Bagenders – The Drivers of Amsterdam

Season 3, Episode 2

By Lady Alyssa and Random Dent

Note: As promised longer and funnier than the last one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Right, does everyone have a pocket handkerchief?”

“Yes, Frodo.”

“And does one designated member of each group have the emergency contact folder?”

“Yes, Frodo.”

“Polos? Passports for those leaving the country? Tickets? Emergency blanket? Ten pound note in an envelope? 20p pieces for the phone or bathroom? Phone numbers of British Consulates?”

“Yes, Frodo.”

Frodo visibly relaxed. The ‘Center Parcs’ disaster behind them, the Fellowship had decided to go on holiday separately. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were going munro bagging in Scotland. Merry and Pippin were being slightly evasive but claimed to be going to France on a ‘Mission’. Frodo and Sam were going to London. And Gandalf…

Gandalf awoke in a chair. It wasn’t his chair. And there was a strange sensation of acceleration. He opened his eyes. He was in a plane, and the plane was taking off. The bastards. They’d done it again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Legolas had managed to book three of the four seats at a table on the train for himself, Aragorn and Gimli. Five minutes into the journey and Aragorn had opened the Ordinance Survey maps.

“And then we go over there-”

“Isn’t that the symbol for a scree slope?” Asked Legolas.

“Doesn’t matter. And then over here-”

“Aragorn, that’s a river. A really big one.”

“It’s been a dry summer. And then we go over here…”

“You really shouldn’t be standing on the back of that chair.”

“And up here…”

“That’s a cliff.”

“We’ll go round it then. And then we end up here, at the top of our first munro.”

“All tickets please. And if you could get out of the overhead storage sir, it’s only designed for hand luggage.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“The bastards! The complete motherloving, sheep fancying, inbred, weak chinned, limp wristed, fuckwit wanker arseholes! They’ve abolished duty free!”

Pippin took this opportunity to stop and take a breath. He had been swearing solidly for ten minutes, and as far as Merry could tell, hadn’t repeated himself yet. Since the last time Merry and Pippin had been abroad, at least on purpose and with money and passports, duty free in Europe had been abolished. Five minutes later, Pippin ran out of inspiration and took to pacing up and down the deck muttering “bastards, bastards, bastards” under his breath.

Merry thought it would be best to give Pippin half an hour or so to let him get it out of his system.

“Pippin. We have planning to do. We are on a mission you know.”

Pippin stopped pacing and looked up. “The mission?”

“You remember. The painting?”

“Of course I remember the painting, but when did we start calling it a mission?”

“It sounds better than calling it ‘Operation Sein’ and then Legolas would have been on to us.”

“We’re on a mission from God.”

“No we’re not, Elbereth hasn’t written in months.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Mint imperial?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

The rest of the carriage were trying to work out exactly what was going on between Frodo and Sam. There were two very short, but apparently young men, acting like an elderly married couple. They had a thermos of tea. And not just sandwiches, but copious amounts of them, and a sensible helping of fruit too. The dark haired one was currently engaged in timing himself in an attempt to beat his personal best for completing the Times crossword.

“Opera by Wagner…?” Frodo clicked his fingers and stared at the ceiling as if the answer might miraculously appear there.

“Whydon’tyouputthecrossworddownanddosomethingelse?”

“But I’ve only got another three to do.”

“Oh, would you look at that. I’ve spilt my tea, I’m so sorry, Frodo.”

“Never mind, I was way behind my personal best. Lets play ‘I Spy’ instead.”

“We’re going at over a hundred miles an hour.”

The trained slowed to one of those patented British Rail unexplained and unexpected stops.

“You just had to jinx it, didn’t you Sam?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gandalf was seething with rage. How could they do this to him? He had had it all planned out. He was going to really enjoy having the house to himself and getting the chance to go through everyone’s things without Frodo being there to stop him. He was going to keep the neighbours up all night because there would be no one to confiscate the tv. He’d even invited Radagast round to visit.

But you had to make the best of these things, so Gandalf decided to start going through his pockets to see what Frodo had equipped him with for the journey. There were the obligatory sandwiches and even a few oranges. There was a passport, and this one actually looked real, and attached to it with a paperclip was a note.

