#3 Four Hobbits Walk Into a Bar... - Hiding Out
An inarticulate growl grew in the bowels of the local hobbits doused with their own ale. Rough hands pulled Pansy off Pippin, who had the presence of mind to roll under the table when free from his burden. With his quarry's escape, the biggest of them, (he was pushing 3'8", launched himself across the top of the table, figuring if he couldn't have the loudmouthed one, he would have the one Pansy had taken a shine to. He hit Merry square in the chest and the two disappeared from view.
Once the fray began, the other locals poured forth from the table. They didn't necessarily go after the troublemaker or his friends; they were just in the mood to cause a ruckus and this little tift between Pansy and her soon-to-be husband seemed like the perfect opportunity to break a few chairs. One of them smacked Frodo in the back of the head with an elbow sending him face first into his stew bowl. Through gravy clouded eyes he searched in vain for a napkin, but soon gave up and used the front of his shirt instead.
Sam stood against the wall, his rosebush pressed against his chest, arms crossed protectively around it. He saw Merry go down, but became too busy dodging mugs and chairs that were smashing against the wall by his head to be much help.
Still dazed by being blindsided, Merry was hauled up by the collar of his shirt. The large local was rearing back to deliver a punch when Merry's name was called as a warning. He ducked just in the nick of time; that punch sailed right over his head and into Sam, who slid down the wall, rosebush in his lap. On his way to the floor, however, he did manage to bump into the table sending what was left of the stew right into Frodo's lap. This time he just let it be.
From under the table Pippin grabbed at Merry's assailant's legs and yanked him down. He was immediately beset by other locals who didn't care who they were fighting. Pippin emerged from under the other side of the table, his head popping up by Frodo. "Now would be a good time to make our exit," he said and grabbed at Frodo's arm. Weaving in and out, occasionally ducking a thrown chair, the pair made it to the front door only to be stopped by the shirriffs arriving to stop the fracas. A flying chair sailed through the front window, sending shards of glass high into the air. It also gave the two hobbits their exit. "Come on!" and they both jumped out what had recently been impassable and ran.
Over in the corner where the whole trouble had started, Merry was trying to revive Sam. When the shirriffs showed up there was too much distance between them and the newly made escape route; they had to find another way out.
"This way," a sweet voice said in his ear. Merry looked over his shoulder at Pansy. "Come on, hurry!"
Sam was coming around, but not fast enough. Merry needed help. Much to his surprise, there, right above him sitting all alone, was an untouched mug of ale. Wrapping his hand around the handle, he took one long swig and threw the rest in Sam's face. Unintelligible sounds were all that Sam could produce after that, but he was awake and able to move. Merry grabbed his shirt front and, keeping low, snuck out the back door where Pansy waited. He didn't have time to ask why or even say thank you to their rescuer. But, after shoving the still sputtering Sam out the door, Merry turned back and was given the sweetest, warmest kiss he had ever yet received. "Good luck, Master Brandybuck," Pansy said, then shut the door behind her, hiding their escape.
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They were running in the dark through a strange city, but miraculously neither Pippin nor Frodo fell or injured themselves. When they deemed the sounds of the fight at The Crossed Bows far enough away, they stopped to catch their breath.
"Where are we?" Frodo looked around him. Nothing looked familiar. This simple trip to Michel Delving had deteriorated into a mess. Unconsciously, a wish to be home again sprang to life.
"Where ever here is, I hope it's far from that place." Pippin ran his hand across his forehead, pushing sweat drenched hair out of his eyes. "And the ale wasn't all that good."
Giving him a withering stare, Frodo said, "We've got to find Sam and Merry. Their not still back there, do you think?" Frodo had no plan on how to get himself out of this mess; he didn't think he could come up with one to save his friends right now.
Pippin wasn't worried. "If I know old Merry, he found himself a way out of there and is sitting pretty just waiting for us to find him."
Frodo had thought about just staying where they were, waiting until daylight, then go in search of their friends. But, the sounds of their pursuers ringing against the buildings prompted him to revise his views. "The cart," he said in a moment's inspiration, "We've got to get back to the cart." Of course, the cart offered no real protection against anything, but it was the only part of home in this awful place and he knew he would feel safer just being near it.
