The bard paused, taking a sip from a tankard he had left at the feet of his stool. The children’s eyes were wide.
“They broke out of jail? This is a story about criminals?” One of the little girls asked.
“That’s what makes it interesting!” retorted a boy.
“No, littl’uns, weren’t you listening?” cut in one of the men sitting nearby and listening. “The Bree-town guards had a quota to fill. That’s the only reason the Man and the Dwarf were rounded up.”
“A quota? What rubbish!” A nearby woman shook her head. “I find it hard to believe the Watchers have a quota — the jail is almost always empty!”
“Maybe everyone always escapes,” offered the littlest boy. This prompted a loud roar of laughter from the adults, while the other children comforted their red-faced question. It was a good explanation, after all; what could be so funny?
“In any case,” the woman resumed, determined to have her say, “the Man and the Dwarf were arrested for causing a disturbance. So was the Elf, for that matter.”
A Dwarf choked on his drink with sputtering laughter and wiped the ale out of his bushy red beard. “Meaning no disrespect, lady, but if a Man and a Dwarf arguing was cause for arrest, the Prancing Pony would be shut down for encouraging criminal behavior!”
The crowd exploded with knowing laughter once again, until old Barliman Butterbur came rushing into the back, brandishing a towel and roaring, “Criminal behavior? We’ll have none of that in here! Is that goblin-faced southerner causing trouble again?”
It took a few seconds to convince the fat innkeeper that nothing illegal was going on. The couples at the front bar waved nervously at their children, who waved happily back, enjoying the spectacle. The bard set down his tankard and plucked a few dissonant notes on his lute, waiting until the commotion died down.
“I have a question,” declared the oldest girl, raising her hand.
“Yes?” smiled the bard.
“Did they really kidnap the Halfling?”
“Pineleaf? I’m afraid so, yes. They stuffed her in a bag!”
The other children giggled. The girl continued, “So the five of them aren’t really friends, are they?”
“Of course they’re friends,” countered the man from earlier. “They’d have to be, to face down goblins like that!”
The bard laughed, and the children joined in. Now that was a foolish thing to say.
“The five of them are far from being friends. Well, I suppose Arathaert and Teriadwyn were friends.” The bard began counting on his fingers with each point. “Arathaert and Karvett were in the middle of an argument, which was never resolved. Mae hadn’t seen any of the others until a couple of hours ago, and when she first met them, they were either in prison or helping prisoners to escape. And Pineleaf, well…they stuffed her in a bag!”
“But the goblins—”
The bard waved a hand. “Goblins can cause even centuries-long quarrels to be set aside until the threat is over. Surely you have heard the tale of the Battle of the Five Armies?”
“Isn’t it just…’the Battle of Five Armies’? No ‘the’?” one of the boys asked hesitantly.
“Oh! You’re absolutely right,” corrected the bard. “I misspoke.”
The youngest girl was tapping on the floor with a fingernail impatiently. “Can we go back to the story now? I want to know what happens to the goblins.”
“Me, too!” chimed in the boy. “I thought for sure they were goblin-bones! They really weren’t very lucky during the fight.”
The Dwarf chortled. “Goblins are nothing to laugh at, lad. Why, once long ago…” He trailed off under the severity of the children’s stares, then looked down awkwardly at his mug.
Everyone else’s eyes returned to the bard, who cleared his throat and struck up that familiar-yet-unfamiliar tune again. “Now, where were we? They had run into the Marshes, encountered some goblins, learned that—”
“Too far!” cried the children, almost in unison.
“They had defeated the goblin patrol and were resting away from the goblin camp,” lisped the littlest boy.
“Ah!” nodded the bard. “Very well, then…as you well know, goblins are nothing to laugh at. Neither are the marshes to the southeast! There are clouds of midges that will suck your blood out, squelching mud that will suck your shoes off, and on top of that, everything looks the same so that your sense of direction is also sucked away…”
Written by GreyMaster
Be sure to join us tonight for the second episode right after LOTRO Players News.