The Tale of Adelbold Puddifoot
Great stories happen to those who can tell them
Wybert just started reciting his new tale at the Green Dragon last Friday. The tale is so epic, it’ll be told in installments over the next few weeks. Whenever there is a new entry, it will be added to this post. Enjoy!
The Tale of Adelbold Puddifoot
Part one (added May 9)
My story begins many years ago in this very inn, the Green Dragon here in Bywater. Now back in those days the inn was much busier than it is today – travellers on the road were much more frequent then and parties of all races often took a detour through Bywater, for the Dragon’s reputation for fine food and ale was second to none.
The innkeeper then was a very famous and distinguished hobbit – so famous, in fact, that I’ve completely forgotten his name and since he isn’t very important to my story I probably won’t mention him again. Of much more importance are the three young hobbits who worked for him.
The first of these was Orchid Noakes, the barmaid, a saucy and mischievous young lass with a twinkle in her eye and a sharp edge to her tongue who took no nonsense from anyone.
Her friend Ned Cotton worked as the stable hand, tending the horses, ponies and even the donkeys of the travellers who called in at the inn. He was a simple lad, honest and down to earth, and truth be told he was head over heels in love with Orchid but was far too bashful to ever tell her.
The last of these, but by no means the least, for he will be the chief character in our story, was Adelbold Puddifoot, the general dogsbody and potboy whose job was serving at and clearing the tables, sweeping up and generally keeping the place looking tidy. I have to say that he did not excel in these tasks, for not only did he have a strange name for a lowly employee in a tavern, he also had some very strange ideas.
Young Adelbold lived just outside Bywater with his mother down by The Water. Sadly, he never knew his father and, sadder still, his dear mother had always refused to speak about him however often the lad asked her. When Adelbold was old enough his mother arranged for him to work at the Dragon and it was just a couple of weeks before he started that one of the most significant events of his life took place.
The lad was walking up the road on his way to collect some eggs for his mother from the Cotton family farm when he came across a stranger, riding a piebald pony, travelling in the opposite direction. He wore a tunic of fine cloth and a cloak of black and gold, patterned with strange symbols. Perched precariously atop his aquiline nose were a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles and he bore, in every aspect, all the marks of a distinguished scholar.
On seeing Adelbold he stopped and asked directions to Michel Delving and the lad politely pointed him in the right direction whereupon the rider asked him his name. When Adelbold told him he stared at him closely for so long that the boy began to feel uncomfortable. “Adelbold”, he eventually said, “is a very distinguished name. May I ask how you came by it and the name of your father?”
When Adelbold told him that he never knew his father and his mother never spoke of him the stranger seemed to become even more interested. “You see, I am a student of the past and I study histories of the old families of the Shire. Adelbold is a name associated with Thains – why you may even be related to the mighty Bandobras himself. Many scions of the great families lost touch with their forefathers in the years after the goblin war and my studies lead me to believe that a branch of the Took family settled in these parts. I have urgent business at the Mathom House right now, but I will consult my books and may return to visit you again.” And with that, the scholar rode off.
Now I have to tell you straight away that Adelbold never heard from that stranger again but the effect of that short conversation on the lad was profound. Of course, like any hobbit lad, he had grown up with tales of the deeds of Bandobras Took, the ‘Bullroarer’, and of his family, the great Thains of yesteryear. The idea that he might be descended from such noble stock, that their heroic blood might run in his veins, was just too appealing to a lad who had so desperately wanted to know who his father was. This is a good example of how brief moments in our lives may change their course forever.
When he reported to his mother what the stranger had told him the poor woman did her best to discourage him in his belief, but she loved her son and she knew that if she told him the truth about his father (which she now realised she should have done long before) it would break the lad’s heart. So he spent his hours filling his head with the old stories and imagining himself performing heroic deeds, visiting the halls of men and elves and dwarfs and being admired and received with great honour and respect wherever he went.
Unfortunately, he expected others to share this fantasy and it will not surprise you to learn that he lost most of his friends quite quickly. The job at the inn did not start well and things only got worse. He insisted on wearing a fine red coat, which his mother had spent many long nights cutting and sewing for him, with bright yellow hose down to his furry feet.
