SORT OF THE RINGS: NEW FICTION BY JAY GOLDIN

“My birthday is coming up,” Bilko Biggins the halfwit said one day to his illegitimate nephew as they sat at breakfast in their hole in the Shite.

“So?” Fraudo said.

“So you better give me a surprise-party, you rat-bastard, or I’ll cut you out of my will again.”

“Meaning that I won’t get this Shite-hole? That would be too bad.”

“Hole, shmole. You won’t get the ring.”

“What’s so great about the ring?”

“It makes you invisible. Think of the possibilities.”

“I guess that would be a handy thing to have. OK, you’ll get a surprise-party.”

.

Soon the Shite was buzzing with news of the surprise-party. When the day arrived, thousands of halfwits showed up, but there wasn’t enough to feed everyone, so fights broke out, leaving hundreds of halfwits dead and mutilated, after which there was plenty of meat and drink for all. Giant eagles swooped down and carried away dozens of carcasses as part of the annual meat tax they imposed on the Shite. And a few of the halfwits were sacrificed in honor of the goddess Htidë, protector of the Shite and one of the Great Sisterhood of Goddesses who reigned over Muddle-earth. Her altar glowed a soft green, a sure sign of her pleasure. Then Bilko made a long and pointless after-dinner speech, put the ring on and disappeared to the sound of no one caring. He returned to the hole, left the ring for Fraudo in a cereal box and went on his way. Later that night, Fraudo took possession of the ring and spent a blissful few days invisibly spying on couples having sex.

A week later, Gandolt the wizard arrived in the Shite. As usual, he was atop his palanquin, borne by twenty groaning slave halfwits. A slave halfwit fanned him as he sprawled on jewel-encrusted pillows, smoked a hookah and fondled a whorebit reclining at his side.

“Slave-driver!” Gandolt cried. “More groaning!”

“Yes, Master,” the slave-driver answered, applying the whip.

“Lovely,” Gandolt said, smiling and closing his eyes as he took in the sound.

When the palanquin got to Fraudo’s door, Gandolt dismounted and knocked. Fraudo answered.

“Avert your eyes, fool!” said Gandolt. “How dare you presume to gaze upon my infinite radiance without my leave? And why aren’t you groveling?”

After Fraudo had groveled for a while, Gandolt told him to get up. “Now, then. Who in the names of the Many Goddesses — blessings and peace upon them all — are you?”

“I’m Fraudo, Bilko’s nephew. Bilko’s gone away for good and left me everything.”

“Gone away, has he? Well, I tried to make it here on time for his party but was held up by the fact that I don’t give an orc’s ass about any of you halfwits. I take it Bilko left you the ring, so let’s have it.”

Fraudo retrieved it from a special place in his pants and handed it over. Gandolt eyed it suspiciously. “That may be the true ring, or it may not. For the ring is deceitful.”

“So how do we tell?”

“The true ring is virtually indestructible, so whatever you own that’s indestructible must be the ring, even if it looks nothing like a ring. Therefore, we must test everything in your hole.”

And before Fraudo could object, Gandolt called in his slaves, who smashed Fraudo’s dishes, chopped up his furniture, broke his windows, burned his books, scratched his CDs and tore up his elf-porn. Finally Gandolt snatched Fraudo’s ring, pounded on it, hacked at it, stomped on it, bit it and threw it into the fire. The ring emerged from the ordeal without a scratch.

“I guess it’s genuine,” Gandolt said. “Now listen. The ring is incredibly powerful for reasons that you’re too stupid to understand, so I won’t even bother explaining them. All you need to know is that if the unspeakably powerful and evil Moron ever got it, he would enslave everyone in Muddle-earth. And wouldn’t it be a shame if all you stupid, ridiculous halfwits, whom I am infinitely far above and more important than, were slaves?” 

“That would be terrible!” said Fraudo. “We must never let that happen.”

“Which is why you have to go on a long and insanely dangerous quest to Moron’s dwelling place, the land of Mordure, to cast the ring into the fires of Mount Drool, where the ring was forged. There’s no other way to destroy it.”

“Why me?” Fraudo asked.

“Well, not necessarily you,” Gandolt replied. “When I said ‘you,’ I just meant ‘not me.’ “

“But Mr. Gandolt, sir, won’t you at least help me destroy the ring?”

“Hell no! I don’t know why I bother with you halfwits in the first place. Oh, that’s right — you’re so easy to enslave. Anyway, just having the ring is incredibly dangerous — pretty much everyone wants it, not just Moron, and will stop at nothing to get it, so to carry the ring to a distant place, you’d have to be either batshit insane or forced to do it. Which is why you halfwits are perfect for the job: not because you’re the most qualified — even saying so makes me want to laugh for an age or two — but because I can make you do it and because you’re so utterly expendable and such excellent cannon fodder. If the Shite were razed to the ground right now and everyone in it put to death, the rest of Muddle-earth wouldn’t’ even notice, much less care. So get going.”

“But I don’t even know the way.”

“Oh, all right. If you’re going to insist on being such a whiney little bitch about the whole thing, why don’t you just take it as far as Livenhell — a resort and casino in the Pigsty Mountains where we wizards gather sometimes to plot evil strategy, which we don’t even bother to hide since no one can stop us anyway — and after that ’we’ll see. Now start packing.”

Gandolt opened the door to go, then paused. “Oh, almost forgot,” he said. “Moron sent nine horsemen to find the ring and kill whoever has it, because despite being awesomely powerful, he still needs minions to do his tasks for him. I wonder if he gets as much pleasure out of that as I do. Anyway, now you know. Laters.” And he left.

“Servant!” Fraudo yelled. “Get in here!”

Servant entered and bowed. “Yes, sir?”

Fraudo kicked him in the groin. “That’s for not groveling,” he said as Servant writhed around on the floor in pain. “Now grovel!”

After Servant groveled as best he could in his agony, Fraudo kicked him in the face and said, “That’s for inadequate groveling.”

“Thank … you … sir, for showing … me the error of … my … ways,” Servant, in agony, barely managed to get out.

“Look here. I’m going on some quest or adventure or something that I don’t even understand, and I’m taking you with me, because if I’m going to be miserable, which I certainly will be, then I can take it out on you, and if I fail, which I probably will, then I can blame you. Now start packing.”

And so Fraudo and Servant set off down the road, Fraudo on a pony and Servant walking behind, tied to the pony with one rope around his waist and another around his neck. After a few miles, they encountered Fraudo’s friends Pissin Fook and Meniadorc Randybuck, also on ponies and trotting along at a good clip. They slowed when Fraudo caught up to them.

“Where are you two off to so fast?” Fraudo asked.

“We knocked up some dizzy twists and ’couldn’t convince them to get hobortions, so now they’re suing us for child support,” Pissin said.

“Meaning that we have to get out of the Shite for a while and lie low,” Meniadorc said.

“Well, I was just going on a trip myself,” Fraudo said. “Why don’t you two come along?”

Pissin and Meniadorc readily agreed, and the halfwits continued east.

.

At the edge of the Shite, they came to a river. A rowboat was tethered to a small dock.

“Looks like there’s enough room for all of us,” Pissin said as he and Meniadorc started toward the dock.

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir,” Servant said, “but there seem to be only three places.”

The other halfwits roared with laughter. “Servant actually thinks that I included it in ‘all of us,’ ” Pissin said as tears streamed down his face.

“Next thing you know, servants will want to have names!” Meniadorc said as the others laughed again.

“And object to routinely getting beaten to within an inch of their lives when they know that’s the best thing for them!” Fraudo said as he, Pissin and Meniadorc rolled on the ground with laughter.

When they recovered, Pissin said, “To punish Servant for its insolence, I say we use it as a raft to cross the river.”

“Servant certainly deserves that, and much worse, but it isn’t quite fat enough,” Fraudo said. “I have a better idea.”

And so Fraudo, Pissin and Meniadorc got into the boat, and Servant swam ahead, pulling the boat with a rope that he held between his teeth, while the oars dragged through the water. After the ponies were transported across in a like manner, the halfwits set out once more, taking a road through a thick forest.

.

Dusk fell. The halfwits lit torches and, as they rode along, started looking for a place to camp. Just then, though, they heard horses approaching from behind. Turning, they saw four black steeds, each bearing a tall rider, all in black, hooded and cloaked.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Meniadorc said.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Pissin said.

“I have a –” Servant began, but someone punched him in the face before he could finish.

“Jolly good! Riding companions!” Fraudo said.

The black riders slowed their mounts to a walk and soon came up to the halfwits.

“Good evening to ye, sirs,” Fraudo said. “May I enquire as to your names?”

“Ssss … Chaos,” hissed the first.

“Ssss … Doom,” hissed the second.

“Ssss … Murder,” hissed the third.

“Ssss … Tim?” hissed the fourth.

“Well met indeed,” Fraudo said. “And what, may I ask, brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“Ssss … the ring,” they all hissed in unison.

“And what ring would that be?” Fraudo asked. But instead of answering, the riders began surrounding the halfwits. Fraudo, Pissin and Meniadorc drew their swords, but the situation seemed hopeless. In desperation, Servant threw his torch at one of the riders, who let out a hideous scream and burst into flames. The rider’s horse bolted into the woods. The other halfwits quickly did likewise with their torches, and soon all the black riders had disappeared, though the halfwits caught glimpses of their burning bodies through the trees.

