Bagenders’ Tribute to Tolkien’s Eleventy First Birthday
3rd of January 2003
By Lady Alyssa and Random Den
We’ve borrowed Tolkien’s characters and taken a trip to the epic past that the ‘Bagenders’ Fellowship has lived through… but it’s not quite how you’d expect…
Note: to get this out in time we’ve had to leave it un-beta’d, so e-mail us any mistakes and they will be corrected.
Come our readers, fly through the mists of time, to before the age of iron, when Mycenae was great and heroes walked the earth. Fly past the Pillars of Hercules, over the wine dark sea, over the land of Agamemnon and Menelaus, to a sea-fringed dusky plain. Sing, Muse, of the sights here to behold. Sing of the great citadel atop the hill, home of the brave Trojans. Sing of those heroes encamped before the fortress, the Achaean Hellenes. Sing as one proud and noble warrior, king among men, comes forth to parley.
At the battlements a face appeared, one beloved of Aphrodite, one that had launched about 10 medium sized ships of the Danaans to avenge her loss.
“Please come home. You’ve been here ages, please? Haven’t I always tried to give you everything? I spend half my time off pillaging for your sake and you go off with another man behind my back! What has he got that I haven’t? ”
“Personality, that’s what! He doesn’t bugger off pillaging all the time! And he’s better in bed!”
Such words goaded bold Aragorn to launch himself at the fortress, though he had not yet buckled on his shining armour and taken up his sword and great shield. Wily Odysseus and brave Achilles, seeing his folly, leapt up and took him back to their camp by the black ships.
“What did you try and do that for you stupid bugger?” spake cunning Odysseus “What exactly were you trying to achieve?”
“The little whore! Why did I marry her?”
“I’ve often asked myself that. Well, what are we going to do?”
Achilles’ brows knotted in concentration. “We get the lads together and we rush the gates.”
Odysseus gave him a withering look. “We keep doing that and we keep failing. We’ve done loads of sacrifices and nothing. I mean, how long have we been here, rushing the gates, not getting anywhere and coming back here again?”
“Dunno. Ages. Feels like we’ve been here ten years.”
Odysseus agreed. “Yeah. And I for one want to get back to the wife.”
Aragorn was still sulking. “Well, at least you’ve got a wife. And there’s no chance of her being unfaithful to you while you’re away.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Ummmm, nothing, nothing, just that she is a shining example of chaste womanhood.”
“And nothing to do with you previous drunken comment that she has, and I quote, ‘a face like a Sphinx’s backside’?”
Achilles was deep in thought. “Perhaps… perhaps we could attack at night time?”
Odysseus looked at Achilles, who would face many dangers willingly, but not usually intelligently. “And do you remember what happened last time? You getting disorientated and massacring that sacred grove of trees outside the city? Athena was bloody pissed off. I for one do not want another plague of enraged owls, thank you.”
Aragorn seemed confused. “I thought they were eagles.”
“Eagles, owls, who cares? It was the enraged part, and the sharp beaks and claws part that was the problem.”
The High Priest of Zeus appeared, clothed in robes of white with suspiciously long, trailing sleeves.
“The light comes from the east, but does not descend there, for the eye sees what mere mortals cannot.”
The warriors looked at the other short man who was leading Frodo on a piece of rope. They didn’t know how to interpret the auspices, and seemed rather hopeful that this might actually be something helpful.
“No, that’s not a prophecy, he means ‘good morning’ too.”
“Ah, then I think we’ll skip the ‘how are you then’ part of the conversation.”
“The goats and trees of the field have no use for flame, the great one provides all.”
“He says he’s fine, thank you.”
“Samwise,” said Odysseus, “what can you interpret from the flights of birds for us?”
“I see birds of prey, and birds of carrion all flying towards one point; a donkey’s just died outside the west gate, I think.”
“No other helpful, mystic things going on?”
“Not unless there’s something particularly mystic about a dead donkey, no.”
“You could go and read its entrails…?”
“After it’s been crapped on by a load of carrion crows? No, thank you. I’ll do you a goat if you want, but it’s been ill and I don’t think it’ll be much use.”
“The black ones are servants of him, from Dunland! Crebain! Crebain!”
“Yes, umm, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for the High Priest’s nap.”
Achilles was quite frankly fed up with this, and said so. “Bloody stupid gods…”
Odysseus tackled Achilles to the ground, so the thunderbolt struck down a couple of inches away from him.
“What the hell did you do that for? You know they don’t like it! You’ll have to apologise now. And you’d probably better look for a better sacrifice than one ill goat.”
Time passed. In the camp of the Achaean Hellenes armour was polished. Swords were sharpened. Then sharpened again. Finally they were sharpened to the point that they were so thin as to be useless, so new swords were forged.
Arwen and her new father in law became engaged in a battle of the colour schemes of the Great Palace of Troy. Priam, Arwen’s father in law favoured big bold primary colours, illustrated with pictures of bulls, while Arwen wanted pastels and pictures of flowers. Paris, Arwen’s replacement for Aragorn tried to stay out of this by retiring to the courtyard to work on his one-man racing chariot.
In the midst of all this dullness a sail appeared on the horizon. Then the sail disappeared. Then it reappeared, a little closer inland. Then it disappeared. This went on for some time, the sail becoming closer on each appearance. People gathered along the beach to watch. As it neared the shore the sounds of voices and cursing could be heard.
