The barman catches your eye as you walk in through the door. The inn is smoky today with the blue smoke of the fire curling up and almost obscuring the carefully carved wooden ceiling. The barman gestures towards the end of the bar, furthest from the door and in a more private area. There is a hobbit sitting there on a tall stool with his feet dangling some way off the floor and a mug of beer in his hand. As you watch The hobbit takes a long pull from his mug and carefully places the, now presumably empty tankard in amongst a growing forest of tankards before gesturing to a pretty bar maid. There is a pack next to the bar with an unstrung bow and quiver of arrows carefully wrapped in an oil skin propped up against the bar next to him.
“He came in a couple of hours ago,” says the barman, “Didn’t say anything but just ordered a drink and sat at the end of the bar. Never seen him like this if you follow me, normally he comes in, dishes out some of his pipeweed and sits by the fire, with a tankard of course, to listen to some of the tales that are floating around. But today,” the barman shakes his head with a look of concern “I dunno, maybe it’s nothin’ I know what you adventurin’ types are like. But he’s drunk an awful lot, not that I’m complainin’ mark you, wouldn’t want you to think I was complainin’, he’s almost doubled the nights take by himself, but, I remember him falling over after Renkosi gave him some of the “induction” brew and I always thought he didn’t have a head for it.”
“Forgive me sir, forgive me, but I my mouth runs off with me if I’m not careful. Forget me own head if it wasn’t screwed on, or so me wife keeps telling me. It’s just that he’s drunk upwards of sixteen halves now, and still seems to be stone cold sober. The only thing I’ve seen in him is that he’s talking with a bit of exaggerated care and his movements are very….careful if you follow me?
What was that?
No Sir, he’s not caused any trouble, not started an fights or anything like that, it’s just been a while since I’ve seen anyone, being on such a quest to get so utterly drunk before.
Thank you sir, I’ll leave it in your capable hands.
No sir, I call every customer sir, regardless of whether they’re male or a girl.”
During the conversation the hobbit has finished his drink and has ordered another. Seeing you approach he climbs down off his stool, bows and pulls over another stool before climbing back onto his own, with a sigh.
“Thank goodness,” he says. “If there is one thing I absolutely despise, it’s drinking alone,” he waves to attract the barmaids attention, holding up two fingers and then carefully counting out some money to pay.
“My name’s Denegar,” he says “I’m sorry if we’ve been introduced before but I’ve met so few people that I find it best to introduce myself again anyway just to be sure that people haven’t forgotten me. Also,” he says waving his hands in front of his face “I’m a little drunk and am having some difficulty focusing.”
He is speaking slowly carefully biting off each word and taking care that no single syllable is missed.
There is a long pause as the two of you drink your drinks in silence.
“You know something,” he says after a while, still speaking carefully “I’ve always wanted to be a bounder. As far back as I can remember. My old dad was a bounder and his dad was before him as well. I’m told that my ancestor was one of the first bounders called up to tread the bounds and that he trod the borders of the shire when doing so still meant more than just delivering the mail and carrying grain. Back when you carried a club, and knew how to use it.
I remember dad telling me stories about what it was like to be a bounder, about how he’d spent his days sleeping under stars, travelling down to Woodhall and up to Needlehole, meeting Dwarves and Elves, chasing off Big people poachers. He would spend whole evenings with my brother sat on the stool nest to us and me on his lap when we were young telling of his adventures and later, when we were older, about how important it was that the bounders continue the great and noble tradition of “beating the bounds” and how very proud he would be if we, his sons would continue in his footsteps.”
Denegar sighs and frowns at his empty tankard and stares at it mournfully until the barmaid refills it in return for some more money.
“So what was I to do? I liked the look of a bow that was available down the market, and went off in search of rabbits that were disrupting the crops and foxes that would be stealing the chickens from the hatchery. Imagine, if you will the sight of a young hobbit, not yet in his tweens, creeping through the weeds and trying ineffectually to be quiet. I must have cut a truly ridiculous figure, but my father was full of praise and being about as impressionable as a small ball of slightly warm wax, I lapped it up.
