An arm slid around Ishbel Butterbur's waist and
somebody planted a firm kiss on her cheek. She gave a
little shriek, startled rather than frightened - she
was in her own kitchen after all - turned, and
shrieked again, much louder. "Beomann!"

Her eldest son grinned and had just enough time to
give her another kiss and say, "Hello, Mum." before
the kitchen door thumped open and a couple of potboys,
one Big and one Little, charged in, followed by the
Butterbur's youngest daughter Lusey, and finally the
Innkeeper himself.

It took Barliman Butterbur two looks to recognize
the Ranger with an arm around his wife as his eldest
son. "B-Beomann?"

"Himself! Hello, Dad."

After that things were a bit of a whirl; a lot of
hugging and a few tears, then the potboys were chased
out and Lusey went to fetch her sisters and brothers
and the reunited Butterbur family sat down to a large
if untimely tea in the best parlor, leaving the Inn to
run itself.

It was good to have the family all together again.
Barliman Butterbur told himself, looking at the faces
around the table. He'd have to enjoy it while he
could, the children were growing up.

Beomann'd already flown and their pretty Peggy,
with her bright blue eyes and reddish curls, would be
next now she was of age, *and* had half the young
fellows in town making sheeps' eyes after her. Then
it'd be nineteen year old May's turn, and finally his
little Lusey's. though she was not so little now
she'd turned sixteen. Gerry was begining to shoot
up too, just as Beomann had at fourteen. But at
least Toby and Brandy were still little boys, happily
digging into the berry tarts, and making themselves
red and sticky with the juice.

Their mother remained serenely unaware of the mess
they were making of her good linen tablecloth, her
attention entirely on her eldest. "You've lost
weight," Ishbel complained, eyeing him frowningly,
"Don't they feed you?"

Beomann swallowed a mouthful of bread butter and
jam. "Oh yes, but the Dunedain have different customs;
no proper breakfast, no tea. *And* they don't take
what I'd call a decent interest in dinner or supper
either. Downright discouraging it is." shook his head
sadly. "I've been trying to civilize them but it
doesn't seem to be taking."

The boy'd lost the last of his puppy fat, his
father thought a little sadly, and there were lines on
his face that hadn't been there before. Surely he
couldn't have grown taller? It was a bit of a shock
seeing his Beomann in Ranger leathers, complete with
short bow and long sword, and what's more wearing them
like he was used to them.

"Are you sure you're Gerry?" Beomann was asking his
younger brother. "What happened to the roly-poly
little strawhead who made my life a misery?"

"He grew up." Barliman answered. "Become a real
help to me he has."

Beomann gave him a sharp look, and Barliman knew he
hadn't quite managed to hide the sadness he was
feeling. The hero-worship shining in Gerry's eyes told
him plain as plain he'd be losing his second boy to
the Rangers as well, just as soon as he got the

"Three whole years you've been away!" Ishbel
scolded. "With naught but an occasional letter, and
not a word of warning to let us know you were coming!"

"I didn't know myself until five days ago," Beomann
explained. "No point in a letter when I'd get here at
the same time it did - if not before."

"You're on a mission then?" Ishbel asked with a
curious combination of disappointment and worry.

"That's right." he grinned. "A mission to Bree as
it happens." that made them stare, Toby and Brandy
even forgot about their sweets. "The King is coming
home at last," Beomann explained, "and not above time!
Which means the realm is finally going to be put on a
proper footing. Gil thought there should be somebody
at Annuminas to speak for Bree." quickly. "Not that
the King would do anything to hurt us, it *is* old
Strider after all, but how's he to know what we want
unless there's somebody there to tell him?"

"That's true." Barliman agreed slowly. "I'll call a
meeting of the Masters of the Town and you can put it
to them."

Beomann nodded acceptance and changed the subject.
"You know, sometimes I think nobody here in the North
is what I thought they were - not even us Butterburs."

Barliman frowned. "Now, what do you mean by that,

"You know that good farm Grandad said we'd had at a
place called Upwood, down south before the Great
Dying?" His father nodded and Beomann smiled wryly.
"Turns out it wasn't a farm at all but a manor. Five
hundred acres, twice what old Oakapple owns,(1) with a
big stone house and a bit of a village around it."

Barliman blinked, then recovered himself. "Well
that's a surprise, but then Longbow - Belegon - did
say our ancestors had been knights."

"I know," Beomann agreed, "I just hadn't thought
through what that meant." Turned suddenly somber.
"They've got records of the Plague at Tol Ernil -
that's where Belegon lives - the last lord of Upwood
was a Sir Ludo Butterbur. Seems he was friends with
the Prancers who ran the Pony in those days and sent
his little son and daughter to stop with them when the
Sickness reached Cardol. Everybody who stayed behind,
Ludo, his lady, the villagers, all died."

Nobody said anything. Most of the Big folk of Bree
were descended from those who'd come north, fleeing
infection in the days of the King, and the memory of
that horror still lingered in fireside tales.

"When the plague had burned itself out a Dunedain
knight who'd been friends with Ludo, collected what
money there was, the plate and her ladyship's jewels
and brought them to the children in Bree. But, as you
know, they never went back. Heribert Butterbur married
old Prancer's eldest daughter and took over the Pony
when he died instead." Beomann shrugged. "I guess we
must have spent or sold all Ludo's treasure long ago."

Barliman's eyes went over his son's shoulder. "Not
quite all."

Wife and children followed his gaze to the rows of
silver dishes and cups and platters and bowls and
tureens on the big oak dresser, each piece delicately
etched with a sprig of butterbur.

It was Ishbel who finally broke the silence. "I
remember I used to wonder when I was first married how
the Butterburs could ever have afforded such a thing,
and what they'd wanted it for as it just makes the
food go cold the faster." added hastily at her
husband's look. "Not that it isn't very beautiful to
look at!"

Mollified Barliman smiled forgivingly, turned back
to his eldest. "Well that's a surprise all right, son,
but it was all a very long time ago and's got nothing
to do with us now."

"Well, not quite." Beomann said. "It's good land,
Upwood, and still ours Belegon says, and I thought
with three younger sons to provide for..."

"Mmm." his father looked thoughtful. "Far is it?"

"Not very - twenty odd leagues or so."

Barliman reflected ruefully his son's ideas of
what was 'far' had changed sommat. Still, twenty
leagues wasn't an impossible distance now the Road was

It's not much more than a mile off the Greenway,"
Beomann was saying, "not a bad place for an inn I'd
say, now we're starting to get traffic from down

"Mmmmm..." said his father.

1. The biggest landowner in the Breeland.