Interlude: A Lesson Learned
While we skipped over Rathbairn’s time in Bree with Aragorn, it’s safe to say not every day or night was uneventful. Here is one tale of Rathbairn’s time in Bree. I hope you enjoy it!
The Prancing Pony was full again and Barliman Butterbur was run clear off his feet again for the sixth night in a row. His beer had been selling almost faster than he could brew it. Since Gandalf had come to visit him a few weeks ago, folks coming to the Pony had been saying that ‘Ol Barley has a good run on his beer this time’. He had hired a pair of Hobbits from Crickhollow to come help brew his beer almost constantly now and he was still barely keeping up.
“Oy Nob! Where’d you get to again?” he called for the hundredth time that night as he looked about for the Halfling.
“Here sir, I was just checking the stables, we’re full again, but there’s some room on the new posts out back.”
“Oh…right, got it. Well, I need another cask brought up from the cellar and tell the kitchens to keep the fires going! We’re selling as much food as beer!” Nob waved and disappeared into the rear of the inn.
Barley strode to the bar and took a few more orders. Six tankards for a party of dwarves who were crossing the Lone Lands to the Misty Mountains, a goblet of red wine for a cloaked elf leaning against the corner of the post at the bar and three more tankards for a trio of men who said they’d come from the Shire.
Barliman frowned at the last order. Men, in the Shire, he thought to himself. That didn’t seem right, but the thought was lost a few minutes later when more orders came in.
Near the shadowy corner of the Pony, at a smaller corner table, a huge form sat staring at the patrons. A mug of hot cider was still steaming and a half-eaten loaf of bread on a platter on the table. The servers were near frantic, they were so busy. A young man overladen with mugs on a huge tray weaved to the table with the six dwarves and laid out the mugs. They cheered him and praised him before handing him a handful of coins as they seized the mugs and began to drink.
Another server, a young blonde-haired lass weaved among the tables towards the back corner. The huge stranger waved her off with a smile, which she returned. As she passed the trio of men from the Shire, one reached out as she passed and gave her bottom a squeeze, surprising her and causing t nearly drop her tray.
“Hey! Keep your hands to yourself!” she yelled, trying to move away as the man grabbed her waist and pulled her into his lap.
“Come on sweetie, it’s a long cold night, so how about you keep me and the lads company before we head out? We gots some coin for you and I’m sure we can make a nice time together. How ‘bout…” a ringing crack stopped his words dead as the girl’s right palm connected with his jaw.
“I ain’t that girl you oaf! Now let me…” her words broke off as the thug grabbed her jaw and squeezed hard.
“You listen to me you saucy minx. I offered coin before, now yer doing it for free. Tell yer boss that yer taking a break.” He broke off as a huge shadow fell over the table. “What’s this?” the thug looked up and into a pair of brown eyes furrowed in anger. The Inn went deathly quiet. A deep voice, a feral and beastial undertone broke the stillness.
“Abby, go to Barliman.” The girl broke free of the thug’s hands and scurried behind the bar. The Inn remained frozen and the air was thick with tension as the giant man leaned forward, towering over the three thugs.
“What’re you about? Mind yer own….ACK!!!” a sickening crunch followed immediately by a crack of a breaking plate stopped the thug’s tired mid-word as the huge man grabbed the back of the thug’s hair and slammed his head into the plate, shattering the nose and cracking the clay. Blood spurted everywhere as gasps and shrieks sounded from Inn. Someone called for the watch, but Barliman Butterbur shouted above the din. “No! Leave it alone!”
The broken-nosed thug slid off his bench and collapsed bonelessly to the floor as his two companions, seeing their friend so easily handled stood quickly and reached for daggers, but the giant man’s voice froze them cold.
“Don’t….even….think it….” They met his eyes and their blood froze. Brown eyes stood out from face framed by pale hair. Their fear however, came from the red tattoos down the right side of his face. Word had travelled indeed about a giant man around Bree who was the grandson of the skin-changer Beorn. Some had even claimed to have seen him change into a bear, like his grandfather!
They two thugs raised their hands slowly and began stepping back. “We’re sorry, we don’t want no trouble. We’ll leave now.”
“Pay for your drinks, and don’t ever come back here again.” The Beorning said. \
The two frightened men tossed silver coins onto a nearby table and burst through the door like a Balrog was on their heels.
The injured man decided at that point to awaken and his howls of pain drew the giant’s attention. Crossing the floor, he pulled the bench and table away and roughly hauled the thug to his feet by the shirt collar.
