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In the Court of the High King  by Dreamflower

Chapter 20 

After the judgement was rendered, the hobbits of the embassy left the Citadel. Mistress Poppy and Viola had been invited to take luncheon with several of the staff from the Houses of Healing, and Lord Hiril and Master Calembel wished to meet with Mosco to discuss hobbit buildings and how they might be adapted for the new Citadel in Annúminas.

Freddy was feeling somewhat at loose ends; now that they'd seen Dago and Clodio sentenced, he wondered what sorts of duties remained to the rest of them. At any rate, he thought perhaps they might want to do something to take their minds off the serious business. Yes, it had worked out well--King Elessar's decisions were decidedly fair and very reasonable--but until it had become official this morning, Freddy had still been more worried than he had realised. Beri clapped him on the shoulder. "I think we need to go have a celebration that this unpleasantness is over with, don't you?"

"I could not agree more," said a familiar, but decidedly non-hobbit voice. Freddy and Berry turned to see Menelcar standing by them. Jolly, Rolly and Denny looked dubious at the Man's interruption.

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Menelcar," said Jolly, "but the last Man who went off with us to celebrate had to be carried off home."

Menelcar laughed. "I heard about that. But then I know better than to try to keep up with hobbits drinking; I have more experience of your people than most, you know. I heard about Master Calembel's, er, unfortunate mishap at the Cat." He smiled. "I know an inn none of you has been to yet."

Freddy chuckled. "Very well, Master Menelcar, we shall follow you to?"

"The Tree and Fountain," he replied. "It's a brand new inn in the Fourth Circle, and quite popular with the Guardsmen."

Freddy waved his hand, "Lead on, Master Menelcar, and we shall follow."

The Tree and Fountain was very clearly a brand new inn; the lower part was built of the white stone one found everywhere in the City, but the upper part was half-timbered, and the beams were black against the crisp whitewash of the upper part. In Bree or Edoras it would have been thatched, but here in Minas Tirith it was roofed with slate tiles; thatching was not allowed inside the City walls. Hanging beside the door was a sign with a representation of the White Tree, though it bore no stars above it. Just below was a very small fountain splashing in a stone basin.

So early in the afternoon, the inn was not crowded. A few Guardsmen were clearly lingering over a meal after having come off-duty, and a few craftsmen or tradesmen were doing likewise.

Two elderly Men were over by the dartboard, and from the jibes they exchanged were clearly old friends playing for drinks. The hobbits found a nearby table as Menelcar fetched their drinks from the tapman, and placed an order for pork pasties for the table. He returned to the table to find them watching the game with raised eyebrows.

Menelcar grinned at the hobbits. "I daresay you think that a rather silly game; from what I understand, darts is a much different game in the Shire."

"Our board is much different," said Freddy diplomatically. "This one is much larger."

The serving maid came and placed the platter of pasties on the table, and a plate of small spicy-smelling cakes as a courtesy.

"And much easier to hit," the minstrel chuckled. "I remember an evening at The Golden Cockerel when some people learned the value of a hobbit's sharp eye and true aim."

Berilac, who had just taken a deep draught from his cup, put it down and swallowed, as he reached for one of the pasties. "I sense a story here," he said with a grin. "Do tell."

Menelcar laughed. "You sound so much like your cousin Merry sometimes, if I closed my eyes I could swear you were him." He sat back casually, and took a sip of his own beer first. "It is a long story. I have to wet my whistle first, as Master Samwise would say...

Shortly after the King's Companions had moved into that guesthouse that you now occupy, I was there visiting after supper with Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam. Legolas and Gimli were there as well, when there was a knock at the door. It was Targon and Beregond. This was before Aragorn had passed judgment on Beregond, so he was still in the City. The two had come to invite Pippin to join them at the tavern for a few drinks, and when they saw everyone who was there, it was decided to make up a party of all of us...

We were quite a jolly party, and of course, Beregond, Targon and I benefited greatly by being in the company of those heroes! Our table was treated to a number of rounds; we were certainly in no danger of going thirsty.