“This was a bloody stupid idea.”
“You didnae say that when we had to carry it across that isthm – isthimmy- isthumum- strip of land thingy.”
Then the pair came ashore, dragging a most bizarre boat behind them. Odysseus came forward to greet them. Heavily armed.
“Who the sod are you? And what are you doing here?”
“Who are we? Umm, well, who are you?”
“We are Achaean Hellenes, warriors of proud descent.”
“Well, that’s us too. Apart from the proud descent bit.”
“Hey, Merry, speak for yourself. Ah’m the Thain.”
“No, you were the Thain. Of somewhere that dun’t exist any more. And you were the first and only Thain to be impeached.”
Odysseus was worried. “Achilles, go get Aragorn, would you? I’m having trouble deciding how I’m going to kill these two.”
“Stop there. We are mighty warriors, for hire at very reasonable rates. Well, I’m a mighty warrior, Pippin ‘ere gets sat on.”
“Just you come here and say that, pal.”
With that the two short men set about each other with fists, teeth and anything else handy.
Aragorn ambled up.
“Ah, Aragorn, we appear to be being visited by a pair of comedy eunuchs.”
This was enough to stop the two men fighting.
“Eunuchs? No, no, no, no, no, no. no. No.”
“No. Very no. Do you want proof?”
This was not fast enough to stop Merry and Pippin demonstrating the fact that they were indeed 100% hobbit. Achilles went very pale and had to sit down.
Frodo was led in on his leash to see what all the fuss was about. Then he ran forwards and hugged Merry and Pippin.
“The sideways owl hoots thrice!”
Sam joined in the hug, and helpfully supplied, “We’re both very pleased to see you.”
“Could someone please explain to me what is going on?” Odysseus had his arms folding in a way that indicated that someone was going to get a kicking if he didn’t get some answers.
“Oh, sorry, they’re Frodo’s cousins. They’re… ummm… disinherited nobles. Soldiers, traders and pillagers.”
“Sometimes all at once,” added Pippin, “ an’ we can do despoiling of virgins at no extra cost.”
“So basically they’re a pair of wastrels?”
“How do we get rid of them?”
“No, I meant by what method.”
“If we knew that we wouldn’t be so far from home.”
“What do they have to do with Arwen going off with Paris?”
“The mallorn spreads its boughs most wide!” Frodo was pointing at the boat, jumping up and down and looking excited.
“What, that? It’s a collapsible boat, for carrying about the place. Problem is, it collapses when you don’t want it to.”
“A collapsible boat. Of course. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of that? Oh, I know, because it’s the most stupid idea in the whole world.”
“No, just you wait, a few centuries and everyone’ll have one.”
A few days later all was as normal. A couple of men had come out from Troy, there had been a derisory swordfight, with all parties becoming bored and wandering off before actually doing each other any damage. Merry and Pippin had failed in their attempts to sell anything or seduce anyone.
Then suddenly, as he was being led for his morning walk, Frodo stopped, threw his arms out and proclaimed, “the gods do not grant victory for you have neglected them; you must offer sacrifice!”
There was a moment’s silence then the whole camp gathered round him.
“Was that actually coherent?”
“I think so.”
“There isn’t anything else that sounds like ‘sacrifice’ is there?”
“Don’t think so.”
Aragorn looked doubtfully at Frodo. “How much should we sacrifice?”
“What? How much?”
Frodo started bouncing up and down and repeating “hecatomb! hecatomb! hecatomb! hecatombhecatombhecatombhecatombhecatomb!”
“Samwise… is that a prophecy, or does he just like the sound of the word?”
“Hard to tell. Probably best to go with the hecatomb just to be on the safe side.”
Achilles was a bit slower on the uptake, “but how do you sacrifice a tomb? I mean, you can’t exactly kill it.”
Odysseus gave him a patient primary school teacher look. “A hecatomb means a sacrifice of a hundred oxen.”
“Oh. Sorry. But we don’t have a hundred oxen. I’d have noticed them.”
Frodo was ignored.
Sam chimed in, “Achilles is right. We’ve been living off salt meat for a while now, we’ve only got three chickens and a goat.”
“What about them?”
“No chickens and no goat means no milk and eggs, and no milk and eggs means no pancakes.”
“Well bugger that. What are we going to do?”
Merry and Pippin sidled into the centre of the circle, accompanied by little squeaks of ‘hecatomb!’.
“We, as purveyors of strange and expensive things that can only be got from far away, can provide you with one hundred oxen. For a price.”
“Oh, to be negotiated. We accept all major metals.”
So it was that Merry and Pippin were waved off in their collapsible boat.
“Do you think we’ll ever see them again?”
“No, but we didn’t give them a deposit on the oxen, so it doesn’t matter that much.”
Time passed. Boredom itself became boring. And then a sail appeared on the horizon. this time it moved with purpose, and as it neared shore the sounds of a number of male voices singing ‘row, row, row your boat’ in a round could be heard.
The boat was beached and the occupants leapt onto dry land. Their apparent leader (although none of them seemed to be of an age where shaving was an issue) turned to them and yelled, “this is a leg stretching and food stop only, lads, so no wandering off or starting fights, ok?”
The young man then turned to Odysseus and Achilles, who’d come over to see what was going on.
“Hi! I’m Jason, and the lads are my Argonauts, cos the ship’s call the Argo. Look, we’ve all got matching tunics and everything.”