Dear Gandalf

I hope you are keeping well, the aeroplane food isn’t too bad and there aren’t any hijackers on board. I expect you are wondering why you are here, well, we decided it was time you got out for a bit of fresh air and that the change of scene would do you good – I’ve heard that the weather in the South of France is very nice and that it should be good for your health. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to arrange for anyone to meet you at the airport, so you’ll have to get yourself into a taxi and ask them to take you to Villa Peredhel. You’re staying with Elrond for the next fortnight and don’t even think about trying to get home early.

I hope you enjoy your holiday and don’t do anything the air hostesses could press charges for.

Frodo.

Gandalf immediately cheered up. He was staying with Elrond, the stinking rich, easily manipulated, well wine cellared, elf lord. Elrond was easier to wind up than a clockwork mouse. Gandalf was going to have fun.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“And now that the older two are off at uni and the youngest’s old enough to stay at home by herself we’re out walking every other weekend. We’ve already bagged 14 munros this year.”

Legolas and Gimli could see the competitiveness switch being flicked in Aragorn’s brain.

“Really? But then I suppose you do live locally.”

“Oh no, it took us two hours on the train to get here.”

“It took us seven and a half.”

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli had made their first ‘friends’ of the holiday at the youth hostel. An overbearing, talkative middle aged woman who dressed more than a little too young and her quiet, balding, mild-mannered husband. The woman was surreptitiously adding rum to her glass of coke from a small bottle concealed in her handbag, while Gimli had added a generous amount of whisky to his, Aragorn’s and, after a certain amount of meaningful eyebrow raising, the husband’s coffees.

“Well of course I have been up Ben Nevis…” The competitive instinct was obviously strong in the woman as well.

“So have we. And Snowdon”

“In shorts?”

“Um…”

“We did. It was hailstoning the first time we tried, but we had to turn back because the kids were complaining about it.”

“But I’ve found that my main strength is in endurance.”

“We’ve done six hours without stopping for a break.”

“We’ve done seventy two.”

The man gave Legolas and Gimli a questioning look and they replied with exhausted looking nods.

“I’ve been walking in Switzerland.”

“I’ve walked all the alpine passes.” Aragorn didn’t bother to add that this was because it was the only way to get to Italy in the Middle Ages.

“I sunbathed topless up a mountain.”

Legolas and Gimli gave her husband a ‘really?’ look. He returned an embarrassed nod.

Legolas took a delicate sip of tea. “You wouldn’t believe the number of places Aragorn’s ended up naked.”

“Such as?” Demanded Aragorn and the middle-aged woman.

“Well, on Pelenor Fields in front of about two hundred people.”

“That wasn’t my fault, Eomer stole my swimming trunks! But I stole his back.”

“I’ve quartermastered at Guide camps!”

Legolas kicked Aragorn in the shins before he could mention the number of times he’d been left in charge of tactical supplies for an entire army.

“You know, we’ve got a long day of walking ahead of us tomorrow. We should probably be going to bed. Now, Aragorn.”

In the dormitory, which the three of them had managed to get to themselves as it was near the end of the summer season, Aragorn started flinging off his sensible layers of clothes while muttering loudly to himself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Excusez Moi? Nous cerchons la peinture qui s’appelle ‘Notre Dame des grandes nichons’.”

The security guard in the Louvre did a double take. Had the short gentlemen really just asked him about a painting called ‘The Madonna with the Big Boobies’?

“Pardon?”

“ ‘Notre Dame des grandes nichons’. C’est une peinture tres celebre!”

“Grandes nichons?”

“Oui! Oui!” The small men made the international sign language motion for ‘enormous hooters’.

Ah. So this wasn’t one of those ‘mistake with the phrase book’ situations. A thought struck him. This could all be some plan to distract him while their accomplices ran off with one of the paintings. He looked around suspiciously, but there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary going on. He directed them to the information desk.

A few minutes later the two hobbits were sat dejectedly on the pavement outside the Louvre.

“I think that was a bit off, throwing us out. I mean, we were looking for a painting in an art gallery, what’s wrong with that?”

“Maybe it’s in a rival gallery.”

“But we even knew who painted it. I mean, a gallery that big, you’d think they’d have at least heard of Van Klompf.”

“Hmnmmm.” Merry was thinking. “We know it was in France during the war. Buuuuuut… they might have taken it back to Germany. Or Austria. They might have even dropped it off by accident in Holland or Belgium.”

“What- what if it was destroyed in all the fighting.”

“Pippin – just don’t even think about it. We’re on a mission.”

“Where next then?”

