Tales from the Prancing Pony

A selection of tales, more or less funny and more or less true, told by Brrokk Barrowbane and his companions during convivial evenings in the Prancing Pony at Bree.

Trouble at the Mill
The Power of Mandos
Trolls in Hiding
A Rider of Rohan
How Much is that Doggie in the Window?
Learning a Foreign Language
Advances in Agriculture
Encounter with a Warg part 1
Encounter with a Warg part 2
Out of the Horse's Mouth
The Course of Love
Endangered Species

Trouble at the Mill

It was late at night. I was stumping wearily along the road towards Bree, back from the Barrow Downs, where I, Brrokk, had been defeating fearsome wights. My purpose had been a noble one: I would prevent the return of these foul spirits into their barrows by dispersing their hoards of gold. What better way to disperse gold, I now thought, than to spend it in the Prancing Pony at Bree, at the same time enjoying Barliman Butterbur's excellent ale? Barliman has brewed a passing sweet October ale this year, and my steps grew quicker as I thought of it. But I digress; where was I?

Yes; the weather that night was foul. It was already shrieking with wind and there was a light drizzle. I pulled my cloak closer about me, trying to prevent the rain from trickling inside my armour. The moon was low, appearing briefly in the gaps between scudding clouds.

I came to a slight rise just as the moon shone out briefly, and suddenly saw a sight which stopped me horrified in my tracks. Silhouetted against the brief faint light was a huge, threatening shape, standing before me with thick arms outstretched. At the same time, there came a shriek of rage!

I shifted my gear and freed my axe. A troll in Breeland? How could this be? Did not the rangers watch the borders and keep such evils far away? No matter: here it was, and it would not be the first slain by Brrokk Barrowbane. My axe would deal with it.

But the moonlight grew a little more and I realised my mistake. I had been about to take my axe to a windmill! Then came again the enraged cry, and I recognised the voice of a hobbit. At this I relaxed, and I decided to investigate the reason for such cries late at night. Passing around to the side of the mill, I entered its doorway.

Inside I encountered three hobbits. The furious one was trying to shift one of the gears of the mill's mechanism. Two other young hobbits watched uncertainly, clearly not understanding how to help. When one of them saw me, he pulled his master's sleeve to draw his attention to me.

"Brrokk Barrowbane, at your service and your family's", I said, lest he should imagine that I had hostile intent, coming upon them so late at night. "A dwarf!", he exclaimed. "Ah, Hal Scoggins at your service, and here are my two sons Tom and Ned", he said, flustered as he realised he hadn't got the polite forms quite right. "Forgive us, but we are having a bad night and didn't expect a visitor. The mill mechanism is jammed. I have a cart of grain arriving tomorrow from Bree and I've foolishly promised 'same day delivery' of the flour. We've been working on these jammed gears since mid afternoon."

Then he looked hopeful. "It is said that dwarves understand machinery", he continued, "Is it possible that you could aid us?" "We do not service machines with our hands, or with axes", I replied, "but I will help as I may". Scoggins was grateful, and we fell to examining the mechanism. I privately wondered whether I would be in time to taste Barliman's ale that night, and if not, whether these hobbits would offer supper. It looked like being a long job.

The mechanism was indeed a bewildering one and I regretted my hasty offer of help. But suddenly, I heard a voice from the doorway behind me: "It is the third contrate gear. The groffle pin is splayed clockwise." I turned to see the newcomer, but too late. A shadow moved away from the door.

Solve one mystery at a time, that is my maxim. And on a rainy night, indoor mysteries are more comfortable to solve than those without. I examined the contrate. Sure enough, the groffle pin was badly splayed clockwise. In fact, it was almost helical. Well, on this occasion I was indeed able to repair a mechanism with my axe! I split out the old pin and whittled a new one from a piece of spare wood. Hal Scoggins pulled the big lever and with a great creaking and groaning the mill gears begam to turn. He was overjoyed and thanked me again and again.

But I reflected that I still knew not the identity of the helpful voice. I declined offers of refreshment, even a hobbit supper, and set out into the rain again, purposing to find the helpful speaker and then press on to Bree. I stood outside the mill in the moonlight, and saw a shadow moving some way off in the field. Setting off, I walked towards the shadow. It had looked near but the way was surprisingly long. At last I realised that this was because it was more than man-sized, for I finally stood looking at a black horse. The horse gazed at me with an intelligent look, but said nothing. Perhaps I should have said, "Sir horse, was it indeed you who spoke concerning the contrate gear?", but pride would not allow me; I feared to seem foolish, speaking to a horse. Puzzled, I shook my head and hurried on, towards Bree and the Prancing Pony. Turning once, I saw the horse watching me go.

Sitting before the roaring fire in the Pony, enjoying Barliman Butterbur's excellent victuals and ale, I began to dry out and feel sleepy in the pleasant warmth. Seeing that I was ready for some talk and being near to closing time and not busy, Barliman left off polishing glasses and came to join me. I related my night's adventures to him. "Ah yes, of course I know Hal Scoggins and his farm", he said, "Hal supplies good flour, but I fear that mill of his has seen better days".

"Indeed you are right", I replied, "There is no mystery about the failure of such a worn groffle pin. And yet, one thing about the affair perplexes me. It seemed to me that it was a horse which told us how to solve the problem". "Ah, of course it was a black horse", stated Barliman with a knowing look. "Yes! How did you know that?", I demanded. "I only guessed", admitted Barliman, "But it was quite easy. You see, Hal's white horse knows nothing at all about machinery!"

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The Power of Mandos

I sat at leisure one evening in the Prancing Pony, enjoying a rare meeting with a distant kinsman who had chosen to break his journey in Bree for the night. Calvi was his name, and we drank deeply of Barliman Butterbur's fine ale and spoke of many things, in Middle Earth and beyond it.

