I deliberately avoided checking the slip of paper one last time before knocking on the door. The Ironic Overpower simply adores people who try to get around in HQ by knowing where they're going. After a few moments, the door opened a crack. "Hunnysoron?" a voice asked.
"Huinesoron," I corrected. "So you must be Mortic."
"That's me," the unseen questioner agreed, and pulled the door aside. Mortic Wentway was tall, dark-haired, and so thin I almost want to call him gaunt – basically, exactly the sort of person our black uniforms were designed for. I peered at his flash patch: a mountain with a red summit.
"Welcome to the Department of WhatThe," Mortic said as I entered the room. "You probably haven't heard of us – very few have."
"Sounds like DOGA back in the day." I grinned. "We got over it, I'm sure you can too."
Mortic snorted. "The way I heard, you Pyros always had at least two agents. DW only has one – me."
"Well, just think – when you get a second agent, you'll have increased by 100%! That makes you the fastest-growing department in the PPC."
"If it ever happens," Mortic grumbled. "Oh, but I'm forgetting – there's you, now."
I froze. "This is supposed to be a temporary assignment."
"Oh, it is." Mortic waved my concern off, and rummaged in a nearby drawer. "But since you are here… here we go." He held up something that caught the light, gleaming in silver and gold.
I took the small metal object – a badge of some kind, with a pin on the back. It was very simple, formed of a triangle of silver, crossed with a gold diagonal. It looked like a stylised, one-stroke tengwa vala – or rather more like a Latin capital A – but mostly it looked geometric. I frowned at it.
"It's called a mission badge," Mortic told me. "You wear it while you're on loan to another department, so people know what you're supposed to be doing. I've got a Bad Slash one, look." He picked up a gold badge from the desk, a gentle curve with a sharp angle at the end that somehow managed to vaguely resemble the famous rubber ducky. I took another look at the pin in my hand. Yes, if you squinted it could be a version of the DW mountain.
"I have never heard of this before," I pointed out. "Is it a real thing?"
"It's becoming one," Mortic admitted. "Apparently it was started by Kayleigh in Bad Slash – she's the one who gave me mine – but I've had a few more since. There's a DMS one around here somewhere."
"Huh. You learn something new every standard time partition." I pinned the badge to my sleeve, above my usual DOGA flashpatch. "Since I'm official now – what's the mission?"
"Ah. Yes." Mortic pointed to the console. "Luthien and, ah, 'Findulias' aren't dead, you know. Ulmo put them to sleep so they could help out in the War of the Ring."
I stared at him. "What the-"
"Precisely." Mortic tapped a couple of buttons on the console. "The story starts off in Rohan, so we're going to be Generic Rohirrim. Anything you need before we go?"
"Don't we all." Mortic slapped the big red button, and a blue portal opened in the air. "Come on, Huinesoron – let's earn our pay."
"You get paid?"
The woods were dark, and tangled, and generally unpleasant – although I looked around quickly to make sure Treebeard wasn't listening before I voiced that thought to Mortic.
"They didn't come out of the movies very well, true enough," Mortic agreed. "But we're not here to sightsee. Is that a light?"
Sure enough, there seemed to be firelight some distance away. We headed towards it, and a disturbing thought struck me. "You don't suppose we're accidentally in Mirkwood, do you?" I asked. "I mean, distant fires in a dense forest…"
"No, it's in the story, all right," Mortic assured me. "Eomer is sitting by a fire when our two time-lost characters find him. We'll miss the very beginning, but we should be okay."
I frowned. "Okay, I hear you, but… that fire's moving, I'm sure of it."
Yes, the Laws of Narrative Comedy had overheard us and chosen a third way. We crept between the trees until we were close enough to see the truly breathtaking Luthien Tinuviel – and the mini-Balrog she was talking to.
The pair were talking so fast they practically overlapped each other. "Luthien?" Luthien smiled "Yes, it's me. It's been a while since the last time we saw each other" Findulias answered "B..but I thought you were dead… Oh Eru, don't tell me I died as well and we are in Mando's halls" Luthien just answered "No, I didn't die" Findulias was about to say something but then she remembered "Ulmo.. now I remember.. he helped me escape from the orcs and made me an offer" Luthien was now interested "Help you escape from the orcs?"
"Okay, paragraphing helps," Mortic growled, scribbling a note (and wasn't it nice not to be the one writing the charge list!). I was more interested in something else:
"Why is one of them a mini?"
"'Findulias'," Mortic explained. "The author has managed to get Finduilas' name consistently wrong – which means that poor mini is now a main character."
"Well, better than the actual princess being subjected to this," I mused. "But still… does that mean she can see us?"
"… probably." Mortic fished around in his pack for a moment and produced a metallic object. "I can do Character Analysis – what've you got?"
I grimaced. "The same," I admitted. "We probably ought to have checked we had a Canon Analysis Device as well before coming."
"Elanor always- well. We'll have to make do." Mortic pointed his CAD at the two characters in turn.
[Findulias. Mini-Balrog. Original Character]
[Luthien Tinuviel. Half-elf. Canon/uncanon/canon/uncanon CHARACTER REPLACEMENT DETECTED]
"At least we know she's OOC," I said. "Otherwise we might not have been able to finish the mission."
Mortic gave me a strange look. "What do you think this is, the DMS? The fact that they're here makes it a WhatThe – well, that and the fact that they don't really do anything."
I frowned. "But she's supposed to be the Princess of Doriath," I pointed out. "Even I know she wouldn't sit back and watch the War without intervening."
"Nor would Finduilas," Mortic agreed. "But that's what they do."
"Well, Her Highness might, at that," I noted. "She always was rather… well, anyway, in this case she's a mini-Balrog."
