Ah, at last I, Brrokk Barrowbane, have gained entry to great Khazad-Dum, the halls of the fathers of the dwarves of old. I heard rumours of its greatness and terrible darkness from afar off, but I have been delayed these two weeks in my journey hither through Eregion. Many elves besought my aid in tracing and covering the route of some secret company despatched from Rivendell by Elrond. And then the dwarves working to uncover the lost Door of Durin sought my help. We had a strange battle against a watching water creature at the very door. But finally, I was ready to enter.
I had made a pact with Steveomere the elf. We two were to enter Moria together, side by side, in recognition of the many times we had already quested together in Middle Earth. So, we arranged to meet at Echad Dunann. From there we determined to walk slowly to the door, savouring the triumph and enjoying the bright day, even though many other folk were running or riding in haste past us. A breeze blew in the holly trees. Sadly, we fell to arguing. I may have started it myself, by noting that the downfall of our two realms started when the elves first received the dark lord Sauron into their realm. Steveomere of course threw back at me the fact that it was the dwarves who delved deeply and greedily, awaking Durin's Bane. But all thought of old griefs died when we crested the rise and beheld the great Wall of Moria in which the door is situated.
True, the evil lake is still right up to the door, but its waters are now still. I hope that the course of the fair Sirannon can one day be re-opened.
We came to the door and stood, one at each side, savouring the moment. What a heady promise can be held by a simple archway of stone! But dwarf-builded stone has a kind of magic. What more would lie inside?
At last we passed within. Ah, the greatness and splendour of the halls of Durin's folk! Many of them were there, hard at work already in the restoration. Yes, the halls are great, but they have become dark and there are goblins and fell creatures within. Clearly there is much to do, and my hammer will swing mightily beside the sword of Steveomere until it is accomplished. I hear that many of RFI are within and have gone ahead of me into the dark places, and I hope to strive alongside them also.
Nothing could spoil such a day, unless it was perhaps the
somewhat unfriendly welcome I felt from my kinsmen dwarves. I had come bearing
great wealth of coins, hearing that one cannot ride a horse within the caverns
and must purchase a strange goat-beast as a mount. But those dwarves would have
none of my gold! They insist that they will only sell a goat to one who is
their "friend", who has demonstrated helpfulness to them. "But I
am a kinsman from the
The weather was windy and cold, but clear that night. Clouds scudded rapidly across the full moon as I made my way back from a pleasant evening in the Prancing Pony to my home in Hamlin. I entered my house, flung off my outer garments onto a chair and retired to bed quickly. The wind above the roof did not keep me awake for long.
But in the night I awoke suddenly. Had I heard a noise? A
soft movement outside the front door? I decided not to bother investigating.
Who would dare to rob a strong dwarven warrior? Such a thing was not likely in
Abruptly, I was awake again, or so it seemed. I opened my eyes: there was a strange quality to the light in my bedroom. And now, unmistakably, there was the sound of heavy breathing. I sat upright, and was astonished at what I saw.
Before me stood a great black horse! It was larger than most horses and thin, showing protruding bones, and yet strongly muscled too. It was clearly no ordinary horse, for its eyes glowed red; these eyes were in fact the source of the strange light in the room, mingling with the moonlight.
"What are you?" I said, startled. I was even more surprised when the apparition replied. I AM THE NIGHT MARE. I AM THE DARK HORSE. I AM ROCH DÛR. I HAVE COME. I HAVE COME TO JUDGE YOU AND WARN YOU. The words were felt in my mind rather than heard with the ears; the experience was very strange and disagreeable.
"Judge me?", I said, noticing that my voice was a little too high in my own ears. I collected my wits. I was a dwarf, fearsome in my own right. I had vanquished trolls, drakes and worse creatures. I would not quail before a horse. "In what way do you intend to judge me?", I asked in a calmer tone.
I AM THE GUARDIAN OF THE ANCIENT CONTRACT, the night mare seemed to intone. I JUDGE THE UNFAITHFUL. I PUNISH THOSE WHO HAVE BETRAYED THEIR OWN FAITHFUL SERVANTS. THOSE WHO HAVE TREATED THEIR OWN STEEDS CRUELLY.
"My horse, Joll, is well cared for", I asserted. "She is even now in her warm stable, well supplied with oats. You need not reproach me for my treatment of her."
I KNOW THIS, replied the strange horse. AND THUS; YOU STILL LIVE. BUT I REQUIRE YOU TO WARN THOSE WHO ARE NOT SO CAREFUL. SO THAT YOU MAY DO THIS, I WILL SHOW YOU A LESSON. COME.
"I do not choose to go anywhere at this time of night!", I retorted, but my protest had no effect. I felt a rushing sensation. I seemed to rise out of my bed, shrink, and fall into those red eyes. Abruptly, the black horse vanished. Or rather, I was the horse. I was in a cobbled street at night. I recognised the street as one I had passed through earlier, on my way out of Bree. It was a narrow one, near the stables.
