Lore Note: As it has been a while since I released a LOTRO FanFiction episode, I just wanted to remind you that this chapter follows Bree Worryingly Subdued which takes place two days after the attack of the Nazgûl on the Prancing Pony.
Eerie Behind, Eerie Ahead
Making their way down what should have been a busy street, the small fellowship approached the Prancing Pony in a silence only broken by the occasional wince from Faeladar.
“Well,” Hanawen finally piped up, “I thought we were leaving the ghostly, haunted feelings behind us.”
“Well, we haven’t been attacked by Barghests or Wights, yet.”
Against the hushed atmosphere of Bree, even the creaking of the sign hanging over the archway of the Prancing Pony seemed loud and ominous.
“Well, we won’t get salves or food standing out on the Road like this. We’ve already figured people are locked away for a purpose,” he urged, “let’s not leave ourselves exposed, eh?”
Herynglas, who had maintained her silence thus far, nodded.
“I’m normally an outdoors person but, for once, I agree we should get inside.”
“Well, don’t all move at once!” she grumbled, rolling her eyes, “I guess I will have to lead my Captain, eh Da?”
And with that, she strode forward, knocked on the door, and opened it. Faeladar reached for Reggie and Caethir, who helped him up the stone steps and into the Pony.
Not So Much To Do
The warm air of the inn welcomed the group as the door shut quietly behind them. Caethir looked around the main eating and drinking area and frowned. While the log fire burned as brightly as he had seen in the past, the common-room was nearly as bereft of folk as Bree-town had been.
The Captain nodded.
“Something highly unusual has occurred here if even the dwarves at the bar sombre and whispering,” he murmured in reply, nodding in their direction.
“M’lord, the healer and salve trader is still here?” Reggie prompted his Captain.
“I can take a hint,” he grumbled, “I will go see this vendor. Caethir, you go speak to Butterbur, Reggie can support me alone for a short while.”
The innkeeper glanced up, his eyes wide. Then, realising they were likely customers, he forced himself to stand.
“Oh, I am sorry, friends, I am sorry, I didn’t see you all come in. More Outsiders, it’s gettin’ out of hand if you ask me, begging your pardon. And there I was sittin’ down an’ thinkin’ and you all jus’ wanted some service or other. You see, there’s not much business these days what with what’s been ‘appenin’ and all. Ah, but there I go again, an’ I’ve not even asked what you want,” Butterbur said, mopping his brow.
Caethir, with a look of concern, pushed some coins towards the innkeeper.
Barliman glanced up and met Caethir’s searching gaze.
“Normally I let folk pay in the morning before they leave, you know, but don’t think me ungrateful,” Butterbur said, concealing the pouch in a pocket, “Well, well, I don’t have as much food ‘ere as I normally would on account of there being not so much to do. One thing drives out another, you know? But I can see what I can rustle up, and as for rooms, well, you can take your pick, mostly, though there are a few, how do I say – unusual customers – who are occupying, I mean, sleeping in some of ’em, an’ drinkin’ most of me best ale and not always payin’ their due, but ol’ Barliman’ll try to get you all sorted. Oh dear, I do go on, don’t I? Even when there’s not so much to do.”
Herynglas looked from Butterbur to Caethir and back again, unsure what to make of the innkeeper’s harried look. Hanawen reached out a hand to Barliman’s.
“Please, be at peace, we are friends. Bring us some hot tea or coffee first, then we can move to the food. Do you need a hand?” she asked, smiling.
Helping the Harried
“To be so much to do,” Hanawen gently interrupted, “it’s okay, let’s just work together, instead of expecting you to do everything. We are five and you are only one. Is that alright with you, Caethir?” she asked, glancing sideways at him.
“You hardly need my permission to be helpful. Just don’t let him deduct anything from the bill.” he said, with a wry, knowing smile.
Hanawen nodded in agreement.
“Well, Nob should be around here somewhere, where are you Nob? Oh, he don’t start ’til later, assuming he wants to come in now, what with all that’s happened. But I won’t say ‘no’ even though I’m not as rushed as I’m used to, oh but I already said yes to help,” Barliman rambled, sadly.
Hanawen followed Butterbur to the kitchens, while Herynglas followed her son to an empty table, where they both sat, deep in thought.
One Ranger Out, One Ranger In
“Thank the Valar, the trader had the salves and bandages we needed. But I did not like the stories I was just told about recent goings-on here. She liked it even less when she thought you might be related to someone they call ‘Strider’,” he sighed, shaking his head, as Reggie set to removing the old, infection-soaked bandages and applying the new ointments and clean dressings.
“Who’s Strider?” Herynglas asked, frowning.
Faeladar rubbed his forehead as if thinking.
“I’ve never met him, but folks do talk about him. People like to talk. But he is apparently also a Ranger, as the Bree-landers are fond of calling us. If it’s true, I am dismayed never to have crossed paths with him, we are few enough as it is. Typical locals, they just gave him a name. There’s no way Strider is a real name.” he sighed.
Strange Tales from Bree
“So he’s safe, if he is who we think. What did you manage to glean from the trader, while we were talking to Butterbur?” Herynglas asked.
“Well, she sure rattled a lot of stuff off in the few short minutes of our transaction, but it included a vanishing halfling, ruffians basically trying to take over the town, beds torn to shreds apparently, maybe by some ‘black riders’ some folks have seen, and a strange group of folk arriving then going way with an overpriced pony,” Faeladar reported, taking pauses to gasp in pain as the salves worked into his injury, “I think that roughly covers it, aside from talk of queer folk visiting Bill Ferny.”
Caethir finally looked up, keeping his thoughts about the ‘black riders’ to himself.
“When you said ‘trying to take over the town’, do you really mean that literally?” he asked.
“That would explain the innkeeper’s nervous temperament, and people not venturing outside. Even if that bit is not true, I am still inclined to believe the stories the lady told you.”
Out of the Cookpot
“Most of these can’t have milk in them,” Hanawen explained, “Supply problem. But we’re grateful for it nonetheless.”
“You’re too kind, miss, too kind indeed. Now, I must do what I can to get some food together for you before I sit down an’ start thinkin’ again,” Butterbur started to say.
“No,” Hanawen said firmly, taking a grateful gulp of coffee, “we purchased six from you. We are only five. If there’s currently ‘not so much to do’, sit with us and enjoy one. Even if you want to just think and not speak, then do that with us.”
Visibly shaking, the innkeeper nodded and seemed to just collapse on the bench next to Caethir, cradling a stein as though his life depended on it. Hanawen sat opposite Caethir and next to her father.
“Out of the cook-pot and into the fire.” she murmured, “what is going on?”
All my content will always be freely available. However, if you'd like to support myself and my family, please consider buying us a virtual coffee. Either way, thank you for visiting, I appreciate it!