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An Unexpected Adventure  by KathyG

(Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)  In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  It's also in the process of being posted on Fanfiction.net, Archive of Our Own, Many Paths to Tread, and LiveJournal.  (Posted here with permission from the admins of SoA.) 

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: We would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of our beta, Linda Hoyland, another well-known and prolific LotR fanwriter, whose many wonderful stories also grace this site.

Prologue

“Kaylee!  Joey!  Megan!  Come on, children, it’s time to go!” Gail McCloud called.

The three younger children, who were in the backyard playing with their new Cocker spaniel puppy, Lucy, raced toward the gate leading into the front yard; Kaylee, age five, grabbed hold of Lucy en-route and lugged her to the car.  Already, the minivan was loaded with camping supplies and the family’s personal belongings.  One of Kaylee’s favorite dolls, Baby Alive, was already sitting on the middle seat; Joey’s video game lay next to it; and three-year-old Megan’s baby seat was ready for occupancy.

The older children, Kevin and Jennifer, stood leaning against the car trunk, their backpacks dangling from their backs.  Mr. McCloud came out the front door of their one-story ranch house, car keys in hand, and approached the minivan in the driveway.

“Your backpacks are in the trunk, children,” their father Steven said, as he swung the driver’s door open.  “In the car, everybody.  Time to go.”

“What about Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet, Daddy?” Jennifer asked.

“We’re swinging by their place, and they’re going to follow us in their car,” Gail said, as she opened the middle passenger door on the minivan’s right side, to fasten Megan into her baby seat.  Turning around, she noticed that Joey was the only child who was wearing his white sneakers.  She shook her head at him.  “Young man, I want you to go back inside and put on your hiking boots now!”

“Mom!” Joey whined.  “Do I have to?!”

“Yes, Joey, you have to,” his mother said firmly.  “Your boots will protect your feet from snakes and sharp rocks and things like that much better than your sneakers will.  Now go inside and put them on.  Your backpack’s already in the car.”  Grumbling, Joey did as he was told.

Minutes later, he returned outside, his feet clad in his brown hiking boots.  Gail surveyed the children’s feet with satisfaction; all of them were wearing their hiking boots now.  However, Kaylee’s boots had come untied, and so her mother knelt to re-tie them.  As soon as Megan was strapped into her car seat, the family piled into the minivan, and Steven McCloud turned on the ignition.

“Everybody got your seat belts on?” he asked.  His wife turned her head to scan the four children.  The backpacks were lying on the floor of the back seat.  Kaylee snapped her seat belt on with Joey’s help, and Gail smiled her approval.  Her husband backed out onto the residential street and drove toward the intersection.  Joey picked up the nine-week-old puppy and rubbed her silky head; Lucy licked his fingers and then started chewing on them.  The afternoon sunlight poured into the minivan.

Gail glanced back at Joey and Lucy.  She had been uncertain about taking the little puppy with them, but since Ryan and Janet were going along, there was no one they could ask to dog-sit a puppy that wasn't even housebroken yet.  They couldn't afford to board her for the length of time they'd be gone.  Gail was a little worried, since the pup was too young for her shots yet.  Still, they would be in an isolated part of the park.  Lucy should be safe there. 

Several minutes later, they pulled to a stop by a one-story brick house.  Mr. McCloud’s brother, Ryan McCloud, and his wife, Janet, were waiting by their car.  Mr. McCloud rolled down his window and extended his left arm toward Ryan.  “Hey, bro, ready to leave?”  He laughed.

Uncle Ryan chuckled.  “Ready and waiting for you, little brother!”  The two men grinned at each other, and Ryan and Janet climbed into their car.  A few minutes later, the two cars were speeding down the street toward the intersection.

“Daddy, why are we going camping now?” Joey asked, as he cuddled Lucy against his chest.  “School’s not even out yet!”

“I’m under orders from my supervisor, son,” Mr. McCloud said.  “My supervisor wants me to go to one of the state parks and collect as many different kinds of soil samples as possible, so that the other Department of Land Conservation and Development scientists and myself can run some tests on them.  I’ve gotten permission from the park manager to collect them at Wallowa Lake State Park,* where we’re going.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. McCloud added.  “Your father’s going to be very busy for the next several days.”

Mr. McCloud nodded agreement.  “I did some thinking, and it was clear that I had a choice.  I could either spend the entire time at Wallowa Lake State Park separated from my family while I collected the samples, or I could take my family on a campout while I was at it, since it’s Easter break.  Your mom and I talked about it, and that’s what we decided to do.”

“I can’t wait to play on the swings!”  Clutching her doll to her chest, Kaylee started to bounce, only to find herself restrained by her seat belt.

Her mother chuckled.  “You’ll have to play in other ways, sweetheart.  We’re not going to the public section of the park for this camping trip, so there will be no playground this time.  We’re going to camp in one of the more isolated sections.”

“That’s right.”  Their father nodded.  “Your uncle’s camped in that section before, so he knows what to find there.  Perhaps he’ll take you exploring, if you ask him—you’ll have to wear your backpacks if he does.  And since Lucy’s going to be there with us, you can always play with her.”  He smiled.  “Don’t worry, children—even without a playground or a swimming area, you’ll still have fun.  And when school’s out for the summer, we’ll have another campout in the park—this time, in the public section, where the swimming area and the playground are.”

Behind the younger children, Jennifer exchanged a glance with her older brother, Kevin.  “Yes, Daddy.”  Handing Lucy over to Kaylee, who immediately began to cuddle the puppy alongside her blonde-haired Baby Alive doll, Joey turned on his Gameboy and began to play a video game.  Megan stuck her thumb into her mouth while holding her own doll.

“Are we going to Disneyland, too?” Kaylee asked hopefully.

Her father chuckled.  “Yep, Kaylee.  This summer, we’re going to Disneyland, too.”

“Oh, goody!” Kaylee squealed, kicking her legs against the car seat.  “We get to go to Disneyland, Lucy!” she told the wiggling puppy.  Her parents laughed, and Kevin and Jennifer exchanged amused grins.  Joey glanced at his younger sister and looked up at his parents, and then he turned his attention back to his video game.

“I wanna go Diseeand,” said Megan.

Mrs. McCloud smiled ruefully at her husband.  “You know, I’m surprised the park manager gave you permission, dear, seeing as it’s against park rules to collect plants or any other natural resources on their grounds.”

Mr. McCloud chuckled.  “I know, hon.  But remember that my geology work is for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.  The samples I will take are meant to check the health of the soil in the park, and make sure that it hasn't been affected by pollution or other harmful things.  He knows that, and that I know how to do it without damaging the site."  He glanced at his watch.  “If all goes well, we’ll be arriving at the park shortly after four o’clock.  That’s check-in time for campsites.”

“Are we gonna have full hook-up, Daddy?” Jennifer asked hopefully.

Mrs. McCloud answered for her husband.  “No, sweetheart, not this time.  As your daddy said, we’re going to camp in one of the primitive sections of the park this time, in tents.  It’ll be only a tent site with a stream nearby, a picnic table, and a paved parking area not far from the campsite, but no utilities.”

Jennifer grimaced.  She much preferred the full-hookup sites, where she could have running water, electricity, and ready access to a bathroom with plumbing, as well as a paved parking area nearby.  The complaints she wanted to utter died on her lips, however, as she glanced up at her father’s expression in the mirror.  It would do no good to complain, she knew; instead, she exchanged a scowl with Kevin.  At least, Jennifer thought, she had packed her silver-colored baton, and so she would be able to spend some time every day practicing her majorette routines while they were at Wallowa Lake State Park.  She had been twirling the baton ever since she had been just seven years old, and as the assistant leader of the Portland Optimist Youth Band Baton Corps, it was necessary for her to keep up her skills for when the corps marched in parades, and performed during halftime at sports events.

“We’ll camp in a full-hookup site this summer, Jennifer,” her father promised.  “For this camping trip, we’ll all just have to make the best of it.”

Jennifer sighed.  “Yes, Daddy.”

Grimacing in his turn, Kevin glanced at his sister, and then looked at the back of his father’s head.  “Uh, Dad, I don’t suppose there’s any chance there’ll be Wi-Fi at the park?”

“No, son, there’s not,” Mr. McCloud answered.  “None of the state parks are set up for Wi-Fi.”

“We’ll just have to do without Internet access until we’re back home,” Mrs. McCloud added.

“Yes, Mom.”  Sighing, Kevin shook his head, and he and Jennifer exchanged more grimaces.  It was going to be a long six days.  There would be no Internet access until they were back in Portland on late Saturday afternoon.  They’re probably not set up for cell phone access either, he thought ruefully. I wonder if we’ll even be able to text!

Suppressing a sigh, Kevin picked up his Android tablet and turned it on, and Jennifer pulled out her iPhone.  They fully meant to enjoy their Internet before the family was out of the range of its signal.  Jennifer sent a quick text to her best friend, Nicole Adams, explaining that they were on their way to the state park where they were going to camp out and would not be back until late Saturday afternoon, and Kevin emailed one of his basketball buddies.  Joey continued to play his video game, and Kaylee cuddled her doll and Lucy, singing and talking to them both.  Megan soon fell asleep in her baby seat with her rag doll in her arms.  Soon, the two cars were speeding west on the freeway.  As soon as they were out in the countryside, both Kevin’s tablet and Jennifer’s cell phone lost the signal, and so they shut them off and slipped them into their backpacks.

Jennifer leaned her head against the back of the car seat and sighed.  If only I could have brought a boyfriend with me, maybe this trip would be easier to tolerate.  Or if Nicole had been free to come with me!  Too bad she couldn’t have invited a boy from school to come with them; she might have been able to, if she had a boyfriend.  I’m fourteen; surely, I’m old enough to date!  There’s a high-school junior at school I would really love to date, if only he’d ask me.  He’s so cute, and he’s nice.  Thank goodness he’s in our church’s youth group, too!  Shaking her head, she closed her eyes and thought about the discussion she’d had with her mother the other day.

-oo000oo-

“But why can’t I go on a date?” Jennifer argued.  “I’m fourteen now; I’m not a child anymore!”

Her mother shook her head, smiling ruefully.  “Jennifer, remember what your father says?”

Jennifer sighed.  “‘You have to learn to be a friend with boys before you can be a girlfriend,’” she quoted dully.

“And he’s right.”  Gail patted her shoulder.  “When you’re fifteen, we'll allow you to go on double-dates, as Kevin does now.”

Jennifer shrugged.  “Double-dates, huh?”

“That’s right, and then single dates when you’re sixteen,” her mother said firmly, but fondly.  "You are too young to be dating yet, Jennifer.  You'll have many years ahead of you for dating."  

Jennifer sighed again.  “Yes, Mom.”  She looked into her mother’s eyes.  “When I am allowed to date, would you pray that God will give me a boyfriend?”

Gail laughed.  “Certainly.”  She ruffled her daughter’s hair.  "If you need a boyfriend in your life, then I am sure He will have someone for you.  But you know that He will work in His time, not ours…''

-oo000oo-

Jennifer grimaced.  If only she could start dating now!  Even if Tim were to ask me out, Mom wouldn’t let me go out with him till I’m older.  I’d have to say no.  She shook her head, gazing down at the car floor.  I’ll have to find some other way to endure this camping trip.  It’s gonna be a long week!  She scowled, and then removed a book from her backpack to start reading.  She started reading Little Women.

A few hours after the McClouds had left their home, the two cars pulled up into Wallowa Lake State Park’s paved parking area within easy walking distance from the campsite.  Jennifer slipped her book into her backpack.  Steve and his wife stepped out of the minivan, followed by their four older children.  Joey stuffed his Gameboy into his backpack and scrambled out of the car.  Gail unfastened Megan from her baby seat and set the little girl on her hip.  Under her mother’s eagle eye, Kaylee unzipped her backpack and thrust her doll into it; as soon as she had zipped her backpack back up, she clasped the wriggling puppy to her chest and followed her older brothers and sister.  Meanwhile, Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet stepped out of their own car and joined the others.

For a long moment, they all scanned the campsite.  As Jennifer’s father had told her, there was a running stream close to the campsite, and a picnic table stood in the center.  Cottonwood, ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir trees surrounded the campsite.

At last, Steve cleared his throat and glanced at the back of the minivan.  “Well, everyone, before we do anything else, we’d better get everything out so we can get started making camp.  We need to have the tents all set up when we start supper.”

“Right.”  Uncle Ryan strode toward the back of the minivan and opened the back door.  With his brother’s help, he pulled out the tarpaulins, one at a time.  With the help of their wives and the three older children, the two men dragged each tarpaulin to the middle of the campsite, and then Steve and Uncle Ryan returned to the minivan to get the tent posts, the mallets, and the rest of the tent equipment.

At one point, Kevin picked up his father’s rifle and examined it for a moment.  Then he laid the rifle back in the car trunk, careful to make sure that the weapon's safety was still on.  As he walked away, he overheard his parents talking.

“Did you have to bring your rifle, Steve?” his mother said, with a sigh.  “It’s not hunting season, and surely it’s too early for wild animals to be out and about.”

“Not necessarily.  Since it’s the first week of April, some of the bears have come out of hibernation,” his father said.  “And since we’re more isolated here, we can’t be sure that some bear won’t come nosing through our supplies at some point.  I won’t take the chance of one of us being mauled by a bear, Gail, not when I have the means to protect my family.”

“It’s too dangerous around the children,” Gail argued.

“Kevin knows how to safely handle a gun.”

“Yes, he does, but the other children don’t.”

“Which is why I have forbidden them to touch it when I’m not there to keep an eye on them.”

Shaking his head, Kevin approached the barbecue grill his Uncle Ryan was setting up; the camp stove had already been removed from the back of the minivan and set up.  Surely, there won’t be any bears here, he thought.  Good thing Dad’s been taking me deer-hunting in hunting season, for the past few years!  At least I know how to shoot and handle a gun safely.

As he walked past the camp stove and the grill, he looked toward the others.  His parents were busy at the moment, helping Aunt Janet to arrange the tarpaulin.  Kevin sighed.  I really wish I could ask Mom and Dad's advice, he thought.  I know Gene knows I caught him cheating the other day on the history test.  If I tell, he’ll hate me.  He shook his head.  If I ask Mom or Dad to pray for me, they'll want to know why.  He's one of my best friends.  I'd like to ask him about it, but ever since he saw me notice, he's been avoiding me.

Kevin looked at his mother and father.  They’re too busy right now, but when I have a chance, I’m gonna ask them to pray about it, even though it’s gonna mean telling them.  I guess I really do need their advice.

He glanced at his watch.  It’s past four.  Kevin paused to look into the trunk and smiled.  I’m glad I brought my guitar!  At least, we can sing some songs at night, when Dad’s got the campfire going.  I hope Joey brought his harmonica.

“Kevin?” his mother called.  “Come on now; we need your help!”  Nodding, Kevin hurried toward the others.

“I wish I could have brought my Spider-Man backpack,” Joey grumbled, as Jennifer handed him his backpack.

“It’s not waterproof, Joey,” his mother pointed out.  “We didn't want you children bringing any backpacks that could get ruined, in case it rains.”

Jennifer ruffled her little brother’s hair.  “Anyway, Star Wars isn’t so bad either, is it?”

Shrugging, Joey carried his backpack to the campsite and dropped it on the ground next to Kevin and Jennifer’s backpacks.  Kaylee’s own backpack still lay in the back seat of the McClouds’ minivan.

Smiling at him in amusement, Jennifer turned to approach the pile of backpacks, where she picked hers up.  For a moment, she smiled ruefully at its weight; she had packed so much in there, it was heavy.  I was going to pack four of my books in it, but then Kaylee came in, wanting me to put in some of hers.

Closing her eyes, Jennifer looked back over the events of that morning, while everyone was still packing…

-oo000oo-

Jennifer was trying to decide which of her favorite novels to put in her backpack: did she want A Wrinkle in Time or Anne of Green Gables?  She had room for both, but she also had Little Women and a historical novel for teenagers which had come out in 2010, the last book of The Squire’s Tales series: The Legend of the King.  She had read none of the four yet, and she was hoping to get started on them during spring break.  If she kept her backpack with her in the car, she would have time to get started on them while they were on their way.  It looked like there was room for them all, but would she have time to read while they were camping?  She had already promised to read to Kaylee during their camping trip, and she was determined to practice her majorette routines as well, so she wouldn’t get rusty.

Suddenly, she was interrupted by Kaylee's soft voice.  "Jennifer?"

Her little sister stood in the doorway of the bedroom that the two of them shared, with some books in one arm and the straps of her backpack hanging from the other one.  Jennifer sighed.  "What do you need, Kaylee?"

"Mommy's busy with packing up Megan's stuff.  She said I could take some books.  I got some of my 'Little Goldens' in, but my pack is too little for these.  Can you help me?"  She held up to Jennifer her Big Book of Fairy Tales, her illustrated paperback of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which Jennifer had started reading to her three nights before, and her copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Of course, they wouldn't fit into Kaylee's little backpack!  While they were not especially thick or heavy, the books were larger in size than the small paperbacks Jen was taking.  Well, she thought, I guess I'm only taking two books for myself.  I’m already reading her The Wonderful Wizard of Oz anyway, and I know she wants me to continue.  Quietly, she packed her little sister's books in with her own.

"Now, you're all set," she said as she zipped up Kaylee's pack.  "That's all you can take, Kaylee; no room for more."  She packed The Legend of the King and Little Women in her backpack along with Kaylee’s books and laid the other two books back on her bookcase, and then she smiled at her little sister.  “Just think: we’ll be getting back home just time for the Easter bunny to pay us a visit!”

“Goody!”  Kaylee smiled broadly and raced down the hall ahead of her sister…

-oo00000-

Smiling at the memory, Jennifer shook her head, and then she watched the adults unloading the tent equipment.  When all of the tent equipment lay in a pile on the ground several feet from the fire ring, the family just stood there for a moment.  Kaylee set Lucy on the ground, and the puppy began to sniff around.  “We may as well wait a few minutes to catch our breath, before we get started setting the tents up,” Steve said, “but not too long.”  He glanced at his watch.  “It’ll be too late to start looking for soil samples when we’ve finished setting up the tents, so I’ll have to start that tomorrow after breakfast.”  Gail nodded agreement.

“Can we play?” Joey asked, hopping from one foot to the other.  He scanned the woods surrounding the campsite.  “I wish there was a swing set.”

“Me, too.”  Kaylee jumped more than once.

“What can we do?” Jennifer asked.

Uncle Ryan smiled at her, and then scanned the children’s faces.  “Well, you know, kids,” he said, “several years ago, one summer, your Aunt Janet and I spent a few days at this very campsite.  And while we were here, I did a little bit of exploring at one point.”

He glanced toward the dirt path beginning at the other end of the campsite, and then turned back to the children.  “Just a short distance away from here, down that path, is a cave.  Just a tunnel, really, that extends into a steep hill.  But—”  He turned toward his brother, and then Gail.  “—I believe it would be quite safe for you children to explore, if your parents give you permission.”

The children exchanged eager glances of excitement.  “Please, Mom.  Please, Daddy!  Can we go see the cave?” Joey begged.  “Right now?”

“Yes, can we?  Please?” Jennifer added.  Kevin nodded agreement as he gave their parents a pleading look, his own face eager and anxious.  Kaylee jumped twice in eager anticipation.  Megan, at three, was the only child who seemed to be more interested in playing in the dirt than in the prospect of exploring a cave.

Their parents exchanged amused glances, and Gail shook her head at her brother-in-law.  “You would have to put ideas in the children’s heads, Ryan!” she reproved.

Uncle Ryan laughed.  “It’s safe, Gail.  Quite safe,” he assured her.  “I went clear to the back of that cave while we were here, and encountered no danger.  I would not recommend anything to my nieces and nephews unless I knew it was safe.”

“I know you wouldn’t, Ryan,” Steve agreed.  “And I’m sure the cave was safe back then, but several years have since passed, and we don’t know what has changed in the meantime.  And don’t forget that some of the bears are out of hibernation.”  He returned to the minivan, where he pulled out his backpack.  Returning to the campsite, he unzipped it and removed his flashlight.  “I want to see that cave for myself before I say yes or no.  I also want to make sure there are no signs of bears on the way.”

Ryan nodded agreement.  “I’ll go with you.”  He turned to his wife and sister-in-law.  “We won’t be gone long.”  After they had slipped their backpacks on over their backs, he and Steve strode down the dirt path, soon disappearing around the corner.

Several minutes later, Steve and Uncle Ryan returned.  “It’s all right.  It’s quite safe,” Steve assured his wife, as he removed his backpack.  “Ryan and I have investigated that cave quite thoroughly, to its very end, and there’s nothing in there to endanger the children.  Nor did we come across any signs of bears on our way there or back.”

“All right.”  Gail nodded toward Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey.  “You older children can explore the cave.  Don’t be gone long, now.  We’ll need your help to set up the tents when you get back, and then we’ve still got to cook supper.”

She glanced down at the fire ring on the ground and then turned to her husband.  “I’m so glad we brought our camp stove and our barbecue grill, Steve.  A campfire’s good enough for roasting marshmallows and wieners, and singing campfire songs around, but I much prefer a camp stove or a grill to cook our meals on.  I’ll need your help getting it out of the car, honey, when the tents are set up.”

He nodded, and then turned to the older children.  “Run along."

“But I wanna go see it, too!”  Kaylee pouted.  “I wanna see that cave.”

“It’ll be all right, Gail,” Steve assured his wife.  “There’s nothing in that cave to endanger a little girl.”

Gail sighed.  “All right, but Megan’s staying here.”  She glanced down at the three-year-old, who was fully occupied with digging in the dirt, and chuckled.  “She’d rather play in the dirt anyway.  Kevin, Jennifer, look after Kaylee and Joey, will you?”

“Yes, Mom,” Kevin promised, as he crouched to make sure that his shoelaces were fastened tightly.  Steve and Uncle Ryan laid their backpacks back in their cars and began to get out the tent poles and mallets while Mrs. McCloud and Aunt Janet commenced unrolling the tarpaulins.

Kaylee peered up at her parents.  “Go with us, Mommy?” she begged.

Gail shook her head.  “It’s not far to the cave, honey, and your daddy and I aren’t going anywhere.  We’ll be right here when you return.”

“Besides, you’ll be with us, Kaylee,” Kevin added.  “You won’t be alone.”

For a moment, Kaylee looked back and forth from her parents to the dirt path, a mixture of longing and apprehension etched on her face; clearly, she was torn between her desire to see the cave and her fear of leaving her parents behind even temporarily.  However, her yearning to explore the cave soon won out.  Without a word, Kaylee picked up Lucy and snuggled the wriggling puppy against her chest.  “Kay-LEE!!  What on earth are you doing?”  Jennifer sounded both amused and exasperated.

“Lucy wants to see a cave, too!”  Kaylee glared up at her older sister, who rolled her eyes and exchanged a look with Kevin.  Shaking their heads, the adults watched in amusement as the three older children donned their backpacks and stuffed their flashlights in their jacket pockets, and as all of them hurried down the dirt path.  As the children disappeared around the bend, none of them noticed that Kaylee had left her own backpack behind in the minivan.

“Look!”  Squealing, Kaylee bent over to drop Lucy and darted toward the edge of the path, followed by the puppy.  An oval-shaped, tannish-brown pebble lay on the edge.  The little girl picked it up.  It was nearly flat, and it was about two inches in diameter.

“Look, everybody!”  Smiling broadly, she showed it to her brothers and sister.  “It’s so pretty, see?  I’m gonna keep this!”

Kevin and Jennifer laughed.  “All right, Kaylee, if Mom and Daddy don’t object, we don’t,” Jennifer said.  “Put it in your pocket and let’s go.” 

Nodding, Kaylee slipped it into her jeans pocket and picked Lucy back up.  Reaching up to his shoulder, Joey slipped his fingers underneath the right handle of his Star Wars backpack and pulled it forward, scowling at it.  “What’s the matter, Joey?” Jennifer asked him.

Joey sighed.  “I wish I had my Spiderman backpack.”  He shook his head.  “I really wanted to bring my Spiderman backpack.  But Mom wouldn’t let me, because it’s not waterproof.”  He scowled again, thrusting his lower lip out.

"Are you still on about that, little bro?" asked Kevin, rolling his eyes.  "You'd be even more ticked off if you'd brought it and it got ruined by rain.  Mom knows best, so just drop it."

With another scowl and a shrug, Joey turned loose of the handle and dropped his hands at his sides.  The children continued to follow the dirt path until, several minutes later, they came to the bottom of a steep hill that sharply rose to the left of the path.  A tunnel opened into that hill; at the far end, the children could see a bend in that tunnel curving towards the right.

“Look at this!” Joey cried out, as they paused at the entrance to the cave tunnel.  His bad mood had vanished.  “Cool!”

“Yeah!”  Kevin grinned.  “Come on, guys, let’s go see what’s around that corner up ahead!”

“Uh, hadn’t we better get out our flashlights first?” Jennifer pointed out.

“Oh, yeah.  We just need one, though.  Good thing we put them in our jacket pockets before we left!”  Kevin reached into his deep right jacket pocket and pulled out a flashlight.  He switched it on and grinned.  “OK, let’s go spelunking!”  Jennifer laughed, but Joey and Kaylee stared up at their older siblings, puzzled.

“What’s spe—spe—lunk…?”  Kaylee’s voice faded.

“Spelunking,” Jennifer said.  “To spelunk means to explore a cave.  And that’s what we’re doing, Kaylee.  We’re spelunking.”

“That’s right,” said Kevin.  “Let’s go.  Joey, Kaylee, stay close to Jennifer and me, and Kaylee, hold onto Lucy.”  The little girl nodded, and the four of them approached the bend in the tunnel.

“There won’t be much to see,” said Jennifer, as they rounded the bend.  “I don’t even see any stalactites or stalagmites.”

“Neither do I.  Not yet, anyway.  There might be some further down, near the end.”  Kevin shined his flashlight on the cave wall to his left and then on the wall to his right.  “Just as well, though, since Mom told us not to stay gone long.”

“Look, Lucy!”  Kaylee held Lucy up in front of her neck, turning the puppy to face toward the end of the tunnel, which was too dark to see without a flashlight aimed at it.  The puppy whined and wiggled, and Kaylee clasped Lucy back against her chest.  The puppy immediately commenced licking Kaylee’s neck, making her giggle.

Suddenly, just as Kevin started to aim his flashlight at the far end of the tunnel, the entire cave went pitch-black; even the flashlight seemed to go out.  In the same instant, the cave floor started shaking.  Kaylee screamed, and Jennifer grabbed hold of her.

“Stay close, you all!  Don’t move!”  Kevin’s voice shook.  Joey threw his arms around his older brother in a viselike grip, and Kevin held him and Jennifer tightly while Jennifer clutched Kaylee.

“Mommy!  Daddy!” Kaylee screamed.  “I want my mommy!!  I want my daddy!!”  She buried her face in Jennifer’s stomach and clutched Lucy tightly to her chest, whimpering; the puppy whined.  Jennifer held onto her little sister for dear life.

A moment later, the earth stopped shaking, and the thick darkness disappeared.  The four children gaped at their surroundings.  “What—what is this?”  Jennifer gasped.

“The cave’s changed!”  Joey couldn’t stop shaking.  “It’s—it’s different!”

The cave certainly did look different.  Instead of the grayish-brown walls that encircled the tunnel on all sides, including the ceiling, there was a narrow opening lining the roof that let the sunlight in.  That opening stretched as far as the children could see.  And the cave walls were much more jagged than the previous cave walls had been.

“C—come on,” Kevin stammered, his voice shaking.  “Let’s get back to the entrance pronto!”

Switching off his flashlight and shoving it back into his jacket pocket, he led the way around the bend and towards the entrance.  As it came into sight, Kevin and his siblings halted and froze in shock.  This entrance wasn’t level with the cave floor and the ground outside; it was a steep incline!  A huge boulder led upwards from the cave floor to the entrance.  And there were no trees beyond the entrance that they could see from where they were standing!

Jennifer took a deep breath and exchanged a glance with Kevin.  They must not panic; they must not frighten the children.  Please, God, don’t let me panic! she silently prayed.  Out loud, she asked, “What—what is happening, I wonder?”  To her relief, her voice remained steady.

“I—I don’t know.”  Kevin had regained control of his own voice; it did not shake that time.  He swallowed.  “Let’s climb this—this rock; I don’t know what else to call it—let’s climb it up to the entrance, and see what’s out there.”

“OK.”

Kevin turned to Kaylee.  “Give Lucy to Jen, Kaylee, and get on my back.”  Nodding, the little girl handed Lucy to Jennifer.  Kevin crouched on his knees, and Kaylee wrapped her arms around his neck.  Kevin rose to his feet.

“I want my mommy,” Kaylee whimpered.  “Where’s Mommy?  Where’s Daddy?”

Kevin reached up to pat her right arm.  “It’s going to be all right, Kaylee,” he told her soothingly.  “You’re not alone.  Mom and Dad aren’t with us, but we are in this together.”  In response, the little girl tightened her hold around his neck; when he tapped her arm, she loosened her grip slightly.  He patted her lower arm and began to climb the huge, jagged boulder, accompanied by the others at his side as they all climbed together.

As the children reached the entrance at the top of the incline, they again froze in shock.  Instead of the dense woods surrounding the level entrance into the other cave, this entrance was surrounded by what appeared to be some kind of prairie.  Huge, isolated boulders jutted out of the gently-rising hills here and there, and while evergreen trees did grow in every direction, there were not nearly enough of them to form a forest.  There was no path leading from the cave entrance that any of the children could see.

“Wh—where are we?”  Jennifer made a vain attempt to keep her voice from trembling.

Before any of her siblings could answer, a ferocious growl from somewhere nearby, outside of the tunnel entrance, startled them.  Kaylee screamed, and her brothers and sister slid back down the boulder to the bottom of the cave floor as the little girl clutched Kevin’s neck.  “Run!” Jennifer shrieked.

Still bearing Kaylee on his back, Kevin darted back in the other direction, followed by Jennifer and Joey, who ran in single file.  Lucy whined and yipped in Jennifer’s arms, but she clutched the puppy tightly to her chest.  Kaylee whimpered and trembled as she clutched her brother's neck in a tight grip; at the same time, she tried very hard not to choke him.  Sunlight poured through the tunnel roof’s wide crevice throughout the whole distance of the meandering tunnel.

At last, the children came to a narrow, very shallow waterfall that poured out of another crevice in the left wall of the now-widening cave tunnel.  “What—what was that?”  Joey’s voice shook, and he trembled.  “What was that vicious animal?!”

“Good question.”  Still holding Kaylee’s legs as she clung to his neck, Kevin peered toward the tunnel that they had just rushed through.  “A—a wolf?  A bear?  A cougar?  The way it sounded, it’s hard to tell.”

“No kidding!”  Jennifer wrapped her arms around her chest.  “At least it didn’t chase us, whatever it is, so we’re safe now.  Right now, we need to find out where we are.”

Nodding, Joey paused to drink from the waterfall in the same way that he would from a water fountain; as soon as Kevin had set Kaylee back on her feet, he and his sisters did the same.  Jennifer set Lucy on the ground at the edge of the stream, so that she could also have a drink; the delighted puppy lapped it up.

When puppy and humans had all quenched their thirst, Kaylee picked up Lucy and the children gazed around.  They had come to another bend that turned to their right.  “I believe we’re getting near the entrance.”  Kevin pointed ahead of him.

Jennifer nodded, then turned to Joey and Kaylee.  “Better be careful, you two; there’s stairs up ahead.”  She smiled wryly.  “Or I should say down ahead.”

“Stairs?”  Joey stared at the path ahead in disbelief.

“Nature-made stairs,” Kevin said, with a laugh.  “Not man-made.  God made these stairs, but He didn’t include a railing, so we’ll have to watch our step.  They lead downward, as you can see.”  He pointed forward.  “The stream from this waterfall behind us goes down these stairs, so we’ll have to be careful, so we won’t slip.”  Jennifer nodded agreement.

Slowly and carefully, the children picked their way down the stone steps, Jennifer holding on Kaylee so the little girl wouldn’t slip and fall, Kaylee clutching Lucy against her chest.  Kevin kept a hand on Joey’s shoulder.  The cave walls spread out at the entrance, and the cave floor ended at a ledge just a little way ahead of the entrance.  The stream poured over the edge of the ledge.  Once again, the children froze in shock.  “Whoa!” Joey cried out.

A steep, beautiful valley surrounded them from all sides.  Waterfalls poured down the edges of precipitous cliffs, and an extensive forest spread far ahead of them.  A huge, elegant complex of buildings appeared to jut out of the side of one of the snow-capped mountains across the valley.

-oo000oo-

A/N: *Wallowa Lake State Park is a real state park in Oregon.  However, we have taken the liberty of adding a convenient cave to the park.  No such cave exists in the real Wallowa Lake State Park.

(Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)  In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Posted with permission from the admins of SoA.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: We would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of our beta, LindaHoyland, another well-known and prolific LotR fanwriter, whose many wonderful stories also grace this site.

Chapter 1: A Whole New World   

Arwen slowly put down the shuttle.  She could not remember weaving the last several rows on her loom.  She had just had a waking dream, a vision that was most strange.  She needed to tell her father at once, even though she hated to burden him with a new worry.  But he must know immediately.  

She put down her shuttle and, rising, went forth from her room to seek out Elrond, finding him in his study with Gandalf.  She knocked, and he bade her enter.

"Ada, I must tell you of something—I had a vision.  It was more than a brief foresight."

Both Elrond and Gandalf sat up even straighter, a look of alarm on both their faces.  Arwen, like her mother and grandmother before her, had the gift of foresight, and anything that came to her at a time like this was certainly urgent.

"Please, daughter, tell me what visions trouble you."

"I saw the opening to the Hidden Pass on the other side of the valley.  Out from it came four children of the race of Men.  Two, a boy and a girl, were youths, but the other two were very young indeed.  There was a young boy and an even younger girl, no more than four or five years of age at the most; they were all dressed most strangely, and had with them a puppy.  I could not hear what they said among themselves, but it was clear that they were lost, alone, and in distress.  I also sensed that their presence here is important in some way."

Elrond stood immediately.  "Without a guide to the bridge, they will never find their way here.  Summon your brothers and Glorfindel, and ask them to bring at least two others.  I will join them, and we shall go to meet these unexpected visitors."

"Yes, Ada!  At once."  Satisfied that action would be taken, Arwen hastened away.

Gandalf rose also.  "I think I shall come along with you as well, my old friend."

-oo000oo-

“What is this place?” Jennifer asked softly.  “It’s so beautiful!”  For a long moment, she gaped at their lush surroundings.  A loud-flowing river ran through the bottom of the valley, and the pale, cool sun hung far above the far, snow-capped mountains on the other side of the valley, and shone down on the huge, lovely basin that spread below them.  At last, Jennifer exchanged a bewildered glance with her brothers and sister.

“Uh, is—is this where we say, ‘I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’?”  She snorted.  “Or Oregon, rather?”

“No kidding!”  Kevin snorted in his turn.  “Here’s where we could use a pair of ruby slippers, so we could click our heels together and say, ‘There’s no place like home’!”  Jennifer smiled in spite of herself, and choked back a laugh.

“Maybe it’s Oz!” Kaylee squealed, bouncing on her heels and clutching Lucy to her chest.  For the moment, she had forgotten her dread of not having their parents with them.

“Hardly, and a good thing, too!” said Kevin, with a laugh.  He bent over Kaylee, a teasing expression on his face.  “How’d you like to bump into the Wicked Witch of the West?” he said in a mock-sinister voice.  Wide-eyed, Kaylee shook her head rapidly.

“Well, whatever this place is, I’ve never heard of Wallowa Lake State Park having it,” Jennifer said.  

“Neither have I,” Kevin agreed.  Straightening his back, he gazed at the elegant complex of buildings jutting out of the cliff on the far side of the valley, and then scanned a thick forest ahead of them, a mixture of bewilderment and apprehension etching his youthful face.  “Right now, we need to find out where we are!  Mom and Dad are going to worry if we don’t get back to the campsite soon.  They told us not to be gone long.  We’re supposed to be helping them set up the tents.”

“Yeah,” said Joey.  “And Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet—they’re gonna be worried, too.”  Kaylee began to whimper, but Jennifer put an arm around her shoulder and hugged the little girl to her side.   

A narrow path descended from the ledge and ended at the entrance to the forest.  A steep cliff dropped down from each side of it.  Cautiously, the children stepped onto that path and minced their way down it to the ground opposite.  As they stepped off that path, they came to the edge of the dense woods that completely blocked their way to the elegant house.  They could see no path into the forest to point their way.

“Well—let’s go.”  Kevin sighed.  “There’s no way around this forest that I can see.”

“No, there’s not,” Jennifer agreed.

“If we can get to those buildings, we can ask permission to use their phone.”

“Phone!” Jennifer gasped. Reaching into her right jacket pocket, she pulled out her iPhone.  “I’ve gotta call Mom and Daddy!  If we can do that, we won’t have to use those people’s phone.”

She rose to her feet, pressed the button that turned on the dial tone, and then held the iPhone to her ear.  To her disappointment, the phone remained silent.  Making a face, she looked at her siblings.

“No signal.”  Jennifer shook her head.  “Let me see if I can text Mom and Daddy.”

Clicking on the menu button and scanning the shortcuts that appeared on the screen, she clicked on the link that took her to the text page, and then pulled up the onscreen keyboard.  Tapping the letters, she typed, M/D we r n trouble.  We r lost.  Everything shook.  cave went dark, changed.  Everything changed.  Came out n strange place.  IDK where we r.  plz come find us!  911!

She chose their parents’ cell phone numbers and then clicked on “Send,” but to her disappointment, an error message popped up on the screen.  The message could not be sent.

Sighing, Jennifer dropped the iPhone back into her backpack, zipped it back up, and slid the backpack over her back once more.  “I can’t text them, either.”  She looked at Kevin.  “OK, what we do now?”

“Try to get to those buildings, if we can find a way through these woods.”  Kevin grimaced as he peered into the thick cluster of trees ahead.  Apprehension roiled in his gut.  Would they be able to find their way through?  “Where’s a compass when you need one?” he muttered.  Out loud, he added,  “Dad gave me a copy of the park ranger’s phone number, in case we needed it; it’s in my pocket.”  He patted the side of his jeans.  “When we get to that place, whatever it is, we’ll call his office.  I’m sure the owner will let us use his phone if we ask.”

Jennifer nodded.  “Let’s hope whoever lives there’s got a car.”

“Yeah.”  Kevin looked down at Kaylee, who looked as if she was about to cry, and his voice softened.  “We’ll be back with Mom and Dad just as soon as we can, Kaylee.”  Chewing her lower lip, which curled downward, the little girl nodded.  Kevin gently squeezed her shoulder.

Jennifer nodded in her turn.  She knew that Kevin was feeling apprehensive about entering that woods; she shared that uneasiness.  They could get lost in that forest all too easily, especially since they didn’t have a map or a compass to help them find their way; in fact, they already were lost.  “Right.”  She glanced down at the children.  “Kaylee, Joey, stay close to us, and hold onto Lucy.”  Nodding, Joey and Kaylee preceded their older brother and sister into the forest, with Kaylee clasping Lucy to her chest.

-oo000oo-

Arwen watched as her father, brothers, Gandalf, and the others rode away.  Then she turned and went back into the house.  "Eledhwen!  Mairen!" she called.  "Gather my ladies; we have more unexpected guests to prepare for.”

The last few weeks had been busy ones; the arrival of so many unlooked-for guests all at once—Men, Dwarves, and Elves from Mithlond and Mirkwood, converging with the looked-for arrival of Aragorn and the hobbits, and culminating in the fateful Council that her father had hosted the day before—had given her much to do.  As her father's chatelaine, it was she who was responsible for so much of the famed hospitality of Imladris.

And now four more unexpected travellers, under such strange circumstances.  And such young travellers, at that.  She wondered what their story might be.

-oo000oo-

Meanwhile, just as Kevin and Jennifer had feared, the children found themselves lost in the woods.  Pine trees surrounded them at first, and needles and pine cones littered the ground.  As they went further into the forest, the surrounding trees changed to beech and oak.  Because there was no path, they didn’t have any idea which way to go.  They could no longer see the cluster of big elegant buildings up ahead, or the tunnel that they had left; the surrounding trees blocked them both out of the children’s sight now.  They were all frightened; they didn’t know what had happened, or where they were.

“Where are we?” Jennifer whispered into Kevin’s ear.  “I can't see those buildings anymore!”  She looked behind her; the surrounding trees blocked her view in the other direction as well.  “I can’t see my way back to the tunnel, either!”

Kevin nodded agreement, pressing his lips into a tight line.  “I can’t either, Jen, but let’s not frighten Joey and Kaylee,” he whispered back.  Jennifer nodded, and took a deep breath.  She and Kevin had to be strong for Joey and Kaylee, she knew.

“Mom and Daddy are gonna be worried,” Joey said out loud, his voice tight with fear.  “We gotta go back!”

Kevin squeezed his shoulder.  “We’ll just have to do our best to get back to the campsite as fast as we can, so they won’t worry.  But first, we gotta find those buildings.  We need help to get back, Joey.”  Silently, he prayed, Please, God, get us safely back to the campsite, fast!  In Jesus’ name, amen.

“I want my mommy,” Kaylee whimpered.  “I want my daddy.”  Jennifer squeezed her little sister’s shoulder, and Kaylee clutched Lucy to her chest, burying her face in the puppy’s soft fur.

Suddenly, a bunch of strange-looking men on horses cantered out of the trees towards them, riding single-file.  One of them had a long, greyish-white beard and mustache, a pair of bushy, greyish-white eyebrows, and dark eyes; he wore a weird-looking grey robe, a tall, pointed, bluish-grey hat, a greyish-silver scarf draped around his shoulders and underneath his beard, and immense black boots on his feet.  The rest of the men were all thin, long-haired, and beardless, and they had pointed ears.  Only the bearded man’s horse had a saddle; the rest of the men were riding bareback.

Thinking that these strange men meant to hurt them, the children huddled close together; a terrified Kaylee screamed and, clutching Lucy more tightly against her chest, burrowed her face into Jennifer’s chest and started crying.  “Please don’t hurt my puppy!” she screamed, sobbing.

The strange-looking men brought their horses to a halt, and one of them, a dark-haired man with grey eyes, dismounted and approached the children, amusement etched on his beardless face.  “Little one,” he told Kaylee, “we are not going to harm your puppy, or you, either.  You and your puppy are safe.”  Kneeling, he spent a few minutes calming Kaylee down, during which time he wiped the tears off her face and rubbed Lucy’s head.

He rose to his feet.  “Where are you children from?” he asked.

The children exchanged a glance.  “Uh, Portland,” Kevin said.

At the men’s puzzled expression, Jennifer nodded agreement.  “That’s right.  Portland.”  She stared up at them all, scanning their faces.  “Uh, aren't you guys from around here?”  She scanned the surrounding forest as she spoke, and then gazed back at the strange man who stood in front of them.

Are these people actors or something? she wondered, scanning their faces in bewilderment.  They’re sure dressed weird!  Like they’re from the Middle Ages or something.  I wonder if they’re in the SCA?

"Are you from the Barony of Three Mountains?*" Jennifer asked, tilting her head in puzzlement as she spoke.  Her friend Nicole had a cousin in the SCA.  If there was an event at the park, that might explain the strange clothing.

Now it was the strange men’s turn to exchange puzzled glances.  “I am afraid we have never heard of the place, or of this Portland either,” the man who had greeted them said.  “You can tell us more about this Portland and this Barony later.  What are your names?”

Biting his lower lip, Kevin scanned the strangers; they seemed a little weird, but right now, as lost as they were, they didn't have much choice but to trust them.  He'd definitely keep a watchful eye on them, though, in case any of them gave him reason not to trust them.  Raising his right hand in greeting, Kevin cleared his throat and took a step forward, extending his hand.  “My name’s Kevin.  Kevin McCloud.  Hi.”  He shook the man’s hand and then turned to his siblings.  “This is my brother, Joey, and my sisters, Jennifer and Kaylee.”  He gestured to each girl in turn as he introduced his sisters.  

Remembering her manners, Jennifer cleared her throat.  “Hi.  We’re, uh, we’re pleased to meet you.  All of you.  How do you do?”  Clearing her throat again, she raised her own hand in greeting.

The man nodded.  “Well met, Lady Jennifer, Lord Kevin.”

Jennifer gaped up at him, puzzled.  Lady Jennifer?!  Lord Kevin?!  She exchanged a bewildered glance with Kevin.  What kind of place is this?! she wondered.  Out loud, she said, “Our school’s out for spring break; that’s why we’re not in school today.”

Spring break?”  The man furrowed his brows in evident puzzlement, and then shrugged.  “Ah.”  The man glanced down at Lucy.  “And the puppy—does it have a name?”

“Her name’s Lucy,” Kaylee announced, hugging the wriggling puppy to her chest.  The man smiled again.

“May I hold her?” he asked Kaylee, as he knelt in front of her.  Nodding, Kaylee handed the puppy to him.  Wagging her tail, Lucy whined, yipped, and licked the man’s face as he rubbed her fur.

“This puppy has just recently been weaned,” he said, as he handed Lucy back to Kaylee.  It was not a question; he knew.  Kevin and Jennifer nodded.

“She’s just nine weeks old,” Kevin said.  “We’ve only had her a week.  She’s not housebroken yet.”

Kaylee bit her lower lip as the pain and fear returned to her eyes.  “Where’s my mommy?” she asked Elrond.  “Where’s my daddy?”

“I don’t think this man can tell us, Kaylee.”  Jennifer glanced around the dense forest surrounding them.  “Uh, where are we?” she asked.  “We’re—uh, we’re still in Oregon, right?”

Rising to his feet again, the man looked at her, puzzled.  “I do not know where this Oregon is, Lady Jennifer, but no, this is not it.  This is the valley of Rivendell.  I am Master Elrond, at your service, and this valley is my home.”

The children gaped at one another, bewildered.  “Rivendell?!” Kevin asked.  “Wallowa Lake State Park doesn’t have a valley by that name.”

Elrond’s mouth quirked upward.  “Perhaps not, but Middle-earth does.”

Frowns of bewilderment etched the children’s faces.  “Middle-earth?” Jennifer repeated.  “There’s no place on earth called Middle-earth!”  

“Indeed?”  A blank expression flitted across Elrond’s face, and then he shook his head.  “Well, children, you are indeed in Middle-earth.”

Kevin bit his lip, a worried expression in his eyes.  Well, we sure can’t call the park ranger, then!  He exchanged an apprehensive glance with Jennifer.  “Well, wherever we are, we’ve got to get back to where we come from.  Our parents and our youngest sister, and our aunt and uncle—they’re all waiting for us back at the campsite, and they’ll be worried.  We weren’t supposed to be gone long.”  His siblings exchanged apprehensive glances.  Tears welled up in Kaylee’s eyes, and she buried her face in Lucy’s fur again.  Jennifer put a comforting arm around her little sister’s shoulders.

Elrond nodded.  “Unfortunately, we cannot open a way for you to return to your world.  But we will do everything in our power to help you.  Come with us to the Last Homely House, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Joey fidgeted.  “Please, Mr. Elrond, we’ve got to get back now!  Our mom and daddy’ll be worried.”

Elrond knelt in front of Joey.  “Master Joey, the last thing any of us wants to do is to worry your parents,” he said gently.  “If it were in my power to send you back to your world, I would do it immediately.  But I cannot, so I will have to find another way to help you.  We will have to go to my house to do that.”

He looked at Kaylee, who looked as if she was going to start crying, and his voice softened further.  “Miss Kaylee, I know it is frightening to be separated from your parents like this, but we are going to take good care of you and your brothers and sister while you are here.  And we will do everything in our power to find a way to return you children to your mother and father.”  He wiped a tear that was just starting to trickle down the little girl’s soft face.

Reluctantly, the children nodded acquiescence.  “You’ll have to excuse Kaylee, Mr. Elrond,” Jennifer said, as he rose to his feet.  “It’s hard for her to be separated from Mom and Daddy, especially for long.”  She ruffled her little sister’s hair, and Elrond nodded in understanding.

“Uh, there’s just one thing, Mr. Elrond,” Kevin said.  “None of us knows how to ride.  We’ve never even been on a horse.”  He furrowed his eyebrows.  “Don’t you have a car?”

“How would he drive it, if he did?” Jennifer asked her brother.  “There are no roads in this forest, Kevin.  Not even a dirt path.  The trees are so thick, not even a jeep can get through.”

Kevin scanned the surrounding forest and shook his head.  “Nope, there’s sure not.”  Sighing, he grimaced.  “And the trees sure are thick!”

Elrond furrowed his own eyebrows in puzzlement.  “I do not know what a car is, Lady Jennifer, but we do not have one.”  He turned toward the other long-haired men.  “Glorfindel, Elladan, would you assist me in helping these children to mount?”

With inclined heads, Glorfindel and Elladan dismounted their own horses.  “I will have to hold your puppy when it is your turn to mount, Miss Kaylee,” Elrond told the little girl.

He assisted Jennifer in mounting behind one of the strange men, and Glorfindel helped Kevin to mount Elrond’s own horse.  Elrond helped Joey to remove his bulging backpack and then lifted up the little boy toward the old bearded man, who pulled him up in front of him on his horse and took Joey’s backpack, sliding it up toward his own shoulder.

After Glorfindel had remounted his horse, Elrond took Lucy from Kaylee and handed the puppy to Glorfindel, who held her as he re-mounted his horse.  Elrond then lifted Kaylee to another of the strange men, after which he mounted his own horse in front of Kevin, who wrapped his arms around Elrond’s chest.

As they rode off, single file, Gandalf sat with Joey in front of him, one arm around the child’s waist, Joey’s backpack dangling from Gandalf’s shoulder; the child was gazing about with wide-eyed astonishment at the surrounding dense forest.  He noted the boy's—Joey, he recalled—fascination with the Elves.  He was surprised at the child's silence, but perhaps that could be attributed to the sudden change in his circumstances.  Gandalf gazed about at Joey's siblings, who were also quiet but observant.  The youngest girl kept looking down fearfully, and she was sucking her thumb.  Of course, these children had said that they had never ridden horses before, and it was already evident that the little girl, in particular, was afraid to be separated from her parents.

Joey fidgeted a bit.  "Umm…sir?"

"Yes, lad?"

"What’s your name?  I can't remember it."

"You may call me Gandalf, Joey."

"Mr. Gandalf, what’s that roaring noise I keep hearing?  It sounds like loud traffic or maybe an airplane, but we’re out in the middle of nowhere."

Gandalf was unsure what the child meant by "traffic" and "airplane", but he knew what the noise was.  "Those are waterfalls, Joey."

Just then, they came out of the forest, and Joey could see the cluster of buildings once more, as well as the waterfalls that surrounded the valley.  "Wow!" he said.  “Cool!”  He exchanged an excited glance with his siblings.  Forgetting her fright, Kaylee bounced once on the saddle, but the beardless, long-haired man behind her tightened his hold on the little girl, thus restraining her from bouncing again.

“This is the Last Homely House east of the Sea,” Gandalf told Joey.

“These buildings are all one house?”  Joey’s mouth dropped open.

“They certainly are,” Elrond answered.

Jennifer furrowed her eyebrows, puzzled.  “Uh, if this is the Last Homely House, where’s the first?”

Elrond and Gandalf exchanged amused expressions.  “This is the Last Homely House and the First, Lady Jennifer,” Elrond said.  “It all depends on from which direction one approaches.  It is the Last Homely House east of the Sea, and the First Homely House west of the Misty Mountains.”  The children exchanged bewildered glances.

“Weird,” muttered Joey.

“The sea can’t be the Pacific Ocean,” Jennifer said, “not if we’re no longer in Oregon or anywhere else in the United States.  But it can’t be the Atlantic Ocean, either—that’d mean we were in Europe or Africa.  I know we’re not in any of the eastern states—we’d be west of the Atlantic if we were.”  She shrugged, exchanging a bewildered glance with Kevin.

“Don’t look at me,” Kevin said.  “I don’t know which ocean they’re talking about, either.”  He paused.  “The Mediterranean Sea, perhaps?”

“I don’t know.  Good question.”  Furrowing her eyebrows, Jennifer chewed her lower lip.  “Somehow, I don’t think so.  Anyway, that’s in Europe, and I don’t see how we could have ended up in Europe.”  She paused, furrowing her eyebrows.  “Not like this.  And Europe has the Swiss Alps and Asia has the Himalayas, but I’ve never heard of either of them having any Misty Mountains.”

Kevin nodded.  “Me, neither.  And America sure doesn’t!”

Elrond and Gandalf said nothing aloud, but exchanged a worried look; it was clear that wherever these young ones were from, neither wizard nor Elven Lore-master had heard of any of them.  It made the prospects of locating their parents seem less likely.

They rode down a wide pathway towards the Last Homely House, and Gandalf noticed that Arwen had gathered several of the staff with her to await their return.  As they crossed the bridge and drew close enough to see the Elves more clearly, Joey's jaw dropped.  "Whoa!  She's beautiful!"

Gandalf chuckled.  Even this youngster was not proof against the Evenstar's ethereal beauty.  He recalled Pippin's first sight of the Lady of Rivendell.  His jaw had dropped in just the same way.  Patting Joey's shoulder lightly, he said softly, "She is, indeed, my lad."

The horses halted in front of the terrace.  After dismounting, Elrond helped the children to do the same, one at a time, and then he handed Joey his backpack.  Joey stared at Gandalf’s outfit for a long moment, as he thrust his arms through his backpack’s handles, one arm at a time.  When his backpack was dangling from his back again, he asked, “Mr. Gandalf, why are you dressed like a wizard?”

Gandalf chuckled.  “I am dressed like a wizard, my lad, because I am a wizard.”

“What?”  Joey’s jaw dropped.  “No way!”

“Yeah, wizards don’t really exist!” Jennifer blurted out.

Elrond’s mouth quirked upward, and he and Gandalf exchanged amused glances.  The other long-haired men and Arwen all chuckled.  “They do here, Lady Jennifer, Master Joey,” Master Elrond told the two.  Joey gaped up at him in astonishment, and Kevin and Jennifer stared at each other in shock.

Smiling broadly, Kaylee bounced on her heels in excitement.  “Like in King Arthur?” she squealed.

Elrond chuckled again.  “I have never heard of King Arthur, Miss Kaylee, but yes, they do exist here.”

He turned to the other long-haired men and began speaking.  "Prepare refreshments for our new guests, once they have had a chance to see their rooms.  You will need to find some suitable food for their puppy.  She has only recently been weaned."  Turning to the children, he added, “My Elves will prepare you some food.”

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged stunned glances.  Elves?  There was no such thing; elves, like wizards, were just imaginary fairy-tale creatures!  Joey shook his head in bewilderment; he had learned the truth about Santa Claus and his elves a year earlier, and he did not know what to make of this.

Kaylee, on the other hand, got excited again; she was still a wide-eyed believer.  “Santa Claus?” she squealed again, as she jumped up and down.

“Hardly!” said Kevin, with a laugh.  “Take a good look around you, Kaylee!  This isn’t the North Pole.”

Elrond’s brows creased again, that time in puzzlement.  Guessing the meaning behind that look, Jennifer mouthed, ‘Tell you later.’  Elrond nodded in understanding and turned to Arwen, who had just joined them with a few other ladies.

"Children, this is my daughter, Arwen Undómiel.  She is the lady of the Last Homely House, and she will be helping you while you are here.”  He turned back to his daughter.

“Muin nín,” he told Arwen, “this is young Kevin McCloud, his sisters, Jennifer and Kaylee, and his younger brother, Joey.”  Elrond gestured to each child as he introduced them.  “And their dog, Lucy, nine weeks old and only weaned a few weeks ago.”  He nodded toward the puppy as Kaylee picked her up.  “You may show these children to their chambers.”

With a nod, Arwen, along with two other ladies of her household, led the children up the stairs to the wide terraced porch and into the house.  "These ladies are my friends, Eledhwen and Mairen,” Arwen told the children.  “They will be attending to your needs while you are here."  The children looked up shyly.  Kevin blushed furiously.  He'd never seen such beautiful ladies in his life!  Arwen smiled, amused.  She did not tell the children that Eledhwen had been nursemaid to her brothers and herself, or that Mairen had been nursemaid to Estel when he was young.

They passed through the wide corridors to the rooms Arwen had prepared for the children.  Her foresight had helped her to know what their ages and genders were, beforehand.  As they turned into another corridor, Arwen paused and threw open a door.  "This is the nearest bathing room."  The children peeked in to see what looked like a steaming swimming pool!  There were shelves loaded with white cloths, presumably towels and washcloths.  On another shelf were elegant bottles of glass in all the colors of the rainbow, as well as a basket heaped with bars of white soap.  The whole room smelled of herbs.  Jennifer's face lit up, and she almost took an involuntary step into the room, before she blushed and stepped back.

Arwen gave her a smile and put an arm around her shoulders.  "You shall get a chance to soak to your heart's content later, Lady Jennifer."  Jennifer smiled back.

They passed two more doors, and then Arwen opened a door on the left.  "This shall be your room, Lord Kevin."  They looked in to see a huge room with wide windows.  It was airy and light.  The large bed was carved with branches and leaves.  There was a small table and two chairs, a washstand, and a clothes chest.  However, there were no overhead light bulbs or light switches on the walls, Kevin noticed, nor could he see any electrical plug-ins on the walls.  Instead, there were candles set in sconces and in a gleaming silver candelabrum.  He slipped his backpack off of his back and laid it on the table.  He shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over the back of a chair.

