A Little Something.
Winner of the LotR Graphics Fanfiction Award, 1st place.
Warning: The following text is positively riddled with typos and textual errors. I'll work on correcting it someday. At present a sequel to this tale takes top priority.
The floors were of highly polished glass, such as reflects light in prismatic beams. The walls a whitish-silver synthetic mithril, the leafwork of which had been wrought over five hundred years before. We are in a temple of the year 4003.
Click, click, click, like the mouse of a mythical computer the sound of shod feet entering the hall. In an alcove between two tree-shaped pillars, a head shot upward. A quill was set down upon the sheet of parchment, which the woman in the alcove had been writing on. "Good morning, Xara," she said with a smile. "I haven't seen you in Rivendell for quite a while." She shuffled aside the books of verse which she had been translating.
"Phew, Sam," said Xara to Prongsie's seventeenth daughter and only exact genetic replica, Samantha Elanor. "You have no idea how refreshing it is to hear someone who still speaks English."
"Westron," Sam corrected automatically.
Xara shrugged. "Westron, then. How goes The Poem?"
"Working on it, but I think it will be a few more years before we have finished it. Did you come to see the other Founders?"
"Yep. I have to discuss the layout for the next issue of the newsletter."
"I'll call them. The Thain is out on a nanomal's rights issue today, but I think everyone who can will be happy to see you." She pressed a small palantir-shaped insignia upon the desk and gestured for Xara to continue down the hall. At the end a stone chamber stood, a fire flickering in the hearth, while minstrels with prostheticly pointed ears play in the darkened corners. Xara walks over to the hearth’s side where a ring of familiar faces has already gathered. They stand as she approaches. "Mae govannen!" a half-dozen voices cry, with a scattered "Hullo!"
Most of the original Founders are there. One by one Xara greets them. Paddy, now the official (in title, though not in deed) Dark Lord with her scarlet satin and slurred southern-sammie drawl still making her stand out in a crowd. Beside her Prongsie, looking even younger than her clone, if noticeably missing a tooth due to an incident twenty-three years before in which she had tried to approach her favourite of the first prototypes of the Recreations while he held a frying pan. Anduwen sat in long robes with a stack of parchment beneath her elbow, joining Angel, Arwen and Viggo's Girl in hotly contesting which of them shall be this year's Evenstar at the council re-enactment. Perian absent-mindedly covering the desktop in ink hobbits while singing the bathing song to the tune of "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye", Eowyn Evenstar towering over Perian's hobbitish stature and giving advice as to Pippin's foot-size. Eldarwen visiting from Gondor in her queenly wear. Thain Tookie was, as Sam had mentioned, missing, but even Mixy and Jedi the Leggy could be seen in the corner trying to convince the mock-elven minstrels to pick up the tempo with a modern rendering of songs from Abbey Road. So many familiar faces; Hula'n, Lady Galadriel, Cart, Billy... Billy? Everyone did a doubletake as Billy Boyd entered the room, looked around, shook his head and left.
"Do you know," said Galadwen when he had left, "that is only the second time I have seen him in two-thousand years?"
Realising who she had just seen, Eowyn Evenstar gave a little scream and ran from the room, taking Anduwen's paper and Perian's pen for autographs. Their voices echo through the halls of the complex as she pursued him.
"I've come to talk to you about..." Xara's voice dropped to a confidential whisper, "the headlines for the next issue of the newsletter."
"Frodo LIVES!" cried Perian rapturously, clasping her hands as tears filled her yellow eyes.
"We're really going to unleash them on the world, then?" asked Angel.
"I say we eat them," came a dark mutter from the back of the room.
"Paddy!" scream half a dozen voices, the sound of swords unsheathing clanging through the stone chamber. Her hands up, Paddy backed away.
"Okay, okay! I was only joking!"
"Would you like to see them?" asked Prongsie, her dark eyes gleaming.
Soon the founders have filled the hall and are making their way to the secretest of secret gardens at the centre of the Rivendell complex. "I'm having the strangest sense of deja vu," mutters Xara. "Me too," echoed the other Irish-blooded founders, save Perian who silently smirks, the first archives fresh in her mind. Out they emerged into a pastoral sunlit garden. Hills roll, grass-clad, into the distance. Streams cut glimmering rifts into the land, flowers waved in a cool breeze. Everything would be idyllic, if it weren't for a small suicidal troll sitting and wondering why he has not yet turned to stone.
"What's he doing here?" cried Thain Tookie, who has silently joined them.
"Hey there, Fool!" said Paddy. "Well, he was getting sulky over in Mordor. I thought he could use a change of climate."
Ivy giggled. "We still dunnae have it running as smoothly as we'd like. A few things to straighten out still."
A shrill cry like a squeak of a mouse yelling "The Shire!" is followed by yelps of pain from Di and Pads who begin leaping about on one foot while holding or putting the other to their mouths. Out of the grasses Perian plucked a tiny wriggling figure, holding it by the back of a miniature woolen waistcoat. There was what appeared to be a metallic toothpick clutched in one of its hands. "How many times," Perian whispers with a mixture of irritation and affection, "do I have to tell you that they're on our side?"
"Sorry," replies a subdued squeak, followed by a minute sheepish smile.
Xara's eyes were near to popping. "Is that...?"
"A hobbit, yes," said Pervi Took with a grin. "That there is my little brother-"
"Pippin!" Eowyn Evenstar shouted with delight upon entering and seeing the tiny figure in Perian's hand. She quickly swept him away, asking whether he has had his elevenses yet. The First Founder's mouth was hanging open.
"Like Ivy said, we still have a few things to work out," chuckled Lomelinde.
"Welcome," cries Perian, her arms flung wide, her face glowing, "to Hobbiton." As if summoned, the shrew-sized inhabitants came pouring forth from holes in the doors of their metre-high dwellings.
Behind her Pads and Prongs grin knowingly and with some glint of mischief at each other. "Don't know how that could have happened."
"Nor I. Not a clue, eh?"
"Well? When are you going to start on him?" asked Cart in a quiet but extremely impatient tone, shifting nervously from foot to foot. To be caught in a lab such as this was no small offense. But she was here for a Purpose, as co-founder of the Legolas Lives! campaign. "We've been waiting literally thousands of years."
"We still don't have all of the system glitches worked out. It is extraordinarily hard to get so much as a bolt on the S.-B. market any longer, let alone lab equipment. No one manufactures since they began enforcing the anti-tech laws. One species at a time. Maybe when the enforcers see the results of our work, the ban might be eased just a bit, eh? Then we can work on him."
"But elves are almost our height, and far more humanesque. Surely they would be easier than hobbits to create?"
"Angel, outside of your imagination, have you ever tried to make a graceful, breathtaking, androgynous, calipygian, disgustingly squeaky-clean super-human with little ego, and tangle-free hair?" asked Prongsie with a quirk of her brow. The dim light of the room cast a shadow across her face, immersing the subversive scientist in mystery.
"That depends," murmured Cart, "on what a callipygian is."
"Go ask Perian, please. The sooner I finish Diamond, the sooner we will have the time taken up by Pippin's daily antics to devote to elves. And I can't get to her until Rose Cotton is finished."
Grudgingly, but curious and eager to discover a new term for their beloved Legolas, they left Prongsie to her work. When the last light of the hall had been snapped out with the click of the door latch, Prongsie made her way back through the dim, disorganised, and Aragorn-collaged space. At the back was an ancient computer, which she flicked out of standby with a twist of the mouse. Soon she was pulling up the genetic design file entitled "RoseCotton.tmp". With a grin, she clicked delete and swiveled away. "Finished!"
Tookie, High Administrator and agrarian advocate, poured over the desk before her, her brows knitted with concentration. The ink glimmered and glistened brightly, twinkling orangely in the candlelight. Her fingers also glistened with the same unusual interplay of black and ochre. Somewhere beneath all of this was parchment and skin, of course, but the ink was rapidly rising to the task of frosting Tookie's world. She leaned back and dropped her quill into the inkwell (which was, it may be noted, devoid of any ink whatsoever). "What rhymes with 'hereby'?" she asked; taking the opportunity to crack her knuckles and search the desktop for unblackened water.
"Pig sty? Deep fry ... I spy ... blue sky ..."
"Blue sky. That'll work. Thanks, Anduwen. I'm telling you now, this is the last time I draft a law in rhyming I am a- whatever." She took up the quill once more and scratched a new line into the puddle.
"Yeah, that. Whose crazy idea was that, anyway?"
Anduwen smiled down at the Took with a serene silence. "Given time even you, pentameter phobic friend and founder, can learn to love such literary tools, or at least to adapt," she answered after several hours of dramatic pause. "Tea?"
"What are we talking about?"
"I have no idea. Sugar?"
"Yes, please. No, no, wait. Don't put it in. I'll have it plain."
"No, the sugar."
"Ah, I thought so."
"Thank you," Took leaned back in her overstuffed, leather and plastic-free, non-swiveling, anti-ergonomic work settee. Just as her spoon dipped into the basin of cubical confection a loud knock smote the door.
"Come in," called Anduwen as Tookie jammed the spoon hastily into her mouth.
What came in seemed to be the infant offspring of a cyclone. "Sorry to disturb, sorry to disturb. Disturbances in the technological arena. Something leaked to the rangers and from there on to the enforcers about cloning operations in this very facility. Here, can you imagine? In Imladris. They'll throw us all out if someone's not caught. Papers. Papers here for you to sing regarding use of banned technology. Mere technicality. Oh dear, I didn't say that. Watch the ink, watch the ink! ... Confirming old draftings of punishment laws. Will help all founders save face. If this gets in The News From Bree, we're doomed. Oh, is that legislation finished as well? Lovely negative engraving. I'll file it for you. Careful that you don't choke on that spoon. 'Night!"
The door slammed to, leaving a profound sense of having survived a natural disaster. "Um, who was that?"
"I have no idea, Took. No idea..."
But Then, Alas...
"It's so sweet."
"History in the remaking."
"Isn't she a bit tall for him?"
Fan backed away from the dark glowers and finger-covered fangs with her hands defensively in front of her face. When she was out of reach, and most had turned their attention back to the meeting of Peregrin and Diamond, she muttered, "Well? She is."
Before this small crowd of founders, separated by a high hedgerow, Diamond, clad in white and verdant layers of linen, her curls piles high amid a smattering of honeysuckle and slightly too pointed ears, sad with her legs folded beneath her. Not far away, sitting upon a plump, half-eaten mushroom and still thieving its edges, was little Pippin, no larger than her forearm.
"Don't worry about it," said Tanlaithwen, the only founder still within hearing distance. "There's bound to be some growth-hormone from the tweens still lying about somewhere. There are other things to worry about at present. Have you heard that the printer has been delaying ever since Xara sent in the latest issue, the one with the announcement? Having a printer delaying is not a good sign."
"I'm not following you. Why is that bad? The publisher has been slow before. Nothing terrible. Well, except for Editor Xara, that is. Illuvatar knows she doesn't need more bother getting them to work. She's been harried enough since Perian had to be pulled from the head seat."
"Yeah, I think that was a shock for her," agreed Tanlaithwen. "She half-ran the newsletter since the beginning, but for her to be alone in doing it... and all the bad publicity it went through then. Now with this stalling, readership will go down again. Then there's the pressure from the founders involved on the project."
"Because if the enforcers find out about this before the public does, they'll be unseated?"
"And probably spend the rest of their everlasting lives in Barad-dur. Exactly."
"Shite... Poor Xara. And poor us if it's discovered that we were here." Fan sat back on her heels, rubbing one hand over her brow. "I never imagined that we depend so much on that newsletter. I guess I should read a full issue sometime. Why was Perian pulled from the staff anyway?"
"Grounds of insanity," said a voice in their midst.
Perian was suddenly there, seated slightly behind them. She bore all the signs of much time outdoors. Her neck and nose were burnt and peeling, her hair bleached to the shade of an unripened pumpkin. Tucked behind one ear was a pen, behind the other a tuft of wilting grasses. Fan gestured to the latter. "What's that?"
Perian untucked the tuft with surprise. "Blast! 'Twas forgotten ... yesterday's lunch. Ah well ... at least it's still green." She slipped a drooping blade out and put it in her mouth. Tanlaithwen shook her head fiercely to remove the image of a grazing cow, which had unexpectedly overlayed Perian's placid face. "Care for some?"
"No. Er, no thank you. I have enough right where I'm sitting," said Tan. Grounds of insanity, indeed.
Perian's tongue clacked. "Ah, but that isn't organic."
"Riiight." Fan and Tanlaithwen exchanged glances over Perian's head. "So, what are you doing here? I have heard you were on leave."
Sighing, Perian fell back into the thick waiving grasses of the hillock. "So have I. And I'm not here, if anyone, yourselves included, asks. Frodo needs looking after." Perian put a finger to her nose and winked. "A favour for Pads. Can't tell you more."
"I'll volunteer for that job any day," murmured Fan with a grin.
"Don't tell me she convinced the little fellow that they're married...?"
"Oh, no. Nothing like that. She's here, too, you see. Brr, someone should turn down the north wind. It's supposed to be summer. Ah, there she is!" Perian's arm shot out of the greenery and waved. From a hilltop some hundred ells away Padfoot waved back. "Hyper lass, though, isn't she?"
Fan and Tanlaithwen followed Perian's gaze. Padfoot was leaping up and down, her arms waving high above her head. Her dark curls whipped around her face. Though her mouth was moving whatever she was trying to say was lost upon the wind.
"I think she's trying to tell you something, Perian."
Perian bolted upright. A crack of thunder shattered the last semblance of tranquility, which remained in Hobbiton. "Um, ladies? Perhaps it would be best if you left before the storm hits. That was not scheduled. Follow Eldarwen and Merry, they know the way. I'll catch up in a minute."
"But Perian, we came in from that way..." muttered Fan, eyeing the rolling black storm.
"I know. It's something of a back exit. Go!" Perian pushed them in the direction of Eldarwen and Merry, who were leading their respective species through the facade of what appeared to be an outhouse. Soon she was ushering crowds in that direction. Some protested, but all conceded to her frightened yellow glance. Among the last to leave was Diamond with Pippin on her shoulders.
Frodo peeked out of Bag End. "What is happening?"
Perian ran to the hobbit, nearly her own height, and clasped his shoulders protectively. "Oh Eru. I thought you were already out. We're evacuating. Go on! You know the way. Hurry!" "And what of you, Leila?"
Perian bit her lip until Frodo could see droplets of blood welling under her teeth. "I can't leave yet. Paddy O' is out there. Please go on ..." Frodo nodded his curly head and ran. Perian swallowed, unbuttoning her cuff as if in slow motion. From her voluminous sleeve she drew a small ornamental dagger. Taking a deep breath to steady her quivering nerves, she ran into the storm.
She found Padfoot where she had left her. "What is it?" Perian shouted over the wind and thunder.
"It was leaked! We have a filthy traitor in our midst. Is everyone out?"
"Yes, I think so. Frodo was the last to go." "And my troll?"
"Never mind, I'm sure he's okay. Watch where you swing that thing!"
"Sorry. I'm nervous. What's is this storm about?"
"It's a ... be careful, Perian! ... it's some kind of glitch. Sabotage, I think. Let's go."
"I can't see a bloody thing. Whoever turned off the sun, I'll have his hide!"
"You're going to have my hide of you don't put that awa- HEY!"
"It wasn't me ... Padfoot? Paddy m' dear?" Something barreled into Perian and she fell to the ground, her dagger flying from her hand. A metal-shot boot dug into her shoulder blades, and cold metal bit the nape of her neck. "Don't move."
And The Tower of Barad-dur Trembled.
"Perian, dovey? Stop it!"
In a rank and seldom-used dungeon in the bowels of Barad-dur, Paddy, the self-proclaimed Dark Lordess, Perian, and several of Perian's as-of-yet unmentioned personalities who make themselves known in only the most inopportune of moments, were languishing. Paddy's comment, of course, refers to the loud arguments and resonant toenail tapping which were taking place on the opposite side of the cell.
"Sorry, dearest. I'm only one facet of me. Some of the others are very hard to control."
"You had better believe it."
"Still thy tongue. It is uncouth."
