The Magnificent Speaks
A sudden clap of thunder made everyone in the room, including the
adults, jump in their seats. A flash of lightning illuminated the
startled faces of the Hobbits. Pippin chuckled. "Why, it looks like
"Well, what d'you expect, after such a warm and humid day?" said Rosie,
who closed the curtains and picked up her sobbing grandson, who had
been unpleasantly awakened by the sound, to take him to bed.
Merry listened to the sound of raindrops ticking against the round
windows. "It seems the weather is adjusting to my story," he grinned.
"The journey from the Barrow-downs to Bree is mostly marked in my
memory by the rain."
The children around his chair recollected themselves as the story took
another form. Almost all of them had been to Bree at least once in
their lives, so this time they would know what it was all about. It
made the story all the more vivid for them.
"It was pouring down that night," Merry remembered, "not a
thunderstorm, like now, but more like a waterfall coming from the sky.
The paths seemed like grimy little rivers, and many a time we had to
stop because one of the ponies had its hoof stuck in the mud. We also
stopped often to listen for hoofbeats, or any other sound that might
indicate if the Black Riders were following us. We tried to travel as
swift and silent as we could, and every now and then Frodo would be
going ahead to see if everything was still safe.
At long last, we could see some immensely high walls, and a huge wooden
door that was presumably the city gate. Frodo looked left and right
once more from under his hood, muttered "come on", and led his pony to
There was a narrow door in the gate, on which Frodo knocked. A looking
hole in the door slid open and the face of an old man appeared. It
closed again and a hole somewhat lower opened.
"What do you want?" he asked in a not very friendly manner.
"We are heading for the Prancing Pony," Frodo answered as Tom Bombadil had instructed him earlier.
The whole door now opened and Frodo recoiled slightly as the man
stepped forward, holding up a lantern and examining us and the ponies.
I had never seen any other of the Big Folk than Gandalf, and to him I
was so used that he did not seem so big anymore. But this man, with his
long cloak and unfriendly face, seemed larger somehow, though I'm quite
sure he was not.
"Hobbits! Four Hobbits!" he exclaimed, although he did not seem very
surprised, but more suspicious. "And what's more, out of the Shire, by
their talk," he continued, eying us now with a curiosity that made us
all uneasy. "What business brings you to Bree?"
"We wish to stay at the Inn," said Frodo, not entirely able to keep the
alarmed tone out of his voice. "Our business is our own."
"Your business is your own, no doubt," said the gatekeeper, "but it's my business to ask questions after nightfall."
I could see Frodo getting more uncomfortable by the minute, since he
could not give the man further information without revealing certain
details (and I could clearly see why he wouldn't want that), or being
asked for his name. I stepped forward to help him out. "We are Hobbits
from Buckland, and we have a fancy to travel and to stay at the Inn
here. I am Mr. Brandybuck. Is that enough for you? The Bree-folk used
to be fair-spoken to travellers, or so I had heard."
Whether he recognised my name or was just taken aback by my words, I
could not say. My father had told me that the name of Brandybuck was
well known and respected by the Bree-landers, or at least in his day it
was. But it seemed to be enough for the man.
"All right young sir, old Harry meant no offence," he said quickly
while letting us pass. "But there's talk of strange folk abroad. Can't
be too careful." A true word, indeed.
The sight of Bree was pretty miserable in the pouring rain, but it
might be a pleasant place to be in the daytime with the sun shining.
Right now, however, there was something eerie about the whole place.
The only people around on the streets where tramps, scoundrels and
drunkards, who had no decent home waiting for them. They glared at us
and they were all so much bigger than we were! Quite intimidating.
I had never been to Bree before, and neither had Frodo, but growing up
in Buckland had taught us both a great deal about the town and its
people. We found our way fairly easily and without many delays, except
that Frodo had to pull Pippin back by his cloak to prevent him from
being run over by a passing waggon.
