A Little Something.
Winner of the LotR Graphics Fanfiction Award, 1st place.
The Threshold of Chaos
Come now, sail with me.
Tolkien, of course, makes numerous references to Valinor, but not one ... not one ... to its being unreal or to its having been destroyed. Preposterous? Don’t be so sure. I can’t say much on my reasoning until further proof is obtained to explain it, but, I assure you, Valinor is as real as any land ever upon this earth.
Yes, if you set out from the ancient Grey Havens with pure heart and intention, with the memory of the books’ contents retained, it is possible to discover the white shores...
“Have you gained insight on it?”
Xara threw down the journal and rubbed her eyes. “None. I’m beginning to think that maybe they were right. Perhaps Perian was mad. Or maybe this was just another one of her parodies. If we didn’t need a miracle so badly, I would suggest turning back now. But don’t tell the others I said that. They would go home in a heartbeat if I said I had given up, arrests and perhaps executions aside.” She smiled tiredly up at Frodo. “I’m sorry. I’m really not getting us anywhere, except lost. I don’t mean to rant at you, but you’re the only ... I mean, I can talk to you more easily than ... well, most of the time, that is.” She blushed.
“I understand,” he replied simply, taking up the book. He ran his hands over the cover, as if the feel of the material which covered it may reveal a secret code. He opened the front cover and murmured out the dedication page, “‘When things are in danger, someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have I leave to you.’” He lowered it and stared contemplatively over the waves. “Those are my words. For an inscription, it hasn’t the sound of one who has confidence of immortality.”
“I see what you mean. You think she foresaw her death, too, then?” said Xara. “I’ve wondered that myself. I just don’t see how...”
“It’s simple, though, isn’t it?” said Merry, who had been sitting on the other side of the mast, trying to make a cold stew by soaking oats in the contents of their cargo bay. “She went to Valinor.”
“But that’s impossible. She couldn’t-”
“Why not? It’s where we’re going, isn’t it? And look at the first bit of that article you two have been pouring over and barely allowing the rest of us to peek in to. Assuring that Valinor is real is a bit hard to do if you haven’t been there, and she tells how to get in. Perian wasn’t known for her virtuous oration. It must have a meaning underneath, though I’m not sure of what it is.”
“Of course! It must have been recently, as this ink isn’t faded yet, like many of the other pages. But when did she ever have the time?”
“When she was ‘working undercover for Padfoot’,” reasoned Frodo.
“I thought she was guarding the Shire...?”
Both hobbits shook their heads. “Not for a good amount of the time. She was living in Hobbiton for several years while it was being built and we were being introduced, but she disappeared after you came to discuss how to announce it. She said she had other stories to work on now that we were... how did she put it it, Frodo?”
“‘In order, and ready to become more than a fictional habit,’” remembered the elder. They were becoming excited by their deduction. “She mentioned more urgent matters, when we had been her life for some time. We didn’t see her again until a few days before the raid. She came back looking... well, looking as all of you are.”
“And as you are, despite all of your attempts to keep that skin so pale and creamy,” said Merry. “Speaking of which, can I borrow your moisturising lotion, Frodo? It becomes rather hard to think when your face is itching like mad and your shoulders look like Grima’s.”
With a warning glance, Frodo passed him the lotion, which was kept in a secret pocket in his cloak liner. Merry splashed a bit into his hand and passed the bottle back, but as Frodo attempted to put it discreetly away the pocket seam split, and out spilled his full hygienical supply. He scrambled to gather it all up, but a few bottles had a way of rolling. Xara gathered several before he could snatch them into his pile, and giggled as she read the labels. “‘Elvenly Young Anti-Wrinkle Creme’, ‘Beleriand Blotch-Cover-Up’, ‘Lashes from Lorién’ ... You wear mascara, Frodo?”
“That isn’t mine,” he said, grabbing it away. “It was in with the free samples bag someone left on the door to Bag End. I had no idea what else was in there. I brought it for the moisturisers and sunburn balms.”
“And the half-used gloss would be ... Pippin’s?” asked Xara with another giggle. “I didn’t know he went for the ‘enchanting scent of elanor and niphrodel’ with a hint of colour.”
“Now that we know Perian made her way to Valinor, shouldn’t we be concentrating on that?” said Frodo with as much persuasion as he could muster in his embarrassed and confusticated state.
“Never!” said Merry, more merry indeed than he had been since his brief eviction as he liberally applied Frodo’s eyeliner and danced saucily about the deck.
“You amuse me,” said Quickbeam to Merry, her voice very slowly and nearly imperceptibly (until it was like the sound of a woodwind orchestra out of tune) rising. “But I am not ... willing ... to stand here ... and let you swing around me as if ... I were nothing but a pole. If you continue ... I ... shall summon ... our captain.”
He stopped immediately with a nervous glance in the direction of the cabin. “You wouldn’t,” he mouthed, involuntarily dropping the eyeliner pencil.
“Ohh, but I would.”
A silence and stillness fell in which Frodo was able to gather up his cosmetics, and as if summoned, Ivy emerged from her cabin, stretching and yawning. She blinked a few times, then scowled. “What are ye doing still on me ship?” she asked Merry.
Xara ran up to her, book in hand, and whispered, “There’s something we need to talk about.”
“Aye, in a minute. First thing’s first, and I think a plank may be in order,” muttered Ivy in return.
“No, now,” said Xara with urgency. “And maybe in the cargo bay? I don’t want these two to be more unsettled than they are.”
Grudgingly, Ivy nodded, and they made their way to the hatch, down the short ladder, and into the lantern-lit hold. Eo’star, with Pippin perched like a parrot upon her shoulder, greeted them with water, bread, and cold gruel of the sort Merry had been making on deck. “What’s up?”
“I wanted to ask you something,” said Xara. “The lads think that Perian made it to Valinor, and I was about to agree with them, but ... A thought has been plaguing me for the past few days, and I wanted to know whether... well, whether it’s true, or some baseless worry. What happened to Valinor?”
“Didn’t it go under the sea?” asked Eo’star. “Like Atlantis?”
“No, that was Numenor,” corrected Ivy. “I cannae say, Xara. Truth be known, I havenae read the Silmarillion yet.”
“Me neither,” said Eo’star.
“Why do you ask, Xar’?”
“Because, you see, I have a sneaking feeling that it was taken up into the heavens, to a secret place. A place which only the remnant of those elves remaining in Middle-earth are able to access. We aren’t elves, and we certainly don’t have any way into the heavens.”
They chewed contemplatively for a time, considering the dilemma. “So, your point is that we have no hope of finding a place we had no hope of finding from the start?” asked Eo’star at last. “There doesn’t seem to be much of a change in that.”
“In that case, I had best be back to the sailing of this ship. We aren’t getting closer to anywhere, heavens or land. Thanks for breakfast.”
“It’s in the sky?” Merry was flabbergasted. Of all the things he had imagined happening on this journey, flying was not one of them. Nor, for that matter, was actually finding Valinor. Merry had entirely different purposes.
“In the heavens, that’s right,” said Pippin glibly.
“I don’t remember that,” said Frodo with a puzzled frown. He stared at the untouched mug before him, unconsciously scrying. That is, would have been, had the foam allowed. “I know of going as far as the Grey Havens, even boarding the ship, but I remember nothing of Valinor or how we came to it.”
“That’s because everything in your head and mine came out of a book.”
A loud crack sounded dully, rolling across the sea like a wave as it tried to find some surface to echo off of. Frodo rolled his eyes. “It would be our fate to find Valinor by crashing into it.”
“No, we haven’t crashed,” Merry stood up and on to his toes, surveying the waters around them. At last, admitting to the failures of his size, he flicked Quickbeam. “What can you see up there?”
“The wind in the leaves on summer days and rolling haze from silver sieves...”
“There is a time for poetry, ent, and this isn’t it,” said Merry with a poke and a murmur sounding akin to the non-word “tig.”
“It was not poetry, I am not an ent in the formal sense, and lastly I care not to divulge what I see as I am hitherto, and formerly though I forgot it for a time, on strike.” After a long, ponderous pause, Quickbeam added as an afterthought, “Tog, you near-bald excuse for a goat-impersonator.” A wooden finger flicked the back of Merry’s head.
A gust of wind burst across them. “Quickbeam, hoist the sail while it’s blowing!” shouted the Captain, emerging again from her cabin.
“Best not to anyway,” said Eo’star absently. “Maybe you should lie down, Quickbeam. You shouldn’t be the highest point on the ship.”
“She was hired to be the highest point on the ship,” bellowed Ivy. “Pick up that sail or ye’ll be made into kindling!”
“Pick it up and she’ll be fried. Hmm, which is the better choice?”
“What are you on about, Eowyn?”
“Lightning,” she pointed.
“Keetch,” Ivy muttered under her breath. All pretence at pirateic talk was forgotten as its urgency overcame her. “It’s a squall! All non-essential crew below decks. That means you, Pippin! Frodo, Merry, take him down and fetch anything you can find to carry water. We’ll need to bail before it’s over. Rope, did anyone bring rope?”
“It was in Sam’s bag,” Frodo bemoaned.
“Fine. Before you lie down, Quickbeam, tear up that sail into long, thin strips.”
“Delighted!” cried the entmaiden, seizing the canvas between branches and heartily ripping.
“Xara, you take the helm and try to steer us straight through. We can’t outrun this storm, but maybe we can get through it before we’re swamped. Eowyn, go into my cabin and pull out enough random objects to keep us all afloat if the worst comes. We don’t have any life rafts. Quickbeam tie the ends of all of those to your waist-”
“I beg your pardon! I am no Maypole, thank you very much!”
“Strikes aren’t of much good when you are a piece of rotting driftwood.”
“True.” With far more hastiness than an entmaiden is purported to possess, Quickbeam tied on the strips of canvas.
“A’right, everyone who’s remaining aboveboard tie a bit to yourself. Even should the ship sink, the ent will float.”
“I’m flattered,” hoomed Quickbeam in a less than sincere tone.
“We couldn’t find any buckets, but will these do?” said Merry, proffering a pair of small empty mead barrels.
“Pull off the lids and they should work,” said Ivy, for the moment forgetting her grudge. Before she could say more, the Horizon was hit by the first of a series of arching waves. It crashed against the side of the ship, a frothy excess dripping over the deck. The wind’s murmur reached a shrieking crescendo, tearing at their hair and clothing. Frodo’s cloaked was tugged until it ripped at the clasp and flew upwards, caught before flying into the sea by an outstretched limb belonging to Quickbeam. The rain began to fall upon them. It was no slowly starting summer shower, but a true sea-storm, hitting like a spray of needles, leaping from where it fell in such a way that it came at them from both the sky and the wood beneath them.
