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The Inn, by Huinárë

Author name: Huinárë
Recipient's name: Nath (Mrowe)
Title: The Inn
Rating: PG-13 (mild oaths, drunk people)
Request: "Something about Bree and Yule traditions, may be Men, may be Hobbits, serious, funny, whatever inspires you."
Author's notes: A happy new year to you, Nath!  The following tale has gone a tad over length, and the Yule traditions became more of a backdrop than a focal point, but I hope it will provide some diversion.  Optional endnotes (mainly on names) follow the story.
Summary: Employees of the inn at Bree have brought a strange visitor back on the eve of Yule, T.A. 1307. 


=======*=======

The Flying Gull.  Bree, 1307.

Dusk had draped itself over Bree-land by the time Fenn Amannbier the innkeeper’s son and Thistlegloan the hedgekeeper plodded back into town with the sledge.  Bright lanterns lined the streets, illuminating several performing troupes and vendors’ stalls replete with food and drink and crafts.  Because there was neither grass nor snow on the paved street, the sledge, now pulled by Thistlegloan, lurched and screeched along; but people greeted it happily, for it bore an evergreen tree about equal to a man’s height.

It also bore something else.  A small, hooded form nearly tumbled off when the sledge hit a bump.

“Sorry,” said Thistlegloan.

A few townsfolk looked over curiously.  Nobody recalled Fenn Amannbier and Thistlegloan having a child with them when they’d gone out tree-scouting that morning; but then, Yule season was hectic and there were many visitors from out of town, so who was to say?  The small figure kept his head down, features muddled by the shadow of his hood.

The sledge halted in the courtyard of the Flying Gull, under the old blue sign with its gold lettering and white painted mascot.  Numerous birds–though none seabirds–had befouled the sign, so that it looked like the careworn gull was shedding misshapen feathers.  

“We do need to scrub the sign,” Fenn remarked a bit apologetically, but their smaller companion did not seem concerned with such matters and was instead looking up a bit disbelievingly at the two-story building.

Thistlegloan cracked his knuckles.  “You can manage it the rest of the way now?”

“Sure thing.”  Fenn gave the hooded figure a hand up out of his evergreen nest, then stooped to untie the cords securing the tree to the sledge.

Turning to their guest, Thistlegloan said, “I’ll show you where you can rest up, and we’ll soon find a decent meal for you.”  

The guest seemed to perk up a bit.  The two were climbing the narrow flight of stairs at the end of the inn’s long central corridor by the time Fenn heaved the tree into the building.

_______*_______

Fenn eyed the common room door.  He tried to turn its handle and keep hold of his burden simultaneously, but his hands were getting numb from the chilly evening and tree nearly slid from his grip.  Impatiently, he rapped twice with his forehead.

Someone yanked the door open as Fenn was gaining momentum for a third rap, so that he stood in the doorway wielding the tree and nearly cracking his skull into that of a visitor from Archet.  The common room erupted into applause.

Glad to hand the tree off to some of the regulars, who promptly took it to the front corner by the counter and began setting it up in the rusty stand that awaited it, Fenn warmed his hands by the fireplace.

“High time,” Bulrush Amannbier the innkeeper declared by way of greeting.  Unlike Fenn, whose shoulders and smile were broad, Bulrush was a slight fellow who had last been known to laugh fourteen years ago upon hearing that scabies had afflicted every last patron of the rival inn.  At his age most men in charge of a lucrative family business would have partially retired, but Bulrush Amannbier still worked full hours and then some.

“And a good Yule Eve to you, too, Da,” Fenn said dryly.

“Outlaws, brigands, wolves, ghouls–what do any of them care for Yule Eve?  I was starting to worry we’d never get the Yule tree, and this lot wouldn’t lay off it.  ‘When’s the Yule tree coming, ‘Rush?’  ‘Why don’t we got our Yule tree yet, ‘Rush?’  And suchlike.”  

“Your concern is touching.”

A collective gasp went up as the tree wobbled as though it had already joined the inebriated.  Two men caught it as it fell, and a woman bellowed, “I told you asses you need to put the thing under the wonky leg.  Every year…”

Bulrush rubbed his temple and turned back to his son.  “I ain’t worried about you on the Road, you can take care of yourself.  That scrawny, day-dreaming hedgekeeper on the other hand–where’s he anyway?”  

“Thistle’s seeing to a guest we met on the Road.”

“Right, I take that back, I do worry about you being on the Road.  You bring back a kitten or something?”

