1. Chapter One
"Yes!" I reply with a grin. "And more ale too, for I've hobbits and a dwarf with me tonight!" My companions laugh happily.
"You're learning, Faramir," Merry says. "You've finally figured out that you can't compete with a hobbit when it comes to guzzling beer successfully." He tips his tankard in a mocking toast before he sets about draining it dry.
"It did take him a while, didn't it?" Pippin adds. He bestows a patronizing smile on me and pats my arm in sympathy. "You must have realized you were in trouble when even Frodo here could put you under the table."
"Not entirely!" I say hotly. "Frodo did not beat me by much—am I right, Frodo?"
"Quite right, Faramir. Just ignore them, they're jealous of my capacity for drink still! I'll remind you both I've got quite a few years of practice on you, and all the added inches in the world can't change that fact!" Frodo takes a long swig of his ale, smacking his lips in satisfaction as he drinks deep. He turns to Sam when he finishes and claps him on the back. "But I've still got a long way to go before I'll beat the Green Dragon's best customer."
Sam blushes a little. "Now, get along with you, Mister Frodo, you're exaggerating—I'm not half the drinker my old gaffer is, and that's a fact. And I haven't challenged Mister Gimli to a head-to-head contest with dwarven beer yet, so I can't say I'm the best one in the Fellowship."
"Nor have you drunk wine with a elf of Mirkwood yet, Samwise Gamgee." Legolas shifts forward gracefully and lifts his wine glass. "Until you manage to beat me, that title is still mine—do you not agree, Gimli?"
"Not hardly, you elven popinjay," Gimli rumbles. "Sam is right, he needs to defeat me if he wants to claim that distinction, for none of you can drink more than a dwarf." He looks at me with a twinkle in his eye. "Except maybe tonight, since we have a bachelor about to be married among us. What say you, Faramir? Do you think you shall drink the most this evening, since this may be your very last opportunity to sow some wild oats?" Before I have a chance to retort, he stands up and raises his tankard high in turn. "On your feet, you sluggards! A toast to the Steward of Gondor and his lady fair!"
"To Faramir and Eowyn!" All of my companions speak in one voice, to the accompaniment of cheers and whistles from the tavern's other patrons. We quaff our drinks, sit down, and lively conversation immediately bubbles up again. But I do not talk right away, preferring to lean back in my chain and contemplate the highly unlikely group of friends who have carried me here for this impromptu celebration.
When the courier from the traveling Rohirrim arrived this morning, one of the letters he carried was for me. I unfolded it with the greatest of care and read Eowyn's painstaking hand happily as she told me that she would be back in Minas Tirith within three days, and that she missed me acutely. I gave a sigh of satisfaction as I thought of her beautiful face and sharp mind, and how much more vivid life was when she was present. Then it occurred to me that I was not the only one anxious for her company, and I went in search of Merry. I have always prided myself on being a generous man, even where women are concerned.
No sooner had I delivered the news of Eowyn's imminent return than Merry's eyes lit up with a delighted gleam as he looked up at me. "So does this mean the wedding will be soon?"
"Well, maybe, but I am not certain yet, you know."
"But it does definitely mean the two of you won't be separated again, correct?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it," I replied laughingly.
"Which means your bachelor days are truly coming to an end." He looked over at the other three hobbits, who were enjoying still another rich meal. "What do you all say? Isn't it time we introduced Faramir to the Shire version of a buck's night out?"
"Buck's night?" I could not hide my puzzlement.
"You don't have that here in Gondor? We hobbits always celebrate an upcoming marriage with lots of ale and jokes as we wander from tavern to tavern. Lads only, of course, so the poor groom can bid a proper farewell to his friends and frolics."
"A man's friends will toast him over an evening dinner, yes, but nothing too much. I take it hobbits drink quite a bit more at such an occasion?"
"I should say so, Faramir," Frodo drawled. "So you might need to rethink whether you are capable of doing a buck's night with us. We've drunk you into oblivion before, remember?" The piratical sparkle in his huge blue eyes belied his innocent expression.
Nettled, I said loftily, "Do not tell tales, my friend; you did not outdo me, but even if you had, I daresay I would manage far better this time around. I would be very glad to learn about this Shire custom, if you please."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Merry. "Come back to our house at sunset and the four of us will take you out for an evening in the city."
