The Lord of the Squares - A Story
Background to the story
It was first posted in the Submitted Articles section of the forum in 11 episodes between January 18th and February 12th 2006. The idea came when, whilst browsing, I found Fasgal- sorry, Fasgadh's photo of Middle Meadow. Being a dyed-in-the-wool Lord of the Rings fan, my brain immediately made the connection - Middle Earth. I began looking for other things that might fit & it just snowballed from there. It was uncanny how everything seemed to fall into place. I didn't so much write it as it wrote itself. I was amazed at how many parallels I found, both in the pictures and on the forum. Of course, I drew heavily on the forum postings. What's really spooky is how all the characters were there. Newer members may understand the references better by reading pre-2006 forum topics, whilst those who have not read Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" will not have a clue what this is all about! However, it is possible, I think, to enjoy it as a story in its own right.
Should anyone wish to comment on it (favourably or otherwise!) there is a thread in which to do so: Link
Disclaimer: The story is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is entirely intentional! Though I do hope I haven't offended anyone. It is all meant in the nicest possible way.
- A Story (with apologies to Tolkien)
Once upon a time, in the land of Geograph, in the realm of Middle Meadow there were four Geobits. They were BobO Squarebaggins, his faithful companion SUellen, and his two friends Merry G Brandymick and Pipmanius Took, aka Pipman. These four were great friends, and spent many happy hours together in their local hostelry, the Supplemental Arms. Geobits were unassuming people who lived in little houses hewn from the natural rock and who led quiet lives, venturing forth with cameras now and then to take pictures, and tending their computers. Their mission in life was to photograph every square kilometre of their fair land, and this they did with great dedication. It took many years to accomplish the task, but eventually the time came when only a few undocumented squares remained. Of course, these were the most inaccessible places, and in fact the location of the final Great Square was an ancient mystery. Since an unprecedented period of sun spot activity had put all the GPS satellites out of action the Geobits had had to rely on their memory of the long-decomposed maps scribed by their ancestors and passed on by word of mouth. The last Geobit who had known the whereabouts of the ultimate Square, BobO’s 5 times great uncle, had passed on before he could reveal his secret. Some began to doubt whether it existed at all, but BobO was not one of those. It was he, of all the Geobits, who became restless now & then, as if his soul were being drawn far away, far beyond the borders of his home village of SOland.
Then one day an old friend of BobO’s came back to the village. This was Fasgalf, a wizard. He was kind and wise, older than anyone, having reached the great age of 3801 points (at the last count), and he knew everything. BobO sensed that something was troubling his friend. "You know that box," said Fasgalf, "the one your old uncle left you, with instructions never to open it until a time of dire need? Well, I think that moment has come. The forces of evil are stirring, the great Eye is open again, and it is looking this way! You have something he wants, and I believe it is in that box." So BobO took out the old casket, and they examined it closely. There was an inscription on the outside. It read Box Brownie. Fasgalf said some magic words & the rusted lock fell away. With trembling hands BobO lifted the lid & they peered inside. At first it seemed empty, but as they watched it began to glow & some letters & numbers appeared. "The final grid ref!" breathed BobO reverently. "I knew it existed!" "There is not a moment to lose!" cried Fasgalf. "You, BobO, must take the box away from here. If the dark lord were able to take the final picture he would have power over everything. And it would be the end of Geograph for ever."
BobO did not much fancy the job, but he knew it had to be done. Fasgalf had told him to keep it quiet, & so he tried to slip away from the village unnoticed, but his friends were having none of it. "Think we’d let you have all the fun, BobO my lad?" said Pipmanius. "You don’t have to bear this burden alone." Privately BobO thought it might be better to do just that. They were great guys, but could be a little irresponsible at times. If he’d had a pound for every time Pipman had to say I’ll get me coat….. Still, he had to admit he’d be glad of their company.
And so the four of them set off on their epic journey, forever afterwards known as LEJOG.
At first the trek was not too arduous. Fine weather & good companionship helped to speed them on their way. But then suddenly SUellen stopped. "This is it! S06299. The farthest I’ve ever been from home. A few more steps & I’ll be in SJland." "Chin up, chaps!" said BobO. "We’ve got a long way to go yet. First we have to find the sign of the Dancing PEACOCK."
It was dark by the time they reached the town, but there in front of them was an inn. Above the doorway, its sign, with a picture of a gaudy pirouetting bird, swung creakily in the wind. Safe inside, the Geobits looked for Fasgalf, but he wasn’t there. "Oh, well," said Merry G. "might as well have a drink while we’re waiting." He went to the bar and returned with a huge foaming tankard. Pipman looked at it in astonishment. "What is that?!" "This, my friend, is a peacockopint!" A great beaming smile spread across Pipman’s face. "They come in pints? I’m getting one!" Ten minutes later his voice could be heard rising above the general hubbub. "Of course I know a Squarebaggins. He’s over there!"