Within minutes, their shallow boat was swamped, the water reaching above the ankles of the humans and halfway up the calves of the hobbits. Xara was attempting to lash herself to the helm with a piece of canvas which had floated toward her as the spiked wheel spun madly. Ivy did not use a tether, but rather held firmly onto the railing, facing the oncoming deluge. Merry, Eo’star, and Frodo, having already tied themselves to Quickbeam, were bailing the water in a feeble attempt to stop the ship from sinking. It was of little use, as for every bucket which they tossed over, the sea retaliated by sending in return a pummelling crest containing scores the quantity of water they had worked to dispose of.
There was crack so near and so loud that it made their ears ring and the noise of the storm die for several seconds. They turned to see the prow begin to blaze, a hole burnt into the deck beside it. Water poured down in through the hole, and more yet poured upon them, dousing the flames.
“Pippin’s down there,” Eo’star screamed, untying herself from Quickbeam. As the deck heaved and churned beneath her feet, she lurched to the hatch, and with great effort heaved it open. She was sucked under by the force of the currents pouring in.
“We cannae handle this much water weight,” cried Ivy, barely to be heard amid the storm. “We’ll go under. Everyone to our mast, and take something floatable if you can.”
“There’s nothing left,” replied Xara. “The waves...”
Most the water on deck had drained into their cargo hold. After some time, Eo’star emerged as a shadow through the rain, cradling something in her hands. Another wave hit, sending the ship reeling on its side. There was a gurgling noise as the ocean began to claim its prize.
“We’re going under,” whispered Ivy, letting go the railing in shock. Another wave hit, tossing it again like a leaf in a turbulent stream. “Oh gods!” The current yanked at her legs, and having nothing to hold onto she was swept up in it... and overboard.
Merry screamed, his cry piercing and silencing the wind’s wail. He tried to untie himself, but the knots had tightened with the salty soaking they had received. He ran to the side she had disappeared over, his arms outstretched to grasp the railing which stood just beyond his reach, tears mingling with the rain upon his cheeks.
Suddenly he fell prone upon the deck. It was lurching again, but this time it was not going down again as it had with each prior wave peak. They were rising. The remaining crew gasped and Merry cried out as a pair of overwhelming, liquid eyes blinked at them. A massive hand was holding the Horizon aloft, another waving the storm aside as one would a mosquito.
Water poured off the deck and dribbled more slowly from leaks they had not known about between the planking. Five of the six remaining crewmembers, huddled as they were on the tilted deck, stared in shock, trying to grieve for their lost friend and captain but not quite managing to display the pain they felt inside as they were borne aloft by a hand the size of a small island.
One openly wept. “It’s not supposed to end this way,” he said, breaking the awed silence. “Stories don’t. Happily ever after, and dreams come true, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.” As a book character, and with only a vague and unemotional recollection of battle and death, he could not fathom such a loss. Did the plot take a wrong turn when he was rescued from the deeps into with she had thrown him? Did that dictate that someone else must take his place? Somehow he, irrationally, thought it was his fault. They had not been on speaking terms before she was seized so suddenly from his life, the innocent, childlike need for love he had felt never having been returned or fulfilled. Merry wailed, and for a moment the eyes of the others were torn from the vast figure before them and onto the little pained hobbit. Even those capacious sea-foam eyes, echoing in colour but not in emotion his own, rested upon him. He glared lachrymosely at them all, and thought without thinking about what he was thinking, Let them see it, and gods be damned.
There could be no doubt. This was a god. A little ‘g’ god, as it is highly unlikely that a big ‘g’ God would have the look of startlement this one possessed; shock at being remembered after so many years. Nor would a big ‘g’ God have a running nose. He sniffled.
“Pray, did you call or not?”
I don’t want to be prey, least of all to someone that big, thought Eowyn Evenstar, wondering if this were perhaps the karma of many lavish dinners coming back to haunt her. The appetite for something other than dry bread and hard oats, or for that matter the appetite for anything, suddenly fled from her.
“Ulmo?” Xara managed to ask, her voice trembling with conflicting emotions.
The god raised His brows, looking even more genuinely surprised. “You do speak as those who have passed long before. Not ‘Neptune’ nor ‘Poseidon’ nor ‘Bloody hell, so this is what caused the missing ships in the Bermuda Triangle’. Have the wood-dwellers come at last to join their kin?”
“Yes,” replied the two women as Frodo said, “No.”
The brows went further up, nuzzling into a nest of white hair.
“Yes,” stammered Eo’star, trying to cover for their blunder. “I am a descendant of the half-elven, and these are my companions. We seek Valinor.” Plucking up her courage, she rattled off a string of highly-convincing gibberish, hoping it might be mistaken for an elven language, muddled over the ages.
“You are no elf,” said Ulmo, though seeming amused by her performance.
“Well, it was worth a try,” murmured Xara. “No one can hope to bluff their way past an omniscient being.”
“Have any of you right to enter the Blessed Realm? And don’t you even try, little hobbit. Frodo Baggins entered Ages ago.”
“I have,” cried a muffled voice with desperation.
“Ivy!” Merry screamed, running toward the sound of the voice, but being thrown back as if he had overstretched an elastic band. The cord at his waist held firm. He crawled again to the edge, lying flat on the deck and reaching out his arms. Her hands, straining and white with the effort of holding up her own modest weight and that of her unwieldy boots and sodden garb, were wrapped around a carven rod. The brittle railing above it had been smashed, apparently when she hit it. The impact had given her the time to grab hold of the wood beneath before the wave that had swept her to this point yanked her off the deck. Merry could see them now, and reached out. His fingers brushed hers, but he couldn’t reach farther. “Don’t you let go,” he demanded.
“Isn’t that Sam’s line?” mused Frodo.
Had he not been so preoccupied with trying to wriggle out of his restraint, no doubt Merry would have thought of a very witty and unpublishable retort, but as it was, well, you get the idea.
Ulmo yawned. “You were saying?” he lazily asked Ivy.
“I have reason to enter the Blessed Realm,” she called back, trying not to focus on the way her feet dangled in the air below.
“Ivy,” Xara hissed, “You have no idea how glad I am to see you, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to lie to a god a second time. You’re no more an elf than Eowyn.”
Feeling a surge of sympathy for his young cousin, Frodo pulled the knife he used for trimming his nails from his belt and began to slice through the taught canvas which held Merry. “I know what I’m doing,” Ivy replied. The last threads snapped and Merry was thrown onto his face. Quickly he scrambled to the edge, casting an appreciative glance in Frodo’s direction, and held out his hand for Ivy to grasp while anchoring his weight against the remains of the railing with the other. “You see,” Ivy continued, calculating how best to take his proffered hand without slipping, “it’s open to elves and former Ringbearers. I,” she swung her arm around and clasped Merry’s wrist “was at one point,” his hand was still wet, and hers slipped. Merry leapt forward, his face pressed to the wood, but too late.
Before she hit water, Ulmo plucked her out of the air. “A Ringbearer?” he asked.
Ivy nodded, catching her breath. “My ... my alter-ego. A very long time ago, found a Ring of Power...”
The sea-god set her on the ship and ran His fingers through His beard. “Well, this is unprecedented. There is nothing in the rule book to allow for anyone to enter for believing their alter-ego was a Ringbearer, but then,” He scratched His temple showering them with celestial dandruff. “There’s nothing against it, either. Very well, you may pass.”
He climbed out of the sea as anyone else would climb out of a bathtub or wading pool, placing one foot on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the other on a distant iceberg.
“Up you go.”
They all felt a queasy thrill as they were borne upward at an incredible speed. The ship passed into the chill fog of a cloud, a mass greyish white, with a barely recognisable golden tinge. They had no time to ponder this, though, as soon they burst free again. And when the sun shone out, it shone out the clearer, even though no new day had yet come. There was a blast of bone-chilling cold. Their surroundings became a disorienting blur of clouds and sky, and beyond a ceiling of black, splattered with stars.
They were jarred, sent sprawling, the sound of wood cracking beneath them. They were beached upon sands of the most dazzling white any had ever seen, the white of sun on new fallen snow seeming shadow in comparison. It was like being thrown onto the surface of a star.
It was Frodo’s turn for tears this time. It wasn’t a dream, it wasn’t a fiction. All that could be imagined was reality, as he had once heard someone ... who? He was too overwhelmed to think ... heard someone say.
Music played silently through their minds, the lyrics no longer sad, but filled with promise. Time did not exist here, nor did the limitations of reality. “Why do you weep?” the radiant land seemed to ask. “What are these tears upon your face? Soon you will see, all of your fears will pass away.” It beckoned as it twinkled placidly before them. “Safe in my arms...”
But they weren’t sleeping. They had come, beyond all doubts and obstacles, to Valinor.
A Brief Interlude: The Mangling- er, Making of ALS (Someday to be Renamed)
Perian sits down upon her heels at the computer, swivelling slightly as she tries to make herself comfortable (impossible, there are no comfortable places to sit in this house). The year is 2003... wait, no, it’s 2004 already, isn’t it? Where did 2003 go? For that matter, what happened to 1995? And to think the journey from Hobbiton to Mordor took only six months.
Nothing is coming. Why is it always hardest to think when a deadline is imposed? Maybe just typing to get rid of the writers block will help. Nothing else has. Even after reading a few pages about Valinor in the Silmarillion, there is data, but no inspiration. The muse has fled. Probably for somewhere warmer. She turns the thermostat up to 25, then wonders about the bill and turns it back down. Hell has definitely frozen over.
The cat on the scanner watches her fingers play slowly across the keyboard with fascination. A pounce is immanent if she is not distracted... Distraction?
There were bells. How can bells be used to the story’s advantage? Pagh. Steep slopes and mountains (spots a typo; corrected) yes, they can be worked in. Why write this interlude, exactly? Well, it’s part of the story, but not a dramatic part. It could be left out. Save time. Work on Valinor. Or on the other founders, the ones who are captive. Or Prongsie and VG and Paddy and the troll making their way back to the secret lab. I wonder whether Prongsie let the troll carry Sam, or whether she’s doing it herself? Or perhaps he awakened (awoke?)... No, he wouldn’t have. If he had, he would be finding some way to go after Frodo, at least if he were still in the Havens when he did.
Music, maybe that will help drown out the background noises... the tussles of the cats (you’re so good, Amber, didn’t pounce... kittle yoor tum. Yoor kits, on the other hand... Get out of that dialect, you can’t use it in the story,) the ambient vocal commentary. “Ah, they’re in. Do you think it’s too late to call her? Probably. Oh, I should do these dishes before they pile up...” Was there a hint in that? If so Perian (funny that this name should stick, should surface, out of all of those available) is ignoring it. Oh, yes, music.
The Return of the King soundtrack? No, that always makes for a heavy, intense scene. The funeral, the sinking of the ship, those are the kind of things which evolve out of it. Highlander Radio? Argh, no, blast! They have taken down the station due to new regulations! Why does that always happen? Corrs (share a birthday with the lead) have too much of a beat to write to, it’s distracting, same for The Beatles, Coldplay and Sting. Enya (share a birthday with her, too, oddly,) is too soft, too subtle, all voice an no emotion. No inspiration there. Amos again? Yes, it will be Tori Amos. She’s a Ringer, has to be. That map in her album sleeve. Hmm, could write an article about it. Where were we again? Ah yes...
