Author: Linda Hoyland
Characters/Pairing: Paladin Took, Barliman Butterbur, Aragorn
Book/Source: LOTR book-verse
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
With grateful thanks to Raksha and to Larner
Paladin Took whistled cheerfully as he entered “The Prancing Pony”. He had made a tidy profit of twenty silver pennies at the market with his fine quality sheepskins. Before returning home he intended to buy gifts for his wife and children. First though, he would enjoy a bite to eat and a mug of Butterbur’s best ale. As usual for Market Day, the inn was crowded and there were few spaces in the parlour.
“Good day, little master,” Butterbur greeted him. “Where would you like to sit? There's a seat over in the corner, but it is next to one of them Rangers, give me the creeps they do, and one by the fire with respectable looking folk."
Paladin considered his options. The Ranger, a long-legged fellow in shabby clothes and muddy boots, had his hood pulled close over his face, which gave him a mysterious appearance. Paladin did not approve of mystery; he preferred to deal with what he could see and touch. And he didn't like the look of the hooded Man. By the fire, a stout, smartly dressed Man was devouring a plate of roast beef. He greeted Paladin cordially when the Hobbit took the place next to him. By the time Butterbur brought his meal, Paladin was telling his newfound friend, a trader from a faraway place called Laketown, about his fine flock of sheep and his success that day at the market.
The Hobbit sensed someone was staring at him between the clearing of the soup and the starting of the very good meats and cheese and bread. When Paladin turned, he saw that the hooded Ranger had moved closer. Paladin caught the gleam of sharp eyes watching him beneath that hood and shuddered. He turned his attention back to the cheese. .
Replete with good food and ale, Paladin called Butterbur over to settle his bill.
“I will bid you farewell now,” said his dining companion. ”It was a pleasure to meet you, Master Took.” The Laketowner bowed low and whistled merrily as he left the Inn.
“That will be five copper pennies, please, little master," said Butterbur.
Paladin felt in his pocket. To his horror, his money, all twenty silver pennies of it had vanished, together with his copper and brass!
A series of thuds and huffing sounds caught Paladin's attention. By the doorway the Ranger appeared to be attacking his dining companion as he tried to leave. Paladin immediately realised what had happened. The tall ruffian had somehow stolen his money while he was eating and now was trying to rob another unfortunate guest. Paladin fumbled for his pocketknife; preparing to demand that the dangerous Man cease his assaults on innocent travellers.
“Get out and stay out, or it will be the worst for you!” the Ranger cried, booting the Laketowner out of the door. He closed it and strode over to where Paladin stood with Butterbur, just as Paladin found his only weapon. ”Here is your money, Master Hobbit,” the Man said with a grim smile, placing Paladin’s purse on the table. ”Count your coin just to make sure that a rascal like me has not taken any of it.”
Red faced, Paladin did as he was bidden. The money was all there. He held out a silver penny to the Ranger with a slightly unsteady hand. ”A reward for your help, Master....”
“Strider at your service,” said the Ranger with a bow, his keen grey eyes gleaming. ”I desire no payment. I simply ask you to have a care to whom you tell your business in future. Not all men are honest.” His hood had fallen in the scuffle; showing the Ranger's shaggy, grey-streaked dark hair and the weariness on his proud face. The man was a grim and strong sort, to be sure, but Paladin saw no evil in him.
“I am honoured to make your acquaintance, Master Strider,” said Paladin. To his surprise he meant it. There was obviously more to this fellow than met the eye.
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