Pippin chirped up eagerly. "Let's ask the rest of the Fellowship if they want to come along too! The more the merrier—don't you agree, Meriadoc?"
"Yes, Pip, but you have to promise not to make so many bad puns! Hmm, we'll need to hunt down Legolas, he said he would be gone for part of the day—"
Before I fully realized it, I had agreed to all their plans and departed whistling, full of hope I would prove to the hobbits who the better man really was. It was only when I walked into the White Tower to meet with the King that I began to feel distinctly queasy. I did not mind making a drunken fool of myself in front of my old tutor Mithrandir, so his presence would not matter so much, but to do so before King Elessar was a different prospect, and one that gave me pause.
But good fortune was with me, for when I arrived at the hobbits' house, only Legolas and Gimli stood with them on the threshold. I hailed them cheerfully. "Coming along to observe a foreign custom, or are you both more interested in drinking?"
"Drinking, of course," replied Legolas, "but I suppose I am rather curious about this. But Gimli informs me that dwarves do something similar before their nuptials, so he only cares for the beer tonight."
Gimli snorted. "Not hardly—I expect I'll be called upon to carry someone home, particularly you hobbits."
"Keep dreaming, Gimli," said Merry tartly. "So where are we going, Faramir? I've seen a few taverns here in Minas Tirith, but none that appeared good enough for the Steward, or us hobbits for that matter. Do you have a regular place you visit?"
"In fact, I do. It's a pleasant place in the fourth level owned by an old retired soldier from Dol Amroth who fought with my uncle in his younger days. Follow me, if you will . . ."
So I led them to the Silver Swan, where old Narello embraced me and welcomed the others with open arms and a groaning table. We have spent the past two hours eating and drinking ourselves silly, and now I feel more than a little stuffed.
But not everyone is done; Legolas glances at his empty wine bottle and then searches the room for the barmaid who has been tending to us. "Where is that girl? Did she have to travel to the coast for more?"
The barmaid, named Marille, bustles up even as the elf speaks; she puts a bottle of fine Dorwinion down with a fresh glass. "I'm sorry, my lords, but it took me some time to find this—Narello wanted only the best of our cellar for all of you." She bobs a curtsey, exposing a bountiful bosom to the enthusiastic gazes of Merry and Pippin; even Frodo seems to take note of her charms. She walks away, her hips swaying, and I realize that Pippin is leaning sideways so he can continue to watch her. Amused, I decide to get a little of my own back, and slap him lightly on the head.
"I see you are still as much a lecher as ever, Peregrin." I nod at the girl. "Do you desire feminine company so badly that you would seriously try to bed one of the Big Folk now?"
He rubs his head and glares at me, but then he gives a wistful sigh. "Maybe, and I don't care how scandalous that might sound." He drinks more ale and sighs again. "It's all to the good to be called 'Prince of the Halflings,' but I could do without the honour if I had a fine hobbit lass serving up the drink tonight. Someone like Violet at the Golden Perch—what a delectably cuddlesome chit she's always been!"
"I thought you liked the Golden Perch's beer," said Frodo.
"I do, but I liked Violet equally well, especially when she'd meet me in that barn outside of Stock. She certainly knew what she was about."
Merry groans. "Spare us the details, Pip, we're all suffering right now! Especially poor Sam here, since talking over barmaids' beauties can only remind him of Rosie!"
"Your Rose is one?" I ask Sam.
"Aye, she used to work at the Green Dragon." His eyes mist over with homesickness. "I'd give anything at all—all the treasure Strider's gifted us with—to be back in the Shire with Rosie," he says feelingly.
Frodo puts an arm around Sam's shoulders. "Soon, Sam, soon."
"But in the meantime," says Pippin, "perhaps I should try my luck with the bonny wench here. I still have to show Faramir that hobbits can compete with men, and I could certainly use some nighttime comfort!" He climbs to his feet as he straightens his shirt cuffs and prepares to approach Marille.
"Oh, do not waste your time with her, Pippin—I know a place that can accommodate everyone with no trouble at all." I blink as I realize the careless words are mine, the product of a wine-soaked tongue. Everyone else falls silent and stares at me in surprise.
"Really?" Merry asks, openly amazed. "What kind of a place is that?"
"Is there a tavern hereabouts where all the serving girls are friendly to anyone?" Pippin adds eagerly.