As horse, I was walking slowly along the street. The "clip-clop" sound of hooves seemed loud to me, but in the houses no-one stirred. But then a man came around the corner. He was weaving slightly, obviously having taken some ale. Becoming aware of the horse before him, he stopped and looked. Then a look of fear appeared on his face.
I, or rather the horse, gathered and sprang forward. The man stumbled and fell. A great hoof descended on his chest, pinning him to the ground.
THIS MAN SOLD HIS HORSE, said the voice in my head. HE CARED FOR FAITHFUL 'DOBBIN' NO MORE, FOR HE HAD A BETTER MOUNT FROM THE ELVES. HE CARED NOT WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO HIS SERVANT. SHE BECAME, ALAS, SAUSAGES, AND SERVED MEN ONLY ONCE MORE.
Horrified, I saw terror and then agony on the unfortunate victim's face as the hoof slowly crushed the life out of him. At the end it glowed red with supernatural heat and there was a ghastly smell of burning flesh.
Suddenly, the scene vanished. I was once more in my bed. No horse was to be seen and light was coming in the window. There just seemed to be an echoing 'WARN THEM ALL' in my mind.
'Phew, what a dream', I thought. 'I want sunlight now, and a good breakfast.' I supplied myself with an adequate meal from the cupboard, fell too, and once I felt refreshed I took my pipe and went outside to smoke. Looking at the trees in the sunlight, I reflected on the strangeness of the sleeping mind and its fancies. Perhaps I had been too long in the dark places of Middle Earth and needed to wander in pleasant places for a while.
But then, my eyes fell on the door step. On the doormat,
clearly outlined in the low sunlight, I saw the impressed shape of a great
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Pah, those unfriendly, stiff-necked dwarves. Just because they have
returned to Moria, they imagine themselves the lords of Middle Earth
and look down (if it were possible) even on distant kinsmen of their
own race from afar.
All I wanted was to buy a shaggy goat-beast so that I might ride about the halls and rest my legs. (Not that I ever grow weary; after all, I am a dwarf too. I merely wish to save wear and tear on footwear and leggings). At last I had done deeds of fame and increased my renown in Moria, so that they grudgingly called me "friend" and even "ally", and agreed to show me the goat creatures they had for sale. I had taken so much silver coin from roaming orcs that I felt I could easily afford to buy one.
But the creature I was offered! I was led first to inspect a great, evil-smelling creature. It had a shaggy, matted coat. It hung its head and its eyes seemed strangely unfocussed. Its knock-kneed legs seemed almost incapable of bearing the weight of the tool box affixed behind the saddle. I feared to mount in case it should roll and pitch me onto the floor.
I looked around. "No, I will have this one!", I told the seller. "This one is alert. It holds its head erect. It has clean hooves and its body ripples with muscle".
"Ah, well, there is a problem", he replied, and my heart sank. "This one is a goat of our 'nimble' variety. It is not made available even to friends and allies. To purchase this goat you must be regarded as 'kindred' here!"
Well, I would have none of their evil-smelling lumbering creatures. I will go forth once more, slaying orcs and fell creatures, until at last I will be acknowledged in Moria and be judged worthy to ride the best goat of their flock. Until then, I will go upon my own legs still.
I triumph at last. I ride now on a magnificent goat-beast within the halls of Moria. It has been an arduous struggle in the long dark, but at last I have managed to purchase the goat I have sought for so long.
I returned to the seller of goats in the Twenty-First Hall. "See here," I said, "I come bearing writs and seals from many of your kinsmen in Moria. They certify that I have done such deeds here that I am worthy to be accounted 'kindred' among the miners. I also carry much gold, and now I will buy a goat."
That miner dwarf did not even extend to me the dignity of a proper greeting. He turned away without a word and led me to a line of goats. He first showed me the evil-smelling near-sighted beast which I had previously rejected.
"No, I will not have this straggle-furred monstrosity!" I insisted. "I require a nimble goat. There was one such here before; where have you hidden it?"
I was shown another. Less ungainly and less obviously defective perhaps, but my keen eye was not fooled. "Do you take me for a fool?" I asked, "This one is cross-eyed. It also has differentially curved horns and a bald patch upon the back (which you have tried to conceal under the saddle). Moreover it has cranked knees and, if I am not mistaken, it is suffering from the disease known as Reticulated Throat!"
I looked around. "Ah, here is the beast for me! Nimble; rippling with muscle; glossy hooves. See how it lifts its head alertly when hearing the jingle of my mail".
"This one also has glossy hooves", he mumbled,
showing a fourth goat. I looked. The hooves were indeed shiny, but the creature
was obese and had an ill tempered look, holding its head aslant. On closer
inspection I saw that in fact its hooves had been varnished! I scratched some
of the gloss away and shook my head, returning to stand by the goat of my
choice. "I choose this one", I insisted."But...", he stammered.