“What in the name of Holy Htidë were those?” Pissin asked after the halfwits had calmed down.

“Probably some of those evil riders from Mordure that Gandolt warned me about,” Fraudo said. “They’re incredibly evil, dangerous, powerful supernatural wraiths.”

“Who can be defeated by torches,” Meniadorc said.

“Sorry I didn’t mention them before now,” Fraudo said. “Also, I neglected to tell you and Pissin that by accompanying me, you were putting yourselves in mortal danger for reasons I’ve never explained to you. My bad. But in my defense, I’d like to point that I was the one who thought to throw my torch at the riders.”

“We owe you one, Fraudo,” Pissin said. “But what now? Those things may be gone, but I still don’t feel safe camping tonight.”

“We don’t have to,” Meniadorc said. “I just remembered that there’s an old, abandoned inn somewhere nearby. That’ll give us a little shelter.”

.

The halfwits found the inn easily enough, but it didn’t look especially abandoned. Instead, it was well-lit, with fresh paint and properly maintained landscaping; a sign above the door read The Forsaken Inn, Tom Bombardierdildo, proprietor. The halfwits knocked and were ushered inside by a young, tall, twitchy, rail-thin man with dark hair. The room was full of tables and chairs, a crackling fire burned brightly in the fireplace, and stuffed birds adorned the walls. But besides the halfwits and the proprietor (and a mysterious hooded stranger smoking a pipe in a dark corner and shooting piercing glances at the halfwits), the room was deserted. The proprietor seated the halfwits and, at their request, brought them ale. They made Servant sit under the table and took turns kicking him.

“So why is this place called The Forsaken Inn?” Fraudo asked the proprietor.

“Last proprietor forsook it and then changed its name to The Forsaken Inn.”

“He changed its name after he no longer had anything to do with it?”

“Yes. And when I took it over, I liked the sound of the name, so I just kept it.”

“Even though the inn is no longer forsaken?”

“Yes.”

“And even though it looks like you’re getting barely any business, probably because everyone still thinks this place is forsaken?” Meniadorc asked.

“Yes.”

“None of that makes a damn bit of sense,” Fraudo said.

“So you staying the night or aren’t you?” the proprietor asked.

“Got any vacancies?”

“Sure. Twelve rooms, twelve vacancies.”

.

The next morning, the halfwits continued east along a grassy road. They had not gone far when they saw, a little way off the road, the shrine of the goddess Nashinoki, who looked after that part of Muddle-earth. Her shrine was a spacious gazebo of richly carved wood, surrounded by pear trees, though the pears were not ripe. But after the halfwits entered the gazebo, worshipped at the shrine and went back outside, Nashinoki showed her pleasure by instantly ripening the pears and making them drop at the halfwits’ feet. The halfwits gratefully ate their fill of the sweet, luscious yellow fruit, and Servant gnawed at the cores that the other halfwits threw at him. The halfwits then continued east. Every once in a while, Fraudo, Meniadorc and Pissin would dismount and walk for a few miles, entertaining themselves by seeing how many fully laden ponies they could make Servant carry on his back before he collapsed.

.

After much needless suffering, the halfwits arrived at Livenhell.

“Finally,” Gandolt said. “Took you rat-bastards long enough.”

“We had some trouble on the way,” Fraudo said.

“Those black riders, eh?”

“How did you know?”

“I was nearby when it happened. Saw and heard the whole thing.”

“And you didn’t help?”

“You didn’t need my help. I was surprised that you thought to use your torches, but I guess it’s hard for anyone, even a halfwit, to be a fuck-up every second of their lives. Of course, I could have told you back in the Shite about the best way to fight the riders. Didn’t, though.”

.

The halfwits — except for Servant, who was forced to sleep in his own and others’ filth — spent the night gambling and getting shitfaced. The next morning, Aragont, riding Shallowfux the magic pony, arrived at Livenhell, accompanied by a lovely elf-maiden and her vast retinue of servants.

“I am the one true king of Muddle-earth, and this is my future wife and current fuck-buddy, the Lady Barwench,” Aragont said. “Her people, the elves, are getting the hell out of Muddle-earth, probably because they can’t hack it. But she’s blowing them off in exchange for a lifetime of blowing me. Great bargain, considering how awesome I am.”

Also accompanying Aragont was a strange, hideous creature that looked like an emaciated, hairless, hunched-over halfwit. Around its neck was a studded leather collar with a leash attached. Aragont held the other end of the leash, which he jerked every once in a while for no apparent reason, each time eliciting a fit of twitching, drooling, maniacal laughter from the creature.

“Halfwitssesss,” Scrottum said, looking them over. “Tasty, yes?”

“Down, boy, down,” Aragont said. “They are not for eating. Not yet.”

.

That afternoon, Hellrond, CEO of Livenhell, summoned everyone to a council, including the halfwits, Aragont, the dwarf Dimwit son of Groin, the elf Leggomyass, and Bormirear, from the city of Minasty Fearith.

“I have called this council,” Hellrond began, “so that all the peoples of Muddle-earth whom I have deemed worthy of notice may decide how to deal with the threat of Moron.”

“Within his fastness of Mordure,” Bormirear said, “Moron is oppressing his own people, and we must free them.”

“What if they don’t want to be freed?” Pissin said.

“Or they would rather free themselves than have us do it for them?” Meniadorc said. “Or maybe they believe that however bad their lives are under Moron, things would be worse without him.”

“In that case,” Aragont said, “we must force freedom down their ungrateful throats and up their ungrateful asses until freedom pours out of their ears. And if, after that, they still refuse our gift of freedom, we must annihilate them for their own good.”

“And Moron poses another, much graver danger,” Hellrond said. “We have learned that he is rapidly accumulating weapons of infinite power.”

“How do you know that?” Fraudo said.

“We have totally reliable intelligence,” Aragont said. “Just trust us.”

“Do we have a choice?” Fraudo asked.

“No,” Hellrond said.

“The point is that without the ring he cannot use the weapons of infinite power,” Bormirear said, “so we must pre-emptively destroy the ring and depose Moron.”

“What kinds of weapons are these?” Fraudo asked.

Weapons … of infinite … power,” Gandolt said, glaring at him. “Isn’t that frightening enough for you?”

“But what does Moron want to do with his weapons of infinite power?” Fraudo asked.

“Utterly dominate Muddle-earth,” Gandolt replied, glaring at Fraudo again.

“And what happens if the ring is destroyed?” Fraudo asked.

“I take the throne as the one true king of Muddle-earth,” Aragont said.

“And what will you do as king?” Fraudo asked.

“Utterly dominate Muddle-earth.”

“Huh?” Fraudo said.

“It is foretold in verse,” Aragont said.

Aragont to rule them all,

Aragont to bind them —

If they dont obey his will

Aragont will kill kill kill

“That sounds as bad as anything Moron would do,” Pissin said.

“You halfwits are too stupid to understand this,” Bormirear said, “but we’re the good guys. Moral clarity and all that.”

“All what?” Meniadorc asked.

“Shut the fuck up,” Aragont said.

“It’s decided, then,” Hellrond said. “The ring must be cast into the fires of Mount Drool. Now who’s gonna do this thing?”

“Not it,” everyone but the halfwits immediately said.

“That leaves you little people,” Hellrond said.

“But we’re the least qualified,” Fraudo said.

“You are, however, the most gullible,” Hellrond said. “Plus, Moron would never dream that anyone would rely on you for anything. But if you’re going to insist on being such a whiney little bitch about the whole thing, I guess we’ll put together a team to help you and also make sure that you don’t just throw the ring into a river and flee back to your home, though in your place I’d probably do exactly that. Of course, I and the rest of my people — except for that bitch Barwench, who I’ve disowned — are leaving this land anyway, so I don’t actually give a damn what happens to the ring or to any of you. Council adjourned.”

.

That evening, after the ring task force had been decided on, Aragont and Bormirear smoked Havanas by the fire as Fraudo and Pissin sat on stools nearby.

“When I am king,” Aragont said, “we shall have a cleansing, and certain groups will no longer be welcome in Muddle-earth.”

“Ay, Aragont, right you are,” Bormirear said. “When we put all but one of them to the sword, the rest will get the message and leave. They’re troublemakers, every one. We will never have peace or security while they live here. This land is our land — “

“This land is our land,” Aragont said.

“– and has been,” Bormirear continued, “ever since we came to these shores lo these many centuries ago and slaughtered all the original inhabitants so we could pretend they had never existed.”

“But what’s to become of us?” Pissin asked.

“Oh, you halfwits can stay,” Bormirear replied. “After all, we need someone to enslave, don’t we? Well, good night.” And he left the room.

“Mr. Aragont, sir?” Fraudo said.

“Heh? What? Who said that?” Aragont said. Then he looked down. “Oh. I did not deign to notice you at first. You may continue.”

“I was wondering — why do we even need a king?”

Aragont laughed scornfully. ” ‘Why do we need a king?’ Idiot! You cannot think for yourselves. You are all worms, able only to eat and reproduce. Without a king, everything would collapse into ruin and chaos.”

