2. Chapter 1: The cost of a Night’s Lodging
The Gondorian guided his horse beneath the swinging sign and into the inn yard. The animal plodded up to the door, his proud head drooping low, then came to a grateful stop. Berethor patted his neck and leaned forward to murmur, "Here's the warm stable I promised you, Ayreth. Pay no attention to the smell." Ayreth lifted his head and twitched an ear at his rider. They had ridden long together, this man and steed. From the white city, over the realms of Rohan, through Dunland and Tharbad, along the Old South Road, through the ruined city and across the Greyflood they had come, and in that time had reached an understanding. If Berethor required him to sleep in a noisome byre such as this, then Ayreth would condescend to do so. Such was the loyalty he owed his rider. Berethor swung down from the saddle and moved to Ayreth's head. The horse nudged him affectionately, and Berethor absently stroked the animal's velvet nose as he gazed around the inn yard. It was a humble place, with ramshackle stables on one side and what, from the sounds and odours emanating from it, seemed to be a combined pig-sty and compost heap on the other. The house itself was large and solid, with a lamp burning above the stout wooden door and yet more lights glimmering from behind many shuttered windows. The yard needed sweeping and the roof needed patching, but it was a mild night, and Berethor was not concerned with leaks. "Ho! Innkeeper!" he shouted, as he pounded the door with his fist. After a moment the door slowly creaked open. There stood a small, broad man wearing a greasy leather apron and no welcome on his face. His shrewd eyes, narrowed suspiciously as he took in the full appearance of Berethor, dwelling uncomfortably on his sword-hilt which glimmered beneath his cloak. "Are you the innkeeper?"
"I need lodging for my horse and I."
"I'll need to see your coin first, traveller," the landlord replied. Berethor glared down at the man. He was not amused at being treated as a lowly thief by this man, no matter how ragged his cloak or dusty his boots. His hand moved to the hilt of his sword, as he rose up to his full, commanding height. The little man visibly, shrank under his cold, green gaze. With a contemptuous snort, Berethor pushed past the man into the entrance way. "Not until I see the state of your sheets."
His haughtiness seemed to reassure the landlord. He shut the door and turned to the Gondorian. Bowing slightly, he began to talk in a quick, shaky whine, "Indeed sir, indeed. No offence meant, I'm sure. Strange folk we get coming up the greenway of late. A man can't be too careful. Mistook you for one o' them rangers, I did. Queer folk, they are and none too open with their purses, if you take my meaning…"
"I'll also need supper," Berethor said, cutting off the flow of excuses pouring from the landlord's mouth. "And fodder for my horse. Do you have someone I can trust to groom him properly?"
The landlord paused, still plainly labouring under the suspicion that this man had no money to command such services. Berethor relented and tossed him a silver coin. The little man's eyes lit up. "Certainly sir," he replied eagerly. "I'll have my son do it, a fair hand he has with horses. Supper in the common-room, I'll have your bed prepared." With that, he bowed again and waved his hand to the door on right. Berethor entered the crowded room which was full of smoke and the hum of voices. Even through the smoke, Berethor could smell bread and meat cooking. His stomach grumbled promptly. A pair of dwarves sat, huddled at the fire, their heads together in private conversation. Farmers lounged on the benches that ran around the walls of the room, drinking from their wooden tankards and chatting amongst themselves. The landlord urged him across the room to the large table that dominated the centre of the room. He pulled up a stool and sat down. A loud group of men occupied the other end of the table. Berethor counted six of them dressed in rough, woollen clothing, all armed and banging their dishes on the table, shouting for faster service. In the corner behind the fireplace sat a lone figure, cloaked in shadow. Berethor caught a glimpse of long hair, framing a stern face and hooded eyes returning his gaze but the arrival of his meal distracted him. He ate quickly, with all attention on his food. The landlord brought him an empty tankard but Berethor barely acknowledged him, giving a quick, subtle nod and continuing to eat. He had forgotten how good meat tasted when you did not have to kill and clean it yourself. When he finished he pushed back his plate and waved the landlord over. As he walked over, Berethor looked at the greasy, grinning man in approval, a full stomach mellowed him considerably.
"That was excellent. Now, is there enough hot water for a bath?"
"Certainly sir, follow me."
A half hour later, Berethor left the bathing chamber and with the worst of the dust brushed off his clothes, he felt positively benevolent. He once again entered the common room and approached the bar after reclaiming his tankard from the table. "I'll have whatever's in that keg." The bar maid turned to pour him an ale. He watched her for a moment and took another look around the room. He noticed the group of ruffians at the table shooting him appraising glances, and muttering amongst themselves. With a casual gesture, he thrust back his cloak and turned slightly, the fire reflecting off the length of his sword. The voices then dropped to an inaudible murmur and he turned back to bar to receive his drink. This rabble did not scare him in the slightest after all he had been through on his journey. Besides that, he was a formidable warrior but this did remind him of the dangers he might face when he continued his path north to Rivendell, home of the half-Elven Lord Elrond. He planned to find a seat near the fire and study the room at his leisure but his path was blocked by the grim-faced man that was staring at him earlier. The man stood tall, even taller than Berethor himself, he looked down at him, his dark eyes glinted and with a smile he said, "Drink with me, man of the south."
Berethor could hardly contain his surprise. It took a great effort to meet the man's gaze without showing his discomfort. He did not expect to be recognized outside of his own borders let alone this far adrift his country. "I drink alone," he answered coldly.
"No man prefers to drink alone," he returned back with taunting smile. "Come. I am weary of my own company."
Berethor was angered by the stranger's soft but condescended command and he reached for his sword. But then also remembered why he was here. He needed information and what better source than a man who seemed to know more than he ought?
The anger drained from him as quickly as it came, his hand relaxed. "I too, am weary of my own company but I am not accustomed to taking orders from haughty strangers."
The man gave a short dry laugh and preceded back to his private corner just behind the fire. Berethor sat on the bench with his back to the wall and put his feet on the small stool in front. The stranger resumed his seat in the shadows of the corner. "I would warn you not to reach for your blade so readily, but as I wish to have a comfortable chat by the fire, and not a contest in arms, I will keep that advice to myself."
"You may give any advice you like," Berethor returned. "Whether I heed it, is my own affair."
The man sipped his beer, his eyes gleaming at Berethor over the rim of the tankard. "Do you ever heed counsel I wonder?"
"I have come here in search of counsel, for that matter."
"I wondered what could bring a soldier of Gondor up the Greenway."
Again, Berethor felt a flicker of anger and disquiet. <How could this stranger know from whence I came?> he thought. He shot the man a dark look and it was returned with the same taunting smile. "Who are you, and how do you know I come from Gondor?"
"My name is my own," the man answered flatly. "I am a Ranger of the North. I know many things hidden from lesser men." Berethor snorted in disgust and the man softly laughed. He pointed to Berethor's gauntlets. "You bear the white tree of Minas Tirith. You carry yourself as a soldier would, as a captain of men."
Berethor relaxed but not return a smile. "And you carry yourself as a wanderer from the north."
"I am a ranger." He repeated. "We are what we are and it is not for you to know or understand."
Surprisingly, Berethor felt no resentment to these words. He stared at the ranger, wondering what manner of man is beneath that hood and stern face. A man used to his own commands, clearly. A man to be treated with caution and perhaps, respect.
"Do you have a name, soldier of Gondor?"
"What counsel do you seek in these lands, Berethor?"
"I am searching for a place called Rivendell, home of Elrond half-Elven Lord. In the south we have forgotten its secrets."
The ranger regarded him silently for a moment. "What business have you with Elrond?"
"My business is my own," Berethor replied in mockery of the rangers own words.
"Then I cannot guide you to Rivendell."
"You know where it is."
The ranger nodded. "I have walked the forests of that dale many times, listening to the music of the elves. It is a place of beauty and power beyond your understanding."
"Understand it or not, I must go there." Berethor said harshly, growing impatient. "If you will not tell me where it lies I will find it myself."
"I can tell you but that does not mean you will find it."
"I will search, 'til my last breath, and die with the name of Rivendell on my lips."
The rangers face grew thoughtful. "I see no guile in you, Berethor. No evil beyond that of any given man. But the path is perilous. The darkness awaits you out there, my friend."
"I am not afraid of darkness."
The ranger bowed his head in acceptance. "The place you seek is north and east of here. There are roads that can take you there but they are perilous. I would strike north from here, off the greenway until you come to the river Hoarwell. Then simply follow it north and east until you come to The Last Bridge meeting the east/west road of Rhudaur. At the end of that road, lies the realm you seek."
Berethor sat in silence for a moment, pondering the words of the ranger, then lifted his head to him. "Thank you. I am in your debt."The ranger shrugged. "Why speak of debt when we fight the same enemy. And if you are fortunate enough to come across my captain, Strider within them borders, be sure to tell him that his brother-in-arms sends all duty and affection."
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.