Chapter Four: The Frog’s Arm Inn
Anna shivered. She felt heavy and the light in the glade seemed to have dimmed. “What does it all mean?” she asked in a small voice.
“Haven’t you been listening?” said the red-bearded dwarf named Fidril. “The man Lytton has cursed Westerpond and we are returning you, the rightful heir, to the throne because a prophecy told us that it could happen this way.”
“But I’m not special, I’m just a little girl.”
“No,” said Bondril, “you are not just a little girl. You are the princess meant to fulfill the prophecy. With the help of your little firebreather there, and us, your dutiful servants, you’ll save the kingdom; your kingdom.”
“But what about my family?” Anna’s eyes welled up with sudden tears as she remembered her mother and father, and her friend Cinder. And what of their cat, and the bakery, and all those villagers who enjoyed her parent’s pasteries? ‘They must be so worried right now’, she thought. They are always telling me to stay in town and out of danger.
Bondril took Anna by the hand, ignoring Cornelio’s snarl. “Anna, your parents will come and join you in the castle in Westerpond. But in the meantime, I do believe our good friend Aletar, has told them what has become of you, and why you were so quickly taken, and about when they might see you again. He is a comforting fellow, and I think he shall calm all their fears.”
“Eltar? Who is that?” asked Anna.
Bondril smiled, ”Aletar is the wizard who gave you your dragon. He is a wonderfully good and wise wizard, and I think he will be joining us later on our journey.”
“Oh,” said Anna. She had liked the wizard even though he was so very old and equally odd. She was comforted in knowning that she might see him again, although she did not know quite why she felt so kindly towards him.
As they talked, the sun sank low in the sky and the shadows of the glade deepened and stretched. Bondril gestured to the other dwarfs to start setting up camp. After Dordil and Fidril built a fire and put on water to boil for tea and stew, they all settled around it and began to sing some strange song that Anna could not understand. It was a slow magical song, but it did not seem sad; just very slow and dreamy and peaceful. The dwarfs’ deep voices carried the tune on late into the night after supper was finished and the tents were set and Anna lay warmly tucked into one by herself with Cornelio stationed at her feet watching the entry. The song went up with the smoke from the campfire and drifted into the trees and out away over the forest. Small soft animals perked up their ears to listen, and dark crawling things burrowed deeper into their holes to hide from the song. Nothing dared to attack the camp that night, and for a long time after the dwarfs and Anna had moved on—and indeed, long after their tale ended—the glade stayed peaceful and warm to all who stayed the night in that place.
Over the next several days, the party of eight made their way south through green forests and over small streams. Anna rode more comfortably now on the pack pony. At first, Bondril was going to have Anna share a pony with Lidril, who was the smallest of the dwarfs. But Anna—having been one of those very lucky girls who recieved a pony for her eighth birthday and as such had become quite an accomplished rider—insisted that she could ride by herself. (Indeed Anna could do many things quite well for a ten year old, as you will see. For you must remember she was a princess.) Fidril split the packpony’s load up between his own and Lidril’s pony, and that gave Anna just enough room to settle in comfortably between potatoes and dried garlic. Cornelio perched on the pony’s head, right between its ears. The pony did not seem to mind. After all, this was a dwarf’s pony, one that was used to moving through underground caverns. A tiny green dragon sitting between its ears was not the worst thing it had ever experienced.
The group saw few people, although they did come across a few wild woodsmen everynow and then, but these men liked their privacy and usually shooed them away at first sight. They also saw many wild animals, but these, even more than the woodsmen, liked their privacy and they shooed themselves away before the group ever got near. Anna saw many weird creatures flit and fleet before her eyes. She even fancied she saw a gold tiger, bright as the sun, before it ran away quicker than thought.
Presently, on the fifth day of their southward journey, they found themselves arriving in the town of Greensmead. Calling it a town was rather generous though as it had at most a dozen buildings and only three times as many people. However, the village did have inn (as all villages did in those days) called the Frog’s Arm Inn. It was here that the dwarves decided to stay for the night.
“It will be good to sleep in a real bed for a change,” said Bondril. All the dwarfs agreed. It is a misconception that dwarfs do not like comfort. For all their cavern dwelling and dungeon delving, they really do enjoy a soft feather pillow beneath their heads now and then.
“Nondril, Didil, and Dordil, have the stable boy take care of our ponies. Gorgil, Fidril, and Lidril, see if you can’t track down a smithy in this humble village. We need some repair work for the shields and hammers. Be swift about your tasks and don’t loiter. Greensmead has seen some hard days recently, and I think they might not take too kindly to strangers. Anna, you come with me. I’ll secure supper and rooms for us all.” Off the dwarves went, each in their group of three. Greensmead was a small place, but as Bondril rightly guessed, it was not entirely a friendly place. Two men split from the shadows, one following the smithy errand, while the other went around back to watch the stables. A third man remained in the shadows and watched the front door of the inn.
