Noakes' jewelry shop was located in the classy part of Bywater, just down the road from Hobbiton. Old Noakes himself always insisted that his shop was in Hobbiton, a subterfuge that fooled no one. After my interview with Doc Gandalf I stopped in and picked out a plain gold ring and a Bree-land style wooden box to keep it in. Old Noakes balked when I asked him to put a lock on the box, but the sight of King Dáin's bearded profile made him change his tune. On a sudden impulse, I also picked out a stainless steel necklace chain from the Iron Hills, and while Noakes was occupied installing the lock I hung Miss Rushlight's ring on it and hung it around my neck. The damned thing still felt too heavy, and as cold as a chunk of ice against my skin. It made me feel more secure, though, and I felt a sense of growing confidence. That made me angry, because I knew the ring's magic was trying to manipulate me. Keep that up, I mentally informed it, and I'll throw you in the nearest outhouse. My threat didn't seem to have any effect.
By the time I had the wooden box in my pocket, it was getting dark. The sky was still overcast, and I knew that we'd be getting more rain soon. As I made my way down the still-muddy Bywater Road, I saw that most of the shops were closing up for the day. What with one thing and another, I hadn't had time to arrange for supplies and transportation for my upcoming trip to Minas Tirith, so it looked like I wouldn't be setting out as quickly as I had told Miss Rushlight.
I was pondering whether I could charge Miss Rushlight for the cost of replacing her enspelled wooden box, when I noticed a horse standing outside my office door. And not a pony, either; it was a full-sized horse like the Big Folk rode. It was dead black, and decked out in black armor. As I drew closer, something struck me as odd about it, and I finally realized what it was. Its reins weren't tied to the hitching post in front of my office; they were wrapped around the pommel of its saddle. Despite this, the horse stood stock still, making no attempt to move. I got the uneasy feeling that it couldn't have moved from the spot if its life depended on it. As I approached my office door it turned its head to look at me, and a pair of red eyes glared at me. Terrific, I thought, more magic. This case was looking worse all the time.
My office door was hanging slightly ajar, and I distinctly remembered locking it when I set out for the Green Dragon. I pulled it open and stepped inside.
There was someone sitting in the Big Folk chair, but whoever it was was damned hard to see in the dim light. Someone in a black hooded cloak, with a sheathed sword poking out of the bottom, its tip resting against the dirt floor of my office. The head turned to look my way, and I could hear breathing, but I couldn't see any face. I wanted to do two things at once: I wanted to turn around and run for the hills, and I wanted to pull the ring up from under my shirt and put it on. I didn't do either one. Instead, I got angry at the idea of more magic trying to manipulate me.
"You are Baggins?" the figure said in a croaking whisper.
Normally I respond by saying, "Call me Deuce," but this guy was ticking me off, so I said, "That's Mister Baggins to you, buster. Who are you, and what do you want?"
"I am Khamûl," he said, still in that croaking whisper. "The woman was here."
"If you're referring to Miss Rushlight, yeah, she was here. So what?"
"What did she give you?"
"My business with Miss Rushlight is none of yours. If that's all you're here for, you can leave. Now."
He rose suddenly from the chair, but like the Big Folk tend to do, he forgot about the low ceiling. It was plaster over wood, and his head went through it like it wasn't there. He started smashing at it with his fists, and I decided now would be a bad time to stand on my rights as a property owner. Anyway, it wasn't as if I actually owned the place. My landlord would probably have something to say about it, though.
While Mr. Khamûl was busy dealing with the sudden shower of plaster and wood, I ran for the front door. The horse was still standing out front, and it glared at me with those red eyes as I ran past. I hotfooted it up the Bywater Road, and turned down the lane that led to Doc Gandalf's shop. I pounded on the door, but Doc was either gone for the day or passed out on the floor. Looking back up the lane, I saw the dark shape of a mounted rider on the Bywater Road. I ran around the back of Doc's shop where it fronted onto the Bywater Pool. There was a dock there with a small boat tied up to it. Hobbits don't usually go in for boats, but Doc liked to use it to bring in certain supplies that the authorities frowned upon.
There was a rope tied to one of the pilings, and I undid it double-quick and stepped in. The thing rocked like a cradle, and I suddenly remembered that my parents had died when one of these things had tipped over with them in it. I knelt down, which seemed to steady it, then kicked off from the dock, sending the boat off into the middle of the Pool. Looking back, I could just make out Khamûl's shape standing on the dock in the gathering darkness. There came a sudden loud shriek that made me want to dig a hole and bury myself in it. It was not a practical impulse for someone cowering in a boat, so instead I felt around for something to propel myself with. I found a paddle, and spent a frantic minute or two trying to figure out how to use it to make the boat move. Like I say, we don't usually go in for boats.
I finally got the hang of it, and since the current was pulling me downstream anyway, I decided that was the best way to put some distance between me and Khamûl. Another look back showed him still standing on the dock, as if he wanted to jump in and follow me but couldn't work up the nerve. Apparently, it hadn't occurred to him to get back on his horse and follow me along the bank of the Pool. I was guessing that improvisation was not Khamûl's major talent.
I looked ahead again. The Pool was narrowing, and the current was picking up, as it emptied into the Water. If I wanted to, I could ride it all the way down to the Brandywine River.
It looked like I was setting out for Minas Tirith sooner than I expected.