"Your sisters and brother will be nearby, across the hall," Arwen told him, as she opened the door on the right.  That room was much larger.  It contained two beds, smaller than the one in Kevin's room.  In addition to a clothes chest and washstand, there was a set of shelves along one wall on which could be seen some stuffed toys and some other toys that were carved out of wood, a few books with leather covers, and a ball made of leather that was just a bit larger than a softball.  An adult-sized rocking chair stood next to a small fireplace, and a low table surrounded by four child-size chairs stood not far from the window.  The large window seat had pillows on it.  Like Kevin’s new guest room, it had no light bulbs, light switches, or plug-ins—only candles.

“You may as well take off your backpacks and leave them in here,” Jennifer told Joey and Kaylee.  “Your jackets, too.  We’re not going to need them here.  Not right now, anyway.”

“No, we’re not,” Kevin agreed.

Joey removed his backpack and dropped it on the floor, and then he pulled off his jacket and tossed it onto the bed.  Exasperation showed in Jennifer’s face as she stared down at Kaylee, whose own back was covered only by her jacket and her pullover long-sleeved shirt.  “Oh, Kaylee!  You forgot your backpack and left it back at the campsite, didn’t you?”  Biting her lower lip, Kaylee nodded.  Jennifer sighed and shook her head.

“Backpack?”  Arwen gazed at Jennifer quizzically.  The young girl sighed.

“Yes, ma’am, we’re supposed to take our backpacks with us whenever we leave the campsite.  Mom and Daddy’s orders.”  Jennifer pointed down at Joey’s backpack.  “Kevin and Joey and I took our backpacks, but Kaylee forgot hers.”  She shook her head at her little sister.  To Kaylee, she ordered, “Take off your jacket.”

Looking unhappy, Kaylee handed Lucy to Kevin, and then she pulled off her jacket and tossed it on the floor.  “Put it on the bed, Kaylee,” Jennifer ordered; silently, Kaylee did as she was told, pouting.

That done, the little girl took the squirming puppy back from her oldest brother and clasped Lucy to her chest.  “When are we going back to Mommy and Daddy?” she asked, as she buried her face in the puppy’s fur.  Arwen knelt before her and laid a hand on Kaylee’s shoulder.

“I cannot answer that question, Miss Kaylee.  But I promise you this: until we are able to figure out a way to return you to your parents, we will take good care of you children,” Arwen promised, and then rose to her feet.

In the wall to the left of the door through which they had entered was another door.  Arwen pointed to that door.  "Lady Jennifer, this is your room."

Jennifer went to open the door.  The guest bedroom to which she had been assigned was very similar to the one in which Kevin was staying, although the bed was somewhat smaller and not quite as fancy.  It had two doors—the one that opened from her little brother and sister's room, and another that seemed to open into the hallway. 

Arwen looked over the rooms fondly.  This had been her brothers' nursery, and then, years later, it had been hers.  Throughout the Third Age, a few other children had been guests there.  Estel had not grown up in the room; as a child, he had stayed with his mother in her chambers, but he had often been allowed to play in it.  The room now allotted to Jennifer had been where the nursemaid had once slept.

Jennifer slipped off her backpack and laid it on the bed, and then she removed her jacket and draped it over the back of a chair.  Removing her iPhone from her jacket pocket, she unzipped her backpack and dropped her iPhone inside, and then she zipped her backpack shut.  As she scanned the room, she noticed that, like the other rooms, it also lacked light bulbs, light switches, and electrical plug-ins.  Instead, it had candles.

They must not use electricity here, she thought.  This is just like back in the old days!  Back when people used lanterns and candles and kerosene lamps for light.  Bet they don’t have TVs or telephones or cars here, either.  Or computers!  She bit her lower lip.  Without computers, there’s sure no Wi-Fi here!  Kevin and I won’t be able to get the Internet here on my iPhone, or on his tablet.  I won’t be able to call or text or email anybody, not in Middle-earth.

"There is one more room you children need to know about," said Arwen.  She stepped out of the younger children's room and indicated a door to the other side of Kevin's room.  Mairen opened the door, and they saw that there was a small bench with a hole in it.  There was a little shelf by the door, and high above the bench was a small open window.  On the bench next to the hole was a basket of clean rags, and on the other side was a bucket with a lid.  Next to the door was a sink carved of stone, with a pump.  The room smelled fresh, in spite of its obvious purpose.  "This is the water closet for this wing of the Last Homely House, children."

“Water closet?” Joey repeated, bewildered.

Kevin gazed into the room.  “Bathroom,” he told Joey.  “They must call it by a different name here, since it’s got no bathtub.  This is where you go to use the bathroom and wash your hands—we’ll be taking our baths in that other room.”

“Brush our teeth, too?” Joey asked.

Kevin shrugged.  “In here, you mean?  I suppose so.  Good thing our toothbrushes and toothpaste and hairbrushes and combs and deodorant are in our backpacks!”

Arwen overheard this exchange, and shook her head.  "You would use the basin and ewer on the washstand in your rooms for that.  The servants see to it that clean fresh water is replaced throughout the day."  Kevin and Jennifer nodded.

“Kaylee and I will have to share my toothbrush, since hers is back at the campsite,” Jennifer said.  “Thank goodness there are toilets and bathtubs here!”

Kaylee tugged on Jennifer's hand with one hand, while clutching Lucy to her chest with the other.  Jennifer bent over.  "Is that the potty, Jen?" Kaylee whispered.  

Jennifer nodded.  Kaylee scanned the water closet, looking for toilet paper; finding none, she turned to Arwen.

"Umm…Miss Un—dó—miel…”  She pronounced the unfamiliar name slowly.

“Arwen,” the lady Elf corrected.

Jennifer glanced down at her little sister.  “I’m sorry; it’s just that since we’re just kids, we were taught to address grown-ups by their last names,” she explained.  “Mr. So-and-so, Miss So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so, and so on.”

Arwen smiled.  It appeared that where they came from, they used the forms of address common in Bree and the Shire.  “Well, Undómiel is not my last name, Lady Jennifer.  Elves do not have family names.  So Lady Arwen is the correct way to address me, because with my mother gone, I am the Lady of Rivendell.”

The children exchanged glances, and Kevin and Jennifer nodded.  “Yes, Lady Arwen,” Kevin said.

Kaylee cleared her throat and tried again.  “Lady Arwen?" she asked.  "Where's the toilet paper?"

Jennifer and Kevin and Joey all blushed, and Kevin looked down at Kaylee.  "Hush, we'll explain later, Kaylee!" he said.

But Arwen and the other Elven ladies looked curious.  "What is 'toilet paper'?" Arwen asked.

Arwen shook her head in amusement after a blushing Jennifer had answered her question.  She explained to Kaylee what the rags in the basket and the bucket were for.  She could tell that the little one was somewhat disgusted, but was too polite to do more than make a face.  She could hear young Joey mutter "Gross!" under his breath, too faintly for any but Elven ears to hear. 

While the word was oddly used, the child's tone of voice made his meaning clear.

Arwen hid her amusement.  Over the course of an Age, she had learned that different customs in different places resulted in different reactions.  Personally, she thought that using paper so wastefully was not a good custom, but she would never allow herself to show it.  They were only children, and she could clearly remember her own reaction when she had been very small on her first visit to Lothlórien, and had discovered the sanitary arrangements in the flets.

"Now, children, you have found your own places here; wash your hands, and I will take you down to the dining hall, for I am sure you are all hungry."  Arwen turned to Kaylee.  “I will have to ask you to leave Lucy here, Miss Kaylee.  Eledhwen, would you take the puppy down to the kitchen and see that she is fed?”

“Yes, Lady Arwen,” the elf nursemaid said.  Reluctantly, Kaylee handed a squirming Lucy to the elf nursemaid.  As Eledhwen held Lucy to her breast, the puppy immediately began to lick the elf’s neck. Laughing lightly, Eledhwen left the room with Lucy.

“Is it almost suppertime, then?” Jennifer asked.

Arwen shook her head.  “No, Lady Jennifer, it is still morning here.  We will be having elevenses soon.  Is it afternoon where you come from?”

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged a puzzled glance.  “Uh, yes, ma’am,” Kevin said.  “It was past 4:30 p.m. when we left the campsite.  Supper was gonna be cooked as soon as the tents were all set up.  We were supposed to help our parents and our aunt and uncle set them up after we had explored the cave.”  He shook his head.  “How can it be morning here and afternoon where we come from?”

Arwen laughed.  “Apparently, you are from another world, Lord Kevin.”

“No kidding!” Jennifer muttered.  

“I wish Mommy and Daddy were here,” Kaylee complained.

Kevin picked her up.  “We all wish that, Kaylee,” he said softly.  “But since they’re not, we’ll just have to make the best of it while we’re here, and be very brave.”  He hugged her.  “Come on, we’d better go wash our hands.”  He carried Kaylee out of the room, followed by the others.

-oo000oo-

A/N: *The SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism, a real international organization for those interested in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  During events, members dress in period clothing and have mock tournaments and battles, and practice period arts and sciences.  The Barony of Three Mountains is the actual name of the Portland chapter.  However, any connection between it and this story are strictly coincidental.


Summary(Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)  In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Posted with permission from the admins of SoA.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: We would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of our beta, Linda Hoyland, another well-known and prolific LotR fanwriter, whose many wonderful stories also grace this site.

Chapter 2: Be Our Guest

“Come on, Merry!” Pippin urged impatiently.  “Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam said they’d meet us for elevenses!”

Merry took his time as he finished brushing his foot hair and shrugging on his jacket, just because he knew it would annoy Pippin.  “I’ll be ready in a moment.  It would not hurt you to take a little more time with your own appearance, cousin,” he said, hiding a grin.

Pippin fidgeted silently, surreptitiously putting a hand up to smooth the tousled curls atop his head when Merry stopped to tiptoe up and glance in the mirror above the washstand.  He yanked it down quickly when Merry turned around.  He reached up and turned the doorknob, and then both of them used their combined weight to shove it open.  Elven doors were heavy.

The two shoved it closed and headed down the corridor.  They’d not gone a dozen steps before they saw the Lady Arwen and one of her handmaidens coming from a side passage with four children in tow.  The young ones were oddly dressed; one boy and one girl appeared to be youths younger than Pippin himself by a year or three if they’d been hobbits, and another boy and girl seemed quite young.  Pippin wasn’t sure of their ages, as he knew Men grew up at a different rate than hobbits.

He and Merry sped up their pace to catch up with the group.  They soon fell into step with them.

“Hullo!” said Merry cheerfully.  “We’ve not seen you here in Rivendell before.”

The whole group stopped.  “Good day, Meriadoc and Peregrin!  We do indeed have new guests.”  Arwen introduced each of the McCloud children in turn.

Merry bowed politely.  “Meriadoc Brandybuck, at your service.  But you may call me Merry,” he said.

Pippin, blushing as he usually did in Arwen’s presence, also bowed politely.  “Peregrin Took, also at your service.”  He bowed again.  “But most people call me Pippin, or even Pip.”

“We were heading down to the dining hall to meet Frodo, Sam, and Bilbo for elevenses,” Merry said to Arwen.

“And we were going to the same place, to see our newly arrived guests refreshed from their journey,” replied Arwen. She introduced each of the McCloud children by name.

Pippin noticed that the children were gaping wide-eyed at their size and at their hairy, bare feet and then at their pointed ears with curiosity and exchanging puzzled glances, though none of them said anything.  He also saw the older girl give a start when Merry mentioned Bilbo, though how newcomers to Rivendell could know Bilbo’s name was beyond him.  “Uh, hi,” she told the hobbits, and cleared her throat.  “Pleased to meet you.  How do you do?”  She gave them an awkward smile.  Kevin raised a hand in greeting, and then extended it to shake their hands.

As they made their way down, Lady Arwen explained that Merry and Pippin and their kin who awaited them were called “hobbits” and were not some smaller variety of Elf.  Jennifer gave Arwen a bewildered look, but said nothing; she and Kevin exchanged a puzzled glance, and then she shook her head violently in an attempt to clear her head.  “What’s a hobbit?” Kaylee asked.

“Not now, Kaylee.  Later,” Jennifer told her little sister.  “We’ll ask them later.  Right now, it’s time to eat.”

The group entered the dining hall, where they saw the other three hobbits awaiting them.  There was a large spread of food upon the table: various breads, cheeses, cold cuts of sliced meats, a large bowl of fruit, and a platter of sweet biscuits, tarts, and small fruitcakes.  A teapot and teacups were in front of Bilbo.  Frodo and Sam sat across the table from the older hobbit, but they jumped to their feet when the others entered.  Bilbo remained seated; his old bones were not so spry as they used to be.  The table was surrounded by benches for the diners to sit upon, rather than chairs.  The three hobbits had been sitting on piles of cushions that enabled them to sit high enough to reach their food, and there were three more such piles on the benches: two on the bench that Frodo and Sam were using, and a third on the other bench where Bilbo was seated.  The cushions that Frodo and Sam were sitting on scattered as they rose to their feet, and some of them landed on the floor.  Arwen picked them up and gathered them together to form neat piles once more.

“Two of the piles of cushions are for Merry and Pippin, who will probably want to sit with Frodo and Sam,” she told the children, as soon as she had repositioned Frodo and Sam’s cushions.  “The hobbits cannot reach the food otherwise.  The third is for Miss Kaylee.”

While Mairen took her seat near the children, Arwen went to the kitchen to request more plates, and perhaps more food.  She was unsure how much the children would eat, but she knew how much hobbits would, every time they sat down to a meal.  And if any of the children were in a growth spurt, they might eat just as much as the hobbits did!  She also wanted to make sure that Lucy was being fed.

Merry took the lead and began to introduce the children to the other hobbits.  “Cousin Bilbo,” he said, “may I present Master Kevin McCloud, his sister, Lady Jennifer McCloud, his brother, Master Joey, and his younger sister, Miss Kaylee?"

Bilbo gave a gracious nod.  “Bilbo Baggins at your service and your family’s,” he responded politely.  He indicated Frodo and Sam.  “This is my cousin and heir, Frodo Baggins, and our friend, Samwise Gamgee.”

Frodo and Sam gave polite bows.  “At your service,” both of them said in unison.

Jennifer looked rather gobsmacked, but managed to remember her manners.  “Uh, hi.  I’m pleased to meet you all.  We all are.  How do you do?”  She gestured toward her siblings, who nodded, and then for the second time, she shook her head violently, as if attempting to clear it. Now she understood why some things seemed vaguely familiar.  “Oh, my gosh!  No way!” she gasped.  “Nicole will never believe this!”

An astonished Jennifer sank down on the bench next to the third empty pile of cushions close to Bilbo, shaking her head in stunned amazement.

Kevin put a hand on her shoulder.  “What’s wrong, Jen?” he asked.

“Kevin, you know those Ring movies?  You know—The Lord of the Rings?  We’ve seen bits and pieces of them on cable sometimes?”  Kevin nodded.  “And Nicole’s been nagging at me to read one of her favourite novels.  It’s called The Hobbit.  And the main character is named Bilbo Baggins.  There’s going to be movies about it, too.  She wants me to read the book before the first one comes out this year!”

“Holy cow!”  Kevin slapped his face.  “I remember there was a character named Frodo in those Ring movies, and he looked an awful lot like this one here.”  He looked at Frodo as he spoke.  “I always meant to watch those movies whenever they were on TV, but they were so long, and I was too young when they first came out anyway…”

“Excuse me, Master Kevin,” Bilbo interrupted.  “I think you had better tell us what you mean.  Why do you call Frodo and myself ‘characters’?”

“And begging your pardon,” asked Sam, “but what is a ‘movie’?”

Kevin helped Kaylee to take her seat on the pile of cushions that one of the elves had stacked on the bench for her, and then he and Joey sat down at the table with their sisters.  Merry and Pippin had gone over to the other side, so the children sat by Bilbo.  Jennifer and Kaylee sat on his left, and Kevin and Joey sat to his right.  Climbing onto their own cushions, Merry and Pippin sat across the table from them next to Frodo and Sam.

“Jennifer, you seem to remember more than me,” said Kevin.  “See if you can explain it.”

She blushed, but bravely made the effort.  “Well, uh, in the place where we come from, there’s a famous book called The Hobbit, and another one called The Lord of the Rings.  A man named J.R.R. Tolkien wrote them.  They’re make-believe stories.”  Jennifer paused.  “I’ve—we’ve never read them yet; none of us have.”  She gestured toward her brothers and sister again.  “Neither have our parents, I don’t think.  And we’ve only seen bits and pieces of the movies.  But my best friend, Nicole, she’s read and watched them.  She told me that The Hobbit is about this small person named Bilbo Baggins who was very brave, and went on an amazing adventure with a wizard and some dwarfs…”

“Dwarves!” chorused the hobbits.

Jennifer looked abashed, but gamely continued, “Dwarves, then; we call them dwarfs where we come from.  Anyway, she said the other book was about a hobbit who was related to Bilbo, named Frodo.  But she wouldn’t tell me anymore, because she didn’t want to spoil any of it for me.  So, I don’t really know much about either of the books.”

Frodo glanced at Kevin.  “You said something about a ‘movie’ and seeing part of it.”

“Umm…”  Kevin floundered a bit, trying to think of an explanation.  “A movie is a way of telling a story with pictures that move.  Actors take part in movies; they portray the characters in them.  They’re like plays, except they’re filmed with movie cameras, and then they’re shown on screens.”  He tried to explain a little more about what movies were, but stopped when he realized he was just confusing his listeners.  He added, “Well, anyway, we’ve never really watched the Lord of the Rings movies, not all the way through.  Just parts of scenes here and there.”

Jennifer nodded.  “We’ve never read the books yet, either.  I really don’t know a lot about them.  I know that Bilbo Baggins had something to do with dwarfs and dragons.  And the other book, with Frodo in it, had something about a ring.”

Kevin nodded. “I do remember once, when I was channel-surfing, seeing a scene with a bunch of the characters walking up a mountain, and one with a bunch of big, ugly, scary guys in black robes on black horses.  And another scene with a funny creature of some kind, who talked weird and kept hissing.  And maybe a couple of battle scenes.  But that’s about all I recall.  What the plot is—what the movies are about—I don’t know.”  He paused.  “But then, I don’t know what the books are about, either.”  He shrugged.

“Pictures that move?” said Pippin doubtfully.

“It’s possible,” said Merry.  “Uncle Merimac had a book he got from a merchant in Bree.  Every page had a picture that was slightly different than the ones before and after; if you flipped the pages very quickly, the pictures seemed to move.  His small book just showed a running horse.  I think it would be very complicated to show a story that way, but it could be done, I suppose.”

Kevin nodded.  “Where we come from, the way it’s done, it can be.  It’s a lot more complicated than flipping through pages in a book, though.”

I’ve seen lots of movies!” Kaylee interrupted, bouncing on her seat and smiling broadly.  “My very favorite is The Wizard of Oz, but I love lots of Disney movies, too!”

Kevin smiled.  “Yeah, she does.  Jennifer, here, has some movies and a portable DVD player in her backpack.  We were gonna watch them at the campsite this week.”

“Yeah.”  Jennifer grinned.  “I also have my own iPhone and a digital camera.  We both have our own MP3 players, which we brought with us, and at home, we also have our own CD players and CDs, Kevin and me; you can play music on them.  And Kevin has his own tablet.”  She paused.  “My iPhone and his tablet have some movies stored on them that we might also want to see while we’re on…uh…”  She broke off, as it occurred to her that the hobbits might not know what spring break was.  Who knew if Middle-earth had schools?  Did people here even know how to read?  Jennifer noticed that everyone else was looking very confused.  Clearly no one had understood anything they were talking about.  But then, she really didn’t feel like explaining everything just yet; she was too hungry.  At that moment, her stomach rumbled.

“Can we watch a movie after lunch?” Joey asked.

“We’ll see,” Jennifer told him.  “We’ll talk about that later.  There may not be time today.”

“And besides, we’re gonna have to save our batteries while we’re here,” Kevin added.  He smiled at Joey.  “There’s no Wal-Mart here to buy new batteries at, Joey, and no way to recharge our batteries or plug in our DVD players here.  There’s no electricity, not here.”  Joey shrugged.

But Frodo’s mind was still back on what Jennifer had said about the books.  It was very disturbing, and he could tell by the look on Uncle Bilbo’s face that he felt the same.  “But how would someone from another place know so much about us?” asked Frodo.  “Could it have been a wizard or an Elf with foresight who might write such a thing?  How else would this man—this Jayarar Tolkien, you called him—know about us, and about Bilbo’s adventure?”

Jennifer laughed.  “He wasn’t an elf or a wizard.  He was just an ordinary man.  A human being like us.  All I know is that he made it all up out of his head and wrote it all down as a book.  And then it was published and became a bestseller.  Both books did.”  She glanced at her brothers and sister.  “Hobbits don’t exist where we come from; he made them up.”  She glanced at Kevin and shook her head violently.  “I don’t see how this can be real.”

“Me, neither,” Kevin agreed.  Exchanging a glance with Jennifer, he grimaced.  “I feel as if we’ve stepped into The Twilight Zone!”

With a snort, Jennifer nodded.  “No kidding!”  She shook her head.  “I mean, how on earth did we wind up in a fairy-tale country?  They don’t even exist!”

Arwen had returned in time to hear the latter part of the conversation.  Her keen Elven ears had begun to understand the conversation while she was still a considerable distance from the dining room.  These were matters best left to her father and Mithrandir.  Exchanging a glance with Mairen, she interrupted, “So much talk when there is food on the table?”  With a gesture from her, the serving Elves placed extra plates and platters of food upon the table and gave each of the children a goblet of fresh cold water.  “Lucy is being fed in the kitchen,” she told the children, who smiled broadly.

“Thank you,” Jennifer said gratefully.

“Who’s Lucy?” Merry asked.

“Lucy’s our puppy,” Kaylee said.

“Nine weeks old,” Kevin added.  “She’s a Cocker spaniel.”   

Arwen sat down herself on the other side of Sam, and asked Bilbo, “Would you like me to pour the tea, Bilbo?”

He smiled.  “Of course, my dear!”  He carefully pushed the teapot and the cups her way.

Frowning, Jennifer turned to Kevin.  “Uh, Kevin, before we eat, hadn’t we better say Grace?” she asked her older brother.

Kevin nodded.  “Yeah, we had better.  We know Mom and Dad would want us to.”

As soon as he and Joey, and Jennifer and Kaylee, had taken one another’s hands and bowed their heads, Jennifer looked down at Kaylee.  “You can say the blessing, Kaylee.”

Nodding, Kaylee closed her eyes and looked down.  In a singsong childish voice, she chanted:

“Thank You for the world so sweet.

Thank You for the food we eat.

Thank You for the birds that sing.

Thank You, God, for everything.”

Letting go of her little sister’s hand, Jennifer smiled at Kaylee and helped her to position her cloth napkin around her neck, tying it behind her neck like a bib.  Scanning the open mouths of their companions, she explained, “It’s a custom where we come from, thanking God for the food before we eat.  Not everyone follows it, but some people do.  Our family does.”  Kevin nodded agreement.  Looking at the food, Jennifer added, “Uh, speaking of customs, what is the custom here for getting your food?  Do we wait for someone to serve us, or do we serve ourselves?”

“You may serve yourselves at elevenses,” Arwen told her.  “For some of our daily meals, we have different customs.”  Jennifer nodded.

Skilfully, Arwen directed the conversation away from the hobbits’ past and future stories and got the children to ask them questions about life in the Shire.  Soon all were chattering away in a friendly manner, though Arwen, Bilbo, and Frodo were careful to keep any mention of Rings and Quests out of the conversation.  But she knew from the looks that both of the Baggins cousins kept giving her that there would be questions later.  And of course, she needed to tell her father and Mithrandir about these far-flung tales from another land and time.  A shame that the children did not know more, but she had no doubt that the Grey Pilgrim would have as much as he could get from them.

Arwen looked at Kaylee.  The little girl appeared to have completely forgotten her dread of being separated from her parents, at least for the time being.

“Can I have a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich?” Kaylee begged, looking from Jennifer to Kevin.  “And some Kool-Aid?  Please?”

Jennifer exchanged an amused glance with Kevin.  “I don’t think they have peanut butter or Kool-Aid here, Kaylee,” she said.  “We’re probably gonna have to wait till we’re back home before we can have those again.  We’ll just have to eat and drink whatever this place has.”  Kaylee pouted, and Jennifer and Kevin laughed.  The hobbits and Arwen exchanged amused glances.

Kevin pointed to one of the platters the Elves had placed on the table.  “Look, Kaylee!  Those look kind of good.”  He picked up a roll that seemed to have cinnamon on it and put it on his little sister’s plate.

She sniffed.  “It does kind of smell good…”  She picked off a little bit and took a hesitant bite.  Her eyes widened.  “It is good!”

Joey, on the other hand, had needed no coaxing; he had already filled his plate with some of the rolls, as well as a few other things on the table, mostly baked goods of one sort or another.  He crammed his mouth with part of a roll.  “Ish ish eellee good…”

Jennifer gave him a look.  “Don’t talk with your mouth full!”

Merry and Frodo looked at Pippin and laughed aloud.

“What?” said Pippin crossly, glaring at his cousins.

“Oh, that just reminded us of someone else when he was that age,” said Merry airily, as he, too, helped himself to more food.

Bilbo raised his eyebrow.  “It reminds me of several young hobbits of my acquaintance, and not just Pippin.”

There was general laughter around the table, and the meal continued merrily.

But Arwen still was thinking about what she had overheard, and when Frodo met her eyes, she could tell that he was, as well.  She was going to have to speak with her father and Mithrandir when elevenses was over, but first, she needed to see the children back to their quarters.  She picked up her roll and took a bite.

(Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)  In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Posted with permission from the admins of SoA.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: We would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of our beta, LindaHoyland, another well-known and prolific LotR fanwriter, whose many wonderful stories also grace this site.

Chapter 3: Make Me Look Good

After elevenses, Arwen escorted the children back to their quarters, where they found Eledhwen laying out some clothing on Joey and Kaylee’s beds.

"Whatcha doing?" squealed Kaylee in delight, rushing over to the bed they had given to her.  "This is so beautiful!"  She ran her hand over the dress’s soft, smooth fabric of pale pink, embroidered with patterns of red roses.  The dress was longer than any she had at home, and the sleeves were wide and bell-shaped.  A pair of medieval-looking shoes, a pair of hand-knit stockings, a shift, and a snow-white nightgown and a robe lay near the foot of her guest bed.  

Eledhwen smiled.  "I am laying out your evening clothing, Miss Kaylee.  You would not wish to go to the evening feast in the clothing you have worn all day."  She glanced at Jennifer, Joey, and Kevin in turn.  “I have also laid out your sleeping garments.”

"Oh!" said Jennifer.  It had not occurred to her they would need to dress up for dinner!  They would, however, need pajamas when it was bedtime, of course, or whatever people slept in here.  

“What’s that?”  Kaylee touched the shift.

Jennifer looked at it.  “That’s a shift,” she said.  “That’s something girls used to wear under their dresses back in the old days.  It’s like the slips we girls wear under our dresses in our day and age, in our world.”

She glanced through the door to the other small room to see on her own bed a lovely dress of rich blue, in a very similar style, though it had silver embroidery around the neckline and hem.  Instead of buttons or a zipper, the dress had laces for fasteners; Jennifer wondered if she would even be able to manage them.  A pair of hand-knit stockings, a pair of medieval-looking shoes, and a shift lay on the bed next to the dress, and a snow-white nightgown similar to Kaylee’s and a robe lay folded near the foot of the bed.

On Joey's bed was an Elvish-style tunic of deep brown, some breeches of a lighter shade, and what appeared to be a funny-looking white dress and a robe.  The tunic and breeches looked rather odd to him, more like medieval-style leggings than the comfortable blue jeans he was wearing, or the trousers that he typically wore to church and to special events.  A pair of medieval-looking shoes and a pair of stockings lay on the bed next to the tunic and breeches, and the odd-looking dress and a robe lay folded at the foot of the bed.

As Joey stared at the weird-looking dress, Jennifer laughed.  “That’s a nightshirt, Joey,” she told him.  “Boys and men used to wear those to bed back in the old days.  Pajamas weren’t invented till later.  Kevin’ll probably be wearing a nightshirt, too, when bedtime comes.”  The little boy scowled, and Jennifer bit back a laugh.  Arwen and Eledhwen exchanged amused looks.

Kevin, who had gone with his siblings to Joey and Kaylee’s room, turned around and crossed the hall to his own guest room.  There, he found on his own bed a set of clothing similar to Joey's, only in a soft grey, as well as a similar nightshirt and robe.  He returned to join the others in the younger children’s bedroom.

Arwen spoke to them.  "A bell will ring about an hour before we dine; that will give you all the time you need to bathe and to change into your evening clothing before the meal.  Another bell will ring when it is time to go the feast hall.”

"Lady Arwen?" Jennifer asked diffidently.  "Where did all these clothes come from?"

The Elven lady smiled.  "We always keep on hand a supply of clothing for our guests."  She did not mention that both of the dresses and both nightgowns for the girls, as well as the other items, had once been her own, that Joey's clothing had once belonged to Estel, or that Kevin's had once been Elladan's.  “You will have other clothes to wear during the day, starting tomorrow.  The clothes you arrived here in would soon wear out if you wore them every day.”

“True.”  Jennifer grimaced.  “We left our other clothes back at the campsite, so we’ve got no way to change them.  I don’t suppose you’ve got a washer and dryer here, Lady Arwen.”

Arwen furrowed her brows in puzzlement.

“Washer—uh, washing machine.  It’s a machine that washes clothes,” Jennifer explained.  “And a dryer’s a machine that dries them.”

“Oh.”  Arwen nodded.  “No, we do not, Lady Jennifer, but we do have Elves whose job it is to wash the clothes of our guests.  They will wash yours tomorrow.”

“Oh, OK.  Thanks.”  Jennifer shrugged.  Entering her guest bedroom, she ran her hand over the clothes that had laid out for her.  “Uh, Lady Arwen, I don’t see a bra,” she called.

“A what?”  Arwen furrowed her brows in puzzlement as she joined Jennifer in her room.

A bra.  You know—brassiere.”  Jennifer furrowed her own brows.  “You know—a piece of underwear that’s made to support your breasts.  Women have to wear those where we come from.  Now that my body’s changing, I have to wear one.”  She patted her own breasts.

“Oh.”  Arwen nodded.  “When your gowns are properly laced up, you will need no such garment, Lady Jennifer.”  Jennifer nodded.

After Arwen had left her guests to take their nap and Eledhwen had stepped out for a few moments, the children gathered in Joey and Kaylee’s room.  As the two younger children sat cross-legged on Joey’s bed, Kevin and Jennifer perched in chairs facing them.  For a moment, no one spoke.

“Well, what do you think?” Kevin asked.

Jennifer smiled wryly.  “Have you noticed there’s no light bulbs or plug-ins or plumbing here?”  The others nodded.  “‘No phones, no lights, no motorcars,’” she quoted from the old “Gilligan’s Island” closing theme song.  “‘Not a single luxury.”’

Kevin snorted, and then laughed.  “I wouldn’t exactly say there’s no luxuries, not here in Rivendell anyway.  But it’s true that there’s no electricity or plumbing here.  And no cars or telephones or computers, either.  I don’t know how they manage in that water closet!”   

Joey nodded.  “Like ‘Gilligan’s Island’, kind of.”

“But without the coconuts,” Jennifer added.

Kaylee made a face.  “I’m glad.  I hate coconuts!”  The others laughed.

“Well, we’re a long way from the tropics, so we don’t have to worry about those,” Jennifer told her.

Kevin nodded agreement, and then looked out the window.   “All right, you two, we need to take a nap,” he ordered Kaylee and Joey.  “So you go to your bed, Kaylee, and both of you lie down.  Eledhwen will soon be back.”  Protesting, the two younger children did as they were told; a moment later, Eledhwen returned to the bedroom.

“I will look after your little brother and sister,” she told Kevin and Jennifer.  “You go to your rooms now, and lie down.”

Nodding, the two of them rose to their feet.  “Go to sleep now,” Jennifer told Joey and Kaylee.  “We’ll be back when naptime’s over.” 

-oo000oo-

After making certain that the children were settled in their guest rooms and getting some much-needed rest, Arwen took herself to her father's study and tapped on the door.

"Enter, sellath nín," came Elrond's voice.

"Good afternoon, Ada," she said, "and to you as well, Mithrandir."  She gave the old wizard a nod.  She took a seat between her father and the wizard, as they sat around Elrond's desk.

"Are the children settled in?" her father asked.

"As much as can be expected, in the circumstances.  I left Eledhwen to sit with the younger ones, though of course their older siblings are with them as well.  But I came to tell you of some rather odd things they said while eating with the hobbits."

Elrond sat forward, and Mithrandir's expression became very alert.  "What sort of odd things?" asked the wizard.

"It seems that there are stories of hobbits in their far-off home.  They have heard of Bilbo's long-ago adventure.  But even more disturbing, they seem to have heard of the Ring, and of the coming journey of the Nine Walkers.  They also spoke of Gollum and of the Ringwraiths, though not by name."

Both Elf and Wizard jerked up in astonishment.  "What?" they both exclaimed.  Arwen nodded.

"Sadly, the children are only a little familiar with these tales; they do not even know the names of the creatures they described.  Lady Jennifer described the tales as make-believe stories where the children come from, and she said that a man in their world named Jai-ar-ar Tolkien wrote them.  She said that he invented these stories, and that he was of the Edain like themselves, though not in those exact words.  She also said that hobbits do not exist where they come from, and that this person invented them for his stories.”  Arwen paused.  “I deem that perhaps the children were considered too young to know them in full, although Lady Jennifer said a good friend of hers has been trying to persuade her to read Bilbo's story, though she has not yet done so."

"Still," said Elrond, "we shall keep this in mind when we speak to them.  Perhaps we can get them to remember a little more."

Mithrandir leaned back and steepled his fingers.  "Perhaps.  But perhaps it is as well that we do not know more of what tales they have heard.  It would not do to have it influence overmuch what is to come."

-oo000oo-

For the past hour, Kevin had been resting on the bed with his arms behind his head, but he had been unable to sleep.  Like their parents, he'd never been one for fantasy books or movies, although he had watched The Wizard of Oz and Disney movies on DVD as a child with Jennifer (and sometimes still did with Joey and Kaylee, as he had done only last night, when the entire family had watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs); generally, he preferred science fiction or cop shows, or books about sports or nonfiction.  But some of the video games he'd played with some of his friends had fantasy settings, so he was familiar with the idea, at least, of other worlds and travelling to them.  (Oz didn’t really count, he felt, since Dorothy had been carried there by a tornado instead of entering it through a portal, and in the movie version, she had dreamed the whole adventure.)

Kevin recalled an old sci-fi show that he and Jennifer had seen reruns of on Netflix, about a group who had slid through a strange portal from world to world, trying to get home.  None of the characters in Sliders had ever made it home.  The show had been cancelled several years ago.  Sometimes he wondered what would have happened to the characters later, if it hadn't been canceled when it was.

Kevin hoped that wasn't going to be the case for him, or his brother and sisters.  If it was just him and Jen, he wouldn't be nearly so worried (except that he and Jennifer would miss their family and friends, and hated to worry their mom and dad), but Joey was only nine, and Kaylee was practically still a baby—not as much as Megan, of course, but still way too young for a thing like this.  What were they going to do?  The people they'd fallen in with seemed kind and helpful enough, but how long would they be willing to take care of a bunch of strange children?  Would they need to turn them over to some sort of authority, or did they have something like that here?  Everything seemed so medieval here—maybe this Lord Elrond was actually an authority.

All he knew was that he was the oldest brother, and that made him responsible for all of them.  He would do anything to get them home, but if he couldn't, then he would have to keep them all safe and together.  Please, God, he silently begged, help us!

He was not sure how long he had rested, but just as he was starting to go through all the same worries in his head all over again, there was a tap at the door.  He sat up.

"Come in," he said.

The door cracked open, and it was the Lady Arwen.  "Lord Kevin, my father and Gandalf would like to speak to your family in the study."


Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 4: Strangers Like Me

Nodding, Kevin swung his legs over the side of the bed and began to put his boots back on.  When he had finished tying his bootlaces, he got up and followed the beautiful Elven lady across the hall to fetch his sisters and brother.  Lord Kevin, he thought, amused.  They’re calling my sister Lady Jennifer, and they’re calling me Lord Kevin.  This place really is medieval!

Soon the McClouds were following their hostess down wide and winding hallways; Kaylee lugged Lucy in her arms.  Arwen led them to a large door at the far end of the passage.  She pushed it open.  Elrond, Gandalf, and Glorfindel waited inside.

Ada, I have brought them as you asked,” she said.

“Thank you, Arwen.  Will not all of you be seated?”  Their host gestured to several chairs and couches near the wide-open windows at the far end of the room.  He, Glorfindel, and Gandalf sat down in three armchairs.  Kevin and Joey sat on a carved couch, and after taking hold of Lucy so that Kaylee could sit down unimpeded, Jennifer chose an armchair next to her brothers.  Lady Arwen took one next to Jennifer’s.  Kaylee squeezed onto the end of the couch next to Kevin, positioning herself between her older brother and sister.  Joey sat on Kevin’s other side.

“Children, I want you to tell us again where you come from, and what brought you here.  But first, tell me your names again, and your ages,” Elrond ordered after introducing them to Glorfindel.  He leaned back in his chair as he spoke.

The children exchanged glances.  Jennifer was sitting next to Lady Arwen; Kaylee was seated between Kevin and Jennifer, on the edge of the settee; and Joey was sitting on the other side of Kevin.  Lucy lay curled up on Jennifer’s lap, thumping her tail and licking Jennifer’s fingers.  Elrond, Gandalf, and Glorfindel were all sitting in chairs facing the children and Arwen.

“Well, uh, there’s five of us kids in our family,” Jennifer explained.  “Kevin, Joey, Kaylee, Megan, and me—Megan’s the youngest. She’s only three years old.  She’s back at the campsite with Mom and Dad.”

“That’s right.”  Kevin nodded agreement.  He began by telling his hosts his own full name and age.  He allowed Jennifer and Joey to do the same for themselves.

When it was Kaylee’s turn, she ducked her head shyly.  “I’m Kaylee.  Kaylee Anne McCloud.”  She held up her right hand with all five fingers spread out, to indicate her age.

Jennifer put in, “She just had her birthday last month.”

Elrond nodded sagely.  “Now, then, children, explain to me again where your home is, and tell me who your parents are, and how you arrived in Middle-earth.”

Jennifer scanned her siblings’ faces and then glanced at Arwen, who sat next to her.  “Well, uh, we and our parents live in Portland, Oregon; that’s where we kids were born.  Our aunt and uncle live there, too.  We’ve lived in Portland all our lives.  Portland’s a city, and Oregon’s a state.  It’s part of the United States of America—that’s our country, our nation.  The United States is in North America—that’s our continent.”  Elrond nodded.

Joey grinned.  “Hey, did you know that there are three countries in North America?  The United States, Canada, and Mexico.”

Kevin and Jennifer laughed.  “Yes, we do, Joey.  But don’t interrupt Jennifer while she’s talking,” Kevin said.  Elrond, Arwen, Glorfindel, and Gandalf chuckled.

With an amused glance at Joey, Jennifer continued, “Our daddy’s a geologist.  He works for a state agency that oversees conservation.”  

“That’s right,” Kevin agreed.  “His supervisor told him to get some soil samples and take them to his company’s lab—uh, laboratory.”  Elrond, Glorfindel, and Gandalf all exchanged puzzled glances, and Arwen furrowed her eyebrows in bewilderment.  Kevin explained, “A laboratory’s a place where you perform experiments.  You know—study things, to see what they’re made of, and how they work.”

“Ah.”  Elrond exchanged a glance with Gandalf, Arwen, and Glorfindel.  While some of the words were strange to him, he was Noldorin enough to understand the gist of their explanation.  He then gestured toward Kevin and Jennifer.  “And what is your father’s name?”

“Steven.  Steven Jackson McCloud.  Our mother’s name is Gail.”

“I see.”  Elrond nodded.  “Continue.”

Shifting position, Kevin looked at Jennifer and cleared his throat.  “Well, anyway, his supervisor wanted our father to go to Wallowa Lake State Park and get a bunch of samples of different kinds of soil there.  Every state park has its soil checked every few years, to make sure it’s healthy.  Wallowa is clear at the other end of Oregon from Portland. Since spring break was approaching, and since it was going to take him several days to get all the samples the state agency wants, he and Mom talked it over and decided to take us kids on a six-day camping trip during spring break, while he gets the samples.  Our dad’s brother and his wife—our Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet—they decided to go with us.  School let out for spring break three days ago, on Friday, and we left for the park shortly after lunch, this afternoon.  It was a few hour’s drive, and it was shortly after 4 p.m. when we got there.”

Jennifer nodded.  “Our parents and our aunt and uncle had just started setting up the tents when we left the campsite.  They were going to start supper as soon as both of the tents were up.  It was past 4:30 then.”

Elrond nodded again.  “And what led to you children ending up here in Middle-earth?”

Exchanging a glance with Jennifer, Kevin fidgeted and grimaced.  “Well, uh, after we arrived at the park, our Uncle Ryan told us about this cave he had explored once, when he and Aunt Janet had gone on a camping trip to that very same spot where we’re camping now.  Several years ago,” he explained.  “It’s not far from the campsite, just down a path.  We all wanted to explore it, but Dad insisted on checking it out first.  And he and Uncle Ryan both did, and when they came back, they said it was safe.”

Jennifer nodded.  “So, Mom and Daddy said that Kevin, Joey, and I could go explore the cave.  Mom told us not to be gone long.  We were supposed to help them set up the tents when we got back.  Kaylee wanted to go, too, so our parents let her.”  She gave her little sister an amused look.  “And then Kaylee insisted on bringing Lucy along!”

“Hey, Lucy likes to explore caves, too!” Kaylee defended her decision.

Elrond, Gandalf, Glorfindel, and Arwen all exchanged amused expressions.  It was clear to them that it was Kaylee, not Lucy, who had wanted the puppy to come along.

Kevin laughed.  “Yeah, well, we didn’t argue with her; we let her bring Lucy.  Megan didn’t come, though; she’s only three—three and a half—so she’s too young to be exploring caves.”

Elrond nodded approval, giving the young visitors a meaningful look.  “That was very wise.”  He gazed down at the sleeping puppy on Jennifer’s lap.  “You would have done better to leave the puppy behind, too.”

Fidgeting, Kevin glanced down at Lucy, who had fallen asleep, and grimaced.  “True, but how’d we know we were gonna end up in another world?  There was no portal in that cave to anywhere else when Dad and Uncle Ryan explored it.  I know, because they went clear to the end of the cave before they came back to the campsite; they told us they had.”  Jennifer nodded agreement.  “And they didn’t say anything about entering another world.  So, we had no way of knowing.  Apparently, that portal didn’t even open up till our dad and uncle had left the cave.”  He shook his head.  “We would have never even entered that cave if we’d known there was a portal in it.”  Although after he said that, he wondered if it was true.  He might have wondered where it went to…but then again, he probably wouldn’t have brought his younger sibs with him.

“Yeah,” Joey agreed, and Kaylee nodded.

“That’s right,” Jennifer added.  “We were just gonna explore the cave, see what was in it, and then go right back to the campsite.  We were supposed to help set up the tents as soon as we got back, and then our mom and Aunt Janet were gonna start supper.  We sure didn’t expect this to happen!”  She gazed around at the surrounding room with its subtly alien look and then out the window at the foreign landscape as she spoke that last sentence.  

“No, I am sure you did not,” Arwen told her.

“No,” Elrond agreed.  He looked at the children.  “Continue, children,” he ordered.  “Tell us the rest.”  With the help of his siblings, Kevin described the short but meandering path through the woods that they had taken, from the campsite to the cave, and the cave tunnel with the level entrance that they had entered just several minutes after they had left the camp.

Wiggling, Kaylee smiled broadly.  “Hey, look what I found!”  She stuck her hand into her jeans pocket and removed her flat pebble, holding it up.  “I found this on that path!  Isn’t it pretty?”

The others smiled, and Elrond leaned forward to examine the pebble.  “Very pretty, indeed,” he told the little girl, his eyes twinkling.  “You had better take good care of it, Miss Kaylee, so that you will not lose it.”  Smiling again and nodding, Kaylee stuck it back inside her pocket.

Chuckling at his little sister and ruffling her hair, Kevin explained what had happened once he and his brother and sisters had entered the cave: their short exploration, the sudden blackout and earthquake that they had all experienced after they had gone just past the cave tunnel’s curve; how the tunnel had looked different afterward; how the now-unfamiliar cave entrance had consisted of a steep incline that consisted of a huge boulder, instead of being level with the cave floor as well as with the ground outside; and how the country outside of the cave had appeared to consist of a prairie instead of a woods, with huge boulders jutting out of the ground here and there, and clusters of trees scattered in every direction, but not enough of them to form a forest.  Kevin then told Elrond about the frightening, ferocious growl that they had heard from outside the entrance, and how close it had sounded.

“We couldn’t tell what animal it was,” he explained.  “It sounded like…”  He paused, furrowing his eyebrows.  “Uh, I don’t know.  Not really.”

Jennifer took over.  “Kind of like a—uh, like a cross between a wolf and a bear.  Or maybe a cougar—uh, mountain lion.” She paused.  “Something like that.  We really couldn’t tell what.  Well, anyway, as soon as we heard that growl, we slid back down and ran in the other direction.  Towards here.  Next thing we knew, we were in this valley.”

Elrond, Glorfindel, and Gandalf exchanged a grave look.  The description of the growls sounded like a warg to them, possibly a warg scout.  I will have to send some warriors out to the West Road, to hunt for Wargs and very likely Orcs, too, Elrond thought.  That is much too close to our borders for my comfort.  We need to send a patrol to check that out.  He looked at Glorfindel, his expression making his wishes clear, and Glorfindel nodded his agreement.

“First, we got a drink of water at that waterfall.”  Joey smiled at the memory of the cold, refreshing water, and then grimaced.  “Then we got lost in that forest.”

Elrond nodded.  “For visitors who have never been here before, that is very easy to do if they enter through the tunnel.”

“Is that tunnel the only entrance to Rivendell?” Kevin asked.

Elrond shook his head.  “No, there are a few others.  But unless you know exactly where you are going, they are very hard to find, and all too easy to miss.”  Gandalf nodded agreement.

“I was scared,” Kaylee whimpered.

Jennifer put an arm around her little sister.  “We all were, Kaylee.  But we’re safe now.  That wolf—or bear, cougar, whatever it was—didn’t get us.”

“No, it did not, Miss Kaylee,” Elrond told her.  “And you will be safe from wild animals as long as you are in Rivendell.  Evil things do not come into this valley.

Kaylee puckered her lips, and tears glistened in her eyes.  “I wanna go home.  I want my mommy.  I want my daddy.”  She inserted her thumb into her mouth.

Arwen extended her arms, and Kaylee climbed down from her seat, approached Arwen, and climbed into the Elven maiden’s lap.  “I know you do, Miss Kaylee,” Arwen said kindly, wrapping her arms around Kaylee.  “We all know that, and we all want that for you.  My father and Mithrandir will do everything in their power to find a way to help you children get home.”  Her voice was soothing and melodious, and Kevin and Jennifer both saw their little sister noticeably relax in Arwen’s grasp.

“Yes, we will,” Elrond told the little girl.  “Meanwhile, you and your brothers and sister will be safe and well cared for while you are here.”

“Lucy, too?”  Kaylee looked at the now-awake puppy, still curled up on Jennifer’s lap.

Elrond, Gandalf, Glorfindel, and Arwen all laughed.  “Yes, Miss Kaylee.  Lucy, too,” Arwen said, her eyes crinkled in amusement.

Suppressing his own amusement, Elrond turned back to the older children.  “All right, children, one more question.  Explain to me this ‘spring break’,” he ordered.

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged puzzled glances.  “Well, uh, it’s just a week-long vacation from school,” Kevin explained.  “We have it once a year, every spring.  We have other school vacations, too; the longest one is summer vacation, at the end of the school year.”

“It lasts a few months,” Jennifer added.

“And is it spring as of now, where you come from?”

“Well, yeah.”  Kevin stared at Elrond.  “Isn’t it, here?”

Elrond, Glorfindel, Gandalf, and Arwen exchanged glances.  Elrond shook his head.  “No, it is not, Lord Kevin,” the elf lord explained.  “Here, it is mid-autumn.”  The children exchanged stunned glances.

“But—but Easter’s next Sunday,” Kaylee complained, as she fidgeted on Arwen’s lap.

Jennifer reached over and laid her hand on her little sister’s shoulder.  “Not here, it’s not,” she said gently.  “It’s the wrong time of year for Easter here, Kaylee.”

“Easter?”  Master Elrond looked at the girls quizzically.

“Uh, yeah.”  Dropping her hand, Jennifer straightened her back.  “It’s a holiday where we come from.  In the spring.  Easter Sunday.”

“Oh.”  Elrond nodded.

“We were gonna hunt Easter eggs,” Kaylee complained, pouting.  “The Easter bunny was gonna bring me some candy and toys.”

“Yeah, and I was gonna get some candy and toys, too,” Joey added.  “You know—in an Easter basket.  Stuffed animals and everything.”

“And we were gonna go to the Easter pageant and services at church,” Jennifer reminded Joey and Kaylee.

Elrond looked over at Gandalf and the wizard nodded.  The two of them were quickly realizing that the young ones were using several words that were not familiar.  However, it was fairly easy to understand roughly what most of them meant, and some words were clearly unimportant to the story of how the children had arrived.  The youngest one, especially, tended to ramble on, and from her older brother and sister’s attempts to continue, her interruptions were not especially important, or if they were, it could be spoken of later.

Kevin shook his head.  “Well, anyway, it was afternoon where we came from, and morning here.  It’s spring back home, and fall—uh, autumn—here.”  He shook his head again, bewildered.  “This is so weird!  All of it!”

“No kidding!” Jennifer agreed.  “I mean, this is crazy; people just don’t go to other worlds!  Not in real life, anyway.  That only happens in fantasy stories and science fiction.”  She shook her head.  “It’s like we’re actually living a fantasy story, and that just doesn’t happen.”

Just then, all could hear the musical sound of a bell.  “Ah,” said Arwen, “that is the signal for the time to get ready for the feast.”

Elrond nodded.  “We will see you later, children.”  They all rose to their feet, and the children followed Arwen inside and toward their guest bedrooms.  Glorfindel left with them.  He’d lead the patrol himself, to check for the presence of wargs or orcs near their boundaries.

-oo000oo-

As the children and Glorfindel followed Arwen from the room, Mithrandir turned to Elrond.

“Well, old friend, what think you of the children’s tale?”

“To be quite honest,” Elrond replied, “I could not understand even half of what they were telling us.  But it gives me the feeling that the place that they come from is a far, far different place, and much further from Rivendell than any explanation that I can think of would account for.  It is difficult to fathom what we need to know about their home and what is unimportant.”

The wizard nodded.  “Let us be frank.  It is more than likely that they do not come from Middle-earth at all.  There can only be two explanations for their presence here at so critical a time.  The first is that they were taken from their place by enchantment, either by someone in their world or ours…”  He paused, as if hesitating to go on.

“Pray go on, Mithrandir, for I would know if your mind is the same as mine in this matter.”

“I have a deep feeling that their presence is meant, and not by any enchanter or sorcerer of this world, or any world within Eä.”

Elrond nodded solemnly.  “Sent by the One who is beyond the Circles of the World.”

“Events will prove us right or wrong in this matter, but yes, I do feel it is so.  If we are right, then Eru has sent them here for a reason that will soon become clear to us.”  Gandalf looked thoughtful.  “In the meantime, we likely do not really want an explanation of every strange word they use.”  Elrond laughed and agreed.

-oo000oo-

“I wish Mom and Daddy were here!” Joey complained.

Kevin put an arm around his little brother’s shoulders.  “I do, too, Joey,” he said softly.  “We all do.”

“Yeah, really,” Jennifer said, with a sigh.  “I mean, if they were here, even if they couldn’t get us back to our world, at least they’d pray that God would.  And God would hear them.”  She paused, biting her lower lip.  “And they’d be here to take care of us.”

“Yeah,” Kaylee complained.

“Yeah, they would, and yes, God would,” Kevin agreed.  He took a deep breath.  “But since they’re not here, we’ll just have to pray to God ourselves.”  He paused.  “We’re all Christians, same as our parents, including Kaylee here; we’ve all asked Jesus to come into our hearts, and He has.  And we try to live the way Jesus wants us to.  So, surely, God will hear us if we ask.”

“Why don’t you ask Him, Kevin?” Jennifer suggested.  “You’re the oldest.” 

Kevin nodded.  “All right, but if any of you also want to talk to Him, feel free to do so.”

The four children reached out, clasped one another’s hands, and lowered their heads.  “God…”  Kevin swallowed.  “…we’re in a real predicament, and we need Your help.  We’re in a situation we never expected to find ourselves in.  We’re in a strange world with all sorts of creatures that don’t even exist back home.  How can it even be real?”  He cleared his throat.  “Our folks must be really worried!  Please show us a way to get back home to our family!”

He paused, and Jennifer spoke next.  “Please, God,” she prayed, “we don’t know what’s happening, or why.   Please get us all safely back home!”

“Please, God, get us back home,” Joey added.

“Please, God, get us back to Mommy and Daddy!” Kaylee begged, raising her head toward the ceiling, and then turning to look at Lucy, who was curled up on the bed.  She gazed down at her own feet.

“In Jesus’ name, amen,” Kevin finished.

Silence descended upon the children for a moment.  Peace settled on their hearts as they kept their heads bowed.  “This is not an accident,” Jennifer found herself mumbling, after a moment.

“What?”  Kevin lifted his head to look at his sister.

Jennifer raised her head and looked at Kevin.  “This is not an accident, is it?” she said more clearly.

Letting go of Joey’s and Kaylee’s hands, Kevin leaned back in thought, his face pensive.  “Are you saying that God sent us here?”  His sister’s words seemed to feel right.  Yet he wasn’t quite convinced yet.  Still he wanted to believe it; otherwise nothing would make any sense.  But he was responsible for his sisters and brother in their parents’ absence.  How could he be sure?  Well, he wasn’t, really, but he knew that it would be good to follow Jennifer’s lead.  Even if God had not actually sent them here, he knew that the Lord still was with them.

“But why?” Joey complained, pouting.

Jennifer looked at her little brother, amused.  “Why did God send Abraham to live in Canaan?” she asked.  “Why did God send Paul to Macedonia and Corinth and Rome and all those other places?  And what about Jonah?  Why did God send him to Nineveh?”

“That’s right,” Kevin agreed.   “He sent them to those places because He had a job for them to do there.  If He’s sent us here…”  He swallowed again.  “…that means—that means He has a job for us to do here!  And don’t forget that He’s still watching over us, even if He didn’t actually cause us to be here in the first place.”

“But what?”  Jennifer shook her head.  “What does God want us to do?  And why us?  We’re just kids, all of us.”  She bit her lower lip.  “And who besides God could have sent us here?  No one else has that kind of power, I know.  Not even the angels.”

Kevin shrugged.  “Now that, I have no idea of, Jen.  All we can do is pray and hope to be guided like the people in the Bible were.  If He sent us here, somehow He will let us know.”  He paused.  “As for who could have sent us here, I agree; only God has that kind of power.  I don’t know who else could have, either.  But…”  His voice trailed off.

Jennifer bit her lip.  She could tell that Kevin was not one-hundred percent sure, even though he was trying to be.  But she also knew that if they both kept praying, they would find out sooner or later what was wanted from them.

“But God knows our parents’ll worry,” Joey said, frowning.  “They must be worrying now!  They must be real worried!  Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet, too!  Surely God wouldn’t send us somewhere and make them worry!”

With a sigh, Kevin put an arm around his little brother’s shoulders.  “We’ll just have to trust that God’s got that covered somehow, Joey.”  He paused, scanning his siblings’ faces.  “God will tell us what He’s sent us here for, when He’s ready.  In the meantime, we’ll just have to trust Him to take care of our parents and Megan.  And our aunt and uncle.”  He paused.  “And us.”

“And we need to listen for when He answers us,” Jennifer added.  With so many strange things around us, how will we hear that still, small voice? she wondered.  What if this was some kind of test from the Lord?  Please, God, don’t let us fail, she prayed silently.

“I want my mommy and daddy,” Kaylee complained, as she moved her thumb toward her mouth.

Reaching toward Kaylee’s hand, Jennifer gently drew it away from the little girl’s mouth.  “We all do, Kaylee,” she said softly, as she put an arm around her little sister’s shoulders.  “It’s going to be all right.   We’ll be back with them when God is ready.  In the meantime, He hasn’t forgotten us.”

The certainty Jennifer had had a few moments ago was fading, but she kept her voice confident.  She and Kevin were the oldest, and they had to be sure that Joey and Kaylee weren’t scared too much.

“No,” Kevin agreed.  “God’ll take care of us, Kaylee.  We’re in His hands.”  He paused.  “Our mom and dad aren’t here to take care of us, but God is.”  Crouching in front of Kaylee, he smiled encouragingly at his little sister, and thought of something to distract her from her fearful questions.  “And you know, Kaylee, we’re in a fairy country!  A real-life fairy-tale country!  With wizards and elves and hobbits and probably other fairy-tale creatures!  Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  She was separated from her family, too, don’t forget, until she found a way to get back home.  She was all alone in the Land of Oz, except for her dog, Toto.  She didn’t have anyone else to look after her.”