She puts on the album, a complex operation in itself. First remembering where the album is (too much clutter) then finding the player (the computer will not play women’s voices without turning them into something akin to chipmunks... must get Viggo’s album where Elijah plays a chipmunk, but how? Where?) finding uneaten headphones, taking them all back to the computer. Past the Hobbits in Skirts picture in progress on the desk... Pippin in pink! All is blocked in save the hair (a pale brown pencil is picked up to do so, but put back down as soon as Frodo’s is done). Hmm, does that orange really suit Merry? Egads, it’s so embarrassing and yet so funny at the same time.
E-mail! Another excuse for procrastination, but this time a valid one.
“What are you doing?”
Sigh. Distraction. She wanted to procrastinate, not be distracted. Should she be writing in first or second person? Never mind, leave it as it is. First, second, does it matter? Even Smeagol could not decide. Nor could Frodo decide between archaic and modern pronouns. Was there a connection? Intriguing.
“Writing.” Answered. Simple enough.
Och, no, an interrogation in the making. “Fanfiction.”
Phew. Not a How’s it coming? or a What is a Fanfiction again? Writing requires some semblance of quiet, most of the time. Nothing is more distracting in the thread of thought than an extraneous question. And yet extraneous questions come even from the inside, such as “Will Frodo and Xara ever get further than the giggling and blushing, or is it too late?”
God sometimes you just don’t come through. God, sometimes you just don’t come through. Do you need a woman to look after you?
Perian sits forward, eyes lighting. Yes, yes, the music helped!
Tell me you’re crazy, maybe then I’ll understand...
Will you even tell her if you decide to make the sky fall? Will you even tell her if you decide to make the sky?
Yes, yes, wrap up this interlude. It’s all coming now. Wondrous music. In... spire? No, that’s breathing. Inaud. Thank Eru- Hahaha, yes, and that, too. Remind me.
Can’t stop what’s coming. Can’t stop what is on it’s way.
Out of Memory and Time.
Xara rubbed her eyes, staring at the sparkling ceiling. “I had the strangest dream...”
“Isn’t every dream the strangest?” murmured Ivy from the balcony, her chin resting peacefully upon her hands. Their lodging was in a tall white tower at the edge of the sand. Starlit ripples lapped at its feet. It was by far the most luxurious accommodations any of them had ever been given, despite all the concierge’s complaints about it being in desperate need of remodelling. Ulmo had argued with the unfortunate elf until he was blue in the face (or so Xara recorded in her notebook, though the fact that Ulmo was already blue in the face seemed to have escaped disclosure,) saying that it was only right to give the tourists what they expected; an antique tower. The guests, however, suspected that Ulmo did not want to repair the numerous leaking pipes as they gave him eavesdropping access.
“Yes, but this one was especially strange.”
Ivy glanced out of the corner of her eye at Xara and smiled smugly. With a shrug of her shoulders, she turned back to the nocturnal scene which lay below. “It’s not as if the two of you are a secret. So was it?”
“No, it was about our lives, only we were part of a fanfiction being written by Perian.”
“You have been reading that journal too much. We’re here, in Valinor. Relax.” She paused, her brows coming together. “Though that does sound terribly familiar...”
Xara climbed out of one of the massive, cloud-soft beds and threw a dressing gown on over her blue striped pyjamas. “I can’t believe we’re really here. I’ve always thought it was something ... well, fictional. A product of the mind of an eccentric but brilliant professor in Old Blighty. What is that sound?”
“Quickbeam is singing over the broken timbers of the ship. Strange, as they were dead already. I must admit, I was becoming rather fond of it myself. Pity it’s irreparable. The cargo was undamaged, though. I gave it to Ulmo and Tulkas. That’s the other sound... They’re singing, too, I think.”
After a thorough search of their banqueting hall-like chamber, Xara asked, “Where’s Eowyn?”
“Looking after Pippin in the lads’ wing, of course,” said Ivy. “Shall we go see how he is?”
With a shrug which utterly failed in its intended nonchalance, Xara started for the door which separated the two vast guest-wings.
“How’s Pip feeling?”
Sheer curtains of pale blue and green canopied the god-accommodating beds, on of which Merry was in, his thunderous snores for once fitting in the enormity of the room. Frodo sat quietly reading the journal Xara had no further use for, chewing noisily on a toffee: Xara had sat on his pipe when they landed, cracking it, with nary an apology. At the nearest of the beds, Eowyn Evenstar was settled. It seemed empty, save for a small lump near the pillow.
“He has been nearly drowned, utterly forgotten, and caught a nasty cold from Ulmo besides,” said she in a matronly tone. “How do you think he feels?”
“Er, hungry?” ventured Ivy.
“Hello?” the concierge called into the ladies’ room.
“We’re in here!” Xara called back.
“Oh, grayte. That’s lovely. I can speak to all at once. Ulmo wants ye, all of ye. ‘E says it’s about time to be off. It was lovely having ye ‘ere, but you’d best be ready quick loike.”
“Give us ten minutes to dress, then...”
“Minutes? Six hundred seconds? One sixth of an hour?”
“Loike in a ci’cle?”
“No, no, like in counting time,” said Xara, growing exasperated with him.
“Oh, that! Why, Miss, we doan’ have toime ‘ere. So you’d best be going soon as ye can, ‘cos we doan’ ‘ave none to lose.” And with that, he bustled out again, closing the door easily behind him.
Within minutes which were not minutes due to the lack of time there - or so the concierge had said, though it certainly felt like the passage of minutes to them - they were dressed and gone from the towers. Ulmo met them on the beach and without a word hoisted them one by one into his breast pocket and set off over the mountains. After several hot, stuffy, claustrophobic units of non-time, they began to hear the soft sound of bells ringing. Ulmo stopped with a firm step which made them all tumble over one another. They felt him twisting to grab something, then heard a terrific blast of a conch shell above as he signalled their arrival.
“Let me see, let me see!”
“No, I’m the senior member of our group, and second lightest. I shall be let up. Help me, please.”
“Frodo, technically you’re four. That hardly makes you senior.”
“Lift me up there, will you? It’s not that far.”
“You’re standing on my cloak.”
“As your captain, I am ordering you to lift me to that hem...” There was a whisper followed by the sound of a giggle and then a slap and a hushed “Oh, I’m sorry. It was...” whatever may have followed was drowned out by the continuing argument.
“But I am the only member of an ancient and, hoom, noble race, to come unto this land.”
“As investigative journalist, I should be the one observing and recording all events.”
“And where does that leave me?”
The simultaneously screamed as Ulmo’s hand dipped in and extracted them, dumping the lot of them unceremoniously on the ground. They landed in a small pile, and it took several minutes to sort and extract each’s limbs (particularly Quickbeam’s, as hers numbered in the dozens). When all voluntary extrication had occurred, however, there was still a bit of a entanglement to be sorted out.
“Cousin Merry? We’re, erm, in Valmar, as you may have noticed. There are gods watching...”
“I thought you two were enemies.”
“We ARE!” shouted Ivy, tossing Merry off her and standing brusquely up. As soon as the others were no longer watching, she turned and flashed Merry a wide smile and a wink. His look of disbelief and disappointment vanished instantly, replaced by one of simply disbelief.
“I leave you here,” boomed Ulmo. “The answers you seek are at the far end of the courtyard, the flat on the right with the fresh whitewash and lace curtains. Go down the hall and enter the chamber to the left, and you should find someone who can lead you the rest of the way. Good luck, and thank you for the ... the high spirits.”
Pippin tried his best not to grumble about the fact that he had considered those spirits his own, and wondered why he was not invited to the party. The fact that Ulmo bent nearly to the ground to speak to them at that moment did help him to hold his tongue.
“By the way,” he whispered, his gale-like breath reeking of onions, “if Prongs does ever come up with a cure for the common cold, you will let me know, won’t you? It comes along often with the dampness.”
“O-of course,” Pip stammered.
They waved, then darted across the cobblestone court, their feet falling in time with the ringing of silver bells. The building they had been directed to was a two-storey flat, clean and bright. A single sign swung over the door, announcing “Administration” in gold letters. They stood on the stone step (jasper, if they had realised it) and stared at one another, quite unsure of what to do.
“There’s no knocker,” Frodo ventured.
“Try the knob,” said Ivy.
“That doesn’t seem right,” said Xara.
“Well, they are gods,” said Merry with a yawn. “I’m sure whoever is on the other side of that door will be expecting us.”
“It’s a rather small door for a god,” commented Quickbeam, not quite succeeding to tilt her head, not being very, hmm, bendable.
Eowyn Evenstar nodded, her head near level with the top of the frame. “Did he give no indication of who he was leaving us with?”
Frodo shook his head. “After you,” he said to Xara, holding out a hand.
“No, after you,” she replied.
“Stoppit! I can see where this is going!” said Eo’star. “I’m going in.” She grabbed the knob and twisted. It opened. In she hastened, taking Pippin with her. The others ran up to follow, but the door swung to.
Merry rubbed his nose. “Well, how do you like that?” He opened it again and held it with his shoulder until all had passed, then slipped in behind. Quickbeam, being to tall to enter, stayed behind and held a one-way conversation with a street lamp.
It was a modest building, though larger on the inside than it had appeared. A desk stood at the far end, and behind it two people were seated. Before it another stood, holding a bolt of shimmering, multi-coloured cloth. The six approached cautiously until they could hear what was being said.
“Vairë, darling,” said the dark-haired woman behind the desk placatingly, “it is the same thread you have been using for years.”
“It most certainly is not, Varda!” cried the golden-plaited Vairë. “I have never had the cloth fade and unravel before! You cut budgeting on the life threads, didn’t you?”
“Oh my. That is terrible,” said the man, fingering the cloth she thrust into his hands. He looked nervously at his companion. “But, but, you must know how busy our superior is. Thread quality probably has slipped the great mind. We can take care of this.”
“You did!” cried Vairë triumphantly. “You always were a terrible liar, Manwë. Do you have any idea how hard it is to weave fate? And you would sacrifice quality! Let it all unravel! Manwë, I’m surprised at you. But,” her voice lowered to a coaxing murmur, “if you would let me handle all future quality inspections, and maybe give me another assistant so I can take a vacation this summer, I would be willing to forget the whole matter.”
“Done!” They watched as Manwë and Vairë shook hands. Then Manwë quietly added, “You won’t mention it to...” He jerked his head upward.
“Of course not,” Vairë smiled. She clapped Varda’s shoulder. “You watch Him! Slainte, dears.”
Ivy forgot herself for a moment. “She’s Gaelic!”
The three gods turned to look at her. “Newcomers?” Varda frowned, consulting papers which looked suspiciously like astronomical charts. “But no one was scheduled until 4189...”