Odysseus was not sure what to make of him. “Oh. Very nice. Ummm, well, I’m Odysseus, King of Ithaca, this is Achilles, King of Phthia (don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it, neither can he), and there’s Aragorn, King of Mycenae about somewhere.”
“Wow! You must be on a really, really important quest.”
“No, Aragorn’s wife’s gone off with another man.”
“Oh.” Jason seemed incredibly disappointed.
Since he looked like he was going to cry Achilles tried to fill in, “but we do fighting, and sometimes the gods get wrathful.”
Odysseus took his cue from Achilles. “Yes, sometimes wrathful and vengeful on the same day.”
“That sounds so cool.” Jason seemed to remember something. “Oh, yeah, um, we kind of stopped cos we need food, could you sell us some? There’s nothing left on the boat except pickled olives, and that’s only cos Appolonius’ mum’s really bad with olives.”
“If you’re out of food then what are you going to use to buy things off us with?”
“Oh. Um, give us a sec, need to talk to the lads.” Jason dashed off to where the other Argonauts were gathered.
Another figure left the boat. This one was more purposeful, and seemed much older. And had pointy ears.
“Greetings. I am Legolas, Prince of Mirkwoodae. Wherefore is there such a gathering of warriors upon this shore?”
“You can lose the mighty warrior speech, we’re not really looking for a fight.”
“Sorry. Why are you here, then?”
“King Aragorn’s wife-”
“Aragorn of Mycenae.”
“Um, where is he?”
“Should be round here somewhere. He might have gone to throw things at the walls again.”
There was a hairy blur. Frodo had slipped his leash again, and was being chased by Sam. Going past them he made a sudden change of direction and wrapped himself around Legolas’ leg.
“What is this?”
“Our High Priest.”
“Oh.” Legolas examined the thing attached to his leg. “Frodo?”
At this point Sam caught up with his errant charge.
“Long are the winding ways of rivers in the north.”
“Frodo says hello, and asks what you’ve been doing since he saw you last.”
Aragorn finally turned up to see what all the fuss was about, at the same point that Jason finished his discussions with his crew, and returned, dragging two very reluctant Argonauts with him.
“Me and the lads drew straws, and in return for provisions these two here will gratify your every sexual need.”
Legolas turned sternly to Jason. “This is what you always do Jason! You need something, and your first response is to sell an Argonaut into prostitution; you never think of pillaging or trading, do you? Always looking for the easy way out, aren’t you? What happened to teamwork? What happened to matching tunics?”
Jason looked at the ground. “Verysorry, won’thappenagain.”
One Argonaut who had just missed being sold into prostitution breathed a sigh of relief, but then made the logical deduction. “But then how are we going to get food? I’m not touching those olives.”
Legolas looked at Aragorn. “Oh, I think we can get provisions here. The King of Mycenae owes me hospitality. Lots of hospitality. And hasn’t returned that bow I lent him.”
Jason brightened considerably. “That’s good, cos me and the lads are starving. What’s for dinner?”
“Oh, wow, my favourite! Don’t suppose you’ve got any salt meat to go with them?”
“Well, now you come to mention it…”
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of salt meat pancakes, Legolas was explaining to Aragorn how he had come to be babysitting the Argonauts.
“I promised his mother I’d look after him. It wasn’t so bad at first, after his throne was taken, since it was just hanging round round the countryside making sure he wasn’t savaged by goats. Then, of course, he goes and annoys the king (who I think was really a bit touchy about him turning up with only one sandal on, but you know how court etiquette is), who sends him off on a quest to find the golden teeth.”
“Pardon? Golden teeth? Teeth of what?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t catch most of what he said, the acoustics in that hall were atrocious.”
“They all look a bit young.”
“They can hardly tell one end of a sword from the other. They need some practice, they’re going to be facing some pretty nasty monsters.”
“They can get some battle practice here.”
“Seems really rather quiet. All I’ve seen either side do is wave their swords at each other and go ‘arrg’ a bit.”
“That’s not fair. They sometimes throw rocks at each other.”
“They’re more pebbles than rocks.”
“We’ve been here a long time.”
“Could you, you know, goad them a bit?”
“Isn’t that what you do to horses-” Aragorn instinctively crossed his legs.
“No, that’s gelding. I meant, go and annoy them until they come out and fight.”
“Oh. What’s the most insulting thing we could call Arwen?”
Aragorn thought for a moment. “Yep, that’s the one.” He stood up turned in the direction of the walls and took a deep breath. Then he stopped. “You know, it might be a good idea to have everyone in battle formation before we do this.”
Legolas nodded. They rounded up all the men, got their armour on, got out their chariots, explained to the Argonauts the basic principles of spear throwing and lined up in battle order. Only then did Aragorn step forward and address the walls of Troy thusly:
“ARWEN, YOU FAT BITCH, COME OUT HERE!”
“WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?”
“FAT BITCH! COS YOU ARE!”
There was an incoherent noise of rage from inside the walls, which encouraged Legolas to join in.
“HE’S RIGHT! WE WERE ALL TOO SCARED TO SAY HOW BIG YOUR ARSE LOOKED IN YOUR WEDDING DRESS!”
There was the sound of breaking vases, and a female voice calling the Trojans to arms. Since they’d all learned who really wore the trousers (or rather who wore the armour and the butch leather miniskirt) in the city, the army obeyed.