“That’s right,” Jennifer agreed.  “You’re better off than Dorothy was, Kaylee, because we’re here with you.  We’re all in this together; none of us is alone.  And Kaylee, we’re having an adventure just like her!  We’re actually living a fantasy story.”  Kaylee smiled at the thought, and Jennifer hugged the little girl.

“Talking animals, too?” Kaylee asked hopefully.  “Talking scarecrows?  Talking trees?”

Kevin and Jennifer laughed.  “We don’t know, Kaylee.  Maybe.”  Kevin grinned.  “And, hey, maybe a talking tin man or two.  We’ll just have to wait and see.”  Kaylee giggled, and he rose to his feet and ruffled her hair.

“As long as there are no winged monkeys!”  Joey made a face at the thought.

Or wicked witches!” Jennifer agreed.  She glanced at her wristwatch, which was stubbornly telling her that it was still four forty-four, the time it had been when they had entered the cave.  “Wish I knew what time it was,” she muttered.  Out loud, she said, “Come on, you three, it’s time for our baths, and then we need to change our clothes.”

“That is right.”  Eledhwen entered Joey and Kaylee’s bedroom, followed by Mairen.  “Come with us, and we will help you get ready.”  They escorted the children out of the room.

Below the younger children’s open window, Gandalf blew out a smoke ring shaped like an Eagle.  He had been eavesdropping on the children ever since they had first entered Joey and Kaylee’s bedroom.  Manwë was much on his mind at the moment.  Of the Ainur who had come to Ëa, only the Lord of the Air still spoke directly unto Eru.  Yet from what he could tell, these young ones were familiar with Ilúvatar in a way that he could scarcely comprehend.  Quietly, he sat and sent his mind in search of faded memories of Aman, wondering what, if anything, he should say to these children.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 5: Try a Little Something New

Jennifer ran her hand over the soft, smooth fabric of her lovely blue dress. She smiled; she had never had anything so pretty! Wish I could take it home with me; I could wear it to a costume party. Or in a school play, she thought. It'd work better with buttons or a zipper, though. I'm gonna need help lacing it up. Well, her bath was finished, and it was time to change clothes, she knew, starting with the undergarments that Arwen had provided for her. The bathwater felt so good, she thought. So warm. I really enjoyed soaking in that huge tub, and Kaylee really enjoyed playing in it.

Amusement at the memory of Kaylee splashing about in the warm bathwater creased her face. It had pleased Jennifer that her little sister had, if only for a little while, been able to forget her separation anxiety. She wondered how long that would last. Wonder if they have a hot-water heater here? I'll have to ask them! How else would they be able to keep the water warm?

Jennifer gazed for a long moment at her long-sleeved T-shirt, her blue jeans, and her white ankle socks, all of which were folded up neatly on a table. Her backpack lay on the table next to her clothes, and her brown hiking boots rested on the floor underneath. She approached her backpack and unzipped it; for a few minutes, she stood rummaging through its contents. Drawing out her iPhone, she looked at it for a long moment.

If only I could call or text Nicole, or even email her, she thought ruefully. Or Mom and Daddy! Especially them! With a sigh, she grimaced. How are Kevin and I gonna manage without the Internet or cell-phone access for who knows how long? She shook her head, scowling. Kevin was probably wondering the same thing, she was sure. Or would be.

With a sigh, Jennifer dropped her iPhone back into her backpack and zipped the backpack shut. Well, maybe she could take some pics while the battery lasted. She was really going to miss tech, being able to call or text Nicole, or be on Facebook and Twitter. But she'd just have put her mind to doing without it for now.

Turning back toward the bed, Jennifer put on the undergarments that the Elves had given her, and then she picked up the dress and held it up, gazing at it. At least, in the meantime, she would get to wear a pretty dress this evening. After a moment, she took hold of its skirt and slipped it down over her head, inserting her arms through its wide, bell-shaped sleeves. That done, Jennifer perched on the edge of her bed, slipped her watch back over her wrist, and then brushed her hair. She knew the watch wasn't working, but her wrist felt strange without it. Finally, she put on the hand-knitted stockings and the soft leather slippers the Elves had left for her; they were very pretty.

Cinderella's fairy godmother should have given her slippers like these, instead of glass ones, she thought wryly. It'd be all too easy to break glass. I'm surprised her slippers stayed intact! Maybe they had to be made of glass, though, so that only her feet would fit inside them, not someone else's.

Smiling and shaking her head, Jennifer went to Joey and Kaylee's bedroom to check on her younger siblings, and to ask for help in lacing up her dress. Mairen, she noticed, had helped her little sister to change clothes, and was now brushing Kaylee's hair; Joey had donned his new Elvish clothes and was combing his hair. Lucy was lying on the floor and chewing on a sturdy rope tied up in a knot that one of the Elves had brought for her. This must be what it's like for rich people, Jennifer thought, smiling, as she watched Mairen and Kaylee.

When Mairen had finished brushing the little girl's hair, she laid aside the hair brush and turned toward Jennifer. "Do you need some assistance?"

"'Fraid I do." Jennifer bit her lower lip. "I've never worn a dress that laced up before, and I don't know how to manage these. I only know how to use laces to fasten shoes."

With a smile, the elf nursemaid approached the young girl and helped her to lace up the dress. When Mairen had finished, Jennifer noticed, to her satisfaction, that the dress was made to give her upper body some support. So this is why Lady Arwen told me not to wear my bra, she thought. With this support built in, I don't need it. She looked up at Mairen. "Thanks."

"You are welcome, Lady Jennifer." Mairen smiled kindly at her.

Kevin knocked, and then entered the room when Jennifer called, "Come in." He was shaking his head.

"I look so weird," he said, staring down at his new medieval-style clothes. Jennifer pressed her lips together to hold back a laugh.

"Well, uh, you don't exactly look like a dork, but you do look different."

"Yeah. We all do." Kevin rolled his eyes. "We boys do, anyway; it's not so different for you and Kaylee. Those are just fancy, old-timey dresses you're wearing." He looked from Jennifer to Kaylee, and shook his head. "I mean, hey, we all look as if we've gone back in time to the Middle Ages!"

Jennifer rolled her own eyes. "No kidding!" She shrugged. "It could be worse, though. At least, we're not dressed like serfs!" She paused. "Uh, Kevin, you might want to take your wallet and the park ranger's number out of your jeans pocket, since they're gonna wash our clothes tomorrow."

"I will, before I go to bed." Kevin made a face. "But you know, even if I were to keep his phone number on me, it wouldn't do me any good here. I don't think our allowance money's gonna do us any good here, either." He picked up his jeans and ran his fingers through his right jeans pocket, and then laid his jeans back down. "Just as well I left my wallet back at the campsite."

"Yes, well, my allowance money's back at the campsite, too," Jennifer said. "In my purse."

"It's just as well," Kevin said. "You couldn't spend it here, Jen. Our money's no good here in Middle-earth."

Grimacing, Jennifer nodded agreement, and then turned to Kaylee. "And Kaylee, I want you to take that pebble out of your pocket." With a nod, Kaylee scampered toward her jeans lying on the floor, and stuck her index finger and thumb inside until she found and removed the pebble. At a nod from Jennifer, the little girl laid it on the table. Jennifer smiled her approval.

Eledhwen entered the room. "It is time to go to the feast hall, children," she told them. Exchanging glances and nods, Kevin, Jennifer, Joey, and Kaylee followed her into the hall, and Mairen followed them. Jennifer, who had picked up Lucy before leaving the room, handed her to Mairen, who in turn handed the puppy to a nearby elf servant. After Jennifer left her hiking boots on the floor in her bedroom, she accompanied the others toward the staircase.

-oo000oo-

Boromir looked around the feast hall; Aragorn had yet to return from his scouting expedition to learn what had become of the Nazgûl. He wished that he could have accompanied Aragorn on the mission, so that he could learn more of this "Heir of Isildur". If the man's claims were true (and so far, there was no evidence that they were not), he could possibly one day be the King of Gondor. Boromir tried to tell himself that it did not matter who ruled, so long as the kingdom was saved from the enemy, but he had a hard time convincing himself of that, and he thought it would be even more difficult to convince his father.

But he knew that his unfamiliarity with these lands would make him a hindrance on this mission, which relied on speed and the ability to read the signs left by the enemy. Although he thought he might overcome those obstacles, he was unfamiliar with these lands, and that might slow the others down. Faramir would have been ideal for such a mission, and not for the first time, he wondered if it would not have been better if he had let his younger brother have this journey that he had insisted on taking for himself. Still, he was the one who had been given this mission by their father, and he must not allow his unease in these alien surroundings to hinder him.

He looked around the feast hall again. It was filled with folk: Elves for the most part, though there were a few guests of other sorts. Elrond sat in a great chair at the center of the long table upon the dais, and next to him to his left, sat Mithrandir. Boromir smiled. Faramir would have enjoyed this gathering, especially the opportunity to spend some time with Mithrandir—or Gandalf, as the hobbits called him.

Boromir's thoughts were interrupted as he saw four children whom he had not seen here in Imladris before being led into the feast hall by Arwen and two of her handmaidens. They were obviously not Elves, but children of the race of Men, though they were dressed in clothing of Elven cut and style. Clearly, they were guests of Elrond, as was he. He wondered when they had arrived, and why he had not seen them before. There was a youth who appeared to be in his mid-teens, a young lady slightly younger, a little boy of about nine or so, if Boromir was any judge, and a little girl of perhaps four or five. He wondered who they might be; perhaps they were the children of one of the dignitaries who had been in attendance at the Council?

Just then, all five of the hobbits entered the room, Merry and Pippin rushing in eagerly, followed by Bilbo and Frodo with more dignity, and Sam hovering shyly at the back. They spotted the children, and went over to greet them enthusiastically as Arwen left them to join her father at the High Table, while her handmaidens stayed with the children. Clearly, the little folk had already met the young ones. Pippin spoke to the youngest child, and then he looked up and noticed Boromir. He grinned and hurried over to Boromir.

"Boromir, have you met the newest guests? Come, I'll introduce you!" The young hobbit grabbed Boromir's hand and practically dragged him over to where the children stood.

"Boromir," the young Took said, "this is the McCloud family, brothers and sisters. This is Mister Kevin, Lady Jennifer, Master Joey, and Miss Kaylee." He gestured to each child as he introduced them, and then he turned to the children. "This is Lord Boromir of Gondor."

"Hi." Kevin raised his hand in greeting. "Pleased to meet you." He began to stick his hand out for a handshake, but he saw that Boromir was giving them a polite bow instead, so he returned the bow rather awkwardly. His younger brother and sisters imitated him just a beat later. He wasn't sure that the girls were supposed to bow. In the movies about historical times, didn't girls curtsey to royalty and nobles? But he didn't think his sisters knew how to curtsey.

Boromir gave a small smile of amusement. Clearly, the children were unused to the social customs that he was familiar with. He wondered where they were from. "I am most pleased to make your acquaintance," he said. "From whence do you hail?"

Kevin blinked, and glanced at his siblings. "Uh…we're from Oregon, in the United States of America. It's a long way from here. We got lost, and Lord Elrond found us and took us in."

Boromir's glance grew keen. Obviously, there was a much longer story behind these strange children than he was being told. He suspected that the Elves had told them to say as little as possible of their tale. But he had never heard of these "states of America" that Master Kevin mentioned, nor of the place called "Or Egon".

Jennifer exchanged a glance with Kevin, and then looked up at Boromir. "I'm sorry, sir, what's your last name?"

"Last name?" Boromir looked at her, puzzled.

"Well, yeah. You know—family name." Jennifer tilted her head as she stared up at him. "Ours is McCloud."

Boromir looked from her to Kevin. "Except for the Men of the Breelands, Lady Jennifer, no one of the race of Men have family names. In fact, except for the Men of the Breelands and the hobbits, no one of any race has a family name that I know of."

Kevin stared at him, and then at his sister. "Oh, yeah, that's right. Lord Elrond told us that, and so did Lady Arwen," he said, and Jennifer nodded. "Uh, what should we call you, then?"

"Just address me as Lord Boromir for now."

The signal for the actual meal was given. Boromir went to take his place at the High Table, and watched curiously as Merry, Pippin, Sam, and the two handmaidens led the children over to one of the lower tables. Frodo and Bilbo also had their seats at the High Table; as everyone took their seats, the hobbits were all seated on piles of cushions, and so was the youngest child, Kaylee. Boromir found himself seated next to Legolas, to the left of Elrond, Mithrandir, and Glorfindel. Arwen sat to Elrond's right, with Bilbo and Frodo by her side, and then Gloin and Gimli. It was thought best not to put the Dwarves next to the Prince of Mirkwood. To Boromir's puzzlement, the children held hands, bowed their heads, and closed their eyes, and the youngest one said something he could not hear.

Legolas turned to him as the food was served. "I have yet to meet those children of Men," said the Elf. "I saw that you were introduced to them. What is their story?"

Boromir shook his head. "I know little more than their names, and that they come from a strange place called Or Egon, in the land of 'united states'. I, too, wonder at their story."

-oo000oo-

Kaylee made a face at the food that the serving Elf had set before her. She had enjoyed the bread and butter that the meal had started with, and her glass of water wasn't so bad (though not as cold as she was used to), but this brownish soup containing some finely-chopped onion and a few bread crumbs looked completely distasteful. She glanced up at her older sister, who was taking regular swallows of the soup. If only Mommy was here! she thought, biting her lower lip. I want my mommy!

Across the table from Kaylee, Merry, Pippin, and Sam were digging in and praising the soup delightedly, comparing it to Shire food. "This is the best soup we've tasted yet!" Pippin said.

Merry and Sam nodded agreement. "Our cooks in the Shire couldn't have made it any better," Merry said.

Sam smiled in response. "Did you notice a bit of thyme, and maybe some summer savory?"

The other hobbits nodded enthusiastically. "I do believe those onions are sweeter than what we grow in the Shire," said Pippin.

"Yes, Mr. Pippin," said Sam. "The head gardener told me they're a big yellow variety 'specially grown only in Rivendell. They're extra sweet, he said."

Turning to Jennifer, Kaylee tugged on her big sister's sleeve. Jennifer turned to her. "What is it?" she asked in a low voice.

"I don't like this stuff," Kaylee whispered. "I want a drumstick! I want pizza! I want spaghetti!"

Jennifer pressed her lips together in an evident attempt to smother her laughter, amusement creasing her forehead. "I don't think they have pizza or drumsticks or spaghetti here, Kaylee," she whispered back. "And even if they do have chicken, it may not be fried with a crust like it is in America."

Kaylee bit her lower lip. "I wish Mommy was here," she whispered, her voice on the edge of a whimper.

Jennifer hugged the little girl to her side. "So do I, Kaylee," she whispered back. "We'll be back with our parents eventually; we won't be here forever. It'll be all right."

Making a face, Kaylee looked up at Joey, who was scowling next to her. "I want a hamburger," he muttered. "And French fries. And a chocolate malt." Kaylee swallowed hard and nodded agreement. What Joey said would be good, too. If only they could go to Burger King!

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged amused glances. "We're not in America anymore, Joey," Kevin told the younger boy. "We're in a foreign country now; that means we're gonna have to eat foreign food. I don't believe they have hamburgers and French fries and malts here."

"Don't they have a McDonald's here?" Joey pouted. "Or a Burger King? Or a Kentucky Fried Chicken? Or maybe a Pizza Hut...!"

"Whoa! Whoa," said Kevin, laughing. "I don't believe they have any of those kinds of places here. Yes, some foreign countries do, but we're not just in another country, Joey, or even just another continent; we're in another world. We'll just have to make the best of what this place has, while we're here."

"That's right," Jennifer said. "We'll just have to eat what they serve us, and not complain." She nudged Kaylee. "Just try it, Kaylee! A few sips." Kaylee made a face in response. She was sure she would hate this soup.

Eledhwen and Mairen had watched and listened to the whole exchange, amusement on their faces. "I take it that Miss Kaylee and Master Joey don't like beef soup?" Eledhwen asked.

"Not particularly. They prefer chicken noodle soup." Jennifer shook her head as she spoke. "Plus, none of us have ever eaten soup made this way. You'll have to excuse Joey and Kaylee, Miss Eledhwen, especially Kaylee. She doesn't like to eat anything that's unfamiliar to her. Little kids—" She glanced at Kaylee and shrugged. "—they tend to be like that. Joey and Kaylee, they miss the foods they're used to. And not having our parents here with us makes it worse."

"That is true, and I am sure it does." Eledhwen smiled, then gestured at Kaylee. "Just try it, Miss Kaylee. A few sips," she coaxed. "I want you to try everything you are served, all right? None of our foods will be familiar to you, I know, but I believe you will find that you like some of it."

Nodding agreement, Mairen turned to Joey. "You, too, Master Joey."

Joey made a face. "Do I have to?" he complained, appealing to Kevin and Jennifer.

"Yes, Joey, you have to," said Kevin firmly. "It's either that or go hungry. You, too, Kaylee." Jennifer nodded agreement.

Pouting again, Joey took a sip of his soup, and a scowling Kaylee followed suit. To her surprise, it did not taste as bad as she had feared, and so she swallowed some more before she stopped, while finishing off the glass of water that she had been served. Joey did the same. Kaylee noticed that though the taste of the soup was strong, it also tasted kind of sweet. Kevin and Jennifer, meanwhile, took small, hesitant sips of the watered wine that they had been given.

Soon, the serving Elves replenished the younger children's glasses of water, removed the bowls of soup, and replaced them with gleaming white plates of light-brown-colored rice mixed with a sauce of some sort. Again, Kaylee looked down at her own serving with distaste. She fidgeted on her cushions.

Jennifer took a bite of the dish. "Try it, Kaylee!" she urged. "Just a few bites, if you find you don't like it." Making a face again, a reluctant Kaylee picked up her spoon, dug it into the rice dish, and inserted it into her mouth. To her surprise and delight, it had chicken in it, so she ended up eating half of the rice dish before she stopped.

The food kept coming. Unlike the meals the children were used to at home, the Elves did not put all the food on the table at once, but took away the previous dish when they brought the new one. Jennifer tried to set a good example for the younger ones, and managed to avoid making a face when she saw that the chicken dish that came next was stewed. Like Joey and Kaylee, she would have much preferred their chicken fried with a crust, and she was sure that Kevin did, too. Still it wasn't too bad, although the sauce was a little sour. To her surprise, both Kevin and Joey scarfed theirs down as quickly as the hobbits did.

"This is a fair treat, this is," said Sam. "I'm going to have to see if I can get the recipe off the cooks."

"It's real good!" said Joey, smiling broadly.

Kaylee picked at hers. "I'm getting full," she said. "But I did try some." She looked apologetically at Mairen, Eledhwen, and Jennifer.

At the same moment, Joey and Pippin said in unison, "I'll finish it, if you don't want it!"

Kevin and Jennifer scowled at Joey, and Pippin exclaimed, "Ow!" as Merry kicked him under the table. Exchanging amused glances, Kevin and Jennifer shook their heads.

Mairen smiled. "Perhaps you may wish to save some room for the final dish—it is to be a sweet to finish off the meal!"

"Oh! Dessert!" Joey exclaimed.

Kaylee perked up. "There's dessert?" she asked hopefully.

"Apparently so," Jennifer said.

"Oh, goody!" Kaylee bounced on her cushions, causing them to scatter. Maybe she could find room for dessert. Her siblings, the hobbits, Eledhwen, and Mairen all laughed, and Jennifer stood up to reposition the cushions for Kaylee.

As Jennifer sat back down, one of the serving Elves brought a large pie to the table. It smelled wonderful! As the pie was portioned out, the children saw that it had different kinds of fruit, raisins, and nuts. Everyone's face lit up, and Pippin even clapped his hands in anticipation.

"I love this one!" said Pippin. "We had it once before, shortly after we got here! I would've never thought of putting quinces in with apples and pears!"

Jennifer's eyebrows rose in surprise, as she had never been fond of pears and she had no idea what a quince was, but this was delicious, and all the children finished their portions, even Kaylee.

The meal ended, and Merry and Pippin hopped down from their seats. "I think," said Merry, "that Pip and I are going out for a pipe and a sniff of air. But…" He gestured to Frodo and Bilbo, who were heading in their direction. "…we will probably go to the Hall of Fire for a while afterwards. Will you be joining us?"

"What's the Hall of Fire?" asked Kevin.

"It is where we nightly have song and story," answered Mairen. "We Elves sometimes stay up through the night there, but our mortal guests often join us for a few hours, at least, until weariness leads them to their beds."

"Please, can we?" asked Kaylee, tugging at Jennifer's sleeve, and looking up at her older sister and brother with big eyes. "Pretty please?"

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged glances. "Well, just for a little while," said Jennifer. "But not past your bedtime! The same goes for you, Joey." She looked from one to the other. "Don't forget that we've been up for much longer than usual. That nap we took this afternoon didn't really make up our lost sleep."

"That's right," Kevin agreed. "We're gonna be suffering from jet lag for the next few days, until we get used to this time difference."

"But we haven't been on a plane," Joey protested.

Kevin and Jennifer laughed. "No, but the time difference is just as great as if we had, Joey," Jennifer told her little brother. "So, we may as well call it jet lag."

While the hobbits left the feast hall to have a pipe, Mairen and Eledhwen guided the McClouds to another room with a wash basin and a water closet conveniently located near the feast hall. They were glad to freshen up after the meal. After the girls had finished using the toilet, they used the wash basin to wash their hands, and Kaylee tolerated Jennifer washing her face and using a wet cloth to dab away a spot on Kaylee's Elvish dress, where she had spilled a few drops of sauce. The girls came out and allowed the boys to use the small room. While the girls waited for Kevin and Joey, a servant brought Lucy to them. Kaylee happily took hold of Lucy and clasped the puppy against her chest. "Lucy!" Wagging her tail, Lucy yipped and licked her face.

When the boys were finished, the Elven ladies led the children across a passage and through a couple of other doors, and came into another big room. Kaylee was glad that Mairen and Eledhwen had showed them the way. There weren't any tables, and the only chairs were a few big ones upon a sort of stage. But all around the walls were benches, and there were big soft cushions scattered all over the floor. There were big carved pillars around the room between the benches; in the middle of the room was a giant fire pit, sort of like the one Kaylee's family had on their patio, but way bigger and fancier, and a big fire burned brightly there, making the room feel warm and cheerful. She looked up where the big chairs were; Lady Arwen and her father were sitting in two of them. Kaylee still wasn't sure what to call him—Mr. Elrond didn't sound right. Maybe Jennifer could tell her later. Some of the rules about manners seemed all different here. Arwen had told the children to address her as Lady Arwen, so at least Kaylee knew what to call her. And Boromir had told them to address him as Lord Boromir. She saw Mr. Gandalf sit down next to Lady Arwen, and Arwen's father in a third chair.

Holding Lucy against her chest with one hand, Kaylee clung to Jennifer's hand with the other, wondering where they were supposed to sit, but just then Joey pointed and waved towards the wall behind them. The children turned and saw Merry and Pippin waving at them merrily. Bilbo and Frodo were on the bench, toes dangling. There were several cushions on the floor in front of them, two of which Merry and Pippin were perched on, and there was some room on the bench next to Bilbo. All of the children went over and claimed cushions next to Merry and Pippin. As soon as Kaylee had perched cross-legged on her cushion, she set Lucy on the floor and leaned against Jennifer. The puppy immediately began to scamper about, yipping; Kaylee giggled, watching her.

The room was gradually filling up with Elves. There were also a few men, including Boromir, and there were three or four dwarfs together on a bench by the opposite wall.

Kaylee had just gotten comfortable on her cushion, leaning against her big sister. Jennifer placed an arm around her, and began to stroke her hair. Kaylee stuck her thumb in her mouth.

After a few minutes, an Elf got up and stood before the stage. He faced each side of the room and bowed before each, and then, with an amused glance at the playful puppy, he began to sing.

"Rómen Isilo, númen Anaro
Orta eressë ambo
Taliryar nar marya laiqua ëaressë
Mindoniryar nar fánë ar úrúmala
Taniquetil pella
Valinoressë Tulë lá nan minë eressë él
Ya wilë Isilello
Ar Aldu nar heldë
Ya coller Fuio telpë lótë
Ya coller i corna yávë auréva
Valinoressë
Valinoressë nar i falassi Inwinórëo
Ar isilmë cala sarnientassë
Fallerya ná telpë lindalë
Calala talamessë
I velici ëar-lëor pella
I anda falassë litsëo
Ya rahta háya
I lókecásina andonna
I tië Isilo,
Taniquetil pellal
Valinoressë…"*

Kaylee had never heard anyone sing like that! She couldn't understand the words at all, but as she listened, pictures formed in her mind of a lovely scene: a far green country beneath a large mountain. In a few minutes, Lucy settled down in front of Kaylee and stopped barking. Curling up on the floor, she held her head up to look at the Elf, thumping her tail on the floor.

Jennifer was sitting near Bilbo. She too was seeing beautiful images, but had no idea what the words meant. He looked at her, and very quietly muttered the translation.

"East of the Moon, west of the Sun,
There stands a lonely hill;
Its feet are in the pale green sea,
Its towers are white and still,
Beyond Taniquetil
In Valinor.

"Comes never there but one lone star
That fled before the moon;
And there the Two Trees naked are
That bore Night's silver bloom,
That bore the globéd fruit of Noon
In Valinor…"

The old hobbit continued on, but Jennifer found her thoughts clung to an image of two beautiful trees: one glowing silver, the other gold…

-oo000oo-

A/N:

*This is a Quenya translation of J.R.R. Tolkien's poem "The Shores of Faëry" from The Book of Lost Tales II, translated into Quenya by "Elders" of the Lord of the Rings fanatics plaza. Our thanks to them.

The menu was taken from the site, "Gode Cookery". For those of you interested in the food they were eating, (since we cannot give links, descriptions are below:

PANE E BURRO (Bread & butter)

DE CONDITURA CAEPARUM (Onions in strong sweet broth)

Beef broth and sautéed onions thickened with a few bread crumbs.

Ingredients: Onions, strong broth, pepper, and white grape juice.

Source: Platina

The onion is also cooked under ashes and coals until the rawness is steamed out of it; when it has cooled it is chopped finely and put in a dish with salt and oil and defrutum, or rolled in must. There are those who also sprinkle the onion with pepper or cinnamon.

RISUM IN QuO IVS IVRE (Rice in the juice you please)

Rice baked in an almond broth.

Ingredients: Rice, chicken stock, almond milk, salt, saffron, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon.

Source: Platina

Enough has been said about simple things; but cooks now call me to preparations once again. Spelt meal is cleaned and rinsed, cooked in juice of chicken for a long time; when it has cooked transfer part of it into a deep dish. To this, when it has cooled a little, add the yolks of three eggs with some saffron and return it to the pot and sprinkle with spices.

Prepare rice in the same manner as the meal. Some leave out the eggs. It is done according to your choice.

PVLEVS IN ACRESTA (Chicken in verjuice)

Chicken stewed in verjuice, herbs, & spices.

Ingredients: Chicken, verjuice, parsley mint, saffron, salt, pepper.

Source: Platina

Cook down a chicken with some salt flesh; when it is half-cooked, put into your pot grapes with the seeds removed. Add parsley and finely chopped mint, pepper and saffron powdered together. Put all these into a kettle. When the chicken is cooked, fill the plates.

PATINA DE COTONIA
(Quince and Walnut Pastries) Quinces are combined with apples and pears, stewed with walnuts, and baked in a delicate pastry.

Ingredients: Quince, apples, pears, walnuts, raisins, sugar, flour, lard, water, salt.

If you are very interested in Medieval and Renaissance food, "Gode Cookery" (http://www.godecookery.com/) is a excellent site to begin with.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 6: Immortals

Song had followed song, and Kaylee had eventually slipped into dreams, blissfully unaware when her big brother picked her up and carried her to bed, followed by her sister leading a sleepy Joey by one hand and carrying a sleepy puppy with the other.  Suddenly, her eyes popped open. To her surprise, she was lying on a bed—one of the beds in the guest room that Lady Arwen had assigned to her and Joey.  Mairen was pulling her dress upward, and Jennifer was standing close by. Yawning, Kaylee raised her arms so that the Elf-nanny would be able to pull her dress over her head.  Moments later, Mairen had helped Kaylee to put on the snow-white nightgown that Arwen had given her.

Kissing her on the forehead, Mairen stepped back and removed the robe off the foot of the bed.  The little girl slid off the bed and wandered into Jennifer's guest bedroom to rummage through her older sister's backpack, looking for a book.

Yawning again, Kaylee dug L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz out of Jennifer's backpack, returned to her and Joey's guest bedroom, and brought it to her big sister.  As she approached the bed, she noticed that Lucy was curled up, asleep, in a little dog bed on the floor against the wall.  "Would you read to me?" Kaylee held up the book in front of her big sister.

Jennifer smiled. "Please."

"'Please,'" Kaylee echoed. "Please, Jennifer? Read to me? Pretty please?"

Jennifer chuckled. For the past three nights, she had been reading the children's fantasy novel to Kaylee every night at bedtime, and so she had brought it along to continue to read to her little sister while they were on their camping trip. She had packed it in her own backpack, along with several picture books that she also intended to read to Kaylee during their trip, before they had left for Wallowa Lake State Park. "Sure. Come on, we'll snuggle up together on the bed."

Kaylee crawled under the bedcovers, a rag doll that Lady Arwen had given her earlier that day in the crook of her arm, and Jennifer lay on top of the covers next to her. As the candlelight flickered next to the bed, she read aloud to her little sister Chapter 4: "The Road Through the Forest." Jennifer was forced to squint as she read the chapter to Kaylee because the candlelight was so dim. Kaylee listened intently as she looked at the illustrations, rubbing her eyes now and then and yawning periodically while she listened, obviously determined to stay awake during the chapter.

When Jennifer had finished Chapter 4, Kaylee laid her head on Jennifer's arm while suppressing a yawn. "Please, can we watch the movie tomorrow? We didn't get to watch one today."

"No, we didn't have time to today," Jennifer said. She removed her arm from under Kaylee's head and gazed down at her little sister. "But I don't know that we really need to watch The Wizard of Oz at this time, Kaylee. You know, as Kevin said earlier, we're having a very similar adventure to the one Dorothy had." Also, Jennifer thought, we need to save the batteries.

Kaylee smiled broadly. "Are we over the rainbow?"

Jennifer laughed. "Kaylee, we're not even under the rainbow! But we are in a very different land that we never expected to be in, just as Dorothy was. In fact, just as Kevin said earlier, we're in a fairy-tale kind of country, same as Dorothy was; we're living a fantasy story. And you know, we're much better off than she was, because we're all in this together, you and me and Kevin and Joey—and Lucy. Poor Dorothy had only her dog, Toto, for company."

Kaylee nodded. "Yeah." She grimaced. "I wish Mommy and Daddy was here," she said wistfully.

"'Were' here, Kaylee," Jennifer corrected her. She wrapped her arm around Kaylee's shoulders and hugged her to her side. "I wish they were, too, Kaylee. We all do. And I wish that Megan and Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet were also here." She paused. "But you know, Dorothy didn't get to have her aunt and uncle with her, either. Not on that first trip to Oz, anyway. As I just said, we're living a fantasy story, and in fantasy stories, kids who go to other worlds don't get to have their parents with them. Not while they're in that other world."

"And now, Miss Kaylee, it is time for bed," Mairen told the child.

"Yes, Kaylee, it's time for prayers and lights out," Jennifer said, removing her arm from around Kaylee's back and glancing at her watch. Then she peered through the door to the opening to Kevin's guest bedroom, where Joey had been getting ready for bed. "It'll soon be time for Joey to be joining you." She smiled mischievously. "Don't think I haven't noticed you yawning and trying to keep your eyes open ever since you woke up in your bed earlier, Kaylee McCloud!" Kaylee giggled.

After Kaylee had knelt against the bed to say her bedtime prayers, Jennifer tucked her under the covers. Before she had a chance to do anything more, though, Kaylee screwed up her face in an evident effort to refrain from crying, and tears welled up in her eyes. "What's the matter, Kaylee?" Jennifer asked softly.

"I want my mommy," Kaylee whimpered, choking back sobs. "I want my daddy."

Biting her lower lip, Jennifer hugged her little sister to her side. Their mother was usually the one to read to Kaylee and put her to bed, although Jennifer sometimes did it in her stead. "We all do, Kaylee," she said softly. "You're not the only one. I know it's lonely without our mom and daddy, but we won't be here forever." She kissed Kaylee on the forehead and began to sing to her softly as their mother usually did.

"Jesus loves me, this I know.

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong.

They are weak, but He is strong.

"Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so."*

As Kaylee's eyes slid closed, Jennifer began to sing another song.

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word.

Daddy's gonna buy you a mockingbird.

When that mockingbird won't sing,

Daddy's gonna buy you a diamond ring…"*

By the time that Jennifer had finished singing that nursery rhyme to Kaylee, the little girl's breathing had evened out, and the expression on her face had smoothed. Rising to her feet, Jennifer straightened the covers over her sister and gently kissed her forehead again, careful not to wake her. "I will take good care of your little sister, Lady Jennifer," Mairen whispered.

Jennifer smiled her gratitude. "Thanks," she whispered, and then headed toward the bedroom door as a yawning Joey entered, followed by Kevin. It was his turn to go to bed now.

"I'll join you when Joey's asleep," Kevin whispered.

Turning around, Jennifer nodded. "Let me know, I'll be in my room," she whispered back.

"We can talk in my room," he answered. "That way, we won't wake them up."

-oo000oo-

"Kaylee and Joey are both asleep now, aren't they?" Jennifer asked Kevin in a low voice, after they had retreated to Kevin's room.

"Yes." Kevin nodded. "And I'm glad. It's real hard on Kaylee, not having our mom and dad around."

"It sure is. She was all right while I was reading to her, but she was close to tears when it was time for her to go to sleep. It is hard on her, real hard, being separated from our mom and dad like this. To be honest, it's real hard on all of us." Jennifer made a face. "And not just because we're separated from Mom and Daddy, either, although I do miss them terribly." She sighed. "I miss having electricity, Kevin. I really do. I miss all the tech and the Internet and stuff."

"I know. I do, too." Kevin grimaced. "We can't do most of the things we usually entertain ourselves with. For one thing, we should keep our using our devices to a minimum to save the batteries."

"Well, we've got replacement batteries and battery chargers in our backpacks, don't forget."

"True, but even with spares, we can't expect our players and flashlights and other stuff to hold out as long as we're here. We don't know how long we're gonna be here, don't forget. And even though most of our batteries are rechargeable, there are no plug-ins here to plug the battery chargers into. We're gonna have to save our batteries as much as possible." Jennifer grimaced; her brother was right.

"I guess we'll have to just make do with entertaining ourselves like the Elves do. The Hall of Fire was really interesting; it was like being at a live concert, sort of," she said.

"Did you kind of get the gist of the songs even though they were in another language?" Kevin asked her.

"Yes. But I was glad that Mr. Baggins translated that one song, the one that was so pretty, about a mountain and two trees…" She could not get that image out of her mind.

Jennifer leaned back against the chair next to Kevin's bed, her arms folded across her chest. "One thing I didn't understand," she said, after a moment. "I wonder what was so special about those trees. I just don't get it! What's so special about a tree, anyway? I mean, a tree's a tree." She shook her head.

Kevin bit his lower lip. "You've got me. And in the song, those trees gave off light." He snorted. "Trees can't give light! Only the sun can do that."

Jennifer nodded agreement. "That's right! Well, that and light bulbs. Only light bulbs haven't been invented here yet."

"No, they haven't. And anyway, they can't give out light the way the sun can. I would think that it was just, you know, a pretty metaphor or something, except that Mr. Baggins said most Elf songs are from their real history." Kevin shook his head. "There's so much about Middle-earth I just don't understand. We could ask someone, and maybe they would tell us more—maybe Master Elrond or Lady Arwen?"

Jennifer nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure they would. But would we understand it any better if they did?"

Kevin shrugged. "Only one way to find out."

Jennifer shrugged. "True."

Kevin continued, "I really wish we could get on the Internet, you know. Since Tolkien made up this place, there's sure to be a lot of Web sites about it on the Internet. And it might explain some of the stuff we don't understand. I wish we could just Google 'Two Trees'!"

"I know. If we were back home, we could. I would like to look them up. There's sure to be lots of books written about it, too." Jennifer paused. "When we get back home, I'm going to read that book Nicole recommended to me. Both books, in fact; Nicole has them both, so I'm sure she'll lend both of them to me. She already wants to loan me The Hobbit, as you know; I'm sure she'll also loan me The Lord of the Rings if I ask her. And I'm gonna see if Tolkien wrote any other books. I might want to read them, if he did." As Kevin nodded agreement, Jennifer folded her arms across her chest and scanned Kevin's guest room. "I want to look this place up on the Web, too, Kevin. I also want to text Nicole and let her know what's happening." She grimaced. "More than that, I want to text Mom and Daddy!"

Kevin smothered a chuckle. "Nicole'll never believe you, you know, if you ever do tell her what's happened to us."

Jennifer grinned. "No, I guess not." She shook her head. "I'm not sure Mom and Daddy will, either, or our aunt and uncle, not when we do finally have a chance to tell them. They're gonna want to know what's happened to us, you know, Kevin." She bit her lower lip. "How do we explain?"

"I don't know." Kevin sighed. "Right now, though, let's just worry about getting back to them. We can worry about how to explain things to them when we do get back. We can always show them the pictures and videos we're gonna take while we're here. That'll be our proof." Jennifer nodded agreement. Kevin added, "You know, Jen, somehow, we're gonna have to do without the electronic gadgets and stuff, just like Kaylee's going to have to manage without Mom and Dad. It's not like we have a choice, you know." He bit his lower lip and grimaced. He knew what they had to do, but he didn't like it, and neither did Jennifer.

"No, we don't," Jennifer agreed, scowling. "I hate that part." She shrugged. "Oh, well, at least we're together, and the people here are nice." She paused, furrowing her eyebrows, as a thought came to her. "I don't want to lose my baton skills, Kevin, so I'm going to have to find something to practice with while we're here. A tree branch, maybe. What about you? How are you going to keep up your basketball skills?"

"Good question." Kevin grimaced. "Unless I can find a hoop to nail to a tree or a wall outside, and a suitable ball to practice with—one that can bounce—I don't see any way to. And I don't see any way for Joey to practice his baseball skills here, either. So far, we haven't found any other kids here, so he's got no one to play baseball with."

Jennifer shook her head. "It's not just Mom and Daddy and Aunt Janet and Uncle Ryan we're gonna have to explain things to, then, is it?" she asked. Kevin made a face. "Guess we'll have to ask God to help us keep our skills, then, so we won't have to start learning them all over again when we get back home. There's absolutely no way our coaches or my baton corps leader and director are going to believe us, if we tell them we went to a fantasy-land while we were on our camping trip."

"No kidding," Kevin muttered, staring down at the floor, a troubled expression on his face.

Jennifer sighed. She, Joey, and Kevin had always loved to take part in P.E. and afterschool sports. Kevin had played basketball for the past several years, and he was a member of the high-school basketball team. Joey had been pitching for his baseball team in the minor league division of Little League baseball for the past two years; soon after his ninth birthday, he had been promoted to the major league division. Jennifer was the assistant director of the city's Optimist Youth Band Baton Corps, and she loved to take part in intramural sports at school. To let their sports skills become rusty because of an extended stay in Middle-earth, wherever that was, was simply unthinkable.

Jennifer sighed. She knew that God was with them, but how could He let them get stuck in another world? Why had He let this happen to them? Why would He send them to another world, one that apparently wasn't even in their universe? Surely, if there was a mission or ministry the Lord had in mind for them, as they had guessed earlier that day, they could perform it just as easily in their own world.

Please, God, she prayed silently, help us through this, and give us strength. If You have called us here for some kind of mission, please tell us what it is and help us to do it, so we can get back home. Help Kevin and me to be strong for Joey and Kaylee. And please help our parents and our aunt and uncle not to worry. In Jesus' name, amen. She sighed. I wish Mom and Dad were here, God, so they could pray. We need them!

There was a light tap on Kevin's door. Thinking perhaps it was Joey or Kaylee awake and needing something, Jennifer said, "Come in!"

But when the door opened, it was not either of the younger children, but Gandalf the Wizard. "I wondered if I might have a word with you?"

Kevin looked as surprised as Jennifer felt, but he politely said, "Uh, yes, sir. Come in."

Gandalf came in, and took the chair that sat by Kevin's bed. "I have overheard you children speaking together of God, who is in this world and time, too, and goes by the name of Eru Ilúvatar."

Jennifer felt a shiver run down her spine—not fear exactly, but a feeling of awe. She felt she was about to hear something amazing. She glanced at Kevin, whose eyes were narrowed.

"Is there some reason we shouldn't speak about our faith?" he asked, his tone a little angry.

Jennifer put her hand on his arm to calm him down.

Gandalf smiled. "It warms my heart to hear you speak so of our Creator, and yet there are some things that should remain hidden. Long, long ago, I was once privileged to be with Him when He sang our world into being. Seldom do I recall that time, before I was sent from the West to bring aid and a message of hope to the people of Middle-earth."

Exchanging stunned glances, Kevin and Jennifer gaped at Gandalf. "Are—are you an angel?" Jennifer gasped.

"An angel?" Gandalf stared at her in evident puzzlement.

"Well, yeah! You know—a messenger from God. He sends angels to give messages to people and protect people and stuff. The Bible speaks of them—it's the Word of God. The angels live in Heaven with God," Jennifer explained, and Kevin nodded agreement. He picked up his teen study Bible and held it up for Gandalf for a brief moment, and then set it back on the table. Jennifer added, "I have one, too. It's in my room."

Gandalf looked briefly thoughtful. "I suspect that you may be right, in a way. And yet I had to give up much of my power to come here. So now I am an Istar, a wizard. But if all goes well and I can fulfill my purpose in being here, I will once more serve as a Maiar, what you have named an angel. But in this form, I do not have all the abilities, or indeed all the memories, I had in Aman. The veil over my memories is lifted if there is something I need to know in order to accomplish my mission, as was revealed to me tonight when I overheard you speaking." He paused, looking from Jennifer to Kevin.

"The times your book speaks of are far distant from now, in the far distant future, and are not ready to be revealed to mortals, or to Elves." He stood up. "I know that I have given you much to think upon, but I trust the One to whom we look to guide you well in what you can and cannot reveal. I will leave you now to get some rest. You have had a very busy day." With that, he gave a nod and quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

Jennifer and Kevin exchanged astonished glances. "Gandalf's an angel!" Jennifer said. "An angel sent by God!"

"Yeah!" Kevin shook his head, awe-stricken. "I can't believe it! But I'm so glad there's an angel here."

"Yeah! Me, too." Jennifer nodded, smiling broadly. "I don't know how much he'll be able to do, though. The way he talked, he left behind a lot of his angelic powers when he left Heaven to come here."

Kevin bit his lower lip. "True. God put him in a human body when He sent him here." He furrowed his eyebrows in intense puzzlement. "You know, Jen, I thought we were in another world. But the way Gandalf talked, it sounds as if we're in another time in our world. A far-off distant time, way in the past."

"That can't be!" Jennifer shook her head vigorously. "If there is such a time—or was—why doesn't the Bible mention it? Or our history books?"

Kevin shrugged. "You got me."

A yawn caught Jennifer off guard. It was bedtime—in fact, it was past time for her and Kevin to be going to bed. "Guess we'll have to talk about this tomorrow. I'm sleepy." She yawned again. "Good night, Kevin," she said.

"Good night." Stifling a yawn, Kevin turned toward his bed. Yawning yet again, Jennifer left his room to enter her own bedroom and approached her guest bed, where the nightgown and robe that Eledhwen had given her lay folded at its foot. She saw no use in putting on the robe now; as soon as she had her nightgown on, she was going to bed. She was too tired to read that night; the novels that she had brought with her would have to wait until the next day, when she had time to read. She would also have to make time to read her Bible the next day.

Mustn't forget to say my prayers first, though, she thought, as she pulled her dress up over her head. She smiled broadly. Thank You, God, for sending us an angel!

-oo000oo-

*A/N: "Jesus Loves Me" and "Hush, Little Baby" are both in the public domain.

Can you guess the origin of the title of this chapter? HINT: It follows the pattern of previous titles...

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Ringsbelongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Can you guess the origin of the title chapter? HINT: It follows the pattern of previous titles, also 1989.

Chapter 7: Part of Your World

The next morning, Joey was awakened by the loud chirping of birds.  He sat up and looked around his unfamiliar surroundings.  So, it wasn't a dream.  He sighed and glanced over at the other bed, where Kaylee was still soundly sleeping.  Through the open door to the side of the room, he could see the foot of Jennifer's bed in the small room that connected to theirs.  At least he wasn’t alone here in Middle-earth; Kevin and Jennifer and Kaylee were also here.  And so was Lucy, who was curled up asleep in a little dog bed on the floor against the wall.  She twitched her right back leg and her nose; apparently, she was dreaming.

Joey wondered if he could slip out before his sisters woke, to make his way to what the Elves called the "water closet".  Miss Eledhwen had shown him the fancy bowl under the bed that she called a "chamber pot", but it would be just too embarrassing to use that thing.  What if Kaylee woke up and saw him?  He turned beet-red at the very thought of it!

Very carefully, Joey tiptoed out and made his way to the room in question, proud of himself for dealing with the matter all by himself.  After he finished, he quickly scurried back to his and Kaylee’s guest room, hoping that he wouldn't see anyone.  This long white shirt they'd given him to sleep in seemed altogether too much like a dress for his taste; he wished he had his Star Wars or Spider-Man pajamas.  Except that he had left his Spider-Man pajamas at home, along with his Spider-Man backpack, and he had left his Star Wars pajamas back at the campsite.  Oh, well, he wasn't going to see either movie again anytime soon, anyhow!  He shrugged.

Joey had almost made it back to the bedroom when he saw his brother coming down the hall in the direction he had been coming from.  Kevin still looked half-asleep, and did not even spot him as he shuffled past.  Joey bit his lower lip and smirked.  He was right.  A nightshirt really did look like a dress, and it looked even weirder on his big brother.

Joey re-entered his and Kaylee’s guest bedroom.  He looked at his bed and groaned.  Now I gotta make my stupid bed!

It took him several minutes to finish the job, but at last, his bed was made.  By then, Lucy was also up, and was pattering around on the floor, sniffing.  “Hey, Lucy,” Joey said softly, rubbing her head, and then he straightened his back and scanned the room.  Well, I guess it’s time to get dressed, he thought, but what shall I wear?

Before he had time to think about it, one of the lady elves from the day before entered the bedroom, carrying an armload of clothes.  “Good morning, Master Joey,” she said cheerfully.  “You wake up your little sister while I wake up Lady Jennifer and Lord Kevin.  Lady Arwen has asked me to bring some new clothes for you and your brother and sisters.”  Nodding, Joey approached Kaylee’s bed, then turned toward the elf.

“Uh, sorry, I forget your name,” he said.

“My name is Eledhwen,” she said.

Slowly, Joey repeated it three times; Eledhwen corrected his pronunciation until, on the third try, he got it correct.  “Sorry, that’s a hard name to pronounce,” he said.  “But I never was all that good with foreign names.”  Eledhwen laughed.

Joey turned back to his little sister as the elf watched.  “Wake up, Kaylee,” he said, shaking her shoulder.

“Go ‘way,” the little girl muttered grumpily, her eyes still closed.

“Wake up, Kaylee.  It’s morning!”  Joey paused, and then imitated their mother: “Rise and shine!”

Groaning, Kaylee sat up and rubbed her eyes, pouting.  “I want my mommy,” she mumbled.  Joey bit his lower lip again.  So did he.

Just then, Jennifer, who was still in her nightgown, entered the room.  “Good morning, you two,” she said, and then saw the elf.  “Oh.  Morning.”

“Good morning, Lady Jennifer.”  The elf smiled at her.  “Lady Arwen has asked me to wake you children and bring you some more clothes.”  She laid the stack on Joey’s bed.

Jennifer nodded.  ‘Well, I’m already awake.  In fact, it looks as if we all are.” She yawned and stretched her arms above her head.  “I just got out of the bathroom—uh, water closet.  Kevin’s still in there.  He went in when I came out. He’ll be back in a moment.”

Joey nodded.  “I used the bathroom, too.”

Jennifer looked at Kaylee.  “Guess I’d better take Kaylee there, then.” She approached her little sister.  “Come on, Kaylee.  Time to go potty, and then we need to get dressed.”  She took Kaylee out of the room.

-oo000oo-

After the children had prepared to go down to breakfast, they made their way through the passage.  Eledhwen had helped them dress, this time in clothing somewhat similar to the night before, but not quite so fancy and formal.  In the process, the children had fastened leather pouches to their new belts, one for each child; it was evident that since their new Elvish clothes had no pockets, pouches would be needed to carry their small belongings.  Kevin had removed several Band-Aids and a small bottle of antiseptic out of his first-aid kit and slipped them into his pouch, in case of an emergency, as well as his handkerchief.  Jennifer had knelt down to tie Kaylee’s hiking boots for her.

When the children had assured Eledhwen that they could find their way to the dining hall on their own this time, she had agreed.  She had gathered the clothing they had arrived in, and was now preparing to take it down to the laundry.

"Lady Jennifer, is there any special treatment this clothing needs?" the elf nursemaid asked her.

Jennifer shook her head.  "It's just jeans and T-shirts and jackets.  And socks and underwear, and our hiking boots.  And Kevin and Joey’s belts, only our boots and belts don’t need washing.  Sometimes, though, our boots need to be polished.”  She paused.  “You might want to make sure the zippers are zipped, and that the snaps are snapped together."  She pointed at the zippers on the jackets and blue jeans as she spoke.

When Eledhwen looked puzzled, Jennifer showed her the zippers and snaps on their jackets and on Kevin and Joey’s blue jeans, and then she demonstrated for the elf nursemaid how to zip and unzip the zippers and how to fasten and unfasten the snaps on their clothing.  “Our backpacks have snaps and zippers, too,” she said, holding hers up to demonstrate.

"Why, how clever!" the Elven-maiden exclaimed.

Jennifer grinned as she watched Eledhwen zip her jacket up and down again several times.  Suddenly, she remembered something.  "Oh!" she exclaimed.  "Kevin, Joey, and Kaylee—did all of you empty your pockets last night?"  She looked in her own jeans pockets to make sure they were empty.

Wincing, Kevin’s face flushed, and he examined his jeans pockets.  “Drat!  I forgot.”  While he sheepishly removed his wallet and the park ranger’s phone number from his back jeans pocket and returned to his own bedroom to leave them on his table, Joey and Kaylee grinned smugly, and virtuously pointed to the small tables by their beds, on which they had laid the contents of their pockets the previous evening.

"See," boasted Kaylee, "we remembered!"  She pointed at the pebble she had laid on the table the evening before.

Jennifer shook her head at her little sister, and repeated what their mother often said: "Kaylee, we don't brag about doing what we are supposed to do anyway!"

"I'm sorry," Kaylee said, looking abashed.

Joey rolled his eyes at Kaylee.  “Well, anyway, I remembered to bring my backpack, which is more than you did!”

Kaylee’s eyes filled with tears, and Jennifer put an arm around her shoulder.  “That’s enough, Joey.  You know Mom doesn’t like us to gloat when someone makes a mistake.”

Shrugging, Joey bit his lower lip.  “Sorry.”

Eledhwen stifled a smile; she could see how the elder sister was striving to fill in for their absent mother.  "Well, I shall take these away now."

At that moment, Mairen entered the room, and Eledhwen carried out the children’s clothes.  Mairen picked up Lucy and gently clasped the puppy against her chest.  “I shall take you down to the kitchen for your own breakfast, and then down to the kennels for a few lessons,” she told Lucy, who licked her neck and thumped her tail against the elf nursemaid’s chest.  Mairen turned to Kaylee.  "Lucy will get to meet the other dogs who live here, Miss Kaylee."

Kaylee reached up and patted the puppy.  "You be a good girl, Lucy, and mind your teacher!"

Suppressing a laugh, Mairen left the room with Lucy, passing Kevin as he entered.

The children headed off for breakfast.  They did recall the way to go, and as before, they soon ran into the hobbits again.  This time, Merry and Pippin were accompanied by Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam, as well as two Dwarves.

"Good morning, McClouds," said Bilbo cheerfully.  Kevin noticed that as Bilbo spoke, the other hobbits stood back slightly and watched him politely.  "Have you met our friends yet?  They are most honorable Dwarves from Erebor.”

The older one bowed to them.  "Glóin, son of Gróin, at your service and your family's."  He gestured to the other younger Dwarf.  "This is my son, Gimli."

The other Dwarf also bowed.  "At your service."  Unlike his father’s hair, which had a lot of grey in it, his own hair and his lengthy beard were red.  The lower half of both dwarves’ beards were divided into two thick braids, and Gimli’s hair also had one or two narrow braids dangling from his scalp.

Kevin hesitated only briefly, and then he bowed awkwardly.  "Uh, hi.  Pleased to meet you.  Kevin McCloud, uh, son of Steven McCloud, at your service.  These are my sisters, Jennifer and Kaylee."  He gestured toward each sister as he introduced her.  Jennifer bobbed a little bow, and Kaylee imitated her.  “And this is my brother, Joey."  When Joey didn't try to bow, Kevin lightly kicked his foot.  With his face flushed, Joey also gave an awkward bow.

"We are on the way to breakfast," said Bilbo politely.  "Won't you join us?"

Jennifer exchanged a glance with Kevin and nodded.  “We’d like that.  Thanks.”  She smiled at Bilbo.

The children fell in behind the others and followed along.  “I don’t get it,” Joey whispered, puzzled.  “We don’t bow and say, ‘at your service,’ at home.”

“True, but we’re not at home anymore,” Kevin whispered back, with a wry smile.  “We’re in a foreign country, remember?  Another world, actually, but it may as well be a foreign country—it is, really, when you think about it.  And foreigners have different customs from us Americans.  We have to be polite their way while we’re here.”  Joey shrugged, and then nodded.

“Yeah.”  Jennifer nodded in her turn.  “We do have to, don’t we?”  She looked at Kaylee.

Kaylee looked up at her big sister and nodded.  "Uh-huh.  I'm hungry!”

As they entered the dining hall, the children saw that it was set up differently for breakfast.  A great sideboard was set up on one side of the the room, with bowls and plates and silverware, and a good many different kinds of foods.  There was a large tureen filled with some sort of hot cereal that had berries and nuts floating in it; there was a selection of breads; and there were several kinds of meat—not only bacon, ham, and sausage, but fish and some sort of meat pie.  And there were many other things as well.

"It's like a buffet," Kevin whispered to Jennifer.

"What's a buffet?" asked Pippin, whose sharp hobbit ears had heard.

"It's like this," Jennifer answered, "a lot of foods, and everyone serves themselves."

"They always have breakfast this way," said the hobbit.  "It's the way we usually have second breakfast in the Shire, too, especially when there is company."

"Well, in the Great Houses, like the Great Smials or Brandy Hall, at any rate," put in Frodo.  "Smaller homes don't always do it this way."

"Sometimes in the Shire, when we have the big village feasts, we do it for supper, too," Sam put in.  "Everyone brings a dish to share."

“And so we serve ourselves, as we did at elevenses yesterday?” Jennifer asked.  Frodo nodded.

Jennifer helped herself to a bowl of the porridge-like substance.  It did not look quite like oatmeal, but it smelled really good.  "What is this?" she asked.

"The Elves call it frumenty," said Merry. "It's cracked wheat, with a little bit of milk and eggs in it.  When they serve it for breakfast, they put fruit and nuts in it, but sometimes at supper, they put in meat and serve it as a side dish."

Kevin and Jennifer helped Kaylee and Joey with their selections.  Kaylee did not want any of the frumenty, but agreed to taste a bite of Jennifer's when they got to the table.  But Jennifer persuaded her little sister to have some fresh bread and butter, and some of the fruit: there were sliced apples and pears, and some grapes.  Kaylee took some grapes and several apple slices, as well as two slices of bacon and a piece of sausage.  Both Kevin and Joey filled their plates with meat—bacon, ham, sausage, and some sort of chop, but no fish.  They also took some of the bread and fruit.  They were disappointed to find no eggs to go with the ham, sausage, and bacon.  Kevin also took a small spoonful of frumenty, but Joey did not want to try it.

The pitchers at the end of the dining hall held only water, but there was a teapot.  Jennifer and Kevin poured cups of hot tea for themselves and cups of water for Joey and Kaylee, and took them to the table, where all four of them sat side by side.  To Jennifer’s relief, there was a small pitcher of honey on the table; she drizzled some honey into her own tea with a little wooden honey dipper.

Kevin left his own tea unsweetened.  Too bad there’s no orange juice, he thought.  I’m surprised there’s no milk either, except maybe in the frumenty.  Doesn’t Rivendell have any cows?

Bilbo grinned.  "You can thank me for that," the old hobbit said.  "When I first came here, I insisted on tea for breakfast with all the trimmings.  Many of the Elves drink it as well, now."

After Kevin, Jennifer, Joey, and Kaylee had taken one another’s hands and bowed their heads, and Kaylee had asked the blessing, the children talked for a little while with the hobbits about the food.  It turned out that food in the Shire was closer to the sorts of foods that the McClouds ate at home, if somewhat more old-fashioned than they were used to.  However, the children soon learned that not even the hobbits ate dry cereal like Cheerios and corn flakes.

Kevin tried to explain the concept of dry cereal.  "You buy them at the store in boxes.  They’re made of grain.  The Cheerios are made of dried oats that have been turned into little O shapes."  He made a circle with his fingers to demonstrate.  "You just pour them in a bowl, add some sugar, and pour on some milk, and they are ready to eat with a spoon.  If you want to, you can also chop up some fruit and include it in with the cereal, too.  Some cereal comes in flakes—corn flakes, wheat flakes, bran flakes, and so forth—and may have raisins in them.  Like raisin bran.  Not all flakes do, though."

