Bagenders – University Challenge in the Dark

Season 2, Episode 1

By Lady Alyssa and Random Dent

Disclaimer: JRR Tolkien owns all the characters; University Challenge is owned by the BBC, and Beelzebub owns Jeremy Paxman’s soul. All companies/bands/universities have nothing to do with us.
Rating: PG-13 (violence; strife; language; Gandalf)
Story notes: The Fellowship have moved house, but things haven’t changed that much…
Note for non-Brits: ‘University Challenge’ is a programme that has been running intermittently since 1962. Universities submit a team of four people who are asked very hard questions in a condescending manner, currently by Jeremy Paxman, who also presents Newsnight and asks politicians hard questions in a condescending manner. If you win you get a slightly tacky glass trophy (and no money. Bastards.).

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“Has anyone seen my other pair of boxers?”

“In the tumble drier.”

Legolas looked up from his copy of the Grauniad. “We do have enough money for you to buy some new ones Aragorn.”

“Yes, but that would be a waste of money. I know I own boxer shorts, I packed them before we moved. It’s just a question of finding them.”

“Aragorn. We moved three weeks ago. If you haven’t found them by now you’re not going to.”

Aragorn had stopped the tumble drier and was rooting in its contents to find his boxers. He found them and put them on under his dressing gown.

“Eeeeee ahahahahaha oooooooo owwowowowowow”

“Of course, letting them cool down first might have been a good idea.”

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Merry awoke, deep in the darkest pit of ordure, illumined by no light, but rather darkness visible which served only to discover sights of woe, regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace and rest can never dwell, hope never comes that comes to all; but torture without end.

“TURN THE SODDING ALARM CLOCK OFF!”

The screaming of the damned stopped.

“Why the bloody hell you had to buy a Marilyn Manson alarm clock anyway…”

“It wiz oan special offer.”

Merry dragged himself out of the pit, which may or may not have at one point have been a bed. He staggered through no-man’s land towards the dread portal. The room was painted in cheap black paint, through which the floral wallpaper could still be seen. Frodo had refused to set foot in Merry and Pippin’s room three days after they had moved in, saying he was considering phoning the Guinness Book of Records for the ‘fastest creation of a dung heap’ record.

Merry turned the door handle and tugged. Then tugged again.

“’S stuck”

“Don’t be such a pussy.” Pippin swung on the door. Then he looked thoughtful. “Y’know it might be sticky toffee pudding.”

“You mean the stuff we had on Tuesday?”

“No, the stuff we had last Thursday. I was gonnae throw it out, but Ah couldnae find the bin, so Ah threw it at the door.”

“Oh. So what are we going to do? What are we going to do? What are we going to do? WE’RE GOING TO STARVE!” Merry had his hands round Pippin’s neck and was shaking him desperately.

“Naw. We’ve goat the sticky toffee pudding. We’ll eat oor way oot.”

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Frodo had been up for a few hours and had returned to his room to water the house plants. He ignored the screaming from the room next door as a matter of course. Giving Merry and Pippin their own room had been such a relief, since he now could ignore the noises and didn’t have to be party to what was causing them. He hummed to himself as he worked. Sam had filled the room with plants, which, coupled with the chintz that covered every available surface that didn’t have a doily on it, made it look like Laura Ashley had been imprisoned in the hothouses at Kew.

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In Gimli’s room things dripped, clunked, ticked and oscillated. It was a scene that would have made Heath Robinson pack up his pencils and become an accountant. Gimli was not due to be awake for a few more hours yet, as the water clock measured the time (the water clock, plumbed into the mains was the reason for the terrible shower pressure and total lack of hot water between exactly 7.51 in the morning and 1.54 in the afternoon). When he did awake, though it would be to find his clothes neatly out for him, a piece of buttered toast on a plate and a loaded toothbrush. Well, that was the plan. The plan, however, did not reckon for Merry and Pippin having spent the whole of the previous evening poking the contraption, going “Oooo. What does this do?”. Most dentists do not recommend cleaning your teeth with your own y-fronts. Especially if they’re made of metal.