They gathered after the battle, for the traditional post-match analysis.
“So Legolas, how many Argonauts have you got left? One? Two?”
“All of them, actually.”
“Really? You must have some god looking out for you, I mean Frodo could have taken them down. Injuries?”
“None caused by the enemy. Megapenthes managed to stab himself in the foot with his own spear, and Peisistratus accidentally walloped Laertes over the back of the head with his shield, but apart from that everyone’s fine.”
A few days later, while the Argonauts were still honing their battle skills (stick *pointy* end of sword into enemy), another ship arrived. It beached itself without them seeing any sign of the crew. They approached the boat warily.
“Aren’t those hieroglyphs on the side?”
Legolas stepped forwards to read them. “Teti’s Reliable Boat Hire, Memphis. ‘You won’t be sunk by our prices!’”
“Reliable! Ah do not call this reliable!” Pippin appeared over the side of the boat. “The collapsible one was more seaworthy.”
“That would be because, unless I’m very much mistaken, this is a river barge and is not meant to go to sea.”
“Oooh, and it’s very nice to see you too, Legolas.” sarcasm dripped from Pippin. Water also dripped from Pippin, and from Merry who climbed out of the boat after him.
“I would say the same, but I really can’t be bothered to lie.”
“Where are our hundred oxen then? We’ve had another battle, with reinforcements while you were gone and we still haven’t got any further.”
“Just let us get unloaded.”
The holds were opened, and ramps were put up to get the animals out of the hold. Those who were not engaged in unloading were looking for firewood and sharpening knives. Aragorn, Legolas, Odysseus, Achilles, and Jason took supervisory roles, i.e. watching everyone else work. This is what the aristocracy are there for.
The oxen began to be led down the ramps. They were a bit old and scrawny, but everyone was too polite to say anything. Then the fourth ox appeared. It was given a long hard stare by the supervisory committee.
It was Jason who first spoke up, “ummm, I’ve spent a long time in the countryside. That’s a goat. Ok, so it’s a shaved and painted goat, but it’s still a goat, and if I notice then the gods’ll probably notice too.”
“Perhaps they just brought us a goat as well?”
Everyone looked at Achilles. They did not share his optimism.
“Let’s at least see what else they’ve brought.”
There were three more oxen that looked suspiciously like goats. Then four oxen that looked suspiciously like sheep. Then there was the crocodile.
“Ok, the sheep and the goats were vaguely plausible. That is most emphatically not an ox. It’s a crocodile.”
“We know it’s a crocodile. It’s not our fault, bloody things get everywhere, it’s dangerous to go to the privy in the morning.”
The crocodile looked unhappy. The various ‘oxen’ looked worried and backed away. The Argonauts (apart from Jason, who was learning the art of command from Legolas) tried to herd the crocodile towards the sacrificial altar.
“Here croccy, croccy, croccy. Nice crocodile… gaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
It made a few snaps at them, but their reflexes were getting better. They went and found their spears (on the principle that this meant that they didn’t have to get closer than six feet away from the crocodile) and herded it away. The supervisors left them to it, and watched the continued unloading of the ship.
“That’s not a ox either. It’s a painted donkey.”
“Ok, ok, so some of them aren’t actually oxen, but wait to see what I’ve got to show you next.” Pippin pulled something small and squirming out of a sack. “It’s the latest thing for the hero on the move. The portable, dwarf ox, for easy and speedy propitiation of the gods.”
“Pippin, that’s a cat.”
“No it’s not! Look, it’s got horns!”
“They’re made out of papyrus-mache.”
“It’s an ox!”
“Going ‘miaow’? With claws?”
“Well, you can’t expect such a wee thing to make that big deep ‘moo’ noise. And the claws are… are… so you can attach it to things. Very useful.”
“It’s a cat.”
“Pippin. Tell me, how many more of the oxen for the sacrifice are special dwarf oxen?”
“Um, all of them.”
“Now, this is what puzzles me. Egypt is an agricultural country where the cat is sacred. Therefore, it must have been significantly more difficult, not to mention expensive, for you to acquire eighty-seven cats.”
“Well, that’s the other thing. We didn’t quite get the full hundred.”
“Wait a minute, that cat’s wearing a collar.” Legolas squinted at it. “Temple cats. You have pinched thirty-two sacred temple cats. Do you never want to go back to Egypt?”
“We didn’t pinch them, they were having a clear out at the temple, replacing them all.”
“Pippin, I’ve been to Egypt.”
“Oh. Did you buy cats from a temple clearout too?”
“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer. Just take the horns off them and let them loose.”
“But what about the sacrifice?”
“Has it occurred to you that killing a sacred animal might be a really stupid idea?”
“But they’re not our gods…”
“All the more reason not to annoy them. And the last time I checked all the gods had disowned you.”
The conversation was abruptly interrupted by a noise.
“Sssssssssqqqqqqqqqeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeip! Gahaaaahhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! Mnnnnnnnnneaaargh!”
They all ran to the source of the noise, to find Frodo backed into a corner by the crocodile, screaming, with his hands over his eyes so he couldn’t see it. By combined effort the others all managed to herd the crocodile into the river, where it swam off.
“I suppose we’ll just have to sacrifice what we’ve got then.”