"Pipman! No!" In his haste to silence his loose-tongued friend, BobO tripped & fell, revealing the Box which had been hidden under his coat. His fingers went involuntarily to the shutter button & pressed it. To his horror he saw great, dark, faceless creatures, their long bony fingers reaching for him…..Suddenly a hand, attached to a mysterious cloaked figure, yanked him to his feet & propelled him rapidly out of the room & up the stairs. "Wh-who are you?" asked BobO. "I am Barrygorn, son of Arathorn. I know what hunts you! They are coming, BobO, and they will not stop until they have the Box. Keep it out of sight! I will take you to Fasgalf. We leave at dawn."
The Geobits had no alternative but to trust him. That night, as they slept, the forces of evil drew very close, but Barrygorn kept them safe.
They set off at first light, and the way was fraught with many dangers. They made camp that night amidst rocks atop a high hill . Telling them to stay hidden, Barrygorn went off to scout around. Whilst he was gone, BobO dozed, waking suddenly to the smell of cooking. The other Geobits had a fire going, & sausages sizzling above it. "Put it out!" yelled BobO, but it was too late. The dark, faceless creatures had seen, and were advancing towards them. Terrified, BobO pulled out the Box, and again his fingers were drawn to the button. Barrygorn reappeared & chased away the creatures with a flaming torch, but not before one of them had stabbed BobO with his sword. The blade was enchanted, and it seemed there was no hope for him. "Our only chance is to get him to Rivelin!" Suddenly a bright light appeared, revealing an elf-maiden. It was Arfpence, beautiful daughter of the Lord Elf. "Quickly!" she told them. "We must get him to my father. His skill in dealing with these evil bugs is second to none."
The next thing BobO knew was that he was in a place of deep peace and beauty. There were trees, and soft breezes, and the gentle sounds of running water. He thought he must have died and gone to heaven, but it was Rivelin, home of the elves! And there were his friends too, and, at last, Fasgalf. He was safe – for now.
When BobO had regained his strength, a council was called to decide what must be done with the box. Delegates arrived from all over the realm. Geobits, Elves, Dwarves & Men. "The Box cannot stay in Rivelin," decreed Lord Elf. "Even the great magic of the Elves is no match for the dark lord. It must be taken back whence it came, so that it may be cast into the fires and destroyed. Only thus will Geograph be saved." There was great debate as to who should be entrusted with the mission. Everyone had an idea, but no-one wanted to volunteer, until amidst all the argument a small voice spoke up. "I will take the Box," said BobO, "though I do not know the way."
"The task is yours, then," said Lord Elf, "but you need not go alone. Your companions will accompany you, and you will be the Fellowship of the Square!"
So, joined by Denli, the laid back dwarf, and Inuklas, a moderate Elf, they set out, and things weren’t too bad to begin with. Soon however, they came to their first obstacle – the Misty Mountains. They had a choice, to go over the high, snow covered pass or to traverse the mines carved deep down in the rock by the ancestors of Denli. Fasgalf advised against the latter course. It seemed he knew something the others did not, so they agreed to make for the pass. But the forces of evil were at work there & they met with great avalanches & storms. It was just too dangerous. They had to retreat & enter the mine. When they were all inside, the door clanged shut behind them. There was no going back.
Fasgalf cautioned them all to keep as quiet as they could, lest they disturb whatever might be slumbering in the great depths. Nervously they made their way through the awesome caverns, daring to rest only briefly. Suddenly a movement below caught BobO’s eye. "Fasgalf!" he whispered, "There’s something down there!" "Oh, yes," replied Fasgalf. "It’s Goml. He’s been following us. He was a Geobit once, but greed & lust for the Box turned him into the snivelling wretch that he is today. He will do anything to keep people away from the Great Square. He wants it for himself."
The travellers hurried on until they came to a chamber full of skeletons. Pipmanius gingerly touched a skull balanced precariously on the edge of a well, and it fell clanging to the bottom. Everyone held their breath. At last there was silence again. "Fool of a Pipman!" raged Fasgalf. "Throw yourself in next time!" Then suddenly, a sound. A deep, booming drumbeat began to reverberate around the chamber. Fasgalf turned pale. "Run!" he shouted. "Swords are no more use here. To the bridge!"
A thin arch of rock crossed a great yawning chasm. They were almost across when a terrifying monster appeared, wreathed in fire. Calling on all of his wizard’s strength, Fasgalf defied him. "You shall not pass!" He smote the bridge with his staff, & the monster fell into the depths, but not before its whip-like tentacles had wrapped round Fasgalf’s ankle, dragging him down with it. Fasgalf was gone!
Barrygorn shepherded the others away from the horror & out of the mines. "Our task must continue. We will go to the Elf kingdom of the trees where we shall find shelter & succour."
