Disclaimers: As of this moment, I do not own LotR. However, as soon as I've prevailed in my lawsuit against Kellogg Company concerning the rights to the brand-name "Eggo Waffles", I'm suing Tolkien Estates for plagiarism. We'll see who owns LotR then!
A/n: Goodness! One hundred and one reviews! That's 33.6666666666666666666666667 reviews per chapter—which, oddly enough, is approximately the same figure as Bush's current approval rating. How coincidentical.
Collectively speaking, war councils are not social functions known for exclusive catering, relaxing ambience, and sparkling dinnertime wit. In fact, on grand spectrum of Socially Uncomfortable Situations, "war councils" are officially ranked at #2, just after the Spanish Inquisition and just ahead of wedding receptions. This being said, it was radically understandable that tensions were running somewhat taut at the Council of Elessar, especially given the disturbing lack of strong drink on Faramir's terrace—a fact which was only highlighted by the fact that Elladan and Elrohir had just embarked upon a lively rendition of "99 Bottles of Dorwinion On The Wall".
"99 Bottles of Dorwinion on the Wall!
99 Bottles of Dorwinion!
Take one down and pass it around,
98 Bottles of Dorwinion on the Wall!
98 Bottles of Dorwinion on the Wall!
98 Bottles of Dorwinion!
Take one down and—"
"If you two peredhil don't stop singing that infernal song, I'm going to take you both down and pass you straight into bloody Mandos!" snapped Faramir testily.
Elrohir paused in his singing long enough to stick out his tongue at the Steward. "You're not the boss of us! You can't tell us what to do!"
"You're on my sodding terrace and you'll do what I sodding well tell you!"
"I would listen to him, lads," put in Boromir's ghost grimly. "I once saw someone at Henneth Annûn backtalk Faramir before he'd had his second cup of coffee, and Faramir ripped his head off with his bare hands!"
The singing stopped abruptly.
Faramir looked wonderingly at his erstwhile sibling, hovering smugly above the chair next to his. "At the risk of sounding completely asinine, do you have any idea how much I've missed having you around?"
"I'm touched, little brother, that you're handling your grief at my passing so well that it's already labeled an 'asinine' matter," said Boromir huffily. "But you ought not to miss me. I'm here a lot, you know—invisibly, of course."
Faramir's eyes widened. "What?"
Boromir shrugged. "Footspas all told, Faramir, the afterlife's a bit dull—especially when you have to listen to Father and Théoden argue all day about whether Théodred or I died the more honorable death, which is a bit embarrassing for the both of us in some horribly macabre way. It's more interesting here in Ithilien."
"Whatever do you do while you're here?"
"Oh, different things," replied Boromir airily. "I look at books or maps in your study, if you're kind enough to leave them lying open, but mostly I like to watch Éowyn browbeat you. It's terribly entertaining."
"Well, I'm glad someone enjoys it," muttered Faramir.
"I also like to visit your kitchen in the middle of the night," Boromir went on, "and blow your freezer door open."
"That was you?" cried Faramir indignantly. "Are you aware that every time Éowyn comes downstairs in the morning and finds the freezer open, she thinks that I've been down for a midnight snack and won't let me have any ice cream for a week?"
Before Boromir had time to reply to this highly sensitive question and possibly prompt his younger brother to defy the parameters of dimension and mortality out of sheer determination to inflict physical harm on Boromir as a result of his answer, Aragorn, who had called a brief recess in the council proceedings while he took a bathroom break, reappeared on the terrace. "Well, I'm back," he said, somewhat unnecessarily. "Incidentally, Faramir, you're the only man I know who has framed Thomas Kincade prints hanging in his outhouse."
Faramir closed his eyes as if in pain. "Please, don't speak of it."
"Oh—Éowyn again? Very well," said Aragorn. "Let's continue. Who's next?"
Alatar cleared his throat tentatively. "I am." Unraveling his slip of paper with trembling, knotted hands, he then squinted, frowned, lifted the paper closer to his eyes, and said, "I'm afraid there's nothing written on this. It's blank."
"Blank?" gasped Aragorn.
"Blank," affirmed the Blue Wizard.
The Dúnadan rose to his feet and looked around at the seated Council members accusingly. "Alright, who didn't write a suggestion? Out with it!"
The others stared back at him blankly. "Maybe it was Pip," suggested Merry. "He's not exactly cognizant at the moment."
"Mine is blank, too," said Legolas.