The sacrifice was duly arranged. Achilles took charge, since as Frodo was making squeaking noises and repeatedly saying ‘the lamentable wasps!’, it was felt that giving him a knife would be very silly.
“Oh mighty gods, please accept this sacrifice of three oxen, four sheep, three goats,” since it had been decided to keep a goat back so they could try and make cheese, “and this duck I managed to catch…”
“No, no, no, it’s like this.” Legolas took several dainty elvish steps forward.
Jason tried to copy and tripped over his sandal fastenings.
“That was nearly right, just more hips.”
“Are you sure this makes me look kingly?”
“Of course it does, all the members of the royal family where I come from walk like this.”
“That’s not a royal walk, that’s a royal mince.” Legolas looked round to see Aragorn watching them.
“Alright then, lets see how you would do it.”
Aragorn demonstrated, doing what might have been called an uncanny impression of John Wayne, if it wasn’t for the fact that he wouldn’t be born for another few thousand years.
“That’s not a royal walk, that’s an I’ve-just-suffered-an-unpleasant-groin-injury walk.”
Legolas could see the wheels turning in Aragorn’s brain as he tried to think of a witty comeback including the word balls. Eventually he gave in. “That’s how we walk in Mycenae; real men come from Mycenae.”
“Ah, Mycenae, where the men are real men, even when they’re women.”
Before Aragorn could work out this insult, Odysseus and Achilles arrived. “What’s this then?”
“We’re teaching Jason how to do a regal walk.”
“You mean like this?” Odysseus slunk. There was no real other word for the strange diagonal movement which seemed to go from one patch of cover to another patch of cover and seemed to be semi-invisible even in broad daylight.
“Don’t pay attention to him, he’s from Ithaca.”
“Meaning what? If you’re about to make a comment about goats you’re a dead man.”
“No, it’s hilly there, you’ve got one leg longer than the other, so of course you walk funny.”
“I do not have one leg longer than the other.”
“Yes you do, lie down. See, one leg longer than the other.”
“I suppose it would make sense, my dad’s got one leg shorter than the other.”
“Really, I wonder why you ended up with one leg longer then.”
“The gods work in mysterious ways,” said Legolas in a voice that brought words like ‘long-suffering’ to mind.
“I’ll show you a real royal walk from Pht- pth- pfffft… I’ll show you how the sons of Peleus walk!” Achilles stomped forward raising clouds of dust and cries of ‘earthquake!” from inside the city. Then he fell over and began fighting a rock which had looked at him in a funny way.
“I think I’ll stick to my own royal walk.”
“Probably the best idea. Just cut out the hoppity-skip part, and the whistling and you should be fine.”
The next day the Argonauts left. There was much manly hugging, and some unmanly hugging from Frodo. All the flames involved in sacrifice had lessened his grip on reality again and he was reduced to incoherent gibbering. Merry and Pippin helped to subdue Frodo to stop him from following them because after ascertaining that these were probably really quite large golden teeth they had decided that the Argonauts could benefit from their trading and battle experience, so were accompanying them free of charge, much to the annoyance of Legolas. But then Legolas hadn’t been consulted on the matter because as soon as Jason had found out that Merry and Pippin could teach him how to seduce foreign women he wasn’t interested in listening to Legolas’ advice.
There was an exchange of gifts.
“Oh. Aragorn. Thank you for giving back the bow, I hope you’ve kept it in good order.”
“Ummm, yes, of course I have. Yes.”
The Argonauts were kitted out in everybody else’s cast off weaponry. There were the usual comments of ‘don’t worry, you’ll grow into it’, and ‘oh, don’t you look all grown up in full combat armour?’. This was in defiance of all normal logic, however, because there is nothing at all grown up about a leather miniskirt that comes down to your knees.
When it came to the Argonauts turn to give gifts Jason looked a little embarrassed. “We don’t have anything on the ship to give you except for these olives. They’re not very good, but they’re in a nice amphora and you could try throwing the actual olives over the wall of the city, it’d really annoy them.”
They watched the sail disappear over the horizon, waving to it as it went. Then they watched it reappear again.
“I wonder what they’ve forgotten.”
“Actually, I don’t think that’s the same ship.”
“Because unless they’ve sewn silhouettes of naked women on to the sail very quickly, it’s not them. I don’t think they even know how to sew.”
They went down to the beach to meet the new ship. Oddly, its entire crew appeared to be female. They waved, in a way that immediately put everyone in mind of the word ‘nubile’, except for Achilles, who didn’t know what nubile meant, but was going ‘whhhoarrhh’ which probably meant something similar.
A ramp was lowered and a well-groomed elderly gentleman dressed in white robes and carrying a staff stepped off the ship.
“Hello, I’m Gandalf the White, oracle for hire, and these” he indicated the very impractically dressed young women, “are my priestesses. My clay tablet.”
A small rectangular piece of stone found its way into Achilles’ hand. He passed it Odysseus, who read it. “‘Gandalf the White. Communing with the gods for 17 generations. We’ll find the right deity for you. Best rates outside of Siwah. First Time Adventurer and group discount available on request (proof of quest required).’ I’m sorry, but we’ve already got an oracle.”
Aragorn turned to Odysseus. “I think our oracle might be, um… broken. Gandalf, could we have a word, please. In private.”
