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The events of this date are well established by both continuity in the main narrative and by the date’s entry in the Tale of Years, ‘Frodo reaches Bree at night. Gandalf visits the Gaffer.’
Frodo wakes in a barrow. The three other hobbits lie on stone slabs, dressed in white rags and gold treasure. He hears a song.
‘Cold be hand and heart and bone,
and cold be sleep under stone…’
An arm walking on its fingers approaches from behind. It moves towards Sam.
Frodo hews at the arm, cutting the hand away, but shattering the sword. Then he remembers the rhyme:
‘Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!
By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow,
By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us!
Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!’
‘Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs and his feet are faster.’
Tom opens the barrow, sings away its spell, and awakens Frodo’s companions.
We know roughly the time of their rescue thanks to the narrative, which provides a guess as to the hour—‘It was still fairly early by the sun, something between nine and ten’ as they emerged from the barrow.
Tom Bombadil has collected the hobbits’ ponies. After dressing in spare clothes and having a small lunch, they ride north toward the Road with Tom trotting alongside on Fatty Lumpkin. The hobbits now carry ancient daggers from the barrow-hoard as swords.
Gandalf reaches Hobbiton. The Gaffer laments his new Sackville-Baggins neighbours: ‘I can’t abide changes, not at my time of life…least of all changes for the worst.’
Eventually, the Gaffer does happen to mention that a rider dressed in black arrived the night Frodo left.
The hobbits reach the Road again—six days after Frodo, Sam, and Pippin crossed it west of Hobbiton on their first night of walking. Tom Bombadil recommends the inn in Bree, then rides away south.
Strider, a Ranger hidden beside the road, overhears their parting.
It’s dark as the hobbits reach Bree. The gatekeeper lets them in, but is suspicious. He doesn’t mention that Black Riders have been asking about a party of four hobbits from the Shire.
The hobbits head for the Prancing Pony. Strider quietly climbs the gate and follows them.
The hobbits have enjoyed excellent beer and dinner in a private parlour. The Prancing Pony’s innkeeper, Barliman Butterbur, invites them to join the company in the common-room. Merry stays behind, reminding them, ‘Don’t forget that you are supposed to be escaping in secret!’
The hobbits have found the common-room, filled with local hobbits and men, foreign dwarves, and outsiders—one of whom has waved Frodo over. He says that he’s called ‘Strider’.
They’re both alarmed to see Pippin telling the crowd the story of Bilbo’s disappearance from the Shire.
To interrupt Pippin’s story before the part where Bilbo vanishes, Frodo jumps on a table. They ask for a song.
‘There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill…’
The crowd presses another drink on Frodo and asks him to sing again, but mid-song he falls from the table and vanishes—the Ring has slipped on his finger.
The crowd is startled. Frodo removes the Ring in a far corner. The customers leave without offering him a single good-night.
As Frodo leaves the common-room to return to his parlour, he’s asked for a talk with both Strider—‘If you please, Mr. Baggins, I should like a quiet word with you’—and the landlord Butterbur: ‘I should like a word with you in private, Mr. Underhill.’
Just as Strider is trying to earn Frodo’s trust, Barliman enters the parlour and delivers Gandalf’s 3-month-old letter.
‘You may meet a friend of mine on the Road: a Man, lean, dark, tall, by some called Strider. He knows our business and will help you. Make for Rivendell.’
‘All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost…’
Strider knows the rhyme from Gandalf’s letter!
‘I am Aragorn son of Arathorn and if by life or death I can save you, I will.’
Merry rushes into the hobbits’ parlour at the Prancing Pony. He had followed a Black Rider to the end of the village, but was overcome by terror. He was found lying in the street with two men over him.
The hobbits help Strider board up the door and window, then try to sleep.
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