“You see what comes of inferior threads, Varda? I’m sorry they brought this upon you, darlings,” she bent and kissed Merry’s cheek. “Good day!” So she left.
Merry rubbed the spot she had kissed. “I’ve died and gone to Valinor.”
“My, oh, my. Have you? I am so very behind in my paperwork,” murmured Varda.
Ivy’s had impacted viciously with Merry’s jaw. She glowered down at him where he now lay on the ground, propped on his elbows, her green eyes blazing.
“Don’t worry, Miss. Goddesses have that effect on ... well, I was going to say men, but he is clearly a hobbit,” said Manwë. “It is quite some time since one of your kind came. May we help you?”
“Yes!” they chorused, and all began to babble at once. Manwë listened and nodded as Varda took notes. Whether or not they could actually discern the pleas and tales which were being pelted six at a time in their direction is not known.
After what seemed to be one non-hour, Manwë held up his hand. “Your situation is most distressing,” he said with practised calm. “This seems a matter you should take up with a higher authority.”
“Frodo?” Xara inquired hopefully.
“Not you. I meant the real Frodo.”
Shaking her head, Varda replied, “No, he and Samwise are on vacation in Majorca. He was speaking of the One. Follow that staircase as far as it will go. It will lead you there.”
Tentatively they climbed the stairs. There were eleven of them, warn and chipped with use, but still quite remarkable in their substance changed from stair to stair. The first was of faceted, fiery sapphire, the second a milky white...
“Moonstone,” guessed Eowyn.
Frodo rolled his eyes. “Chalcedony. I have travelled enough to know that, and am quite well-versed in Tolkien. This next is emerald.”
“Impossible. I have never seen a slab of emerald, let alone one this size,” said Ivy, her eyes wide.
“But that is what it is.”
One by one they took the stairs, commenting on each. Sardonyx, sardius, olivine, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and last a fanned and carved deep purple amethyst which opened out onto a floor of checkered black and white marble. The floorboards were of gold, as were the pillars in each corner.
“Ostentatious, isn’t it?”
All six turned to the voice, their mouths falling open. In a bay window, hung with white lace curtains and set about with a multitude of pillows made of the same multicoloured fabric Vairë had been holding, was a middle-aged woman of hobbit size and shape. Her hair was mousy brown and falling from the bun which hung at the back of her head. Her eyes were dark, exotic, and most certainly her best feature. Her hands rested on the edge of a silver tray which sat beside her. “Would you care for refreshments?” She stood, bringing the tray to them.
“Yes!” piped Pippin, sliding from Eo’star’s shoulder to get to them.
“Excuse me,” ventured Xara, “We’re looking for... well, that is, Manwë sent us up to speak to...”
“Eru?” asked the she-hobbit, her brows lifting with suppressed humour. “That’s me. Now, let me see... tea, coffee, whiskey, and water.” She handed them out as founder and hobbit alike gaped.
“You’re joking, right?” Merry finally gasped out. “That is, you could pass for my mother.”
“You don’t think a man could handle so many children and not lose his patience more often, do you?” she asked with an indulgent smile. “I haven’t resorted to a natural disaster of aeons.”
“Well, now might be the time to think about it again,” said Ivy. “We need your help. Xara, you tell her.”
Shooting Ivy an irked glance, Xara stepped forward. “Something is happening in our world... your world, I mean. It has been more or less peaceful for the past thousand years. Ever since, well, to be quite honest, since we took over leadership there. But now orcs are moving freely through the land, unchecked, unchallenged, killing at will...”
“Xara,” Frodo warned softly.
“Oh, er, right. Now humans and hobbits alike are about to be subjugated or annihilated. There is more at work here than petty dispute and simple malice. There is an ancient evil which has arisen again. One of your maiar.”
“How do you know that?” Merry asked.
“Shh, it’s just a guess,” Xara whispered, poking him in the ribs with her elbow.
“I see,” said Eru, a weary look upon her face. “They really are unruly. And Aulë hasn’t been the best teacher. So what would you like me to do?”
“We need assistance immediately,” said Frodo. “Whatever you are able to do, and if you do not have the time yourself, as we have heard that is in scarce quantity here, perhaps you could send someone back with us. We cannot do this on our own.”
“I am afraid I have no one to spare,” she said, holding her hands out helplessly. “We are so behind, and nothing will improve if chaos is allowed to overcome Valinor. Wait...” she straightened, a grin spreading across her simple face, “there is someone we can spare.”
Angel fell upon her side as the orc-imitators tossed her unceremoniously through the stone doorway. Arwen landed beside her, rubbing her elbows and glowering at their captors. An iron door slammed to, leaving them in utter darkness upon the damp and gritty floor. Before they had time to think about this, however, a match was struck. It quickly fizzled and sputtered out.
“Who is it this time?” whispered a familiar voice anxiously.
“Angel and Arwen,” murmured another from where the light of the match had been.
“Who in Middle-earth do we have left out there?” said the first with frustration.
“Took? Anduwen? What are you doing here?” asked Angel softly. She hoisted herself into a sitting position.
Tookie laughed without mirth. “There aren’t many of us who aren’t. They took Rivendell over a week ago, and the defences of Buckland fell more recently. What is our tally now?” she called back into the void.
“Sixty-three hobbits, forty-one founders with these two,” cried the high squeak of one of the smaller hobbits.
Angel gasped. “Isn’t that nearly all of us?”
“That’s what I was just thinking,” said Took. “Ered Luin must still be hidden, though. Xara and the others who left for it haven’t been brought in-
“Only the insane remain,” quipped Fredegar.
“If they know what’s good for them, they’ll stay there. Not go planning some idiotic rescue.”
“And since when have any of us known what is good for us?” asked the voice of Morrigan.
“Never,” about half a dozen chorused.
There was a metallic clank of a latch being lifted and light streamed in. Over one hundred arms were flung upward to block it out, while eyes watered and blinked. A bright figure entered, bouncing slightly on her toes. She smiled widely at them, eyes glowing. “Well, well, well,” she fired off rapidly, “so many. You could almost call it a reunion. Welcome, welcome, so glad to have you here.”
“That’s the one who tricked us into signing the punishment laws,” whispered Tookie, glaring up at her captor. “If I had my mithril arrow now I would...” she made a stabbing motion with her arm.
“And imprisoned you under them. Isn’t it beautifully ironic? Yes, indeed, that’s me. I am second in command here, though you may better know me as-”
“Phoenix,” Angel spat. “You traitor.”
“Very good! Extra points to you.”
“Wait a minute,” Evenstar Lomelinde said, holding her hands up. “Are you saying she was a founder?”
“Still am,” Phoenix said. “Only this time, it will be for a new order. No more piddling about, biding our time while the world passes us by. You could be a part of it, you know. Not all of you, I’m sure. There are some too rooted in tradition. But some. We could command this world in a way none of your little minds have ever dreamed. Power, and I don’t mean simply sitting in your little hall and playing with words while the world goes on around you. I mean real power. You could join us. All we need is a little information to help us in our mission. Now, have any of you worked in the cloning lab?” There was silence, and Phoenix began to smoulder. Literally. “Very well. Do any of you know where it or it’s curator can be found?” Another silence. A little tongue of flame burst from her clenched fist. “We have ways of making you talk, you know!” she shouted, and suddenly the fire engulfed her. The captives watched with horror and fascination at it consumed her flesh, leaving no more than a pile of ashes on the floor. When the flames had gone out, several leaped to their feet and scrambled toward the open and unguarded door. Those who remained behind heard them gasp and watched them back in again. An imposing figure stood silhouetted against the light from beyond the door.
“Really, Phoenix, you should learn to control that temper,” he said to the ashes.
“You... you aren’t real...”
He turned upon the speaker and smiled menacingly. “I assure you, I am.”
Through Valinor a small cart wended its way, containing seven stunned but smiling figures and the composer of the song which had created the universe. The cart was drawn over the uneven roads by two white horses. Everything here, in fact, seemed to be white, or off-white, or trimmed in white. Eru had informed them that keeping it all so clean and white was frankly a pain in the erse. “But it’s what everyone expects, so what can I do?”
The cart was stopped at one point by a willowy woman with huge, watery eyes. In fact, they were watering quite profusely as she hailed them. “Illuvatar!” she cried, “Manwë and Varda wouldn’t let me bother you...”
“The bells again?”
“There driving me mad, my lady! And I’m not the only one! Please, please, can you not stop them?”
“I must admit, they get on my nerves from time to time, but what would the tourists think if they weren’t here?” she inquired. “I will give it consideration, though. Good day.” She flicked the reigns and they set off once more.
“Who was that?” Xara asked, her notebook out once again.
“Nienna. Do you record everything you see in that? I could use a historian like you.”
Xara blushed. “Well, I try. But life moves too fast for most of it.”
They passed through a gate and under an arching sign. “‘Valmar Seniors’ Care and Rehabilitation Centre,’” Merry read. “What do you suppose that means?”
“Forget it,” commanded Eru, and he did. They soon entered a sprawling building. From the gardens a redheaded woman with a coronet of flowers who was watering the trees waved and smiled. Eru ushered them through the double doors, then led the way to a curving desk. “In what room is Olorin?” she asked.
“Fourteen,” the receptionist replied without looking up from a sheet of cryptograms. To add emphasis, she pointed down the hallway to the left.
“Thank you,” said Eru.
“Don’t mention it.”
“This is where I leave you,” said the supreme deity. “There is much to see to, as you can imagine. Ulmo will see you back to the White Shores when you are ready. Give my love to all your ... well, to all you may encounter.” She turned and walked back toward the double doors, her large, furry feet not hitting the ground.
“Wait,” called Ivy, running after her. “While we’re here, could you tell us where to find a friend of ours? Her name is Perian, and she should be somewhere on Valinor.”
Eru smiled sadly, and set her hand against Ivy’s cheek. “You would be surprised how often I get that request. No, I’m afraid I cannot allow it. You may meet again, but now is not the time, for it is likely that some of you would not be willing to leave as quickly as you must to save those you came for. Moreover, it would only cause further sorrow, for you would be forced to part once more. Trust me, I have seen it before.” She dropped her hand and smiled at the others. “Good luck, and hurry.”
Taking her words as a command, they ran down the hall looking for room fourteen. It was not far, and Frodo was soon knocking upon it.
“Come in,” called a raspy voice from within. Frodo opened the door, and like characters from a cartoon they all fell in, save Quickbeam who once again too tall.
Frodo, at the bottom of the pile, looked up and gasped. “Gandalf?” he managed, his voice quavering.
There the old wizard sat, in a chair beside the window, clad in a white dressing gown and slippers. “Gandalf?” he scratched his head and sucked on his teeth, falling silent as if lost in thought. After some time he looked down at Frodo with knotted brows and asked, “Was that my name?”