Much of our talk was light and easy, but we were touching also on deep subjects. Calvi has an inclination to metaphysics, and among other subjects he explained to me his theory that the dwarves, not the elves, were the true first-born children of Iluvatar. True, they had not been conceived and formed by Iluvatar acting directly, but were they not the workmanship of Aule, who in turn owed his being to Iluvatar? And had not Aule offered the dwarves to The One even as they received life from Him? Perchance there was something in what Calvi said, but I could not think that the loremasters of the elves would be quick to accept such ideas!

But then Calvi's talk turned to others among the Valar, besides Aule Lord of the Dwarves. He spoke next of Mandos, the Master of Doom and explained to me that, in life, all things that come to pass are foreseen and inevitable. At least, he said, for the dwarves, being as they are a creation of a creature of Iluvatar; a stage removed from that Source of all life.

"But surely this cannot be", I objected. "When I go forth on a fine morning I know not what a day may bring forth. I may come to a fork in the path and turn left or right at my own choosing. This may well determine whether I fall in with people of goodwill or find gleaming ores and gems, or perhaps fight a host of orcs. And chance events may also occur, affecting the outcome"

"Yes, but the choice is fore-ordained, and known to the Valar, or at least to Mandos", replied Calvi. You may think that chance is possible, but in fact everything follows according to fixed natural laws. I will give you an example. Even in the seemingly random chaos of a battle, immutable causality may be seen in operation."

"Two weeks ago I was at the defence of Trestlebridge. For days, dark rumours of evil abroad in the North Downs had circulated. I was one of a group of defenders who gathered there and, hearing at last the approach of a host, we formed ranks in the square. We watched in apprehension as a host of orcs poured over the bridge, accompanied by goblins, trolls and a fell horseman in black."

My interest was piqued; I had heard of this raid on Trestlebridge, but not how the enemy had been repelled. "Pray continue", I said.

"The enemy host advanced. We defenders all steeled ourselves for a sore test. But suddenly a strange thing happened. A hen, escaping from a yard to our side, darted clucking in front of the black horseman. The horse reared, almost throwing its rider. It backed and stepped onto the foot of a mighty troll behind the horseman. This troll had a great spiked club; it roared in pain and swung the club randomly, striking an orc captain adjacent. The captain's armour rang and he shouted a command, but panic was setting in and the orc ranks became disordered."

"Striving to re-form the ranks, one brutish orc struck a goblin who was impeding his movement. But this goblin was of the breed of their fire-throwers, and he dropped his pot of flammable material. A fire blazed up, and the black horseman's robe began to flame. Those horsemen fear fire, and he gave a terrible cry. In seconds the whole evil host descended into confusion and rout, and retreated in disorder whence they had come."

"We defenders stood still in our ranks, marvelling at our good fortune. Without striking a blow we had won the day. And it was by means of a clear sequence of inevitable, linked occurences. There could have been no other outcome."

I mused for a moment and took a pull at my ale. "Indeed, this is a powerful example in support of your theory of causality", I stated, "but I do not think you have proved the point completely. In what you have recounted, there remains one important question".

"What is that?", demanded Calvi.

I set down my mug, empty. "It is simply this", I commented, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

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Trolls in Hiding

I strolled through the Shire on a sunny afternoon after sampling the ales at the Green Dragon. Not quite up to those of Barliman at the Prancing Pony it is true. I would return there soon on my way back to my home in Bree-land. But pleasant, nonetheless. It's always relaxing to be in the Shire. One is fairly confident of not meeting goblins, orcs, wargs, trolls or any other unpleasant creatures, and the good nature and good living of hobbits is infectious.

Passing through a tree-lined part of the road, I heard some commotion: the cries of a female hobbit calling "Bodger! Bungle! Lavender! Come here!" When three hobbit children burst from the trees and tumbled onto the road it was not hard to guess their names. And then, here came their mother. She was about to berate them and then stopped short, seeing me beside them.

"Oh, see, I told you not to stray! Bodger, you should not encourage your brother and sister to play out of sight! You never know what strangers you may meet. Why, here is a dwarf, in the very Shire!"

"Brrokk Barrowbane at your service and your family's", I said, bowing. "Oh!", replied the hobbit lady. "I didn't mean... that is, I've nothing against dwarves,... but we are distrustful of strangers here... eh... Perriwinkle Snaffler at your service, and these are my three children, Bodger, Bungle and Lavender. They are too young to play out of my sight, but so attracted by the orchard and the road!"

Bodger was looking me up and down. "Cool, a dwarf!", he said, "And he's got an axe too!" With that, the three hobbit children crowded around me and bombarded me with questions:

"Have you beheaded many goblins with that axe?"

"Have you got a vault full of gold and gems?"

"What colour blood do goblins have?"

"Is it true drakes can cook you and eat you at the same time?"

"Are you one of the dwarves Bilbo went away with?"

They were enthusiastic, but their mother was still apprehensive and annoyed. I decided that I had better support the message she was trying to impress on them.

"Now, keep your distance!" I growled. "I am a fierce dwarf, and no good can come of questions about axes or goblins. You should listen to what your mother is telling you."

"But there aren't goblins here", retorted Lavender, the youngest, "and we like playing in the orchard. We were only pretending it was the Old Forest".

"Have you been in the Old Forest?"

"Have you been as far as the Barrow Downs?"

"Have you been to the Great Barrow?"

"Is there gold there? And gems?"

"Enough", I stated. You should pay attention to your mother. Even orchards can be dangerous for the unwary. I have known trolls to hide in orchards!" Mrs Snaffler looked both grateful and apprehensive at once.

"Trolls?", asked Lavender, "How can they be in an orchard".

"They hide in trees", I replied, inventing as fast as I could. "They hide up in the trees, and if you are unwary and walk by underneath, they drop on you!"

Her eyes grew round, but her brothers were not quite convinced. "How do they hide in trees?", queried Bungle.

"Ah... they use camouflage. They paint their fingertips and toes red!", I asserted.

But Bodger still wasn't convinced. "I've never seen a troll hiding in an apple tree", he maintained.

"Well... that proves it works!", I finished triumphantly.

