At the Sign of the Prancing Pony
B2MeM Challenge: Aragorn's first visit to Bree, maybe in the company of Gandalf or with another Ranger. Were the Bree-folk always so suspicious of the Rangers, or did something happen to cause that?
Format: short story
Characters: Aragorn, Halbarad, OMCs
Summary: Aragorn visits the Prancing Pony for the first time.
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
A/n I know nothing about ale and borrowed the description of Butterbur's ale from a local brewer's website.
"We deserve a drink before we return to the camp," said Halbarad. "Those Orcs will never trouble these lands again. Luckily, the Bree' folk lost only a few livestock and had no idea of the danger they were in."
"Such seems to be the Rangers' lot," said Aragorn. "We try to remove the evils that could threaten simple folk before they are even aware they exist." He took a swig from his water skin and regarded his kinsman with a slightly puzzled air as Halbarad made no move to quench his thirst. "I thought you wanted a drink?"
"I meant a proper drink at the inn," said Halbarad. "Butterbur's ales are spoken of with awe by every Ranger who has ever sampled them."
"Who is Butterbur?" asked Aragorn.
"A Ranger for a year now and you don't know who Ryeman Butterbur is!" Halbarad snorted. "He is the landlord of "The Prancing Pony", as were his father and grandfather before him and no doubt several generations before that. The recipe for his famous ale has been passed from father to son for generations. Much like the shards of Narsil, only tastier, come to think of it!"
"This Butterbur's ale hardly helped destroy the Enemy," Aragorn said rather icily.
"Peace, kinsman, I did but jest, but you will get my meaning once you taste the ale."
The two Rangers strode through Bree and made their way up the sloping street, which led to the imposing inn. The building was adorned by a large sign depicting a fat white pony prancing on its hind legs.
Aragorn looked at it in wonder. There were small taverns in some of the Ranger villages, but the "Pony" was huge by comparison.
Halbarad led the way up the steps, but paused before he reached the top and whispered in his kinsman's ear. "I am known as "Stalker" in these parts. You may as well be "Strider".
"It will suit you with those great long legs of yours."
"I already have two names," Aragorn grumbled. "Do I now have to have three?"
"You might gain even more ere too long." Halbarad grinned. He led the way into the inn's common room before Aragorn could protest further.
It was dark inside the inn, compared to the evening sunlight outside and it took Aragorn's eyes a few moments to adjust to the gloom. Visibility was not helped by the clouds of smoke from the many pipes being smoked and the fire in the corner. His keen hearing detected a good deal of muttering about the newcomers, none of it complimentary. When his eyes grew accustomed to the light within the large smoke hazed room he saw it was filled with a mixture of Hobbits and Bree-folk. They had all paused in their eating and drinking to glare at the two Rangers.
A thin brown-haired man approached them and frowned. "We don't serve no vagabonds here," he said. "This is a respectable 'ouse."
Before Aragorn and Halbarad could reply, a short plump man pushed forward and rebuked the other. "Now, now, Ned, we serve anyone who has good coin, even that strange old wizard."
"'e might turn us into something unnatural like pigs," said Ned. "We 'as to serve 'im, even if 'e does look as dirty as these two."
"Baths are hard to come by in the wild places where we wander," said Halbarad coolly.
"My apologies, good sirs," said the fat man. "Ryeman Butterbur at your service. What might I be getting for you, sirs?"
"Two pints of your best ale please, Ryeman," said Halbarad. "We will sit in my usual place."
"Very well, Mr Stalker," said Ryeman. "I'll be fetching it at once for you and Mr-"
"Strider," said Aragorn. "You can call me Strider."
Halbarad led his kinsman to a table by the wall and the two sat down. "They'll soon stop staring at us, especially as this table is in the shadows," he said. "The folk here see anyone who is different to them as a threat."
"I dread to think then what they would make of the horrors they know not of," said Aragorn grimly.
"Such is the Ranger's lot, to labour day and night for nought but hostile stares in exchange from those we protect," said Halbarad.
"I wonder if the wizard they spoke of was old Gandalf," said Aragorn, changing the subject. "He visits Master Elrond from time to time. A somewhat tetchy old fellow, but quite likeable from what I've seen of him. He seems interested in me for some reason."
"Little wonder given your heritage," said Halbarad. What other wizard is likely to come here? From what I've heard of Saruman he would not be seen dead in a public inn. It seems Gandalf is little better liked than we are."
"But why do they hate us so?" asked Aragorn.
"We are much taller than they and no doubt appear grim and threatening in their eyes," said Halbarad. "Then we appear after their sheep have gone missing or worse, so the Bree-folk accuse us of the ill fortune that befell them, as little do they know of the fell creatures that truly committed the crimes against them. It is better thus that they live their lives free from a care that would consume them all. You will get used to it in time, even with your cosseted upbringing."
"I wonder," said Aragorn.
"Cheer up, old Butterbur will bringing our ale any moment now," said Halbarad.
"It had better be worth it," said Aragorn morosely. He thought longingly of Rivendell and the fine quality wines served with every meal. He had over the past year become accustomed to the ale drunk in the Ranger villages, but it was poor stuff by comparison. He doubted the Bree-folk's brew would even taste as good as that!"
Butterbur came bustling along to the secluded table, balancing two foaming tankards on a metal tray. "Sorry, sirs," he said. "It be right busy tonight with it being market day and all."
Halbarad reached for his purse and paid the innkeeper.
"You Rangers might be queer wandering folk, but you always pay your bill with good coin," said Butterbur as he bustled away.
Halbarad picked up a tankard and licked his lips. "What are we waiting for? Now drink, young Strider and remember this day!" He raised the drink to his mouth with a flourish.
Aragorn took a cautious sip then another and another. The ale was rich and golden in colour, with a hint of hops and a very pleasant lingering, mildly bitter but malty aftertaste. It was delicious. He smiled blissfully.
"What did I tell you?" said Halbarad.
"I think I'm growing to like "The Prancing Pony," said Aragorn. "We must come here again."
A/N. Written for the 2015 BTMEM Challenge.