Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien; Chapter 9: At the Sign of the Prancing Pony
Suddenly Frodo noticed that a strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall, was also listening intently to the hobbit-talk. He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe curiously carved. His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.
‘Who is that?’ Frodo asked, when he got a chance to whisper to Mr. Butterbur. ‘I don’t think you introduced him?’
‘Him?’ said the landlord in an answering whisper, coking an eye without turning his head. ‘I don’t rightly know. He is one of the wandering folk—Rangers we call them. He seldom talks: not but what he can tell a rare tale when he has the mind. He disappears for a month, or a year, and then he pops up again. He was in and out pretty often last spring; but I haven’t seen him about lately. What his right name is I’ve never heard: but he’s known round here as Strider. Goes about at a great pace on his long shanks; though he don’t tell nobody what cause he has to hurry. But there’s no accounting for East and West, as we say in Bree, meaning the Rangers and the Shirefolk, begging your pardon.’
‘Who is that next to him?’
Frodo had only just now noticed that a stranger-looking weather-beaten person sat next to Strider, also listening intently to the hobbit-talk or trying to, turning their body this way and that. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark rainbow cloth was drawn close about them and nearly obscured all their features, their head bowed or so small as to be unnoticeable. This person had a taller tankard in front of them, and they were as short as the shortest of hobbits, their legs, if there were any to be spoken of, too short to reach the floor.
‘Who? That fellow? Haven’t seen them in here before,’ said Mr. Butterbur. ‘They sat right down next to Strider as if they’d known each other for years. Funny you should ask about them.’ But at that moment Mr. Butterbur was called away by a demand for more ale, and his last remark remained unexplained.
Frodo found that Strider was now looking at him, as if he had heard or guessed all that had been said. Presently, with a wave of his hand and a nod, he invited Frodo to come over and sit by him. As Frodo drew near he threw back his hood, showing a shaggy head of dark hair flecked with grey, and in a pale stern face a pair of keen grey eyes. The short one next to him seemed to turn to Frodo as if just noticing him.
‘I am called Strider,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I am very pleased to meet you, Master—Underhill, if old Butterbur got your name right.’
‘He did,’ said Frodo stiffly. He felt far from comfortable under the stare of those keen eyes.
‘I call myself Top!’ the short fellow said in a high voice, leaping into Strider’s legs. ‘Wait, we’re supposed to use aliases. Uhh. I am now called Dave.’
Top—or Dave—removed some of their cloak, revealing red skin and two dark circles of glass connected by a strip of metal on their chest, but upon removal of the glass Frodo saw it covered two small, black eyes. Frodo scuffled away at the sight.
‘Pay them no heed, Master Underhill,’ said Strider, pushing Dave back to their seat, ‘but if I were you, I should stop your young friends from talking too much.’
‘Yeah, that’s my job,’ interrupted Dave.
‘Drink, fire, and chance-meeting are pleasant enough,’ continued Strider, glancing at Dave for a moment, ‘but, well—this isn’t the Shire. There are queer folk about. Though I say it as shouldn’t, you may think,’ he added with a wry smile, seeing Frodo’s glance.
‘I’m the one who shouldn’t say it as wouldn’t count galoudn’t,’ Dave said.
‘There have been even stranger travellers through Bree lately,’ he went on, watching Frodo’s face.
‘If you can’t believe it,’ Dave said, removing more of their cloak. Frodo gasped at what he had believed was their chest, on which a mouth stretched across their body and was filled with sharp teeth, white skin contrasting the red above it. Dave smiled at Frodo, a smile as innocent as a newborn hobbit’s though with teeth, and then picked up their tankard with a stubby, fingerless arm, and placed the entire container into their mouth.
Strider’s attention seemed suddenly to be fixed on Pippin. To his alarm Frodo became aware that the ridiculous young Took, encouraged by his success with the fat Mayor of Michel Delving, was now actually giving a comic account of Bilbo’s farewell party. He was already giving an imitation of the Speech, and was drawing near to the astonishing Disappearance.
Frodo was annoyed. It was a harmless enough tale for most of the local hobbits, no doubt: just a funny story about those funny people away beyond the River; but some (old Butterbur, for instance) knew a thing or two, and had probably heard rumours long ago about Bilbo’s vanishing. It would bring the name of Baggins to their minds, especially if there had been inquiries in Bree after that name.
