Hi everyone :D I did promise there would be no more seven month hiatuses on the updating of this fic, so technically I didn't break my promise since it has taken me over a year to update this! I apologise for leaving everybody waiting for so long. It was again a lack of time and inspiration which caused the delay (not to mention working on my other WIPs).
I really appreciate all of the encouraging reviews I have received asking after this story and I sat down the other night determined to get this chapter finished once and for all. And here it is! I hope you enjoy it. For those also waiting on the next chapter of Dark Paths it will be posted as soon as possible, honest!
It was a cold night somewhere in the wilderness. Sam and Frodo were fast asleep huddled beneath their elven cloaks as they recovered from another monotonous day of monotony. Nearby Gollum muttered to himself in his sleep. Obviously none of them had ever heard of the concept of a rotating night watch.
"Stupid fanfic," rambled Gollum. "No updates… so slow… so very slow… not since last July… Only a parody… Can't be that hard to string a few buffet jokes together…"
The next moment he woke up with a start.
"Shhh, quiet!" he hissed to himself, glancing about in panic. "Mustn't wake them! Mustn't ruin it now! I can almost smell that Oscar!"
An apparently-not-sleeping Sam opened one eye.
"Quit it with the dramatic stage whispering, will you?" He sleepily adjusted his pack which was currently serving as a pillow. "Go and stupidly reveal your evil plan somewhere else. I need my beauty sleep."
Gollum folded his arms moodily.
"You don't need to tell me twice."
"I heard that!"
And so an insomniac Gollum left the ungrateful hobbits to their slumber and instead clambered down some rocks to the edge of a small pool bordered by a few stunted trees. He was still completely within earshot, but credulity be damned and all that. Once there he gazed down into the water and proceeded to start a friendly chat with his own reflection. Again with the confusion.
"What's it saying, my precious, my love?" sneered Gollum from the water. "Is Sméagol losing his nerve?"
Sméagol shook his head.
"No!" he insisted. "Not. Never! Sméagol hates nasty hobbitses! Sméagol wants to see them dead!"
"And we will," said Gollum. "Sméagol did it once - he can do it again."
Sméagol thought back to the inconclusive non-killing at the riverside with a frown.
"Yes," said Gollum. "Eventually, anyways. Turns out premeditated murder isn't the easiest thing to parody. Go figure. But returning to the precious…"
"It's ours!" insisted Sméagol. "Ours! We must get the precious! We must get It back!"
"Patience," said Gollum. "Patience, my love. You've got three more hours of this so you better get used to it. Not to mention the last four chapters from The Two Towers still to slog through…"
"When you think about it," huffed Sméagol, pushing loose stones around with his foot, "this film trilogy essentially boils down to about nine hours of people walking."
"With dramatic music."
"With dramatic music," Sméagol conceded. "Interspersed with random shots of Legolas looking clueless. But if Middle Earth had bothered to invest in some decent public transportation infrastructure this entire long-winded mess could have been avoided…"
"That's all well and good, but do you remember the plan?"
"We lead them to the winding stair," offered Sméagol.
"Yes, the stairs. And then?"
"We kill them!"
"No, there's actually another step before that..."
Sméagol nodded excitedly.
"We go down the stairs?"
"Up the stairs we go until we come to the tunnel. And then we kill them!"
"No." Gollum rubbed at his temples. "Not exactly. When they go in, there's no coming out. She's always hungry. She always needs to feed. She must eat. All she gets is filthy orcses."
"She? What's with the vague epithet? Why don't you just say the giant spi-"
"Shhhh!" hissed Gollum. "Watch it with the spoilers, will ya? Half of the audience hasn't even bothered to read the book." Nearby Sam was roused again from sleep. "She hungers for sweeter meats. Hobbit meat. A little hairy for my tastes, but still. And when she throws away the bones and empty clothes, then we will find It!"
Sméagol did not seem convinced.
"Presuming she hasn't swallowed the precious as well…"
"Please not to be pointing out the plotholes, kthanx." Gollum cleared his throat menacingly. "But yes, the precious will be ours once the hobbitses are dead!"