“Belgium’s nearest.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh my.”

“Wow. Och.”

“Look at the view, all the colour of the heather in the sunlight-”

“Those rock formations.”

“Come on! Don’t dawdle! We need to bag another one before nightfall!”

Legolas and Gimli pointedly ignored Aragorn.

“Do you have the camera, Legolas?”

“In here somewhere. Can you see a nice big rock for the cairn?”

“This is no time for cairn building! If you want a picture, buy a postcard!”

“Aragorn, we are on holiday. You may not understand the concept but we are here to Enjoy Ourselves.”

“Let your hair down a bit laddie. There’s nothing you need to prove.”

Aragorn knew when he was defeated. He sat down heavily, and repeatedly checked his watch as Legolas and Gimli proceeded to take pictures, point out wildlife to each other and build up the cairn.

Then the Muttering started again. ‘We’re behind schedule, we’ll never get anything done, we should have set off hours ago’. Legolas and Gimli gave up and started walking again. The Muttering continued all the way up the next munro, but wasn’t too distressing as Aragorn insisted on walking about ten feet ahead of them.

It was almost dusk when they reached their campsite for the night.

“It’s a swamp.”

“Good flat ground. The only bit of flat ground for miles, according to the map.”

“But it’s got those lumpy hairy symbols that mean ‘swamp’.”

“Och, there’s a bit of dry ground over here. Should be enough room for the tents. The midgies on the other hand…”

“It’s all right. They don’t bite elves or dwarves. The only person they’re going to bite is the stupid bugger who chose this campsite.”

“This is the only place we could have camped, and-”

“Never mind. Aragorn, give me the camping stove and I’ll get dinner on.”

“Camping stove?”

“Don’t tell me you forgot it.”

“Don’t need it. Modern rubbish. Look, I’ve been collecting firewood.”

“So, instead of having a nice, convenient stove, we have heavy, difficult to burn wood. In a swamp. A damp swamp.”

“I brought matches. And a zippo.”

“You won’t bring a camping stove, but you will bring a zippo.”

“Yes. You can’t live in the dark ages forever.”

“You are making a valiant attempt.”

“Och, stop bickering and get the food on. What are we having?”

“Venison.”

“You promised me we were going to bring food, not kill food.”

“Yes, but then I saw on the news that there are far too many deer in Scotland and so I thought I’d help their ecosystem.” Aragorn unpacked from his rucksack his broadsword and longbow. “And anyway, I brought some pasta to go with it. Nothing like a bit of carbohydrate when you’ve got a long walk ahead of you. So if you and Gimli do the tents and the fire, I’ll get dinner.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh…”

“Mmmmmmmmmmmnnnnnnnnnnn…”

“Kiiiiitchen….”

“Look at the size of those ranges. Look at them.”

“You could do proper cooking in here.”

Frodo and Sam were at Hampton Court Palace, staring hypnotised at the kitchens.

“That cauldron. I mean, not even Pippin could eat that amount of casserole.”

“Ovens, as well.”

“Such cake potential.”

“Excuse me, sirs, but you have been in here for three hours and we’re closing now. You are welcome to come back and drool at the kitchens tomorrow.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

An open top 2cv with a grey wizard’s hat pointing out the top careered round a corner. Gandalf changed down a gear, hit the accelerator and took the next corner at fifty miles an hour and on two wheels.

“Ahahahahaaaaa!”

He hadn’t had this much fun for ages. Every time he hurled the car round a corner the vast collection of bottles in the back of the car made a huge racket. He’d had a productive day, taking Elrond’s credit card on a tour of all the major vineyards in the area.

Gandalf took another corner on two wheels and then slammed on the brakes. Another bus load of nuns! He seemed plagued by them. Why was it that people leading such humble and penitent lifestyles came to the South of France in such large numbers? And, if they’d renounced the poverty part, why did they have such elderly, wide and difficult to overtake buses?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Belgium had been a bit of a disappointment. Apart from the chocolate and the waffles, but since they could get those just as easily back home, it had hardly been worth it. The art galleries in Belgium had been just as unhelpful as the ones in France, so now they were on a train to Amsterdam.

“- and then I said ‘look, y’bastard, I fucking know that Wittgenstein’s-”

“Excuse me? Sirs?”

“Yes pal, you’ve seen our tickets haven’t you.”

“Yes, but the lady at the other end of the carriage says that her daughter does speak English, and she’d rather not have her daughter speaking those words.”

