Written for the Waymeet "The Sporting Life" challenge on LiveJournal.
Disclaimer: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
A MINOR MISUNDERSTANDING
Hobbits ... were keen-eyed and sure at the mark. If any Hobbit stooped for a stone, it was well to get quickly under cover.
Prologue, 'Concerning Hobbits', The Fellowship of the Ring
The four hobbits stopped and listened. There it was again – that strange, muffled sound of something heavy rolling across a smooth floor, a crash, then joyous (or dismayed) shouts.
"I think they're wreckin' somethin' in there," Sam decided, examining the sturdy building in front of them. "Maybe Gimli's got folks pullin' down walls."
"But what about that rolling sound?" Frodo mused.
"Maneuvering some type of equipment into place?" Merry guessed.
"At night?" Pippin asked. "The sun set hours ago."
Merry looked up and read the sign. "This place has the look of a pub, but 'The Prickly Pins' sounds more like a dressmaker's shop."
"A pub?" Pippin looked hopeful.
"If this was a dressmaker's shop," Sam said logically, "there'd be dresses in the windows."
"There would at least be windows," Pippin added.
"Let's find out," Frodo declared. "We're a bit turned around, anyway. Perhaps someone inside can point out the fastest way back to the Sixth Circle." He reached up to the wooden knocker and let it clang back onto the door, but apparently the noise from within was so raucous, no one heard it. With a determined look, Frodo gave the door a push and it slowly opened. Bright light and laughter spilled over him.
The hobbits entered the strange building, and found themselves standing on a wide wooden balcony overlooking a well-lit, very long room. It was a pub of sorts, with a bar and many occupied tables near the front. Farther in, more than a dozen Men stood grouped together in front of several long, straight strips of smooth flooring 4 feet wide and perhaps 60 feet long. A deep groove ran along each side of the strip, and ten squat objects were grouped together at the end.
"It's ninepins!" Merry cried, recognizing the objects. "This game was played in Buckland a long time ago. There are still some wooden pins in the Brandy Hall mathom room."
"I remember hearing about that," Frodo said, "but this setup seems a bit different. Look, they stand up ten pins here, and..." He watched, amazed, as one of the Men rolled a ball down the strip of flooring. It crashed into the pins at an odd angle, knocking down a few of them.
"The pins and balls must be made of stone!" Sam marveled. "No wonder we could hear this from the street."
"The pheriannath!" came a cry from down below. Several Men looked up and raised their mugs in the direction of the hobbits, and Beregond stepped forward from the throng. "Join us, friends! Have a drink, at least."
Pippin raced down the wooden steps, needing no further urging. Merry, Sam, and Frodo followed. The hobbits were welcomed, escorted to a table, and mugs of ale were thrust at them. Dozens of excited voices began explaining the game all at once, but Frodo waved them to silence.
"Please," Frodo said, "we do not wish to interrupt. May we just watch? I'm sure we can figure out the rules on our own."
"Of course!" Beregond smiled. "We call this game 'pin ball'. We try to knock down as many pins as possible with two rolls of the ball."
The ale and food were excellent, and the hobbits were toasted more than once. While Frodo and Merry wandered about, chatting with the delighted Men, Pippin and Sam concentrated on sampling the various potent ales being offered to them. They were soon far ahead of their companions in how many mugs they were emptying.
After awhile, Frodo and Merry returned to the table and sat down.
"Merry," Frodo said, "everyone is having such a good time. Why isn't ninepins still played in Buckland?"
"Because it was too easy," Merry replied matter-of-factly. "Where's the sport in knocking down nine pins in two tries? Nothing to it. But I have this 'pin ball' of theirs figured out." He nodded knowingly. "These Men are very clever; obviously they must get extra points for trick shots." He pointed to a friend of Beregond, who seemed upset. "I heard him call that a '7-10 split'. That set-up had to be deliberate; it's very difficult to hit pins so far apart with one ball. And did you see what Beregond did just now? He allowed his first ball to roll down that 'gutter', thus handicapping himself with only one ball left to hit all ten pins."
"You're right," Frodo agreed. "It would be too simple without any restrictions. They obviously discovered that fact, and now attempt the most unique and complicated shots they can set up for themselves."
There was a roar as someone rolled a ball and knocked down all ten pins.
Merry sighed. "Poor fellow. I wonder what sequence of pins he was trying to hit?"
"Sam," Frodo asked suddenly, "are you all right?"
"Never better!" Sam declared, listing a bit to the right.
"I don't like this game," Pippin declared suddenly. "Those balls look too much like the Seeing Scones for my taste. Um, I mean the Sleeting Stones."
Sam started giggling. "I think Mr. Pippin means... um..." He put his mouth to the lip of his empty mug. "Halllooooo!" he intoned, listening to the echo.
"Time to get them to bed," Merry chuckled, pulling Pippin to his feet. Frodo grinned, and did the same with Sam.
Beregond hurried over as he heard the Men bidding the hobbits good night.
"Beregond, where's the sick circle?" Pippin hiccuped. "The sixth circus," he tried again. "You know, the Sixth--"
"Permit me to escort you back to your house," Beregond smiled, helping Frodo keep Sam upright. "Perhaps you will join us another time, my friends? We have smaller and lighter balls than these that you can use, which were crafted for teaching children the game."
"We'd love that," Merry said enthusiastically.
Frodo nodded, and flexed his four-fingered hand. "After another week of exercising, I should be able to manage it. I'd like to try some of those trick shots myself. You fellows are quite good."
"Trick shots?" Beregond asked, puzzled.