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Written for LJ hobbit_ficathon's challenge to write a gap-filler in a different POV.
Strider leaned himself back a bit further into the shadows, and took another puff on his pipe. His gaze never strayed from the three Shire hobbits who were the center of attention. Of course, since they were newcomers and strangers, it was inevitable, once they had come into the common room.
When he had spotted them at the hedge beyond the gate, he had no trouble recognizing Frodo Baggins, though the hobbit seemed a good deal more youthful than he would have expected from the stories he had heard from Bilbo and Gandalf. Bilbo’s heir must be close to fifty, yet this one looked much younger; perhaps it was a side-effect of--what he carried? But he was, most definitely “fairer than most” hobbits, as the Wizard had described him, and he had the Fallohide air about him that Bilbo was so proud of. He had been somewhat taken aback at the companions--Gandalf had seemed uncertain as to whether there would be two hobbits or four. It had been four outside the gate, but it was only three in the room now. Strider could not place one of them, though he seemed by his speech to be a servant. Of the other two, one was a Brandybuck and the other a Took.
They seemed very heedless of their danger. He’d noticed a bit of wariness at first, but under the curious and friendly attention of the local hobbits, it was fast melting away.
Frodo had spotted him. It had been the merest glance, but the wariness had suddenly returned to his face. He watched as the hobbit gestured to old Butterbur, and they conducted a whispered conversation. The hobbit was too circumspect to stare back, but Butterbur gave away the topic of their discussion by his frequent and furtive looks in Strider’s direction.
When Butterbur moved away, Frodo glanced back at the Man once more, and Strider gave a discreet wave and a nod. Perhaps if he could just get a word with him, he would be able to put his proposal to him quietly.
Frodo stood up, and moved in his direction. Strider noticed that the of the two other hobbits there, the elder almost followed, and was stayed by a subtle move of Frodo‘s hand, while the younger was too engrossed with his conversation with the locals to notice Frodo’s departure.
As Frodo drew near to the table, Strider threw back his hood, and fixed him with a keen stare. “I am called Strider. I am very pleased to meet you, Master--” he lowered his voice “Underhill, if old Butterbur got your name right.”
“He did.”The hobbit’s posture was tense and his voice tight. There was wariness in the remarkable blue eyes.
“Well, Master Underhill, if I were you, I should stop your young friends from talking too much. Drink, fire and chance-meeting are pleasant enough, but, well--this isn’t the Shire. There are queer folk about.” He couldn’t help but smile at the intelligent skepticism in Frodo’s glance; he was very like his Uncle Bilbo. “Though I say it as shouldn’t, you may think. And there have been even stranger travellers through Bree lately.”
Strider sat calmly enough before Frodo’s stare. He was sure that the lad had used it too advantage before to quell impudence, but it would not work on him. However--
Across the room, the youthful voice with its Tookish accent was drawing laughter.
“Yes, and then he said ‘I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve,’ You should have seen the sour faces on the Sackville-Bagginses as they tried to work *that* one out..j.”
Frodo’s brows drew together in an expression of annoyance, and he bit his lip.
“You had better do something quick!” Strider hissed in alarm. This was coming far too close to matters that Gandalf would prefer not to have brought to people’s minds!
With a sudden expression of determination, Frodo jumped up from his seat, and hurrying forward, he nimbly jumped atop a table.
Strider heaved a sigh of exasperation, and placed his palm over his face. This was *not* what he’d had in mind. The ridiculous hobbit was going to draw even *more* attention than his friend’s tale. He shook his head and leaned forward to watch what happened next.
“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…”
At this the Man could not help but chuckle quietly. He had sounded *exactly* like Bilbo at that moment! How he wished his old friend could see *this*!
The room began to clamor for a song, and Strider relaxed a bit. A song was not that uncommon, and it would get everyones’ minds off what had gone before. Perhaps this young hobbit was cannier than he’d given him credit for…
“There is an inn, a merry old inn
And this was ironically funny! He had heard Bilbo singing that song more than once in Rivendell, and the old hobbit had told him that it had been inspired by his own stay at the Pony on his Adventure many years ago! And now it was being sung by Bilbo’s cousin in that self-same inn! Whether wise or not, it was very entertaining.
The crowd was highly amused at the song, as well they should be, but Strider was a bit alarmed when they called for a second chorus--he looked about the room, and noticed some of the squinty-eyed outlanders that had begun infesting Bree lately were paying a good deal too much attention to this. Frodo should have quit while he was ahead.
But Frodo Baggins was having a good time now, and his face wore an expression of abandon as he was clearly enjoying himself. The song neared its climax. And then--
He’d vanished altogether. And Strider knew only too well how *that* trick had been accomplished! What foolishness! He felt anger well up at the way that Frodo Baggins had jeopardized everything for a bit of a trick!
Suddenly, Strider felt a presence close by, and glancing down, saw that the hobbit had removed the--item, and was crawling out from beneath the table. He kept his face stern and blank.
But he could not keep the anger from his voice.
“Well? Why did you do that? Worse than anything your friends could have said! You have put your foot in it! Or should I say, your finger?”
But as angry as he was, Strider suddenly realized this had given him the opening he needed, to reveal himself and his purpose…
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Dialogue in italics is taken directly from The Fellowship of the Ring Book I, Chapter IX, “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony”
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