labourslamp (labourslamp) wrote in lotr_community,

His Wealth Shall Flow in Fountains by Celeritas

Author: Celeritas
Title: His Wealth Shall Flow in Fountains
Theme: Songs and Poetry
Elements: Title: “His Wealth Shall Flow in Fountains”

Rating: PG for consumption of adult beverages
Author's Notes: The adult beverage herein described would be best described in our modern age as “scrumpy,” a malt beverage that despite experiencing no distillation still has about twice the alcoholic content as a strong beer—thanks to my inimitable beta nyarendil  for advice and information regarding this matter.  Despite Bilbo’s thoughts on the matter, it would only be used for special occasions.  The poem is a creation of my own fevered mind, composed to scan properly with the Lincolnshire folk song recorded (and arranged for wind band) by Percy Aldridge Grainger as “Lisbon.”

Summary: Bilbo Baggins on his second visit to the Lonely Mountain finds a chance comment about the Dwarves’ ale landing him into the most peculiar of circumstances.

Word Count: 3,115

His Wealth Shall Flow in Fountains

The thought that he was getting rather old for this sort of thing flitted through Bilbo’s head, but he firmly pushed it down.  It wouldn’t do for him to get distracted, especially as his wits alone (which he refused to admit were muddled in the least) could get him out of this pickle.


But how very like him it was, he mused, to have gotten himself into precisely this sort of scrape, where his very honour as a Baggins—nay, as a Hobbit—not to mention that fine mail-coat of his and five barrels of the very best Dwarven spirits—was at stake, all because he had let his tongue run away from him.  Still, he could not regret it: no matter how much present company disagreed with him, the true wealth of the Lonely Mountain lay in its hospitality, not in its hoarded metals or even its wares, and he was going to teach these Dwarves a lesson that—he hoped—they would not forget for a good many years.


Firmly planting his woolly feet on the table, he fixed his challenger with an icy stare that had been perfected over years of inquisitive young hobbits peeping in at his window.  The Dwarf straightened almost unconsciously and gazed back at him, and there was a spark in his dark eyes.  Good, then, good.  This was going to turn out to be an interesting game.


Clearing his throat, Bilbo began:


There once was a young hobbit, who wished the world to see.

He tired of his relations, who pestered him at tea.

“O will you ever settle down?”  To this he answered, “Nay;”

He packed up his belongings, and left at break of day.


*  *  *


It had been far too long, Dwalin had said, and Bilbo could not but help agree—though he hardly saw how his arrival at the Lonely Mountain was cause for the Dwarves to hold a feast.  For though he was glad of the company, things had changed so much, and the merry little company that he had had his adventure with was reduced to seven.  When he had enquired after dear old Balin he received nothing but dark looks and the phrase, “We have not heard from him of late.”  It boded far too ill, and Bilbo could feel it in his bones: the world was changing around him, and not for the better.


Either that, or he really was getting old.


Still, he had missed his Dwarven friends quite dearly, and there was something about being called Master Burglar once more that warmed his heart—though that may have been the ale as well.


That was something else he had missed, for he had grown a taste for it those long years ago, and that had served him well—the stuff was stronger than anything in the Shire (barring brandy, of course) and it had proved indispensable in establishing his notoriety as the one hobbit in all Four Farthings and Buckland that could drink Rory Brandybuck under the table.


But, as Dwalin said, it had been far too long, and while this stuff was a rare delight for Bilbo, it was everyday to the Dwarves, which meant two things.  Firstly, they had no cause to drink as much as he had, and secondly, they could hold it much better than he could.


This was probably why he let his tongue run away from him in the first place.


He was talking with Bombur, who had had to be carried—carried, would he have thought!—in for the special occasion, and a number of younger Dwarves whom he hardly recognised were there as well.  But finding that his cup was drained once more, one of the company offered to refill it for him and Bilbo remarked, “Surely the Men of Dale must have been referring to this when they sang of the Mountain King’s return!”


