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63
Night Watch

For Ainu Laire.


~~~

"Here now! What're you about?" Barliman Butterbur demanded, marching up the hall. A little further on, a lean shadow paused, then turned toward him. Strider wore no hood, yet Barliman was little mollified. After the Ranger's scornful words about fat innkeepers earlier in Mr. Underhill's parlour, it seemed a slap in the face—as if Strider felt no need to hide himself.

We'll just see about that, Barliman thought, undaunted by the Ranger's looming over him. Aloud he said, "There's no lack of watchful eyes tonight. You'd best have naught to do that can't be done in plain sight of all."

Strider sighed. "I am no spy, Barley—" he began.

"Maybe not, but you know quite a bit, it seems, about—about them down in that dark country," the innkeeper replied, lowering his voice out of fearful habit. And he prodded the other with a thick finger as he declared, "I'll have no bad business under my roof, no troubling guests in my house. Understand me?"

It was Strider's turn to raise a brow, but after a moment, he nodded slowly, and his grey eyes, when they fixed on Barliman's face, had a queer light to them.

"Good. So," the innkeeper continued, a little uncertainly in the face of that odd look, "if you're not a spy, then show yourself friendly and get you back to those hobbits. You leave the rest to us."

"Fair enough," Strider replied. Then, to Barliman's surprise, he stepped back and made him a respectful bow. "My thanks, Barliman." With that, he was away. Barliman watched him until he saw the parlour door close quietly behind the Ranger, then grunted.

"Don't know about him. Just don't know," he muttered to himself.

But in the end, he didn't post Bob to the hobbits' door, either.

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