The Prancing Pony was easy enough to see and to hear. Light streamed
out of every window and we heard many a song coming from in there.
Frodo pushed the door open and we entered a large, warm, smoky room
full of big Men. They were all drinking and laughing and having a good
time. We all took off our hoods and shook our wet hair, and Pippin
grinned at me as the smell of good ale came to our noses.
The bar was so high that Frodo could only peer over it if he stood on
tiptoe. "Excuse me?" he said timidly. Almost immediately, a man with a
friendly round face looked down on us.
"Good evening, little masters," he said. "What can I do for you?"
The man, Barliman Butterbur, turned out to be as friendly as he looked,
though he was a constant waterfall of words, half of which he seemed to
forget before they were halfway to his mouth. He brought us to a
private room where we could have supper.
His servant, Nob, came to bring us some drinks, and I asked him to
bring me some in a Man-sized pint. I never had one of those, and was
eager to try.
When the mugs were put in front of us, Pippin looked at mine (which was
the size of a small bucket), and then back to his own Hobbit-sized one.
"What's that?" he asked in awe.
"This, my friend, is a pint," I replied while trying to pick it up.
"It comes in pints?"
I could not reply since my head was already half inside the mug, but I
thought the answer was plain anyway and just made an affirmative noise.
"I'm getting one!" Pippin said enthousiastically, and went over to Nob.
After an exellent supper, Frodo, Sam and a rather cheerful Pippin
decided to join the company inside for a little while. I had seen
enough of the crowded room and decided to stay where it was quiet. My
friends left and I sat down by the fire, enjoying a smoke.
They seemed to be enjoying themselves in there, for they took longer
than I had expected. I decided to go out for some fresh air.
It had stopped raining when I stepped out into the cool night air. The
town did not look very unfriendly now. I pulled my cloak around me and
decided to first go visit my ponies and see how they were doing.
The animals were well taken care of and were peacefully enjoying the
food and warmth of the rather crowded stable. After patting and
stroking each of them, I went back out for a stroll. Many members of my
family had told stories about Bree and I was planning to take a good
look around while I was there. I visited all the places I had heard of
in the stories from Brandy Hall, and wandered the narrow streets with
their tall houses. Big folk build quite extraordinary houses, and
though I wouldn't dream of living in them, they were very funny to look
At last I came back to the Pony, and hearing the noise coming from
inside, I decided to stay out a little longer and look at the stars,
which were carefully appearing from behind the shifting rainclouds, one
by one. I amused myself for a while trying to think of all the
appropriate names of the stars that Frodo had taught me one night.
Looking for the star that was named Earendil by the Elves, I suddenly
felt an icy wind, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
Another wave of cold came over me, and for a moment I thought myself
back in the Barrow in the dark, with cold dead hands about to grab me.
I turned around, and saw only shadows in the dark corners of the
streets. But when I looked closer, I discovered one that was darker and
deeper than all the others. As I looked at it, it started moving, away
from me. I remembered Frodo and the others, and that I had to tell them
the Riders were close. But when I started walking, I realised I was
going the other way, following the fell shadow. I lost sight of it
almost immediately, but figured it could only have taken one way: the
Road. So I followed its direction all the way to the last house of Bree.
There I looked around, the spell that seemed to have taken hold of me
in front of the Pony was broken, and I was just wondering what exactly
I was doing there, when I heard voices very closeby. I dropped flat to
the ground in a narrow space between the wall and the hedge. The plants
were growing so thickly that I could not see who was talking, or even
make out what exactly they were saying. One voice seemed to be a normal
one, but the other… it was like no other voice I had ever heard. It was
a whispering sort of hiss, like the person who was speaking had almost
forgotten what it was like to use his voice. I heard it breathing with
a rattling sound, and a new wave of cold flushed over me. I had to get
out of here. But as I tried to get up, I was trembling so badly that my
legs were too weak to support my weight, and I fell over with a rush of
leaves. The voices both stopped talking at once, and I heard moving
behind the bushes. This time I succeeded in getting up, and I tried to
make a run for it. But those who were following me were much taller and
stronger. They were gaining on me.