The Dwarf who was going to refill his cup took the bait at this cryptic remark (as Bilbo had rather hoped someone would) and stayed.  “I beg your pardon?”


“I should hope the song has not been forgotten, though the hopes expressed in it have been long fulfilled:


His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.


I had always thought they were being poetic about the wealth flowing as if it were no more than mere water, but this—though this is much more than mere water—this has proved me wrong!”


“But surely,” put in another Dwarf, one who bore a striking resemblance to the King, “surely if that were the case, the Lord Dáin’s fountains would indeed flow with these spirits, yet they do not.  I fear, Mr. Baggins, that it is mere poetry, for the Lonely Mountain has treasures far greater than its ale.”


“Does it?” said Bilbo, and this is where, if he had had nothing to drink, he should have stopped.  “But I fear you Dwarves value things differently than my own people do.  Why, if I were to have but one cask of this ale to take back with me from my journey, I should hold it a greater treasure than all of my other possessions!”


“Greater than gold?” said the first Dwarf.


“Certainly greater than gold.”


“Greater even than Moria-silver?” said the second.


“Yes, greater even than mithril, for what use has that for an old hobbit like me?”


“Why, then, if you value it so highly, why do you not exchange that silver coat of yours for a barrel—nay, for I would deem its value higher than that—for five barrels of our finest?”


Now, Bilbo knew that his mail-coat was worth a good deal more than five barrels of the Dwarves’ precious ale, but he was also trying to make a point.  And so he hesitated, which the younger Dwarf took as a sign of tentative victory.


But before he could think up a suitable retort, dear old Bombur put in a word for him—and doubtless, Bilbo reflected later, for his own private amusement as well.


“My dear Thorin,” he said, and Bilbo started at this—this was Dáin’s own son and heir, a fact which he surely would have realised if he hadn’t gotten distracted by all that ale, “that is hardly fair on Mr. Baggins.  I suggest a game of stakes, in which the winner takes both the five barrels and the mail-coat, that whoever can prove the rightness of his cause receives his reward.”


“Very well,” said Thorin.  “Bilbo Baggins, I challenge you to a contest—”


“And let the challenged state the terms,” said Bombur softly.


Bilbo looked at him with astonishment; there was a twinkle in his eye and he winked.  Evidently the years had increased more than Bombur’s girth.  Bilbo winked back.


“To a contest”—now, this required some quick thinking!—“of doggerel.”


“Of doggerel?” said the first Dwarf, cup forgotten in his hand.


“Of extemporaneous poetry.”  Befuddled looks met him, so he decided to explain.  Extemporaneous.  Created out of the top of one’s head, with no thought prior.  Lovely word, really; must’ve gotten it from the Elves.  It is a contest of wits in my homeland, and not one for the faint of heart, though usually there are more than two participants—which gives one time to think, time that is desperately needed.  You must tell an epic tale in rhyming verse, alternating stanzas with one another, and the first to yield loses.  But if you get the story into such a state that you yourself cannot finish it, even if the other fellow drops out—ah, woe to you if that should happen.  I trust the terms are acceptable?”


Thorin glared first at him, then at Bombur, for it was clear he had been hoping for some battle of strength or daring.  But he was too proud to back down.  “They are,” he said.


“Very well,” said Bilbo benignly.  And if you would please, Master—” he turned to the young Dwarf still holding his cup.


“Fólin,” said the Dwarf.


“Master Fólin, I should like that cup refilled post-haste.  I fear I shall need it before the night is o’er.”


And when Fólin left to refill the cup and Thorin to fume privately, he explained more of the particulars to Bombur and the others gathered there, in hopes that they would serve as judges.  Particular notice was to be paid to scansion and rhyming, as well as consistency within the tale (back at home, of course, as the night drew further on this mattered less, but Bilbo was not going to yield an inch to this upstart, King’s son or no).  Fólin returned, and taking a sip of the beloved liquor, Bilbo briefly thought that he was getting a little old for this sort of thing.  He pushed the thought down.