“But there’s been no king for a thousand years, and Muddle-earth has been more or less OK,” Fraudo said.

“Hmm,” Aragont said. “I see your point.” Then he beat the crap out of Fraudo.

.

“Yeah, so that weird thing tried to take the ring from me in the middle of the night,” Fraudo said at breakfast the next morning. “But I woke up and he ran away.”

“Scrottum tried to take the ring from you?” Aragont said. “Can’t imagine who or what could have given him that idea. You still have the ring, right?”

“Sure do,” Fraudo said.

“Good,” Aragont said. “Good. Good. Very good.”

.

After the Lady Barwench put a chastity belt on Aragont (“The Goddesses know there are enough of your little brats running around Muddle-earth as it is”) the task force — Gandolt, Meniadorc, Pissin, Fraudo, Servant, Aragont, Bormirear, Dimwit, and Leggomyass — set out, heading south. Their first task was crossing the Pigsty Mountains. They considered climbing Mount Catarrhass but decided that was too much work. Then Dimwit suggested going through the dwarffastness of Gorya, where, he assured the others, his kin would give them a warm welcome. The task force agreed and headed in that direction.

.

One night, after the evening meal, Aragont pulled Bormirear aside.

“Help me take the ring from Fraudo while he’s asleep,” Aragont said, “and after I become Supreme God-King-Master-and-Commander of Muddle-earth, I’ll make you my lieutenant or deputy or whatever — you can pick your own title. Competitive salary, health insurance, 401(k), paid vacations, sick leave, parental leave, gym membership, sewing kit, the works. What say you?”

Bormirear snickered. “Couldn’t get Scrottum to take the ring for you, huh? Not even after promising him all the putrid pus that he could eat?”

“Says who mofo?”

“Word on the street.”

“Yeah, well, word on the street don’t know shit. Anyway, who cares? I’m giving you the chance of a lifetime, do you want it or not?”

“Hell no. The ring doesn’t belong to you. If anyone deserves the ring, it’s the men of Minasty Fearith, the ones who’ve stood up to Moron for generations. No way you’re getting the ring as long as I’m around.”

“We’ll just see about that. Better watch your back from now on.”

.

The task force finally arrived at the west doors of Gorya. They were closed.

“How the hell do we get in there?” Aragont asked Dimwit.

“Search me,” Dimwit said. “Maybe the inscription on the doors will give us a clue.”

“ ‘Gorya, Gorya, I think they got your number, Gorya,’ ” Aragont read. ” ‘I think they got the alias, Gorya, that you’ve been living under, Gorya.’ The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

No one knew, and they argued for a while. “Screw it,” Aragont finally said. He knocked twice on the door.

“Who’s there?”

“Aragont.”

“Aragont who?”

“Aragont will beat your sorry dwarf-ass into oblivion if you don’t open the door this second.”

The door swung open to reveal a bleary-eyed dwarf. “Welcome to Gorya,” he said.

“Damn straight,” Aragont said. “Now let’s have some goddam hospitality. Food, drink, beds, and whatnot. I’m the rightful king of Muddle-earth, you know.”

The dwarf shrugged. “If you say so.” And he led the task force down a dark corridor into a huge, ornately carved hall encrusted with gems that reflected the light of a vast number of torches. The hall was filled with stone tables, chairs, and benches, all covered with hundreds of dwarves sitting, lying, or slouching. Others lay on the floor. A pungent odor filled the air.

“What’s all this then?” Meniadorc asked.

“All what?” said the door-dwarf.

“I thought dwarves worked constantly,” Pissin said.

“Yeah, we used to, every day — digging tunnels, carving stone, finding precious gems,” the door-dwarf replied. “Then one day — or night, who fucking knows, it’s all the same in here — we dug so deep that we accidentally uncovered Ballsack’s lair, and that changed everything.”

“Ballsack?” Leggomyass said. “Isn’t that a super-evil ancient fire demon or something?”

“We thought that too, at first,” said the door-dwarf. “Turns out he just gets a bad rap. He was lonely and misunderstood until we befriended him. This guy had eons of free time, so he started experimenting and made an incredible discovery, which he shared with us out of gratitude for being freed.”

“Discovery?” Dimwit said.

“We already knew pissthril was good for armor, weapons, cookware, weatherstripping, jet fuel, laxatives, tinfoil, aerobics and nuclear waste,” the door-dwarf answered. “But Ballsack figured out that if you grind up pissthril and cook it at just the right temp, it liquifies and you can inject it. Gives you a monster fucking high.”

“So that’s all you dwarves do now?” Leggomyass said.

“Pretty much,” the door-dwarf said. “And it’s been great. Now that we’re stoned all the time, we’ve started asking ourselves deep, important questions. Why did we used to work so hard? What was the point? What did it all mean? Sure, we kept piling up wealth, but what for? So, no more work until we answer those questions or run out of thril, whichever comes first.”

“How much pissthril is in this place anyway?” Dimwit said.

“Who knows?”

“And after you run out?”

“Life will go on long after the thril of Gorya’s gone.”

“Can we try some?” Fraudo asked.

“Sorry, little dude,” said the door-dwarf, “but it’s such strong stuff that unless you’re as rock-hard as a dwarf, it’ll probably kill you. So for your own good, we have to bogart the thril.”

The task force exited the hall and passed through many more halls, some larger, some smaller, but all filled with dwarves high on thril. Eventually they left Gorya through the east doors.

“Well that was a fucking waste of time,” Aragont said. “No food, no drink, no hospitality. We’re running low on provisions.”

“Probably good hunting in that forest,” Leggomyass said, pointing east. The others agreed, and the task force headed that way. But as soon as they entered the forest, armed elves sprang out of hiding places and surrounded them.

“You are trespassers,” one of the elves said. “We must bring you before the Lord and Lady of Slothlórien. They will decide your fate.”

The elves took the task force into the heart of the forest. As they went along, they heard chainsaws and trees falling. Finally they arrived at a tree with a rope ladder dangling from the branches. Climbing the ladder, they arrived at a tree house, where Lord Celebored and Lady Gallingdrool sat on lawn chairs. Celebored was dressed in a tie dye muscle shirt and jeans, Gallingdrool in a halter top and daisy dukes. Both wore Aviator shades.

Gallingdrool sighed when she saw the task force. “No, let me guess. The guards caught you trespassing and brought you here. We told them to stop fucking doing that.”

“Yeah, nobody cares anymore,” Celebored said. “We sold off most of the forest to logging companies anyway.”

“And whose fault was that?” Gallingdrool said.

“Not mine. You’re the one with that ring that you claimed had magical powers.” He turned to the visitors. “Then I found out it came from a cereal box, and she’d been taking out loans for the upkeep of this place. Can you believe this shit?”

“I only hid the truth from you because I love you so much,” Gallingdrool said, caressing Celebored’s face.

“I know, I know. I can’t stay mad at you.” And they made out for a while, to the visitors’ discomfort.

“So we’re free to go?” Aragont said at last.

“What’s that?” Celebored said. “Um, yeah, sure, whatever. The two of us are also going pretty soon. Hopefully, anyway.”

“Do you have any idea how fucking old we are?” Gallingdrool said. “Thousands of years. So many thousands of years old that we lost count thousands of years ago. We’re just so goddam sick and tired of being alive. It’s, like, different century, same shit, different millennium, same shit, over and over and over. We’ve had way more than enough.”

“Well we would both have been dead long ago if you weren’t such a bitch,” Celebored said.

“You’re the one who thinks using a bow and arrow is a dumb idea.”

“It is a dumb idea. OK, let’s say I shoot you, you die. Fine. Then what? I can’t shoot myself with an arrow. It’s physically impossible.”

“I told you already, we get someone else to shoot both of us.”

“Nobody’s willing.”

“How do you know? Have you asked everyone?

“What a stupid question.”

“No, you’re a stupid question.

“Anyway, I told you already, we just slash our wrists. Simple.”

“And I told you already that I hate the sight of blood.”

“You drink enough of it, don’t you?”

“That’s different.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Yes it is. Besides, it takes too long to bleed out, and I want to get it over with quickly.”

“I hate that we argue so much. It’s killing me.”

“If only.”

“Can’t we just agree? You know how much I love you and how much I wanna die with you, pumpkinspicelatte.”

“And I wanna die with you, honeybunchesofoats.”

They started making out again. The visitors quietly slipped out of the treehouse and back down the ladder. A few days of hunting got them all the fresh meat they could carry. Then they continued east through the forest, constantly avoiding falling trees, until they came to the banks of a wide river. Three boats were tied to a dock. The task force got into the boats, stowed their belongings, and pushed off. The next moment, they heard the sound of a chainsaw, and a gigantic tree fell over, crashing through the dock and completely destroying it.

.

For the next several days they let the river Anruin carry them south, paddling occasionally. The air grew warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. The river was full of logs, empty bottles, sandwich papers, rotting corpses, silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends, oil, and tar. On the banks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. Eventually the task force reached the brown lands, which the wind crossed, unheard. Soon afterward, the hills of the Emynems towered over both banks.

