“Him?” The bartender wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Oh, you don’t want to be talkin’ to his kind.”
Sype took a long swig of beer and looked over his shoulder once again at the surly Dwarf in the corner. “No? Why ever not, my faithful alcohol-provider?”
“That’s one of them Ale Association folks. They come bargin’ in here, trying to take over Inn League territory through all sorts of underhand tactics. Not a drop of honor in any of them — and that one’s the worst.”
“No honor? Underhanded? Ale in the name?” Sype stood up abruptly. “Excuse me, I have a best friend to meet.”
* * * * *
Ten minutes later, Sype couldn’t believe his luck. For once — for bloody once — in his miserable travels across Middle-earth, he found a soulmate who eschewed goody two-shoes deeds for self-serving mischief. That, at least, was a cause he could get behind.
And what’s this? Their first mission wasn’t to rescue a Hobbit from a vicious toad or lug a crate of hair gel to the Elves, but to go to Bree and drink himself blind? Sype already had welts all over his arm from pinching himself.
The next few hours passed by in a drunken blur, and just when his liver was about to keel over and call it quits, meaty Dwarf hands pounded his back and welcomed him as a true member of the Association.
“Of course,” the merry Dwarf said, “some might see you as a bit… sinister from now on.”
Sype belched and pulled out a wanted poster that he tore off a Trestlebridge wall during his exodus from the North Downs. He thrust it under the Dwarf’s nose. “Suspicious I can handle. It’s almost cute. So what now? Kitty killing? Grave robbing? Turning an entire town into newts? I can do that, you know. I’m… misher MAGIC!”
Arms wheeling, Sype fell on his butt. “Kablooey!” he muttered, looking at the palms of his hand.
The Ale Associate looked down at him, concerned. “Nothing that evil, man! But if yer askin’, we wouldn’t mind you stealing–”
“I’ll DO IT!”
“–some recipes from naive Hobbits.”
Sype paused. “I’ll STILL DO IT!” Another pause. “After a word from my AA sponsor.”
He curled up under the table and started snoozing.
* * * * *
“The unbelievable gall of some folk!” a Hobbit lady groused.
Sype smirked. “My gall is quite believable, trust me. And thanks for this precious-yet-not-patented beer recipe you left laying out in the public domain.”
He jumped back on his ragged goat and trotted off, hearing the sounds of an indignant Hobbit sputtering behind him. “One down, three to go,” he said to himself. “But if my luck has anything to do with it, the difficult challenges are ahead.”
The second recipe was on a bookshelf in an empty room. Yoink!
The third near the outstretched hand of an unconscious partier. Yoink!
The fourth was guarded so fiercely by the local constable that the man practically praise Sype for taking it. Yoink… okay, the challenge was gone. “Seriously?” Sype said to the Hobbit. “You’re not going to fight me for this?”
“Fight?” the Hobbit looked bewildered. “Good heavens, no! I have a whole stack of these recipes, adventurers have been coming by all day just to gander at my famous concoction!”
Sype looked at the crumpled paper in his hand. “That does take some of the fun out of it, it does.”
A long goat ride through the Shire later — dodging rainbows and Hobbits sprinting with pies — and Sype returned to Thorin’s Hall. “Oy, chief!” he barked, tossing the useless recipes on the table. “I’m through with this piddly crap. Give me something good.”
“Something good, eh?” the nasty Dwarf cackled. “Hm, how about poisoning drinks?”
“Yes, that is acceptable.”
“Introducing a smelly biological agent at the Party Tree?”
“Sounding better, go on…”
“Puncturing kegs so to make men and women weep in deep sorrow as their booze, the only release they have in this miserable life, soaks into the ground?”
“And we’re off!” Sype stuck a finger in the air, turning around to…
“MISTER!” The shrill voice was accompanied by two rough hands, shaking his shoulders. “MISTER, WAKE UP! ”
Sype cracked open an eyelid and immediately regretted it. “Turn off the son, junior. Wait!” His eyes flew open. “It was a dream? A DREAM?”
The Lore-master began to weep. “It was only a dream…!”