The woodland realm was a mysterious place. Not sinister at all, but the elves were wary of letting strangers within, & rumours abounded. "A great sorceress lives here," Denli assured BobO, "and you must be careful lest she put a spell on you. But I am not afraid of her! I have the eye of a hawk and the ear of a fox!" he boasted, throwing out his chest & drawing himself up to his full, if not considerable height. "Oo!" he exclaimed then, as without warning the travellers were surrounded by elven archers. There was an arrow just an inch from Denli’s nose. "You have brought great evil here," said the elf leader. "You can go no further." Barrygorn, however, was fluent in the Elvish language & after much talk & gesticulation the company were escorted to meet the Lady of the Realm, Galadjewell. Denli thought he had never seen anyone so beautiful. She spoke to each in turn, & gave them gifts to help them on their way, and boats so that they could continue their journey via the Great River, which flowed the length of the kingdom.
They were sorry to leave her, none more so than Denli, whose heart was given to her for ever. For several days the river currents carried them along, until they must make landfall and turn inland again. But here their luck ran out. Inuklas, whose senses were 10 times keener than any of the others, felt a hostile presence. Too late. They were under attack by the forces of the dark lord! A great army of fearsome creatures! The companions were outnumbered. "Go, BobO!" yelled Barrygorn. So long as BobO escaped to continue the mission it mattered not if the rest of them perished. BobO tried to slip away in the confusion, thinking it best now that he carried on alone, but SUellen saw him go, & went after him. Meanwhile, Merry G & Pipmanius were captured & carried off by the raiders.
Barrygorn, Inuklas & Denli stood forlornly on the riverbank. "BobO is beyond our aid now, though I am glad that SUellen is with him. We must hope they can reach Mount Doom and see the Box destroyed. If it falls into the dark lord’s hands he will take the Final Point, and it will be the end of everything." said Barrygorn. "But we will not leave Merry G and Pipman to their fate. Let us go rescue them!"
For three days and nights they searched for them, stopping neither to eat nor sleep. As dawn broke on the third day they saw smoke rising in the distance. Barrygorn’s heart sank. "I fear we are too late!" The smoke was from a great pile of burning corpses. The fearsome raiders had obviously been overcome by a different foe. But had the two Geobits perished with them? Barrygorn, a skilled hunter, cast around for signs, and then… "A Geobit lay here!" he cried, "and crawled… here!" Following the trail, they found themselves on the edge of a great, dense plantation which stretched as far as the eye could see. "The dreaded Sitka Forest!" Barrygorn explained. The three friends were loth to venture into the trees, for it was hot and oppressive under them, and the air was filled with a sense of foreboding. But they were determined to find Merry G & Pipman, so they conquered their fears and advanced with caution. Suddenly there came a flash of blinding white light, & a voice spoke to them. They were terrified, knowing not what it could be. "Show yourself!" demanded Barrygorn. And there in front of them appeared their old mentor. Fasgalf! They sank to their knees in bewilderment. "Yes," said the well remembered kindly voice. "It is I, come back to you now at the turn of the tide!"
He was able to reassure them that Merry G & Pipman were safe, for the time being, but told them they must prepare for war. "The dark lord’s forces are amassing. We must go with all haste to Edinburgh, where dwells Theodon(ald), King of Bonar, and his warriors." Fasgalf then whistled for his trusty steed, Massey-Fergufax, and, united again, they all rode to Edinburgh.
Carried off by the raiders, and closely guarded, Merry G & Pipmanius were in dire straits. They could do nothing to help themselves, until suddenly the raiders were confronted by a force of great warriors. Taken by surprise they were soon overcome, and not a single one was left alive. Being much smaller than the raiders, and unnoticed by the warriors, the two Geobits were able to make their escape, and they ran for their lives – into Sitka Forest, where they climbed up into a tree to hide, in case they had been pursued. After some time, all being quiet, they began to descend again. Merry G had just reached the ground when the tree opened its eyes and a deep voice boomed "Hooom!" Gasping in fright, Pipman let go and fell towards the ground, but a branch caught him. "Run, Merry G," he yelled, and another branch scooped Merry G up too. "Hooom!" said the tree again. "What are these?" "Merry G! The tree is talking!" whispered Pipman in disbelief. "Tree?" said the deep voice. "I am no tree. I am an Ent. My name is Treehouse."
An Ent! Herder of trees! Guardian of the forests! Champion of all things arboreal! Then did the two frightened Geobits begin to feel better. They told Treehouse their story, and knew that he would see them safe.
But what of BobO and SUellen? Having escaped from the ambush on the banks of the Great River they fled up into the hills. The lush & pleasant environment of the river soon gave way to barren, rocky slopes and cold, dank mists. From their vantage point they could see across to their objective, though it was still many long miles away. Mount Doom! A great volcano, belching fire and smoke. Even the sky seemed ablaze. The two Geobits lay down to try and get some rest.