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A Rider of Rohan

It was an animated evening in the Prancing Pony. Several of us dwarves were present, quaffing Barliman Butterbur's fine ale. (Quaffing is like drinking, but you spill more). We were roistering too. (Roistering is talking all at once or singing, at the same time as quaffing). Barliman is tolerant of folk having a good time: he doesn't mind us singing about gold, be we ever so off-key, but he does like two-handed axes left in the porch.

That night, there was an extra source of merriment. A southerner was present; a man. But he was not one of the brigands from the South which we are so often called upon to defend simple folk from. Rather, he was from a distant land called Rohan. In fact, he described himself as a knight of Rohan. Bearing messages from Rohan to the chief of the rangers of Breeland he was. A fine horse he had ridden into Bree on, certainly.

Being an outsider, he was naturally the subject of much good natured mirth. He bore this well, telling tales of his distant land and its king, buying drinks for his hearers and having such bought for him in return. It was clear that, before the night ended, he and those about him would be well intoxicated.

This had given my kinsman Calvi an idea for a practical joke. He slipped away from our company for a quarter of an hour or so, and then returned, smirking. "What amuses you so?", I asked him. "It is the man of Rohan", he replied, "He is in for a surprise".

I could get nothing more from him for a while, and we returned to more interesting subjects such as the working of gold and the polishing of gems. But eventually the rider of Rohan finished his talking and drinking, and rose to leave. Although it was late, he declared his intention of continuing his journey by night, and wove his way to the door.

"Now, let us follow", said Calvi to the rest of us dwarves. "We will watch from the shadows as our rider returns to the stables, and I will tell you what is to take place."

It was an unpleasant night outside, windy and raining. I thought of the night returning from the Barrow Downs when I had almost attacked a windmill, taking it for a troll in the moonlight. However, the weather did not put us off, fortified as we were by good drink and Calvi's enthusiasm for his conspiracy.

"I have borrowed a great shaggy hound from a nearby household", continued Calvi, "And tethered it in the stable which formerly housed the horse of Rohan. The horse I have at the same time removed to the back of the same stable and tethered there. We will see if our brave man is able, in his inebriated state, to tell the difference between a horse and a hound. If he cannot, the application of the saddle and bridle could prove most amusing!"

The rider suspected nothing as he approached the stable, for his horse heard him from its altered location and neighed; the sound appearing to come from inside the stable.

But when he reached the place, we realised that he was not as drunk as Calvi had hoped. He stood, swaying slightly, regarding the hound. Then he called out in a loud voice, "Oh no! Surely no-one would send a knight out on a dog like this!"

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How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

I was sitting enjoying my drink beside the fireplace at the Prancing Pony one evening, when Calvi came in. "Greetings kinsman", I called, "will you take some ale with me?" But then I noticed that he held a length of cord, and by this he led a small dog of a terrier breed. "Ah, you have a pet", I observed, "I did not know that you had a great liking for animals".

Then I noticed Calvi's crestfallen demeanour. He sat down heavily in the chair next to me. "I do not, as a rule, much enjoy the company of dogs", he said, "but I have purchased this one, and for quite a high price too".

"Why?", I asked.

"I was in the Shire", he began, "in Michel Delving. It is a centre of trade and many of the hobbits there are merchants. One can often find objects of great value, and so I did the other day."

I waited, and Calvi continued: "There was a shop. A shop of antiquities, with many of the strange objects the hobbits term 'mathoms'. It was a hobbit hole, with a great bay window set in the side of the hill displaying fascinating wares. Many interesting items were there, and I spent some time gazing into the window. But then I became aware of movement, and saw this little dog sitting among the items of the window, enjoying the sun and looking back at me with some interest. Even as he is now, with head aslant and one ear raised."

"But then, my attention was suddenly attracted to the bowl of food placed there for the dog's use. It was a precious object! A bowl, which shone. At first I could not credit my eyes, but I finally became convinced. The bowl was of mithril, of dwarven workmanship!"

I was astounded. "Mithril?" I gasped, "Dwarven? And being used for dog food? Why, such a bowl would be worth all the other goods of Michel Delving put together!"

"So I thought", continued Calvi, "and I determined to buy that bowl. But I realised that I did not have sufficient coinage to pay a reasonable price for it, so I hit upon a subterfuge. It occurred to me that the hobbit proprietor could not know the true value of the object, or it would not be used for dog food."

"I entered the shop. 'Bugle Bracegirdle at your service', said the middle-aged hobbit shopkeeper in welcome, and I replied in kind. I pretended interest in various old and dusty items around the shop, but finally said to him, 'I do not really find anything which attracts me here, except that I find your little dog endearing. Would you consider selling him? I will offer you fifty silver pieces.'  'Done!', exclaimed the hobbit, and immediately pumped my hand vigorously to seal the bargain."

"I paid him the fifty silver pieces, and then tried my scheme. 'I am concerned lest, being removed from his favourite bay window, the dog should pine', I averred. 'Perhaps you would also let me have his accustomed food bowl? I will pay an additional five silver pieces for it, for I am sure a familiar object will be of comfort to him'"

"An unreadable expression passed over Bugle's face. 'Ah, no', he said, 'I could not sell the bowl. It is of dwarven mithril, absolutely priceless, merely on loan to me from the Michel Delving Mathom Society. Besides which, I find that it brings me luck. Why, since placing it on display I have sold over a dozen terriers to visiting dwarves such as yourself!"

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Learning a Foreign Language

It was a busy evening in the Prancing Pony. I had left my horse in the stables and entered the common room, my thoughts occupied by Barliman's excellent ale. Pausing by the door, I was surprised to see my kinsman Calvi in conversation with two hobbits. I joined the three, noting that the hobbits had that air of prosperity and smart dress which one would associate rather with the West of the Shire, rather than Bree.

Calvi made the introductions. "I present Cornfellow Bracegirdle and Hamble Tunnelheaver of the Michel Delving Mathom Society", he said. It was explained to me in conversation that these two were journeying around the Shire and the area surrounding it as emissaries of the Mathom Society, seeking to repair its reputation of the damage done to it by one Bugle Bracegirdle, who had been found making disreputable use of valuable items on loan from the Society.

