6. The Prancing Pony
When he noticed me, he rose from the bench and walked towards me. "What do you want in Bree, and where do you come from?" he asked, his voice rough and his pronunciation broad with brogue.
I blinked at him, astounded. What kind of language was that? And why did I understand it? It felt to me like English, which I understood and spoke almost as well as German, but it wasn't. It did not sound like any language I had ever heard. It was not a roman language, neither French nor Spanish, and it was not a language from the East, neither Russian nor Polish sounded like that.
"Bree?" My astonished question was out of my mouth before I noticed the mounting suspicion on the gatekeeper's face.
"Yes, Bree. Bree in Breeland, if you please. Now, who are you? What's your business? And who can vouch for you?" he growled at me.
I stared at him, at a loss for words. Bree! I knew of Bree in Breeland, of course. It was a village of Middle Earth.
Middle Earth? I was in Middle Earth?!
My heart was beating like a drum, and I could barely keep from shouting with joy. So it was real, I had known it all along that it was real! And now I was here! Oh, what a wonderful kind of magic! Thank you, dear God, thank you!
"Who can vouch for you?" the gatekeeper repeated, taking another step towards me and lifting his pike menacingly.
I swallowed, my delight at finding myself in Middle Earth vanishing quickly as the weapon swung closer to my face. Vouch for me? I did not know anyone here at all! I wildly looked around, considering to make a break for it and to just run off, when I noticed a dark stranger keeping to the shadows behind the gatekeeper's lodge.
He did not look like Viggo Mortensen. But in my mind there was no doubt at all as to who the tall dark man was, who lingered in the shadows of the small house, watching the gate.
Perhaps I did know someone here after all.
I pointed at the ranger and said as calmly as I could: "He knows me. He will vouch for me.
I am Lothíriel, and I am a ranger, too."
The gatekeeper turned around at once, looking at the dark man full of suspicion. "You are that ranger, aren't you? The one they call Strider? This –" He threw me a scornful glance out of the corners of his eyes. "This… woman says that you will vouch for her. Do you? Is she really one of your kin? A ranger?" He spit to the ground forcefully. Apparently he did not think much of rangers.
Strider walked up to us. He was tall and slender, but not at all slim; his movements were powerful and fluid. There was no need to attach a sign saying "keep off, dangerous warrior", he only had to take two steps and any sensible person would run for cover. He wore high leather boots, which went up above his knees; they were obviously well made but muddy and worn all the same. His pants, tunic and shirt were of different shades of grey, tough cloth of a good quality but frayed at the edges. Around his shoulders he wore a long cloak of heavy dark-green cloth, which was stained with travel and patched in several spots. His hair fell in slight waves down to his shoulders. It was very dark, a shade too light for black but not really brown either. His eyes were grey and very bright and, at the moment, very angry. Angry at me.
I looked up at him and wished to be a mouse with a handy hole to vanish into nearby. No such luck. Looking at Aragorn I tried to widen my eyes into a look of silent pleading. You always read about people doing that. But it is really hard in real life, especially when caught between a suspicious gatekeeper armed with a pike and an angry ranger.
Please, I thought at Aragorn. Please tell him that you know me. Please. I have nowhere to go!
I swallowed hard, as I realized that I really had nowhere to go. I was where I always wanted to be, but I had even less a place where I belonged in this Middle-earth than I had back home.
Piercing eyes looked me up and down.
I must have been a sight, I guess. Black trekking shoes, dark blue jeans, a blue man's shirt worn loosely above the jeans – I am quite a tall girl, and although I have never been fat, I have never been thin, either; I have womanly curves, think golden twenties, when women did not yet have to look like children; but it's nicer to wear loose shirts when hiking and you have a nice bust – , a faded black leather jacket and an almost new outdoor-backpack in a pretty camouflage pattern; I have straight brown hair, which I keep very long, because I hate going to the hairdresser's, it goes down to the small of my back. My eyes are kind of muddy, as if they could not decide whether to turn green or brown. They settled on a non-descript colour in between. Muddy. I sport a child-like snub-nose and a stubborn chin. My skin is very dry and sensitive, which makes me look older than I am, with tiny wrinkles at the corners of my eyes. What I like about me is my mouth, which I think is quite sensuous, with a lovely, natural, rosy shade. Perhaps I am vaguely pretty. But I am neither beautiful, nor do I look like a ranger. If anything, I guess I looked like what I was: a runaway law student. Not a very helpful appearance at the gates of Bree, Middle-earth.
Aragorn caught my eyes in his bright grey gaze. He seemed to see to the bottom of my soul. How could anyone mistake him for a harmless ranger?
I am harmless, I thought frantically. Please help me!
Aragorn turned to the gatekeeper, who was almost a full head smaller than the ranger. "I know her. She is a distant relation of mine. Let her pass."
I almost gasped with relief. The gatekeeper did not look convinced, but one look at Aragorn's grim face made him bow and back away to his bench rapidly.