But not all were paying attention to our group. There was a crowd near the other end of the tavern who were intent on something else; every once in a while a shout would go up from that corner of the room. Gimli and the hobbits could not see what was going on.

Pippin stood upon the table and craned his neck. "They are throwing something at the wall--I think perhaps they are throwing darts!" He sounded excited, and bounced a little on his toes. "Darts!" He grinned down at his cousins and Sam. "Darts?"

Merry grinned back, and Sam was also smiling broadly. Frodo chuckled and said, "Have fun, lads. But no wagering!"

"Spoilsport!" Merry grumbled, but good-naturedly, and the hobbits slipped away from the table and headed over towards the crowd. Needless to say, the rest of us followed along to see. The hobbits quietly pushed their way through to the front of the crowd, but the rest of us stayed to the back; Gimli followed Pippin's example and stood upon a table to get a better view.

They told us later they were shocked at the size of the dartboard; they could not believe how large the target was, nor how the players were trying to hit the bull's eye in the centre.

The round ended, and a shout went up, and then as we watched various wagers being settled among the onlookers we heard Pippin's voice pipe up. "How do you score?" he asked.

There was a long silence as the crowd realized the famous halflings were among them, including the Ernil i Pheriannath. Then the winner of the previous match began to explain. I am afraid he made the mistake of sounding as though he was explaining the game to young children, and Gimli was the one who voiced what we were all thinking: "Uh-oh."

Then we heard Merry's voice. "Do you suppose that we might try it? Perhaps we could play the winner?"

"I suppose," said the Man, "that you could give it a try. Would you like to practice a bit first? And perhaps we should move the board lower and the oche--the line you stand behind--a little closer?"

"Oh no," said Pippin looking down at the chalk line marked upon the floor, "we wouldn't like to put you to all that trouble. It's just a bit of fun, after all."

We began to hear the murmur of wagers being placed, and all of us looked at one another. I think all of us in our group had seen enough of hobbit skill and accuracy to know what would happen--but most in the crowd were naturally wagering on the fellow who had just won his match. They clearly thought that the game was a novelty for the pheriain, and were not finding those who would risk wagering on the "little ones", as they were saying. It was Legolas who first spoke, saying "Of course I must take the part of my young friends. I will take your wager."

"And I," said Gimli.

The rest of us showed similar solidarity in upholding the honour of the hobbits. Most of the takers thought we were simply doing it out of loyalty to our friends, but that did not keep them from being willing to take our money. Of course, we did not disabuse them of their notions.

It scarcely took a few moments for the wagers to be offered and taken, and then the group grew silent as the previous winner stood up to the oche, and we heard the first dart hit. It was a twenty, and landed in the outer green ring, which doubled it; the other two landed very close to the bull's eye but not within it--nevertheless, he had a respectable score.

Merry stepped up to the line. He hefted the darts in his hand, and said "These are a bit larger and heavier than the ones we use in the Shire." Then with a motion nearly too quick for the eye to follow, he threw the first one. It struck loudly and soundly in the bull's eye. Two more followed, so that the three darts were clustered in the very centre. "Not bad," said Merry to a stunned silence. He glanced up at the scorekeeper who stood by the slate and had just dropped his chalk, and said, "Would you remove them please, so that my cousin can throw? I am afraid we can't reach the board."

Pippin did not wait an instant to take his turn as soon as Merry's darts had been removed. He did not throw so quickly as Merry had, and his throws seemed almost careless; nevertheless he repeated his cousin's feat. "You're right, Merry, they are a bit heavier--makes them stick harder!" Indeed, the scorekeeper had to tug a bit to remove Pippin's darts, and when he did, it was clear that the cork was damaged.

There was more total silence, and I could see that Targon and Beregond looked somewhat worried that the crowd might grow nasty. I suppose if it had been anyone else who had done such a thing, it probably would have, but Gondorians all had a soft spot for the four small heroes, and especially for their Ernil i Pheriannath. The former winner began to chuckle, and then he said, "My lords, I concede the match! I see that you are not strangers to the game after all."