He lobbed a stone into the pool to punctuate these words, disturbing the surface of the water. His bulbous eyes widened when he saw Sam reflected over his shoulder.
"You treacherous little toad!"
The next moment there was an almighty clang as Sam whacked Gollum upside the head. Frodo woke up abruptly and rushed to break up the two as the fat hobbit pounded Gollum mercilessly with his frying pan like some kind of disgruntled housewife.
"No, Sam!" cried Frodo. "Leave him alone!"
He pulled Sam away, who was now wielding a misshapen piece of tupperware.
"I heard it from his own mouth," protested Sam. "He means to murder us!"
Frodo rolled his eyes.
"Never!" Gollum cried in alarm. "Sméagol wouldn't hurt a fly!" He put a hand to his forehead, realised he was bleeding, and then proceeded to scream like a banshee. "Do the words PG-13 mean nothing to you people?"
"You miserable little maggot!" yelled Sam. "I'll stove your head in!" They both shot him a confused look. He lamely lowered his frying pan. "I'll hit you a bunch more times."
But this would not do. Frodo grabbed Sam by the arm and yanked him away from his latest attempt at cold-blooded murder. Gollum screamed like a sissy and threw himself behind a nearby tree.
"Dude, take a chill pill," Frodo told him. "You scare him off, we're lost!"
"I don't care!" Sam yelled back. "I can't do it, Mr. Frodo! I won't wait around for him to kill us! Not for three hours!"
"I'm not sending him away!" said Frodo.
Sam shook his head.
"You don't see it, do you? He's a villain - an extremely sympathetic and popular villain with a hilarious borderline personality disorder, but still."
"We can't do this by ourselves, Sam. Not without a guide. Gandalf stole my bloody Sat Nav." Sam pulled out the puppy dog eyes at this venture. Frodo started to feel the guilt. "I need you on my side."
"I am on your side, Mr. Frodo." Sam thought about this. "Y'know, at least until the inevitable buddy cop movie routine in which we both argue and go our separate ways and then comes the clichéd bit with the saving-of-your-life and the soppy reunion and the reestablishment of the bromance…" He frowned as Frodo held out a consoling hand to a clearly unrepentant Gollum. "That is what we have, right? A bromance?"
Frodo raised an eyebrow.
"You watch way too many movies, Sam."
A restless Aragorn could not sleep. Instead he took up his pipe and wandered outside to stand upon the steps of the Golden Hall and gaze at the stars. There he found a dark figure, hooded and cloaked, who was serenely studying the glow of Mordor upon the distant horizon.
As he approached Legolas turned to the ranger and gave a massive grin.
"I'm a Jedi!"
Aragorn just yanked down the elf's hood with a scowl.
"Wrong trilogy, you dolt."
Back inside the Golden Hall the attendees of the post-Helm's Deep memorial disco were fitfully sleeping off the effects of Théoden's famous home brew - all except Pippin, that is, who was having disturbing nightmares involving Gimli and a skin-tight leotard. Needless to say, he was up and awake faster than you can say 'Oscar buzz'.
Pippin clambered over several sleeping Rohirrim and tiptoed across the chamber with all the finesse of Samwise Gamgee at a buffet. Needless to say he soon disturbed somebody sleeping nearby.
"What are you doing?"
Pippin spun around, startled. Merry was sitting upright beneath his blanket and staring at him accusingly.
"I'm stealing something, what does it look like?"
"And this sudden kleptomania comes from where?"
Pippin did not answer as he approached Gandalf's sleeping form. The poncy wizard was sleeping in the corner in the only bed, clutching a sword and a small grey bundle. Pippin got a serious case of the wiggins when he saw that the wizard's eyes were wide open.
"Sweet zombie Jesus!" he cried.
Merry rushed over in concern. He also yelped when he saw Gandalf's staring eyes.
"Is he dead?" said Merry.
Pippin bent down and waved a hand in front of the wizard's face. There was no reaction. Then he clicked his fingers a few times for good measure. Still nothing.
Merry swatted at his hand.
