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Chapter IV:
Finders Keepers Finders Weepers

...It was late in the gray fall afternoon when the procession of sheepback riders rode into Riv'n'dell, led by Garfinkel astride his magnificent wooly stallion, Anthrax. An ill wind was blowing, and granite hailstones were falling from brooding clouds. As the party drew rein in front of the main lodge, a tall elf robed in finest percale and wearing bucks of blinding whiteness stepped onto the porch and greeted them.

"Welcome to the Last Homely House East of the Sea and Gift Shoppe," he said. "Barca-Loungers in every room."

Garfinkel and the tall elf thumbed their noses in the ancient salute of their race and exchanged greetings in elvish. "A syanon esso decca hi hawaya," said Garfinkel, lightly springing from his animal.

"O movado silvathin nytol niceta-seeya," replied the tall elf; then turning to Stomper he said: "I am Orlon."

"Arrowroot son of Arrowshirt, at your service," said Stomper, dismounting clumsily.

"And these?" said Orlon, pointing to the four boggies asleep on their dormant mounts.

"Frito and his companions, boggies from the Sty," said Stomper. At the mention of his name, Frito gurgled loudly and fell off his sheep, and the Ring dropped out of his clothes and rolled to Orlon's feet. One of the sheep trotted up, licked it, and turned into a fire hydrant.

"Oog," mumbled Orlon, and staggered inside...

..."Well, well," said Goodgulf, "here we all are again."

"I'd sooner be in a dragon's colon," said Frito.

"I trust you still have it," said Goodgulf, eyeing Frito.

"Do you mean the Ring?"

"Silence," commanded Goodgulf in a loud voice. "Speak not of the Great Ring here or anywhere. If Sorhed's spies discovered that you, Frito Bugger, hailing from the Sty, had the One Ring, all would be lost. And his spies are everywhere. The Nine Black Riders are abroad again, and there are those who claim to have seen the Seven Santinis, the Six Danger Signs, and the entire Trapp family, including the dog. Even the walls have ears," he said, pointing to two huge lobes which were protruding from behind the mantelpiece.

"Is there no hope?" gasped Frito. "Is nowhere safe?"

"Who can know?" said Goodgulf, and a shadow seemed to pass over his face. "I would say more," he said, "but a shadow seems to have passed over my face," and with that he fell strangely silent.

Frito began to weep, and Stomper leaned forward, and putting his hand reassuringly on Frito's shoulder, said "Fear not, dear boggie, I will be with you all the way, no matter what may befall."

"Same here," said Spam, and fell asleep.

"Us too," said Moxie and Pepsi, yawning.

Frito remained inconsolable...

...At the head of the table sat Orlon and the Lady Lycra robed in cloth of dazzling whiteness and brightness. Dead they looked, and yet it was not so, for Frito could see their eyes shining like wet mushrooms. Bleached was their hair so that it shone like goldenrod, and their faces were as bright and as fair as the surface of the moon. All about them zircons, garnets, and lodestones flashed like stars. On their heads were silken lampshades and on their brows were written many things, both fair and foul, such as "Unleash Chiang Kai-shek" and "I love my wife but oh you kid." Asleep they were.

To the left of Orlon sat Goodgulf in a red fez, revealed as a 32nd Degree Mason and Honorary Shriner, and to his right sat Stomper, clad in the white Gene Autry suit of a Ranger. Frito was shown to a seat about halfway down the table between an unusually deformed dwarf and an elf who smelled like a birdnest, and Moxie and Pepsi were sent to a small table in a corner with the Easter Bunny and a couple of tooth fairies.

As with most mythical creatures who live in enchanted forests with no visible means of support, the elves ate rather frugally, and Frito was a little disappointed to find heaped on his plate a small mound of ground nuts, bark, and dirt. Nevertheless, like all boggies, he was capable of eating anything he could Indian-wrestle down his throat and rather preferred dishes that didn't struggle too much, since even a half-cooked mouse can usually beat a boggie two falls out of three. No sooner had he finished eating than the dwarf sitting to his right turned to him and proffered an extremely scaly hand in greeting. It's at the end of his arm, thought Frito, nervously shaking it, it's got to be a hand.

"Gimlet, son of Groin, your obedient servant," said the dwarf, bowing to reveal a hunchback. "May you always buy cheap and sell dear."

"Frito, son of Dildo, yours," said Frito in some confusion, racking his brains for the correct reply. "May your hemorroids shrink without surgery."

The dwarf looked puzzled but not displeased. "Then you are the boggie of whom Goodgulf spoke, the Ringer?"

Frito nodded.

"Do you have it with you?"

