It was a grey morning, and Bilbo Baggins had just finished breakfast. Since it wasn't raining, he had gone outside for some fresh air. He was sitting on a bench in his garden smoking his pipe, when he saw a rotund man approaching, huffing and puffing as he came up The Hill.
"Good morning," Bilbo said, giving the stranger a polite nod. When the man stopped, he added, "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"If you'll pardon me, there's nothing good about the morning. You must be Bilbo Baggins," the man said. "Nothing good about it," he repeated.
"I am, and I'm sorry to hear it," Bilbo replied, "But surely it can't be that gloomy?"
"Can't it?" The stranger grumbled. "Just consider rabbit pie…"
"Rabbit pie?" Food was never far from Bilbo's mind and he found this particular image very easy to construct, much easier than his visitor may have imagined, although he wasn't entirely sure what was so gloom-inducing about it.
"Rabbit pie," the man confirmed despondently as he trundled onward. "Consider it."
"Of course. I will," Bilbo answered. "Mr…?"
The man, who by now was almost around the next bend in the road, stopped walking and turned around. "Brasso Butterbur's the name," he called back, "And please do!"
"I will," Bilbo repeated, more confused than ever. "And please do come by for tea if you happen to be in the neighbourhood again, Mr Butterbur."
"Thank you for the invitation!" the man shouted back, "I certainly will."
How odd. Bilbo thought, and he put the encounter out of mind.
That afternoon, just as he was sitting down for his tea, there was a knock on the door.
Now who can that be? Surely not that odd man, Butterbur…
When he opened the door, he saw a goblin standing there, dripping with rain.
"Hi!" the creature barged in and exclaimed with an enthusiasm that revealed a mouth full of sharp, and rather yellow, fangs. "I'm Armachnâk. I'm here for tea."
"Oh," was all Bilbo could say as the goblin hung a soaking-wet cloak on one of Bilbo's coat hooks.
"This way? Great," and the creature walked right into Bilbo's kitchen and sat down at the table.
Bilbo had only just poured tea for his unusual visitor when there was another knock on the door.
"Hi! I'm Kochnâk. Oh, good, Armachnâk's already here," and before Bilbo could object, the second goblin had hung his equally wet cloak next to the one already there, and bounded off inside.
Another goblin… Bilbo followed him to the kitchen.
"Tea?" he asked, remembering his manners.
"Water," Kochnâk replied.
Bilbo gave him a glass of water, and was about to ask the two what had brought them here, when there was yet another knock.
There were two goblins this time.
"I'm Rûhm, he's Rûhmankôôk," the one who entered first announced. "Where's the party?"
Bilbo waved them through to the kitchen, and was about to follow them, when – again – someone knocked.
"Help yourselves," he shouted after the two latest arrivals, and only just heard one of them shouting "Don't worry, we will" over the repeated knocking.
"Yes, I'm coming," he called. "Can't be everywhere at once," he grumbled as he opened the door again.
"Hello," said what had to be the ugliest goblin of the lot, and therefore automatically the ugliest goblin poor Bilbo had ever seen, "We're Tekwillâ, Pôrt, Grâppa, Achgwâvit and Bêr."
"Welcome," Bilbo, who by now was in a state of shock, stammered. "Please come in, and join the others."
"You hear that?" said one, "Some of the lads are here already."
"Ooohh, hurry up then!" another said as they barged past Bilbo. "Can't let them have all the fun."
Bilbo wondered whether there were any more goblins going to barge in, and decided he would wait a few minutes before going into the kitchen again. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to see what damage the goblins had done to his kitchen and larder anyway, so some time to gather his courage was welcome no matter how he looked at it.
With a sigh he got up. He had not gone five steps when there was a banging and knocking on the door that was beyond belief. Grimacing, he opened the door, and four more goblins piled in, followed by the man Brasso Butterbur.
"Bilbo Baggins, meet Arâk, Grôg, Vôthkaorrensch and Gînnantonnik," Brasso said with a wide grin.
"Charmed, I'm sure," muttered the goblin at the bottom of the pile.
"Cease yer whining, Arâk," the top one growled as they disentangled themselves.