Then I was a bounder. I got a nice new cape, which I soon decided not to wear as it regularly tangled in bushes and caught between my legs and a fine hat with a feather in it. I only had two goals in that time and place. The first was to receive the second feather and the second was to please my father.
Looking back it’s easy to see how I got to where I am. I always saw, being a bounder as being a force to protect the shire, to make sure that those young hobbits in Hobbitton and Bywater could live carefree lives and live to grow old, but I wonder now if I’ve gone too far. I started off running the mail and making sure that the crops were protected. Then as my skills grew I went up against bigger foes and before I knew where I was I seemed to be caught up in some of the great events of my time.
But I’m scared, truly and honestly terrified. Not of death although that holds its own fear but I can’t really say that I’m afraid of dieing. I’m more afraid of what I am becoming.”
Denegar stops for a long while and just stares into space. When he starts talking again his voice seems distant as though the words are just bubbling up to the surface without any conscious effort. There is now no sign at all of the alcohol in his voice.
“The other day I was in Dol Dinen in the North Downs. I had been restless in camp, surrounded by all those big important people I just felt a little out of place. So I took my bow and decided to go and hunt some wargs. Just to keep my hand in and get some fresh air. So there I was, stalking creatures that in another life I wouldn’t have dreamed I would ever face and I came across something that I did not expect.
As I was hidden in a bush a little way up the hill I was looking down towards an orc camp and I heard a scream. Carefully I crept along the ridge and saw something that turned my stomach. Three Goblins were standing over someone. I think it was a man but I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t honestly tell whether it was a man or an elf, it was too tall for a hobbit or Dwarf, but I couldn’t even tell if it was male or female. The reason for this was that the three goblins were hacking bits off with these horrible serrated curved knives and passing the bits too each other whereupon they were eating them. Eating them with relish.
I didn’t stop to think. My bow was already strung. I fired a hail of arrows into the air and at first they were confused and stood gaping at me before the biggest one pointed at me with his knife and snarled something at the others. For his trouble I sent an arrow into his throat. The others attacked. One fell down with an arrow through the thigh, but the other was almost upon me with his knife raised over my head ready to plunge the blade down and end me, before I was able to finally kill him. The one that had fallen opened his mouth to scream but I had my axe out and nearly decapitated him.
I didn’t stop to think. I didn’t plan my assault and lure them away, I just acted. My father would have been ashamed and I dread to think what he would have done when he heard of my death.
When I got to the body, it was so obviously dead that I didn’t bother checking for signs of life, instead I just knelt there and wept without thinking of where I was or the dangers that surrounded me.”
Denegar shakes himself and puts the mug he’s been holding down.
“I hated them so much. I still hate them. When I think of those Goblins, and the Orcs that sent them and….and whoever it was that sent them. I hate them and I want them to die. If I have a hand in that then so much the better, but I hate them. It’s like a red haze that obscures my vision and all I want to do is hear the song of my bow string as I aim my arrows at the things that make me feel this way.
“But I’m a hobbit, what business is it of mine to hate anything. All I ever wanted was to be a bounder and protect the borders of our little land and keep my people safe, but here I am miles away from the shire hunting wargs and goblins and hating them with every fibre of my being.
But I look around and there are so many others out here that need my help and if I go home there will be gaps in the line and foes to fight that would have fallen by my arrows and then more people will die like the shapeless thing that I found at the mercy of the goblins.
But I hate them. Does this make me as bad as them?
I don’t know the answer to that question and I suppose that I will never will.”
He stops again before shaking his head.
“I am truly sorry my friend. I have no doubt that you came here for a quiet drink and some more cheerful company than mine. I will bid you good night, safe travels and I hope that we meet again in happier times.”
Denegar puts on his cloak and pack and picks up his bow. As he does so you see him put on something else, it is an attitude, or a frame of mind and when he looks at you again he is smiling.
“Thank you for listening, I’m not sure that it has helped but I needed to get that off my chest. Fare well and have another drink on me.”
Denegar waves to the barmaid and you seem him exchange a joke with another patron before stepping out into the night.