Chapter 10: So a Hero, a Brat, a Gardener and a Punk Walk Into a Bar

Harry the Guard had been the guard for thirty-seven years. Retirement was not on his horizon. He was waiting for his Big Moment, the moment his whole career had been careening him toward. That morning he kicked off the sheets and scowled in looking-glass. It was tonight. He just knew there was going to be a break-in tonight. As he straitened his tie before the glass, he told Josie, "I just know there's going to be a break-in tonight."

"Wha's that, dear?" Josie pushed her vacuum between his feet.

Harry polished his shades and slid them over his eyes. "They ain't gettin' past Harry."

Though nothing happened that day except a minor incident between a wolf and three pigs, he lost no faith that this was the night. And then they came, like apparitions out of the dusk. Hobbits. Four hobbits.

"Stick your hands up!" Harry brandished his bobby-stick. "Under the metal detector. I just know there's going to be a break-in tonight!"

"Mr. Frodo!" hissed Sam. "The Ring!" In horror, he watched Frodo pass under the cold grey arch. He waited for the wail, the guard coming down on Frodo, the confiscation of the dread trinket, the world being swallowed in flames… or a pond, what was much worst…

The pond came not. Frodo stood on the other side, tapping his foot. Merry and Pippin had already jostled each other through. Frodo jerked his thumb over his ear. Sam's eyes followed to the power outlet beside the gate. The detector's cord was unplugged.

Once Sam joined them, they paused to watch a shadowy figure scale the gate and fall into a pool of muck.

Shrugging, they strolled down Bree Street. They passed tourist information signs and storefronts packed with mugs, t-shirts and spoons. They made one stop in the Bree Bookshop. A book-signing by Pengolodh was in progress. (Teachings: Like It Is, 2nd ed). Thus saith Pengolodh of Pippin: "Go away, please." But first, Frodo bought Chicken Soup for the Fëa, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Encyclopaedia Ardanica. Sam carried the bags.

"Now, what's that pub Gandalf said to go to?" said Frodo.

Merry thought. "It was definitely something-Pony. P-something."

All at once they stopped and looked up.

The years had stripped the sign of its paint. Vaguely could be seen the outline of Pooping Pony. Pippin giggled. Frodo looked doubtfully into the black gap where a door once was, probably caved in from some past winter's snow. It was unlikely the door had had much use when it had stood there, for two holes, one man-sized and the other hobbit-sized were beat into the wall. Through them they could make out sickly candle light and hear depressed cantina music, so the place was not yet wholly abandoned. Frodo led the way through the plaster, into a haze of smell and dust, toward a shadowy bulk that he guessed correctly to be the front counter.

The proprietor of the Pony, Butterman Butterburp, was a man of generous belly. He was wiping down the counter with what might have once been either a wig or a ferret. Upon Frodo's cough, he dropped it into a barrel behind the counter. A body, which looked dead, slumped against a wall.

"Yo," said Frodo. "Has Gandalf arrived?"

"Gandalf! Gandalf?" Beer of years untold was on his breath. "Grey beard, pointy head. Sticks nose into everything. Robes that blow everywhere. Carries a paddle… Owes me money…"

"So is he here?" said Frodo, guarding his nose with his hand.

"Uh, no. Me shoot him if I see him. Maybe he come by. You want spend money while you wait?"

The hobbits huddled.

"I know we're supp'sed to meet Gandalf. But why do we want to?" Merry asked. He eyed the walls, oily and perspiring, a tad unsuitable for leaning.

"Because. I noticed after he left," Frodo glowered. Hell-fire was in his eyes. "My wallet is gone."

They seated themselves in a black booth. They realized soon that black was not its original color and they were too afraid to peel it off and find what lay hidden underneath.

While the others drummed their fingers and tried to pry them off again from the gummy surface, Frodo called Flabby's cell.