"Oh, hush yourself. And stop that toe-tapping. It's getting on my nerves."
"Uh, Perian? I don't want to interrupt, but how many selves can one person have?" asked Paddy nervously, eyeing the darkness in which her cell-companion lurked in a very topsy-turvy condition, mentally and physically.
"As collected over the millennia? Too many. Say, luv, do you remember the last time we were locked up like this together?"
Detecting a new voice, one with which she was familiar, Paddy grinned. "Sure do, Frodo. When you were locked up for stealin' my Ring."
"And you for bodily harm charges dating back to the War of the Ring. Against me. How wonderfully ironic it all was," a tiny, reminiscent sigh escaped Perian's lips. "Those were the days. But Sauron ... Paddy O', do you think... well, do you know whether executions are in style again?"
"I don't think they are," replied Paddy with an unseen grimace. "I know they are. The orcs were gettin' unruly, so I tried to get something passed about it. Blasted thing has my siggy on it. How was I to know that it would be approved as soon as it's us in here?"
No coherent answer did the question ever receive, but in that instant Perian's corner became a flurry of frantic activity with her feet slapping madly now against the wall, and a deafening, mismatched stream of curses, pleas, and poetry. Paddy hastily covered her ears in a fruitless attempt to either block it out or to keep her own brain cells from exploding under the impact. Even she didn't know which. "Perian! For Eru's sake, be-"
"Though here at journey's end I lie ... Let me out, I'm claustrophobic! You filthy-"
"-quiet, please? You're gonna make them mad as hornets, and they'll just wanna-"
"-ORC SPAWN excuses for sentient life. Doesn't anyone bother to learn Morse code any more? Really, the education in Barad-dur is lower than the thought of Grima with the Ring. Help us! It wasn't me, I swear it-"
"-kill you sooner! Shut up!" in her desperation, Paddy's voice rose nearly to the same level as Perian's.
"Hush, you two."
"Erm, was that you, Pads?"
"No, I thought it was one of you."
"It wasn't me ... us ... oh, bother."
"It was me..."
"...Now please be quiet. I don't want to attract any attention." A flickering light was unveiled in the darkness; dim, but nearly blinding to the startled eyes of Paddy and Perian. They light emanated from behind a crosshatched steel grate in the far corner, which served as an outlet for the moisture, which trickled down the walls, and an inlet for air, spiders, and small rats. Holding the stub of a candle aloft on the far side of the grate was a disheveled and paint-splattered woman.
"Hullo, Veegee," called Perian with a nonchalant wave. "I knew you would come. I was waiting patiently for you, wasn't I, Paddy O'?"
"Oh yeah, very patiently," returned Paddy with a roll of her eyes. "You were acting like you had sat on a pincushion."
"Sophistry. Ridiculous. So, Veegee, haven't seen you in a while. How have you been?"
"Same old. Hungry? I've brought lembas and popcorn."
"Are you two nuts?" exclaimed Paddy. "We should be getting out of here, not eating and chattering!"
"I would love to help you, Pad, but this grate is attached from your side, and I doubt whether it has even been removable for the past five hundred years it's so rusted."
"You mean, you didn't come to rescue us?" shrieked Perian.
"No, not really. But I can smuggle last letters back to the gang."
"Nonsense!" shouted Paddy, pushing the wailing Perian aside and whipping a metallic cylinder out of one of her bulging pockets. "Stand back!"
"What is that?"
"DW 40. There's nothing it can't get through. I was able to save a few cases by going through a couple of 'archeaological artifact' exemption loopholes in the modern technology ban. They're stored next to my TV. Whoops, did I say that?"
"Really, Paddy, I'm surprised you aren't in prison."
"I am in prison, if you'll remember. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to change that."
"Do you think that stuff will work?" asked Viggo's Girl.
"Positive. I used to be in charge here, remember? This very cell used to be used by the orcs' keepers as a bro-"
V.G. quickly stretched her arm through the grate and clapped her hand over Paddy's mouth. "This story is supposed to be acceptable for all ages, remember."
Spitting out a piece of broken tooth in a casual manner, Paddy continued, "-om closet. That was tactlessly Romanticist, Vig."
"Don't blame me. It's Perian who is putting words in our mouths. Aren't you, Perry?"
Perian blinked at them like a waking sleepwalker. "There they go again, blaming me for whatever it is they're talking about. Words in your mouth, Veegee?" she rapped on her temple sharply with her knuckle. "Excuse me, but is one of you a ventriloquist?" Silence. "No, I'm afraid you must be thinking of someone else, Veegee. None of them will-"
"Perian, would you care to join us?" asked Paddy, standing with crossed arms beside V.G. "Perhaps you could tell us when we're a league or two away from here."
At the lower rim of Earth was a land affectionately known to some as Oz (a rather inappropriate name as it refers to the writings of someone other than Tolkien.) In the heart of Oz a desert sat patiently. In the belly of that desert, and far below the surface of sand, was something, which could, from time to time, become a flurry of activity to the point of indigestion. There, to clarify, was the headquarters of the i Nili o i Ardanole Newsletter. Within the paper-pasted walls were gathered a small party of worried, tea-drinking folk, a very fat and authoritative cat, and a fly who was about to end his earthly existence by descending too quickly into a steaming teacup.
Arwen lifted the cup to her lips, blew gently upon the surface, then glanced at it, her eyes crossing. With horror she thrust the teacup away. "There's a fly in here!"
Xara did not look up from the pages before her (a stack of new Frodo images from the Super Extended Expanded With a Cherry and Lembas Crumbles On Top Edition of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.) "Shh," she murmured distractedly. "I don't have enough for everyone."
"Xara, where's Arwen?" asked Angel, staring around at the 5,708,184 hobbit faces which overlapped one another.
"Next to you."
"I think she meant on the walls," said the elf maiden’s namesake.
"There's a picture of her saying 'Frodo' in the dream-sequence behind the mirror over there, and her hand in a few of the old Bruinen images. Oh, and 'Arwen's Underwater Adventure' is over the bathroom sink, about three layers down."
"Speaking of mirrors," said Arwen, putting aside her spoilt tea, "has there been any word of what is going on up in Rivendell?"
"Not a whisper for days," said Xara. "I think that's a good sign, you know? They would send a message if anything were wrong."
Readjusting her halo Angel ran off to scan the other rooms for any images, which might captivate her fancy. No sooner was she gone than the door flew open and thudded against the wall. Angel peeked her raven-plaited head back in to see Ivy, panting, burst in and lean against the doorframe. "The jig is up," she gasped out in rich brogue. "Forget whatever you were planning... The News From Bree has already found out all about the New Rivendell operation. That isn't the worst of it, though. Read this," she tossed a bulky, garish paper onto the table, scattering the printouts.
"Founders break their own creed ... technology being secretly used... RAID ON HOBBITON!?! What happened, Ivy? Are they save? I knew I should have been there-"
"Keep reading, Xara. Have any coffee?"
"No, but there's tea... Evidence found of environmental tampering ... Ringleaders ... Oh, good grief. Can't anyone at The NFB write without using puns? ... Ringleaders Rose and Wood (no botanical relation) are being detained in Barad-dur awaiting summary execution ... Whadderwha!?!"
"Paddy and Perian."
"Oh, phew. I thought they meant Elijah."
"I'm sorry. The lesser of two evils, you see, but this is bad. What about the hobbits? And everyone else? The article didn't mention them..."
"They're fine for now. All in hiding. It would appear that Padfoot and Perian were able to get them out on time."
"Are we sure they were taken? It could be a plot, a gimmick to make the rest of us reveal our locations."
"Aye, I thought so, too, but Merry was there. Sent a letter telling all the details."
Arwen's brows flew upward. "You're in contact with Merry, Ivy?"
Folding her arms, a guarded expression coming over her features and her nose twitching as she asked "And if I am?"
In a last effort to avoid further delay Xara broke into the conversation. "This was out three days ago... has anything been published about it since?"
"I dunnae think so. Wait! I did read something. A statement was put out against us yesterday, I think, written by Orlando Bloom..."
"Orli?" Angel ran back into the room, her halo fallen off and trailing on the hem of her white silken train. “Don't be ridiculous. Orlando would never say anything against us. This is propaganda. This was clearly blackmail. It was taken out of context, whatever he said. What did he say?"
"That it is 'time for a change'," Ivy laughed without mirth. "So much for public opinion. I think you can stop worrying about the newsletter; the Leggy fans are against us for eternity."
"I still say it was not of his own will," said Angel, a shadow of irritation eclipsing her countenance. "Not that I don't approve of change..."
Slapping her forehead, Arwen murmured, "Why didn't we think of that?"
"Ow... careful of the hal- where's my halo? Never mind. Careful, Arwen. Think of what? Change?"
"No. The support of the Orli fanatics. Well, better late than never, right?"
A slightly demonic smile slowly spread from one of Angel's ears to the other. "What are you thinking, Arwen, and may I join you?"
"Yes, you may," said Arwen, smiling as mischievously as Angel, if not more so, and downing Angel's long-cooled tea. "I think it is time for an i Nili delegation to pay Orli a visit and, ah, convince him that we are very open to his suggestions. To his permanent presence and daily personal counsel, for that matter."
Angel and Arwen soon left, arm-in-arm, ready to challenge the remainder of the fandom and sundry quadruple-handedly. The sound of their leaving echoed through the corridors and then died, only to rise again. Angel ran back in to retrieve her wings, followed soon after by Arwen who without a word eternally borrowed Xara's Middle-earth And Beyond atlas. Then they were gone.
Ivy smiled and wiggled her fingers at the closed door, then heaved a sigh. "What of us, Xara? We should be doing something."
"Yes, but what do we choose to do? Paddy and Perian are in danger, but so is everyone in Rivendell, hobbits included. And even if they are in Barad-dur, as the story says, perhaps they are being held as bait."
"Like the friar in Robin Hood. Aye. Well, which would you choose to save, the girls or the hobbits?"
They exchanged guilty glances.
"I thought so. To Hobbiton it is."
Orfses and Dim Lords.
"Everything is in place, sire," the flurrious minion held out a hand upon which small pieces of parchment were pasted at the tips of her fingers. One by one she folded them down as she ticked off their accomplishments. "The founders are scattered, divided, leaderless-"
"Please refrain from direct quotes. Have you no words of your own?" a voice grumbled, reverberating through the chamber.
"As you wish, sir, and no, I have not. All my words are here on these cue slips. As I was saying, their fellowship is broken. Big step, sire sir. Happy times. Hooray. For goodness sake, smile, sir."
"Later. I have more important matters to lend my energy to at the moment. Remember, Sauron was defeated after a fellowship was disbanded. Let not haste and minor victories make you unwary. Continue."
"As you command, sir. Two of the original founders, Padfoot and Perian, have been captured-"
"Kudos on the one, and a 'why did you bother' on the other."
"-and are now rotting in Barad-dur-"
"Unh... I'm not sure. I'll look into it tomorrow," she scratched her scalp, a grey and dirty wisp floating from the hair roots. "Dust and ashes," she grumbled. "Not again. Like I was saying ... That's odd. Where is my next note?"
"Up in smoke."
"Great. Just great. Now I'll have to remember. Umm, The News From Bree we have bought out, they ran a great publicity stunt with the converted Mister Bloom, orcs are multiplying like late fees-"
"I want to see them."
"Yes." "What, now?"
"As you wish, sir, but you should know that this is their hour of rest after drilling, so they will be sweaty and grimy and more utterly disgusting than usual and demanding the food they are supposed to be given which the little nazguls' steeds and I consumed this morning, which is-" she stopped, withering and shriveling under the impatient gaze of her lord, "entirely my problem. This way, sir."
Riveted sheets of black iron surrounded them as they walked. The construction was designed for discomfort in an obvious way. The metal froze through the winter, cracks in the ceiling letting melt-off form into dirty cousins of icicles, which rivaled ancient stalagmites in size. Frost would not dare to creep delicately over the walls, but many orcs lived without tongues as proof of the frigidity ... and the stupidity of the species: not far removed from humans. Many were, in fact, humans, as the lord of the hall is soon to discover.
In the summer, by expectable contrast, the hall and attached chambers became a Mordor of an oven. If one passed through slowly it is likely an oasis would appear before them, at least long enough for their eyebrows to smoulder and shoe soles to soften. Even in the between seasons it was a terror. More so, in fact, as the floors were constructed sloppily and stubbed toes, the greatest torture of them all, resulted. It was devices like this which kept orcs as they should be: grumblish, uppity, and always on the verge of either declaring a general strike or slaughtering a kingdom.
When the corridor opened out onto a filthy pit anyone would breathe a sigh of relief. Or start to - it would be a pure sigh on the exhale, followed by gagging noises or worse. Here was the orcs' lounge and open air steameries. Showers also resided upon one side. This may sound positive, but since their installation the orcs had taken a liking to them, leaving the pit a mushy, soggy sludge pool. And nothing smells worse than wet orc.
The pair stopped at the banks of The Bathwater, as it was called in mockery of the Shire equivalent. "Is there a bridge anywhere in this good-forsaken country perchance?"
"Ah, no sir, there isn't. Perhaps you would prefer to wait until the orcs are in their chambers, or in training? It would be a shame to soil your hems, fresh from the cleaners' as they are-"
"Indeed it would. You there!"
An orc, clad in heavy plate armour and sprawled upon the ground after his most arduous of classes (a class reserved only for the elite and those who know no better: Tap Dancing in One-Hundred-and-Seventy-Three Easy Lessons), opened an eye. "Whaddeyeh want?"
"Flattered, butche'll haveteh wait fer a good long time."
"Impudent. I like that. But did I not make you with the knowledge that 'good' is not to be uttered in my presence by the likes of you, drivel?"
"Mek me?" the orc opened his other eye, then leapt to his feet. "Ahah, sar, yeh did that, sar. Good's bad, sar, and bad good. But not that kindeh good, sar: the goodly bad kindeh good, sar."
"Hmm, I like that too. And because I like you, dear boy, I am going to grant you a favour. As you are an orc, may I assume you enjoy bathing?"
"Yeshar, when I can, which isn't too often with her in charge 'round hare."
The petite assistant glowered and steamed, on the verge of igniting. "You filthy little-"
"Well, then, I would greatly appreciate it if you would span that stream, thereby prolonging your existence, orc."
"He wants you to lay in the stream, scrummy."
The orc leapt to do so, forming a living ford. A set of short leaps and the pair were over. On the other side and over a short hill they came upon the remainder of the orcs, taking their ease. Most were playing poker or golf, or passed out amid the mud while reeking of non-alcoholic beverages, or showering. This last caused both leaders much irritation.
"I've told you, you tick-infested slag-spawn, not to shower in your armour! We've been spending a fortune removing rust!"
"Whaddeyeh 'spect us teh do, sho'er naiked? Twit," called an uruk from under the steaming spickets.
"Make a note to order swimming gear for fifty-thousand." "But, sir, there aren't fifty-thousand of them."
"No? But I thought that was what the quota of weekly armour-cleanings was at last check."
"It is, sir."
"Then how many orcs do we have?"
"Well, we have the real ones here, and add to that our steady stream of Wantabees-"
"Wantabees? Is that a particular breed?"
"You could say that, sire. It's those as got the elf prosthetics but were tired of the hair-brushing. So they joined us. That's where the showering all began, m'lord. Old habits are hard to break."
"So basically what you are trying to tell me is that they are humans pretending to be elves pretending to be orcs."
"Er, yes, sir. More or less."
"How many altogether?"
"Fifty. Wait, there are fifty-one if you count the female out on assignment pretending to be an elf again. That's it, fifty-one!" A murderous, stormy gloom came over him and she backed away, waiving her hands before her. "No sir! It isn't my fault! They're just not being born fully grown as we had expected after infiltrating the Founders experiments! We have a veritable army for you, or will in twenty years. For now all of the data on how to make them as we want them is in the hands of one of the enemy. A Founder by the name of Prongs."
"How many Founders could she summon to her aid if needed?"
"About twenty at most, plus the hobbits, and I doubt that any of them are trained in combat."
"Excellent. Proceed as planned. Bring me the information, or any who may know it. Eradicate the midgets."