"Do you intend insult?", I shouted. "I have done the deeds. I have brought the money. Now I have made my choice. I will ride away from here upon this nimble creature. And no butts!"
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Think not that a dwarf would ever weary of great underground halls, or ore and gems, or workshops and forges. But my travels in the Dwarrowdelf had led me to the deepest and least hospitable places. The Foundations of Stone, where I must eventually fulfil a quest as a guardian, are not the magnificent works of the dwarves of old which I had hoped to see. They are ghastly, huge and inhabited by evil creatures.
Therefore, hearing of the opening of borders in the elf-realm of Lothlorien, far down the Dimrill Dale, I purposed to journey there and enjoy breaths of the free air under the bright sun once more. I left Moria by the East gate and bade farewell to my nimble goat, gladly welcoming my faithful pony Joll once more. We sped over the green grass in a joyful reunion.
I came first to a camp site near to the gate from Moria. There I met both elves and dwarves, unusually working together. They warned me that all was not well in Dimrill Dale. I could journey south to the Nimrodel and the borders of Lothlorien, but I was to beware of three orc camps on the way. I was warned not to assail these camps alone, but to go with friends.
But why give such a warning to a dwarf warrior? Of course if there were orcs upon the way, I would be unable to resist ringing their helms with my hammer. And so it proved: I invaded each camp in turn, slaying many orcs and destroying siege engines and the like. I found that my armour was adequate protection and had no need of comrades, although at times I had to be cautious. Well, once or twice I was even forced into a kind of tactical retreat. Not running though; not at full speed, anyway.
But still, I took from those orcs much silver and many interesting objects.
Finally I came to the Nimrodel and I could see the golden wood of Lothlorien before me. But at a camp of elves on the near bank I was told that the way was barred!
"Ah, no," said a pointy-eared, smugly smirking elf, "it is not yet possible for you to enter Lothlorien. One of your race has recently done so, by the favour of the lady, but you need not think to follow him immediately. We have many tasks, er, that is, there are many ways in which you may prove your fealty, er, loyalty."
With this, he leaned forward over me, as if to emphasise his height advantage. I responded by glowering meaningfully at his knees and fingering the edge of my axe. He drew back.
"Well, but if you wish to enter the Golden Wood, you must collect orc rubbish, find elf-arrows, raid orc camps and fulfil as many other tedious tasks as we can think of for you!" he asserted. "Think not to enter Lothlorien without permission; you would be shot at unawares by archer sentries."
"Cowards!", I muttered, "To shoot at friends
by stealth. May Durin's Bane take them! And yet, I will not be turned back and I
still purpose to enter the Wood. No task can be so arduous that a stout dwarf
cannot soon fulfil it." Well,
I have performed many of these menial tasks and I labour still, in the
hope of a rest from my labours in the pleasant wood which I can see but
not yet enter.
I climbed a mallorn tree which stood beside the Nimrodel and met other elves with yet more tasks. Do they never actually do their own work? And one of them was a woman, passing fair in appearance but with a surprisingly deep voice. The other free peoples often make fun of us dwarves, saying that dwarf women are hard to distinguish and may even be bearded, but do the elves also have strange quirks in their nature which they keep secret? I wonder, and I think we should be told.
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Written after Candy raised the question of how a dwarf would react to being asked to fulfil the "singing to saplings" quest.
I was having trouble understanding the needs of a strange quest in the elf-realm of Lothlorien and the elf-maid Sendiel was beginning to get exasperated as she explained it to me.
"Those Nimbrethil saplings you found wilting", she repeated, "I just want you to go and sing to them."
"What then?", I asked. "Should I fight and defeat the evil wight which causes the wilt and which will be called forth by my song?"
"No, there is no wight involved", Sendiel replied. "Just sing".
"Well, surely I must ready my hammer to vanquish the horde of orcs which will cross the Anduin in battle barges when they hear me?", I enquired.
"No, this need not involve orcs!", she stated. "All you have to do is sing to the saplings. Orthir has told us this, and he is an expert concerning Nimbrethil trees."
"Well, it seems a very complicated quest, not at all
what I am used to. But I will attempt it", I said. With this, I turned and
marched off to where the saplings grew, wondering at the strangeness of the
Sendiel awaited my report when I returned. "You were right", I told her. "There was no wight there and no orcs came near. I am not sure why I needed to wear heavy armour and carry my shield and my legendary hammer Wight Gold. But I sang to the wilting saplings."
"But with what effect?", she asked. "How do those saplings fare now?"
"There was no change!", I told her. "They wilt still".
She was not pleased at this. "Are you sure? Why did Orthir's advice not work? What did you sing?"
"I gave them 'Gold is yellow, gold is pretty, gold is the metal of my ditty'", I informed her. "But even after all seven verses I could discern no beneficial effect. So then I tried a simpler song: 'Gold, gold, gold'. That one is even longer, but fortunately the words are not hard to memorise."