"The cart it is," Pippin said standing up and turning in a complete circle, "And which way is that?"
"The Crossed Bows is that way." Frodo pointed to his right. "And since we didn't pass it on our way into town, my best guess would be that way." He pointed the opposite way.
"That way it is then." Moving from shadow to shadow, they made their way back to the heart of the marketplace. A tantalizing smell wafted into Pippin's nose. "Someone must be cooking stew, because I'm smelling it right now. Wish I'd eaten some when I had the chance."
Frodo smiled a mirthless grin. "So do I."
Merry knew exactly where to go: back to the cart and how to get there, (he always did have a keen sense of direction). Their problem arose with the group of angry hobbits, seeing the makers of mischief escape the tavern, trying to catch them. The pair was sneaking along the back alleys behind the buildings while the others were on a parallel course in the front. The alleyways were dark and contained many obnoxious odors, but for the time being it was safe.
Sam stumbled after Merry. He had no real recollection of what had happened after he saw that fist up close, yet, as he ran his tongue around his bruised lips, he found it rather odd that he would have taken the time for a swig of ale while his friends were being besieged. "Where are we headed?" he whispered to Merry when they were forced to stop. The pair looked around the corner and up the alley at the milling crowd of locals. They seemed confused, didn't know whether to continue the search or return to the tavern, telling stories of the routing of the troublemakers over another round of ale. Their thirst seemed to have won, for the mob began to thin out as members drifted away. This was what the pair of hobbits had been hoping for. Merry felt it build up, slowly it crawled across the roof of his mouth and tickled its way into his head. He was powerless to stop it before it was too late.
The sneeze echoed off the dark stone walls forever, or so it seemed to the hiding hobbits. What was left of that crowd turned and stared down the alleyway, nasty grins on their faces. "There they are!" the lead ruffian shouted and the crowd moved en masse.
At his limit for running, Sam was quickly searching for an alternative to further pursuit in the dark when he noticed the empty barrels. "Here," he said, shoving Merry in that direction. Not having the luxury of time in choosing the most appropriate barrel in which to hide, they jumped into the nearest two regardless of the contents. Sam's choice was empty, giving him the room for a little movement. The downside was it held a strong odor that soon seeped into his clothes, hair, skin, everything. Merry wasn't so fortunate: he was knee deep in a sour brine that made a sloshing noise even when he changed his mind. The barrels provided cover for Merry and Sam, only now they were blind to the whereabouts of those who sought to harm them. They could only cower within their foul smelling barrels, straining their hearing to the limit.
After the initial sounds of the arrival of the crowd died down, Sam ventured a peek. He lifted the top of his barrel ever so slightly and peered out into the darkness. "Stay down!" he heard Merry hiss and Sam wondered, if they were to stay down, how did Merry know Sam had been peeking?
Merry knew caution and patience were his allies right now, but the limit of his tolerance for breathing pickles had been reached. He tipped the lid of his hiding place up, letting in the night air. He breathed in deeply. It didn't matter that he had filled his lungs with back alley smells; it was fresh and moving, and held no hint of pickles. Darting across the wall of the far building, those big shadows gave Merry the news he had wanted: the angry hobbits had given up. Pulling himself from his prison, he was careful not to drop his lid on the cobblestones. Echoes traveled far on empty streets, as they had learned with the sneeze. And, while their pursuers were out of sight, all it would take for them to come thundering back was an invitation in the form of a barrel lid hastily thrown off. Once out, he took no time in freeing Sam, who now reeked of ale, from his barrel.
"You smell horrible," Sam whispered as his hand flew up to his nose.
"And did you just step out of a bathtub, Samwise?" Merry replied tersely. Pointing to the right, Merry showed Sam the way. Moving silently again, off on their original direction, no being could have detected their presence among the shadows. Their combined scents, however, sent the night creatures scrambling.
