The Magnificent Speaks

by Avondster


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 rain!"
"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 the gate.
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 nonetheless.

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 the Pony.

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 indeed.
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 out tonight!"
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 same.

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 feel fouler."
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 was right.
"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."