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Timeline Event

Travellers delayed by theft of their ponies

Event Type: General

Age: 3rd Age - Ring War

Date: September 30, 3018


An event in Frodo's Departure from the Shire; see that entry for an overview:
Mr. Butterbur hurried off to see that their ponies were got ready.... But very soon he came back in dismay. The ponies had vanished! The stable-doors had all been opened in the night, and they were gone: not only Merry's ponies, but every other horse and beast in the place.

Frodo was crushed by the news.... Strider sat silent for a while, looking at the hobbits, as if he was weighing up their strength and courage.

'Ponies would not help us to escape horsemen,' he said at last, thoughtfully.... 'We should not go much slower on foot, not on the roads that I mean to take. I was going to walk in any case. It is the food and stores that trouble me. We cannot count on getting anything to eat between here and Rivendell, except what we take with us; and we ought to take plenty to spare; for we may be delayed, or forced to go round-about.... How much are you prepared to carry on your backs?'

'As much as we must,' said Pippin with a sinking heart....

'Can't anything be done, Mr. Butterbur?' asked Frodo. 'Can't we get a couple of ponies in the village...? I don't suppose we could hire them, but we might be able to buy them,' he added, doubtfully....

'I doubt it,' said the landlord unhappily.... '[There] are very few [animals] in Bree, and they won't be for sale. But I'll do what I can. I'll rout out Bob and send him round....'

'Yes,' said Strider reluctantly.... 'I am afraid we shall have to try to get one pony at least. But so ends all hope of... slipping away quietly!.... That was part of their plan, no doubt.'

'There is one crumb of comfort,' said Merry,... '[We] can have breakfast while we wait — and sit down to it....'

In the end there was more than three hours' delay. Bob came back with the report that no horse or pony was to be got... — except one: Bill Ferny had one that he might possibly sell. 'A poor old half-starved creature it is,' said Bob; 'but he won't part with it for less than thrice its worth, seeing how you're placed....'

'Bill Ferny?' said Frodo.... 'Wouldn't the beast bolt back to him with all our stuff, or help in tracking us, or something?'

'I wonder,' said Strider. 'But I cannot imagine any animal running home to him, once it got away. I fancy this is... just a way of increasing his profits from the affair. The chief danger is that the poor beast is probably at death's door. But there does not seem any choice. What does he want for it?'

Bill Ferny's price was twelve silver pennies; and that was indeed at least three times the pony's value.... It proved to be a bony, underfed, and dispirited animal; but it did not look like dying just yet. Mr. Butterbur paid for it himself, and offered Merry another eighteen pence as some compensation for the lost animals. He was an honest man, and well-off...; but thirty silver pennies was a sore blow to him....

It turned out later that only one horse had been actually stolen. The others... had bolted in terror, and were found wandering.... Merry's ponies had escaped altogether, and eventually... they made their way to the Downs in search of Fatty Lumpkin. So they came under the care of Tom Bombadil for a while, and were well-off. But when news of the events at Bree came to Tom's ears, he sent them to Mr. Butterbur, who thus got five good beasts at a very fair price. They had to work harder in Bree, but Bob treated them well....

However, in the meanwhile... Mr. Butterbur... had other troubles. For there was a great commotion as soon as the remaining guests... heard news of the raid on the inn. The southern travellers had lost several horses and blamed the innkeeper loudly, until it became known that one of their own number had also disappeared in the night, none other than Bill Ferny's squint-eyed companion. Suspicion fell on him at once.

'If you pick up with a horse-thief, and bring him to my house,' said Butterbur angrily, 'you ought to pay for all the damage yourselves.... Go and ask Ferny where your handsome friend is!' But it appeared that he was nobody's friend, and nobody could recollect when he had joined their party.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 11, A Knife in the Dark

Elena Tiriel 22Apr08

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