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And to Gandalf. What can we say about Gandalf? (Except the obvious, which is mostly unrepeatable). Gandalf had unpacked himself after a few days, had explored the whole house in about three and a half seconds and had retreated to the sitting room. Except he no longer had His Chair. He was surviving in a deck chair, but had seen the adverts on the TV for chairs usually described as ‘relax chairs’. He wanted one. Badly. Especially after he found out about the built in vibrate function…

His attempts to steal Legolas’ and/or Aragorn’s credit cards had been unsuccessful. Threatening the hobbits had been fruitless also, since they had all blown their money on alcohol and kebabs (Merry and Pippin) a huge spending spree at the Chelsea Flower Show (Sam) and something mumbled that Frodo was being very reticent about. So Gandalf was reduced to pleading. A typical exchange (generally with Legolas, since he had control over most of the money) went thusly:

“I need the chair. I’m very elderly.”

“You have been elderly since I have known you. You have been elderly since the Third Age. And generally old before that. And anyway, we’re all elderly!”

“But I’ve done a lot of good work in the world!”

“And undone it again! You got hobbits to do all your dirty work for you, and the only reason that Valar sent you to Middle Earth in the first place is because they didn’t like you!”

“I have mobility problems.” Gandalf sunk lower in his chair.

“Not when presented with alcohol. Back in the old days you could walk for miles, climb mountains, breakdance, ride horses and giant eagles and you haven’t aged a day since!”

“I only rode the eagles because wheelchairs hadn’t been invented.”

“A giant eagle is not a mobility aid. It’s just a bloody enormous bird with bad table manners. And what would you know about them becoming extinct?”

“Evolution. Darwin. Survival of the fittest.”

“Fittest defined as those prepared to be your 24 hour taxi service? They didn’t even leave any fossils for goodness sake!”

And so on, descending into that classic argument tactic of bringing up things that happened six months ago, or in the case of the Fellowship, things that happened in the Dark Ages. Gandalf was still living in the deckchair, which had been augmented by so many blankets, cushions, bit of string, garden canes, bird feathers, bin liners and a stuffed auk, that it looked like a cross between a magpie’s nest and the throne of the dictator of a small, poverty stricken and corrupt east European nation.

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Frodo was surprised to receive a letter that did not look like junk mail. He opened it, and then started grinning like an idiot. Thank goodness everyone else had gone to work and Gandalf was watching ‘T J Hooker’. Frodo had been cordially invited to rejoin the rest of the 1989 University Challenge winning team from the Open University to appear on ‘University Challenge Reunited’. It was probably best not to tell the others till it was all finalised though.

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Legolas was surprised to receive a letter that did not look like junk mail. He opened it very suspiciously. He spent a good five minutes examining it before concluding that Merry, Pippin and Gandalf did not have either the intelligence or the imagination to come up with a con like this. Legolas had been cordially invited to rejoin the rest of the 1972 University Challenge winning team from Corpus Christi College to appear on ‘University Challenge Reunited’. It was probably best not to tell the others till it was all finalised though.

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“I have something to tell you all.”

The Fellowship looked expectantly at Legolas and started guessing as to what he was going to say.

“You’re gay?”

“You’re pregnant?”

“It was you what did the Burnley Post Office robbery?”

“You’re Jack the Ripper?”

“It was you who stole my boxer shorts?”

Legolas looked witheringly at the rest of the Fellowship. “No. I am going to be appearing on ‘University Challenge Reunited.’”

Frodo looked shocked. “But… but… that was what I was going to tell everyone! I’m going on University Challenge Reunited as well!”

Suddenly there became a thick atmosphere in the room. Legolas and Frodo looked at each other through narrowed eyes.