By the end of the morning Aragorn had managed to negotiate First Time Adventurer discount, group discount and My Isn’t That a Big Sword discount. Gandalf was hired as their new oracle at a fee of 10% of any divine providence received. He started well, praying that the god would cause the goats and chickens to produce milk and eggs and was not disappointed. Achilles was most impressed.
In the great hall of the Palace of Troy the city’s rulers were in council.
“So if there no one has any more remarks to add about the amendments to article 17b part 2 of the slavery laws, we’ll move on to the next item on the agenda. What are we going to do about the siege?”
The members of the council looked at each other nervously. They all knew what they had to do to end the siege, but weren’t terribly keen to offer suggestions as Arwen was standing over king Priam’s shoulder glaring at them.
However, Aeneas, who was basically a spare royal standing on the fine line between ‘brave’ and ‘stupid’ decided to speak up. “Um… maybe we could, you know… give her back?”
Arwen smiled sweetly and kicked Paris, who woke up with a start. “What are you all doing in my bedroom? Oh. Right.” A lackey whispered something in his ear. “Okay. But she’s, like, my wife. So, so, she’s like mine. You can’t give her back, just like you can’t give my racing chariot back. Okay?”
Arwen smiled again. Hecuba, Priam’s wife, spoke urgently into his ear. Priam stood up and addressed the council. “Yes. I agree wholeheartedly with Paris.” Then he whispered “I do, don’t I dear?” Hecuba nodded supportively.
Aeneas, who was never one to give up on an idea once one had formed spoke up again. “But we can’t go out looting and pillaging. We’re stuck here in the city living off salt meat pancakes and it wouldn’t be so bad, but we ran out of chutney last week. When they had that sacrifice the entire city was standing on the battlements breathing in deeply. And does anyone know why there’s a crocodile in the palace privy, because I’m pretty sure that sort of thing never happened before the siege. I think we have to face it that the gods might be on their side.”
Arwen whispered to Paris. “I haven’t, like, seen any crocodiles in the privy. Anyway, what’s a crocodile?”
“They’re big scaly green things that come from Egypt.”
“Big scaly green things? You’re making it up, there’s nothing alive that looks like that.”
Hecuba whispered to her husband again. “Perhaps the big, green scaly non-existent thing is a, what was it dear? Oh yes, a vision from the gods.”
“A vision which tells us that we should get rid of the siege?”
There was more whispering. “No, a vision which says that you are ill-favoured by the gods and we don’t want people like that in the city because they’re unlucky. So if you leave then the siege should follow you.” Priam sat down again looking exhausted by his wife’s mental effort.
“But surely we should consult the oracles.”
“Are you, like, questioning my father’s judgement?”
“No, of course I wasn’t, I was just suggesting-”
“No you weren’t, you were just leaving.”
Aeneas knew when he was defeated, so packed up his belongings and his family and prepared to leave the city. He hoisted his son on to his shoulders, took his father by the hand and shouted to his wife “Creusa! We’re leaving, pick up that luggage and start moving!”
“We’ve got to go.”
“Why? What’ve you done?”
“I saw a crocodile in the privy and now I’ve been exiled. It’s a long story, I’ll explain it on the way.”
“See, Gandalf, the ducks fly over the city, what does this mean?”
Gandalf produced a bow and arrow. “Roast duck for dinner.”
Odysseus decided it was time for a little chat with Aragorn. “Are you sure taking on this new oracle was a good idea?”
“Gandalf? Of course, he really knows his job.”
“You mean he’s good at sitting around eating 10% of our food and getting massages from his priestesses?”
“Well, that too, but he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to omens and signs.” They watched as Gandalf wandered away, probably in search of something he could make wine from.
“We haven’t exactly seen much evidence of this yet. I have tried to use trickery to find out whether or not he is speaking the truth, but his predictions are even more complicated than Frodo’s. I think he was right, but then there aren’t any reciprocating beehives around here, so it must have been some sort of metaphor.”
“He did manage to sort out that plague of frogs.”
“Plague of frog. Singular. There was only the one.”
“It was annoying though.”
Achilles pointed towards the city gates. “Look! People are emerging from the city. Can we go and fight them?”
“They don’t really look like warriors.”
“The big guy looks like a warrior, but he also looks like the small child on his shoulders has been sick on him and I don’t want to get too close in case it throws up again.”
As the warrior and three associated person approached they could clearly hear one of them complaining.
“Take me back, I don’t want to go. It’s bingo night at the over 60’s symposium. Take me back.”
Aeneas ignored his father and called out to the assembled warriors. “I have been exiled from Troy, will you grant us safe passage through your lines?”
“What were you exiled for?”
“I don’t want to go into it, but I have been commanded by the gods to go… somewhere.”
“Somewhere that isn’t the privy in the palace.”
“Shut up, Creusa, I’m trying to negotiate.”
“Did someone mention a command from the gods? Here’s my clay tablet.”
Aeneas looked at the tablet. “Sorry, but I’m not really interested, I haven’t got any money.”
“Then I’ll give you a free sample and if you happen to find some money in the future, you’ll know what you’re getting.” Gandalf cleared his throat and made the appropriate dramatic arm gesture. “You shall found a city upon a river crossing with a strong citadel upon a hill and a reliable water supply.”
“That’s a prophecy then, is it?”
“No, that’s just sensible town planning. This is the prophecy.” Gandalf made another dramatic arm gesture. “The name of this city shall echo down the ages of men, wherever warriors gather to speak of glory and honour its name shall be heard. And its name shall be… Gandalf!”
