Laketown – Spring 2953
It had been a thoroughly shitty couple of seasons for Falco, and he needed a break. First a blight on the weed – A Blight! On the weed! – Unheard of in the Shire where they regularly got a couple crops a year from the fertile ground, and the worst kind of pests around were young Hobbits from neighboring hamlets. And then there had been the wolves. As if the weed-addicted one in the North weren’t bad enough, now he had to deal with a Werewolf in Mirkwood. One that just wouldn’t die, no matter how many times you killed it! No, clearly this was bad business and Falco needed to turn his mind to other things. Fortunately, the many taverns of Laketown were more than happy to provide distraction.
For this night’s entertainment, he had picked a venue named “_The Drowned Pickle_” His purse wasn’t as heavy as he’d like – The elves had been as stingy as Khorum always said! You’d think they could cough up a bit of coin for the return of a long lost heirloom, but no – they had been all sweet words and melancholic music, but in the end the company had limped home with naught but scars and bruises to show for their expedition. Fortunately, he at least had a fresh story to tell, and in his experience that kept the drinks flowing just as well as coin.
Sure enough, an hour later he was perched atop a table, wiping the foam of ale off his chin. “So Khorum had slain the beast right good the last time, skinned it and made a coat out of it even. You’d think it would have the decency to stay dead, right? But there it was again facing us, the very same creature: a wolf eight feet tall standing on its hind legs, its eyes red like embers and with a howl to put ice in the heart of the proudest warrior.
The beast was cunning too, for it sprung our own trap right back at us, and we had to hop over a pool of flaming oil to reach it, getting singed in the process. When it saw Khorum we knew it truly was the same beast, for it let out a howl full of vengeance and hatred, and leapt straight for him, biting and raking. It was all Galman and I could do to get our shields in the way, or it would have finished off the Dwarf before the fight even begun.
As it was, the fight was looking pretty dire as Khorum had taken a heavy blow in the first onslaught and could barely stand, and Galman and I were soon bleeding from many cuts too. We managed to take out the two smaller wolves, but the great beast kept eluding our blows. Our elf companion Alladrin shot a stream of arrow at it, but none could pierce its think hide. Khorum tried to charge at the monster again, but it flew straight over him, landing a good thirty paces away to rake at our archer, who fell back spraying bright elf blood into the clearing.”
Falco took a long pull from his tankard, drawing it out and letting the tension build up. “But drawing strength out of pure dwarven stubbornness, Khorum charged back and managed clip the beast with a mighty blow from his mattock, sending it reeling. Before it could recover, Galman dashed straight it, discarding his shield, and plunged his sword two handed deep into the creature’s exposed breast and slayed it”
“Slew” a voice said from the back of the room, slicing through the silence that had broken as the story reached its culmination. It came from a stranger dressed in black, sitting alone at the back. Falco ignored it.
“Slayed the beast right good, once more. To be sure we even burned the body until nothing but ash remained. But we could still feel it’s hateful spirit, hovering in the air around us. Be wary, traveler of Mirkwood, do not stray off the path for by now that cursed spirit may well have found a new body to inhabit, and it may be that the beast prowls once more the shadows of the forest, looking for its next victim and plotting its revenge.”
Falco hopped off the table – he planned to follow up with an encore of “My Brother has no Beard” to lighten the mood, but right now he needed a pee and a smoke.
When he stepped back in, he scanned the room (A difficult task when you’re smaller than the tables), but the only empty seats to be found were with the rude stranger from before. However, he could spot the telltale trail of smoke above the man’s head – maybe they could get along after all! But when he made his way around he stopped in dismay. The man had no pipe! Instead, on his lips hung a crude cylinder of parchment, which was lit at one end.
-“What in the name of sanity are you smoking, my good man?” Falco said as he hopped onto a chair to better look at the strange contraption.
-“That? Oh, Athelas, I ran out of good leaf a while ago, but I found a patch of this growing on the way here – it’s got a pretty potent kick but it’s not bad if you cut it with a few other herbs.
- Now what… I mean… Don’t your people use proper pipes where you’re from?
- Ah… well yes we do, although it’s not as common as it is in the North. I just dropped my old pipe while fording a river. But on the other hand, I had all those stacks of parchment the new Steward wanted me to deliver to the wild people in the North… I figure nobody would miss a few of those. Back home they say the Northmen can’t even read anyway. No offense to your people of course, sir Dwarf.
- Wait, what did you call me?
- Sir, or em.. lady? I’m afraid it’s the first time I actually meet one of your people… I was expecting more beard, but then I heard the song…
- Ah! This is pretty good. I’ve got to tell Khorum, apparently I make a better Dwarf than his brother does! But no sir, I’m no Dwarf at all. I’m a Hobbit of Shire, one of the Little Folk as the Big Folk call us. The name’s Falco.”
- “Hobbit… Shire…” the stranger took a long pull out of his strange roll. “You’re shitting me.”
- “I most certainly am not! And who are you to make such rude accusations?” Falco said, frowning as he examined the man’s strange tunic – on the black front was emblazoned a white tree, surmounted by seven stars.
- Ah, I am Brodomir, Herald of Gondor, such as it is. You must forgive my manners… it’s just that… I had always thought the Halfling to be the stuff of children’s tales and old prophecies. You know, when the Halfling comes, Isildur’s bane shall waken and all that. I never I’d come face to face with one… or, face to… you get me.
“Isil… what?” Falco thought. The man was stranger than just his clothes or accent. Must be that thing he smoked, not natural that was, although it did smell spicy and intriguing. But his black and silver tabard was of high quality and he was wearing shiny mail underneath – if the people of that Gondor place were that wealthy, it could be a market worth looking into.
- “Well sir Brodomir, allow me to educate you in the ways of the Shire then. This here is a proper smoking pipe, hand-carved at the Easterly Inn. And this here is the finest weed you’ll find this side of the misty mountains, from my own very exclusive stock, Falco said, a trace of bitterness in his voice.
-“Why thank you sir Hobbit!” Brodomir lit the pipe and took a few pulls. “This is mighty fine stuff for sure, I’ve not had the like in Gondor! Can I maybe offer you some of my own mix of herbs in return? Not nearly as smooth, but it helps me sleep at night – you know, forget some of the worse stuff you see on the road, you know?” he said as he handed out another one of his strange rolls.
Had Falco still been the same Hobbit he was in the Shire, he’d have refused in horror – but he’d had a few pints and was certainly intrigued by the exotic aroma. Besides, he surely didn’t lack for things he’d rather forget.
So he gingerly lit the roll off his pipe and took an experimental pull. He coughed most of it out and thought he’d seared his lungs from the inside for a moment.
-“Ack! Uh! This is pretty rough! Gallow-weed? And… Athelas you said?
- A few petals of simbelmynë too. Filched that when I was delivering missives in Rohan. They say it only grows on the burial mounds of their Kings.”
Falco felt the urge to giggle.
-“It’s um… different, for sure.”
- “Nothing as fine as this Shire leaf of yours, for sure, but it has its uses. If you think that’s strong you should try that thing they smoke in Far Harad. They say it makes their warriors forget pain and the fear of death.
- I… I think there’s a lot we need to talk about.” Falco muttered, his pupils starting to dilate.
That summer, Brodomir and Falco smoked just about every herb, leaf and weed to be found around Laketown, separately, in various combinations and using various experimental implements, saw a lot of things that weren’t there, tried to get the youths in town to partake, and were generally insufferable to anyone not as intoxicated as they were. The locals started dropping polite hints such as “Don’t you have an inn you should be running?”
Falco resolved to take a few years off the road to take better care of the weed fields – apparently things just didn’t work out when he wasn’t supervising every step – whereas Brodomir could do some Heralding around and promote his product across the country.