1. The Wizard and the Ranger
It was a dismal little hole with a straw pallet in the corner and a bucket for waste (which at least was empty at present). The meal the sheriff thrust at Aragorn through the bars was not bad: a hunk of yellow cheese, some dark bread and pickles with plenty of fresh water to wash it down.
I won't starve, he thought, looking around ruefully. At least it's dry and warmer than the wild. There are more dangerous and less comfortable places to pass the night. He smiled to himself: a jail cell in Bree, quite a change from two years sailing with Círdan's people in an Elven ship.
Apparently someone who fit his description had robbed a couple of Breeland farms in the last week. Faced with a posse of outraged Hobbits and Bree-men, bristling stout staves and bows and arrows, Aragorn at last gave up arguing and surrendered his weapons, allowing the posse to escort him to the jail. "Strider," they called him. Yet another name to add to my list, he thought in amusement.
With some irritation, he wondered about the "robber." Probably some boy's prank stealing pies off of window sills. Hopefully the misunderstanding would soon be settled and nearby Rangers would hear of his arrest. He only needed to wait.
He wrapped his long body in his thick cloak, put his pack on the pallet for a pillow, and settled down to sleep.
Voices woke him in the early morning. He recognized the lilting young voice of the Hobbit jailer, but the other was new: a gruff old man's tone with a hint of humor.
The Hobbit banged on the bars of the cell. "Wake up, Strider! You've got some friends after all."
"Try at least, Bungo, to be a little polite," said the old man. Aragorn could not see his face, shadowed in a deep-brimmed hat, in the glare of the morning sun. "Innocent till proven guilty, remember."
"Hmmph," said the Hobbit.
The old man stepped forward out of the glare. Dressed in long grey robes, he was short and knobby. A bony, comical nose stuck out beyond the brim of his tall, pointed blue hat. His eyebrows were so long that almost it seemed they grew from the hat to his face, and not the other way around. Below the bushy brows sparkled a pair of intelligent, twinkly dark eyes.
"The Chieftain of the Dúnedain, I presume?" the old man said in Sindarin.
Peering between the bars of his cell, immediately suspicious of any stranger who pretended to know anything of his identity, Aragorn studied the old man's odd face. "Who are you?" he answered in the Common Tongue.
"I am Gandalf and Gandalf is me," said the old man, speaking again in Sindarin. "It's about time we met. I've come looking for you, and lucky for you that is, too, seemingly."
Still mistrustful, Aragorn looked at the Hobbit standing wrathfully at the old man's side. "Do you know this man?" he said in the Common Tongue.
Bungo snorted. "Everyone in Bree knows him. Gandalf! Wonderful fireworks."
"I see," Aragorn said doubtfully. Fireworks was not one of the talents that the Elves mentioned when speaking of Gandalf.
The old man claiming to be Gandalf, whose eyes were sparkling with mischief, spoke again in Sindarin. "To think my identity would be questioned by Elrond's foster son! This will be a tale worth telling!" He turned briskly to the Hobbit and reached into his pouch. "Two copper pennies is the fine, I believe," he said in the Common Tongue.
"He's the one you want, then?" said the jailer.
"Oh, definitely," the old man said. He thrust out his palm with the two pennies.
"Well, Gandalf, you know your own business best," said the Hobbit dubiously, reaching for the money.
"I think I'll find a use for him," the old man said.
"This one is a real troublemaker," the Hobbit said. "He drew a sword on the watch, of all things. We had to wrest it from him at arrowpoint. I've got it somewhere in the front."
"Well, you can give it to me," Gandalf said. "I promise I won't let him have it back till I know I can trust him."
Aragorn kept a wise silence as the jailkeeper twisted the huge black key in the creaky old lock and pulled the battered door open.
"All right then," the jailkeeper said. "Out with you. Show Gandalf some gratitude, too. If he hadn't of paid your fine, you'd be in here another week till the assizes, then banned from town if I know Judge Thornley."
"He'll have plenty of time to be grateful later," said Gandalf quickly. "Right now, I'm hungry and I want my breakfast. Come on, Strider." And he looked Aragorn in the eye and waggled his amazing eyebrows.
Aragorn turned his eyes away, afraid that otherwise he would burst out laughing before they had made it out of the jailhouse door. The jailkeeper leading the way, he fell in behind Gandalf and walked into the front room of the old jailhouse, where two old dogs and a cat drowsed before a lively fire.
The jailkeeper pulled Morchamion from an arms rack, and with a warning look at Aragorn, handed it to Gandalf, who grasped the belt-wrapped sheath with a practiced hand. He bowed to the jailkeeper and bade him "good morning" before waving his companion into the street.