“Then may the best elf win.” said Legolas through gritted teeth.

Frodo squared up to him. A long way up. Frodo, when sane, was normally a mild mannered, unflappable person. But he possessed a competitive steak longer than the Nile, especially in games requiring intellect. More specifically Trivial Pursuit and chess. Soon after the invention of chess he had played a game with Aragorn, and he had had to be restrained by Aragorn’s bodyguard from doing him a mortal (or as much as you can do an immortal a mortal) with a morningstar.

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There was one major problem. Whilst Frodo’s final had only been 13 years ago, it could be plausibly argued that he had aged well (which was of course the truth), there was rather more problems in the fact that Legolas didn’t look a day older than he did in 1972. Though that’s not to say that he did look the same. A picture was dug up of the 1972 team, and it was as if Led Zeppelin had been on University Challenge.

“Perhaps he really wiz in Led Zeppelin. He didnae tell us where he wiz fir most of the 70s. Took us ages tae find him.”

Legolas twitched slightly. He had gone to university (for about the 12th time) in an attempt to get away from these people, and had been in the middle of his 4th PhD when Merry and Pippin had found him. “If I had been in Led Zeppelin, I think I would have the money to be living in a mansion somewhere, not with you lot.”

“Yeah, but if you really were in Led Zep you’d’ve spent all yer money on drugs and groupies. Wouldn’t be any left for mansions.”

Legolas gave up. Trying to reason with hobbits was pointless.

“How are we going to make him look old?”

“I am old.”

“You need to look it too Legolas.”

“I do look it. You can see it in my eyes that I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.”

“That won’t work on TV.”

Frodo had a suggestion. “We could cut his hair a bit. Not many people in their 50s have hair that long.”

“You wouldn’t dare…”

“Or maybe we could get the tweezers and pluck some of it out to make it look like he’s got a receding hairline.”

Frodo found himself lifted up and brought to Legolas’ eye level. “Do not. Touch. The Hair. UNDERSTAND?”

Frodo nodded frantically.

Sam weighed in with some tact. “If you tied the hair back, we did a little bit of make up and put you in a really middle aged suit would that be ok?” Legolas cringed at the idea of a middle aged suit, causing him to drop Frodo. “Legolas, people are going to notice if you’re on the telly looking the same age as 30 years ago.”

Legolas gave in. A middle aged suit was found for him, courtesy of the local market. Legolas had wanted a new, tailored Saville Row one, but this had been vetoed as he was only going to wear it a few times. His hair was duly tied back and some subtle lines put on his face with make up.

Legolas gritted his teeth. Any more teeth gritting and it would be tension headaches for the next three years. “How do I look?”

A Scottish voice form the door piped up “Like Neil from the ‘Young Ones’ at 50”

Legolas leapt for the voice, but Pippin had forward planned and was racing towards the door crying “oh, heavy man, heavy!”

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After much arguing, fighting and violence it was agreed that the whole Fellowship had to go to both Legolas and Frodo’s games. Even if there would be one person on each occasion attempting to jinx the game. Legolas and Frodo’s teams easily got through the first rounds, mostly because they had the advantage of six thousand years of general knowledge. There was a moment thought, when the opposing team had given the correct answer of ‘Dante’s Inferno’ to one of the questions that Frodo could be clearly heard muttering ‘bloody plagiarist…’.

However, then came the second round. Open university 1989 vs St Hilda’s College 1998. The all female college. Women. Merry. Pippin. Gandalf. We don’t really need to tell you what’s going to happen do we? Ok, so we’ll fill in a few details. How about harassment from the audience, police involvement, twanging bra straps, jam roly-poly and a set of dentures?

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“Welcome to the final of University Challenge Reunited. Tonight’s teams are the 1989 winners, Open University, and the 1972 winners, Corpus Christi College Cambridge.”

“Open University have been the second highest scoring team ever on University challenge, and comfortably beat their 1989 opponents, Leeds, in the final. Lets see what they looked like back then.”

