Beta'd by RiverOtter
“Here him comes agin,” grunted Jape, barman at the Prancing Pony, to Barliman Butterbur, proprietor for the inn. “Don’t know as where that one goes off to all the time, but if’n he don’t keep turnin’ up like a bad penny!”
Butterbur stood up from where he’d been checking over the books, a task he hated, to watch the odd Hobbit pause in the doorway, examining the room carefully. Apparently deciding things weren’t quite to his liking in the common room, he pulled back out of it again. Barliman shook his head. Now, he liked the Littles in Bree--loved them, in fact. Far less likely to quarrel than the Bigs were most of the time, and when they did have a set-to, it tended to be localized, if you took his meaning. And if there was a problem with one not paying his tab, all you had to do was speak to his family head and usually it was settled within an hour or two.
But that Trotter--if he wasn’t a strange one! Always off on some business or other of his own, then turning up as often as not with that Gandalf. And the clothes he’d wear! Where most Hobbits wore good cloth done in cheerful golds, greens, browns, and the like, Trotter’s clothes were faded with long exposure to the weather. And those wooden shoes of his! If he didn’t make quite the clatter as he hurried about, always hurrying here or there!
But the oddest thing--well, it was too odd to dwell on, really; but the fellow just couldn’t seem to stay a Hobbit, no matter what he tried. You’d see him sitting at the table in the back corner with his pipe and a half in front of him, watching the room for anything odd going on; and next time you glanced his way, blamed if he’d not have grown a good three feet while you weren’t looking, and it would be a full pint before him--until he stood up, at which time he tended to suddenly be but slightly over three feet tall again. It tended to make one a bit dizzy, you know!
He’d not been seen for quite some time, for which Butterbur was grateful--better them odd Rangers than this one. No one was even certain as where he’d come from--wasn’t a Bree Hobbit by birth, that was certain. Rumor was he was originally from the Shire; certainly some of the Brandybucks seemed to recognize him, while what Tooks would on occasion come out to Bree would take a glance at him, their faces would go strained, and they’d pointedly ignore him all during their stay, while he’d just sit in his corner, going Mannish from time to time, and just watching them with eyes that didn’t appear to blink quite enough.
Not that there’d been much in the way of custom from the Shire for quite some time. No, times had become difficult over the past few years as rumors of distant wars were whispered quietly between patrons.
But that appeared to change tonight when the door opened to admit four Hobbits, obviously from the Shire by their talk.
Mr. Underhill? Wasn’t there something he was supposed to remember about a Mr. Underhill? He was certain there was something--but what? Well, whatever it was, it had slipped right out of his mind as he was working at remembering their names--Peregrin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Samwise Gamgee, and Mr. Underhill. He summoned Nob to take them to their rooms, and promised a meal shortly, then went back to the common room to get some beer to take to the private parlor he’d offered to their use.
Now, if that didn’t beat all--Strider was there, sitting at the table in the corner, that stained green cloak of his about him and his hood up, and Strider was trying to get his attention----
----Except there was a tug at the same time on his trousers leg. He looked down into the stern face of Trotter. “Butterbur, I need to know the names of those Hobbits that just came in,” he was saying.
“Shire Hobbits--a Gamgee, a Brandybuck, a Took----”
“A Took? What for is a Took in the party? What’s Gandalf playing at? And what’s this about a Gamgee? No Underhills?”
“Yes, there’s an Underhill--Mr. Underhill, he said he was.”
“But no Bolgers or Boffins?”
“No, no Bolgers or Boffins. I told you--a Took--seemed the youngest, a Brandybuck, and a Gamgee came with Mr. Underhill.”
“But they’re from Tighfield way, the Gamgees are. What in Middle Earth is a Gamgee doing with Bolger-Baggins?”
“There wasn’t any Bolger-Bagginses--just a Took, a Brandybuck, a Gamgee, and Mr. Underhill!”
Trotter shook his head and muttered, “Has to be him--has to be. But where all these other folk came from---- A Brandybuck I could see; but a Took and a Gamgee? What’s Gandalf about?” He finally looked up, decision in his eyes. “Well, I need to get in to see them--privately.”
