Is That in the Book?

by Daughter of Kings

At Texas Moot this year, I offered a writing challenge as part of the entertainment. The challenge was this:

Write on any topic you choose… it doesn’t even have to be LOTR-themed. However, your work must contain the following phrases as they are written:

• Elves at Helm’s Deep
• “Fire a warning shot across the bow.”
• Tom Bombadil?
• mountain of skulls
• his name is Brego
• “You’ll have to toss me.”
• Eowyn’s stew

Nobody took me up on the challenge, but I wrote a little something, and Firiel hounded me into posting it. So here it is:


I hesitated in front of the office door. The lettering on the glass was gold and glittery, and it read “Longshanks & Elfstone Investigations”. I took a deep breath, turned the knob, walked into the office.

The room was unkempt, as was the man who occupied it. He lounged in a creaky chair, his feet propped up on a creaky desk, muddy boots befouling the mishmash of papers that littered the surface. He drew a long puff from the pipe he was smoking, and gave me an appraising look. He lifted one eyebrow, by way of greeting.

I was a little taken aback. This man looked more like an escapee from an asylum than the greatest huntsman and traveller of his time. “Mr. Longshanks?” I asked.

“I am Longshanks, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Elessar, Dunadan. My friends call me Wingfoot.” He looked me up and down again. “You can call me Strider. What can I do for you?”

I hesitated again. There was nothing for it… I needed his help, and I would have to ask for it. “I’m… looking for someone.”

“Let me guess. Tom Bombadil?” He snorted and rolled his eyes.

“What? No.”

“Oh. Never mind. Tom went missing back during the Fellowship, and now every other fan who comes in here wants to know what happened to him. I’ve been trying to track him down for months. I’d give anything for a whiff of Old Toby… er, Tom, but I think finding Tom again is about as unlikely as finding Elves at Helm’s Deep. Anyway, who are you looking for?”

“A friend of mine; his name is Brego. He had rooms at the Hornburg Apartments, but the landlord threw him out last week and no one has seen or heard from him since.”

Strider gave me a hard look, his grey eyes boring into mine. He asked, “Are you frightened?”

I took a step back and nodded.

“Not nearly frightened enough,” he went on, “I know where your friend hangs out. Go home. I’ll call you when I know something.”

Moments later, I stood on the sidewalk in front of Strider’s office, contemplating a rusty Ford Pinto parked at the curb. It was painted black, with silver pinstriping that looked for all the world like some sort of tree. The vanity plate read “ARWEN.” It also had a flat tire, and what looked like bullet holes in the grill… Strider would be walking when he left. I slipped around the corner and waited.

After what seemed interminable hours, but must have been only a few moments, Strider emerged from his office. He was wearing an old fedora and a trenchcoat that must have been tan when it was new; now it was so stained that it changed colors constantly as he moved. He looked both ways, then crossed the street and turned the corner at the end of the block. I followed, at a distance.

He took a circuitous route, and watched his back trail. I would have had a hard time following him, if he hadn’t been the only person on the street wearing a fedora and trenchcoat. It was obvious why he was called Strider… I had to jog to keep up with him. He was striding past a biker bar when a figure stepped out of the bar and hailed him… a man, short, red-haired and bearded, wearing black leathers. They greeted each other as friends, and began talking animatedly. I crept closer, and hid behind a dumpster, in time to hear the end of the conversation. The short man said, “You’ll have to toss me,” and they both roared with laughter. I had no idea what that meant, but I had no time to ponder, as the huntsman was already walking away.

Once more I followed Strider, twisting and turning down shadowed alleys and narrow streets. His next stop was at a Goth bar. A mural covered the whole front wall, depicting a mountain of skulls. Black lights illuminated the entrance. Strider entered. I waited a few moments, then slipped in. The place was empty, except for Strider and the bartender, a tall pale fellow. A jukebox was blaring death metal. There was no way to get close enough to overhear them; I had to settle for watching. The pale fellow sneered. Strider punctuated his next words with a finger in the pale fellow’s chest. They yelled at each other… I still couldn’t hear over the cacophany that passed for music. Finally the pale fellow relented. He wrote something on a bar napkin, slid it to Strider. Strider took a poker chip from his pocket, tossed it to the pale fellow, and then walked out right past me without even looking in my direction.

More walking for Strider, more jogging for me. More dark streets and darker alleys, more twists and turns. Down to the waterfront, among the river rats, to a dive called the Harlond. This time I got within earshot just in time to hear Strider say, “Fire a warning shot across the bow,” as the bouncer waved him in.

I walked up to the door, trying to look more confident than I felt. The bouncer towered over me. “Password?” rumbled up from his chest like lava from a volcano.

I repeated the phrase Strider had used. The bouncer just snickered.

“Mellon?” I tried, and got another snicker for response.

“Open Sesame?” He laughed aloud, and it echoed in the narrow entrance.

“My name is Underhill?” More laughing.

“I am a traveller from the East, seeking that which is lost?” Still more laughing.

“Gondor has no pants!” At that last one, the bouncer doubled over, laughing so hard that tears streamed from his eyes. Short of breath, his laughter turned shrill and staccato, then blended into the beeping of the alarm clock.

I slapped it into silence and sat up. My mouth tasted like pocket fuzz. My last meal sat in my stomach, burbling like a bowl of Eowyn’s stew. Not for the first time, I promised myself that I would never again eat cold pizza and Twinkies as a midnight snack.