The Best-Laid Plans
The following fragments were retrieved from JRR Tolkien's waste paper basket. They are thought to be a hitherto-unknown first draft of the book that eventually became The Lord of the Rings.
…sitting shining and cold on his palm.
"This is the One Ring," Gandalf said slowly in a deep voice. "The Dark Lord desires it above all else. He must not have it."
Silence fell over Bag End; not even the sound of Radek's shears could be heard. At length, Rodney raised his head. "Oh. Have you finished? I dozed off in your two hours of wordy exposition. One Ring, evil, Mordor, kings and history… yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. And they say I like the sound of my own voice. At least I say things worth listening to."
Gandalf seemed to grow very tall, his shadow filling the small room. "Rodney Baggins–"
"I mean, the One Ring… Please! I'll have you know that I've read every dwarven book on metallurgy, and corrected errors in half of them. This is gold." He held the ring up into the light. "Pure solid gold. Elements can't be evil. I don't believe in all that mumbo-jumbo stuff. And invisibility…? Please!"
He put the ring on, ignoring Gandalf's cry of horror. "Invisible? Ha!" He walked over to the mirror, and his voice briefly faltered. "Ah. Well. Granted… No! Hallucination! That's what it is. You… Yes! You put something in my tea. This isn't real. This isn't real. Wide open fields. Wide open fields. Wide open fields." He closed his eyes, and opened them again. "Or mirrors," he said, his voice growing higher. "It's a trick with mirrors. You charlatan magicians are all –"
"I am a wizard," said Gandalf, in a voice that would have chilled a lesser hobbit.
"Smoke and mirrors, yeah, yeah, yeah." Pulling the ring off, Rodney flapped his hand in an impatient circle. "Go away. You've had your fun. Clearly it's Get At Rodney Baggins Day and I didn't get the memo. Go mess with lesser minds, and leave me to my research. I have the foremost library of… well, no-one seems to have a name for it, but I'm thinking of calling it "science" – west of the mountains. I –"
"Rodney Baggins!" Gandalf's voice was like thunder. "I grow weary of your babbling. You will take the One Ring and throw it in the fiery pits of Mordor. This is your quest, and –"
"Mordor?" Rodney echoed. "That's, like, a thousand miles away. It's all right for you; you've got a cart, and a horse. I'm three feet tall, for crying out loud. Physical activity is for people without brains. I don't even get to wear boots. Look at these feet – look! Does that fur look like it can ward off a winter blizzard? It does? No! Ha! It doesn't. I'll have you know that I have very sensitive feet – quite tender, in fact." He patted the soles of his foot. "Smooth as a baby's bottom, in fact. I can't –"
"Rodney Baggins –"
"Yes, yes – the booming, terrifying voice thing. I know." Rodney sighed. "If you want this so-called 'evil' ring destroyed, get a stupid grunt to do it. I– I mean, do you know how many diseases there are out there in the world? I've heard stories about those elves. Trees with green leaves and juicy fruits… Does that sound like citrus to you, because it does to me. Citrus! The elves are trying to kill me!"
"Rodney Baggins." Gandalf stood up to his full height. "You will go because I command you, and because this is your quest. You will…"
"…call me Zoomie," said the stranger, "on account of my hurrying around, they say. I like fast horses and eagles and football – that's a game I invented during down time back on the base. See? We're not strangers now. Guess you're gonna have to trust me, Rodney Baggins."
Rodney blanched. "How– how– how did you know my name?"
"I have my ways." Zoomie's eyes glittered.
"Oh no, oh no." Rodney felt the wall at his back, and the room felt very small. "You're going to kill me. It's not fair. I never asked to come on this stupid quest. You're twice as big as me, and you get to wear boots, and there's a great big enormous sword at your belt and –"
Zoomie drew the sword, his eyes still gleaming. It was broken barely six inches from the hilt.
"A broken sword?" Rodney cried. "Seriously? I think you need your head examined."
"See, there's the thing…" Zoomie held the broken sword in his hand, looking at it ruefully. "It's an heirloom sort of thing. A badge of office." He sighed wearily. "My true name is Sheppard son of Shepherd son of Shepperd, and, well… apparently that makes me rightful king of… well, of just about everywhere." He looked somewhat embarrassed. "Some forefather or other lost the kingdom–"
"Lost the kingdom?" Rodney said. "That was careless."
"Yup." Sheppard looked rueful. "The whole bloodline is committed to helping people in secret until the time comes to… Well, you can fill in the rest. It's like an extreme case of having to follow orders. Can't even argue with the brass on account of them being two thousand years dead, which kinda sucks."