He refused to perform any of the duties assigned to him which might lead to his clothing becoming soiled – which was most of them, for as I’m sure you know a great deal of ale is spilled in a tavern. At times the floor was swimming in beer, and I believe the beautiful rug in the back room never recovered! He treated the labourers and farm lads who dropped by with complete disdain and rebuked them for their coarse manner of speaking when he refused to serve them.
Some of the richer merchants and other wealthy travellers who passed by were astonished when the potboy seated himself at their tables and tried to join their conversations, introducing himself as Master Adelbold of Bywater, and soliciting their views on the heroic exploits he was planning to undertake.
The truth is, the lad’s head had been completely turned and I’m sure he wouldn’t have kept the job were it not for the fact that the innkeeper (I know, I said I probably wouldn’t mention him again) felt some sympathy for his mother.
Orchid Noakes and Ned Cotton had more reason than most to quickly become unhappy with this state of affairs. He hardly spoke to either of them but when he did so it was in a most condescending manner, treating them as if they were his servants rather than his co-workers and to make matters worse they both ended up having to do the jobs he should have done.
Hardly surprising then that they quickly developed a deep resentment of his airs and graces and on their breaks they would sit together and dream up ways of getting their own back on Adelbold. Of course, there was a silver lining in it for Ned as he got to spend more time alone with Orchid, though he never came any nearer to expressing his feelings for her.
During quiet times at the tavern, while Ned and Orchid seethed and plotted in the bar, Adelbold, having no one else to talk to, would go out to the stables, as he told Ned, to inspect the war steeds, since he would need a suitable mount for his planned adventures. It is not clear how he expected to be able to purchase any of the horses and ponies stabled there by the inn’s wealthy patrons even had they been for sale.
However, it was during his visits to the stable that he found the only one to show him any affection at that time (except, of course, for his mother because mothers, as we know, love us unconditionally, always). Some time earlier an old pipeweed merchant had visited the Dragon on his way to the crafters’ market in Michel Delving and, by chance, a horse trader was staying at the inn at the same time and he had some fine ponies for sale. The pipeweed seller was most impressed and he bought one of the fine ponies and, because the trader didn’t want his donkey in exchange he left a small purse for its upkeep and asked that it should be kept in the stable there until it could be sold.
The donkey was most sad and lonely for not only had his master rejected him but he had stolen his name as well and given it to his new pony. The donkey’s name, as I think some of you may have guessed, was Rattles. I should also say at this point that Rattles was a very special donkey indeed, for reasons which you will soon learn, and I suppose the pipeweed merchant did not know what he was giving up. During his time at the inn Adelbold and Rattles developed a very close relationship, as may often happen when two lonely souls are thrown together.
One day in early May a small party arrived at the Green Dragon round about lunchtime.
Part 2 (added May 14)
One day in early May a small party arrived at the Green Dragon round about lunchtime. This cheery band comprised several hobbit lads and lasses accompanying a hobbit maid who wore a full length white floral dress with a crown of flowers on her head. This pretty lass was Ruby Goodenough, who had just been crowned as the May Queen for that year and who happened to be a good friend of Orchid’s. She and her friends were returning to Woodhall where they lived and had dropped by for a bite to eat and a glass of ale to fortify them on their journey. Orchid and Ruby greeted each other with warm hugs and soon the two lasses were engaged in deep conversation.
Now Adelbold had been loitering in the back room when the party arrived and seeing that it was only a bunch of common lads and lasses he was thinking he might slink off to the stables but then his eye was drawn to Miss Ruby and, especially, to her crown, and he stood there transfixed. For a full ten minutes he stood there watching as Ruby and Orchid chatted happily and, finally, he stumbled forward and, after confronting her with several deep bows and flourishes, he addressed the astonished Ruby directly: “Oh, my sweet lady, my queen, thy beauty surpasseth the very stars that shine. To thee I plight my troth and I’ll thy servant be, thy champion for ever more” and with that he sank to his knees with his head bowed before her. (I should say that even back then some very dodgy poets visited the Dragon and Adelbold had absorbed many of their turns of phrase!). Well, needless to say, once Ruby got over her surprise, and Orchid was done rolling her eyes, she and Orchid dissolved in fits of laughter and, hugging each other tightly, the lasses collapsed in a far corner of the room, leaving Adelbold a solitary and somewhat ridiculous figure on the rug.
