13. The Lord of Waters Wins a Wager
“You awake, Captain?”
“It was that Vulcan. He hit you over the head with a Tribble.”
“He’s been court-martialed. His execution will start…” McCoy paused, checked his pocket-watch. “In three minutes.”
“WHAT! I gotta go!”
“Forget the stimulates, nurse, give me six ccs of sedative.”
I was helpless against the six jabs in my arm.
“I don’t know why you’re so worried,” whispered McCoy before my vision became filled with fuzzy pink smileys. “You’re not even awake yet.”
I lifted my arm to punch him. I rolled onto my face. It was plastered in something warm and grainy.
Please tell me it’s Saturday.
What an imbecilic dream. Poor Spocky! I rubbed my hand over my face and smoothed the… whiskers? It all hit like a shovel to the noggin. Frodo… Ring… Sauron…
Aren’t I dead? Fried to a crisp? Tossed into the recycling bin of life? I was afraid to open my eyes. But I did.
I was hammered by glaring sunlight. Salt stung my nose. Waves whooshed forward and back in the sea. How did I end up on a beach? I was in Mordor a minute ago! Maybe the volcano chucked me this far…
I flexed my paws. No aches? The blisters were gone. I looked around. A white beach, palm trees, the blue sea. No buildings anywhere. I didn’t even hear gulls. Where was Frodo, Bill and the others? Um, was that a whale that just floated into the sky? Nah.
I got up, began walking. It felt like no time and forever. The beach never seemed to have an end. The eerie empty sands reminded me of too many movies. Something shimmered ahead… a mirage? I stopped. It kept moving, toward me. No mirage. It was a man.
“HO HO HO.” The booming laugh shook every grain of sand.
“You! I knew it. I knew it,” I hopped and pointed all my toes. “The whole time, just about.”
The man was now less than two jumps away. “I’m pleased to hear it.”
I bit my paw. “…You can understand me?”
“Obviously.” Ulmo tilted his head. He was in the form of a very old man, all wrinkles, beard, and robes.
I fell into the sand, out of breath. “You know, I – I thought you’d be… more nautical.”
“Hmm, how about this?”
On Ulmo’s head appeared a gigantic conch shell. His ears expanded to resemble fins and his fingers took on a scaly, fishy look. He carried what resembled a fork the size of a streetlight pole.
“Eh.” I so-soed with my paw.
He studied me for a long minute. “You have questions?”
I hopped back to my feet. “No kiddin’! Where’s everyone else? Are they all dead? Am I dead?”
“One thing at a time. You are obviously not dead.”
“Second, they are where they’re meant to be, but whether dead or alive, that depends on when you see them.”
“You are not in Middle-earth anymore.” Ulmo twirled his trident in his palms. “Therefore, it would depend at what point history you put yourself.”
“Then I can’t even say goodbye?”
“Did I say that?” He stuck the trident in the sand. “Would you like to see what’s become of them?”
“Yes! Uh… Sir.”
The trident hummed. An elliptical light, like a TV screen, buzzed and spread from its top. In the light I saw Frodo and Sam wearing aprons and wiping glass cases… Ulmo cleared his throat. “These two settle their differences and start a successful jewelers’ business.”
The picture hummed. A buff Merry and Pippin standing together, their shirts so full of military medals, the weight should have dragged them onto their faces. Said Ulmo: “They begin the first Shire National Guard.”
Bzz. Aragorn playing one-armed patty-cake with a dozen dark-haired girls. “He becomes king, marries, and has many left-handed daughters.”
Bzz. Drool! Legolas and Gimli posing before a banner of… an otter. “They begin an Elf and dwarf foreign exchange program, called Ottyssey.”
My eye twitched. “I never said they were the most creative pair.”
Bzz. Gandalf wearing an artsy hat and rubbing his nose with a gaudy feather pen. “Olórin retires and writes a twenty-volume memoir.”
Bzz… and neatly brushed Bill, chomping hay. “He returns to the Shire as Prince of Ponies and lives a long, well-fed life. Satisfied?”
I sniffed at the faded screen. “Are you making this stuff up?”
Ulmo removed his trident, and closing his eyes, said silently, “No.”