“Oh.” Pippin stood on the seat to see the lady in question. He waved. “Sorry hen! Can’t help myself sometimes!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Three days and nights walking, no food, no rest.”

“Hm. Do you think he’s noticed we’re not following him anymore?”

Legolas and Gimli were sat on a rock, eating sandwiches. Aragorn was halfway up the next hill, apparently oblivious to being abandoned.

“I mean, why? He must have climbed more hills than anyone else alive, with the possible exception of us. He’s probably climbed these ones before, just forgotten.”

“He’s not even normal for a human, and humans are quite strange.”

“Umhum. Are there any more cucumber sandwiches left?”

“No, but we’ve got lots of venison and pickle.”

Legolas shuddered. “I am not eating any venison ever again. Ever. He didn’t even think to take down a small one, nooo, he has to kill one of the big, stringy, tough old ones. It hasn’t even been hung.”

“The lad thinks he’s got something to prove. It’s all ‘I could be king, really I could’.”

“I don’t see Prince Charles trying to outrun him. And Aragorn can’t wave properly. Or graciously shake hands.”

Gimli shrugged. “We can’t change him.”

“No, but we can ignore him.”

On the other hill Aragorn stopped, and looked around. Finally he spotted Legolas and Gimli, who gave him a cheery wave.

“What’s he saying?”

“Just swearing.”

“I gathered that from the way he was jumping up and down and waving his fists at us.”

“Oh, and demanding we follow him.” Legolas gave a very expressive hand gesture. “Ah, now he says I’d better come over there and gesticulate that. And he thinks this is going to give me an incentive why?”

“He’s coming back. Looks angry.”

“We can take him down. Easily.”

“He is armed.”

“Yes, but the sword’s in his rucksack, underneath all the venison sandwiches.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Amsterdam. To the Rijksmuseum!”

“But Merry – we’re in Amsterdam.”

“Yes. We’re going to the Rijksmuseum.”

“But- but Amsterdam! Cheap beer! Cheap women! Proper pipeweed!”

“Pippin, we are on a mission. We are not to be distracted by fripperies.”

“Beer! Women! Drugs!”

“Pippin-” Merry had adopted a stern tone.

“Women! Drugs! Beer!”

“I said-”

“Pancakes!”

“No- actually, we could just stop for a few pancakes. Then go to the gallery.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So when was this bus due?”

“An hour ago! A whole hour. I mean, yes, I am now adopting a more relaxed approach to this-”

“But we have agreed that if you sing the ‘Val-de-ree val-de-raa’ song again we are allowed to disembowel you.”

“Yes, I know. But where is that bus?”

“You have read the timetable properly, haven’t you, because there are often less buses on a Sunday.”

“It’s Sunday?”

Legolas and Gimli looked at each other and then at Aragorn.

“Erm… well, round here it’s not so much that there are less buses on a Sunday, more no buses on a Sunday. I think it’s supposed to be sinful.”

“Wonderful. You two, hide.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to try and hitchhike, and I think that we’ll be rather more successful if they don’t know they’re picking you up as well.”

“Oh. Fine.” Aragorn and Gimli lurked behind a convenient rock. Legolas stood next to a passing place, looking as clean and respectable as possible.

A van, driven at speed, went past without even slowing down.

“And you mate!”

Then a smaller, more battered car appeared and slowed down.

“Hop in, can only take you and your friends who are hiding behind that rock as far as the main road, though. You’ll be able to get another lift from there.”

“Thank you.”

The three of them piled in and the car set off at speed. Legolas tried some small talk. “Um, you look quite young, not long passed your test?”

“Test?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In Villa Peredhel the phone was ringing. By dint of tripping Elrond up, and kicking Haldir in the shins Gandalf managed to get to the receiver first.

“Yes, yes I will accept reverse charges.”

Elrond made a strangled noise and tried to rip the phone cord out of the wall, but Gandalf swatted him away with his staff.

“Elladan! Elrohir! Nice to know you still keep in contact with your family. No, no, you can’t talk to your father right now. Why? Because I’ve just kicked him in the stomach and he can’t breathe. Yes, I will tell him you called, and that you hope he feels better soon.”

Gandalf paused, listening, while giving a fairly decent left hook to Haldir, who was trying to sneak up to unplug the phone.

