And it came to pass that the fellowship were granted immortality for they had saved middle earth; and so they went their separate ways...
But some fellowships were not meant to be broken...
History has become legend; legend has become myth and myth has become merchandising: A three-bedroom semi in a town in the north of England, 2001
Gandalf was sat in his chair, an empty can of Tennents in one hand, wizarding staff in the other, an overflowing ashtray balanced on the arm of his chair and his hat adorning the top of the television.
"Beowulf you idiot!"
This comment was addressed to the television, or more specifically, 'The Weakest Link'.
"Beowulf was a pansy anyway, I drank him under the table after 3 pints. Where's my beer!"
"I don't see why you can't get it yourself, what with being a wizard and all," commented Sam, bringing in another can.
Taking the can wordlessly, Gandalf raised his staff with his other hand and pinned Sam to the ceiling without taking his eyes off the screen.
"You haven't washed your hands after working in that garden again, have you? This can's covered in muddy hobbit fingerprints. You can learn everything about the ways of hobbits in a month, but after 6000 years they're just bloody annoying."
"You chose to live with us, we most definitely did not choose to live with you, if you don't like hobbits, go live somewhere else."
Legolas wandered in, took one look at the scene and just said "Gandalf". Gandalf reluctantly lowered Sam to the ground with a graceless bump. Legolas politely enquired about Sam's day.
"Well, it's so terribly hard, what with the garden being on such a steep slope and all. How was yours?"
"Well, fabulously interesting, I pushed the trolley up the train, I pushed it back down, I pushed the trolley up the train, I pushed it back down and we stopped to restock in Newcastle. Any more excitement and I may have exploded. The highlight of my day was when one of the passengers recommended a good plastic surgeon who could do something about my ears. Have you seen Frodo since you got in?"
"He's been really well recently, but I suppose that just means we're heading for a bad one. He's in the kitchen cooking dinner."
"Again?" whispered Legolas. Sam nodded. "Hi Frodo," He shouted into the kitchen.
"Hi, how was work?"
"Fine, what's for dinner?"
"Grilled herrings with a hazelnut crust, roast apple and horseradish cream with sauteLed Mediterranean vegetables."
"Someone's going to have to have a word with him about that," whispered Legolas to Sam.
"Why?" asked Sam.
"This is getting towards the point of, well, obsession."
Sam shrugged, "Well, it keeps him occupied."
Most of the time Frodo, was well, just Frodo, a well adjusted house hobbit, who kept things together, the bathroom clean and prevented inter-housemate homicide. However, bearing a ring of ultimate evil takes its toll on the mind, as does 6000 years of blatantly misguided psychiatric care. The 'episodes' varied in frequency and severity, from mild gibbering which passed quickly to full on Sauron hallucinations and mental hospital admissions. Anti-psychotic drugs have little effect on the aftermath of the power of a dark lord.
Enter Merry and Pippin stage left in Sainsbury's uniforms.
"Managed to retain your jobs?"
The nods signalled that for once they had.
"Impressive, if you keep this up you'll beat your Kwik-Save record."
"That's noat fair, ah'm trying for employee of the month ah'll huv ye know," said Pippin.
"But when were the last time you kept a job for t'month," replied Merry.
Pippin opened his mouth to object when he was interrupted by the crash of pots in the kitchen and a small hairy blur which dived into the sideboard.
Legolas sighed, "Not again. Sam, go see what it was this time."
Sam stuck his head round the kitchen door and sniffed.
"Red wine. I think he spilled it on the ri - hob. It must have flash-burned."
"Merry, Pippin, you go finish the tea," said Legolas (this being the only job around the house that he would trust them to finish without burning it down).
Sam was in the corner, kneeling next to the sideboard, was trying to coax Frodo out of the psychotic world inside his head and of course, for practical reasons, the sideboard, the rocking tended to break glasses and at the moment they couldn't afford to buy any more. However, there was no alcohol at stake as they had long since discovered that it had to be hidden much more creatively to keep it out of the clutches of a wizard as wise, powerful and above all cunningly alcoholic as Gandalf. The only noise coming from Frodo was a strange high-pitched keening.
"Shall I ring Julie?" asked Legolas awkwardly.
Julie was the local psychiatric nurse, who after taking a personal interest in Frodo's case had abandoned the usual on and off call system and given the fellowship her mobile number for use in emergencies. It saved the business of explaining Frodo's vastly complicated psychosis to other people. ( Post-Ringbearer syndrome would not appear to be curable and the rest of the fellowship had to feign ignorance about what had actually happened in case they got carted off as well) And they needed it quite a lot anyway. Julie was generally there to help Sam persuade Frodo that no flaming eyes were in fact watching him, and that getting out of the sideboard/ off the top of Legolas' wardrobe / out of the central heating cupboard, was a good idea.
"Give us ten minutes," mouthed Sam.
"Confound it all Samwise Gamgee, you make a better door than a window and they're on to sudden death. Anne Robinson's looking like Saruman in a rage. And a fetching trouser suit and glasses come to that."
Sam sighed knowing there was no arguing with Gandalf when he watching 'The Weakest Link' and shifted position, making a mental note to ask Aragorn to move the sideboard later.
Gandalf, in response to the increasing volume of Frodo's gibbering, shifted in his chair to reach for the remote (the only exercise he ever got these days), resulting in the hideous straining of his beer-stained robe and Legolas looking the other way very quickly. There was a banging from upstairs, and when this didn't achieve the desired effect, Gimli gave his customary battle cry of "Some of us are on the night-shift", which in the worst scenario would be followed up with a stream of dwarvish swearing; none of the others knew what this meant, but on one occasion it had actually made Gandalf turn the tv off.