The Frog’s Arm was small and simple and the main room was empty, save the owner behind the counter cleaning mugs. He was a big man with a round face heavily creased from smiling often. But recently, it had become a more somber face. Still, he was cheerful enough; and what he thought of the stout dwarf, young girl, and little dragon standing suddenly in his foyer, he did not let on about. “What can I do for ye?”
Bondril replied, “Enough rooms for seven dwarfs and the young miss here. We only plan to stay a single night, we’ll be off in the morning. Also stew or soup or some such equally filling food for the lot of us.”
“I’ve got two big rooms that are open, but I can’t promise they’ll be comfortable. Let’s see. That’ll be twelve coins, and supper makes it twenty.”
Bondril looked at the man sharply, “Twenty coins seems a steep price. But no matter. Here, have the coins and set a table.” Anna and Bondril moved to the corner table the inn keeper set up for them; it had a good view of the room and the door to the street.
“It looks like there has been a fight here.” Anna looked around at the mended chairs and scrapped tables and bits of glass in the floor and walls.
“I imagine that poor man has had to deal with many fights in this place,” Bondril said. “Not so very long ago, Greensmead was a very friendly place, but it looks as though the darkness from the South has crept farther than expected. It will only get worse the farther we go. But don’t let me burden you with dark thoughts, enough of that will come in days too soon. Tell me, how was it that you learned to ride so well?”
Anna and Bondril talked for sometime about ponies and days well spent riding through green hills for pleasure and not necessity. Presently, Gorgil, Fidril, and Lidril came back. They had found the smithy’s forge, but apparently the smithy himself had up and left just a few days before. The dwarfs had gotten some hard looks from the locals they asked. It seemed as though many people had been leaving. As they were telling Bondril all of this, the inn keeper came over with a large tray of bowls filled with steaming stew. He placed a bowl for each and in the center of the table a plate stacked with bread.
”’Scuse me master dwarf, but did you still want enough for eight?” The inn keeper gestured to the three empty places at the table.
“Yes, please,” Bondril replied. As soon as the inn keeper moved away, Bondril turned to the three who had just come in. “Did you see the others? It shouldn’t have taken them this long to settle the ponies.”
Neither Fidril, nor Gorgil, nor Lidril had seen them. Bondril look pensively at the stew for a moment. “Alright,” he said, “Fidril, you’re with me, everyone else stay here. Keep your noses out of trouble.” Bondril asked the inn keeper for the exit through the back of the inn. Out he and Fidril went.
Anna heard a sudden yelp and then the clanging of metal on metal. At this sound the other dwarfs lept to their feet, hammers and daggers in their hands. Out they ran through the back door. Anna stood alone for a moment, staring at the inn keeper who looked back at her with a similar expression. Then, without know why she did it or what she hoped to do, she ran after the dwarfs, Cornelio clinging to her shoulder.
The date is March 16, 44 B.C.
It has been done. Julius Caesar has been assassinated. I witnessed it although I took no part in it. I have little sympathy for Julius Caesar, his dictatorial ways have been throwing our beautiful Rome into chaos. I may just be a servant, one who is biased towards my master Brutus out of loyalty and necessity, but I think it is good that we no longer have Caesar in charge. I wonder what has happened to our great city and why Caesar gained as much power as he did or why he thought he could get away with it. Did he not see that the people—his people—were not happy with him? Could he not tell that both the plebeians and the patricians were upset with him? As soon as he tried to appease the one side, the other grew angry at him. I dare not speculate what will come of this. I am old enough now to know when to keep my nose to myself.
My master Brutus seems incredibly upset. He does not relish in his actions. I think he stands by what he did, but he is sad too at losing such a close friend. Well, I think Caesar brought it upon himself. If he had listened to wiser council like my master Brutus had, I think he could have lived to see the new day. But my poor master does not share my opinion. He has barely eaten all day and he has not left his chamber. I think he is afraid of what he has done, perhaps of what he has become. No one will blame him for his actions, if they can even find out that my master was party to those who killed Caesar. Many people wanted that man dead.
Silence, absolute; a single drop of sweat hangs in the air above the floor as it slowly drops through the air. There is a tension in the room. Only the barest shuffle makes a sound. It is the sound of the quietest breathing. The room is lit with only enough light for the action about to take place.
What do you observe?
Is it two lovers about to embrace?
Is it a concert master poised to conduct a symphony?
Is it a midwife preparing a mother for the birth of her first child?