Prongs leaned back, smiling and humming to herself, purposefully unaware of the events going on in the world outside her lab. Before her on the desk were several melted phials and what appeared to be an oversized champagne flute with its stem broken away. Her magnum opus (one of many) had taken form. A befuddled and misshapen form, but nonetheless a form. At this contented corner of time the fates contrived the chaos, which comes without fail wherever a lurking rest is suspected. In other words something nearly shattered and spilled that special form: a shriek, as a point of fact, and moreover a shriek with a form of its own...
"Prongsieee! Prongseroo!" in burst Angel, a thunderous flurry of flying feathers fluffing about the room. "You owe your guardian Angel a little favour, don't you?"
"But I have come to collect one in any case. Here are the specifications. We need him in hours if possible, days if not."
"Angel, you know I need at least three assistants, one humanoid guinea pig, and a year of dedication to write an intelligence, character, and memory bank."
"Well, then, use the movie. Download it directly into that beautiful, empty head. That's as much as we need at the moment. See you later!"
Prongs silently opened the specs package and removed a disc. Turning on her computer she used one last moment of quietude to read her unread messages. There was one, high priority, sender anonymous. Spam, probably, but she read it anyway, and was taken aback by what was before her eyes in plum Verdana:
They are coming.
Angel's next flight, as well as that of her companions, Arwen and Nimrodel (who had been caught hitchhiking along the way in their same direction) ended at the posh and nearly extravagant domain of the object of their combined undying affections, none other than the swoonsome (to them) Master Bloom. What greeted them upon entry they had not expected. It was a massive cutout of Legolas, played by the blossom himself, leaning against the entryway. Nimrodel halted before it. "It is hideously vain," she said, adding after some ponderance, "but I love it. I think I'm staying here for a minute. To guard against interruptions, you know."They left her at the feet of the cutout and entered into the den, a room which they knew was most often occupied by the man they sought and knew the exact route to all thanks be to Ringer spy reports. The door to the den was closed fast, but as they approached it was opened slowly. Inside they saw Orlando seated upon a sofa, his back to them. Standing at the door was a young-looking woman with rich golden locks (clearly dyed) and between the strands peeked out the tips of pointy ears (clearly gelatin). Upon her person was a deep rose satin robe and blush pink cloak of elven design.
Angel sighed with relief, then smiled. "I hoped to be the first founder here to sway him to our side," she whispered, "but I must say, I'm glad to see you here, Shelly, and not one of the orcs."
Shelly took a step back to allow them in, holding out a welcoming arm. The pair grinned and entered, becoming jittery in the presence of their hero, though he had of yet shown no sign that he knew they were in the room. The door slammed behind them. When they turned to look, Shelly swept aside her cloak and drew from her belt a jagged blade. She settled herself in front of the sealed door and grinned. "We've been expecting you."
The Council of Buckland.
Little Pippin sighed, putting his head in his minuscule hands. "That's right. She said she wanted nothing more to do with me," he squeaked in lamentation.
"Well, don't expect any sympathy from me, Peregrin Took," replied Ivy, upon who’s shoulder he was precariously perched. "After all we have gone through to get here and insure your safety, I dunnae think I have the patience to listen to the nuances of your non-existent love-life."
"But I'm in need of sympathy!" he cried shrilly into her ear. "After all I have been through in the past few days even I, Peregrin Took, Thain of the Shire and Guard of the Tower, Prince of Halflings, could cry with the disrespect of it."
"Here," said Ivy, passing him the cap of an acorn which she had dipped into Merry's mug of beer. "That is all the sympathy there is to give you, especially after you yourself left your sword in Diamond's corset."
"But there were already so many forged-steel bars in it, how was I to know she wouldn't appreciate my storing another there?"
"Those which were already there weren't sharpened."
Pippin gave a desperate pleading glance. "It was an honest mistake!"
"Like pulling out her eyelashes?"
"They were dangerous."
"And sleeping in the pudding she had prepared for our desert tonight?"
"It was comfortable, not to mention delicious. I complemented her on the flavour afterward... cinnamon with a hint of allspice. You would think she would be flattered." He sighed and his mouth twitched tightly to the side. "Though I suppose riding about the house on a rat did not help the matter."
"Pardon, I don't wish to interrupt," said Evenstar, defying her own wishes in stating them, "yet I must inform you that the meeting is beginning in five minutes and your presence is specifically requested."
"Ah, yes, the Thain should come as representative of hobbitkind," said Pippin, bowing low and sliding down Ivy's sleeve with a dramatic flourish. "Come along, Merry, Ivy."
"Begging your pardon, Master Pippin," said Sam from behind Evenstar, "it isn't you she meant, but them. You represented hobbit kind at the battle before the Black Gate and in Minas Tirith, and it wouldn't be right to make you do it every time. Why, before you could wink at it everyone would be wanting you to work out their problems with neighbors and in-laws and fix their plumbin' because they know you're Thain. That's what folk do with managers and leaders, if you follow me."
"Do you really think so, Sam?" asked Pippin, his eyes rabbitised.
"That I do, Master Pippin. You had best go with Miss E., so all that never starts. She's off in the kitchen, cooking up some mushrooms."
Pippin scampered off quickly, followed by the gazes and smiles of Evenstar, Ivy, and Merry. The latter smothered a laugh with his fist, his eyes watering. "Thath wa' 'eviou', Thawithe Gaamdee!" he said around it.
"What was that, Master Merry?"
"I was saying that you're a devious little goblin, Sam Gamgee, a real villain at times. You would never expect it from Dumpling Mayor of Hobbiton the Second."
Sam glared steadily at Merry, his hands curling and uncurling as he thought of an appropriate retort. He was so long in the thinking that by the time his words were formulated he was glaring murderously at empty space. He snapped his fingers at himself and ambled as quickly as his short legs allowed to the appointed meeting place. There a small crowd of haggard founder refugees and rotund halflings had already assembled. The smallest of the hobbits had, like Pippin, been ushered off to the kitchens to prevent accidental squishing, there supervised by, ironically, a founder of elven proportions, Eowyn Evenstar.
The environmental systems throughout the Shire remained in the confused state, which they had entered into the day of the Hobbiton raid, throwing this small garden into a half-darkness with the western horizon spotted with verdant clouds even though in the front yard they knew the sun was shining brightly. A thin layer of glowing fog rested several feet above their heads, refusing to return to the chill earth where it belonged.
"There you are, Sam," said Frodo, welcoming him with a wave of his arm and beckoning for Sam to join him amid a small cluster of others upon a tree-backed knoll. "We couldn't have started without you."
Sam blushed with embarrassment and pride, then sat. Beside him and to his right was Xara, scribbling furiously with an illegal mechanical pencil onto a tablet of yellow paper. Beyond her the founders were still trickling in through the trees from their various hideouts. To Sam's left were Frodo and Merry, the one to represent the hobbits, the other acting as Master of Buckland to detain order. Ivy was sitting beside and behind him, her face red and eyes streaming from laughter.
"Ladies and Gentlehobbits," yelled Merry, flinging his arms wide and in doing so smacking Frodo's head. He went on without apology, "This is important, so please listen whether you are here or not yet!"
Frodo tugged at his sleeve and Merry swayed. "Are you sober?" the elder whispered.
Glancing down at Frodo, Merry's eyes focused and unfocused in a dizzy manner as he grinned crookedly. "No, and proud of it," he replied in a deafening before turning back to his audience. "I would now like to recite something I wrote about two minutes ago in honour of an old friend." He cleared his throat with a rumble, which sounded suspiciously like burraroom. One hand went to his heart, the other still outstretched. "O pipeweed mine I saw you shine through walls and barrels grey. O pipeweed your'n, your leaves were shorn to bring joy to my day-"
"Sam, quick," hissed Frodo, nudging his former servant.
"-O pipeweed green your crown has been lopped off for our delight-"
Like lightning Sam ploughed into Merry, pinning him face downward into the dirt. For good measure he sat on Merry's shoulders, preventing his escape, if not his oratory. Sam pulled two apples from his pocket as Merry continued, his voice dampened by mud, "-and dried by Spring like kindling to warm a drunken knight-"
Sam wedged one of the apples between Merry's teeth, thus concluding the poem. The other he bit into himself, nodding to his master. "That's done, Mister Frodo. Have your say while you're able."
"Thank you, Sam," Frodo turned to those assembled with a small smile. "Welcome, everyone. I know you are eager to hear the tale of my dear cousin's ill-fated friend, so I will to my best to ensure a short meeting. For those founders and naive-"
"Native, Mister Frodo," whispered Sam, crunch crunch.
"Native," Frodo amended before anyone could catch his slip, "Bucklanders who have only recently broadened our numbers, allow me to explain what we understand of the current circumstances: Hobbiton has been overrun and is now held against us. Why our foes have not yet crossed over to the eastern shore, we do not know. Reason and hope suggest that they are as of yet unaware of the presence of those living in Buckland. Prudence demands that we entertain yet another option; that they are biding their time and regrouping. Rivendell has also been taken, according to Anduwen and Took, who have recently escaped there, and Xara and Ivy who have passed through and in doing so risked their lives to come to our aid," Frodo smiled at one, then the other. Xara, who was now level with Frodo and nearest to him as he smiled, grinned back, stuffing her writing tool into her mouth and biting on it to stop herself from swooning. Frodo pretended to be oblivious to the attention. Nonetheless he blinked with a dazzling blueness before turning back. The i Nili Editor was blissfully unconscious for the reminder of the meeting, the coverage she had written so far soaking in the moisture of the grasses onto which it had been dropped.
"And so, in essence," Frodo continued, "we are besieged with the invaders to the west and Barad-dur looms over us to the east."
"And the Buckland Wall before that," said Sam in munching resignation. "There's nothin' for it, Mister Frodo. We're going to die again. Good and really dead, this time. May as well eat while we can. Who's for taters in thyme and dill sauce?"
There was an approving chorus from the hobbits, all of whom promptly ran into Crickhollow. Sam stood up to join them, but was halted by Frodo's hand placed firmly upon his shoulder. Merry took the opportunity to roll over, spit out the apple, and put his thumb in his mouth, enjoying ale-induced dreams of Eowyn and mayhem.
"A' course, sir," said Sam, hesitating before he sat back down.
"As I understand it we have two options. We can sit about here, biding our time, waiting for our doom to befall us as it eventually will. Or we can meet our enemy head-on, when they least suspect it, in battle."
"As they do not yet know of our presence, would it not be erring on the side of caution for us to wait?" asked Anduwen.
"Yeah," added Fan, "like it or not, we're poets and administrators, not warriors and tacticians."
"Better to face them here, not wear ourselves out marching back to Hobbiton and whatever awaits us there," agreed Tookie. "It's not like most of us have weapons anyway. Like Sam said, might as well enjoy ourselves now. Come on, I can smell dinner heating inside."
Following the hobbits, the founders shuffled away into the overcrowded hobbit-house. Frodo watched bewilderedly as they went, his eyes wide and disbelieving. Living sapphires they seemed, twin seas of emotion. On either side of him were his unconscious supporters. Ivy and Sam exchanged glances. "Well, Mister Frodo, we're with you on this," he said reassuringly while dealing Merry a sharp and friendly kick.
Merry opened one eye, the other remaining stubbornly closed. "Mmm hmm, yeah, cousin Frodo. You can count on us," he said, and passed out.
Fear, Fire, Foes. All Right, No Fire.
The next day was little better in the support of Frodo's plan. Little in that Pippin enthusiastically joined their cause; a disturbing fact for those who opposed the recapturing of Hobbiton plan as they had expected the little fellow to entertain them that evening. It was even more disturbing for Frodo. When Pip offered his services Frodo became silent, contemplative, and Pippin twitched impatiently. "Why?" the Baggins finally managed to ask with something less than jubilant gratitude.
"I am no warrior at all-"
"-and I dislike any thought of battle; but waiting on the edge of one I cannot escape is worse," said Pippin, burying his face in his palms, his shoulders quivering. When he knew Frodo wasn't looking he stole a dry-eyed glance in his direction, then winked at Merry before drawing a shuddering breath to return attention to himself. "Our doom is near. My very breath seems stolen from me," he gasped, face hidden.
"Very well," said Frodo, too tender of heart to remember writing those very words before.
Pippin laughed wildly, his cheeks flushed and his long little nose wrinkled. "Oh, and would you do something more for me, dear Frodo?" he asked sweetly. "I think my sword is yet lodged in Diamond's pincushion."
With a roll of his eyes Frodo left the sunny meadow to run Pip's errand. May as well do something to distract from the agony of waiting, he reasoned.
Brandy Hall was more of a maze than he remembered, full of twisting corridors and little light. He could see like a cat in the darkness, so this proved no hindrance. It was the smell, which slowed him. In Crickhollow there was proper ventilation and running water, but staying in one place too long was dangerous. Here such things had been overlooked. Smoke and mold odours mingled unpleasantly, assaulting his overactive senses. Burnt suppers, rotting timbers, the draft from the Hall's sickroom, all left lasting traces in the air, which only he could identify. The smell was not so strong when I was a child living within these walls, he thought, then reminded himself glumly that he never had been a child, that all of his memories were nothing but piecemeal fabrications. The thought was both distressing and distracting, and for a time he wandered without destination.
His head shot upward as he suddenly remembered his task. Better to live now than to lament over a past, which had not been. As he retraced his steps he felt hobbitish optimism returning. No past made for fewer lasting scars. And he did have the memories, false though they may be. A memory becomes real if it is shared by another, he thought and smiled faintly. The darkness could not hide the glitter of his eyes.
This thread of thought ended with a sudden fray as he heard shouting, muffled by the damp walls. Pippin had done something unsavoury again, no doubt. Frodo ran quickly into Diamond's chambers, ignoring her shout of consternation as he slipped away with not only Pippin's sword but her entire pincushion. No time to sort them out; he was clearly needed elsewhere.
"Yrch!" someone screamed and Frodo glanced at Sting where Sam had set it upon the mantelpiece. To his horror the edges were glowing an unpleasant yellow ochre. He grabbed the hilt, wondering what evil awaited him, and ran toward the sounds of battle.
A large party of orcs had broken away from the hoard now lodged between Rivendell and Hobbiton to scout the lands they had acquired and whatever spoils may lie within. It was only by accident and a fair measure of lucky (or unlucky, depending on what later befalls) stupidity that they found the Buckland settlement. When they had come upon the Brandywine River, bridgeless though the founders had made it in case exactly such an event should occur, one particular orc upon whom a head cold was preying thought this was a stream to bathe in. Yes, the self-same orc who had been used as a bridge across the Bathwater. Fate favoured him at this moment, and the section of the river which he threw himself over was sported by a small central island within arm's reach.
His peers, reverting for a moment to their elven mentalities, decided to make a game of it. Two points to whoever could cross the river to the island in one clean leap (bonus points added if the leap included a spin or the leading run was done on tip-toes), one point if they cleared it in two leaps, one of which involved the now luck-forsaken bridge-orc's behind. This caused sudden contention when one of the slower-witted orcs argued that the points should be distributed more evenly: one for one leap, two for two. Despite the efforts of a few to explain that the more difficult leap should be better rewarded the one-for-one, two-for-two system of scoring was soon accepted by all. They formed a queue and agreed to all run at once, making their leaps in rapid succession. Ten, nine, eight, 'leven... what came after 'leven?
But they had already counted ten.
No harm in counting it twice.
Gar, s'pose not. 'Leven, ten, nine, eight, 'leven, ten, five, one, GO!
The run was executed beautifully. The graceful spring and arching leap, flawless. These steps were repeated will skills unparalleled. Only one thing marred this display of elven agility: in the time they had taken to argue about in the bridge had tired of his status and scrambled damply over to the island. This was not anticipated, and a long-jump was transformed into syncronised sinking. The bridge-orc watched with fiendish glee as they wallowed in the river, only helping them when it became apparent that they would collectively toss him if he didn't.
At last they were all squeezed onto the small island. The rivulets, which streamed from their bathing suits and dreadlocks threatened to submerse this point of land as completely as Numenor. When mud began to seep through the ankles of their iron boots they came to the unspoken agreement that it was time to get back on stable ground. But which bank should they leap to? From here both looked the same. Yes, you or I could tell by the direction in which the river was flowing, or the heading of the sun, or even the fact that one shore was scuffled by their many feet while the other was pristine. The creatures in question though are orcs, and, whether or not they were once humans, stupidity is required. And so, in true orc fashion, they leapt onto the wrong site of the river. To Buckland.
