ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 7
"'Well, good luck on your road, and good luck to your homecoming!' said Mr. Butterbur. 'I should have warned you before that all's not well in the Shire neither, if what we hear is true.'"Now the hobbits turned toward home and this last part of their journey was very much like a reunion tour of the sites that they saw throughout Book One, most of them reviving unpleasant memories - especially for Frodo. On October 6th, Frodo was very quiet until Gandalf finally asked if he was in pain. Frodo replied that his shoulder was and that it had been one year ago that day since the Witch-King had stabbed him with his Morgul-blade on Weathertop.
"'Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,' said Gandalf.By the next day, however, Frodo was feeling a bit better. They followed a leisurely pace along the Great East-West Road. Although Frodo pressed his friends to pick up the pace as they passed Weathertop on their right. It wasn't long before they found themselves at the south-gate of the village of Bree. They were met by a different gate-keeper than Harry Goatleaf and as they entered they noticed that the town seemed almost deserted. When they reached The Prancing Pony, Barliman Butterbur was both surprised and delighted to see them, especially Gandalf. There was not much company at the inn and even from the Common Room only the low murmur of a few voices could be heard.
'I fear it may be so with mine,' said Frodo. 'There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?'
Gandalf did not answer."
Butterbur led them to the same small parlor where they had gathered a year before and the innkeeper was eager to hear of news from the outside world. After the guests told him some of their tale, he explained to them why business was now so bad. It wasn't long after Frodo and company departed Bree at the end of last September that strange folk from other lands began coming to the area and these ruffians were full of thievery and mischief. Old Harry the gatekeeper had a hand in letting them in and it seems that he threw himself in with their lot. The townsfolk didn't feel safe venturing out after dark. Few people would come to the inn and those that did tended to keep to their rooms.
Butterbur lamented the recent departure of the Dunedain Rangers, who had left to aid Aragorn back in February. He had come to realize that he and the others of the town had taken them for granted. "I don't think we've rightly understood till now what they did for us," he said. Gandalf declared that better times were coming. He told him there was a King again and there would soon be more comings and goings up and down the Greenway - the road that the intersected the Great East-West Road and led northwards to Fornost, the old abandoned capital of Arnor (which was now known locally as Deadman's Dike). At first Butterbur was troubled at the thought of outsiders coming to his inn, but Gandalf assured him that the new King would leave Bree alone because "he knows and loves it." When the wizard told him that the King was in fact Strider, Butterbur couldn't believe it. His jaw dropped at the idea that the mysterious Ranger was now the King of all these lands.
They stayed that night as well as the next one. Their presence had drawn the village's curious inhabitants to the inn and once again the Common Room was full of patrons. Sam was thrilled to learn that not only had Bill the pony survived the wolves that surrounded the West Gate of Moria but he had made it back all the way to The Prancing Pony. When they left the next morning, the pony went with them.
Butterbur wished them a safe journey but also cautioned them that, if what he had heard was true, all was not well in the Shire and they should be careful. Now it was time for Gandalf to say goodbye.
"'I am with you at present,' said Gandalf, 'but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.'"Gandalf said farewell for now and he turned Shadowfax Southward away from the road to visit Tom Bombadil. As the hobbits rode on, they saw the Barrow Downs off to their left and, further on, the Green Hill country where their journey had begun. It was close to this point where they left Tom and almost expected to see him standing out on the Downs waiting for them. But they needed to get moving if they were going to reach the Brandywine Bridge by evening.
"Well here we are, just the four of us that started out together,' said Merry. 'We have left all the rest behind, one after another. It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.'Frodo felt that his life in the Shire, with no care for the outside world around him, was like being in a blissful sleep. And leaving it over a year ago had been a rude awakening to the evils that lay beyond its borders. Now he was returning to a home that was very different from the one he remembered - one that had been assaulted by the kind of evil that he had just left behind. But as we shall see, Frodo and his friends had also changed.
'Not to me,' said Frodo. 'To me it feels more like falling asleep again.'"
[Chronology: October 5th through October 30th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Scouring Of The Shire