I decided to stand and fight: to die bravely. I drew my sword and
turned, facing an enormous black shadow. I looked up to look into the
eyes of my opponent… and saw nothing but darkness. There was a gaping
blackness where his face was supposed to be. The darkness I saw was so
intense, I felt like I was pulled into it. I was drowning in the
darkest, deepest and coldest water imaginable, with no way to escape."
A strained silence hung in the warm atmosphere of the room, which
almost seemed to grow colder. Merry felt Pippin shiver beside him, and
the youngsters around him were all gazing at him in awe. Even Athelas's
eyes had stopped gleaming with exitement, and she looked at her father
as if she saw him anew. She was completely caught up in the story, like
all the others.
The silence was broken by the light voice of Robin Gardner, who sat
staring at Merry open-mouthed, eyes as round as saucers. "Were you
dead, Uncle Merry?"
Pippin gave a small, croaky chuckle, and Bilbo poked Robin in the ribs.
"Of course not, you ninnyhammer, how could he be sitting here then?"
Everyone laughed, except for Merry. He looked thoughtfully at Robin's
embarrassed face without seeing it. "It certainly did feel like that,"
he said quietly, and they stopped laughing.
Merry shook his head and sat up straight.
"I don't know how long I lay there, but suddenly I was shook gently. I
opened my eyes and looked into a pair of blue eyes. I remembered what I
wanted to do, I had to warn him, and I started speaking; then I
realised that the eyes I was staring into were too small and pale to
belong to the person I needed. It took me a moment to realise that it
was not Frodo, but Nob, the servant of Butterbur, who was sitting on
his knees on the pavement and eyed me curiously. I wasted no more words
and started running, and I didn't stop until I had reached our room in
My sides were aching and I was completely out of breath when I closed
the door behind me. All those present in the room were looking at me in
surprise and shock. As soon as I had gathered enough breath I panted to
Frodo: "Frodo, I have seen them! Black Riders!"
Frodo's eyes widened in fear. "Black Riders? Where?"
"Here, in the village!" I started telling the story to him.
"Which way did it go?" a voice from the shadows suddenly asked sharply.
I started and turned to see a tall, dark-haired Man standing in the
corner. He looked quite roguish, and I looked back at Frodo
questioningly. Frodo seemed to trust the Man, though, and I continued
my story. At the end of it, my friends all looked pale and fearful.
But Strider, as Frodo had introduced him, already started to make
plans. Soon, I was informed of our situation, and we had moved to a
room that was probably his. Our own beds in the Hobbit-sized room were
now occupied by some pillows, stuffed under the blankets.
The four of us fitted only just in the Big Folk-bed, and Sam, Pippin
and I sank into peaceful sleep quite soon. I don't remember seeing
Frodo or Strider close their eyes, though.
A horrible, high-pitched wail tore the night in two. I felt both Sam
and Pippin stir beside me, but I knew the sound was in my nightmares; I
had heard it there before.
The terrible voice wailed again and I sat up. Pippin and Sam were both
awake and stared around the dark with bewildered faces. Frodo sat at
the end of the bed and looked at the window in horror; he was still
fully dressed and seemed not to have slept at all. Strider was sitting
motionless by the window, and only the gleam of his eye distinguished
him from a statue.
A cacaphony of wails and neighing came from under the window, like some
horrible parody of a choir. Frodo looked out of the window once more,
then at Strider.
"What are they?" he whispered.
Strider averted his eyes from the display downstairs and looked at
Frodo sadly. "They were once Men. Great Kings of Men. Then Sauron the
Deceiver gave to them nine Rings of Power. Blinded by their greed, they
took them without question…"
He told us the story of the Nazgul, Ringwraiths, which was both sad and
terrible. One by one, we fell asleep uneasily, waking up at small
sounds, and every time we did, we could see him sitting by the window,
his eyes ever on the street below.