"Which is pretty WhatThe all by itself," Mortic said. "And- now where've they gone?"
Luthien and Findulias had left, moving 'silently through the woods' towards a voice I couldn't hear – being in a human disguise is like being crippled, honestly. Still, the Words helped – or hurt:
"Bloody Grima.. To use his manipulation over the king in these times of need. But I must hurry, Theodred is dying and his only hope is for me to find that rare plant here in Fangorn"
"Oh, Eomer," Mortic murmured as we headed towards the unfolding scene. "Turned into an exposition-fest…"
"And a cowardly one," I added, as the Third Marshal of the Mark practically begged his unseen watchers (who he had sensed through, I dunno, magic) to let him go home.
Mortic tilted his head critically. "Actually that's not too far off," he mused. "I mean, he is pretty nervous about Fangorn, and the author took the time to mention the 'witch elf in the woods of Lorien'."
I growled softly under my breath. "Don't call the Lady that."
"Not my words," Mortic assured me. "And they're close to what he says in canon."
"But this version isn't just nervous – he's a coward about it," I pointed out. "I think he'd maintain a brave front even if he was scared."
We almost missed Eomer's reaction to the two women. Perhaps the most beautiful creatures he had ever seen were approaching him. The first, who was also the prettiest, had long dark hair with grey eyes while the one coming behind, while not as beautiful as the other still possessed a beauty above human measures, was golden haired and had blue eyes. Eomer was a very tall man, but he could see that they were as tall as he. A pale light seemed to surround them "They must be elves" he quickly thought to himself, and his childhood fears came back to him as he took a step backwards, away from the approaching ladies.
"Well, that was a reasonable reaction," Mortic pointed out, but I was too busy snickering. My temporary partner raised an eyebrow at me.
"Sorry, it's just – 'the first, who was also the prettiest'?" I shook my head, still grinning. "Are the Rohirrim Arda's greatest masters of understatement, to call Luthien the Fair 'pretty'?"
"… I'll add it to the list."
"You might want to add Her Misspelled Highness' sudden-onset blue eyes, too," I suggested.
Mortic smirked as he made the note. "Hey, didn't Legolas suffer from that?"
"His was the other way round," I pointed out. "I feel it added an air of mystery to him."
"Well, an air of something," Mortic sniffed. "I suppose Orlando needed all the help he could get."
"Play nice," I said, listening with half an ear to the ongoing story. Eomer was… well, 'acting strangely' didn't even begin to cover it.
"So he's scared of them to the point of stumbling over the phrase 'M.. my h… help?'," I observed, "but then he just… offers to take them to Edoras because they say they're lost?"
Mortic frowned at the trio. "He also stutters when talking about the Lady Eowyn," he pointed out. "I mean, the first is a reasonable expression of disbelief, but the second feels more like he's offering her up as a sacrifice."
"I see what you mean. 'Don't take me – take my sister!'."
Mortic laughed softly. "Under some circumstances that would sound really wrong."
I thought about it for a moment. "I suppose. Sorry. Still, it's not as wrong as Eomer having heard of neither Doriath or, if you can believe it, Morgoth."
"I don't know about that," Mortic disagreed. "The people of Númenor didn't seem to know who he was, and they were a lot closer in time."
"They were also idiots," I pointed out. "If Ulmo wanted to send the world's greatest healer somewhere, that's where she ought to have gone. Then she could do something useful to make up for her ruined story."
"Whatever do you mean?" Mortic asked. "You can't be suggesting that forcing Eomer to have a random spare horse is somehow not useful, surely?"
"Varda forbid," I murmured. "That said, since we don't have an inflatable steed on hand – portal?"
"Sounds like a plan." Mortic fished out the Remote Activator as Findulias the mini-Balrog 'jumped with great agility and landed right beside' Eomer on his horse (which now sported a rather fetching sidecar). As the characters rode away, my partner squinted at the Words, made one final note, and opened the blue doorway.
"… okay, no."
We appeared inside the walls of Edoras, and I joined Mortic in staring at the fairytale castle crowning the hill. "That's pretty bad," I agreed.
Mortic shuddered. "Elanor would have a fit if she saw this," he told me. "I mean, it doesn't take much effort to notice that Meduseld isn't a 'castle'."
"Well, but paying attention to the film is so much work."
A clatter of hooves announced the arrival of the characters and the plot, and since we were Generic Rohirrim, we didn't even need to take cover. Eomer, Findulias and Luthien passed up the street toward the Eorl's Magic Kingdom, and we hurried after them.
"They only took three hours to get here," Mortic said as we passed under a ridiculous stone arch into an uncanonical courtyard. "It's in the Words."
"But Fangorn is a hundred miles to the north," I pointed out. "That's over thirty miles per hour. A horse might manage that for short spells – I know the Fëanorian cavalry used to hit seventy – but no horse can gallop for more than a few miles. You could probably cover the distance in one go at a trot, but you'd be lucky to top ten miles per hour, which would take-"
"You're applying logic to a badfic," Mortic observed.
"… good point. Sorry."
Mortic paused as we reached the door to the 'castle'. "That isn't right," he said, reaching out to touch the wall.
"Problem, Mortic?" I leant past him to tap the stonework, which… wasn't stone. I stared. "Bread?"
Mortic was squinting at the evening sky, frantically reading the words. "I don't know!" he exclaimed. "It's not in there!"
"She didn't slip and call Luthien 'Gretel' or something?"
"No! It's- oh. Right." Mortic grimaced. "'They have never been in a city of the edain before, and although it lacked the "Ethereal beauty" of the elven cities, still it had a "Rustic beauty" in it.' So we end up with Eorl's Magic Pain Rustique."
