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They were shown to three beautiful narrow boats carved out of silvery wood into the likeness of swans. Vimes eyed them warily.
'Those… those are just to get us across to the other side of the river, right?' said Sam.
'No, we will follow the Anduin along the river for quite a distance, stopping above the falls of Rauros,' said Boromir.
'Oh,' said Vimes.
'Oh,' said Sam.
'Oh,' said Gimli
'Oh, said Frodo.
'Come now,' said Aragorn. 'These are nice, safe boats. The river is fast but calm. You'll be fine.'
'Both my parents drowned in a boat this size,' said Frodo. 'I can't believe your insensitivity!'
'I can't swim.'
'In this armour? I'd sink I fell in! And rust if I was splashed.'
Aragorn fixed his eyes nobly on the horizon, stepped into the boat, and ignored them.
'The trauma!' Frodo said, 'I'm reliving it!' Gimli patted him sympathetically on the shoulder. They stepped carefully aboard and each clung fiercely to the side of their respective boats. Sam made a rude hand gesture at Aragorn. There was some hastily muffled snickering.
It's nice that we're all bonding and making friends, Vimes thought, but why can't we bond over a nice safe picnic or something?
Carrot had already been special, but things were getting ridiculous. Now, he glowed when he walked down the street. And not metaphorically, either. He broke his sword breaking up a troll street fight, and a mysterious cloaked man reforged it for him. And hadn't even left a bill.
No less than three long-lost elvish princesses had declared their underlying love for him last Tuesday alone, and the only thing that made Vetinari feel better about it was that Angua bit one, one lost her fake ears when the glue dissolved in the rain, and the last turned out to be Nobby in drag, who claimed he was "getting into the spirit of things".
Vetinari did not like the current spirit of things.
And then there were the names. Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, or He-Who-Suffers-Concussion, to give him his dwarfish title. Surely that was enough for anyone to be getting on with? But no. Suddenly, Carrot was acquiring extra names left, right and centre. And Vetinari wasn't happy about it.
What was the latest? Telcontarmac, wasn't it? He-Who-Gives-Parking-Tickets. And then elderly tourist had named him 'Quickfoot,' hadn't he? Because Carrot had chased the handbag thief so quickly? Admittedly, she may not have been bestowing a title. She may just have been trying to flirt with Carrot in a language she didn't quite grasp, but still. Carrot had several more names than he'd had when Vimes left.
And the last time Carrot had given Vetinari an update, Vetinari could have sworn there was a little flame flickering on his forehead, magically.
It was simply unacceptable. Thank Gods Carrot himself remained cheerfully oblivious.
Galadriel sighed. 'I know what you're calling about, but it's out of my hands now, Havelock. He's gone. Left this morning.'
'Please continue,' Vetinari said, and only his deeply calm demeanour gave away how worried he was.
'I thought he was going straight back, I really did! Especially after the highly generous terms I allowed for the treacle. Which, incidentally, you put him up to. Don't pretend you didn't.'
Vetinari waited silently, although he was pleased about the treacle.
'I know you need to bring him back, and I'll do what I can, but he's left my domain. There's nothing I can do. It's… It's beyond my sphere of influence.' she hated admitting this, and Vetinari winced to hear it. It was like one mobster admitting to another that he was squeamish around blood. Embarrassing for everyone.
'Madam, I assure you-'
'He decided to go with Frodo,' she said softly. 'They all decided to go on.'
Her eyes were suspiciously bright, and she blinked for a second or two before she continued.
'Anyway, any progress on the Carrot thing?' He could see she was tilting her fountain in an effort to see into the corners of the room, in case was standing just out of sight.
'I still do not understand why you have to see Carrot to give your opinion on the situation,' said Vetinari in a tone of voice that assured Galadriel he knew her motives exactly.
'Oh, I definitely need to see him.' said Galadriel, utterly unashamed. 'And the more of him the better.'
'He's busy,' said Vetinari. 'Busy acting as a lightning rod for all this extra narrativium that's floating around.
The boats weren't too bad, once you got used to them. Vimes was able to drift into his own thoughts as they paddled smoothly along. He'd been as surprised as any of the others when he'd announced he was staying with the Fellowship.
'We'll miss you,' Pippin had said, when they'd been left alone to pack.
'But that's great about the treacle!' Sam had added warmly, and the others had nodded. Frodo chimed in with a recipe for treacle tart. They had the idea from somewhere that Vimes' Pisk was a treacle-free land, and were genuinely happy that he'd be able to bring treacle to the masses, even if they personally couldn't see what the fuss was all about.
'And it will be good to see your family again,' said Merry.
Vimes' brain agreed, but his mouth said 'I'm going to keep going.'
He went cross-eyed in shock as the words left his mouth.
The hobbits watched him. 'You don't have to,' said Frodo, kindly, 'You've already done more than anyone could expect.' The irony of this seemed to be lost on him.
'Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens,' Vimes replied. Now, where the hell had that come from?