"And some are like little squares with cinnamon, or little balls or circles or other shapes, and come in all kind of colors!  They’re delicious!" Joey added enthusiastically.  When he was home, he loved Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms, although his mother would not let him or Kaylee have them very often.  She did, however, allow them to eat Rice Krispies, which they also loved.

Kaylee smiled broadly.  “They’re soo delicious!”  She smacked her lips.

Merry looked at the children suspiciously.  "How do they make them like that?  It seems like it would be an awful lot of work to sit around and make enough tiny little bits of circles or squares or whatever, enough to fill a box.  What's the use of it?"

Sam shook his head.  "Don't sound too good to me."

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged glances.  “They’re made in factories,” Kevin explained.  “Factories are places where things are made that people need or want.”  It was clear from the expressions on the others’ faces that his explanation did not satisfy their curiosity.  Kevin shrugged.  “It’s kind of hard to explain to people who have never heard of factories, I’m afraid.”  Biting her lower lip, Jennifer nodded agreement.  Kevin continued, “Well, anyway, the factories make the different kinds of cereal and put them in boxes and ship them to stores, and there, people buy them.  That’s where we get ours.”

Jennifer nodded agreement.  “We buy our cooked cereal in stores, too—oatmeal and Malt-o-Meal and cream of wheat.  You have to cook them before you can eat them.  Once they’re cooked, we always put some milk and sugar in ours before we eat them.”

Just then, Gandalf and Boromir entered the dining hall and, within a few minutes, presented themselves at the table with laden plates.  "May we join you?" Gandalf asked.  The others gestured toward the empty chairs in welcome.

As Boromir and Gandalf sat down, Boromir asked curiously, "What were you speaking of?"

Frodo looked up with a twinkle in his eye.  "The children were trying to explain one of the foods they are accustomed to in their own land: little bits of grain served in boxes."

Kevin and Jennifer looked at each other in dismay as they thought of trying to explain it all over again.  Bilbo decided to take mercy on them and changed the conversation.  "Over the years I've been here, I've introduced some of our Shire foods here, but the Elves' foods are all quite delicious, if you only give it a chance."

After several moments of silent eating and of listening to the hobbits discuss the food, Jennifer, who had finished her frumenty, laid her spoon down and wiped her mouth with her cloth napkin.  “Uh, I have a question.  Why does everyone here call me ‘Lady Jennifer’?” the young girl asked.  “And why is everyone calling my brother ‘Lord Kevin’?  Is that some kind of custom here?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Gandalf nodded.  “We tend to be more formal with ladies than I suspect people are in your world.”

Boromir nodded.  “Besides which, you are a noble young lady, and here in Middle-earth, we address noble ladies, in particular, accordingly.”

Jennifer blushed.  “I don’t know how noble my heart is, but thanks.  I try.”

Kevin laughed sheepishly.  “Same here, to be honest.”

Gandalf chuckled.  “Yes, you do; we’ve all seen that.  But Boromir isn’t talking only about nobility of spirit.”

“No.”  Boromir nodded agreement.  “You and your brothers and sister all come from a noble family in your world, Lady Jennifer; we have all sensed that.  You may not see yourself that way, but you are.”

Jennifer exchanged an amused, nervous glance with Kevin and shrugged.  “Well, uh, thanks again, but we’re not, not really.  There are no aristocrats in our country, no class system.  There are in some other countries, but not in the United States of America.  No titled lords and ladies, just people who are rich, poor, or middle class, depending on how much money they make.”

Kevin nodded agreement.  “We’re not rich, but we are middle class.  Our dad works as an geologist, so he earns enough money to provide for our needs and some of our wants.”

“That’s right,” Jennifer said.

Boromir looked from Kevin to Jennifer, and then smiled at the young girl graciously.  “You are noble on the inside, Lady Jennifer.  And that is where it counts the most.”  He looked at Kevin.  “I have seen that same nobility in you, Lord Kevin.”

Jennifer blushed again and exchanged a glance with her brother.  “Uh, thanks.  It’s—it’s kind of you to say so.”

“Yeah,” Kevin agreed.  “Thanks.”

Kaylee wiggled and bounced on her seat.  “Hey, does that mean I’m a lady, too?”

Gandalf's eyes twinkled.  "It certainly does, little one.  Lady Kaylee!"  The little girl giggled, and the rest laughed.  Kevin ruffled her hair affectionately.  "Although at your age, it is customary here in the North to call you 'Miss' Kaylee."

"Hey, Lady Kaylee, that rhymes!" Joey said, with a grin.

“It certainly does, Master Joey,” agreed Boromir, smiling in amusement.

“You know what that means, don’t you?”  Jennifer turned to her little sister.  “It means you have to behave like a lady, and that means having good manners.  Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’, using good table manners, not interrupting people when they talk, and all that stuff.  And Joey, it means you have to behave like a gentleman, and that means having good manners, too.”

Gandalf nodded agreement.  “Well, one thing has become clear to me.  You children have wise parents, and so I have no doubt that Master Joey and Miss Kaylee will learn good manners.  They have already begun to, in fact.”  Jennifer nodded. 

Kevin and Jennifer looked at one another.  It appeared that they'd be "Lord" and "Lady" whether they had real titles or not.  And while it seemed strange to hear Joey and Kaylee addressed as "Master" and "Miss", Bilbo said that was the custom for children in his home of the Shire, and in the place called Bree.  It would be far too difficult to argue with everyone, and easiest to just go along with the customs.

-oo000oo-

After breakfast, the children were approached by Mairen, who brought them Lucy back from the kennels and said the Lady Arwen had asked her to show them the parts of the Last Homely House they had not seen yet.  Kaylee took Mairen's hand and skipped alongside the Elf-maiden, asking many questions.  Joey walked at Mairen's other side; wagging her tail, Lucy scampered alongside Joey.  Kevin and Jennifer fell back slightly.

"Jen," whispered Kevin, "do you think we should talk to Joey and Kaylee about what Gandalf told us?  What if one of them says something they’re not supposed to?"

Jennifer shrugged and shook her head, not to say "no", but to indicate that she wasn't sure.  "I almost can't believe it myself—I mean, not about the angel part, but just that all of this still seems so unreal.  I know it has to be real, because, well, it can't be a dream.  There are just too many details, and everything here is so vivid.  No dream I’ve ever had has had so many details, or such vivid ones."

"I know what you mean.  None of my dreams ever have, either."  Kevin sighed.  "But I do think that we have to talk to them.  I think it will make Kaylee, and probably Joey, too, feel better if they know an angel is watching over them."

Jennifer looked thoughtful.  "I don't think he's that kind of angel.  He said he was a 'Maia', whatever that is.  That's probably a totally different kind of angel than the ones we know about."

Kevin was about to reply when he realized that Mairen, the two younger children, and Lucy were way ahead of them.  They had stopped to wait for Kevin and Jennifer to catch up.  They'd stopped near the large double doors that opened to the outside.  The two older McClouds stepped up their pace to catch up with the others.

As soon as Kevin and Jennifer caught up, Mairen swung open one of the double doors.  The doorway led to a wide, stone-flagged porch.  The steps that began at the porch went down to what looked like a large vegetable garden, though it was much prettier and more elegant than any vegetable garden they had ever seen before.  It was arranged in beds built of stone, with the stone wide enough at the top to sit on and easily reach into the beds.  The beds led to a large greenhouse, and in the center of the garden was a large well, with stone benches built around it.

"A wishing well!" Kaylee exclaimed, with a delighted grin on her baby-like face, and raced forward.

Mairen laughed and allowed the little girl to run ahead on her own, followed by Joey and Lucy.  "What does she mean by 'wishing well'?"

"It's a custom in our country," said Jennifer.  "If you drop a penny or other small coin in the well and make a wish, it’s supposed to come true."

Mairen stopped and looked at them incredulously.

Kevin shook his head.  "It doesn’t, really.  It's just a thing for fun," he said.  "Most grown-ups don't really believe it, but it's fun to imagine it.  And little kids do believe it sometimes."

"Ah, I see," she said.  "And of course, seeing the small ones enjoying the custom also makes the grown-ups happy as well.  And do grown-ups also observe the custom, even though they do not believe?"

Jennifer smiled.  "Yes, because it reminds them of when they were little.  And also, sometimes young couples’ll do it just because it seems romantic."

With a smile and a nod, Mairen went on to show them the greenhouse, and also the laundry-house, which was nearby.  There, they found Eledhwen with some other Elves.  They were washing some clothes in large stone basins using a long paddle-like board to move the cloth around and sometimes to beat the clothes, and there was a fire beneath a large copper cauldron of water, from which steam arose.  Just beyond, they saw a long, fence-like structure, on which some more clothing was hung to dry, including their own.  The children’s own clothes rather stood out, the blue jeans, brightly colored T-shirts, and jackets in sharp contrast to the white linens and to the more subdued colors of the Elves’ clothing hanging alongside them.  Jennifer noticed that all of these clothes seemed to be everyday clothing.  None of the sorts of colorful finery was on display there.  She asked about that.

Eledhwen shook her head, and some of the other Elves laughed at her question.  "Fine clothes like those you wore to the feast would never be washed in water," she said.  “Instead, they are brushed clean and hung in the fresh air.  If they become badly soiled or stained, the spots may be cleaned alone."

Jennifer nodded.  “Oh.  Well, where we come from, all of our clothes get washed in water.  Even fancy dress-up clothes.”

“Not all of them,” Kevin reminded her.  “Some of them have to be dry-cleaned, remember?”

Jennifer nodded, smiling sheepishly.  “Oh, yeah, that’s right!  I forgot.  You can’t wash those clothes in water, so you have to take them to the cleaners.”

Eledhwen joined Mairen, and they showed the children a few more areas, where various crafts and work was done.  Then the two elf maidens led the children and Lucy back through the vegetable garden and the wishing well in the center.

"We have some other tasks to attend to, Lord Kevin and Lady Jennifer.  Do you wish to return to your rooms?"

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged glances.  "No, thanks," said Kevin.  "I think we'll rest here a few minutes, if you don't mind, and then maybe do a little more exploring."  Jennifer nodded agreement.

The two Elf-maidens gave them a nod and a word of farewell.  Jennifer sank down on one of the benches by the well and held her arms out silently.  Kaylee crawled into her sister's lap, as a now-exhausted Lucy curled up beneath the bench.  Joey had gone to the well and was hanging over it on his elbows, peering down into it.

Kevin looked at him.  "Hey, Joey!  Come on over here.  We have some stuff we need to tell you guys about some things before we go back inside."  Joey raced toward them.

Jennifer looked at her little brother and sister.  "What do you think about all these Elves, and the hobbits and dwarves and so on?"

Kaylee looked puzzled at the question.  "I like them!  Everyone is friendly, and it's beautiful here!"  She smiled broadly.  “It’s just like a fairyland!”  The others laughed.

"Why are you asking us that, Jen?" Joey said.  "There's nothing bad about these people!  I just know they're good guys!"

"What about Gandalf?  He's a wizard," said Kevin.

"Well, he's a good one, then."  Joey looked up at his older brother defiantly.

Kevin chuckled.  "You are right, Joey."  He sat down on the bench next to the one where Jennifer and Kaylee were.  "He is good, but he's more than just a good wizard."  He turned to Kaylee.  “And he’s not a humbug wizard, either.”

Joey sat down and looked at his brother.  "What do you mean?"

"Well, it's a sort of secret."  Kevin turned to Kaylee, whose eyes had grown wide.  "Can you keep a secret, Kaylee?"

She nodded silently and snuggled closer to Jennifer.

"Last night, after you two went to bed, Gandalf came to my room and spoke with Jennifer and me.  He told us what he is.  Joey, Kaylee, Gandalf is a kind of wizard they call an Istar, but he was something else before that.  He’s an angel, sent by God."

"WHOA!" Joey exclaimed.  “A real angel, huh?"

“Yep, a real angel.  No wings, though.”  With a smile, Kevin looked at Kaylee, who still had not said anything.  "What about you, kitten?  What do you think?" 

"I'm glad he's an angel.  I like him!”  Kaylee tilted her head.  “But why is it a secret?"

Kevin bit his lower lip.  "Well, uh, that's kind of hard to explain.  But it seems that we may not be in another world after all, but far back in the past—sometime maybe after the Garden of Eden, but before Abraham, and maybe even before the Flood and Noah."  Kaylee exchanged a glance with Jennifer.  Kevin added, “Only thing is, you won’t find this time in any history book.  Or the Bible, either.”

"Whoa!  That's a long time ago," said Joey, seemingly taking it in stride.  "So why is it a secret?  And why is it not in history books or the Bible?"

"Well, it seems as if it is not the right time for the people here to know about many of the things that God revealed in the Bible.  God revealed himself to Abraham, and this seems to be a long time before Abraham."  Kevin paused.  “As for why it’s not in the Bible or history books, well, Jen and I just don’t know.  The Bible only tells about humans, Adam and Eve, you know; it doesn’t say anything about elves, dwarfs, or hobbits.  I don’t know why that’s the case.”

Joey and Kaylee were silent for a few moments, trying to absorb the information they had just heard.  Then in a small voice, Kaylee asked, "Does this mean we can't talk about Jesus?"

“Yeah, the Bible says we have to talk about Jesus!” Joey added, frowning.  “So people can get saved.”

Jennifer looked at Kevin.  "I'm not sure, sweetie.  Jesus was in a lot of prophecies back in Old Testament times, but they never said His name exactly.  As far as we can tell, none of those prophecies exist here yet, and even if any of them do, none of them have come true."

“Yeah, Jesus hasn’t even been born yet.  Most of the folks in the Bible haven’t been born yet.  Abraham’s gotta be born first, you know.  Back home, Joey, we can tell people about Jesus—in fact, we’re commanded to—because we live after Jesus came.  If we’re right about where we are—or when, rather—that’s not the case for the people here.”  Kevin looked troubled.  "I guess we'll have to pray about that, and maybe we can all talk with Gandalf about it again later.  We'll see what he says about it."

Jennifer nodded.  “Yeah.”

Just then they heard the chime of the bell which indicated it was nearly time for lunch.  As Kaylee leaped to her feet and darted ahead of her brothers and sister, she tripped and fell on the path.  Sobbing, she turned sideways and clutched her right elbow.

Jennifer and Kevin darted toward her.  As Jennifer gently lifted Kaylee into a sitting position, Kevin removed the little girl’s now-bloodstained hand from her elbow and looked at it.  “It’s all right, Kaylee,” he said soothingly.  “It’s just a scraped elbow.  I know it hurts, but I’ll fix you right up.”  He removed the Band-Aids, the bottle of antiseptic, and his handkerchief from the pouch that the Elves had given him that morning, and after he had gently dabbed her scrape with the handkerchief, he dribbled some antiseptic onto it.  Then he tore the wrapping off one of the Band-Aids.  Within a few minutes, he had taped the Band-Aid over her elbow and wiped the blood off her left hand.  All the while, Jennifer whispered soothingly into her little sister’s ear.

At last, Kaylee’s sobs subsided, and Jennifer wiped off the tears streaking her face.  “Come on, Kaylee.”  Jennifer lifted the little girl up in her arms.  “I’ll bet you anything there’ll be something good for lunch.”  A wan smile crept across Kaylee’s face, and Jennifer laughed.  Followed by Lucy, the children went inside, Jennifer carrying Kaylee.

-oo000oo-

One morning, a few days later, on the terrace, Kaylee had been earnestly explaining Santa Claus to the hobbits, with Joey giving her some help.  Their explanation had been rather confusing, as it had been laced with ideas from various television specials and Christmas movies and Clement C. Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas”.  Just as the hobbits were getting completely confused, Mairen and Eledhwen came to remind the younger children that they had been invited to take elevenses with Bilbo.  Joey, Kaylee, and the hobbits hurried off with Eledhwen, and Mairen stayed with Jennifer and Kevin.

Elrond, Arwen, Glorfindel, Legolas, Gandalf, and the older children had been standing in the background and listening in amusement.  Now with the hobbits and younger children gone, they entered the dining room and took their seats at the table, and so did Mairen.  Servants served the food.  "Now, then," Elrond asked, one eyebrow climbing up his forehead as he picked up his fork.  "Who is this Santa Claus?”

Kevin and Jennifer looked at each other.  “It’s a good thing Kaylee and Joey are gonna be eating lunch with Eledhwen and the hobbits, this time,” Jennifer said, with a grin.  “Especially Kaylee.”  She took a bite after she had spoken.

“Yeah,” agreed her brother, grinning back.  As he laid his fork down, he looked at Elrond.  “You remember what Kaylee said, how excited she got, when you first told us you were Elves.”  Elrond nodded.  “He’s a make-believe character where we come from, but he’s based on a man who really existed a long time ago, in our world..."  Pausing to clear his throat, Kevin (with occasional help from Jennifer) tried to explain some of the story, beginning with Saint Nicholas, and adding in what they knew of how the legend had evolved.  The Elves and Gandalf exchanged puzzled glances as Kevin spoke.

“Well, anyway, little children often still believe in him; Kaylee does,” he continued.  “That’s why she got all excited when you told her that all of you were Elves, Master Elrond.  Joey believed in him till last year; Jennifer and I both did when we were Kaylee’s age."   The two of them went on to explain the modern ideas, including Santa's elves.  "The elves—they’re make-believe characters, too, in our world, and they’re nothing like the real-life Elves we’ve met here.  They’re more like—uh, well, like…”  He paused, thinking.  “Well, really more like...hobbits, except for the furry feet."  Kevin blushed.

“And you should see the clothes they wear,” Jennifer added, grinning.

The others all laughed, and Kevin thought of how seldom he heard Elves actually laugh aloud.  When they did, it sounded like...well, not like any mortal laughter.  It was almost like music.  He sighed in contentment and continued.

“Christmas Day is on December twenty-fifth, and Santa delivers the toys the night before.”  Kevin paused.  “Little kids are always so excited when it’s time to go to bed on Christmas Eve, because they know that Santa is going to come and bring them toys and candy while they’re asleep.  It’s easier to get children to go to bed then than any other night of the year, because they know that Santa won’t come while they’re awake.  And it’s easier to get them to behave themselves when Christmas Day is approaching, because they know that Santa Claus only brings toys to good children.”  Exchanging knowing looks, Elrond and the others chuckled, and Kevin grinned again.  “It’s true about the ice and snow at the North Pole, since it’s right at the top of the world above the Arctic Circle, though it’s not true about the rest.”

Kevin was surprised to see the expressions on everyone else's faces turn grave and serious, and wondered what he had said to elicit that reaction.  But before he could try to decide whether to ask about it, Jennifer spoke up.  “That’s right.  Joey knows the truth about Santa Claus now; last Christmas was his last to believe.  Kaylee and Megan still believe.  Megan only learned about him last Christmas.”

Kevin nodded agreement, and Jennifer smiled wistfully.  “That’s the nice thing about being a little kid, you know—you get to believe in the magic.”  She laughed.  “Kaylee likes to leave cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve, before she goes to bed, because she knows he’ll be getting hungry on that long flight.”  She took a swallow of her water.

Elrond nodded, his eyes twinkling.  “I see.  And now that you have told us about Santa Claus, who is the Easter bunny?”  He paused.  “I seem to remember Miss Kaylee mentioning that bunny while I was questioning you children about your arrival here.”  He took a bite of his bread and followed it with a sip of wine.

For the next several minutes, as everyone finished eating, Kevin and Jennifer explained to the Elves and Gandalf about the Easter bunny.

“Uh, Gandalf,” Jennifer finally said, “could you do us a favor?  Could you talk with Joey and Kaylee about—uh, what you and Kevin and I talked about the other night?”

Kevin nodded.  “Jennifer and I spoke with them the morning after our arrival, but they have some questions we can’t answer.”

Gandalf nodded.  “Certainly.  Why don't you children come to my quarters when you have finished lunch?”

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged relieved glances.  “Thanks,” Jennifer said.  "We will be there."  Exchanging a glance with Kevin, she added, “We want to be there, too, Kevin and me.”  Kevin nodded agreement.

-oo000oo-

Gandalf knew that the older McCloud siblings wished him to speak to the younger children, and to answer some questions they had.  For himself, he had not a few questions of his own.  He hoped that he had the answers that the children needed.  He had never been as sure of himself since arriving in Ennor as he had been when he had dwelt in the West.

Now he awaited them in his quarters a few hours later, where he had asked them to come after they had finished eating luncheon.  There was a tentative tap at his door.  "Enter," he said.

The door opened, and Jennifer and Kevin ushered Joey and Kaylee in ahead of them.  Lucy scampered into the room ahead of the younger children.  The children looked about Gandalf’s room curiously.  Like all the guest rooms in Rivendell, it was beautiful, but it was still somewhat plainer than their own rooms.  The wizard sat in an armchair by the hearth, smoking his pipe, and there was a large cluster of smoke rings above his head.  They were stacked up in rows, and were not dissipating the way smoke rings usually do.

His guests gaped at them in slack-jawed wonder.  He smiled and shook his head.  "Just one moment," he said.  He made a small gesture with his hand, and the smoke rings linked together in a long chain, and then floated out the wide-open window.  "There."  He knocked his pipe out and laid it aside.  "Master Elrond does not care for smoking; he would not reproach me for doing so in the privacy of my room, but I try to avoid having any smoke smell indoors.  By keeping the smoke together and sending it all away at once, I am able to not leave any scent behind."

Joey gaped at the window.  “Whoa!  How’d you do that?!”

Gandalf chuckled.  “I am a wizard, Master Joey.  I can do many things that mortals and elves cannot do.”

He gestured to the other chairs in the room.  "I understand you have some questions.  Please be seated, and we will see if I am able to answer them."

Although there were enough chairs for all of them, Kaylee preferred to sit on Jennifer's lap.  Lucy decided she wanted the wizard's lap, and trotted over, standing up and, with a whine, putting her front paws on his knees.  He chuckled, and indicated she was welcome.  After three tries, she managed to leap up onto Gandalf’s lap with his help and then settled right down, licking his right hand.  He placed his other hand upon her back and began lightly stroking her.

"Now we are all comfortable, children.  What do you still need to know?"

Kaylee was staring at him, her eyes wide.  "Are you really an angel?"

Joey shook his head in bewilderment.  “Angels don’t smoke!”

Gandalf turned his bushy eyebrows and intense stare at the boy, suppressing his smile.  "And you know that how, Master Joey?"  His black eyes were twinkling, but Joey was intimidated by those eyebrows.  Gandalf had rather thought they would work just as well on a young boy as they did on certain Tooks.  He was glad to note that he appeared to be right on that point.  "Now, I believe I was about to answer your sister."

He turned a much gentler gaze on the little one.  "Miss Kaylee, I believe from what Lord Kevin and Lady Jennifer told me, that it is quite likely.  We do not call ourselves angels.  We are called the Ainur, and we were in the presence of the Creator when the world was sung into being.”  His dark eyes looked wistful.  "All was well, until our brother Melkor wished to make his own song.  He sowed disharmony among the Ainur.  But Eru Ilúvatar turned the Song back to His own purpose."  He stopped as he saw confusion on Kaylee's face.  He paused and thought briefly, before continuing in simpler words.  "This made Melkor angry, and he left the others and persuaded many other Ainur to join him.  Melkor chose to try and destroy the world.  The oldest and most powerful among us were called the Valar.  I was among the Maia, who were servants of the Valar.  Sauron joined Melkor's side along with many others.  After Melkor's defeat, Sauron decided he would take Melkor's place.  We wizards—Istari, as we are called—were sent here to Middle-earth to assist the Free People in their fight against Sauron.”

Gandalf paused as Lucy began to chew his index finger.  After a moment, he withdrew his finger and patted her on the head.  "When I came to Middle-earth, and became a wizard, I lost many of my powers and some of my memories, for we Istari were not meant to order Elves and Men and other free peoples around, but to serve as guides and advisors most of the time.  Our power is used to help, but never to force."

Jennifer looked thoughtful.  “I wonder where Satan fits into all of this.  He’s the enemy of God in our time.  Or of Eru, as you call him.  We call him God.  Or Jehovah.”

"Perhaps that is simply another name for Melkor the Deceiver.  Or perhaps another who rebelled has taken that name.  We have no way to know."

“Satan wanted to take God’s place and take over ruling the universe,” Kevin said.  “His original name was Lucifer; he was the leader of the angels before he fell.  He’s also called the devil.  He led a revolution in Heaven, trying to overthrow God, and God threw him and his demons out.”  He paused.  “And then he tempted Eve, who fell, and Adam fell with her.  They were the very first human beings; God created them.  He made them in His image.  They both disobeyed God when Satan tempted Eve.  Sin came into the world as a result.  And death came along with it.”  Jennifer nodded agreement.

Gandalf took another puff of his pipe.  "Much is known of the origins of the Elves and their awakening in the First Age, but of Men, there are no legends of their beginnings before they first met Elves.  Such stories would be lost, with no way to record them.  It is not unlikely that the tale you have of Man's creation may be the real one.  But it is not one I have ever heard told; at any rate, I do believe that your 'Lucifer' could easily be Melkor, for he has many names."  He looked at the children.  "We do know that Men were first encountered to the East."

“Well, the devil and his demons are still on the loose in our time,” Jennifer said.  “God hasn’t imprisoned them yet.”

"Is that so?" the wizard asked.

Kevin made a face.  “It sure is!  Why do you suppose there’s so much evil in the world where we come from?”

"Melkor is in the Void here and now, yet his evil marring of Arda cannot be undone.  And he had many who helped him who still roam the world.  Perhaps your Satan was another of Melkor's following.  I certainly hope that it is not Sauron, for that would bode ill for our errand," he muttered the latter almost under his breath, and the children were not sure they heard him right.

“Errand?  What errand?” Kevin asked, exchanging a puzzled glance with Jennifer, Joey, and Kaylee.

"Never you mind, young man."  The children wanted to ask Gandalf what he meant by that; however, the glint in his eyes discouraged them from pursuing the subject.

Joey looked thoughtful, and then, looking at Gandalf, he said, "Kevin said we have to be careful of what we say.  Can't we talk about Jesus?  We're supposed to tell everyone about Him."

“Jesus has to be born first, Joey,” Jennifer reminded him.

Gandalf nodded.  "I do not think you must never speak of Him, but you must remember that the things you know about Him have not yet been revealed.  It might be safe for you to tell stories about Him, but you must not try to make others believe that they are anything but stories of your own land.  I think that if you simply keep in mind that our Creator has a plan for things to happen in His own time, you will not go wrong.”

“Yes, sir.”  Kevin looked thoughtful.  “We’re not in another world, are we?  We—went back in time.”

Way back,” Jennifer added.  “Not even Abraham’s been born yet, has he?”

"I do not know who Abraham is, but that is what Master Elrond and I believe, although it could be possible that you are also in another world as well.  We have no other experience like yours to go by, after all."  Gandalf sighed, and gave a pat to the puppy in his lap.  "But whether you are only changed in time, or in time and space, we do know that you are now far back before the Age that you know in your home."

"So," asked Jennifer, "you are saying that maybe we can tell a little about what we believe, but it's not the right time for us to try to get other people to believe what we believe?"

"Yes, Lady Jennifer.  I also think that you may talk among yourselves, and share the songs and tales of your land with others, so long as you remember that none of what you speak of has come to be as yet."

He looked once more at the two younger children.  He was sure that they did not truly understand all that was at stake, and yet he felt confident that they would know when it was right to speak and when it was not.  "Do not worry, children.  So long as you remember what I have told you, I do not think you will say anything out of turn."

The children exchanged glances and nodded.  “Yes, sir,” said Kevin.  He shook his head.  “I just don’t know what to make of it, Gandalf.  None of us do.  Our Holy Book, the Bible, doesn’t talk about this time, and neither do our history books.  The Bible only talks about the fall and redemption of man—it doesn’t even mention elves, dwarfs, or hobbits.”

“It sure doesn’t,” Jennifer agreed.

Scanning their faces, Gandalf asked, "Have any of you more pressing questions?  If not, I will be glad to answer later, if you think of any.  In the meanwhile, I have to meet Master Elrond."

"No, sir," said Kevin politely, answering for them all.  "You've given us an awful lot to think about.  I'm sure we’ll have more questions later.  But not right now."

A brief silence descended upon the group for a moment, and then Kaylee wiggled on Jennifer’s lap as she prepared to get down.  “Hey, Mr. Gandalf!  Guess what!  I know what one plus one is.”

“Oh?”  Gandalf raised his bushy eyebrows.  “And what is that, may I ask?”

“Two!”  Smiling broadly, Kaylee held up two fingers and then slid off her sister’s lap.

The others laughed, and Jennifer rubbed her back.  “Well done!” said Gandalf, with a chuckle.

The rest of the children rose, and Kaylee reclaimed Lucy.  "Thank you, Mr. Gandalf," she said, smiling broadly.  "Lucy likes you.”

He smiled.  "And I like her, too.  She is a delightful puppy.”  He rubbed Lucy’s head, and she licked his fingers.  “Farewell, children, for now."  He stood as the children left the room.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings​ belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: We would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of our beta, Linda Hoyland, another well-known and prolific LotR fanwriter, whose many wonderful stories also grace this site.

Chapter 8: Jolly Holiday

The Last Homely House east of the Sea was, as Bilbo once told the children, "a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all"—or, as the children discovered, playing or exploring or reading as well.  Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.  Evil things did not come into that valley.

Rivendell was a place of tranquillity and beauty, and soon some of the anxiety and loneliness were lifted from the children's minds and hearts.  They did not stop missing their parents, but they soon ceased to pine for them, including Kaylee.  Kevin and Jennifer, in particular, continued to miss having modern-day conveniences, but they managed to find the strength to do without them, and to ration their use of the electronic gadgets that they had brought with them in order to save the batteries.  The children soon adapted to their current situation and grew healthy and content for the time being.  Though home always remained in the back of their minds, they found they were not pining for home quite so much.

For Kevin, Jennifer, Joey, and Kaylee, their stay in Rivendell was like one of their annual summer trips, only without their parents.  Arwen took them on a second tour of the Last Homely House, and Master Elrond or one of the other Elves periodically took them out to explore the valley of Rivendell.  The rest of the time, they explored the house on their own and played with the younger hobbits, among themselves, and with Lucy.

Every morning, after Lucy had had her own breakfast, the servants took the puppy down to the kennels for obedience training.  In addition to being housebroken, which was done on a pad and outside in the grass, Lucy gradually learned to sit, to stand, to stay, to lie down, to heel, and to come when called.  However, while she was soon housebroken (for which the children were grateful, as it spared them having to do that nasty job themselves), bringing her to the point where she was otherwise reliable in her response to commands was a slow process.

Kaylee spent a good deal of time on a daily basis playing with the dolls and stuffed animals that Arwen gave her, drawing pictures on the sheets of rag paper that Elrond gave her, and looking at the pictures in her storybooks.  Joey read his comic books, and he played with the toys in his backpack and the toys that Elrond gave him.  Both of the younger children also spent time playing with Lucy; frequently, they went to the kitchen by themselves or with the hobbits to visit the cooks and get something to snack on.

One afternoon, Kaylee was sitting cross-legged on the terrace, playing with Lucy.  As always, when feeling playful, the puppy growled and scampered about, crouching and chewing on Kaylee's fingers as she wiggled her hand about in Lucy's mouth.  The little girl giggled.

"Well, that looks like fun!" a now-familiar voice said above her.

Raising her head, Kaylee saw Gandalf standing over her.  "Hi, Mr. Gandalf!"  She smiled broadly and waved at him.  Chuckling, the wizard crouched next to her on the terrace, laying down his staff, and removing his bluish-grey pointed hat to set on the terrace next to it.

"And what are you and Miss Lucy doing?" Gandalf asked, his eyes twinkling.

"Playing!"  Kaylee giggled as Lucy ran toward the edge of the terrace and then back towards her, yipping.  "Lucy likes to play!"

Gandalf laughed.  "Yes, I can see that."  The puppy scampered up to him, and Gandalf lifted her up and rubbed her head.  Wagging her tail, Lucy licked his beard and then began to chew on his fingers.  "Still teething, I see, Miss Lucy," the wizard said in mock-sternness.  Lucy thumped her tail against his chest, and Kaylee grinned.

"She likes you," she announced.

With a chuckle, Gandalf set the puppy on the terrace.  "The feeling is mutual.  Lucy is a sweet puppy."  He re-positioned his legs and looked at Kaylee.  "Where are your brothers and sister, Miss Kaylee?"  He scanned the terrace as he spoke.

"Inside."  Kaylee shrugged.  "I wanted to go out and play."  She looked up at the elf-nursemaid who was sitting on a step nearby.  "Miss Mairen's with me."

Nodding toward Mairen, Gandalf agreed, "Yes, I see that she is."  Mairen smiled at them both.

"Hey, Mr. Gandalf, guess what?"  Kaylee bounced, smiling broadly.  "Mommy and Daddy's gonna take us to Disneyland this summer!"

"Are they, really?"  Gandalf tilted his head.  "And what is Disneyland, Miss Kaylee?"

"A theme park.  We've been there before.  We'll get to see Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Disney princesses and the Seven Dwarfs!"  Kaylee beamed at the prospect.  "And go on the rides and everything!"

Gandalf chuckled.  He hadn't the least idea of what she was talking about, but whatever this Disneyland was, it was clear that Kaylee and probably her siblings enjoyed going there.  "And what are you going to do before then, when you go home?"

Kaylee shrugged.  "Don't know.  School's gotta be out for the summer first."  She looked at Gandalf.  "I'm in pre-K.  We get to play games and draw and colour and learn stuff, and Miss Jackson reads to us."

"We?"

Kaylee nodded.  "The other kids and me. In my class."

"And who is Miss Jackson?"

"She's my teacher."  She smiled.  "And guess what?  I can write my own name, and my ABCs!  I can say them, too!  And I can count to ten!"

Gandalf nodded with a half-shrug.  He wished he had more understanding of the things the children spoke of.  It was disturbing to imagine a world so foreign to his knowledge; sometimes he felt that there might be something important in the child's prattle that he might miss because he did not know what she was talking about.  On the other hand, there was always something delightful to be found in any child's innocent prattle.  If nothing else, it made him smile.  "So are there many other children in your class?"  He had learned early on that the children of this family used the word for baby goats to describe other children—very odd.

Kaylee nodded.  "We have ten, six girls and four boys.  Most of them are nice, but sometimes Mikey—that's one of the boys—he gets mad, and then he's mean."  She scowled.  "Miss Jackson makes him stand in the corner.  She says it's 'time out'."

"And does that work?" he said with an ill-concealed smile.

Kaylee shrugged.  "Well, I guess so.  He's usually over being mad and says 'sorry' when she lets him come out."  Lucy ran toward her, and the little girl picked her up.

Just then they heard Jennifer calling, "Kaylee!  It's time to come in and get ready for dinner!"  She came out onto the terrace, and Mairen rose from her seat on the bench, taking Lucy from the little girl.  Kaylee turned back to wave at Gandalf, who smiled and waved back, and then Mairen and Jennifer escorted the little girl indoors.

Gandalf remained on the bench and took out his pipe thoughtfully.

-oo000oo-

Once a day, Jennifer spent some time practicing her baton moves with a tree branch that she had found on one of their exploring expeditions; she also spent some time every day reading the teenage novels that she had brought with her to read on the camping trip, until she had finished them all.  As often as they dared, she and Kevin also took pictures and videos of their surroundings and of their new companions with her digital camera and his tablet.  They fully intended to show the photos and videos to their parents when they returned to their own world.  It would be their proof that they were telling the truth.  In addition, in her bedroom, Jennifer read the books that she had brought with her.  After she had finished Little Women, she read, in gulps, The Legend of the King.  She also spent some time daily reading her teen study Bible.

One day, Jennifer was marching up and down the path, twirling her tree branch, flipping it in the air and catching it as she had been taught.  Over and over again, she did just that, and in between, she twirled it in her right hand.

"What are you doing?"

Startled, Jennifer froze, just managing to catch her branch before it slipped out of her hand.  Whirling toward her right, she saw Merry and Pippin standing in front of the other hobbits.

"Uh, h—hi," she said.  "I was just practicing.  You startled me."

Merry smiled sheepishly as he and the other hobbits approached her.  "I'm sorry," he said.  "We have never seen that before."

Jennifer shrugged.  "No, I guess you haven't.  Middle-earth doesn't have any marching bands or majorettes, does it?"

"No, it doesn't," Frodo said.

The young girl smiled.  "I've been twirling batons ever since I was little.  I was just seven when I first started learning.  When a band marches in a parade, it's our job as majorettes to perform with the batons.  Sometimes, during the parade, the procession stops, and then we do a dance routine with our batons.  We do that during halftime at sports events, too."

Without warning, Jennifer spun in a circle and then, facing the hobbits, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, moving her arms from side to side, and she twirled her tree branch as she did so.  The hobbits clapped when she ended her dance routine to face them, arms at her sides, smiling broadly, with her branch dangling from her right hand.  Then she blushed as she realized that just beyond the hobbits, several Elves were also watching and had applauded, Lady Arwen among them.

-oo000oo-

Kevin turned on his tablet's touch screen.  After it had finished booting up, he tapped on the gallery icon, and a list of photos came up.  Jennifer looked over his shoulder as he tapped a folder that he had created a week after their arrival in Middle-earth.

"Look at that!"  He grinned, and Jennifer laughed.  With his tablet, Kevin had secretly taken a picture of the hobbits a few minutes before, while they had been gathered around, chatting.  Jennifer looked at the hobbits themselves, who were sitting on the other end of the terrace, chatting, and then exchanged a look with her brother, who nodded.

"Come here, Frodo!  Everyone!"  Jennifer gestured toward the hobbits.  "Kevin and I want to show you something."

The hobbits approached them, and Kevin held out his tablet.  All of them gaped at the photograph.  It had captured their images so perfectly!  "That's an eye-opener, and no mistake."  Sam shook his head, awe-stricken.

"How can this be?" Frodo asked, open-mouthed.

Jennifer blushed.  "To be honest, I know how to work it, but I don't really know how it works!"  She added, "But there are some people who do; they're the experts."

Kevin nodded agreement.  "That's true.  We have a lot of things that we don't know how they work, even though we do know how to use them.  But we're gonna take this picture home, along with all the others we've been taking here."

Glancing down at his tablet, he added, "I need to go over this tablet, Jennifer, before I take any more pictures.  The pictures I've got on it are taking up too much memory.  Some of them, I'm going to have to delete."

"All right."  Jennifer nodded, and Kevin stood up to go to his room.

A short time later, Kevin was in his own room sitting on his bed, doing just that, when he heard a tap on his door.

"Hey, Kev!  It's me; can I come in?"

It was Joey's voice.  "Sure, Joey!"

Joey found Kevin in his room lying on his bed, looking at his tablet.  For the past fifteen minutes, he'd been going through his pictures, trying to decide which to keep and which to delete, since he didn't want to use up too much of its memory.  And the more he kept stored on it, the easier it would be to use up the battery, too.  But it could wait.  "Hey, Kevin!  Look what I found!  Eledhwen said it used to belong to a boy who used to live here when he was little—not an Elf, but a human like us; I don't remember his name.  She said we could have it!"

With a broad smile, Joey held up a leather ball. It was round, and slightly smaller than a soccer ball.  Kevin examined it carefully.  Neither of them would be able to bounce it, he knew, but they could throw and kick it if they wanted to.  "Could we go outside and kick it around a little?" Joey asked hopefully.  "Maybe throw it back and forth?"

Kevin laid down his tablet and propped himself on his elbows to think about his little brother's request.  It would probably be a good idea to stop for a little while and play with him.  Joey didn't have too many people to play with, after all.  They were the only children here, and though the hobbits, especially Merry and Pippin, would play with him almost like kids sometimes, he knew they were actually grown-ups or, in Pippin's case, almost grown-up.

He sat up and reached over to ruffle Joey's hair.  "Sure, bro!  Let's go down to that little field near the stable."  He shut his tablet off and rose from the bed.

Joey grinned.  "All right!" He sped ahead, as Kevin got up to hurry after him.

The field was a wide meadow, sometimes used for grazing for the horses, but it was currently lying fallow.  It was a perfect spot for practicing dribbling and passing, and Kevin was enjoying it a lot.  He'd been about Joey's age when he had decided to give up soccer and football, and to concentrate on basketball.  Joey himself had decided to concentrate on baseball after this year, but both of them had enjoyed playing soccer and football¹ when they were little.  Their mom had always thought that soccer and basketball were both safer for kids than football.  They began to practice throwing and kicking the leather ball around the field.

They'd been at it about twenty minutes when they heard a hobbit voice shout, "Kick-the-ball!"  It was all four of the younger hobbits.  They showed Kevin and Joey the rules of what they called "kick-the-ball", which was almost like softball, except that it was played without a bat; they kicked the ball instead.  It was also somewhat similar to British cricket, since the pitcher more or less bowled the ball instead of throwing it.

They divided into teams of three: Kevin, Frodo, and Sam against Joey, Merry, and Pippin.  The two boys were amazed at how accurate all of the hobbits were at both kicking and pitching.  Finally, after the two teams had tied twice, they all fell back into the grass for a breather.

They talked for a while.  The hobbits talked of the various sports they played in the Shire.  Kevin and Joey explained the rules of football, basketball, soccer, and baseball, and the hobbits talked about roopie, nine-pin, and conkers².  The hobbits were surprised to learn that golf was played in the children's land, even though Joey said it was a "boring old people's game."

The afternoon had drawn on pleasantly, and Merry was trying to talk them into playing a tiebreaker, since he was used to winning when he played.  But then Pippin's stomach began to rumble and so did Joey's, and so they decided that going back for tea was a better idea.

-oo000oo-

Every night at bedtime, Jennifer read a story to Kaylee.  After she had finished reading to her little sister The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, she commenced reading to Kaylee at bedtime the storybooks that she had stored in her backpack for their camping trip, sometimes two or three stories a night.  She also occasionally read the stories aloud to her little sister during the day.

One day, Jennifer sat down on the bench with Bilbo on one side and Kaylee on the other, as she took out The Big Book of Fairytales that Kaylee had brought to her just minutes before.  Among other stories, it contained Charles Perrault's classic tale of Cinderella, beautifully illustrated.  "This is a very old story from our...uh, land—a fairy tale," she told the old hobbit as she opened it.  "It's one of the best-known tales of its kind."  Bilbo nodded, and she began to read it aloud to him and Kaylee.

"Once there was a gentleman who married, for his second wife, the proudest and most haughty woman that was ever seen.  She had, by a former husband, two daughters of her own, who were, indeed, exactly like her in all things.  He had likewise, by another wife, a young daughter, but of unparalleled goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world.

"No sooner were the ceremonies of the wedding over but the stepmother began to show herself in her true colors.  She could not bear the good qualities of this pretty girl, and the less because they made her own daughters appear the more odious.  She employed her in the meanest work of the house.  She scoured the dishes, tables, etc., and cleaned madam's chamber, and those of misses, her daughters.  She slept in a sorry garret, on a wretched straw bed, while her sisters slept in fine rooms, with floors all inlaid, on beds of the very newest fashion, and where they had looking glasses so large that they could see themselves at their full length from head to foot.

"The poor girl bore it all patiently, and dared not tell her father, who would have scolded her; for his wife governed him entirely.  When she had done her work, she used to go to the chimney corner, and sit down there in the cinders and ashes, which caused her to be called Cinderwench.  Only the younger sister, who was not so rude and uncivil as the older one, called her Cinderella.  However, Cinderella, notwithstanding her coarse apparel, was a hundred times more beautiful than her sisters, although they were always dressed very richly.

"It happened that the king's son gave a ball, and invited all persons of fashion to it.  Our young misses were also invited, for they cut a very grand figure among those of quality.  They were mightily delighted at this invitation, and wonderfully busy in selecting the gowns, petticoats, and hair dressing that would best become them.  This was a new difficulty for Cinderella; for it was she who ironed her sister's linen and pleated their ruffles.  They talked all day long of nothing but how they should be dressed…"*

Bilbo was very attentive, his eyes wide at the magnificent and brilliantly-coloured pictures.  He could discern no brush-marks on the page.  And the words were the most even that he had ever seen; not even Elves could write so perfectly.  He did not recognize any of the letters, but he could not tell how they had been put upon the page.  Perhaps they had used some sort of printing process—but the woodblock printing they used in the Shire was never quite this perfect, either.  Still, as fascinated as he was with the book itself, he did not want to interrupt Jennifer's reading.  He'd ask his questions later.

He felt movement behind him. Jennifer had not noticed, but she was beginning to acquire a larger audience.  Pippin and Frodo stood directly behind him, and he could see Merry and Sam behind Jennifer and Kaylee.  Some of the Elves were beginning to drift their way as well, even more silent than hobbits.  They were attracted by the story, which was new to them.

Jennifer kept on reading, totally unaware of her listeners, and Kaylee grinned each time her sister turned the page—the story was clearly not new to her, as she would occasionally quote some of the words as Jennifer spoke them.

Jennifer finally came to the last page of writing, although next to it was a large illustration of what was clearly a royal wedding.  "...her two sisters found her to be that fine, beautiful lady whom they had seen at the ball.  They threw themselves at her feet to beg pardon for all the ill treatment they had made her undergo.  Cinderella took them up, and, as she embraced them, said that she forgave them with all her heart, and wanted them always to love her.

"She was taken to the young prince, dressed as she was.  He thought she was more charming than before, and, a few days after, married her.  Cinderella, who was no less good than beautiful, gave her two sisters lodgings in the palace, and that very same day matched them with two great lords of the court." ³

Jennifer jumped in startlement at the sudden sound of clapping hands, and blushed as she looked around and saw everyone standing around behind her!

Before she could say anything else, Pippin leaned over Bilbo's shoulder and looked at her.  "What's a fairy godmother?”

-oo000oo-

...Exhilaration!  That's what Jennifer felt.  She was at the top of a giant roller coaster, ready for the downhill.  She stood and opened her arms wide, as—swoop! down she went.  She was as steady as a rock, although there were loops and swirls, and even one turn that went nearly upside down.  Her breath caught, not fear, but thrill.  She glanced down and saw there were miles to go to the bottom; she could not even see the ground, for she saw only clouds and mist below her.  It was like flying! If she wanted to, she knew she could simply launch herself forward.

Jennifer sat up suddenly and gave a little shake of her head as she realized she had only been dreaming.  She loved that particular dream.  She swung her legs out and put her feet on the floor.  She needed to use the convenient chamber pot located beneath her bed.  She stood up and padded over to close the door between her room and the room where Joey and Kaylee slept; then she pulled out the porcelain pot and used it to empty her bladder.  But her middle still felt full and a little sore.

Oh, dear!  She had nearly forgotten.  Biting her lower lip and shoving the chamber pot back beneath the bed, she laid back down and began to count the days backwards as well as she could recall.  They'd been in Rivendell over three weeks now.

She sighed as she snuggled back up in her blankets.  What could she do?  They were only supposed to be camping for a week, so she had not brought any of her usual supplies.  But now she knew the signs: she'd probably start some time tomorrow, or maybe in the middle of the night tonight.  Embarrassing as it was, she would need to ask someone what to do.

After breakfast the next morning, she slipped away from her brothers and sisters, and went to look for Lady Arwen.  She found her in the kitchen, discussing the evening's feast with the head cook.  As soon as Arwen had finished her conversation, Jennifer went up to her.

"Lady Arwen?  Are you too busy now?  I need to ask you about something."

"Of course, Lady Jennifer.  What is it?  Is there a problem?"

Jennifer felt herself blushing.  "Um...well, it's personal."

Arwen nodded.  "Ah!  Well, then follow me."

Jennifer followed Arwen to her solarium.  A maidservant was tidying and dusting, but Arwen dismissed her, and she gestured for Jennifer to be seated as she herself sat down in her own favourite chair.  Jennifer chose a chair across from her hostess.

Arwen leaned forward.  "Now, my child, tell me what troubles you."

"I, well..."  Jennifer stopped for a second, and then just blurted out, "It'stimeformyperiodandIdon'thavemysupplies."  She said it all at once, without taking a breath.

For just an instant, the Lady Arwen looked puzzled, and then the light dawned.  "I see.  Do not be discomfited, Jennifer.  This is a simple enough problem to solve.  Although Elf-women do not have female blood flow so often as the Edain, we are not completely immune.  And of course, we have often had women of the Dúnedain among us who needed to deal with their moon cycle."

Jennifer let out a huge sigh of relief.  Thank goodness Lady Arwen understands, she thought.

"Since you say that your time is close, we cannot stop it.  But I will provide you with strips of cloth that you can use for this time.  When they are soiled, simply put them in the buckets in the water closet provided for soiled rags, and they will be dealt with."

Jennifer nodded.  She had used pads when she had first started, so this probably would be similar.  She much preferred tampons, though.  But she was interested in one of the Lady's earlier statements.  "Thank you!  But what did you mean, 'stop it'?"

"We have a mixture of herbs that can be taken as a tea.  It is called dárithil*, and the main herb used in it is ithildin.  You must begin taking it about two days after this moonflow ceases and continue until the Moon is full.  Once the Moon begins again to wane, you must start taking it again.  I will provide you with a generous supply that should last you for many months."

"Oh, Lady Arwen, that would be wonderful!"  Jennifer smiled broadly.  Just think, no more periods after the one coming up, as long as they were in Middle-earth!

-oo000oo-

Every evening, the children spent some time together in Kevin's room as they always did in the living room at home with their parents, praying and singing hymns, praise music, and gospel songs, and Kevin would read aloud from his teen study Bible to his siblings as Jennifer read along in hers.  Every week, as they were required to do at home, they all memorized Bible verses, a separate verse per child, and they recited them to one another on Sunday mornings.  At mealtimes, Kaylee continued to ask the blessing before they ate.

"We need to talk, guys," Kevin told his siblings one morning after breakfast, as soon as they had entered his guest room.

"What about?" Jennifer asked.  Joey and Kaylee looked up at their older brother.  Lucy lay cuddled in Jennifer's arms.

"Well…"  Kevin perched on the edge of his bed.  "Remember when we first realized that we were gonna have start praying more ourselves, because our parents aren't here to help us pray?"

"Yeah," Joey mumbled.  Kaylee said nothing.

"And we've been praying and reading my Bible and Jennifer's quite a bit since then.  All of us.  Not just by ourselves, but together as well, every day.  And we've each been memorizing a Bible verse a week," Kevin went on.  "I don't know about you all, but I've been hearing God's still small voice in my spirit more and more ever since we came here."  Kevin cleared his throat.  He looked at Jennifer, who nodded agreement.

"Lately, I've been getting this feeling in my heart—my spirit—that He wants us to really start memorizing Bible verses.  Not just one verse a week, as we've always had to, or a verse a day for schoolwork, but as many as we can memorize.  A crash course of Bible verses."

Jennifer winced.  While she memorized verses because her parents and her teachers at their Christian school told her to, she had never enjoyed the task.  She set Lucy down on the floor.  "Uh, God wants us to do what?!"

Kevin touched her hand.  "I know."  He smiled grimly.  "I don't want to, either.  And I know Joey and Kaylee don't.  But this is what I'm feeling God's telling us."

Sighing, Jennifer lowered her head.  "Please, God," she complained, "do we have to do this?"  Immediately, her whole body stilled, and she remained motionless for the next few minutes.

At last, with a sigh, she muttered, "Yes, Father," and raised her head.  A resigned expression had replaced the resentment on her face.  "He's telling me the same thing."

Jennifer looked at Kaylee and then at Joey, both of whom gaped up at her with horrified expressions.  "Sorry, Kaylee, Joey.  I know you don't want to—I don't, either; none of us do—but we all have to do this.  If Mom and Daddy were here, we'd have to do as they told us, don't forget, even if we didn't like it.  Well, we also have to do as God tells us.  He's our Heavenly Father, remember."  She turned to Kevin.  "But how will we know what Bible verses we're supposed to memorize?  We don't even know what God has sent us here to do!"

Nodding, Kevin glanced at the ceiling.  "Yes, God.  How are we supposed to know?  Please tell us!"  His body suddenly stilled, and he lowered his head.  A few minutes later, he looked up at his brother and sisters.  "He'll tell us," he said.  "He'll tell us what verses to memorize, starting out, and when He's ready, I know He'll tell us what job He's sent us here to do.  In fact, I think I already know which verses for us to start on."  He looked at Kaylee.  "Since you haven't learned to read yet, Kaylee, one of us will read them to you over and over, and you'll have to keep repeating them back until you know them by heart.  The rest of us will read them for ourselves.  Jen, can I borrow your notebook so I can write the verses down for each of us?"

"OK."  Jennifer left the room, and returned a few minutes later with her spiral notebook, a pencil, a pocket pencil sharpener, and her teen study Bible.  Kevin removed his own teen study Bible from his backpack and then scanned his siblings' faces.  "If any of you feel a need to memorize a particular verse, tell me."  He looked at Jennifer.  "Since you brought your own Bible, you can use yours to memorize with.  I'll use mine to write down Joey and Kaylee's verses so they can practice theirs."  Jennifer nodded.

"But why?" Joey complained.  "Why now?  We've never had to memorize so many Bible verses before!"

Kevin glanced down at his Bible for a moment, then turned his gaze to Joey.  "I think," he said slowly, "it's because of the reason God has called us here.  He has a job for us to do here; I'm sure of it."  Jennifer nodded agreement.  "I'm thinking He wants us to know by heart as much of His Word as we can, so we'll be well-equipped to do that job."

"Yeah," Jennifer said slowly.  "I think you're right, Kevin.  After all, we don't yet know what God's called us here to do, or what we're going to face while we're doing it.  I get the feeling that it's something pretty serious, though, or God wouldn't be calling us to prepare this way."  She turned to Joey and Kaylee.  "We'd better get started, then."  Kevin nodded agreement, and Joey and Kaylee exchanged pouts.

-oo000oo-

Joey wandered around, muttering the Scripture passage that Kevin had assigned him that morning, memorizing it verse by verse.

"'Listen to your father, who gave you life,'" he muttered, "'and do not despise your mother when she is…'"  He paused and held up the piece of paper to refresh his memory.  "'…when she is old'!"  He shook his head.  "'Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.'"

Joey paused, and then examined the passage from the Book of Proverbs.  He read aloud, "'Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well.'" Looking up and dropping the paper to his side, he repeated, "'Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as—'"  He paused.  "'—as well.'"

He cleared his throat, and then started over, repeating them until he could say the words all the way through.  Then he held the paper up again and read the next verse aloud.  "'The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.'"

Joey continued with the rest of the verses on the paper, until he thought knew them all.  Finally, he paused a moment to catch his breath, and then started to recite the whole passage over.  "'Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well. The father of a righteous man has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.'"  He paused.  "'May your father and mother rejoice; may she who gave you birth be joyful.'  Proverbs twenty-three, verses twenty-two to twenty-five."

He blew out a deep breath, and took one in again, and then with his eyes closed, Joey recited the entire passage again, ending with the Scripture reference, and then yet again.  As soon as he had finished the passage that time, clapping from behind him startled him.  Whirling around, he saw Glorfindel and Lindir standing in the doorway, smiling down at him.

"Uh, hi, Lord Glorfindel.  Hi, Master Lindir," the child said sheepishly.

"Hello, Master Joey.  You have been quite busy, I see," Glorfindel said.

"You certainly have been," Lindir agreed.

"Yeah, well, Kevin told me to memorize this passage." Joey held up the piece of paper.

Glorfindel exchanged a glance with Lindir, and then nodded approval.  "Your brother did well to assign it to you.  Those are wise words you have just memorized, and you will do well to remember them and abide by them.  Well done."

Joey smiled.  "Yes, sir.  Thanks."

-oo000oo-

Elrond found himself angrily pacing the terrace.  He had to admit that he was as close to anger as he had been in a long time.  He was reluctant enough to allow the younger hobbits to accompany the mission; to allow young children to go was sheer folly!

There had been no question of it: they were not of this world, and they were too young for the peril of such a desperate journey.  He was fuming as he took his seat on the terrace, near Gandalf.  There was no way he could, in good conscience, allow this!

And yet, last night, the Lady Galadriel had bespoken him mind-to-mind, telling him that it was necessary that the older children must go.  "Each of the four children has a part to play; it is why they were sent here.  The little one must stay in Rivendell, for it is there she shall play her part.  But the older three must join the Company."

With a sigh, Elrond sat down.  For a few moments, as Gandalf sat silently near him, Elrond was deep in thought over his mother-in-law's revelation.  She had been quite firm; in all the things she had seen in her Mirror, the three older McCloud children had been in the company of those who were going on the Quest.

Elrond jumped as he felt tiny teeth digging into his big toe.  If he had not been so distracted, he would have noticed the puppy approaching him.  Looking down at his feet, he saw Lucy crouched in front of his foot, her front paws on the floor and her rear in the air, gnawing on his toe and growling playfully.  As he raised his head, he noticed that the McCloud children had followed the puppy onto the terrace.

"That is enough, Lucy.  My feet are not for chewing," he told the puppy with a mixture of amusement and exasperation, as he jerked both feet back.  He pointed a slender finger at the pup.  "Sit," he commanded.  He was glad when she complied; the kennel-master had made progress with the spoiled little animal, then.  "Good dog," he praised her in his warmest voice.  Bending over, Elrond patted her on the head, and she wagged her tail.  With the ends of his mouth quirked upward, Elrond held his index finger in front of Lucy's mouth, and allowed the puppy to begin chewing on it while thumping her tail against the flagged terrace.