"I think I see the problem", Sendiel stated. "Your songs are about gold. I am not sure that Orthir envisaged such subject matter. I would like you to return to the trees and sing of something else. Do not mention gold."
This sounded even more difficult and complex, but I agreed to try. Off I went to make the attempt. But soon I had to return again and report failure. I found the elf sage Orthir waiting with Sendiel when I did so.
"I tried", I told them, "but I found the quest hard because my stock of songs not featuring gold was sparse. In fact, I realised that I knew none. So, I tried composing. But I was unable to make 'axe' rhyme with 'mine' or even 'forge'"
"'Axe'!", shuddered Orthir. "Well, you must desist, foolish dwarf. The Lady herself has heard of your failure and she comes to heal the saplings herself. Your attempts will no longer be needed."
It was true. I saw coming towards us a great procession. At its head, surrounded by dancers and musicians, came the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn. I forgot my annoyance at Orthir's disdain and fell in with him and Sendiel in the procession. Birds sang in the trees as we made our way to the grove of the saplings.
When we came to those sorry young trees, all stopped at the sight and a silence fell. Then Galadriel stood forth and lifted up her clear voice in song. And such a marvellous song it was.
"I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of
gold there grew..."
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Phaedrea suggested I write a story around our frustration at the "admonish revellers" quest.
I stood with the elf-lady Maliriel surveying the guests arriving for the Hythe Feast, beside the river in Lothlorien. It looked to be a merry occasion; the evening was fine and the preparations had been perfect. Many good-humoured revellers were already present and food and wine were being served.
But my mind was not on partying. I was struggling to understand the needs of a new "quest" which Maliriel wanted me to undertake. Why do elves always have complex requirements? What is wrong with just slaying orcs or trolls?
"All I want you to do", she repeated, "is to mingle with the revellers and detect whether any have over-indulged with wine. If they have, your job as a steward of the feast is to admonish them."
"Very well", I replied, "but how am I to know which have over-indulged?"
"You will find that the guests who have had too much strong drink will talk nonsense", she stated. "That much is simple. Then, you must admonish them."
"I will do so", I replied, taking my great battle hammer 'Wight Gold' from my bag and attaching it ready at my belt.
"What is the hammer for?", Maliriel asked, surprised.
"Admonishing, of course", I retorted, setting off into the crowd. I think she called some kind of protest after me, but I could not catch the words.
I spent some time surveying the gathering. I sampled the buffets and drinks myself in order to blend in with the crowd and quietly sidled up to various groups of revellers to assess their sobriety. Often I found that they noticed my presence and fell silent, which I found frustrating. Perhaps I should have changed out of my armour for the feast in order to be less conspicuous.
But eventually I returned to Maliriel frustrated. "You told me that intoxicated elves would talk nonsense" I reminded her.
"Indeed I did", she replied. "What is your difficulty?"
"Well then, how does this distinguish them from the sober ones?", I demanded.
"Insolent dwarf!", she flared. "Be about your task! Do not bother me again with trifles, for I have many things to attend to."
I returned to the party and revisited the buffet. Standing there consuming very small sausages six at a time I surveyed the throng once more. Ouch! Why do the elves have to add a small twig to each sausage? Then my eyes fell upon a newcomer who was acting very strangely.
A fair elf-maid she was, of maybe seventeen summers according to appearance, (although it is always difficult to guess the age of the elder race), and dressed all in black. She was running, no, skipping from one group of revellers to another, staying only a short time in each group. "I wonder if that one is intoxicated", I said to myself, setting off in pursuit through the crowd.
When I drew near, my suspicions were confirmed. "La la la", I heard her sing as she skipped from group to group.
"Baruch-Khazad! Prepare to be admonished!" I roared, brandishing 'Wight Gold'. I pursued the elf-maid. I came quite close; close enough even to see small marks of pink paint on the hem of her garment, which I thought incongruous. But she was ever ahead of me.
A tactical reappraisal seemed necessary. "It is the skipping", I thought. "Her method of locomotion is well adapted to this party situation, in which one must squeeze through small gaps and change direction frequently. I will have to try it myself."
So, I skipped. It was the first time in my life I had ever done such a thing. It may be that I am the first dwarf to have skipped, ever. I made progress through the throng but still the elf-maid drew away and her "la la la" became faint. But then I found that I was unsuited to skipping. The handle of my hammer became entangled between my boots and my armour rang as I crashed upon the ground.
I rose painfully to my feet, in the centre of an embarassing silence. "Bah, this is not for me", I told myself, "I have bruised my shins. Slaying orcs is safer entertainment. I will go at once to find some." I placed my hammer over my shoulder and limped off.
"Heh, looksh everrywunn, tha dwarv thur wantsh a fight!",
slurred a partygoer in a nearby group, but I took not the least notice.