A few scouts were sent ahead, promptly lost themselves, and did not return to the hoard. This was repeated several times per hour until they were down to three-quarters of their original strength. By then it was mid-day, and dried by the sun they were now willing to set out together, leaving the bridge-orc by the river in case they needed to return. Afraid of being separated, they formed a line; their left hand resting on the shoulder of the one before them, their right hands each bearing a cruel and somewhat rusty weapon. Upon each head was a cap of steel or iron with leather, each wrist bore a gauntlet with knifeblade-sharp, nail-like protrusions, and upon their persons were old-fashioned, second-hand swimming suits, skirts, trunks, and tops, striped in a myriad of garish colours. Their waists were belted by a thick bolt of cloth: the standard of their master.
The bridge-orc with the head cold giggled as he watched them go. He had been one of the few to refuse the new swimming gear, and so his armour was now providing him with a personal sauna. He slipped into the shade of a tree, began to nibble at the mushrooms which grew at its base, and wondered if maybe he should be a hobbit next.
A Disconcerting Episode.
Warning: The following episodes are those rated Mature for hectic battle scenes and some Merry images.
The clamour of conflict was nearer now that Frodo had found his way to the front hall. He pulled sharply upon the doorknob, nearly knocking himself over as the heavy planks flew toward him. Nimbly he leapt aside, making a mental note that central doorknobs are not safe when speed is required. Knowing his Buckland kin, speed probably never was required except by those guilty youngsters of the sort this door was designed to stop.
Upon the threshold the first of the fray assailed him. There, founder Smeagol grappled with a curious creature, the likes of which Frodo had never seen, not even in his literary travels. An orc instinct told him when reason failed to produce a name. He watched with petrified curiosity as Smeagol's long hands reached over the orc's shoulders with an eerie slowness ("Hurry up, Peter!" shouted someone nearby, clearly feeling the same sense of time being manipulated by movie directors), curled around their target, and yanked. A chunk of hair came free. The orc threw back her head and howled, tossing Smeagol from her back. Seconds later she had disappeared into the forest.
Blinking away the shock-induced stupor, Frodo scanned the grassy fields. Poogie had run to Smeagol's aid, calling for a founder outside Frodo's view to bring ale and clean dishrags.
"Here, here!" shouted someone across the greensward. Frodo turned to look for the owner of the voice and found Samwise sitting upon a groggy foe as Merry strutted importantly beside them. "Bring the ale, and a loaf of bread while you're at it. And a carrot. The victorious Buckland Guard deserve some reward for risking our necks for you," shouted the latter.
"Don't be absurd, Merry. The alcohol is will serve as a disinfectant," shouted back Morrigan. "Smeagol got a nasty cut on her palm from the butterfly hairclip tangled in that monsteress's locks. If I see you try to take so much as a drop for non-medicinal reasons, it goes directly into the care of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins."
Merry blanched, but Pippin, for his cousin's sake, was unwilling to relent so quickly. "Medicinal reasons, you say? How many drops will you spare for this paper cut?" he held up an insect-like finger. Nothing was visible upon it, but that proved little as the finger itself was nearly beyond seeing.
"Don't worry of it, little hobbit," said Smeagol, feeling sympathy. "We doubt any bacteriasses could find their way into that, we does."
"Oh well," muttered Merry. "You tried, at least."
The orc under Sam began to squirm. The hobbit whacked him soundly on the back of the head with a hand shovel, then returned to his mending.
"What happened?" asked Frodo, now daring to approach.
"These uruks - there were four of them all together - stumbled out of the woods in pairs," explained Poogie.
"But we took care of them," Merry added with a bold grin.
"Where are the other two?" Frodo puzzled. "And I have never seen uruks like these before. Are you sure?" He gestured toward the one which lay face down under Sam.
"One question at a time. They're uruks. Trust me. I was kidnapped by the scum, if you will remember. Under whatever disguise, I know an uruk when I taste one."
The faces of those nearest Merry whitened and widened at his choice of words. Sam and Poogie slowly backed away as Frodo more firmly gripped his sword hilt. Only Smeagol remained unruffled, sticking out her tongue as if trying to remove an unsavoury taste by airing it out. "Orcses doesn't taste very nice, does they, silly hobbit?" "How is it that they get called right true names when I'm labeled things like simple and fat?" grumbled Sam.
Smeagol gave Sam an injured pout. "Since when have we called you simple, eh, stupid-fat hobbit? You see, Master? He makes up nasty lies about us, he does. Poor, poor Smeagol listens to him day after day."
"Oh how I would like to give you an ear-full right-"
"Enough!" Frodo bellowed, then turned away from the squabbling pair and toward Merry. "Dare I ask what became of the other two orcs?"
"Both dead, Mister Frodo," replied Sam, hoping to make amends for the argument he had begun. "Eowyn and Billy took down one with a right staggering thing they called a "tig-tickle-tackle". They didn't set out to kill it, but it landed on a rock, broke its neck. Took and Di brought down the other one with a bit of arche-"
"I brought it down!" shouted Merry, waving his notably clean blade above his head. "I set steel into his unworthy flesh! I skewered the lowly beast! Or would have..."
"He tripped over his own sword," Poogie loudly whispered, winking.
"At least I have a sword to trip over!" Merry retorted. The next few minutes they were all allowed precious silence as he tried to puzzle out the meaning of his own words.
Frodo seized the opportunity to reorganise and prepare. "A good point," he said, innocent of the thoughts which were now running through Merry's mind. "Now, as my fears are confirmed, may be an ideal moment to reconsider arming our company. We are, unfortunately, limited to that which is on hand."
"On hand it is, then."
"Handsses work, doesn't they, precious?"
"But what I meant-"
"Don't worry, Frodo. You fret too much."
"Oooh, I have a sword inside, cousin Frodo. Did you find it for me?"
"I dropped it when-"
"Never mind. You go on planning. I'll go look."
"I'll help, Mister Pippin. This orc won't be comin' around any time soon."
"Ta, Frodo darling."
"Hahahaha, very funny, Merry! Don't lose your sword. Or should I say shortsword? Heh heh heh..."
"I'll get you for that, you know, as soon as I work out what you meant."
"It is not."
"Is too. I would know that voice anywhere."
"Probably just an imitator. Dom's still in the institution. Besides, can you see him around here, Ivy?"
"Aye, you're right. What are you looking for, Pippin?"
"Hahaha! Merry, hey Merry, he's lost his!"
"We're forgetting something, aren't we?"
"Yeah. Frodo and his lectures. He's moping outside."
"Should we go check on him?"
"A hobbit moping? 'T aint natural..."
"Right. Leave him be. It could be dangerous."
"Or have good old Merry take his-"
"We'll wring your little neck, precious, if you make nice Master part of your wicked jokeses."
"Did you eat the orcs, Merry?"
"No. Why do you ask?"
"I think she wonders what they taste like, begging your pardon for interrupting."
"Always thinking with your stomach." "Shh! What's that?"
Many Meetings.. Partings... Which is it again?
Forlorn, forsaken, Frodo sat with Sting in his lap upon the garden bench. He had dragged the unconscious orc to a less central spot of the yard, away from his field of vision. The sound of babble and squabbling drifted through the thin panes of glass, making the transparent sheets tremble and his thoughts quaver. Did no one realise the potential danger of this situation? He leaned forward and buried his head in his hands. Seconds passed, then minutes of torture. He considered slipping out of earshot. Yes, that was the only way to prevent a headache. He paused. Where was the noise he planned on escaping? There is something in the humanoid psyche, which takes it as a personal insult if one of their pet peeves disappears without argument. What? Am I not worth pestering any longer? Is it beneath evil deeds to lurk in my shadow, ready to strike? Have I lost my touch?
Indeed, such thoughts had begun in Frodo's mind, but were halted as the noise returned, but not from Brandy Hall.
Thud thud thud thud THUD thud... thud thud thud thud THUD thud...
Marching noises. The orcs were approaching. So those which had come before were scouts. Why had they let one escape alive to report their presence?
From inside, Pippin squeaked dramatically "So it begins!"
The rhythmic thudding of iron on earth grew louder, more menacing in the ceaseless pattern. Step by step the orcs came out of the shadows of the forest. Red and white barred across their chests like blood upon snow. One by one they filed onward. Five, ten, two-dozen, on they came.
"Oh, mercy," breathed Xara at Frodo's side. He swallowed and nodded silently. If a master tactician had planned this fear-inspiring display it could have worked no better. Severed heads didn't hold a candle to orcs in bathing suits.
Their chant became audible with a sudden striking clarity: "Cha-cha-cha-cha-CHA-cha, cha-cha-cha-cha-CHA-cha..." to the beat of their feet.
Several founders broke into hysterics and had to be dragged into Brandy Hall so as not to harm themselves.
"Everyone with fighting skills, to me," whispered Frodo. "All others, go inside and make sure the little ones don't sneak out. Barricade the doors and hide in the cellars if need be." There was a subdued stampede to and through the three doors. When all who did not wish to be among the first defenders were in, the doors slammed and thudded with the sound of beams falling into place.
"This is all?" cried Merry, surveying those who remained: Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Di, Took, Ivy, Xara, and himself. "Eight against over three dozen?"
"I hope you're not counting me," said Xara, holding up her soiled notes. "I'm busy covering the story."
"Seven?" said Merry, a bit more shrilly.
"If Pippin counts as one against an orc fifty times his size."
"Six-point-zero-five?" now his voice was quiet with desperation.
Ivy and Xara exchanged glances. "I thought you weren't afraid of anything, Meriadoc Brandybuck," said the former.
"I'm not. I simply didn't realise I had to learn swordfighting," he blushed deeply, staring at his dirty feet. "I remember so many battles. I thought I knew how ... until today."
"Great. A trained force of five," bemoaned Di, rolling her eyes. "Does anyone else have a last minute confession?"
"I left my only arrow in the one I killed," said Tookie after some hesitation. "He's been buried, so I'm basically unarmed."
"I can fight," said Pippin, standing on the tips of his toes.
He was ignored. "Well, we have no hope of winning. Has that ever stopped us before?"
"Never, Mister Frodo."
"Come on, then," said Frodo, a hand on his companion's shoulder. "For the Shire!" He turned and faced the foe, brandishing Sting.
"And the ... swoonsome ... Frodo Baggins stood alone ... against the oncoming army ..." murmured Xara as she wrote.
"Not ... alone," she amended. "His eyes shimmered ... in the ..."
"Wait, let me finish this sentence! Founders and hobbits alike... charged against the orcs ... At the ... front of this ... desperate charge ... his sword flashing ... was Frodo- Frodo!?! Come back here! My hero can't die, no matter how noble his sacrifice may appear!"
The hobbits, now in the thick of the fray, were not listening. The orcs had been taken by surprise at the first attack and had scattered. The attackers chased after them individually. Frodo and Sam worked as a team, trapping orcs and hewing them down with a fluid, unspoken system. Di launched into crowds of three or four, slashing at random with her knife, and when that snapped against the helm of one with her nails. Merry had abandoned his sword for stones, with which he had pleasing accuracy. Taking up his fallen sword, Took few toward those who were fleeing through the trees. An uruk, whose garb was lined with lavender lace, grappled with the weaponless Ivy.
Eight orcs had been brought down in the initial assault, some slain, some stunned. Once the shock had faded, however, the invaders had begun to regroup. They formed a circle around the resistors, loose at first, then closing slowly in. Their self-appointed leader (the one who had made a disaster of the point system of their orcish Olympics) barked out orders. "Close in! Take the humans alive. Kill the midgets. Yar, like our master ordered! They ain't cute, filth, kill 'em!"
The new title inflamed the hobbits, adversely affecting their fighting. "I-" thwack "am not ... ow! ... a midget- aaaah! Watch it Mister Frodo! -and I'll thank you to remember it!"
"While we're at it, I do not have a kinky fetish for gold jewelry, and my name is not Nancy!"
"Nor is mine!" retorted on of the elf-orcs, causing a stir of mutual confusion.
"Well, good, I'm glad that is cleared up," said a familiar voice. What is it about V.G. that her voice is always the first thing recognised? And she acts as an outlet for Romanticist reminders that you are reading? Anyhoo... "We can return to a seemingly doomed battle."
"Veegee!?! What are you doing here?"
"Ugh, Perian, let me go. Hugs and swords don't go together. Besides, I have seen you every second of the past few days. I brought you here, remember?" said V.G.
Those few defenders in the centre of the ring grinned and fought with invigourated effort as the confounded enemy turned to face the new foe. A pair of blades, long and slender and gilt at the channel, whistled through the air. Arcs of lifeblood flew from either tip as the two who wielded them cut through the dampish ranks. With a seamless skill V.G worked, whereas Padfoot's form was filled with the raw energy and occasional fumblings of a newcomer to swordplay. Perian set to work with her dagger, doing all the damage in the unfiltered sunlight, which she had been unable to on the day of their capture.
The two clusters of Buckland defenders met during a lull as the orcs pulled away to consider their position. As soon as they were relatively safe, the tide of interrogation swept over them.
"What ... how did you get here?" inquired Took. "Last we heard you were captive in Barad-dur."
"Well, I wouldn't be much of a Dark Lord if I didn't know the way out of my own tower, would I?" said Paddy. "V.G. helped to rescue us, though."
"But what took you so long, Padalina?" asked Di.
"V.G.'s husband was teaching me how to use this," Padfoot held up her gleaming blade.
"Maybe he could teach me," said Merry, then he started. "Ivy, watch yourself!"
An orc had snuck up on them and was now standing poised with her mace arching back over her head, ready to come down upon Ivy's. Before it could happen the orc let out a chilling scream and limped away, two toes severed. "I told you I could fight," Pippin chirped.
They advanced on the remaining orcs, steel singing. Only a handful were left; their companions fled or fallen. One female panicked and threw up her hands, dropping a scimitar. Seeing this as a sign of defeat, the other four followed her example. Frodo halted their advance. "We cannot kill those who are defenseless, even if they assailed us so."
"I know, Mister Frodo," said Sam, uncoiling several ells of rope from his waist. "If they'll surrender, I'll treat 'em right fair, but not without tyin' up."
"Sam... you have worn your elven rope as a belt all these years?"
"No 'arm in bein' prepared."
A shrug and then an nod of approval came from Frodo. Sam, accompanied by Merry, negotiated the surrender and supervised the binding. Di and Took went into Brandy Hall to nurse minor wounds and to recount their tale, ready to receive praise for their part in it. Frodo wandered the field, anguished by the corpses and the darkening bloodstains made by both friend and foe.
Something rustled on the edge of the forest. A body stirred, clanking softly. Frodo turned to see the orc's leader leap to his feet, a splintered spear in hand. Suddenly it struck Frodo how vulnerable his position was, exposed on all sides, nowhere to run. Behind him Xara screamed a warning. The orc lifted the spear and aimed for Frodo's chest. "Eradicate," it chanted.
A slight figure leapt between them, a spark of sunlit silver flying from the hand of it like a metal-wrought bird. It lodged itself in the orc's shoulder as he threw the spear, causing the aim to falter. Frodo put his hands to his chest, delighted that it was still whole and not holed. The hideous creature advanced, red streamlets trickling from under the hilt of Perian's dagger. Frodo backed away, but tripped over a carrion orc. He threw his hands up over his head in a feeble last defense. There was a sound like intensified tin-foil crumpling, then nothing.
Frodo lowered his hand to see a small troll smiling down at him, both hands upon what had been a helmet.
"My troll!" cried Paddy, teary eyed.
"Ma-ma?" it managed, plodding over to wrap her in a bulky hug. She laughed and patted its hairless head.
"Thank you," murmured Frodo, prompting another stony grin.
"Is it over?" asked Xara, joining them, still writing passionately.
"I hope so," said Ivy, looking around. All was morbidly tranquil, a green field newly sewn with boulders and scarlet mosses. Pippin picked his way through a limbed maze, unable to see over the carcasses, unwilling to climb them. Perian lay on her side with a book in hand, holding it up for better light.