"The mithril artefact so unjustifiably used to attract attention in Mr Bracegirdle's curio shop window has now been recalled to the Michel Delving museum", explained Cornfellow earnestly.

We talked of many things for a while, and enjoyed the Prancing Pony ale together. In such a comfortable setting, among interesting and congenial company, talk is a wondrous thing. It can skip gaily, like a spring lamb, make sudden turns like a trout in a stream, or shine like the setting sun on distant vistas. The evening passed pleasantly.

Eventually it was dark outside, yet still lively and warm in the common room. Suddenly we all became aware of a hush in the conversation. Looking around, I perceived the reason. Two elves had entered the bar room! Yes, of the fair folk they were, and fair were their garments and equipment also. Only mud on the boots showed that they were wayfarers. Of the Noldor, the deep elves they seemed to me, and I guessed that they were on some errand from Rivendell.

(Editor's note: in LOTRO there seem to be many elves in the Prancing Pony every evening, but in real life as described in The Book contact with the fair folk is very rare. With this in mind, Brrokk's surprise can be understood).

Hamble Tunnelheaver was bursting with excitement. "This is a wonderful opportunity!", he said, "I am the Mathom Society Elvish specialist, and here is a chance to try speaking that tongue and thereby gain first hand experience of elven grammar and expression!"

Hamble rose from his seat, left us and approached the two elves. They were by this time sipping goblets of good spiced wine served by Barliman Butterbur, but there was a space about them because the rest of the Pony's occupants clearly found them unapproachable. Hamble, however, was undeterred. Approaching them respectfully he bowed; then carefully and clearly he enunciated the words, "Swede's like Melon!"

The two wayfarers looked puzzled. They nodded politely to Hamble, but obviously could not understand him. They discussed the awkward situation incomprehensibly in their own language. Hamble was clearly very crestfallen, and returned to us, uncomfortable under the stares of the Pony's clientele. "Why do you make agricultural comparisons involving irrelevant fruits and vegetables?" demanded his companion. "It was supposed to be a standard greeting", explained Hamble, "but clearly my pronunciation was very poor. I know; I will go for my phrase book, which is in my room!" With that, he left us, heading for the stairs.

Unfortunately for Hamble, the elven visitors were intending to journey further that night. After their warming drink they left quickly by the main door. The door had already creaked closed before Hamble rejoined us, bearing a large handwritten parchment book which was bound in leather and marked with the monogram of the Mathom Society. "I have it!", he exclaimed, opening the book, "Here on page... But where are the elven visitors?"

He looked crestfallen, nay, crushed. "Unfortunately, you are too late," I told him gently, "Elvish has left the building".

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Advances in Agriculture

Well, I had intended to go to the Barrow Downs to slay some more wights, but that afternoon I got diverted. I turned aside to speak with Hal Scoggins, the hobbit fammer who I had first met trying to repair his windmill mechanism. He invited me to afternoon tea, and we sat in his farmhouse garden enjoying tea and scones with cream and strawberries. His wife Campanula and his two sons Tom and Ned were also present. Two farm cats lazed in the sun, and Hal's dog also sat nearby, seeming nonchalant but watching hopefully in case crumbs were dropped. Hal's black horse grazed near the wall in the adjoining field.

"Campanula makes the best scones in all Breeland!" asserted Hal, slightly embarrasing his wife. But it was near the truth: the scones were indeed excellent. "I must agree", I stated, taking another one and reaching for the cream. "And you are also provided with excellent strawberries; large, sweet and flavourful. Of what variety are they?"

"Ah", said Hal, "They are a variety of my own breeding. I am no simple hobbit farmer, you know; I know my letters and I communicate within a knowledgeable farming community. We are always seeking to improve agriculture. I myself breed strawberries, other vegetable varieties, and even livestock."

"Not the chickens again, dad", put in Tom. "Well", continued Hal, "it is true that my specially bred fowls have so far been a disappointment, but I admit that the project is an ambitious one. You see, I am trying to develop chickens which will lay square eggs. Or, more precisely, cubic. These eggs will be easier to pack and store and will revolutionise the distribution process."

I thought about square eggs. "True", I allowed, "stacking, storing and packing would all become much easier, but I am concerned about how strong the flat faces of the shells would be". "That we will only see if my programme is successful", admitted Hal.

Hal went on to speak of his more encouraging projects. Sheep with shorter legs on one side for grazing on sloping ground. Intelligent horses which could show initiative when helping with farming tasks. Wheat which would form a weak link in the stalk when ripe, becoming self-harvesting.

But then we were distracted. Ned, trying to pile too much cream on his scone, dropped it into his lap. He stood quickly, trying to brush off the mess, and the scone fell to the ground. The hopeful dog, seeing this, sprang to his feet. But he was not quick enough to secure the prize. A small animal of some kind erupted from the hedge, rushed across the garden, seized the scone with a single "gulp!", and continued into some rose bushes.

"Oh no, one of them has got into the garden again!", Campanula complained. "But what was it?", I asked, "It was so fast!"

"It is one of my fast-boars", admitted Hal. "I have been breeding semi-wild boars for small size and great speed. I hope that these animals will revolutionise pig husbandry. They will be faster in every way. Faster to grow, to breed, to feed and to develop full weight."

"Eventually it may even be possible to develop a similar breed capable of flight", added Tom confidently.

We sat quietly considering the implications as Ned industriously spread cream on a new scone. A gentle snorting could be heard from the rose bushes. There was no other sound, other than a distant episode of frantic clucking from the hen shed.

"Well then, what stage has your pig project reached", I asked. "How many have you bred? What size do they attain? And is their meat good to eat?"

Hal looked thoughtful. "Things are progressing well", he said, "but the project does so far have some flaws. For instance, I cannot answer your last question about the type of meat."

"Why not?", I asked in surprise. "Surely it is a key consideration which will determine your success at market?"

