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B2MeM Challenge: “Wouldn't Barliman Butterbur be astonished to have the High King come striding in for a glass of 'proper fourteen-twenty'?”
As they entered the familiar common room, Aragorn was overwhelmed by memories. How long ago was it since he had first set foot here? Sixty years? It was seventy more like, or even more, since Halbarad had first brought him here to sample Butterbur’s ale.
The thought of faithful Halbarad made the tears prickle in his eyes. It was the cruellest twist of fate that he had been slain before he could take his rightful place as friend and advisor to his King. Aragorn blinked away the tears as he led Faramir to a table in the shadows set against a wall. The very place where he had sat with Halbarad so many years before. The tables and chairs were unchanged apart from gaining more chips and scratches over the years.
“Are you well, mellon nîn?” asked Faramir.
The King forced himself to smile. He had lost one friend and adviser but found another he had come to love as dearly maybe even more so. He just could not but help wishing sometimes that both men were at his side. “This place holds many memories from long before you were born, some happy, some sad. But I didn’t bring you here to listen to tales of my youth, ion nîn. You are long overdue in sampling Butterbur’s fine ale.”
“So you have been telling me ever since you planned this visit to your Northern Kingdom.”
“It is the best ale in both kingdoms.”
“Better than the Dragon’s Breath you favour at home?”
“Better even than that. The recipe has been in the Butterbur family for generations. Old Barliman’s grandsire was brewing it when I first came here. “
As if in response to a summons, a small plump man appeared. He was red faced and bald headed. “Good afternoon, sirs,” he said. “What may you be wanting?”
“Two mugs of your best ale, please,” said Aragorn.
“Will you be preferring the private parlour or be staying here in the common room?” asked Butterbur. “It’s pretty quiet here at the Pony today what with the King visiting and all. The village is full of all manner of queer folk.”
“We will stay here in the common room,” said Aragorn.
Butterbur looked at him closely. “Begging your pardon, sir, but you look familiar, though your name slips my mind for the moment.”
“I’ve been here before,” said Aragorn with a smile, though he made no move to enlighten the innkeeper.
“Will you be wanting anything else with your drinks, sirs?” asked Butterbur.
“No, thank you, I brought my friend here specially to sample your best ale.”
“Very well, sirs.” Butterbur bustled away.
“I thought he would remember your name,” said Faramir.
Aragorn laughed. “Old Butterbur would forget his own name if folk weren’t shouting for him by it all day.” He stretched out his long legs. “Ah, all I need is my pipe and I could be a young man again!”
“You do not need a pipe to be young. Think what your lady would say not to mention how it would make me cough!”
“Peace, Faramir, those days are gone now. I was careful to bring you here early before the common room fills with smoke. In the evenings, the common room is so smoky from the fire and pipe-weed fumes that it is hard to see across the room.”
“I would not enjoy frequenting northern taverns often then. I would struggle to become accustomed to them.”
“It depends where you are brought up.”
“I suppose so,” Faramir said rather doubtfully.
“I think a few more customers are arriving,” said Aragorn. “Prepare to be the object of their curiosity.”
A group of men who looked like farmers entered. Aragorn recalled how they would come to the “Pony” after selling their beasts at the market and celebrate with Butterbur’s best ale. The newcomers took a table at the far side of the room, but their eyes never left Aragorn and Faramir. They started muttering together in low tones. Aragorn grinned at them. The farmers hastily looked away, but still kept stealing glances across the room.
Butterbur returned, balancing two full glasses on a tray and placed them in front of the King and Steward. “Here you are, sirs,” he said. “It came to me who you remind me of,sir, it's that Ranger, Strider, or what he might look like after a bath and dressed in fine quality clothes.”
“Your memory does not fail you, Barley,” said Aragorn. “I am indeed Strider.”
Butterbur’s eyes grew wide. “Strider!” he exclaimed. “The wizard and the little folk said you’d left rangering to be king, hundreds of miles distant, so you’ll be far away in your great castle drinking wine out of a golden cup, not sitting here in my bar!”
“I am indeed here in your bar,” said Aragorn. He sipped his drink and sighed contentedly. “You beer is just as good as I remember it.”
“The King here at the Pony! Well, I never did!” Butterbur bowed awkwardly then sat down heavily on a nearby chair, then jumped up again. “Begging your pardon, sir.”
“No offence is taken,” said Aragorn. “Did my friends not tell you I would return one day? I’m a man of my word. You can put as sign outside now, saying the King comes here for your best ale. ”
“I shall indeed, sir,” said Butterbur. “Well I never did. I don’t doubt it, sir, In all my born days, I’ve never heard the like of this!”
“You have other customers waiting to be served, Barley,” said Aragorn. “Deal with them, then come and sit with us and tell me about how things are in Bree these days and I’ll introduce you to my friend.”
Barliman appeared to notice Faramir for the first time. “Next you’ll be telling me he is a prince or something!”
Aragorn laughed. “He is Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien in fact.”
“Well, I never did!” Butterbur repeated. “I’m going to fetch Nob in, cleaning the stables can wait for another day.” He bustled away.
“What do you think of old Butterbur, then?” said Aragorn.
“He is quite the character. He reminds me a little of good Dame Ioreth.”
“Indeed. They could both talk the hind leg off a donkey,” Aragorn replied then turned his attention to Faramir’s still untouched glass. “You haven’t tasted your ale, Faramir. Drink up, then we can have another glass before we have to be on our way.”
Faramir eyed the ale suspiciously. “I’ll drink it as not to hurt the old innkeeper’s feelings, but you know I am not very partial to ale.”
“I promise you, you will like this. It puts many a so called fine wine to shame.” Aragorn raised his glass and drank deeply then licked his lips appreciatively.
Faramir took a cautious sip then another and another. He smiled contentedly. “It is good,” he said. “We must come here again.”
Aragorn burst out laughing.
“What is so funny?” asked Faramir a trifle indignantly.
“You spoke the exact same words as I did when I first tasted the ale here,” Aragorn replied. “I have missed this fine northern brew. I am thinking of asking Butterbur to send a regular supply to Gondor.”
“An excellent idea,” said Faramir. “I should still like to come here again, though!”
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