When the giant had his back to the bar, another thug, seemingly another from the trio from the Shire, quietly drew a dagger from his belt and had taken half a step to the giant’s back when a soft voice, accompanied by the feeling of cold steel on his throat froze him instantly.
“Drop the dagger.” The voice was musical and there was no mistaking the source. The thug turned slowly and looked into the eyes of an elf. He laid the dagger on the bar and raised his hands, showing them empty.
“Now, we need to talk about the Shire. Let’s take a walk and you can thank me for saving your life.”
“What do you mean?” the thug asked.
The elf chuckled, sheathing the blade opposite a twin on his hip. “That is Rathbairn, the grandson of Beorn. Had you stabbed him, he would have made a very large mess of you. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want that. Now let’s take a walk shall we?” The elf motioned towards the door and the two exited without notice as the crown continued to stare at the giant man who held the broken-nosed thug off the floor before him.
The bleeding man howled in protest. “My nose! You broke my nose you fool!” Rathbairn snarled in rage and grabbed the man by the throat and slammed him backwards onto the table. The wood creaked, but the table held fast.
“You’re lucky you’re not dead.” His voice throbbed with rage. “That girl is a friend of mine and you insulted her honour. You’re going to apologize to her.” Rathbairn pulled the man up and lifted him up by the throat so the two were nose to nose. The thug gasped for breath and nodded, his face purple. Rathbairn released him and pushed him towards the bar until the two stood in front of Barliman and the frightened server.
“Say it” Rathbairn said, cuffing the thug in the back of the head.
“Sorry” he said half-heartedly.
“Nope, not good enough” Rathbairn growled and grabbed the already broken nose, causing the thug to scream as more blood dripped to the floor. Rathbairn let the man scream for a few more seconds before releasing the thug and letting him fall to the floor.
“Alright, alright!” he said.
Rathbairn pulled the man up and pointed to the girl. “Now, say it like you mean it.”
“Please forgive me, miss. I was wrong and very rude and I won’t bother you again!”
The girl sniffed and nodded.
Rathbairn looked at her, “That good enough for you?” The girl smiled and nodded again.
“Then it’s time for you to leave.” Grabbing the thug by the shoulder and the fork of his legs, he hoisted the thug over his head and moved to the door. A patron, standing by the door jerked it open just in time as the Beorning took two steps to the threshold and heaved the man out the door with a mighty toss. The thug cleared the stairs and landed heavily on the stones below. His howls of pain lingered momentarily and then faded as the door closed and he limped away, his pride gone.
The Pony erupted in cheers as the girl ran from behind the bar and flew into the Beorning, embracing him warmly.
“Thank you Rathbairn, that was sweet of you.” she said as he returned the hug.
“You’re welcome” he said shortly and pulled away. She turned back to the Innkeeper, whose nearly split his face.
Rathbairn approached the Innkeeper and held out a fistful of silver coins. “Sorry for the trouble my friend.”
Barliman Butterbur’s smile was warm as he pushed back the coins. “No coin needed friend Rathbairn. The fact that you looked after my niece is payment enough. She’s a sweet girl and her Mother would kill me if anything happened to her.”
The two shook hands and Rathbairn returned to his table as the Pony returned to normal. The patrons felt safer, knowing that the large man was there. Indeed, the village of Bree felt safer, knowing that heroes of all kinds were abroad, keeping the free lands safe.
Outside Bree, the elf and the thug left the gate behind as they headed west down the road that would eventually lead to the Shire.
“Now tell me why you and your foolish friends are in the Shire. Hobbits don’t like Big folk in their lands” he gestured with a longbow to the west.
“That’s for the boss to know elf. Ain’t none of your business.”
The elf shrugged and looked the man over. “Suit yourself.” He tossed the dagger back to the thug and pointed down the road, west. “Start walking and don’t think about coming back this way.” Without a word, the elf turned and strode back towards Bree his bow still in his hand. The thug sensing a chance, flipped the dagger in his hand and threw it at the elf’s back.
Like a blur, the elf spun, nocked an arrow and released, the dagger falling away as the arrow struck it. The thug had only a moment to register shock at the elf’s impossible shot in the near darkness before a second arrow thudded directly in his throat. The thug’s body slid to the dirt and the elf moved to the body to retrieve his arrow.
“Foolish mistake, now I’ll have to find out for myself” the elf said, raising his hood and vanishing into the darkness, headed west.