10. Meeting the Wizard
"Send Aragorn to meet me alone." Those had been the orders sent to them, and upon hearing them, Aragorn, stared in disbelief at his foster brothers and Halbarad. The three seemed much too calm after making such a pronouncement.
"You're serious!" he exclaimed, his shirt sleeves rolled up in the summer heat as they stood above him in his office at Fornost. His protectors barely let him sleep or bath alone; now they were willing to allow him to ride out and meet a stranger.
"You're to go to The Prancing Pony in Bree to meet someone of import." Elrohir specified. "Alone. If it is safe, he will identify himself to you. The danger will be in others…watchers, not in this person, so guard your back. If you need us, we will not be far away."
Since his first adventure there, Aragorn had been to Bree several times with other Rangers. He knew the inn well, and Oatsworth Butterbur, the proprietor, knew him on sight, dubbing him Strider. Old Man Butterbur still pulled the tap, and joked with the customers. It was a rowdy place and a good spot to listen and observe if one blended into the background. Its atmosphere was different each time he'd been there, depending on the current clientele. And Butterbur often seemed to know more than he appeared. Aragorn guessed that innkeepers with sharp eyes and wits were often privy to information from unsuspecting suppliers, a good information source to keep in mind for the future.
As he entered Bree this day, Aragorn immediately noticed the number of hobbits about. The small beings fascinated him; as always, he felt a strong connection to them. It was market day and the merry periannath were quite the traders in dealing with the hapless men of Bree. He smiled at their bargaining and briefly wondered how fared Bilbo Baggins since last they'd met and traveled to the sea. At the inn, he gave up his horse to Butterbur's stable boy and walked into the darkness from the bright sunshine, letting his eyes adjust. The humid air smelled of wood smoke, roasting meat, and the yeasty odor of ale. Butterbur bustled up immediately.
"Ah, Mr. Strider! A room? Take the good sir's baggage up to the side room, Tom." Butterbur, ingratiating as ever, directed his help. "Will you go into the tap room, sir? It's tidy and quiet this time of day." Aragorn sat on the bench of a corner table. A new serving girl, young and buxom, brought out tea. Butterbur always remembered his avoidance of stronger drink. When he grinned his thanks, the maid blushed and bobbed a curtsey, eying him directly. 'What is this effect I have on the wenches?' he wondered. In exchange for his smile, the service was prompt, and a platter of cold fowl, new bread, and summer berries soon appeared. Aragorn broke off a chunk of the crusty bread and, with the pretext of eating, covertly surveyed the room.
Considering it was market day and early afternoon, the inn's business was very slow. Two local farmers were downing a bite and a pint before driving home, and three well-dressed hobbits laughed and ate, probably second or third luncheon. On the far side of the taproom, sat a strange old man, his back to the window. The sunlight shining through it did not allow Aragorn to see him clearly but he could tell he was swathed in a grey cloak; a staff leaned against the paneling at his side. 'Not well done of you,' he thought, 'but there can't be much danger in a harmless, old codger.' Aragorn propped his legs up on the cushioned bench, and settled down to wait.
Presently the old man, leaning heavily on his staff, rose and crossed the room to Aragorn. He moved curiously well for one so old and a formidable sword was belted at his side. The Ranger nodded politely and looked up into wise grey eyes. The old man leaned in close.
"If the Enemy could get this near to you without you at least loosening your sword in its scabbard, you will have a short life, Aragorn, son of Arathorn," the greybeard advised. His voice was strong and pleasant, even as he admonished the young man. Before the astonished Aragorn could respond, he dropped to the opposite bench and relit his pipe. The serving girl appeared magically with a tankard. She decided she had not assessed the young man wrongly since he was now sharing table with such an illustrious personage. The old man helped himself to Aragorn's food. "Elrond obviously skimped on your education and Halbarad has yet to catch up!" he said caustically.
Aragorn bristled. "Greybeard, if you know as much of me as you appear, you'll know I'll brook no slander of my father or my friends." The young Ranger looked him in the eye. "That sword is loose in its scabbard now." The old man laughed merrily.
"Well said, but do not get prickly with me. It does not pay to irritate a wizard."