"I'm guessing 'pan rustic' is a form of bread, then." I shook my head. "You know, if they'd just follow the books, their stories wouldn't end up doing crazy things like this…"
"But then we'd be out of a job," Mortic observed.
"Yes, and what a pity that wouldn't be." I pushed the door open and stepped into the tastiest castle in Middle-earth. "Come on, let's find the plot."
That was harder than it sounds. Eomer had led the two women to 'a small room' – which he had, weirdly, told them his sister was inside, without mentioning the presence of his dying cousin – but the castle was large, and the Words didn't give us any more hints. We ended up following a trail of faint footprints in the breadcrust flagstones, but it wasn't an easy task by any means. Eventually, we heard a distinctive voice, still beautiful even when stolen by a Character Replacement:
"Lorien? Your brother mentioned that name before; he mentioned something about an elf witch."
"Oh, Luthien," I groaned. "You really ought to react to that name – your mother was from the original."
"She never had a chance," Mortic pointed out in a whisper as we reached the closed door. "Eomer never actually said anything about the Golden Wood…"
On the low bed in the room, Theodred was apparently looking a lot better than usual: we'd missed the healing completely (what a shame). Eowyn, already comfortable with the two strangers, was speaking:
"However, once a man of Gondor, who was well versed in all kinds of stories, told me that some obscure legend of Gondor said that long ago, even before the days of Numenor, there was a time when the Elves ruled this world and a terrible war was fought with the gods. Personally I think they are only myths"
"… obscure legend." I hissed between my teeth. "That's my history, you stupid-"
"That's Eowyn you're insulting," Mortic snapped. "Yes, if I had a Canon Analysis Device I know the beep would bring the place down, but she's still Eowyn of the Mark."
We had to break off our conversation as a guard hurried past us and pushed the door open. He was bearing a message from Wormtongue, insisting Eomer attend the king at once, which after a brief farewell, he did. We resumed our whispered discussion.
"At the moment, she's being stupid," I growled. "She claims – well, Eomer claims on her behalf – that she's read 'many books', but she's completely trusting of a Character Replacement and a miniature demon of flame and shadow, and wildly ignorant about her world's history."
"Which isn't her fault," Mortic said firmly. "It's the writer's. Once we sort out those two, Eowyn will be fine again."
"… all right." I grimaced at the Words. "For now, though, she's about to 'guide' the girls to 'a room that was just next to theodred's' – we might want to get out of the way."
"No need for that," Mortic shrugged, and leant casually against the wall. "Generic Rohirrim, remember?"
Disguises are a marvel, they truly are. Wittering about only needing five minutes of sleep a day, fake!Luthien didn't even register our presence. I thought Findulias frowned slightly as she followed, but she didn't say anything. As Eowyn walked off into the baked castle, we wandered over to listen to the protagonists.
There… wasn't a lot of point. The two fake princesses discussed the fact that they didn't know what was going on, and Luthien confirmed that she didn't recognise the name of her mother's original home (sweet Estë, preserve me from people who don't do the research!). And then
it was very abruptly morning. I tumbled to the floor, clutching at my head. "Estë!" I invoked the Valië of Healing for the second time in… well, either ten seconds or eight hours, depending on how you read the flow of time.
Mortic had just barely managed to stay vertical (how, I don't know), and so also managed to avoid being stumbled over by the 'young servant girl' who was taking the characters their breakfast. As she stammered an apology, I pulled myself upright and glanced ruefully at Mortic. That's the disadvantage of being in the PPC – canon characters and canon-friendly bit parts have to, well, trip over you in order to see you.
The servant was still practically begging for forgiveness, which I solved by the Acacia-approved method of ducking behind Mortic. The bit character mumbled to a halt, blinked at the empty space in front of her, then shrugged and knocked on the door.
"I always feel a bit bad about doing that," I said to Mortic. "It feels mean to the poor things."
"Well, we're making up for it by saving them from the 'fic," Mortic pointed out. "I think it balances."
The girl exited the room and fled down the corridor, slamming the door behind her.
Findulias commented "Is strange, If I remember correctly, what the Edain felt at our presence was wonder, but these people fear us. Did you see that poor girl, she was practically trembling when she saw us" Luthien answered "I noticed to, even Eomer and Eowyn were afraid of us at first"
"Maybe she noticed you were a mini-Balrog and a Replacement," Mortic suggested.
There was a commotion from the room next door – the movieverse scene of Eowyn's confrontation with Wormtongue – and our quarry (quarries?) pulled their door open as Eowyn ran past. Unfortunately, that meant they had a clear view of me…
I froze uselessly in place, but Mortic was on top of things. He somehow managed to convey the impression of having been walking past, despite the fact that he wasn't moving. "Earnescead!" he called to me. "What ails you?"
I turned, blinking, to see his impatient expression. "Er…" I managed.
Mortic snorted. "I can hear your words before you say them," he declared. "'It is these visions of beauty, Bealusídh!' But do you forget, brother, that we have urgent business to attend to?"
I shook myself, catching on, and glanced apologetically at Luthien and Findulias. "Um, I come, Beal…u… brother."
He sniffed and marched away, and I hurried after him. We rounded a corner, and Mortic pulled me into a room in time to avoid the women running into us as they followed Eowyn. Mortic glanced at the Words and grimaced.
"Apparently they decided to follow her without thinking, which is quite an achievement."
"And speaking of achievements… you speak Rohirric?"
"What? Oh, the names." My temporary partner shook his head. "My girlfriend insisted I learn it. It's a bit complicated."
I nodded. "I suppose if your wife insists-"
Mortic squinted at me. "Girlfriend," he corrected. "We might get married in the future, but for now-"
"Sorry – all this talk of lambi has gotten me tangled up. In Quenya, she's definitely your veri – your wife." I blinked, then flushed. "Not that I mean to pry… I mean… well… anyway."