“Um… thanks, I’ll be sure to keep that in mind when I’m planning a new settlement.”
Aeneas and his family trudged off into the sunset.
“Do you think I should have warned him not to build the city on a malarial swamp?”
“No, that’s just common sense, he should be able to work that one out for himself.”
“I’ve have a cunning plan, Aragorn.”
“Yes? How cunning?”
“About as cunning as… Look, they call me wily Odysseus, not Odysseus who’s good at similes. It’s very cunning.”
“So what do you suggest we do?”
“Well, everyone knows that Paris is a complete layabout and never does anything around the house, right?”
“And how many times do you think he’s given her flowers in all the time that she’s been there?”
“Probably not even once.”
“So all you have to do is make her something really nice and put a bunch of flowers on top and leave it outside the front door late at night. Next morning she’ll pack her bags and come straight back to you. Oh, and some honey sweetmeats too, women really like them.”
“Great, I’ll get started.”
Two days later Odysseus, Achilles and Gandalf gathered to look at what Aragorn had made. It was approximately two feet high and appeared to be entirely constructed from splinters.
“That’s very, um, nice.”
“Yes, what exactly is it?”
“It’s a toast rack.” Aragorn beamed with pride.
“Of course. Does Arwen eat a lot of toast?”
“Does she even like toast?”
“Well, I’m sure she’d appreciate the effort, but this has to be something really good, because it won’t work if she’s not impressed. I think we’re going to have to call in a professional and just pretend that you made it.”
“Isn’t that cheating?”
“Yes, but at the moment Arwen’s cheating on you, so just think of it as getting even.”
“Okay. But where are we going to find a craftsman, apart from the ones in the city, because I don’t think they’ll want to come out here what with there being a war and everything.”
“It’s not like you’d notice the war. We just won’t tell them.”
A mission had been sent to look for a skilled craftsman. Some time later, the ship returned, bearing dwarf.
“Och, I’m Gimli, warrior for hire, jeweller, bronze-monger, and carpenter. What can I do for you?”
“We’d like a gift for a lady.”
“Och, I can do you something very nice in silver filigree-”
“No, we need something that Aragorn could plausibly have made.”
“Aragorn? King of Mycenae?”
“Yes, that’s him.”
“How about a toast rack?”
“No. Tried that. Oh, here he is now.”
Aragorn was wandering about, looking confused. “Gimli? What are you doing here?”
“I hear you need a gift for a lady. Finally managed to dump Arwen then?”
“No, the gift is for Arwen.”
“Oh, um, sorry.” Gimli looked at the ground awkwardly. “What do you think she’d like?”
“She likes horses.”
“I’m not good enough with leather to make a saddle.”
“I thought you could make a horse.” There was a pause as Gimli looked at him like he’d gone insane. “A decorative one.”
“Oh, right. How big?”
“I thought horse sized.”
“Are you sure she wants something that big?”
“She was always very emphatic about size being important.”
“Alright. A decorative horse it is then. I will need supplies of timber, and I need to work in private so my craft secrets may not be revealed.”
Gimli worked in secret on his project. Well, mainly in secret. Frodo and the crocodile managed to get in there somehow and no-one could work out a way of getting either of them out again. Fortunately, Frodo was now so insane that the crocodile was afraid of him, so it didn’t get messy. Wily Odysseus used all his skills and cunning to get into the workshop, and found to his disappointment that Gimli was neither spying on them, nor embezzling materials. He stuck around for a bit, but then found that watching someone use a lathe is really very dull, so went away again.
Aragorn had been set up to work on bits of wood in sight of the city, so Arwen would believe that the finished horse was his.
A face appeared at the battlements once more. “Aragorn! What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m making a present for you, dear.”
“What is it?”
“You’ll have to wait till it’s finished.”
“Yes, but when it’s finished will I be able to work out what it is?” There was a pause. “It’s not another toast rack is it?”
Gimli had summoned Aragorn to go into the more complex aspects of the horse, so if questioned he could actually answer.
“See here? There’s a wee trapdoor in the belly, opening inwards, so you can fill it with flowers and sweet things for her.”
“Why inwards? That’s silly.”
“It’s harder to do, so it’ll look better.”
Aragorn tried to open the door.
“No it’s not, give it here.” Gimli put his shoulder to the door. “Damn, must have got the timber damp. Bloody crocodile. We’ll have to sand it down and pretend we never intended for there to be a door. You can put the flowers and things on top.”
The horse was duly wheeled out and left in front of the city. It was bedecked and garlanded with flowers, and had on its back a veritable mountain of sweetmeats.
Arwen peered over the battlements suspiciously. She was joined by Cassandra, her sister-in-law.
“Oh, that is nice. Flowers. My brother’s never given you flowers, has he?” The final part of this was said slightly louder, and aimed back at where Paris was standing. He looked panicked and started to search for anything growing.
“No, he hasn’t. But then if Aragorn’s given me flowers it’s because someone else has told him to.”
Paris dashed up the steps to the battlements, carrying the nearest piece of foliage.
“Oh, how lovely. A withered olive branch. Because that really competes with a mountain of flowers.”
“Ummm, like, sorry?”
“Sorry! I’ll give you sorry! I’ll make you sorry that you ever spent more time on that bloody chariot than you spent on me, and I’ll-”
Arwen stopped abruptly, realising that the people encamped outside were listening intently.