“Right.” A growl escaped my chest. “But what was the point of all this! Why was I sent at all? It could have ended just fine without me.”
“I sent you with good reason. However, I’ll speak of that in a minute.”
“Like Valinor-minutes?” I slapped my paw over my mouth. I wasn’t used to saying things and having people understand it.
He didn’t comment. His unfathomably old eyes bored into me and hot spikes prickled my face. I fiddled my toes. “Uh… uh… What about the Ring? I ate it!”
The Vala grinned. “Oh, it’s gone.”
His scaly brows raised. “Don’t you trust my judgment?”
“Then understand it this way – you brought the Ring to the Fire, and that’s as far as I needed you to go.”
I made a sound like an out-of-tune radio.
Ulmo sighed and sat down on an empty tortoise shell. I looked at him and waited.
“It all began with a debate I waged with Círdan the Shipwright. In this Age we’ve little else to do. We went over the past and talked with heat about the vast mistakes of the Second Age. He charged me for not throttling Sauron following Númenor’s fall. And I charged him for not filching the Ring from Isildur at Orodruin. Who was more responsible for the Third Age’s mess? So to settle the debate… we made a wager.”
He smiled and it curled upward, unnervingly like the Grinch’s grin. “Each of us would have a Ringbearer champion and assistant. Whichever set dropped their Ring into the Fire first would win. Círdan chose Sam and Galdor and I chose Frodo and you.”
“Duh… uhh… ah?”
“Eh?” He held a shell to his ear like an earhorn.
“Hmm, well, no one was hurt…”
Except for Boromir and Gollum and the Nazgûl… I made sure I was talking in my head this time.
“…And much was gained. You threw Mordor into chaos and Galdor dismantled Isengard. And you both gave Sauron a headache. Never liked ‘im.”
“What’re you saying about Galdor? Didn’t he die?” A tiny spark of joy burnt in my gut.
“Nay, he was very much alive when the servants of Saruman took him into Isengard. So much so, he took the impudent Maia captive and held him in his Tower. And in that time, he came into contact with the Ents of Fangorn. Galdor’s family had in the ancient past been the first to teach them speech, and in the forest of Beleriand had been friends with the Tree-herders, dwelling side-by-side…”
“Oh, I see!” I clapped my paws. “He’s the Tree Lord that assaulted the Black Gate. I’d thought Aragorn was talking about Treebeard.” Could Galdor get any yummier? Hot and a prince among Ents to boot.
“Verily,” said Ulmo gravely. “Through him the Ents were stirred into a wrath that both Sauron and Saruman grossly underestimated. Aragorn and his company with the aid of the Ents gathered all the Orc and Uruks of Rohan. Great fires spread through the plains, but the Ents had victory. Your friends in the Fellowship became generals of men and countless other races – their success spread so far even the most timid were stirred from the mountains and forests. They and the Ents came with a mighty host to counter the attacks in Gondor. You see why Sauron was miffed when you met him.”
Suddenly I was struck by a vision of columns of Ents and heard a man singing “Pink Ents Parade…” I shook my head and shuddered. Ulmo watched me, still grinning fin ear-to-fin ear.
“You say all you’ve done all things, but aren’t Valar not allowed to interfere with mortals’ affairs?”
“Oh? Now who said I didn’t have permission?”
How’re ya supposed to argue with that? I racked my brains for something else. “And Galdor didn’t know about this… wager?”
“No, that would have been an unfair advantage! After the Council he simply received orders from Círdan through gull-mail. Or may I say G-mail. HO HO HO!”
I rolled my eyes.
“Anyway, what you said about the Valar being forbidden to directly interfere with history is true. So once you were in Middle-earth I could not contact you directly.”
I remembered all the creepy eyeballs I’d seen in puddles and I sighed. “You didn’t by chance have anything to do with Frodo’s… mental illness?”
“Well…” The Vala shifted his seat on the tortoise shell. “It was a number of factors. Though perhaps the sudden removal of the Morgul-blade had… side-effects.”
“In other words, you tried to make your Ringbearer robust, and it backfired.” Now I had him where I wanted him. I crossed my forelegs. “And why choose me? I don’t even like water. And an otter of all things fuzzy?”