“We found a traveler.  He was lost.”  Fenn spoke quietly, motioning with his chin toward the counter.  He didn’t resume until they’d moved behind it and back into the larder:  “Things are apparently as bad northeast as rumor has it.  Little bloke lost his whole party to trolls.”

The old innkeeper’s eyebrows arched and furrowed in the same motion, a long-perfected expression of concern and skepticism judiciously intermingled.  “Not in these parts, surely?”

“Sounds like they was crossing the north marches of the Weather Hills, from the east.  His party was scouting for safer lands for their folk to move into.  I guess it’s worse up near the mountains, where they are.”  Fenn frowned absently at a sack of flour.  “Imagine that, this little band braving strange lands in winter for all their people’s sake, and getting smashed up and et by trolls as a reward.”

“I always said it’s a hard world, Fenn,” Bulrush remarked sagely.  He did not really care to imagine anybody getting smashed and et by trolls, but he knew this about the world nonetheless.  It was hard that his wife had died while birthing his only son, and hard that his only son was some sort of idealist, and hard that the rival inn had continued to thrive after containing its scabies problem.

“What do we know about that, safe here in Bree?” snapped Fenn, unmoved by the sound of merriment leaking in from the common room.  “This fellow saw five of his friends slaughtered, and one of them was also his cousin–or his nephew, or his cousin’s nephew, or something–, and then he wandered for days through marsh and wood with no help and no food.  He was nearly starved when we found him crawling barely more than a stone’s throw from the Road, but I dare say he was so far gone by then he wouldn’t’ve found the Road on his own.”

“You’ve done a good thing then, saved a man’s life.  But these trolls, you don’t mean to tell me they’ve come over the Weather Hills?”

“I don’t think so, but up to their east side it sounds like.”

Bulrush frowned memorably.  “I wanted to think it was just a good year, or a good decade, for bandits and cut-throats.”

“I’d reckon wickedness in Men is still our main concern, here.”  Finished glaring at the sack of flour, Fenn drew himself up.  “Food.  Poor bloke’s had nought but the last bit of lunch we still had on us.”

“Can he pay?”  Bulrush was obviously trying to make the question sound casual, but instead it came out as an awkward rasp, and at once he looked almost remorseful.

“Come off it, old man, he almost died–!”

“Of course.  He can have a meal on the house, one.  I meant–where’s he staying?  If it’s here at the inn, one really has to pay during Yule season.  Space at a premium and all.  In fact, I thought we didn’t have any space left.”

“We don’t.”  Fenn slapped half a loaf of bread onto a tray.  “You needn’t worry, Thistle’s putting him up in his room.”  Thistlegloan, who had no family and few friends in Bree, lived at the inn year-round, receiving a discount in exchange for tending the Gull’s grounds.

“You can hardly fit Thistle in that room, how’s he going to pull that off?”

Fenn bustled around, adding leftovers to the tray.  “We can break out one of the cots and use the child-sized bedding, no problem.”

“You been talking like this is a grown man, and now you’re telling me it’s a child?” exclaimed Bulrush.

“No, I thought so at first, but he doesn’t look nor talk like one.  Says all his folk are short like that: normal for them.”

“Strange world, and stranger by the year.  What do these folk call themselves?”

Fenn squinted at the ceiling.  “He said he was a Harfoot–no, wait, that’s not it, a ‘hobbit.’  No actually, I think he called himself both those things, and a few other things besides.”  

Bulrush shrugged, fostered a drawn out pause, then remarked, “Cots and additional bedding rent out by the night, you know.”

“Hell’s breath, Da, take it out of my bloody salary!  Yule Eve, little fellow practically dies in the wilds–”

“A man of business needs to be practical,” the innkeeper said, sensibly.  “I don’t mean offense to your friend or nothing, you know that, but if we made a practice of giving things out for free–well, half of Bree-land would be at my door claiming to’ve been chased across the marsh by dragons.”

“Well then, no one else needs to know.”  Fenn put a small square of coffee cake on the tray, considered, deposited a second piece next to it, and headed for the door.  “I said I’ll cover the cot and spare bedding if you’re really so put out by it, and as for food–well, he’s hardly yea high,” indicating his navel with one hand, “how much can he eat?”

_______*_______

Thistle sat on the three-legged stool which was the closest his small room came to having a chair.  Hanno Mossyway, the hobbit, sat on the edge of the bed, gently kicking his heels in an awkward fashion.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any coin or aught else,” Hanno said, quietly, with embarrassment.

“Don’t trouble about that.”