They had reached the cart, or at least the other side of the street. Everything was quiet, all ways were deserted. Both were huddled in the doorway of a cheese shop anxious to run across to the cart, but hesitant to leave their hiding place. Having spent the past 15 minutes darting from shadow to darkness to dimness, their breath came in heaves that only added to the tension of the moment. "I can't wait anymore," Frodo announced and took one step into the light. No more were taken for at that moment voices drifted down the street that seemed to be coming their way. Jerking him back, Pippin held Frodo against his chest and tried to disappear into the wooden door. The voices grew nearer and the hobbits breathing became more labored. Judging by the shadows thrown on the empty street, the voices belonged to creatures even bigger than the man with the sword they had seen once on the edge of the Shire. Only this time there were four shadows approaching and the cheese shop door did not give the same amount of cover as that stand of trees had.
As with all things, however, the reality turned out not to be a terrifying as the imagined. The size of those shadow casters was not humongous as first feared. As they drew within the hobbit's sight, they turned out to be normal sized for inhabitants of the Shire. Relief washed over Frodo and Pippin. That was quickly replaced with annoyance when they saw what those intruders were planning. The quartet of hobbits had stopped right by the cart and since all had lit a pipe and were now lounging casually against the other wagon, it was obvious their intentions were to waste time, right there for a while. Frodo and Pippin assessed their situation. It was at a stand still. They were no closer to their destination, but the hobbits that had been chasing them down the dark streets of Michel Delving had no inkling of their presence.
Frodo's hand twitched; something had brushed his fingers lightly. Chalking it up to a movement by Pippin, who stood directly behind him, Frodo dismissed the sensation and concentrated on their predicament. Those hobbits across the way showed no signs of leaving, and comfortable as he was standing smooshed up against his friend in the sparse shadow of the neighborhood cheese maker's shop, he had no desire to pass the wee hours of the morning in that position. He had to think of way out of this.
Pippin felt Frodo move with a jerk before him and wondered what had gotten into his friend. While the darkness covered them now, movement of a sudden kind would surely alert those by the wagon of their presence.
His hand was brushed again, this time with something wet. Frodo dared to voice his annoyance over Pippin's poor choice of timing when it came to his practical jokes. "What are you doing?"
The more Frodo moved, the tighter Pippin held on. "Nothing," he whispered back, "What are you doing?"
A thick object began to thump against Frodo's leg as the sensation of being licked traveled up his arm. As he glanced down, he thought, that better not be Pippin. It wasn't. A dog of indeterminate size and color, he could not tell due to the darkness, was blithely licking the stew off of Frodo's hands. When they were clean, the dog sniffed around until he found more on Frodo's feet. Keeping one eye on those across the way, Frodo attempted to shoo the dog away. Not that dogs bothered him; they were just fine in their place. The major problem Frodo had with this one was he was licking his toes and, of all the places on Frodo's body, his feet were by far the most ticklish.
Pippin, who would have found this whole situation hilarious under different circumstances, began to shove at the dog with his foot. No effect, he just stepped out of the way and began to clean Frodo's other foot. Now Frodo understood the dire situation they were in, but he was helpless, nearly bursting with giggles by now. Through supreme effort, he was keeping them bottled up in his chest. An untenable task at best for the dog was licking between his toes and with each lap of the tongue the giggle drew nearer and nearer to the surface. Clamping his hands across his mouth, Frodo tried to give himself a few more seconds before bursting forth in a fit of laughter and ruining all their hiding efforts. Pippin helped, too, by holding his own hands over Frodo's. Both knew, however, if something did not happen and fast to make those other hobbits leave, Frodo would break out and they would then be forced to explain why they had been lurking in the shadows of a cheese shop spying on those who had been chasing them. Though he was excellent at making up stories, even Pippin would have been hard pressed to fulfill that tall an order. Pippin pinched Frodo on the hand figuring a little pain would distract him from his problem. What he got in return was a sharp elbow to the gut. The dog's tongue had thoroughly cleaned Frodo's feet and had begun to do the same job up his leg. Wriggling in a lame attempt to escape that tongue, all Frodo managed to do was push back against Pippin, who was now stuck between a squirming hobbit and a rough wooden door that was replete with splinters; he could feel them pressing into his back. Out of self preservation and reflex, Pippin pushed out on Frodo, who chose that ill timed moment to try and kick the dog away. Being slightly top heavy and standing on only three feet, the pair found that gravity was not their friend. They pitched forward, and, with their hands otherwise engaged holding in Frodo's giggles, they fell face first out of the doorway and into the street, the dog underneath them both. Of course, the dog let out a great yelp when that heavy weight fell on him and he began to struggle to free himself of the trap. Frodo was unable to move because of Pippin upon him and Pippin's hands were trapped under Frodo, so all they were able to do was kick their legs. Miraculously, through all of this neither Frodo nor Pippin made a single sound.