"Wizard?" The young man was truly alarmed and wondered how far away Elrohir and Elladan were.
"I am Mithrandir in Elven realms and in the south in Gondor. To most others, I am Gandalf, Gandalf the Grey." The corner seemed suddenly to grow lighter.
"Gandalf!" Aragorn exclaimed with boyish delight. "That is a name from the past! I hear you can blow dragons breathing fire with that thing," he indicated the wizard's pipe, "and are renowned for your fireworks!"
"From whom did you hear that?" the wizard eyed him curiously.
One bushy brow shot up. "You amaze me, my boy, that's hard to do to a wizard." Aragorn smiled and Gandalf finally chuckled. "How are Halbarad and the twins? Reluctant to allow you this short journey on your own, I would guess. You are the most protected warrior in Middle Earth."
"You are who I was sent to meet." Aragorn stated.
Gandalf nodded. "It's about time we meet, too. I've watched you often enough through the years."
Aragorn shook his head. "Another lurker on Elrond's balcony? I certainly was watched by many for being so secretively hidden and was oblivious to it all."
"Actually, it was just a conspiracy of three---Elrond, Halbarad, and me. You grew up well in Imladris." Gandalf said, "I've just come from there. Elrond hoped I'd find you well and Arwen sends her greetings. And your mother instructs you to write her more often." He dug into the voluminous pockets of his cloak and produced a packet of letters, their coverings and script as beautiful as the words inside. All but the one from his father were tied up with a silver cord and sealed with Arwen's star symbol in the wax. He could already catch the scent of roses on the paper and could almost hear the distant roar of waterfalls. Gandalf looked at him knowingly.
"Lad, before you float away from me back to Rivendell, there are things of which we must speak, so put those away." Gandalf suddenly became very business-like. "Although you will continue with the Dúnedain for some time, starting now, I am your tutor, your mentor, and, hopefully, your friend. Elrond educated you for me; Halbarad teaches you to be chieftain of your people. You and I will learn of the world and of kingship." Gandalf was silent for a moment, smoking thoughtfully. "I must ask you, lad, do you desire this? I will not take on the training of a reluctant king." Well aware of the drama of several springs gone by, the wizard held his breath.
Aragorn had been three years now with the Dúnedain. As their leader, he had been treated as the next high king. He knew this had been a courtesy at first from the Rangers to the heir of their beloved slain chieftain, but he felt he was beginning to earn their faith and felt a desire to fulfill his destiny. Additionally, Elrond never doubted him and Arwen believed without question his future would come to pass and they would eventually wed.
"I don't desire power. I seek only glory when it reflects our cause of justice. But, I do have a desire in my soul for these lands to become as of old. To flourish instead of languish. I want men to have something to believe in, for all people, elves, men, and dwarves….and hobbits to be free of threat from the Dark Lord." He suddenly felt he'd sounded pompous and waited hesitantly to hear Gandalf's reaction. He found he very much wanted the wizard's approval.
"A fair answer and an honest answer. None less did I expect from you. I've always thought you most worthy of the task and title." He smiled broadly at Aragorn's earnestness and their conversation lightened. They talked in the taproom of the ones they knew and loved. When evening came and it became crowded, they went upstairs to Aragorn's room.
There, Gandalf became serious again and spoke long into the night of the growing threat in the South, of Aragorn's role as a unifier of the free peoples, and of the steps he must take before he became king. He outlined the realms he must visit and the lessons he must learn before he became king. To Aragorn, it seemed as fantastic as the day Elrond told him of his parentage, and Gandalf's pupil, gallant and courteous but so very sleepy, finally fell into the beckoning bed. Gandalf sat smoking, reviewing in his mind, the plans for this boy. It wasn't long before Aragorn began muttering and thrashing in his sleep. The wizard looked on in sympathy."Dreams…evil haunts your dreams, my boy. A searching eye, he looks for you. If he found you now before you were seasoned and prepared to take him on, it would be death to us all. We'll keep you sheltered yet." The wizard laid his hand on the young Ranger's brow and muttered a few Elvish words of healing. Aragorn's sleep became quieter. Mithrandir, the Istyar, smoked and watched and planned, long into the night.
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.