“Thank you, you’re very good.”  The hobbit added, “They shook my pockets out, or else–the trolls, that is–I mean, I’d…”

“Please,” Thistle insisted.  He was unsure how one went about entertaining; nor did he reckon his tiny and sparse room suitable for an explorer who really ought to have a comfortable, soothing space after what he’d been through.  “We didn’t expect nothing, I mean, we’d be little better than trolls ourselves if we–er, I’m sorry…”

Hanno suddenly chuckled, seeing that his host hardly felt less awkward than he did.  “All right then, Mister Thistlegloan, I suppose I can only hope to repay you both somewise in the future.  In the meantime, will you tell me what’s going on here?  Something to do with Yule?”

“Yes indeed.  It’s Yule Eve in fact.”

“Ah, is it?”  Hanno frowned for a few seconds, evidently having lost track of the date.  “You know, we used to think we brought Yule with us over the mountains, but then we heard Men have always had it here, too.  Maybe it’s common to all folk, a need to celebrate when the light is small?”

Thistle shrugged.  “I don’t know that I’ve thought much about it before.  Around here, we decorate with greenery and colorful banners, and there’s songs about winter but also about summer, and people go in the streets with lanterns or sit around inside with warm drinks.  We get a bunch of wanderers in the common room what’re content to walk alone most other times.  Is any of that like what you’re used to?”

The hobbit cocked his head.  “No and yes.  We don’t do much decorating.  Maybe we did back in the east, before the great migration.  Our folk came over the mountains, you see–a terrible and hard and cold journey, it’s said–because there was a darkness in the great forest that was stealing folk away or turning them to bad practices.  Anyway, when you’re traveling there’s no home to decorate, and in the few generations we’ve been this side of the mountains we never really got settled in.  Whatever shadow our great-great-grandsires were trying to avoid, seems it’s crossed the mountains too now.”

“We’ve noticed it here, too, though not so much as where you’ve been.”

Hanno frowned, then shook his head as if to shake the frown off his face.  “Hard times all round.  But I do ramble.  Your Yule sounds familiar enough.  We like song, and warm food and drink, and being among those as we care about; I suppose that’s the main thing, really.  We also exchange gifts with all our kin, friends, neighbors…”

Thistle looked horrified.  “All of them?”

The hobbit chuckled.  “I never said they were important or useful gifts.  Truth be told, most of them are mathoms that everyone keeps passing off each year, and everyone knows it.  Only thing you can’t do is give a gift back to the same person who gave it to you, though most like it’ll come back to them eventually anyway.  Now I’d a great aunt and a second cousin who had this wonderful feud going; they’d pass back and forth this horrid fake flower with tatty yellow silk leaves that had port wine stains–heaven knows how old that thing was or what pit it came out of!–but of course they couldn’t exchange it directly, so each Yule they’d bribe someone else to be the middle-man.  Each year, one of them would thank the middle-man with utmost politeness, all the while glaring daggers across the room at the other.  One wanted to laugh at the sight, except, dear me, it was frightening too!”

Hanno had begun snickering as he related this, and by the time he’d had done with it he was laughing and wheezing so hard he could barely speak.  Tears rolled down his face.  He clutched his sides and rocked.  It was hard to tell just when he passed the borders of laughing, but it soon became apparent that he was sobbing quietly, the full weight of his ordeal and loss finally cracking through his shock.

Thistle sat like a cornered rabbit for some moments.  His eyes darted around his shabby room.  He opened his mouth to say something meaningless.  Then he shut it and patted the hobbit’s shoulder awkwardly.  Hanno kept sobbing and leaned slightly toward his hand, so Thistle kept the hand resting where it was.

At length the hobbit stilled, raised his face, and said in a businesslike way, “That was kind of you.”

_______*_______

Fenn sat on a wooden crate, which was the second closest thing to a chair in Thistle’s room, and tried to stop his consternation showing on his face.  Their small guest, tray in lap, was tucking into his meal with a ferocity that would rival the burliest of Men.

Thistle raised his brows pointedly.  Nodding, Fenn got to his feet and improvised, “Glad to see you’ve an appetite.  There’s a couple stews left over, but I didn’t want to reheat any until I’d asked your preference.  There’s one with chicken and vegetables, and one with potatoes and mushrooms.”

Hanno glanced up from a great chunk of bread.  Fenn thought his eyes looked a bit puffy and red, but now they lit: “Mushrooms?”

“All right, mushrooms and potatoes it is.  I’ll bring more cheese up, too.  Is the tea to your liking?  Right, there’ll be more of that.”

