MERSDAY THE 14TH DAY OF CHITHING, TA 2946
The Gold Hush Tavern
The lone woodman traveller, attracted by the sign over the steps down into the Gold Hush tavern, had made her shy way inside and was glad of the quiet gloom after the day spent amid the bustling throngs of Dale-town. Propping a great bow against the wall beside her she signed for an ale, ruefully counting out the meagre contents of her purse.
An hour later, with the traveller halfway through her jack of ale, a far more unusual figure entered. Tóki the Toymaker escorted none other than a little lady hobbit into the tavern, a sight no one in Dale-town had ever seen before, though all knew that a hobbit named Baggins the Burglar had been instrumental in the downfall of Smaug the dragon. Tóki introduced her to the dwarvish proprietor, Bavor the Broadbeam, as a daughter of the family that was going to plant a crop of their pipeweed in the farmlands right here in the Dale. (She was going to do no such thing.) Bavor was interested chiefly in tidings of Bilbo Baggins, and when the young lady admitted that she was some distant cousin of the Hobbiton Bagginses, she was soon sipping an ale on the house — which came in pints!
“Salvia Boffin of the Southfarthing in the Shire, at your service, mister Broad Bean,” she said, having misheard his name. “My friends call me Sally.”
“And I am Tóki Longbeard of the Iron Hills, known to the folk of Dale-town as Tóki the Toymaker.”
Looking to impress the hobbit lady, Tóki claimed that he and his relatives had also been involved in the slaying of Smaug. (They hadn’t.) And he proceeded to tell a tale of his own involvement the previous month in the retrieval of a hoard of dwarven gold from a secret vault hidden deep in the Lonely Mountain (which was true), as having gained him the ear of Dáin II Ironfoot, the King of the Dwarves himself, no less. (Which it hadn’t, really.) Proclaiming himself a ‘warden of Middle-earth’, Tóki said it was his calling to protect all the Free Peoples from the evils of the Shadow upon the land.
The traveller along the bar from them had silently been as impressed by Tóki’s inspiringly recounted tale as the hobbit, but a snort escaped her at this last.
“Can we offer you a drink, mistress?” offered little Sally, impeccably polite. “I don’t believe we caught your name…”
“Hush,” said the woodman woman.
“Your name,” whispered Sally, puzzled.
“I am Evina daughter of Edoric — from Rhosgobel to the west of Mirkwood — but people call me ‘Hush’. In Rhosgobel we know something of the Shadow, as you call it, master dwarf, but it is not a thing to be spoken of loudly, even in a bright town such as Dale.”
The three repaired to a discreet booth, where Tóki related that Framleiðandi the master toymaker to whom he had been apprenticed in the making of magical toys had also gone to some lengths to teach him lore of the insidious darkness which has its seeds in the very hearts of dwarves, elves and men.
“None know this better than the Woodmen of Mirkwood,” said Hush, soft but firm. “We live our whole lives within the forest where even the beasts and the trees have been twisted by the Shadow upon the land, roused through the evil of the Necromancer.”
Getting beyond the toymaker’s bluster, the two established that Framleiðandi and the wise folk of Rhosgobel had much lore in common, despite their different traditions. Sally looked from one to the other, agog at the dire talk so strange to her hobbit ears and wishing it wouldn’t have been rude to pull out her journal and make notes immediately.
Tóki explained his concerns about his master, who had not returned to Dale for three moons, and asked the two recent arrivals whether they had seen or heard anything of Framleiðandi upon the road—
“Quack!” said a voice from under the table.
Tóki reached into the sack under his chair and produced the most magnificent toy that Sally had ever set eyes upon. He placed upon the table a beautifully detailed wooden toy duck of exquisite workmanship.
“It sometimes does that,” said Tóki, and explained how his master had left this toy with the special instruction that it was for Tóki, who must keep it in his possession at all times. “I’ve no idea why it goes off when it does…”
“Quack!” said the duck again, in what was now recognizable as a dwarvish voice, and it flapped its wooden wings, twisting slightly on the tabletop.
“Ooh, how delicious!” exclaimed Sally. “And what is this strange writing on its collar?”
Tóki explained that they were the runes of the Angerthas Erebor, the writing system of the Lonely Mountain dwarves, but they just spelled out a piece of childish nonsense: WHAT FLOATS ON WATER?
“But don’t you see?” said Sally. “That’s a riddle that any hobbit-child would know! Wood floats on water, or very small rocks, or—” she lowered her voice conspiratorially, “witches!”
She quizzed Tóki at great length on everything he could remember of the toy duck’s previous behaviour, as it continued to quack periodically with Framleiðandi’s voice. Then with the distant ringing of the belltowers of Dale tolling the hour after sunset, it came to them. The duck had only ever ever come to life in the hours of darkness. They concluded that the magical duck was no common toy but a rare gift, possessing a power to detect the workings of sorcery.