Aragorn took hold of my arm with a vice-like grip and towed me away from the door. When we were out of earshot, he lowered his head and hissed at me. "Now. Who are you really, where do you come from, what do you want, how did you know me? Speak quickly. And remember, I will know if you lie!"
I gulped. I would never be able to shake off his iron grip. And behind me waited the gatekeeper with his pike and nasty eyes.
"My name is Lothíriel. I, I am, I was a law student. I come from another world. I think, I think I met a wizard. He sent me here, I think. I wanted, I wanted to find another world. I did not fit in… I was not happy… I did not belong… where, where I come from."
Aragorn looked at me thoughtfully. Then an expression of scorn mixed with curiosity passed across his face. But apparently he was satisfied as to the truthfulness of my answers, because he let go of my arm. "And you think that gives you the right to abandon your home?" He asked me in a low, stern voice. "And you still have not told me, how you know me."
Abandon my home. I clenched my teeth. If anyone had needed me at all, back home, I would probably still be there, however unhappy. Had Aragorn ever been that judgmental in the books? I gritted my teeth and hissed at him. "That's none of your business, Aragorn. And it's a long story, how I know you. And it probably should not be told in the open, where anyone might hear it." I glared at him.
To my satisfaction he literally jumped at the mention of his real name. He narrowed his eyes at me, and swiftly caught my elbow again in an unbreakable grip. "Right. Then come with me, Lothíriel. If you are kin, I should take care of you. I have lodgings at the Inn of "The Prancing Pony". It is almost full, but I am sure you will not object to sharing a room with your UNCLE," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
I only nodded, and did my best to keep up with his quick pace and long stride, as he proceeded down the village street, passing a few detached houses, heading for the centre of the village. He finally stopped in front of one of the largest buildings of the village.
It was three stories high with many brightly lit windows. Behind the fore-front of the house, which faced the road, two wings extended to the back, built right into the hill rising at its back. To the right was a wide arch, which led into a cobbled courtyard, where I glimpsed the structures of low wooden stables and barns. To the left was a large doorway, which could be reached by five broad steps made of slabs of granite. At the centre of the steps the hard stone had been worn down into grooves by countless feet treading the steps during years uncounted, but the door was quite new, made of solid wood and painted green, just like the shutters and the edges of the archway leading into the courtyard. Above the archway an old-fashioned iron lamp was suspended from a hook inserted into the wall, and underneath it a wooden sign was swaying in the breeze. The sign depicted a fat, rearing white pony on a green meadow, and above the door, painted in white letters on a field of green, which was artistically curling at the corners, I could read the name of the pub: "The Prancing Pony by Barliman Butterbur".
I gaped at the sign, and would have remained staring at the letters, had not Aragorn tightened his hold on my arm, and literally dragged me up the stairs and into the pub.
Without really turning, Aragorn told someone at the reception, "This is my niece. Is it possible that you get her a room? If not, she will share my room. Then please have another cot put in."
I did not get the reply, because Aragorn was already manhandling me into the guestroom and on into a private niche of the adjoining separate room. "You stay here. Don not move or you will live to regret it."
With that he was gone, and hardly daring to breathe, far from even thinking of moving or running away, I cautiously looked around the room. Aragorn had left me in a berth like cubbyhole. It was a niche at the small side of the separate room, which adjoined the big common room of the inn, clearly designed for private dealings of the guests. It was completely panelled with dark wood, which had darkened with age and smoke to make it impossible to tell whether it had originally been oak or pine. There was a small wooden table and narrow wooden benches on either side of the table. The opening to the benches was quite narrow; you had to squeeze past the edge of the table. But once inside it was snug and comfortable, and with the separate room as yet empty as private as you could wish. I stuck my backpack into the corner of my bench and waited.
Only a moment later, Aragorn returned with two mugs of beer. He placed one in front of me, and then looked up frowning. "You drink beer, do you?"
That was the nicest thing he had said to me up until now.
I smiled and nodded. "Yes, I do. Thank you."
He nodded curtly, surveyed the room with his penetrating gaze, and then settled on the other bench with his tankard of beer. I lifted my mug and saluted him. I drank deeply. It was dark beer, and it was good. It was not as strong as I was used to, probably because of the medieval brewing methods of Middle Earth, but it was tart, cool and refreshing. Ahh!
I sat down the mug and looked into deep, dark eyes, which reflected the flickering flame of the oil lamp, which was hanging above the table.
"Now, how do you know me? And how do you come by the name of Lothíriel? Because that is a name of this world and it means 'blossom-female'; and it is a Dúnadan name, too."
I sighed. He had cut right to the point. How should I explain?
"We know of your world, in our world, sort of. There are… stories, fairy tales about your world in my world. They are quite well known, and well loved by many people." I would really like to know how Mr. Tolkien came up with those stories if Middle Earth really exists! Not to mention how he wrote about things, which had apparently not yet happened in the Middle Earth I had stumbled into.
"My mother loved those stories, too. And my name is somewhere in those stories, too, though I don't really know where. I guess she just liked the sound of it. That's why I am Lothíriel. I did not know it had any meaning."