Back in the common room the Yule tree had been stabilized, an old guestbook reposing under one leg of its stand.  Its presence had crowded patrons at the front of the already full room more closely together.  One of the regulars seemed mightily amused by the situation, sitting on the edge of a bench amidst the green boughs and feigning lechery:  “I never seen such perky branches in this shabby inn…”

“Now don’t you go harassing the Yule tree,” someone else demanded righteously, pointing and swaying,

Fenn darted behind the counter, emerging few minutes later with a large bowl of stew, a steaming mug, and a big hunk of cheese.  The innkeeper appeared somewhat uncannily and stepped into his path.

“Having yourself a little snack?” said Bulrush.

“Yep,” said Fenn.  His stomach choose that moment to gargle loudly.

Bulrush raised his chin and furrowed his brow.  “You sure that’s not for that ‘little bloke,’ right?”

“Nope,” said Fenn.  He hurried off with the platter, muttering at his stomach as he ascended the stairs again, “Come off it, you’re not the one what’s starving.”

_______*_______

“Well, evergreen plants of any sort are important in midwinter of course, but trees especially,” Thistle was explaining.  “A week or two before Yule, people start hanging pine branches up in their homes.  Traders from the hill country come to market selling them.”

Fenn had resumed his place on the crate.  “Here in Bree, only the inns bother getting a whole tree.  I hear at Amon Sûl they get a great tall one for the square, and some smaller ones here and there to keep the officers from up round Fornost happy–northerners and hill-folk, you know, used to more winter greenery.  It’s all to do with the cold and the long nights, and how so many things sleep or die during this time.  The things that stay evergreen, they don’t sleep nor die.”

“So all the green is a sign,” said Hanno, dipping bread in stew, “that you’ll get through the worst times?”

“Right, I think you’ve said it best.”

“And, you kill trees to make that point?”

Fenn’s mouth dropped open slightly, and Thistle squinted.  “Well, see,” Fenn rejoined presently, “that’s not the way we’ve thought of it, you know.  Everyone loves the Yule tree.  Even people who never come to the Gull will stop by during the day on Yule, to have a bite and look at it.  Some folk make little decorations from colored paper, there’s a way to fold them; them as can write put wishes or poems on them, and they all put them on the tree.  It’s very festive-looking by day’s end.”

Hanno considered, bread poised above his bowl.  “Excuse me, Mister Amannbier, I shouldn’t presume, especially when you’ve been so good, but it did strike me as peculiar.  Perhaps it would make more sense to me if I could read and write, but among Harfoots only the most learned can do that.  I hear Fallowhides are a bit better with such things, but I’ve not met many of them, you know.”

“I can show you if you like, leastwise most of the letters.  I don’t know that many words,” Thistle offered, but he seemed somewhat distracted.  

“If there’s time, thank you.  I don’t know how long that would take, you see.”

“You can stay here as long as you need to rest up.”

Hanno grinned and grimaced at the same time.  “I appreciate that.  Neither of you had any cause–well, I’m indebted.  I understand one of you knows the gentleman who owns this inn?”

Fenn smirked, ruefully.  “I suppose I know him.  He’s my father; not that it counts for much.  Me and Thistle, we’ll do what we can though.”

Trying to lighten the mood because he was technically the host, or because he didn’t know what else to do, Thistle added, “Hopefully we’ll do a sight better than the gull on the sign.”

“My thanks.”  Hanno nodded repeatedly, brushed wavy brown hair back behind his ears, and obliged, “Why’s the inn called the Flying Gull?  We’re still far from the sea, aren’t we?”

“Very far yet,” Thistle agreed.  “See, long before Fenn’s granddad brought this inn, its founders was thinking about the kings from out of the sea.  This place is very old, you know–”

Fenn snorted, “The termites and mold speak for themselves.  We’re due for another remodel.”

“Don’t brag too much about our inn, Fenn, would you?  Anyway, many centuries ago, back when the sea kings was still new and powerful and everyone had to start learning their ways and their speech–well, someone thought it would be a good idea to appeal to their folk by calling this place after a seabird.”

_______*_______

Bulrush Amannbier knocked on the first door at the top of the narrow staircase.  “Come in,” came Thistlegloan’s voice.

Bulrush opened the door to find Thistle perched on a stool, Fenn slouched on a wooden crate, and the troll-escaping visitor sitting on the edge of the bed with a nearly empty tray in his lap.  The first two didn’t look overly happy to see Bulrush; their guest, noting this, cast the innkeeper a careful, polite look.

A man of business was well aware that it never hurt to be tactful to outsiders, even those who weren’t paying for anything.  Traveling tongues, rich or poor, could wag across the countryside.  So the innkeeper addressed the hobbit cordially: “I was sorry to find we didn’t have adequate space for you, sir.  This is a busy time of year.  I hope Mister Thistlegloan’s hospitality will suffice.”

