"What's the tale?" one of them asked at last, and the tavern girl grinned as she set ale before them.
"'Tis the day of the dragon's fall," she replied, then added: "Drink up, lads! The master toy maker promises a spectacle this year."
"The toy master?" the other of them asked, exchanging a sceptical glance with his partner.
"Believe it," the lass replied, supremely confident. "Master Tilfin's shop has been closed all this last week—and a Dwarf does not forfeit coin lightly. You just wait and watch—it'll be a sight, I know it!"
"A Dwarf forgoing custom?" the sell-sword murmured when she'd gone. "I've never heard of such a thing."
"Well, we're both young, Hal, aren't we?" the other replied, and his companion snorted. While the one sipped his ale, the other glanced out the window. It was nearly sunset. "I suppose whatever's to happen, it'll happen soon. There's not much light left."
Dusk had indeed fallen by the time the whoops and cheers from without the tavern announced something perhaps worthy of being called a spectacle. The townsfolk in the tavern rushed for the door; Hal glanced at his friend, who grinned and shrugged, then the two of them rose and joined the throng.
The streets were lined with people, and many a tavern porch was crowded. "Good thing we're tall," Hal muttered, for as latecomers, they were caught at the back of the Dragon's Teeth's porch.
"Aye, I—look!" his friend pointed to a procession of lights coming down the street. Lamp-bearers went ahead, singing as they walked in the strange Northern tongue of the Bardings, their deep voices rising above the swell of cheering townsfolk.
But the singers were not what captured every eye. In their wake came a fearsome mask, the size of a man, with gleaming amber eyes that rolled this way and that, and a snout whose ferocious teeth gleamed whenever the jaws dropped open; the 'skin' was all encrusted with what had to be glass painted to seem like glittering jewels. From the mask flowed a long train of some silky substance, with more glass jewels set into it, and a pair of bat-wings held aloft by men all in black bearing poles.
The dragon wove and danced on the legs of what must be every acrobat in Dale, and the crowd gasped as the mask reared up to a great height as the bearer was boosted suddenly up upon a fellow's shoulders and he raised the mask high, even as the mouth opened again and, to the wonder of all, flame belched forth. Then just as suddenly, Smaug dived down, as the bearer leapt to the ground and rushed the crowd, to squeals of delighted terror from the children.
"I told you," said a voice nigh at hand, and the sell-swords turned to see the tavern girl standing hard by. "Master Tilfin is no mere toy maker!"
"No, indeed," Hal replied, and his friend made her a slight bow.
"You have our apologies for doubting you, mistress. 'Twas a sight to see," he said.
"Every year, we have a procession, with jugglers and flute players and the like," the girl said. "And afterwards, the king showers pennies all over the crowd—for they say that Smaug rained gold coming down."
She glanced sideways at them, and the expectant look was not lost on either man. Hal's companion chuckled, reached into his purse and withdrew a pair of silver pennies—Gondorian mark, even—and held them up. They gleamed in the lantern light, winking bewitchingly. "No king am I, but 'twas a glad day all across the North when the dragon fell. Good eve to you."
The coins dropped into her outstretched hand, and the girl smiled, curtseyed deeply, and replied, "A merry dragon's fall to you both!"
"You know, we're not exactly rich," Hal ventured once she was out of earshot.
"No, but we are in town to earn coin—one caravan west will keep us, and we can always sleep outside the walls," his friend replied. Clapping Hal on the shoulder, he added, "Besides which, 'tis not merely for the sight of such a dragon that I pay. Look at them." The townsfolk were singing now, as the procession continued with the traditional jugglers and flute-players in the wake of the dragon, and there was a glow to the faces that came not simply of the lamplight. "Worth a few pennies, would you not say?"
Hal chuckled softly, but he nodded. Then a sly look came over his face. "Well," he said, "since you're feeling generous, even if not a king yet, I suppose you wouldn't mind buying the next round of ale...?"
"Penny-pinching miser!" Hal laughed, then winced when the other jabbed him in the ribs. But his friend relented almost immediately, draping a companionable arm about his shoulders. "Ale's on me—after all, you're buying the whiskey!"
"I thought I traded you two watches for that last time!" But Hal grinned, shook his head, and raised his tankard, which he had brought out with him. "Whiskey it is," he said. "But let's not go in just yet."
"No, not yet," his companion agreed.
And so they stayed and stood upon the tavern's porch, and listened to the singing, and when the last juggler had passed, they joined the crowd as it moved down towards the town square. There, indeed, 'Bard' slew the dragon once more, and the king and his attendants tossed pennies by the fistful, and a dance jig was struck up. It was nearly dawn ere anyone slept, and it didn't need whiskey to get a bit drunk.
But there's drunk on drink and there's drunk on joy, and no one begrudged anyone the latter—not even a pair of sell-swords. Tomorrow would be soon enough for sobriety.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.