“Aragorn wouldn’t spend more time on his chariot than on you.” supplied Odysseus.
“You keep out of this, goat boy.”
“Arwen? Doesn’t the time I’ve spent here, and all the time and effort I’ve put into this show that I want you back? Come home, love. Please?”
There was a slight pause from the battlements. “Someone bring the horse in. Aragorn? I’m thinking about it.”
Paris appeared on the battlements. “Aragorn! You think you can like, come in here and like, like, charm my wife back! Well, you’re wrong. Like, totally wrong. Take that!”
Paris chucked a rock ineffectively in the direction of Aragorn. Achilles was looking the other way and got hit.
“Aaaah, owowow! My heel! Oh, that really hurts.” He started hopping round in circles.
“It wasn’t that big a rock.”
“No, but it hit the bone! It’s like bashing your elbow. Ow.”
“Go and put you foot up then.”
Achilles limped off, muttering about never being able to fight again.
Inside the horse, Frodo blearily came to wakefulness. He was being jolted about the place and he could hear voices.
“Let’s put it in the great hall, it’ll make a nice centrepiece.”
“Oh, you don’t want it in there. It’s all out of scale.”
“Cassandra, you know nothing about decoration.”
“You mark my words, Arwen, no good will come of this horse. It blocks all the sightlines.”
The voices went away again. Frodo wondered how he’d got in here. Then he wondered how he was going to get out. If he’d been of a sound mind he’d have panicked, but as it was he decided it was time for another nap.
He was woken later by the sounds of feasting and revelry. He tried to get out again, but couldn’t and the sounds of his gibbering weren’t loud enough to be heard over the background noise.
Then everything was quiet again. A survival instinct emerged, and Frodo, after several tries, managed to work out that the trapdoor opened inwards, and let himself out. His first thought on freedom was an entirely logical, ‘where is the privy?’. He found the privy; the crocodile currently occupying it gave him a terrified look and slid away quickly. Calls of nature attended to, he began to wander about the place, gibbering very quietly.
Then he came upon an altar. With flames. He looked at the flames. They looked at him. Frodo’s eyes widened, and the gibbering became more of a keening.
“It sees meeeeee, precioussssssssssss…”
“Aragorn! Aragorn! Wake up, Frodo’s gone and Troy burns!” Aragorn attempted to focus on Sam. “Well, more Troy’s burnt, there isn’t much left of it now.”
This snapped Aragorn into full wakefulness. “What? Where’s Arwen?”
“I don’t know, but there’s lots of charred people hanging about, and Gandalf’s trying to sell them our breakfast.”
“I’ll look for Arwen, and if I find Frodo I’ll tell you, and if you find Arwen when you’re looking for Frodo then get a message to me, right?”
Sam nodded and ran off.
Aragorn leapt out of bed and began to search for Arwen.
Odysseus came up to him, “no, I haven’t seen Arwen, but you’d better put some clothes on. Gandalf’s priestesses are pointing and giggling.”
Aragorn turned and smiled. “You alive!”
“And you’re making people stare. Go and get a loincloth on.”
“Does this mean you’re coming home?”
“Since living with you is better than living in a smoking ruin, yes.”
Gandalf stood on a rock looking slightly singed and dishevelled and pulling a ‘mad prophet with weird staring eyes’ face.
“You have brought the wrath of Zeus upon your heads! See! He has burned your city to the ground in his anger!” A crowd began to gather around his feet as when you are surrounded by nothing but ruins, watching a priest foam at the mouth is considered a high form of entertainment. “The wrath of Zeus must be assuaged! And do you know how to assuage his wrath?”
The audience, not entirely sure what assuaged meant, shook their heads.
“Then I shall tell you how, ladies and gentlemen! By purchasing items from my wide range of Zeus-propitiation gifts!”
Semi-naked priestesses appeared from behind the rock carrying different items of god-related tack.
“And here we have the lovely Penelope, with a three span high statue of the god himself, complete with thunderbolt. And for those of you on a tighter budget, Arsinoe is carrying a range of small portable thunderbolts…”
Sam was circling the ruined city, calling out Frodo’s name, when a blacked figure emerged from a side door, carrying another smaller blackened figure.
“Umm, I’m looking for a small insane man…”
“Oh, like this one?” Frodo’s unconscious features were shown to Sam, who nodded. “He’s ok, had to knock him out to get him out of the city. Kept going on about eyes.”
“That’s him alright. Sorry, I’m being terribly rude, I’m Samwise, priest’s assistant. And you’re carrying Frodo, he’s the priest.”
“I’m Cassandra. Don’t know what I’m going to do now though.”
“Me neither. Frodo’s not going to be well enough to work for a good while.”
Then there was the bright light, clear noises and clean aroma of a godly manifestation. A voice spoke from the light.
“You shall take what is at your feet, and travel until the people do not know what it is, and question you about it. There you shall build a temple to me.”
“It would be helpful to know who ‘me’ is.”
“Oh, I am sorry. Athena, and could you make it to my wisdom aspect? It gets rather neglected.”
Cassandra and Sam looked at their feet. “Rocks? We’ve got to travel to where people don’t recognise rocks?”
“No, the thing over there.”
They looked at Aragorn’s creation.
“What is that exactly?”
“It’s a toast rack.”
“Well, at least we won’t have far to go then.”