Flabby was bent in the fridge, Frodo's tailored white suit much stretched over his stomach. "Hey! Uh-huh. Nothing much," he thought for a minute. "The house is being watched. Nope, that's all. All right. See yah." He emerged, salami, cheese, tomatoes, pudding, peanut butter, watermelon, mayonnaise and pickles stacked on one arm, quivering over his head. He kicked the fridge shut. And suddenly it went cold, deep cold like a milkshake slurped too fast. Flabby tried to swallow. One by one the meat, cheese, and condiments splattered onto the tiles. A mustard bottle's lid popped off, its contents spewing out like yellow blood. Flabby heard a chainsaw rumble at the front door. He watched the mustard bleed into a rug for a few seconds more before shrieking. He grabbed the pickle jar and waddled out Crickhollow's back door. "Fear! Fire! Foes!"


"Flab's awright." Frodo pocketed his cell.

Butterburp waited at Frodo's elbow and spilt beer on Merry, who said in vexation, "Dude!"

"Watcha got?" said Frodo.

"We 'ave mutton and legolamb."

"Isn't there something not sheep?"

"No."

So they ordered three muttons and one legolamb. Butterburp went behind the counter, muttering about "outlanders" and he reached into the barrel and fished out four greasy slabs.

While their stomachs rumbled and squirted in anticipation – Goldberry's cooking had left much to be desired – Sam nudged Frodo's arm and whispered, "That feller's been starin'."

"I know Sam," said Frodo in singsong.

Indeed, an unshowered someone was pretending to be reading July's issue of Elleth's Day, but over the leaves could be seen a pair of binoculars pointed toward the hobbits' table.

"Who's that weirdo?" Frodo asked Butterburp. Butterburp, turning, spilled beer on himself.

"Uh-ah… Snapper…" Beer rained on Merry, who cowered under a handful of napkins. "Uh, no, Snipper…" More beer. "Uh-ah, Stripper… or Tripper. Me don't know." Butterburp took a long swig, half of which ended up on his shirt. Somehow the mug seemed to never empty. He lowered his arm, tipping the mug, and a quart seeped into Merry's leather lap.

"My vest, man!" But it was beyond the help of paper napkins. "I'm going to find a leather shop. There's got to be one still open." Merry squelched out the bar.

Butterburp took Merry's plate back and dumped it into the barrel.

As Frodo slid his mutton under the table, the man Tripper made 'come hither' signs. Frodo ignored him. The man ripped a page from the magazine, crumpled and threw it. Frodo ignored him more. A severe barrage of papers followed. Some drunks began to sober and point. Finally Frodo looked up; the man was pointing his binoculars into his ear. "Buzz off."

The man, nursing two black-eyes, slumped back to his chair.

"Mr. Frodo, want me to go…" Sam searched for the word. "Gruff him up a little?"

"On second thought," said Frodo, "I think I'll talk to him."

Sam protested. Frodo stapled his lips shut.

The man seemed positively delighted that Frodo approached him.

"I'm positively delighted, Mr. ." The man leaned forward to whisper, "Or should I say Mr. Waggins."

"Baggins."

"Positively delighted," he said again, falling back and seeming to forget what he wanted to say. Someone began blowing wet raspberries. Tripper slapped his thigh and they ceased.

"Howdja know my name?" said Frodo, checking his watch.

"I've been." The man held his head high on his stringy turkeyneck. "Spying. Following you along the road. And over the gate. Perhaps you did not notice…"

Frodo was thinking that he looked rather like a duck, big feet, wide nose, though the turkeyneck was his most distinguishing feature. Was there such a thing as a durkey? Or would it be a tuck…?

"Hm? Oh yes, I did."

The raspberries started up again, louder, so that Tripper had to raise his voice, "Perhaps it would be better to talk in private."

"No."

Tripper appeared to give his leg a savage pinch; the raspberries faltered and seemed to take Tripper's confidence along with them. "Um, so, yeah. Hey, um, your friend's making a lot of noise."

Indeed Pippin was, but that was hardly unusual. "Not a tuck but a Took," Frodo mused. He said more loudly, "So?"

"J-just, well, thought you ought to know… you know?"