"It wasn't your turn," snapped Aragorn.
"But that means there are two blank slips," persisted Legolas. "And only one of them is Pippin's. Which means that someone else here didn't fill out their paper."
There was a lengthy silence. Finally, Boromir sighed. "I couldn't pick up the bloody pencil."
"What?" exclaimed Aragorn.
"I couldn't pick it up. My fingers kept going through it. Eventually I decided that it wasn't worth the bother." Boromir shrugged. "It doesn't matter, anyway. Everyone at this Council is well-acquainted with my views on this topic, so there's hardly any point in going over them all again. It's like trying to teach gymnastics to a quadriplegic, explaining myself to you lot…" he added moodily.
"Well," said Aragorn superciliously, "if you haven't submitted a suggestion, you can't play the game. It isn't fair. I'm disqualifying you and taking all the points you've earned into the custody of the state."
Faramir blinked incredulously. "We're actually keeping score?"
"You can't disqualify me!" cried Boromir indignantly. "I'm was winning!"
"And now you're not," smirked Aragorn. "Such is life."
"In case you haven't noticed, you idiot, I'm not alive!"
"If you're transferring all of Boromir's points to state custody," put in Faramir, "does that mean that you get them all, or do I get some, too?"
"Don't go there, Faramir, or I'll leave your freezer open every night for a year," hissed Boromir, his mind reeling with all the impossible and unspeakably painful things he wanted to inflict upon Aragorn at that moment (the most impossible and unspeakably painful of which so completely transcend the ratings system that they would be impossible to print on this website, even if they were relevant to the progression of the story).
Faramir was surprisingly unmoved by his brother's threat. "Levitate a little to the left, Boromir," he said carelessly, "you're sitting through my iced tea. Who's next?"
Éomer peered at his paper. "I would create several identical copies of the fragments of the One Ring, placing each decoy in a separate container and strapping each container to the back of a wild stallion, each of which would be sent galloping away in the four cardinal directions. Rangers lying in wait at strategic locations would intercept the stallions and set off with the decoys in the direction of Minas Tirith, only to be overtaken by battalions of Orcs (who are really other Rangers in disguise), resulting in staged skirmishes and abductions. With any luck, these antics would so distract Sauron that he would completely fail to notice the real Ring, which would placed in a lead box and buried deep in the desert sands of Harad. And, if he did happen to notice… well, let's say that none of us would probably have any objection if he just descended on Harad and wiped it right off the map, Southron bastards."
"WHAT?" burst out Aragorn. "You can read?"
Éomer sneered. "I taught myself while you were in the bathroom."
Faramir chose to diplomatically intervene. "I guess King Elessar. And Sire, you really can't keep calling them 'Southron bastards'. It's not good for trade, and I happen to be excessively fond of coconuts."
Isildur's Heir appeared rounded on Faramir, affronted. "And who are you to tell me what I should or shouldn't call our trade associates?"
"Er… your Steward?"
"Hey, 'Ro!" interrupted Elladan, nudging his twin in the ribs. "Do you remember that one time when we hollowed out that coconut…"
"… and then we banged the two halves together and galloped around and around and around Imladris at three in the morning…"
"… until Erestor stumbled out of his room in his knickers and swore he'd smash our nuts with a mallet if we didn't shut the hell up?" Elladan paused. "I'm still not exactly sure in what context that statement was meant…"
"I don't remember that ever happening at Rivendell," declared Aragorn.
"Of course not, silly—you weren't there," said Elrohir dismissively. "When was this, 'Dan? Tuesday?"
"I think it was technically Wednesday."
"Can we get a move on, please?" cut in Gandalf irritably. "I'm rather keen on getting back to Valinor sometime in the next century, if that's at all possible."
Haldir read his slip. "Being intrigued by the curiously resilient metallic properties of the One Ring, I would be interested to observe its effects on the organic matter native to Ithilien. I suggest that the garden into which the fragments of the Ring were inadvertently scattered be isolated and converted into a research center, wherein dedicated geologists, botanists, and scientists of every description can observe and study this unique biological interplay."
"Well, it's that blue bloke, of course. Sweet Eru, you have a one-track mind," added Boromir to Alatar, eyeing him with some skepticism. "Though it might be interesting to see what Éowyn would do to Faramir if she woke up one morning to find her garden transformed into a research institute…"
"Shut up, Boromir, you're not playing anymore," said Aragorn.