"Anyway sounds good." Mortic's stare lingered on me for a few moments before he looked upwards again. "All right. They go up to that balcony from the film and announce a massive temporal compression, but then head straight down to the main hall. Shall we meet them there?"
"Sounds like a plan," I concurred, and pushed the door open. "Which would be… this way?"
"At this point it might be anywhere," Mortic muttered. "Honestly, this castle is as bad as HQ."
"Well, if worst comes to worst, we can eat our way out…"
Fortunately, Eorl's Magic Pastry was not on the menu; we made it down to the hall with no fuss. There we actually got to watch the arrival of the Three Hunters Plus Gandalf in something much like canonicity – well, it was movieverse, but a lot better than sitting through more badfic.
"You know what it's like?" I said to Mortic as we watched the confrontation begin. "It's like the difference between listening to an orchestra, and listening to a recording."
Mortic pondered this. "I'd say it's more like the difference between a sun lamp and a summer's day at the beach," he offered.
"All right – between a piece of glass and a genuine jewel."
"Looking at a painting of a mountain, and actually standing in the valley below?"
"No, it's like-" I broke off as the world around us seemed to compress slightly, and to become in some apparently indescribable way worse. "… well, like this."
Eowyn tried to run towards her uncle, thinking he was in some sort of danger, but was stopped by one of the riders. Then they heard the stranger said "Harken to me! I release you from the spell." The king laughed with a voice not of his own and said "Hahahhhahahahah! You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey!"
"And here we go again," Mortic grumbled, scribbling a note on his charge list. "At least they're not interfering…"
"Although they probably should be." I nodded at Luthien. "She turned out to be a bit of a meddler, as I recall."
"Yeah, but Gandalf's got it under control," Mortic countered. "There's nothing for them to do."
"Not even comment on things?" I shook my head. "Come on, even we manage that."
But the two not-princesses didn't. We watched in silence as the canonical scene unfolded, right down to Theoden asking about his son. Eowyn's answer was slightly changed, what with Theodred not being dead, but other than that everything fell out as it had in the film. The four members of the Fellowship went with Theoden and Eowyn towards Theodred's room, our quarry followed, and we fell in behind.
We eavesdropped on Findulias' and Luthien's conversation as they discussed, in turn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn. I grimaced, and Mortic chuckled.
"You've got that face again, Huinesoron," he observed. "The one that says someone's messing with your past…"
"For once, no. This time, they aren't." I waved a hand at Findulias. "Listen to her. She's basically got it right. Her Highness probably could recognise a Maia, would compare Legolas to the Nandor, would find a wandering dwarf surprising, and did have a fascination with mortals. And Luthien says Aragorn reminds her of Beren, which again, yes."
Mortic glanced at me. "And that bothers you?"
"Why would someone who's done so much of the research write such an… eventless story?" I shook my head. "Mary-Sues from SparklyWonderLand I can handle easily. This is just close enough to accurate that it's really getting under my skin."
"I think you're being too generous," Mortic said. "Look: Luthien has clearly been taken from the first time she died, yes? She thought she was in Doriath, and I'm pretty sure the book says she predeceased Beren the second time through."
"Yes…" I wasn't sure where he was going with this.
"That means she never had any children. And if Dior wasn't born, then Elwing was never born either, and that means-"
"No Elrond," I realised, "so no Fellowship."
"And no Elros," Mortic agreed, "so no Aragorn. And even if we speculate that maybe he was born of some other line, he shouldn't remind her of Beren…"
"It's worse than that." I nodded at our Character Replacement. "If she and Beren never came back, the Silmaril would have ended up in Nogrod after the dwarves killed Thingol…"
"No Eärendil." Mortic was following my train of thought. "With no Silmaril on hand, no voyage to Valinor… no War of Wrath. Beleriand never sinks, Numenor never rises, the shape of the world is never changed…"
"And Morgoth reigns triumphant in Middle-earth," I finished. "Okay, you're right; I don't feel so bad any more. But…"
"Good grief, there's more?"
"Sorry. But what are we going to do with her? She's not exactly a Mary-Sue…"
"But she is a Character Replacement," Mortic pointed out. "We can't exactly leave a fake Luthien wandering around Middle-earth. What's your suggestion?"
"I don't have one," I admitted, "not yet. But I'll work on it…"
While we had been distracted, Legolas had noticed the princesses' dresses seemed a bit archaic, and had thought that 'in middle earth only Celeborn, Galadriel, Elrond and Cirdan remain of the ancient times' – completely forgetting such people as Glorfindel and, y'know, his own father. Then the other cast members had emerged from Theodred's chamber, and Gandalf had recognised the princesses.
"… I see what you mean," Mortic said, looking between the characters. "His 'It's been long years since the last time you went as a child to listen to my stories under the trees of valinor' line works pretty well, but then-"
"Then," I growled, "Luthien claims that Olorin and Melian were 'best friends' in the Timeless Halls, which-"
"-isn't impossible, but isn't the sort of relationship you'd expect among ageless gods," Mortic finished. "I understand, believe me."
I would have replied, but then I heard what was happening in the story, and froze. "He… she… what is that?"
Mortic tilted his head, listening. "Why, it's the Ring of Finwë," he reported, smiling brightly. "Surely you know that it's the symbol of the High King of the Noldor, which Galadriel refused to accept after Gil-Galad fell."
"At least it's not Narya," I growled, voicing my fear now it had proven false. "But… what?"
Mortic shrugged. "I guess it's not that unfeasible-" he began, but as Legolas and Gandalf went into a joint exposition-fest I treated my partner to a fiercely-whispered rant.