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One evening in the Prancing Pony, Ottar began
to tell Calvi and I of his latest achievements. From working in the
Breeland horse-fields, he had made real progress towards becoming a
notable warrior. He was able to proudly inform us that he was now
accounted an "ally" by the Bree Town Hunting Lodge. The people at the
Lodge had awarded him a certificate, and he had also been able to
purchase useful items of weaponry and equipment from them.
"How did you gain this new status?", I asked him.
"By making forays into the Barrow Downs", he replied. "Brr, the whole place gives me the shivers, but I have impressed the folk at the Hunting Lodge by collecting 'barrow treasures'. After managing to overcome my initial fear I have become bold enough to slay barghests, spiders and even wights, taking the treasures from them. They yield coins and valuable items too, so I have also made a tidy sum from the activity for myself."
Ottar's satisfaction at his achievents was evident, but we wondered at this sudden development of boldness and courage.
"Is that all your story?", Calvi asked. "You have been raiding the Downs for the purpose of raising your reputation at the Hunting Lodge?"
"Well, no, there is more to it", admitted Ottar. "Those creatures in the Downs also give up silver tokens when slain, and I have been collecting those too." He produced a few; we saw thin silvery discs, not as weighty as silver pieces but still valuable.
"Once one has collected five of these, one can exchange it for a gift box", Ottar continued. "See, here is a gift which I obtained just this afternoon and have not yet unwrapped." He produced a small box attractively wrapped in blue paper, with a ribbon tied in a bow.
"Well, that looks nice; open it", said Calvi. Ottar did so, and revealed a small bottle of green potion. He undid the stopper and we took turns to sniff the contents.
"Cough mixture?", wondered Ottar.
"Athelas, I think", I told him.
"Yes, nothing like it for lifting the spirits in a difficult fight", agreed Calvi. "You must practice the art of wielding your weapon with one hand, making parrying strokes, while simultaneously swigging from the bottle held in your other hand."
Ottar seemed pleased with the gift and slipped it into his pocket, but Calvi still looked puzzled.
"So, you have been making forays into the Barrow Downs in order to collect these tokens and build up a stock of medicines, have you?", he demanded.
"Well, it is not just the tokens", admitted Ottar. "Well, it is, but... You see, you can trade them for the gift boxes, at the Boar Fountain, in the square, with... Emma Bywood."
Ottar turned slightly redder than his ale would account for, and now Calvi and I understood. Well, we approved of course. Among the possible motivations for warriorly prowess, the wish to impress a fair lady ranked high. We knew of this Miss Bywood, having sometimes met her in her capacity as token trader ourselves. We saw no reason to tease Ottar about his new priorities, so over a few more drinks we just talked of the creatures of the Barrow Downs. The name "Emma" cropped up with surprising frequency though, even though we were ostensibly discussing ghastly wights.
Eventually the three of us left the Pony and made our way back towards the stables. We looked towards the West Gate and thought of the frightening creatures of the Barrow Downs not far beyond it.
"Look!", exclaimed Calvi.
Ottar and I followed his pointing hand and were horrified to see a black cloaked figure, silhouetted for a moment in moonlight as the gate was opened to admit it, slipping into the town.
"Is that some ghastly wight from the Downs invading Bree?", wondered Ottar. "Why does the gate-guard open the gate? Is it a betrayal?"
"Maybe there is some innocent explanation", I said, "But then, what is the need for stealth? Why a night-time entry in black hood and cloak?"
"Into the stable here!", hissed Calvi. "The black one is coming this way! We will spring from ambush and find out if this is some evil invasion!"
We crammed into the stable alongside a perplexed horse. I wished that I had my legendary axe "Bane of Sambrog" which has vanquished countless wights. Furtive footsteps approached.
"NOW!", roared Calvi. We all sprang forth and seized the black figure. Ottar tore away the hood. But our combined momentum was too great; we overbore the intruder and continued, all falling flat into a muddy, horse-reeking puddle.
"Eeeeeek!" The night was torn by an anguished scream from our victim. Instead of some ghastly visage of evil and death, we saw a familiar face.
"Emma!", exclaimed Ottar in astonishment.
"Oh, oh, eugh!", screamed Emma Bywood in rage, "Idiots! Oh, this is too much! What do you fools mean by hurling me into the mud? Too much ale and not enough sense between you! Oh, what a foul ending to a perfectly hideous day! I hate mud. I hate the smell of horses. I hate this job; I don't know why I let the mayor talk me into it! Oh, what foul mud. Idiots!"
We all rose with difficulty. Ottar babbled incoherent apologies and tried to help Emma to her feet, but she angrily waved him away. He pulled her hooded cloak from the mud with a soft sucking sound and then tried ineffectually to brush it off with his mud-coated hands.
But Calvi was seeking explanation. "What is this job you mention?", he demanded. "Why do you enter the town stealthily at night, while honest folk sleep?"
"Why, I am the Bree-town token trader, did you not know?", retorted Emma. "You at least", she tossed her head at Ottar, "should know this, for I traded you a gift box only this afternoon".