Kaylee and Joey giggled at the sight, and Kevin, Jennifer, and Gandalf all laughed.  "Lucy wants to play with you!" Kaylee said, smiling broadly.

Elrond chuckled.  "Yes, I can see that.  Unfortunately, Miss Kaylee, I do not have time to play with Lucy right now."

"You'll have to excuse Lucy, Master Elrond," Jennifer said.  "She's teething.”

"Yes, she is, and while that is happening, she will be gnawing on everything she can get her little teeth on."  Elrond handed the wiggling puppy to Jennifer.  "Take her off this terrace, if you would, children.  Take her down to the stables and see if the grooms can give you an old scrap of leather for her to chew on.  Gandalf and I have things to discuss."

"Yes, sir."  Grinning, Kevin gestured to his siblings and led the way off of the terrace.  Gandalf chuckled, and Elrond shook his head in amusement.

As soon as Elrond was certain that the children were well out of earshot, he turned to Mithrandir.  "I had a communication from the Lady Galadriel last night.  She sought me out with osanwë and informed me that the three older children must go with the company when it leaves Rivendell.  She says they have some part to play in the events to come."  He allowed his anger at the news to show.  They were only children, after all!

He expected Mithrandir to share his consternation.  After all, it would fall to the Istar to be responsible for them if they went on what was sure to be a gruelling and perilous journey.  He was shocked when the wizard nodded.

"I must agree with the Lady of the Golden Wood.  It has been growing on my heart, in the days since you and I first discussed it, that the coming of these young ones at this time is not mere chance, if chance you call it."

Elrond shook his head.  Part of him wanted to argue with his mother-in-law and with Mithrandir.  But he knew from experience that while he could always argue with the wizard, it would be fruitless to argue with her.  Yes, they had agreed during their previous discussion that Eru may well have sent these children here for a purpose, but even so…  He shook his head again.

"Very well, though it leaves me with foreboding.  This is a dangerous journey.  There is no way to promise their safety."  Elrond sighed heavily.

"No, there is not.  There will be no safety for them, or any of us who journey South.  And yet there will be no safety anywhere in Middle-earth either, if Sauron has his way.  We do not even know when or if these young ones will be returned to their world.  My heart tells me they will be needed in some way before the end."

"I shall worry, nonetheless, old friend," said the Elf-lord.  "And not the least for you.  But my heart is somewhat comforted in knowing you will be with them."

Gandalf nodded.  "I shall take my leave now.  I would speak with your daughter about the well-being of the youngest child.  I fear she will not take well to being left behind."

Elrond nodded agreement.  "I fear you are right, Gandalf."  With an answering nod of his own, the wizard left the terrace.

The Master of Imladris leaned over the terrace wall, surveying his domain, and feeling not much mollified at all.  Even if he had to make the best of it and allow Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey to go, nothing would make him like it.  And Kaylee, he was sure, would like it even less.

-oo000oo-

1. Since the McCloud children are American, "soccer" refers to what the rest of the world calls "football", and "football" here in this context refers to American football.

2. "Roopie" is a hobbit ballgame that has found its way into fanon, but was originally created by the incomparable Baylor.  Nine-pin is a historical predecessor of modern bowling and is mentioned in The Hobbit as a sport played in the Shire, along with quoits.  Conkers is a traditional game played in the UK, and is "played using the seeds of horse chestnut trees—the name 'conker' is also applied to the seed and to the tree itself.  The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string: they take turns striking each other's conker until one breaks. (Wikipedia)".  This game has also found its way into hobbit-fic fanon in a number of stories, and Bilbo admits having some skill in the game in the 2012 Peter Jackson movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

3. This version of Cinderella comes from Andrew Lang's translation of the classic French fairy tale, as told by Charles Perrault, and is in the public domain.

*The name dárithil is courtesy of the Web site, http://funtranslations.com/elvish, Fun Translations, and means basically "stop moon".  Ithildin is a canonical flower, but its use in this case is simply made up for the story.


Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AUand blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belong to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 9: Once Upon a Dream

Yawning, Jennifer laid her teen study Bible on her table, and then recited her latest memory verse for the last time that day. Afterward, she knelt beside her bed.

"God," she prayed, "we've been here for several weeks now, and we still don't know why You've sent us here. We don't even want to be here, Lord; we want to be home! Home with our mom and daddy. Home with Megan. We don't want to worry Mom and Daddy, and we hate it that we're not with them. I mean, this isn't like being at summer camp or visiting our grandparents!" She took a deep breath. "Surely, we can carry out a ministry at home, can't we, Father? Why do we have to be in a fantasy world to do it?"

Jennifer swallowed. "Please, God, speak to me. Tell me why we're here." She paused. "In Jesus' name, amen."

With a sigh, she drew the covers back and crawled underneath. To her relief, a supernatural peace flooded through her. I'm with you, a still, small voice spoke in her gut. I have sent you here, and I am here with you. I am also with your parents.

Yes, Father, she thought, before she drifted off...

...only to find herself seeing a strange man standing before her in what appeared to be the middle of a wilderness, with mountains on the horizon. To her surprise, Kevin and Joey were with her and that man, as were Boromir, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and all of the hobbits except Bilbo. Where's Kaylee? she wondered.

As Jennifer scanned the horizon, she saw a black cloud moving slowly toward them. It was not a thunderstorm cloud or a wall cloud containing a tornado; it was pitch-black, for one thing, much blacker than any wall cloud she had ever seen, and it had a feeling of evil about it which not even wall clouds had. Jennifer shivered as she watched it, and then she turned toward her companions. Unless they successfully completed their mission, whatever it was, that black cloud would not only catch up with them, it would cover all of Middle-earth. She knew it, though she did not know how she knew…

Jennifer's eyes popped wide open, and she shot up in her bed, her heart pounding and her whole body shaking. God? she silently prayed. What was that about?

No answer came to her. Taking a slow, deep breath, she lay back down and closed her eyes. She would just have to trust that her Heavenly Father would tell her when He was ready.

Jennifer woke early the next morning. Unlike most dreams, that one had stuck with her. She could still recall it perfectly. She rose and drew on the silk dressing gown that the Elves had given her, and instead of passing through the nursery where Joey and Kaylee slept, she stepped out the door to the corridor and took the few steps across the hall to Kevin's room. She tapped lightly on the door, and hoped that he was not deeply asleep.

"Come in!" came her brother's voice.

She cracked open the door and slipped into the room. To her surprise, Kevin was awake and dressed. He sat in a chair by the window with his Bible in his hands.

"Why are you up so early?" she asked.

"I could ask you the same question," answered Kevin, "but I had a very strange dream last night."

"You, too?" Jennifer asked in amazement.

Kevin jerked his chin up and stared at her. "Tell me your dream." He gestured to his bed, and she sat down. Then she carefully related her dream to him.

He had begun to nod his head when she had only just begun to speak. "That's the exact same dream I had," he said, when she had finished. "I also had the feeling that if we did not succeed, the darkness might even follow us home—if we ever got back there. I couldn't get back to sleep after that, so I finally decided to get up at dawn and do some reading. I've been reading about Joseph."

"The one who was sold into slavery in Egypt, or Jesus' earthly father?" Jennifer asked.

"The one who was sold into slavery."

Jennifer sank onto Kevin's bed, stunned. "This was no ordinary dream, then," she said. "It was a message from God!"

Kevin nodded agreement. "Yeah. I really think it was," he said slowly. "I believe He was telling us why He's sent us here. We still don't know what He wants us to do, exactly, but we do know it's serious, whatever it is. Something to do with battling some kind of demon—maybe this Sauron that Gandalf told us about, or Satan, perhaps—and defeating some kind of spiritual darkness. A darkness that will completely cover all of Middle-earth if it's not stopped. It might even follow us to our world, if we can't stop it." He paused. "Definitely serious."

Shivering, Jennifer took a deep, shuddering breath. "Yeah. Very serious." She paused. "I have a feeling we're gonna know just what He's sent us here for very soon." She took another deep breath, and then quoted softly, "'Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.'"

Nodding, Kevin continued, "'Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.'"

He paused, and then added, "'Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.'" Kevin stopped briefly to take his breath. "'You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.'" He halted for a moment, and then continued. "'I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.'"

Kevin stood silently for a moment after he had stopped quoting the Bible verses. "God is with us, Jen, and He will help us resist the evil one. Satan can try to hurt us, but he can't defeat us, because God is greater than him, and the same thing goes for this Sauron. Whatever it is that God's gonna have us do, He'll give us the strength to do it, and He will give us the victory over the powers of darkness. We'll have to remember that." He paused, and swallowed hard. "Because it's true." He took a deep breath, and Jennifer suspected that he was trying to convince himself as well as her.

She nodded agreement. "Yeah. It's true." She cleared her throat, and then quoted, "'My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.'" She grimaced. "Looks like we're gonna be doing some kind of spiritual warfare, doesn't it? All of us." She shook her head. "I still don't understand why God would choose us, Kevin!"

Kevin shrugged. "Hey, you know how God likes to pick unlikely people."

"No kidding," Jennifer muttered.

-oo000oo-

Arwen was looking for Kevin and Jennifer. The brother and sister were not in their rooms. Joey and Kaylee had gone down to the kitchens with the hobbits for "elevenses", but the older children had not accompanied them.

She came to the open doors to the outside, near the garden at the end of the corridor, and heard the low murmur of voices; stepping outside, she saw the two speaking quietly with their heads bowed and their eyes closed, which surprised her. But before she could say anything to them, Kevin gave a nod and touched his sister's hand, and both looked up and saw her standing there. Kevin stood up. "Lady Arwen!"

"Lord Kevin and Lady Jennifer," she said, returning the boy's greeting. "I was searching for the two of you."

"Is everything alright?" asked Jennifer, a flash of worry on her face. "Did Kaylee or Joey get in trouble? Are they hurt?"

Arwen smiled a reassuring smile, and shook her head. "Nay, the little ones are all right. They are in the good company of hobbits, and are being watched over by Eledhwen. But my father and Gandalf would like to speak with you."

"What about?" Kevin asked.

She shook her head. "That is for them to say. But I will accompany you to my father's study, and you shall find out."

"Of course," Jennifer replied. "We don't mean to be rude, but we naturally just wondered."

"You did not offend, but it is an answer better left until you get there."

They followed her back through the passageways, speaking of Lucy's progress in being housebroken and in learning to heel and to sit on command, and soon found themselves at the large double doors that led into the study of the Lord of Rivendell. Arwen tapped lightly on the door, and her father's voice bid them enter. Her father was seated behind the large table that served him as a desk, and Gandalf was standing behind him near the large window overlooking the Valley, and giving a great view of one of the waterfalls in the distance.

Kevin and Jennifer had begun to absorb the manners of Rivendell, and both of them gave a small bow to Master Elrond and Gandalf, and waited to be spoken to first.

"Good day, Lord Kevin and Lady Jennifer," Elrond said. "Will you be seated?" He gestured to three chairs across from him. They sat down in the two nearest ones.

"Good day, Master Elrond and Gandalf," Kevin responded. He found it odd that in this place where titles were insisted on, that no one ever used a title with the wizard.

"Do you wish me to stay, Ada?" asked Arwen.

"I do."

She sat in the third chair. Although she had not been privy to her grandmother's communication, nor to Gandalf's presentiments, she had a feeling that she might guess the subject of the conversation.

But it was not her father who opened the conversation. It was Gandalf who spoke first. "You two may be aware that you children have arrived in the midst of preparations for a journey, although you have never been told just what that journey was about."

"Yes, sir," said Kevin.

"It's pretty obvious," added Jennifer, "but no one will talk about where they are going, or why. The hobbits shut right up if they are talking about it when we come along, and some of the others never seem to talk about it at all."

Gandalf smiled at them. "You are very perceptive, Lady Jennifer. Yes, this quest that has been planned relies on secrecy. Up until now, there was no reason for you to be involved, or to be privy to the details of the mission."

"But now there is?" Kevin asked.

"Now there is," responded the wizard, nodding, "because there is reason to believe that your presence here at this time is not a mere accident. There is every indication that you are meant to go on this journey yourselves."

Arwen watched them closely. They did not seem to show much surprise.

"We wondered about that," said Kevin. "Not the going-on-the-journey part, I mean, since we didn't know about that, but we did think that there is a reason for us to be here." He looked Gandalf in the eye, and Gandalf returned his gaze with a knowing nod, remembering what they had spoken of not long after the children had arrived.

"May I ask what that reason is?" Elrond put in.

"We knew we wouldn't be here unless God had sent us here. After all, He's the only one who could," Kevin said, exchanging a glance with Jennifer. "And we knew He wouldn't have sent us to Middle-earth unless He had a job for us to do here. We figured all that out soon after we arrived here." He glanced again at Jennifer, who nodded agreement. "And that's not all. Both of us, Jennifer and me, had dreams last night—the same one, in fact. We both saw ourselves in a place we had never seen before, and we were with some of the people we've met here. Joey was with us, but Kaylee was not. All the hobbits except for Mr. Bilbo Baggins were there, as well as Lord Boromir, the Elf Legolas, and Master Gimli—and some man I've never seen before. And you were there as well, Gandalf." He described his own dream in detail, describing the black, evil-looking storm cloud in the process. Jennifer nodded agreement, and then she and Kevin turned their attention back to Elrond.

"I see." The elf lord nodded. "So it would not surprise you to know that Gandalf has had a similar foresight?"

Kevin and Jennifer looked at one another uneasily. "Is it all right to ask if we may know what it's all about now?" he asked.

Gandalf nodded. "Kevin and Jennifer, do you remember our discussion on your second day here? And what I told you children about Melkor and Sauron?"

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged another glance and nodded. "Yes, sir." Kevin swallowed. "What about them?"

As succinctly as possible, Gandalf and Elrond explained the tale of the One Ring, and Frodo's upcoming mission to destroy it, and thus rid the world of the evil of Sauron. Kevin and Jennifer both had stunned expressions when Gandalf and Elrond had finished, and then Jennifer shook her head in bewilderment.

"I don't get it," she said. "This ring you talked about—it's just a piece of jewelry! An inanimate object. How can a ring be evil?"

Elrond smiled ruefully. "It would be easier for all if it was just a piece of jewelry, Lady Jennifer," he said. "Unfortunately, it is not. It is a Ring of Power, and as such, it contains great power. Moreover, it is the One Ring. Sauron created that Ring to rule all the other Rings of Power, and in the process, he put a great deal of his own power into it. It has the power to corrupt everyone who has possession of it. Those who desire power for themselves, in particular, are at especial risk of being corrupted."

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged another glance and shook their heads. "So that's what The Lord of the Rings is about," Jennifer said softly as she looked at Kevin, and her brother nodded agreement. For a long moment, they sat in silence.

"Whoa!" Kevin finally said softly, shaking his head. "It's kind of like Star Wars, then. The Death Star had to be destroyed."

Jennifer nodded. "True, except the Death Star couldn't corrupt anybody."

Gandalf and Elrond looked puzzled. "Another tale from your world? Is it a real one, or one created by your people, such as you believed about Middle-earth?" asked Gandalf.

This time, Kevin and Jennifer did look surprised. In fact, both of them were startled: if Middle-earth was real in this place and time, what if Star Wars and other stories like that were, too? That was almost too much to think about.

Jennifer's eyes grew wide. Could even a place like Oz exist? But no, she argued with herself; Baum set that fantasy somewhere in the U.S., and everyone knew that magic land didn't really exist! But...naw, could it, actually? She shook her head to clear it and answered the wizard's question.

"A tale created in our world," Jennifer answered. "It's set in outer space. A man named George Lucas created it. As far as we know, it's not real."

Nodding, Kevin asked, "If we go, what does that mean? Will Kaylee stay here, where it's safe? I guess Joey has to go, since he was in our dreams, but how dangerous will it be?" These were only the first questions to come to mind, but he knew there would be many more.

"Miss Kaylee will have to stay here, as will your dog, but the two of you and Master Joey will go on the Quest," Elrond said. "My daughter will look after your little sister and Lucy in your absence." Smiling, Arwen nodded agreement as she looked at Kevin and Jennifer. Elrond added, "I am afraid that it will be quite dangerous, which is the main reason that Miss Kaylee will remain here in Rivendell. She will have her own role to play in the events to come, but she will play it out here."

Exchanging a troubled glance with Kevin, Jennifer bit her lower lip. "That's going to be really hard on Kaylee, Master Elrond," she said. "She's already missing our parents, and now she's going to miss us as well. Being separated from her whole family's gonna be really tough on her." Kevin nodded his own agreement. Jennifer added, "How are we gonna tell her?"

Elrond nodded sagely. "It will need to be done sooner rather than later, I think. Do you wish me to tell her?"

Jennifer looked up hopefully, but then shook her head. As nice as it would be to let someone else do the telling, Kaylee was their little sister and also their responsibility. "No, we'll do it."

Kevin nodded decisively. "Yes, we will." He looked at Jennifer. "We'll tell her and Joey together."

-oo000oo-

"Joey! Kaylee!" Jennifer called, as she and Kevin entered the kitchen.

The two younger children whirled around, half-eaten biscuits in their hands. "Hey, come try these! They're delicious!" Joey smiled broadly and took another bite out of his biscuit.

Jennifer and Kevin laughed. "I'm sure they are, Joey, but we don't have time to munch on cookies—uh, biscuits—right now," Kevin told him. "Right now, Jennifer and I need to talk to you." Jennifer nodded agreement.

"Come on, you two. We need to go up to our rooms and talk." Jennifer extended her hand toward the two. Exchanging puzzled glances, Joey and Kaylee approached them. As Kevin and Jennifer took them out of the kitchen, Kaylee and Joey finished their biscuits.

As soon as the four children entered Kevin's bedroom minutes later, Joey turned toward him and Jennifer. "What's up?" he asked, his brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Is everything all right?"

Nodding, Kevin gestured toward the chairs. "Better sit down, you two. We've got a lot to talk about." After the four children had taken their seats, Kevin cleared his throat. "We—uh, we've found out why God has sent us here. And it's very serious, Joey and Kaylee. Only if we can do what God has sent us here for will everything be all right, Joey."

"That's right." Jennifer glanced at Kevin and turned back to the two younger children. "Remember the Star Wars movies?" Kaylee and Joey nodded. "Remember what had to be done in the very first Star Wars movie?"

Joey exchanged a glance with his little sister. "They had to destroy the Death Star. The Rebels did," he said.

"That's right," Kevin said. "And why did the Rebels have to destroy the Death Star?"

Joey bit his lower lip. "Well, uh, because—because the Emperor was going to be too powerful if it wasn't. He'd be able to use the Death Star to blow up whole planets, and nobody would've been able to stop him. He blew up Alderaan with it."

Jennifer and Kevin nodded. "That's right," Jennifer said. "Well, Kaylee and Joey, Middle-earth is faced with a similar danger right now. Remember what Gandalf told us about Melkor and Sauron, the day after we came here?" Joey and Kaylee nodded. For the next few minutes, being careful to use words that a five-year-old would understand, Jennifer and Kevin explained to Joey and Kaylee what Gandalf and Elrond had told them about Sauron and his Ring.

"If Sauron ever gets his Ring back, he'll be just like Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars movies," she said. "He'll be way too powerful. Nobody'll be able to stop him, just as nobody would have been able to stop the emperor as long as the Death Star existed. He won't be able to blow up whole planets, but he will be able to control everybody. He wants that Ring back, and he's bound and determined to get it. It's got to be destroyed so that he'll never be able to use it."

Kevin nodded. "Remember how the Rebels had to destroy the Death Star, Joey?"

Joey furrowed his eyebrows in concentration. "They had to blow up that re—rea…" His voice trailed off.

"Reactor," Kevin finished for him. "The main reactor. There was an exhaust port in the Death Star's surface that went clear down to the main reactor. If a Rebel fired a weapon from his ship right into that port, it would explode and the whole Death Star along with it, and it did. There was no other way to destroy it. That was the only way to blow it up; just firing a weapon at it wouldn't do it." Joey nodded agreement. Kevin added, "And then they had to do the same thing all over again in Return of the Jedi."

Joey nodded vigorously. "They sure did!"

Kaylee smiled broadly. "Yeah!" She wiggled.

Kevin continued, "It's the same way with the Ring that Sauron made, Joey and Kaylee. Unfortunately, it's so strong that not even a really hot fire can destroy it. You can't break it into pieces with a sledgehammer, or melt it by throwing it into a regular fire, not even a really hot one; it's that strong. Gandalf and Master Elrond told us there's only one place where it can be destroyed. The same place where it was made: Mount Doom in Mordor. Mordor's where Sauron lives, you see, and Mount Doom is where he made that Ring. It has to be thrown into the fire there—I suspect it's lava."

Jennifer bit her lower lip. "I believe it is, too. Well, anyway, Frodo Baggins has volunteered to go to Mount Doom and throw it into the lava there, to destroy it. It's a volcano, you see, and that's where Sauron made his Ring, as Kevin said. It's hundreds of miles away, east of Rivendell. Samwise Gamgee's going to go with him, and several others are, too." She paused. "It's gonna be a quest, Joey and Kaylee, just like the ones in stories about the Middle Ages."

"That's right." Exchanging a glance with Jennifer, Kevin took a deep breath. "This is not going to be easy to tell you two," he told Joey and Kaylee gently. "It turns out that God brought us here because He wants us to go on this quest, too. You and Jennifer and me, Joey. We have to go, too, with the others. Since cars haven't been invented yet, and since we won't riding horses or traveling by wagon, we're going to have to walk the whole way. It's going to take us a long time to get there."

Kaylee stiffened her back, her face etched with distress. She frantically scanned her siblings' faces. "What about me?"

Kevin softened his voice. "You'll have to stay here, Kaylee. With Lucy."

"No!" Wailing, Kaylee slid off her chair. Jennifer reached out to her, and Kaylee rushed toward her, crying. "I don't want to stay here! Not without you! Please don't leave me here!"

With Jennifer's help, Kaylee climbed into her lap and buried her face in her big sister's chest. "Shh." Wrapping her arms tightly around Kaylee, Jennifer kissed her little sister on her head. "It's not our choice, Kaylee," she said gently. "It wasn't our choice to come here, and the way they talk, it's not going to be our choice to take you with us, either. I'm sorry, Kaylee. I know you don't want to be separated from us; we don't want that, either. But you'll have to be. You and Lucy have got to stay here with Master Elrond and Lady Arwen while we're gone."

Kaylee didn't say a word. She just clung to Jennifer and sobbed violently. In that moment, Gandalf and Elrond entered the room.

Kaylee looked up and raced over to them. "PLEASE don't make me stay! PLEASE! I'll be good and everything!"

Elrond was taken aback. He was unused to such an outburst. Gandalf knelt down, and embraced her. "There, there," he said gently. "I know you will be good, child. But no amount of promises to be good will help you to go on this journey. You simply are not old enough." He rubbed her back gently. "Do not weep, Kaylee, for this parting may be hard, but it will not be forever." He stopped rubbing her back and patted it gently. "Be brave, little one."

Elrond was not sure, but he thought he noticed a brief flash of red light from Gandalf's hand, and nodded.

Kaylee leaned back from the wizard, wiping the tears off her face with the back of her hand. She sniffled. "I can be brave," she said in almost a whisper, and then just a little louder, "I can be brave."

"That's my girl," Gandalf said, giving her a brief hug, before standing back up.

Elrond handed her a fine linen handkerchief. "I think you need to blow your nose, Miss Kaylee," he told her, and she did so.

"Well," she said, looking at her siblings and biting her lower lip, "I can be brave, but I'll still miss you. I wish I could go."

Kevin and Jennifer gaped at their little sister, and then at Gandalf. "How did you do that?!" Jennifer asked him, her mouth wide open.

Gandalf chuckled. "As an Istar, I have ways of comforting little ones that mortals and Elves do not possess, Jennifer."

-oo000oo-

Boromir knocked at the door to Master Elrond's study, and at his host's call of "Enter," he opened the door and came into the room. He was somewhat surprised to see both Master Bilbo Baggins and Mithrandir in the room. They were seated across from Master Elrond at the large carven table that the Elf used as his desk. There was another empty chair there.

"Be seated." Elrond said. "As you know, we are trying to decide whether to allow the two youngest hobbits to be part of the Company as it travels South."

Boromir nodded as he sat down. He was both surprised and more than a little dubious about this, but his opinion had not been asked.

Bilbo Baggins must have noted something in his expression. He gave a small snort. "Master Boromir, you underestimate my young kin. I have no doubt whatsoever that they have already laid plans to slip out and follow Frodo if the permission has not been given. They will be far safer as part of the Company, and not trailing along behind it. Furthermore, Frodo will need them; they are family." This last word was spoken with the snap of finality and authority that reminded Boromir that this small person was well over a hundred years of age, and used to being listened to.

Nodding at Bilbo, Elrond continued, "What you do not know is that there is also a likelihood that the three elder McCloud children may also need to go upon the journey."

"What?" Boromir exclaimed in shock. "But they are mere children, save for young Lord Kevin, and he is not truly an adult either!"

Mithrandir nodded sadly. "And yet both myself and the Lady Galadriel, wisest of the High Elves remaining in Middle-earth, have had this foresight. It is necessary for the outcome of our quest that they be included. And we shall need your help."

Elrond gave a deep sigh, and added, "Normally, this is a task I would ask Aragorn to perform, but as he is leading one of the scouting parties, I think it would be best if you do so. I do not command you in this, but I do ask if you would be willing to teach Lord Kevin and Master Joey, as well as the young hobbits, the rudiments of using their weapons?" He paused. "Of course, that will mean giving Lord Kevin and Master Joey their own weapons before you leave on the quest. Except for Frodo, the hobbits already have swords." Mithrandir nodded agreement. "These lessons will be of benefit to them, even if they do not go on the journey, and will also be a good outlet for youthful energy."

"I will be giving Frodo my old sword, Sting, Master Elrond, since his was destroyed by the Black Riders. Merry and Pippin and Sam have their own swords still, that they received from Tom Bombadil, but are you going to supply the children with weapons?" Bilbo asked.

"Yes, Bilbo, I have already spoken to the armourer."

Boromir's eyebrows climbed nearly to his hairline, but before he could think to say "yea" or "nay", the Wizard spoke.

"I know," said Mithrandir (or Gandalf, as these Northerners called him), "that you have experience of this. I seem to recall that on one of my visits to Minas Tirith years ago, that you had the training of some of the young cadets?"

Of course. Faramir had been one of his students. He had quite enjoyed the job, too, until his father had decided he was not harsh enough with the lads. Denethor had him replaced with a sour and grizzled old veteran who knew the way to his lord's esteem was to be extra hard on the Steward's younger son. But Boromir had continued to teach his little brother in secret.

Bilbo spoke up again. "If my cousins are to have swords, I'd as soon have it that they learn what to do with them. I was lucky. Spiders do not carry swords. If I had been so unfortunate as to encounter an enemy who did, I should not have lasted two minutes."

"Very well," he answered. After all, teaching swordplay was something he was good at. And the task would give him something to do besides cool his heels until it was time to leave.

"Thank you so much, Lord Boromir," said Master Elrond. "Your help may very well mean the difference between life and death for the youngest members of the Company."

-oo000oo-

A/N: The Bible passages that Kevin and Jennifer quote above are from the New International Version, and consist of Ephesians 6:10-18, James 4:7, 1 John 4:4, John 16:33, and John 17:15.

Portions of the latter part of this chapter are slightly altered from Dreamflower's story, "A Conversation in Rivendell".


Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AUand blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 10: I'll Make a Man Out of You

A few days later, Aragorn strode down the path that led to the armoury; while he did hope to speak to the smith about the reforging of Narsil, he had another purpose as well for returning to Rivendell at this time.

Clack. Clack. Clack. "Get your shoulders up, Master Joey! Master Meriadoc, breathe! Master Peregrin, switch places with your cousin!"

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. "Well done, Lord Kevin!"

Aragorn chuckled. The voice was Boromir's. Obviously, the Steward's son was experienced in training young recruits. Arwen had told him that the Gondorian had taken on the training of the younger hobbits and the two strange boys she had told him of. He had returned briefly to Rivendell to deliver a report to Elrond and Gandalf of what he had discovered in his scouting so far, and to get more supplies before he and his Rangers searched farther afield.

He saw Pippin and a little boy of about nine going at it with wooden practice blades. The leather practice armour the boy was wearing looked quite familiar—it had been Aragorn's at one time, made for him during his childhood many years ago. The two appeared well matched. Pippin's maturity and lower center of gravity gave him a bit more power, but the boy had a slightly longer reach, and he was quite enthusiastic. Both of them seemed to be quick, though Pippin was somewhat more coordinated. They were not, however, landing many blows.

Merry appeared overheated and out of breath. He was currently at one side, getting a dipper of water from Sam and being scolded fondly by Frodo.

On the other side of the grounds, Boromir was carefully watching a youth of about fifteen or sixteen years of age raining blows upon a pell. Occasionally, the warrior would step in to correct the boy's stance or grip. The boy clearly was a novice, which was puzzling. Most boys of his age would not be making those mistakes. Aragorn wondered why the youth appeared to have had no training. The boy had none of the signs of a son of the working class. His skin was clear, and not weathered or sunburned; his build lean and well proportioned; and he bore none of the callouses to be found on those who did manual labor, and nearly all gently-born sons learned early to wield a weapon. However, Boromir had called him "Lord Kevin". The Ranger's curiosity was piqued.

Boromir stopped and turned to Pippin and the younger boy, who were still flailing away at one another with enthusiasm, rarely ever getting in an actual hit, and only once in awhile blocking a shot. Most of the swings went wild. Aragorn smiled and shook his head as he watched Boromir remonstrating with them; the Gondorian shook his finger at them and sent the young boy over to the side to get some water, and summoned Merry. Now it was Brandybuck against Took, and Pippin was steadier against his cousin's more calculated onslaught. Boromir stood back, watched a few minutes, then shouted, "Master Meriadoc! Once more! Mind your breathing!"

Boromir summoned the younger boy, set him to the pell, and then summoned the older one to stand beside him, and had him imitate a series of stances and exercises that the warrior demonstrated. Aragorn found himself impressed with Boromir's teaching skills.

After a few more moments, Boromir had his students take a run around the training ground twice, and then head into the armoury to remove their practice gear. He himself made his way over to where Aragorn had stood watching.

"My Lord Aragorn," he greeted, with a nod.

"My Lord Boromir," Aragorn responded just as formally. He hoped the two of them would progress to less formality before they had to leave Rivendell. But he knew that the Captain-General of Gondor was still wary of him and his intentions.

"What do you make of my students?" asked Boromir.

"I was not surprised to see you working with Merry and Pippin, who are determined to go with us. But who are these young newcomers?"

"Young Lord Kevin and Master Joey are clearly in need of the skills of a warrior. I do not know what else you have been told of them, but the place they come from is clearly a very different and a more peaceful place, almost like the Shire of the Hobbits. They've had no need to learn swordplay or how to wield weapons, but now those skills may be vital to them, for Master Elrond and Mithrandir have told me they do not know if the young ones will ever return to their homeland."

"Is it so far, then?" Aragorn asked, puzzled. Arwen had not had time to tell him everything.

"Maybe you can tell me," Boromir replied, "for it is said by many here that you have wandered far into distant lands. Have you ever heard of the states of America, or the land of Or Egon?"

Aragorn blinked. "No, indeed."

Boromir led the way to the armoury, the two Men speaking together as they walked.

"All my Lady Arwen had the chance to tell me of these new visitors was their names and their ages, and the fact that they seem to come from a very far land indeed," said Aragorn.

The Gondorian nodded. "I have learned little more; none here have heard of their lands, not even Mithrandir. I have spoken with them, but their customs and ways are so different from ours, and many of their words make no sense; I cannot truly understand them. I do know they come from a land of peace and many wonders."

Aragorn shook his head in confusion. "If even Mithrandir does not know from what land they hail, then it must be a far place indeed."

They approached the armoury building, and could hear chattering within as Merry, Pippin, Joey, and Kevin discussed their lesson. They all stopped talking as soon as the two Men entered, and stood respectfully looking up at their teacher with their hands behind their backs. The older boy did a double-take as soon as he saw Aragorn.

Boromir gave them a nod. "Lord Aragorn, you already know Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. My other two pupils are Lord Kevin McCloud and his brother, Master Joseph McCloud." He gestured toward each boy as he introduced them. Turning toward the boys, he told them, "Boys, this is Aragorn, son of Arathorn."

Kevin hesitated only briefly as he tried to recall the proper response; he bowed his head, and said, "Uh—uh, at your service and your family's." He tapped Joey on the shoulder. "Joey." A startled Joey gave a bow of his own.

"I'm at your service, too," the little boy said, as he straightened his back. He gazed up at the tall Man, who stood even half a head taller than Boromir.

Aragorn smiled and inclined his head. "At your service, young gentlemen, and I am most pleased to meet both of you. You appear to be diligent students for Lord Boromir."

"We have a lot to learn," said Kevin. "We've only ever seen real swords in museums and such, or in historical shows. I've never even held one before we came here—neither of us have." He glanced at Joey. "I sure hope we can learn enough in the time we have."

Joey looked at Aragorn curiously. "Mister, are you the one that Merry and Pippin call 'Strider'?" He tilted his head as he spoke.

Aragorn chuckled. "Indeed, I am. They were introduced to me by that name, for that is what folk call me in Bree, where we met. You are most welcome to call me by that name as well, if you wish, Master Joey. You as well, Lord Kevin."

Kevin glanced at Boromir, who looked disapproving, and then exchanged a glance with Joey. "Uh, we'll have to think about that, sir. I am not sure if that would be respectful, since we've only just met." Boromir gave him a very slight approving nod.

Aragorn glanced at the other Man; Gondorians were much more formal than the Dúnedain of the North. Perhaps it was best not to insist on informality yet; Kevin and Joey were, after all, under the other Man's tutelage. "That is also acceptable to me," he said. "But the offer stands if you should feel differently when we know one another better."

Kevin nodded. "OK, thanks." He looked down at Joey, who nodded.

"You'll like good old Strider a lot when you get to know him," Pippin put in. "But when he gets going on those long legs of his, you'll know how he got that name!"

"You are a very cheeky hobbit, Master Took!" Aragorn laughed.

Merry raised an eyebrow at the Ranger. "You mean to say you are just now noticing that? His cheek is famous in the Shire."

"And yours is not, Mr. Brandybuck?" Aragorn asked with a smirk.

Merry grinned. "I taught him everything he knows," he replied.

Joey stared at the two hobbits; he still was not quite sure what to make of them. Sometimes they seemed quite grown-up, but at other times, they acted as if they were no older than he was.

Pippin looked at his cousin. "Merry! We need to tidy ourselves up and get ready for tea—we are supposed to take tea in Bilbo's rooms with Frodo and Sam this afternoon, remember?"

"Of course I remember, you silly Took! Lady Arwen and Lady Jennifer and Miss Kaylee will be there." He glanced up at Aragorn. "Why don't you come along as well, Strider? I know Bilbo will be glad if you come. And this will be your chance to meet Kevin and Joey's sisters, Lady Jennifer and Miss Kaylee." He turned to the boys. "You could come as well."

Boromir shook his head. "I must take the boys to the paddock. They are to have riding lessons today."

The boys looked excited rather than disappointed, so the two hobbits led Aragorn back to the House so that they could all get washed and changed into clean clothes before going to tea with Master Bilbo.

It did not take long for the hobbits to make themselves presentable, and after they met Aragorn in the corridor near their own quarters, they headed for Bilbo's little apartment.

Merry tapped firmly upon the door. Unlike all the other doors they had seen in Rivendell, this one was round.

Frodo opened the door, and grinned as he saw Aragorn there. "Ah, Strider! It's so good to see you are back. I had heard you might be." He ushered them all in. Sam was beside a fireplace, putting wood in the fire. Aragorn could hear Bilbo humming in the small kitchen that stood to the left of the door.

Arwen, Jennifer, and Kaylee had only just arrived themselves; Lucy was sitting obediently by Kaylee's feet, her tail thumping the floor. Jennifer was sitting in a chair. Arwen's face lit up, as did Aragorn's when they saw and greeted each other by name. Jennifer froze, looking startled, as soon as she saw Aragorn.

It's him! The man in my dream! she thought. I wonder if it's the same man in Kevin's dream, too! He said he saw a strange man in his dream also. She made a mental note to tell Kevin later. And then her face softened as she watched Aragorn and Arwen; it was like they were the only two people in the whole world for a moment. It was so romantic!

Aragorn's her boyfriend! she thought, smiling broadly. Lucky Arwen!

In the weeks since their arrival in Middle-earth, Jennifer had grown fond of Bilbo's cozy sitting room. It had a couple of sofas and several chairs. Some of the chairs, including Jennifer's favorite, were large enough for humans to sit in, as well as one of the sofas, but the other chairs and the other sofa were hobbit-sized. There was a low, round table in the middle, sort of like a round coffee table, but a little shorter, and yet the top was a little bigger. An old-fashioned crocheted doily was on top of it.

Bilbo came bustling in with an enormous tray—as always, Jennifer wondered how he could carry it—and placed it in the middle of the doily. There were cookies—no, they called them biscuits here, she reminded herself—and tiny cakes, and Sam brought out some little sandwiches and a big pot of tea on another tray. Frodo had gone to the kitchen, and he came out with yet another tray, this one with cups and saucers. Three sets were full-sized, and the rest were hobbit-sized. Jennifer mentally counted them, and realized that they must mean for Kaylee to use one of the hobbit-sized cups.

Returning to the kitchen, Frodo came back out with a bowl containing some cuts of meat. He set it down on the floor, and Lucy scampered toward the bowl, quickly gobbling the meat down.

Arwen turned to the girls. "Aragorn, these are two of the children who arrived in Middle-earth, Lady Jennifer McCloud and her little sister, Miss Kaylee." She gestured toward the puppy, who was devouring the meat. "And their puppy, Lucy."

Aragorn smiled. "I have just met their brothers on the training ground. They were having a lesson in swordplay along with Merry and Pippin. They are having a riding lesson now." He inclined his head toward Jennifer and then toward Kaylee. "Well met, Lady Jennifer and Miss Kaylee. At your service and your family's."

"We're pleased to meet you, Lord Aragorn. How do you do?" Jennifer said. Exchanging a glance with Kaylee, she and her little sister bowed toward the Ranger. "Uh, at your service, too," she added, as she straightened her body. Aragorn remembered what Boromir had told him about these children's ways and customs being different from those of Middle-earth.

Frodo nodded, and then turned toward Bilbo. He raised his voice so that his older cousin would hear him. "I added another cup and saucer, Uncle Bilbo, seeing that Aragorn has joined us."

"Quite so, my lad, quite so," Bilbo answered. He grinned up at the tall man. "So glad you could join us, Dúnadan!"

"It's good to see you as well, old friend," the Ranger answered, smiling. He and Arwen arranged themselves on the larger sofa, and the hobbits and Kaylee all sat in the smaller chairs that were arranged around the table. Jennifer took one of the larger chairs. At Bilbo's urging, Sam joined them on one of the smaller chairs.

Bilbo asked Lady Arwen to pour out the tea, and Frodo passed around the food. Jennifer was not especially hungry, but she took one of the small sandwiches and a couple of the cookies—biscuits. Was she ever going to get used to calling them that? We'll have to get used to calling them cookies again when we go back home, she thought wryly. Kaylee took two sandwiches and five biscuits, and Bilbo poured a glass of water and set it before the little girl. Jennifer shook her head. Wait till Kevin learns I actually met the man I saw in my dream!

They all began to talk. Bilbo told the rather amusing story of his first meeting with Aragorn. Apparently, he first had seen him all scruffy and dirty from camping out in the Wild for weeks, and had taken him for a dangerous ruffian at first.

Then Aragorn made Frodo blush by recounting the first time they had seen each other, and the hobbit had embarrassed himself by jumping up and singing on a table. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," the hobbit mumbled, red-faced.

Merry and Pippin laughed loudly at their older cousin, but he shook his head. "How many times have I heard the two of you use that excuse?"

Sam rolled his eyes, and Bilbo caught his look and winked.

Jennifer smiled. That was one of Joey's favorite excuses as well. She looked over and saw Arwen smiling at her. Jennifer got up her nerve to ask something that had been tickling her curiosity ever since Aragorn had entered the room. "Lady Arwen, how did you and Lord Aragorn get together?" Then she blushed at her own temerity. Aragorn spluttered in his tea, and Bilbo bit back a grin.

Arwen blushed as well, and laughed. "Our story is a long one, but I can tell you if you wish…"

-oo000oo-

That evening after the feast, instead of going to the Hall of Fire, Elrond summoned several people to his study. In addition to those who were going on the journey, he included his daughter, Glorfindel, Erestor, and Bilbo. Then he summoned the McCloud children to join them.

"Lord Kevin, Lady Jennifer, I want you to tell them what you told us about the manner in which you and your siblings came to Middle-earth, the day you arrived," Elrond ordered, as the four children took their seats.

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged glances, and then looked down at Joey and Kaylee, who both squirmed. "Do you want us to tell them everything we told you?" Kevin asked him. Elrond nodded.

Kevin cleared his throat, and then, for the next several minutes, as Joey and Kaylee listened, he and Jennifer explained to Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas, Erestor, and the five hobbits everything that they had previously told Elrond, Arwen, Glorfindel, and Gandalf on the day of their arrival. In the process, all four children told the group their full names as well as Megan's, and everything else that they had previously shared on the day of their arrival. When Kevin and Jennifer had finished, silence descended upon the group for a few minutes.

"This is—incredible," Boromir said softly, shaking his head.

Aragorn nodded agreement. "It is, indeed, but it explains why these children are so different, and why everything in their world is so inexplicable."

"The only race in our world is Man," Jennifer said. "There are no other races there. No Elves, no Dwarves, no hobbits, no wizards; they're just imaginary fantasy creatures where we come from. Well—" She glanced down at Kaylee, and added, "—except for the elves at the North Pole, that is." With a grin, she winked at Elrond, who raised an eyebrow and quirked his lips in amusement. "Well, anyway, the elves in those stories are nothing like the elves here."

She cleared her throat. "There's just plain ordinary human beings where we live. There are different races among human beings, but that's it."

"Are there orcs and trolls there?" Aragorn asked Jennifer.

Jennifer furrowed her eyebrows in puzzlement. "What—what's an orc?"

Gandalf chuckled. "I believe you have your answer, Aragorn." He turned to Jennifer. "An orc is an evil creature, Jennifer, otherwise known as a goblin."

"Oh." Jennifer exchanged an uneasy glance with Kevin, and then turned to Aragorn. "No, sir, there's not. No goblins or trolls, either, except in fairy tales. They're just make-believe." She swallowed hard. "There's no goblins or trolls here, are there?"

"I'm afraid there are, Jennifer," Aragorn told her soberly. "They may be only imaginary creatures in your world, but they are quite real here. And dangerous." Kaylee shivered.

Kevin gulped. "Uh, what about dragons?" He gazed intently at the Ranger. "They don't exist here, too, do they?"

"There used to be dragons here, Kevin, but not anymore. Smaug was the last of his kind." Gandalf told him. "A dragon is one creature you don't have to worry about encountering." Kevin smiled, relieved.

Aragorn nodded agreement. "Are there no dragons in your world?"

"No, sir." Kevin shook his head. "They're just fantasy creatures, too, where we come from."

Furrowing her eyebrows, Jennifer bit her lower lip. Kevin looked at her questioningly. "What is it, Jen?" She took a deep breath, and then leaned sideways to whisper into Kevin's ear. When she leaned back, he frowned and fidgeted for a long moment.

"I think we may as well tell them," he finally said. "The hobbits and Lady Arwen already know, and it's gonna be kind of hard to keep from talking about it altogether while we're here. They may as well know." Jennifer nodded.

"Know about what, Kevin?" Aragorn asked.

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged uneasy glances. "Well, uh," Kevin said slowly, "what would you guys say, if we said you're all pretend characters in a book where we come from? Some of you, in fact, are in two books. Novels. Books of fiction." He paused. "Make-believe stories." He cleared his throat and scanned their faces.

Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli exchanged stunned glances. "It's true." Frodo nodded. "As hard as it is to believe, it's true. Lady Jennifer and Lord Kevin recognized us at first sight, even though we had never met before." The other hobbits, including Bilbo, nodded agreement, and so did Arwen.

Kevin and Jennifer immediately commenced explaining to the assembled company everything that they had previously told the hobbits during elevenses on their first day in Middle-earth about Tolkien, the fantasy novels he had written, the movies that had been made about the second book, The Lord of the Rings, and the upcoming movie that was coming out in their world, based on The Hobbit. They also explained as much as they could about movies and TV, just as they had already told the hobbits that first day.

Elrond raised his hand at the spate of questions that the others had about the children's revelations. "Please save your questions for the children for another day, and understand that they do not know all about these things they tell us of." Both Gimli and Boromir sat back, and nodded. Legolas, who was standing, also nodded his head. Aragorn had already heard much of this from Arwen.

"Nicole wants to take me to see The Hobbit movie when it comes out in December," Jennifer said. "She's my best friend back home; we like to spend a lot of time together, and talk to each other all the time. Sometimes, we have sleepovers at each other's houses, too. I was hoping she'd be able to come with us on the camping trip, but her parents had other plans for spring break." She grimaced. "Anyway, she has her own copies of the books, and she's seen The Lord of the Rings movies, too, and she's going to take me to see the first of The Hobbit movies when it comes out. Before that, though, she wants me to read the book. Since she has her own copy, she's gonna lend it to me when we get back home."

She paused, biting her lower lip. "If we get back home." She smiled ruefully. "Since we've never read the books or watched the whole movies—just bits and pieces of them—we can't tell you how the quest will turn out."

Gandalf smiled reassuringly at them. "It is just as well, children, for who is to say that the outcome will be the same here as it is in your books? If we know too much, we may spoil things by trying too hard to make them happen. Even the foresight of the Wise does not always turn out as it appears."

Elrond nodded. "While it is well to have some idea of what may happen, it is good to remember that things can change due to our own actions."

"Yes, sir." Kevin shook his head and exchanged a bewildered glance with Jennifer. "None of us understand this. Since Tolkien made all this up, how can it be real?"

"Yeah!" Jennifer agreed. "It was supposed to be just a make-believe story set in a fantasy world. With make-believe characters."

To their surprise, it was Gimli who answered. "Of course it is real. We are here. You can see us and touch us and smell us. You can see and hear and feel Middle-earth around you. You can see that we are not make-believe, and neither is the world we live in. Does the 'how' matter? What matters is that you are here as well."

"I agree," said Boromir. "These questions of 'real' or 'unreal' do not enter into our counsels, for we must deal with what is."

Aragorn crossed his arms. "Gimli and Boromir are right, children. While such questions of philosophy may be interesting, they have no place in the discussions of how we must conduct ourselves in this matter."

"And," Elrond added, "how do you know this gentleman made up his stories? Perhaps he, too, found himself here at some time. Or perhaps not. We do not know, but since you are here, then perhaps he was as well."

Kevin and Jennifer gaped at him for a long moment. That was one possibility they had not thought of!

Kevin looked at Jennifer. "When we go back home, Jen, we need to look up J.R.R. Tolkien. See if we can find out how he got started writing his stories."

Jennifer nodded agreement. When, she thought. I really hope that it is "when", and not"'if"!

The conversation now began to deal with the planning of the journey, what would be needed in the way of supplies, and what route the Company would take. This wasn't a conversation that the children could contribute to, so when first Kaylee, and then Joey, began to yawn, Elrond dismissed the four of them to their beds.

After the door closed behind them, Elrond asked both Aragorn and Glorfindel to share the results of their scouting expeditions.

"I found no signs at all of Orcs," said Glorfindel, "but I did find signs of a rather large pack of Wargs. They did not linger in the vicinity of Imladris, but turned South. None remained near enough to be a threat to us."

"But if they went South," said Gandalf, "they might yet become a threat to those of us who will be travelling in that direction." Elrond nodded agreement.

"As for the Nine," said Aragorn, "our mission is not finished. So far, we have searched South along the river beyond the Ford. Eight of their horses drowned in the flood, three near the Ford itself, and five more beyond the rapids, where we also found one of the Ringwraiths' cloaks. I will set back out at dawn and catch up with Halbarad and his patrol, to search as far as Tharbad. Elladan and Elrohir will be going with me so far as that, ere they turn aside for Lothlórien."

"Very well," said Elrond. "Be thorough, my son, but do not take too long. I would hope that the Company may set out ere the turning of the year."

-oo000oo-

As Jennifer put on her nightgown an hour later, she thought about the story that Aragorn and Arwen had told her earlier. Gosh! she thought. To think they've been engaged to be married for decades now! How could they stand to wait so long? I sure couldn't! She grimaced at the thought.

I can't believe how long he's been her boyfriend! Jennifer shook her head in bewilderment as she pondered that, and then smiled. They sure love each other, I can tell! Arwen is so lucky.

Jennifer recalled her last conversation about dating with her mom. I guess that maybe being patient isn't a bad thing. Even though they've had to wait years and years and years, they seem so happy together, and are willing to keep waiting to get married still. I know they can't get married until that Sauron guy is defeated. I sure hope he will be, soon! With a sigh, she turned over to get some sleep, imagining what Arwen's wedding might be like.

-oo000oo-

Kevin lay in his bed, grimacing. He did not like what Elrond and the others had told him. Goblins? Trolls? Not good at all!

We are in a fantasy land; I should have known, he thought. But goblins are dangerous, and I get the feeling that trolls here are, too. Not like the little toy trolls they sell at Wal-Mart, the ones with the funny-looking hair and ugly-but-cute faces. He sighed. I really don't like it that my sister and my little brother are going on this trip! It sounds really dangerous. I hate the thought of leaving them behind; I'd miss them if we did, but at least they'd be safe.

He turned on his side. Since they do have to go along, I'll just have to do everything I can to keep them safe. At least the grown-ups will be doing the same thing. He glanced up at the ceiling. Please, God, protect Jennifer and Joey! And me. And Kaylee. And Lucy, too. In Jesus' name, amen.

-oo000oo-

The next morning, it was Jennifer and Kaylee's turn to have a riding lesson. Jennifer had been told that she and Kaylee should dress practically, so she put on her blue jeans, T-shirt, and jacket, instead of the gowns that they had been wearing since coming to Rivendell. Eledhwen helped little Kaylee into the clothes she had been wearing on their arrival: her long-sleeved pullover shirt, blue jeans, and jacket. They also put on their sturdy hiking boots, instead of the Elven slippers they had been wearing indoors. Jennifer was surprised to learn that Mairen was going to be their teacher. The Elf-maiden was also clad practically in a long tunic and leggings of grey, and knee-length soft boots.

The three of them walked down to the stables after breakfast, accompanied by Sam and Bilbo. Sam was going to check on the hobbits' pony, Bill, and Bilbo had a treat for his pony, Merrylegs. He had agreed that Kaylee could learn to ride on his old pony, who was cheerful and gentle.

Bilbo was telling the girls and Sam stories of other ponies he had ridden—a little Dwarf pony named Myrtle that he had ridden on their journey to Rivendell, and a pony given to him by the King of Mirkwood, Thranduil. Bilbo had named it Cheesy, because of its yellow coat, which he had ridden on his return journey. They were all laughing at his account of how it had balked at coming down a mountain, and even Gandalf had a hard time coaxing Cheesy forward.

In the stables, they found the groom had already chosen three horses for them to use, as well as taken Merrylegs from his stall. He spoke to Mairen in Sindarin, and she nodded and replied in the same language, but then turned and translated for the girls. "I told him to speak so that you could understand."

The Elf bowed his head. "My apologies! I do not often speak with guests."

"Curubor asked, did we wish to use saddles, for most of the time Elves do not use saddles. But we will use them now."

The Elf brought out the saddles from a room at the other side of the stable. He carefully showed Jennifer and Kaylee how to put the saddles on, and to fasten them properly. Meanwhile, Bilbo and Sam had visited with Bill briefly, and were putting the saddle on Merrylegs.

Curubor led their mounts out of the stable, and then Eledhwen began explaining how to mount.

Jennifer felt awkward as she followed the instructions to mount. It was hard to get her left foot in the stirrup, hold on to the horse, and figure out how to swing her right leg over. Eledhwen told her to hold the reins and some of the horses' mane in her hand. "Won't it hurt the horse to pull its mane?" she asked.

Amused, Eledhwen shook her head. "Grab onto the cantle and jump up with your right leg," she told her. Then she went over to see how Kaylee was doing with Merrylegs.

It took a second try for Jennifer to get her leg over and then to sit down. She sat very gingerly, fearful of startling her horse.

Now that Eldwhen had Kaylee settled, she gave Jennifer a nod of approval, and then took the reins from them both, and began to lead them around the paddock. After a few times, she gave them the reins, and had them walk around and around on their own. She mounted her own horse and kept pace with them, giving the girls pointers as they rode

The girls had been riding around the paddock for what seemed like ages. Jennifer had been a bit nervous to begin with, and she still felt a lack of confidence. But, she thought, I'm bound to get better with practice. At least this horse only has to walk, and that's a whole lot easier than trotting, galloping, and jumping! But she shuddered at the thought of that last. Thankfully, Mairen had said nothing about jumping so far.

Kaylee had been clearly scared when she had first mounted Merrylegs, but she had fallen in love quickly with the sweet-natured little pony, and now was laughing as she walked her mount around the paddock, listening to encouraging praise from Sam and Bilbo, who were leaning against the fence and watching intently. "Look at me!" she practically shouted. "See me riding, Jennifer!"

Jennifer laughed. "You sure are, Kaylee! We both are."

But then Mairen said, "Anor is high in the sky. I believe that luncheon draws nigh. I am sure that you girls do not wish to dine smelling of horse and sweat. One last time around the paddock, and then we will go back up to the main house."

Jennifer was relieved, but Kaylee seemed disappointed to have the lesson end. They dismounted, and under the direction of Mairen, Curubor, and Sam, they learned how to remove the tack and help their mounts to cool down.

Finally, they began the walk back to the main house. Jennifer's head was filled with thoughts of a warm bath and a hot lunch. Kaylee skipped next to her, holding her hand and chattering about the lesson.

-oo000oo-

One morning, after Aragorn had returned from his hunt for the Ringwraiths, the beautiful weather had led several of the inhabitants outdoors to the large porch where the Council had been held.

Kaylee stepped out upon the terrace, her Big Book of Fairytales clutched to her chest. To her dismay, Jennifer wasn't there, and Kevin was watching carefully as Glorfindel and Boromir demonstrated a swordplay move for him. On the other side, Aragorn and Gandalf were sitting in chairs close to the entrance, watching and listening to Glorfindel and Boromir, and Joey was sitting cross-legged on the stone floor, his remote control in hand, controlling his toy car as it rolled across the terrace in one direction and then another. Merry and Pippin were watching Joey maneuvering his car in fascination.

Aragorn turned to the little girl. Seeing the stricken expression on her face, he asked, "Is something wrong, Kaylee?"

Pouting, Kaylee approached the Ranger. "I want someone to read to me." She glanced down at her book. "Where's Jennifer? Kevin's too busy." She looked sadly up at her oldest brother.

"Right now, Jennifer's busy with Lady Arwen," Aragorn told her. "Why don't you bring the book to me? Perhaps I can read it to you."

As the expression on her face brightened, Kaylee hurried toward Aragorn and climbed into his lap. Opening the book, Aragorn's face furrowed in puzzlement, and he sighed. "Perhaps you had better wait until Jennifer is free, Kaylee," he said gently. "I cannot read this book to you."

"But why?" Kaylee complained.

"Because, Kaylee, it is written in a language I cannot read."

Joey scrambled to his feet, dropping his remote control; the toy car came to a halt. He approached Aragorn and Kaylee and looked over the Ranger's shoulder at the picture book's open page. "But it's written in English!" he protested. "Surely, you can read English, right? That's what we all speak."

"That's right," Kevin agreed, turning his face toward Aragorn. "That's our native language."

Looking from Kevin to Joey, Aragorn chuckled. "I do not know what English is, Joey, but you have not been speaking it. None of you have, save perhaps for some words we cannot understand, such as 'moovees', 'teevee,' or 'vacation'."

Kevin whirled around. As he, Merry, Pippin, Boromir, and Glorfindel all came toward Aragorn, Kaylee, and Joey, a bewildered expression crept across the youth's face. "What language have we been speaking?" he asked, glancing at his younger siblings as he spoke.

Gandalf spoke up. "You children have been speaking the Common Tongue, Lord Kevin, ever since you came to Middle-earth."

"The Common Tongue?" Kevin tilted his head as he stared at Gandalf. "What language is that?"

Gandalf paused. "Westron." Something about the look in the wizard's eye made Kevin wonder if Gandalf had known all along that he and his siblings spoke another language back in their own world.

"Westron?" Kevin exchanged a bewildered glance with Joey. "We've never even heard of that language!"

Kevin turned to look at Boromir, who nodded consent. "Go ahead and read to your little sister, Lord Kevin," he said. "We will go over the swordsmanship moves again later."

"Thanks." Kevin sat down in a chair near Aragorn's, and Kaylee climbed off his lap and onto her older brother's. She opened the book and showed Kevin the story in it that she wanted him to read, and he chuckled. "The Three Billy Goats Gruff, huh?" Smiling broadly, she nodded. Holding the book open on his lap, he read it aloud to her, and Kaylee and everyone else in the room listened. Even though the story was written in English, he automatically translated it into Westron as he read it to his little sister, just as Jennifer had been doing ever since their arrival without even realising it.

-oo000oo-

"I don't believe it!" Jennifer exclaimed, staring at her brother. "You mean we've been speaking another language all this time?"

"Yeah! Without even knowing it." Kevin shook his head, an incredulous look on his face.