The dog did, however, and his yelping in terror drew the attention of the lounging hobbits. They began to gather in order to investigate the disturbance when the dog, now free, skittered into the light and ran down the street. That was explanation enough, and they went back to their pipes and doing nothing.
Knowing their narrow escape, Frodo and Pippin did not dare move for fear of arousing further suspicions. If they thought the cheese shop doorway was scant cover in which to hide, the shadow thrown on the street before it by the sign above was even smaller. They lay there, Pippin on top, Frodo smooshed below, both wondering just how long it was until sunrise when they would be discovered in that compromising position. I wish I was home, they both thought.
On the other side of the street, Merry and Sam watched in horror, and a little amusement, as their friends went down in a heap. They had been waiting at the far corner for over 30 minutes, tossing out plans to recover both their friends and the cart, and summarily rejecting each one. Merry was disinclined to try the old diversion rouse and Sam was not going for the flanking idea, so they waited. That is until they saw Pippin and Frodo hit the dirt, then every one of their plans were reviewed quickly.
Their decision was made for them, however, by the loud arrival of what was left of the angry Crossed Bows customers. Too far away to hear what was being said, Merry surmised they were still being hunted. No, the lounging hobbits were saying, no sign of trouble around here, and yes, they had been keeping a close watch. Perhaps it was all the packages and what not piled in the back that gave it away or maybe it was just dumb luck, the stout one had stumbled on a prize: those irritating hobbit's cart. At the insistence of the stout one, the same one that had blindsided Merry and punched Sam, all but one continued on the building by building search of Michel Delving for the troublemakers; he was left behind to guard the carts, to block any escape attempts. Merry repeated one of his grandfather's colorful curses as the newly appointed guard leaned arrogantly against their cart. He may have been denser then most, but the stout one had figured correctly. The cart did indeed belong to the out-of-towners and they had returned to claim it.
Sweeping his eyes around the alley, Merry searched for something, some kind of a weapon he could use against the guard. But, Sam wasn't willing to wait any longer; he had had enough of Michel Delving and was more then ready to return to the peace and comfort of his home in Bag Shot Row. Striding out of the shadows, he walked right up to the guard and tapped his shoulder. The hobbit turned around and Sam punched him right in the nose. It was all over even before Merry had to time to whisper a warning.
Coming out of his hiding place, Merry went to stand by Sam, who loomed over his victim, fist still clenched. "What ever possessed you?"
Sam looked at his friend simply. "I want to go home." Running to the other side of the street, Sam pulled Pippin and Frodo apart. Both were stiff, but none the worse for wear. "Let's go home," was all Sam said.
The sound of running feet interrupted their happy reunion. Someone must have witnessed Sam's pugalistic deed. Their quiet escape, now thwarted, sent the hobbits scrambling unceremoniously towards their cart. Stepping carefully around all of Bilbo's things spread out in the back, Sam climbed to the front of the cart. He was preparing for their departure when he heard Frodo cry, "NO! Not that one!"
"What are you doing?" Merry asked in a harsh whisper. He had one leg up into the cart, the other on the ground and tettered between the two.
Jumping into the seat of the other cart, Frodo slapped the reins on the rump of the horse in an imitation of Sam's actions. "In here!" By some miracle, or by the experience of the horse, Frodo managed to turn the cart around and had it facing in the direction of home within seconds. "We're taking this cart." The other hobbits had barely enough time to scramble into the back before Frodo urged the horse into motion.
"Mr. Frodo, this is not our cart," Sam shouted as he stumbled his way towards the front.
"I know that," he replied, his teeth clenched as he wound his way back out of town at a much faster clip then their entry. "Couldn't be helped."
"But, all of Bilbo's things!" Pippin cried as they turned a corner sending him sprawling on the empty bottom.
"I have my reasons, Pippin."