“‘Morgûl’, that’s what its called by the Wise,” whispered Hush. “And in case you hadn’t noticed, the duck stopped turning on its wheels once it was pointing at that wall. There’s morgûl sorcery being worked right now, somewhere in that direction…”
The Docks Bow Drinking House
They drank off their ales and shouldered their belongings, Hush and Tóki making to hasten up the steps into the street, and the fascinated Sally Boffin could not but follow them. Then with a last moment thought, Tóki went over and held a whispered conversation with Bavor, rejoining the two womenfolk holding a mattock on his shoulder.
“Sometimes he has to break up tavern fights… I know, I’m as surprised as you are that he actually let me borrow it.”
Whenever Tóki set his duck down upon on a stone step or atop a low wall, its flappings — which were coming more often now — caused it to swivel on the spot until it was pointing the same direction. In this way the duck led them across Dale-town, over canals and past fountains, until they were in the Docks Quarter at the northernmost point of the bend in the River Running. When the duck turned and pointed back the way they had come, they narrowed in until they identified the focus of its attention to be a large and raucous drinking hall called the Docks Bow.
In the glow of the lamps within was a great press of lary Dale-man dock-workers, stevedores and labourers, sailors up from Lake-town, and caravan-guards in outlandish garb from far and wide. Sally baulked at the crowd of so many dangerous Big Folk, but Tóki and Hush on either side ushered her protectively in until they were lucky enough to see a party leaving a booth and shouldered their way in to the table where they could relax a little.
Tóki glowered worriedly across the hall at where a party was seated around a table near the great blazing hearth. “I don’t think he saw me, but I know that dwarf.” he said, tugging up his hood. “He calls himself ‘Captain’ Beil, and claims to be a leader of Iron Hills hireswords, but according to my friend Fjiar the Fearless he’s nothing but a thug and a brigand. Last I knew he was working for those outlander dwarves that had designs on the treasures of Thorfinn’s family, that I was telling you about earlier.”
Sally and Hush peered cautiously over at the eyepatched dwarf and the unsavoury-looking dwarf and the rough Dale-men who were his drinking companions, and believed everything Tóki said about them.
Keeping his hood up and his back to the hall, Tóki cautiously withdrew Framleiðandi’s duck, making sure to keep its bill closed this time. Its flapping came quicker now and its wooden wings beat higher, and it swivelled on the table until it was facing in one definite direction.
Sally stood up on the bench and peered cautiously over its back into the next booth for a few tense moments before dropping back to her seat and reporting. “There are just three men sitting there, not very well dressed and looking a bit glum. And beyond them is just the stone wall that carries along from the bar.”
Hush slipped from her seat without a word of explanation and wound her way through the crowd, hovering at the bar for a minute or two, and coming away again. “Through that wall is just a storeroom, with kitchen staff coming and going all the time. I don’t think there can be anything in there more evil than a ripe cheese.”
“Then it must be upstairs,” declared Tóki.
They would be in full view of Beil and his ruffians if they went up the stair and along the gallery to the half-dozen rooms (and the loft that was used as a flop-house by less discerning patrons), but that could not be helped. As they climbed the stair Hush stole a glance over at Beil’s table but saw no sign that any of them were watching at all.
The reason became plain after a few tense moments outside the closed door of the last room, when Tóki pushed open the door. No one was in there, and the sole inhabitant had left nothing more valuable than a tatty, mud-spattered woollen cloak on the back of the door.
When the duck was put on the floor it sat and flapped like before but without turning at all, even when pointed in several different directions.
Sally clambered up onto one of the beds and looked out of the window, and finally beheld something suspicious. The Docks Bow backed onto one of Dale-town’s canals where it had a small timber loading-wharf at the level of its ale cellar, and wooden steps leading up to a door at the back of the kitchen. Down on the wharf the dark shape of a man stood in front of the loading doors through which ale barrels were presumably unloaded from barges into the cellar. The man stood still as a tree, armed with a quarterstaff in his two fists held level before him. The source of evil must be in the cellars, with the eerily motionless man standing guard outside.
The three went back downstairs, passed out through the throng and back into the night-time street to slip into the alley beside the Docks Bow’s kitchen. Hush grimly strung her great bow and leaned out over the low wall at the alley’s end, saying it would be simple to reach out to the wooden railing and clamber to the top of the wooden steps. No sooner said than done, she swung out into space and hauled herself lightly over the railing. Flat to the wall, and with an arrow swiftly fitted to the bowstring she looked down the steps, but the man with the quarterstaff was oblivious to her, unmoving as ever.
Sally crawled up onto the low wall next, but she looked down at the surface of the canal ten feet below, and said there was no way she was going to do it. “Hobbits like to keep their feet firmly on the ground, and with good reason,” she insisted. Only with much cajoling did she allow Tóki to hold her under her arms and lean out into the empty air until Hush could grab her outstretched hands and pull her over to the railing. Tóki handed over his mattock and the sack containing the magical duck and his other toys, then followed robustly if without grace, and at length all three stood on the planks at the top of the steps.