"But how?" Joey stared up at his older siblings. "We never even had a chance to learn this—this—"

"Westron," Kevin said softly. "Gandalf said Westron was the Common Tongue here. I guess it's kind of like English back home. As for how—" He paused, shrugging.

Jennifer leaned against the wall, folding her arms across her chest and furrowing her eyebrows. "Maybe…" She paused, thinking hard for a long moment. "Maybe it's like when God confused the languages at the Tower of Babel. Remember? And when He gave all the disciples the ability to speak other languages at Pentecost! He did that so they'd be able to preach the Gospel to the Jews who had arrived from other countries, remember?"

Kevin gaped at her, as a dawning realization etched his face. "I—I think you're right." He swallowed hard. "We know it's gotta be an act of God; there's no other way this could be happening. Just coming here was an act of God, and knowing their language is, too. Because Joey's right; we didn't have a chance to learn this Westron when we arrived here in Middle-earth. We just started speaking it and understanding it as soon as we got here." He bit his lower lip. "The one thing we can't do is read it. Or write it."

"True." Jennifer pursed her lips. "Guess God decided we could manage without the ability to read the language. But He must have decided that it was going to be necessary for us to be able to understand what people say here, and talk to them. There wasn't going to be time for us to learn Westron."

As Kaylee clutched the doll that Mairen had given her to her chest, she peered up at Jennifer, and then turned her gaze from Kevin to Joey. "What does that mean?"

Kevin sat down on the chair next to her. "Well, Kaylee," he said, "it means we're speaking a language none of us have ever heard before. One that none of us have ever had a chance to learn. God made us able to speak this language, maybe because whatever He's sent us here to do, it was important for us to understand the people here and talk to them as soon as we got here. There was gonna be no time to learn their language." He smiled at his little sister. "That's why Aragorn couldn't read you your storybook, Kaylee. It's written in English, and no one knows English here."

"I just wonder if we'll still know this language when we get back home," Jennifer said softly. "Back to 2012."

Kevin rose to his feet. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe not. No one speaks Westron in our time. We're not going to have any need for the language back in 2012, so it may be that God will take it away when He sends us back to our world." Jennifer shrugged.

-oo000oo-

That evening, after supper, Joey paused, white sheet in his arms, as he peered at Aragorn and Boromir perched on the bench, chatting. It was dark. A mischievous grin spread across the little boy's face as he draped the sheet over his head.

"Boo-oo-oo!" he called out, trying to sound ghostly. He crept around the column, moving toward where he knew the men were sitting, waving his arms above his head. "I'm a ghost! I'm gonna scare you!"

"No! Do not frighten me!" Boromir said in mock-fear, then he and Aragorn laughed.

"All right, Joey, it is time for us to go to the Hall of Fire," Aragorn said.

Several feet behind Joey, next to a pillar, Elrond and Lindir were listening. "It has been too long since we have last had a child here at Rivendell," Lindir whispered.

"I agree," Elrond whispered back, his mouth quirked in amusement. "I had quite forgotten the mischief that little boys can get into." Out loud, he said, "I will take that sheet, Master Joey."

As he and Lindir approached the child, Aragorn helped Joey to pull the sheet off of himself. Joey handed it to Elrond, who in turn handed it to Lindir. "And now, I believe your older sister is looking for you, young man," Elrond told the child kindly but firmly. He looked at Aragorn. "Would you do the honors, Estel?"

"Certainly." Aragorn laid a hand on Joey's shoulder. "Come on, Joey," he said. "Let us go to the Hall of Fire. I know you do not want to miss the singing tonight!" He took Joey into the building, followed by Boromir.

-oo000oo-

"Children, sit down," Aragorn ordered. "We need to talk."

The McCloud children sat down with the others, gathering around Aragorn, Elrond, Arwen, Glorfindel, Bilbo, and the members of the newly-formed Company. "As you know, you three are going to go with us on the Quest," Aragorn reminded Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey. They exchanged glances and nodded.

Kaylee pouted. She was still unhappy about being left behind. "Why can't I go, too?"

Kevin gave her a sympathetic smile. "It's not gonna be a pleasure trip, Kaylee. From what they've told us so far, it's not going to be fun. It's not going to be like the summer vacations Mom and Dad take us on. Not only is there no car, we're not even going to get to ride in a wagon or ride a horse. We're going to have to walk the whole way, no matter what the weather is, and since it's winter, it's going to be pretty cold. Mordor's hundreds of miles away, and we're going to have to walk all the way there. It's gonna take us a long time to get there."

"That is right," Aragorn agreed. "Besides, it would be too difficult for you to keep up with us, Kaylee; at your age, your legs are too short. One of us would have to carry you the whole distance, and now that you are five years old, you have grown too big for that. You are going to stay here with Lucy, and Lady Arwen is going to look after you while we're gone."

"That is right," Arwen told the little girl. "I will not be going with them either. But there will be ways that you and I can help them, Miss Kaylee, even in here in Rivendell." Elrond nodded agreement.

Aragorn turned back to the other children. "And while we are on the Quest, I will look after you. We all will, actually, but I will bear the primary responsibility for your care and protection."

Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey exchanged glances again. "You mean—we're going to be like—like your wards or something?" Jennifer asked.

Aragorn nodded. "That is correct. In fact, until you are reunited with your parents, you will be my wards, and I will be your guardian for the duration. As such, I will look after you, provide for you, and do everything in my power to keep you safe until the quest is over. I will not attempt to take your father's place, but I will be as a father to you, and Arwen will be as a mother to Kaylee, until your own mother and father can take over once more."

The three older children nodded acquiescence. "Yes, Aragorn," Kevin said. Aragorn's certainty that they would eventually be back with their parents made him feel better about the whole thing.

Bilbo turned to Arwen. "I'll help you look after Miss Kaylee," he told her. "Mairen and Eledhwen are excellent nursemaids and will help you take good care of her, but you will also need someone to help you amuse the child. I'll help you with that job."

Arwen smiled at him. "Thank you, Bilbo. I accept your help. I know that Miss Kaylee will enjoy that." She ran her fingers through Kaylee's hair, smiling down at the little girl. "While your brothers and sister are on the Quest, Miss Kaylee, you will have the opportunity to learn many new things here in Rivendell, things that you will enjoy. They will be skills that you will have a chance to show off for your parents and your siblings when you are reunited with them. You have already begun learning to ride a pony; you will continue to learn that skill, and you will learn other skills, too. And Lucy will be here to play with you, even though your brothers and sister will not be."

Elrond nodded agreement. "That is right," he told Kaylee, who gave a wan smile. Scanning the children's faces, he added, "I must ask you children to leave now. Gandalf and Aragorn and Bilbo and I have things to discuss."

"Come along, children," Arwen said, gesturing toward the door.

-oo000oo-

A/N: Details of the riding lesson are from https://www.thesprucepets.com/learn-to-ride-a-horse-1887068 (The Spruce Pets: Learn to Ride a Horse site).

Merrylegs is a character from Lindelea's story, http://storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=3826 ("The Tenth Walker"), and is used with her permission. This wonderful story from the POV of Bill the Pony can be found at http://storiesofarda.com/index.asp (Stories of Arda Archive).

Cheesy appears in Dreamflower's story, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10368681/1/Rained-In ("Rained In").

The idea of Aragorn becoming the children's guardian is a tribute to Radbooks' marvelous story, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2049369/1/In-Aragorn-s-Safekeeping ("In Aragorn's Safekeeping").


Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU,and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 11: That's What Friends Are For

As the children were leaving with Arwen, Gandalf turned to Bilbo and arched an eyebrow, giving a nod. Bilbo winked at him, and turned to Elrond.

"You do know that since those children are going, there is very little point in keeping Merry and Pippin from going as well," said Bilbo.

Elrond sighed. "I still feel allowing them to go would be a mistake."

"Allowing? I am quite sure that they will be going." The old hobbit looked Elrond in the eye. Aragorn looked on, amused. "To accompany Frodo was why they left home. They will not abandon him now."

"I suspect that you are right," Aragorn said dryly.

"There is still the matter of warning the Shire," Elrond responded. "I still think that there might be trouble there." In truth, that objection had held more weight with him than their ages.

Bilbo shook his head. "You don't understand. Merry and Pippin won't go back if Frodo is going forward; they'll just sneak off and follow along behind until it's too late to send them back. They left the Shire to help Frodo, and that's what they will do."

"I agree, Ada," said Aragorn. "They are every bit as stubborn as this one," and he nodded in Bilbo's direction, "and I think there would be trouble ahead if you tried to make them stay behind."

"You may be right. And yet, what of my foreboding of trouble ahead? Do you not wish to send warning to the Shire, old friend?"

Bilbo nodded. "Of course. But it needn't be Merry or Pippin. In fact, if we want the warning to be heeded, it might be better if it's someone else. Their fathers are likely to be too angry at them for going off to actually listen to them, especially Paladin. The Thain has a very short temper."

Gandalf arched an eyebrow. "Bilbo is quite right. Tooks are notoriously short-tempered. Perhaps you should send a messenger. No hobbit would fail to take an Elf seriously."

"And I'll send a letter along," Bilbo added. "I am sure they would all be so surprised to learn I'm still among the living that they'd be very impressed with the seriousness of any word I might send. And I can reassure the Tooks and Brandybucks, I think, that their heirs are safe and sound so far."

"I really think," said Gandalf, "that it's the best course of action."

Aragorn leaned forward. "I would not care to be responsible if the two of them were trailing about in the wild behind us when we leave."

"Very well." Elrond nodded. "Galdor is soon heading back to Mithlond, to report of our Council to Círdan. He will be passing through the Shire, anyway, and can carry our message. And Galdor's mien is serious enough, I think, to impress any number of hobbits."

After a few more moments of discussion, Elrond sent for Merry and Pippin. Bilbo wondered how they would react. He was well aware that both of them anticipated being told, "No." If he knew Merry, the two of them would be worried. He looked forward to their surprise when they learned that they had Elrond's permission to accompany Frodo. While he was not happy at the thought of any of his cousins, or Sam, on this perilous journey, he thought they would fare much better together than apart.

They heard a mutter of voices in the hall, and Elrond stepped to the door, opening it before the two young hobbits could knock.

"Master Meriadoc, Master Peregrin, please enter."

The two young hobbits were very surprised to see Gandalf and Bilbo and Aragorn also in the room. They looked at one another in dismay. At least they could have been spared the humiliation of hearing the bad news in front of people. They gulped, and came into the library; Merry remembered how he had felt as a small child when he had stolen two pies from one of the kitchens in Brandy Hall, and had been called in for punishment, not by his father, but by his grandfather Rory.

Pippin and Merry looked at their feet. Pippin rubbed his left foot behind his right, a sure sign of nervousness.

Elrond shook his head. "Meriadoc and Peregrin, after consulting with Aragorn and Mithrandir—and with Bilbo, who is the senior representative of your family here in Rivendell—I have come to the conclusion that it would, after all, be best if you are both allowed to accompany Frodo on the journey south."

Silence.

And then the words sank in.

Pippin gave a yell, then he and Merry grabbed one another in a hug and dance of joy, laughing and crying at the same time. Then they looked up finally, to see Elrond smiling kindly, Gandalf's familiar stern twinkle, Aragorn's amused expression, and Bilbo's look of fond indulgence.

"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" they both exclaimed.

"Do not thank me. I know that it is your heart's desire not to be separated from Frodo, but you are setting forth into peril and hardship. Yet I do believe that you are well able to handle it, and that you will do all that is in your power to help and support your cousin."

This reminder settled them down quickly, and they looked at the Elf lord solemnly. "We will, sir," answered Merry. Pippin nodded soberly.

"Well, my lads," said Bilbo, "you are well and truly in the frying pan now. I hope that you may keep out of the fire."

Aragorn looked at them sternly. "You will take this seriously, Merry and Pippin," he said. "This is not a hobbit walking party."

They looked offended. "Of course not!" Merry said firmly. "Frodo will be relying on us."

"He certainly will!" Pippin agreed. "Sam is an excellent fellow, and would jump down a dragon's throat to save Frodo, but our cousin will need more than one hobbit with him in this dangerous business, and who better than his kin?" Merry nodded emphatically. Aragorn nodded, satisfied.

"I will be sending word to your fathers," said Bilbo, "to let them know you are going."

"When?" asked Merry sharply.

"The message will be carried to the Shire by way of Galdor of the Grey Havens. He will be returning to his home in just a few days," said Elrond.

"Could he carry word from us as well?" Merry asked. Pippin made a face. If Merry wrote to Uncle Saradoc, he'd have to write his own father as well, and he really disliked writing letters.

"I'm sure he could, Meriadoc," Bilbo replied. "Just bring your letters to me when you have finished, and I will put them in with mine."

The two younger hobbits nodded, and Merry said, "Well, Pip, we had better get started on our preparations."

Pippin looked at him in surprise. They'd already planned on leaving anyway. What other preparations were there? But he said nothing, as he was certain Merry had his reasons.

The two left, and Pippin turned a quizzical eye to his older cousin. "What's left to do?" he asked.

Merry shook his head. "We don't want them thinking we were planning on sneaking off on our own, do we?"

"Ah, well, I see that might not be best."

"Let's go to the library and get our letters written." Merry knew that he'd find quills, ink, and paper in Rivendell's well-stocked library.

Pippin nodded and followed Merry. Might as well get it over with.

-oo000oo-

Bilbo headed to his own little quarters, and soon was seated at his desk, quill in hand. After a few minutes, he dipped his pen into the ink and began to write.

Dear Paladin and Saradoc,

I am quite certain that you both have been distraught over the absence of your sons. I am sure that you are in equal parts worried and angry.

While I cannot completely ameliorate your worry (for there is reason enough for that), let me do what I can to appease your anger. Merry and Pippin did not leave home for simple adventure. It was no lark that took them after Frodo and Sam, and no whim that caused Frodo to leave, either.

If you must blame anyone, it should be me. I unwittingly brought something home from my own adventure years ago that turned out to be both dangerous and valuable. Apparently, it is now, after all this time, being sought for by some rather unsavory and violent people. When Frodo learned of this, he thought the best way to protect the Shire was to get it away from there. Samwise Gamgee came with him, to look after him and protect him.

Of course, Merry and Pippin would never allow Frodo to go into danger without them, and made it clear they would follow him, will-he or nill-he.

The four of them made it safely here to Rivendell, where I've been living for a number of years. But the dangerous item could not rest here. Frodo and his friends are continuing on. I can't say much more than they are not alone, but have strong and able protectors.

I dare not trust more in writing. The Elf who brings this to you might tell you more. But I do want to warn you, there are those who may still think this thing is in the Shire. You may be facing danger yourselves over the course of the next year.

Be prepared! And once you both have seen this letter, and shown it to Eglantine and Esmeralda, please destroy it, for safety's sake.

Fondly,

Your cousin,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.

-oo000oo-

Pippin had long since finished his note—Merry did not think it could properly be called a letter, but then it was typical of his younger cousin to never say more in writing than he had to, and it was, after all, longer than many other such missives he'd written in the past. He glanced over it, smiling wryly, and then glanced at Pippin, who was exploring the books in the shelves in a haphazard manner.

Dear Father and Mother,

I hope that you are not too dreadfully worried. We had to help Frodo out and come with him. We are safe for now.

Give my love to Pearl, Pimmie, and Vinca, and tell Vinca to stay out of my things. I will be home when I can. So will Merry and Frodo and Sam.

Love,

Pippin

Six whole sentences. Almost an epic from Pippin. Then he glanced at his own blank white sheet and looked at his discarded first attempts. It was so hard to try and convey the urgency of their departure without revealing too much. This was almost harder than the letter he had left for his father to find after they were gone. He took a deep breath, dipped the quill, and started once more. Maybe this one would work.

Dear Da and Mum,

We made it safely, more or less, this far. We are in Rivendell among the Elves. You will know by now that Bilbo is here as well, and Gandalf was also here when we arrived.

Our journey had its share of danger, but we had a strong guide from Bree to here. Frodo was injured along the way, but is well on the mend. However, our travels do not stop here, and I do not think we will be home before Spring, at the earliest. Perhaps we will be gone as long as a year. I will do all in my power to keep Frodo and Pip safe. Sam, too, though he is more than capable of taking care of all of us.

Please know that I love you both, and miss you. Keep your eyes open for trouble, because those who pursued Frodo from the Shire may come back, or others just as dangerous.

Mum, I know you will want to keep this letter. Please do not be tempted to do so—destroy it as soon as you and Da have finished with it, and do not speak about it with anyone save Uncle Paladin and Aunt Tina.

Love always,

Your son,

Merry

Merry pursed his lips as he read it over. Had he said too much? He wondered if Sam might want to write, but he knew the Gaffer could not read, and if he asked someone else to read it to him, then they would also know more than they should. He picked up the quill again, and added a postscript:

P.S. You may speak to Gaffer Gamgee if you can get his word to stay silent on the matter. He is probably worried about his son by now. I leave it up to your judgment.

As soon as he had finished that letter, he took out another sheet of parchment and wrote a second letter that he addressed to Paladin, whom he felt deserved to learn more than Pippin's six sentences alone would tell him. When he had finished, he silently reread the letter and then included it with Pippin's own.

Well, that was that. He felt the stirrings of hunger. Nearly teatime. "Oi, Pip! What say we take these to Cousin Bilbo, and see if he wants us to take tea with him?"

-oo000oo-

A/N: A portion of this chapter is adapted from Dreamflower's story, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8744637/1/In-the-Frying-Pan ("In The Frying Pan").

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Can you guess the origins of the chapter title? HINT: it follows the pattern of previous titles; also, 1967.

(A/N: This chapter is extra long, to make up for the last chapter being extra short!)

Chapter 12: The Bare Necessities

Jennifer felt quite nervous as she followed the Lady Arwen out of the Last Homely House and down to the practice yard by the armoury.  She'd been there before to watch her brothers, but not to try practicing herself.  She was glad that no one had come with her; she was anxious enough, and the thought of her brothers teasing her when she messed up would have made her even more so.  She was wearing the clothes that she had first arrived in: her jeans, T-shirt, jacket, and hiking boots.  The Elves were making clothes for her, but they were not quite ready, and she knew that the long flowing dresses and slippers that she had been wearing were not at all appropriate for the exercise she'd be getting now.  Lady Arwen was wearing leggings and a tunic, such as most of the male Elves wore, but somehow, they seemed very feminine on Arwen.

Looking down at the sheaths strapped to the outside of her boots, Jennifer saw the white handles of the knives.  They were so beautiful, it seemed hard to believe they were deadly weapons.  There were leaves and vines carved into the handles, and delicate Elven letters etched into the blades.  It was amazing how everything the Elves made were so lovely, even something so ordinary as a knife.

When they arrived in the practice yard, Arwen instructed her on how to draw the weapons from their sheaths.  "You must practice pulling them out and returning them.  When you bend to take them out, keep your back straight, and try not to look at what you are doing.  Bend as little as possible—only far enough to get a grip on the hafts. Start with ten times."

Trying to remember all the instructions, Jennifer lowered herself slowly.  She groped at the handles and turned her eyes to look at what she was doing for a brief instant before she looked away.  She fumbled a bit with her left hand, although she managed to draw the one on the right easily.

"One," said Arwen.

Jennifer stood up, then bent to put the knives back.  Then she tried again; that time, she kept her eyes averted throughout the exercise as she withdrew them from her boots again.  It was even more awkward.  Arwen said, "Two."

Aside from counting, Arwen made no other comments, until she said, "Ten."  She looked at Jennifer.  "Do you know why you should not be looking when you do this?"

"To make it harder?" Jennifer guessed.

Arwen laughed.  "No.  But if you are in a situation in which you will need to fight, an enemy must be present.  You do not wish to lose sight of him while you draw your weapon."

"Oh."  Jennifer blushed.  "It seems so obvious when you say it."

Arwen moved to stand behind her.  "Now, try it again with my help."  The Lady placed her hand gently on Jennifer's back, and guided her in keeping it straight as she bent down.  "Chin up, child."

This time, Jennifer managed it much better.  They practiced a few more times on drawing the knives, until she was doing it smoothly, if very slowly.

"I wish you to practice this evening until you can get them out much more quickly.  Now we will move onto something else.  These knives are balanced for both throwing and fighting.  If you can engage your enemy by throwing, rather than closing in, that is best."

The two of them spent nearly an hour throwing the knives at the target, until Jennifer was hitting it more often than not, and most of the ones that hit were sticking into the target.  Her arm was very sore.

"I think that is enough for now," said her teacher.  "We will work on it some more after luncheon.  And then, this evening, I want you to practice removing them from your boots again.  Time is short."

"Yes, ma'am."  Jennifer looked at her knives before she sheathed them.  "Are we gonna do all this stuff tomorrow, too?"

Arwen nodded.  "Yes, we are.  In the morning, and every day for as long as we have time left."

"Yes, ma'am."  Jennifer gazed down at the knives.  "Lady Arwen, what do they say on the blades?"

Arwen touched the one in her left hand.  "This one is 'Truth', and the other one…"  She touched it as well. "…is called 'Justice'."

"Oh."  Jennifer looked at them thoughtfully, as she bent to put them back in their sheaths, just as the Lady had taught her.

She was surprised, when they went back after lunch, and Legolas accompanied them.  "I will be teaching you when we are on the road, Lady Jennifer.  It is well that I see how you have begun."

Lady Arwen began by having her make ten more attempts to draw and return her knives, which Jennifer was pleased to realize she was doing far more easily, and with less temptation to look.  Then she threw them at the target again.  Finally, about a half-hour after they had begun, Arwen stopped her and handed her a waterskin.  Jennifer gratefully took it, though she was still rather awkward in drinking from one—it wasn't like drinking from a plastic bottle or even a thermos at all!

"You may take a rest for a few minutes and observe while Legolas and I spar."

Jennifer blinked in surprise, but went to sit on the top rail of the fence surrounding the practice grounds.  The lady and Legolas went to the centre and bowed ceremoniously to one another.  Then, faster than Jennifer's eyes could follow, both crouched, and the knives were in their hands.  The knives flashed in their hands as they circled one another, the sound of the weapons against one another almost like music.  They moved lightly, every stroke met and blocked by another—it was almost like watching a dance.  When they abruptly stopped with all four knives crossed between them, Jennifer could not help clapping and cheering.  "Wow!  That was wonderful!  I'll never be able to do that."

Both the Elves laughed.  "Most likely not, Lady Jennifer," said Legolas.  "You are not an Elf, and we have had many mortal lifetimes to practice and hone our skills."

"Nevertheless," added Arwen, "you will be able to learn enough to help keep yourself safer than you would be able to without learning at all.  Come down here now, and we will begin again…"

-oo000oo-

A few days later, on the morning before they were to leave, Erestor came over to the children as they were having a pleasant second breakfast with the hobbits (although it was actually their own first breakfast), and told them, "Master Elrond and Mithrandir would like you to bring all of your possessions to his study when you have finished your meal, so that we can decide what you may take.  This concerns the entire company," he added with a nod to Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, and Bilbo.  "Your company is welcome as well, although you have seen to your own packing, I am sure."

The hobbits all stared at Pippin, who blushed.  "Oi!  I'm nearly packed!" he protested.

"You always say that," said Merry wryly.  "Do you want me to check your pack, or Frodo?"

"Oh, you might as well," Pippin grumbled.  "You always do, just because you pack so far ahead of time, you are bored and need to occupy yourself rooting through my things."

The hobbits all laughed, Joey and Kaylee giggled, and Kevin and Jennifer rolled their eyes at Pippin's complaint.

Kevin spoke politely to Master Erestor.  "Yes, sir.  We will go get our things together as soon as we are done eating."

The McClouds rushed back up to their rooms as soon as they had scarfed down the last of their food.  Kevin had already completely packed his backpack, leaving the things he would need before the next day on the table next to it.  Jennifer had also packed, although she also had left a few things out that she would need before they left.  Joey's things had not even begun to be packed, so it took a while for Kevin and Jennifer to stuff his things in.  "You and Pippin!" Kevin teased him.

Joey, who had begun to be cross, cheered up at the thought that he was like Pippin, and grinned and puffed up his chest.

"Well, I think it's everything," said Jennifer.  "Come on, our host is waiting."  Kaylee watched them as they gathered their possessions together.

After Kevin and Jennifer set the items that they hadn't yet packed on their backpacks, the children took the now-familiar ways down to the study where they had been asked to go, with Kevin and Jennifer and Joey carrying their backpacks en-route and Kaylee trotting alongside Jennifer, and Kevin tapped on the door.  "Enter," they heard, and went inside to see everyone else gathered there.

The Elf-lord gestured toward the large table which ordinarily served as his desk. It had been completely cleared.  "Children, I want you to set your packs here.  We are going to have to decide which items you can keep, and which items you are going to have to leave behind."

Nodding, the children laid their backpacks on the table, setting aside the few things that they hadn't packed yet.  The morning sunlight poured into the study through the window, illuminating everything in the room.

"I want you to empty them out one by one, so I can have another look at their contents," Elrond said.  "I will also have look at the things that you haven't packed yet."

Together, as Elrond, Arwen, Legolas, Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, the hobbits, and Gandalf, as well as Kaylee, all watched, the three older children took turns emptying the contents of their backpacks onto the table, one at a time; Kevin and Jennifer laid theirs with the items they hadn't yet packed.  Kevin started off by showing the elf lord his flashlight, walkie-talkie, replacement batteries, battery charger, first-aid kit, can of insect repellent, comb, hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, shaving cream, radio, MP3 players, Android tablet, and finally, reluctantly, his teen study Bible, naming each item and explaining its purpose as he showed it to the group.  On Aragorn's orders, he opened his first-aid kit and showed everyone its contents, naming each item and explaining what it was for.  After he had placed all of the first-aid items back in the kit and set it back on the table, he turned to look at Master Elrond.

Elrond turned to Kevin. "Lord Kevin, you will have to leave behind this, this, these, and this."  He pointed out the radio, MP3 player, and tablet as he spoke.  With a sigh, Kevin nodded acquiescence.

Aragorn said, "I do believe that your medical kit will come in handy.  I think it well to take such grooming supplies as you have, but some of them will not last very long, for you will use them up."

Kevin grimaced.  "Our deodorant's almost empty now.  Jennifer and I use it to keep our underarms from stinking."  Jennifer nodded.  "Fortunately, Joey and Kaylee aren't old enough to need it yet.  And I guess I will get kind of scruffy, because I only have three razor blades left.  A good thing I don't have to shave very often yet."

Elrond's hand hovered over the Bible, uncertain.  Kevin reached over and picked it up, and held it possessively.  "I have to have this; we have to have it."  When he had pulled it out, he had explained that this was his people's Holy Book, the only way he knew to put it without going into too much detail.

The Elven Lord spared a glance at Gandalf, who gave a nod.  "Very well," he said.  "But you do realise you risk it being lost or damaged?"  In truth, travelling with books was rarely done, for those very reasons.

Kevin looked thoughtful, and then shook his head.  "We need it with us.  That's a chance we'll just have to take.  But, Jen, just so we don't risk not having one left at all, why don't you leave yours here?"

She nodded.  "OK, we can share yours."

One item at a time, Jennifer showed Elrond her own teen study Bible, her comb, hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, shaving cream, bottle of body soap, hand mirror, flashlight, walkie-talkie, replacement batteries, battery charger, first-aid kit (which she also opened for Aragorn to examine, at his request), can of insect repellent, scissors, digital camera, the children's books that she had brought to read to Kaylee (and the teenage books that she had brought to read to herself), her MP3 player, portable DVD player, DVDs, and smartphone.  In addition, Elrond noticed the carefully-packed linen herb bag—the dárithil tea blend, no doubt. He knew his daughter had provided it to Lady Jennifer.  He said nothing and left it undisturbed.  Jennifer had not even bothered to pack any of the books she had brought, except her Bible.  She had already read her books, and she wouldn't need to take Kaylee's.  She could leave them, and Kaylee could at least look at the pictures.

"Lady Jennifer," Elrond continued, "I see you left behind most of your books, which is very wise, but since you have agreed with Kevin, that should include your Holy Book, and also those same items that I pointed out to your brother, as well as this and this."  He pointed out her camera and smartphone, and MP3 player as he spoke.

Jennifer winced.  "But I was gonna play my MP3 while we were on the Quest, to give me something to do.  It's gonna be so hard to have to walk all night, every night, and some music would really help."  She looked at Elrond pleadingly.  "Do I have to?"

"Yes, you have to," Elrond said firmly.  "Both you and Lord Kevin will have to.  All three of you will have to be on full alert throughout the Quest, you and everyone else in the Company.  It will not be possible for you to hear any approaching noises signifying danger if you're wearing those—devices—over your ears and listening to music."

"Master Elrond is right, Lady Jennifer," Gandalf agreed.

Exchanging a glance with Kevin, Jennifer sighed.  "Yes, sir."  She drew her scissors, smartphone, replacement batteries, and digital camera toward her.  "But I'm taking these!  Sorry, Master Elrond, but I'm not leaving my phone or camera behind.  Or my scissors either!  I'll need them."

Aragorn chuckled.  "Jennifer, are you sure about taking those?"

"I am."  Stiffening her back, Jennifer frowned.  "When we get back home, our parents and our aunt and uncle are going to need proof that we're telling them the truth about what's happened to us.  I can't use my iPhone to do much else here, but I can still take pictures and videos with it, as well as with my camera.  Our pics and vids will be our proof.  And maybe, when it's safe for Joey to play his harmonica, it'll be safe for me to play some music or watch a video saved on my iPhone's hard drive.  And I might need the scissors to cut something while we're gone."  Like my brothers' hair, for example, she thought.  I'm going to have to cut it before we leave, and I'll probably have to cut it again at least once during the Quest.  Can't have my brothers looking like hippies!

Elrond sighed.  "In that case, Lady Jennifer, you may take those particular items.  The rest of them will stay here."  He turned to Joey.  "All right, Master Joey, it is your turn."

Joey showed Elrond his flashlight, walkie-talkie, comb, hairbrush, toothbrush, Gameboy, comic books, harmonica, and toy cars, including the larger one that operated on remote control.  However, he left one item in his backpack that he did not want to be at risk of being ordered to leave behind: his monster mask.

Elrond examined his possessions for a long moment, picking up each item in the process.  When he had set the last item back on the table, he tapped the Gameboy, comic books, and toy cars.  "These will have to stay here, Master Joey," he told the little boy.  "There will be little time for playing with toys or reading books on the Quest, and anything you take with you will have to be for the purposes of survival."  Joey pouted, slumping his shoulders, and Kevin patted his back.  Elrond added, "You may take your harmonica, though."  The Elf had overheard him playing on it one afternoon, and he thought that on rare occasions, such music might be welcomed by the others.

Joey smiled broadly.  "Thanks!"

Gimli grinned.  "I'm glad to hear that.  You make bonny music on that thing."  Joey smiled his appreciation.

"I'm also taking my tree branch," Jennifer announced.

"And why will you be taking your tree branch, Lady Jennifer?" Boromir asked her, amused.

"Well..."  Jennifer paused.  "I'll need it to continue practicing my baton skills while we're on the Quest."

Aragorn exchanged an amused glance with Elrond, and then with Gandalf.  "Is that skill really so important, Jennifer?"

"Of course, it is!" Jennifer retorted.  "I'm the assistant leader of the Optimist Youth Band Baton Corps!  I can't afford to lose my skills.  It's very important that I keep practicing."  She paused.  "We're gonna be walking all night, every night, anyway; I'll just spend some time each night practicing while we're walking."

Bilbo, who along with the other hobbits had been listening to the inventory, now piped up, "That stick of yours is also a good size for a walking stick.  In fact, it might be well for others in the Company to have walking sticks!  They can come in handy on a journey over difficult ground."  The other hobbits nodded agreement.

His mouth quirked in amusement, Elrond shook his head; he noticed his daughter smiling as well.  Aragorn and the others looked at one another.  Aragorn, Boromir, and Gimli would probably just use any stick available if necessary, but would usually travel with only their weapons.  And Legolas needed no aid on rough trails; no Elf ever did.  But it was something that would likely come in handy for the others.

Elrond glanced around to see if there was anything anyone else wished to say.  Then he turned to the children.  "Very well, I believe that deals with most of your gear.  But all three of you will have to leave behind in Rivendell most of the clothes you wore when you first arrived in Middle-earth.  I will make an exception for your footgear, which is sturdy and well-made, and for the blue trews that you all wore when you first arrived here, although I recommend packing them as spare clothing.  They are pretty sturdy."  He gestured at the clothing that the children were wearing.  "But your other garments will not stand up to the wear and tear.  And as for your boots, there would not be time for our cobbler to outfit you with boots suitable for such long travel in the short time we have before you leave."

At the mention of the word, "trews," Kevin and Jennifer both bit their lower lips in an effort to refrain from laughing.  Trews! Kevin thought, smothering a snicker.  Of course, that's what they call pants here, we've learned.  I think that's what they called them in the Middle Ages, too.  Taking a deep breath, he made an effort to school his face, and Jennifer did likewise.

Elrond scanned the children's faces.  "All right, children."  He gestured to the items they had agreed upon.  "Those items, you may take with you; the rest of your belongings will stay here.  Including your watches."

Kevin winced.  "Do we have to leave our watches here?"  His wrist always felt strangely bare without it, even though it had not kept time since they'd arrived.

Elrond nodded.  When he answered, his voice was compassionate but firm.  "Yes, you do, Lord Kevin.  Your watches will be of no use on the Quest."

Jennifer bit her lower lip again as she glanced down at her watch.  "You know, Master Elrond's right," she told her brother.  "And besides, our watches haven't worked since we got here, so we can't use them anyway."

Kevin sighed.  "No, they haven't, have they?  And besides, we might lose them if we take them with us.  I don't want us to have to explain to our mom and dad how they got lost when we get back home."  He shook his head, and then removed his watch from his wrist and laid it on the table.  Jennifer and Joey followed suit.

Elrond nodded again, this time in approval, as he scanned their watches.  "That is well done, and a wise decision.  Do not worry, children, we will take good care of your watches and your other possessions while you are gone."

-oo000oo-

"Uh-oh!" Jennifer froze, as she pivoted, scanning her guest room carefully an hour later.  "Where's my stick?" she asked herself.

She started by searching the closet, and then looking under the bed and searching through her possessions.  At last, frustrated, she slapped her hands at her sides. It's gone! I can't find it!  Aloud, she called, "Joey?  Where are you?!"

"Here I am."  Joey scurried into her room.  Seeing her face, he asked, "What's wrong?"

"Have you seen my stick?" Jennifer asked him.  "The one I'm using as a baton?"

Joey shook his head.  "No.  I haven't seen it."

Jennifer sighed.  "Thanks."  She knew that Joey hadn't stolen it, and if he'd hidden it for a joke, he would have laughed and given it back to her.  He left.  Biting her lower lip, Jennifer took a deep breath.  Of all the things to happen, this was so maddening!  was going to practice with it before we leave, and now I can't find it!  Grrr!  She scowled and then sighed again.  Oh, well, I guess one of the Elf maids didn't realize it was important.  Someone besides Eledhwen or Mairen must have tidied our rooms today.

She reached for her newly re-packed backpack and opened one of the side-pockets and retrieved her scissors.  Cupping her hands around her mouth, she called, "Kevin!  Joey!"

Her brothers entered her room.  "Uh-oh!  What's this about?"  Kevin stared warily at the scissors Jennifer had in her hand.

She grinned.  "I'm gonna to give you and Joey a haircut.  Tomorrow is our last day here, you know, before we go on the Quest tomorrow night, and we don't know when there's gonna to be another chance.  I'm not going to have my brothers looking like long-haired hippies.  Sit!"  Jennifer pointed imperiously at the straight, hard-backed chair in front of her and looked sternly at her older brother.

Rolling his eyes and raising his hands in surrender, Kevin took his seat, and Jennifer spent the next several minutes cutting his hair.  Eledhwen entered the room as Jennifer was giving Kevin his haircut and stood off to the side, watching.  When she had finished, she handed Kevin her hand mirror, and he had to admit that she had done as good a job as their mother usually did.

"Thanks, sis."  Kevin smiled at her, and Jennifer smiled back.  She nodded toward Eledhwen and then gestured at Joey.

"OK, your turn, Joey."

Making a face at the prospect, Joey plopped onto the chair and submitted to the haircut Jennifer was giving him.  "Elves don't have to cut their hair!" he complained.

"Yes, well, you're not an Elf," Jennifer pointed out.  "And even Elves have to cut their hair sometimes, or it'd be trailing on the floor every time they walked."

"Yeah, they'd be in danger of tripping over it," Kevin agreed.

When Jennifer had finished cutting Joey's hair, she gazed down at him critically, and then smiled.  "You look good, Joey."  She looked from him to Kevin.  "You both do."  She glanced down at the scissors in her hands.  "I'm taking these with me in case we need them.  You're sure to need another haircut before all this is over, and Mom's not here to give you one."

"Yeah, I'm sure."  Kevin grimaced.  "Not to mention that we're a long way from a barber shop!"

Jennifer laughed, and then unzipped her backpack and dropped the scissors back inside.  Upon turning around, she made a face as she stared at the hair clippings littering the floor.  "Now I need a broom and a dustpan," she muttered.  She looked at Eledhwen.  "Do you know where I can find those, Miss Eledhwen?"

The Elven maiden smiled at her.  "I will take care of it, Lady Jennifer.  Do you wish to have your own hair trimmed before you leave?"

Jennifer looked startled.  Her usual shoulder-length hair was longer now than it had been when they arrived, and her bangs were getting on her nerves, since they were beginning to hang down into her eyes.  But she shook her head.  "I'm not sure I can cut my own hair," she said.  "Sometimes I go with my mom to the beauty shop, but usually she just trims my bangs for me."  She gestured at the unruly bangs and brushed them out of her eyes.

Eledhwen smiled.  "I believe I can help you there.  Elven maidens usually wear their hair very long, but even they need their hair trimmed and dressed from time to time.  I have some little talent with that."

For an Elf to say "some little talent" usually meant that Elf was very good, as Jennifer had learned since her arrival in Rivendell.  "Well, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, Eledhwen.  I wouldn't want to keep you from something more important."

Eledhwen smiled.  "You are my most important duty while you are here in Rivendell, Lady Jennifer.  After all, my own lady has asked Mairen and me to look after you and your siblings while you are guests here."  Jennifer smiled her appreciation.

Eledhwen pulled a chair over in front of the washstand, as there was a mirror above it.  She looked at Jennifer's backpack.  "My own scissors are in another wing of the house.  May I use yours?"

Jennifer nodded.  Unzipping her backpack again, she removed her scissors once more and handed them to Eledhwen, and then she sat down in the chair.  She felt both excited and shy at the same time.  After all, she had never received a haircut from an elf before.  Eledhwen took up Jennifer's comb as well, which together with her brush, Jennifer had been keeping on the washstand.  With a practiced hand, the Elf began to comb through the young girl's light-brown hair, drawing a part from just above her bangs to the back of her head.  Then she combed Jennifer's bangs forward.

"If your fringe was longer, I would leave it, and you could use combs to keep it out of your eyes," Eledhwen said.  "But I think it best if I cut it shorter than usual."  Jennifer nodded; she had seen the lady elves wearing specially-made combs for that purpose.  For herself, she preferred hair clips.  They would indeed keep her hair out of her eyes if she had any clips, but since she didn't, it was best to keep her bangs short.

She watched in the mirror as Eledhwen cut her bangs, making them quite short in the centre, and only somewhat shorter on each side.  She lightly trimmed the rest of Jennifer's hair.  It was still longer than she normally wore it, but it would do.  "Let me show you a way to braid your hair so that it will stay put while you are travelling," Eledhwen told her.  "It will be easy to do it by yourself."  Jennifer nodded.

Eledhwen pulled a piece of cord from the small purse she wore on her belt.  "I always keep some cord about.  You never know when you might need some."  As Kevin and Joey watched, the elf tied it around Jennifer's hair just behind her left ear, and then she braided the cord into the girl's hair.  She did it slowly enough that by watching in the mirror, Jennifer would learn what to do.

Jennifer looked at the neat braid hanging over her shoulder.  The bangs would take some getting used to, but the braid turned out to be quite simple, and since it hung in front, she could do it herself without needing a mirror or anyone's help.

"Thank you very much, Eledhwen."  She smiled.  "This will help a lot."

"You are most welcome, Lady Jennifer."

Joey grinned.  "You sure look different now, Jenn!"

Jennifer looked in the mirror.  "No kidding!"

Kevin chuckled.  "It looks very practical."  He paused.  He didn't want to offend her, and girls could be touchy about their hair.  "I like it."  And he did.  She probably wouldn't want to know he thought it made her look younger, but that was fine by him.

-oo000oo-

Since most of their things were packed, they decided to go outside and play with Kaylee, and spend some time with her.  They would only need to replace a few toiletries in their packs before they left the following evening.

Merry and Pippin were easily coaxed into playing a game of tag—although they called it "tig"—and also hide-and-seek.  Jennifer was it, and she was surprised when she easily found everyone except for the two hobbits and Kaylee.  With some broad hints from Frodo, Sam, and Bilbo, who had watched the game from a convenient bench, she finally found Merry, but Pippin and Kaylee eluded her until she called, "Alley-alley, oxen free," and the two of them burst laughing out of a bush that she thought was too small to hide even one of them, much less both of them.

Kaylee rushed over and gave her sister a hug.  "Pippin's a good hider!  He showed me how to scrunch down like a hobbit."

Merry laughed.  "Pippin almost always wins at hide-and-seek, although when Frodo was young, he was a really good hider, too!  Maybe I should tell the story of the time he found a really good hiding place.  Or at least it was a good one until he tried to get out of it…"

All the other hobbits except Frodo burst out into laughter.  But Frodo turned bright red.  "Merry!  Not that story!"  He tried to cover his cousin's mouth, but Bilbo stopped him.

"I don't think I've heard this one in a long time," said the oldest hobbit.

"If anyone is going to tell it," said Frodo, "I should be the one to do it.  After all, it's my story, and no one ever hears it from my point of view."

Merry laughed.  "Well, that will be a change in tradition—telling an embarrassing story about yourself!"

"Don't get cocky, Meriadoc," Frodo said ominously.  "I still know more embarrassing stories about you than the other way 'round.  I could start with Bilbo's and Aunt Dora's visit when..."

Merry went bright red, and said, "That's quite all right, Frodo!  Let's just hear your story right now."

Frodo gave his cousin a cheeky grin, and then took up his tale.  "Well, I was about sixteen, and it was a miserable rainy day in the autumn, a chill rain that had been steadily falling for nearly a week.  Even the adults were getting bored, and as for us young ones, we were full of pent-up energy, and so to keep the chaos within the passages of Brandy Hall to a minimum, the adults had shooed all of us teens and tweens into the great dining hall, with the tables pushed back out of the way.

"I made the mistake of taking a book down with me.  Uncle Bilbo had given me a rather fine one, his translation of the Akallabeth..."  He turned to the McCloud children.  "That is the story of the land of Numenor, also called Westernesse, a great island nation that eventually sank into the Sea.  It was very interesting."  The children looked puzzled, and Frodo paused.  "However, it was also a bad idea to try and read under the circumstances.  Most of my other cousins were playing a rather noisy game of tig.  My cousin Laburnum came running up and grabbed me by the shoulders.

"'Frodo!  Hide me!' she screeched, as she ducked behind me to get away from my cousin Marroc.  They started running around me like I was a tree or something, as they laughed and yelled at each other.

"'I'll get you yet, Freckles,' laughed Marroc.

"'Don't call me that!' Laburnum shouted.  'Frodo, save me!'  She grabbed me again, and at the same time, Marroc came barreling against me from the other side.  He knocked the book right out of my hands, and it went flying a good six feet away, skidding to a stop on the floor.

"'Hoy!' I yelled.  I admit I was furious.  I had a tendency to really lose my temper badly when I was younger; not often, but when I did, I got carried away.  And that book had been my favourite birthday gift.

"Luckily for everyone, Marroc's older brother Margulas had some sense.  He carefully picked the book up, dusted it off, and handed it to me with an apologetic shrug.  'I think it's all right, Frodo,' he said.

"'I don't think this is a good place to read right now,' Moggie—that was his nickname—added, after I had thoroughly examined it.  Now that I knew it was all right, my anger had cooled.

"'You may be right,' I said.

"Moggie looked over at his brother and Laburnum.  Marroc blushed and said, 'I'm sorry, Frodo!  We didn't mean to hurt anything—really, we were just playing.'

"'Find something a little less noisy to do,' said Margulas.

"The two of them went off, and I put the book aside on a table where it would be safe.  The other cousins had decided to all play hide-and-seek, and so I figured I might as well join in.  Since I was the last to join, I ended up being the seeker.  I hid my face and counted to one hundred, and started looking.

"I found everyone very quickly.  Marroc was the last one to be found—he had ducked inside the cold hearth, just to one side of the firebox.

"'That's not much of a hiding place,' I told Marroc scornfully.  After all, both his elbow and his shoulder had been sticking out where I could see him."  Joey and Kaylee giggled, and with a smile, Frodo continued his story.

"'There aren't any good places in here,' complained Laburnum.

"'Oh, I'll bet I could find a good place—where you'd never think to look! I'll bet I could hide so well, you'd have to give up!'

"'You can't leave the room!' exclaimed Marroc.

"'No,' I said.  'I wouldn't have to.'

"'Well, I dare you to find a place in this room that I couldn't find you.'

"I said, 'Very well.'

"Marroc dutifully hid his face, while the others watched.

"'Don't any of you give me away,' I whispered.  I went over to the cold, swept-out hearth and ducked in."  Frodo looked at the two younger McClouds, who were listening, wide-eyed, and warned, "This was not the cleverest idea I've ever had…"  Merry snorted, and Frodo quelled him with a glare.  "Keep listening, and you'll soon understand why."  Joey and Kaylee exchanged a puzzled look, and then turned back to Frodo.

He cleared his throat.  "Well, anyway, the others all looked puzzled.  That was where Marroc had hidden, and he'd been found fairly quickly.  But I had another idea altogether.  I stepped behind the grate, raised my arms up the chimney, and braced my hands against each side, and began to squirm upward.  I saw my feet clear the upper part of the firebox opening, as some soot and cinders rattled down past me.  I wiggled up just a few more inches.  I noticed that it was a little tighter fit there, and more than a little uncomfortable.  But it shouldn't be long, I reasoned.  After all, Marroc only had me to look for.

"I waited...and waited…and waited...getting hotter and sweatier, and even more uncomfortable as the time passed.  It was dark in there, and smelled of smoke.  I could hear the other cousins giggling and talking, but not what they said.

"Finally, I heard what I had been waiting for.  'I give up!' Marroc shouted."  Joey grinned, and Frodo grimaced.

"Unfortunately, Joey, what happened next kept me from feeling victorious.  I tried to scoot back down, but I couldn't move.

"'I give up!' Marroc shouted again.

"I wiggled desperately, but nothing happened except a shower of cinders that descended upon my head, some of them rattling past."

Kaylee's mouth dropped open.  "You were stuck?" she cried out.

Frodo nodded.  "Yes, Miss Kaylee.  I was stuck."  He paused, and then continued.

"'He's up the chimney!' I heard Laburnum shout.

"'You can come out, Frodo!' Marroc called.  'That was a really good hiding place!'

"I squirmed as hard as I could, but to no avail.  I was beginning to feel panicked.

"'Frodo, it's over!  You've won the dare!  Come on down!'

"I started kicking and began to yell.  'Help!' I called, as loud as I could before some ash fell into my mouth.

"'What did you say?' I could hear Margulas yelling this time.

"'I'm stuck!  I'm stuck!  Get me out of here!'  By that time, I was well and truly terrified.

"A minute later, I could feel fingers trying to grab my toes.  But they couldn't seem to catch hold.

"I was nearly crying.  'Please!  Get me out!"

"'I can't reach you, Frodo!' Margulas yelled up the shaft.  I started kicking harder than ever.

"'Marroc, go and find Cousin Saradoc!' I heard Moggie shouting."  Kaylee shivered, and Kevin wrapped his arm around her. Joey bit his lower lip, distress in his eyes.

"Yes, it was awful, Miss Kaylee, Master Joey.  I never want to go through anything like that again.  I don't know how long I dangled there, miserable in the darkness, when I finally heard the welcome voice of my Aunt Esmeralda shouting up the chimney at me.

"'Frodo!  We will get you out of there soon!  Don't worry, dear!'  Just hearing her voice made me feel a little better, knowing that the adults were now in charge of my rescue.

"Only minutes later, strong hands gripped my feet and began to slowly, ever so slowly, inch me downward.  It was agony on my back and shoulders, scraping on the stone, but I was so glad to be getting down that I paid that little heed.

"Suddenly, in a great shower of ash and cinders, I popped free and slid down into the fireplace.  I was kept from hitting the stones of the floor by Uncle Denny, who hauled me out.

"I must have been a sight.  I was black from head to toe, my clothing in shreds, and my arms, back, and shoulders were skinned and bloody.

"I was barely on my feet again, when I was hit by a flying faunt."  He grinned at Merry.  "Merry was only about two at the time, but he leaped into my arms and nearly choked me in a hug."

Merry laughed.  "I got just as covered with soot as he was.  I was so pleased to see him again.  I had been afraid he would never come out, and that when we had a fire for the winter, he would get all burned up."

Kaylee giggled.  "That would have been awful!"

"Yeah!" Joey agreed.

"Did you get in trouble?" asked Jennifer.

"A bit of scolding about using some hobbit sense." Frodo smiled ruefully.  "But I was stuck in bed for days.  I was all bandaged up from my scrapes and scratches, and also, I was sore from being yanked and pulled.  To top it off, I had a dreadful cough from all that ash and soot I breathed in."*

He looked from Kaylee to Joey.  "So, now you understand why I said it was not a clever idea.  Yes, it was a good hiding place, but it was too good!  Good for hiding in, but very bad for getting out of, as I discovered."

Next to them, Kevin sniggered.  At least he wouldn't have to worry about that; their fireplace at home was gas.  A look at Jennifer's mirthful expression showed him she was probably thinking the same thing.  He and Jennifer burst into laughter.

They were all laughing hysterically when they heard the bell announcing luncheon.  The hobbits could not have moved any more quickly than they did, but the children were right behind them, realizing they were also hungry.  Bilbo, who was not quite as spry as his younger kin, tugged at Kevin's sleeve.  He and Jennifer slowed to hear what he wanted to say.

"I am having a party tonight, for those who are going away on the journey tomorrow.  The two of you and young Joey are invited.  Arwen has already agreed to watch over Miss Kaylee, and to do something special with her while you are at my party."

Kevin and Jennifer looked at one another and nodded, and Kevin said in the formal way they had learned was expected here, "We would be honoured to accept your hospitality, Mr. Baggins."  Smiling, Jennifer nodded agreement.

Kaylee pouted.  "I want to go, too!"

Kevin hugged her to his side.  "It's just for those of us who are going on the journey, Kaylee.  It really wouldn't be fun for little girls."  Still pouting, Kaylee trotted beside him toward the dining room.

-oo000oo-

A/N: Portions of the scene of Bilbo's party are adapted from Dreamflower's story, "A Convivial Evening".

Note: Because two of the chapters were accidentally posted as one, I have taken the liberty of dividing that one chapter in two, and posting them accordingly.  Therefore, what was originally Chapter 12 in its entirety is now Chapters 12 and 13, and the chapters that follow have been renumbered.  K.G.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 13: Be Prepared

Joey followed Kevin and Jennifer through the hallway as they made their way to Mr. Bilbo's rooms.  They turned a corner and saw Boromir just entering the door, and heard Bilbo greeting him.  But they weren't close enough yet to hear what he said.  He hoped that Kaylee wasn't still mad at them for going without her, but he knew that Lady Arwen was going to do something special for his little sister tonight.

They soon came to the door themselves, and Kevin knocked on it.

The door opened, and there stood Mr. Bilbo.  He was grinning at them.  "Come in, children, come in!" he said pleasantly.  "You are not the last to arrive—soon we will be joined by Aragorn and Gandalf!"  Joey grinned back.

The spacious rooms were furnished with a combination of furniture meant for both tall and short people.  Joey had been to visit a few times, but he noticed that the furniture had been slightly rearranged.  He spotted Boromir sitting on an overstuffed sofa, with Pippin on an ottoman in front of him.  The two were chatting amiably.

Just then, Merry called out sharply, "Pip!  Stir your stumps and get over here, and help with the refreshments.  And I don't mean by that to sample it for quality!"

Pippin stuck his tongue out at Merry, but laughingly went over to the table where the five hobbits were laying out a lavish spread.

There were breads, sliced meats and cheeses, fruits, several kinds of pastries and cakes, and any number of other tasty items.  It seemed to Joey enough food for thirty, not thirteen.  Of course, the hobbits would probably eat twice as much as everybody else put together.  One of the first things Joey had noticed about hobbits was how much food they could eat!  They can sure eat a whole lot more than can! he thought wryly.

Joey noticed with dismay the cask which Bilbo, with the help of Sam, was preparing to tap.  Lined up in front of it were a number of mugs, six in hobbit size and seven of a regular size.  I wonder what there'll be for kids to drink, he thought.  Surely not beer!  I hate beer!  He made a face at the thought.

It seemed that the same thing had occurred to Jennifer as well.  "Surely we'll have something besides that beer to drink," he heard her whisper to Kevin.

"Of course, we will," Kevin whispered back.  "Mr. Baggins knows we don't drink beer."

Too bad they don't have any Kool-Aid here, Joey thought ruefully.  Or Coke or Sunkist, either!

Sure enough, the children spotted Merry bringing out a teapot with teacups to sit on the table, and then they noticed a silver pitcher with little drops of water on the outside, which was also near the cask.  Merry turned to them and asked them whether they wanted tea or fruit juice.  "The juice is apple and pear," he told them.  Joey shrugged.  Apple or pear juice would be much better choices than that yucky beer.

Only Jennifer took a cup of tea, but both Joey and Kevin picked the juice.  It was quite good, and Joey decided it was just as good or better than Kool-Aid, and at least as good as pop.  Wonder if they sell this juice at Wal-Mart? he silently wondered.

Joey saw Legolas standing back and just watching.  He wondered: did Elves like beer?

But Gimli was kind of standing close to the cask, his eyes alight with anticipation.  Joey made a face.  How can Gimli stand that gross stuff?  He shook his head.

Bilbo laughed at the dwarf.  "All in good time, my dear Gimli.  We must wait for the other guests to arrive."

But just then, there was another rap on the door, and at the same moment, Bilbo, Frodo, and Merry all said, "Get the door, Pippin!"

Pippin raised his eyebrow, but didn't object to them all ordering him around.  Joey knew he would have been quite annoyed if people ordered him around the way the older hobbits were bossing Pippin around.  The young hobbit trotted over and opened the door with a grin.  "Strider!  And Gandalf!  Come in, come in!  Bilbo won't let us touch a thing until everyone is here!"

Aragorn smiled from behind Gandalf and greeted him cheerfully.  Gandalf looked at him with a twinkle in his eye.  "And of course, Peregrin Took, that is more important to you than our company, I am sure!" he said gruffly.

"Of course, Gandalf," he said.  "After all, food's food and beer's beer, and what's more important than that?"  He gave another of his giggles when he said it, and the old wizard just shook his head.

Joey was often a little shocked at how much of a smart-aleck Pippin could be to Gandalf.  He didn't think he'd dare to be like that to the wizard.  But maybe Pippin didn't know that Gandalf was also an angel.  Gandalf probably didn't say anything, since it's supposed to be a secret.

Aragorn came into the room and paused.  "Good evening, Lord Kevin, Lady Jennifer, and Master Joey.  I hope this gathering will not be too boring for you."

Kevin said, "I think we'll be all right.  After all, we all have to get to know each other, since we're going to be travelling together."  He looked over at Jennifer and Joey, and then turned back to Aragorn.

"A very good attitude, Lord Kevin."  He gave a nod and a smile to Jennifer, and ruffled Joey's hair as he passed by, and went to talk to Boromir.

Just then Mr. Bilbo announced that the beer was ready to be served.  Merry took two mugs over to Aragorn and Boromir, and Pippin came over with the pitcher to ask Kevin and Joey if they wanted a refill of their juice.  Jennifer was still sipping her tea.

They overheard Merry telling Aragorn and Boromir, "You should go and serve yourselves some food before Pippin gets a chance at it, and leaves it bare as a field after locusts."

"Oi!" exclaimed Pippin.  "Look who's talking!"  Joey snickered, and Kevin and Jennifer grinned.

Gimli drank his beer quickly, almost in one gulp, and rubbing a rough hand across the foam that flecked his beard, said, "By Durin's beard!  That is a most excellent beer, Master Bilbo!  Where did you come by it?"

"From the cellars here at Rivendell, of course," Bilbo answered.

"Elves made this?"  He sounded incredulous.  "I thought Elves only drank wine!"

Bilbo laughed, and then Legolas said, with the kind of snooty tone of voice he always used with Gimli, "That is a common misconception.  Elves, in general, are far more fond of wine.  But we certainly like beer and ale as well."

"In fact, they are uncommonly good brewers when they choose to be," said Bilbo, "but I must confess that they do not broach the beer casks as often as I would prefer."

Gandalf laughed, and said, "My dear Bilbo, if they broached the beer casks as often as you preferred, you would soon be an avowed tippler!"

"Now, Gandalf, I seem to recall that you are fond of your beer as well as your pipe, so don't take that tone with me!"

"Well," said Pippin, who was at the tap and filling his own mug once more, "I'd say this is even better than the beer at The Golden Perch!"