After dinner that night, Aragont told them, “OK, now we gotta decide if we’re going to Mordure or Minasty Fearith or we break up this little party and go our separate ways. I would take a vote, but I don’t believe in democracy, so I say we settle this the old way — MMA. Whaddaya say we throw down right here right now, Bormirear?”

“Challenge accepted,” Bormirear said. “Sounds like someone wants to get fucked up all the way and beyond.” And they both stripped to the waist and went at it.

Gandolt rolled his eyes. “All of you mortals fill me with loathing and disgust. I’m outta here.” He spoke into a crack in his gnarled ash staff: “One to beam up.” A moment later, Gandolt flickered and vanished. The others watched the fighting.

After a short while, Pissin yawned. “This is doing nothing for me. And I have to take a leak anyway, so I’ll see the rest of you later.”

“I gotta go too,” Meniadorc said, and he and Pissin disappeared into the woods. Leggomyass and Dimwit went off in the opposite direction to hunt because the task force was running low on food. Fraudo, meanwhile, took Servant and one of the boats and went fishing, though he caught only oil drums leaking radioactive waste. The current eventually brought him to the river’s western bank, where a rocky beach ran up to the edge of the hills. He and Servant disembarked, and Fraudo wandered around for a while, occasionally glancing at the fight on the opposite bank. Eventually Bormirear had Aragont down and seemed to be reveling in his victory when a long black arrow shot into his back and came out of his chest, almost immediately followed by two more long black arrows into his back, two into his neck, ten into each leg, and five into his head, after which he fell over. Aragont scrambled for his weapons and armor as orcs poured out of the woods. He fought them off and yelled for help, which brought Leggomyass and Dimwit to his aid. Fraudo, meanwhile, threw Servant into the boat and lay down on top of him so no one on the opposite shore could see him, then waited until the sounds of battle died down. “My name’s Pitt and I’m not getting involved in that shit,” he said. “This ring is a goddam curse. Better just throw it in the river and be rid of it.” But then he remembered that it could make him invisible, which might come in handy, so he decided to keep it after all.

The moment that Fraudo and Servant returned to shore, a giant eagle swooped down and tried to seize Fraudo with its talons. He and Servant ran into the hills and hid under a rock. The eagle tried again and again to get at them but couldn’t and eventually gave up and flew off. “I suppose the only way out of here is through these hills,” Fraudo said. “Safer too. That fucking eagle will get me if I’m out in the open.” And he and Servant set out east.

.

After Aragont, Leggomyass, and Dimwit had massacred a bunch of orcs and hewn them limb from limb, the rest fled back into the woods. The three were debating about what to do with Bormirear’s body when a giant eagle swooped down, grabbed Bormirear by the head with its talons, and swooped off. As the three watched, the eagle slammed Bormirear’s body against a jutting rock, severing the head from the body, which fell into the river and was devoured by alligators. Then another giant eagle appeared, and the two flew in circles while tossing Bormirear’s head between them, from beak to talons, from talons to beak.

“Well, that solves that problem,” Aragont said. “Now we have to find Fraudo so I can steal the ring from him I mean help him get to Mordure so he can destroy the ring.”

“Yeah, I don’t know about that,” Leggomyass said. “Those other halfwits have been captured and need rescuing.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Dimwit said. “We can’t just let the orcs have their way with them.”

Aragont rolled his eyes and sighed. “Oh, alright. I guess Fraudo will just have to make do without our help. But before we go anywhere, I need a good long rest.”

.

“Are you sure these are the halfwits we were sent to capture?” asked Nigel the orc, gesturing toward Meniadorc and Pissin, who were lying on the ground, hogtied.

“It would seem so,” replied his twin, Niles the orc. “The boss ordered us to capture halfwits. These are halfwits. We have captured them. Quod erat demonstrandum.”

“A facile conjecture,” Helen the orc said.

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Niles the orc answered. “But in any event, the fault, dear Helen, is not in ourselves but in our instructions.”

“It passes all comprehension,” said Nigel the orc. “I simply cannot fathom it — why did the boss dispatch so many of us on such a lengthy errand — a march of hundreds of miles — to capture a few halfwits?”

“Reason not the need, old chap,” said Niles the orc. “Our mission is only to take these halfwits to the boss; he can sort out the matter himself.”

The other orcs agreed, and they all began marching north, the halfwits in tow.

.

A strange noise awakened Servant, and he saw an even stranger sight. Scrottum had apparently jumped onto Fraudo’s back, and the two were struggling, but Fraudo had put on the ring and was invisible.

“Mine mine mine!” Scrottum yelled. “The ring is mine and always has been! Give it to us! Give it! Mine mine mine!”

Servant helped rip Scrottum off Fraudo’s back, then punched him in the face and kneed him in the groin over and over, until Scrottum was whimpering and writhing on the ground in pain. Fraudo removed the ring, and he and Servant took turns savagely kicking Scrottum again and again until Scrottum fled. Then Fraudo punched Servant in the face.

“What the hell were you doing sleeping when you should have been awake and helping me sooner!? And it’s your fault that we still haven’t found our way out of these goddam hills.”

“I’m sorry, master, it won’t happen again,” Servant said, groveling.

“Better not. The only reason I don’t chop you up for fish bait this instant is because there’s nowhere to fish around here. Also I need you to carry the baggage. And do everything else for me. And blame you for all our problems. And take out my rage on you. But if it weren’t for that … anyway, hurry up and make breakfast.”

“Yes, master, yes, master, yes, master.”

“The sooner we get the hell out of here the better,” Fraudo muttered. “If the giant eagles don’t get me then this putrid fuckpuke Scrottum probably will.”

.

All that day the sun burned hot and bright as they continued making their way slowly and with difficulty through the Emenyms. In the late afternoon, a giant eagle again swooped down and nearly carried Fraudo away when it was stopped by a screech, which turned out to be another giant eagle calling to the first. Both flew to a high cliff wall where, beside a trapped fossil, a man was chained, and giant eagles were taking turns pecking at his liver.

“He’s saying something,” Fraudo said, looking up at the man. “Servant, can you hear what he’s saying?”

“I think so, master. It sounds like ‘pain pain ever for ever the crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears of their moon-freezing crystals the bright chains eat with their burning cold into my bones–“

Fraudo smacked Servant upside the head. “Liar! That’s gibberish! Why the hell would you tell such a stupid lie? If you can’t hear what he’s saying just admit it instead of making up bullshit.”

“Yes, master. Sorry, master.”

.

Days later Fraudo and Servant finally left the Emenyms behind. Before them sprawled a vast graveyard of tall grass and old, weathered headstones, almost all of them leaning at crazy angles and some of them fallen over, along with tombs in serious disrepair. “Spooky,” Fraudo said. “But at least we won’t have to climb any more hills. And the dead can’t harm us.”

He and Servant proceeded east through the graveyard, making good progress. Fraudo whistled a tune. Soon, however, they encountered one abandoned mine after another and had to take care not to fall in. In some places the earth rumbled before a geyser of strange, dark, smelly liquid shot hundreds of feet into the air, and it was all the halfwits could do to keep from getting drenched.

In the middle of the day they made camp and ate, then continued on. Soon, however, a sense of dread began creeping over Fraudo. Was it just his imagination, or was Scrottum stealthily following them, hiding behind headstones? Fraudo thought he caught glimpses of him out of the corner of his eye but couldn’t be sure.

As dusk approached, Fraudo saw something in the distance that made him stop and stare. A corpse burst its way out of the ground near a headstone and lumbered off. “What fresh hell is this?” Fraudo said, though he wasn’t overly alarmed because the corpse was moving away from them. Still, he picked up his pace. Soon he saw another corpse emerge from the ground near a headstone, this one a little closer but, again, not moving in their direction. The halfwits kept walking and saw no more corpses before making camp for the night. Fraudo took out the ring and looked at it. “I wonder if this will help defend against those corpses,” he said. Just then Scrottum ran up and tried to grab the ring from Fraudo’s hand. But the moment that Scrottum touched the ring it sprouted a throbbing rod of blinding white light that sizzled as it made contact with Scrottum’s flesh. “It burns! It burns!” Scrottum yelped as he ran off. No sooner had he disappeared, though, then corpses came at the halfwits from every direction. Fraudo prepared to defend himself, but the corpses ignored him and clustered around Servant. 

“Master, help me, please!” Servant yelled, but Fraudo did nothing. “Master, I’m begging you, these things, whatever they are, they mean business!” With a sigh, Fraudo reluctantly threw the ring to Servant, who put it on and vanished. The corpses, baffled, soon disappeared into the night.

.

At the edge of the graveyard they found the start of a yellow-brick road, with weeds sprouting between the bricks. “Gate of Mordure” read a sign with an arrow. Following the road, they arrived at the gate and were surprised to find it just an ordinary wooden door in the mountainside. Beside the door was a stool, and sitting on the stool was a small figure in black, with the hood of its cloak pulled over its face so that only its mouth, full of razor-sharp teeth, was visible. The figure spoke as the halfwits neared.