"Cut that out. Have you no respect for the dead?"
Pippin straightened and rummaged around in the pocket of his trousers.
"He's not dead, just sleeping."
Merry watched him as he pulled out a cellphone.
"What are you doing?"
Pippin ignored him, bending down and turning his phone around so that he could capture a snapshot of the sleeping wizard and his own grinning face looming over him.
Merry folded his arms disapprovingly.
"If he is dead you are so going to hell. Or whatever the Middle Earth equivalent of that place is anyways. Most of the mythology in The Silmarillion kinda went over my head..."
"So be it," said Pippin. And he put away his phone. Then for good measure he took a random jug from the floor and did his best Indiana Jones impression, surreptitiously switching it with the bundle tucked beneath Gandalf's right arm. Afterwards he scampered across the chamber and set the bundle carefully on the floor beside Merry's bed.
"Pippin," cried Merry, following after him. "Are you mad?"
"I just want to look at it!" he insisted. "Just one more time. It's so shiny…"
And Pippin unfurled the grey cloth. Inside the bundle was a shiny orb which Pippin had found in the floodwaters back at Isengard. It was apparently significant to the plot or something. Go figure.
"Put it back!" said Merry.
Pippin's eyes widened with delight as an orange glow stirred in the orb's surface. It was a palantír. His hands trembled as he lowered them onto the stone.
He did not answer him. The smile on Pippin's face quickly disappeared, however, as his hands clutched at the fiery palantír. The Lidless Eye appeared in its surface. Pippin began to shake uncontrollably with terror, attempting to pull away as a horrible voice erupted from its depths.
"Who for the love of Pete is calling me at this hour? This better not be another telemarketer, or I swear on all that is evil I will liquidate your eyeballs and boil your entrails, I will-"
Merry's eyes widened.
On the steps of the Golden Hall Legolas turned dramatically towards the camera in the manner of a chipmunk.
"He is here."
Aragorn gave a frown.
Pippin was freaking out something fierce as he struggled comically with the glowing palantír seemingly glued to his hands. The commotion soon woke up those sleeping nearby. Merry just sat there like a lemon and did nothing as Pippin fell to the floor in agony. Soon Gandalf jerked awake from sleep. The door to the chamber burst open and Aragorn rushed in with Legolas close on his heels.
"Oh thank Eru," he said breathlessly. "This is like the fourth room that we tried."
Merry finally found his voice and jabbed a finger at Pippin.
"Help him!" he cried. "Someone help him! It's stuck with superglue or something!"
And like the genius that he was Aragorn stooped down and took the fiery palantír from a writhing Pippin. He promptly bit back a curse and slumped to his knees, dropping the glowing orb and shaking his hands in obvious pain.
"Hot, hot, hot!"
Legolas knelt down beside him.
"It's alright, I know first aid!"
Aragorn glared at him.
"Stay the hell away from me."
The fiery palantír rolled away across the floor. Gandalf jumped out of bed and legged it across the chamber in his pinstriped pyjamas, grabbing a blanket and flinging it across the palantír. The cloth set ablaze with a start.
"Why does that always happen with these things?" said Gandalf exasperatedly.
Pippin, meanwhile, was lying zombified upon the chamber floor. The wizard rushed over to him, bending over to take up Pippin's hand. Pippin stared out at nothing. The wizard touched a gentle hand to his cheek and began to whisper soft words, channelling the inappropriately slashy vibes in the hope of reviving him. The others watched anxiously. Eventually Pippin's eyes fluttered open.
"Look at me," said Gandalf.
Pippin stirred weakly.
"Gandalf, forgive me."
His eyes began to close again. Gandalf shook him like a rag doll.
"Look at me," he repeated. "What did you see?"
"A tree," said Pippin dramatically. "There was a white tree in a courtyard of stone. It was dead." A convenient image of the White Tree flashed onto the screen. "The city was burning."
"Minas Tirith?" said Gandalf. "Is that what you saw?"
Pippin's expression slackened.
"Never mind. I forgot it had only been vaguely established up until now."
