Frodo, Sam, and Pippin return to their rooms and find that Strider is already there, while Merry is absent. The Ranger tries to convince the hobbits that he is an ally who wants to aid them on their journey. It turns out that he has been trying to find Frodo and has followed the hobbits since their exit from the Barrow-downs, slipping over the gates and into Bree behind them. The hobbits distrust Strider’s strange story and appearance, although Frodo notes that a servant of Sauron would likely assume a “fairer” appearance than the rugged Ranger. Strider fills them in about the Black Riders, who are likely aware of their current whereabouts. Finally, the Ranger offers to guide the hobbits away from Bree using little-known wild paths.
Like Gandalf, Strider is a vital source of history who informs the hobbits of the various powers in the world of Middle-earth. The hobbits try to work out whether they should trust this strange man who offers to aid them in their journey. Frodo thinks that an agent of Mordor would try to deceive them by disguising its evil nature, but Strider makes no attempt to disguise his battered and threatening appearance, suggesting that he is not actually a danger.
As the hobbits argue among themselves about whether to trust Strider, they are interrupted by Butterbur, who bears a letter for Frodo from Gandalf. The innkeeper was meant to send it to Frodo three months ago, but had forgotten all about it. He begs Frodo and Gandalf to forgive his error. Butterbur is anxious to help the hobbits, even when he learns that Black Riders from Mordor are searching for them, putting the entire inn at risk. He notices Merry’s absence and sends his servant, Nob, to look for the missing hobbit.
The return of Butterbur’s memory reveals some of Gandalf’s past movements and helps shape the hobbits’ future choices in trusting Strider. Butterbur proves himself a simple yet goodhearted man who aids the hobbits against evil despite his poor memory and great fear of the Black Riders.
Upon Butterbur’s exit, Strider prompts Frodo to read Gandalf’s letter. It reveals that the wizard urged them to leave the Shire two months earlier than their actual departure, instructing them to make for Rivendell and to trust Strider if they meet him. The Ranger further convinces the hobbits of his good character by reminding them he has not attacked them, despite having the skills to easily overpower them. Sam is scared by the sight of a great sword hanging from the Ranger’s belt, but Strider pulls it out to demonstrate that it is broken below the hilt, the two shards ineffective for combat. Strider reveals his real name as Aragorn, and pledges his service to the hobbits. They accept Strider as their guide to Rivendell.
The contents of Gandalf’s letter are crucial, as they prove that Strider is a friend of the wizard’s and an ally to the hobbits. Strider’s revelation of his true name and his display of a broken sword play into the myth and prophecy that surround his character. The hobbits will learn more on this count in Rivendell.
Shortly after, Merry and Nob enter the room in a hurry. Merry explains that he has encountered a Black Rider while taking a stroll outside the inn: after observing the Rider colluding with men of Bree including Bill Ferny and Harry the Gatekeeper, Merry attempted to track the creature before he involuntarily surrendered to a strange, dreamlike state. Nob found him lying by the roadside. Strider suggests that Merry was put to sleep by the “Black Breath,” presumably a Black Rider’s exhalation that puts a person into a deep, almost unconscious state. The Ranger judges it unsafe for the hobbits to sleep in their own rooms, so they settle in another. Frodo, Sam, and Pippin fill Merry in about Strider and Gandalf’s letter while the Ranger and Nob arrange their original rooms to look like the hobbits are sleeping there. Strider returns to keep watch over the hobbits, who fall asleep despite their deep anxiety.
Bill Ferny and Harry the Gatekeeper’s scheming with the Black Rider suggests that men more easily give in to the greed and fear attached to evil forces compared to hobbits. Merry has demonstrated courage (and naivety) in trying to track the Black Rider, as the sinister creatures reveal another strange and evil power. Strider’s prediction that the hobbits will not be safe if they sleep in their own rooms this evening is based on his knowledge of evil creatures’ movements; this might even be considered a form of foresight.