The hobbits looked at one another, and each face broke into a delighted grin.
The taller members of the Fellowship were delighted as well. Vimes could tell because of all the bruising. Boromir clapped Vimes manfully on the back, almost breaking his spine. Gimli shook his hand, crushing even the smallest and fiddliest bones. Aragorn gave him a bear-hug and didn't smell as bad as he normally did. Several ribs felt in danger of cracking.
Legolas gave him his favourite leaf.
'Only to hold, mind,' he said anxiously, patting the tree it had come from as if soothing it, 'Then it has to go straight back for humification.'
Vimes was too bruised to reply.
At the High Energy Building, Ponder had managed to grasp what Gandalf wanted in a remarkably short amount of time. Unfortunately they'd done something to Ridcully's Palantir the night they got drunk and played bowls with it, and it was refusing to focus properly. They'd used Hex to link two Palantiri and the Fountain, but Gandalf was far too impatient to let Ponder perfect the connection.
Galadriel wasn't helping matters. The three-way link up had created audio problems, and it was making her impatient. Her bright-blue stare had Ponder breaking out in hives from sheer nervousness.
'Twiddle the dial – no, the other dial! Ok, plug in the thing. Plug in the thing. Plug it in. The thing. Plug it in.'
There was a woosh, a crackle, and the smell of burnt magic. Galadriel's voice suddenly echoed round the small room. '
'Can you hear me now?'
'Perfectly clearly,' said Gandalf. 'You see, no need to resort to psychic wavelengths.'
'Ah, hello Gandalf,' said Galadriel. 'Still on holiday, I see.'
Gandalf bristled. 'I died.' he said.
'Retired, did you? Yes, I thought you were looking a little tired.'
'How's everything going? How are the hobbits?'
Galadriel instantly became worried. If Gandalf didn't even have the energy to respond properly to a veiled insult…
'They're strong.' she said, 'and they're looking after each other. They could change the course of the future. But the Quest stands on the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and they will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains, while the Company is true.'
'And is it?'
'True? Do you know, I think it is. For now,' she added, before anyone could relax. 'But all my calculations are being thrown out by your Vimes character.'
'I know,' said Gandalf wearily. 'It concerns me too. Has Vetinari agreed to take him back?'
'Vetinari wants him back, but he's carried on with the Fellowship. Are you- Gandalf, are you smiling? Wipe that smile off your face this instant.'
'Apologies,' said Gandalf, moustache twitching. He looked positively gleeful, as if he'd heard some good news he was waiting for. Ridcully couldn't help noting, suspiciously, that Galadriel was smiling too. 'I'm absolutely shocked by this development.'
Galadriel nodded gravely. 'Shocking,' she said. 'And after all I did to persuade him to come home.' 'It won't do, you know,' she said. 'Middle Earth is getting very strange. You know that Eowyn?'
'What? Eowyn of Rohan? What's she got to do with anything?'
'A strong female character! In Middle-earth!'
Gandalf said, 'I thought it was strong mortal characters you didn't believe in?'
'I don't believe in those either. And Eowyn is both!'
'I think you'll find, the history of Middle Earth is full of strong female characters,' Gandalf said. 'I've met many of them myself.'
'I don't believe in strong female characters!' Galadriel said, so fiercely that Ridcully, Ponder and Gandalf all turned pale.
'I believe Eowyn is acting entirely on her own,' said Gandalf. 'I don't think Vimes had anything to do with it.'
'Oh, well, it's about time some of those horse-mortals learnt to fight,' Galadriel said. 'Hopefully she can marry her brother off to some strategic Gondorian princess and rule Rohan. She's more likely to win a game of thrones then that scruffy horse-whisperer.'
'But you just said-'
'Try to keep up,' said Galadriel. She was enjoying herself hugely. This was so much better than talking to Elrond! He'd have burst into tears twice by now. And Gandalf was cheering up as well, she could tell. He loved debates like this. Good, it would distract him from his dratted hobbits.
She wondered what Thranduil would make of Vimes? That might be amusing. 'Really a shame about Vimes,' she said again, for good measure.
'Yes,' said Gandalf. 'What a shame there's no way of bringing him back. Now he'll just have to carry on with the Fellowship.'
Ridcully looked quickly between them, but didn't see them wink at each other. Yet it was almost as if they were having a conversation nobody else could hear.
And then Vetinari walked silently into the room. 'I've had an idea,' he said, by way of introduction, while they reeled. He coolly examined Hex and then silently plugged Vimes' spare badge into a little slot that looked as if it had been made for it.
Then he neatly some co-ordinates. Hex whirred.
'What are you doing?' Gandalf asked.
'Bringing back Vimes,' said Vetinari. 'At least, I hope so. How accurate is this machine?'
'It's not,' said Ponder, gulping. 'It's reliable but it isn't precise. It has a catchment area of about half a metre.'
'But worth a try,' said Gandalf, sounding disappointed. 'Very good thinking.'