Pippin continued with the over-emoting: "I saw him," he said fearfully. "I could hear His voice in my head! He sounded pretty mad."
Gandalf's eyes flashed dangerously.
"And what did you tell Him? Speak!"
"Nothing, honestly!" said Pippin. "I think he thought I was a telemarketer…"
The wizard looked grave.
"It's much worse than I thought."
The next morning Gandalf called an emergency gathering in the Golden Hall to do away with a good chunk of the film's exposition. Aragorn, Théoden and Gimli were the only people brave enough to endure this torture; Legolas had also wandered in during his search for a working hairdryer. Most of those congregated were nursing painful hangovers as a result of their boozy antics the night before. A few sleeping revellers still sprawled in their bedclothes snoozed fitfully throughout the Hall. It looked to all intents and purposes as though a hurricane had hit the place. Limp multi-coloured streamers hung from the rafters, whilst empty beer bottles and shot glasses littered every surface. Théoden, still wearing his tin foil crown, was warily eying the desolation and silently calculating the clean-up bill.
"There was no lie in Pippin's eyes," Gandalf was saying wearily. "A fool, but an honest fool he remains."
Legolas rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. His wet hair was currently gathered up in a pink towel on the top of his head. In the corner of the room sat the two hobbits. One of them raised his hand rather awkwardly.
"Um, rude much? I'm sitting right here."
Everybody simply ignored him. Pippin bowed his head again.
"So yeah," Gandalf said. "Shit happens. Thankfully he didn't leak any spoilers to Sauron about Frodo or the Ring. We've been strangely fortunate. Pippin saw in the palantír a glimpse of the enemy's plan. Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith." A confused Legolas made to raise his own hand, but Gandalf cut him off: "Yes, Legolas, I'll explain it to you later. His defeat at Helm's Deep showed our enemy one thing - He knows the heir of Elendil has come forth. Men are not as weak as He supposed. There is courage still. Strength enough perhaps to challenge Him. Sauron fears this. He-"
Gandalf was interrupted by a loud squawk. The next moment a chicken fluttered down from its perch on the rafters and settled atop his head. The wizard's face fell.
"Okay. Can somebody please explain to me why there is a chicken on my head?"
"Don't ask me," said Aragorn. "I'm still trying to figure out why there is a tiger in the bathroom."
There was a faint roar from the distant corridor. Those gathered exchanged worried glances. Gandalf angrily swatted the chicken away.
"Returning to the exposition..." he said. "Sauron will not risk the peoples of Middle-Earth uniting under one banner. He will raze Minas Tirith to the ground before he sees a King return to the throne of Men. If the Beacons of Gondor are lit, Rohan must be ready for war, m'kay?"
Théoden boggled at him as he swept out an arm and gestured to the Hall.
"Ready for war?" he cried. "You lot and your partying have just single-handedly wiped out my retirement nest egg. Do you realise how much it is going to cost to clean up this place?"
Aragorn looked at him askance, a hand resting nobly against his chin.
"You live in a barn. It's not exactly that much of a difference."
"Then tell me," said Théoden in his bitchiest tone. "Why should we ride to the aid of those who did not come to ours, huh?"
"Beats me," said Gandalf. "But them thar's the way the script goes… there."
Théoden folded his arms in a huff.
"What do we owe Gondor?"
Aragorn stepped forward.
"I will go."
"No," said Gandalf.
Aragorn shrugged and stepped back into place again.
"You don't have to tell me twice."
"You must come to Minas Tirith by another road," Gandalf insisted. "Follow the river and look to the Black ships."
"Gandalf, I hardly think this is the time to be going on a cruise…"
Gandalf turned and looked around at those gathered. Then he sighed in realisation.
"Understand this," he said. "Things are now in motion that cannot be undone. I ride for Minas Tirith…" Legolas raised his hand again. "And I won't be going alone."
Merry was stomping off in the direction of the stables after Gandalf so quickly Pippin could barely keep up with him. The hobbit had been inexplicably mad with his cousin all morning and Pippin hadn't the foggiest idea why. Pippin simply stumbled after him down the steps leading from the Golden Hall, distractedly scrolling through outdated internet memes on his Blackberry as he went.
