It’s very late in the day. I’m in the town of Budgeford, where Odovacar Bolger is trying to entice me into dealing with a Black Rider problem he’s having. Apparently his farmhands spotted a rider prowling around his lands last night.
Odovacar explains, “Yes. See, I’ve been thinking of selling this property to Lotho Sackville-Baggins. And now that Black Riders are showing up I’m even more keen to move. But I’d like you to check it out for me.”
I look uneasily over to where he said the rider appeared. “I’ll bet you would. Look, you’ve got the wrong girl. If you have a musical problem, I can help. Need a poem? I’m here for you. Robbers? Bears? Spiders? I can solve those too, although I’ll complain about it. But Black Riders are way out of my league. If you want help, you should ask…,” I trail off for a second. “You know, I don’t even know who you’d ask about this. Elves I guess? But then you’d have an Elf problem, and they’re almost as bad.”
“Look”, Odo says in a slightly panicked voice, “Just keep a look-out during the night and see what shows up, okay?”
“Fine. But if it’s really a Black Rider I’ll probably just run away and not come back.”
“What good does that do me?” Odo says, exasperated.
I fold my arms. “What’s the job pay?”
“Would you like to shop around and see if you can find someone else willing to face Black Riders for 90 coppers? I’m willing to wait.”
“Fine!” he says in a huff.
So, now I just have to wait for night to fall and see if our Rider shows up.
The sun goes down. Once night has settled, I walk around town and see if I can spot any dangerous immortal wraiths prowling about. Eventually I reach Odo’s pig sty.
You have got to be kidding me.
He’s no rider, unless he rode in on a pig. He’s a Hobbit stomping around in the pigsty, draped in a black cloak and saying things which would sound ominous if they were coming from someone who wasn’t four feet tall and covered in pig shit.
I can’t, in good conscience, put a stop to this. I have witnessed many stupid and absurd things since I returned to the Shire, but this scene is by far the most heartwarming. A young Hobbit terrorizing a town in the name of a good prank.
Anyway, you take the cloak back to Odo and after a bit of running around you get Fogo’s name and you go and question him. You learn that he was paid to haunt the land by someone called “The Chief.” In the end, it’s all a plot to scare Odo into selling his land.
Which means that this entire quest has basically the same plot as every episode of Scooby-Doo.
Well, I can’t bring myself to ruin a good jape like this one. But if I’m still here in the morning Odo will expect me to give some sort of report, and I can’t very well lie to him. Which means I need to leave town. Again.
Let’s check the map…
Oh, my. I’m quickly running out of towns where I can show my face.
So I skulk out of town, grab some sleep, and then head into the town of Overhill.
This is an odd town. It’s right on the edge of the woods and dedicated almost entirely to logging, but that’s not what makes it odd. No, the odd thing is that they have no tavern. It’s actually kind of creepy. How do these people find the will to get out of bed and stand in front of their houses all day without a nice tavern nearby?
Oh sure, that might look like a tavern, but it’s actually a warehouse and a tanners. No ale. A tanner, I might add, is the one odor that can make me nostalgic for the springtime fresh scent of Frogmorten.
Well, let’s walk around town and see who needs my help…
“Hi, I have a problem with bears and…”
“No thanks. Next!”
“I was delivering my cart when suddenly spiders-“
“Hi. I need you to deliver this list to the Shire homesteads.”
“The Shire post is working again,” I tell her. “You can just mail it.”
“I’d really rather you delivered it. I’ll pay 2 silver, and 88 coppers,” she tells me.
A little-girl squeal escapes my lips. I slam my hand over my mouth, but the damage is done. Nobody has ever offered me this much cash for a single job. I’ve fought savage animals, killed bandits, buried dead bodies, and humiliated myself in public, and not once has anyone offered my more than 90 coppers. Now this lady is putting up more than thrice that just to carry a letter? I realize she’s probably screwing me. I’ll probably get there and find out the letterbox is guarded by cave troll riding a warg who is riding a dragon. But for this sort of dosh I can afford to take on something stupid.