Aragorn was staring at me, disbelief plain on his face.
"You know about me? Out of tales? Tales, which are famous in your world?"
It did not sound very believable. "Yes. That's what I said. Don't you believe me?" I stared right back at him, challenging him to ask me for proof. And he did.
"Then tell me something about me, something you could not possibly know. For my name you could have possibly heard… somewhere. Especially – " And his voice grew icy. "Especially, if you are an enemy."
I gulped nervously and leaned as far back away from the table as I could.
What should I tell him? It had to be something no one could know, and something, which would convince him that I was not an enemy!
"You are Aragorn, Arathorn's son, descendant of Isildur, Elendil's son. And you love an Elvish princess, Arwen Undómiel, the daughter of Elrond Peredhel. You wear a silver pendant around your neck, which she gave you in Rivendell."
Or had that been only in the movies? He did not look like in the movies!
He stared at me expressionlessly for a second, and then his right hand moved to his chest, to cover something hidden by his clothes.
I exhaled softly. There was an amulet Arwen had given him.
He looked at me gravely. His voice was much friendlier, when he spoke again.
"I believe you. No one knows about the jewel, not even her father."
He fell silent for a moment. Then he looked up again, his eyes thoughtful. I knew what he would say next, because the moment I had thought about what I knew about Middle Earth's history, the same thought had occurred to me.
"If you know about Middle Earth, do you know about what will happen? Have you foreknowledge about the dark days we are facing?"
I could only tell him the truth. "The stories about Middle Earth, which are most famous where I come from, are about… a certain treasure and a… certain enemy and… the end of the third age. But… I am not in those stories. I mean, my name is in there, somewhere, but not in what is going to happen here, and now. I would know about that." Or would I? I rubbed at my temples. The time travel and parallel universes paradox is even more enervating when you are caught up in it than when you are watching Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future".
Aragorn thumped his right index finger lightly against his lips.
"Then the stories you know might be changing as we speak, by your mere existence in this time and place… but still, you know much. Too much. You are a very dangerous person, Lothíriel." He looked back at me again, and his eyes were cold, a certain ruthless look was on his face. I could only nod. My stomach was quivering with sudden fear as I realized just how much I knew, and what the things I knew would mean to the enemy. I could hardly keep my teeth from chattering and hot tears were threatening at the corners of my eyes.
I had wanted to find another world, and adventure.
I had not wanted to bring deathly peril to the heroes of this other world.
Aragorn's cold look turned suddenly warm with sympathy. He sighed softly, and I could see how he accepted yet an additional burden to the many responsibilities he already had to bear.
He reached out and took my right hand, with which I gripped the mug of beer much too tightly. I let go of the mug and accepted the comforting squeeze. His hand was strong and warm and full of calluses.
"I don't believe in chance. There has to be a reason why you are here, especially if it was a wizard who sent you. And we were lucky that you met me at the gate. I don't think that anyone has noticed anything beyond the curious fact that a run-down ranger has a young and pretty niece, who should not be travelling alone through the wilderness. And you won't do that again. For the time being, I think it will be best, if you stay with me. Niece." He winked at me.
I exhaled a deep sigh of relief. Stay with Aragorn. If anyone could keep me safe, it was Aragorn. Then I recalled the sequence of the story. Aragorn in Bree? Did that mean I had plopped into the story at its very beginning?
My stomach did another somersault.
I took another swallow of beer.
I cleared my throat.
Then I asked, "You are not, by chance, here in Bree because you are waiting for some hobbits, are you?"
Aragorn put down his own mug of beer with a low thump.
"Yes, I am. Why? Is something wrong?"
I slowly shook my head, trying to recall the details of the story, fervently wishing I had read it again in the last weeks. But as it were, the last time I actually read the books had been more than a year ago. The hobbits had reached Bree safely with the help of Tom Bombadil, that much I knew, but of course I could not recall the date.
"No, nothing's wrong, as far as I know… yet. But danger will follow them; black riders are close behind them." I pressed my lips together tightly. I should not say too much. Anything I might say could change things, and I knew too much about chaos theory not to know that any changes might just as easily turn out evil, no matter how good the intentions.
"Black riders!" Aragorn hissed, clenching his fists. "Are you sure? Do you know what they are?" I nodded, my heart in my mouth, my stomach cramping.
Aragorn drained his beer, and then sat down the mug. He looked at me for a moment, his thoughts hidden. "Stay here and have something to eat. Tell Barley to put it on my bill. I will go and have a look around, and try to find the hobbits on the road to Bree. Don't say who you are. If anyone asks, tell them you are… Anniel, my niece, from the North. But if you can help it, just don't talk to anyone at all. Remember, knowledge is a most dangerous treasure."
"Yes," I replied, my voice small and unsteady.
"I will be back as soon as I can." He nodded at me and rose from the bench. He squeezed around the edge of the table and was gone.
I remained sitting where I was, staring at the mug on the table in front of me, my heart racing, and the blood rushing in my ears.
I was scared to death, and the black riders were not even close to Bree yet.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.