The angry hobbits, arriving at the scene to see their night-long quarry leaving, jumped into the remaining cart and began their breakneck pursuit. Heedless of the confines of the marketplace, paying no attention to the items in the back, ignoring the shouts and cries of his passengers, the stout one raced after the retreating wagon. His anger over his humiliation at the tavern and the presumption of that smiley one over Pansy made him all the more determined to catch up and teach those hobbits a lesson. They would never forget their one and only visit to Michel Delving, he would see to that personally.
The buildings flew by them as they raced away. Frodo's initial rush of exhilaration over his deed soon evaporated. Going around another corner, he brought the cart too close to a standing kiosk, and the awful sound of collapsing wood filled the street as the cart ran into and over some hobbit's livelihood. This looked so easy when Sam did it, Frodo thought.
"Does he know what he's doing?" Pippin shouted, as he looked back at the pile of rubble they had just made.
Standing up and bracing himself against the side of the cart, Sam said, "No."
"That would be my guess," Merry added as the cart swerved to the left, and then the right.
Walking as if he were drunk, Sam bounced his way to the front. Having every intention of making it back home with all his parts, he knew he had to take the reins from Frodo.
"They're catching up!" Merry shouted from his place at the back. He and Pippin had managed to pull up the gate thus giving them some security of not being tossed out by one of Frodo's slick maneuvers.
Frodo slapped the reins again and the horse, even though it looked like it had seen too many years of service, leapt forward, pulling the cart even faster. The jerk nearly threw Sam out; he had been climbing over from the back, one leg over the seat and his weight pitched forward. He went face first over the front of the cart, his nose barely inches away from the horse's flying legs. Without thinking, Frodo loosened his iron like grip on the reins and snatched up a handful of Sam's jacket, pulling him back to safety.
"I'd go faster," Merry shouted the progress of their pursuers again.
Sam sat beside Frodo on the seat wild eyed. Only seconds before he was close to his own demise. He managed to eek out a, "Thank you, Mr. Frodo," over the great rushing sound in his head. He looked at his friend with amazement and love; the bond between them deepened. Frodo had saved his life. A debt that could never be repaid.
Frodo could only spare a smile for Sam, all his attention was focused on driving. His hands grew slick with sweat, his arms ached and his back cried out in pain. Still, he did have to admit to a little disappointment when Sam, having recovered from his near death experience, took the reins. Just a bookworm and dreamer, my feet, he thought to himself with pride.
The wild ride out of Michel Delving smoothed out when Sam took charge, and the pair in the back were able to stand securely, watching the other cart race ever nearer.
They flew by the shops of the marketplace, by Mayor Whitfoot's house and all the other hobbit homes to emerge on the deserted road east. Sam, while not driving too wildly, still kept up the fast pace. He knew that their pursuer would not stop until they were caught. Not an inviting prospect, to say the least.
"Right behind us now!" Pippin called back. So close was the other cart, the hobbit's sneer was painfully visible to both Merry and Pippin. Frodo turned to tell Sam to increase his speed when a sick, yet all too familiar sound, spilt the pre-dawn night. They caught the sight of the wheel separating from their cart just as it had earlier that day, only they were not the ones left stranded this time.
It was an amazing sight. The wheel, now detached from the cart, continued to roll right along side as if it intended to finish the journey to Hobbiton anyway, despite its new freedom. Impossibly, the cart did not immediately fall, but remained suspended in mid air, allowing the driver to comprehend his new situation before it dropped heavily back to earth. The forward momentum kept the cart traveling forward, gouging a deep trench in the road as it skidded to a bumpy stop. The angry hobbit's curses, as he sat in the cart with the broken pin, were lifted up and harmlessly carried off into the breeze.
Sam did not stop the wagon, but continued driving away, putting more and more miles behind them.
"Take that, you fiend!" Merry shouted his taunts into the darkness.
Pippin sat down with a thud. Now that the danger had passed, the strength in his legs abandoned him.
As this horrible day was finally coming to an end, Frodo sat in the seat of a stolen wagon numb with disbelief. All of Bilbo's things were scattered along ground that was quickly disappearing in the growing void behind them. It was rather a moot point at this juncture, but he suddenly remembered that he had completely forgotten to get Bilbo his ink.