“You busted Celeborn out of prison? Why? Oh, yes, if he was going in front of a firing squad in the morning, I can see that. Where did you leave him? Beijing? Are you sure? Oh, it might have been Shanghai, you’re not sure, but it was definitely in a brothel. Why? You’re not sure. Fine. Where are you now? You think you’re in Tokyo, but you’re not sure. You want to come home? Oh, yes, I’m sure your father would love to see you.”

This managed to spur Elrond to try and make a last desperate attempt to get the phone back, by sinking his teeth into Gandalf’s leg, but he couldn’t hang on long enough.

“Sorry about that, your father’s got his teeth in my leg. No, he hasn’t got false teeth, they’re still attached to him… I’ll explain later. You need two tickets? First class? I’ll see what I can do. And where are you staying?” Gandalf nodded and made ‘mnhm’ noises as he carved Elladan and Elrohir’s address into the eighteenth century plasterwork with a swiss army knife.

“Anyway, I’m sure that your father and Haldir would both send their love if I hadn’t just beaten the shit out of them. Byeeee!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli had survived their first lift, and were now stood, thumbs out, looking hopeful once more. Another small car slowed down and stopped. A middle aged mumsy woman looked out of the window. “You’ll be heading for the Youth Hostel? Well get in, don’t stand there looking like stunned sheep.”

They got in.

“You on holiday up here? Aye, I expect you didn’t know there’s nae buses on Sunday, gets a lot of people that does, so how many munros have you bagged so far?”

The three of them couldn’t answer, since they were trying to work out how on earth this woman appeared to know everything about them. Was she another member of BADGER?

“Cat got your tongue, or are you foreign?”

“No, no, sorry. It’s been a long day, we’re a bit tired.”

“Aye, sorry, sorry. Oh, on the way we’ll be picking up the bairns from my mother’s, I’m sure there’ll be room, after that we go straight past the hostel’s front door, oh, and I must remind you to say hello to Jamie and tell him Elspeth sent you, that’ll be good for a discount, see.”

“Oh. Thank you. Oh, I’m sorry we haven’t introduced ourselves. I’m Legolas, this is Aragorn and Gimli, yes, our parents were hippies.”

“Oh, it’s terrible, one of my best friends is called Rainbow Peace Lovechild McCorquodale. See over there? See that? It’s a standing stone…”

The journey continued, with every single place of interest pointed out. They stopped outside a remote cottage and Elspeth honked the horn. A horde of children ran out, screaming, followed by an elderly lady.

“Elspeth, your brother rang, you’re to take his ones home as well.”

“Right. Everybody in! Dunnae stand on the hitch hikers! Rory and Flora, you take out the parcel shelf and you can go in the boot.”

“If it’s any trouble we can get another lift.”

“Oh, it’s nae bother, they like going in the boot.”

The car set off, now riding dangerously low at the back. Aragorn and Gimli found themselves covered in children.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Aragorn, this is Gimli. We’re here walking.”

“Why?”

“We like walking.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

“Is that beard real?”

“Yes. Och.”

“No it’s not.”

“Donald, if you pull his beard you’ll feel the back of my hand!”

“Robert the Bruce had a beard. There’s pictures of him in armour putting an axe in another man’s head.”

“Very nice.”

“We’ve been doing about Robert the Bruce and how he fought this huge maneating spider…”

“Donald, you haven’t been listening properly again.”

“And then he went and defeated the whole English army, just him and five ninjas-”

“Donald, if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times – there were no ninjas at Bannockburn!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam approached a door in an overgrown wall in Kew Gardens and knocked eight times on it in a complicated rhythm. A hatch was slid open and a pair of eyes appeared.

“Sorry, this area is out of bounds. Rampaging contagious leaf mange.”

“It’s me. And Frodo.”

“Sorry. Can’t see anyone under five foot because of the hatch. Come in.”

Inside the building, another elf was standing ready with the blindfolds, but tried to hide them behind his back when he saw who it was.

“Welcome, welcome to Calas Cuedhon-”

“Never mind any of that, how are my trees?”

“They’re fine, nothing we can’t handle.”

“I heard one of them got frost damaged…” There was a hint of accusation in Sam’s voice.

“No, really, everything’s fine.”

“Erestor. Show me the tree.”

Sam and Frodo were lead through a bower to a large open lawn, in the centre of which stood a mighty mallorn tree. Stood round the tree were elves, singing and looking ethereal.

“What are they saying, Frodo?”