“Who wishes to enter the Great And Most High And Most Loftiest And By Far The Happiest And Most Favored And Most Blessed Realm And Kingdom And Domain And Dominion And Land Of The Democratic People’s Republic Of MORDURE, Ruled Over By The One And Only True Ruler Of MORDURE And Of All Muddle-Earth And All Other Lands Both Known And Unknown, Both Existing And Non-Existing, His Majesty And Grace And Highness And Excellency, Look On His Works Ye Mighty And Despair, The Right Honourable MORON, KG, KP, CCCP, LOL, GCB, SAT, OM, FML, WTF, GCSI, GCMG, KCATSB, VD, GCIE, PSAT, PC, PG13?”

“Fraudo of the Shite. But wait — can just anyone enter?”

“Of course. Anyone, that is, who can provide ten forms of official ID, with photos, and pass a background check. Also, you must be fingerprinted. Also, you have to fill out these forms.” He handed Fraudo a stack of paper two feet high. “Even-numbered pages must be filled out in blue ink, and odd-numbered pages must be filled out in black ink, unless the lunar cycle is unfavorable, in which case everything is reversed. Each page must be signed in red ink, signed in green ink, signed in blood, dated, and witnessed. Terms and conditions apply. Void where prohibited. Allow ten to twelve months for processing.”

“Fuck that,” Fraudo said, throwing the forms to the ground. “There must be another way in. Or — ” He took out the ring and looked at it. “I could get rid of this damn thing here and now…. But what if somebody finds it and uses its power to destroy Muddle-earth? Or, worse, to irritate me? No, better keep it for now.”

As Fraudo pondered his next move, he noticed that near the door was a kiosk with a sign reading “Mordure gift shop.” There were t-shirts, coloring books, lunch boxes, a breakfast cereal, flamethrowers, dolls, hats, pens, pencils, notepads, surfboards, and many other items, all emblazoned with a huge red eye. Looking over the selection, Fraudo noticed a map of Muddle-earth. He took it down, unfolded it, and studied it.

“Hmm … looks like there may be a side entrance into Mordure — this place labeled ‘Citrus Fungal,’ whatever the hell that is. A few days’ walk from here, looks like. Might as well try it.”

.

Citrus Fungal turned out to be a combination haunted house and casino in the shape of an enormous black widow spider, with the entrance in the hourglass on its belly. Fraudo and Servant went in. Just inside the door sat a man with a passing resemblance to Bormirear. He nodded at them and beckoned them nearer, then put two slips of paper and a small burlap bag, tied at the neck with twine, into Fraudo’s hands. “Haunted house season passes,” the man said. “And free tokens for special guests. Good luck.”

Fraudo now discovered he had a passion for gambling. And he kept winning and winning, no matter which game he tried. The twenty tokens he’d been given grew and grew until he needed a basket, then a wheelbarrow — both helpfully provided by the casino — to hold them all. Then two casino employees came up to him.

“Boss wants a word with you,” one of them said.

“What for?” Fraudo said.

“You’ll find out. And it’s not a request. Come along, or you’ll have more trouble than you could handle in a lifetime.”

Fraudo and Servant followed one of the employees, with the other behind them. The halfwits were led up a few flights of stairs into a large room whose windows were the spider’s many eyes. The man who had given them the tokens was there, surrounded by armed guards.

“Bow to the Lord Farasmear,” snarled one of the employees who had led them there, giving Fraudo a push from behind. Fraud bowed.

“So I give you free tokens and you use them to cheat, eh?” Farasmear told Fraudo.

“The hell are you talking about?” Fraudo said. “I wasn’t cheating.”

“Wasn’t cheating? A wheelbarrow of tokens and he wasn’t cheating. How stupid do you think we are?”

“I swear I wasn’t cheating.”

“And I own this place and I say you were. The penalty for that is … what is it again? I forget.”

“Tortured to death,” one of the guards said.

“Oh, yes,” Farasmear said, grinning with delight. “Torture, as long and slow as we can devise, until you die. Unless–“

“Unless?” Fraudo said, his voice shaking.

“Unless you have some valuables on you that you can trade for your life.”

“Valuables? What about the tokens?”

“Dishonestly won and in any case worthless outside of these premises.”

“But I don’t have anything.”

“Sure about that?”

“Sure.”

“Guards! Cavity search. Hard and deep. Don’t stop until you hit the back of the teeth.”

Soon Fraudo and Servant were standing naked, all their orifices having been more than thoroughly searched. The guards were going through their clothes. One of them found the ring and handed it to Farasmear. He held it up.

“I’d call this valuable,” he said, grinning again. “Yes, very pretty. You just leave this with me and you’re free to go.”

Before Fraudo could answer, he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Scrottum dash into the room and lunge at Farasmear.

“MINE MINE MINE!” Scrottum screamed. He tried to grab the ring but missed it and sprawled on the floor. For a moment everyone was too startled to react. Then the guards began piling on Scrottum. To everyone’s amazement, though, Scrottum fought them off, got up and ran frantically around the room so fast that no one could catch him. Again and again he tried to get at the ring, which Farasmear still held. Fraudo and Servant took advantage of the confusion to get back into their clothes. Servant then tipped over the wheelbarrow full of tokens, scattering them everywhere. The guards and Scrottum slipped on the tokens and fell. So did Farasmear. As he fell, he let go of the ring, which happened to land at Fraudo’s feet. He slipped it on his finger, vanished, and fled, with Servant following as close behind as he could. They found a back door to the casino and rushed out. Mordure lay before them — an endless plain of some strange, hard black substance marked with gigantic white capital H’s, each about 8 1/2 feet wide by about thirty-six feet long.

.

The orcs made camp at the edge of a dark forest around teatime. Pissin and Meniadorc, still tied up, were fed and given a mouthful each of miruworm.

“How much longer?” asked Geneviève the orc, sipping from a china cup.

“Oh, I should say a few more days,” said Cynthia the orc.

“I’m glad. This has been a wearying expedition.”

“At least we’re being well paid for it.”

“Indeed. The main business, however, is far more profitable, and I suppose we’ll return to that with little delay.”

“As soon as the old man makes another batch.”

“He is being rather slow about it. If only–” But Geneviève the orc never finished her sentence because at that moment a gigantic tree branch came crashing down on her and on several other orcs as well, killing them instantly. Pissin and Meniadorc watched in amazement as trees, some of them one hundred feet tall, rampaged through the camp, killing orcs left and right. When an orc fired a flaming arrow into one of the trees, setting it on fire, the tree gave a hideous shriek and, as it burned, fell over on top of the orc. Pissin and Meniadorc took advantage of the attack to work free of the ropes binding them and hid as best they could. Finally all the orcs were dead, along with a few trees that had been burned. The rest began marching back into the forest. The halfwits followed at a discreet distance. “I don’t know what those things are,” Pissin said, “but if they can protect us from orcs, we should stick close by.”

The halfwits wandered around the forest a while, but it soon got dark, and they were tired. They sat down with their backs against a tree. A deep voice boomed out somewhere above them.

“Are … you unfamiliar … with … the concept … of … personal … space?” the voice said slowly. The halfwits started, leaped up, and hid behind another trees a few feet away.

“That’s … better,” the deep, booming voice said.

Meniadorc peeped out. “You a talking tree?”

“Yes,” the tree said.

“You one of the trees that just killed those orcs?” Meniadorc asked.

“No … I … gave the … orders … for that … attack,” the tree said.

“What are you?” Pissin asked.

“One … of … the … bents,” the tree said. “My … name is … Peeweird.”

“So what was the deal with that attack?” Meniadorc asked. “You guys got something against orcs?”

“Fuckers cut … down … trees in … Fanporn forest … for the … old man … in … the tower.”

“Yeah, I can see how that might be a problem,” Meniadorc said as he and Pissin looked at each other and shrugged. “Bet you want to get rid of them root and branch, huh?”

“Dude — not funny,” Pissin said.

“We’re … on our … way to … take … him … down … want to … tag … along?” Peeweird said.

“Sure, why not?” Pissin said. “Not like we got anything better to do or even know where the hell we are.”

So Peeweird hoisted the halfwits into his branches and joined a multitude of other bents marching toward the tower of Morerank, the center of Sourmange’s fortress, Poisonedlard. As they went, Peeweird explained that until recently the elves had had a monopoly on the production of miruworm liquor, but that Sourmange had somehow stolen the miruworm spells and was making his own, which would undercut the elves.

“But what does that have to do with orcs cutting down trees?” Meniadorc asked.

“Saluadman … needs wood … for fire … to … brew … the … miruworm,” Peeweird said. The orcs also distributed the miruworm, he explained, because Sourmange’s magical powers didn’t extend far beyond Poisonedlard.

When Peeweird stopped to rest, the halfwits clambered down, made a bed of dead leaves on the forest floor, and relaxed on it while having a good smoke. Soon they saw, passing among the trees a little ways off, a horse bearing a rider who looked exactly like Gandolt, but dressed in white.

“Is that — ?”

“No, it couldn’t be. He disappeared long ago.”

“Maybe he’s back. That dude looks just like him.”

“Let’s ask.”

“Yeah, let’s … Hey, buddy, you’re not by any chance Gandolt the wizard, are you?”