"Yes, I know", said Ottar, and here is the sack you placed the tokens in." (He held up a muddy black sack). "But now it is empty. What happened to all the tokens you took today? Have you been robbed? Can we help you recover them?"
"Fool!", Emma stamped her foot with a splash, then hopped as it sank to the ankle. "You have only seen half of the disgusting job I have been given. I thought it would be a pleasant matter of standing beside the fountain on fine days meeting interesting folk, but the secret distribution task keeps me up half the night! Have you never thought to wonder how it is that nearly every creature you defeat in the Barrow Downs is in possession of one of my silver tokens?"
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The fight with the dragon was a nightmare. One of those
nightmares where you helplessly watch events unfold and cannot move.
I was with the mighty Room for Improvement raiding party in the fastness of Helegrod. We had passed through the spider-infested tunnels and now fought the foully reanimated dragon Thorog in the midst of a freezing blizzard. But while my friends strove mightily against the beast, I was afflicted by the foul magic of the Lagg of Helegrod. I stood immobile, the hammer Wight Gold raised in my right hand and my shield before me, unable to strike any blow. The shouts of our noble leader Lointje rang in my ears, but I was unable to answer his call.
But after a while, the voices of my comrades change to cries of gladness. "The dragon dies!", they exulted. "See, it falls! It is no more! Now, let us loot the hoard it guarded." I could not believe my ears, for the beast leaped before me still, striking this way and that with its great jaws. "No, you are wrong, beware: Thorog lives yet", I tried to warn them, but my tongue was as immobile as the rest of my body.
But at length, the beast did die. A killing blow was struck, I saw not by whom. The dragon swayed, turned, opened his mouth and made his final death-lunge, at me! I watched the mighty topple, still unable to step back.
It was well for me that the beast had opened his jaws wide, for turning as he fell, he landed with his jaws around me. I was unhurt, but I found myself completely within that foul maw. At the shock of this, I awoke!
I saw bolt upright in bed. "Phew, that dream again!", I thought. Ever since I had been afflicted by the sorcerous Lagg, its dreamlike feeling of helplessness had frequently returned to plague me at night. But now sunlight was streaming through my bedroom window. The dragon was vanquished weeks ago and I had no more need to ponder on the experience.
Following my usual custom on fine days I gathered a good breakfast and pipe and weed, and went to sit in the sun outside my door. Enough of nightmares; I tried not to notice the deep horse-hoof print still visible on my doormat.
After eating and lighting a pipeful, I sat reflectively in the sunlight. I would, I decided, have to banish the vestigial Lagg somehow from my mind. What would serve to do this? Should I consult a wizard, perhaps Radagast at Ost Guruth? But if the Lagg was truly a magic, how would more magic help? Might I not start a descent even into raving madness? Or how about a consultation with an apothecary in Bree? But I cared not for drugged sleep, no matter how deep and dreamless.
As I mused, my eye fell again on the hoof-print. I had not thought of the dark steed which had seemed to make it for some months now. Of course! There was nothing like one nightmare to drive out another! I would live up to my name of Barrowbane, return to Mirkwood, and perform mighty deeds ridding the wood of foul wights and the evil wizards which conjured them forth. Once the horrors of the wights had driven any fear of dragons from my mind, I might eventually return even to Helegrod, just to check that Thorog really was completely dead. It was time to sharpen the legendary axe "Bane of Sambrog".
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"What is the pie for, then?", asked Calvi, as we sat at a table in the Prancing Pony waiting for our other friends.
"I don't exactly know", I replied, "but it seems that Ottar has a great need for one. I received a note from him this morning, delivered by an out-of-breath young hobbit: 'See you in Pony this eve. Bring blackberry tart. Important. O.' As a well-known Master Cook I couldn't disoblige him of course, so here is the best pie I could make in time."
"Mysterious", commented Calvi. "Perhaps a new craving has struck him, or he has taken to a diet. But here he comes now, I think."
Calvi was right. Ottar hurried into the bar room and crossed straight to our table. His gaze fell on the pie and an expression of relief and satisfaction crossed his face.
"Perfect! You got my note. And that looks really nice. An ideal gift.", he said.
"A gift? Who for?", enquired Calvi.
"Why, can you not guess?", exclaimed Ottar. "But I suppose I should begin at the beginning. Early this morning I received a package in the post. 'From a Secret Admirer', the label said. It was neatly and attractively wrapped, but the contents were as enigmatic as the label. In fact, there was only a sheet of paper inside, bearing a recipe for blackberry tart. It was all anonymous and I puzzled over the meaning for some time. But at last I realised the truth. Blackberries are obviously a favourite of hers, and so a tart filled with them would make an ideal inexpensive but delicious gift. I am to pay my respects, bearing such a gift as soon as possible! What a subtle, clever, welcoming way to encourage me to overcome my reticence. Isn't she clever as well as pretty?"
"Who?", I demanded.