Eventually Sam managed to extract Frodo from the sideboard and was taking him upstairs to continue calming him down. Frodo got a little, well, tactile after his flashbacks and if Sam didn't humour him he'd only end up being sectioned again and then there'd be all the questions (And how exactly do you know Mr Baggins? And you're sure you have no idea what the 'correct' details of his 'experience' were? And you're sure he was taking the medication? Is the elderly gentleman in the reclining chair is alright? Could you ask him to let me down off the ceiling please? Please?). Now he had his head buried in Sam's chest, arms round his neck and legs round his waist and was being half carried, half dragged towards the Hobbits' bedroom.
Halfway up the stairs the weight seemed to mysteriously be lifted and he looked up to see Aragorn catching Frodo under the arms. Sam really wished he wouldn't do the stealthy ranger-of-the-north thing in the house, it really creeped him out, especially when Aragorn wore clothes to blend in with the wallpaper, and most worryingly they had never worked out how he managed to change his clothes between rooms. And the occasion when he had mysteriously appeared through the locked bathroom door to use the toilet when Sam was in the shower had been really too disturbing for words.
"Again?" mouthed Aragorn over Frodo's head, then started to try and make conversation to cover it up.
"Yeah, work was fine," answered Sam. "Apart from," Sam tried to nod downwards, but it was rather difficult to do without hitting his chin off the top of Frodo's head.
"The slope, I know, you've mentioned. I've tried working on land like that, but from now on I'm sticking with the flatter areas, really, I don't know how you manage to put in the extra effort day after day."
"Well, you know how it is."
Aragorn nodded. The ranger of the north turned park ranger of the north was not really in a position to comment. Sam didn't know if he behaved like this at work, but it added a new dimension of fear to Forestry Commission walks.
"But it is good being out there, in the woods again. And I do get my own land rover. I'm working on a new walk, putting in all the coloured markers. Not like the old days. Not like when I knew Richard Coeur de Lion."
Frodo, even in this state, could read the signs of an impending military anecdote and quadrupled the volume of his whimpering, causing some interesting dwarvish swearing to emit from one of the bedrooms.
Having left Sam to comfort Frodo in their set of bunk beds (and if you thought anything more of that statement, get your mind out of the gutter), Aragorn headed back downstairs to the living room where the rest of the household were sprawled across the furniture apathetically. Merry was looking particularly depressed and was making a spirited attempt to take up the entire sofa.
"What's up with him?" Aragorn asked Pippin who was perched on the arm.
"Oor new boss made him wear a name tag wi' 'Dave' on it. Apparently 'Meriadoc' doesnae fit, and even if it did he cannae pronounce it."
"Doesn't Peregrin give them a problem?"
"Nah, I just put Pip."
"Doesn't that, you know, get you beaten up?"
"Hey, these days ma reputation seems to go ahead o' me. The last two are still on crutches."
Legolas sat at the table in the corner of the sitting room. It was his turn to do the house accounts, but then it was always his turn to do the accounts, the only other person who ever seemed to be able to add them up right was Frodo, but recently the accounts book was bringing on his psychotic episodes. He'd thought about drawing everyone else's attention it this 'coincidence', but the other three hobbits tended to get a bit defensive. The sight of 3 little angry heads coming in at groin height bypassed the sensible elvish part of his brain which insisted that the contents of his trousers weren't that important and terrified that essential core maleness which insisted that he should really get round to buying one of those protective boxes that cricketers use. He sighed. "Do you know how much this household spends on beer?"
"Wouldn't know. It's not like we ever get owt." Grumbled Merry.
Both Legolas and Aragorn shot warning looks at Gandalf who was reaching for his staff. "Being alive since the creation of the world gives one an appetite for alcohol!"
Legolas looked at the accounts again. "Well at least this month you two haven't got into trouble." He glared at Merry and Pippin. "Do you have any idea how much a ticket back from Bad WuNrtemburg costs" It's a good job we could persuade them you were both 6 years old."
Pippin looked hurt "Look, we tried our best when woke up in Cologne tae to get home ourselves but we dinnae speak German."
Merry got up. "Tea should be ready. Pip, go see if Frodo is sane enough to eat"
Tea was an unusual affair. Frodo had recovered somewhat but insisted on eating underneath the table, and the occasional whimpers from knee level disturbed the others. Gandalf as usual ate in his chair, and hurled abuse about the standard of Merry and Pippin's cooking. Sam paused. He could only hear the sound of six other people eating, and saw Legolas then Aragorn also stop eating and listen. Then there was the sound of a plate and a knife hitting the floor. Even Merry, Pippin and Gandalf had stopped now, and were waiting for what would happen next.
"Preciousssssssssss" They heard the word from under the table and as one ran for the door into the hall, whilst Gandalf used his staff to barricade himself into the sitting room, managing to panic without ever leaving his chair. Frodo could be very, very precisely violent when he was like this. Aragorn had been forced to wear a kilt for three weeks once after not reading the warning signs.
"They want to take you away, precioussss"
They waited in the hall with the door open a crack.
"What's he got now?" asked Merry
"Looks like his fork," said Pippin.
Sam whispered, "Now you can call Julie, Legolas, but tell her to come in the front door."