"Is that any way to talk to your leader?" Arâk, drawing a rather unpleasant-looking knife, snarled at the other goblin, and Bilbo pressed back, hoping they wouldn't notice him so he could slip out. He had begun to remember all the ghastly stories people told about goblins, and now fully expected to be horrendously murdered – and eaten as well – in his own kitchen. They'd probably eat him with his own best silver cutlery!
"Hey!" Brasso Butterbur shouted, "Do you have some towels? We're drenched."
"Of course, just a moment," and Bilbo went off in search of towels. He could have sworn Brasso knew he had wanted to sneak off.
By the time he'd come back with towels for whoever wanted to dry off – and as host he felt he really should have thought of that, no matter how unwanted his guests were – all the goblins who had arrived after Kochnâk and Armachnâk had settled in around Bilbo's kitchen table, and were engaged in stuffing themselves full of whatever they had managed to find in his larder. One (Bilbo thought it was Pôrt or Grâppa) was making an omelette, while Arâk was hesitating between two of Bilbo's bottles of Old Vinyards.
"The brown bottle is from the 2880 vintage," Bilbo said. "It's very good."
"So, it speaks." Arâk looked at him long and hard – making Bilbo want to sink through the kitchen floor, or, failing that option, faint – and turned to Brasso. "You sure he's the one?"
"Fairly sure. Best to settle this now," Brasso looked at Bilbo. "You seem to be a hobbit who not only likes to eat, but from the quality of the food in your larder I'd say that you also like to cook."
"That's true," Bilbo said, "I'm a fairly good cook, even if I say so myself."
"Good," Brasso went on. "We're looking for someone who can bake us a perfect rabbit pie."
"Oh," Bilbo said. "I won't say my rabbit pies are perfect, but they're quite good all the same."
Why me? Bilbo asked himself. How had he ended up with a bunch of goblins in his quiet hobbit hole? But it had happened and he'd have to deal with it. If he was smart – and lucky – he might still even make it to morning without being eaten.
"That's good to hear," Arâk said. "But what we want is a very special kind of pie."
"Hear, hear," twelve goblins shouted, as they stamped their feet on the floor in unison.
"Special?" Bilbo asked out loud. He wouldn't admit it for the world, but his interest was piqued now.
"Yes, special," Arâk said again, "But before I tell you more, I want to know that you are worthy of this Quest." Bilbo could almost hear the capital Q in the goblin's speech. "Tell me exactly how you would make a rabbit pie," Arâk continued. "And don't leave out anything."
"Well…" Bilbo's mind had suddenly gone blank, and he frantically thought of every rabbit recipe he had ever had, until at last he remembered the rabbit pie he'd made a few weeks ago. "You, umm, you need a rabbit obviously, jointed," he started ticking off the ingredients on his fingers, "flour, lard, onions, carrots, sweet artichokes, red wine, stock, parsley and other herbs, apples, grapes, raisins, an orange, salt, black pepper, three eggs, three artichokes, pastry dough…"
"I don't like apples," one of the goblins complained.
"You'll eat what's set in front of you, Pôrt," Arâk snapped.
"Yes, boss," Pôrt replied meekly.
"Boil two of your eggs. Slice the vegetables, coat the rabbit pieces in flour and fry them. Add the vegetables, and keep frying," Bilbo went on, trying to appear unperturbed after suddenly realising that several of the goblins were female; Grâppa certainly was, and she was eyeing him up in a quite unpleasant manner, but then so was Gînnantonnik, who Bilbo was certain was male. It made sense that there were goblin women, he supposed, goblins had to come from somewhere, but it wasn't something he'd ever wanted to give thought to, and he'd really rather stop thinking about it now as well. Right… Rabbit pie it is… "Add the wine and the stock, and bring to the boil. Oh, you should have had the oven going as well by now; put your ingredients in an oven dish and cook until the rabbit is done, and make sure it doesn't dry out. Make the pastry dough while the rabbit cooks."
"I hate dry meat," Pôrt said softly, casting a sly glance at Arâk, who stroked the hilt of his knife, but otherwise ignored the smaller goblin.
Bilbo took a deep breath and went on. "Get a pie dish and put in the things you just cooked in the oven. Decorate with the hard-boiled eggs and the artichokes. Roll out the pastry dough and cover the dish with it. Decorate the edges, and cut a cross in the middle."
"What's that for?" Armachnâk asked.