"What are you doing, Perri-o?" asked Xara.
"Resting my Irish erse," said Ivy. "You're trying to slip out of cleanu- oh gods." She stopped, staring at the shaft which protruded from Perian's ribs, running parallel to the ground.
"Embarrassing, isn't it?" said Perian softly. "A wooden appendage springing from the wrong place. Or a nearly bald hedgehog."
The others in the field closed in, curious as to what had startled Ivy. "Is... is it painful?" she asked haltingly, unsure of what to say. Frodo's hand closed spasmodically over Xara's, and as though it were as signal they ran to their injured friend, the human kneeling at her side, the hobbit at her head.
"Not much," said Perian in answer to Ivy's question, though the way her eyes flew open and her breath whistled through her teeth when they gently turned her onto her back belied this. She called for Paddy and Pippin. "Xara, will you take this?" she asked, handing her the book she held.
"Of course. What is it?"
"My scribblings," said Perian. "You can keep it if you promise me that you will at least try to do what I have written on a page tucked under the flap of the cover."
"Paddy, if you will take this spear out of me in about a minute, you can have my dagger. It's mithril."
"Wouldnae taking it out make the wound worse?" protested Ivy.
"Please?" begged Perian, and Padfoot nodded.
"Give this to Prongsie," said Perian, lifting a chain and a locket shaped like an intertwining serpent from her neck.
"Yes, Xara?" Perian turned and fixed her gaze on her former assistant editor.
"You're speaking as if you're ..." Xara couldn't bring herself to say it. Paddy lowered into a crouch at Perian's opposite side, her hand wrapping around the shaft where wood met flesh. "I know a death wound when I see it, Xara, or feel it," said Perian. Paddy pulled sharply, and Perian howled, her fist flying through the air where moments before Paddy's head had been. Then she leaned back, head in Frodo's lap.
"You can't die," said Xara. "We'll get Prongsie to fix it. Immortal, remember?"
Perian smiled, red froth flecking her lips. "So far." She closed her eyes, then opened them slowly. "Oh, but I'm forgetting you," she said to those who remained around her. "But I have nothing more to give. Ivy, you can have him," Perian waved toward Pippin.
The blood was dribbling from the corners of her mouth now. "Frodo..." she whispered.
"I already have a gift to remember you by," said Frodo, a finger to his temple, his other hand soothingly upon her brow. "It's all here. Fey moods and fish, Figbwit searching."
Perian grinned. "Furry-footed philanderers ... random Bankses and Gamgees."
"Writer's Barad-durian barricades and grasping metaphors, remember?"
But Perian did not answer. Her eyes were glossed, unseeing, her intaken breath never released.
Took, Smeagol, Poogie and Di stayed in Buckland to nurse their wounds, and with them many founders and most of the hobbits. They were planning to evacuate to Ered Luin, the sheltered valley just east of the Wall which would hopefully provide them with the same lasting cover it had given Perian in life. The latter had left a map of the valley with the folded and corded texts tucked in the cover of her notebook. Greenwood and mountain ravines would provide them with a veil as they moved their headquarters yet again. In order to confirm its safety a group was chosen (or rather chose themselves) to make the trip beforehand. Arrangements had been made to meet Prongsie on the way. The small group was made a large one when a minor, but impossible with the scant means available to them in Buckland, final request was read:
If you should dare to bring me to the dishonourable pyre of the heathen kings or the ignominious foe, a curse shall be set upon you and your kin (to be carried out by my dear companions, the hobbits and their progeny, for three ages to come). Further, may death befall swiftly should you set this claustrophobe to earth. What I’m getting at is will you let me lie upon the water? Please? Cheerio, and cheer up. Huggles.
“Sounds easy enough,” said Paddy. “So we dump her in the Brandywine before we go?”
“Padfoot, I’m surprised at you. Without even attempting to bring her to Prongs and see what she can do.” V.G. shook her head. Padfoot gave her a long glance, then looked down at her feet to hide the expression of doubt she felt creeping over her face. Her head shook nearly imperceptibly, but she said nothing.
And so they decided to meet Prongs first, and quickly, to see if anything could be done. Many of the hobbits insisted on coming along, but all were refused save the four over whom no amount of dangling authority could hold sway. Fredegar Bolger and Diamond Took, with the help of Fan, were left in charge of the Buckland clan and sundry.
They planned to set out that evening, as soon as darkness fell. In the meantime they had their work set plainly before them. The field of battle was beginning to stink horribly, and though no one wanted the duty of clearing it up, all knew it had to be done if Buckland ever were to be reoccupied and livable. There was much debating, finger-pointing, and cheating on the drawing of straws so that Pippin, incapable of doing the work, always mysteriously ended up with the short one. Finally, to put an end to the delays, Frodo volunteered to supervise. This was greeted by general applause... until he gently pointed out that supervisors choose their staff and ... well, supervise. By this time it was too late for the others to weasel their way out of it.
The field was cleaned with only one mishap. Their “small, darling, honourable, and generally swoonsome master supervisor” as the event was recorded by their reporter, “chanced bravely upon a fearsome fallen orc, kneeling like a spirit of mercy (and beauty) at its side...”
Frodo wiped a finger over the gash in the orc’s neck where steam from the wound was rising in the cooling twilight. A look of shock came over his face, and he wrenched the helmet from its head. A tangle of pale hair streamed out, the only part of this creature which still appeared to contain life. He backed away but did not look away from the body. “This isn’t an orc,” he said softly. He glanced up, and his gaze met Paddy’s. “But certainly not elves, either. I ... I think they’re human.”
“Yep,” said Paddy casually. “Orcs weren’t a priority, no matter how much I tried. Most of our ‘orcs’ were volunteers.”
“You mean you know these people?” asked Frodo, horrified.
“Yeah. Most of them are founders gone over,” said Paddy. “Sad, really. Say, Frodo, help me haul this one over to the battle pit.”
Frodo shook his head and turned away, toward an empty space in the field. He muttered something under his breath, then unsheathed Sting. In a swift movement he plunged it into the softened earth. “Reclaim it if you can,” he murmured over the spot. “Better had it had never left your veins.”
“That was right good of you, Mister Frodo,” said Sam. “Though I can’t say I would have done the same in your place. They meant to murder us.”
“Even so, Sam, I will not take up arms again,” said Frodo.
“Waste of good steel, if you ask me,” muttered Paddy under her breath. Having moved the orc, she was now polishing her new dagger, inherited from Perian. When Frodo was out of sight, she slipped to where he had buried his sword. A cringe was suppressed as she wrapped her hand around the hilt and pulled it out. “I seem to be doing that a lot lately. Here, I have a sword and a dagger,” she said, turning to Ivy, who stood red-eyed beside her, and handing her the sword, little more than a lancet in their human hands. “You may need it.”
“I hope not,” said Ivy.
Frodo and Sam had removed to the last body on the field. The wrapped a thick blanket carefully around it, binding it with fibre cords. No one but Sam saw the little cluster of star-shaped flowers which were dropped by his companion on the still bosom before it was hidden with the folds of the blanket. The troll stood by at the request of Padfoot, ready to bear the bundle with them to Ered Luin.
As the first stars began to shine, they were assembled on the cleared field, ready to depart. Nine walkers (not counting the troll, as he plodded more than walked, and Pippin as he was being carried in Ivy’s knapsack): Frodo, Sam, Merry, Ivy, Padfoot, V.G., Xara, Eowyn Evenstar, and Prancie. All were cloaked in grey raiment, save the troll, who no one dared to try to change from the ochre kilt and blue belt-scarf Padfoot had clad him in.
The first several leagues of their journey were uneventful, with Frodo and Merry leading them through the darkness. By midnight, all had stubbed toes (save Frodo and Merry, who were, as was just mentioned, leading, and so victim to stubbed heels instead). They rested when they came to the wall, there met by V.G.’s just-as-paint-stained-as-she husband, who spouted a few tales of past exploits before reminding them that they had not brought provisions, but to never mind, as he had them all there. Ten bags were handed out (how he had gotten them there, no one thought to ask, though a fleeting image of prancing dwarves flitted randomly through all their minds) stuffed to brimming with every variety food imaginable, save curry, which he avoided as a rule.
They bid him farewell, and set off again, all but Sam and the troll going noticeably slower. Merry munched absentmindedly on a carrot as V.G. took her turn leading them. No one really knew where they were going, as Perian’s sketched map was unreadable in the wan moonlight, dampened by lowering fogs. The country here was wild, matching quite well the descriptions they all knew of Ithilien. Instead, Xara tried to glean clues from the slightly more legible notebook writings. The others had to watch that she did not stray off the path (or what they titled the path in the absence of a better one), nose buried in the book as it was. Some random comments about not being able to read in the dark were passed back and forth, punctuated by the snores of Peregrin. It was not long before silence befell them again.
“We’re lost, hehehe,” murmured Pippin in his sleep, breaking the stillness of the night.
“No we’re not,” said Frodo and V.G. at the same time, the latter bent nearly to the ground, searching for tracks which did not exist.
“Let’s face it, Mister Frodo-”
“I said we are not lost, Sam.”
“Well, then, we’re not found.”
Merry’s face suddenly brightened. “Does that make us exiles?”
His elder cousin halted for a moment, causing a pile-up. After helping everyone else back to their feet, he turned to Merry. “Why? No, better not to ask, I think. Oh!... No, Merry! Don’t start singing!”
“Bebother. You spoil all my fun, cousin Frodo.”
“This simply isn’t the time,” said Frodo, walking at a pace which suggested a desire for escape. The others cantered after him, exchanging glances.
They stopped suddenly as a bright light pierced through the gathering darkness. “Did you guys lose yourselves already?”
“No, Miss Prongsie,” called Samwise. “We just didn’t find ourselves before you came along, if you follow me.”
Founder Prongsie, aka The Dirty Doctor, gave Sam a small, confused smile, and a glance worthy of her title, then turned to the others. “It’s good to see you. A good thing I insisted in enabling e-mail from Buckland, eh? Your message was confusing, though. I mean, Ered Luin sounds like as good a place as any, but what was the urgency?”
“An attack on Buckland,” said Xara, and explained quickly, her story frequently interrupted and supplemented by the others. As if by an unspoken agreement, no one mentioned the last few minutes of battle, save the coming of the troll. By the time they were finished, all were damp, shivering, stuffed with various provisions, and quite befuddled on many conflicting points of the story. At last all had stopped, and Prongsie spent a few moments trying to collect the fragments in her own mind.
“I see... Wow, I wish I had been there to see it. But I still don’t understand the urgency,” she said.
Pippin, who had awakened during the telling, suddenly burst into tears of frustration, partially because all of his feats of valour had been excluded from the telling, and his little voice had been until now drowned out, partially because he had been forgotten as the food had been passed around, and partially because of the topic on which he was about to speak. “It’s Perry, she was wounded by an orc spear trying to save Frodo and she did, but it was worse than we expected. We didn’t know, really. And we were thinking maybe you could heal it or something. You know elvish medicine, don’t you?”
“Not elvish, no, but I’ll see what I can do. Where is she?”
The troll stepped aside at Paddy’s bidding, its burden lying upon the ground. Prongsie unwrapped the blanket, a sinking feeling as she did so. As she had suspected, a pale, lifeless form was beneath. Prongs turned to the expectant onlookers. “I can heal many things... even reverse the wounds of time... but I cannot give life to the dead.” She rebound the blanket, her eyes falling upon the crushed flowers. Still grinning and oblivious, happy to be of help, the troll picked the bundle back up and trudged forward a few paces to where Paddy stood.
“Yeah, I thought so,” said the latter. “Not that I doubt your work, Prongsie, but I knew it was prob’ly impossible. We should get goin’ before someone starts tracking us. Those orcs aren’t as dumb as they look. Well, not quite as dumb as they look.”
All agreed, stunned though they were, now impacted by death for the first time in centuries, save when a tragic accident would chance (which was rare, and usually involved reunions, miruvor, and jokes about elves, and oliphaunts, in that order.) They shouldered their lighter packs, tried to suck in their heavier bellies, and worked their way into a lopsided excuse for a line.
Prongs and Sam looked back for stragglers, and sure enough, found one. Quietly they went back to where Frodo was kneeling on the ground where Perian had been set, his hands upon the chilled earth, palms upward. Sam bent down beside him. “You cannot save ‘er, Mister Frodo. It’s too late for that. No use in you giving up; that would make it all worthless, now, wouldn’t it? Come on.” He held out one of his sun-darkened hands to his former master. Frodo looked up at it, smiled distantly, and took it.
The sun rose shortly before they reached the dwellings of Ered Luin, shredding the mists and casting aside the shadows. It even ventured to thaw the chill which had crept over their hearts. It was easier to speak lightheartedly in the glow of morning, at least when each was delirious from a battle followed by walking all night. It was agreed that they would stop there only shortly, to send a message to the Bucklanders that the way was clear ... forgetting, it may be added, that they themselves had lost their way... and to take a brief rest. Then their road would turn south and west to the Grey Havens.
The Grey Havens.
Trying to fulfill the request made in that brief, aggressive note, the party made directly for the shipyards upon reaching the Grey Havens. After much haggling and giving out of false names (Frodo once more became an Underhill with Merry and Pippin boldly announcing themselves as Misters Overthehill and The Nuffuf T. Hill-Areadee... needless to say the harbour master did not believe them and mistook Pippin for a clothed performing rodent) they were able to acquire a small boat of grey wood. It was splintering and slightly leaky, as it was a craft built more for a river environment than the ocean and had been out in the weather without repair for several years, but it would suffice.
They took the boat to where the others were hiding for the sake of the troll, who, if he were discovered in the shipyards, would more than likely be mistaken for one of the sailors and pilfered by a groggy and irate captain. The day was as grey as their mood as they arranged Perian in the dilapidated vessel and pushed her off. All was silent until Paddy gave Xara a sharp poke.
“You’re supposed to start,” she hissed, her words carrying eerily in the humid air.
Xara cringed. “It was only a ... what did she call it? Scribbling. Barely legible. I don’t have time for all this. Things are moving so fast, I can’t even keep up with my coverage. I need a tape recorder. What am I saying? Perian’s dead!”
With a slow nod, Paddy said, “So I noticed. Nice try, Xara. Now, go on.”
“Well, it was what she wanted, and how else are we supposed to start?”
Closing her eyes, Xara took a deep breath. As if drawn by her inhale, a fog began to creep into the cove. Into it Xara softly released the words, quiet at first, but gaining strength rapidly. “Lay down ... your sweet and weary head. Night is falling, you have come to journey’s end...”
Perian’s only relative to know of her demise sat shivering in the sand. “What are we going to do,” she said with a bewildered gaze, “without our lunatic?”
“I’m sure there are plenty even in this lot who can fill in that role,” said Prancie.
“Sleep now and dream of the ones who came before. They are calling from across the distant shore.”
“Dreaming after death,” mused V.G. “I’m sure that if Perian is, it involves Billy and both the Frodos surfboarding in kilts with a set of bagpipes and a Ford of Bruinen poster and nothing else...” Padfoot and Prancie suppressed their giggles.
“Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face?”
Ivy heaved a sigh and leaned her head on Merry’s shoulder, their arms wrapped about each other, the huwoman sobbing, the hobbit pursing his lips to prevent any show of emotion. Pippin, in her lap, had his head buried in his hands, shoulders trembling.
“Soon you will see ... all of your fears will pass away.”
“Well, that’s true,” said Prongs to Paddy and V.G., her face downcast. “She won’t be nagging us about dangerous activities and keeling over when we don’t contact her for two days in a row any longer.”
“Safe in my arms, you’re only sleeping...”
Ivy sobbed again.
“What can you see on the horizon? Why do the white gulls call?”
Turning to Prongs, Paddy held out her hand, “I nearly forgot. She wanted you to have this.”
The pendant was dropped into Prongsie’s outstretched hand, dull and lifeless in the foggy atmosphere, save the eyes of the serpents which glittered white and red. A smile crept over Prongsie’s face, and she fingered it. Her head shook slowly, but she said nothing.
“Across the sea a pale moon rises... the ships have come to carry you home.”
“Away from home, more like,” said Sam. “I know. I went that way once.”