“I think they’re singing to the tree. They’re saying ‘please don’t die, please, really don’t die. We’re completely screwed if you have a relapse and we’re making you a nice warm scarf for the next frost, please, please don’t die’.”

“Erestor…”

“It’s better now, they just want to make sure it stays better. And they really are making it a new scarf, it’s got a healing mantra woven into it.” Erestor grinned in a terrified way. He was in trouble and knew it.

“Hmm.” Sam took one look at the elves and relented; he’d never been good at staying angry.

Meanwhile, Frodo swung himself up into the tree. The elves gasped.

“He climbed the tree! You can’t climb it, it’s The Tree!”

“No, you can’t climb the tree. Mr Frodo is allowed to climb the tree. No-one else.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elrond, Haldir and all Elrond’s servants had given up on the ‘Gandalf situation’ and were trying, as far as possible to pretend he didn’t exist. However, Gandalf could be very difficult to ignore. Elrond was sat in an armchair, having his head massaged and drinking ginseng tea. Haldir was laid on the chaise longue with a face mask over his eyes.

Gandalf was on the phone again.

“Hello? Yes, yes, I heard you had a vacancy for Pope… oh, still alive? Really? But I understand there will be a vacancy opening soon – could you take my details and keep me on file. Chosen by the cardinals? Yes, yes I know that. I can provide references. Am I a Cardinal? Actually, yes, yes I am a Cardinal. I think. Yes, no, I’m definite, it just was a while back. Who was I invested by? Boniface, Boniface the eighth. I am not taking the piss! I told you it was a long time ago. No I am not a timewaster-” Gandalf looked at the phone. “Bastards.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Where is my gracious lord of Canterbury?”

“Aragorn?”

“Send for him, good uncle!”

“Aragorn! Wake up!”

“Isfn… what?”

“You were talking in your sleep.”

“He was doing Henry V in his sleep.”

Legolas shot Gimli a warning look, and tried to mime ‘don’t mention Lawrence Olivier’, but since that’s a very difficult mime involving waving hands about and pretending to be a hunchback Gimli just looked at him like he was insane.

“I would never do any Henry V impersonations. I am merely kingly, unlike certain overrated actors who mimic me. Poorly.”

“Why don’t we all try and go back to sleep-”

“I mean, the diction, the delivery, I’m far better at giving pre-battle speeches.”

“Why don’t you join the RSC then?”

“Can’t do iambic pentameter. I get confused. I can do the important, rallying bits, but not the metre.”

“So, getting back to sleep-”

“I mean, listen to this,” Aragorn cleared his throat, and as an afterthought got the broadsword out of his rucksack and waved it in a heroic manner. The pyjamas rather spoiled the effect. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds blood with me shall be my brother, be he ne’er so vile-”

The lights snapped on. The warden of the youth hostel was standing in the doorway with a face like thunder. “What the HELL do you think you’re doing?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Ooooooohhhhuuuurgh.”

“Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.”

“Never going to eat another pancake again as long as I live.”

“That’s what you said last time we came to Amsterdam.” Merry looked round himself. “Pip – I don’t think we’re in the Netherlands anymore.”

“Why?”

“Cos there’s hills. And all the signs are in Italian.”

“We’ve done it again.”

“And we never even got to the Rijksmuseum” Merry had a sudden thought, and checked his wallet. “And we blew all our money on pancakes. We’re skint.”

“What time is it?”

“Three in the afternoon… and my watch says its Wednesday.”

“Three days. I can’t even remember Tuesday at all.”

“Too much sugar. Too much bacon. Right. We’re still on a mission. We need to find that painting.”

“But first we’ve got to stop somewhere so I can be sick.”

“Pip. We are stopped. We’re in a gutter.”

“Oh. That’s convenient.”

After losing some residual pancakes to an Italian gutter, and managing to find enough loose change for a reviving coffee they had a planning meeting.

“We need money and transport, fast.”

“Ok. We go on the game.”

“No, there’s not exactly the demand for it.”

“Hmm. Right, we fiddle the traffic computers so there’s this huge traffic jam, and then-”

“Just because we’re in Italy doesn’t mean we can pull off the Italian job.”

“Busking? Stripping? Waitressing? Street theatre?”

“We can’t do any of those things.”

At that moment Destiny and Providence stepped in.

