ve a fancy to go up to Archet and see the King myself. A real spectacle, I shouldn’t wonder – like nothin’ we’ve ever seen in Bree before!