"Where are we going?" he said.
"Why did you look?" complained Merry. "Why do you always have to look?"
"I can't help it!" Pippin insisted. "It's just the way I'm written!"
Merry whirled around, his fists clenched in anger.
"Seriously!" he growled. "You and your constant need for attention! I thought we were in this trilogy side-by-side through thick and thin, but you seize the first opportunity that you can get to hog of all our apportioned screen time! Do you even know how many characters they had to cut from the script to keep this thing within running time? Ever heard of Glorfindel?"
"No," said Pippin meekly.
"Exactly. Every one of us is expendable. And now the audience is gonna focus all of their attention on you and your adorkable Scottish charms and forget that I even exist whilst you go gallivanting off to…"
Merry trailed off when he realised that Pippin was nowhere to be seen. He cast around in exasperation and saw him chatting animatedly with a soldier near the stable entrance and gesturing to something on his Blackberry.
"Did you know that Keanu Reeves is a vampire?"
Merry rolled his eyes and marched over to where Pippin stood, snatching the Blackberry from his hands.
"Don't you understand?" he cried. "The enemy thinks you have the Ring! He's going to be looking for you, Pip. They have to get you out of here."
Pippin's expression turned serious at this.
"And you're coming with me, right?"
Merry did not answer, pushing past Pippin and following Gandalf inside the stables. Pippin hurried after him. Shadowfax was waiting patiently in his stall at the end. They found the wizard leaning against the wall nearby and tapping at something in his gnarled hand in frustration.
"Damned Sat Nav. Where did Frodo buy this bloody thing?"
He soon abandoned his efforts and turned to lift a rather worried Pippin up onto Shadowfax's back.
"How far is Minas Tirith anyways?" said Pippin, shifting uncomfortably in the saddle. "I'd actually like to have children someday."
"Three day's ride as the Nazgûl flies," answered Gandalf. "But not to worry. We'll get there in barely two scenes' time. Perks of a movie adaptation."
As Pippin pondered this over Merry stepped forward and handed him something. Pippin cast him a questioning glance.
"Here, something for the road."
Pippin's eyes widened when he realised what it was.
"Last of the Longbottom Leaf," he said. "Sweet."
"I know you've run out. You smoke too much, Pip. Seriously, you're always getting stoned out of your frickin' brains. There are kids watching this movie."
"But we'll see each other soon." Merry and Gandalf exchanged a serious look. "Won't we?"
Merry backed away, his voice wavering with emotion.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I haven't read the book yet…"
Pippin did not seem too assured by this. Gandalf reached down and patted Shadowfax's neck.
"Run, Shadowfax. Show us the meaning of haste." The horse turned its head quizzically. Gandalf rolled his eyes. "Just go fast."
And so Shadowfax eventually neighed and galloped away with the wizard and his unwilling passenger in tow. They had soon raced out of the stables and down the hill towards the gates of Edoras quicker than Samwise Gamgee when the buffet has just been opened. A distressed hobbit dashed up the steps of the watchtower in order to get a better look at their departure. Aragorn rushed after him.
"Merry!" he called.
The hobbit came to a stop at the summit of the watchtower, looking out through a hole in the fence as he watched Shadowfax bounding away into the distance. Aragorn paused beside him and put a comforting hand upon the hobbit's shoulder.
"It'll be okay, Merry," he said.
The hobbit glanced up at him in confusion.
"Seriously?" he said. "I know most of the characters in this bloody movie are interchangeable, but at least I bothered to remember your name. You may be the rightful king of Gondor but you're not exactly the king of manners."
Aragorn glanced down at the source of this comment. Then he put his face in his hands as he realised that Gandalf had ridden off with the wrong hobbit.
The mystery of Arwen's characterisation was giving Figwit a major headache. It was only two short films ago that she had been out gallivanting by herself in the Nazgûl-strewn wilds and bogarted herself a horse from the legendary Glorfindel. Far be it from him to question why he and a dozen others were now required to escort Ms. Evenstar 'by the safest road' to the still largely metaphorical Grey Havens.
