Strange as Stories From Bree
I'll warn all you little hobbits that this tale is a very fearful one, and
you should not read it unless you are sure that you are brave and strong.
Many winters ago, there came to the Shire such a wet and blustery season that
many fine hobbit holes throughout the land were quite flooded out, and their
occupants forced to seek shelter among their family and friends. Can you
imagine that? So great was the crisis that even those with many kinfolk were
often turned away, as others, perhaps less distantly related then they, had
sought shelter first. And it was for this reason that young Primula Burrowes
and her family found themselves journeying to far distant Bree, for, being of
Brandybuck stock, they shared just a little of that strange Breelander blood.
They had loaded a few possessions onto a small hand-cart, and each carried a
sack, as large as he or she could manage. They had also borrowed a pony from
one of their friends, and thus organised they set off early one morning,
through the pouring rain, to make their way east to Bree. All day long they
trudged along the muddy road, feeling quite miserable with their lot. Why,
they could not even stop for elevenses, and their lunch was a sorry affair,
with just a few sodden sandwiches, and only three small apple tarts each! So,
by late in the afternoon (and already over an hour past tea time) they were
As they rounded a bend in the road they came upon a strange looking fellow.
Taller he was, and darker of complexion than the few outsiders they had seen
before. And I do not just mean taller than a hobbit (for even the hobbits of
Bree are much the same size as the rest of our folk), but indeed he was
taller even than the Big Folk of Bree. He was dressed in supple, high leather
boots, and a cloak of dark green cloth, with a matching hood, and all of this
was caked with mud. And what do you think this peculiar person said to them,
as they came upon him? Why, he invited them to share a meal with him, saying,
"My camp lies just the other side of this hedge, and I would be happy to
share my fire with you."
The hobbits were a little nervous of the stranger, but they really were quite
cold and very very hungry, and they could smell something cooking on his
little campfire. The smell of food seemed to decide the issue for Mrs.
Burrowes, who declared that the man did not look all that out of the ordinary
when you really thought about it, and after all, he HAD offered to share his
dinner with them, and besides, she could not possibly walk another step that
day! And so they followed him through a gap in the hedge to find a merry
little campfire, and a small lean-to built from a large square of oiled
cloth, supported against the thicker part of the hedge. And standing beside
the lean-to was the most handsome horse the hobbits could possibly imagine.
It seemed strange to them to see such a noble beast in the company of this
weather-beaten and shabby man, and they began to wonder once again what
manner of man they had cast their lot.
But before they could change their minds and leave, he had fished a couple of
small wooden bowls from his pack, and these he filled with the steaming stew,
and handed them to the hobbits. And so it was their stomachs that decided,
for it was quite impossible to deny them that mouth-watering mixture of meat,
vegetables and broth after such a long hard day on the road. The meal turned
out to be delicious, though not so plentiful as the hobbits might have hoped,
given what a big fellow their host was. But it was better than nothing, and
whilst they ate, the odd chap started to tell them a story:
"Long long ago," he said, as he puffed on a long-stemmed pipe, "there lived
in these lands a race of noble men. Foes they were to the ancient enemy, and
long did they fight to defend their land. And when these ancient kings died,
their bodies were laid to rest in dome-shaped burial mounds, not far from
here, all ringed around with white standing stones.
"But then there came a great evil from the north, and a race of demons flew
into the land, and stole into the burial chambers, haunting them for all
time. Shape-shifters and enchanters, these evil spirits would conjure up
strange mists to bewilder travellers, and then they would set about them,
using their hypnotic voices and ice-cold eyes to steal away free will and
lead them into the dark tombs.
"And there they would lay them down on altars of stone, binding them about in
golden chains, and draping them with precious cloth and bright jewels, a
pretty sacrifice to make.
"And so, fellow travellers, 'ware the Barrow Downs!"
This was too much for the Burroweses. Mrs. Burrowes let out a squeal, Mr.
Burrowes choked on his stew, and the children all huddled in a group,
shivering. But the traveller laughed. Realising that he had frightened the
hobbits, he tried to reassure them.
"It is only a story," said he, "and even the story has its happy ending, for
these spirits can be defeated by the light of the sun! Have no fear!" But
even so, when the Burroweses resumed their journery the next morning, they
were very happy to reach the gate of Bree, and leave the wild lands and their
strange travellers far behind. And had they known the real truth, they might
never have ventured outside of a village again, even a village so strange as
Bree. For their odd experiences did not end at the village gate. Can you
imagine it: many of the houses had two and even three storeys each!
"Whatever can that be for?" asked Primula. "Surely they cannot wish to climb
up tall ladders and sleep in the sky, just like birds!"
And they all just shook their heads in bewilderment, and hoped that they
would not have to stay in these strange lands for very long!