A Long-extended Party presents the The Four Villages, a look at Bree-land, a region that will be featured in many player cards in the upcoming adventure pack, The Gap of Rohan. Written by Levanthalas, ALeP Lead Lore Expert. Map of Bree-land by Karen Fonstad.
East of the Shire, west of the Weather Hills, lie the Bree-lands. There are the Four Villages, the only settlements for many a league in the now-ruined lands of former Arnor, and the Westernmost settlements of Men in the Third Age. These four settlements are known for being the rare case where Men and Hobbits live together. The names of the Four Villages were Bree, Staddle, Combe, and Archet.
Bree and Staddle lie on opposite sides of a great hill, known as the “Bree-hill.” Bree on the western side was the largest of the four, while Staddle on the eastern side was the primary residence of Hobbits in the Bree-lands, though they could be found in all four villages. Combe sat in a deep valley north of Staddle, and yet further north was found Archet, inside the Chetwood itself.
Bree sat by the crossroads of the Greenway, running North and South, and the Great East Road, which ran from the Tower Hills in the west, to beyond the Misty Mountains. Because of its location, Bree was a center of trade and travel. Though it declined as Arnor did, and the Greenway fell out of use, it never completely lost its significance. Dwarves and other travelers would stop at Bree on their journeys along the still used Great East Road. It was from travelers such as these that the Hobbits and Bree-landers got their news.
Staddle was the most eastern settlement of Hobbits known in the Third Age. The Hobbits of the Four Villages, especially those of Staddle, claimed their settlement predated the colonization of the Shire, and even claimed to be the oldest settlement of Hobbits in the world. This has echoes of the Bree-landers’ boasts of having settled long before Arnor was founded; indeed, even before Beleriand sank during the War of Wrath that concluded the First Age.
Little is written about Combe or Archet, though both included Men and Hobbits among their population.
Involvement in the War of the Ring
The four Hobbits of the Company made their way to Bree after their misadventures in Old Forest and the Barrow-Downs. It was here that they discovered that Gandalf had been delayed, and also took up with Strider, later revealed to be Aragorn. The Ringwraiths visited Bree during this time, and though Meriadoc Brandybuck was knocked out by their terrible presence, they seem to have only acquired news from the unpleasant Bill Ferny, and not disturbed the peace otherwise. After a brief rest at the Prancing Pony in Bree, the Hobbits and Strider set out on a course that led many to believe they were travelling to Archet, though they left the road before approaching the smaller settlement. After this, they continued eastward until they left Bree-land and entered the Lone-Lands.
Bree escaped the war without seeing any large invasions, though there was some trouble with ruffians that came up the Greenway. Perhaps they were some of those hired by Saruman in his endeavors to take over the Shire, or maybe just unscrupulous types seeking to take advantage of the Rangers’ reduced numbers as they rode to Aragorn’s side as the Grey Company. There seems to only have been one real fight, with only five casualties on the Bree-landers side: three of Men, and two Hobbits. Bill Ferny and Harry Goatleaf turned their coats, joining the ruffians, and even letting them in the gate. After the “set-to,” as Barliman Butterbur referred to it, the brigands retreated to the Chetwood, near Archet, and took up robbery. This did reduce the number of travellers through Bree, and created a somewhat tense and fearful atmosphere in the Four Villages for a while, though it seems to have been mended quickly enough after the Scouring of the Shire.
Breeland and the Four Villages are unique. They are the only known place where Hobbits and Men live in the same settlements, and one of the few places where any of the different races of Middle-Earth mix at all. Even the Dwarves of Khazad-Dum and the Elves of Eregion lived near, but not together. The settlements have their own identity, founded before the kingdoms with which readers are so familiar, and the people are proud of this uniqueness, and never lose it. Even when Aragorn Elessar took up the kinship of Arnor and Gondor, which included the Bree-lands, they remained their own, living in their own way. And that was just fine with them.