Lady of Light
The Grey Havens became volatile shortly after the departure of the Horizon. The owner of the ship sent a threatening letter to the inn, addressed to no one in particular, which was used in locating him. After years of avoiding capture, the corsair (whose name, interestingly enough, was Pete) was apprehended while yelling randomly and with strange near-accuracy at Paddy and her troll for doing something with his boat.
This incident, combined with an unusual amount of nagging from Prongsie, made them depart early. Their luggage was once again bound to the troll, along with a groggy, headachey, gagged Samwise. He cursed eloquently through Prongsie’s handkerchief, his words enough to make them blush if they could have discerned what he was saying.
They made it to Ered Luin without mishap. Prongsie’s makeshift lab was untouched; her most recent work of art now fully formed and lying in his chamber. VG walked over to it upon returning and peered in through the glass. She chuckled. “There are about a billion women who would do anything to be where I am right now,” she commented.
“I’m counting on it,” said Prongsie. She left the room, then returned, coaxing the bound and gagged Sam to walk before her as Paddy followed after. Prongs locked the door and set the key on a high shelf. “I’ll unbind you if you don’t try to escape,” she said to Sam, punctuating her words by pointing a pen at him.
“I’m glad to see that you’re going to cooperate,” she said, smiling. Together with VG, Prongs unbound his restraints. “It was for your own sake. No hard feelings, eh?”
“Wahey!” Prongs kissed him on the forehead and turned to her computer. “Paddy, will you tape those diodes onto the test subject’s temples? You can open the glass containment cover using that handle on the side. Nice skin pigment, don’t you think? He’s breaking out across the forehead, though. Amazing, I could never see such details in the old lab. The lighting Perian put into this place fantastic. Right, so, while you’re doing that, I’ll see whether the personality is passible.”
“You have mail!” shouted the monitor. “You have ... two ... new messages!”
VG cringed. “You left the internet connected?” she asked with disbelief. “We could have been tracked!”
“After all this time, the location of Ered Luin found simply through an internet connection? I doubt it.” Prongsie opened the first message, titled “Situation Update”. The light plum font of their agent oscillated in unstable pixels over the screen.
Situation critical. Your quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail...
“To the ruin-” the three listening to Prongs read it began to quote, but the words instantly shifted, flickering out, then in again, with an entirely new message.
Do you want to hear what I have to say or not?
“Sorry. Go on.”
Thank you. ...to the ruin of all. Oh, and would you have the troll carry some cakes and dried fruit over when you come? They are in the pantry, the door of which is behind the tapestry of Frodo and Sam scenes in the hallway leading into the room in which you are now. The fare here is less than savoury. Numarië, melloni nin.
The words faded away, and the e-mail disappeared. Out of curiosity, Prongsie went to the Deleted Items folder, but the message was not there, either. She stuck out her lower lip and made a “Hm!” noise before heading back to the Inbox.
“The diode thingies are on, Prongsie m’ buddy,” said Paddy. “What next?”
“Eh? Oh, well, you could put something on him. He won’t be programmed to feel the elements, so he probably won’t think about clothes,” muttered Prongs distractedly. She rapidly typed a reply to the second message and sent it, then stared at the monitor in anticipation.
“You do it,” Paddy said to VG.
“Oh, no. You’re the one who volunteered to help,” said VG, backing away.
“That I won’t.”
Leaving Padfoot to her unsavoury duty, VG tiptoed over to see what Prongs was doing. “‘Mother of God, Han,’” she read aloud. “‘Where have you been? I’m happy with a Canadian finally having a hand in ruling the world, babe, but why you, eh?’ Cute, Prongsie. You had best get back to him soon, or he may send the teddy-bear off to Mt. Doom as he has been threatening to for years.”
Padfoot’s jaw dropped. “You’re chatting with Rob when we’re three chapters away from the end, four if you count the epilogue? Come on, get that programme downloading while you’re writing at least!”
“All right,” sighed Prongs, closing the e-mail window. “Memory and personality databanks, uploading.”
On the shore of Valinor stood the seven companions, and their new addition. “Wait a moment,” said Frodo after counting. “We need one more.”
“Patience,” said Varda, otherwise known as Elbereth, who had come to see them off.
“Patience is a virtue,” chimed a dozen voices from behind artists’ canvases to the south of where they waited. This was followed by a quiet murmur of “Pass the French Grey.”
“Before you leave, I have been asked to bestow unto you a few gifts to help you in your quest,” said Elbereth, beckoning her handmaiden forward with a wave of her hand. “To you, Frodo Baggins, I give the light of Earendil-”
“But I already have it,” he said, holding up the penlight of the same name which the founders had given him.
“Oh. Well, take it back for Sam, then. A souvenir. What would you ask of us?”
Frodo shrugged. “I cannot think of anything. However, if I do find I need a favour in the future, will you grant it?”
Elbereth pondered this, her chin tilted up and to the south. “If I’m not busy on another call. Agreed?”
They shook hands, Elbereth having to sit back on her heels to reach. Her handmaiden cleared her throat impatiently, muttering that the age would be over before they could leave this ungodforsaken beach and it’s salty winds. Elbereth turned toward her with a condescending glance. “What else is there? Ah, yes. To Peregrin Took I give this,” she held out a tiny phial full of thick, gloopy liquid. “Do not drink it all at once, or you will suffer a terrible hangover within minutes.”
“I want that,” cried Merry.
“You,” said Elbereth, turning to him, “should not be allowed within three hundred leagues of what you assume that to be. In fact, I do believe I will do something about that when you are back in Middle-earth. I give you this.” She held out a small, sealed box. “There are talents in you unrealised, but do use it sparingly, please.”
“But what is it?”
“That would be telling, now, wouldn’t it?”
Merry folded his arms, carefully tucking the box under his elbow before retorting, “You gods are exasperating, you know.”
“We know,” said Elbereth, puffing with pride. “It’s part of our charm. Nimbrethil, to you I give the real Quickbeam’s e-mail address. It isn’t fair that you’re the only one here with no romance in this tale. Xara, for you, a handheld recorder with unlimited recording space, a gift chosen by Eru herself. She said that it is true history goes by too quickly to record, but this should help you capture more of it. Ivy, for you we have this,” she held out a glittering, glistening object. At first they could not be sure what it was, until Ivy took it and shook it out. It was made of elven-weave cloth, glistening with ithildin, and read: I sailed to Valinor, was nearly drowned, and had to watch my hobbit flirting with a goddess, and all I got was this t-shirt.
“Er, thanks,” she said, torn between puzzlement and amusement. “I’m not sure how it will help, but thanks just the same.”
“What about me?” said Eowyn Evenstar.
Elbereth shifted from one foot to the other, looking highly embarrassed. “We couldn’t think of what to give you. So, you can have, erm...” she cast her gaze desperately about. Finally her eyes settled on Pippin. “You can have him.”
Squealing with delight, Eo’star linked arms with Elbereth’s handmaiden and danced. Ivy was indignant. “You... you can’t do that! Perian gave him to me. It’s my job to look after him.”
“Yes, well, you have Merry to look after now.”
“True.” Ivy seemed satisfied with this, but it was now Pippin’s turn to look offended.
“But I’m not some rag-tag baggage to be passed from one to another,” he cried. “I don’t want to be a gift!”
No one replied, but several amused smiles were flashed at him, and Elbereth silenced any further protest with a finger to her nose. Filled with curiosity as to why his own gesture was being given to him, he quieted. Elbereth plucked a cardboard carton from the sand and opened it. “Lastly, these cloaks are made from the loom of Vairë. Never before have we clad strangers in the garb of our ... well, of her make. May they startle unfriendly eyes into submission.”
The cloaks were more like open-fronted robes of the type Elrond might wear, their multicoloured, tapestried cloth clashing so terribly with itself that the fabric seemed alive and in a perpetual state of battle or modern dance. Merry poked a finger through a hole in the elbow of his and wiggled it. Soon he began to have a thumb war on either side of the cloth, his tongue clamped between his teeth in concentration. As they were “one size fits all”, Pippin was able to do little more than sit upon his. Frodo, using the terrycloth sash which came with each, was able to convert his into a rather striking toga.
“But, they look old,” blurted Eo’star, voicing the opinion of all of them.
“Well, she wouldn’t part with much of her good cloth,” said Elbereth. “We had to settle for the recent rejected bolts. Oh, and she sent a little something more for you, Ivy,” she held out a package wrapped in brown paper. “Do not open it yet. Wait until your task is completed.”
“Wait a moment, why does she get another gift?” protested Merry.
“Because of your behaviour,” said Elbereth. “Now, as haste is required, I will ask one last question.”
They leaned forward, curious as to what it would be.
“Would you like an onboard bar and swimming pool?”
Phoenix floated along the corridor for some time before she began to take shape again. The air was dirty, and she could feel the grains of dust sticking in her flesh as it formed. It had been at her order that the air filtration system had been turned of, but now she began to question that decision as over two hundred new something-or-others turned orcs were now tracking mud into the Barad-dur section of the founders’ headquarters. Remembering that she, too, would be filtered out and have to pluck herself out of a machine, she abandoned the thought and tolerated the dust.
Their event coordinator glanced up as she entered.
“Mae govannen, Phoenix,” she said.
“Hyoo haff...” Phoenix stopped. Her vocal cords were not yet reformed. She folded her arms and tapped her foot as she waited. An airy gurgling came from her throat, and eventually developed into a hummed tune. “Ah, good, they’re back,” she said. “You have no idea how good it is to see an elf who hasn’t yet resorted to that hideous orc garb. It’s pointless, really. Say, when did you get the ears, Lady G.?”
Galadriel stood and smiled. “In the First Age.”
“It feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Ages, and always in the shadows. Well, they’re almost all here. The founders, I mean. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are rid of them within a few days. I wonder if they will surrender first, or all die? This should be interesting. Are you coming to the executions?”
Leaning back against a wall beside a large round mirror, Galadriel nodded. “I do believe I will be there. Where have you planned on holding it?”
“Well, there’s going to be one last raid before we have them all. News has come that some were seen in the Grey Havens. Rather than moving our forces there and back and creating another delay, we will start there.”
“That’s all I needed to know,” said Galadriel with a smile. Before Phoenix could stop her, she reached behind the mirror. There hid a small switch on a ceramic plate. The peeling label below it, could it have been seen, read “Emergency Fire Suppression System”. With a deft flick, she activated it.
If Sauron Was an Eye...
With thanks to the characters for perquisite inspiration, and of course the you-know-who-you-are who provided inspipmonev’lation, and for the most audacious line in the episode.
“Tell my ma’ when I get home, the boys won’t leave the girls alone,” sang Ivy from the circular pool at the centre of the ship. She and Merry were clasping hands, running along the shallow bottom quickly so as to create a revolving current. As the wind was at their backs and the way clear, a cluster of elvish sailors, real elves with silent feet and shimmering skin and hair which grew from their heads, were sitting upon deck. About half had instruments; mandolins, lap-harps, a small drum, flute and pipes. The other half were clapping to every second syllable sung. Toward the stern was bolted a vast table upon which Frodo was dancing with Xara following along from the deck beside him. “They pulled my hair and stole my comb, but that’s all right ‘til I get home.”