“Right,” said Tóki, reclaiming his mattock. He gave a theatrical feigned hiccup, practiced a drunken little sway, and proceeded to clatter down the wooden steps. The man with the staff showed no sign of having noticed him at all (which was just as well, since his play-act was atrocious) until he advanced off the bottom of the steps.
The man turned mechanically, swinging his staff up until he held it upright in front of him. “No…” he said, in a flat and toneless voice.
Tóki advanced, holding his mattock as unthreateningly as he could.
“No…”, the man said, with exactly the same lack of tone again.
“They’ve sent me to get something from the cellar,” said Tóki, advancing with a mock stumble and heading to just push past the man. But the staff swung out at him, forcing him to block it with the haft of his mattock.
Hush spied a gleam of gold at the man’s throat. “He’s got a golden collar!” she cried incredulously. “Like that monster you said you fought in the tunnels of the Lonely Mountain.”
Unhesitating, Tóki swung the mattock in an overhead blow but completely missed his target, the weapon gouging into the wooden wharf.
“A golden collar? Then he is ensorcelled! Don’t kill him! We have to get the collar off him.”
And then Hush took her shot. As the man began to swing his quarterstaff a perfectly-placed arrow struck the wood and knocked it from his hands to tumble into the water of the canal.
“Turn him round!” cried Sally, holding up her skirts to hasten down the man-sized steps.
Tóki ducked under the man’s clumsy grasp and tried to roll past him, but managing nothing more than to sprawl to the decking beyond.
Ponderously the ensorcelled man turned and tried to punch down at the dwarf, but in that instant Sally jumped up on his back, reached for the golden torc and plucked it deftly from his neck.
“What the—” said the man, looking all around him with sudden vitality. “How the hell did I get here? I only went out for a p—”
“I think you need to get back to your friends in the pub,” said Tóki firmly. “Up those steps, but don’t go into the kitchen or you’ll have to explain yourself to them. Just hop over the railing and go round.”
Too confused to argue, the man complied and shambled off.
The Scene of the Crime
The loading doors of the Docks Bow’s cellars were barred from within, but the resourceful Sally said she could get them open. With the point of the knife from her bag she pried at the wooden bar through the crack between the doors and fraction by fraction edged it aside.
Hush stood ready with another arrow at the string, but even as Sally worked, she heard hurried footsteps on the other side of the door. “I think they’re getting away,” she whispered. “But I hear something else too. It sounds like a child crying.”
Sally finally edged the bar aside and Tóki barged through. He found himself in a cellar full of kegs and casks, and with an open door showing through to a second cellar lit by flickering yellow light.
In the second cellar room they found a young girl sobbing hysterically into a cloth gag, suspended by the wrists from the barrel-hoist of the trapdoor to the store-room above, with a circle of stinking tallow candles around her on the floor. She was dressed only in her shift, and long shallow wounds had been scored into her arms and legs, letting out much blood to pool on the stone flags beneath her. The child’s plight was a veritable horror to behold, but Tóki, Hush and Sally mostly felt relieved to have saved her.
Hush reached up and cut the poor girls’ bonds, letting her sag into Tóki’s arms. Removing her gag, Tóki recognized her as little Arnia, one of the children of Dale-town who spent half their lives peering in through the windows of Framleiðandi’s shop. He took a glove puppet from his sack and did his best to distract the poor waif from her suffering whilst a businesslike Hush dressed her wounds.
Inviting Arnia to talk to the puppet, Sally asked what had happened to her, and slowly the tale unfolded. Arnia had been kidnapped by three people, two dwarvish twins with short, straggly grey beards — “Dwîm and Dwîma!” exclaimed Tóki — and a tall man in black clothes whose face she never saw on account of his hood and the scarf across his face. When they hung her up on the hoist, one of the dwarves had chanted some horrible song in a language she didn’t understand while the man in black pushed up his sleeves, and she saw strange shapes painted all up his arms, and it had been him who had used a curvy-bladed knife to score the blood from her arms and legs. Then the chanting dwarf with the golden collar stopped, and started saying “No…” over and over, and moving his arms around strangely… And then he stopped doing that too and said a curse word, and said that they had to go. And the three of them just left.
Tóki and Hush caused some consternation when they went up the cellar steps and emerged in the Docks Bay’s kitchen. The landlord explained that he’d seen nothing of the girl before that moment (which meant she must have been taken into his cellars by way of the loading doors), but the cellar had been hired by three of his patrons who had paid handsomely in gold for privacy for the duration of the evening. They’d said they wanted more privacy than they had in their room up on the gallery, and the dwarves had said they wanted stone walls around them, so the landlord had taken their gold and let them use his cellar…
It turned out that these three had now gone out into the night, leaving their rooms empty despite having paid up front for a week’s lodging. And Captain Beil and his henchmen were also gone from the main drinking hall.
Though Tóki, Hush and Sally had foiled some deed of foul sorcery and rescued little Arnia from a ritual that might have taken her young life, they had no inkling as to what the sorcerous undertaking had hoped to achieve. That was a riddle they could not yet solve…