“Gandolt the wizard?” the rider replied without looking at the halfwits or slowing his horse’s pace. “The one who used to dress in gray and visit the Shite and loved enslaving and condescending to halfwits and accompanied the task force for a while before having himself beamed up and was the best thing that ever happened to Muddle-earth in the thousands of years of its miserable, pathetic, tortured existence? That Gandolt? Never heard of him.” And he rode on.

“Guess it wasn’t Gandolt.”

“Sure had me fooled.”

.

The bents eventually arrived at Poisonedlard. They bellowed for Sourmange to show himself, but no one came out of the tower. In their frustration, the bents demolished a nearby dam, releasing waters that surrounded Morerank and flooded Poisonedlard. Some of the bents frolicked in their new swimming pool. The halfwits, meanwhile, approached the tower. Finding the front doors swinging on their hinges, the halfwits entered and climbed stone stairs to the top of the tower. The only source of light was glow-in-the-dark hieroglyphics that covered the walls and sometimes whispered to one another. Finally they reached a chamber with a polished stone floor and a ceiling covered with stars on a blue background. Part of the room was closed off by a heavy, bright green curtain. Peeking around it, the halfwits saw a small wooden table with an old deck of cards, a plastic wand, a black top hat, a toy rabbit, and a book, Summoning The Forces Of Evil Darkness For Dummies.Pissin and Meniadorc looked at each other, both mystified.

“No trace of Sourmange,” Pissin said.

“Is this the only room in the tower?” Meniadorc said.

“Seems to be. And it doesn’t look like there are any doors besides the one we entered through.”

“No trap doors in the ceiling.”

“Very strange. You’d think Sourmange would be here.”

“Yeah, you’d think. After all, he’s a pretty important character, I mean wizard.”

“He’s been talked about quite a lot.”

“So having him put in an appearance would make sense.”

“And yet he isn’t here.”

“I can’t explain it.”

.

“Is this really a good idea?” Leggomyass asked.

“What?” Aragont said.

“Sleeping till noon every day. We’re probably falling farther and farther behind the orcs. At this rate we’ll never rescue the halfwits.”

“The who?” Aragont said. “Oh, yeah, right. I keep forgetting that we’re chasing the orcs to rescue the halfwits. Which is why we’re sleeping till noon every day. We have to be well-rested.”

“And then taking two hours for breakfast?” Dimwit said. “And then stopping two more hours for second breakfast?”

“We have to be well-fed to have energy for the chase, don’t we?” Aragont said.

“Well can we at least get moving now?” Leggomyass asked.

“Sure, sure, just as soon as I finish trimming my nails,” Aragont said, giving his full attention to that task. Just then, though, they heard pounding hooves approaching, and soon hundreds of horsemen rode up.

“Alright, let’s see your hall passes,” one of the riders said to the three travelers. They didn’t answer. “No hall passes? Then who are you, and what is your business here?”

“I am Aragont,” Aragont said. “The true and rightful and righteous king of Gondorrhea, in a quest to reclaim my throne. And these are my minions.” Leggomyass and Dimwit gave Aragont an angry glance.

“True king?” the rider said. “Sure you are. Anyway, by order of me, Éomerde, all three of you, as intruders in the land of Ramen, are required, upon pain of death, to accompany us to the fortress of Bledurass, where King Féoden will decide your fate or whatever.” And before any of the three could respond, they were tied up and hoisted onto horses and forced to set out with the riders.

.

Arriving in Bledurass, the three travelers were untied and taken by Éomerde to the great hall of Meusoiled. At one end, Féoden, ancient and withered, lay snoring on a craftmatic adjustable bed. Eowhine sat on a chair beside the bed, fanning her uncle.

“Well?” Éomerde said, walking up to her.

“Well what?” Eowhine replied.

“Has he finally decided on a successor?”

“No. I keep asking him about it, but every time it looks like he’s about to tell me, he falls asleep. Fucking hell.”

“And you really think he might pick you?”

“Yeah.”

“Forget it, sis. The throne of Ramen is mine. Féoden’s my uncle, after all.”

“Mine too.”

“But he likes me more.”

“You sure about that?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Don’t be.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“I happen to know for a fact that he likes me more.”

“Yeah, how?”

“I do things for him.”

“Huh. Well, I can’t compete with that. Or I don’t want to try, anyway. But in the end it won’t matter.”

Eowhine rolled her eyes, then noticed the visitors for the first time. “Who the hell are they?”

“Trespassers. Uncle needs to decide what to do about them.”

“OK, but first we have to figure out how to wake him up.”

Leggomyass gestured for Éomerde to come nearer. “So you want to be king, eh?” Leggomyass said.

“Yeah,” Éomerde said. “But what’s that got to do with you?”

“A lot, maybe. You help us, we help you.”

“Help me how?”

“We’re all-powerful magicians. We can cast spells that’ll make Féoden name you as his successor.”

“Yeah? And what’s in it for you?”

“The king doesn’t need to know we were ever here. Let us go and give us a few riders to help us look for our halfwit friends. They were captured by orcs — the ones we were chasing when you took us prisoner.”

“Chasing? You sure didn’t seem in much of a hurry. Alright, it’s a deal, but you have to keep up your end of the bargain first.” Éomerde glanced over at Féoden. “Or not. He could be asleep for days. OK, we’ll help you now, then you make me king. And just to make sure there’s no funny business, I’m coming along. Any idea where your friends are now?”

“No,” Leggomyass said.

“Well,” Éomerde said, “any orcs in these parts were probably sent by Sourmange, the old wizard in the tower. What he wanted with halfwits, I can’t imagine. Wait, on second thought, I can imagine. So let’s go save their asses.”

.

A few days of hard riding brought the group to Poisonedlard. They were amazed by its transformation, but the bents filled them in on what had happened.

“And the halfwits?” Dimwit asked.

“They went into the tower to look for the wizard,” the bent said. Just then the halfwits emerged from Morerank.

“Glad you two are safe,” Dimwit said.

“Yeah, me too,” Leggomyass said.

“Boy, have we had some adventures,” Meniadorc said.

“Sure, whatever, tell us on the way back, let’s get the hell out of here,” Aragont said. After a rest they began the journey back to Bledurass. As they rode, the halfwits explained what had happened to them, and Dimwit and Leggomyass briefed the halfwits.

When they got back, they were surprised to find the town almost empty. Éomerde found the chief steward and asked him what had happened.

“King Théoden died last night, my lord, and has been cremated.”

“Cremated on whose orders?”

“Queen Eowhine’s.”

“Queen?”

“Ay, my lord, the king designated her as his successor.”

“Says who?”

“The queen.”

“And who else heard him designate her as successor?”

“No one, my lord. Nor did anyone else witness the king’s death. It all happened behind closed doors.”

“That little bitch,” Éomerde said, more to himself than anyone else. To the steward he said, “That still doesn’t explain why the town is nearly empty.”

“This morning, my lord, we received the distress signal from Gondorrhea.”

“Distress signal? You mean the spinning disco ball on the mountain?”

“Ay, lord. The queen then called up the army and rode off at its head.”

“Then I’ll have to join her. We have unfinished business.” He turned to Aragont. “And I have unfinished business with you too. Now that Féoden’s dead, it seems you don’t have to keep up your end of the bargain. How convenient for you. Or were you lying all along? In any case, I see no reason why I shouldn’t have the three of you summarily executed, and the halfwits too, for good measure.”

“Us? Lying? Of course not,” Aragont said. “Were the king still alive, we would certainly use our power to make you his successor. Since he isn’t–“

“Since he isn’t, you’re going to have to think of a different way to make yourself useful to me and Ramen. Otherwise, all five of you will be hanged, drawn, and quartered. For starters.”

“Useful? Of course,” Aragont said. “We can all fight on your side.”

“Don’t make me laugh. I have a few thousand under my command already, or will after I catch up to Eowhine. Adding you lot won’t make a damn bit of difference.”

“But there are more than five of us,” Aragont said. “A lot more. Because I can, um, summon, uh, a ghost army — yeah, that’s it, a ghost army.”

Leggomyass, Dimwit, and the halfwits all stared at Aragont like he was insane. 

“A ghost army?” Éomerde said. “You gotta be shitting me.”

“No, no, it’s true,” Aragont said. “See, long ago there were these warriors who … um … swore fealty to some king or other who was fighting Moron but … uh … when the time came for them to fight they buggered off so the king, he, uh, cursed them, right, cursed them … and since then they’ve been ghosts, unable to rest until they redeem themselves by doing battle against Moron.”

Éomerde stared at him a while. “OK, let’s pretend for a moment that you didn’t just pull all of that out of your ass. Where is this ghost army? Not around here, I assume.”

“Up in the mountains.”

“How convenient for you. Oh, hell, I don’t have time to deal with this crap. I have to go after my bitch sister, who probably murdered our uncle, and take back control of the army that’s rightfully mine. So on the off chance that there’s some shred of truth to this ‘ghost army’ business, I’ll let you and the dwarf and the elf go into the mountains. But I’m sending a few riders with you, and if turns out you’ve been lying, they’ll kill you all. To make doubly sure, I’m forcing the halfwits to accompany me and serve in Ramen’s army, after a brutal hazing ritual, of course. They’ll also be executed if you don’t show up with your ghosts.”

.