"He don't," said a snarky voice. Tripper again slapped his side. The voice yelped. Frodo had had it. He stomped over to Pippin's squealing.

"Then he disappeared with a bang!"

"Really?"gasped Pippin's listener, rapt and gawking.

"Yeah, you were there, stupid – eeEEee - !"

Frodo leaped over two tables and stapled Pippin's mouth shut. Now the whole bar was staring. Still on the table, Frodo straightened himself and scratched the back of his neck.

"Uh, hey everybody. Thanks for having us."

"He'sh drunk," a regular hooted.

"Song! Song!" cried the other drinkers.

Frodo began a tune that Bilbo had stolen and embellished.

Twinkle twinkle little star

How I abhor where you are

Up above the world so high

A great big Silmaril in the sky

Twinkle twinkle little star

How I wish you were in m' jar

Every drunk, from the jolliest to the meanest were arm-in-arm, tears pouring down their faces. "Again! Again!"

"Not on your life!" said Frodo as he reached into his pocket and emptied a jar of fire-ants onto their heads.


In the parlor of Isengard, tastefully decorated in late Númenórean, Gandalf and Saruman sputtered over a bottle of Dorwinion '939

Gandalf supported himself on Saruman's arm. "And then – and then he says 'They've been asking for Shire.' And I says, 'The Shire.' Definite articles, friend."

"Oh Radagast!" Saruman wiped away a tear. "Radagast the bird-tamer, Radagast the fool." They laughed heartily, slapping the other's back.

"But now. Really, what I wanted to tell you." Saruman settled down, adjusting his adhesive nails.
"I've joined Sauron. Will you help?"

"Oh, um, I see! How much is my cut?"

"I knew you'd say that," said Saruman. "My offer was just a jest. I've no use for your parlor tricks. You're worth more as a hostage."

"H-hostage?" Gandalf got up and hastily gathered Saruman's spoon collection into his pockets.

Meanwhile, Saruman closed and bolted the doors and windows. In a swirl of wing-like capes, he reseated himself and steepled his hands to watch Gandalf feebly wring the doorknob. "It's to Sauron or Círdan, then." Saruman's grin revealed pointed canine teeth. "The bidding begins tonight."

The white wizard called in his orcish butler, and before he cuffed Gandalf, Saruman relieved he grey conjuror of a tea-set and toaster, and other small items that had wended their way into Gandalf's sleeves. After Gandalf had been dragged out, pleading and punning, Saruman sorted through the various knickknacks, not from his own shelves, but doubtless other victims'. Earrings, porcelain, coasters from every pub under Anar, casserole dishes, Christmas lights. A wallet caught his eye. He opened it and a peeved midget glared back at him. He thumbed through the little flaps and Precious' ETHUM membership card spilled out.

New evil ideas began forming behind the wizard's brow. He snapped the wallet shut. "On second thought, I can put off the bidding till Tuesday."


The TV in their room was shaky, black-and-white, looking to date back to the Second Age. The sitcom, even older.

MAEDHROS: (slaps palms together and beams) "So, what ships will you spare to return, and whom shall they bear hither first? Fingon the valiant?'

FËANOR: "None and none!"

HIDDEN AUDIENCE: (laughs)

FËANOR: (flippant gesture) "Torch 'em."

CURUNIR: "Heee."

(Boats go poof).

AMRAS: (glances around)"Where's my twin? Wasn't he sleeping on yonder burning ships?"

(Zoom to Fëanor's face. Comedic gotcha music).

FËANOR: "Oops."

AMRAS: (slaps forehead) "Daaady."

(The six remaining sons exchange 'not again' looks).

AUDIENCE: (in titters)

AMROD: (hops from Fëanor's shadow) "Here I am!"

FËANOR: "Where were you, boy?"

AMROD: "Behind you the whole time."

FËANOR: "O son, you know I never look back there."

AMROD: (throws back head) "Hahaha!"

OTHER SONS & FËANOR: "Hahaha!"

A click and the picture fades out.

"I hate this show." Frodo chucked the channel-changer out the window. He'd returned from the bathroom – that cell of horrors – with a toothbrush and towel. His Furies buzzed around his ears and sent them off to bother the local grocery.

