Song-Fight at the Swan and Cygnet Saloon
Humorous narrative poem, just for fun. Watch out for indelicate language in two or three places. (Ahem.) The story of how a couple of archers resolved a gambling argument, mellowed out some Orcs, and named a new tavern drink in the process.
Hard by the banks of Long Lake where the river meets the road,
The Welcome Inn cons travelers in to rest their weary loads.
The Mistress keeps a tavern there with drink so stout and strong,
The clientele all yell for ale and bellow drinking songs.
One night the bar was crowded with a more-than-motley crew.
The Mortals, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves swilled buckets of the brew.
The Orkish bouncers eyed the drinkers, itching for a fray.
The customers howled louder than the Orkestra could play.
About the gaming table in the smoky candlelight,
A dozen heads bent o’er the dice and marked their rattled flight.
“I rolled a seven,” cried a man; Bard Bowman was his name.
“It was an eight!” An Elven archer disputed the claim.
The two strung arrows in a trice; the Elf’s arm was the faster.
But Orkish thugs surrounded both and threatened dire disaster.
“I’ll have no brawl,” the Mistress said. “It tends to kill the spenders.
In song you’ll duel, or not at all. Bard, you shall be defender.”
As Legolas leapt to the bar, the bets were getting down.
A shaken matron found her tongue and spoke of his renown.
“He has a voice like honey poured on crumbled gold,” said she.
“But Bard can charm the boldest thrushes from the tallest tree.”
They dowsed the light; the band sat tight; the Elf began to sing
Of turquoise sea and Teleri and harps strung with heart-string;
Where crashing currents fall like fountains to a pearly shore,
And waves evoke a longing for the psalms of Valinor.
Amid the cheers the Bowman took the Elf’s place and began.
He sang a simple chantey of a woman and a man.
“We looked into each other’s eyes and lost ourselves for aye.
The briefest candle burns below as bright as stars on high.”
The dew-eyed Orcs forgot their dorks and let their balls hang low.
The Mistress shook her head and swore the match was touch and go.
Then Legolas knelt `fore the crowd and lifted his fair face.
And to this day no one can say his song was second place.
He sang of urgent love that comes with burning blood of youth.
He praised the madness of first love; its wildness and its truth.
He sang and looked the maidens in their lovely, love struck eyes.
And of their own accord, I swear, their skirts began to rise.
“Your song had better kick behind,” the Mistress said to Bard.
“Or else this Elf will leave you gasping in the stable yard.
But if you win, I have within a prize to make you happy.
An arrow black as Sauron’s crack. – It used to be your pappy’s.”
“It drove Dad daft to lose that shaft,” the Bowman said with sorrow.
“His heart’s still sore, so I’ll restore his joy and his arrow.
If all is fair in singing duels then I shall pass the test.
I’ve saved a secret weapon-song that betters all the rest.”
Then Bard sang soft and held aloft a lantern shining bright.
He sang a song of courage `gainst the enigmatic night.
“We soon shall go, and do not know what lies beyond the portal.
And still we laugh, and ride to war, and love as if immortal.”
The souséd crowd arose and yowled as if they had one voice.
“‘Tis clear the winner is the Elf. In token of the choice,
We give this shaft of ebony, and may it serve you long.”
– “I cannot take the prize from Bard. His was the better song.”
Now many times I’ve heard this tale, and every time it’s told,
The Swan and Cygnet’s crowd that night grows larger and more bold.
But time has proved that Legolas knew what he was about.
Bard used that blackened shaft to shoot a dragon through the snout.
And by the way, that’s how they came to call it “Dragon Stout.”
1. Dragon Stout is an actual malt beverage, brewed in Jamaica by the good folks who make Red Stripe Beer, to which many thanks are due. Dragon Stout tastes, to my untutored tongue, a lot like Guinness only sweeter.
2. JRRT told the tale of Bard the Bowman and his father’s black arrow in The Hobbit, Chapter XIV, “Fire and Water.”
3. The pub where JRRT used to hang out was not called the Swan and Cygnet, but I hear it was something close.
4. As always I am borrowing the world of JRRT whose work I love and respect, and I promise to return it unharmed.