"So the pie doesn't explode all over your oven," Kochnâk said. "Don't you know anything?
"I knew that," Armachnâk muttered. "Just wanted to make sure he does," he said, pointing at Bilbo.
"Ahem," Bilbo interrupted. "Do you want me to finish this?"
All the goblins assured him that they wanted to hear the end of the recipe, so when they were quiet again, Bilbo said, "And then you put the pie in the oven until the pastry is nice and golden brown."
Now the goblins were silent, and Bilbo wondered if he'd said anything wrong. Finally, Arâk spoke. "That was just… beautiful. I like it. Pack your stuff. We leave at midnight."
"Wait, what…?" Bilbo wasn't sure what to say.
"You're the one we're looking for," Arâk said. "I'm certain."
"Yes, I get that," Bilbo answered, even if he didn't. "But where are we going?"
"Oh, that," Arâk said. "We need you to make a Rhosgobel Rabbit pie for us."
"What's a Rhosgobel Rabbit pie?" Bilbo asked. "Or should I ask what is a Rhosgobel Rabbit?"
"I told you," Brasso suddenly interrupted sombrely, "I warned you to consider the rabbit pie, didn't I…"
"I know!" Achgwâvit shouted, "Rhosgobel Rabbits live in a cave and they look all white and fluffy and harmless, but they tear out the throat of everyone who comes near, and…"
"Achgwâvit, you fool. That's the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog," Tekwillâ said.
"If you know any better…" Achgwâvit mumbled.
"I do! Rhosgobel Rabbits are white, but they wear waistcoats and a watch on a chain…" Tekwillâ declared triumphantly.
Grâppa got into the discussion as well. "Yer both fools. That's the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. No, Rhosgobel Rabbits are cartoon rabbits, and one of their great enemies is this coyote…"
"That's Bugs Bunny," Arâk shouted in frustration, "Don't you lot know anything? Besides, Wile E. Coyote appeared mostly with Roadrunner, so there. Rhosgobel Rabbits are the rabbits of the wizard Radagast, who lives near the dark forest people call Mirkwood. These rabbits are twice as large as ordinary rabbits, and ever since my great- great-great-grandfather first heard of these rabbits, the pursuit of the Rabbit pie has been a quest in my family. Every third son is bound to follow it or face the wrath of my great- great-great-grandfather's ghost."
"Oh, of course," Achgwâvit interrupted him, "And Radagast wears a red, fur-lined cape and hood when they pull his sled through the sky on Midwinter's Eve, and he brings presents to all naughty goblin children."
"Shutupshutupshutup!" Arâk was turning purple in the face and Bilbo wondered if he was going to burst a vein. "That. Is. Father. Christmas. And. They. Are. Reindeer. NOT. Rabbits!"
"Anyway, now you know what Rhosgobel Rabbits are and why you must make me a pie with them," Arâk growled at Bilbo. "Get ready."
"Umm…" Bilbo hesitated and stopped.
"What now?" Arâk asked. "Oh, yes, of course, you may have a piece of pie as well."
"Umm… Thank you," Bilbo tried again. "But I'm… I'm not going…"
Thirteen angry goblins now stood around Bilbo, and he crawled back against the wall until he could go no further back.
Arâk pulled Bilbo up until they were face to face. "NOT GOING?" He shook Bilbo and threw him to the ground and Bilbo hit his head.
Suddenly, Bilbo was awake. What a dream… I really must stop eating blue cheese last thing at night. He shook his head, and after stretching and a few yawns, got out of bed.
As he was pottering about cooking breakfast, the dream was already fading, leaving behind only the thought that he might make a rabbit pie for his tea sometime soon.
Going outside to enjoy the morning, which was warm and sunny and quite pleasant, he noticed an old man with a staff coming up The Hill. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which a white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.
"Good morning!" said Bilbo.
'sweet artichokes': what we'd call Jerusalem artichokes
While the story retells the first chapter of The Hobbit (well, in a way...) the final sentence and a half is of course borrowed from there in its entirety. It has been cleaned up and put back with no harm done to it afterwards.
The recipe Bilbo recites is one I found on the BBC website; I haven't made it myself.
The plotbunny was suggested to me by Anglachel; I suppose I should thank her…
Originally written for the January 2013 Hobbit Story Pledge Challenge at HASA.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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