“Well, I’m not their keeper! But if'n you want to see them, you’ll have to wait until they’re settled. Not havin’ the likes of you botherin’ guests right off the bat! You need a room tonight, Trotter?”
At his indication he did not, Butterbur suggested archly that he then go to the common room and wait to see Mr. Underhill and his party should they decide to join the company.
Grumbling, Trotter started toward his favorite corner table, only to find it had already been taken.
“You again?” Trotter demanded, glaring up at the tall Ranger.
“Haven’t you gotten the idea that you just don’t work out in this story?” Strider returned.
“I work out just fine....”
“Yes, I suppose you do, if you want a Hobbit who can’t stop turning into a Man every few pages or so!”
“But this was to be my table, and I’m important to the story!”
“You were important to the story until it became obvious you can’t help becoming a Man.”
“But I’m a distant relative to Bingo Bolger-Baggins----”
“Yes, I suppose you are--except his name’s no longer Bingo Bolger-Baggins.”
“How do you know?”
“When was the last time you spoke to Gandalf?”
“I’m not certain--maybe a few years ago....”
The Man gave a deep sigh. “See here--you became me.”
“I most certainly did not! You don’t even have the same name!”
“Well I did--the same nickname, at least, for the longest time.”
“So why was it changed?”
“Why do you expect? A Hobbit wearing wooden shoes makes a trotting noise, but I was brought up by the Elves, so I walk far more silently than you can in those awful shoes of yours--and that’s another thing--why, if you were tortured by having your feet held to the fire, would you choose wooden shoes of all the possible types of footwear available? There are some wonderful orthopedic shoes available, you know.”
“And since when does a Hobbit shop at an orthopedic shoe store?” Trotter demanded. “Not that you’d find one anywhere in Eriador. Did you ever see one even in Gondor? I certainly didn’t!”
At that moment three Hobbits came through the door into the common room, and paused to see the whole company intent on the debate going on in the corner of the room.
“What do you think that’s about, Mr. Frodo?” the broadest Hobbit asked the tallest one.
“I have no idea, but I suspect that there’s a clash between two concepts going on here,” the tall one said consideringly.
“Whoever that Hobbit is, he certainly looks familiar,” the shortest one with the fair hair commented. “Reminds me of the portrait of my great-uncle Isengar Took that hangs in the Thain’s parlor in the Great Smials.”
Trotter turned to face the newcomers. “What do you mean, Mr. Frodo?” he asked. “Since when is he Frodo?”
“I think since about 1942, actually,” Strider suggested.
“But it’s just 1418!” objected Trotter.
“I’m not speaking of Shire Reckoning, or even Steward’s Reckoning. I’m speaking anno domini.”
Trotter gave a suspicious look at the Ranger. “That’s neither Sindarin nor Quenya, nor even Adunaic.”
“Of course not--it’s Latin.”
“So what’s Latin doing in this story? They don’t speak Latin in Middle Earth!”
“Oops, look out!” cautioned Jape from the bar. “Looks like he’s changin’ agin, the way as he does.”
Strider stood up and grabbed Trotter’s shoulder. “This is drawing far too much attention--certainly more attention than he would were he to dance on a table and then disappear suddenly,” he growled in low tones. “I think we need to take this to the Hobbits' private parlor.” He drew Trotter after him, and as he walked by the Hobbits he grabbed hold of the tallest of the Hobbits as well. “Best come along, you and your party, Mr. Underhill!”
“Wait just a moment there!” said the broad one. “Just what is it you’re plannin’ to do with my Master?”
“Master?” spluttered Trotter.
“How’d he do that, Frodo?” asked the smallest one of the tall one. “Change height like that, I mean. That’s impressive!”
“Mr. Pippin!” objected the broad one as they disappeared out into the passageway, turning back toward the north wing where the Hobbit-sized rooms were. Jape and Butterbur--and all the other patrons of the common room at the Prancing Pony--watched after them.
“Now, what is all this?” demanded Trotter once they were in the private parlor and the door was shut. He watched as Strider went about the room, pinching out the candles, leaving the room lit only by the light from the hearth. “I never said I would be bailing out on this story!”