The hobbit answered with an easy, superficial cheer, “It’s quite sufficient, sir, and more than I’d hoped to find this morning.  Am I to understand you’re the master of this inn?”

“That’s so.  Welcome to the Flying Gull.  I hope you’ll find the Yule season in Bree to be pleasant.”

“So far as I can tell, Mister Amannbier, it is, though I have to confess I’m quite tired from my travels.”

Bulrush considered this child-sized person he’d been skeptically determined to see for himself.  As his son had implied, the hobbit’s demeanor was far too old to be that of a child; and the face was something else, rather extraordinary, not old nor young in its seeming, but framed by brown hair shot generously through with grey.  Now that the innkeeper paused to note it, his own son’s hair was greying a bit about the temples.

Bulrush realized he was nodding deferentially, imagining this hobbit faced with ravenous trolls in the wilds, and saying, “Then I won’t trouble your rest, and I hope these two young fellows won’t either.  I just wanted to make sure you’re comfortable, sir.”  He shut the door quietly and receded back down the stairs.

_______*_______

It seemed the food hitting Hanno’s stomach had tripped some inner switch that made his chin and eyelids droop.  He must not have had any proper sleep in days.  Fenn stood, taking the tray.  “I’ll bring the cot on up.  There’s plenty of nice bedding for it, I hope it’ll do.  I’d’ve put you up in my room, which is a spot bigger, but one’s got to pass though the common room to get to it and I didn’t think as you’d be up for a bunch of nosy strangers right now.”

“Don’t trouble about it, please, I’m just glad of a roof over my head.  And you’re right, I’m not really keen to meet a bunch of people now, though after some rest I might find that charming.”

Fenn nodded and bustled out.  The hobbit yawned and swayed a bit, trying politely to keep his eyes open, and said to Thistle, “I understand you tend the grounds here at the inn, but I’m afraid I don’t understand the title of ‘hedgekeeper.’  There’s more than hedges to it, isn’t there?”

“Yes, I’m called the groundskeeper here at the inn, but it’s my second job.  I’m the town’s hedgekeeper.”

“Sorry?”

“Bree doesn’t have a wall.  It has a great looming hedge.”

“Oh, of course.  I saw that but I didn’t really see it, if you know what I mean.  I guess they would need to have a person to look to that, wouldn’t they, it’s a very big hedge.”  Hanno swayed again, eyes half closed.

“Just lie down, why don’t you, til Fenn gets back with the cot.  You’ll take a spill onto the floor at this rate.”

The hobbit clearly thought it rude to use somebody else’s bed when other arrangements were available, though he seemed near asleep already.  “Thank you, no, it’s a very nice floor, I like your rug… So that hedge, what sort of keeping does it want?”

Thistle began pointlessly tidying the already tidy space.  Most of the things he owned were practical, except for stones and feathers and other such found items.  “Well, it needs trimming back yearly, that’s the biggest task, and most of that goes into the compost heap.  That takes weeks.  I go around trimming stray branches, just for looks, quarterly.  If there’s a drought, I need to haul bucketsful of water and make sure it gets enough.  Some winters, it gets heavy icicles what might start breaking branches under their weight, and I go about knocking those off with a shovel.”

“Sounds heavy work sometimes,” mumbled Hanno.  Thistle noted out of the corner of his eye that the hobbit had indeed slumped over until he lay with his head pillowed in the crook of his elbow.  “But you like it.  Not the work, I mean, I don’t know what you think of that, but you like the hedge.”

Thistle rearranged a few snail shells on his dresser, a rare grin overcoming his face, and spoke frankly since the guest was almost asleep anyway.  “Not much gets by you, does it?  I love the hedge.  It’s got all its moods and faces, like a person, but it listens better.  It’s been around much longer.  It talks, too, you know, in its way, when the light or the wind hits it or a creature moves through it.  And you’re right, it’s daft to cut a tree down to celebrate surviving the winter.  I, of all people, never thought of that.  Maybe I won’t do it next year, but someone else will anyway, it’s what’s always been done here.”

A soft snore answered his soliloquy.  Thistle looked down at the hobbit, who still wore the torn and mud-caked clothes that had accompanied him since his flight out of the Weather Hills, who had slightly pointed ears something like the old Elves in the tales, and who would really benefit from a proper bath.  Thistle shrugged, inched a pillow under Hanno’s head, and folded the edge of the bedspread and blankets over him.  He opened the door just as Fenn came dragging the cot and its thin mat down the hall, the spare blankets draped over his shoulders like a lumpy motley cloak.