The next morning came with an unpleasant foreboding feeling in my
stomach. And it seemed to be truth; when we entered our room
downstairs, it was completely wrecked. There were feathers everywhere,
two of the beds were thrown over and the blankets, sheets and pillows
were completely torn apart. I cast a glance at them and shuddered to
think that it could have been us. Those Ringwraiths were terrible
Another unpleasant surprise came when Butterbur, on the verge of tears,
came to us at breakfast and told us the ponies had been stolen. I was
very grieved; they had been my ponies and I had a great affection for
them all. I thought about the ragged pillows and held back tears as I
thought about what might have happened to my lovely beasts.
We were truly in a fix now, with no transportation for either us or our
luggage. Butterbur insisted on compensating me for the theft, but even
with the money he offered me, we would not get any further; there was
not a single horse or pony in the village that we could buy, save one,
and that was offered to us by the same rogue to whom the house belonged
where I had seen the Black Rider the previous night. Frodo did not
trust this whole affair and neither did I, but it was the only chance
we had of continuing our journey. Butterbur bought the poor animal for
us and compensated me for the loss of my own, even though I told him it
was not needed.
Sam took the pony in his care, we stowed as much on it as we dared to, and set off, followed by many curious eyes.
When we came past the place where I had had my encounter with the
Ringwraith the other night, a dodgy-looking character was leaning over
the hedge with a malicious grin. Ignoring us at first, Ferny, as he was
called, began a rather rude talk to Strider. Strider did not respond to
this the way he would have liked, appearantly, so he turned to us. "I
suppose you know who you've taken up with? That's Stick-at-naught
Strider, that is. Though I've heard other names not so pretty. Watch
I looked nervously to the others at these words. Pippin looked as
worried as I felt. Frodo, however, did not show anything in his face
but mild dislike of the man, Strider ignored him completely or hadn't
heard, and Sam gave Ferny an extremely dirty look.
Ferny seemed to have noticed, as his insults now turned on Sam. Then,
Sam's hand moved so fast none of us had seen the apple he threw before
Ferny was knocked over and out of our sight.
"Good one, Sam!" laughed Pippin, and I laughed along, but not
wholeheartedly. Ferny's words had planted doubt and mistrust in my mind
about the reliability of this Strider, and I could tell Sam felt the
We walked all day, quite a heavy task for us as we needed four steps
where Strider did one, and he did not slow his pace a bit to adjust to
our speed of walking. At times he'd take over the pony's bridle from
Sam when the ground was difficult. Sometimes he'd stand still to
examine the ground, sniff the air or listen to the sounds of what I
thought was plain bird-song. As soon as I was able to, I caught up with
Frodo to speak with him. "How do we know if this Strider is a friend of
Gandalf?" I whispered.
Frodo looked at me and then at the back of the tall Man. "I think," he
replied thoughtfully, "a servant of the Enemy would look fairer and
I shifted the pack on my shoulders a little and mumbled: "he's foul enough."
"'All that is gold does not glitter'," I heard a small voice whisper
behind me almost inaudible, and I knew almost certain it was Pippin who
must have spoken.
Frodo gave no sign of having heard it, too. He looked at Strider's back
again. "We have no choice but to trust him." I sighed deeply; I knew he
"But where is he leading us?" mumbled Sam.
"Rivendell, Master Gamgee!" called Strider from ahead. I stopped dead
in my tracks and turned pink. Sam was speaking as softly as any of us,
so there was no doubt Strider must have heard my words as well. I tried
to catch his eye but could not.
Despite of the ever lurking danger, I could still appreciate the beauty
and serenity of our surroundings. I could see Sam glance at various
plants with a longing look, and I must admit I was eager to examine
some of those myself. But Strider did not give us much time to drink in
the environment, and by the time he finally let us rest, it was already
dark and I fell asleep, exhausted."