"Yes it is. If that ring belonged to all the High Kings, that means that its wearer fell in battle no less than six times. It means Morgoth didn't steal it when he killed Finwë, the orcs didn't take it from Maedhros, it survived both Fingolfin and Fingon being beaten to death, was somehow sent to Turgon in Gondolin and was then recovered from the wreck of the city – and it would never have been offered to Galadriel anyway. Elrond is directly descended from Turgon, and was Gil-Galad's herald – the High Kingship is his, not Galadriel's."
"… all right, you may have a point," Mortic admitted. "Look, I'm adding it to the list…"
The world seemed to give a sudden lurch to the side, and I looked up to see the arrival of two small children from the Westfold. I rubbed my head absently. "Was that the feel of canon trying to regain control of the story?"
"If so, I think it failed." Mortic pointed at the princesses. "They're holding the focus on themselves while they say… very little."
"I guess they're in shock, it's understandable," I noted. "They've just been told they're thousands of years away from their own time. But…"
"But, they're still refusing to do anything," Mortic finished. "Right. Apparently the story continues in the main hall…"
"I'm not sure I'd call it that," I mused as we walked after the characters. "I mean, yes, it's a story – but the story is The Lord of the Rings. There's nothing original here."
"You've got a point." Mortic frowned up at the Words. "The rest of this chapter is just people telling each other things we already know. I suppose some of the ladies' reactions are worth reading, but for the most part, there isn't anything that makes it…"
"… interesting," I suggested after a long pause. "It's just… generic."
Gandalf then looked at both Findulias and Luthien and said "You better come with me, my path will take me close to the forest of Lorien, where you can stay with your kin.
Mortic stopped. "What what?"
"Olorin is clearly very badly lost," I ground out. "He's looking for Erkenbrand in the eaves of Lothlorien – hundreds of miles north of the Westfold."
"It's Eomer in the film," Mortic corrected me. "So I suppose that's why you're here – the Geographical Aberration?"
"I'm here because the Flowers wanted to irritate me," I muttered. "This sort of thing doesn't need a specialist – it's just a regular spatial warp, it'll clear itself right up."
"Well then it's a convenient excuse," Mortic said, and shrugged. "I've put it on the list already – there's not much more we can do."
"There's always more we can do," I pointed out. "Like complaining. We're good at that."
"Welcome to the PPC – Complaining a Speciality."
"Like this," I went on, gesturing at the characters. "I mean, yes, I can accept that their highnesses would want to stay and fight, and maybe even that Elu ' taught me how to defend myself with weapons' as Luthien says, though frankly she never showed a sign of it. But Legolas' description of Aragorn…"
" He is the heir to the Throne of Gondor, the greatest and oldest Kingdom of man. But Gondor has not had a king in over 1600 years and I know he refuses to accept his true destiny.
"Well, it's accurate," Mortic said, "at least to the film."
"Yes, and don't get me started on that. But it doesn't sound a thing like Legolas."
"So he's OOC," Mortic agreed. "If we had a Canon Analysis Device…"
"Yes, yes." I grimaced at the reminder. "If the Flowers throw us together again, we'll discuss it beforehand."
"And doubtless make some other ridiculous mistake," Mortic added. "The Laws of Narrative Comedy demand it."
"Oh, don't they just?" I squinted up at the Words as the characters moved on to discussing Frodo. "You know… this isn't really that bad."
Mortic waved a sheet of paper at me, covered in a spidery scrawl of Latin letters. "I've got a foot-long charge list that says it is."
"Well, yes," I admitted, "the paragraphing is terrible, and I think the author has an allergy to closing quotes. And a lot of the canons are OOC, and the geography and architecture is a shambles. But… a lot of the time, Findulias sounds like Finduilas of Nargothrond. Luthien's less accurate, but… they both ask the right questions for people in their situation."
"I can see your point," Mortic agreed. "But remember, we're not here on Mary-Sue duty. This is a WhatThe mission. My job is to look at the premise and what's done with it – and, frankly, the idea that Luthien and Finduilas would agree to come forward like this – without that causing any historical collapses – and then do nothing… well, that's WhatThe enough for me."
"… I concede the point." I nodded at our main character mini-Balrog. "But all that said… it is very like Finduilas to assume that the Ringbearer has to be an elf, because 'Who else would have the strength to carry it and face all the dangers?'." I thought for a moment, then sighed. "Or rather, it would have been before she met Turin…"
"So her personal timeline is as scrambled as Luthien's," Mortic noted down. "That figures… oh, watch out, incoming scene-"
"-change," he finished the following day. I staggered at the suddenness of the temporal slip, but managed to remain vaguely upright this time. All right, the pillar helped, but I was still feeling proud of myself. Mortic, of course, shook it off like he hadn't even noticed.
We were in the middle of the exodus from Edoras, and for some reason, Aragorn had turned into a misogynist:
At Findulias and Luthien's request they both received rohirrim swords, despite Aragorn's protest "But my ladies" he said "In the case of need I'll assure you that I will look after you.. There is no need for you to fight" but Luthien just smiled at him and said "You worry too much Aragorn, Rest your mind and let us help you with the task coming ahead. I can assure you that we are more than capable to defend ourselves"
"… where did that come from?" I asked, incredulous. "I mean, I've seen the idea before, but not usually on Aragorn."
"Boromir's already dead," Mortic pointed out. "I don't know… this need to demonstrate how strong your female characters are by having them be told they shouldn't fight… it rubs me entirely the wrong way."
"I agree. Surely if swordwork is how you want to demonstrate your character's independence, just having them do it would work well enough." I snorted. "Of course, the idea that 'strong-minded = swordswoman' is a ridiculous one anyway. I know lots of people – not just women – who are strong characters without focussing on hacking people to bits. People like Finrod, or, I don't know… Finduilas and Luthien?"