"But that's my favorite! My fav-or-ite!" wailed Pippin.

He was dangling by his ankles from the curtains, his face a bright ketchup red. Usually he was Merry's problem, but since Merry hadn't returned from the leather shop, Frodo dealt with his excitable cousin his own way.

Something suddenly went splat. It was Tripper; he toppled face-first in front of them, stiff as a corpse, likely because his four limbs had fallen asleep in the corner. He spoke to the floorboards, "Perhaps you didn't see me sneak in behind you and hide in the shadows."

"Yes, actually." Frodo hopped into his four-poster bed and took out Chicken Soup for the Fëa.

By his employer's orders, Sam lay flat on the floor. It was to attract the roaches and rats and thus keep them from the bed.

Just then the door slammed open, bumping against Tripper's skull. Butterburp waddled in and sloshed beer on Sam. Instantly, the roaches attacked. Tripper lay motionless beside him, ignored by the insects like a heap of radioactive sludge.

"Him! " Butterburp pointed at the fallen man with his mug. "He crazy. I kill him if I you."

"We'll see," Frodo promised. "What do you want?"

"Uh-ah, you say something about Gandalf. And I, uh, remembered this." Butterburp handed Frodo an envelope, which looked and smelled like it had been swimming in the barrel.

"Uh-ah, now, I feel bad," the barkeep belched, rubbing his mug bashfully on his head. "I spill beer on it."

Frodo held up the letter, a drunk raccoon's scrawl on a napkin. "What is this?" He scanned to the bottom at what passed as a signature and said, "Oh." He couldn't make much of the scratches in the main body of the letter, but the postscripts ran thus: PS if u see a gie called triper trust him u'll no him bie his hed PPS, to make shur its him (beer blotch) PPPS etc pay the tab wud you? much apreshated ~ G(blotch).

Tripper at that moment stirred and lifted his face. A rectangular bruise ran from his chin to his forehead. "I am he. I am Aragorn, M.D. Son of Arathorn. Also known by many other names, known by none, even by me."

"Yes, yes, whatever. Have you references?"

"I had hoped Gandalf…" Tripper stammered.

"Ah'd 'oped Gandalf…" said the bodiless parrot.

Frodo waved the letter in dismissal. "Don't get me started."

"Please let me go with you! I must! I must! I must!" The man had crumpled to his knees, his hands stretched out and clutching Frodo's left ankle.

Frodo's face twisted in a blend of pity and disgust. "I have enough defective hanger-ons as it is."

"Wait. Look." Releasing Frodo, Tripper pulled a card out of his sock and flipped it for the hobbit to see. Frodo scowled. It was an ETHUM membership card.

Bilbo's cackle rang clear in his mind, "Remember Frodo m' lad, the secret to a long and healthy life is to deny an Expert Treasure Hunter nuthin."

Suddenly the door fell forward onto Tripper. Over the wreckage stamped Merry, a scuff on his boot where he'd kicked the door. "Dude, I saw the Riders."

"Whoa. AWESOME!" The final strand holding the curtain to the window split, and Pippin hit the floor, rebounding instantly like a rubber ball. To Merry he flew, pumping his arms and hyperventilating.

"What now, man?" Merry pointed his question to Frodo. His cousin grunted, picked up his book, and turned the page.


The TV is on once again, showing Fingolfin's company, frost in their hair and the moon behind them. The sons of Fëanor back up to a rock face, their hands outstretched beseechingly.

MAEDHROS: "Jokes, jokes only…"

As the frosty mob advances, the music turns squealy and dramatic…

A Ringwraith sawed the TV in half. Around were four piles of sawdust and molded feathers. A fresh hole gaped in the wall beside the door.

Wraith4 turned to Wraith7. "No hobbits."

"Prancing. Didn't I say prancing?"

Wraith3 consulted the map. "We must have the wrong place." Grumbling, they shouldered their chainsaws. Wraith4 cut an exit hole beside the first, Wraith7 still prattling, "Prancing. I told you. Pr-ancing."