Laughter broke out, and the losers were soon coming to pay us all off, looking rueful but not grudging. We heard Pippin answer: "Well, in a way. This isn't quite how we play it at home; this is a bit too easy for hobbits."

Legolas and Gimli used their winnings to buy rounds of drink for the house. Targon, Beregond and I pocketed ours. Then we sat and drank and watched as all four hobbits demonstrated their own way of playing darts and throwing trick shots. Even Frodo participated in that; it was a very memorable evening. I recall Frodo's wink to us as he saw us pocketing our purses. "I don't care for wagering, but I daresay that this group of Men has learned not to underestimate hobbits!"

The hobbits were all laughing and shaking their heads. "You told that well, Menelcar," said Freddy, "I could just see it happening."

"I can imagine the look on Frodo's face," said Berilac. "His jaw all prim and proper and his eyes full of mischief!"

Jolly laughed even harder at that. "Oh my, I do recall seeing that look on Mr. Frodo's face a time or two myself."

The Men who had been playing finished their round, and the loser was buying the drinks. The hobbits went over to claim the dartboard, and suddenly all eyes were on them.

They inspected the board with great interest. It was at least twice as large as the board they used in the Shire, and the outer bands alternated between wider ones and narrower ones of red and green. The dartboards they used at home had outer bands that grew progressively narrower the further out they went from the bull's eye in the centre. But the numbers around the board were similar, from one to twenty, but placed randomly rather than consecutively.

Noting the chalk line on the floor designating the place to stand, they realised it was somewhat closer to the board than in the Shire, but as Menelcar had mentioned in his tale, the board was higher up than they were used to.

The hobbits passed the darts around to get the feel of them, and then agreed among themselves that Freddy and Berilac would go first. Men chose the one to throw first by seeing who came closest to the bull's eye, but the two hobbits tossed a coin instead, and Freddy won the throw. He glanced around at the crowd who had begun to gather to watch, and glanced up at Menelcar. "Menelcar, Merry and Pip were right about retrieving the darts. Would you do us the favour?"

The minstrel nodded and went over to stand by the board so that he could pull out and return their darts. He recalled his amazement when he had observed how hobbits did this in the Shire. The audience was in for a surprise.

"Freddy, it will be too easy to just call the numbers. Why don't I call colour as well?" asked Beri.

Freddy nodded.

"Red six, green fourteen, red eight."

Freddy threw quickly, hitting the red and green bands within the numbered sections Berilac had called. He turned to Beri. "Red one, red five, green eleven!"

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Each one was precisely placed. Menelcar wrote the score on the slate that hung on the wall, and pulled out the darts. He noted with amusement that Jolly, Rolly and Denny had placed wagers among themselves, and clearly the astonished Men in the crowd were beginning to do so as well.

The game continued for quite a long while. Neither hobbit had missed at all, and the score remained even. They had paused a few times to have a drink, but then went back to the game. Menelcar wondered how much longer they would play--when he heard a rumble. Ah! It was nearly time for tea. If they were hungry they would want to finish.

Freddy gave Berilac a mischievous look. "Red seven, Red six, Red five."

Beri gave Freddy an annoyed look, and took a little more time to place the three darts all in a row. Then he smirked at him. "Green seventeen, green seventeen, green seventeen!"

Freddy's jaw dropped. Getting all three in the same space would be difficult, though not completely impossible--he'd once seen Sam Gamgee make a shot like that. He took a deep breath, focused, and threw. The three darts were closely clustered together, but were all of them in the same section?

"Menelcar?" he asked.

The minstrel pulled them out one by one: "Green seventeen, green sixteen..."

There was a whoop from Rolly and Denny, who had wagered on Berilac with Jolly who had bet on Freddy. Jolly paid up, and the three of them went up to claim the board for themselves. As for Freddy and Beri, they went back to the table and ordered large bowls of stew, and a platter of bread, cheese and pickles.


Author's Note: The events in this chapter were briefly mentioned in Chapter 7 of "Testaments of the Past" co-written by Gryffinjack and myself.

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