I mentally curse my mistake, because I have no desire to be with a woman this evening; the idea of touching any woman but Eowyn is now repugnant to me. But since I have already uttered the words, I choose to be frank. "Only the best and most elegant brothel in Minas Tirith, with the finest courtesans to be found in all of Gondor."
The hobbits trade uncomprehending glances between themselves, while Legolas is raising an eyebrow and Gimli is frowning blankly. Surely they are all not innocents regarding the fairer sex! I think in shock. But then I am forced to recognize that I have been guilty of assuming their customs are like mine. Clearly the idea of paying a woman for physical pleasure is quite strange to all of them, be they hobbit, elf, or dwarf. I realize this is going to be considerably more complicated than I believed, and take a deep breath.
"I take it that none of you have such places in your homes, where women gather together to offer men sexual favors in exchange for money?"
Merry and Pippin both look at me in stunned understanding. "No, we don't—we have enough lighthearted lasses that no one would need to offer coin for that," says a confident Pippin.
"You mean that there are women here who will bed someone if he pays them?" Merry's question is rather awestricken.
"Yes, indeed. So the Shire does not need such ladies?"
"No," says Frodo slowly, "but I recall now hearing my Uncle Sarry speak of such things after one of his trips to Bree, when I still lived at Brandy Hall." Merry's face disappears behind his ale again, and Frodo adds quickly, "Don't worry, Merry-lad! Uncle Sarry only saw everything from the outside. He'd not have any interest in going within." I remember belatedly that Frodo must be referring to Merry's father.
Sam is still struggling with the concept. "What did he see in Bree, Mister Frodo?"
"A house where women were calling out to men, offering them an evening of bed sport for a price. And there weren't just Big Folk, but hobbits too. That's why Uncle Sarry noticed; one of the dairymaids he and Aunt Esmie had been forced to discharge after she'd seduced too many of the other servants was standing in front of the door. He was very upset—I overheard him telling Aunt Esmie in a low voice that she was a wanton who would come to a bad end if she led that kind of life."
"I'd have to agree, Mister Frodo, it sounds a horrible way to make a living."
"Well, many such women do end up aged and wasted before their time, but the ladies I know are a different breed entirely." I tell them.
"No doubt they are," says Legolas skeptically, "but I cannot imagine reducing an act so sacred to a mere transaction. We of elven kind regard physical love as being more than a mingling of bodies—it is a mingling of spirits." He turns to Gimli. "What do you think?"
Gimli's ears are red at the tips, but his gaze is forthright. "I think it is a fine idea, actually. Many dwarves would embrace such a service if our women were willing to offer it, but even if they were, there are not a large enough number." He flushes a deeper red and buries himself in his tankard.
Merry says thoughtfully, "I rather find myself echoing Gimli. Why should paying a girl for some fun be any different then paying for good food and drink? And I'm curious to see these ladies now. Many women of Gondor are very pretty, and Faramir says they are among the very prettiest. What do the rest of you think?"
"I think that anywhere there are pretty women is a good place to visit," declares Pippin.
"And foreign travel is supposed to be broadening, isn't it?" Frodo's eyes have that wicked gleam again.
Legolas says calmly, "Yes, it is, Frodo, and I confess to a great curiosity as well. It is very rare to see another race's mating customs at close quarters. Wouldn't you agree, Gimli?"
"Aye," the dwarf growls. "Along with other things to be seen."
"What of you, Sam? Are you willing to go?" Frodo nudges his blushing gardener, who seems to be trying to tie himself into a knot.
"Yes, I'll go, but only if all of you promise not to tell Rosie."
"We promise," says Frodo as Merry and Pippin nod vigorously. He fixes me with an intent stare. "So, Faramir, are you prepared to take us to this place? You're the one who mentioned it, after all."
I squirm under six pairs of expectant eyes that seem to be pinning me to my chair. I certainly am in as an awkward position as Sam, maybe even more so since I have no wish to indulge. But Frodo is right, and I realize that I must brazen this out as best I can. "Yes, I will."
Pippin stands up. "Lead the way, then! Where is it, and what's it called?" Everyone else stands as well while they lay down money for the barmaid.
"The House of Crimson Joys, and it is in the fifth level." I straighten up and put a stack of coins on the table. "Follow me, and I shall take you there."
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.