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Tall Tales  by Misty

"So there I was, lost in the darkness under the mountain. No dwarves, no wizard, no friendly beings anywhere nearby to help me." Bilbo smiled at the rapt expression of wide-eyed wonder on the face of the boy in front of him. Young Estel was such an attentive audience, all a storyteller could hope for. He continued his tale. "Then, out of the darkness, a slimy creature named Gollum approached me in a boat. He was looking for his next meal, but when he saw that I was armed and no easy prey, he decided not to attack immediately. I told him that I was lost and needed to find my way out. At that, he proposed a challenge. We would exchange riddles until one of us was unable to answer the question posed by the other. If he won, he got to eat me, but if I won, he would show me the way out."

When Bilbo paused for effect, Estel asked, "What did you do?"

"Well, I agreed, of course," Bilbo answered. "I had no doubt I could defeat him in a war of wits, and I did not have another choice." Bilbo went on to enthrall Estel's imagination with the tale of 'The War of the Riddles', as he had come to call it. At last, he recited Gollum's last riddle.

//'This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.'//

"Any fool would know that the answer to that was Time," Bilbo scoffed. "So then it was my turn again. The question I asked him was rather a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. I asked him 'What have I got in my pocket?' "

"But that's not a proper riddle!" Estel burst out. "You cheated!"

"I most certainly did not," Bilbo said indignantly. "Gollum agreed to it as long as I gave him three chances to guess. You should show more respect for your elders. Now, should I continue the story, or stop?"

"I'm sorry," Estel apologized. He still thought that it was not a proper riddle, but he wanted to hear what had happened. "Please continue."

Bilbo nodded to himself at the apology, then picked the story up where he had left off. "Gollum's first guess was hands, which was incorrect. Next, he guessed a knife, which was also wrong. For the last attempt, he snuck in two guesses; string, or nothing, both wrong. With that, Gollum lost the game."

"What did he do then?" Estel asked.

"What could he do? He lost so he showed me the way out." Bilbo left out much of the story, not wanting to tell him of the invisibility ring.

Estel frowned, feeling that there was something missing in the tale, but chose to let it go. "So what was in your pocket?"

Bilbo gave him a sly smile. "That, my lad, is a tale for another day."



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