At the Inn in Bree by Dreamflower

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(written for hobbit_ficathon on LJ, challenge to write a fic set at an inn)



In the large man-sized bed, Sam was snoring softly. Pippin could see faintly in the darkness Strider, as he sat by the window, lit only by the ember glow of his pipe and moonlight. Frodo sat across from him, in earnest conversation. Pippin could not hear what they said, but Strider’s tone sounded grim, and Frodo’s expression looked anxious.

Pressed against his back, he felt Merry’s presence. But it wasn’t very comforting tonight. He could feel the tension in Merry’s back against his, and he could tell by his breathing that his cousin was still awake. Shifting carefully, so as not to waken Sam, he turned over.

“Merry,” he barely whispered. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” was the scarcely audible answer.

“No, you’re not.”

A sigh. “Pip, we’ll wake Sam. Shush.”

Pippin lay his arm across Merry. He could feel him trembling. What could have done this to his fearless, confident older cousin? He shuddered a bit, and tried to get to sleep. He finally fell into a restless doze, filled with troubled dreams.

He woke once, not long after, to a startled movement, and realized that Frodo had come to bed at some time, and now was awake. But he made no sign, and Frodo soon settled back down on his other side. It was bad enough to realize that Merry was frightened, but to see Frodo shaken as well sent his heart to his toes.

The hobbits woke to the sound of a crowing cock, and Strider had drawn the curtains and pushed back the shutters with a clang. The first grey light of day was in the room, and a cold air was coming through the open window.

Pippin found himself unaccountably quiet as Strider led them to the rooms that would have been theirs. He had a dozen questions, but for once in his life, he was afraid to ask them. The sight of the room, and the destruction wreaked there shocked them all. If they had stayed in those rooms…

Strider was talking to Butterbur, who was just as shocked as the hobbits. The innkeeper could not stop wringing his hands, and making exclamations of horror.

Then came the news that their ponies had all been stolen. Pippin listened in dismay to Strider telling them what they would now need to carry.

“…How much are you prepared to carry on your backs?”

Pippin noticed Merry studying him out of the corner of his eye. He knew that just as Sam would try to carry a lot of Frodo’s load, Merry would try to do the same for him. Well, he was *not* going to be any more of a burden to his cousins than he already had. When neither Frodo nor Merry spoke up, he said with a sinking heart, “As much as we must.” He hoped that would show Merry he was prepared to shoulder his share of the burdens. He noted with satisfaction the look of surprise and approval on his cousin’s face.

At least the delay meant they could have a proper breakfast, instead of “a drink and a bite standing,” as Strider had put it.

The four hobbits sat down to a table, and old Mr. Butterbur bustled about, serving them up a lavish breakfast. He seemed to feel keenly that they had been nearly assaulted while under his roof. He set before them eggs, bacon, sausages, new made bread, cheese, jam, fruit and tea. Strider took only a bit of bread and put some sausage and cheese between it, and went off to see to things. Frodo and Sam made rather hurried meals, as well, and went to see what assistance they could be to the Ranger, as he tried to find them a pack pony.

The two younger hobbits sat at the table, filling up the corners for a good long while. But Pippin noticed that Merry looked tired, and that in spite of his earlier protestations, was not eating nearly as much as was normal for him. He had taken seconds, but not thirds, and mostly now was playing with his food rather than eating it.

“Merry, what’s wrong?”

Merry gave him a sardonic look. “Aside from nearly being murdered in our beds, having my ponies stolen, and having to go off into the Wild with a stranger because Gandalf is nowhere to be found?”

“Yes,” said Pippin simply.

Merry sighed and slumped. “I’m blessed if I can really tell you, Pip. Last night was one of the strangest and most uncomfortable feelings I’ve ever had. I thought I was drowning, and that nothing would ever be happy again…but there was no real reason for it. It’s just that I still feel unsettled by it, as though I had just woken from a horrid nightmare, in which all was dark and despair was something you could touch.” He sat up, determination in his face. “But we’ve no time for such nonsense now, we’ve got to buck up and do right by Frodo.”

Pippin reached across the table and patted his hand. “At least we’re all together. As long as that is so, nothing can really be *that* bad.”

“Thanks, Pip.” He picked up his cup and downed the last of his tea. “Shall we go see if we can help Frodo and Strider?”

It was very nearly three hours later before they finally took their leave of The Prancing Pony.

Pippin turned and looked back at the inn. Someday he’d like to come back there, when everything was all right again. It seemed a shame they could not have enjoyed their stay.

With a shrug, he settled his pack on his shoulders. They had a long day’s trudge ahead of them.

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