Thistle, inexplicably, couldn’t stop grinning.  He spoke quietly as he helped carry the cot in.  “Let’s just set it up quick and leave him be.  I guess I’ll be using the cot.  No matter.  I’m going for a walk.  Join me for a pint in a bit?”

_______*_______

Epilogue.  Bree, 1317.  

“It cheers my heart to see Men and hobbits living and thriving together in Bree,” said the old man, seemingly oblivious to the festive banter and song filling the common room behind him.  He stood leaning his elbows on the counter, a tall walking stick balanced in the crook of his left arm, and spoke as though calm rather than chaos attended the conversation.  “How long has this been the case?”

Fenn Amannbier the innkeeper answered, “Well, long enough that I’d not have it any other way.”  He held up an index finger to indicate a sudden realization.  “I suppose it all started ten years ago this very day, eh, Hanno?”

Hanno Mossyway the assistant innkeeper, who must have been standing on something to raise his face above the counter, nodded.  “That was when I arrived in Bree, Yule Eve.  Some bad happenstances had sent me wandering lost, and this gentleman here, and Thistle–he’s our groundskeeper, and the hedgekeeper too–they found me by the road and took me in.  So here’s me riding into town on a sledge with a Yule tree, completely addled and no clue what’s going on, and Thistle the hermit stuck with a roommate, and Fenn forever trying to swipe food for me under his father’s eye–bless and rest old ‘Rush!–, and nosy regulars wondering who and what I was.  It was quite harrowing at the time, but everybody benefited in the end.  The Men of Bree made space for my folk when we were friendless and afraid.”

Fenn stroked his grey-and-russet beard reminiscently.  “Sometimes a thing happens and the world gets bigger, you know?  Suddenly there was this whole other people we’d never known about, and they needed to move west away from the dark things under the mountains, and so there was this big economic upturn.  Hobbits were able to use the steep plots of land we Men got no gain from, ‘cause of their way of building back into hills, and they brought new kinds of food and crops with them, new ideas, new tales…”

A somewhat-less-greying man strode behind the counter and deposited a large, twiggy, ribbon-laden object on it.  In response to the curious glance of the old man with the walking stick, Thistlegloan the hedgekeeper said, “Hello.  This is the Yule wreath.”

“He makes it from trimmings off the hedge, and then has the children decorate it,” Hanno beamed.  

Fenn didn’t look so impressed.  “Used to be tradition, me and Thistle would go find the Yule tree on the morning of Yule Eve.  But thanks to this meddling hobbit, this–this–sainted hedgekeeper won’t cut any tree down unless it’s got blight or’s all for firewood.”

Hanno shrugged.  “All I said was felling a tree didn’t make sense to me.  I can’t help it if he agreed and you didn’t.  Anyway, you got your nephews to get the Yule tree now.  Speaking of which, they’re late again.  The wreath won the Yule race, third year running.”

The old man, looking amused, took a deep swig of cider.

Fenn affected a resigned sigh.  “Very well, wreath wins again.”  But as he spoke, he leaned covertly back and raised one hand.  Grabbing the hedgekeeper by the collar with the other hand, he dropped something down the back of his shirt.  “Oops, but you lose, Thistlegloan.”

Thistle glared and shook his shirt out until the item fell into his hand.  Holding it between thumb and forefinger, he said solemnly, “Next year, Amannbier…”

Hanno, snickering, informed the visitor, “These two have been a constant source of entertainment for ten years.  Who could ask for a better pair of ale-swigging, stew-swiping, snowshoe-throwing–”

The old man raised his bushy grey eyebrows, pushing his mug across the counter.  “Snowshoe-throwing?”

“Long story,” said Fenn, refilling the mug.

“And dare I ask what just transpired here?”

“We mangled a hobbit tradition,” explained Thistle, dropping the crude wooden carving on the counter.  “Whoever gets this has to keep it til next Yule, and then he can only regift it by surprising one of the other two with it.”

“I see.  And does this…esteemed item having anything to do with…?”

“Yep,” said Fenn.

The old sipped slowly as though revolving a deep philosophical puzzle.