“Only in your mind, Sam,” Prongsie was about to correct, but stopped herself.
“Dawn will turn to silver glass ... a light on the water ... all souls pass.” Pippin’s high voice chimed up to join Xara’s, as he had the memory of having a good one and didn’t care to think otherwise; “Hope fades into the world of night, through shadows falling out of memory and time.”
“Not out of our memories,” said Merry. “I can’t get rid of those no matter how hard I try.”
“Don’t say we have come now to the end.”
“But could it be? The end of all of us, I mean,” said Prancie. “One by one they could pick us off, couldn’t they? What if this is the beginning?”
“Of course it isn’t,” consoled V.G. “We’re safe here, and the others are being evacuated. Don’t fret.”
“White shores are calling, you and I will meet again...”
Prongs fiddled with the tiny clasp of the locket. It sprang open, only missing spilling its contents onto the dim shore. She made a darting movement to save them and glanced at the few small items which lay in the palm of her hand: a cut of crystal, a lock of hair, and a scrap of yellowed paper.
“...and you’ll be here in my arms, just sleeping...”
She unfolded the paper and squinted at it. It was growing dark now, and the writing was faded. Her brow furrowed as she stared at it. When she was able to make out the words she laughed and looked slightly offended at the same instant.
“What can you see on the horizon? Why do the white gull call?”
“What does it say?” asked Paddy, who stood nearest to her.
“I think I will keep that to myself for now,” said Prongs, folding the paper again and snapping the contents of her palm back into the chamber of the pendant.
“Across the sea, a pale moon rises. The ships have come to carry you home.”
The fog condensed into rain and made little craters in the sand. It only lasted for an instant before it was exhausted by its effort, both rain and fog slipping away to leave a ceiling of greyness above their heads. The airs had transferred their damp and chill onto the mourners, leaving the sky clear and crisp.
“And all will turn to silver glass. A light on the water ... grey ships pass into the West...”
Xara and Pippin fell silent. The little boat was just barely visible upon the horizon, and only when the small crested waves lifted it into their field of sight. No one spoke, all pondering Prancie’s words. Could this be the beginning of the end? How can you fight an unknown foe, leave alone come out unscathed? The fog had lifted, but gloom was settled, impenetrable. Xara glanced from one solemn face to another, mentally taking notes as it would be inappropriate to do it on paper at that moment.
V.G. is looking calm, probably the calmest among us. I wonder whether she remembered to book the inn for us? Padfoot and Prancie are looking down... wait, no, they’re playing tic-tac-toe in the sand with their feet. Sam is giving them quite a stare. Paddy’s troll is curled up in sleep and resembles a hairy stone. Have I ever seen a hairy stone? I’m not sure, but he resembles one. Eo’star is wandering off. Merry and Ivy are still sitting rather too close to one another, and Ivy’s lips are moving. Maybe talking, but it’s hard to tell from this distance. Could be a tremble. Pippin is sitting in the folds of her skirt, and I think is forgotten. I hope he isn’t sent flying when she stands up. Prongsie appears rather stressed and agitated. Odd. Frodo is... where is Frodo?
Xara looked around the cove. Tall, jagged cliffs a few shades darker than the sky towered on three sides. Grey indeed, the havens were aptly titled. The tide would be come in soon, but there was no need to worry yet. Finally she spotted Frodo. He was wrapped in his cloak, sitting upon a rock with his knees drawn up to his chest. After a glance to ensure that no one was watching, she climbed up to join him. “May I sit down?” she asked softly, gesturing to a spot not far from him. Frodo nodded without speaking or looking up. Xara considered him for some time before venturing to speak again. “Frodo... did you- I mean, did you love her?”
To Xara’s surprise, and to that of those within hearing range, Frodo suddenly laughed. The sound of it echoed off the drying stone. “What? No, no, do not say it again. I know what you asked. No, it isn’t what you are thinking at all. We shared something, certainly, but let me explain it to you as it was explained to me... When Prongs,” he nodded respectfully in her direction, “created us, it was necessary to first download our memories and characteristics into the mind of someone who could articulate whether the programme and memories designed were accurate and possible to live with. Am I explaining this clearly?”
“I think so. Go on.”
“A subject was required to host these personalities. As it was essential in the project to maintain a rather high degree of secrecy, the list of those asked to volunteer was few. Of those, only one person accepted. That being Perian.”
“You mean, all of her personalities, those were the result of this experiment? They were all hobbits? That would mean she wasn’t as mad as we all thought.”
“Exactly. And we discovered that when these were integrated into us, occasionally a bit of her own memory would also be there.”
“That’s a frightening thought,” said Xara, but she looked slightly relieved. Her face brightened. “Does that mean she’s still alive in your minds?”
Frodo shook his head. “No. This is more like being able to read without entering a story. And it is only there in pieces. But that death... well, it’s like a part of myself being lost, if you can understand that.”
Xara nodded, but said nothing.
“You’re the one who holds the last bit of life,” he said.
“The journal. One can live for an age through their writings. That bestowment showed a great deal of trust indeed.” He glanced at the foaming crests as they lapped further up the sand. “We should be leaving.”
Xara nodded and they both rose. “Oh, and Frodo?” she called hesitantly as he began to edge down the stone. He turned his head back to her. “Will you be at the inn tonight?”
Frodo gave a warm smile and nodded.
Inn the Fountain.
Xara spent the remainder of the day in her room in the inn’s topmost storey, leafing through Perian’s book. It was a confusing mismatch, pages often ending with a barely readable scrawl saying cont. fore. 15 pg., aft .5, under the Luthien sketch, forcing Xara to decipher it before finishing an entry. The sun, which had finally decided to make an appearance so that no one would forget its magnanimous existence, beamed yellowly through the diamond-shaped panes and onto the pages of the book. Dust particles glittered in its beam and settled thickly upon their surrounds. It was an old inn. A merry old inn, beneath an old grey hill. And it should be mentioned that the hill was grey due to liberal amounts of ash imported to the area for the sole purpose of making the formerly green and golden-yellow hill so grey. It did not work very well, as the greenery thrived in the new substance and the sea breeze blew the ash against the inn and the fountain for which it was named Inn the Fountain.
Yes, a fountain. It was structure megalithic in proportion, the top level being barely higher than the four-storey inn’s gable. Mithril and elven-glass twined and arched about its circular stone tiers in intricate braids and knots. The basin at the bottom was massive yet shallow, and covered with carven graffiti. Some of the phrases made large enough for Xara to see from her window, had she chosen to look out of it, were “Ships Happen - Love Your Havens”, “arr, drunken pirates anonermous: lords of the earrings, har de har har...”, “More platitudes on rye, please”, and “All Hail the Conquerors, B-E-D, 3033” followed by “Me too, O.B., 3957" (that being followed by “Go Away, Leggy, This is Our Fountain, B-E-D, 4001”).
Sensing all this narration about the historical fountain, Xara decided to continue reading outside. She stumbled down the stairs, book in front of her nose, and out the door. On she went to sit under a tall, leafless beech, not far from the fountain. She selected a page at random, holding the book with its edges upward and letting it fall open. It fell at a page marked by a folded sheet of paper. Xara unfolded the sheet.
Dear Ms. Wood,
We regret to inform you that your position as editor of the i Nili o i Ardanole newsletter has been terminated by the media advisory board. The material you write has been deemed inappropriate for the general public. There will be no dramatic changes to the publication. A neutral replacement will be chosen.
In the margins of the letter, a furious red note had been written, the lines crushing down the fibre and at times breaking through the paper altogether:
Damnable orcs. Must find a way to make them select one of the founders. Xara if she hasn’t been terminated as well. Will talk our infiltrator about it. I’ll fish-whap them, I will... Couldn’t handle The Truth. ‘Tis treachery in our midst. It won’t be long now. Remember to wash hair before the end of the world as we know it.
Xara blinked. “She knew... She foresaw this, but how?”
“It’s a riddle!”
She turned toward the sound of the outburst. There was Merry, looking rather wobbly, and staring at the fountain. “What did you say?”
“It’s a riddle... I could solve it, but not yet... I’m busy...”
He pointed up at the fountain, his finger making little swirls as he tried to focus on the pinnacle of it. “Going to climb that... when Pippin’s through bathing... King of the Inn and the Fountain!”
With a shake of her head, Xara turned back to the book. Resisting the desire to tear up the letter which has caused her so much stress over the past few years, she forced her eyes down toward the page it marked. The Truth it was titled in blocky semi-Gaelic writing.
I feel it high time to inform you of a shadow looming over which has yet to be spotted by most. A threat as of yet unseen. Scorn as you may, this is a very real problem indeed, and only by facing it now in its formative stages do we have hope of defeating it.
Call the tales on which our society was founded a fiction all you like, but the tale is real. We are living it. Moreover, a spirit of that time, before now disembodied, has come into our time to try its hand at the pursuit of power yet again. I would not be surprised if he makes a strike at the foundations of our life very soon. Already it has infiltrated the heights of authority...
With a whap the book slammed shut. Xara tucked it under her arm and ran into the Inn’s common room. The crowd was boisterous, most drunken, all singing, and not one in tune with another. Or singing the same song, for that matter. “Please, everyone! Please, I have something to-” Xara began to shout, but didn’t need to. At the sound of her perfectly pitched voice, everyone stopped with shock.
“Yes?” asked Paddy after a few minutes of silence, handing Xara a frothing but half empty mug of ‘giggle water’.
“I’ve found it,” she stammered, reddening. “That is, the article Perian was kicked off the newsletter staff for...”
“Oh, that’s nice,” said someone in the crowd whom Xara could not identify, and started up a song again.
“No, please listen! She knew what was going on!” Xara slapped the book down onto a table, rattling mugs and decanters. “She said it was one of the old nemeses... from Rings! He has come into our time to-”
“Xara, darling, maybe you don’t need that beer. Some sleep, and you will feel much better in the morning. Don’t worry about bogey men and night phantoms. It will all go away.”
“I’m not drunk! Listen to this... Hey! Watch where you’re dripping!”
The barmaid huffed. “Fit? Pour ye’r oon drinks, then. I hae better things to do.” With a sway of her ample hips, she strode away. Xara wiped at the pages with her sleeve and considered kicking the barmaid in the heel, but waitresses as a species are far too fast for that.
“There were few beings of such non-physical power that they could survive from the Third Age to this,” said Xara. “And she gives a pile of damned riddles... er, pardon me. Perianish riddles to figure out who this is... I’m sure she knew the answer to them.”
“Are you sure they’re riddles and not ramblings?”
“Positive... Merry clued me in to it...”
“All right,” said Jules, who was proprietor of this facility, trying to calm the crowd. “Assuming that what is written in there is true, what hope would folk of our time have against an enemy like that?”
“Well, we would need God on our side, that’s certain,” said Prongs, calmly stirring at a glass of fizzy green liquid.
Xara rounded on her with an astounded glance. “Which god, Prongsie?”
“I knew it! I knew there was an answer in here somewhere! I was reading it only this morning...” said Xara, ruffling through the pages. “There’s something in here... about the course to Valinor...”
Prongs snorted into her glass, and V.G. put an arm around Xara’s shoulder. “Xara, I’m sure your intentions are of the highest, but you’re distraught. We all want to honour the memory of the dead, but truth be known, she was a few pints short of a barrel...”
“Come on, get some air, think it through.”
Fuming, Xara snatched up the book. “Believe what you like. Wait here until the end if you like. I, at least, am going to try to do something.” As she headed for the exit, another chorus of Whiskey in the Jar started up on one end, The Green Dragon at the other. Through the cacophony, Xara was barely able to hear a whisper which came out of the darkness at her as she reached the threshold.
“I believe you,” murmured Ivy, cloaked and still red-eyed. “Let’s talk outside.”
They made their way together to the fountain and sat on its rim. Darkness had fallen, and the stars were beginning to twinkle. The patter of the fountains waters broke the soft sound of the sea not far off, but compared with the noise inside, all seemed as still as the axe of a napping dwarf.
“I can procure a vessel if you’re serious about going to Valinor for aid. We shouldnae tell anyone, though, they’ll try to stop us.”
Xara nodded, somewhat stunned. “Yes, if you’re willing.”
“Oooh, I’ve always wanted to go to Valinor,” squealed Pippin, running along the edge of the fountain to them, his hair and clothes dripping. “Can we take Merry?”
“Oh, but first you’ll need to get him down,” he pointed at the top of the fountain, upon which Merry was draped, unconscious.
On The Horizon.
Two hobbits, concealed from head to toe in cloaks and grey ash, and with monstrous packs upon their backs, entered the swarming docks for the second time in less than a week. A few of the men and women who inhabited this watery hive nodded in recognition as they passed. These secretive men who stood at little more than elbow-height were becoming a local legend. The fact that Merry had to be extracted from the uppermost tier of the Fountain using a pulley and sling slung from a nearby tree had done nothing to increase their anonymity. Quite surprisingly, or not, they had been nicknamed “the hobbits”.
“The ship was suppose to be on the south end of the dock,” muttered Frodo, scanning the bobbing vessels and webs of the wooden landings. “Come on, Sam.”
“I don’t see it, Mister Frodo,” insisted Sam, not moving. “They’re back at the inn, like as not. Laughin’ to see us now.”
“Sam, could it be that you don’t see it due to the hands covering your eyes?” asked Frodo, rounding on him with a bemused smile visible under his hood.
“Now, Mister Frodo, don’t make fun. They have nothin’ to do with it! It’s the Sun is all.”
Frodo nodded, rolling his hidden eyes. A gardener hiding from the Sun’s gaze. What would he think of next? He put a hand out and took Sam’s elbow, steering him along the old planks. He glanced down at their feet to help their steering, and noticed a large, shoeless footprint. “A hobbit made that,” he said.
“Nonsense,” retorted Sam. “Nothin’ in this rotten place would have been made by a hobbit’s hands, and that’s a fact. Not a self-respecting one, that’s certain.”
“Mm, but you said nothing of feet,” murmured Frodo, dragging Sam along in the direction of the prints. On they went, and Frodo noticed a second set of prints like those of a bird in the snow hopping beside them. “They went this way! Come on, we’ll make it yet!”
The prints when in a straight line for some time, then suddenly doubled back on themselves, went in little corkscrew circles, and the heel of one disappeared. Here there was also more traffic, so they often fell into the path of another set of tracks. As they reached the end of one pier, Sam found he could take no more. He leaned on the middle bar of the railing, his stomach churning.
“Sam? You’re turning green. Are you ill?”
“Seasick,” Samwise mumbled into the salty wood.
“Seasick? But we aren’t even on the Sea yet!”
“Begging your pardon, Mister Frodo, but we are,” said Sam, pointing at the shallow waters below. Frodo diverted his eyes as Sam’s dinner gave a particularly nasty twitch. He noticed a dark figure darting through the crowd toward them.
“Ar, issa lady hobbit!” yelled one of the sailors, following his words with a whistle and a gaffaw.
The petite figure blew him a kiss and a rather foul gesture, not stopping her progress toward Frodo and Sam. She darted past the former and jabbed a small silver object into Sam’s exposed arm. “What are you doing?” cried Frodo.
“Giving him something to help his nausea.”
Frodo relaxed. “Oh, it’s you.”
Prongs nodded before straightening in a ‘prepare for lecture’ manner. “How could you even think of slipping away, eh? And worse, with Sam. And worse than that with Sam knowing he’s victim to a terrible seasickness. I’m surprised at you, Frodo. Positively ashamed.”
“But I...” he stammered, blushing, then his face hardened. “You aren’t trying to talk us out of leaving, are you?”
“Aha, you admit it! Where are you taking Sa- uh, going, eh?”
“Oh, don’t tell me you fell for that, too! Frodo, Valinor does not exist.”
“How can you speak with such conviction if you have never been there?” Frodo asked.
“Neither have you! Not even in your memories! I was careful not to include that one after Perian began babbling about meeting Manwë!”
Frodo shrugged. “It is the only plan we have. Come along Sam... Sam?” Frodo turned to see Prongs supporting his gardener who was nearly unconscious, but certainly not looking seasick any longer. “You drugged him!”
Prongs smiled deviously. “Like I said, we have his health to think about. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him.”