"And if I suggested Elanor should learn to fence before I considered her empowered, she'd laugh – and then explain in excruciating detail exactly how wrong I was." He thought about this for a moment. "While simultaneously writing her daily report and stopping Elizabeth from eating the console."
I sighed. "I guess it's just a useful shorthand," I mused. "And it's not like there's no precedent – this is exactly what Peter Jackson did to try and make Arwen 'stronger'."
"And look how that turned out." Mortic scowled up at the Words, then, incongruously, grinned. "Want to play a game?"
"That depends – will it get us through the mission faster?"
"I don't think anything can do that," Mortic said. "But… want to bet on how many paragraphs it'll be before the pair of them actually interact with the canons again?"
"Sure." I thought about the end of the last chapter. "I'll say five."
"Optimist," Mortic snorted. "I'm going with ten."
"With block paragraphs like these? Not a chance." I glanced up at the words just in time to see the current paragraph come to a close. "Oops, temporal shift coming-"
As the trip started, both elves travelled at Legolas side, asking him about his father's kingdom in Mirkwood.
We found ourselves alongside the column of exiles, and had to quickly start walking to keep up. Luthien, apparently having noticed our reappearance out of the corner of her eye, turned to look at us. Thinking quickly, I spoke loudly to Mortic: "Do you think we will be called on to fight, brother?"
"I hope so, Earnescead," Mortic said smoothly. "I long to prove my skill on an enemy's flesh."
Luthien turned away, apparently satisfied, and I pointed at the Words. Dropping back to a normal tone, I said, "They're talking to Legolas – does that count?"
"Not unless it actually makes it into the story," Mortic said. "A line of narrative does not interaction make."
"That's what I thought."
And the non-interaction continued. In fact, it was worse than non-interaction – for the next paragraph and a half Luthien and Findulias weren't even mentioned. Instead we were treated to one of the most cringe-worthy canonical scenes (and this is The Two Towers, remember – there's a lot of them): Gimli's discourse on dwarven women. Only after the dialogue was over did the Princesses comment – to each other, on the fact that Eowyn seemed to be falling in love with Aragorn.
Another timeslip took us into the next day, where we were treated to Eowyn's enquiry about Aragorn's necklace. And then…
They both stared at Aragorn, and noticed his sad eyes, and then his mind opened to them as they saw images of him talking with what appeared to be an elf lord "Our time here is ending. Arwen's time is ending. Let her go. Let her take the ship into the West. Let her bear away her love for you to the undying lands, there to be ever green"
"What in Mandos?" I hissed, finding myself behind a balustrade in Rivendell. "We're in the flashback?"
"They're reading his mind," Mortic whispered back. "Can elves do that?"
"Not even the Valar can do that!" I told him fiercely. "That's a charge – two charges, if you can come up with them!"
"We'll settle for one," Mortic decided. "And, by the way… paragraph three, and they're still not doing anything..."
"They will," I said, with more confidence than I felt.
They didn't. Aragorn's flashbacks stretched into paragraphs four and five, and paragraph six consisted of the end of the scene, with some quiet comments from the princesses about the Ring of Barahir – "Which," I said, "it's great that the author noticed, but I'm not sure we needed a commentary on it."
"Without it, they wouldn't even be in the story," Mortic pointed out. "Then we might as well just watch the movie."
"And what torture that would be."
Paragraph seven, unusually for this 'fic, was a single line – "It still counts," Mortic said before I could even open my mouth – but the next one made up for it. In 250 words it told of the sudden attack of the movieverse so-called Wargs. Halfway down, the princesses made their move:
Luthien turned around and screamed to the approaching Aragorn "A scout". Then, as Aragorn went back to warn the others, both elves came to Legolas side and watched as a pack of about 50 warg riders came running in their direction. Both Luthien and Findulias were carrying small rohan bows that could not be compared to the magnificent bow Legolas received in Lorien, but soon they showed the prince of Mirkwood that their skill was no inferior to his own. After a while they felt the riders of Rohan coming from behind them, and each of them got on a horse in a way that no human rider, not even the horse masters, could.
"Hah!" I exulted, turning to Mortic. "That was interaction. She warned Aragorn, and they both used their bows to help out in the battle."
"And then they got on their horses in some magical way that humans can't emulate," Mortic agreed. "But I don't think it's really interaction… they haven't done anything to change the story."
"Tell that to the orcs they shot," I said, pointing at one of the foul creatures under discussion. "They interacted."
"Oh, all right, then." Mortic shrugged. "Have it your way. I win."
"You win?" I snorted. "Count again, Atan – it's only been eight paragraphs. You said at least ten."
"No, I said exactly ten," Mortic corrected. "And you said five. My guess was closer, so-"
"Wait, wait." I held up a hand. "That's not how betting works!"
"It is in the rest of the Multiverse," Mortic said firmly. "Maybe you do things differently in Middle-earth, but the PPC has a different standard."
"That's discrimination," I grumbled, "and borderline cheating. And it's a stupid way to place bets anyway."
Yes, it did occur to me how bizarre this looked – two Rohirrim standing around in the middle of a battle bickering – but I wasn't all that fussed. Only two characters could see us, and they were too busy showing off their amazing uncanonical (or at least, never-mentioned-in-canonical) skills to pay attention.
"All right, then," I said, "we'll play again. Same bets. And we'll go by," and I had to grimace at what I was about to say, "your ridiculous 'whoever hits nearest the target' rules. As if judging character were anything like archery…"
"Agreed," Mortic said, "although I don't know that we needed the commentary. Do we count this paragraph?"
"Not when it's just finished," I said, and Mortic nodded.