*  *  *


Thorin seemed to be perfecting his death glare on Bilbo, and Bilbo felt the briefest moment of pity for him.  To be wrangled into a contest not of his choosing, and then be given a topic that was wholly foreign to him, was probably more than the dwarf’s injured pride could bear.  Still, he was falling into his namesake’s folly, and Bilbo could not let that happen, not if he was to be King under the Mountain one day.  Better to teach the fellow a lesson while he could; and besides, he could angle the story in whatever direction he wanted—which Thorin promptly did.


The first day of his journey, a group of Dwarves he met.

“Where do you hail from?” said he, “and whereto are you set?”

“We come from the Blue Mountains, and to Erebor we’re bound,

“And if you’d like to join us, adventure will be found.


Not bad, thought Bilbo.


“But not for free,” they added, “for we’d be glad of work.

“Come tell us what you’re good at; your answer do not shirk.”

“I’ve never done a hard day’s work, for I’m a gentry Took,

“But if there is no other way, I’ll gladly be your cook.”


“Foul!” cried one of the dwarves officiating.  “That wasn’t a rhyme!”


“It was a near rhyme,” Bilbo replied, “And besides, there are some folk back in my homeland who are beginning to pronounce the Took name quite lazily, so that it would rhyme.  I daresay I could have done so and none of you would have taken notice.”


“Let it pass,” said Thorin.  “We’ve only just begun.”


To this the Dwarves agreed, for they knew the Hobbits’ skill.

That night he made a stew from the game that they could kill.

It was so good the Dwarves agreed they’d hire him on the spot,

And slowed their trip a-purpose to eat more from his pot.


Bilbo smiled.  So young Thorin did know something more of the pleasures in life!


But when they reached the Mountain, the hobbit had grown bored,

For all the Dwarves could speak of was what was in their hoard.

And so he took his comrades’ leave and went to nearby Dale;

He thought to seek employment at their main house of ale.


The Dwarf glowered at Bilbo’s having managed so skilfully to write his own race out of the poem.  Bilbo smiled in spite of himself.  This was, after all, part of the game.


The hobbit rose from waiter to Cook in little time.

Soon all of Dale was crying for his food, so sublime.

But they were often rude to him, and arrogant, so when

He quit his post he vowed he’d have nothing more with Men.


Well played, thought Bilbo, who had hoped to spend at least one more stanza dealing with his hero’s adventures in Dale.  Doubtless Thorin was expecting him to return, in shame, to the Lonely Mountain.  But Bilbo’s pride—and the necessities of Story—demanded he did otherwise.


And lucky for our hero, there was a group of Elves,

Who hearing of his fame, tried his cooking for themselves.

They said they were from Rivendell, and if he’d go with them,

He’d find a place with those who would ne’er himself condemn.


Thorin turned red at this, seeing himself clearly outsmarted.  Bilbo coolly took a sip of his ale.  If in anger the Dwarf decided to write the elves out of the story the same way he had with the Men, Bilbo would gladly call “Needless Repetition” and he was confident that old Bombur, at least, would side with him.  He replaced the cup by his feet.  Thorin had still not spoken.  Well, he had better be grateful that I didn’t make them from Mirkwood, he thought.


He gladly took their offer, and wended to the West.

Of all of mortal’s cooking, the Elves said his was best.

And so the great Last Homely House won very much renown;

Of all the cooks in known lands he wore the very crown.


Thorin bowed; apparently he was willing to close the poem then and there and call the contest a draw.  Bilbo was not so easily convinced—if this culinarily-minded Took was the best in all known lands, then perforce the Unknown Lands were still fair game.


But he could not be happy with “Best in Middle-earth.”

He needed some new venue in which to try his worth.

So when a group of elves went west to pass across the Sea,

He made resolve in secret to join their company.


Thorin’s mouth worked silently, and again Bilbo felt sorry for him.  He had just pushed the tale beyond the Dwarf’s ken.  “Forgive me, my friend,” he said.  “I am afraid this tale has passed the limits of your knowledge.”