“She is handsome, she is pretty,” Merry took up. “She is the belle of auld Kilk’nny. She is courting, one-two-three. Please won’t you tell me who is she?” On cue both let go and were pulled by the whirlpool they had created in a clockwise eddy. At the same instant Xara grasped Frodo by the waist and twirled him around above her head. They overbalanced and fell onto the deck, laughing and red-faced.
“The board is set, the pieces are moving,” mumbled Gandalf from the far end of the table, then laughed brightly. “Oho, I’ve said that before, have I not?”
“I think you did,” said Eo’star, moving a figure carved in black marble. “Checkmate.”
Pippin clapped. “My turn!”
“But last time you... were nearly levelled ... by a falling piece,” Frodo said, still catching his breath.
“Perhaps ... perhaps... you need...” Gandalf scratched his head, then nibbled at whatever it was he found in there and now had lodged beneath his fingernails. He gazed out over the sea, eyes dancing. He looked as if he knew a secret he would not reveal. They knew better, though, after the three days they had spent with him. As they expected, the completion of his sentence was the highly enlightening, “Something.”
“Thanks, Gandalf,” said Xara, patting him on the back, careful to avoid the suspicious tangles which dwelt atop his head. “That helps.”
Gandalf nodded, picking at his teeth. “Floss, and often,” he advised the world in general. “That helps, too.”
All the others suddenly began sucking their teeth, remembering that they had done little by way of caring for their selves since the whole “something is awry in Middle-earth” fiasco began. All, that is, save Merry. He had discreetly left the pool, and was now clad in his swimming gear and a soggy tunic, creeping drippily across the deck, something clutched in his hand.
“Wait a moment,” said Xara, suddenly realising how ridiculous everyone around her looked, in stark comparison to how unridiculous she imagined herself to. “What is this going to do to help us in our fight against the forces of evil?”
“Oh, is that who we’re up against this time?” asked Gandalf, a blinkingly serene imitation of mild surprise on his face. “I have experience in that, you know. I was quite a catalyst in vanquishing the Dark Lord Salon in my day. Or so they tell me, though why I would be involved with bringing down a gallery is beyond my recollection.”
“It was Sauron we... I mean you... battled, Gandalf,” said Frodo. “Not Salon. Sauron. He was a spirit without form, save as an Eye which would look into you. Well, without form after His Ring was taken from him.”
“Indeed?” Gandalf seemed bemused by this notion. “An Eye?”
“As I recall, yes. A flaming one.”
“So if Sauron was an Eye, what form do you suppose this new menace has taken?”
Frodo exchanged looks with Xara and Eo’star as Ivy approached, toweling her hair. None seemed to have an answer. It was a question beyond mere speculation, it led to deep philosophic thought. What form was he/she/it in? Could be anything. A dragon, a balrog, or, even worse, a politician. Eo’star grinned. “A nose, I hope.”
They sat in silence, with looks ranging from horror to gaiety, their many mouths hanging open or twisted upward at one end, and everything in between. The elves played random tunes, though their band had dispersed slightly. They were doing the lower deck chores while no one was there to watch. Nothing could be more humiliating for an elf than for someone to find them dressed in an oil and dirt stained cotton apron, wringing out a mop, save perhaps for the same someone to find their ship unclean. Alas, they found someone who not only discovered both, but may well have caused them. Without announcement or ceremony, Merry popped like a cork out of the hatch. Pippin followed in the same manner, landing on Merry’s chest. He immediately began pounding him with tiny fists and screaming. “It’s mine, it’s mine!”
Brushing Pippin off, Merry ran to the pool and leaped over it, forcing Pippin to take the long way around. “You don’t need it,” Merry replied. “The valier told me that I would not be allowed within a hundred leagues of any such refreshments as soon as we stepped on land. I want to have my wits pleasantly numbed before going into battle. You don’t need it, Pip! You’re foolish enough without it!” He braced himself, feet firmly planted on the deck (he had by now donned sandals so as to prevent any further splinters) and twisted at the cork of the little phial he held. It popped without spilling, and Merry grinned widely as he gulped down the contents. Pippin screamed and sprinted around the edge of the pool, taking the phial in his hands. He scooped the few drops left out with his hands and drank them before Merry had a chance. Both looked indignant and yet smug as they waited for the expected effects.
A puzzled frown crept across Merry’s face as he began to wonder whether anything would happen at all. He ran a hand through his hair, then let out a yell as it curled firmly around his fingers. Startled, he picked up the empty phial from where it had rolled. Sure enough, there was a label upon it, with extremely small print. He squinted at it, holding it up for better light. Effects experienced are based upon liquid quantity in relation to drinker’s size. Please base dose accordingly. “What do you suppose that means?” he began to ask, but was interrupted by a sudden burst of song by Eowyn Evenstar.
“Well the Scotsman a little later, he awoke to nature's call, and as he lifted up his kilt, what he got and what he saw... And in a strangled voice, he said, ‘I can't believe me eyes! Och, lad, I don't know where ye been, but I see ye took first prize!’”
“What?” Merry turned... and quickly turned back. He now knew what the label meant by effects according to size. Beyond that, he now knew it was a good thing he liked his clothes baggy. The effects clearly did not extend beyond the drinker in any way.
“My, Pippin, how you have grown!” cried Eo’star with a grin audible in her words. Ivy guffawed.
Sitting beside the pool, Pippin looked extremely smug as he examined his hands... then extremely shocked as his view went beyond them. He blushed and shifted, then screamed, leaping to his feet. He slipped on the puddle beside the pool and fell in with a tremendous splash. Frodo ran over and gave him a hand out, as well as his cloak, which was by far too small. “What happened?” asked Eo’star. “Why did you scream?”
Merry held up a small bloodied object fetched from the deck. “It would seen he was armed,” he said. Turning to Pippin, he added with a tone of deep sympathy, “And I thought splinters in the foot were painful.”
Roused from a nap, Quickbeam gazed lazily over the ship. “Ah,” she said tranquilly, “I see you drank the Ent draught.”
The prisoners had been shackled and driven in a single-file line all the way to The Grey Havens. Unable to find Phoenix, and thinking she had deserted, the Dim Lord had assigned Lady Galadriel and several orcs to oversee the column while he travelled at its head. Soon they arrived at The Grey Havens. The harbour had no warning of their coming, and was easily overtaken. Those who resisted were left in the emptied cellar of the inn or chained among the founders if suspected of founderism. The founders were set in a ring about the fountain, chains and tethers like the spokes on a wheel reaching from the one which held them to various trees and inanimate objects, holding them in a standing position. If one grew so tired as to drop to his or her knees, an orc would prod the hapless soul to her or his feet, or flog him... her ... whatever.
After they had stood in this fashion one full day, worn from their march, exhausted to the point of delirium (one was already singing Fozzy’s theme song, complete with throaty ‘whah-whahd-da-da-da’s) the Dim Lord approached them. He came at first before one section of the circle, frowned, and went to another side. Still not all could see him, so he went to yet another side. Finally he decided what he had to say would best be addressed to all if walked the circumference as he spoke.
A reporter from the News From Bree hurriedly transcribed, telling his cameraman to wait until the Dim Lord was in place to begin transmitting. A crowd of onlookers was gathering, unsure of which side to be promoting. The founders had fallen out of general favour recently. Everyone had read Orlando’s rejection of them, their secret and forbidden practices, their restrictions which no one had thought before to question. Yet for all this, they looked pitiable chained around the fountain, dirty, thirsty, cheeks burned by sun and sand. Tookie held up a young hobbit surnamesake who was about to pass out from lack of food. As discreetly as possible several founders searched for strips of cloth, headbands, ribbons and sashes to bind around their raw and at times bleeding wrists and ankles; padding against the manacles. Perhaps they were your average immortals after all...
“I suppose you know,” he said slowly, and the reporter signalled for the cameras to begin rolling, “why you are here?”
“No, not really,” murmured Fredegar, his voice quaking.
“Because you are a part of history... a part which is about to end,” said the Dim Lord. “Your tyranny, and yes, I say tyranny,” he turned to the camera, addressing the world, “for these people have stolen your future from you. In their grasping for power, they have prevented progress. They have shackled you to a past long obsolete. A world which was never meant to be. Now they use the very things which they have held beyond your grasp to overtake you. They have been cloning a mass of hobbits to be the menial workers of the world, eliminating the need for you. The proletariat is about to be sacrificed, done away with! They have no more need for you! Why else would they keep this operation a secret? My friends, you have been saved from ultimate annihilation.”
The onlookers began to scream their rage. Death to the Founders! they chanted wildly. The Dim Lord smiled and nodded at the reporter, then at his two top assistants, Shelly and Lady Galadriel. Their faces were as expressionless as if they had been playing a hand of poker. An orc, yes, the bridge orc, sidled up to Diamond Took as the Dim Lord spoke. “Do you like being a hobbit?” he whispered.
“Not at the moment,” she said, tears in her eyes.
“Oh,” his face fell. “But it is more or less good, isn’t it?”
A smile flickered across her face. “Yes, it can be...”
“That isn’t true!” Arwen cried out as the noise level dropped again. “The hobbits were created ... well, merely for the sake of being created.”
The Dim Lord shook his head, frowning theatrically. “You see?” he said to the crowds. “They deny, they lie, they play your minds like fiddles. Your lives are built on lies. Their lies. In the crowded world in which we live, why make a new race merely for the sake of making it? No one climbs the mountain because it is there any longer. Nor do they do work... particularly these people who have lived by your sweat ... without purpose.”
“But... but... everyone loves hobbits!” cried Angelica Baggins despairingly.
The man speaking ignored her. “Now, I am not saying that we should not show mercy...” he said.
“No!” cried the onlookers. “Give us justice! Down with the hobbits, and death to the founders!”
“You have been liberated,” he said with mock forbearance. “Are you sure their actions against you warrant revenge?”
“Yes!” was the overwhelming response.
With a show of reluctance, their new leader brought his hands together over his breast, nodding slowly. “If it is the will of the people, it will be done. Even so, we cannot torture them overmuch. Let it be quick. Bring me the first prisoner,” he commanded, pointing randomly at the group.
His long finger settled firmly at Angel. She gasped, and the prisoners on either side of her attempted to guard her by stepping in front of her. Shelly approached slowly with the keys, and unlocked the chains which bound the founder she had captured. When Angel was released, she layed a hand on her shoulder and steered her toward the open courtyard. The crowds parted, chanting and cheering in their bloodlust, as Shelly leaned in toward Angel and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
So It Begins... To End.
The clock atop a tower began to chime. The bells knelled heavily through the air, then all fell silent. Shelly drew her sword, and the ring of its leaving the sheath could be heard clearly. Angel closed her eyes, cringing against the blow she knew must come. And come it did, but not to her. Her eyes flew open again as she heard a shriek beside her. The guard gurgled, and collapsed.