A picture was displayed. All the team were wearing ill advised 1980s clothes, but Frodo’s mullet had to be seen to be believed.

“Let’s let the team introduce themselves.”

“Hello, I’m Bob Davidson, I studied Natural Sciences and I’m now a market researcher.”

“Hello, I’m Christine Robertson, I studied Psychology and I’m now a Psychologist in the NHS.”

“Hello, I’m Dave Christenson, I studied English and I’m now a librarian at Manchester University.”

“Hello, I’m Frodo Baggins, I studied History and am currently engaged in voluntary work.” The Fellowship had spent a long time working out a plausible lie that didn’t mean being blatant. Frodo did plenty of voluntary things for the Women’s Institute.

“Corpus Christi were the highest scoring team ever on University Challenge, like Open comfortably beating their 1972 opponents, Magdelene Oxford. Let’s see what they looked like then.”

A Led Zeppelin tour poster appeared on screen, and there was much laughter from the audience, but especially from Gandalf who had been responsible for switching them earlier. There was a large degree of muttering between Jeremy Paxman and the floor manager, with the decision to press on and look for the proper picture before they broadcast.

“Let’s let the team introduce themselves.”

“Hello, I’m Owen Greenleaf, I studied Oriental Languages, and I’m now working for the Great North Eastern Railway Company.” No lies there, just a certain lack of detail.

“Hello, I’m Andrew Phillips, I studied History and I’m now Conservative MP for Bath North-West.”

“Hello, I’m Graeme Anderson, I studied Chemical Engineering and I’m now director of ICI.”

“Hello, I’m Brian Lang, I studied Classics and I’m now Principal of St. Andrews University.”

A casual observer would have noted nothing out of the ordinary, but one trained in interpreting body language would have noticed the tension building up in the man currently known as Owen as each of the success stories was recounted. You could almost see the missed opportunities and ruined chances floating past him, each of them sunk by the rest of the Fellowship.

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“What would I be referring to in Italy if I referred to ‘La Serenissima’?”

“Open, Baggins.”

“Venice.”

“Correct. Your bonus questions are on the Doges of Venice. For five points…”

The rest of the audience were not really concentrating on the questions, more the team interactions. The six team members who were not Frodo and Legolas had answered about two questions between them. Both teams had already passed the University Challenge scoring record, and there were still nearly fifteen minutes of the programme to go. There was jockeying for position, as first one, then the other went into the lead. The rest of the Fellowship were on the edge of their seats. They knew they were in a lose-lose situation, but probably favouring Legolas winning. After all, when Frodo had lost at Trivial Pursuit (due to some nasty dice rolls) his attempts to rip Aragorn’s arms off at the shoulder had merely resulted in some nasty sprains. Legolas, on the other hand, was a skilled longbow archer.

“Where’s Gandalf gone?” whispered Sam.

“Shh. Don’t care.”

“Another starter for ten. J. F. Bentley designed which Lond-”

“Corpus Christi, Greenleaf.”

“Westminster Cathedral.”

“Correct. Your bonus questions are on twentieth century church architecture. Coventry Cathedral…”

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Gandalf had indeed wandered off. He felt that intellectual rigour was dull in comparison to ‘enormous knockers’ and had gone to find his own entertainment. He had found it in an electrical engineer called Sandy, who was racking her brains for a way to electrocute the smelly old man in the dress and funny hat without taking her with him. Although, given the dress, if she could just get to the phone, with any luck the psychiatric hospital would be quite grateful that she’d found him.

“So do you come here often?”

“Every day. I work here.”

“If I said you had a sexy body would you hold it against me?”

“No.”

“Do you have any magic in you?” Sandy raised an eyebrow. “Do you want some?”

“Only so I could turn you into a newt. Then step on you.”

“So, you like it rough then?”

“Piss off.”