"You don't want to be king?" Rodney asked. "It sounds pretty cool. Servants. Hot girls. Minions to boss around."
"Yeah, but I'd rather…" A door seemed to close on Sheppard's face, and he stood up straighter.
At that moment, feet came running along the passage. Radek came in with a rush, out of breath. "Black Riders, Master Rodney, sir," he gasped. "In village!"
"Black Riders?" Sheppard's face darkened. "They're called Wraith. Ringwraith. I hate those guys."
"Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no. We are so screwed," cried Rodney.
"Stay positive now." Sheppard picked up his broken sword, but before Rodney could say anything, he tossed it onto the bed. "Stupid dress uniform," he muttered. Rummaging in his pack, he came out with several items that Rodney had never seen before. "Enslaved dwarves made them in Mordor," he said. "They call them guns."
With a gun in each hand, Sheppard raced from the room. Soon the small village echoed with…
…the sound of drums.
"Drums in the deep," said Teyla. "I sense a terrible evil."
"We must fly!" exclaimed Gandalf.
A wistful look settled on Sheppard's face, but only Teyla saw it. "Ronon!" Sheppard grabbed at him, pulling him away from the tomb. "We've gotta get out of here."
Ronon bellowed, fighting, but even the sturdy dwarf was no match for Sheppard's height. Soon the whole party was fleeing, groping their way down passageways, hearing always the sound of the drum-beats from below. Hours passed, perhaps; Rodney lost all track of time. At length they emerged into an open chamber deep below ground. Doom doom rolled the drum-beats, getting louder and louder. Arrows fell around them, and Rodney whimpered, shielding his head with his arms.
"Perhaps we can offer to trade with them," Teyla gasped. She raised her voice. "We mean you no harm. We apologise if we have trespassed on your home. We are peaceful explorers –"
"You can't negotiate with orcs." Ronon tore himself free from Sheppard's grip, and hurled one of his many axes across the chamber. An orc fell with a cry.
"They seem angry," Teyla said, her fair elven features twisted with pain. "Perhaps I should teach them meditation techniques."
"Meditate on this." Ronon hurled another axe.
"There is naught that you can do." Gandalf's voice was weary. "An evil is approaching greater than any of you can hope to withstand. Yonder is the bridge of Khazad-Dum. We must fly. Over the bridge!"
One by one, they crossed the narrow span. But on the far side, Sheppard paused, and looked back. Gandalf stood in the middle of the bridge, locked in combat with a creature born of nightmare. As he watched, the creature fell, but with its last gasp, it snatched at the bridge, breaking it like an autumn twig. Gandalf teetered, his arms spread, then began to fall into the void. "Fly, you fools!" he cried.
"Like hell we will." Sheppard started forward, shouting orders as he did so. It was but the work of seconds. Teyla lashed a rope to the end of an arrow, and fired it into the far supports of the bridge. Rodney pulled out the device he had been secretly working on every evening of the journey, and pressed some buttons. Sheppard raced over the bridge, Ronon at his heels. Watching in horror, Radek had no idea how they managed it, but before long, Sheppard and Ronon were returning across the broken bridge, with Gandalf staggering between them.
"I told you to fly," Gandalf gasped.
"Leave no man behind." Sheppard's face was grim.
"But… But…" Gandalf's mouth opened and closed, and he looked for a moment like a frail mortal man, rather than the wizard that Radek knew him to be. "My time had come," he said faintly. "I was meant to shed this body and pass on to another life. It was the whole point." He spat the words out limply.
"Not on my watch, you don't," Sheppard said. "If I'm going to be king, then everyone in Middle Earth is my responsibility, and I don't let people die, not as a rule." He stood up, and, taking the rear, ensured that they all...
"…thought," Radek offered tentatively, "that you might…"
"What?" Rodney snapped. His feet were wet with river water, and he was cold and tired and miserable.
"Want to go on alone, just you and me."
Rodney turned around. "Why on earth would I want to do that?"
"In case…" Radek rubbed his ear. "In case one of the big ones wanted to steal the Ring. Is just that I assumed…"
Rodney threw up his hands. "I'm surrounded by idiots! Go alone, when I could go with Sheppard with his guns and Ronon with his axes – he's a scary kind of guy, even though he's a dwarf – and Teyla the super-accurate archer with freaky elf hearing, and Gandalf – though he's not been the same since Moria, muttering about ineffable plans being disrupted, and, really, I have some sympathy, because I know what it's like when you're trying to work on something and it keeps getting interrupted by clueless idiots who trample all over it with their great big booted feet – and I'm sure my feet are going to go rotten and fall off after all this mud and river water, and I know I've lost weight and I feel quite run down and– Is that a power bar?"