"Why, Emma Bywood of course!", replied Ottar. "Who else could be my 'Secret Admirer'? I know for a fact that Emma is the only girl in Bree who has paid me any notice. I suppose I am lucky that there is no confusion on this point; if there were more than one candidate I would not know how to guess..."
"Notice?", queried Calvi. "Do you refer to the time a few weeks ago when we three hurled her into the mud and she called us ale-addled fools?"
"Oh, I know the circumstances were not ideal for romance", admitted Ottar, "and that must be why this subtle and secret method has seemed necessary to her. But that incident was some time ago and it was quite soft mud." A frown of worry creased his brow but soon disappeared. "I expect she appreciated my helping her up afterwards and, after all, my prowess against the creatures of the Barrow Downs had already impressed her that day. And now, I must go to her home and deliver this pie (for which I will pay you later, friend Brrokk). Oh, but I admit I am nervous. What if she is out? What if she comes out of her door just before I knock and I come face to face with her unexpectedly? What if…"
Ottar seemed lost in possible confusions, but Calvi immediately took matters in hand in his capable way. "What you need before a venture like this, lad, is 'encouragement'", he asserted.
"Oh, you are good friends to me", Ottar replied, "but baking the tart is enough. I could listen to your encouraging words all evening, but then it would be too late to pay a respectful visit. I must go though with this at once, before my nerves fail me utterly."
"No", I interrupted, "I think you have mistaken Calvi's meaning. He means 'encouragement' literally; you need to be actually inspired with actual courage. We dwarves know all about how to do this. You need, in fact, to be filled with true dwarvish resolve."
"But I am a man, not a dwarf!", Ottar objected, "How can you say I need dwarvish resolve?"
Calvi leaned forward to explain. "The resolve of the dwarves can be imparted to those of other races", he said, "if they partake sufficiently of the company and customs of the dwarves. Since time is short, our options for achieving this are limited. The best plan seems to me that you should support a true 'roistering carouse'. We must teach you a song about gold at once, which all of us will sing. After this, you will find that you are indeed encouraged."
"Very well, I must learn a song. And I don't even have to sing it solo? You two will sing with me? This doesn't seem difficult", Ottar said. "But how am I to exactly 'support' this carousing?"
"That is the simple part", I put in, "True carousing requires the quaffing of a few mugs of ale, both before and during. You must buy the necessary drinks."
"I will do so!", exclaimed Ottar, leaping to his feet. And he did. In a very short time he returned from Barliman at the bar bearing a large tray filled with brimming, frothing mugs and extra jugs for refills.
Well, we passed a good half hour. We drank and sang. Ottar learned the words more by imitation than by systematic teaching. But eventually he stood on the table giving a good rendition of "Gold is yellow, gold is pretty, gold is the metal of my ditty"; all five verses, while we staggered around the sides roaring the words also and beating time with blows of pewter mugs on the table edges. This was more lively than many evenings in the Prancing Pony but Barliman didn't mind; as word spread outside, an audience came in to hear and purchase more drinks for themselves.
Finally, Ottar was infused with sufficient courage. With a determined gleam in his eye he walked slightly unsteadily from the bar, carefully carrying the blackberry tart. There was a nasty moment in the doorway when he met our hobbit friend Hamble coming in, but mishap was avoided. Ottar having left a vacant seat, Hamble came and joined us and looked hopefully to see if any of the jugs still contained ale.
"Oh, I am thirsty", Hamble said, "It has been a long day working for the Shire post. This new advertising campaign for the Summer Festival has doubled our workload this week. And I see you two are doing well at the ale."
"Do you mean the myshtery packages 'from a Shecret Admirer'?", I asked him.
"Yes, exactly", he replied. "It takes ages to attach all those labels."
"It'sh a good scheme", I admitted, "I ha' one yesterday".
"Yesh, and I ha' three thish morning", put in Calvi. "Two blackberry tart reshipes and a nishe novelty hat! Hic!"
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I sat with Calvi at our usual table in the
Prancing Pony the next evening. We felt slightly guilty. True, it had
been Ottar's idea to ask me to make a blackberry tart so he could take
it as a gift to Emma Bywood. We hadn't suggested the scheme to him. But
neither had we pointed out the scheme's flaw: that in fact there was no
reason to suppose she liked blackberries. It had been Ottar's own idea,
and we had known it to be mistaken, but we said nothing. Instead, we
had allowed Ottar to enthuse himself by teaching him to sing of gold
while quaffing ale, in the course of which we drank a considerable
amount of the ale ourselves, at his expense.
"Well, maybe we should have said something", mused Calvi, "But when all's said, there's nothing actually wrong with quaffing and singing of gold, is there?"
"No", I agreed, "and it was good ale too. Barliman's best. No-one could say we have seriously misled him in these respects. Ah, but here he comes now. I think we are about to hear of last night, and perhaps this time I should buy the ale."