Hal looked crestfallen. "So far, I have not been able to catch one", he admitted.

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Encounter with a Warg part 1

For a week, Calvi had been absent from our evening gatherings in The Prancing Pony. This did not concern us greatly, for we knew that he had announced an intention to go on an extended prospecting tour. But when he returned to us he had a strange tale to tell.

We sat by the fire in the common room, enjoying excellent ale, and Calvi started to tell us of his journey. A few of us dwarves were there and some men of Bree also listened attentively. He had, he said, journeyed into the North, beyond Trestlebridge, into the wastelands near Fornost.

"I found much good ore, but at length became weary and began looking for shelter", Calvi told us. "The weather was damp and windy, and I wanted a roof over my head. Eventually, I came upon a small village with an inn. This inn had a poor appearance, with peeling paint and cracked windows, but I could see light within and hoped for a welcome. So I entered, and found a few men of the region drinking and talking in low voices beside a small fire."

Ottar, one of our friends among the men of Bree looked puzzled. "I know of no villages in that land", he said. "Near to Fornost, there are only wight-mounds and beasts, besides roving bands of orcs. Are you sure of the location?"

"I know where I headed", returned Calvi. "I know the points of the compass and the stars of the night sky. Although, it is true that I would have difficulty finding the place again".

Ottar looked doubtful. "One must beware in that land, or so I have heard", he said, "It is possible to stray into wightish dreams and deceptions, and imagine meeting living folk where there are really only old bones."

"Maybe some such thing befell me", admitted Calvi, "for I have a most strange tale to tell of that evening in the inn. Certainly some surprising events followed. Hear me out, and then you may judge."

"I decided to take a drink", he continued. "The ale was as poor as the fire, but both were welcome to me. The denizens of the inn spoke little, but they did not seem unfriendly to wandering dwarves. The barkeep polished his glasses to a reasonable clearness."

"I relaxed for a while and had drunk maybe a quarter of my glass, reflecting that I would prefer to be among friends at The Prancing Pony, when suddenly a commotion arose. One old man stood abruptly, a shocked look on his face, and said in a high voice, 'The Warg is coming! Quickly, into the cellar lest he eat us! Hide, at once!' With this, all of us, (for I was caught up in the rush), left our seats and crowded down a few steps into a small cellar room. The one who had spoken barred and bolted the door."

"We stood for some time in unpleasant blackness, listening. I heard nothing at all, but after a few minutes the old one stated, 'The Warg has gone!' Then we emerged blinking into the light and all resumed our places. Everyone else took up their drinks once more, but I was displeased to find my glass empty. No matter; I thought the price of a drink a cheap escape from a warg, so I bought another and sat to drink once more."

"But I had hardly tasted from my new glass when the old one stood again, his face blanched, saying 'The Warg returns! Quickly, into the cellar again!' Again we rushed down the steps into the cellar and barred the door. Again we waited in anxious silence for a few minutes until, after no clue that I could discern, the old man said, 'The Warg has gone!'"

"You can imagine that this time my displeasure was greater when I saw that my glass was empty, whereas everyone else still had their drinks untouched. However, all I could do was approach the bar and purchase another drink. I fingered my axe, wondering whether I was being made the butt of some subtle joke. Perhaps these folk had a dislike of dwarves, or a penchant for cruel practical jokes"

"And now, you will not be surprised to learn that, within two minutes, the oldster stood again and announced the coming of 'the Warg'. This time I stood against the general rush. 'No, I am a fierce and proud dwarf!' I objected. 'I will not be the subject of any joke. If there is a warg to be seen, I intend to remain here and see it!'"

"'You foolish dwarf!', they cried, 'are you so stiff-necked that you are determined to seek death?' And with that, they all retreated into the cellar leaving me alone in the bar room, and I heard the barring and bolting of the door. The room grew quiet and I reflected on my situation. I would not simply remain still to be surprised, I decided, but instead I would hide myself. With some labour, therefore, I climbed over some wall furnishings and into the rafters, where I lay on a roof beam, able to see but not be seen. I held my axe ready."

"Now, I had assumed that there was a joke afoot, so imagine my surprise when the outer door opened, and a great warg entered! I have never seen such a great warg. All black it was, with red eyes glowing like coals. It sniffed the air of the room and padded silently among the tables. I thought briefly of leaping from my place and assailing it with my axe, but I realised that the fight would go against me, and swiftly. Great yellow teeth and claws, and thick matted fur it had."

"The warg moved silently about the room, seeming to inspect everything. It came at length to the chair and table I had been occupying. Then it placed its two great paws on the back of the chair and began, quietly and carefully, to drink from my glass!"

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Encounter with a Warg part 2

"That's not funny.", Ottar had said.

"Eh?", demanded Cavli.

"Your story. It is simply not funny. I don't see the joke.", continued Ottar.

"It is no joke", rejoined Calvi angrily. "I am telling you about my remarkable encounter with a great warg. Why do you accuse me of joking?"

That was a week ago. After that it was an evening of poor entertainment in the Prancing Pony. Ottar persisted in disbelieving Calvi's story, taking it only as a joke which had failed to amuse. Calvi grew angrier and angrier. This questioning of his truthfulness damaged his pride. He grew red; he shouted; he paced about. Barliman became somewhat concerned: I could see him checking, from his position at the bar, that the rule about long handled weapons remaining in the porch had been adhered to by his customers.

Unwisely, Ottar began to make jokes about the affair himself. He suggested that Calvi had not travelled as far North as he thought. Perhaps he had not actually passed through Trestlebridge. Perhaps he had fallen in with some crafty hobbits at a farm. Perhaps he had mistaken the farm dog for a warg.

"A dog? Does a farm dog have glowing red eyes and fur as black as pitch? Does it have claws as long as your fingers and stand as high as your shoulder?", yelled Calvi.

Eventually, under Ottar's disdain, Calvi had flown into a red rage. He vowed to leave us, journey once more into the wild, and only return when he had proof of the existence of the terrible warg. Out he stormed, into the night.