Gandalf turned to his last option, which he had learned from Merry. “Get yer coat love, you’ve pulled.”

The fist which hit him in the stomach only temporarily disabled him, but Sandy had the advantage of knowing the territory and disappeared. Gandalf realised that before using that chat up line he should have analysed Merry’s success rate first.

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“With five minutes to go the scores are exactly equal. Another starter for ten…”

Legolas and Frodo were hunched over their buzzers, occasionally glaring at each other out of the corner of their eyes. The rest of the two teams had entirely lost interest and had started chatting , passing round photos of each other’s children, reminiscing about the time one of them had streaked through the union bar, and so on.

Then there was a strange humming noise and the lights became brighter. Then in one moment, the lights went out and Jeremy Paxman’s desk exploded. There was a stunned silence, then the sound of Jeremy Paxman assuring everyone he was all right. A few seconds later there was a sort of muffled noise, almost as if a ‘Newsnight’ presenter was being stuffed into a large sack. And a cackle…

The lights returned. There remained the charred remnants of Paxman’s desk, but no Paxman. Not even charred remnants.

“Sorry folks, but we can’t carry on like this. Recording’s over.”

There were boos and cries of ‘Fascist!” from the audience.

Legolas and Frodo looked at each other. Then leapt screaming at each others throats and attempted to disembowel each other with their bare hands (which is especially difficult of you’re starting at throat level.) The rest of their respective teams tried to pull them off each other. Then decided that this was too dangerous, and they should just watch. After someone had called the police and ambulance, just in case.

“You did that deliberately! You knew I was going to win!”

“You were on the verge of losing so you did for the lights! And got someone to kidnap the presenter!”

“Shortarse!”

“Nancy elf!”

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“So. How are you feeling?”

“I didn’t know that hobbits were such vicious creatures.”

Legolas was sat up in a hospital bed looking like he’d gone three rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson, an impression backed up by the bite marks on his pointy ears and up and down his arms.

“Och. Ye’ll mend.”

“I know I will. That’s not the point. I’ve written to my solicitor asking to have a restraining order taken out against Frodo.”

“Ummm… Legolas… You do have to share a house with him…”

“I will get out a restraining order stopping him coming within ten feet of me. That is perfectly compatible with communal living. We own a big house.”

Aragorn gave in. Hell hath no fury like an elf with bitten ears.

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“I brought grapes, Frodo.”

Frodo was in much the same state as Legolas, except the bite marks came from bigger teeth. Since Frodo had been put in the Children’s Ward (after a conversation with the psychiatrists along the line of ‘anyone daft enough to pick a fight with Frodo Baggins gets what they deserve and if he’s not gibbering then we’re not taking him’) he was getting a lot of sympathy from the parents of the other patient as an obvious victim of child abuse. This impression was reinforced by the fact that only his three elder brothers came to visit him, two of which were obviously so traumatised they could barely look after themselves, or even maintain socially acceptable behaviour. This was the only reason Frodo had not been reported to the nurses for his triumphalism at beating the entire ward at family Trivial Pursuit, and the only reason Merry and Pippin had not been arrested for sexually harassing the female staff.

“Thank you. You can put them next them next to the empty chocolate boxes that Merry and Pippin think I don’t know they’ve eaten the contents of.”

“Feeling any better?”

“I’ll feel a lot better when the restraining order comes through.”

“But, um…”

“I’ve thought of that. It specifies that he has to be 10 feet away from me, and the house is big enough to do that.” ~

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It was 4 am in the morning. The household was still riven by the feud now that Legolas and Frodo were out of hospital. Frodo had spent a week in his room ‘convalescing’, which the rest of the house translated as ‘sulking’. The ten feet restraiing orders were being enforced, and an uneasy truce was in place. but Gandalf was uninterested in that. He opened the cupboard under the stairs. Then he took the false back out of the cupboard under the stairs to reveal a bound and gagged figure.

“Walkies Jeremy!”