You may think that the lad was set back by this reaction. On the contrary, he reasoned that a Queen of royal birth, for that is what he had convinced himself she most certainly was, would expect any knight to prove himself worthy of her before she entertained any such entreaties. Up to the time that the young hobbits, amply fed and watered, set off for Woodhall his eyes never left her – and he gave little heed to the fact that just as they set off Orchid was seen speaking to Ruby at some length and Ruby, by way of reply, nodded her head several times.
It was a couple of days later that Orchid approached Adelbold in the bar and tapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t touch me, wench, and get about your work,” was his dismissive response. Showing unaccustomed powers of restraint, Orchid bit her lip and spoke again: “Pardon, sir, but I bring a message from your queen – she to whom you spoke the other day.” Immediately, she had his full attention. “What says she? Come, tell me and be quick about it too.”
“Why sir, she sends you many compliments and confesses she has thought only of you since you approached her in such a chivalrous manner the other day. But know that she would be thy queen and so commands your love be tested by performance of such valorous deeds as I, her messenger, will relay to you. Sirrah, will you thus earn her love?”
“I will”, he said.
“Then you must travel to the furthest corners of the earth and earn renown enough to honour her in deeds of great valour. Return to me with tokens of thy prowess and I will lead you then to where your queen resides. She asks that you leave right away, for she cannot bear to wait a moment longer than is needful.” And with that, Orchid gave him a little curtsey and turned away. It is questionable whether even in his most deluded state Adelbold would not have taken a moment to pause for thought had he seen the curl of Orchid’s lip as she turned her face from his.
He did not see it, and in a state of great agitation he rushed to the stable yard where he was greeted by Ned, to whom Orchid had delivered very precise instructions. “Sire,” said the lad, “thy steed and armour are prepared.” There, in the stable yard stood Rattles, equipped with a scuffed old saddle. “Bring me my armour and my spear, lad,” commanded Adelbold and suppressing a grin Ned placed upon his head an old tin bucket in which he’d punched two holes, strapped an old piece of iron plate he’d begged from the blacksmith to his shoulders and in his hand placed a stout wooden broom handle. Following Orchid’s instructions to the letter he gave a low bow. “Farewell, my liege”.
With no further ado Adelbold mounted Rattles and they set off down the road watched by Orchid and Ned – as they drew out of sight Orchid cried in glee “With luck, that’ll be the last we see of ‘im, the poor deluded fool!” She then gave Ned a little hug, took him by the hand, and, together, they did a little dance right there in the yard. Ned enjoyed this very much and hoped that they might dance together again soon but they didn’t – for now, at any rate.
Out on the road Adelbold looked ahead and spoke out loud. “I have heard that giants roam in the Trollshaws. Defeating giants would surely be a deed worthy of her love! To the Trollshaws it is then.”
“That’ll be interestin’,” observed Rattles. Well, I did say that Rattles was a very special donkey indeed and it is a sad reflection on Adelbold’s mental state that he showed no surprise whatsoever to find himself in conversation with a donkey.
Rattles, it should be said, knew perfectly well where the Trollshaws lay, and of the dangers that lay there, for his old master had been a well-travelled pipeweed merchant, well-respected in every corner of Middle Earth. He also felt a genuine affection for Adelbold who had been the only one to visit him when his old master had so cruelly abandoned him.
The wise old donkey determined then and there that he would do his best to keep his new master from harm although he realised he could do little to deter him in his pursuit of the fantastic notions which beset him – indeed, the lad’s grip on reality seemed to be slipping away by the minute.
I might add that Adelbold had made mention of acquiring a well-tended carrot field when he reclaimed his ‘birthright’ and Rattles felt that however unlikely that eventuality might be, if it did happen he would feel an ass for missing out on such a prize!
… to be continued