"I think you're right, Pip," agreed Merry, who waited behind him to refill his mug as well.  "What do you say, Sam?"  He turned to Samwise, who was right behind him.

"I don't know, sir, as I never got the chance to try the beer at The Golden Perch.  But I'd say it's at least as tasty as The Green Dragon, though it's not so brown.  I wonder what sort of hops they use."

Frodo nodded.  "I think that you are right, Sam.  And it would be interesting to learn the kind of hops that Elves use in making their beer."

This led to a discussion of different inns and the excellence or poor quality of their beers and ales, and from there they all started telling stories about getting drunk.  Boromir told of the first time he had taken his brother Faramir out to get drunk, and how they had come home and made a lot of racket, and a guard had helped them to sneak in without waking up their father.

Mischievously, Frodo told of Merry's first time that his cousin became drunk, and had everyone else laughing, but then Boromir asked Pippin about his first such experience.  The young hobbit looked at his toes, and Merry quickly said, "Oh, no one wants to hear that story."  The hobbits looked so solemn at this that Joey wondered what the tale might be, but Merry went on, "How about you, Gimli?"

"Dwarves never get drunk!" he proclaimed.  "Although it would not do, perhaps, to ask my cousin Oín if that is really true."

"It would not do to ask me, either," said Bilbo.  "For I have seen enough Dwarves in their cups to know.  I will confess, however, that it is rare.  Dwarves have a remarkable capacity for drink, and Dwarven ale is a potent brew!"  He looked at Legolas.  "And I know that Elves are not immune to overindulgence either.  I seem to remember a couple of Mirkwood Elves who made themselves rather merry over some wine, and thus allowed me to make away with some of my friends."

Legolas burst out into laughter.  "My father still rails over that from time to time.  But the wine of Dorwinion is remarkably potent, and even by Elves, not meant to be drunk unwatered!"

Joey wondered why they all were so interested in talking about beer and wine, of all things.  He hoped the rest of the party wouldn't be this boring.  Why would anyone like beer, anyway?  It tastes awful!  He scrunched his face.  He had tried it once at a friend's urging, and it had tasted so bitter, almost like cough medicine.  He had never been tempted to try it a second time.  Beer doesn't taste good!  Anyway, it's not right to get drunk.  The Bible says so!  But then, Jesus did turn water into wine.  I'll have to ask Kevin about that sometime.

But Bilbo had noticed how silent the McCloud children were.  "But this is poor manners!  I know that Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey do not partake of beer or spirits!  I am sure that we are boring them all to death!"

"How about a story, Uncle Bilbo?" Frodo asked, giving the children a concerned look.

Joey had noticed that Bilbo was always glad to tell stories about his adventures.  Sure enough, they were all glad to listen to him tell about it, with occasional comments from Gandalf, who had been there, and Gimli, whose father had been.

When the story was finished, the hobbits were still munching on the food, and Joey went to get some more as well.  He was right behind Boromir, and he had his eye on some of those yummy-looking little honey buns.  He'd only had one so far, and would so love another.  Boromir was filling his own plate up.

Pippin grinned up at Boromir.  "We'll make a hobbit of you yet, Boromir."

Boromir chuckled.  "I can think of worse fates."

Joey giggled.  He looked up at Boromir.  "Yes, but just imagine if you had fur on your feet!  You couldn't wear your boots!"

This made both Pippin and Boromir laugh.  "True, but if my feet were hard-soled as theirs are, I would not need them!"  Boromir winked at Joey, who grinned.

Just then there was another tap upon Bilbo's door.  Bilbo himself went to answer this time, as Pippin was busy taking seconds (or was it thirds? Joey wondered) on his plate.

"Welcome, Master Elrond!" the hobbit exclaimed as he threw the door open.  "And welcome, my Lady Arwen, and Miss Kaylee, and...my goodness!  Everyone else as well!"  Bilbo grinned and winked.  "Come in!  Come in!" he said, with a gracious wave of his arm.

"Kaylee!" Jennifer cried out.  "What on earth?"  She exchanged a look with Kevin, who shrugged.

Joey noticed that the newcomers were all carrying bags and bundles and some things that were wrapped in brightly coloured cloth and tied with ribbon.  Presents?  He wondered who they were for.  In addition to Master Elrond, Lady Arwen and Kaylee, he also saw Lord Glorfindel, Eledhwen, Mairen, Erestor, Lindir, and a few other Elves whose names Joey could not recall.

"We come bearing farewell gifts to the Company," Elrond announced.

Bilbo's original guests all looked surprised, although Bilbo himself did not look at all surprised.  He gestured to the table beneath the window that served as his desk, and they noticed that it was unusually tidy; in fact, it was completely bare of the quills and inkstand and the piles of papers that usually made their homes there.  But there was a small box upon it.  Bilbo ushered the new guests over to place their burdens upon the table.

Kaylee had taken Jennifer's hand, and was bouncing up and down.  "Hey, Jennifer, guess what!  I got to help!  Did you know they never heard of wrapping paper here?  But Lady Arwen and me went to pick out some pretty cloth, and I showed her how to wrap stuff.  It's kind of harder without any tape, though."  She grinned, and then in a sing-song voice, said, "I know what you got!  I know what you got!"

Jennifer frowned, but before she could reprimand her little sister, Lady Arwen laughed and said, "Kaylee, hina, you mustn't gloat.  After all, the idea is for them to be surprised."

"I'm sorry, Lady Arwen," Kaylee said, looking abashed.

Arwen laughed again.  "Well, why do you not help to give them out?"

Now it was Kaylee's turn to grin.  "Okay!"  She looked over at the table, and picked up something long, that had been completely swathed in fabric and ribbon, and carried it over to her older sister.  Jennifer noticed there were some other lengthy items as well, but this one was the longest.

She took it from her sister and pulled on the bow tied near one end.  The fabric just slid away to the floor, and Jennifer's eyes grew wide.  She gasped, "Is this my stick?" for it was now as smooth as smooth could be, and carved with leaves and vines, and it had a very slight knob at each end.  It was polished, and the wood seemed to almost glow.  Mairen stepped to her side, and retrieved the fabric from the floor, folding it as she stood.

"I am sorry that you missed it, Lady Jennifer.  I took it so that Avorn," and she gave a proud smile to her husband, who was among those Elves who had joined them, "could do the carving this afternoon."

"Oh, thank you!"  Jennifer flew at her and gave her a big hug.  Mairen blushed.  "And you, too, Mr. Avorn!"  She threw her arms around Avorn, who appeared taken aback, but lightly returned her embrace.

I really can use it as a baton now! she thought.  It's just as smooth as a baton! It was always so awkward to use before, since it was so knobby, but now it's just as smooth as I need it to be.  It'll be perfect for practicing with during our walks!  She smiled broadly as she gazed down at it and rubbed her fingers over its now-smooth, polished surface.

Bilbo chuckled.  "I know you have it in mind to use in practicing those moves you showed us, but it will also make a very good walking stick."  He approached Jennifer and ran his fingers over her stick.  "There will be difficult terrain to walk through, and this stick will make it easier for you to get over such ground."

Jennifer nodded, smiling.  "Thanks."

Kaylee now picked up the other four long packages and passed them out to the hobbits.  They, too, had smoothed and polished sticks, though not so elaborately carved, to use as walking sticks on the journey.

After they had examined their gifts and given their thanks, Pippin looked closely at the table.  "Where are the rest of them?" he asked.

Aragorn laughed.  "Boromir and Kevin and I need to be unencumbered by walking sticks—if we need one for a while, we can find something along the way.  And Elves never use them, and Gimli has his own walking stick."

"Now, on with the rest of the gifts," Lady Arwen urged the little girl.

Kaylee handed Joey and each of the hobbits a little tin box.  When Joey opened his, he found inside two tiny fishhooks, two little lead weights, and a length of line.  "Oh, my!  Thanks!" he said, and then furrowed his eyebrows.  "But what about a fishing pole?"

Frodo laughed.  "Growing upon any sturdy willow tree or alder growing on the bank of the water.  Or we can always dangle our lines from our fingers, if need be."

"It's nice," Merry added, "to have one's own pole, but every hobbit knows how to fish without one. We can show you."

"Uh, Aragorn…"  Joey looked up at the Ranger.  "Can I use my knife to cut branches for fishing poles?  I don't have a pocket-knife."

"Not while we have an Elf with us." He grinned at Legolas.

"I can just ask the tree to grant us a limb," the Elf said.  "We do not cut living wood."

The children looked at him, astonished.  Ask the trees?!

Jennifer gaped at Legolas.  "You can actually ask a tree to do things?"

"Whoa!" Joey added, his mouth wide open.  "Can trees talk back to you, too?"

A mysterious smile was Legolas' only answer.

Now Kaylee handed a package to Kevin.  It contained a hunting knife, suitable for skinning animals, in a sturdy sheath.  It had a hook on the back so that he could attach it next to the scabbard for his sword.  Afterward, there was another item, a large cloth bag. Elrond handed it to Kevin.  "In truth, it is for all of you children."

Kevin opened the bag, and drew out a sturdy leather case of red.  It had a wavy golden, eight-pointed star embossed on the front. He looked puzzled.

"I believe that your Holy Book should fit within it and be protected against the trials of travel.  It was originally made for the history of Elder Days, which is in our library here. That book no longer needs to travel.  This case was made with words of protection and blessings upon it."

"Thank you," Kevin said with a grateful smile.  He had realized, after they had finished having their things gone through before repacking, that the Elf lord was truly concerned about the fact that items which were irreplaceable could be lost or damaged on the trip.  That was the main reason the children had been asked to leave some things behind.

More gifts were passed out to all of the members of the Fellowship.  A small bag containing a flintstone and a bit of tinder was given to each of them.  They also received a tin of the mixture the Elves used on their teeth, mostly salt and some herbs—Jennifer sniffed hers, and it smelled minty.  It would make a good substitute for toothpaste when their own ran out.  Sam was given a little box of salt; Pippin and Merry were both gifted with bags for foraging.

Frodo was quite surprised, when he opened the long cloth-wrapped bundle presented to him, to discover the very scabbard Bilbo had given him with Sting earlier that morning.  But now, instead of the leather being shabby and dull, it gleamed like new; the embossing had been embellished with colour, and the iron buckle had been polished.  He was taken aback.  "I left this in my room after luncheon this afternoon. How?"

Elrond smiled.  "I knew that Bilbo planned to gift it to you, so I retrieved it to let our armourer clean and polish it, so that it would once again be worthy of so honourable a blade as Sting!"

"Thank you," Frodo said with a grateful smile.

"If you had let me know in time," said Bilbo, "I could have let you take it to fix it up ahead of time."

Elrond raised an eyebrow and looked down at his small friend.  "And, Mr. Baggins," he said with mock sternness, "I would have gladly done so if you had let me know sooner than breakfast this morning."  Everyone laughed at that, including Bilbo.

Afterward, everyone also received a whetstone, and a special cloth for using to sharpen their knives and other weapons.

Jennifer bit her lower lip as she looked down at her little brother's growing pile of what she thought of as "grown-up" gifts.  "Uh, Master Elrond, I don't know if it'd be safe for Joey to have a flintstone or whetstone.  Or tinder!  Shouldn't one of the grown-ups keep those for him?"

Joey was about to protest when Aragorn's hand fell on his shoulder.  "Lady Jennifer, I understand that you want to protect your little brother, but you are objecting to all the wrong things.  Joey will be a part of the Company, and he needs to be able to do his share.  He may be needed to help start a fire, and he certainly will need to learn how to take care of his knife.  I shall teach him how myself.  Besides, at his age, he should already know how to do those things."

Frodo nodded.  "Young hobbits learn to safely work around a fire, and to use and care for knives, when they are barely out of faunthood."

Kevin put an arm on Jennifer's shoulder.  "We aren't at home where kids are well-protected from a lot of dangerous things, and don't have to fend for themselves.  Remember your history, Jen.  Kids used to learn and do all sorts of grown-up things."

Jennifer subsided.  She was only trying to do what her mother would do, but after all, her mom had never had to be in a place like this.

"If our mom was here, she'd be reacting the same way," Kevin explained to Aragorn.  "She wants to keep us safe.  She doesn't even like it that Dad has taught me to handle a gun, even though I'm fifteen now."

"Mothers are like that," was Aragorn's reply.

But the subject was soon changed by the last of the gifts: new leggings, breeches, and tunics for everyone, and new stockings for everyone except the hobbits.

Jennifer held up the beautiful new stockings, knit in elaborate designs.  They were so fine and soft—she had never seen even the most expensive store-bought ones that felt as soft and comfortable as these did.  I would love to take these home!  They are going to feel so good on my feet.

There was still one small package left, wrapped in blue fabric and tied with a white ribbon.

"I don't remember that one," said Kaylee, looking puzzled.

With a smile, Lady Arwen picked it up and held it out to the little girl.  "That is because this is for you, my young helper."

Kaylee took it and looked up with a broad smile that showed all of her front baby teeth.  Then she pulled on the ribbon and took off the cloth.  Inside was a little leather pouch, more like an envelope than anything else.  She opened it; inside were some needles, a tiny silver thimble, and a little pair of silver scissors.  "Oh!  My very own sewing kit!  Thank you!"  She bounced on her heels.  "Will you show me how to use it?"

"Of course, I will," Arwen replied.  Kaylee rushed over to give the Elf a hug.  Arwen smiled and hugged her back.

Jennifer smiled at the kit.  "That thimble sure is pretty, and so are the scissors," she said, picking the thimble up.  She examined it for a long moment and then, setting it down, looked at Arwen.  "Is that real silver, or is it just silver-plate?"  The room went quiet, and all of the hobbits stared at her, aghast.

Jennifer frowned, distress in her eyes.  "Uh, did I say something wrong?  Sorry, I'm still not familiar with all the rules of etiquette here."

"Yeah, some of our customs are different where we come from," Kevin added.

Bilbo said, "Miss Jennifer, I do not know how it is where you come from, but it is considered very rude to comment on the value of a gift."

Hanging her head, Jennifer bit her lower lip.  "I'm sorry.  I really didn't mean to be rude.  I was just worried about Kaylee maybe losing it or something.  We usually don't give really valuable things to children."  She shook her head.  "I can't seem to say anything right tonight.  I'm sorry," she said in a small voice, staring down at the floor, her shoulders slumped.

This time it was Elrond who spoke.  "Think nothing more of it, Lady Jennifer; we know you did not mean to offend."  Approaching the young girl, he laid a hand on her shoulder, and she raised her head and looked up at him gratefully.

Scanning the room, Elrond added, "It has been a long day.  I think that perhaps it's time for everyone to seek their rest.  Tomorrow is an important day, and I would not have you fretting before you set off in the evening.  You need to be fully rested."

-oo000oo-

The next morning, Jennifer awakened to hear Joey and Kaylee already awake and talking quietly in the other room.

"I'll miss you, Joey," Kaylee said plaintively.  "I wish I could go, too.  I'll be all by myself."

"Don't worry, kitten," Joey said.  "You won't be all by yourself!  Lucy'll be here, too, and you'll have all those Elves to keep you busy!  And we'll be okay.  I guess it can't take too long to go do what has to be done.  And we've got plenty of grown-ups to look after us.  Aragorn's gonna be our guardian while we're gone."

Jennifer stepped into the room.  "Joey's right, sweetie," she said.  "It's all going to work out, you'll see.  It's not going to be fun, unfortunately; you wouldn't enjoy yourself if you went."  Then she said more briskly, "Now, then, let's get ready for breakfast!  We've got almost everything done ahead of time, so we can relax today.  Walking all night, and in cold weather, no less, will be really different to what we are used to, Joey!"  She hugged Joey against her side.  "Better have your warm coat ready this evening; you're going to need it.  We're all going to have to bundle up tonight."

Just then, Mairen came in with Eledhwen to help Joey and Kaylee get dressed, and Jennifer turned to go back into her little room and also get dressed.  By the time she was finished, her younger siblings were also ready for the new day.  Kevin tapped at the door, and they all headed down to the dining hall together.

That morning, the entire Fellowship and Kaylee sat together at one table.  They were joined by Lady Arwen, who sat by Aragorn, and Bilbo, who was sitting between Frodo and Sam, and across from Merry and Pippin.  Kaylee claimed a spot between Arwen and Jennifer.  They took their time eating; the sideboard was laden with everything, as usual.  Gradually, most of the company finished and went on to take care of other things, until only the hobbits and the children were still eating.  Jennifer and Kaylee were just nibbling on a few things and Jennifer was sipping her tea, but Kevin and Joey seemed to be keeping up with the hobbits.

Finally, Pippin was the only one left with food, and he was more playing with it than eating it.  He gave a satisfied sigh.  "Well, that was an excellent second breakfast," he said, "but I think maybe it's time to have a little stroll and work up an appetite for elevenses."

The other hobbits all nodded seriously.  The McCloud children all looked at one another and rolled their eyes.  By this time, they were used to the hobbits' eating habits.  "Well," said Kevin, "I don't think I'll want any elevenses anytime soon.  But a stroll sounds good."

After Jennifer picked up Lucy, they headed outdoors.  The weather in Rivendell was brisk, but not as cold as the children were used to for that time of year, and the sky was clear and blue.  They wandered through the gardens, which had shed its finery for winter.  Joey and Kaylee ran, played with Lucy, and chased one another for a while, and then, joined by Pippin, climbed up an obliging elm.

"What day is it?" Joey finally asked.  "I know we leave tonight; that's not what I'm asking.  I just want to know what day it is.  I don't even know what month it is!"

Pippin said, "I don't know how the Elves reckon it, but it is the twenty-fifth of Foreyule by Shire Reckoning.  That's the last month of the year."

Kaylee wiggled and kicked her legs in excitement.  "It's Christmas!" she squealed.  "It's Christmas Day!"

"Yeah, but don't expect Santa Claus to find us here," Joey told her.  "Besides, we've already had our presents."

"Oh," said Pippin.  "You must mean Yule.  It sounds like you have it earlier in your land than we do here."

Kevin had overheard the exchange.  "It does sound similar," he said.  "I guess customs are different here.  Yeah, we do celebrate it on Foreyule twenty-fifth, as you call it here.  Where we come from, we call this month December, so Christmas Day is on December twenty-fifth.  It's a week before New Year's Day."  He looked up in the tree and gave Kaylee and Joey a look, to remind them that there were things that might be too hard to explain.  The two younger children subsided at his look.  Not far from him, Jennifer was tossing sticks for Lucy, who scampered after them to pick them up and bring them back to her.

After a while, Pippin, Kaylee, and Joey came down from the tree, as Bilbo reminded the other hobbits that it was time to come to his quarters for elevenses.  He politely invited the children to join them, but Kevin just as politely declined.  "We are still full from breakfast," he said.  "There's no way we can keep up with hobbit meals!"  Bilbo chuckled.

Joey wanted to go down to the stables and see the horses, and say good-bye to the grooms and the armourer who had been so nice to them while they were learning to ride and to fight.  Kaylee also wanted to pet Bill and say good-bye to the sweet-natured pony.  And so, while Joey carried Lucy, the four children hurried down to the stables to make their final visits and goodbyes.

After their visit to the stables, Kaylee was tired, and it was nearly time for lunch.  All the walking had given them an appetite, and they were glad to head back.  Kevin picked up Kaylee to carry her, not minding it, since he knew it would be the last time for a long time that he would have a chance to do so.  Jennifer picked up Lucy, and the puppy licked her neck as she carried her toward the house.  After a moment, Kevin looked over at her.  "Uh, Jen…" he said.

She gave a sigh and put Lucy down.  She looked at the puppy and said, "Heel."  Lucy thumped her tail and followed immediately.  Jennifer knew it was better for the little spaniel, but it was nice to carry her, too.  Lucy walked with them into the building and toward the dining room, wagging her tail.

The hobbits were not in the dining room.  It seemed they were having their last lunch in Bilbo's room as well.  They didn't see anyone else from the Fellowship except Gimli, who was sitting with his father Glóin and some other Dwarves, who looked as though they were nearly finished.  One of the servants picked up Lucy, to take her down to the kitchen for her own meal.

The children contented themselves with bowls of delicious vegetable soup and fresh hot bread, and goblets of fruit juice.  "Yummy, yummy!"  Smiling broadly, Kaylee smacked her lips and took another swallow of her fruit juice.

Jennifer took up Kaylee's napkin and wiped the little girl's lips, where drops of juice were.  Kaylee was about to protest when they all four looked up to see the Lady Arwen approach.  "Good afternoon.  My father asked me to remind you that you will need to get some sleep this afternoon, for you shall have none tonight."

"A nap!" Joey protested, scowling.  Kaylee looked just as upset.

Kevin put his hand on Joey's arm; still scowling, the little boy subsided.  "Thank you, Lady Arwen," Kevin said.  While he wasn't keen on a nap himself, he knew it was probably good sense.  Lucy came scampering toward them, wagging her tail.

"Does Lucy have to take a nap, too?"  Kaylee pouted.  Jennifer looked at her sternly, and her little sister tried to look less cross, without much success.

They stood up, and Lady Arwen took the two younger children by the hand.  "What if we go up to your room, and you lie down, and I will tell you a story, and perhaps sing to you?"  They brightened at the thought.

Kevin went into his room and shut his door.  He didn't anticipate being able to sleep much, but he thought he could at least try to rest.

In Joey and Kaylee's room, Jennifer got on top of Kaylee's bed and cuddled up next to her little sister.  Lucy jumped up at the foot of Joey's bed, and no one scolded her to get down.  Arwen sat down in a chair next to Joey's bed, and began to speak softly in her fair voice.

"Once there was an Elven maiden named Lúthien, the fairest of all the Elves.  She was the daughter of Thingol, the King of Doriath, and of Melian his Queen…"

She continued to tell of the meeting of Lúthien and Beren, and her voice was so soft and musical that Joey did not even mind that it was dreaded "lovey-dovey" stuff.  As he listened, he seemed to slip into a dream of a star-lit sky, and he could hear Arwen singing as he slept.

"A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!

silivren penna míriel

o menel aglar elenath,

Gilthoniel, A!  Elbereth!

We still remember, we who dwell

In this far land beneath the trees

The starlight on the Western Seas."

-oo000oo-

It was late evening when they were wakened to take one last meal in Rivendell.

-oo000oo-

Portions of the scene of Bilbo's party are adapted from Dreamflower's story, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8751901/1/A-Convivial-Evening, "A Convivial Evening".

A/N: The "Hymn to Elbereth" by J.R.R. Tolkien is first found in FotR, Chapter III: "Three's Company".

Note: Because two of the chapters were accidentally posted as one, I have taken the liberty of dividing that one chapter in two and posting them accordingly.  Therefore, what was originally Chapter 12 in its entirety is now Chapters 12 and 13, and the chapters that follow have been renumbered.  K.G.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Can you guess the origins of this chapter's title? HINT: It follows the pattern of previous chapter titles; plus, 1953.

Chapter 14: Following the Leader

It was near the turning of the year, cold and windy, as the Company stood around on the terrace near dusk, preparing to start on their way. Elrond had advised them to leave at that time, hoping to avoid unfriendly eyes that might be lurking near the borders of Rivendell. It had been decided that they would be travelling at night for the same reason.

Pippin shivered, pulling his cloak closer to his body, and moved nearer to Merry. "Well, we are up to our ankles in briars now, cousin," he whispered. Merry's mouth twitched in amusement, but he did not say anything.

"You should fear the many eyes of the servants of Sauron," Elrond said. "I do not doubt that news of the discomfiture of the Riders has already reached him, and he will be filled with wrath. Soon now his spies on foot and wing will be abroad in the northern lands. Even of the sky above you must beware as you go on your way.'"

Now Merry spoke up. "I do wish he would not sound so very cheerful," he muttered to Pippin.

Pippin snorted, and then bumped Merry with his elbow. Frodo, who stood ahead of them, turned and shot them a glare.

Jennifer, who had been feeling rather miserable to be leaving her little sister behind, stifled a snicker. Merry and Pippin always seemed to find something funny to say, to lighten the mood a little. Still, it only lasted an instant, and now her misery came back. Kaylee was only just getting used to being without having her parents around, and now she'd be all alone except for Lucy, for Heaven only knew how long. Lost in her thoughts, Jennifer had tuned out some of the others.

"Loud and clear it sounds in the valleys of the hills, and then let all the foes of Gondor flee!" Boromir said unexpectedly, causing her to look at him.

Jennifer turned around and saw Boromir take up his big war-horn and blow a sudden loud blast that made everyone except the Elves jump. It echoed all around the Valley. Yanking her thumb out of her mouth, Kaylee jerked, and then grabbed tight hold of Arwen, who wrapped a comforting arm around the little girl's shoulder.

Gandalf gave the big Gondorian a glare, but it was Elrond who spoke up: "Slow should you be to wind that horn again, Boromir, until you stand once more on the borders of your land, and dire need is on you."

"Maybe," said Boromir. "But always I have let my horn cry at setting forth, and though thereafter we may walk in the shadows, I will not go forth as a thief in the night."

A blast of chill wind swept through, and Jennifer felt grateful for the thick warm clothes and fur-lined jackets and cloaks that the Elves had provided. In spite of the warm cloak, she still shivered. She glanced over to see Sam talking to Bill the Pony, who was laden with everything that the two-legged members of the Company could not carry. Did she really have everything?

She reached down and patted her belt pouch. Good, her camera was safely inside.

At that moment Elrond joined Gandalf, and he called the Company to him. "This is my last word," he said in a low voice. "The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid: neither to cast away the Ring, nor to deliver it to any servant of the Enemy nor indeed to let any handle it, save members of the Company and the Council, and only then in gravest need. The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way; you three children are under the guardianship of Aragorn, and so where he goes, you will." Aragorn and the three older children nodded; Kaylee held Lucy to her chest with her left hand, and stuck the thumb of her right hand back into her mouth. Scanning the Company's faces, Elrond continued, "You may tarry, or come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows. The further you go, the less easy will it be to withdraw; yet no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will. For you do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road."

"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens," said Gimli.

"Maybe," said Elrond, "but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall."

"Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart," said Gimli.

"Or break it," said Elrond. "Look not too far ahead! But go now with good hearts! Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces!"

"Good…good luck!" cried Bilbo, stuttering with the cold. "I don't suppose you will be able to keep a diary, Frodo my lad, but I shall expect a full account when you get back. And don't be too long! Farewell!"

"Wait!" Jennifer removed her camera from her coat pocket and turned it on. "Before we leave, I want to take a couple of pictures of all of us together. Get together, all of you." The entire group assembled in front of her, with Kaylee holding Lucy up, and Jennifer snapped the picture.

Next, she turned on the self-timer function, set the camera on the table, facing the assembled group, and hurried to join the others. A moment later, the camera itself took their picture. Approaching it, Jennifer picked it up and looked over the two photographs, and then she smiled in satisfaction.

"Well, we're all set," she said. She shut the camera off and slipped it back into her belt pouch. Wait till I show these pictures to Mom and Daddy!

Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey took turns hugging Kaylee and cuddling Lucy, who whined. "Be good now," Kevin told Kaylee, and she nodded. "We'll be back with you as soon as we can." He set Kaylee down, and Jennifer handed Lucy to her. Kevin rubbed Lucy's head, and then joined the rest of the Company; Elrond joined the little girl and Arwen. Many others of Elrond's household stood in the shadows and watched the Company go, bidding them farewell with soft voices. There was no laughter, and at first, no song or music.

Kaylee watched her brothers and sister as they strode toward the entrance to Rivendell with the rest of the company. They're off to see the wizard, she thought, as mental pictures of The Wizard of Oz floated into her head. I wish I was going with them! She cleared her throat and, in a mournful voice, started to sing:

"Follow the yellow brick road.

Follow the yellow brick road.

Follow, follow, follow, follow,

Follow the yellow brick road.

Follow the yellow brick—

Follow the yellow brick—

Follow the yellow brick road…¹

As they set off, Jennifer could hear while her little sister's faint treble blew away into the brisk wind, as they went marching into who knew what. Kaylee's voice sounded so sad. Now she's singing, "You're off to see the wizard!" to cheer herself up, she thought. Jennifer blinked away the tears that started to form, and shook her head. She could not be fretting about Kaylee now; she should just be glad that her sister was safe in the care of Lady Arwen. She took a deep breath and continued on, one foot after the other, her walking stick in her hand.

-oo000oo-

As the Company turned away and faded silently into the dusk, Kaylee, who had just finished singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road/You're Off to See the Wizard", nestled against Arwen and inserted her thumb back into her mouth. Elrond, who was standing on the other side of the little girl from Arwen, took Lucy out of her arms and handed the puppy to Bilbo, and then he lifted Kaylee up in his own arms. They had needed to hold the pup; otherwise she might have tried to follow Bill. Lucy and the pony had become good friends, and she whined a bit as the Company moved out of her sight. Bilbo rubbed Lucy's head.

"Your brothers and sister are in good hands," Elrond told Kaylee softly. "Aragorn and the others will all take good care of them, and do everything in their power to keep them safe."

"And I will take good care of you and Lucy while they are gone," Arwen added. Elrond nodded agreement, and Bilbo joined them, holding the wiggling puppy.

"We all will," Elrond promised, and then he carried Kaylee inside, followed by the others.

-oo000oo-

The Company crossed the bridge and wound slowly up the long steep paths that led out of the cloven vale of Rivendell; and they came at length to the high moor where the wind hissed through the heather. Then with one glance at the Last Homely House twinkling below them they strode away far into the night.

Grinning at his older brother and sister, Joey began to poke Jennifer in the arm. She pushed his hand back the second time he poked her. A moment later, he poked her again.

"Joey! Stop that!" Jennifer said, pushing him away from her.

"That is enough, Joey," Aragorn ordered him from near the front of the column, near Gandalf. Shrugging, Joey turned toward the hobbits ahead of him. Shaking her head, Jennifer rolled her eyes, and Kevin shrugged. The others exchanged amused grins, and Gimli snorted.

Joey glanced over at Jennifer. She had just started to march and to twirl her newly-carved walking stick. She had told him that she wanted to keep up her baton skills while they were on their journey; it would help make the time pass, she had said, and it reminded her of walking miles in a parade, as she had done so often in the past. Joey wished he had something interesting to do while he walked. He sighed, and kicked a pebble up the path. He saw it land by his sister's feet, and noticed those white knives Lady Arwen gave her.

Lady Arwen only gave her a few lessons after she gave her those knives, so how's she gonna use them? Joey wondered. Is Legolas really gonna teach her knife-fighting? With a shrug, he turned forward.

As the Company continued onward in the darkening twilight, Joey started thinking about the night a week or so before their camping trip that their family had watched Dumbo on DVD for their family movie night. The circus was on its way, too, just like we are, he thought. The song about the circus train leaving its winter quarters was stuck in his head. He began to hum the tune, and after a few moments, started to sing it; he was bored, but he recalled that when they got bored in the car, their dad encouraged them to sing, so he sang a little louder.

*"Casey Junior's comin' down the track,

Comin' down the track

With a smoky stack.

Hear him puffin',

Comin' round the hill;

Casey's here to thrill

Every Jack and Jill.

Every time his funny little whistle sounds—toot, toot!—

Everybody hurries to the circus grounds.

Time for lemonade and Cracker Jack.

Casey Junior's back;

Casey Junior's back…"

The others listened to him in amusement. "I'm afraid it's gonna be quite a while before we'll be having any lemonade or Cracker Jack again, Joey," Kevin told him. "Or before we'll be going to a circus again." Joey shrugged, and Jennifer smiled in spite of her heavy heart.

"What was that 'toot-toot'?" Boromir asked curiously.

Jennifer began to try and explain what a train was, and a train whistle, and then it began to turn into an explanation of the movie, Dumbo. At first, everyone was trying to listen to her explanation, but pretty soon she stopped trying, because it was clear from their expressions that they didn't have a clue of what she was talking about.

An amused smile crept over Jennifer's face as she recollected Kaylee singing, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" as they had left the Last Homely House. She'd be singing "We're Off to See the Wizard" right now, if she was with us, she thought. It would be a most appropriate song to her, except instead of going to see a wizard, we're traveling with one.

Jennifer bit her lower lip, sorrow welling up in her heart. I wish Kaylee could come with us. I'm already missing her!

The children had a large stock of songs from movies, musicals, and TV shows stored in their heads. The family often watched them together, and their mother had the habit of singing along with the movies on TV, which had rubbed off on them. And the whole family was involved in music in the church: their mom sang in the adult choir, Kevin and Jennifer sang in the youth choir, and Joey and Kaylee sang in the children's choir. Their dad helped with the sound system, even though he had a nice singing voice as well. Therefore, the children took any chance they could to sing, especially when they were bored.

When Joey finished the song, he heard Kevin begin a song from another old Disney movie, and Joey and Jennifer chimed in with him:

*"Westward ho, westward ho.

Westward the wagons roll.


"There's magic in the wind

And a brightness in the sky.

There's a Promised Land a-waitin',

And we'll get there by and by.


"Westward ho the wagons,

Always westward ho.

Westward roll the wagons,

For Oregon's our goal…"²

The three children took turns singing all of the stanzas of that song. The others exchanged puzzled glances when they finished. "This Oregon…" Aragorn paused. "You've told us you live in Oregon."

"Yes, sir." Kevin nodded. "It's a state now, an American state, but it used to be an American territory. The song we were singing is from an old Disney movie, Westward Ho the Wagons. The movie—it's set back in the pioneer days. Back then a lot of Americans were leaving their homes and moving west. It's about a group of pioneers moving to Oregon Territory."

Jennifer nodded. "Oregon was the last territory pioneers could move to, because it's right up against the Pacific Ocean—well, that and California. I'm not sure which territory Washington was part of, back then—it might have been part of Oregon Territory. I'll have to look that up when we get back home." She paused, furrowing her eyebrows.

"Actually, no," Kevin told her. "Washington was its own territory back then—Washington Territory. So once the United States had control of California, there were actually three territories right up against the Pacific Ocean that pioneers could move to."

The two of them continued the discussion. Much of the information was fresh in Kevin's mind, since he'd recently had a test on the subject in his American history class. He corrected Jennifer, and added quite a few more facts.

Jennifer turned back to the others. "Well, anyway, Washington's to the north of Oregon, just below the Canadian border—it's a state, too, now. California's just to the south of our state…"

"Yeah," Joey agreed. "And you know what? There's just three countries in North America: the United States, Canada, and Mexico. And there's seven continents all over the world, including North America and Asia. I learned that in school. North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica!" He smiled broadly, proud of his knowledge.

Kevin looked at their companions. They'd lost them again, all the rest of the group just stared at them, looking confused. "Well, anyway, that's what the song was about…" Kevin's voice trailed off.

"Yeah, I love Westward Ho the Wagons!" Joey smiled broadly.

"He sure does, and he also loves Star Wars and Spider-Man. Especially Spider-Man. There's some other old TV shows he loves, too." Jennifer smiled.

"I can't wait to watch Spider-Man again!" Joey added, with a broad smile.

Kevin laughed. "I'm afraid you'll have to wait, Joey," he told his little brother. "Just as Jenn and I will have to wait to watch our favorite shows again."

The others shook their heads and exchanged bewildered glances. "Spider-Man?" Aragorn stared at the children, puzzled.

"Yeah, Spider-Man's a man with spider abilities. A superhero," Joey explained. "He can spin webs and everything!"

Kevin and Jennifer laughed. Between the two of them, with occasional interruptions by Joey, began to explain to the others about comic-book superheroes and the origins of Spider-Man.

Kevin wound the explanation up. "And Joey—he's also got some Spider-Man comic books, some of which were in his backpack when we came to Middle-earth. Joey loves to watch Spider-Man, and he also loves to read the comic books."

"Yeah, I love Spider-Man!" Joey grinned. The others exchanged bemused expressions. Joey grinned up at them, and then he sang the theme song to the old cartoon show. When he had finished, he added, "If Spider-Man was here, he'd go to Mount Doom, climb up it just like a spider, and use his spider web to throw that nasty old Ring into the fire!" He mimicked throwing a spider web toward the nearest hillside.

The others laughed, and the hobbits grinned and shook their heads. "Well, Joey, Spider-Man is not here, so we must use the resources we have at hand to accomplish our Quest," Aragorn told him, his face quirked in amusement. "And even if there were a real Spider-Man here to help us, I'm afraid that Sauron would find out about him and do everything in his power to stop him. And believe me, Sauron's powers are considerable." Gandalf nodded agreement.

Then Kevin began to explain about some other comic-book superheroes and TV shows, The others were beginning to look a little annoyed. Sometimes the children's explanations raised more questions than they answered, and many of their words did not make sense, as there was no equivalent in Westron. Pippin looked totally frustrated; he was bursting with questions, but the answers were just as frustrating as the questions themselves. He was learning to just not ask quite so often. Furrowing their eyebrows as they scanned their companions' bewildered facial expressions, Kevin and Jennifer stared at each other.

"Don't people in Middle-earth ever use their imaginations to invent stuff?" Jennifer asked, bewildered. "You know, make up stories and plays, make up songs and dances, create drawings, paintings, and statues, and invent things that no one ever thought of before? Because you don't know what you're missing, if you don't. I mean, that's called using your creativity! Spider-Man and other superheroes aren't real; somebody made them up. They're just fictional characters where we come from."

"Yeah, that's right," added Kevin.

Frodo suddenly stopped in his tracks and turned to face the children. There was a frustrated expression on his face. "Of course people in Middle-earth use their imaginations to 'invent things'!" He put his hands on his hips. "Perhaps not as prolifically as the people of your world who appear to do nothing else!" His blue eyes flashed.

Jennifer came to a sudden halt. She felt as if she had just been slapped. "S—sorry," she stammered. "I didn't mean to be mean, Frodo."

"None of us did," Kevin added.

Everyone else had halted now, and was staring at them. Jennifer was blushing, and Joey was looking at his feet. Kevin wanted to say something, but didn't know what else he could add to the apology. Not without possibly making things worse, at any rate.

Gandalf shook his head. "I know that it is difficult, children, to understand that what is common and ordinary to you is something that we do not even have the words for. We do not understand what 'deeveedees', 'seedees' are, and when you try to explain them, you use words that are equally confusing, such as 'teevees' and 'moovees'." Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey nodded, and Gandalf scanned the others' faces. "As for the rest of us, we must learn not to take offense at the children's ignorance of our world and ways. They know only what they have seen and heard since they came here."

He cast a look over the entire Company. "We are losing time now. Let us go on our way; and if you must sing, sing more quietly. I do not think we are so far away from Rivendell that we must walk in total silence, but we do not need to make the hills echo!"

Abashed, all of them began walking once more, in silence at first. After a while, Joey began to sing again, this time more quietly. He sang the theme songs to some old children's TV shows, "The Banana Splits," "H.R. Pufnstuf," and "The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". Then he sang all of the stanzas of the theme song of “The Mickey Mouse Club”. As he sang, “‘Mickey Mouse Club, Mickey Mouse Club, we’ll have fun; we’ll meet new faces. We’ll do things, and we’ll go places. All around the world, we’re marching,’” the others smiled. Joey finished by singing the version of the song that the Mouseketeers had always sung just before the show's closing credits.

Legolas and Boromir looked at each other as soon as the little boy had finished that song. "These children certainly love to sing," Boromir said in a low voice.

Legolas, who was the rearguard, nodded agreement. "Let them sing," he said in an equally low voice, making sure that the children could not hear him. "Right now, this is an exciting adventure for the McCloud children, a chance for them to travel and see new places. They do not know the dangers we will eventually encounter on this Quest. Singing walking songs, in particular, seems to help them keep their spirits up, so let them sing while they can. They will come face to face with the reality of the Quest soon enough."

Smiling ruefully, Boromir nodded agreement. When Joey had finished singing several more songs, some of which Pippin joined in on the chorus after hearing it, the hobbits contributed some Shire songs.

-oo000oo-

By the time the moon was high, the children were getting tired, and so were the hobbits. Jennifer had long since ceased her marching and baton practice, and was trudging wearily, leaning on her walking stick. The singing and chatter had died out. The hobbits had not flagged quite so much, but Joey, who at the beginning of the evening had expended a lot of energy in singing and talking, was stumbling along in silence. Aragorn looked back and saw Kevin pick up his younger brother, who only protested briefly.

"'m not a baby," he muttered.

"Of course you aren't," Kevin responded. He'd scarcely answered when Joey's head was drooping on his brother's shoulder, already asleep.

Aragorn shook his head, and drew Gandalf's attention to the two brothers. "Kevin will now tire more quickly for the effort of carrying Joey," he said.

Gandalf nodded. "We shall likely need to stop sooner than we meant to, since that is the case. Send Legolas to scout us out a good camping spot."

A brief hand signal from the Ranger to the Elf sent Legolas loping ahead of the group. He ran lightly, seemingly not very fast, but he was soon lost to the sight of the mortals.

Gimli looked wary. "Where is he going?" he asked gruffly.

Gandalf turned his bristling eyebrows towards the Dwarf. "To scout out our first campsite." His tone was just as gruff. "I will not tolerate bickering and suspicion in this Company!" the Wizard added sternly.

Gimli only looked a little abashed. "I was simply asking."

"Of course you were," replied Gandalf drily.

Aragorn hid a smile. He was used to Gandalf's irascible manner. They continued on for nearly an hour more, and when he began to notice Kevin was also beginning to stumble, he dropped back himself and offered to carry the youngest member of the Company. It was a measure of Kevin's weariness that he did not argue, but willingly handed over his burden. Aragorn decided that he, Boromir, and Legolas would probably all have to help carry Joey at least some of each night. Kevin would build up more strength and stamina as they traveled, but he was not up to carrying so much weight for so long at a time yet. Aragorn would have to discuss it with the others when they stopped to make camp.

And young Joey was going to have to be discouraged from expending so much of his energy early in the journey. He, too, needed to build up his strength, as did Kevin and Jennifer, but as young as the child was, it was likely that even after his brother and sister had built up enough stamina to walk throughout a full march, he would still tire out before each night's march came to its end. Singing and chatting so much at the beginning of a march would only hasten his exhaustion.

They had gone perhaps half a league* more when Legolas suddenly reappeared among them, causing everyone save himself and Gandalf to show their startlement.

"I have found an excellent place to stop," said the Elf. "If we turn left off the path by that linden tree up there, and go about a rod*, there is a nice hollow; a small stream runs nearby, and it is surrounded by birches and shrubbery. We might be able to have a small fire without risk of it being seen."

This was welcome news to everyone, and it lent them all a little extra energy. Soon they found themselves in a nice grassy little dell. Joey, who was now awake and somewhat rested from his nap, was feeling hale enough to join Merry and Pippin as they scoured for some firewood. Sam saw to Bill, and Frodo and Jennifer went to fetch some water from the nearby brook. No one had to tell the hobbits what to do, and Joey and Jennifer just naturally joined in the tasks they thought they could help with. In the meantime, Aragorn drew the others to him to assign watches for the rest of the night and the following day.

"Boromir, if you and Kevin will take first watch?" he asked.

Boromir nodded, and so did Kevin. Aragorn noticed the look of pride on the youth's face. Kevin was a very likely young man, even if he was learning some things at a slightly older age than most of the youths Aragorn was familiar with. Those two were assigned the rest of the night, which was only about three hours or so. He and Gimli would watch from dawn until noon, and Gandalf and Legolas would watch until late afternoon, when they would begin to stir and get ready to be on the march again. Afterward, huddling together to discuss the McCloud children, Aragorn, Boromir, and Legolas agreed to start taking turns carrying Joey whenever he grew too weary to keep walking during their nightly marches, so that Kevin would not lose his own stamina so early in a march after this.

Once the fire had been started by Gimli, Sam pulled out his small kettle and made tea. "Chamomile tonight, so as we can rest good," the hobbit said. "'Tisn't time to cook much, but we still have fresh bread as the Elves give us, and a nice little crock of fresh butter as well. And I'll put some 'taters in to roast afore we go to sleep. They'll be nice and done by time we wake up. Ember-roasted 'taters, with a little of that butter and maybe some bits of cheese'll be rare ballast for our bellies at supper."

"But will it be supper?" asked Pippin. "After all, it should be breakfast, if it is the meal we partake of when we wake up."

The result of this was a long four-way argument among the hobbits as to which meal should be dubbed "supper-breakfast" and which should be "breakfast-supper". Gandalf and Aragorn were amused by it, but all the others looked rather astonished at how the hobbits could keep going on and on about the subject. Indeed, Gandalf undertook to keep the entertaining squabble going by occasionally interjecting his own comments on the subject.

By the time they had finished their light meal of tea, bread, and butter, they were all ready to curl up in their bedrolls on the soft grass and go to sleep. Aragorn watched for a few moments, as Boromir instructed Kevin how to keep watch. ("Put your back to the fire," he heard Boromir saying, "so that your eyes will stay accustomed to the darkness.") As Kevin followed the Gondorian's advice, the Ranger made sure his knife was near to hand, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.

-oo000oo-

A/N: “Follow the Yellow Brick Road/You’re Off to See the Wizard” is the property of MGM.

“Casey Jr.", "Wagons Ho!”, and “The Mickey Mouse March” are the properties of the Disney Corporation.

*A league is approximately three miles (so half a league is a mile and a half), and a rod is approximately 15½ feet.  A furlong is approximately 220 rods!

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Can you guess the origin of the chapter title? HINT: 2017, plus, live-action.

Chapter 15: Days in the Sun

Kaylee approached Bilbo, a picture book clasped against her chest. "Hey, Mr. Baggins," she said, smiling broadly. "Guess what this is?" She held up the storybook as she spoke.

Bilbo took the storybook, opened it, and gazed at the pictures. Smiling in his turn, he said, "You tell me, Miss Kaylee."

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar," she said. "Jennifer reads it to me."

Bilbo nodded. "What's it about?"

Kaylee smiled broadly. "It's about this little caterpillar. It's very hungry, and it keeps eating and eating. And then, one day, it makes itself a cocoon, and when it comes out, it's a butterfly!"

Bilbo chuckled. "Yes, that is exactly what happens to caterpillars."

Kaylee pouted. "I wish you could read this to me, Mr. Baggins."

Biblo touched her shoulder. "I wish I could, too, Miss Kaylee. Unfortunately, as you know, I cannot read your language. But I can tell you stories, and I'll tell you one now."

"Tell me one?" Kaylee stared at him.

Bilbo tilted his head. "Has no one ever told you a story, Miss Kaylee?"

The little girl shook her head. "Mommy and Daddy and Jennifer read to me. My teacher, too."

Bilbo chuckled. "Well, then, you're in for a real treat! I think you'll find that I'm a very good storyteller." He paused, and then began.

¹ "Once, when I was a little lad, my best friend, who was my cousin Siggy Took, came over to visit us for a few weeks. We were just old enough that our milk teeth were beginning to come out, just as you will be soon, Miss Kaylee, and Siggy had a loose tooth that had begun to wiggle. He was always pushing and pulling at it with his tongue. I was fascinated by this, because none of my teeth had begun to come out yet. One day at luncheon, Siggy bit into a pear, and just like that, his tooth popped out, sticking right into the pear. It wasn't very pleasant at mealtime, because it did bleed a little, but my mama had him take a sip of water and spit it out into a cup, and that was that.

"'Did it hurt, Siggy?' I asked.

"'Not much. It hurts less than it did when it was just loose.' My mama took the pear and rinsed it off, and we finished our meal.

"Before we left the table, we were astonished when Papa reached into his weskit pocket and pulled out a farthing, a nice shiny copper one, and gave it to Siggy in exchange for the tooth. Siggy was quite excited about this, as you can imagine.

"My father explained that this was a custom among the Bagginses, to exchange a farthing for each milk tooth a child lost. He excused himself to go back to his study. Siggy and I were about to do the same and then go out and play, when Mama asked us to wait a moment.

"'Lads, I hope that you understand this is only a Baggins custom. The Tooks do not follow that custom. So, Siggy, you must not expect any such farthings when you return home, and Bilbo, if you should lose a tooth at the Great Smials (which is where my cousins on my mother's side all lived, Miss Kaylee), then you must not expect any, either. Am I quite clear on this, my dears?'"

"We assured her that we did understand what she was telling us. As we went back outside to play upon the Hill, Siggy was looking thoughtfully at his farthing.

"'You should put that in your pocket before you lose it, cousin,' I said to him.

"He just gave a big sigh. 'I suppose so.' He tucked it reluctantly into the pocket of his jacket.

"I looked at him. 'I should think you'd be happy to have a farthing. Mama's taking us with her to the village when she shops tomorrow. You can buy sweets!'

"'Yes, and then it will be gone,' he replied. 'You are lucky! You have a lot of teeth, and you are a Baggins! You are bound to get a lot of farthings!'

"'But not before tomorrow.' Now that I thought about it, it did not seem quite fair that Siggy got to have his tooth out and I did not.

"'If all of my teeth came out before I leave, then I could have as many farthings as I have teeth.' Siggy's mind was clearly working on the problem.

"'I wish some of mine would come out today, so that I could have some farthings, too!'"

Kaylee interrupted Bilbo with a giggle. "Boys are so silly! If all of their teeth came out at one time, how would they eat?"

Bilbo chuckled. "They do say that lasses are much more clever than lads, my dear. I think you have just proved it. But wait until you hear what a silly solution to our problem we came up with…" He cleared his throat.

"We reached the top of the Hill and climbed into the rooftree, still pondering our dilemma. We sat upon a large branch and thought and thought. Just as I was feeling drowsy and wondered if I might just close my eyes for a few moments, Siggy gave a shout.

"'I know!' he said. 'One time, Chop (that was our older cousin Adelgrim's nickname, Miss Kaylee) got into a quarrel with one of the Chubb cousins! They were hitting and everything. Anyway, Chop hit Tolly Chubb a good one in the mouth, and knocked two of his teeth out!'

"I was dubious about this. 'Wouldn't that hurt?' I asked.

"'Maybe. A little bit. It hurt more when Grandfather Gerontius thrashed them.'

"My eyes grew wide at that. My father never gave thrashings. But it meant we had nothing to fear on that score.

"Siggy saw that I was wavering, and coaxed me some more. 'Just think of all we could buy at the shops tomorrow.'

"I made up my mind, and immediately dropped to the ground. 'Well, what are you waiting for?' I asked.

"Siggy jumped down and then we looked at each other, uncertain as to how to proceed. I myself had never seen a fight with hitting and everything. And we weren't angry at one another, nor quarreling. 'What next?' I asked.

"'Well, I guess we start hitting.'

"I braced myself. 'You should have the first go at me,' I said. 'You already have a farthing.'

"'All right.' Now Siggy looked uncertain, yet it was his idea. He balled up his fist and raised it up. Then he looked at me for a long time. I began to get impatient. Yet just when I thought he wouldn't do anything, he struck out—and managed to miss me altogether!

"'That didn't count,' I said. 'Have another go.'

"He did. This time he did not miss, but barely tapped me upon the jaw. 'Did it work?' he asked me hopefully.

"I felt around my mouth with my tongue. 'Not even loose. Try again.'

"I had barely spoken when his arm flashed and he hit me quite hard on the mouth. 'Ow!' But it still had not worked. My mouth hurt, though. 'Maybe it should be my turn now.'

"Siggy nodded, seemingly relieved. He set himself, and thrust his face forward, as if that might help. Realising that I would need to hit him quite hard, I made my fist, swung my arm around and struck out with all my might. I missed completely and ended up swinging all the way around, nearly falling over. "This is harder than you'd think," I said.

"'Try again,' said Siggy. 'Aim for my teeth.' He gave a ghastly grin, showing all his teeth.

"Once more I swung, with a bit less energy and a bit more aim. I hit him right in the middle of his teeth. But no luck. I had not even loosened one, and my knuckles hurt."

Kaylee was laughing quite hard now, and behind him, Bilbo heard more laughter, most of it more than mortal fair. He grinned. He loved an audience.

"We exchanged a few more blows, taking turns. Most of them missed, but a few did not. Our teeth stayed firmly in our mouths, and we began to get frustrated. Just as Siggy had landed a quite painful blow to my jaw, we both froze.

"'MASTER BILBO! MASTER SIGISMOND!' It was Tam Goodchild, our gardener. Before either of us could say a word, he grabbed each of us by an ear. 'Fighting! I never thought I'd live to see the day you'd be a-fighting!'

"'But we weren't really fighting,' I tried to explain.

"Tam's strong fingers pinched hard as he marched us smartly down the Hill to the back door. "And a-lying about it, too!"

"My mother answered the door and looked astounded at the sight we made. I cheered up immensely. Mama would understand that we weren't really fighting…We grinned at her, though it was rather painful.

"'I'm sorry, Mistress Baggins, but I found 'em pounding away at each other down by the well,' Tam said.

"Her expression was even more shocked. 'Lads! I cannot believe that you were fighting!'

"'We weren't, Mama!' I said.

"'No, Aunt Bella, we weren't fighting!'

"'I seen 'em,' repeated Tam.

'I know you did, Master Tam, and I am so very sorry that you had to deal with my son and my nephew so. Thank you.'

Tam stared down at us with a forlorn expression. "Kinfolk shouldn't be a-fighting, Master Bilbo," he said quietly, before he turned and went away back to his work.

"'But, Mama—' Bilbo protested.

"'Not another word from you, Bilbo Baggins! Or you either, Sigismond Took! We will let your father deal with this!'

"My mother marched us straight to my father's study. We were not allowed to say a word, as she reported what Tam had told her. Of course our split lips and bruised jaws were against us.

"'Not only were the two of you fighting, and were caught in the act, but you continue to lie about it. Bilbo, I am sorely disappointed in you. And Sigismond, all I can say is that we will be forced to cut your visit short…'"

"'Papa! No!' I exclaimed. 'Please don't make Siggy go home!'

"'Uncle Bungo! Yes, we were hitting, but we weren't fighting, really, really—we weren't!'

"Mama and Papa looked more confused than ever. Finally Papa said, 'If you weren't fighting, what were you doing, then?'

"I was so relieved to finally have a chance to explain the very logical reason for our behaviour. 'We were just trying to knock our teeth out!'

"'WHAT?' I do not think I had ever seen my papa look quite so astonished.

"'Yes, Uncle Bungo!' Siggy put in. 'We thought it would be good to have some farthings when we go with Auntie to the market tomorrow! And besides—I wanted Bilbo to knock all of mine out before I go home, or I won't get any more farthings!'

"My mother took that moment to leave and close the door. Looking back at it now, I realise that she must have found the whole thing more than a little amusing, once the explanation had been forthcoming. Papa simply sat there staring at us for the longest time. The two of us grew uncomfortable and began to fidget. Perhaps our idea was not such a good one after all.

"Finally, I saw the slightest twitch at the corner of my father's mouth. Then he sighed, and said, 'You know, lads, there is a rule about milk teeth. Only the ones that come out naturally will receive a farthing.'

"Now Siggy and I hung our heads. 'It seemed like a good idea at the time, Uncle Bungo,' my cousin said sadly. While visions of riches had danced in our heads, it had seemed a very good idea. I thought of all the sweets we could have bought with our fortune.

"'I suppose it did,' he said. 'But just how did you think you would be able to eat once all those teeth came out at once? Why, you might have had to go back to drinking nothing but milk, like a babe who has no teeth at all yet!'

"Siggy and I stared at one another. This had not occurred to us at all!

"My father pointed at the table where his students did their lessons. 'Have a seat,' he said.

"He took out two pieces of foolscap, a bottle of ink, and two quills. 'I would like the two of you to write for me a full page on the importance of teeth. You will not copy. And you will not write over and over again, '"I need them to chew my food."' Siggy's face fell.

"It was a rather tedious afternoon, and I learned a number of variations on the phrase he had forbidden. But we never tried to knock our teeth out again."

Kaylee was laughing so hard, she had the hiccups, and of course the rest of Bilbo's audience was howling with laughter as well.

"Well, Miss Kaylee, do you like having someone tell you a story instead of reading it?" he asked.

She was still breathless with laughter, but she vigorously nodded, her eyes sparkling with mirth, and with a broad grin stretched across her face. Bilbo smiled at her. "It won't be long now until your milk teeth will start to come out. When that happens, your grown-up teeth will begin taking their place."

Kaylee nodded. Both rows of her front baby teeth showed plainly as she smiled broadly back at Bilbo. "The tooth fairy's gonna give me money when I lose my teeth," she said.

Bilbo arched an eyebrow, and shook his head. What strange notions these young people had! Out loud, he said, "Would you care to accompany me to the kitchen? I do believe that it is very nearly time for elevenses!"

Still smiling broadly, Kaylee hopped down from the bench, her storybook in hand, and arm in arm, the two small people ambled away.

-oo000oo-

As the Company trudged eastward, Joey looked around. Suddenly, he thought of a counting song that he had learned from his friends and sometimes sang with them, especially on long car trips. He grinned, and started singing.

"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall,

Ninety-nine bottles of beer!

Take one down and pass it around.

Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall!"

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged grins, and Jennifer joined in on the next stanza.

"Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall,

Ninety-eight bottles of beer!

Take one down and pass it around.

Ninety-seven bottles of beer on the wall!"

Now Kevin joined in, and the three of them sang the third stanza together.

"Ninety-seven bottles of beer on the wall,

Ninety-seven bottles of beer!

Take one down and pass it around.

Ninety-six bottles of beer on the wall!"

They were not even halfway through the third stanza when Pippin piped in, in his light tenor (after all, the stanzas were not that hard!), and then, at the beginning of the fourth stanza, the other three hobbits added their voices as well. They had reached as far as:

"Eighty-four bottles of beer on the wall,

Eighty-four bottles of beer!

Take one down and pass it around…"

"All right, all right, that is enough!" Aragorn ordered.

"Yes, sing some other song," Gimli added. Aragorn, Boromir, and Gandalf exchanged amused glances and shook their heads.