“A ghost army!?” Leggomyass told Aragont as the two of them, Dimwit, and ten Ramen riders set off in the direction of the mountains. “Who ever heard of anything so goddam stupid? You just signed our death warrants.”

“Well, I had to come up with something to buy time, didn’t I?” Aragont said. “And you weren’t helping. Anyway, it worked.”

“Please tell me there’s an actual ghost army and you can summon it,” Dimwit said.

“Hell no and fuck no,” Aragont said. “That’s just an old story I heard once as a kid, about some supposedly haunted mountain.”

“So we’re doomed,” Leggomyass said.

“Not necessarily,” Aragont said. “It’ll take us a few days to get there, so maybe we can figure out a way to escape these riders or kill them or kill their horses or whatever.”

.

They rode higher and higher into the mountains, Aragont leading the others without hesitation.

“Do you know where you’re going?” Dimwit asked.

“Do I know where I’m going to reach the thing that doesn’t exist?” Aragont replied. “What do you think?”

They were now taking a trail through a dark forest on a spooky mountain. Rounding a bend, they came to a clearing and were amazed to see what looked like hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ghosts, armed and armored, silently milling about.

“Well I’ll be fucked and a half sideways,” Dimwit said.

“What, you think I was just making it up?” Aragont said.

“You said you were making it up,” Leggomyass said.

“Like fun I did. Anyway, who’s going to talk to them?”

“You are,” Leggomyass said. “This was all your idea.”

“Yeah, but–” Aragont began.

“What’s the matter?” Dimwit said. “Scared?”

“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” Aragont said. As he entered the clearing, one of the ghosts approached him. “Welcome, traveler. My name is lost. But you can call me the Ghost General. What brings you to the haunted mountain?”

“I and my companions have come to ask you to help us fight Moron so you can be rid of your shame and rest in peace.”

“Ah yes,” the Ghost General said. “So many people come here thinking we’re just available for hire. Yard work and that sort of thing. So refreshing that you know the real situation.”

“You’ll help us then?”

“I didn’t say that. Yes, we long to be redeemed and at rest, but we’ll fight Moron only in a just cause.”

“Oh, this is a just cause. Very just,” Dimwit said. He and Leggomyass had joined Aragont by now.

“As justest as they come,” Leggomyass said.

“See, Moron’s forces are threatening the city of Minasty Fearith, which has never done any harm to anyone,” Aragont said. “It has sadly been bereft of a king for many generations now and is led by a steward — the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being you can imagine.”

“His only thought, night and day, is to help his people in every way possible,” Leggomyass said.

“To help all of Muddle-earth, really. Make sure everyone has enough food, clothing, shelter, and work,” Dimwit said.

“To resolve all conflicts,” Leggomyass said.

“And give every child a puppy,” Aragont said.

“Or a bunny. Just as they prefer,” Leggomyass said.

“That’s who Moron wants to destroy and whose city he wants to rule,” Aragont said. “Now, if that isn’t a just cause, I don’t know what is.”

“And there’s nothing in it for any of you, is there?” the Ghost General asked.

“No, not a thing,” Aragont said. “Other than, of course, the deep satisfaction of having done a good deed, which is always its own reward.”

“C’mon, man — we’re dead, not stupid,” the Ghost General said. “Save the syrup for waffles. I don’t know what it is, but there’s definitely something in it for you or those others back there, or all of you. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad cause. We’ll take a vote and let you know tomorrow morning.”

Aragont, Dimwit, and Leggomyass left the clearing, and they and the riders made camp. The next morning, the Ghost General visited them. “Well, it was the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life, but we will help you.” Aragont, Dimwit, and Leggomyass breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Lead on,” the Ghost General told Aragont.

.

With her troops having made camp, Eowhine was in her tent eating dinner when a Servant entered. “Highness, a messenger from Bledurass has arrived and is asking to see you.”

“A messenger? Strange. Well, show him in.”

The servant did so. As soon as he had left the tent, the messenger threw off his disguise, revealing himself to be Éomerde. He rushed toward Eowhine, grabbed her from behind and put a dagger at her throat. “Make one sound and you’re dead.” In a loud voice, he said, “Now!” The riders who had accompanied Éomerde rushed into the tent, bound and gagged Eowhine, and seated her in a chair. Her brother sheathed his dagger. “Nice try, sis. Thought you could just kill Uncle and take over while I was away, did you? Well, can’t say I blame you much — in your place I’d probably have done the same thing.” Eowhine strenuously shook her head. “What’s that? You didn’t kill him? I suppose he died of natural causes just after naming you his heir, right? Funny how there were no witnesses to that, isn’t it? Well, you have your version, and I have mine, and from where I stand, mine’s better. And in case you’re wondering, no, I have no plans to kill my own sister. I’m taking you with us. I haven’t decided your fate yet.”

Leaving a few men to guard Eowhine, Éomerde took the rest and moved through the camp, explaining what his sister had done and winning the loyalty of the troops.

.

A few days’ riding brought the Ramen forces to Minasty Fearith. The next day, Aragont, Dimwit, and Leggomyass arrived, along with the ten riders and the ghost army.

“Looks like I owe you sort of an apology,” Éomerde told Aragont on seeing the ghosts. “I thought every word out of your lips was a lie; turns out only most of them were.”

“OK, so now what?” Aragont said.

“Now we wait. Farasmear, younger son of Lord Deathadore, the steward of this city, just got back from Citrus Fungal, his casino on the outskirts of Mordure. Seems they were attacked, and Mordure’s Marauders are headed this way now. Farasmear was the one who signaled us.”

“Why didn’t Deathadore do that?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Deathadore refused to even see him, is what I hear. Something’s going on in that throne room. Why don’t you deal with it if you’re so curious?”

“Yeah, I will. I need to tell him about his older son’s death anyway.”

.

Aragont asked around and was directed to the throne room’s waiting area. A man was there already. They nodded to each other.

“I should go in first,” Aragont said. “I have urgent news.”

“Can’t be more urgent than mine,” the other man said.

“Wanna bet?”

“Yes.”

“OK, what’s yours?”

“That this city is about to be attacked and we’re all going to fucking die.”

“Yeah, that is a little more urgent than mine. Say, you must be Farasmear. I heard of you.”

“I am. And who might you be?”

“Well I might be your mom’s new boyfriend but in fact I’m Aragont, rightful ruler of all Muddle-earth.”

Farasmear guffawed. “Rightful ruler? Sure you are. Is that what you’re here about?”

“No, I guess that’ll have to wait. I’m here to tell your father about your brother’s death. You know about that already?”

“I know. Kinda sucks, I guess, but we weren’t close or anything. And he was a large-type asshole. Were you there when it happened?”

“I was.”

“What’d you do with the body?”

“Buried it with honors.”

“That was nice of you.”

“Maybe you should be the one to break the news to your father?”

“Nah, you can do it. But it probably won’t matter much.”

“Why not?”

“Trust me, it won’t.”

A guard entered the waiting area and went up to Farasmear. “My lord, I gave your father the message. He won’t see you.”

“You told him that a huge attack on this city is imminent?”

“Yes.”

“And that several armies have arrived to help?”

“Yes.”

“And what did he say?”

“His exact words were, ‘Whatever, now fuck off and die in the coolest way you can think of.’ “

“Then off I’ll fuck, and see to the defenses if no one else will.” Farasmear left. The guard turned to Aragont.

“What is your business here?”

“To inform Lord Deathadore of his son’s death.”

“You may enter.” The guard led Aragont into the throne room.

Aragont approached Deathadore, who was at a table, seated on a shaky three-legged stool at the bottom of stone steps. At the top of the steps was a throne with no one in it.

“My lord,” Aragont said, “it is my sad duty to inform you that Bormirear has fallen in battle.”

“Who?”

“Your oldest son.”

“Oldest? Son? … Oh, yeah, him.”

“Yes, I was there, it happened in–“

“Don’t care. I’m sure there were very fine warriors on both sides….” He turned to one of his attendants. “Wait, don’t I have another son or something like that?”

“Indeed, my lord,” the attendant said.

“What was his name again?”

“Farasmear.”

“Farasmear? I wonder who gave him such a dumbass name. Well, doesn’t matter. Carry on.”

“Shall we dress in mourning, my lord?”

“Mourning? Um, yeah, if you feel like it, but, you know, it’s no big thing. Now, then, to get back to more important matters.” And Deathadore took a drumstick from a huge platter of fried chicken in front of him and began greedily devouring it.

One of the five lawyers seated at the table spoke up. “My lord, as we were saying before–“

“Shut the hell up,” Deathadore told him. “Chicken first.” After he had eaten a few more drumsticks, two breasts, and two thighs, he said, “You may speak.”

“Yes, my lord, I’m sorry to be repetitious, but, as I’ve explained, we have thoroughly researched not only case law but also all the laws passed by previous stewards and the legislative council and can find no legal way for you to become king of Gondorrhea, given that the last king died without lawful issue.”

“Some lawyers you all are,” Deathadore said with a sneer. “More like a pack of imbeciles. That last king you mentioned sure had enough bastards. Can’t we pretend that one of them was a legitimate son and that I’m descended from him?”

“The legislative council would never agree to that, my lord.”

