The Inn at Bree

by Claire

Just as the nightmare reached its peak, Frodo found the strength to wrench the ring from his finger. Instantly the world reappeared again. Before he could find his bearings, however, he was grabbed from behind by the scruff of his neck.

He fought furiously but his assailant was man sized and strong with it. He was thrust towards the stairs, the iron hand still on his collar, and hurried on his way with a sharp smack to his backside.

Bracing his feet against the stairs, Frodo tried again to block his lightening fast kidnapper but again his assailant was having no part of it. Grabbing the hobbit by his shoulders he lifted the kicking bundle up the first flight of stairs and sent him on around the corner with another hard swat to his seat. Further swats kept him moving up the stairs and down the landing until they reached they hobbits' room. Yet still the man had said nothing and Frodo had no idea who or what had captured him.

As he opened the door the man sent Frodo stumbling inside with a final, almighty smack and then, having entered the room himself, he shut and locked the door behind him.

"Who are you?" Frodo demanded, scrambling to his feet and turning towards the man, keeping his vulnerable and by now rather sore backside firmly up against the chimneybreast. "What do you want with me?"

"Round here I'm known as Strider and I've been sent to help you." The man responded, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the door, a forbidding frown on his face. "Though it would be better if you would help yourself!"

"Sent by who?" Frodo demanded, by no means sure he wanted anything to do with this dark, angry man. "We don't need your help. We're managing just fine on our own!" He declared finally

"I know what hunts you, " the man answered quietly. He saw Frodo's eyes widen in fear and continued, " Yes. You're frightened of them but not nearly frightened enough! I can help you. I can lead you through un-used paths away from this place to Rivendell. But you must help yourself. You must be discreet."

"Who are you? What do you want?" Frodo was getting angry on his own behalf at the stranger's interference.

"I've told you who I am and that I was sent to help you. Now come. We have much to do."

"I've told you to leave me be. We need no help from strangers." Frodo was adamant. Although, deep down, he felt he could trust this man, he was still angry at his treatment and he was allowing his pride to interfere with his judgement.

Turning away from the man, he thought to slip on the ring and disappear just long enough to escape this dark Strider person. However he hadn't bargained for Strider's sharp eyesight and long insight into the ways of young men and hobbits.

Seeing Frodo's intent he reacted instantly, furious that the boy would try to use the ring in spite of everything he had been told and terrified of what would happen to the band of hobbits if they succeeded in losing the ranger.

Frodo was once again grabbed from behind. One moment he was standing, considering the possibilities of using the ring, the next, a large hand had grabbed his arm and swung him around and he found himself hanging over Strider's lap as he sat on the stool beside the fireplace.

Even given the height of the stool, this man's legs were long and Frodo could reach the ground with neither his hands nor his feet. He hung there for a moment, stunned and silent, but, as a hand undid the back buttons of his braces and yanked down his trousers, baring his bottom, he started to both struggle and yell.

"What are you doing? How dare you? I'm not a child!" he yelled and struggled to get off this terrifying man's lap.

It did him no good whatsoever. The man just tightened his hold on the bundle across his knee and brought his hand down hard on the small bottom facing him.

"If you choose to behave as a child, then as a child you will be treated. What Did Gandalf Tell You To Do With The Ring?" Strider demanded, punctuating each word with a hard smack.

Frodo howled and fought but didn't really take in what was being said to him.

Ignoring the struggle, Strider merely repeated himself. "What Did Gandalf Tell You To Do With It?" He asked, repeating both word and action.

"Keep it safe. Keep in secret." Frodo gasped as it looked as though Strider was going to ask the question a third time, together with another round of punctuation. The answer didn't help him much though.

"Keep It Safe. Keep It Secret." Strider repeated, once again emphasising each point with his hand.

"And What Were You Not to Do?" he continued, his hand still keeping pace with his mouth.

"Use it" Use it!" wailed Frodo, his pride having long since departed, his only concern now being convincing this man that he would never ever again disobey Gandalf like this.

Apparently convinced, Strider set the hobbit on his feet and set his clothes to rights. He opened his mouth to continue his stern lecture but the bedraggled, pitiful little face looking up at him was more that he could bear.

"Come here little one." he said, opening his arms and drawing the hobbit towards him. "Gandalf sent me to help you and help you I shall but you must be sensible yourself. Now no more childish tantrums. There is too much at stake. Not least your life and the lives of your companions."

Finding himself wrapped in warm comforting arms Frodo allowed his instincts to kick in at last and he relaxed against the man's chest, knowing he could trust him.

"I'll be sensible." he promised.

He was allowed a moment's more comfort before being once again set back on his feet, at arms length this time, the man's hands firmly on his shoulders

"Now dry your eyes my little friend. We have much to do this night."

Looking up into the dark face, Frodo could see the warmth behind the eyes and he smiled in response, even as his hands went to his poor abused behind. Seeing the action, the twinkle in Strider's eyes spread across his face and, grinning broadly, he reached out to ruffle Frodo's hair saying

"You will not again consider using the ring in such a way I think."

Frodo found himself ruefully agreeing.