"Tell about the first time you went to Bree, Dad. The time you went with Frodo."
Pippin settled back with his pipe, and patted the seat beside him, relieved that Fam had requested a story that was easier to tell than some. Faramir climbed into the big, soft chair beside his dad.
"It was after nightfall, when we arrived at Bree and raining heavily, so we had our cloaks on, but we were getting very wet all the same. My hood kept slipping back, and I found it hard to see through the rain in my face. The town gate was closed by the time we got there; we had to knock quite loud to raise the gatekeeper. He was a rough looking character and peered over the fence at us suspiciously, like he was expecting something he didn't want to see. Later we heard the black riders, or black men, as the Bree folk called them, had already been there looking for 'Baggins' Lucky we didn't know that at the time or we would have been scared silly after escaping from them earlier.
"He made us stand out there in the wet while he asked silly questions. 'Hobbits!' he said. 'Four hobbits!'
"'Well, he can count, anyway,' I muttered to Merry, who just told me to be quiet. 'Pippin!' he said in that way he has of putting exactly what he means into that one word!
"That gatekeeper kept us there waiting while he worked out whether it was safe to let us in. I ask you - do hobbits look like evil men or black riders?" Pippin snorted and took another pull on his pipe.
"Finally Frodo told him to mind his own business, so he opened the gate for us, rather grudgingly I might add. That was the first time I had been to Bree, where both hobbits and men live. So you can understand that it was quite different looking than our little towns here in the Shire. We made our way past a number of pens that held sheep and pigs and found ourselves going along a narrow street that was lined with tall houses, two and three stories high, the likes of which we had never seen before. You should have seen Sam's face! He stared up at the tops of the houses and at the tall men who were on the road as if it was all too much for him. 'It makes me queasy just thinkin' of lookin' out a second storey window,' I heard him say to himself.
"The road was all muddy and we had to keep dodging the men and the carts that were heading home, I suppose, at that time of day. I thought the men were rough looking and crude - there was even one surly looking bloke that belched right in my face as we walked by. It wasn't long, though, before we saw the sign of the Prancing Pony, much to Frodo's relief I am sure. He didn't seem himself, dear Frodo. In fact, after the black riders chasing him, he didn't ever quite seem himself again." Pippin lifted his toes toward the fire crackling in the hearth and seemed to lose himself in thought. Faramir nudged his side with his elbow.
"Where was I? The Prancing Pony? It was a merry hostelry. Frodo opened the door and we were hit right away with the sounds of laughter and singing and the smell of good Shire leaf and a whiff of good ale. The landlord was a jolly round fellow, Barliman Butterbur, who bustled around busily looking after everyone at once, it seemed. When he spotted Frodo, 'Good evening, little master,' he said.
"That's when things started to go awry, I'm afraid. Because what we were there for, it turned out, was to meet Gandalf, and Gandalf was nowhere to be found. That rascal Butterbur didn't even seem to remember who he was, at first. Gandalf had left a letter for Frodo that he didn't think of until after the ring incident, when it was too late.
"Butterbur offered us a parlour to sit in, but Frodo wanted to sit with the company in the main room, hoping that Gandalf would arrive. 'He'll get here,' he kept reassuring us, though he didn't sound any too sure of that himself. I have to admit that I was more interested in food and drink than in finding Gandalf. We were served a fine feast of soup, bread and cheese and a marvelous blackberry tart. When you've been without regular hot meals for a while, you appreciate that kind of fare! And then I discovered that men serve ale in pints! Pints! 'I'm getting one of those,' I said.
So I headed off to the bar, never thinking what I might be starting. There were a few hobbits talking to the barman, and naturally they were friendly and interested in finding out about us and where we fitted into the scheme of things. I told them I was a Took and Merry a Brandybuck, and they seemed interested to see if we were related at all. Then some one asked if I knew any Bagginses. Now I look back on it, it must have been one of the rough looking men that asked that. But I forget all about Frodo being an Underhill instead of a Baggins, and out it popped!" Pippin stopped and shook his head at the memory. "I was so young," he sighed. "So young."
"'Sure I know a Baggins,' says I, and as if that wasn't bad enough, I pointed out Frodo and started telling them all about how we are connected." Pippin put his hands on his head and shook it in comical disbelief. "The next thing I know, Frodo has run across the room and grabbed my shoulder yelling 'Pippin!' It took me off balance and I turned and that put Frodo off balance. Down he went onto his back, and up into the air went the ring which, for some reason, he had in his hand! That night I didn't really see the ring fly up. Later I found out all about it, but all I knew then was that Frodo fell over backward -- and disappeared!
"It caused quite a stir I can tell you! Everyone around, men and hobbits, gasped with the shock of it. It quite broke up the evening. I ran back to where we were sitting to find Sam and Merry had leapt to their feet, but there was no sign of Frodo. We looked all around, as did everyone else in the place. I heard some dark muttering and a few of the men slipped unpleasantly out the door. Then Sam let out a cry and pointed at the stairs. A tall man in a forest green cloak and muddy boots was pushing Frodo up the stairs, rather roughly I might add. I had not noticed him until that point, though Sam seemed to recognize him.
"Sam was galvanized into action. He yelled, "Frodo, no!" and ran toward the stairs. He grabbed a candle holder as he went by it and raced up the stairs like a madman, with us following. I don't even know how he knew which room to go to! Perhaps he heard the snick of the door shutting, but he raced up to it and threw it open. The man was towering over Frodo, but Sam raced right in and yelled something like, "I'll have you, Longshanks!" I was amazed at how brave Sam was, but the man drew a wicked looking sword. When he saw it was us, though, he just put the sword away, as if we couldn't touch him. Of course, once we got to know him we realized that was more than true! You know the story well enough to know that was Strider, King Aragorn he is now! But that was the first time we saw him, and anything but king-like he looked.
"That was one of the strangest nights. Strider was trying to tell us that he was there to help us, and after awhile Butterbur came in to apologize and explain about the letter. It turned out that Strider and Gandalf were good friends. 'All that is gold does not glitter,' he said of Strider in his letter. Frodo came to trust him fairly quickly, but Sam remained suspicious for quite some time. Strider insisted we sleep in his room. Frodo agreed without hesitation, though I didn't quite see the point, until later, that is. We set up the beds in our room to look as if we were sleeping there, and then cuddled up together in the big human bed in Strider's room. Huge, it was!
"Soon after midnight I awoke to hear galloping horses coming up the road toward the tavern. I felt a sense of cold horror, the same stifling feeling as when the Riders attacked us later at Weathertop." Pippin paused again, his face darkening at the memory. He shook his head and continued. "Strider sat in the window looking out and Frodo was sitting up as well. Then we heard the Black Riders it was, come right into the Pony and go to the room we were to be in! The noise was terrifying. Smashing sounds, crashing furniture, and then those terrible inhuman screams. We all sat up then, sitting as still and silent as we could with our hearts in our mouths until they rode away.
"'What are they?' asked Frodo. Strider told us they were the Nazgul, Ringwraiths, servants of the Dark Lord and bound to his will. It sounded horrifying and was really beyond my understanding then. But that is when I decided I liked a strong man with a long sword helping us out! I never doubted Strider after that.
Pippin sighed. "Bedtime, young Fam," he said.
Fam looked up at his father with eyes wide. "Can I sleep with you tonight, Dad?"