"Just so that you know," growled Boromir, "I'm going to make your life a living hell for disqualifying me. If you thought those shades on the Paths of the Dead were nasty…"
"Tough words from a man who can't even pick up a pencil," snorted Aragorn.
"In a few minutes I'm going to pick up a pencil and shove it straight up—"
"I don't think Pippin's in any condition to read his paper, so I'll do it for him, shall I?" said Merry. "His says 'I think we should plant the One Ring on a beautiful beachfront property in the tropics with balmy breezes and a built-in wet bar—then maybe I'll get sent there instead of this pathetic second-rate backwater they call Middle-earth.'"
"Mithrandir," said Faramir.
"You know me all too well, my boy," sighed the Green Wizard. "Hurry up and read the last one, whoever's got it."
"Last but not least…" Merry frowned. "Well, actually, this might very well be the least… it says 'Damn it if I'm going to suggest anything unless I get some screentime in the movies.' What's that supposed to mean?" He turned to Imrahil. "I suppose you must have written it. Who are you, anyway?"
Imrahil drew himself up stiffly. "I am the Prince of Dol Amroth!"
"I also," Imrahil went on, ignoring the former query, "rescued Faramir from the battle of the Pelennor after he was cut down by a poisoned arrow."
"Oh." Merry's frown deepened. "Wasn't it Faramir's horse that did that? You don't look much like a horse."
Imrahil rolled his eyes and sighed crossly. "That's the point. I was replaced—by an equine, no less. How absurd is that? And they expect us to believe that Faramir could get shot twice with poisoned arrows and then get dragged on his head across the battlefield, not to mention the paved streets of Minas Tirith, and live to tell the tale—without so much as sustaining brain damage, I might add, unless the fact that he agreed to host this council on his terrace is evidence in that direction."
Faramir sighed. "I'm beginning to think you may have a point there…"
Haldir sniffled. "Count yourself lucky. Some of us got our fifteen minutes of fame on the silver screen only to be uncanonically killed off in an uncanonical fashion in an uncanonical setting. Do you have any idea the kind of identity issues that breeds? And I don't even get a footspa. My life—or whatever it is I'm currently leading—is unbearably tragic."
"Heartbreaking, I'm sure, but we're running a council here, not a group therapy session," interrupted Aragorn.
"I thought we decided it was a Boromir fan club meeting?" put in Boromir snidely.
"Now what? How are we going to decide which suggestion to follow?" inquired Faramir. "Does the person with the most points get to decide?"
"No," said the King, "we're going to have a vote."
"Then what was the point of all those bloody scores?" cried Faramir indignantly.
"The thrill of the chase, the thrill of the chase…" said Aragorn vaguely. "But letting whoever is clearly the best and cleverest make all the decisions isn't fair to the rest of us. We'll vote on it. Everyone pass their slips to the left, to me."
The others acquiesced hastily, beginning to see the light glimmering at the end of the tunnel. Soon, Aragorn had all the papers gathered in his hands and was sifting through them idly. "Well, let's do it like this: I'll read an option, and the rest of you raise your hands accordingly. Only one vote per person, and no cheating!" He selected a slip at random. "All in favor of visiting the Mines of Moria?"
Gimli raised his swarthy hand emphatically. His was the only one.
"Well, so much for that," shrugged Aragorn, crumpling the slip and tossing it carelessly over his shoulder. Faramir promptly dove into the flowerbed to evacuate the litter. "All in favor of filling Gimli's molars?"
No hands. "I've cooled a bit on that particular idea, to be quite honest," whispered Legolas to Haldir, eyeing Gimli's axe nervously.
"All in favor of placing plastic arachnidan artifacts under my pillow at ungodly hours?"
Two identical hands.
"All in favor of eradicating Harad?" The King glanced around shiftily, saw with displeasure that no one else seemed particularly keen on this course of action, and sighed. "Oh well, it was worth a try. All in favor of landscaping Faramir's backyard?"
A hand shot up from behind the hydrangeas.
"All in favor of converting Faramir's backyard into a research center?"
"All in favor of sending the One Ring to the beach?"
"All in favor of wallowing in self-pity for the next thirty minutes?"
Two hands. The much-maligned Haldir and Imrahil sniffed despondently.
"All in favor of getting drunk?"
Merry raised his hand and Pippin's. The twins looked rather as if they wished to change their votes.
"Well, we haven't got a solid majority in any case," said Aragorn. "We'll have to narrow the choices and vote again—"
"But you haven't read all the suggestions yet," interrupted Boromir.