I did so. Once we were seated with fresh tankards, Calvi and I simply waited for Ottar to begin his tale. At first he seemed lost for words, but eventually he poured forth the following explanation.
"No, I couldn't say that I fared well last night. The ale had given me courage, but it also left me rather confused. I knew the street in which Emma lives; I have previously seen her turn in there after her work by the Boar Fountain. But I did not know the actual house. I stood around for a while at one end of the street, holding the blackberry pie and feeling rather foolish. But then I saw her! She came from the other end of the street, approaching. My heart pounded. I resolved that when she reached me I would offer her the pie. But just as I had formed this resolve, she turned in at a certain door! Unnoticed, overcome by nerves, I confess that I retreated. I stood for some time in the cool air by the Boar Fountain and collected my wits. After a while I realised that this indecision was getting me nowhere. I had to carry out my plan before the pie was ruined. I would approach the house and boldly knock on the door."
Calvi and I nodded. "A good resolve", we commented. "What happened when you did so?"
"I went back, and I knocked", continued Ottar. "I knocked several times, but received no answer. I began to think that Emma had left again while I had been at the fountain, but just as I was giving up I saw that I was being watched from upstairs. She seemed to be peering at me through a crack in the curtains. Why would she not answer the door? I couldn't understand it, but eventually I formed the opinion that my visit was not welcome after all. What could I do? Now my courage was at an end. I placed the pie respectfully on the doorstep and left, feeling very confused."
"What happened after that?", we asked.
"Why, nothing", Ottar replied. I retired to my home and I still don't truly know whether Emma likes blackberries. But… argh!"
Ottar slipped from his chair and slid under the table. I checked his mug, but it was still half full. I didn't think the amount he had consumed could account for this behaviour.
"What are you doing?", I asked.
"Quiet! Not here. Annual safety table leg inspection, very important", he said in a low voice.
But when Emma Bywood crossed the room from the door to our table I understood Ottar's attack of shyness. I was astonished, though, when she sat down with Calvi and I.
"You two dwarves are friends of that Ottar, are you not?", she demanded.
Calvi and I exchanged glances, both wondering whether we should admit this and, if so, whether we should also point out that Ottar was under the table. But we had no need to decide. This was a rhetorical question; Emma was the kind of girl who could talk without needing to pause or, apparently, draw breath.
"I want to talk to him", she continued. "I want him to help me with something. I know that he has become a fearsome warrior, ridding the Barrow Downs of evil creatures. In fact, I've started to like his daily returns from there as I get a chance to meet him, trading the Breeland gifts for silver barrow tokens. He's quite cute really. But I want to know if he is clever as well; I want him to investigate a shocking crime."
We listened. The table listened too.
"Before going indoors I always call on widow Griggs who lives next door to me", Emma continued. "Last night I checked that she was alright, then went to my own home. But at some time in the night she was the victim of a shocking practical joke, and this morning she told me all about it. Someone had come knocking on her door. She never likes to answer the door after my visit, and she saw an ill-favoured and threatening man knocking, so she remained upstairs. Once she was sure he had gone, she crept to her door, but on looking out she stepped in a ghastly pie which had been left in her way on the doorstep! Well, this morning I reasured her, helped her clean up the remains of the strange pie, and promised her that I would find someone strong and fearless to investigate."
"Well, that's why I want to find Ottar; I think he would do. He's strong and brave, oh, and handsome. I would be very pleased if he agreed to investigate this crime. And if he can find out who did it, well, I'll make their life a misery! They'll be sorry! Do tell him why I'm searching for him, won't you?", she said, rising from the table.
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Well, there's a thing. I was strolling around Bree last night, at the instance
of the Postmaster, picking up lost envelopes. I had already collected a few, but
then I picked up one that seemed a bit bigger. If I had stopped to notice, maybe
it was heavier (well, but I am a dwarf and we don't really notice the weight of
things). It could have been slightly warm, too.
I tore it open. Imagine my astonishment when I found that, instead of a written message, it seemed to contain a horseshoe. But my astonishment grew ever greater as I drew forth the horseshoe, finding that it was attached to a hoof!
"Urrgh, someone has posted the leg of a horse!", I thought, aghast at such foul humour. But it was not so, for out of this small parchment envelope, somehow, eventually, an entire horse emerged!
The horse was alive. It stood before me, snorting and shaking its mane, gazing intelligently. It had saddle and bridle already and seemed none the worse for its confinement in such a small space. I recognised the style of its gear as being of the Lossoth people in the far North.
Naturally I reported this astonishing find, but the Postmaster assures me that, since I was opening envelopes with his authorisation, the ownership of the horse passes to me. Indeed, it is docile and seems happy to let me ride it, and it consumes oats as well as any other horse.
I am still amazed and marvel at the great powers of magic demonstrated in enclosing such a great animal in such a small envelope. Could Gandalf have been involved? Saruman? Other powers within or beyond Middle Earth? I suppose the origin of the amazing horse will always remain a mystery to me.
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