She hands me the letter and sends me on my way. It’s a long hike, but it’s peanuts compared to some of the mail runs. I have to go to the homesteads just south of Mike Delving.
It turns out that the surprise twist is that … there is no surprise twist. I take the letter. I come back. She pays me.
Maybe I’ve stumbled on some special non-crazy town. Maybe the town of Overhill is a sane place with reasonable jobs for decent pay. This is worth checking out.
Okay, let’s check back with the bear guy and see what his story is.
Everard begins his tale, “I’d just killed a deer with my lucky sling stone when a bear grabbed it and dragged it off.”
“Okay. So … you want me to go and kill you another deer?”
“No! I don’t care about the deer! I want my lucky stone back.”
“Wouldn’t the stone be on the ground near where the deer fell?”
“No. Like I said, the bear made off with it.”
“So – and I’m just trying to get a picture of what I’m up against – the bear grabbed your deer. Maybe it put the deer under one arm or something? And then grabbed your stone off the ground using its opposable thumbs, put the stone in the pocket of its trousers, and went home?”
“Don’t make up ridiculous stories!” he snaps at me.
“You started it.”
“Look, I need my lucky sling stone to hunt.”
I reach down and pick up a pebble near his foot, “There you are. That will be 90 coppers.”
“No!” he says in a whiny voice, “I need my lucky sling stone. I can’t hunt without it.”
“So you’re asking me to believe that you can kill a full grown deer by throwing a rock at it. But only one particular rock? Have you at least tried other rocks? I mean, just for laughs?”
Well, 90 coppers for killing a bear isn’t bad. This is a far cry from getting almost 3 silver for just running a letter, but it’s still better than the last couple of towns. Everard gestures to the north indicating where I can find the bear and I head up the hill into the Bindbole wood.
Okay. Progress is slow. I’m only halfway up the hill and I’ve had to kill a few bears just in self defense.
Ah. A waterfall. I must say that of all the places I’ve traveled to poach bears in the Shire, this is by far the most scenic. Although, I’m not entirely clear on where the water is coming from? Shouldn’t there be a river up there?
Anyway, hopefully it will be more easygoing from here.
Oh, come on. A squad of bears is camping the entrance to the valley. If I just charge in I’ll have to fight them all, which is a great way to end up a bear snack.
Eventually I make it over the hill, but the bear I’m supposed to assassinate is still a ways off. But now I have to push through a bear den? With cubs?
One dead family of bears later, and I’m looking up another hill. According to the map, I must be getting close now. This job stopped being worth it about ten dead bears ago, but if I backed out now I’d get nothing. I need to finish the job so that I can get my promised next to nothing.
I push up the last hill and through a tight choke point to reach a broad cave that contains the dear carcass.
I have to search a rotting, half-eaten deer carcass to get Everard’s lucky stone. If I’m very lucky, I won’t puke my guts out.
I don’t think this stone is as lucky as Everard says it is.
I stagger back out of the cave and find that the valley is once again filled with a great herd of evenly distributed bears. I cut a path in, but I guess they … called for reinforcements? Or something?
Down the hill. Through the den. Up the hill. Past the waterfall. Down the hill into town.
Total bear casualties: 20.
I hand the sling stone over to Everard. He smiles, “Thank you friend, I don’t know what I would-“
“TWENTY BEARS!” I scream in his face, “I killed twenty bears so you could have this stupid rock. You’re lucky I don’t run you through!”
“I knew it! My sling stone is lucky!” he cheers. He hands me my coppers.
I suppose we’d best get this out of the way…
People want to see bears dead.
But I’d rather sing a song instead.
I don’t take pride in bears destroyed,
But it’s what I do. (When employed.)
I’d rather sing to show my skills,
But killing bears? It pays the bills.
Now I’m a hunter of distinction:
I’ll drive these bastards to extinction.
Well, it looks like Overhill is not a magical place where people hand out huge sums of money to perform simple tasks. Worse, there’s only one job left in town…
Next time: Along came a spider…[folder_nav]
Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels.