Having fled Tuckborough before there was enough daylight for the locals to lynch me, I’ve since headed east and now find myself in the burgh of Frogmorten.
Let me tell you about Frogmorten. If you were to…
1) Dig a crater.
2) Allow it to fill with stagnant water.
3) Build some dilapidated houses at the bottom.
4) Fill the houses with crazy people.
…you would have a place that – while not exactly a replica of Frogmorten – would be a place where existing Frogmorten residents would feel right at home.
The place is a soggy pit inhabited by strange-looking people that tend to stare a lot and speak very little. The “town square” is a sinkhole. No, really:
The place smells like the armpit of an Orc who just got done wrestling a wet skunk inside an outhouse for the last mildewed copy of “Stinkweed Farmer Quarterly.”
I’ve been here twice previously. Once when I delivered their mail, and again when I took away their rancid pie. (I think they were using it as an air freshener.) Both times it was murder getting out of the town.
There’s nothing going on in the main part of town. People have nothing to say to me and no jobs that need doing. In fact, I can’t see any justification for the town existing at all. They don’t seem to farm or produce any worthwhile goods. They could have built their homes about a bowshot to the south and had the same exact town, only drier. Apparently Frogmorten was founded when some Hobbits built homes in the mud so they could feed themselves and their descendants to the local mosquito population. I mean, these people have nothing going for themselves except for…
Ah. A tavern. That explains it. If you could manage to build a tavern in an erupting volcano, a town would spring up around it. This charming establishment is named The Floating Log, and is currently being renovated. Worker Hobbits are up on the roof, pounding away. I don’t know what’s wrong with the place, but I suspect it might have something to do with erecting a building in the mud, from mud.
Although, this is a fantasy setting. Maybe magic is involved?
Odds are the proprietor will have some sort of ale-brewing problem. Let’s stop in and see.
Ponto the barkeep greets me. “Welcome to the Floating Log!” he shouts above the din of people installing a fresh layer of mud on the roof. “I’m sure you’ll be wanting a a draught of my Toad’s Tongue brew, won’t you?”
“Is this some kind of dare? I generally don’t drink stuff named after things from inside of a toad’s mouth.”
A flash of recognition crosses his face, “Say, you’re the one who’s been helping people out around here, haven’t you?”
I nod slightly. Now, this is only technically true. I did indeed “help” Adelard last night, but I did so at the expense of everyone in town and the better part of the wildlife population. But still, if you can ignore all that collateral damage, someone was indeed helped. (Me. When he paid me.)
“You see, the four farthings brewing-moot is coming-,” I miss the rest of his sentence because I can’t hear him over the construction noise and the rhythmic thumping of me hitting my head against the bar. When I recover, he’s asking me to get him some hops.
“Okay…,” I say slowly, “So you want me to find a supplier and bring back some or…?”
“We use a special blend of hops. ‘Frog Hops’ we call it. It grows in the Marsh to the north.”
“So basically you want me to invent agriculture for you?”
“What? No, I just want you to go and find some…”
“Yeah, see. That’s your problem right there. If you’re ‘finding’ crops, you’re doing it wrong. A few thousand years ago somebody came up with the idea of planting stuff on purpose so you don’t have to go wandering around in the wilds looking for what you need. I’m actually a farmer myself. Give me ten or twenty minutes and I’ll grow you some.”
Ponto gives me a dumbfounded look.
“The whole ‘agriculture’ idea seems to be working out pretty well so far,” I assure him. “And it’s guaranteed to be more effective than telling your customers about the horrible things you put in their drinks before asking them to fetch you more.”
I think I’ve made a pretty good case, and I’m thinking maybe Ponto is going to check out this whole farming concept. But then he gets out his coin-purse and I realize I’m screwed.
“The hops you’re looking for grow in the Marsh just north of here,” he says as he counts coins into his hand, “but you’ll want to be careful. The toads get mean when you pick up the hops.”
“You forage for hops in a swamp?!?”
“No,” Ponto says, pouring the coppers onto the bar. “You do.”
I can’t argue with coppers, so off I go to reap the soggy harvest.
Ponto is right. The normally docile frogs go into some sort of blood rage when you walk outside with an intent to harvest hops. I don’t know how they know this, but they do. As a result, I end up fighting a goodly number of them.
I do have to question the wisdom of using this particular brand of hops in your ale recipe. Apparently the secret ingredient is swamp?
Back to Ponto.
I hand over a bushel basket of hops and he gives me 90 coppers. He also gives me a glass of his Toad’s Tongue ale, which I don’t drink. Last time I got drunk it ended badly. Moreover, I’m not about to drink his filthy frog-flavored swamp water. It’s not until I’m back outside that I realize how badly I was just ripped off. A bushel basket worth of of hops is worth a good bit more than the coppers, and that’s before you factor in the fighting.
So this isn’t going very well. I should probably clear out of town now, but Milo Hornblower has some work for me. Maybe he can redeem this sad, soggy trip.
Milo explains, “That Lobelia Sackville-Baggins has been telling everyone that she doesn’t think she should give out presents at her birthday party, that she thinks it more reasonable that she should be receiving them.”
This birthday present business is straight from the books: Hobbits give presents to everyone else on their birthday. Now, I would normally challenge the idea that Lobelia would attempt to overthrow this custom. The Sackville-Bagginses were abrasive and rude, but Lobelia was extremely traditionalist. In fact, one of the reasons she clashed so badly with Bilbo was because he was so outlandish.
But really, this is like any other situation where fanboys argue about how characters would behave in situations not covered by the book. Like debating what game console Harry Potter would buy or what the movie Tron would have been like if it had taken place in an Apple. It’s not worth squabbling over it because this sort of fanboy wanking makes both sides look bad.
“See, my plan was to teach her a lesson. I’ve been raising this toad to give to her as a present.”
“Toad?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.
Milo points to a scary huge cage he has sitting nearby. The door is open and the cage is empty.
Looking at the cage I reply in deadpan, “I can’t wait to find out how I can take part in this horrible plan of yours.”
“Yes, well. I’ve named the toad Lobelia, and the creature is quite as ornery as the original. She slipped loose today. I need you to go out and find her.”
“Into the swamp!”
“Now, she’s kind of afraid of the other toads, so you might have to clear a few of them out in order to get her to show.”
“You’re suggesting I won’t be able to locate a humongous toad unless I fight some smaller ones? And you think that once the place is littered with bludgeoned toad carcasses she will be more likely to show? And I guess we’re ignoring the fact that I was out there a few minutes ago and already fought a bunch of the foul little buggers?”
“Just chase her back into the cage when you find her!” Milo says unhelpfully.
I have to hand it to him: Spending years raising a huge dangerous animal just to insult someone takes a lot of courage and hard work. Then again, he’s asking me to do the difficult part. This is supposed to be an insult against Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, but I have a feeling I’m getting the worst of it.
I wade out into the muck and begin stomping on toads. Eight messy croaking deaths later…
Lobelia the toad appears.
Come on girl, back into your cage. This way. That’s right. That’s a good girl. Yeah. come here. Don’t worry. I won’t hurt-
Ow! Hey! What the hell? Okay. I take it back. I am totally going to hurt you now.
Lobelia might be scared of these tiny little toads, but she’s not worried about me. She hops over and starts a scuffle.
This is bad. If I kill the toad, will Milo still pay up?
Thankfully, a few good smacks is all it takes to get Lobelia to back down and return to her cage. Milo pays up and I am once again unemployed.
Nobody else is hiring. Apparently being smelly and damp all day doesn’t produce the kind of economic juggernaut necessary for hiring adventurers. Employment-wise, this place is a dry hole.
A deep muddy swamp is the worst place, methinks,
for the finding of stuff to put in our drinks.
But in the town of Frogmorten, that’s just what they serve.
You can try it yourself. (If you’ve got the nerve.)
The barkeep is famous for his boggy old brew.
The patrons are asking, “Does this taste froggy to you?”
“Why did I come here?” I find myself grieving.
Well, I came to get paid. Which I did. So I’m leaving.
Next Time: Anywhere but here…[folder_nav]