‘…but first, let us toast our great saboteur! To Coster!’
The small group of dwarves cheered and greeted their saboteur with claps on the back as they began to shuffle into their great ale hall. Coster was not at all pleased with this, hating the attention, as the tavern under Thorin’s Hall was especially crowded with holiday travelers and merrymakers. He smiled uncomfortably and looked around. The burglar didn’t care for these dwarves, but their ale was quite good.
‘Marsden! Marsden Cooper!’ came a low shout from across the tavern.
Coster felt his heart miss a beat. He kept moving with the scourge of Ale Association members until another dwarf grabbed his arm.
‘Marsden! What are you doing with this lot?’
‘Do you know this fellow, Coster?’ asked Jónar.
He looked at Jónar and then to the other dwarf.
‘I fear this chap might be confused. Half a moment, fellows,’ he replied.
This seemed to satisfy them and they proceeded into the ale hall with no further questions. Coster stepped aside and drug this newly come dwarf to a darkened table in the corner.
‘Marsden, what is going on? Why are you consorting with Jónar and his lot?’
‘It is good to see you, Usi,’ Coster smirked.
Realizing his discourteous behavior Usi, son of Osmo, rose and bowed with typical Longbeard formality. He took his chair and began his questioning anew.
‘You cannot seriously be in league with this foolish Ale Association, can you? This tomfoolery is Dourhand business or I’m a toad!’ Usi bore the honor of his lineage, a hardy smith from the Lonely Mountain now working to maintain the hardfought peace of the Ered Luin. ‘When I’d heard you were coming West with my father I said, “Grand! We could use a Man with a mind for business here” but now I question my own judgement. You have been off gallivanting and fighting, even to Moria! I shudder to think of what you found there.’
Coster held up his hand calmly, again growing wary of prying eyes. He stood and said in diplomatic fashion, ‘This is no way for two old acquaintances to get on, my good dwarf. Let me get you something…’
With that he fetched two more of the seasonal brews prepared in the tavern, much to the liking of Usi. Then he explained it all: Marsden he was no more, that name left behind with his life in Esgaroth. Usi did not understand but obliged his old friend just the same. Coster had no ill will against the little folk, nor necessarily their brewing craft, and though he held the dwarves in high regard from his time in Lake-town he knew that Jónar was an ass of the worst sort. Nonetheless, a businessman Coster remained. The Ale Association had fantastic brews and the most spectacular ale hall to be found outside of Erebor.
‘In addition,’ he said, ‘Surely an old craftsman like you can appreciate the spirit of competition. And it is a healthy way to exercise my less…tactful compulsions.’
‘Aye, draining beer kegs and accosting my kinfolk! Healthy indeed!’ Usi was not pleased and purposely forewent the Burglar’s new name. ‘I worry for you, Marsden. ‘Twere not for just gold you went away, nor for your entry to Moria. What did you find there?’
Coster was silent for a time and seemed to only be thinking of his drink. After a while he spoke with a forced smile. ‘That is a tale for another day, my friend.’
He rose and began to leave, saying ‘My best regards to your father’, drained his mug and entered the ale hall.