Frodo fidgeted, wondering what to do. Pippin was evidently forgetful of their danger. Frodo had a sudden fear that in his present mood he might even mention the Ring; and that might well be disastrous.
‘You had better do something quick!’ whispered Strider in his ear.
‘Invest in municipal bonds!’ said Dave. They jumped onto Frodo’s back, and he felt Dave’s rubbery skin. ‘Suggest we all play a game of Monopoly! Netflix and chill!’
Frodo jumped up and stood on a table, which knocked Dave back to the seat, and he began to talk. The attention of Pippin’s audience was disturbed. Some of the hobbits looked at Frodo and laughed and clapped, thinking that Mr. Underhill had taken as much ale as was good for him.
Frodo suddenly felt very foolish, and found himself (as was his habit when making a speech) fingering the things in his pocket. He felt the Ring on its chain, and quite unaccountably the desire came over him to slip it on and vanish out of the silly situation. It seemed to him, somehow, as if the suggestion came to him from outside, from someone or something in the room. He became aware of other suggestions coming to him from outside, and realized it was Dave whispering for him to do things—eat a ham, pull a rabbit out of a hat. Frodo resisted the temptation to slip on the Ring, and clasped it in his hand, as if to keep a hold on it and prevent it from escaping or doing any mischief. At any rate it gave him no inspiration, nor did Dave. He spoke ‘a few suitable words’, as they would have been said in the Shire: We are all very much gratified by the kindness of your reception, and I venture to hope that my brief visit will help to renew the old ties of friendship between the Shire and Bree; and then he hesitated and coughed.
‘You’re losing ‘em, you’re losing ‘em,’ whispered Dave.
Everyone in the room was now looking at Frodo. ‘A song!’ shouted one of the hobbits. ‘A song! A song!’ shouted all of the others along with Dave. ‘Come on now, master, sing us something that we haven’t heard before!’
For a moment Frodo stood gaping. Then in desperation he prepared to begin a ridiculous song that Bilbo had been rather fond of (and indeed rather proud of, for he had made up the words himself), but then Dave muttered something behind him—“Why am I calling for a song?”—and then jumped onto the table, shoving Frodo back down to the seat. With a spin they produced a rounded block of wood, one end thin that they held, with a series of strings stretched taut along its length like a harp. They ran a stubby, shapeless arm over the strings, creating a melodic unlike a harp but more like a series of twanging bows. With this music Dave sang a song to accompany it. Here it is in full. No words of it are now, as a rule, remembered.
There once was a guy named Top,
Er wait no actually I meant Dave.
He was cool, yeah a real cool kid
And the world he did save.
He found himself at an inn just one day,
Yes he found himself at an inn.
At this inn was people probably, maybe,
And by his singing he’d maybe win.
Maybe he’d win if he just, maybe, maybe,
Remembered what to sing about.
But if not, maybe he could just escape if
He found himself another route!
A-no-ther route, another route, a-no-ther route, another route, a-no another, another route!
Anyway, after he left the inn,
He had to go to the stock exchange
Because he would make a killing,
I admit this song is strange.
I was going to sing about something else, yeah,
I really was going to.
But then I forgot what the words were before I
Ever really was able to.
So I just made up some stuff on the fly,
‘Cause that is the way I do things.
If you don’t like it you can’t send it back now,
Just eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it!
Dave capered about on the table as they sang; and when they came to the final line, they leaped into the air across the tables. Much too vigorously on the last leap; for they came down, bang, into a tray full of mugs, and slipped, and rolled off the table with a crash, clatter, and bump! The audience all opened their mouths wide for laughter, and stopped short in gaping silence; for the singer disappeared. Where they had landed was now broken up floorboards, as if they had gone slap through the floor with leaving a hole!
The local hobbits stared, and then sprang to their feet and shouted for Barliman. As for poor Frodo, upon seeing the disappearance of Dave, fingered the things in his pockets again and discovered, with horrifying realization, that the Ring was gone!
MEANWHILE OUTSIDE THIS STORY
“Gee,” not-Dave-but-Top said, wandering through the space between stories, “I’ll bet I either saved them a whole lot of time or just doomed all of Middle-Earth. I’m not really sure which.”