“Really it’s quite simple,” said the hobbit helpfully: “The remodel we started nine summers ago took longer than expected, what with the new hobbit rooms, and by that time it was nearly Yule again, and Fenn’s dad finally agreed to let him rename the inn for its ribbon-cutting on Yule Eve.  But Fenn, foresighted as he is, only knew that he wanted to rename it, but not what to.  So he was fretting about it, and I’d just dropped this hateful old mathom in his pudding when he wasn’t looking.  And Fenn, he turns back to his pudding and takes this great heaping spoonful, and then he looks at it like it’s grown horns, and he says, ‘Anyone care to tell me what this ugly thing is in my pudding?’  And I says, ‘It’s your early Yule present,’ and he says, ‘You shouldn’t have.  But what in blazes is it?’  I tell him, ‘It’s a pony.  And it’s prancing.  I think,’ and he suddenly throws up his hands and shouts, cross as can be, ‘All right, so bloody well be it, from now on the inn is called…’”


=======*=======

Endnotes

This story hinges on an entry from LotR Appendix B: ‘c. 1300 – Evil things begin to multiply again. Orcs increase in the Misty Mountains and attack the Dwarves. The Nazgûl reappear. The chief of these comes north to Angmar. The Periannath migrate westward; many settle at Bree.’

Amannbier: amann (Breton) butter, bier (B.) beer.  The use of Breton in the surnames of the Breelanders was prompted by JRRT’s use of Celtic names for the towns of Bree and Archet, which he stated to be vestiges of a time before the Westron language came into prominence in the region.  As this is set seventeen centuries before the events of LotR, traces of the Breelanders’ prior language were probably a good deal more apparent.  I intended Amannbier to be just evocative enough that the reader can choose to imagine that this name had become Butterbur by 3018, and that the Pony stayed in the family all these years; but one can as easily imagine that this was not the case, and that the inn changed hands in the interim.  I dearly wanted to use the surname Butunbier (tobacco-beer!), but that would have been entirely unfair to the hobbits, who invented smoking centuries later.

Thistlegloan: gloan (Breton) wool.  The surname Thistlewool appears in FotR “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony.”

Hanno: I was looking at names of historical explorers for inspiration and thought Hanno the Navigator’s name sounded hobbitish enough unaltered (plus it starts with the same sound as hobbit and Harfoot, contributing to Fenn’s confusion).

Readers aware of my predilections will suspect I had the Gandalf cameo in mind when I started this, but I can solemnly swear that for once I wasn’t thinking about wizards.  He ended up popping in when I was fixing to use a random traveler in the epilogue, and insisted he could do as good a job or better.

Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
rhapsody11
Jan. 1st, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I love this story, there are so many things that I wonder about. Fenn has nephews for example, so he never married I suppose :)

I love how you combined the request with the explanation of how the hobbits settled in Bree, how changes came about and how bad those times were for hobbits and men alike. The dialogue is great and the story just rolls along, no wonder how it turned out longer than you intended. :) Well done!
huinare
Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:46 am (UTC)
I recall putting the nephews into the first draft because of my own concerns with the sentimentality of presuming that the inn might've actually stayed in the family for 17 centuries (I mean, really, not likely); my more realistic side wanted to use them to hint at how easily a family business might transfer over to a different family. But yeah, it does kind of want a backstory. If I ever have cause to write about Eriador during this time again, that might happen. =]

Thanks, Rhapsody! This one was not my usual fare at all, and I had fun writing it.
dreamflower02
Jan. 1st, 2013 06:02 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful way to explain the presence of hobbits in Bree and how they came to get along so well with the Men of Bree.

I love the way Hanno effortlessly charms all of his new friends (even Fenn's gruff old father)--that's a characteristic of hobbits, I think! *grin*
huinare
Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:49 am (UTC)
Thank you, Dreamflower! This was my first time writing bone fide OCs in Tolkien's universe, let alone a hobbit OC. I had fun writing Hanno. Part of his effect on the old innkeeper is also that Bulrush starts to realize that his own life has been rather insular and self-absorbed. Glad you enjoyed the story!
engarian
Jan. 1st, 2013 09:39 pm (UTC)
Such a nice turn of a storyline to explain how hobbits came into Bree and some of the Yuletide traditions as well. It was a real joy to read.