“I DEMAND that you replace this cup of coffee, I refuse to drink anything that has COW’S milk in it. It’s so undignified! My word carries weight in these parts, and I assure you that if I refuse to patronise this establishment again others will follow my lead.”

Merry and Pippin looked at each other and smiled. They knew that voice. Celebrian, mother of Arwen, Elrond’s biggest financial outgoing, known to her sons as the Bitch Queen of Angmar, was in Italy. Obviously New Zealand didn’t have enough designer labels for this elf.

Merry grinned evilly. “I think we should go and say hello. I mean, she’s virtually family.”

Merry and Pippin plonked themselves on two spare seats next to her. “Hello.”

“Waiter! I demand these… things are removed from the premises immediately!”

Pippin sidled over to her. “But Celebrian, are you not pleased to see us? I mean, we’ve got so much to tell you about your son in law.”

“He’s no son of mine.”

“You mean you don’t want to hear about his nervous breakdown-”

“Or about how he got stabbed through the foot with a pitchfork?”

“No. Out! Waiter! I refuse to associate with lesser races.”

The waiters spent some minutes managing to pretend they spoke no English, before eventually throwing Merry and Pippin out since it was so much quieter that way. Three streets over, the two hobbits shared their trophies.

“Wallet. Mobile. So she can’t ring to cancel the cards.”

“Car keys. It’s a remote locking one, and we can just wave it about till we find the car.”

The car was eventually found, a flashy jaguar. The hobbits climbed in, and took full advantage of electrically adjustable seats so they could see out of the windows. Merry put the keys in the ignition and turned the stereo up.

“It’s a long way to the Rijksmuseum, we’ve got a full tank of petrol, half a packet of biscuits, it’s dark and I’ve found her sunglasses in the glove compartment.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elrond and Haldir had both volunteered to drive Gandalf to the airport, mainly to ensure that he really did leave the country. The bag he checked in clinked. A lot.

“Did you pack this yourself?”

“Yes. But you’re welcome to check. And I know that strip searching is just doing your job.”

The woman ignored him.

“And you are aware that no glass bottles or sharp objects are to be taken aboard the plane as hand luggage?”

“Just a minute.” Gandalf opened his bag and removed from about his person three flick knives, one swiss army knife, a machete, a knitting needle and a half bottle of “Le vooodka”. He was on the point of zipping the bag up again, when a though occurred to him and he took two long hatpins out of his hat and put them into the bag.

“Is that everything?”

“Unless I can buy you a drink.”

“That’s everything then. Thank you for choosing British Airways, please don’t do it again.”

Gandalf then walked towards departures. Elrond and Haldir followed Gandalf, not happy until they saw that he’d passed through passport control. They breathed a sigh of relief and headed back out to the car.

“Dad dude! Smug Marchwarden dude! Dude!”

Elrond and Haldir froze in mute horror.

“Dude, I told you they’d be pleased to see us-”

“Yeah, anyway dad, we were like, so screwed-”

“But like Mithrandir totally came through for us-”

“So we’re like back! And like, we’ve been thinking-”

“Like, that family is the most important-”

“So like, we’re moving back in.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“A red sky – blood has been spilled this night.”

“Och, red sky means it’s going to rain.”

“Since when could you commune with nature?”

“I can observe nature! It’s going to rain. We’re in Scotland, I think I’m on better ground than you.”

“Blood.”

“Rain.”

“Blood.”

“Rain.”

“I’m going to spill some blood in a minute if you don’t stop arguing.”

Both Legolas and Gimli turned on Aragorn. “WE weren’t the ones who got us chucked out of the Youth Hostel at three in the morning. We weren’t the ones who got our membership cards torn up and a lifetime ban from Youth Hostels everywhere.”

“Look, I just got a bit carried away.”

Aragorn looked very lost. Legolas and Gimli looked at one another. They relented. Whenever Aragorn got them into trouble it was usually through over-enthusiasm or incompetence rather than malice.

“Come on. If we keep up this pace we can get the earlier train.”

There was some companionable silence.

“We have had a good holiday though, haven’t we?”

“Better than last time, certainly.”

“No hobbits. No Gandalf.”

“We should do this more often.”

“But we never get the time.”

“We’re immortal. We have all the time in the world.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A/N: The painting ‘The Madonna With the Big Boobies’ is of course from the programme “Allo Allo”, which was set in occupied France. Just in case anyone was thinking of imitating Merry & Pippin’s Mission it’s not real and we won’t refund air fares.