“Exactly what we have to be afraid of,” said Xara. “But it seems there’s not much we can do. Oh well.” She covered her mouth as if thinking deeply, though in truth she was trying to hide a smile. As much as she liked Sam, she did have a sneaking suspicion that she would enjoy the trip more with him still in Middle-earth. Frodo would need a companion, and it was her plan to be that companion, by whatever flirting, bribery, and threats were necessary. “Let’s go, Frodo. We don’t have much time. The ship is on this dock. Called the Horizon, I think. Oh, maybe that’s it!” She took Frodo by the elbow and pointed at a elven-looking craft, triple-masted and swan-prowed, anchored not far away. Xara whistled. “When Ivy said she was going to find a ship, she wasn’t joking...”
“Look at the carven railings! That is a ship fit for kings. And the sails are embroidered!”
“Xara, that isn’t the Horizon. That is,” said Frodo, taking her chin and redirecting her gaze.
Her face fell. “Oh.”
It was a small vessel, a longship of the short variety. A world-traverser of the lifeboat type. A Viking ship without the oarsmen. It had a single slender mast on which no sail was yet hoisted. It’s shallowness gave the impression of a cat’s saucer squished in the door, ready to be filled.
“I hope she found a better captain than she did ship,” muttered Xara. “One wave and we’ll be washed overboard. And no swimming pool. Bother.”
“I’ll thank ye kindly to leave yer comments about me ship out of it. I didnae pass through three rounds of firewater and death to bandy ... arr, well, you follow me,” said the captain, stomping up onto the prow and extending the boarding plank. Frodo gaped and Xara suppressed a giggle. Ivy certainly had done better on finding a proper captain than a proper ship. What did they see on the Horizon? Suffice to say, this captain was not exactly swarthy and spittled, but well fit the description of a buccaneer, a corsair, a pirate of the two-eyed kind. A tangle of reddish curls flew free, wrapping about a pair of solid gold hoops. A scarf was bound about a creamy neck, and another about the waist, holding down a billowing tan tunic and green waistcoat. Boots reached for the hem of that tunic, their buckles more dramatic than the gold earrings. About both arms clattered bangles, bracelets, and rings. “Welcome,” shouted the transformed Ivy, “to me ship, the Horizon. We had best set sail before the tides turn against us, so come aboard. Avast, Prongsie! Ye’re coming with us?”
“No, just here to see you off, and make a wager that you’ll be back in two hours,” she replied, still holding Sam as Frodo and Xara descended the wobbly wood, feeling more vulnerable than if they had been running along the bridge of Khazad-dum.
“I’ll meet that wager, landlubber!” said Ivy. “I’ll bet my Pippin against your Sam that we’ll not return until we’ve seen the thither shore.”
“You’re on. Bon voyage, mon amies!”
“We’re all here,” said Ivy. “Hoist the anchor! Up with the rigging! Down with the Bracegirdles! Keep the Banks to the aft, and three cheers for the Brandybucks!”
“Hear, hear,” came a feeble cheer from the prow.
Frodo and Xara followed the voice through a maze of baggage and past the small cabin which appeared to be the ship’s only shelter from the elements. They found Merry, pale and shaky, lying against the railing, looking (to use a cliché) like death warmed over. Pippin was sitting at his forehead, dabbing at it with a cotton swab. “What’s wrong with him?” asked Xara.
“Splinter,” replied Pippin.
“Splinter!?!” cried Merry. “It was a bloody javelin lying in the path!”
“Splinter,” Pippin repeated, holding up a small, bloody shred of wood.
“Well, we’re on our way,” said Ivy, joining them. “I hope ye know where we’re going, Xara.”
Xara nodded with a facade of the confidence which had left her when she heard that they were actually departing. In truth, she didn’t know where they were going, at least not the path to their final destination of Valinor. “Just the five of us on a boat on the Sundering Seas. This should be interesting,” she said to veer the subject away from the dark and dangled path it was creeping toward.
“It’s a ship, I’ll thank ye to remember, and it’s six of us,” corrected Captain Ivy, pointing at the mast. “Quickbeam here came on short notice to replace the rotting log that was there yesterday.”
“Seven,” Quickbeam further corrected, kicking a figure from the coils of rope at its roots. “We have a stowaway.”
Eowyn Evenstar reddened, though it was hard to see where she lay upon the deck. “It’s called a stalker, thank you very much. Hullo, Pippin.”
Ivy fumed for a few seconds. “I willnae have stowaways slipping aboard quiet as you please to flirt with my passengers! But we’re off now, and it’s best if we keep going. We should clear the bay any moment now. Hoist the sail, Quickbeam.”
The ent took up the canvas sheet between its outstretched arms in a non-hasty manner, humming contentedly. Overhead a flock of gulls began to screech ... that is, call. The Horizon sailed off to the horizon, two tiny figures staring after it... one of whom was having slightly fuzzy images of pink stuffed bears dance before his eyes, blocking the tears which would otherwise have come with their cotton paws. Or was that the other figure wiping them away herself? To this date the record has not been clarified. Thank Eru.
Forgive me for a moment as I divert our story. Yes, yes, I know that you are eager to mentally visit the land of the Valar, but there is a matter which we have left in a very delicate state. No, not the mental turmoil of the human-elf-orc-hobbit, but the treachery of the human-founder-elf-orc-elf, and the possibility of a few of our other beloved founders being skewered, fried, or otherwise unpleasantly unsurprised.
What? No recollection of this? Perhaps another keyword to trigger your memory: Orlando. There we go! I see the comprehension spreading across your face like a golden dawn. Well, only in my imagination. Fine, fine, I will stop speaking as this omniscient presence, but you see it is such and easy trap to fall into when you are disembodied. Ahem, ahem...
Hmm? Oh, yes! Before I drift away into obscurity and salty fog again, I will answer that question. Why is Orlando so important to the plot? My dear, look around you. If Master Bloom declared today that his checkered blouses with ruffles at the sleeves and throat and necklines which rendevous with the naval were attractive on women, fifty-million females between eight and eleventy-one would run out to buy one. That kind of power of the spoken word is dangerous, unless used correctly.
When last we looked in on our ethereal heroines, Angel and Arwen, they were being faced with betrayal of the most devastating sort. Former founder Shelly was blocking their exit, but, hey, Orlando was on the other side of the room, so what was the point of an exit anyhoo? For all they cared, they could be cemented in, save for one disconcerting detail. That, naturally, being the sword pointed directly at them.
“Are you armed, Angel?” asked Arwen, carefully avoiding the vocal release of that trace of panic which hopped merrily up and down in her throat.
“No, but we outnumber her. I’ll charge from the front, and you throw her off balance by-”
“Ahem,” Shelly interrupted, looking from one to the other, “I can hear you, as I’m sure you know. There’s really no point in plotting aloud. Would you like a few minutes to confer? I could wait outside the door. There’s no other way for you to get out.”
“Uh, all right...” they stammered, befuddled by this display of generosity.
Shelly nodded and beckoned to Orlando. He joined her, smiling apologetically as he passed Angel and Arwen. Angel blushed and dropped her eyes. Arwen stared unblinkingly at him, leaping up onto her toes as he began to close the door. “Excuse me, Orli?” she called, plucking up her courage, “I know we’re on opposite sides in this, but do you think I could have your autograph?” She held out a handkerchief and eyeliner pencil. Orlando looped his signature onto the handkerchief and left.
“Sweet as,” Arwen sighed.
“May I have half of that?” asked Angel.
“You didn’t ask him. Get a full one when he comes back.”
“All right. Now... the first thing we need to do is even the odds...”
“Maths? Angel, this doesn’t seem the time.”
With a deft flick of her wrist Angel snatched the handkerchief out of Arwen’s head and held it beyond reach. “Concentrate,” she said, waiving it back and forth.
“Thinking it. And wondering why. I mean, now that there’s no threat, this isn’t so bad, is it?”
“Think of poor Nimrodel out there alone and unsuspecting.”
Both companions let loose with a string of mild (yet still unpublishable) profanities. “Just get her to drop the sword, agreed?”
Arwen yanked open the door, but before she could run out a white and pink blur blew past her. A shriek sounded as Shelly grabbed hold of Angel’s pinion feathers. “My wings are ruined! Do you have any idea how long it took to...” but her protests were cut short. Shelly had turned her attention to Arwen, who was diving toward her ankles. Having anticipated this from their initial plan, Shelly was ready. A moment’s hesitation stopped her from running the elven founder through, though. She twirled her sword around, using the flexible magenta sheath to hold it by the blade, and thwacked Arwen on the back of the head. Arwen went limp on the floor, and Shelly turned her attention back to Angel. Both stood panting and perspiring, glaring at one another over the unconscious Arwen and pile of down. Orlando had long since made a strategic retreat.
“You...” said Angel between ragged breaths, “you don’t... really want to kill me...”
“I could,” Shelly replied. “But it would serve no purpose, not after all we went through to bring you here.”
“To... bring us here?”
A shake of Shelly’s head was accompanied by a soft “tsk, tsk”ing sound. She flipped her sword back around and grasped the hilt, holding it at ready. Little flecks of white like falling snow drifted lazily, settling on Arwen’s blue velvets, and the others’ eyelashes. “You’re of so much more use to us alive. Our master is not lenient, but he does reward us well for loyalty. You have a bit of information he wants... or at least know someone who does. If you would tell me all of this could be spared. Where are the new Founder headquarters?”
Angel pursed her lips and shook her head. Her opponent took this to be a sign of defiance, but in truth Angel hadn’t a clue.
“Fine. To the Lockholes with you. You’ll talk, and if you don’t, one of your sordid little band will. You see,” she smiled dauntingly, “not all are so stubborn as you, and you will be joining them very shortly.”
Disclaimer: The following episode of A Little Something (whose title I do hope to change someday) is rated mature due to the fact that Merry and/or sailors are more or less involved. Anyone who has not yet done something so risque in their lives as, say, owning an e-mail address may be bewildered or otherwise startled at the dialogue herein. Thank you.
Disclaimer PS: It’s also rather long.
Three days into their journey, the Horizon was floating lazily upon the sea, the captain was notably calmer, and everyone had come to the unadmitted conclusion that they were lost and would very much enjoy the swimming pool they did not have. All, save Frodo, who had the sense to keep his hood up, were developing dramatic sunburns (akin to one mentioned earlier in this tale, if you will remember). As happened every day around this time ... they were not certain what this time was, as point of fact, but they were certain it was about time for a meal ... an argument against no one in particular was boiling.
“Don’t say it Pippin!” shouted Xara. “We know!”
“You do? Well, then, who has the soap?”
“No, we don’t have any way of ... what? Soap?” Xara blushed and turned around to face Pippin. There he stood, looking rather awkward, that awkwardness not relieved by the fact that he seemed to have turned blue while they weren’t looking. “You look like a ... a ... well, I hate to say it, but a Hindu deity who is missing a few arms. Or a Pict.”
“Definitely the latter,” said Ivy from the helm. “Nice kilt, Pip, lad.” She held onto a spoke while peering at the compass. Due west, just as they had been steering all along. As captain, she was growing rather tired of their unwavering course.
“I’ll give you the soap,” said Merry with a twinkle in his eye, “When you tell us what you’ve been doing.”
Desperate to remove the signs of his imbroglio, Pippin whispered into Merry’s ear his plight, with many a gesture toward the napping Eo’star, around the mouth of whom were traces of the same blue lipstick which dyed the youngest member of their crew.
“Well, at least someone is enjoying the journey,” commented Quickbeam. “Now there’s an idea. Napping. If you will pardon me.” Quickbeam set down the sail and lowered its arms. The deep green eyes unhastily shut, and when the captain gave it a sharp whack on the shins unhastily reopened. “Yes?”
“Ye cannae sleep, ye overgrown stickbug! Ye’re our sail!” she bellowed.
“See if I can’t,” replied Quickbeam. “I have been holding up your sail for days on end. These working conditions are unbearable. As a matter of fact ...” Quickbeam fell silent.
“Yes?” asked Merry innocently.
The ent blinked like the shutting and opening of a rusty hatch; slowly and with not a few creaks. No reply was forthcoming.
“Don’t be hasty!” chirruped Pippin.
That seemed to make up the ent’s mind. “...I ...” it said with dragging deliberation, “... am going on strike.”
“You can’t!” Ivy screamed.
“I think he... she... er, it, can,” said Xara. “Rights and all that. Tookie was very good at procuring them.”
Quickbeam smiled and promptly went to sleep, its snores echoing across the water, bouncing on the little waves with the tone of a vast woodwind instrument. Ivy glowered, but was determined not to let it get to her. “That damnable ent!” she shouted brightly, venting frustration and cordiality dually in a sailor-like manner. “I’ll have it’s bark! As soon as we get to Valinor, that is. For now there’s always a chance that it will be refreshed after its nap and forget its strike. Until then,” she held up a pair of oars, “we’ll have to make due. Xara, you take starboard.”
Xara nodded, not quite certain which was which, but willing to help. Ivy passed her an oar.
“Absolutely!” the hobbit piped, springing up. “Where?”
“There,” Ivy pointed to a pair of oarsman’s benches which were bolted to the port side.
“I don’t see any,” said Merry with the furrowed brows of one suffering a soul-shattering disappointment.
“Let me clarify,” said Ivy. She thrust an oar into his hand, “This, oar. Ye, Bucklander, and apparently very good with boats. That is yer spot,” she slapped the bench. “On what is called, with no connections to pubs and dancing, ye wee drunkard, the port side. And ye will paddle. Is that clear enough for ye?”
Merry nodded. Satisfied, Ivy produced two more oars and passed one of them to Frodo. She took her own spot in front of Merry. To balance out the big-person to hobbit so they wouldn’t go off course, she said, but somewhere deep in her consciousness she knew it was to keep him out of trouble. Even deeper into her subconscious? Mmm, even the disclaimer beginning this episode are not sufficient to prepare you for that.
Seizing his opportunity, the now clean Pippin began his usual early-evening rhetoric. As it had the past three days, it began with, “I’m hungry.”
“You’ve already eaten,” everyone chorused in reply. Even Eo’star and Quickbeam mouthed it in their sleep.
“Yes, but not a good meal. I wouldn’t call bread a meal. We did bring other food,” he murmured sadly, again. Xara’s foot began to tap in time to “The Steward of Gondor”.
“And how do ye propose to cook it?” asked Ivy.
“Like we would cook anything,” said Pippin. He thought for a moment, then, not wanting to be yelled at by them, yelled at himself in their own words, “Are you mad? This boat would go up like a box of kindling, and all of us along with it!”
“But I’m starving,” moaned Frodo, taking on Pippin’s role and voice.
“But you’ve eaten!” shouted Pippin.
“If only Sam were here, he’d think of something,” said Merry, imitating Frodo’s voice. Then he added in a teasing undertone which only Ivy could hear, “Oh, my dear Sam.”
“But there’s nothing for it, Mister Frodo,” said Xara in Sam’s voice.
“That’s it!” cried Ivy. “Ye’re all certifiably insane!”
“And daft I was when I took you on me ship!” cried Pippin. Then like a descending cloud, calmness seemed to roll over them. A brief madness had passed, leaving its victims none the worse for the wear. It was, in fact, a natural phenomenon they had encountered both prior days, though the effects seemed stronger each day. The lack of nutrition and heat played havoc with their sanity, stretching it out into thin cords, knotting it, and promptly playing cat’s cradle with each in turn. Today it seemed to have mixed up the strings, and which belonged to whom. “The Sun’s down!” Pippin remarked as a standard-bearer would signal the end of a battle. They all cried out in triumph. They had survived heatstroke once more.
A friendly cheerfulness settled upon the Horizon as the other horizon turned a lovely shade of chameleon (that being a state between crimson and vermillion), streaked with violent blue and blushing. It was rather embarrassed to have created such a debacle, and seemed to be apologising. On a signal from the captain, they drew in their oars and gathered into a circle in the prow of the ship for dinner. Being tired of bread, Pippin and the awakened Eowyn Evenstar slipped off aft to try their luck with what they had in their packs. This was, of course, after being frisked for matches by Captain Ivy.