To this the Dwarf replied,


And so he made the journey up to the Western shore,

Where Elves depart these known lands, returning nevermore.

But when he asked to sail beyond, the Elves did him deny,

For Elvenhome is not for the likes of you or I.


This time it was Bilbo’s mouth that worked silently.  He could have quibbled about the grammaticality of the last sentence, but he was too astonished that, indeed, the Dwarf did know his lore.  Of course, fool, he thought, he’s worked in the Blue Mountains.


“And I hope,” said Thorin, “that you have a way for concluding the tale from here, friend, for I do not.”


Bilbo complied.


But he was so determined he made to stow away.

He hid himself inside of a barrel in the quay.

For it was filled with damson plums that were to travel West,

And in this way he made him the ship’s unwelcome guest.


The glint returned to the challenger’s eye as inspiration struck.


But when the ship was sailing—to Elvenhome ‘twas bound—

A mighty gale arose and the crew was nearly drowned.

They could not make the Straight Road, for a mortal was aboard.

And in despair they threw o’er the barrels that were stored.


He really does know his lore! thought Bilbo.


The currents took the barrels back to the eastern shore

And when they landed there, our poor hero was quite sore.

For bits of plum juice clung to him, moreover he was crammed,

And could not free himself—aye, the hobbit’s in a JAM.


There was some laughter at this rather base pun as Thorin took up the thread of the tale once more.


And when he was set loose by an Elf who lived at sea,

As soon as he was well, he did gladly homeward flee.

And when his dear relations asked if he would settle by,

He did not scorn the question, but gratefully said, “Aye!”


Bilbo took the Dwarf’s cue and bowed to signify that as far as he was concerned, the poem was over.  Thorin bowed back, and the audience that had been gathering broke into applause.


“And I hope,” said Bilbo, “that someone has written all of that down, for I shan’t remember it when I’m sober!”


There was more laughter at this, and as both contenders got down from the table to congratulate one another someone had the presence of mind to give them both freshly refilled drinks.


“That was well played,” said Bilbo, “especially for one so new to the game.  I had no idea you were so well versed in lore.”


“Ah,” said Thorin.  “I have spent every night in Rivendell at the Hall of Fire, and I do not forget tales very easily.”


“I had wondered at that.  It is a good skill to have—far more valuable than that of doggerel, which you also seem to possess in great quantities.”


“So,” said Bilbo, after they had each quaffed a good measure of the drink, “do you concede your point about the wealth of the mountain?”


Thorin laughed.  “Certainly not!  For that would mean admitting that you were right!”


Bilbo laughed as well.  “I suggest, then, a compromise: the true wealth of the Lonely Mountain resides not in its food or its drink, nor in its gold—but in the people that made it and dwell in it still.  For what use are any of those other things when they cannot be shared and enjoyed with company?  Will you agree to that?”


“I do not know yet,” said Thorin, “for the matter should not be taken as lightly as it has.  But for now I shall certainly drink to it.”


Fair enough, thought Bilbo.  He raised his glass to that of Thorin, son of Dáin, and decided that yes, he would make a good King in time.


*  *  *


When Bilbo returned to Rivendell it was all he could do to keep the sons of Elrond from his latest treasure: five casks of the very best brew under the Lonely Mountain.  When they asked him how he had managed to finagle them from such a proud and stiffnecked race as the Dwarves, he merely said it was payment in return for teaching the King’s heir a valuable lesson.


For it was the truth, after all—the contest had been a draw, and though he would have loved to have gotten the prize he knew that young Thorin had more than pulled his own weight.  But when he was journeying back with another party of Dwarves there were several more packponies than were needed, and each was laden with one or two of the barrels.  Surprised, he took the bridle of the nearest one and found tied to the saddlebags a small note:


Master Burglar—


Consider these not a reward for your poetic skills, but a gift from my people to yours.  May the hair never fall from your aged toes!


-Thorin Stonehelm


P.S.  I accept the compromise.

Tags: 2008, challenge: song/poem, month: 2008 november, november

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