"Come to the inn and have breakfast with me," Gandalf said, speaking now in the Common Tongue. "It's quiet this time of morning. We can talk there."
The town was beginning to wake up and people to stir in the dusty lanes. Although the fresh air and growing sunshine lightened his heart, Aragorn practiced looking grim. After all, he had a reputation to keep up. Coming upon them from the other direction, a Hobbit mother quickly pulled her small child to the other side of the path, casting a wary look in Aragorn's direction. Gandalf chuckled.
The inn was peaceful, the taproom empty as they strode in. Gandalf sat down at a table in the far corner and waved at Aragorn. "Are you going to sit? It hurts my neck to look up so far."
Smiling despite himself, Aragorn sat down opposite the odd old figure. "Thank you for rescuing me."
Gandalf pulled Morchamion in its sheath from underneath his enormous cloak and set it on the table between them. "I presume you could have evaded the posse with this fine weapon, surely?"
"Of course, but I would have risked seriously wounding one or two. That I did not want to do."
Gandalf opened up his belt pouch and drew out a marvelously carved wooden pipe and a fragrant pack of weed. "Well, then, since I now know you aren't a bloodthirsty fellow and can be responsible with this, I guess I'll give it back."
With a smile, Aragorn bowed his head in thanks and quickly strapped the sword belt around his waist. He had missed the sword's weight at his side. "Thank you."
The old man looked at him through the pipe smoke, eyes yet again twinkling. "Are you still refusing to believe me?"
"I have reason to be cautious," Aragorn said, although his doubts were almost gone.
"That is true," Gandalf said. "Strider, they call you. A good Ranger name. Though I've heard some other names."
"Is that so?" Aragorn said.
Gandalf laughed. "Well, I approve of your caution. Do not let it slide. But with me, you are safe. I've come from Elrond to find you. I've got a message."
Smiling, Aragorn replied, "And what did Elrond say?"
"I'll get to that," continued Gandalf. He switched again to Sindarin. "Now, if you will agree to understand me, Aragorn, we can talk. I hadn't been through Rivendell much in the last twenty years or so, except for that business about the dragon. Imagine my surprise when Elrond finally confessed that during those very visits, he had the Heir of Isildur in his house and hid the boy even from me. Me, Gandalf the Grey!"
"I remember that," Aragorn said in Sindarin. "I didn't like it either."
"Ah! So you are Aragorn, then?" asked the wizard with a sly glance.
"I am," he replied. "I am very glad to meet you, Gandalf—finally, as you say, after all these years."
They shook hands.
"Well, then," said Gandalf. "About eighteen months ago I got a message from Elrond begging me to return to Rivendell. Important business, he said. I don't ignore a message from Elrond, so I got there as quickly as I could, and that's when I heard the story of what had happened in the Trollfells. It took some time, but we found a way at last to contain the creature, if not to stop him altogether."
"And what was that?" Aragorn said.
"I led a troop of Dwarves against him. It was Elrond's idea. We knew there was no danger an Elvish spirit would try to take over the body of a Dwarf, that most despised of races to a Noldo purist, and he certainly couldn't take over me. It worked. We rounded the wolf pack up in a narrow valley and I cast a spell on it. He won't easily get out of there."
Aragorn laughed. "Ingenious."
"So I am," said Gandalf. "After a bit of a rest, I came west to find you. But it seems that Círdan has already released you from your apprenticeship before the mast."
"Yes, I am on my way to the Angle at last. It's been too long since I've seen my folk."
"I'll go there with you," said Gandalf. "It's been a while since I had a good visit with the Rangers. Then I have a plan."
"Are you going to tell me now?" asked Aragorn.
Gandalf looked at him with his keen dark eyes. "It's time you left Eriador, my friend."
"I have considered that," Aragorn said. "My father brought his sword over the mountains and I would do so, too."
"And beyond," Gandalf said. "Meanwhile, you must have another name, Aragorn-Estel-Strider. None of those do in the east and south."
Aragorn smiled into his new friend's old face. "Oh, I have one—one of my own choosing this time, crafted from my father's name and my mother's too. Thorongil, eagle of the star, for Arathorn, lord of the eagle, and Gilraen, wandering star."
Gandalf nodded. "Thengel of Rohan and Ecthelion of Gondor have great need of a good sword." He slapped Aragorn's shoulder. "You know, I think that ship-lore will come in handy some day."
Note: If you would like to find out more about what happened in the Trollfells and why Aragorn was in the Grey Havens learning shiplore from Círdan, read my novel-length story, "The Sword of Elendil."
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.