BobO, exhausted by sorrow, fear, and the weight of the burden he carried, slept almost at once, but SUellen only dozed, alert for any sign of danger. "My Preciousss!" There came a sibilant whisper close by. "I wantsss it and I’ll have it!" It was the creature Goml! He stretched out a bony, emaciated hand towards the Box, but SUellen was there and, jumping on to his back, pinned him to the ground and would have despatched him there and then had not BobO shouted, "No, SUellen! Wait! He will know the way to Mount Doom!" Muttering "I’m going to regret this!" SUellen had to be content with binding the wretched creature with the elven rope which had been Galadjewell’s gift. But the rope was enchanted, & Goml cried that it burned him. Taking pity on him, BobO persuaded SUellen to remove it.
Goml led the way over the rocky slopes and down to the great plain which lay between them and Mount Doom. Mist-wreathed marshlands made the way treacherous, but Goml knew the path by which they could be circumvented. Nevertheless, it was a very dangerous trail, and many previous travellers had come to grief there. BobO was becoming more and more despondent with each passing day. The Box seemed to get heavier and heavier, but SUellen was always at his side to help and encourage him.
At length they came within sight of the huge black gates which barred the entrance to the dark lord’s territory. They were heavily guarded & impenetrable and any attempt to breach them would be suicidal. There was no way of knowing what lay inside the great walls, because naturally no-one had yet succeeded in getting a geograph of the squares within and escaping with their lives. The picture of Mount Doom had been viewbagged from a great distance.
"Goml knowssss another way, Massstersss!" said the creature, fawning around BoBo and SUellen obsequiously. "Don’t listen to him!" warned SUellen. "He’ll lead us into a trap!" "We don’t have much choice. Anyway, he got us safely through the marshes," pointed out BobO wearily, and he turned to follow Goml while SUellen took up the rear, throwing poisonous glances in Goml’s direction. They would have to find another way past the walls.
As the Golden Hall of Edinburgh appeared on the skyline before them, Fasgalf cautioned his companions to tread carefully when they entered the citadel. "We may not find welcome here. King Theodon’s mind has been warped by the magic of the wizard Sourman, servant of the dark lord." Their entry into the Golden Hall was barred by guards, who demanded that they remove their weapons. This they did, although Fasgalf was careful to retain his staff. Inside, he was shocked by how much the king appeared to have aged since their last meeting. Realising that this was the work of Sourman, he used the power in his staff to release Theodon from the spell. Once Theodon regained his senses Fasgalf wasted no time in informing him of the current situation. "War is coming! You must send troops to fight Sourman’s army, lest they come and destroy all your people."
Theodon decreed that the whole city of Edinburgh should be evacuated to the mighty fortress of Helmsley, which would be much easier to defend than the city.
Leaving the others to assist in the evacuation, Barrygorn went on an intelligence gathering mission. Stunned to find that Sourman’s troops numbered at least 10,000, he hurried to Helmsley. Every man, young or old, who could hold a sword, was ordered to fight. Fasgalf rode off on Massey-Fergufax to find more men. King Theodon’s niece, EoLis, begged to be allowed to fight alongside the men, but Theodon denied her request. "If I am lost, you must rule in my stead," he told her, kindly but firmly. Thus, with all readied for battle, the only thing left to do was wait.
BobO, SUellen and Goml, meanwhile, were passing through the woods which skirted the dark lord’s realm. Suddenly they found themselves surrounded by a band of soldiers, who seized them and bundled them off to their camp. There they were interrogated by the captain, FaraSide. FaraSide was the son of the Steward of Gordon (NT6443 – no Geograph yet). The Steward was entrusted with the government of the kingdom until a rightful heir should return to claim the throne. He despised his son, thinking him weak. FaraSide saw his captives as a means to prove himself to his father – he had learned what BobO carried, and what a prize it would be to present to him. It took all of BobO’s powers of persuasion to convince FaraSide that no-one could be master of the Box and that he must set them free to continue the mission to destroy it.
Back at Helmsley a terrifying sight met the eyes of those watching from the ramparts. Thousands upon thousands of the dark lord’s forces marched upon the fortress, stopping in ranks before the walls. Then all was quiet, the calm before the storm, until suddenly, nerves stretched to breaking point, an archer let fly an arrow, and the battle commenced.
At first things weren’t going too badly. Theodon’s troops were holding their own. But the fortress, with walls of solid rock and almost impregnable, had one weakness - a small culvert which carried a stream under the wall. Sourman, with his magic powers, had made dynamite. A suicide bomber delivered it to the culvert, where it detonated in a great explosion, breaching the wall and leaving all who were there shocked and stunned. As the enemy forces closed in, Theodon ordered the retreat into the castle keep.
Just when it seemed all was lost, however, Fasgalf arrived with reinforcements. And not mere soldiers, but the famous horse warriors of Bonar, led by EoPat, brother of EoLis and the bravest of the brave, no chickening out from this one. Confronted by these superior beings, the enemy forces were routed. The cost had been heavy, but Theodon’s side had the victory. However, as Fasgalf reminded them, "Sourman’s wrath will be terrible. The battle for Helmsley is over. The battle for Middle Meadow is about to begin."