Two strides behind him Arwen sat on her bogarted horse, dressed head to toe in a pretty new purple robe and shimmery dress. Figwit had rolled his eyes when he first saw her, toffed up to the ninths for what equated to barely five minutes of screen time. Peter Jackson was going to have a heart attack when he saw the figures for the costume department that month.
As the elves continued on their way a child dashed across their path and into the trees. Arwen turned and watched him as if in a dream. It was a little boy. He ran towards a grey-haired Aragorn who stood amongst the imaginary columns of Minas Tirith. Aragorn lifted up the boy and spun him around in a sickeningly sweet manner. The kid's hair blew back from his face like something from a shampoo commercial as he gazed past Aragorn's shoulder and stared straight at his mother with piercing eyes. He was wearing the Evenstar around his neck.
Arwen closed her eyes as she recalled her father's words from the previous movie:
"He's not coming back. There's no hope, despite what everyone else in this film keeps saying. Also, The Return of the King? That's just a typo."
Anger coursed through her as Arwen's eyes snapped open again. That son-of-a-bitch. The vision was gone as she stared off into the trees. Figwit stopped and boggled at her.
"Lady Arwen, we cannot delay, apparently."
Arwen ignored him, pulling at the reins and turning her horse around without a word.
Figwit just stood there dumbfounded.
"So should we just wait for you here or what?"
But Arwen was long gone. None of the elves guarding her seemed to give a toss as she galloped back in the opposite direction towards Rivendell.
It took her less than two seconds of screen time to arrive back at the inexplicably deserted elven valley. There the leaves of autumn were rustling quietly upon the trees as Elrond sat in his nifty little gazebo, his brow furrowed in concentration as he scribbled furiously at something with his quill. As he heard the sound of approaching footsteps he glanced up in confusion. Arwen threw off her heavy riding cloak as she stormed up the steps towards him.
"Tell me what you have seen!" she demanded. "I need spoilers, dammit!"
Elrond almost dropped his quill at this intrusion.
"You have the gift of foresight," Arwen said. "What did you see?"
Elrond shook his head as he turned away and returned to his Sudoku.
"I cannot see the future, only the truth of the now and before."
"Yes, we've all got that," said Arwen derisively. "It's called memory. You are the only one who has seen the rest of the script for this movie – what did you see?"
Elrond sighed as he took up his pen and spun it idly between his fingers. Then he put it down again and pushed his chair back with a loud screeching. Arwen stood there impatiently, her arms folded across her chest.
"I saw many things," he admitted. "Death, war, lots of slow motion hugging and multiple fadeouts… Seriously, Ending Fatigue. Look it up on TV Tropes. Or, y'know, don't. That website will ruin your life."
"So basically you are saying that I am screwed?"
"Pretty much. But if you stay then you might have a son and at least two unnamed daughters. Or not. It's all frustratingly vague."
Arwen threw up her hands in irritation as Elrond turned away to lean upon the gazebo railing.
"You saw my son," she said. "He came to me in a vision. I've decided to name him Arwenagorn, just because it sounds pretty."
Elrond shook his head.
"That future is almost gone."
"But it is not lost," she said.
Elrond slumped down upon his seat once again, gazing down at his newspaper with a dark expression upon his face.
"Nothing is certain," he said.
Arwen lifted up her dress and knelt down before him. Tenderly she reached out and touched a hand to her father's face, tilting it towards her.
"Some things are certain," she said softly. "So tell you what. Why don't I just wait a few weeks and see how this whole battle for the known world turns out? If Aragorn wins then, yay! If not, I can just catch a later ship to Valinor. I mean, it's never been made very clear whether it is a one-time thing or a chartered voyage anyways…"
Elrond stared at his daughter incredulously.
"Why in Eru's name didn't you bring this up before?" he said. "This whole storyline was completely redundant!"
Arwen shrugged as she lowered her hand again.
"Don't blame me – Jackson had to pad this thing out to three hours somehow."