Frodo seems hesitant and strange on the ride out of Rivendell.
He admits to Gandalf that the old wound in his shoulder (from the Morgul-knife of the Lord of the Nazgûl) is bugging him.
It is October 6th, a year to the day after they fought the Nazgûl at Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring (see Book 1, Chapter 11).
The next day, Frodo is bright and cheerful, and they continue their journey.
They rush past Weathertop without stopping (bad memories, probably).
At the end of October, they arrive at the locked gate of Bree.
The gatekeeper almost doesn't let them in until he sees Gandalf, whom he trusts.
Gandalf asks where Harry, the old gatekeeper, has gone (see our The Fellowship of the Ring "Character Analysis" for the scoop on Harry).
The gatekeeper replies ominously: "Gone" (6.7.12).
They pass through the gate, noticing that rotten Bill Ferny's house is all boarded up. (For more on Bill Ferny's nefarious deeds in The Fellowship of the Ring, see our "Character Analysis" in that learning guide.)
At the inn, the Prancing Pony, the innkeeper's hobbit helper Nob sees Gandalf & Co.
He shouts to the innkeeper, a guy named Butterbur: "They've come back!" (6.7.17).
At first, Butterbur assumes that "they" are some hooligans who have been harassing the inn.
But he soon recognizes Gandalf and the hobbits, and he welcomes them as warmly as he did back in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Still, something is clearly wrong at the Prancing Pony.
It's mostly empty, and Butterbur is looking tired and worn.
Gandalf asks if Butterbur will join them for a quiet chat.
Butterbur doesn't really understand what Gandalf tells him about the events of the larger world over the past year, but he does have a thing or two to say about Bree.
Apparently, no one has been visiting the town from outside, and all the villagers have been keeping to their homes.
Some outsiders have come to Bree, but "most were bad men, full o' thievery and mischief" (6.7.27).
They even had actual battles in Bree, with a few people killed.
The Bree-folk were able to push these "bad men" out of the village, but now they've set up as armed robbers in the woods beyond Archet.
Gandalf reassures Butterbur: there is a new king, and he will make the Greenway safe again. And Bree will get some foot traffic, too.
Butterbur looks nervous at this news. In fact, he doesn't want outsiders in Bree at all.
Gandalf assures Butterbur that the new king will look after Bree. After all, he knows and loves the village.
At this, Butterbur just looks confused.
Sam steps in, and finally tells Butterbur: "He's Strider. The chief of the Rangers. Haven't you got that into your head yet?" (6.7.47).
Butterbur is completely astonished. Strider? King of Gondor?
But Butterbur has his own surprise for the party: he has Bill the pony in his stables.
(Bill the pony is the pack-pony they bought from Bill Ferny on the way out of Bree to Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring.)
Sam goes to visit Bill in the stables right away.
The hobbits and Gandalf stay in Bree for another day, and the Bree-folk flock to the Common Room to hear their stories.
The next day, Gandalf and the hobbits set off.
The whole village turns out to watch them go, they have been so cheered up by their visit.
As a parting word, Butterbur warns them that things are not well in the Shire, either.
Sam worries that what he saw in Galadriel's mirror (see The Fellowship of the Ring Book 2, Chapter 7) will come true: "trees cut down and all, and my old gaffer turned out of the Row" (6.7.62).
Merry is also concerned about the shortage of pipe-weed from Southfarthing. That can't be a good sign.
Gandalf points out that Saruman has been interested in the Shire. Perhaps he's the cause of whatever is wrong?
But Gandalf won't stick around to find out.
He tells the hobbits it is up to them to sort out what they find in the Shire—they're all grown-ups now, and very fine people to boot.
Gandalf turns east to visit with Tom Bombadil, but before he leaves, he tells them to hurry, before the gates at the Brandywine Bridge are locked.
Merry doesn't understand: there are no gates at the Brandywine Bridge.
Ah, but that's just it, Gandalf corrects him: there were no gates at the Brandywine Bridge.
He bids them farewell, and the four hobbits continue on by themselves.