Many years later
Thorin looked up at the sign that creaked in the wind – The Prancing Pony. The inn was a most welcome sight for he had travelled far and the weather was most inclement. Wind and rain lashed at his frame as he walked towards the door, hoping that warmth, food, ale and a little cheer lay beyond. He climbed the two steps and pushed open the solid oak door that led into the inn. Warm air wrapped itself around him, as he stepped inside the inn, and the scent of meat roasting teased his nostrils, causing his stomach to rumble, a reminder of how long it had been since he had eaten.
Thorin was not surprised by how many patrons were in the bar. The inn was the largest in Bree and the village was an important centre for trade and many a traveller broke up their journey in the village. A few folk turned to see who had entered, when he pushed open the door, but most just carried on eating and drinking. They were a diverse group but that was to be expected; the roads that crossed through Bree were well travelled. Men, dwarfs, hobbits and even elves had all stayed and rested up at the Prancing Pony.
He walked to the counter, shrugging off his fur-lined cloak. The proprietor smiled in welcome.
“Will you be requiring a room, master dwarf?”
“Two rooms and supper,” Thorin said, his deep voice carrying over the noise in the bar.
“Yes, my companion is stabling our horses.”
“Is he a dwarf as well?”
“Yes. Do you have something against my race?” Thorin’s hand hovered over the axe at his side.
“Nay, I don’t. We get all sorts in here.”
Thorin glanced around him.
“So I see.”
“Aye, I’ve stood behind this bar for close on fifty years and there’s not many kind of folks I’ve not served. Are you in Bree on business or just passing through?”
“I’m here for the food and warmth,” Thorin said, not yet willing to discuss his reasons for being in Bree. “So, if you could bring two plates of what meat you have with vegetables and gravy, it would be much appreciated.”
The door opened and Balin stepped in. Thorin nodded towards an empty table and they both made their way over to it.
“The horses are settled. Was there any difficulty with the rooms?”
“No, the proprietor seems the inquisitive sort, though.” Thorin glanced over at the man. “He’s been here years. He may have heard what fate befell my father and…” Thorin broke off and glanced away.
Balin looked at his friend, aware of whom he was thinking – Akelai. They had searched for years but to no avail. She seemed to have vanished from Middle-earth. Finally, he’d reached an uneasy truce with his father, but Thrain’s behaviour had grown strange and, shortly after their reconciliation, he had left – searching for the lost treasures of his ancestors. Balin had been relieved to see him go for he had become obsessed with the desire for gold above anything else. But, although they had come to Bree to trade, Balin knew that Thorin would not pass up the opportunity to try and find out what had become of his father. Balin also suspected that he was thinking more and more often about the quest he had promised to complete.
A barmaid brought two pint pots full to the brim with ale to the table and laid cutlery on it, explaining the food would be served shortly. Thorin picked up his tankard and took a long drink of the beer. It had been a long and tiring week and the ale was most welcome.
“Is the ale to your liking, gentlemen?” the landlord asked, as he placed plates piled high with food on the table. “’Tis our own brew.”
“Yes, it is very good. Tell me, landlord, did you say you had been here fifty years?”
“I did. My father bought the place when I was twelve and I took over on his death.”
“You said you have seen all kinds of folk over the years in here?”
“Oh, yes. Bree’s a busy place.”
“Have you seen or heard tell of a dwarf journeying to the Lonely Mountain? It would have been years ago.”
“The Lonely Mountain? That’s Laketown way, isn’t it?”
“No, I can’t say that I have. But everybody hereabouts knows of the dragon that lives there. I can’t imagine why anyone would venture there. Were they kin of yours?”