The battle was terrible, but after a while it was obvious who had won. Just as Gimli killed the last warg with his axe, Luthien looked around and saw Legolas and Findulias were ok, but she could not see Aragorn
The story plodded onwards. The end of the battle passed in two paragraphs, with a third taking us through a timeslip to the Hornburg. In the fourth paragraph, Aragorn returned, and the princesses did nothing apart from stealing one of Legolas' lines (Findulias) and giving Aragorn the Evenstar (Luthien). I didn't even need to ask Mortic to decide that didn't count.
Paragraph five was a ridiculous 350-word monster, but all it did was continue the plot of the film. Near the end, after Aragorn suggested Theoden call in his allies:
Theoden approached him with a bitter smile on his face and asked "And who will come. Elves? Dwarves?" he stared at the three elves and dwarf and continued "We are not so lucky in our friends as you. The old alliances are dead"
"Which is a weird thing to say," Mortic pointed out, "when two of the three elves are your guests, not Aragorn's. Remember? It was Eomer who brought them in, and Eowyn who welcomed them."
"You're applying too much logic to what's nothing more than a line-copy," I pointed out. "Note it down on the Charge List if you're that bothered."
Paragraph six showed us Eowyn's protests at being sent into the Glittering Caves, again taken straight from the film. Paragraph seven began with Aragorn and Legolas' conversation in Sindarin, but carried on past Aragorn's dramatic exit.
Findulias said "We have no hope if we start fighting among ourselves" then Luthien approached Legolas and smiled at him "You care deeply about him. I can see that" then she put her hand on his shoulder and said "Do not despair son of Thranduil, even in the darkest times there is still hope". Legolas smiled at her and Findulias then added "These are Aragorn's people but we will all stand by his side in their hour of need, even if we must die". Legolas bowed to them and said "My ladies. It will be an honor to fight by your side" then he said "I must find Aragorn and tell him that I'm sorry. In the mean time you should look for an armor that suits you"
"Interaction!" I exclaimed. Mortic gave me a dubious look, and I spread my hands. "They moved Legolas to action! What more do you want?"
"Something that doesn't just result in the movie being followed exactly?" Mortic suggested.
"What, you expect them to remake the entire plot in their image? We'd charge them for that," I pointed out.
Mortic folded his arms. "I just want some decent storytelling," he said firmly. "Is that too much to ask?"
"You atani!" I turned away from him, scowling. "Just because you can't stand to lose-"
A new voice cut in, a harsh yet noble voice, like the glittering of swords – a tone that stood in stark contrast to its words. "I don't think you will find a proper armor for the queens of the Noldor and the Sindar here"
My eyes widened, and I span round. "Eonwë?" I spluttered, staring in shock at the shining figure which had just manifested in the room. "Alcar Aldato!"
Mortic stared at me. "Wh-"
"Keep it down!" I hissed. "That's the Herald of Manwë! If he sees me- I mean, us…"
Mortic swallowed hard. "And if he's OOC… oh, what I wouldn't give for a Canon Analysis Device right now!"
Fortunately (for us – it was pretty unlucky for the world) Eonwë was too busy explaining the situation to the Princesses to pay us any mind. According to him, the Valar couldn't intervene directly in the war, because it would cause too much destruction. "Which is a fair point," Mortic noted.
I snorted. "Yes – except that he's here, and every creature in Middle-earth with even a fleck of sensitivity to the Unseen knows it. This is the guy the Valar sent to take down Morgoth – believe me, he's been noticed!"
Mortic looked distinctly worried. "Does that mean we need to go and neuralyse people like Sauron?" he asked. "Because I don't think I'd look forward to that."
I scowled. "I hope not… no. If we can get him out of here, and do something about them, the rest of the world should snap back into place. Some of the newer canons, that doesn't happen so much, but Arda is resilient." I patted the wall next to me, grateful for its solidity.
Eonwë handed Luthien and Findulias each a bag – though, since the narrative never bothered to clarify what sort of bags a Maia would bring with him from the Undying Lands, they were plastic carriers advertising Gap of Rohan. Luthien dug through to find what she claimed was Thingol's armour - "They are made of a combination of mithril and ithildin", she chirped.
"Ithildin is made from mithril," I growled. "Come on, Highness, you should know that."
Luthien then asked "If my father's armour seems to be made of moonlight, then yours seems to be made of the same substance of sunlight" she said with admiration. Unlike the silvery armor Luthien had, findulias's armor was golden "If I'm not mistaken" she said "This is the same armor Fingolfin wore when he fought against Morgoth, and this is the sword that hurt the valar seven times. They were both made by feanor himself"
"What. No. What."
I marched forward across the room, and the character replacement and mini-Balrog turned to stare at me: a random Rider of Rohan who was apparently sufficiently unawed by a Maia to actually approach him.
Luthien's brow furrowed. "It's… Earnescead, isn't it?" she asked, with the slightly confused expression of a character whose story is being driven off track. "Do you need my help?"
"And that's another thing," I snarled. "Her Highness of Doriath would never talk like that. 'Do you seek my aid' would be closer to the mark."
"How can you say such things?" Findulias asked, pressing a hand to her heart. "Don't you know the pain we have felt?"
"Oh, spare me, mini." I pointed at the sword and armour Findulias still held. "You stand there, holding Ringil, the most noble and legendary blade in existence – one you have seen fit not only to take even though it was broken-"
"Aulë repaired it!" Luthien interjected. "Eonwë said so… wait, you did say so, right?" She turned to the Maia, frowning.
"- but you've also gone and gold plated the thing!" I snatched the sword from Findulias' unresisting hands, grabbed a dagger from my belt (everyone should carry at least one dagger), and scraped at the blade until the gold – it was simply leaf – came away. "See? Like ice. The clue is in the name, úvanimot."
