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Section XLI-Unexpected Revelations

I find the crusty old gate keeper's questions unsettling. I must explain myself and do so without actually saying anything. I hear him warn us of strange folk abroad as I step through the gate he is guarding -- if only he knew, but then perhaps it is best he does not.

It's so late the outer streets of the town are all but deserted, but as we enter the village proper, we find ourselves faced with big people, nothing at all like Gandalf. I have heard tales of such. There are so many. We must dodge and sidestep to avoid being toppled. Even though we endeavor to stay out of the way, still we are warned by passersby to watch ourselves. I frantically search for the inn Gandalf told me of -- what was it again? -- oh! yes, the Prancing Pony. I barely contain my sigh of relief when the sign is espied, squeaking as it swings in the wind.

What a relief to enter the place at last. Pushing back my hood, I try to shake off a bit of the rain just inside the door, followed by Pippin, Merry, and Sam. The counter I face is taller than I am, behind which the barkeep waits on his customers. Clearly a good height for big folk, but I cannot see over the edge. I try to attract the attention of the proprietor, not an easy thing to do from where I stand. Finally, a large man peers over the bar and greets us warmly, offering accommodations that will suit our size. A lovely thought, but first things first. Where is Gandalf?

The barkeep, owner, what was his name again? Butterbur? Yes, Butterbur, seems a proper name for an innkeeper. But that's neither here nor there. He seems to turn over in his mind the name I gave him for myself, Mr. Underhill per Gandalf's instructions. I find it a bit disconcerting; it is almost as though he does not believe me. Why should he? I don't believe it myself. I really am not up to this kind of adventure. Anything to redirect his thoughts from my name.

Fortunately, he is easily distracted with my more pressing request, that he inform Gandalf the Grey of our arrival. My breath catches when the man doesn't seem to recognize the wizard's name. Has he not yet arrived? What a relief when the owner describes my dear friend. So, he is here. My heart quails when the keep shakes his head saying he's not seen Gandalf in six months. Turning to my companions, Sam asks the question we all share -- "What do we do now?"

There is nothing for it but to wait. Gandalf had not informed me of what to do if he were not at the inn on my arrival. Where was I to go from here? I could just go on to Rivendell. I know of no other alternative, for returning to the Shire now is unthinkable. Perhaps he is only delayed. I must think.

We find ourselves in the common room with a bit of bread and cheese and ale. Sam is perhaps as concerned as I am. Merry and Pippin on the other hand are far less worried, but then, they do not know the true nature of the journey. What was I thinking bringing them along? Pippin, at least, really is too young, but then Merry isn't that much older. And certainly, one can hardly be separated from the other. There really was nothing for it but to bring both. They got me to Bree, as they determined they would. Perhaps I should send them both back to the Shire now. Surely, it would be safer.

Sam points out a man in the corner that he has noticed watching me. How am I hunted everywhere I turn? Does everyone know I have the thing? No, how could they? Then why is the man watching me? As Butterbur passes by, I'm able to catch his attention and inquire after the stranger. From Butterbur's reply, I take it that he at least does not trust this -- Strider, he called him, a Ranger, whatever that is.

Bone weary, I find myself mulling over this new information. I am scarcely aware that I am turning the Ring in my fingers. Oh, for some rest. I vaguely hear my name... Underhill? No, my real name, Baggins... Baggins?? Pippin!! Yet I cannot shout at him, so I must make my way across a floor crowded with big people, weaving my way in and out until I can grasp my cousin's arm, trying to silence him. It's too late. I've misstepped somehow and find myself falling; the Ring flips out of my grasp into the air. I reach to catch it, and it lands neatly on my finger, as though it wanted to be there. I know the consequences. What have I done?!