“What...?” she gasped, leaping back as the body fell.
“I thought you looked like you could use a friend,” Shelly said with a grin. Before the crowd could grasp what was happening, she took Angel by the elbow and they dived through a break in the pressing bodies.
Chaos, once more, broke out. Cries of triumph and outrage mingled as on both sides fervour and excitement began to override all rational thought. The Dim Lord had to hold up a hand to stop the surging crowds. It is not that he would have minded the Founders and Hobbits hacked to pieces before his eyes, but in the midst of such a mob as this it was quite likely he would be, too. “Patience!” he bellowed.
“Since when,” came a rasp from behind him, “did you ever have that?”
The Dim Lord spun. There, leaning heavily on a walker, his feet in fluffy slippers, was the grizzled Gandalf. “You!” he spat. “I should have expected as much. You always come when neither wanted nor needed; a meddler. How did you come to be here?”
“I really don’t know,” said Gandalf cheerfully. “Seeing you with a body again has completely driven it from my mind. Tell me, Saruman, where did you find it?”
Saruman glowered. “It took ages for me to reform it. No thanks to you, and your rabble of dim-witted hobbits.”
“That was not nice,” said a voice from atop the fountain, and a half-eaten apple was pelted in Saruman’s direction. The stunned onlookers followed the voice with their eyes, and saw possibly the strangest sight of their lives. There, perched just beyond the flow of water, was a six-foot-tall male hobbit, wearing a gown of rose-coloured chiffon. He stuck his tongue out at Saruman and reached for another apple core, while his companion (perhaps a foot shorter, clad in tight but average hobbit clothing) vocally recreated the trumpets of Howard Shore’s The White Tree.
(It may be worth noting, for the curious and those with the memory span to recall that they came on a ship full of elves, that the elves did not abandon them. Completely. They are currently anchored in the harbour of The Grey Havens, having been forbidden to set foot on the soils of New Middle-earth by the Valar, for fear that they would yet again taint the nasty sludge-pile known as human bloodlines with their purity. And so they nap below decks, but not until after lathering their salt-battered skin with avocado paste and thistle cremes. Eternal youth is a pain at times, they all agree.)
Saruman, as he was now revealed to be, chose to ignore their personal insults. “So. You make it to Valinor, and this is what they send back? A doddering old fool and a pair of oversized garden gnomes with as much wool in their heads as there is on their feet?”
“Well, and a few vibrant young women, and the greatest hobbit to ever be recreated,” piped Xara, running up to him and flicking a switch upon her new recorder. “This is only my second chance to interview one of the istari, so forgive me if I take the initiative.” She cleared her throat. “This is Xara J., Editor-in-Chief of the i Nili o i Ardanole Newsletter, reporting. I am here today with the traitor Saruman, who has just been caught in the act of trying to take over Middle-earth once again. Tell me, what possessed you to do such a thing in the first place? Have you ever considered that laundering might help your cause? Why are you so down on hobbits?”
Saruman was growing redder by the moment, the rage spotting his pasty skin nastily. “ENOUGH!” he roared. “I am not going to let my plans be ruined due to your interruption! There is nothing you can do against me, not any longer!”
“What about shorter?” asked Frodo with an innocent smile.
That was as much as The Dim Lord could take. Being talked down by these creatures who hadn’t so much as lent him a leaf in the past five-thousand-plus years was irksome to say the very least. When he raised his infamous white hand again, it was to signal for his orcs to begin what they had been ordered to do in the worst case scenario. The masses also took this as a call to action, and they leapt forward.
With a sudden, startling clarity the hobbits realised that their plan was not so foolproof as they had thought.
Hobbit and founder alike watched, petrified, mortified, as a living tidal wave bore down upon them. Frodo trembled, taking Xara’s hand. “I’m glad you’re here with me, Xara, here at the end of all things...”
Xara’s eyes widened, and she hit the record button again, holding the machine up to his mouth. “Would you mind repeating that?”
But there was no time. Down came the haphazard army of stinking orcs and sweating sailors, wronged hausfraus and disgruntled gardeners, overworked architects and former elves, without regards to potential perfect moments.
Saruman’s eyes glinted. “This time there can be no escape.”
With a derisive snort, Gandalf glanced at the nearing crowds, back to Saruman, and then up at the flawless seaport skies. “Three... hundred... thousand ... something or others of men I have hobbled this Earth, and now...” he murmured. Then his face set. “What we need,” he said, slamming his walker down into the cobble stones with frustration. “Is time.” There was a tremendous crash...
... and Time stopped to regard him.
In A Moment.
A single moment in the realm of New Middle-earth became a massive, three-dimensional screen-capture.
Saruman was giving the scene before him a glance of intertwined disapproval and glee. It wasn’t the clean end his dignity had hoped for, but it was enough. The slightly crossed look of his eyes could have been due to scheming, or to the fly which held as still in this eon-like moment as it would had it been made of oiled glass and obsidian, perched impenitently on the tip of Saruman’s lengthy nose. He held his staff upright, aimed directly at the ent, Quickbeam. He was quite certain his minions could eliminate the founder and hobbit rabble. An ent was another matter, a matter he had decided he alone could solve.
Xara’s petrified hand still held a recorder to Frodo’s lips as he blushed. He had been caught mid-sentence as he softly repeated what he had earlier said at her request. Despite the fact that death was only a few minutes of normal time away, Xara was grinning from ear to ear as she stared unblinkingly into his fabulous, trademark-able eyes.
Pippin’s gauzy layers frilled up about his furry calves as he leaped, his hands holding down the skirts. It was a Marilyn Monroe moment to near perfection, had anyone been able to see this instant, normally too fast to recognise, at all.
Merry would have been the most likely to lambaste him on it, but even could he see, he would have been distracted from the timeless, nonsensical beauty of it. His gaze was held, rather, by what appeared to be himself in feminine walking along the outskirts of the crowd with a basket of carrots under one arm. No, it was not the near double, the twin sister, the sudden embodiment of a founder’s alter-ego which diverted his attention. It was the carrots.
Merry’s old friend, and brother to his fictional wife, Fredegar Bolger, had fainted amid his shackles out of exhaustion, starvation, and fear. No ordinary hobbit could have taken it so long. Or so he had decided as he rolled up his eyes and attempted to swoon. Time had not agreed, however, and was keeping him for the moment on his feet.
On the opposite side of the fountain, Diamond Took and Di the founder stood cringing in their chains as an orc before them held a raised battleaxe and took careful aim.
Angel and Shelly had fallen beneath the surging crowds, and were both now frozen in their midst, hands raised to cover their heads as the probability of trampling descended. Angel had even flexed her wings over them as a sort of canopy, a deterrent for the wayward foot, but they would not protect them for long.
The people of the Grey Havens were frozen in various stages of their charge. Some defied gravity as they leaped down the sloping streets, others looked like gristly Roman statues as they glared at those who had supposedly wronged them. Here and there could be seen those who did not fall under the sway of Saruman’s words, standing agog or with heads stilled mid-shake. It made little difference, though. They were few, far between, and all but those in the back of the crowd were likely to be trampled if they did not move with the masses when the time came.
Eo’star, until that moment hidden behind a small courtyard wall, was also in flight. She had one hand upon it and her legs were swinging over the top. At first glance, it appeared she would make it. But the hand of a blacksmith had seized her hair, and had time continued, it is likely her head would be bashed against the wall she was surmounting.
Arwen, Prancie, Cerridwen and Eldarwen had turned away from their thoughts of doom toward a more immediate problem. Between them they attempted to extricate Poogie from her sodden and knotted cloak, as she had somehow managed to fall into the fountain. Beads of vapour danced around the falls, rainbow etched tears.
Captain Ivy had found her childhood friends Spacey and Samantha wedged between All Things Radio’s Mixman, and founder Fan. She knelt before an enraged and ranting Samantha, trying to pick at the locks, while a distraught and slightly deranged Spacey clung to a worn stuffed goat for comfort. Nearby Smeagol had cast herself to the ground, grovelling and writhing at an orc guard’s feet.
The News From Bree reporter was stilled mid-caper, hands wrapped around the camera hood as if about to kiss the lens. The cameraman had his teeth sunk into an apple as he watched his superior with amusement, little droplets of juice suspended between his chin and shirtfront.
Morrigan, Anduwen, and Tookie were shacked together beneath the most infamous engraving on the fountain. Anduwen had been making a soft but wry comment to the other two about the ancestry of individuals among their captors, but had been overheard by a guard. He now stood before them on one foot as he prepared to kick the culprit quiet, uncertain as to who it had been.
The original captain of the Horizon had no idea that any of this was going on. He and a random sailor who had been incarcerated for tavern brawling were in the midst of escaping, stepping out of a small stone cell and leaving an unconscious jailer on the inside.
In his trailer Orlando Bloom primped himself, ready to make an appearance as soon as he was summoned. Like the elves aboard the ship which tread the little waves of the docks, Orlando reclined peacefully, knowing that even though he was probably needed, he could stay here for some time without interruption.
Sauron was made to pause in His formless flight of thought, pondering why Saruman had been able to take shape again while He was restricted to riding random air currents. He had just encountered the atomised Phoenix, and the meeting of the two created a flash of lightning over the waters. Great, Sauron was thinking at the time of Gandalf’s proclamation. Rain. Just what I –
Standing on the wall which surrounded the white lighthouse tower stood, against all odds of reality, Faramir and Eowyn. They gazed out over the scene with their hands clasped, blue cloaks about them, as a inert strand of Eowyn’s hair blew in the wind and played beneath Faramir’s nose, threatening to kittle him into sneezing.
Lady Galadriel, apparently unaffected by the strange paralysing phenomenon, stepped over to Xara and tapped her nose sharply. “You ignored my letter,” she scolded. “You were supposed to go to the Ered Luin laboratory. Now the balance may be upset. I should have known not to count on humans.” She cautiously slipped Saruman’s staff out of his grip and nodded to Gandalf. “Good luck,” she murmured.
Gandalf nodded to her. As he walked away from the melee he stood straighter, and eventually cast aside his prop altogether. His back uncurved and his gaze lifted. He cast aside his multicoloured cloak, and beneath it was a simple cloak of faded grey. Like him, the world lost colour as he meandered through it. Beyond the crowds, beyond the first rows of leaning buildings a mist began to form. The flowers budding in windowsills and along the hedges faded into silvers and white. At last the fog became complete, with only a shimmer of indigo mountains still visible in the direction of the Ered Luin. Gandalf drifted away from them and into the unwritten void...
The writer sat at her computer, time moving too fast altogether. Deadlines, dying characters. Och, just finish it! No, no, must give it full attention. It’s my own, my precious. But there is no time...