Morning light trickled into the halfling-, man- and wraith-sized holes, over the rat droppings and rats, and splashing on the crusty tables, wiped never but once on a spring day long ago under the ancient starlight when the seas still flowed straight to the western shore and only the Elf-sires were awake. Butterburp woke under his bar to notice for the first time the dead-like body propped beside the barrel.

Merry marched up and slammed his fist on the bar, which sagged on impact and split in a mushroom-cloud of termite larvae. Butterburp belched and scratched his wide belly with his mug, leaning on a still-standing leg of his bar and picked a termite from his mustache, belching again. Merry kept clear of the mug-range.

"Hey man, what is up with this? You have any idea happened last night?"

"Uh-ah." Butterburp contemplated and gave up.

"My ponies, man!" Merry's fist now slammed the bar-leg. It shuddered but held. "Stolen. All five. Pure-bred Shetlands. I want recompense. Man, if I don't see recompense, beer will spill."

Butterburp studied his mug, and discovering that it was holding equilibrium just fine, shrugged. "You want replacements, there none. No ponies in town. Everyone gone motorcar."

They both saw it at the same time. Like an advert from heaven, a poster, printed in big red letters, appeared on the wall across the bar. Fine equine 4 sale. (Pony). Call Ferny.

"Ah," said Butterburp. "There pony for sale.10 big monies."

"Cool, so…"

"No, 15 big monies."

Merry turned. Only in time to see it wasn't 15 big monies, but...

Butterburp belched. "Now 20 big monies."

Merry, determined, span again.

"30 big monies…"

This time Merry caught a man in the act of taping up a new poster. His face was cruel and squashed like an old blueberry and two waxed mustaches dangled like black worms from his lips. His ears looked not to have seen soap in three decades. He scuttled into a stack of used napkins as Merry looked on.

Merry's leather shoulders deflated. They needed a pack animal and no question that he needed to provide, for his pride as a Brandybuck was on the line. "Fine. Dude. Just fine. I'll take it."

The exchange was made. When the others came out through the hole – including Tripper with toothpaste smudged on his right cheek and a pillowcase slung over his shoulder – they took a long look at Merry's new purchase, which baaed.

"It's a sheep!" Pippin squealed and proceeded to bridle and saddle it with a fishing rod and trashcan lid. Sam stepped in his path.

"That ain't a sheep. It's a goat or my Gaffer's a gofer." Sam paused to work this out. Pippin wailed and stomped but Sam took an apple to the old goat – the creature looked held together by floss and rubber cement – and beamed. "I'll call you Bill."

Bill the goat bit his ear.


Twelve hours previously, while Pippin was felling a bookcase of Pengolodh's books on Pengolodh and Tripper lay comatose in dung, four hobbits strolled down Bree Street, their eyes wide at the storefronts and Big Folk picking their noses in them.

"Gandalf said to wait for further instructions at the… what was it?" said Franz, plump and chipper. Only when he clutched the tiny object under his shirt did his rosy cheeks lose their color. He thought he could feel its heart beat. Nonsense, he thought. But there it was. Another beat. He let his hands drop. Gandalf had warned him of this. Never use it. Never.

His Aunt Bella hadn't known – could not have known, for if she had, she'd not have thrown on him such a terrible yoke. He still saw the dim lights of the funeral home, smelt the faint scents of flowers and toe-wax, heard his mother's soft munching on her mourning-cupcake as the will was read. "Too my nephew Franz Waggins: my pince-nez, though I hope you never need it..."

He shivered. No, she couldn't have known that the pince-nez of hers had been lost ages ago, had lain asleep in sweet innocence since the War, and was in truth the One Pince-Nez of the Dark Lord. If Gandalf had not come and alerted him to his peril, he could not imagine what may have happened.

By his side walked his plumper and chipper sidekick, Clem. "P-something. I remember that for sure, Mr. Franz."

One of his fresh-faced cousins piped up. "It was Pony! Prancing Pony…"