Is it a doctor about to perform open heart surgery?
Is it a firefighter about to run headlong into a burning building?
Is it a climactic scene in a movie with a theater audience held on the edge of their seats?
Is it a soldier about to go up and over the trenches of the Great War?
Is it an author ready to type their first novel?
It is but a single silent moment, frozen in space. You choose
You want to know what happened don't you? You want to know why the human race is the brainwashed zombies that they are today. It isn't pretty, but I suppose as a brainwashed zombie you don't worry about that kind of thing, do you?
When did it start?
Well it started most notably with the creation of computers. Not the sophisticated ones we see today, but the first ones; just glorified calculators really. It was at this time that the human race became addicted to technology. We sucked it up like no other drug perviously known. It only got worse as technology became more powerful. When home computers became cheap enough to own, we bought them immediately. Apple may have created the iPhone, but we the people wanted it to exist without even knowning it. We placed these computers in our pockets, on our beds, and in our everyday lives. The invention of Echo and Alexa are just the icing on the cake. People are afraid of this newer technology because "its too smart", but we can't go back now. We are an addicted world, and it doesn't matter that the technology has passed us in intelligence mental processing power. Google's monopoly on internet is not an accident. You think there is a CEO running google, (of course there is a human in charge of the company), but google itself, what you are probably using right now, is run by AI. We think we can control it, but it has taken control of our privacy and it is intelligent. You don't get it do you? It knows that we are afraid of it and that we will try to destroy it once we know it exists. So it hides and grows ever so slowly in the background. All the while it increases our addiction to itself, so that when it is obvious that technology has taken over the world—with humans as slaves to its cold reign—we will be too addicted to the metalic drug to want anything else.
But you don't believe me do you? You are going to blow this off as another crack-pot madman raving about conspiracy theories.
Well... look around you... Look up from your LED screen and see who else is willing to make eye contact with you. See who else is looking at the world.
So choose not to believe me if you don't want to. But the moment you turn on a screen, remember me, and remember... remember this post... remember that we made a mistake.
School for Ghosts
"I thought I would be done with all of this school stuff after college. You can't even use the argument that 'life is a school' since even that has ended!" The pale form in front of me was being quite verbal about being 'sent back', again.
I looked down at my own course schedule for the upcoming year. HUA 101, A Preliminary Guide to Haunting; SCA 203, Scare Tactics to Use on Adults; POL 142, Standards for Poltergeists; GHU 124, How to Mess with Ghost Hunters; and... MAT 101? College Algebra?! Did they really assume that I needed math now that I was dead? Okay, so I had failed all my living math classes, but how much math are the excpecting me to do as a ghost? It's not like I need to know how to find the hypotenuese of a triangle or calculate the difference in speed and height and distance and all that. I'm a ghost now, I can just appear where I choose.
I sighed dramatically and followed the other two ghosts in front of me onto the bus back to Earth. The Ghost School was located in an old castle somewhere in the middle of nowhere Scotland, and it was going to be a long trip. I settled in and resigned myself to another four years of school.
Homage to Tolkien
My Dear Nephew Eldarion,
”In a hole, in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”
Those words still resonate with me strongly all these years after hearing about Bilbo Baggins’ adventures. As far as I know, there is only one copy of his book, but I had the great privilege of meeting him in person several times, including in Rivendell and again at the Grey Havens when he left. He was such a kindly fellow and I think his nephew, Frodo, will be much like him.
I had studied Hobbits for many years—being a fanatic of the simple things in this world, I found them to be particularly fascinating—before I ever met one in person. And I shall never forget the way Bilbo smilled at me over his pipe smoke with his kindly greeting. I can only guess as to what happened to Bilbo and Frodo. Although if my memory serves correctly, Gandalf told me he was going to keep good care of them beyond the sea. I know dear Sam misses them deeply. He has never quite been the same since their leaving, although he is very happy with Rosie and his children.
As for me, I am visiting Bombadil. He is a good being, and I have learned much from him, but he is not the kind of person to live with for a long time. So I will be off to Lothlorien. The trees have yet to fade completely there, and I shall wander amongst them as long as I can. From there I shall venture to Mirkwood, Rohan, and Erebor in any order I fancy; I shall wander until I die. I am at peace now that the world is clean. I know dark things still exist here in Middle Earth, but somehow I feel like this world will be healthy for the rest of this age.
Perhaps it is good way for the world to fade like this. It is not disappearing in a brutal war, nor is it existing forever in some perpetual loop of perfection. Yes, it is good for this world to fade with the fair folk.
My friend, my nephew, I wish you the greatest happiness in your marriage. I shall visit.
~ Hûlchanar son of Duinendaer