Most were unconcerned, assuming that Calvi would simply return home, cool his head overnight, and rejoin us the next evening. But knowing him well, I feared that his dwarvish pride and given word would lead him into unwise action. And so it proved. Unhappily, we did not see him again the next night or several thereafter. We all began to regret our scepticism when he did not return. Ottar in particular felt guilty and foolish, fearing that he had sent a friend needlessly into peril.

Imagine, then, our relief when, on a dark and rainy night, Calvi returned to us. Weary and travel stained he was, and he carried a large sack slung over his shoulder. "What have you there?", we asked him.

Calvi stumped up to our table. He fixed Ottar with a baleful gaze. "I am going to open this sack", he stated. "Then I am going to prove to you the existence of the warg which you previously doubted. Then, you are going to apologise to me and admit that I told the truth. Finally, you will buy me a drink!"

Ottar said nothing. Calvi opened the sack, rummaged in it and withdrew a great black furry pointed ear. He flapped it in the air, leaned forward and slapped Ottar around the face with it.

"This ear says you are a fool!", he said.

Then Calvi reached into the sack again, searched around and withdrew a great canine tooth nearly as long as his hand. He struck its point into the table next to Ottar's glass, where it stood, vibrating.

"This tooth shows that I have told the truth!", he asserted.

Finally, he drew from the bag a larger object. A great, swishy, black furry tail, nearly as long as himself. He stood back from our table to find more room and brandished it in the air menacingly, as he would a battle axe.

"And this,", he shouted in triumph, "this is - the tail that wargs the dog!"

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Out of the Horse's Mouth

The Prancing Pony is a convivial environment in which griefs and grudges soon fade and become insignificant. We who meet there most evenings for good ale and good company value our comradeship. So it was that Calvi did not remain angry with Ottar for long. Ottar bought several drinks for him the evening of his return from hunting the black warg, and apologised for his previous doubt and ridicule.

So it was that we soon turned to happier subjects. "So," asked Calvi of Ottar, "What have you been doing, these past days while I hunted the warg?"

"Working.", replied Ottar. "Nothing interesting. Just a job at the stables of the Breeland horse-fields. It is fairly well paid though, and there is some interest. One sees many people come and go and there is often the chance of good talk. Many arrive there jingling with coins and enthusiastic to purchase their first horse."

"Are you going to work there for long?" I asked, wondering for how long such an interest would be maintained.

"Well, no", admitted Ottar, "I have spent a week there and I feel that it is almost enough for me. The fact is, some of the customers are rather awkward. Well, one in particular. I had to talk my way out of a difficult situation today, and I would rather find new employment before she returns again with the same question..."

Around the table, we all brightened up, sensing a story. "Tell us of this awkward customer, then", said Calvi.

"Very well", agreed Ottar. "It was early in the morning. I was helping the rest as usual with setting out horse equipment, when we saw a hobbit lady walking up the path from the road, leading a young pony. 'Oh no, it's that crazy Petunia Brockburrow again!', said the rest, and I saw them begin to scatter, or work intently on insignificant tasks. Before they all scattered I grabbed Ted Appledore by the sleeve and asked, 'Who is she, and what will she want? Why is everyone worried?'"

"'Petunia is rather crazy', Ted told me, 'She insisted on buying the pony you see a month ago. She believes that she can teach any animal to talk. Indeed, if you let her, she will tell you tales of her youth, when she held daily discussions of philosophy with the horses, pigs and cows of her farm.'"

"'This seems a harmless enough delusion', I replied. 'Ah', said Ted, beginning to polish a horse brass with vigour, 'but now she is dissatisfied that the pony she bought from us does not actually talk! She claims it is in some way defective and we are to blame! Almost every week she leads it here and complains at length; it is very difficult to persuade her to leave."

We all nodded. Such a delusion would not be easily satisfied, and we saw that it would be awkward to work under such impossible demands.

"Well, by this time Petunia stood in our yard, holding the pony's tether and looking around to see who she could make her complaints to. It appeared that she was slightly short sighted, for she stared at each of us in turn. Unfortunately I realised too late that all the rest had provided themselves with engrossing tasks, and I was the only one apparently unoccupied. She made straight for me."

"'Young man, I have a complaint...', she began, and it was just as I had been told by Ted. She had bought the pony from us a month ago. She had expected that it would easily be able to talk within a week, but it would only neigh or whinny. She had easily been able to teach horses to talk in her youth. All horses as old as this one should be capable of speech. Clearly she had been sold a defective horse, and should be paid a refund and compensation for her fruitless efforts."

We all paused while Barliman Butterbur came bearing a tray and renewed our supplies of ale. "Well, what did you do?", I asked. "Did you fabricate some story to send her away?"

"I didn't want to tell a direct lie", admitted Ottar. "In a way, I pitied her. And yet, I did not want to spend half the day in fruitless discussion. Therefore, I offered to examine the horse as a pretext to gain time."

"I gave great attention to every part of the horse. In fact there was nothing defective about it; it was a fine specimen of a chestnut pony and would surely grow into a sturdy animal. It was when I was examining the creature's teeth that I had the idea I needed. I pretended to peer deeply into its throat.

"'Well, I can tell you the problem', I said to Petunia, 'and I can also tell you that it is really nothing to worry about. There is a very simple reason why your pony does not talk, and it does not mean that there is anything serious wrong with him."

"Petunia looked at me expectantly; glad, I think, that someone here was at last taking her seriously. I told her my explanation and she looked quite relieved. She smiled, nodded, thanked me and departed leading the pony, looking much happier than when she had arrived."

"But what did you tell her, then?", we demanded.

"I told her that he was just a little hoarse", Ottar replied.

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The Course of Love

Ottar's tale about Petunia Brockburrow was well received and considered highly amusing, but we could understand why he preferred to find new employment before she paid her next visit to the stables. After this, talk turned to the distinctions between the creatures of Middle Earth which were capable of speech and those which were not. Inspired by the excellent ale of The Prancing Pony, we waxed philosophical in our discourse. Clearly the free peoples and the orc-kinds were speakers. We were undecided about trolls. We had heard rumours of tree-herders in the deep forests which spoke to travellers.

Hamble Snaffler, a hobbit, spoke up: "Before I moved here to Bree I used to live in Buckland, and there were many strange rumours of creatures in the Old Forest calling to unwary travellers. We understand that in previous ages, the elves passed through Middle Earth and taught many creatures to speak, as perhaps should not have been. Some of them linger still in wild places."

"Perhaps the ale in Buckland is almost as strong as it is here", snorted Ottar. "I often hear voices on my way home!"

Hamble smiled. "Well, as it happens, I can recount one meeting I had with an interesting creature. And I believe I was sober at the time.", he replied. "I was returning home after working at the harvest until dusk, and my way took me along the High Hay beside the Old Forest."

"What then?", we demanded. "Something spoke to you? Something in the Forest?"

"Not so much in the Forest as sitting in the hedge", replied Hamble. "Let me tell you about it. I was walking along, making little sound (as we hobbits do) and it was a calm evening. So it was that I was easily able to hear a high voice from above me. 'Hoo, hoo, what shall I doo?', it said."

"Startled, I looked about me and saw, sitting high up, a magnificent snowy white owl. But in spite of its magnificence it had a dejected air. I observed it for a while and saw that it was not likely to immediately fly off, so I spoke."

"You talked with an owl?", Ottar put in, astounded. "What about? Did you have much conversation?"

"Indeed", replied Hamble, "we talked for some time. I asked the owl how came it that he could speak the speech of men, and what was the cause of his sorrow. He replied that he was of a long lived race of great owls who had always lived in the Old Forest. They did indeed owe their power of speech to the elves according to their own traditions, but had had no contact with them for generations."

"Astounding!", "Unique!", "Fascinating!", we responded around the table.

"Yes, but this owl's difficulty was certainly not unique, or even unusual", continued Hamble. "Hootfeather, (for that was his name), explained to me that he was perplexed. His folk were become few. At the far side of the Old Forest was a great tree in which lived a beautiful she-owl of his species. He wished to gain her favour. He could, in fact, think of nothing else. But he feared that she did not return his admiration. Indeed, he was not sure whether she had ever even noticed him."

We nodded. This tale of a talking owl had surprising aspects, but the general situation was an unsurprising and familiar one.

"I ventured to advise him", continued Hamble. "I told him that we hobbits in such a situation would pay a respectful visit bearing a gift: a ribbon, a bonnet or some other adornment, and in doing so would be careful to speak of admiration, giving praise to beauty and pledging affection. Hootfeather recovered his spirits somewhat at my talk. 'I will take your advice', he said. 'I will kill a nice fat mouse and carry it to her. Oh, but I am so nervous at the outcome. I need time to build determination. I will think tonight of good words to use and fly to her at this time tomorrow. Thank you friend, for helping me to come to this decision!'"

"The next day dawned bright, but by noon we were driven from our harvest work by a storm. There was wind and rain, and the afternoon was miserable. I thought this an ill omen for my friend the owl, but at dusk I went outside briefly to see how he fared. But there was no sign of him. I took this as a good sign that he had at least gathered the courage needed to fly over the Old Forest to his beloved, and I retired to my snug hobbit house."

"The day after was better, so again at dusk I went looking for Hootfeather along the High Hay where I had met him before. It was not long before I found him, by the sound of a disconsolate hooting. 'Oh dear', I thought, 'it sounds as if the course of love has not run smooth'. I came beneath where he sat on a branch and called to him. 'Friend, how have you fared? Did you visit your lady? How were you received?'"

"Hootfeather told me his tale of woe. 'Alas! I thought that I had waited long enough, so in spite of the foul weather I flew to her, bearing a tasty mouse in my beak. But the weather was frightful, and when I arrived I certainly did not look my best. She screeched, calling me fool and imbecile, and finally sent me away.'"

"'Is that all?' I asked with sympathy. Did she give no reason for her rejection?'"

"'Her only reason was the foulness of the weather', Hootfeather replied, then brightened somewhat. 'I see now that she is of an acid disposition and given to sudden anger; perhaps we would not have been truly happy together. I think that soon I will get over this. Her parting words to me were: You idiot! Can't you see it's too wet to woo?!'"

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Endangered Species

Ottar had led me North out of Bree to a small, remote farm beyond the horse fields, so see some "rare and remarkable creatures". We approached the gate, and I was introduced to Henry Appledore, a middle-aged farmer with shaggy hair and a thick beard. He carried a pitchfork and smoked a large pipe.

"Heh, come and see them then", he invited, and led us around the back of his cottage into a walled enclosure.

I looked around, and saw three very strange creatures. "What are these?", I enquired. They were blackish, with horns and leathery wings, about three feet tall and going mostly on two legs. "Are they some kind of flightless bats?"

"Look more closely", advised Ottar. I did so, and a spark of recognition lit in my mind. I had seen such a creature before, but it had been...

"Balrogs!?", I exclaimed, unable to believe my eyes. But I saw that each one carried a small sword and had glowing red eyes.

"Roglets", confirmed Henry. "About a year old, but they are growing fast. Orphans. Their mother was killed by poachers, and I have reared them by hand. So far they have been bottle fed, on a mixture of my own based on milk, brandy and oil, but they are beginning to try meat."

He drew a knife from his belt and held it out. Darting nearer, the roglets clashed their swords against the knife with ringing sounds, and ran back again.

"See, they think I am one of them!", Henry exulted. "And now, let me give you a closer look at one." So saying, he caught one up in his arms. It squealed, and waved its sword with a sizzling sound.

"Is that sword hot?", I asked, smelling burning. "Yes", he replied. "Only warm to the touch now, but when the creature is fully grown it will be wreathed in flame. The fiery mane should soon begin to develop too: this one is a male."

I was not happy with this. "But aren't balrogs, er, evil?", I hazarded.

"Oh no, they are merely misunderstood", insisted Henry. At one time just about every underground cavern and ruin had one, and they perform a valuable service in keeping orcs and goblins in check. True, they can be violent if disturbed, but as long as one is cautious there need be no problem."

The balroglet struck him on top of his head with its warm sword then, and he dropped it, rubbing his head and laughing.

"If they were once so common," I persisted, "why have they now become so rare?"

Appledore's face darkened. "Poachers!", he spat. "Hunters! Self-styled heroes! A few wizards have been going around calling them 'Evil of the Ancient World' and suchlike, poisoning people's minds against them! Often, putting them in chains!"

"I have seen a balrog dead", I admitted, "upon Zirakzigil above Moria".

"Oh no, that was the dwelling of one of the few remaining adult balrogs!", burst out Appledore. "I had hoped it would survive after taking over the caverns of Moria. No doubt this was the work of a wizard! Did you see whether its sword was still present?"

I hadn't noticed, but he went on to explain that poachers often slew balrogs and took only the sword, leaving the body lying where it fell. The swords were much in demand for decoration outside great houses, as a misguided means of vying with the neighbours.

"But when these three are reared to adulthood", he went on, "I will bring them to Bree. Folk will see that they are noble beasts and learn to appreciate them as I have. Then I will release them into the wild, where they will surely find caverns of their own and terrorise, er, rule over underground domains".

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One evening in the Prancing Pony, several of us gathered to await Calvi. He had promised to show us a marvel; something he had brought back from his travels east of the Misty Mountains, but he was late. While we waited, we sampled Barliman Butterbur's newly broached ale cask and pronounced it good.

Eventually Calvi arrived, bustling into the room with a large cloth-wrapped bundle. He apologised for keeping us in suspense. "The cloth wrapping occupied me for longer than I expected", he explained, "and I am determined to keep this precious object safe as I carry it about". With this, he unwrapped it, and we saw... what?

It was an intricate object carved in wood and brightly painted, on a stand. Clearly it was a thing of great craftmanship, but it baffled us. Barliman left off polishing glasses to come over and join our inspection.

"It is a timepiece; a clock", explained Calvi. "Here in the centre, moving hands indicate the hour of the day according to this circle of numbers. The hands are turned by intricate internal gears which would gladden the heart of any craftsman dwarf. They are driven by an escapement mechanism, regulated by a pendulum and powered by this descending weight. I will open the back and you will see the mechanism in operation."

Calvi started the pendulum moving. "Tock... tock... tock...". The sound was agreable and we all marvelled at the slowly moving gears. We began to realise that the mechanism was based on simple principles but was fantastically intricate in its realisation. Also, the wood carving with which the object was adorned cheated the eye, hiding most of the moving parts and disguising the rest. The pendulum, for instance, was carved as a vine leaf and the descending weight was cast in bronze in the form of a pine cone. It was a marvellous device indeed.

"See here," exclaimed Ottar suddenly, "I know this mark!" He indicated a small crest punched into the inside of the open door. "This is of Dale workmanship!", he told us, "That explains the amazing craftmanship".

"Indeed," admitted Calvi smugly, "that is where I purchased it. I paid a high price, but I think it was worthwhile".

Calvi whispered the price to us and we whistled. "Indeed it is a handsome object", I said, "But is it not an over-complex way of telling the hour of the day? Would not a sundial serve just as well?"

"A sundial is no use at night", Calvi pointed out, "and it cannot be used indoors." He ignored Hamble's suggestions of illumination for sundials and continued, "Moreover, this clock does more than tell the time. It can also tell the season of the year, the phase of the moon and even the weather. See these two doors. If the elf-maid who you see here appears, it will be fine tomorrow. If, however, she withdraws and a black-cloaked ranger appears, we will have rain. Then, see these other doors. On every quarter-hour, they open and a group of orcs, pursued by a group of heroes, pass across the front of the clock. Finally, on every hour, the time is announced by a cuckoo which emerges here and calls a number of times to indicate the hour".

"It is nearly eight o'clock", pointed out Ottar. "Let us see what happens."

"Tock... tock... tock..."

Suddenly, there was an internal whirring and the door Calvi had last indicated flew open. A brightly coloured bird emerged and went "cuckoo!" eight times.

"Wonderful! Fantastic! Marvellous!" we all exclaimed, but suddenly the steady "tock... tock..." stopped. There was a short silence, with the pendulum stuck oddly at one end of its swing, then it moved again and the "tock... tock..." continued.

"What happened?" I asked. "I do not know", admitted Calvi. "It stops as you have seen after every appearance of the cuckoo, for about four seconds, then continues. The effect is not serious, but every few days I have to reset the time for it is by then running slow. I fear that there is some mechanical problem."

This interested us and we discussed what to do. Some among us were eager to dismantle the mechanism immediately and search for the fault, but Calvi was understandably reluctant to allow this. Eventually Ottar made a sensible suggestion. "Let us take the cuckoo clock to the Scholar's Stair tomorrow and consult Brannog, who is an expert on small mechanisms. He will tell us the cause of your problem".

Calvi agreed to this plan and the rest of us expressed eagerness to accompany him to Brannog and hear what he had to say.

The next day was fine as predicted by the elf-maid, and about mid-morning we congregated at the workshop of Brannog and put the matter to him. He carefully inspected every part of the clock, both while it was operating and also with the parts stationary. Peering into the spring-loaded door which housed the cuckoo, he finally told us, "I think I have seen the problem."

"What is it?", asked Calvi.

"It is the cuckoo", said Brannog.

"The cuckoo? What is wrong with the cuckoo?", demanded Calvi.

"Nothing serious," replied Brannog, "it is just rather hungry".

"Hungry? I did not know that I had to feed it!", exclaimed Calvi.

"Ah, that would be why it is hungry!", observed Brannog.

"Well, what is to be done?", wondered Calvi. "And why would being hungry cause the cuckoo-clock to stop as it does?"

"Well," explained Brannog finally, "because it is hungry, it keeps on going back four seconds!"

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