“I had a wide selection, yet what stood you out was your curiosity. Your often irrational curiosity.” He beamed liked that was an unsurpassable compliment.
“Huh! Then the whole ‘adventure’ with the Fellowship was a farce! And here I thought I was saving the world! All for your little game-thingy.” I pouted best I could without lips.
“Do you regret the experience?”
I listened to the sea rolling in and out. “Oh, well, I… maybe… well.”
He nodded, smiling. Blast, he was infuriating.
I slumped, just tired now. “Then all this, was it just a dream? In my head?”
“Just because it’s in your head doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
“Plagiarizer. That’s from Harry Potter.”
“Yet it is the truth. Or if that still disturbs you, you may say it is a vision of what might have been. With you gone, things will be as they were. Although precisely how things are meant to be I cannot say.”
That sparked a headache. I rubbed my temples. “Speaking of dreams, why have I been having all of these vivid ones of Star Trek?” That grinchy grin spread again. I groaned. “No… you’re a Trekkie?”
When he didn’t answer right away, I squealed. “Dude! Who’s your favorite? I think Kirk’s the most selfless captain ever, but he’s got a major problem when it comes to females. Uhura’s cool, I’ll give her that. Sulu, Scotty and Chekhov are adorable. But Spock is irresistible – who wouldn’t want him around the house?”
Ulmo coughed up a starfish and flung it into the water. “I favor Doctor McCoy.”
Utter silence, except for the waves beating up the beach.
I closed my eyes. The splendid faces of Spock and Galdor marched across my eyelids and evaporated. Their remains gathered, forming into dark-eyed Bill. I couldn’t believe I crushed on a pony. I’d had fur way too long. Still, I’d consider it… if Bill were a guy and I a not-otter, well…
“So.” I looked up at the seaweed-smelling Vala. “How do I get home?”
He motioned for me and I approached the tortoise shell. Bending in, he whispered the instructions in my ear.
I fell backwards. “WHAT? That’s so obvious. I never tried it!”
Ulmo’s shoulders were shaking. He was just having the time of his life.
I brushed off my fur and turned to face him. “Well, I’m going now. Unless you have something else to reveal. Sir.”
“Nay, that covers it.”
I readied myself to leave, when a thought jolted through me. “Hey! Um, just one more question – are you my father?”
“No.” He stood back and waved his webbed hand.
“Thank goodness.” I closed my eyes and clicked my hindpaws three times.
There’s no place like home…
The floor was hard and ice cold. My glasses pinched the side of my face.
What was the time? I turned my head to find my tail. Oh wait. I’ve got hands! And I’m tall.
“Ha, you’re not dead!” said someone. “We almost called 911.”
“Can you talk?”
I looked up. Faces surrounded me. Their owners’ hands were texting. Several camera phones were flashing.
“Didn’t I tell you? DIDN’T I?” The girl from across the table wagged her head.
“Need some water?”
I slapped the waterbottle from the poor fellow’s hand. Get that away from me! How can I even look at a toilet again without imagining Ulmo’s eyes staring right back?
The lab instructor stood over. The hand holding his chalk twitched. “Ne-ver happened in my class. Ne-ver happened. You ok now, yeah? But we still have thirty minutes. I’ll not dock off points unless you all look busy.”
Laughter all around.
“… I …” My voice sounded like chalkdust. I deliberately rounded my lips for each word. “I feel fine.”
They’d all already wandered back to their tables to poke their voltmeters.
I stood up, felt something tug at my neck. I reached and gripped a string, pulling up a soft black pouch – the near-stone. I clasped its weight for a small moment.
“I’ll save this for next week’s optics lab. Right now I need a taco.”
A/N: Thanks so much for reading!
I’m very grateful to the reviewers for their input – the story took several changes in direction from their comments, and made the process that much more fun. Again thanks to Dúnedain Ranger of the North at lotrfanfiction.com for his challenge.
It’s been asked, but no, there’s no spin-off planned. However – if anyone cares to take in the Orc family, have at it.
Fresh Elf cookies with sprinkles! ^_^
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.