Mortic placed his hand heavily on my shoulder. "Please excuse my partner," he said in a clearly-forced cheerful voice. "He gets a bit overexcited sometimes. My name is Mortic – I'm from the Protectors of the Plot Continuum. And I'm afraid I have to charge the two of you with seriously WhatThe behaviour.
"Your entire premise is essentially nonsensical – you've travelled forward in time, but without Luthien, this Third Age would never have come to pass. You're also attributing powers to Ulmo that he could never possess – and then compounding your problems by failing to do anything, despite your various powers."
"And you claimed it was forged by Fëanor!" I added, still glaring at the princesses. "Do you realise how mortally offensive that is? Fingolfin would never have used anything made by his brother – never!"
"Like I say," Mortic said, smiling pleasantly, "ignore him. Oh, yes – you also have technical issues, such as paragraphing and, notably, misspelling one character's name consistently – Findulias, didn't you notice you were on fire?"
Findulias frowned at her hands, which were, indeed, burning hot enough that she had left palm-prints in the armour. "But… I'm the Princess of Nargothrond," she said uncertainly.
"You're a mini-Balrog," Mortic said gently, "and once we get you to New Caledonia, Cass at the Adoption Centre will get you proper treatment to help you adjust."
Luthien squinted at her companion, as if trying to see through a thick mist. "You know, you do look rather… fiery," she admitted.
"And you're out of character," Mortic told her. "In fact, you're a character replacement – but everyone else in the story is OOC, as well. Then there are sundry charges relating to mistakes in the nature of the world – the horse with a sidecar was particularly good – but I think that's enough to be getting on with."
Luthien carefully put her armour down, then held up her sword. "Whatever you're planning to do to us-"
"Actually," I said, stepping away from Mortic, "I had a thought about that. You claim to be Luthien of Doriath, yes?"
"I am Luthien," she said, a hint of despair in her voice. "Don't come any closer!"
"I don't intend to," I told her. "The thing is, you're not a bad character in and of yourself – we just don't think you're very Luthien. So I think you need to test yourself."
I plucked the Remote Activator from Mortic's pack, adjusted the controls slightly, and opened a blue portal. "Follow me," I said, and jumped through.
It was only a handful of seconds before Luthien – sword still held in what she probably thought was guard position – followed me. She stared up at the white tower that stood in front of us, her mouth dropping open.
"This is Minas Tirith," I told her, "on the isle of Tol Sirion. It used to be a fair and wonderful city – one of the finest places I have ever lived. But one night…" I fought back the memories and stood up straight. "One night the enemy came, and the city fell. It was Sauron – Lord of Werewolves then, not the Dark Lord he later became."
"That is a terrible story," Luthien said sincerely, lowering her sword. "I can only imagine how you must feel."
I nodded my gratitude, and then pointed at the door. "It is fated that Luthien – that is, the real you – will conquer that tower, bring its vile lord to his knees, and rescue her beloved. He's in there right now, in fact – Beren, captured on his way to take a Silmaril. And here you are. It's almost like destiny."
Luthien's eyes went wide, and I saw a tear fall down her cheek. "Thank you," she whispered. "May the Valar protect you." Without any further delay, she strode forward, onto the bridge, towards Tol-in-Gaurhoth, never looking back.
As she stepped through the door – open, due no doubt to Sauron's confidence in his own power – I sighed, turned, and hopped back through the portal.
Mortic, Findulias, and Eonwë were still waiting patiently. "She was too far out of character," I said, not without regret. "She's gone to face Sauron in a swordfight. Nothing like the real thing."
Findulias let out a cry and lunged for the portal, which I deftly closed, letting her hit the wall behind it. She didn't quite manage to knock herself out, but she was definitely woozy.
Mortic turned to Eonwë and held up a neuralyzer. "Now then, my lord, if you'll just look this way-"
The Herald of Manwë gently closed a hand over the top of the device and pushed it down. "That will not be necessary," he said mildly. "I am returned to my accustomed state, thanks to thee and thy companion."
"Well, that's a relief," I muttered. "Are you planning on going home any time soon?"
"But of course." Eonwë inclined his head slightly to each of us. "You have my gratitude – and thou most of all," he added to me. There was a twinkle in his eye as he continued: "It has been long since thou wert in Aman, Exile of the Noldor. Remember – an thou wilt, My King may offer thee forgiveness…"
My jaw dropped. Before I could say anything – and what could I say? – he vanished, leaving behind only the soft glow of starlight.
Mortic broke the silence. "Right," he said, and coughed. "Huinesoron – thank you for all your help. I won't say it's been a pleasure – mission, you know – but it's been tolerable."
"Uh. Likewise," I managed.
The Department of WhatThe's sole agent nodded and took the Remote Activator back from me. "Let's get the multiverse's most confused mini home," he said, "and then head back. And if you're interested in the mission badges…?"
"Random shiny objects that serve no real purpose?" I recalled. "Who wouldn't be? Lead the way."
Author's Note: A new agent! Agent Huinesoron of the Department of Geographical Aberrations is one of the earliest members of the department – quite possible the fifth, after Dafydd and Selene, Takua and Jareth. He has previously been mentioned in Chapter 24 of Suedom, many many years ago – but not a peep has been heard from him since. Given that I don't have an active agent any more, it seemed about time to bring my self-insert into play.
Since Agent hS lacks a partner, he's going to spend his time bouncing between various agents – because that's fun, and because it lets me work with some characters I haven't used in a while. I hope you enjoy it!
The badfic is not mine, and is used here for fair-use and parody purposes. Anything you recognise from Middle-earth is the creation of J.R.R. Tolkien. The PPC is the work of Jay and Acacia. My agents, and both the DW and DOGA, are my own.
Complete Charge List