They sat around a small campfire on the shores of the river Anduin, sulking. At least, Vimes was sulking, because he'd tried to light the fire himself and after the third burnt finger Gimli had very kindly suggested he might help.
Merry was collecting firewood, Sam was peeling potatoes, and Legolas was staring at the opposite bank the way a cat stares suddenly at nothing. But, Gimli, Pippin, Boromir and Aragorn were having an extremely awkward conversation about whether they'd go to Gondor or straight on to Mordor. Gimli and Pippin seemed mostly to be peace-keeping.
'Aragorn,' said Legolas quietly. 'We should leave now. Orcs patrol-'
'No, we must wait for cover of darkness,'
'But Orcs can see in the dark!' Pippin pointed out. But Aragorn had already turned back to Boromir to explain very patientlywhy Boromir's faith in his father might be the tiniest bit, well, misplaced.
Vimes ignored them. They would just end up making poor Frodo decide anyway.
Because it wasn't like he had enough of a burden to carry.
On cue, he heard the words, 'Let the Ringbearer decide!' But before he could roll his eyes properly, Merry returned.
Everyone, including Vimes, jumped to their feet immediately. They took off running, with Aragorn's shouts to 'stay together!' and 'calm down, for Eru's sake!' fading into the distance.
A few minutes later, Vimes was lost and puffed. He had stitch. He decided to head back to the fire, in case Frodo had made his own way back and was feeling abandoned.
But Frodo wasn't back at the campsite, and as the shadows lengthened Vimes heard, to his horror, the shouts of orcs.
Then he heard, to his even bigger horror, the horn of Gondor.
Instantly he was up and racing towards the sound, his breath rasping in his lungs. He nearly sprained an ankle on a tree root and a tree-branch stung his face.
He reached Boromir just before a new wave of orcs did. A pile already lay dead at Boromir's feet. He raised the horn again. Vimes wrenched it away.
'You idiot!' he said. 'Shut that thing off! What are you doing? Do you want to get us all killed?'
'The horn of Gondor! It will bring us aid. Our friends will hear it!
'Stop blowing it,' said Vimes, throwing the horn to the ground and stamping on it for good measure. 'because, the Orcs can hear it too.'
Boromir knelt and picked up the smashed horn. An arrow whistled harmlessly over his head. Vimes meeped and ducked behind Boromir as a massive, cross-bow wielding Orc blotted out the sun. Then he noticed Merry and Pippin, each clutching a ridiculously tiny sword and glaring at the Orc with all their might. Ashamed, Vimes straightened his spine and ducked back.
'Bugger off!' he screamed his warcry at the huge orc, and together they charged. Vimes rugby tackled it to the ground and Boromir cut its head off. It could have been over quickly, Vimes wasn't sure. The adrenaline was pounding through him so violently that he bit his own sword. But they'd felled the orc, and were now crouched very quietly behind a large fallen tree while Boromir mournfully tried to piece his horn together.
'Elendiiiiiiiiiiiiiil!' they heard, through the trees, and a second later Aragorn charged into view. 'Boromir?' he asked the empty clearing.
'Here!' they hissed. Aragorn was covered in orc-blood and sporting several cuts and bruises. He joined them behind the tree. It was getting a bit squashed.
'Budge up! Anyone seen Frodo and Sam?' he whispered. Pippin and Merry shook their heads worriedly, but Boromir refused to meet Aragorn's eye.
Orcs ran past. A few minutes later, they ran back the other way, one of them angrily waving a blanket. They'd obviously found the deserted campsite.
Legolas arrived. He picked something up near the Orc with the crossbow they'd killed before crossing over to them.
'Is this yours?' he asked Vimes.
'Thanks!' It was his badge, his city watch badge. He must have dropped it when he rugby-tackled that orc. He didn't remember having it with him.
'Can I have a look?' Merry asked curiously. Vimes shrugged and nodded. Then Gimli ran into the clearing. They waved and hissed at him as well and he squashed in beside Aragorn. Legolas decided that being up a tree was more his style, and disappeared into the branches with his bow and arrow. Merry passed Vimes' badge to Pippin, who examined it curiously. Then Gimli admired the tiny pin and latch and started muttering about metal workmanship. The same group of Orcs ran past again. Blanket Orc was still waving its blanket, now slightly tattered. Pippin and Merry had to be elbowed because they were dissolving into giggles.
'Where are Frodo and Sam?' Vimes asked, very quietly, when it was Boromir's turn to be distracted by the little City Watch badge.
'I let Frodo go,' said Aragorn. 'Sam went with him. His fate is no longer in our hands.'
There was a strange light in Aragorn's eyes. He looked every inch a King, and for the first time in his life Vimes meant that as a compliment. He nodded respectfully at Aragorn; a nod that could almost have been a bow.
'So, we'll just keep an eye on these Orcs, then,' Vimes said.
'The longer they chase around here, the greater distance Frodo and Sam can put between them.' Aragorn said. 'Them and us,' he added. 'We'll fight them when we need to.'
And then Boromir disappeared.