She chuckled at the irony that having no time could mean two so diverse things. What is Gandalf up to? Trying to convince the readers all is not lost, probably. Ah well, they could use a bit of hope. Most of them are personified among those characters chained to the fountain. About to die.
The writer started as someone tapped on her shoulder. “In a minute,” she said, turning up the volume on the music. One more hour, give me one more hour... That’s all I need...
The tapping was replaced by an oddly hoarse cough and a polite “Excuse me...”
A glance in the mirror behind the computer monitor proved that hand did not belong to anyone who should be in the house, or at all, for that matter. She leaned forward so the pane would take in a wider view. Then she did a double take, pivoted around, and screamed. Grabbing up her glass water jug, and managing to spill the contents on herself without losing a drop to the rug, she held it up menacingly. With a flick of her other hand she removed the headset which was tangling around her throat like a garotte. “Take one step closer and I’ll scream, I swear I will.”
“I do not doubt it,” Gandalf replied calmly, “as you already have done so. And so I will sit down, if it will ease your mind. We have a few things to discuss. Care for a toffee?”
“Er, no thank you,” said the writer, feeling faint. She sank back down into her chair, letting the pillows flop to the floor as they did every time someone sat down. A hand went to her temples and she blinked rapidly. “You’re not real.”
“Neither, my good woman, are you,” said the wizard cheerily. “When it comes down to it, can you prove your existence?”
“I suppose not,” she murmured weakly. Looking up, she met Gandalf’s pale blue gaze. “I’ve finally gone mad, haven’t I?”
“Not at all. That would be a vast improvement on your current state, as you would accept my presence. As it is, I must talk to you as though I am a figment of your imagination. What is to say you are not the figment of mine?”
“The fact that you came to seek me out, and not the other way around,” said the writer.
“Very astute! You show promise! Yes, I came to seek you out. Things have reached a point that, short of Eru, you are the only one who can change the course of fate. And so I have come to request your assistance in our plight.”
The writer shook her head. “I can’t. You’ve seen the state everything is in. Even if Saruman’s minions are vanquished, the casualties will be too great for the founders to continue on as they were. May as well make a clean break. All or nothing, let them stand against the hopelessness as one and fall together.”
“But then,” Gandalf said, his bushy brows lowering until his eyes were darkened, flickers of knowing in shadows of mystery; shrewd, “you would never be able to write a sequel.”
A wave began to dismiss the thought, but then the words sank in. “Never?”
“At least give them a chance, eh?” Gandalf said cordially, standing and brushing himself off.
The writer nodded. He smiled and shook her hand, then turned to the door. “Wait!” she called. He stopped and turned. “Could I have something... a scrap of your cloak, maybe, so I know you are real?”
“Ah, but that is impossible. Nor could I ask it of you. You see, we are naught but a dream which fades with the passage of time. Nothing lasts, but neither is anything impossible. It’s all here,” he tapped his head. Turning on his heel, he left.
Gandalf. That was Gandalf. Pff, he’s right. It is all in the head. I’m mad, and now I only have twenty-three minutes... Still... Gandalf... Pity he didn’t bring Frodo along.
Time began again with a bang which was Sauron and Phoenix colliding once more while trying to get out of each other’s way.
Lady Galadriel smiled, sensing that one way or another Gandalf had changed things. Always did, it seemed. She considered booking her next cruise with him, if he would bathe beforehand.
Orlando Bloom ran a comb through his lengthening hair, then stepped back to admire it in the looking glass.
The Captain of the Horizon and his cohort stepped out of the door of their prison, took one look at the charging mob, and promptly walked back in, locking the door after them.
Morrigan reached out and took the heel of the orc who tried to kick Anduwen. He fell upon his back, stunned. The three founders took that moment to scramble out of his way.
The News from Bree Reporter kissed the camera soundly, infuriating his camera man. The latter went into a diatribe about the bothers of cleaning a lens, and threw his half-eaten apple at the reporter. A brawl ensued even before the mob reached the founders.
Prancie, Cerridwen, Eldarwen and Arwen succeeded in disentangling the cloak from Poogie. Poogie took it up with frustration, and threw it. It landed upon the orc who stood over Smeagol, temporarily blinding him.
Impulsively flapping her wings, Angel startled herself by actually taking flight, taking Shelly with her above the raging crowds.
Ivy stepped back from her task, and slipped on water spilled from the fountain. She flailed her arms out, and one landed on Eo’star’s arm. Impulsively, she grabbed it. The momentum pulled Eo’star to the side, and the blacksmith down over the wall. They landed, unhurt beyond bruised bottoms and a small chunk of hair torn from Eo’star’s head.
The orc guard, yes, the bridge-orc guard, lowered his axe. It struck with a firm clank, and the chain between Di and Diamond Took fell away, cleanly severed. “G’bye, then,” he said, wandering away. “I’m going back to be a hobbit.”
Fredegar Bolger completed his faint.
Merry blinked. The apparition of a female him was gone, if even it had been there in the first place.
Pippin finished his leap, rolled, and landed beside Ivy and Eo’star. “Fancy seeing you here!” he piped. His voice was still shockingly high. He plunged his toothpick-sized sword into the bottom of the blacksmith, who ran off, howling. A shadow rose from beneath the wall and followed him until the threat was past.
Finishing his sentence, Frodo stopped and looked around. Saruman was staring directly at them, looking royally irked that his staff seemed to have suddenly gone missing. Frodo thought a silent plea to Elbereth, but nothing seemed to come of it. Instead Nienna wept for a story untold in his mind. Story? Saruman advanced. Frodo turned and smiled disarmingly at Xara. “Could I borrow this?” he said, gesturing toward the recorder.
“Oh, right. Of course, why not?”
He snatched up the recorder with a grin. Taking a flying leap, he brought it down on Saruman’s head. The old wizard crumbled, and Lady Galadriel ran in with a ball of fishnet twine. Frodo caught his breath, then returned to Xara. “I don’t think it’s broken,” he said, giving the recorder back to her. She did not bother even to glance at it. Her gaze lingered on Frodo. He began to blush under the admiring intensity of it.
“Really? Yes!?!” Xara looked thrilled.
“I don’t know. Yes what?”
“Oh! I suppose I only thought it. I was going to ask if you would marry me.”
Frodo stepped onto the stone parapet of the fountain and wrapped his arms around Xara’s neck. For the two of them, time stopped once again as their lips met, parted, and met once more. That is, until Merry scooped up a cloak full of water and splashed it over them. They blinked and grinned at one another. “Er, yes,” said Frodo, his cheeks bordering on crimson.
“Wazooo! We didn’t miss the action!”
Prongsie, Paddy, V.G., Viggo, Sam and Paddy’s troll charged in. Four wielded swords, and with the aid of the troll they cut quickly through the remaining guards. Those they did not take were overtaken by the founders who had been captive, now using their chains as both weapons and bonds for their captors. Prongsie, on the other hand, held a silk ribbon like a leash, and on it was...
The charging masses stopped and began to murmur amongst themselves. This could not be... could it? An elf? THE elf? The men fell back, muttering. The older women stared and shook their heads.
The teenagers let out a cry and ran as one. Prongsie quickly dropped the leash and ran to her friends. She grinned as she did so, and murmured, “I hope they don’t pull off the wig...”
During the confusion, Merry began to treat those wounded with his gift from Valinor. It hadn’t dawned on him until now that there could be anything more useful than intoxicants. Now he didn’t even think of them.
“What happened to Gandalf?” Xara asked suddenly.
“Does it matter?” replied Frodo.
Xara giggled and turned back to him. “No.”
Epilogue: And Lo!
One year later.
The reception slowly began to disburse. The streets of Hobbiton were thick with the petals of roses and primulas, sending up their sweet sent as the carriage rolled up and beyond the Hill, eventually to some distant land beyond. The stars had begun to twinkle faintly on the horizon. Someone pointed out the glittering of the Evenstar, and murmured that it portended good fortune, and eternal love.
“Assuming he can get used to walking in those platform shoes,” another guest replied glibly, receiving an immediate nudge in the ribs from her companion.
“A hobbit and a human, who would have thought?” asked Angel.
“I beg your pardon!” cried Pippin.
“You don’t count,” said Paddy. “You’re practically a giant.”
“Well, in that case, I beg your pardon,” replied Merry, wrapping his arms around Ivy. As maid of honour, she had come clad in a dress which she had not worn since it had been given it to her. The skirt was plaid, seafoam and rich green, the stockings matching. The blouse was also pale seafoam, tighter now around the middle than it had been when first she wore it, try as she might to conceal it. All were from the looms of Vairë. “You didn’t wear your eyeliner,” Merry commented to her.
“I gave it to Frodo,” she replied, cocking her hat. “A wedding gift.”
Merry chortled, and Pippin joined in.
“I wonder why Prongsie didn’t come,” said VG. “She promised to be here.”
“She has been penned up in that lab for months,” said Fan. “What do you think? Is she trying to tweak Legolas until he grows his own hair?”
“The mohawk doesn’t look half-bad any more,” said Shelly charitably.
“Sorry I’m late!”
“Speak of the balrog!” cried Paddy.
“Where are they?” Prongsie panted as she rounded the corner.
“Xara and Frodo? They left already.”
“Damn!” Prongsie began to swear violently. “I had something for them. Now it’ll have to wait until they get back.”
But the guests, founder and hobbit alike, would not let her leave it at that. They pestered her for near an hour, before another figure wandered out of the darkness and interrupted the debate. Eo’star screamed and fainted. Ivy and Merry clutched at each other. Paddy gaped, her mouth working violently as words refused to form. The troll grinned and gestured toward his back with a warted hand. “Pony-ride?” he grunted happily.
“No, no thank you, good sir,” the figure replied with a sweeping bow. “Not at the moment. For now I have come to see where my fair companion has... ah, there you are, Prongsie! Grand evening, is it not?”
“It is not,” she replied to herself. “It’s nippy, and we should be indoors before a chill sets in.”
“Oh, hush,” said the first again.
“You know that locket?” Prongsie said with a grin. “It included a memory chip and a genetic sample.”
“Speaking of which, I would be most pleased if you would return it to me,” said the cloaked figure.
“PERIAN!” Ivy screamed.
Perian started, recoiling. Soon she was smothered with embraces and welcomes, damp with tears not her own. Slowly she extracted herself and slipped away. “Now a chill is even more likely,” she said to herself. “But it matters not.” Absently bantering herself, singing snatches of song, she wandered away from the crowd and sat down beside the party tree.
“Hullo,” said someone beside her.
“Oh, I beg your pardon, surrah,” Perian apologised. “I knew not that this tree was inhabited.”
“Oh, you can sit there if ye like. I don’ mind.”
“Thank you, kindly. What is your name?”
“I don’t have one, yet. I haven’t been a hobbit long. You see, I was once an orc.”
Back at the field the founders shook their heads with wonderment. “It would seem,” said one, “that everything is back to normal.”
“Whether that is good or not,” replied Gandalf, “remains to be seen.”