Aragorn rolled his eyes and growled dangerously. "For the last time, Boromir—we're not using the Ring! How many times do I have to say it before it penetrates your thick, imbecilic skull? Honestly! You'd think the three arrows to the chest would have done the trick, but you're just as blockheadedly stubborn as ev—"
"That wasn't what I meant," said Boromir coldly. He swiveled in midair to face the others. "All in favor of ramming a broomstick up Aragorn's arse?"
There was a scant second of hesitation, and then twelve hands flew into the air in perfect unison. Boromir flashed a transparent but toothy grin at Aragorn, whose own skin had paled to a near-spectral hue. "The people have spoken," he said, the edges of the smile twisting into singularly wicked angles.
"I… but… you… I… Eru damn it, this is a monarchy!" cried Aragorn, taking a few defensive steps backward and wishing he'd brought the Tower Guard with him.
"Then you may consider this, dear Elessar," replied Boromir sweetly, "a coup d'état."
Aragorn gulped and took another step backward, colliding with the balustrade in the process and knocking over a potted fern. His eyes flickered frantically from Faramir to Legolas to Gimli to Gandalf, none of whom appeared particularly sympathetic to his plight, and then back to Boromir, whose expression was so infuriatingly smug that Aragorn would have been compelled, under less bizarre circumstances, to pound it straight into the floor. These were exceedingly bizarre circumstances, however, and, in addition to acknowledging the apparent futility of trying to beat up a ghost, Aragorn was loath to remove his rear from where it was pressed protectively against the railing.
"Obviously, I can't do the honors myself," said Boromir regretfully, gesturing with his incorporeal hands explanatorily.
"I'll do it," declared Gandalf the Green grimly.
"Hey, it was my idea!" protested Éomer.
"Well, maybe we'll all have a go," said Merry. "Faramir, where do you keep your brooms? Faramir?" Everyone turned to look at the lord of Emyn Arnen, who was not paying much attention to the proceedings, but standing in a pensive attitude, his chin resting in his left hand and his eyes fixed contemplatively on the flowerbed. "Faramir!"
His head snapped up. "Sorry—zoned out a bit there," he said, and then frowned. "I've been thinking."
"Oh, damn you and your thinking, Faramir!" reproached Boromir, irritated at the interruption. "Haven't I told you a hundred times that thinking is bad for you?"
Faramir ignored his brother, turning instead to Alatar. "You said before that matter couldn't be created or destroyed."
The Blue Wizard nodded enthusiastically. "I'm glad that someone was listening. It's one of the fundamental properties of—"
"You also said," Faramir went on, "that the Ring, though not destroyed, had been divided and changed—and that Sauron's spirit—his life force—had been changed and divided also. If Sauron's life force is tied to the Ring, then could we not destroy the Ring—or, at least, the power of the Ring," he amended, as Alatar opened his mouth to object, "if we terminated Sauron's life force?"
Alatar frowned. "I'm not sure if that quite makes sense, and it really is a rather roundabout way of looking at the matter…"
"What are you getting at, Faramir?" interrupted Boromir curtly.
"What I'm getting at," said Faramir, "is that I know where Sauron is."
There was a collective murmur of astonishment. His peril momentarily forgotten, Aragorn turned to face his Steward incredulously. "What? How… where…?"
"He has been divided and changed," said Faramir, "beyond all recognition. And he's taken on physical form—but I'm sure, I'm nearly positive…"
"He's taken on physical form?" said Boromir slowly. Then, his face lit up. "I knew it! I knew it!"
Faramir frowned. "Knew what?"
"Sauron is Aragorn!" announced Boromir triumphantly. "I knew the hideous stench was beyond the scope of a mere mortal man!" His elation suddenly fizzled. "But he smelled like that even before the Ring was thrown into Mount Doom," he mused sadly. "So I suppose I'm mistaken."
"Unfortunately, yes," said Faramir. "And Sauron hasn't just taken on one physical form. His spirit is divided. Altered. Changed." He looked meaningfully at Legolas. "Now do you see what I'm getting at?"
Legolas paled. "Oh, Eru…"
"What? What is it?" demanded Gimli.
Legolas gulped. "My harem…"
A/n: Okay, okay, so there's going to be a fifth chapter. But only a fifth chapter, and a short one at that, and then this story is finished, whether it likes it or not!
(ahem) Read and review, if you are so inclined…