- Erulisse (one L)
huinare
Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:51 am (UTC)
Thank you, Erulisse! Glad you liked it. I found it diverting to write, as it caused me to consider an historical period in Eriador which I hadn't thought much about, which in turn helps me get a better handle on my own 'verse as more detail is added to it.
curiouswombat
Jan. 1st, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
What an excellent story of the coming of the Hobbits to Bree. Thank you.
huinare
Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:52 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading! It was fun to figure out what my own take is on hobbits moving further west.
blslarner
Jan. 2nd, 2013 03:11 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this one thoroughly! What a lovely look at the coming of Hobbits to the Breelands and the cooperation and friendships growing out of that arrival! Thanks for a wonderful glimpse at a most interesting time in the history of Middle Earth!
huinare
Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
Thanks, Larner! I did find this an intriguing time period to consider, as it really wasn't one I'd thought much about yet. And I noticed a few thematic similarities between my story and the one you wrote for my request. Huzzah for hobbit explorers. =D
blslarner
Jan. 3rd, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC)
My version of the Hobbits coming from the Anduin valley and then from their first settlements along the Mitheithil into Bree is a bit different, and can be found in my ongoing epic "Stirring Rings," which can be read on Many Paths to Tread, FF.n, StoriesOfArda, and so on. Now I REALLY need to get back to it, now that I have a new temporary computer (LONG story!). But I can certainly see how such events as these might have occurred.

And I, too, have a back-and-forth mathom that appears in "A Message and a Bottle" and "The King's Commission." It is just fun to see the takes on these matters as offered by other writers!
ladyelleth
Jan. 2nd, 2013 11:43 pm (UTC)
This was wonderful. It's almost an OFic, but still so firmly rooted in Tolkien's world that I couldn't help but love it. It's set in a time that I've never really considered as far as the stories go, but it's been an amazingly engaging read anyway. I loved the dictio, and all the conversational wisdom in this as well, in particular Maybe it’s common to all folk, a need to celebrate when the light is small?” --- very astute! All in all, lovely work, Huin! :)
huinare
Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:56 am (UTC)
Thanks much, Elleth! TBH, I hadn't considered the time period much either before this.
And this was my first time writing OCs in Tolkien's world, which I was vaguely concerned about since I'd never had any cause to write OCs here before. It turned out to be fun though.
wheelrider
Jan. 3rd, 2013 05:00 am (UTC)
Great story. Your OCs are very believable and fit right in. This time period is interesting, and not many have written in it (at least not that I've come across).

...as for food–well, he’s hardly yea high,” indicating his navel with one hand, “how much can he eat?”
Famous last words!

I don't like cutting down trees to celebrate life either, as nice as they smell. Funny - we chopped about 4-5 feet off our own looming hedge in October... shoulda kept some of it to make a wreath!
huinare
Jan. 5th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

A bit of my philosophy on plants might have found its way into this story (says the person whose favorite Tolkien character is Mr. Tree-Genocide, and who also has a brown thumb *shrug*). I was also ridiculously enamored with Bree's hedge by the time I'd had done writing this.
mrowe
Jan. 4th, 2013 11:33 am (UTC)
Squeeeeee!!!1!!
This is so great! Loved the characters and the arrival of Hobbits in Bree, and the Yule tree, and how the Prancing Pony got its name (and with the carving in the pudding I thought of the tradition of the Star in Smith of Wootton Major as well *g*).

I couldn't have hoped for a better story to my prompt:-)

Edited at 2013-01-04 11:39 am (UTC)
huinare
Jan. 5th, 2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Squeeeeee!!!1!!
So pleased you liked it! It was fun to write. (Goodness, I'll have to reread Smith, I know I read it quite some years ago but I don't actually remember the star you speak of...except perhaps subconsciously...)

Love your icon!
keiliss
Jan. 5th, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC)
I need to read this again later, it's such a great story. Never thought about the first hobbits in Bree, or what their migration must have been like, and it's such a good angle. The bit that touched me most was when Hanno had been reminiscing and laughing and the laughter turned to sobs - you almost had me in tears too. I can't begin to imagine the horror he'd survived. I loved the different traditions, and the epilogue was pretty much perfect. Way to name an inn :D Thanks for making me smile.
huinare
Jan. 5th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Kei. I'm glad this story amused/touched you. None of this was stuff I'd thought much about myself, until the prompt somehow led me in that direction, and I'm glad I got the chance to figure out my own take on hobbits circa 1300.
heartofoshun
Jan. 8th, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
As someone above said, this story just "rolls right along." I had no idea that I wanted to know how Hobbits came to Bree. Turns out that I did.;) You did a lovely job of extrapolation from the Appendices here. Thanks so much for sharing.
huinare
Jan. 8th, 2013 11:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks much, Oshun! I also didn't realize I was interested in the Hobbits' arrival in Bree until this prompt got me thinking about times/situations to set this story in.
hhimring
Apr. 18th, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC)
I finally read this story, Huin, and it's so good! I really like it!
huinare
Apr. 20th, 2013 02:32 am (UTC)
Thanks, Himring! =]

...I know, right? I didn't give the stories posted for this challenge the proper attention, due to their coincidence with holidays and other factors. It already seems ages ago since I wrote this one!
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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