Following the tradition they had created, Ivy broke the loaves in two, passing them out; half a loaf per person. Everyone drank from their own water flasks, filled occasionally from the many massive barrels which were strapped and bolted around the deck, making one or the other of the crew wonder in turn why they were trying to swamp their already low deck. “Xara, I was thinking,” said Captain Ivy around an unchewable crust, “would you like to be my First Mate?”
Before Xara could reply, a look of horror and disbelief crossed Merry’s features. “What about ME!?!” he shouted, leaping to his feet.
Startled, the two women backed away. Frodo lowered his head, apparently choking a bit on his supper. “I ... didn’t know ye wanted the ... the job, Merry,” stammered Ivy. “But if ye do, all right. Ye, ah, ye can be Second Captain and Navigator, Xara,” she said apologetically. “Same thing, basically.”
Merry smiled smugly and began eating again. Looking up, his face red and his eyes streaming, Frodo tried not to spit out a mouthful of crumbs as he laughed. “I hope you know what you have agreed to!” he sputtered between chortles.
“Of course I do,” replied Captain Ivy. “I’ve been on the high seas nigh upon- Oh gods!” Her eyes went wide and her hand flew to her mouth. Her eyebrows and lashes met on a crimson field. “This is the last time I’m letting a hobbit on a boat of mine,” she growled into her flagon.
“Ship!” corrected Xara blithely.
Desperate for a change of subject, and now distrustful of Merry, Ivy inched toward her Second Captain. “Er...”
“Isn’t that supposed to be ‘arr’?”
“Right. Arr, I was wondering, Navigator: from here, what do we make for?”
“Valinor,” replied Xara evasively, opening the journal and squinting at in the dying light.
Ivy passed her a lantern and tried again. “Ye do know the way to Valinor, don’t ye?”
“West,” said Xara.
“Aye, but what bearing? We’ve been heading due west for days, no sign of Valinor.”
“Well, yes, but it takes some time, doesn’t it?” Xara hedged, very nervous lest this conversation continue. “It’s here in this book, and I’ve cross-referenced it with The Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King soundtrack. Valinor was definitely in the west. Oh, but...” Xara began to bite at her nails, the whites of her eyes glowing in the lantern light around the pupil. With care she composed her face. “Yes, due west. But... but maybe we could go back and ask for a map. It may help.”
“No!” blurted Ivy. “We can’t go back.” With a suddenness that startled the others, Ivy’s face had gone white. Her hands began to shake, and she was forced to sit on them before the others noticed. “I ... uhh ... we would run out of water. And they might repossess the ship for our not being able to afford docking fees. Aye. That’s it.”
Frodo, Xara, and Merry were about to ask further about what had so bothered Ivy, but they were interrupted by a pair of jubilant whoops from the other end of the ship. They ran to see what was the cause of the commotion. There they found a square hole in the deck from which the voices were issuing. Pippin and Eo’star were inside, their cries of revelry punctuated by the sound of popping corks.
“You have a storage of ale on board?” cried Merry, smelling the air. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because, well, it isn’t exactly inspected import,” said Captain Ivy, shifting from foot to foot and staring pointedly at the dome of stars which glittered down.
“Are you telling me that you captain a smuggling ship?” said Xara. “So that’s why you didn’t want to go back to the Havens!”
“No, that’s not why at all!” protested Ivy. “I didn’t want to go back because I stole the smuggling ship. Oops,” she clapped her hands over her mouth.
“I’m impressed,” said Merry. “Toss me up a bottle, Pip, there’s a good lad! Ahh, I wanted an onboard bar. This journey won’t be so bad.”
“Maybe not, but you’re still rowing. Come on,” said Ivy, marching him to the oarsman’s bench and pondering whether or not to set on him the chains which had long lay unused. Eventually she decided against it, fearing mutiny. Instead she sat next to him on the bench, fixing the hobbit with a stern eye. He rowed without a care, taking pulls off the bottle whenever he thought she wasn’t looking. Eo’star obediently took up her turn on the other side while Xara and Frodo scrutinized the journal. Even Quickbeam took up the sail for a moment. Everyone was quite certain that with this luck, they would make it to Valinor before the Sun made her next appearance.
Pippin, having already drunk three capfuls, had other ideas.
“What can you seeee on the Horiiizon?” he began, but a chorus of protests stopped him.
“That’s too slow for us to keep awake to.”
“Please, if you must sing, something else.”
“And you didn’t even hear my new lyrics,” he lamented, keeping quiet his thought of they’re still too sober. He rolled a bottle, hand over hand, to Merry, who had just polished his off. “You’ll miss the road if you keep going at night,” he tried. Receiving no answer, he went back to the distractive singing. “Oh you can search far and wide. You can drink the whole town dry...”
Frodo looked up from the journal as the song began, then joined in. “You'll never find a beer so brown... But you'll never find a beer so brown, as the one we're drinking in our town.”
Not able to distract the drunken hobbit she fancied, Xara’s voice joined in with Frodo’s and Pippin’s. “You can kick your fancy ales. You can drink ‘em by the flagon. But the only brew for the brave and truuue...”
Eowyn Evenstar bellowed out the last verse: “Comes from the Green Dragon!”
They laughed and clapped and cheered themselves on, and began the song again. Merry took the moment, under cover of song and darkness, to drift closer to Ivy. “Lovely night, innit?” he hiccoughed into her ear.
“Yer oar is slipping,” she said as if she had not heard.
“My what? Oh,” he grabbed the oar and set it on the deck. “What I meant to say is, it can get lonely out here, you know? No one around to talk to...”
“You seem to talk to Pippin quite well,” she replied coldly.
His hand slipped around her waist. “But that’s not the shame,” he slurred. “We’re alike, you an’ me. We need companionship. And you did say not more than an hour ago-”
Ivy slapped down his hand, pinning it to the bench. “Sheath it.”
“Is something wrong?” asked Xara, as Ivy’s words had rung out in the dead silence of a forgotten verse.
Ivy and Merry put their arms around each others’ shoulders, grinning toothily.
“Nothing at all!”
“We’re just bantering. Old friends.”
“Chums, aren’t we, Merry lad?”
“Close,” he replied, with a concealed pinch.
“I’m going to kill ye for that, just you see if I don’t,” Ivy hissed. More loudly, she echoed, “Very close!”
The nightly arrangements on the Horizon went something like this: Ivy, as captain, had granted herself the cabin. It was small, but made plush on the earnings from the smuggling. Burgundy and deep green velvets lined the small window and the bed. Pale golden silk tapestries and other souvenirs from far-off lands (bought by mail-order, as this ship was certainly never intended to visit any of them) lined the walls. All accessories, counterpane included, had built in floatation devices, as the former captain had been as afraid of water as he was extravagant.
Outside the cabin slept Quickbeam, standing and swaying in a manner which would make any normal seaman nervous. Its leaves rustled in a very un-mast-like manner, and a chorus of hooom ... honk ... hooom ... honk ... hooom ... issued from the upper branches.
At Quickbeam’s roots rested Xara and Eo’star, hidden on opposite sides of the ent in the deep folds of canvas. It was far from the most comfortable place on the ship, but the most comfortable place had been commandeered by the commandeering captain. As was her right, as it was her ship, at least until they were spotted. The sun hit them far too early for comfort. The lack of it on this day, however, was what startled Eo’star awake at dawn. She stretched and yawned and glanced at a line of reddish clouds on the horizon where the sun should be. Her eyes slowly drifted down to the Sea. She rubbed them, glanced again, rubbed, glanced, rubbed, glanced, until her eyes were red and watery and she was quite certain she was seeing what she was seeing. There, bobbing merrily alongside the ship, were a fleet of white rubber duckies. “We must be getting close to Valinor,” she murmured happily. Without another thought she pulled the canvas over her head and returned to the realm of slumber.
One difference marked Xara’s repose, and that was the fact that she slept with her head on a large, shabby volume rather than a pillow. She had heard somewhere that sleeping with a book under your head would help you absorb and comprehend the information contained within it. Although she dismissed this as utter nonsense, she needed all the help in deciphering Perian’s rantings she could find, real or imagined.
Prior to that night the hobbits had slept on the opposite end of the deck, curled in cloaks and occasionally rolling. After finding (and to some degree emptying) the lower deck, however, they made it their quarters. Nothing is more comforting to a hobbit on the ocean than the interior of an inn, and this would have to make due as one. It was far more like being underground as well, which they almost appreciated. Almost. It may be more accurate to say that it reminded them of being underground during a slow, rolling earthquake.
Now, as everything goes in a cycle, at least in stories, histories, merry-go-rounds, and the wee commercial jingles which cling to the mind, the focus shall once again shift to our captain. The lack of the Sun and perhaps the residue of whatever onboard ale she claimed not to have drunk the night before allowed her to sleep in later than is normal for a captain. When at last the Sun peeked full-blaze into her window, it came with a drumroll. Ivy tapped her head.
“Get out,” she ordered the little drummers. “I’m sleeping.”
But they wouldn’t go away. This called for dramatic measures. They had to be wiped out. The half-dozing mind pondered what would best rid her of them.
Then she pondered the fact that one could spend her life pondering.
This was too much for the drummers. They vacated immediately.
Ivy’s eyelids fluttered open, then closed again. What was the point of making the effort to open your eyelids when all you can still see is eyelids ... plus perhaps five hundred watts of natural light? So the eyelids reasoned. The brain, recovering from the presence of the drummers, began to argue with it. There can only be one set of eyelids per person, it claimed. Well then, tell me why I saw a second set came the counterargument. Neither knew the answer, but they decided that further investigation was in order. The eyes fluttered open again, this time with the brain backing them up.
Interesting. There is another set, the integrating mind and eyes thought together with their last flutterings of sleep. They focussed. Below the second set of eyes was the beginnings of a nose, and below that was a fist of which the thumb was jammed into a mouth. And the mouth was not her own (nor was the thumb, for that matter).
It is fortunate that our captain has a quicker wit than the average prima donna of the average romantic comedy. Ivy did not scream. Rather, she slipped carefully and quietly out from under the blankets upon which the intruder was sleeping, grabbed them by the corners, and lugging them (with the unwelcome set of eyelids, mouth, thumb, and all other bits that belonged to them) out of the cabin. With the quietness of bare feet but the occasional grumble of effort, she hauled her load across the deck...
... And threw it overboard.
“Ye can find yer own way home!” she shouted at the bobbing blanket and its contents. “East is that way!” She pointed, then left the rail to work her way back to the cabin. A pang of regret struck her, but she discarded it as the loss of a top-quality velvet-with-floatation-devices-included blanket.
From the depths of the sail, Xara sat up. “What’s going on?” she asked with a yawn.
“I’m cleaning the ship of the refuse,” said Ivy. “Dunnae worry about it. If ye need anything, I’ll be in me cabin. The drummers are starting again.”
Xara’s first unordered function as Second Captain was to fish a sodden, and, whether you believe it or not, wrongly persecuted Merry out of the Sundering Seas.
Our jolly hobbit did not take the shock very well. Of course, he had been dumped without warning from a very lovely dream of riding surreptitiously to Pelennor upon his own horse, far ahead of the Rohirrim and taking the credit for killing the Witchking of Angmar into the cold, wet reality of ... reality. What had sent him into a state of shock, however, was that for once he didn’t know why.
“Were we sinking?” he asked, shivering and blue-lipped, wrapped in the sail.
Eo’star brought him a mug of sun-heated water; all they were able to find in the way of tea onboard. “No. Why?”
“I thought maybe the load needed to be lightened,” he said, making faces as he sipped at the bland water. “Was I badgering the captain about an onboard swimming pool last night?”
“Umm, not that I can remember.”
“Oh.” He shook his head like a dog, droplets of water flying from his curls. “Did I do anything inappropriate that you can remember?”
“To be quite honest, Merry, I hardly remember anything from last night,” said Eo’star.
“Oh. We were drunk, then.”
“That would explain the dwarves who are carving out my skull with small chisels. I wonder what they’re making out of it? Maybe a ...” Merry snapped his fingers. “Was there a fountain nearby?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Shh,” ordered Second Captain Xara. “I’m trying to figure out something, and you’re not helping. Go down and wake up Pippin and Frodo. You can chat down there. You can...” she broke off and opened the book, not noticing it was upside down as she stared at it.
“Can what, Xara?” asked Eo’star.
“I was going to say ... well, it doesn’t matter.”
If ever you want someone to leave you alone, don’t start a sentence and then say it doesn’t matter. Nothing is as much a magnet for inquisition and examination as such a simple and innocent action as this. And above all, don’t tell them to go do something else, as Xara is about to do. “You go think of something for breakfast. I’ll be there soon.”
Both Merry and Eo’star planted themselves on the deck in front of Xara like children ready to hear a story from a batty elder relative removed to the second-degree. “What were you going to say?” asked the latter. She settled her elbows on her knees and clasped her hands in an I’m not leaving until you tell me manner.
“Something. What were you going to say?”
“What were you going to say?”
“What were you going to say?”
“-you, don’t interrupt!”
“You’re as persistent as Perian,” said Xara with grudging admiration. The Memory of Perian soundly whapped her conscience. “... was. I ... What was I saying? Oh, I remember.” She put a hand over her face to suppress a grin and dampen a giggle. “I was going to tell you to send Frodo up if he isn’t too busy. I, ah, need his help in figuring this out.”
“But I’m the one who is good with riddles,” Merry obtusely protested. “It was all wrong in the movies. It was me.”
“I think it would be better if you worked on it after you eat,” said Eo’star, directing Merry to the hatch. “Can’t think on an empty stomach, can you?”
As Merry was a hobbit he, by definition, thought that was a rather good idea. They disappeared into the hobbits’ deck, leaving Xara alone with the book and an ent. “You ... hoom ... don’t know where it is, do you?” said Quickbeam, opening an eye.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” said Xara.
“But I .... do.”
“Don’t be hasty.”
“That, hoom, is the second time someone has taken my line.”
“I thought you were the hasty ent, Quickbeam,” Xara replied.
Quickbeam looked puzzled for a moment, then, “Am I?”
“You mean you don’t remember?” Xara looked up at Quickbeam, trying to make eye contact. “You are Quickbeam, aren’t you? You aren’t, are you?” She leapt to her feet. “I knew it! You’re not an ent! You’re ... you’re an entwife!”
“That’s entmaiden to you,” hoomphed the former Quickbeam whom, for the sake of continuity, we will continue to refer to as Quickbeam. She glanced around the sky to find a distraction. Distractions are very, very difficult to find on the Sea, but she found one nonetheless. Reaching out one long, mossy hand she plucked a seagull out and handed it to Xara. “A message for you.”
“Tied to its legs.”
“Impossible. That’s only something done with carrier pigeons and Harry Potter novel. And we’re not in a Harry Potter novel. We’re in a ... a... whatever this is.”
“Right, that. Oh, wait, there is something tied to its legs.” Xara picked the knots tied to the struggling seagull and then set him loose. He squawked and squabbled for a moment, picking at her hand and shouting “mine, mine!” in an accent not unlike her own before flying away. The letter had a few less than savoury looking spots on the back, so she unfolded it carefully. She seemed to deliberate it for some time, a look of panic crossing her face. She suppressed the emotion and stepped over to the railing, and dropped it into the water. “You were right,” she said. “It was for us. From our spy.”
“I know you humans are, mmm, hasty, but why did you do that if it was for us?”
“Because if I showed it to the Captain or the rest of the crew, they would turn back. I may not know the way, but we have to get to Valinor. It’s our only chance.”
A printoff in plum coloured font was being washed away, but Quickbeam was able to read, as it slid along the surface,
To: The crew of the Horizon,
Lost in the Middle of the Ocean.
Buckland has been taken, the hobbits and founders who remained there taken captive. You are our last an only hope. If you should fail, all will fall into darkness. When you return do not try to retake any of our former lands. Go directly to the new laboratory. I cannot state the location here, as though this letter will not be intercepted in getting to you, it may wash up sooner than is safe.
P.S.: Don’t worry, you will not be alone. I doubt that anyone would risk confronting that troll to get to the last of us.
P.P.S.: Please do not turn back before you have accomplished your task. Having said that, I fear I must tell you that those in captivity are scheduled to be executed one per day beginning a week from the date you receive this.