But he did say much on his own account. Things were far from well, he would say. Business was not even fair, it was downright bad. ‘No one comes nigh Bree now from Outside,’ he said. ‘And the inside folks, they stay at home mostly and keep their doors barred. It all comes of those newcomers and gangrels that began coming up the Greenway last year, as you may remember; but more came later. Some were just poor bodies running away from trouble; but most were bad men, full o’ thievery and mischief. And there was trouble right here in Bree, bad trouble. Why, we had a real set-to, and there were some folk killed, killed dead! If you’ll believe me.’

‘I will indeed,’ said Gandalf. ‘How many?’

‘Three and two,’ said Butterbur, referring to the big folk and the little. ‘There was poor Mat Heathertoes, and Rowlie Appledore, and little Tom Pickthorn from over the Hill; and Willie Banks from up-away, and one of the Underhills from Staddle: all good fellows, and they’re missed. And Harry Goatleaf that used to be on the West-gate, and that Bill Ferny, they came in on the strangers’ side, and they’ve gone off with them; and it’s my belief they let them in. On the night of the fight, I mean. And that was after we showed them the gates and pushed them out: before the year’s end, that was; and the fight was early in the New Year, after the heavy snow we had.

‘And now they’re gone for robbers and live outside, hiding in the woods beyond Archet, and out in the wilds north-away. It’s like a bit of the bad old times tales tell of, I say. It isn’t safe on the road and nobody goes far, and folk lock up early. We have to keep watchers all round the fence and put a lot of men on the gates at nights.’

‘Well, no one troubled us,’ said Pippin, ‘and we came along slowly, and kept no watch. We thought we’d left all trouble behind us.’

‘Ah, that you haven’t, Master, more’s the pity,’ said Butterbur. ‘But it’s no wonder they left you alone. They wouldn’t go for armed folk, with swords and helmets and shields and all. Make them think twice, that would. And I must say it put me aback a bit when I saw you.’

Then the hobbits suddenly realized that people had looked at them with amazement not out of surprise at their return so much as in wonder at their gear. They themselves had become so used to warfare and to riding in well-arrayed companies that they had quite forgotten that the bright mail peeping from under their cloaks, and the helms of Gondor and the Mark, and the fair devices on their shields, would seem outlandish in their own country. And Gandalf, too, was now riding on his tall grey horse, all clad in white with a great mantle of blue and silver over all, and the long sword Glamdring at his side.

Gandalf laughed. ‘Well, well,’ he said, ‘if they are afraid of just five of us, then we have met worse enemies on our travels. But at any rate they will give you peace at night while we stay.’

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