“It doesn’t appear to have been your choice,” sighed Strider. “It appears it was done in spite of you.” He looked about the room. “Where’s the other one?” he asked, plainly exasperated.
The tall one the others called Frodo answered uncertainly, “Merry said he was going out to get a breath of air.”
“And getting into who knows how much trouble!” Trotter said with a worried look toward the doorway. “What with Black Riders and who knows how many ruffians and half-orcs about....”
“Orcs?” chimed in the short one. “Are they the same as Bilbo’s goblins?”
The Mannish Ranger nodded. “Yes, from the Elvish word yrch.”
The Hobbit Ranger glared at his counterpart--and he was again just over three feet tall. “I’d thank you not to answer for me--I am fully capable of speaking for myself.”
“You’re not even supposed to be here any more,” the Man groused.
“Maybe if you two would explain just who you are,” suggested Frodo.
“They call me Trotter,” the Hobbit explained.
“And they call me Strider,” his reluctant fellow added.
“And what are your real names?”
The Man examined the three official guests of the inn warily. “I don’t know--the Enemy has set traps for me before,” he began.
The Hobbit Ranger shook his head, then turned determinedly toward Frodo. “I’m Peregrin Took,” he explained. “A distant cousin of yours....”
“You’re named Peregrin Took, too?” the smallest one said, his eyes lighting up with delight. “You mean I’m not the only one stuck with a name too big for me?”
Trotter turned toward the smallest of the party from the Shire, obviously shocked. “He didn’t name two of us that, did he?”
“I don’t see why not, once you were written out of the story,” Strider pointed out. “He wanted to do some kind of memorial to you, I must suppose.”
“But to give my name to--to this miserable example of Hobbitry! I ask you!”
“Now, just a moment now!” The younger, more innocent Peregrin Took was very much affronted. “There’s no call for such things! It’s not that I asked to be named for you--I only just learned that we’re apparently related, after all!”
“I’m not required to explain myself to you,” Trotter said, rather rudely. “It’s Bingo here who asked.”
“Bingo?” The tallest Hobbit was shaking his head, mystified. “Who’s Bingo?”
“You are--Bingo Bolger-Baggins, Bilbo’s nephew and adopted heir!”
But Frodo was still shaking his head. “I’m Frodo Baggins, son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck. I call Bilbo my uncle, but he’s really my first and second cousin, once removed on each side, you see.”
“I told you--he’s not been Bingo Bolger-Baggins for quite some time,” Strider commented smugly, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
“When was I Bingo Bolger-Baggins?” demanded Frodo.
“That was what he was going to call you,” advised Strider. “And at that time you didn’t meet me--you met him.” He indicated the smaller Hobbit before him.
“And what is either one of you supposed to do for me?”
Trotter and Strider answered simultaneously, “Lead you to Rivendell.” They then glared at one another.
The broad one was shaking his head. “If’n this don’t beat all, Mr. Frodo! Two guides to Rivendell! But how’re you goin’ to pick the one as you want to help us?”
“And who are you?” asked Trotter. “Fredegar Bolger?”
“Fatty didn’t even come,” said Pippin, shaking his head. “And are you really another Took cousin? Are you related to Isengar or Hildifons?”
“I asked who you are?” Trotter repeated, ignoring the younger Took.
“Since when did you decide to come along?”
“I didn’t decide to come along--Gandalf said as I was to come!”
“What kind of cousin are you?”
Sam gave Frodo an uncertain look. “I doubt as we’re related at all--my folks are from Gamwidge and Tighfield way, after all. Only come to Hobbiton not that long ago--my dad, the Gaffer, come to apprentice to Cousin Holman, and now I’ve took over from him.”
“But Holman Greenhand was Bilbo’s gardener.”
“So he was. You got a problem with me being Mr. Frodo’s gardener?”
Trotter was shaking his head. He backed up to a chair and collapsed into it. “No--this can’t be happening!” he murmured to himself, covering his face with his hands. “The story couldn’t have changed this much!”
At that moment there was a knock at the door. “Mr. Underhill,” called Butterbur as he pushed it open. “May I have a word with you?”
Strider gave a great sigh. It looked to be a long and contentious evening.