While the battle was going on, Treehouse had carried Merry G and Pipman deep into Sitka Forest. There an Entmoot, a gathering of all the tree spirits, was held. It took a long time, but eventually the Ents agreed to help in the fight against the forces of the dark lord. They marched to the edge of the forest, from where they could see Invergordon, stronghold of Sourman. A scene of devastation met their eyes. The trees were being chopped down to feed the fires, burning in deep fissures in the ground, which spawned the dark lord’s forces, while Sourman directed operations from his tower. Not a single sapling was allowed to remain. Treehouse let out a great hoooom of anguish. "It’s a good job this square had already been geographed," said Merry G, "or no-one would believe what has happened here."
But the killing of the trees was Sourman’s big mistake. The Ents moved forwards, slowly but relentlessly, and began to topple the tower and breach the dam which held back the great lake above the stronghold, so that the water flooded over Invergordon, filling the underground workshops and drowning everything in its path. Pipman and Merry G, safe in Treehouse’s strong branches, watched gleefully. Eventually it was over. Leaving just a few of their fellows to make sure nothing had escaped, the Ents returned to their forests. Pipman and Merry G commenced a search of the ruins, and to their delight found a stockpile of food and other necessities which had been spared by the waters. Not knowing what else to do for the time being, they settled down for some serious rest & recuperation.
Released by FaraSide, BobO and SUellen continued on their way, following Goml, who had gone a little way ahead of them. Goml was talking to himself. He was hatching a plan. "We mussst take the Geobitsses to HER. She needsss to feed. She will eat them. And when they are dead – we takesss the Precioussss!" He heard SUellen calling him, and jumped out from behind a tree. "Hurry Geobitsses! This way! Follow Goml!"
Leaving Theodon and his people to return to Edinburgh, Fasgalf, Barrygorn, Inuklas and Denli made their way to Invergordon. A sight they had thought they might never see again met their astonished eyes. Merry G and Pipman, lounging about, smoking, tankards in their hands, for all the world as if they were simply enjoying a holiday. Fasgalf didn’t know whether to laugh or scold them. Once they had all told their stories, and rested and refreshed themselves, it was time for the reunited friends to rejoin the others at Edinburgh.
Just as they were about to set off, Pipmanius, mounted on Barrygorn’s horse, spied something glinting under the water. Quickly jumping down, he reached into the water and lifted up a perfectly smooth round object. He stared at it in fascination. It was a kuglantir, one of the seven seeing-stones. Pipman couldn’t take his eyes off it. He turned it in his hands, stroked it, and would have run his tongue around it had not Fasgalf suddenly brought him out of his trance. "Pipmanius Took! I’ll take that, my lad! Quickly now!" Reluctantly Pipman relinquished it to Fasgalf and climbed back on to the horse behind Barrygorn.
That night in Edinburgh, after a suitably solemn moment to remember those who had fallen in battle, a party was held to celebrate the victory at Helmsley. Pipman and Merry G, whose high spirits were never in abeyance for long, entertained the company with a song and dance. Barrygorn and Fasgalf were much more circumspect, never forgetting that the war was not yet over, although they still had faith that BobO was alive and continuing the quest.
When the celebrations were over, everyone settled down to sleep. All except Pipmanius Took. He lay wide awake, thinking about the kuglantir, unable to get it out of his mind. He just wanted to look at it, that was all. And what better opportunity than when everyone else, including Fasgalf, was fast asleep. Fasgalf was holding the mysterious orb, which was wrapped in a blanket, but he did not stir when Pipman gently eased it from his grasp and took it away.
The Time of the Elves in Middle Meadow was drawing to a close, their power fading. The hour was almost at hand when they must leave the realm and sail away to the lands over the sea, there to dwell for evermore in peace and tranquillity. But Arfpence, daughter of Lord Elf, would not be going with them. She had vowed to renounce her immortality in order to remain with Barrygorn, her beloved. Lord Elf was very sad about this, but he agreed to his daughter’s request to reforge the broken sword which was the symbol of the king who would one day return, the heir to the throne of Gordon. This heir was in fact Barrygorn, who had a most perilous task to complete before he could take up his crown.