“Then fire them. Fire them all. Right now.”

“My lord, they cannot be fired. They are elected by the people of Gondorrhea.”

“Then fire the people of Gondorrhea. All of them. Right now. Then get me some new people who will elect a legislative council that will recognize that I am and always have been the true king. And make sure the elections aren’t rigged or stolen like all the previous elections were.”

“My lord we have no evidence of –“

“Stolen and rigged and rigged and stolen and the worst crime in the history of Gondorrhea rigged rigged rigged stolen stolen stolen….” And Deathadore turned his attention back to the fried chicken.

.

Taking advantage of their superior night vision, Mordure’s Marauders, led by Moron’s lieutenant, the Bitch Bling of Fanggore, launched a surprise attack a few hours before dawn. The soldiers of Gondorrhea and Ramen soon found themselves struggling against a skilled and battle-hardened foe. Aragont thrust and slashed with his sword. Leggomyass’s bow sang. Dimwit deployed his ax with a swing, swing, swing and a chop, chop, chop. The evil riders of Mordure, now mounted on huge flying nazighoul beasts, wheeled overhead, swooping down to bring terror to the enemies of Moron.

“The ghost army! Where the motherfuck is the ghost army?!” Aragont yelled. “Messenger!” A messenger rode up.

“Find out why the ghosts aren’t attacking. Without them we don’t stand a ghost of a chance.”

“Pardon me, lord, but is this really a good time for puns?”

“Foul villainous unmannered dog! How dare you! It’s always a good time for puns.” And Aragont instantly ran the messenger through with his sword. “Another messenger!”

Another messenger rode up. “Find out why the ghosts aren’t attacking!”

The messenger rode off and soon returned. “The ghosts, my lord, have formed a union, and the union is on strike.”

“Well motherfuck me twice up the jackass with a ballpeen hammer,” Aragont said. “Guess we’ll have to do without them.” And the battle raged on.

.

On the battlements of Minasty Fearith, Deathadore stood alone and watched the turmoil while eating a drumstick. He was so startled when a nazighoul seemed to fly directly at him that a piece of chicken got lodged in his throat, and he choked to death. His corpse was ignored.

.

In a tent, Eowhine sat on a chair, bound and gagged. She was guarded by a soldier who never took his eyes off her.

“Time to feed you,” he said, removing her gag. But instead of giving her food, he bent down and put his hand up her dress and between her legs. Eowhine smiled at him and moaned with pleasure.

“You like that?” the soldier said.

“Oh yes,” Eowhine said, “feels so good.” And she kept moaning.

“Got a little present for you,” the soldier said.

“Just a little one?”

“Well, maybe not so little.” He removed his armor and took out his cock.

“I’d call that a great big gift,” Eowhine said, staring at it.

“Got any ideas what we could do with it?”

“Lots of ideas. But you need to untie me first.”

The soldier grinned. “Anything you say, highness.” He untied her. The moment that Eowhine was free, she punched the soldier in the face, knocking him to the ground, then grabbed his sword, chopped off his cock and testicles, and stuffed them into his mouth. Finally she stabbed him through the chest. “Better to give than to receive, asshole,” she said. After gathering armor and weapons and disguising herself in the guard’s clothes and uniform, she ran out of the tent.

By now, the Marauders had been driven back a little, and both sides were taking a breather. Eowhine quietly found some officers who had been especially loyal to her before and told them what had happened. She and the officers began rallying troops to her side. Realizing what was going on, Éomerde sent troops to recapture Eowhine, but she was too well protected. Skirmishes broke out between troops loyal to the two sides. The Marauders chose that moment to attack again, easily surrounding the soldiers of Gondorrhea and Ramen.

Dimwit, Leggomyass, Aragont and Farasmear found themselves near one another. As the Bitch Bling, mounted on a nazighoul, swooped down on them, Leggomyass shot an arrow through the Bitch Bling, who fell off. The nazighoul landed. Dimwit began swinging his axe to chop off its head. “Not so fast,” Aragont said, and he sprang onto the nazighoul’s back. “Thanks, suckers,” he told Leggomyass and Dimwit. “Guess I won’t be needing either of you anymore.” The nazighoul ripped their heads off their bodies.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Farasmear said.

“Silence, fool!” Aragont yelled. “How dare you talk that way to your king!”

“King? Got any proof?”

“Shit no. But then, I’ve never said I did. I just went around claiming to be the one true king of Muddle-earth, and everyone bought it up to now. And once I have the ring, I will be, because I’ll be able to do whatever the hell I want.”

Aragont took off on the nazighoul but was soon being chased by giant eagles. The nazighoul farted poison gas, however, killing the eagles, then feasting on their corpses before heading to Mordure.

Aragont arrived just in time to see Fraudo and Servant approach Mount Drool. He also saw Scrottum appear, seemingly from nowhere, and attempt to snatch the ring from Fraudo. Fraudo fought back, and the ring lay on the ground between them. Aragont landed the nazighoul, which ate Scrottum before he could get his hands on the ring. Aragont then dismounted and went up to Fraudo, who was bending over to pick up the ring.

“I don’t think so,” Aragont said, and kicked Fraudo in the face, knocking him back several feet. Servant, terrified, found a hiding place. Aragont picked up Fraudo, took him into Mount Drool, threw him into the fire, then retrieved the ring and put it on. He instantly grew a thousand feet tall. He defeated Moron’s giant eye by poking it with a giant sharp stick and kicked over the dark tower as if it were a sand castle.

The Marauders, meanwhile, had achieved victory. Minasty Fearith was utterly laid waste and its people hacked limb from limb while they were still alive. Farasmear, Éomerde, and Eowhine were taken prisoner and later torn apart by dogs. Aragont proclaimed himself Supreme Eternal Master of Muddle-earth, both king and god. He issued 513 commandments, all of which were, “Obey Aragont immediately, unthinkingly, and without question or be fucking destroyed,” along with 514 other commandments, all of which were, “The peoples of Muddle-earth whom I allow to continue living shall have complete freedom of worship in that they are free to worship the One Supreme Aragont or be completely annihilated.” And there was much compulsory rejoicing throughout the land.

.

Meniadorc and Pissin managed to flee the carnage and get back to the Shite, only to find it under attack by the Bitch Bling of Fanggore — who had survived Leggomyass’s arrow — and an army of orcs. Meniadorc and Pissin fought as valiantly they could but were finally overcome. Lying by their front door and bleeding to death, they dimly saw a giant shape approach. 

“Feast on their flesh,” the Bitch Bling commanded his nazighoul. But just then, a strange figure, armored and masked, emerged, seemingly from nowhere. Wielding a shining magic sword, club, mace, morning star, pike, halberd and assault bazooka, the figure annihilated the Bitch Bling’s multigenitals and pulverized his internal organs before stabbing and beheading the nazighoul and fighting off the orcs that swarmed around, killing many and making the rest flee in panic.

“It’s all over for me,” Meniadorc managed to say, “but I thank the Many Goddesses that at least we have a mighty warrior to continue the fight.” And he died.

“That’s no warrior,” Pissin gasped. “It’s … it’s … ” He never spoke again.

But the figure ripped off its mask and announced in a clear, booming voice, “The name is Gagmee. Lamelies Gagmee. And I’m not an it, you motherfucking piece-of-shitting son-of-a-bitching bastard — I’m a he. I’ll prove it.” And Lamelies pulled down his pants and urinated all over Pissin’s corpse. “Beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Fook, but you’re done pissin’ me off. Get someone else to be your servant.” Lamelies then lopped off Pissin’s head, arms, legs and genitals and scattered them all over the battlefield just as a huge flock of crows arrived to feast. Finally, Lamelies drove his sword through the trunk of the corpse and left it there.

Led by Lamelies, the other halfwits defeated the last of the orcs, but their joy was short-lived, for messengers soon arrived bearing tidings that Aragont, with a measureless host of those who had been compelled to volunteer to die for him, was on his way to conquer the Shite.

Lamelies rallied the halfwits to prepare them for battle. “With the help of the Many Goddesses — blessings and peace upon them all — we shall prevail, and you will all have the extraordinary privilege of being my slaves, and your descendants shall be the slaves of my descendants. Keep, therefore, that delightful prospect in your minds, and may it add strength to your strokes.” The halfwits then gathered around the Eternal Fountain of Htidë’s Menstrual Blood, occupying an honored place in the middle of the Shite, and anointed themselves, their weapons, and their armor in preparation for battle.

Little did they know, however, that Htidë had withdrawn her protection from the Shite because the halfwits had killed Moron. “He may have been an unspeakably evil monster,” she told the other Goddesses, “but he was still my pappy.” And so the halfwits were utterly defeated by Aragont and his army, who destroyed the Shite, salted the ground and killed most of the halfwits.

After a few other pockets of resistance across Muddle-earth had been mopped up, Aragont reigned supreme, and all the land trembled under his infinite will of iron. But the ring of power turned out to have an expiration date, after which Aragont was forced to give up his throne and go into exile. He later had a semi-successful singing career.

^^^

Jay Goldin works in academia and journalism. He has published poetry, fiction, film essays, book reviews and photos.

Stay in the Know

Sign up for our newsletter.

Email List Subscribe Form