In Which Resolution Is Found For Some And Home Is Found For Others
Bilbo blinked in surprise. "Me? Tell all of you the end of the story?" he asked. "Why, don't you know it already?"
Eyes, both rotoscoped and live-action, flickered back and forth. Finally, Mr. Underhill stepped forward. "I don't think any of us know the end, sir," he said. "We — that is to say, my group certainly has no idea, and I don't think they do, either," he finished, gesturing vaguely towards where Aragorn sat with Merry and Pippin.
"We were in the middle of the story ourselves when we were summoned here," Aragorn confirmed.
"Well," said Bilbo. "Well, well, well, you have got yourselves a problem, haven't you."
"It is driving us mad," Bigwig said softly. "Some of us, like poor Greenleaf, are almost completely gone, but even the staunchest of us will not hold out forever. Please, you must help us. I do not wish to watch my companions and friends descend completely into the chaos of our non-ending."
"Peace, friend," Bilbo said. "I have no intention of denying you your ending. Goodness knows, you've been waiting for it since, what? 1978, was it?"
"Yes, 1978, that accursed year."
"Well, then, you've been more than patient, and you shall have the ending you deserve," Bilbo declared. "But what of the others? What of Frodo and his party? They will live the whole story before this year is out, and I cannot spoil it for them now."
"It would seem to me," Aragorn said slowly, "that we have fulfilled our purpose here. We have made it possible for you to have your ending. I would ask that we be returned to our own world now, that we may continue with our story in its proper fashion."
"Right you are," Mithrandir said. "However, I do see one problem."
"What may that be?" Gandalf asked.
Mithrandir stroked his thick white beard in thought. "You are here now," he said. "But when I Summoned you, you had just come off of Caradhras. If I were to return you now, you would find yourselves once again in the gardens of Rivendell, and you would have to make your journey all over again. I would not inflict that upon you. Yet you cannot pass over our country without a guide, and there are none of my Company whom I would spare."
"We would not ask for such a sacrifice," Gandalf said. "But perhaps I can be of some help. I am, after all, still a Wizard here, and in my own world my power is that much greater. You, Mithrandir, could perform the spell of Returning from this garden. As soon as we are freed from the bonds of this world, I shall begin a spell of Traveling and thus return us through geography to our starting point."
"Yes," Mithrandir said slowly. "That would work. The timing of the two spells is delicate, and the utmost care must be taken so that you do not end up caught forever between worlds, but it is certainly possible."
Gandalf smiled. "I trust we would all be willing to bear the risk," he said, glancing back at his companions. All of the live-action Fellowship nodded.
"We must bear the risk," Aragorn said. "For if we do not, the alternative is to remain here in this world where we do not belong, and to me that seems the worse fate."
"Then it is decided," Gandalf declared. "Mithrandir will send us between worlds, and I will guide us to the gates of our Moria. But there is one last matter that must be settled ere we depart."
"Please, what matter is that?" Little Sam asked, bouncing up and down in his impatience to hear Bilbo's story.
"The Rings," Gandalf said. "They must be returned to their respective Bearers ere we part company."
"Now that could get tricky," Little Sam said. "Considerin' what happened the last time those orrible Rings got too close to each other."
"I think it could be done, though," Merry said thoughtfully. "Seems to me that the Rings don't set off that — what was it you called it?"
"Psychedelic aura," Mithrandir supplied.
"Right, that aura thing. They don't set it off unless they're about arm's length apart." Merry considered the problem. "So all we need to do is make sure the Rings are never close to each other. Now, if you stood over here," he said, tugging at Gandalf's sleeve, "and if Mithrandir stood at the other edge of the glade, Frodo and Mr. Underhill could get their Rings without ever having to get near each other."
"They would have to keep well apart afterwards," Mithrandir said, "but I believe this plan will work." The two wizards walked to the farthest corners of the little glade, and the rest of the Companies and Bilbo cleared out a berth between them. Frodo walked over to Mr. Underhill and held out his hand.
"I won't get a chance to say good-bye to you after we receive our Rings," he said. "So whatever we have to say, we should say it now."
Mr. Underhill looked solemnly at Frodo and took his hand. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for agreeing to help us. It wasn't at all very polite of us, the way we came and Summoned you, without your say in the matter, but we were desperate. Thank you for seeing through that and for helping us all the same."
Frodo smiled. The two Hobbits clasped hands, then walked to the Wizards. Gandalf returned the rotoscoped Ring to Mr. Underhill, and Frodo received the live-action Ring from Mithrandir. Carefully, the Ring-bearers circled the perimeter of the glade, prudently keeping their distance from each other. Their respective Fellowships said their good-byes and clustered around them.
Mithrandir raised his arms dramatically. Gandalf rolled his eyes, but said nothing. Mithrandr began to chant. The words, thin and ethereal, floated away as soon as they were spoken, although several of Frodo's companions would swear later on that they had heard brand names from the 1970s among them. A rainbow-colored mist rose around them, and a wind picked up and began to howl. The last thing they saw was Greenleaf, shining through the mists, waving his arms and shrieking incoherently with joy before being tackled by Bigwig.
Now the voice of Gandalf took over from that of Mithrandir, chanting low and strong in a language that sounded vaguely Welsh but probably wasn't. Their bodies jerked forward and back, tumbled, rolled, slid, and came to rest in a snowbank halfway up a mountain.
Legolas poked his head up and looked around. "We are once again on Caradhras," he announced.
Gimli shook snow from his beard. "We should leave, then," he said. "I seem to remember that Caradhras did not appreciate our presence overmuch."
Slowly the Fellowship of the Ring picked themselves up and took inventory of clothes, gear, weapons and body parts. Everything seemed to be in order. They formed a ragged line and headed down the mountain again. They walked in silence, each digesting the experience they had just had.
"Well," Pippin said after a while. "That'll be something to put in old Bilbo's book."
"I'm glad he has them," Frodo said. "He always did love to tell the stories of his adventures, and they'll be the best audience he ever had."
Gandalf smiled. "Indeed. Come, my friends, hurry along. We must get off the mountain before dusk so that we may reach the next stage of our journey. With skill and luck, we will find the endings to our own tales along our way."
Many thanks to all who have read and enjoyed this story. I enjoyed Artemis's suggestion that the United Companies embark upon a quest "fraught with peril, danger and bad animation," and had it been a year from now with "Return Of The King" safely leaving the theaters, I might well have done just that. There are indeed so many more fascinating avenues to explore in this theme — I'm thinking in particular of the Coincidence of the Gollums — but as my great-grandmother used to say, the best time to leave a party is when you're having the most fun.
The offer for a list of credits and references is still open, however, and if anyone was confused, now is the time to ask.
The response to this story has given me new food for thought regarding this website. There will be further experimentation, I think. In the meantime, this story isn't going anywhere, so, as the saying goes: "If you like it, tell your friends; if you don't, tell your enemies."