Pipman, meanwhile, having taken the kuglantir away from Fasgalf, began to unfasten the blanket which covered it. "Are you mad?" hissed Merry G. "I only want to look at it! Just once more!" Pipman couldn’t resist the temptation. He lifted up the kuglantir and gazed into its depths. At first there was nothing, but then it began to glow with an evil light, flames flickered around it, and he saw….the Great Eye! The eye of the dark lord! And it was looking straight at him! Caught in its thrall he was paralysed, unable to let go, or avert his eyes. Merry G shouted for help and Fasgalf awoke, but Barrygorn was there first. Wresting the kuglantir from Pipman he cast it to the floor, whereupon it rolled away towards the door and would have disappeared had not Fasgalf flung the blanket over it. He turned back to see Pipman lying on the floor, apparently lifeless. Taking the cold, limp hands in his, Fasgalf intoned an ancient spell. To everyone’s relief, Pipman opened his eyes and sat up. Fasgalf questioned him closely, but was satisfied that Pipman had not revealed anything to the dark lord. However, he knew that Pipman was still in great danger, since the dark lord would now believe that it was he who had the Box. He proposed to take Pipman away to the only place where he would be safe, The White City, seat of the kings of Gordon. Pausing only to confer with Barrygorn, Fasgalf mounted Massey-Fergufax, lifted Pipman up in front of him and they sped away.
War was already close to the White City. Its nearest outpost had fallen to the forces of the dark lord, leaving the Captain of its guard, FaraSide, son of the Steward of Gordon, wounded and close to death. The Steward, believing his son already dead, was driven mad by grief, so that when Fasgalf entreated him to prepare the defence of the White City, he refused.
It was now time for Pipman to redeem himself. "The army of Bonar must be summoned to our aid," Fasgalf told him. "You must climb up to the beacon and set it alight." It was a tall order for a small Geobit, but Pipman did not flinch from the task. Keeping out of sight of the guards, he scaled the rock face on top of which the beacon stood, and soon it was ablaze.
One by one a chain of beacons was lit, until the message reached Bonar. Barrygorn, out on watch, saw the fire and hurried to warn Theodon. "The beacons are lit!" he cried. "Gordon calls for aid!" Everyone waited for Theodon’s decision. "Then Bonar will answer!" He sprang into action, calling EoPat to him and bidding him muster his men with all speed. Every able bodied man would be needed.
Haste was the last thing on BobO’s mind. The Box was becoming like a millstone around his neck as it exerted its power over him. They were in uncharted territory now, virgin squares all around them, but neither he nor SUellen thought of taking a picture. All they could do was to follow where Goml led them, until at length he stopped at the foot of a great cliff.
"There it isss, Geobitses, the way into his kingdom!" They looked up where he pointed. A steep, narrow stairway, cut into the rock, curved up the cliff, beyond their sight. "Up we go, Geobitses, up to the top!" And then, as BobO and SUellen began to climb, he said to himself in gleeful anticipation, "And she’ll be waiting!"
All the forces that could be found to defend Middle Meadow were assembled, but their number was pitifully small. Barrygorn knew that the time had come for him to fulfil his destiny and claim the throne of Gordon. But before he could do this a daunting task lay ahead. To reach his objective he must pass through the Haunted Mountain via the Paths of the Dead. There dwelt the spirits of those who had sworn aid to Barrygorn’s ancestors, only to renege when it was required of them. They were cursed, to remain in limbo until they had fulfilled their oath. They allowed no living man to trespass in their abode; any who tried were never heard of again. Only a true heir of Gordon would they suffer to pass unscathed. Barrygorn was not certain that he could convince them of his birthright. However, help came in the nick of time. Lord Elf brought to him the sword reforged, the one symbol that the spirits would accept. He warned Barrygorn not to fail in his task, telling him that he must now become who he was born to be.
Barrygorn resolved to go alone, believing he had not the right to ask anyone to share this most dangerous mission, but he had reckoned without the loyalty of his friends. Inuklas and Denli had no intention of staying behind, and so the three of them set off on the dreaded path.
The stone stairs seemed to go on forever. BobO and SUellen grew wearier with every step, but Goml urged them along. When they were almost at the top he stopped in front of an opening in the cliff face. "Thisss way, Geobitses! In we go!" BobO and Suellen were some way into the cave before they realised that Goml had not followed them. In their fatigued state they did not think of what this might mean, able to concentrate only on moving forward. It was pitch dark inside, and the two Geobits grew very fearful. "Ugh!" exclaimed BobO suddenly, "Everything’s sticky!" And then they heard a sound, coming closer and closer. But they couldn’t see anything. "BobO! The lady’s gift! She said it would be a light in the darkness!" SUellen reminded him. BobO had forgotten, but now he took out the phial which Galadjewell had given him and held it aloft. It began to glow with a brilliant light, like thousands of stars, and it revealed the full horror of their situation, and Goml’s deceit.
He had brought them into a trap, alright. The stickiness came from thick, gooey webs spread all around the caves, and advancing towards them was their creator, a huge, monstrous arachnid. Shelunk, the giant spider! Older even than the dark lord, Shelunk had spun her webs for numberless aeons, but it was seldom that she tasted such young, fresh meat as the two terrified Geobits who cowered before her. Their swords were poor defence against her, nevertheless their courage did not desert them and they fought desperately. They might even have succeeded in escaping her clutches, had not BobO run into a web and been caught there, and Shelunk was between him and SUellen, and she speared him with her sting. Then she wrapped him round and round with the sticky strands until he was covered completely. SUellen, grasping BobO’s elven sword, thrust it into the soft underparts of Shelunk’s body, and, dropping BobO on to the ground, the monster retreated away into the labyrinth which was her lair. Believing BobO to be dead, SUellen resolved to take the Box and continue the quest alone.
