Leaving behind Vaclav commencing his studies of the catacombs, the party headed out into the city to try and track down Athard, the guard who had gone AWOL. The guard who bunked next to Athard in the barracks suggested that he might have been caught up in some trouble relating to his gambling problem. Jack Scabbard’s contact Symes at the Busy Orb related some troubling news: to cover his gambling losses, Athard had gone deep into debt with Gundo Boffin, the dreaded crime boss of Hobbit-town, based out of the notorious pipeweed den the Bleak Needle.
Jack Scabbard was up for going in to track down Athard; other-Jack was less convinced of their odds of success, saying “Forget it, Jack, it’s Hobbit-town”. In the end the party did decide to brave the mean streets of Hobbit-town, where they hired a local – Manod Proudfoot – to act as a guide. They ran into trouble with some local toughs, led by Hildo, who seemed to have some sort of errand of vengeance with Manod relating to Manod’s dishonourable behaviour towards Hira, Hildo’s sister. Cutting down the curs and taking Hildo prisoner, the party were convinced by Manod to let Gundo pass judgement on the matter under hobbit law, since handing Hildo over to the human authorities would create trouble for Manod.
Gundo, for his part, was happily presiding over prize-fights – a set of bare-knuckle boxing matches in which the renowned hobbit brawler Rarder Finchey was taking on all-comers, followed by a “special” fight to the death. However, always happy to add another spectacle to proceedings, Gundo decreed that the matter between Hildo and Manod would be decided by Trial By Pie – essentially, an eating contest. If Hildo won, Manod would be exiled from Hobbit-town for his dishonourable actions – it turned out, in fact, that the specific nature of his dishonour was the fact he was wooing Hira whilst still married to his own wife, which made the party lose some sympathy for him. If Manod won, Hildo would be exiled for his inhospitality towards the human visitors.
Vana decided to Bless Manod and appeal to the Smith to ensure a just result; as it turned out, Manod lost and was banished (leaving with the jeers of his betrayed wife ringing in his ears), but Hildo, chomping down his victory pie, choked on it and died despite the best efforts of competent hobbits to save him.
At this point the party learned from Gundo that Athard was there – and, indeed, was free to talk to them. As it turned out, Athard was there to participate in the prize-fights, which he seemed to be entirely infatuated with, and woud be taking part in the special bout that evening against the Blue Orc – a mysterious tattooed orc warrior who the hobbits had allegedly fished out of the sea and set to pit fighting. Athard, dangerously guileless as he was, blabbed that he wasn’t afraid because he knew the Blue Orc’s weaknesses, and also had been told the Blue Orc would be compromised in some way so that Gundo could make a stack of money on Athard’s surprise victory, neatly nullifying his debt to Gundo. The party weren’t convinced that Athard wasn’t just walking into a trap, but decided not to intervene since it seemed abundantly clear that Athard was a) not involved in the Egg conspiracy and b) actually happy here.
Athard lost the fight, badly. As the Blue Orc departed, Oswin though he saw her casting a curative spell on herself. Vana attempted to detect evil forces but failed to – as would have been expected if the Blue Orc had been casting spells granted by an evil deity, or if the Blue Orc had been a first-generation orc spawned directly from the Laughing Wolf (as opposed to a surface orc whose people had lived surfaceside for generations). The party left perturbed by the mystery and wondering whether they would have more run-ins with Boffin in the future.