Tales of the Great Forest: 4. The Two Hunchbacks

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4. The Two Hunchbacks

The Elves of Mirkwood are neither cruel nor unjust, and always pay fairly - by their own lights - for services rendered to them. But woe to any man who thinks to take advantage of that for his own ends!

Not far from here once lived Wildred and Tolma, two hunchbacked cobblers. Will was sharper and cleverer than Tom, who was thus always at Will's command. One day Will gave Tom a staff and told him, "Go out, Tom, and fetch back the straked goat".

Tom took the staff and went off, but search as he might, he could not find the straked goat. Finally dusk was gathering, and he thought it time to go home. Although night was falling, it was a fair night; the stars shone in the sky like jewels, and a new crescent moon rose to light his path. When he was almost home, though, a gray mist suddenly rose up, and he lost all sight of the path and sense of direction. As suddenly as it arose, though, it dispersed, and Tom found himself in a clearing in the midst of a forest: so dense did the branches grow overhead that almost the starlight and moonlight was blocked. "Alas!", he thought, "this is surely the Great Forest, and how shall I find my way out, even if I can avoid the Elvish hunt?"

Alas! that was not to be either. Tom heard a far-off sound: first it sounded like the humming of bees, then like the rushing of water, and at last it was like the marching of a crowd. All at once the hunt was upon him, and the clearing was full of fine horses with finer Elves riding them, with the gems on their caps shining brighter than the stars and moon had, turning the night into day. There was the blowing of horns, the waving of flags, the playing of music, and the baying of hounds. As much peril as Tom knew himself to be in, he thought that he had never seen such splendor in his life. Then one of the Elves spotted him, and cried out in his Elvish speech. A tall Elf rode up to Tom; he was dressed in silk and tissue of gold and silver, studded all over with white gems, and Tom knew that this must be the Elvenking.

"This is a bad place for thee to be, child of Men", said the Elvenking.

"That's so, my lord", replied Tom, "but I'm not here by my will, and I'd gladly be elsewhere, if my lord would but deign to let me leave".

"I see that it is indeed so", said the Elvenking - for the Elves can see into the hearts of Men, and know the truth and falseness of their words - "and therefore I'll not condemn thee as I might. Still, thou hast trespassed in my realm, and owest me a scot. Wilt thou serve me as one of my own for a night?"

"With all my heart, my lord", answered Tom, thinking himself fortunate that no heavier penalty had been placed upon him.

"Then thou shalt be my doorward tonight, and stand at the entrance to my halls; and whenever anyone would go in, yea, even myself, thou shalt take of that one the password. And the password is this: Orgilion Oranor Orithil Orgaladhad Ormenel Orbelain1".

So it was that one of the Elves set Tom on his horse, and whisked him to the Elvenking's halls, where he stood before the gate. And as the sky beyond the Forest lightened with the coming of the dawn, the Elves returned, singly and in companies, and Tom demanded the password from each one. And the Elves reviled him, and some spat on him, that a mere mortal should stand in the way of the Ever-living, but Tom said, "Your king asked this service of me, and I'll not break my word to him, not for the crown of the Stonelands and the crown of the Lonelands2 both", and so will they or nill they, they gave Tom the password. And last of all the Elvenking rode up to the gate, and Tom demanded the password from him, just as he had been told, and the Elvenking said, "Orgilion Oranor Orithil Orgaladhad Ormenel Orbelain", and rode in, and it was dawn.

The Elvenking told Tom, "Thou hast done the service I demanded as scot, and so are free to go. Yet my people abused thee, which was not my will, and so some further recompense is due thee". So saying, he drew a glittering white knife from his belt, and before Tom could cry out or cringe, stroked it down his back - and his hump fell away! Turning to his folk, the Elvenking said, "Take this offal and throw it in the bushes".

How proud now was Tom, who so found himself the straightest man in all the lands! He walked down the Forest Road and back to his home with a light heart and eager step. When he reached his cottage, Will marveled at seeing him so straight and strong; and after Tom had rested and refreshed himself, he told Will of meeting the Elvenking, and the services that they had done each other.

The next night Will went into the Forest, and came at last to the clearing. About midnight, he heard the trampling of horses, the lashing of whips, and the baying of hounds, and all the hubbub of a great hunt; and behold! there were all the Elves and their king, just as Tom had said.

One of the Elves called out, and the Elvenking rode up to Will. "What dost thou in my lands, child of Men?", he demanded angrily.

"My lord", answered Will, "I would be as one of you for this night, and do you a service if I might".

So it was that Will was given the post of doorward for the night, and set to take the password. And as before, as the sky lightened, the Elves came back to the halls and, whether they would or no, gave Will the password. Last of all the Elvenking rode up, and gave the password: "Orgilion Oranor Orithil Orgaladhad Ormenel Orbelain".

"And Oraearon3 too, don't forget", said Will, thinking himself mighty clever. At this a great outcry rose up among the Elves.

"Foolish mortal!", cried the Elvenking, his eyes flashing terribly, "dost thou think to correct one of the Ever-living?" Turning to his Elves, the king commanded, "Take that hump from the bushes, and clamp it on this churl's back", and before Will could say a word in protest, it was so.

"Now, be off with thee, mortal", said the Elvenking, "and if thou darest to be seen in these woods again, thou mayest think me merciful if I but clamp a third hump to thy chest!"

With these words the gates of the Elvenking's halls slammed shut, leaving poor Will standing outside with a hump on each shoulder. The next day he found his way home with a wizened face, dragging one foot after the other, with his two humps on his shoulders, and, if he hasn't had them off, they're there still.

1The days of the Elvish week, in Sindarin.
2Arnor = Eriador, the "Lonely Land". Of course, Arnor doesn't have a crown, but these niceties were probably beyond the Woodmen.
3The Elvish week had only six days. The Númenoreans, desiring a seventh, added Eärenya, (Quenya, "Ocean-day"), which translated to Sindarin as Oraearon.

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.

Story Information

Author: Akatsukami

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/04/09

Original Post: 11/22/08

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WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

Tales of the Great Forest

ziggy - 04 Jan 09 - 2:09 PM

Ch. 4: The Two Hunchbacks

Another terrific folk tale that feels so authentic. The atmosphere is really good and the use you make of all the senses contributes to that.

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