Deep inside the Haunted Mountain, Barrygorn, Inuklas and Denli knew the true meaning of fear! Cold, unseen hands reached out to touch them as they passed. They came into a great chamber, and halted there. Then they heard whispering voices, so quiet at first that they could not decipher the words, but then louder, and louder…… "Canihelpyou?...... Canihelpyou?…… Canihelpyou?...... CANIHELPYOU!!" And as the sounds swirled around the chamber in a great crescendo, ghostly figures materialised around them, and a voice rang out, "Who dares enter the Kingdom of the Dead?" "The King of Gordon!" replied Barrygorn. "And you CAN help us!" Holding the sword reforged before him he shouted, "Fight for us this day, and I will hold your oaths fulfilled!"
Cutting away the webs surrounding BobO, SUellen took the Box from him and was about to leave the cave when voices sounded, close by. There was nothing to be done for BobO, so SUellen crept inside a crevice in the rocks and watched to see who was coming. It was a couple of the dark lord’s minions, foul creatures, scavengers, looking for anything Shelunk had left behind. They examined BobO with interest, but then one of them exclaimed, "This one’s not dead yet! Paralysed, more like. She likes ‘er meat fresh! She’ll be back for it before long. We better scarper!"
Not dead! SUellen’s heart sang with joy and relief. There was still hope, then. But they were not safe yet.
The combined forces of Gordon and Bonar were mustered, but everyone knew they would be hopelessly outnumbered. Nevertheless they would engage the enemy in defence of all that was good. Rallying behind their leaders, the armies marched to the White City. Merry G wondered if he would see Pipman again. Theodon had refused to give him leave to ride with the army, saying he would not be able to keep up with them, but a young soldier had, unknown to the others, scooped him up onto his horse and hidden him under a cloak, bidding him keep still and quiet until they reached the battlefield. To Merry G’s amazement the young soldier was none other than EoLis in disguise. She had also been forbidden to accompany them, but was determined, like Merry G, to fight for her friends.
It was a battle the like of which had never been seen before in Middle Meadow, and never would be again. The great plain beyond the gates of the White City was black with the massed ranks of the dark lord’s forces. The hour had come. With a great cry, Theodon led his army to meet the foe. The fighting was fierce and bloody, and there were many casualties.
The dark lord’s officers were awaiting yet more reinforcements, due to arrive in a fleet of ships. They saw the sails approaching and rubbed their hands in anticipation of the fresh misery they would soon be inflicting. However, their glee turned to consternation, and then to fear, when they realised that the ships’ crews were not their own kind, but the Spirits of the Dead, with Barrygorn as their captain! Nothing could withstand their onslaught. Their first task was to secure the White City.
Out on the battlefield, though, disaster! Theodon had been mortally wounded by one of the great faceless creatures, though bravely defended by EoLis. She too was gravely injured, as was Merry G, who had been at her side and with great courage tried his best to aid her. It was Pipmanius who found them, eventually, when all the enemy had been routed and the battle was finally won. Those who still lived were taken into the city, to the Houses of Healing, while Theodon was laid to rest with due ceremony and EoPat proclaimed the new King of Bonar.
The time was not yet right, however, for Barrygorn to take the crown of Gordon. There was much to be done before that could take place. The war was still not over. First Barrygorn met with the King of the Dead, who demanded that the spirits be released from their oath. "Bad idea!" counselled Denli. "Very handy in a scrap, these lads!" But Barrygorn had given his word. "Be at peace!" he told them. "I hold your oaths fulfilled!" And with that the ghostly figures faded away, never to be seen again.
As soon as BobO had recovered from the paralysing sting, SUellen gave him back the Box and they fled Shelunk’s lair as quickly as they could. There was no sign of Goml, but they no longer needed him as a guide. Their way was obvious now. But BobO had little strength left. The Box was draining him, sapping energy and spirit. They decided they must throw away all that they didn’t need and only carry what was necessary. Privately SUellen thought that they might as well jettison everything, because the likelihood of their completing the task and getting home again was practically nil. Clinging to each other they struggled on, up the slopes of Mount Doom, until BobO collapsed on to the ground, unable to move any further.
The Box seemed to weigh so much now, he could not get up. In despair, SUellen cried, "I cannot post my own pictures, BobO, but I can make sure everyone will see yours!" And lifting him to his feet, inch by agonising inch the faithful SUellen carried BobO up the fiery mountain.
The battle had been won, but the dark lord in his tower still lived, and the destruction of the Box was the only way to bring about his defeat. The hopes of everyone in Middle Meadow now rested with the two Geobits who were struggling up Mount Doom, but there was no way of knowing whether they would yet complete their mission.