"Would you like to see it?" asked Frito politely.

"Oh no thanks," said Gimlet, "I had an uncle who had a magic tieclip and one time he sneezed and his nose fell off."

Frito nervously touched a nostril...

...Frito was making his way to the table where Moxie and Pepsi were sitting when a bony hand reached out of a potted palm and grasped his shoulder. "Come with me," said Goodgulf, brushing a frond aside, and led the surprised boggie down the hall and into a small room almost entirely filled by a huge glass-topped table. Orlon and Stomper had already taken seats and as he and Goodgulf sat down Frito was amazed to see his dinner companions, Gimlet and Legolam, enter and seat themselves on opposite sides of the table. They were quickly followed by a heavy-set man in iridescent pegged trousers and sharply pointed shoes. Last of all came a small figure in a loud shirt smoking a foul elvish cigar and carrying a Scrabble board.

"Dildo!" cried Frito.

"Ah, Frito my lad," said Dildo, slapping Frito heavily on the back, "so you made it after all. Well, well, well." Orlon held out a moist palm, and Dildo rummaged in his pockets and pulled out a wad of crumpled bills.

"Two, wasn't it?" he said.

"Ten," said Orlon.

"So it was, so it was," said Dildo and dropped the bills in the elf's hand...

...Frito nodded and drew from his pocket the paperclip chain, link by link. With a short toss, he threw the fatal trinket onto the table, where it landed with a tinny jing.

Orlon gasped. "The Magic Dingus," he cried.

"What proof is there that this is the Ring?" asked the man with the pointed shoes.

"There are many signs which can be read by the wise, Bromosel," announced the Wizard. "The compass, the whistle, the magic decoder--they're all here. And here is the inscription:

"Grundig blaupunkt luger frug
Watusi snarf wazoo!
Nixon dirksen nasahist
Reboso boogaloo."

Goodgulf's voice had become harsh and distant. An ominous black cloud filled the room. Frito gagged on the thick oily smoke.

"Was that necessary?" asked Legolam, kicking the Wizard's still-belching smoke grenade out the door.

"Rings go better with hocus-pocus," replied Goodgulf imperiously.

"But what does that mean?" asked Bromosel, rather annoyed that he was being referred to in the dialogue as "the man with the pointed shoes."

"There are many interpretations," explained Goodgulf. "My guess is that it's either 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog' or 'Don't tread on me'."

No one spoke, and the room fell strangely silent...

..."Then it is settled," intoned Orlon. "Frito Bugger shall keep the Ring."

"Bugger?" said Legolam. "Bugger? That's curious. There was a nasty little clown named Goddam sniffing around Weldwood on hands and knees looking for a Mr. Bugger. It was a little queer."

"Odd," said Gimlet," said Gimlet. "A pack of black giants riding huge pigs came through the mountains last month hunting for a boggie named Bugger. Never gave it a second thought."

"This, too, is grave," declared Orlon. "It is only a matter of time before they come here," he said, pulling a shawl over his head and making a gesture of throwing something of a conciliatory nature to a shark, "and as neutrals, we would have no choice..."

Frito shuddered.

"The Ring and it's bearer must go hence," agreed Goodgulf, "but where? Who shall guard it?"

"The elves," said Gimlet.

"The dwarves," said Legolam.

"The wizards," said Arrowroot.

"The Men of Twodor," said Goodgulf.

"That leaves only Fordor," said Orlon. "But even a retarded troll would not go there."

"Even a dwarf," admitted Legolam.

Frito suddenly felt that all eyes were on him.

"Couldn't we just drop it down a storm drain, or pawn it and swallow the ticket?" he said.

"Alas," said Goodgulf solemnly, "It is not that easy."

"But why?"

"Alas," explained Goodgulf.

"Alackaday," Orlon agreed.

"But fear not, dear boggie," continued Orlon, "you shall not go alone."

"Good old Gimlet will go with you," said Legolam.

"And fearless Legolam," said Gimlet.

"And noble king Arrowroot," said Bromosel.

"And faithful Bromosel," said Arrowroot.

"And Moxie, Pepsi, and Spam," said Dildo.

"And Goodgulf Grayteeth," added Orlon.

"Indeed," said Goodgulf, glaring at Orlon, and if looks could maim, the old elf would have left in a basket.

"So be it. You shall leave when the omens are right," said Orlon, consulting a pocket horoscope, "and unless I'm very much mistaken, they will be unmatched in half an hour."

Frito groaned. "I wish I had never been born," he said.

"Do not say that, dear Frito," cried Orlon, "It was a happy minute for us all when you were born."...

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