The Onion Riddle

Author: Branwyn (Lady Branwyn)

Nominator: annmarwalk

2008 Award Category: Races: Cross-Cultural: Post-Ring War - Second Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: Teen  ✧  Reason for Rating: Rated for sexual innuendo (in the context of a riddle) and oblique reference to homosexuality.

Summary: After the end of the War, a party of dwarves travels from Aglarond to search for iron ore in Ithilien. Captain Beregond is honored to lead their escort, but he finds that he still has much to learn about this secretive people.

Read the Story

Reviewed by: Tanaqui  ✧  Score: 8

Lady Branwyn does so many wonderful things in this story that's it hard to know where to begin when praising it. Firstly, there is a fabulous portrait of Dwarven culture, building effectively on the little we know from canon. On top of that, the story is told from the point of view of Beregond, one of my favourite Gondorian characters, and Lady Branwyn does an excellent job of capturing his good-hearted, gruff, plain-guardsman personality in his words and actions. Then there is the amusing plot twist at the end, played out in an entertaining and credible argument between Beregond and one of the Dwarven miners. Add to that the inclusion of the riddle of the title, not to mention the other tales within tales told around the campfire, and the reader is royally entertained from the first word to last. All of this is presented in the kind of sharp, evocative and clear prose I have come to expect from Lady Branwyn, and which makes all of her works a joy to read. In short, this is a wonderful addition to our store of stories about Middle-earth – bravissima!

Reviewed by: annmarwalk  ✧  Score: 7

There are so many layers here, lovely twists and turns off the main path of the tale, I can only hope that you'll revisit this and explore some of these other side paths sometime, too! As always, your imagery and descriptions are sublime: lines like [The miner stared at each outcropping of stone, scratched it with a file, and then sniffed and tasted the filings] carry a whole weight of history and culture with them. I've never really imagined what a young dwarf-maid would look like, but [silky beard and slight build and the clear, almost musical sound of his speech] is enchanting. And how could I not hoot with laughter at [Well, I doubt even dwarves are born with whiskers, Beregond told himself then shook his head to dispel the images of bearded dwarven babes]? Of course I want to one day hear Beregond's tale of the freeing of Moria; I'm sure the dwarves were just as astounded to discover that they were accompanied by a hero who had done their folk such a valiant service. The onion riddle (hee!) was well integrated into the tale, and made perfect sense as the result of free-flowing liquor and warm companionship. Poor Beregond at the last! I wish I could have seen his face! I wish I could see Faramir's face when Beregond tells him the story. Well done, Branwyn!

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 6

Beregond learns the hard way that things are not always as they seem. Excellent characterisation of Beregond; he shows the tolerance we saw him display towards Pippin in ROTK. Branwyn writes the Dwarves very well too; secretive, determined and wise in their own way. And a very frisky riddle; Beregond, who is the epitome of courtesy, is going to blush about its audience for a long while to come, I think. I love the way this story shows the fluorishing of cross-cultural initiatives and influences - the riddle itself, adopted from the Rohirrim by the men of Gondor, the dwarves from Aglarond prospecting for iron in the hills of Ithilien, and the good fellowship that prevails between men and dwarves themselves. Beregond is written very well here; courteous, thinking outside the box, he is quite at ease with and deserving of his role as Captain of the White Company.

Reviewed by: Thundera Tiger  ✧  Score: 6

It has been so long since I heard the Onion riddle that I'd actually forgotten all about it, so thank you for reminding me! On to the story itself, I guessed early on what the true nature of the relationship between Bror and Nalin was, and from that, it wasn't hard to deduce what was afflicting Bror. But even though the revelation at the end came as no surprise to me, I still very much enjoyed getting to it. Or rather, watching Beregond get to it, and that is the hallmark of a good story. It doesn't need a surprise twist to make a good plot. The characters take care of that. Excellent use of minor characters and original characters, and kudos for such a good depiction of a culture clash to which many in Beregond's company seemed completely oblivious. I get the sense that this is not uncommon for the dwarves of Middle-earth.

Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 6

Ah, clever Branwyn! It is always so gratifying when one finds a story that can holds it POV this well, so that even though the reader has every reason to think she knows what's going on, the end still comes with that sense of reversal of expectations. I love Beregond, here in his three roles that Tolkien gave him: armed protector, commander, and father. Branwyn captures him perfectly: he makes it his business to be concerned for the well-being of every member of his troop, trusting to fatherly instinct and experience and wedding it seamlessly with a commander's duties, even risking some wrath from his charges when he thinks it is necessary. This time, happily, the revelation is no cause for horror, just for a bit of embarrassment, though the Dwarves don't seem to have minded at all. Thank you for the lovely read, Lady Branwyn!

Reviewed by: Marta  ✧  Score: 5

One of my favorite canonical tidbits is the reference in the appendices that dwarven-ladies and often mistaken for dwarven-men by people other than dwarves. Branwyn makes good use of that reference here, showing us one such example of that confusion, and pulls it off with a lot of good-natured ribbing. (I could totally see Beregond's embarrassment at the end!) Given the conversations I've had with the author over the improbability of beards on ladies of any race, that aspect gave me a real chuckle. It's also just a good examination of the difficulties that can arise between cultures, especially ones as secretive and closed as dwarves. Well done!

Reviewed by: Linda Hoyland  ✧  Score: 4

This was an unusual and thought provoking story which carries a valuable moral lesson for the reader not to draw conclusions about relationships without knowing all the facts. I loved Beregond here trying so hard to be polite and not put his foot in matters only to find out that he has done so inadvertently. It was interesting to encounter a female Dwarf and a pregnant one too.It seems that they do have some things in common with humans,while in other ways they are very different to us. A very well written and unique tale.

Reviewed by: stefaniab  ✧  Score: 4

Branwyn's mildly ribald tale frames an Anglo Saxon double entendre riddle within a Middle Earth context of mistaken identity. Though it certainly provides a good laugh, "The Onion Riddle" also combines cultural attitudes towards homosexuality in Fourth Age Middle Earth with certain myths about the Dwarven race. I guessed the malady of the mysterious nephew before the reveal, but still took great delight at the closing punchline. A fun story for the 18 and older set.

Reviewed by: Elena Tiriel  ✧  Score: 4

Lady Branwyn's "The Onion Riddle" is a sweet ficlet about Beregond escorting a group of Dwarves to scout out mine sites in Ithilien. What I enjoy most is Beregond's slowly dawning understanding of the Dwarves, and his surprise and embarrassment when he becomes privy to a dwarven secret. The characters are well-drawn and realistic, and the relationships are handled deftly and with some humor. And the onion riddle was a special treat! A lovely work!

Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 4

Ah, been a time since I last read this one. Appearances can be deceiving, and particularly when one has had very little experience with other races of Arda. What to think of this youthful-appearing Dwarf is the decision Beregond now knows. Is the lad sickly, or is it something else. When at last the youthful-appearing Dwarf's secret is told, the Man finds himself agreeing to help keep it. So nice to see another excellent Dwarf-fic among this year's nominations!

Reviewed by: Imhiriel  ✧  Score: 4

I like the many cross-cultural aspects of this story, which includes not only Gondorians and Dwarves, but also indirecty Rohirrim. The akwardness in dealing with a strange culture is conveyed very well, that mix of intending to be polite and open, and yet have preconceptions and misjudgements. I guessed early on what the mystery was, but it was funny to follow the hints and wait for the revelation.

Reviewed by: NeumeIndil  ✧  Score: 3

Oh my goodness this is *hilarious*! The surprise twist at the end is only trumped by the Gondorian's chagrin at his breech of etiquette. I'm always so pleased to read something about dwarves, for it seems few enough writers tackle the task, and you've done quite well here. Thank you for it.

Reviewed by: nancylea  ✧  Score: 2

he lectures them about rumors and then not knowing more rumors embarrasses himself; where the fairness of life?

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 2

LOL! Poor Beregond! How embarassing. Of course all the clues are there if one knows that there is something to have a clue to! Both funny and clever!