Barrygorn resolved to lead his men to the dark lord’s realm, hoping that he could thereby cause enough of a distraction to enable BobO to reach the great fires unnoticed, though confronting the enemy on his own ground would mean almost certain death. But it was a sacrifice that would have to be made, given that the alternative would be the complete destruction of everything they held dear. Barrygorn’s nerve almost failed him, but he sat for a while in front of his computer, contemplating all that the Geobits had achieved, looking at picture after picture of the beautiful land which they had striven to document for posterity, and he knew he could not allow it to be lost.
Summoning up all his courage, he rode forth with those who had volunteered to accompany him, for he would not command anyone to join him in so hopeless a task.
At last BobO and SUellen were in sight of the door in the rock which led to the fires of Mount Doom. BobO lifted his eyes to it, and suddenly all the weariness and fatigue seemed to leave him. Rising to his feet, he ran through the doorway, leaving SUellen behind. When SUellen caught him up he was standing on the edge of a great abyss which was filled with the fires. Molten rock and flames swirled below, and the heat was stifling. BobO was holding the Box out in front of him, and SUellen couldn’t understand why he had not already cast it into the fires. "Destroy it, BobO! What are you waiting for? Destroy it!"
BobO turned to look at SUellen. "No! I will not destroy it! The Box is mine! I will take the Final Square for myself!" His mind was now controlled completely by the power of the Box. SUellen sank to the ground in despair, not knowing what to do. To have come so far, that it should end like this was too much to comprehend. But then a great wail rent the sulphurous air. "Not dessstroy it! No! My Preciousss! I’ll have it!" It was Goml. Unseen by the Geobits he had crept up behind them and now leapt at BobO, trying to grab the Box. They fought furiously, while SUellen could only watch in horror as they staggered closer and closer to the edge. BobO’s fingers were reaching desperately for the shutter button. Once pressed, the Final Square would be his. What happened next cannot be related, for such a fell deed took place that even those with the hardiest disposition would baulk at reading its description. Suffice it to say that it left BobO clutching a mangled and bleeding hand, and Goml dancing around in ecstasy on the edge of the precipice, the Precious Box at last in his possession. But he was not to be its master for long. BobO, in spite of his injury, sprang at Goml and they grappled with each other again. Suddenly Goml lost his footing, and, locked together, they both tumbled over the edge.
Crawling on hands and knees, SUellen peered down, dreading what view might await. But there was BobO, clinging to a ledge just below, while Goml’s body was disappearing into a river of swiftly flowing lava. For a few seconds the Box was still visible, and then it began to glow and melt until it sank below the surface, completely and finally destroyed. It was over.
"Reach for my hand!" cried SUellen to BobO, "and don’t you let go!" And then they were clinging to each other on solid ground, utterly spent.
Barrygorn and his followers had arrived at the gates of the dark lord’s territory. Barrygorn issued a challenge to the tower’s incumbent. "Leave now, while you are still intact, for good must surely triumph in the end!" But the dark lord merely laughed at his effrontery, and swung his great Eye round to watch, from his tower, these insignificant opponents who would soon be annihilated. The gates opened, and the dark lord’s forces marched out. The great faceless creatures flew overhead.
Just when it seemed all was lost, however, there came a terrible noise, flames and explosions shot into the air, and the dark lord’s tower began slowly to collapse. Huge fissures split the earth, swallowing up the enemy forces. The Eye closed and disappeared, and by this those watching knew that BobO had succeeded in his quest, and Middle Meadow would be saved.
All very well, but BobO and SUellen found that they hadn’t so much got out of the fire as into the frying pan. As Mount Doom began to erupt around them they were stranded on an island of bare rock, surrounded by boiling lava and red hot projectiles flying past on all sides. Middle Meadow might be safe, but it seemed they would not live to enjoy it. They could do nothing but lie there and await the end.
They had, of course, reckoned without Fasgalf. Using his wizard’s powers, he summoned his friends the Eagles, who flew over the stricken mountain, plucked the two Geobits to safety and carried them back to the White City. There they were placed tenderly in the Houses of Healing and restored to health, as had been Merry G, EoLis, and FaraSide. FaraSide and Eolis found joy in each other’s company, though this was tinged with sadness when FaraSide heard that his father in his madness could not be saved. But in the main, everything was as it should be.
The day came for the coronation of Barrygorn as King of Gordon. As Fasgalf placed the crown upon his head, Barrygorn thought wistfully of his love, Arfpence, and wished she could be there beside him. He turned to greet his subjects, and there she was! Lord Elf, her father, had accepted what he could not change, and given her his blessing. The story was at last complete.
And so the Box was destroyed, the Great Final Square remained forever green, and because it could never be finished the existence of Geograph was preserved for all eternity. The Geobits continued to fill the other squares with geographs & supplementals to their hearts’ content, and they all lived happily ever after.