Radek looked sadly at the elven food, half-unwrapped from its leaf wrapping. "Was hoping to–"
"Give." Rodney snapped his finger. "I'm the Ring-bearer. I need nourishment." He took a mouthful of the concentrated food. "Go on alone?" he said, his mouth full. "Not me. I'm sticking with this team of mine all the way to…"
…the borders of the dark land.
"It's about time." Rodney rubbed his aching feet.
"Quit complaining, Rodney." Sheppard swatted him on the head.
"But how do we get the Ring to the fiery mountain?" Teyla asked. "It is still many leagues away, and the Dark Lord is ever watchful."
Gandalf stirred weakly. "I had foreseen that Gollum would have played his part."
"Sorry 'bout that." Ronon was cleaning his axe, though the blood of the pitiful creature had long since gone.
Gandalf subsided back into the lethargy that had consumed him weeks before.
Sheppard frowned. "Let's think."
"The hosts of Mordor are stirring." Teyla's eyes were distant. "I sense them. We have many days of journeying ahead of us, and they are closing, they are closing."
"Then we will have to…" Sheppard snapped his fingers, his eyes alight. "Gandalf. Those eagles… Do you still have their number?"
"I…" Gandalf shifted apathetically.
And there on the fringes of that dark land they waited, as flame and ashes rose from the distant mountain, and the hosts of Mordor gathered themselves for the final battle. Far from home they were, and mired deep in darkness. But at length, ere all hope was lost, a wisp of light appeared in the east. The eagles were coming! The eagles were coming!
"Come on, Rodney." Sheppard was grinning. "Get up in the saddle."
"But I… But I…" Rodney swallowed hard.
Sheppard was already astride his eagle. "Get behind me, then." Rodney did so, clinging tightly to the man in front of him. "Let's get this bird in the air."
They soared high, and below them Rodney saw the dark lines of the enemy's armies, and the barren wastelands of Mordor. Whimpering, he pressed his face into Sheppard's cloak. "Woo-hoo!" Sheppard whooped. "I've always wanted to do this."
Rodney peeped out with one eye, and saw below him a great pit filled with fire. "The Cracks of Doom," he whispered.
"Yup." Sheppard sobered up with obvious effort. "We're going in. Get ready to drop the pay-load on my count."
Rodney pulled out the ring. "Three," Sheppard said, as the bird wheeled lower. "Two," as smoke filled Rodney's lungs. "One."
The ring fell from Rodney's fingers, and the great realm of Mordor fell in fire and ruin. "Fire in the hole," Sheppard said with a grin, as the mountain split asunder, and rom the Cracks of Doom there issued gouts of flame, and it…
"…appears I was meant to go to Gondor, and kind of… didn't. So the whole King thing is off."
Rodney was enjoying the sensation of proper hot food, and a soft chair that took his weight off his feet. "What're you going to do now?"
"Well…" Sheppard looked almost shy. "The eagles say I flew them well. They're shrewd guys. We think there might be a career in this aerial warfare thing. We're thinking of getting some new recruits. Might call it the…"
"Air Force?" Rodney suggested.
"You're not allowed to name things," Sheppard said. "We'll have a much cooler name than that. Anyway, it'll take a time to get off the ground. We might start small, with delivering mail."
"Oh." Rodney thought of his home far away. "I don't really miss it much," he said. "Home, I mean. No-one ever understood me there. Not that anyone will ever really understand me, but…" He took a bite of pie.
Sheppard sighed. "Shame about Gandalf. The men in white coats didn't look hopeful."
"Yeah." Rodney chewed and swallowed. "All that babbling about Rohan and Saruman and ents – what are ents? – and Denethor and White Riders and all the stuff that was meant to happen but didn't. Do you think he's on drugs?"
"It would explain a lot." Sheppard stood up and moved to the window. "So fancy joining me, Rodney?" he said without turning round. "I'll need a genius mind like you to design me things to drop on other things."
"Things that go boom," Sheppard said. "And things that keep my people safe when the enemy drops things that go boom on them."
"Just as well you're not a king," Rodney said, running his finger up and down the arm of his chair. "You don't do that eloquence thing well."
"So are you in, or not?" Sheppard asked. He turned round, and Rodney realised that he was seeing him properly for the first time. "We can ask Ronon and Teyla, too. We'll be unstoppable."
Rodney saw Radek hovering outside the door, one hand raised plaintively. "And Radek," Sheppard said patiently.
"He can make us tea," Rodney said. Then he took a step towards Sheppard and said…
Note: I can only apologise. Proper angst-ridden service will be resumed as soon as possible.