With a look of mischief, the hobbits started off singing:

"One hundred apple pies, cooling on the sill;

Snatch one down, to eat our fill.

Pass it around,

No need to fight—

Everybody has a bite!


"Ninety-nine apple pies, cooling on the sill;

Snatch one down, to eat our fill.

Pass it around,

No need to fight—

Everybody has a bite!


"Ninety-eight apple pies…"

Gandalf turned around and glared at them. "Not that one, either." Joey giggled, and Kevin and Jennifer grinned.

Without missing a single beat, Pippin began:

"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!

"First breakfast he has at the rise of the sun,

Two eggs, a sausage and one sticky bun.

He stays at the table until it is done,

And then back to bed is his idea of fun.


"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!


"Second breakfast, to the kitchen again;

Porridge and cream is his happy plan,

Followed by toast and strawberry jam,

An apple or pear and a wee bit of ham."


The other hobbits added their voices in, and the children began to join in the chorus.


"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!


"He takes himself out for a bit of a walk,

But elevenses come at the chime of a clock.

There's no time to stop and no time to talk

When there's bread and butter and beans in the crock.


"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!


"Though he's much work to do, he has a hunch

That naught will be done before time for lunch.

There are mushrooms and leeks and carrots in a bunch,

All of them things that he's eager to munch.


"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!


"He's ready to eat when teatime arrives,

Though fainting with hunger his spirit revives

With scones thickly spread with soft cheese and chives

And tea made with honey from his own beehives.


"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh a hobbit of habit is he, is he!


"Soon supper has come and his hunger is dire;

He's almost certain that he soon will expire—

But there's chicken on the spit and soup on the fire.

It makes him the happiest lad in the Shire.


"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!


"And now that he finally finds he is fed,

He takes himself off to his warm little bed

And laying him down and nodding his head

He dreams of a marvelous, bountiful spread!


"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea,

Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!"

The song ended, and as they had begun to go uphill, it was getting harder to sing and walk. Instead, Jennifer asked something she had been curious about for a little while.

"Pippin, why is it that when you hobbits sing, it's always you who starts?"

Pippin laughed. "I guess just because I like singing the most."

Merry looked sideways at his cousin. "Don't let my cousin fool you. Among hobbits, he's considered a fine singer, and he also plays several musical instruments."

"In fact," Frodo put in, "just a few years ago, a minstrel from Outside the Shire asked him to become his apprentice. But of course, we couldn't part with our Pip!"

"I'm sure you couldn't." Jennifer smiled. "Kevin plays the guitar, and Joey plays the harmonica. Kevin's guitar was back at the campsite when we came here, but Joey brought his harmonica here."

Pippin glanced over at Joey. "I know I have heard you play it, Joey! One of these days, when we have time, maybe you'll teach me to play that harmonica. Although I don't think I'd be able to find one for myself, unless we could perhaps find a Dwarf who could make one."

Just as Joey was going to reply, he stumbled over a small hole in their path, and would have fallen if Jennifer had not reached out and grabbed him by the elbow. "Whew! That was a close call," she said.

"It is getting much darker, and the path is getting more difficult. Perhaps we should save our breath for walking," Gandalf said from the head of the group, without even turning around to look.

Joey's eyes went wide. "How'd he know what happened?" he hissed in a whisper.

Merry whispered back, "Of course he knew. He's a wizard."

The Company continued on their way in silence for a time, and then Joey grinned up at Kevin and Jennifer. He had suddenly remembered another activity that he, his siblings, and his friends sometimes participated in to pass the time during long car trips. "Beep," he said.

Jennifer grinned back. "Beep."

Kevin laughed. "Beep."

"Beep," Joey repeated.

Merry and Pippin grinned at one another, shrugged and both said at the same time, "Beep."

At the front of the line, Gandalf shook his head, and Aragorn gave a low moan and put his hand over his face.

"Beep," said Frodo.

-oo000oo-

After a few days, the novelty of walking all night and sleeping most of the day, and only occasionally being allowed to have a few small fires that were just barely enough to boil water on, began to wear off. Even Pippin and Joey were having a hard time staying cheerful, and no one had much energy for singing and chatting on the trail, except early in the evening.

"What's wrong with the hobbits?" Joey asked Kevin quietly, one evening. They were five days out from Rivendell, and the first few nights of walking had been accompanied by non-stop hobbit prattle or singing with the children, especially Merry and Pippin. But tonight they had all four been mostly silent, and had clung together more than usual.

"I don't know, Joey," Kevin answered. "But they seem a little down in the dumps, don't they?"

Gandalf overheard the two brothers talking. The Company was taking a short rest before moving on.

"Tomorrow is the first day of Yule." He saw that they did not understand. "According to the Shire calendar, the last day of the old year, and the first day of the new, are called Yule. It is a major holiday for hobbits, and involves gift-giving, feasting, storytelling, and family gatherings. Obviously, they have realized what they are missing."

Joey and Kevin looked at each other. "Pippin told us something about that, before we left," Kevin said. "It sounded like Christmas to us."

"Yeah." Joey nodded agreement. "Only the hobbits celebrate it on New Year's Eve, not Christmas Day."

Jennifer had been listening in, and she nodded in her turn. "In our world, Christmas is called 'Yule' in some countries. We celebrate it on December twenty-fifth in our country, and a lot of other countries do, too, but some countries celebrate it on January sixth."

"In the Northern part of Eriador, the turning of the year is the shortest day of the year, and is called Yule or the Turning of the Year." Aragorn said. "In the Shire calendar, it takes place on the two days between the old year and the new."

Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey stared at him. "There are two days between the old year and the new?" Joey asked, wide-eyed.

"Only in the Shire calendar," Aragorn replied. "They have a very well-organized calendar. But there are many calendars in Middle-earth. The Elves have their own, and the calendar of Gondor is somewhat based on the Elven calendar, but has some differences."

Jennifer thought of trying to explain Christmas, but then realized that doing so might involve talking about things that hadn't occurred or been revealed yet. After all, Jesus hadn't been born yet. If they were not able to return home, they might never have Christmas with their whole family again. Tears sparked in her eyes at the prospect, but she blinked them away, and said aloud, "I sure can understand why they would be so homesick right now."

"Poor lads!" said Gimli, also joining the conversation. All of the hobbits were so young, except the Ring-bearer, and none of them had ever been out of their homeland before. Nothing like missing a major special occasion to bring on homesickness.

Aragorn glanced at Gandalf, and then went over to speak quietly to Legolas and Boromir, who were standing watch over their temporary resting place.

The children and the hobbits were weary and footsore as dawn began to break over the chill bleak landscape. Legolas had scouted ahead, and found a little out of the way spot, nestled between two hills. There was a copse of scrubby trees to one side, and a great rock formation to the other.

Gandalf looked at the site with approval. "I think we may be able to have a fire and a hot meal this evening." This at least drew the hobbits' attention, if it did not seem to cheer them much.

Still the morning meal was the same journeybread and fruit they had been having every morning at the end of the night's walking. Jennifer took the chance to brew her daily cup of dárithil, while Sam was fixing tea for everyone else.

Sam laid out the bedrolls close together, as they had been sleeping together for warmth and comfort since leaving the Shire. Packs were slung down, and Sam and Pippin were getting ready to lie down, when they realized Frodo and Merry seemed to be waiting for something.

Frodo blushed, and reached into his inside jacket pocket, and pulled out a small bag. "When I realized that we'd be on the tramp today, I got these from one of the Elves in the Rivendell kitchen." He poured out into his hand some boiled sweets, each wrapped in a twist of paper. There were twelve of them, and he handed one out to each member of the Company. "I know it's not much, but it's something. Happy Yuletide." He attempted to sound cheerful with the traditional greeting, but it sounded more than a bit forced.

"Thank you, Frodo," said Gandalf gravely, as he popped the treat into his mouth. Everyone else followed suit, except for Sam and Jennifer, who said they would save theirs for later, and Pippin, who just stared at his.

Merry reached into his pack. "I have to confess these are not from me. I don't even know what they are. Bilbo gave them to me just before we left, with instructions to pass them out today." He opened the package, and startled a laugh out of both Frodo and Gandalf when it revealed a stack of pristine white handkerchiefs, twelve of them. He passed them out carefully.

"This was very thoughtful of Bilbo," said Aragorn, a bit bemused, as he stowed his in his pouch.

"It certainly was," said Gimli. "I will have to thank him when we return."

Kevin and Jennifer were quite grateful; they had never had any handkerchiefs of their own, and there was no Kleenex in Middle-earth! Joey grinned at his—it was a neat present, and he remembered Bilbo telling them how much he had missed having handkerchiefs on his own Adventure. He was in such a hurry to meet the Dwarves, he forgot his handkerchiefs! he thought.

Merry placed Pippin's in his hand as he did not make a move to take it. The tweenager looked at it, and burst into tears.

"I didn't even think of bringing something!" he wailed.

Merry moved to hug him, and Frodo used his new handkerchief to wipe the lad's tears. But Sam just stared at his toes, looking every bit as miserable as Pippin, though there were no tears.

Jennifer moved to try and comfort Pippin as well, but Kevin shook his head. "It's probably a family thing, Jen."

The rest of the Fellowship looked on, a bit uncomfortable, and then moved on about the business of settling in for a day's rest, leaving the hobbits to comfort their own. The four finally arranged themselves for rest, but Pippin cried himself to sleep.

It made Joey feel so bad, he wanted to cry, too.

The hobbits awakened in the twilight to a delicious smell. For once, someone had started the cooking without waiting for Sam.

The four of them sat up, blinking owlishly at the fire.

Frodo stood up. "What do we have?" he asked. The other three hobbits were getting up as well.

"Legolas brought down a pair of fine, fat pheasants, with Kevin's help," said Aragorn, turning the birds on the stick that was serving as a spit. "Come sit over here, my friends." He gestured to one of the larger rocks, which had been decorated with a few holly branches.

"Guess what! Jen and I found them!" said Joey, with a big grin on his face.

"Oh!" said Pippin, in a stunned voice.

"Master Sam, I am afraid I have been into your stores. I got a few potatoes for the roasting," said Gimli.

"That's all right, Mr. Gimli," Sam answered, amazed.

"Where is Boromir?" asked Merry, looking about. Then he spotted him near the edge of the light, on watch. He turned briefly and smiled, then returned his gaze outward.

"Boromir contributed this," said Aragorn, holding up a flask. "I think we will water down these spirits, but I do believe the occasion calls for a toast or two."

"Not for us," said Kevin, glancing at his siblings. "We'll make do with tea!" Jennifer nodded agreement, and Joey shrugged.

Pippin gave a little bounce where he sat, and Frodo gave a smile that was genuinely cheerful. The food was soon served out, and for a time concentration was on the meal.

When they had finished eating, Merry moved as if to prepare for the night's travel.

Gandalf put a hand out. "There is no rush, Meriadoc. I do believe we have time for a pipe and a tale before we move on." He lit his own pipe, and blew the shape of a butterfly, followed by a series of rainbow-colored rings.

"Did I ever tell you about the time Bilbo danced on the table at The Prancing Pony?"

Sam sat forward eagerly, and Pippin relaxed into Frodo's embrace. Joey wiggled in eager anticipation, as he sat between his older brother and sister; he leaned into Jennifer's side, and she wrapped her arm around his shoulders.

And a breeze blew a gap in the clouds, so that the stars looked down from a briefly-clear sky; the clouds soon moved back in, but it was enough to see a few of them twinkling down for a moment.

-oo000oo-

The next afternoon, Joey woke up in his bedroll; some noise had awakened him early. He saw that the adults were talking quietly and paying no attention to those who were still sleeping. An idea occurred to him.

Joey carefully unzipped his backpack, pulled out his monster mask, and then crept toward the men, who were sitting near the campfire. A mischievous grin sneaked across his face as he pulled his monster mask down over his head. He had originally intended to use the mask to scare his sisters during their family's camping trip, but he had just decided that this would be more fun.

"Growll!" he said.

Gandalf jolted. Boromir and Aragorn reached for their swords, and Gimli reached for his axe. Legolas, whose sharp Elven ears had overheard Joey's movements, was the only one who didn't react, and neither did the sleeping hobbits or teenagers. But then Aragorn relaxed, taking his hand off his sword's hilt and shaking his head in amusement. Exchanging a glance with Aragorn, Boromir rolled his eyes. Legolas smirked, and Gimli snorted. Gandalf's eyes twinkled fondly.

"I'm a monster!" Joey said in a growly voice, as he approached the adults. He raised his hands above his head, bending his arms and curling his fingers to make his hands look like claws. "Growll, I'm a scary monster!"

"All right, scary monster, it is time that monsters went back to sleep. It is a good two hours until sunset, and you need the rest," Aragorn told him kindly but firmly. Approaching the little boy, he held his hand out. "I shall take that monster mask, Joey." Shrugging, Joey pulled it off his head and handed it to the Ranger. "You left this inside your backpack so that Lord Elrond would not see it, did you not?"

Joey shrugged. "Yes, sir."

"And why did you include it in your pack?"

Joey ran his finger over the mask and grinned. "I was gonna scare my sisters on our camping trip." He curled his hands over his head again again, making a scary face. "Growwll!"

Shaking his head and biting back an amused grin, Aragorn put his hand on Joey's shoulder. "Not tonight, you are not, and not while we are on this journey. This journey is not the best of times for boyish pranks, Joey. I will keep this mask until we reach safe lands again." Reluctantly, Joey nodded acquiescence.

As the Ranger led the little boy back to his bedroll, Gandalf shook his head in amusement, Boromir chuckled, and Legolas and Gimli laughed. "Little boys," Gimli said, with a snort.

"I know," Legolas agreed, an amused expression creasing his face, and then he sighed, his face sobering. "If only mischievous little boys wearing monster masks were the worst threat we shall encounter."

An amused smile crept across Boromir's own face, and then he shook his head, sobering in his turn. "If only these children could remain happily ignorant of the dangers and threats we are going to encounter. Orcs and trolls are only imaginary creatures in their world."

Legolas nodded. "Whereas, here, they are all too real. At least Miss Kaylee is safe in Rivendell."

Gandalf nodded agreement. "As soon as Aragorn returns, you had better get some sleep. The hobbits and the other children are still asleep, and it is time that the rest of you joined them. I will take the first watch."

-oo000oo-

A/N: "Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall" is a popular travel song, and is in the public domain.

"One-hundred Apple Pies" and "Nob O' the Lea" were both written by Dreamflower, and appear in several of her stories.

Portions of this chapter were taken from two of Dreamflower's stories, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8254705/1/A-Mother-s-Work ("A Mother's Work: Belladonna") and https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8787671/1/Yule-in-Hollin.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure. This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse. This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson. This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies. Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story. Linda is a well known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 16: When You Wish Upon a Star

Kaylee sat on the little cushion next to Arwen's chair. They were in the room that Arwen called her solar, as it was surrounded on three sides by windows, and faced southeast. Most of Arwen's handmaidens were in the room as well, including Eledwhen and Mairen; they were all engaged in some sort of needlework. Kaylee stared down in concentration at the little scrap of fabric in her hands. It was in a small wooden hoop. The silver needle in her small hand was threaded with red silk, and the little silver thimble was on her right index finger; she concentrated with her tongue sticking out of her teeth as she carefully placed her stitches one after the other, in the way that Arwen had taught her. Nearby, Lucy lay curled up on the floor, chewing on an old, worn-out slipper that Arwen had given her to go with the scrap of leather and the rope that had been given to the puppy previously.

Kaylee pulled the needle through to the right side, and then gave a little flounce of frustration. "Ooh!" she exclaimed. "I wish it would stop doing that!" She pouted.

"What is the matter, Kaylee?" asked Arwen gently.

"It came all unthreaded again! I just can't get this!"

"Let me see." She took the fabric from Kaylee and studied it. The child's stitches had improved immensely since Arwen had begun to teach the little girl to embroider a week earlier, though they were still in need of improvement. "Ah! You have let your thread get too short, my dear. Here," and Arwen began to unpick two or three of the last few stitches, "now there is enough thread to tie off. Do you remember how to do that?"

Kaylee nodded, and tied off the thread as Arwen had taught her. Afterward, she took the now re-threaded needle from Arwen, and began to stitch once more. Arwen smiled down at her little pupil. Kaylee had come a long way in the week since her siblings had left. The little girl had never tried any sort of stitchery or needlework before, but she had taken to it well. The little design of red stars was marching across the snowy linen evenly, and today Kaylee had not yet needed to pick out any stitches to do over, save the few Arwen had done for her, to lengthen her thread.

Still, the child missed her brothers and sisters as well as her parents, especially at night. Mairen, who had taken the nursemaid's room Lady Jennifer had used so that she would be able to look after Kaylee, had reported that the child sometimes wept at night, and that she sucked her thumb every night at bedtime. "But, my Lady, she has a strange ritual each night. She kneels by her bedside, and speaks a rhyme before she gets into her bed. It always ends with her asking for blessings upon each of her siblings and also for her parents. Before Lady Jennifer left, she used to have Miss Kaylee kneel against her bedside and recite this rhyme, and to ask for these blessings upon their parents every night at bedtime, after she had finished reading to her."

"What rhyme is this that she speaks?" Arwen had been curious.

"She says:

"Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep.

Watch over me all through the night,

And wake me with the morning light.

"Then she asks this Lord to bless Lord Kevin, Lady Jennifer, and Master Joey, to take care of them on their journey, to bless her mother and father and Miss Megan, and to keep her parents from worrying too much. And then, she ends it with this strange word: 'ay-men." Mairen had paused.

"And who do you think this Lord is, to whom she speaks?" Arwen had asked.

"I am not sure, my Lady, but I think she is speaking to Eru Ilúvatar." Mairen had blushed, because the notion that a small child might try to speak to the One seemed far-fetched, and yet by Kaylee's demeanor, she had been sure that was what was in the little one's mind.

Arwen had smiled. "I think that you may be correct, Mairen. Miss Kaylee and her brothers and sister are unusual children, even for the Secondborn. They do much the same thing at the beginning of mealtimes, too, as I have noticed. There is much we do not know of their home."

Arwen shook herself from her thoughts of Mairen's report, and looked fondly at Kaylee, who had reached the end of the row marching across the bottom of the linen towel.

"Look, Lady Arwen!" Kaylee grinned and held it up for her teacher's inspection. "I finished it! Isn't that cool?"

Arwen chuckled. The first time she had heard Joey and Kaylee use the term "cool" to mean something that was good instead of the temperature, she had been puzzled, but she was growing used to it now. Kevin and Jennifer also tended to use that word in the same way, as Arwen had discovered.

"You did indeed finish! Well done!" she exclaimed, and gave her small student an embrace. "And so you shall have a reward. We have been invited to take tea with Master Bilbo Baggins in his rooms, and I told him that we would come after you had finished your lessons."

"Yay!" Kaylee squealed. "I like Mr. Baggins! He tells me great stories and makes really good cookies—I mean, biscuits—" This had caused some confusion at first. Apparently, in Kaylee's homeland, biscuits were called cookies, and scones were called biscuits. "Why didn't you tell me? I would have finished faster!"

Arwen laughed. "That is exactly why I did not tell you. Would your work look so neat if you had tried to hurry?"

Kaylee looked down at her toes and blushed. "Prob'ly not," she said. She jumped to her feet and turned toward Lucy. "Can—uh, may Lucy go, too? Please?" She bounced on her heels.

Arwen laughed. "Yes, Kaylee, Lucy may go, too."

"Oh, goody, goody! Yippee! Thank you!" With an expression of delight, Kaylee hugged Arwen and then scooped the puppy up in her arms. Lucy immediately commenced licking the little girl's face. Chuckling, Arwen laid her hand on Kaylee's shoulder and escorted her out the door, followed by Eledhwen and Mairen. The other maidens looked up briefly, and then returned to their own work.

-oo000oo-

They had been walking for hours in the dark. Pippin looked behind him and sighed. Boromir was carrying a sleeping Joey, and Kevin walked by the Gondorian's side. Pippin almost envied the little boy. But he was no child; he might not be of age yet in the Shire, but he was certainly not in need of being carried. Then he noticed that Lady Jennifer was stumbling as she walked behind Bill and Sam. Gimli was just ahead of the pony. Aragorn was far behind them all at the moment, taking the rear guard, and Frodo and Merry had worked their way to the front, in hopes of asking Gandalf if they could take a rest for a few minutes. Legolas had gone before them to scout the trail ahead.

Pippin turned and made his way back to the young Woman, and took her by the arm. He was a lot shorter than she, but he was much steadier on his feet. Boromir had said that was because hobbits had a "lower centre of gravity" than the race of Man. She had ceased to practice marching and twirling her carved branch several hours earlier, and now she was just trudging along, obviously tired, using it now as a walking stick to keep herself upright.

She turned and smiled at him wearily. "Thank you, Pippin! I'm so tired. I'm not used to walking this long." She smiled ruefully. "I'm used to hiking with my family, but not like this!" The two of them spoke in a low murmur. Singing and louder conversation was being discouraged now by Gandalf and Aragorn

"Well, neither was I, to be honest," said the hobbit. "But I've had to learn on this journey. At least we are not having to hurry as fast as we did when we were following Strider to Rivendell, and we aren't taking any shortcuts through swamps!" He gave a shudder as he thought of the Midgewater Marshes.

Jennifer rewarded him with a small chuckle, and Pippin felt himself warmed by her laughter. She was much more serious than any of the hobbit lasses he knew back home in the Shire, but she did have a sense of humour, even if much of the time, he did not understand some of the things she found funny. He wondered what it would be like to see such marvels as "teevee" and "moo-vees" and "net-flix" and "yew toob". Apparently the last was a way to listen to music, which hobbits also enjoyed, and to watch kittens and puppies doing silly things, which in truth was usually amusing. He also didn't understand this activity that she and some of the other young people where she came from engaged in, during which she twirled this long, straight device she had described—the "bah-ton," as she called it, whatever that was, that Jennifer and her friends twirled when marching in parades.

"Too bad insect repellent hasn't been invented in Middle-earth," Jennifer said. "That would have kept those midges from biting you while you were going to Rivendell. Kevin and I both have cans of it in our backpacks."

Just then, before Pippin could answer, both of them wrinkled their noses. It was clear that Bill had left a little something on the trail up ahead. Pippin's eyes and night vision were somewhat better than hers. He carefully led Jennifer around Bill's little present, and everybody behind them followed.

"Thank you, Pippin! You are a true gentleman, er, gentlehobbit."

Pippin blushed and shrugged. "Well, really, when one goes about the world in bare feet, it's second nature to avoid unpleasant surprises!"

Just then, everyone ahead of them stopped. Pippin hoped they were going to take a rest, and was relieved to see the hand signal agreed upon. Sam raised his right hand and then turned the palm towards him. Pippin nodded, and did the same, hoping Aragorn would be near enough to see it.

He and Jennifer followed Sam and Bill up to where the others were gathering near Gandalf. Joey began to stir. "Are we there yet?" he mumbled.

"Yes, we are, Joey," Boromir told him, and set him on his feet. The group quickly and efficiently set up camp for the day's rest.

Jennifer slid her backpack off of her back, removed the knives from her shoes, laid them close to her, and sank wearily onto her bedroll for a long moment. I'm exhausted! she thought. It's a good thing my family is used to exercise! Suppressing a groan, she rose to her feet. Their meal still had to be prepared and eaten before she could even think about sleeping.

After the Company had eaten, Jennifer and most of the others returned to their bedrolls. For a moment, she thought about skipping her bedtime prayers and going immediately to sleep, but then training and discipline took over, and she wearily pushed herself up into a kneeling position and whispered her prayers. Her brothers did the same thing.

As Jennifer lay back down on her bedroll, resting her head on her lower arms, she thought about the discussion that she and her siblings had originally had about memorizing Bible verses, and the crash course that they had all engaged in during the weeks that had followed. This is why God wanted us to memorize all those Bible verses, she thought. He knew we weren't gonna have much time for Bible reading on this Quest—we don't even get to have Sundays off! During the hours when the sun is up, we're asleep, and when we're up and about, it's too dark to read! And always, when it's time to camp, even though the sun's coming up by then, we're too tired to read Kevin's Bible or anything else, and besides, every time we stop for a break, my brothers and Merry and Pippin and I all receive weapon lessons from Boromir and Legolas, and even Aragorn sometimes. If ever we needed God's Word stored in our hearts, we sure need it now. I sure hope I'm wrong, but I have a bad feeling we're going to need it even more before it's over.

Jennifer bit her lower lip. Please protect us, God! In Jesus' name, amen. As her eyes slid shut, a Bible verse she knew by heart came to her mind: Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.* A sensation of peace swept through Jennifer's heart, and she fell asleep.

-oo000oo-

Another week of walking, and they had come into the region known as Hollin, because of the many holly trees and bushes that grew there. The clouds had finally cleared completely, and Legolas had scouted out a deep hollow shrouded by great bushes of holly for their resting place that morning. Strider said that it was hidden enough that they could actually have a bit of fire and a hot "supper-breakfast". There was a small stream nearby for water, and the rushing sound also kept their voices from carrying. The hobbits were thrilled at the thought of a hot meal and Sam's cooking, rather than the cold trail rations they had been eating for most of the two weeks they had been travelling.

"We have done well," he said. "We have reached the borders of the country that Men call Hollin; many Elves lived here in happier days, when Eregion was its name. Five-and-forty leagues as the crow flies we have come, though many long miles further our feet have walked. The land and the weather will be milder now, but perhaps all the more dangerous."

"Dangerous or not, a real sunrise is mighty welcome," said Frodo, throwing back his hood and letting the morning light fall on his face.

"It sure is!" Jennifer smiled broadly.

"How far is forty-five leagues?" asked Joey.

"Well, Joey," said Aragorn, "a league equals nigh on three miles. Therefore, we have traveled about one hundred and thirty-five miles since we left Rivendell." He nodded toward the chain of mountains in the distance ahead of him. "Yonder lies the Misty Mountains, which we must cross."

"Whoa!" Joey gaped up at him and exchanged a look with Kevin and Jennifer, both of whom looked as stunned as he felt.

Pippin stared at the chain of mountains. "But the mountains are ahead of us," he said. "We must have turned eastwards in the night."

"No," said Gandalf. "But you see further ahead in the clear light. Beyond those peaks the range bends round south-west. There are many maps in Elrond's house, but I suppose you never thought to look at them?"

"Yes I did, sometimes," said Pippin, "but I don't remember them. Frodo has a better head for that sort of thing."

"We didn't look at the maps," said Kevin, glancing at his siblings. "It wouldn't have done us any good, since we can't read Westron."

"I need no map," said Gimli, who had come up with Legolas, and was gazing out before him with a strange light in his deep eyes. "There is the land where our fathers worked of old, and we have wrought the image of those mountains into many works of metal and of stone, and into many songs and tales. They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz, Zirak, Shathûr.

"Only once before have I seen them from afar in waking life, but I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue. Yonder stands Barazinbar, the Redhorn, cruel Caradhras; and beyond him are Silvertine and Cloudyhead: Celebdil the White, and Fanuidhol the Grey, that we call Zirak-zigil and Bundushathûr.

"There the Misty Mountains divide, and between their arms lies the deep-shadowed valley which we cannot forget: Azanulbizar, the Dimrill Dale, which the Elves call Nanduhirion."

Joey stared at Gimli. He had never heard the Dwarf sound so serious, and he was amazed at all the strange names of places he heard.

"It is for the Dimrill Dale that we are making," said Gandalf. "If we climb the pass that is called the Redhorn Gate, under the far side of Caradhras, we shall come down by the Dimrill Stair into the deep vale of the Dwarves. There lies the Mirrormere, and there the River Silverlode rises in its icy springs."

"Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram," said Gimli, "and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon."

"May you have joy of the sight, my good dwarf!" said Gandalf. "But whatever you may do, we at least cannot stay in that valley. We must go down the Silverlode into the secret woods, and so to the Great River, and then—"

He paused.

"Yes, and where then?" asked Merry.

"To the end of the journey—in the end," said Gandalf. "We cannot look too far ahead. Let us be glad that the first stage is safely over. I think we will rest here, not only today but tonight as well. There is a wholesome air about Hollin. Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there."

"That is true," said Legolas. "But the Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them: Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago."

Everyone was quite pleased at Gandalf's announcement that they would be staying put for the rest of the day and that night, except Aragorn. Joey watched him as he studied the area; uneasiness etched his face. The Ranger restlessly strode about the clearing until he suddenly froze, frowning. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Merry looked up at him.

"What is the matter, Strider?" Merry called up. "What are you looking for? Do you miss the East Wind?"

"No indeed," he answered. "But I miss something. I have been in the country of Hollin in many seasons. No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at all times, especially birds. Yet now all things but you are silent. I can feel it. There is no sound for miles about us, and your voices seem to make the ground echo. I do not understand it."

Gandalf looked up with evident interest. "But what do you guess is the reason?" he asked. "Is there more in it than surprise at seeing four hobbits and three children, not to mention the rest of us, where people are so seldom seen or heard?"

"I hope that is it," answered Aragorn. "But I have a sense of watchfulness, and of fear, that I have never had here before."

"Then we must be more careful," said Gandalf. "If you bring a Ranger with you, it is well to pay attention to him, especially if the Ranger is Aragorn. We must stop talking aloud, rest quietly, and set the watch."

The children exchanged looks and then gazed up at the stars now fading in the indigo sky, which was slowly growing lighter beyond the chain of mountains to the East. "Hey, look!" Joey cried out softly, pointing at the cloudless purple sky. "There's Venus! Holy cow!"

Kevin and Jennifer looked up at the sky and smiled broadly. "Yeah! I see it! Good old Venus," Kevin said, with satisfaction. "The morning star. And if I'm not mistaken, there's Jupiter as well."

"Yeah!" Peering intently at the sky, Jennifer nodded agreement.

Legolas had overheard them. "That star which you call 'Venus' is known as Eãrendil. And the other one is called 'Alcarinque', or sometimes 'Morwen'." He cast a sly glance at Aragorn. "Did you know that Eãrendil is Aragorn's ancestor? Or that he is also Lord Elrond's father?"

The four children stared at him, and then Kevin laughed. "You're trying to put one over on us, aren't you?"

He grinned back at the children and shook his head. "If you mean that I am jesting, no, I am not."

Frodo had also been listening to the conversation. "Don't you remember that song which Bilbo sang in the Hall of Fire? That was the tale of Eãrendil the Mariner."

"But how's that possible? Those particular stars are planets," Kevin argued. "Worlds just like our own! And most of the other stars are suns, only so far away, they look tiny."

"That's right," Jennifer agreed. "Where we come from, you can see them through a telescope. Venus really is a planet." She didn't attempt to tell them about the satellites that traveled through space, taking pictures. It would be impossible for the people of Middle-earth to understand, she knew. Joey nodded agreement.

Now the other members of the Fellowship looked at Kevin and Jennifer as though they were the ones who were joking.

Just then Gandalf turned, and gave Kevin and Jennifer a look. "I think perhaps it is better that we make our camp and get what rest we can. We need to take advantage of this respite and not waste it in pointless arguments."

Kevin and Jennifer looked at each other. Clearly they were about to say things that weren't supposed to be known, at least not yet. They nodded, and set about the task of helping with setting up the campsite.

As the others turned aside to their tasks, the three children took a moment to speak quietly among themselves.

"Look!" Joey pointed at the sky again. "There's—there's..." He bit his lower lip. "Uh, I forget what you call it."

Kevin peered up at the constellation Joey was pointing at. "Scorpius," he told his little brother. "I read once that the ancient Greeks used to think it looked like a scorpion."

"You think when it's night again, we'll see the moon and the North Star and the Little Dipper and all that stuff?"

Kevin laughed. "Maybe. We'll just have to see."

Jennifer shook her head. "Gosh! The very same stars and planets that are in our sky may well be in Middle-earth's as well," she said thoughtfully. "Our moon, maybe, and Venus and Jupiter, for sure, and maybe Mercury, Mars, and Saturn." She paused. "And maybe all the other planets and stuff in our solar system, too. And maybe the same constellations, also—we know Scorpius is up there. And surely, if Scorpius is up there, the Little and Big Dippers are, too." Kevin looked at her for a long moment and nodded, the expression on his face equally thoughtful.

"Until now, we haven't been able to see the stars or the moon very well, because the clouds have mostly kept them covered up," he finally said. "I'm so glad that the clouds have cleared out finally, and we can see the stars now. But don't forget what Legolas and Frodo said. They may look like our stars, but could still be very different."

"We won't! But I'm glad we can maybe see them anyway." Joey smiled broadly. He had felt a little homesick for his parents, recalling nights out camping, or just roasting marshmallows in the backyard, as his dad had taught them the stars.

Kevin looked up at Venus again, or, he supposed, Eãrendil, as it was called here. "We won't be able to see Venus up in the sky in the mornings for much longer, I suspect, so I'm glad we got to see it this morning," he said. "It won't be long now until it'll be showing up in the evenings instead."

Jennifer nodded agreement. "Yeah." Gazing up at the sky glittering with stars, she recited:

"Star light, star bright,

First star I see tonight.

I wish I may, I wish I might

Have the wish I wish tonight."

For a moment, she stood in silent battle. With all her heart, she wanted to wish to go home, but she knew that she and her brothers and sister could not do that yet. So finally, she took a deep breath and said, "I wish that Sauron would be destroyed."

"Me, too." Kevin stepped next to her. In a low voice, he said, "I know what you really wanted to wish for, Jen. I wish for that, too, but we can't have it. Not yet."

Jennifer nodded, biting her lower lip. "I know."

After everyone had eaten, Joey lay between his brother and sister. Even after nearly two weeks, he still was not used to sleeping on the ground during the daytime, or without some kind of shelter. Always before, during a camping trip, he had slept at night, and in a tent. Sam and Aragorn were on watch. He noticed that Kevin had begun to draw his sword whenever he rested, keeping it near his hand; Jennifer, on the other hand, was still leaving her knives in her scabbards, although she usually unfastened them from her boots and laid them next to her bedroll before she lay down.

Reaching toward his side, Joey felt the scabbard holding the long knife that Lady Arwen had given to him before they had left Rivendell; it was not quite so long as a sword would be, but it was long enough for a boy his age, and it was very sharp. Jennifer had not been happy at all about his having it, as he remembered, but Lady Arwen had also given Jennifer her own two knives, and had instructed her in their use. Since then, Legolas had been giving her private lessons. She still wasn't happy about the sharp weapons, but she no longer complained about them. But that did not stop her from giving Joey unhappy looks when he had his knife out; at least he left it in its scabbard when Boromir wasn't giving him and Kevin a lesson, or having him sharpen it. So far, Joey had not had to use it to fight an enemy; he did, however, wish that he could play with it, especially since he had had to leave all his toys back at Rivendell. He had only been permitted to bring his harmonica, which he had, so far, not had a chance to play since their departure from Rivendell; he hoped he would get to soon. Jennifer gave the same unhappy looks to Kevin whenever he had his sword out, too,even though until recently, he had been leaving it in its scabbard when he didn't need it. But she had never said anything to him about it that Joey knew of.

He had thought at first that this trip would be an exciting adventure, but so far it had been nothing but boring walking nearly all night long, and sleeping outside all day. Because it had been so cloudy for so long, they hadn't even been able to see the stars very often until this morning just before sunrise. Furthermore, since it was early January, it was so cold, and the wind made it feel even colder. At least the stars and moon could finally be seen, and now he did not have to be carried quite so often as in the beginning. It was usually Boromir who picked Joey up when he began to stumble, and carried him; very often, he drifted off to sleep while Boromir was carrying him, and didn't wake up until it was time to make camp. The big Gondorian man was strong and gentle, but it was embarrassing to have to be carried like a baby. The hobbits were smaller than he was—well, shorter, anyhow—and no one carried them! At least Joey was glad Kaylee had stayed in Rivendell. Someone would have had to carry her just about the whole time; she would never have been able to keep up with even the hobbits.

He was finally beginning to get sleepy and drop off, when suddenly he heard Sam whisper to Aragorn, "What's that, Strider? It don't look like a cloud."

The Ranger gave a shout. "Crebain from Dunland! Hide!" he called.

Sam rushed to put out the fire and hide Bill. The others leaped to their feet and raced to conceal themselves beneath bushes or overhanging rocks. Joey found himself beneath a rather prickly bush with his sister and Pippin. He wanted to move, but Pippin's hand tightened on his shoulder, and he lay as still as he could. Jennifer had a look of pain on her face, but was trying to lie still. Joey wondered what was wrong. Was she lying on a rock or something?

They stayed still until all the birds were completely gone. When the last one was out of sight, Pippin reached up above Jennifer's head. It was only then that Joey realized his sister's hair was stuck in the prickly holly leaves. Very carefully, Pippin untangled Jennifer's hair without saying a word.

Jennifer gave the hobbit a funny look. "Thank you," she said. But she still looked uncomfortable.

What's with her? Joey wondered.

Pippin just grinned. "Think nothing of it, Lady Jennifer." He scooted out from beneath the bush, completely ignoring the sharp leaves. He reached in his hand and helped both Joey and Jennifer to get out.

"What was that all about?" asked Kevin. Even though he had heard talk about even being watched by birds and beasts, he'd thought is was just a figure of speech. He had not believed that the birds could really be spies! But from Gandalf and Aragorn's reactions, maybe it was really true.

"Regiments of black crows are flying over all the land between the Mountains and the Greyflood," Aragorn said, "and they have passed over Hollin. They are not natives here; they are crebain out of Fangorn and Dunland. I do not know what they are about: possibly there is some trouble away south from which they are fleeing; but I think they are spying out the land. I have also glimpsed many hawks flying high up in the sky. I think we ought to move again this evening. Hollin is no longer wholesome for us: it is being watched."

"And in that case so is the Redhorn Gate," said Gandalf; "and how we can get over that without being seen, I cannot imagine. But we will think of that when we must. As for moving as soon as it is dark, I am afraid that you are right."

"Luckily our fire made little smoke, and had burned low before the crebain came," said Aragorn. "It must be put out and not lit again."

The news dismayed the hobbits and the children. No one was very happy with the news that they had to move on as soon as it was night, and that there would be no more fires for a while.

"Well if that isn't a plague and a nuisance!" said Pippin. "All because of a pack of crows! I had looked forward to a real good meal tonight: something hot."

"Me, too!" added Joey, pouting.

"Well, you can go on looking forward," said Gandalf. "There may be many unexpected feasts ahead for you. For myself I should like a pipe to smoke in comfort, and warmer feet. However, we are certain of one thing at any rate: it will get warmer as we get south."

"Too warm, I shouldn't wonder," muttered Sam to Frodo. "But I'm beginning to think it's time we got a sight of that Fiery Mountain and saw the end of the Road, so to speak. I thought at first that this here Redhorn, or whatever its name is, might be it, till Gimli spoke his piece. A fair jaw-cracker dwarf-language must be!"

This quickly became for Joey the most uncomfortable and boring day yet. All that day the Company remained in hiding. Every so often, whoever was on watch would hiss out a warning, and they'd all crouch down as the occasional flocks of the dark birds passed over them. Finally, after the Sun started to go down, they broke camp and headed for Caradhras, which glowed faintly red from the reflection of the sunset upon the snow. Slowly the sky turned darker and one by one the stars came out.

Guided by Aragorn they struck a good path. "It looks like the remains of an ancient road," muttered Frodo, looking from Aragorn to the path. "One that was once broad and well planned." He paused. More loudly he added, "It appears to stretch from Hollin to the mountain pass."

Aragorn nodded agreement. "It does."

The Moon, now at the full, rose over the mountains, and cast a pale light in which the shadows of stones were black. Many of them looked to have been worked by hands, though now they lay tumbled and ruinous in a bleak, barren land.

"Hey, look, Jennifer! Kevin!" Joey's voice was soft, but his tone conveyed excitement as he pointed at the sky, smiling broadly. "The moon is here!"

Cranking their necks, Kevin and Jennifer looked upward. "It sure is!" Kevin smiled, and Jennifer nodded agreement.

"And look! The Little Dipper, and the North Star." Jennifer pointed at the constellation in question. "And see? The Big Dipper's near it." Her brothers looked up where she was pointing, and nodded, smiling broadly. They kept on walking.

Several hours later, it was the cold chill hour before the first stir of dawn, and the moon was low. At one point, Joey looked up at the sky. Suddenly he saw or felt a shadow pass over the high stars, as if for a moment they faded and then flashed out again. He shivered.

"Did you see anything pass over?" he overheard Frodo, who was ahead of him, whispering to Gandalf, who was just ahead.

"No, but I felt it, whatever it was," he answered. "It may be nothing, only a wisp of thin cloud."

"It was moving fast then," muttered Aragorn, "and not with the wind."

Nothing further happened that night. At one point, Joey, who had become exhausted, started stumbling. Boromir picked him up and started to carry him.

No fair! Joey thought resentfully, looking at the hobbits out of the corner of his eye as sleep began to overcome him. No one ever has to carry the hobbits! Not even Pippin! Why can't I be as strong as them? Joey soon drifted off to sleep.

-oo000oo-

Kaylee was romping with Lucy on the lawn. Bilbo and Arwen were watching her from the bench. "Here, Lucy!" Kaylee called, running after the scampering puppy. Bilbo and Arwen laughed, watching her.

"Lady Arwen," a voice said behind them. Turning around, Arwen and Bilbo saw Glorfindel approaching them.

"Hello, Glorfindel," Arwen said, rising to her feet; Bilbo did likewise. Bowing, Glorfindel nodded and then looked at Kaylee, who had stopped to see who was coming.

"Hello, Miss Kaylee." Glorfindel smiled.

"Hi, Mr. Glorfindel." Smiling broadly, Kaylee raced toward him, Lucy darting after her. Bending over, Glorfindel picked up the puppy and cradled her against his chest with one hand. When he held his other hand in front of her, Lucy began chewing on it. Arwen and Bilbo laughed, and Kaylee giggled. A moment later, Lucy licked his hand.

"This puppy is growing." Glorfindel set her down, and Lucy sniffed his feet. Smiling down at Kaylee, he asked, "And what have you been doing, Miss Kaylee?"

"Playing!" Giggling again, Kaylee picked up Lucy. "Playing with Lucy."

Glorfindel exchanged a look with Arwen and Bilbo. "May I join you?" he asked Kaylee, his eyes twinkling.

Kaylee nodded vigorously. "Sure!" She picked up Lucy and handed her to him. The puppy immediately began to lick Glorfindel's fingers as he stroked the silky-soft fur of her head.

-oo000oo-

The following night, as the Company continued east, Joey sighed. "What's the matter?" Jennifer asked him.

"Oh…" He shrugged. "It's just that—well, look at how strong the hobbits are, and they're smaller than me! They can do so much, a lot more than I can."

Jennifer smothered a laugh, and she and Kevin exchanged amused glances. "Of course they're stronger than you, Joey, and of course they can do a lot more than you—they're a lot older than you!" she pointed out. "They've had a lot more time to grow up and learn to do things than you've had. Plus, even though they're shorter than you, they have the bodies of grown-ups, not little boys."

"That's right." Kevin caught up with his brother and sister. "Don't forget that Jennifer and I can do a lot more than you, too, because we're a lot older than you. Well, so can the hobbits."

"But Pippin—he's the youngest and shorter than me, and even he's stronger than me," Joey complained.

"He's still not as young as you, though. Not yearly as young," Kevin told him. "He's…uh, well, I'll put it this way. If he were a human being like us, he'd be…" His voice trailed off. "Aragorn, how old would Pippin be, if he were—" He bit his lower lip.

"Of the race of Men?" Aragorn finished. Kevin nodded. A thoughtful expression came over the Ranger's face. "You know, Kevin, that's a good question, because hobbits age more slowly than Men. Much more slowly. They do not come of age until they are thirty-three years old, so that means at twenty-eight, Pippin appears like a young man of about eighteen. In addition, hobbits tend to be stronger and sturdier than their size would account for; not so much so as Dwarves, but still surprisingly so for their height."

"I see." Kevin exchanged a glance with Jennifer, and then with Joey. He glanced at the hobbits, who were quietly listening to their discussion. "So, he would be graduating from high school, or getting ready to, if he were a human being where we come from."

He turned back to Joey. "Pippin is kind of like a teenager who's about to graduate from high school. Or has already graduated. In other words, he's the—uh, I'll put it that way: he's the hobbit equivalent of an eighteen-year-old human. So, naturally, he's learned a great deal, and naturally, he can do many things you can't do yet. Not to mention that he's stronger than you."

Kevin's eyes twinkled. "On the other hand, you're nine years old, Joey, and you're still in the third grade. You're a long way from being eighteen! So don't expect to be as strong as an eighteen-year-old, or able to do the things an eighteen-year-old can do, until you are eighteen." He patted his little brother's shoulder. "You only need to expect to be able to do the things a nine-year-old can do. And be as strong as a nine-year-old."

"Well said," Gandalf agreed from the front. "On the other hand, Joey, a hobbit child of nine would seem to be three years younger than you are."

Tilting his head as he looked up at Gandalf, Joey furrowed his eyebrows. "You mean that hobbits my age are like human six-year-olds?"

"That is exactly what I mean," Gandalf told him. "What's more, hobbits live longer than the race of Men. And Dwarves live even longer than hobbits. Much longer."

"And unless Elves fade or are slain, Master Joey, we do not die at all," Legolas added. "We will live as long as Arda lives."

"Arda?" Joey stared up at Legolas, tilting his head.

"The world."

"Oh." Joey spent the next few moments thinking about what his older brother, sister, Gandalf, and Legolas had said, and then shrugged. Then he gaped up at the wood elf as what Legolas had said slammed into his head. "You mean—you mean you will live forever?!"

Legolas laughed. "To mortals, it would seem so, would it not? You have such a short span of years, and then you leave the circles of this world. Elves, on the other hand, are tied to the this world. We cannot leave it until it ends. For that reason, Elves who fade or are killed go to the halls of Mandos, after which we are reborn into Arda. Most Elves are reborn in Valinor and, with a few exceptions like Glorfindel, remain there. What our fate will be when the world ends, we do not know."

"Whoa! No way!" Joey shook his head in wonder. Silence descended on the group for the next several minutes.

"You know, one thing puzzles me," Jennifer said, at last. "How is it that Pippin sounds—uh, I don't know—so much more mature than the average eighteen-year-old? I've heard eighteen-year-olds talk, and none of them sound as mature as he does."

Pippin grinned and puffed himself up, elbowing Merry. "See, cousin," he muttered, "some people can appreciate my maturity!"

Merry elbowed him back. "They're Big Folk. They don't understand that you should be much more mature than you seem!"

Everyone chuckled at their byplay, and with an amused look at Merry and Pippin, Aragorn said, "Well, Jennifer, hobbits have one advantage over those of us of the race of Men. Even though their bodies take longer to come of age, all the time they are growing up, they are learning constantly. Since they are still learning as they slowly grow, their minds mature more quickly than among 'Big Folk', as they call us."

Frodo laughed. "For one of the 'Big Folk', I'd say you are fairly close to correct. Though perhaps a hobbit might say that 'Big Folk' learn more slowly than hobbits do, and grow up too quickly!"

Now all the other hobbits laughed, as did Gandalf. The wizard turned his head and said, "Of course, I could tell some tales of the immaturity of certain hobbits of my acquaintance even after they have come of age! Not to mention of other races who are not nearly as old and wise as they think."

There was more laughter from all, and the group continued in a merry mood. But after a moment, it was Kevin's turn to look thoughtful, an expression which Jennifer shared. It was a mood that lasted until they stopped to make camp.

The next morning dawned even brighter than before. But the air was chill again; already the wind was turning back towards the east. For two more nights they marched on, climbing steadily but ever more slowly as their road wound up into the hills, and the mountains towered up, nearer and nearer.

The trek was less pleasant as it grew colder, and they made their trek mostly uphill. There was little breath for talking and even less for singing. At one point, Pippin and Joey made a little game of taking turns kicking a small stone ahead of them as they walked, but it didn't take long for their activity to annoy the others, especially after it hit Sam in the back of his foot. In spite of Joey's apology, Jennifer said, "Enough!" and Kevin kicked the stone far away.

The youngest McCloud and the youngest hobbit both sighed, and exchanging a long-suffering look, trudged on in sulky silence until the Company halted for the day. At bedtime, Joey yawned as he went to sleep.

On the third morning Caradhras rose before them, a mighty peak, tipped with snow like silver, but with sheer naked sides, dull red as if stained with blood.

There was a black look in the sky, and the sun was wan. The wind had gone now round to the north-east. Gandalf snuffed the air and looked back.

Kevin noticed Gandalf and Aragorn talking in quiet voices, but only Frodo was close enough to hear what they said, and he did not see fit to share it with anyone else. When they rolled up in their blankets on the cold ground, Kevin found it hard to sleep as he worried over whatever it was that was also worrying Gandalf and Aragorn. It had to be something serious to have both of them anxious. He heaved a great sigh, and tried to pray for patience and God's peace. Finally he drifted off.

-oo000oo-

A/N:

*The Bible verse Jennifer remembers is Isaiah 26:3, King James Version.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 17: Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

When they were awakened for supper-breakfast, they all found out what the problem was.  Between the fear of spies and the coming weather, the two leaders had decided which way they were going.

Joey was still groggy when he was wakened, and just barely heard Gandalf's explanation that they needed to hurry up and leave because he thought they were being watched, and it would be dark soon.

As he clumsily rolled up his bedroll, for he still was wishing he could just go back to sleep, he heard Boromir add that they needed to gather some firewood, because it would be bitterly cold on the mountain, and they would freeze to death otherwise.  "...When we leave here," the Gondorian was saying, "...where there are still a few trees and bushes, each of us should carry a faggot of wood, as large as he can bear.”

“And Bill could take a bit more, couldn't you lad?” said Sam.  The pony looked at him mournfully.

Gandalf reluctantly agreed, although he seemed to say they wouldn't use it if they didn't have to. Joey sure hoped they would have to.  The cold of the mountains was seeping into his bones, and a fire would be a very good thing.

They finished their meal quickly, and while Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Sam broke camp, Gimli, Boromir, Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Jennifer, and Joey all looked for wood.  Kevin found himself on watch.

The three hobbits and Jennifer and Joey located fallen branches and limbs. Joey followed the hobbits' example, watching them from the corner of his eye as he saw what kinds of wood they chose.  He'd gathered wood for campfires back home, but his dad wasn't so picky about what he found, so long as the wood would burn. 

The limbs that were too long, Gimli used his axe to chop into manageable lengths, and Boromir carried that wood back to camp, and then returned for more.  After a while, they had several bundles of firewood and kindling ready.  Joey and the hobbits each carried a bundle of kindling apiece on top of their packs.  Bill was laden with firewood, as were the adults of the Company.  Joey's backpack felt a little odd with the wood strapped to the top of it, and some of the bark against his neck made his skin itch.

The Company set out again with good speed at first.  In spite of their extra burdens, the children were in high spirits.  Pretty soon the snow was coming down quickly. It was hard to even see to the front of their line where Aragorn and Gandalf were.  Jennifer was not bothering to march or twirl her stick this time; she was too busy plodding through the rapidly-thickening blanket of snow to be able to concentrate.  Instead, she leaned on it, using it for a walking stick, thankful to Bilbo Baggins for the suggestion back in Rivendell.

Joey paused to gaze down at the soft blanket of snow at their feet.  A mischievous grin crept across his face: now that he was completely awake, he had more energy.  Bending low, he grasped a clump of snow with both hands, shaped it into a snowball, and hurled it at his older sister.

“Hey!”  Dropping her walking stick, Jennifer wasted no time in retaliating by throwing her own snowball back at her little brother.  Joey threw his next snowball at Kevin, who immediately hurled one back at him.  Joey giggled, and tossed another at his older brother.  The others watched, amused.

“All right, children!” Aragorn called.  “This is no time for a snowball fight.  We have to get over this mountain as quickly as we can.”

Kevin nodded.  “Yes, sir.”  Dropping their clumps of snow, he and his siblings resumed their climb up Mount Caradhras with the rest of the Company as Jennifer picked up her walking stick.  As they continued onward, Joey kept staring down at the snow, wishing he could play in it.

“I wish we could build a snowman,” he said.  “There’s a lot of snow already; we could build a hundred snowmen!”  He grinned.

“I’m sure we could, Master Joey, but as Aragorn said, we have to get over Caradhras as quickly as possible,” Boromir pointed out.

“This would be great weather for skiing in, if we had some skis and a ski lift.”  Kevin scanned the mountain slopes that they were climbing as he spoke.

“It sure would,” Jennifer said wistfully.  “I wish we could do some skiing while we’re here.  You know, this mountain would be a great place to put up a ski resort!”  She looked at Kevin.  “Remember when Mom and Dad took us skiing last winter, during Christmas vacation?”

“I remember.”  Kevin grinned.  “It was Kaylee’s first skiing lesson on a bunny slope, remember?  She kept falling more than she skied!”  Jennifer laughed at the memory.

“Well, she was just four years old, so we couldn’t expect her to learn much in one week.  And it was Joey’s first time on an intermediate slope.”  Jennifer glanced down at her little brother as she spoke.  “You did pretty well up there, Joey, considering that you weren't even nine yet.”

"I was pretty good, huh?  Even Dad said so!" Joey answered proudly.  "After all, I'd been doing it since I was five!"

“You sure had been, and you sure were!"  Jennifer nodded agreement. 

Pippin had been listening curiously.  "What's 'skiing?'" he asked.  To his surprise, it was Gimli who answered.

"It's a method of travelling over mountains in the snow," he said.  "You strap specially carved boards of wood to your feet and glide on them over the snow."

"Yes," said  Boromir, "people often use skis in the White Mountains."

Joey was surprised.  He had been used to thinking that people here didn't know anything about the things they had back home.  It was kind of neat that they knew about skiing here, too.  He hoped he would get to ski again next winter, when they were back home.  He said, “This would be a great place to go sledding, too.  I wish I had my sled!”

Kevin smiled.  “Yeah, that would be nice.  There wouldn’t be time to go sledding here, though, even if you did.  We have to get to the other side of this mountain as quickly as we can.”

Joey grinned.  “Like the bear that went over the mountain?”

Kevin and Jennifer laughed.  “Yes, Joey!  Just like the bear that went over the mountain,” Kevin said.

Laughing, Joey began to sing:

“The bear went over the mountain,

The bear went over the mountain,

The bear went over the mountain

To see what he could he could see.

To see what he could see!

To see what he could see.”

When Joey finished singing that old children’s song, he, Kevin, and Jennifer all silently followed the hobbits for a time. In the process, Joey started thinking, and then, as he looked around at the thick blanket of snow they were walking through, another song came to his mind.  He began to sing again.

“Frosty the Snowman

Was a jolly, happy soul,

With a corncob pipe and a button nose

And two eyes made out of coal.


“Frosty the Snowman

Is a fairy tale, they say…"

Joey was singing the loudest through all the other verses, and when they came to the last verse, they repeated it twice; the second time, Pippin joined in.

“Thumpety thump-thump, thumpety thump-thump,

Look at Frosty go.

Thumpety thump-thump, thumpety thump-thump,

Over the hills of snow.”¹

The hobbits all laughed heartily at the end of the song.  "That reminds me of a story they tell in the Shire about two little hobbits who make a snow-hobbit that comes to life," said Pippin.

At the same time, Frodo, Merry, and Sam said all together, as if quoting, "Once there were two little hobbits named Tip and Tulip.  They were brother and sister, and they lived in a cozy little smial with their mama and their papa and their auntie."  Then they all laughed again.

Frodo explained, "There are many tales in the Shire about 'Tip and Tulip', nursery tales meant for very young hobbits.  All of them start the same way."

"Oh!" exclaimed Jennifer.  "We have nursery tales at home, too!  Fairy tales and folk tales and stuff like that.  Kaylee brought a book of such tales with her.”  She paused.  “We've told you so many songs and tales of our home.  We’d love to hear one of your Shire stories."

The younger hobbits all looked at Frodo, who was acknowledged as the best storyteller among them.  He began again with the same words they had already quoted, and then told the rest of the story, which was indeed very similar to the story of Frosty the snowman, except that the snow-hobbit was a secret to just the two little hobbits.  He ended it with, "But when they told their auntie, she winked at them, and said for them to save the snow-hobbit’s things, in case it should snow again next Yule."

Frodo chuckled.  "Tip and Tulip's parents never believe their adventures, but their auntie always does, and she always has the last word in the story."

“I wish Kaylee was here with us,” Jennifer said wistfully.  “She would have loved this story!”

Frodo smiled up at her.  “I’m sure that Bilbo is sharing some of our stories with her while we’re on the Quest.  Anyway, she’s safer in Rivendell.”  Jennifer nodded.  As much as she missed her little sister, she could only agree.

-oo000oo-

Bilbo answered the rap on his door with anticipation.  Lady Arwen had told him that she would be bringing Kaylee and a couple of her handmaidens once Kaylee's sewing lesson had ended.  “Hullo, Miss Kaylee!”  With a chuckle, Bilbo gave her a gentle embrace, and then smiled down at Lucy, who sat obediently at her young mistress' feet.  Kaylee held the end of her puppy's leash loosely in her right hand.  "And how are you, today?" he asked her.

“Fine, Mr. Baggins.”  Kaylee grinned, and the elderly hobbit bent over and rubbed Lucy’s head.  The puppy licked his hand.

Stepping backward, Bilbo indicated the ottoman upon which Kaylee often sat when she visited his quarters.  He then turned with a courtly bow and greeted Lady Arwen and her two handmaidens, courteously seeing them seated and made comfortable.  He rubbed Lucy on the head again, and the puppy sniffed his hand and then licked his fingers.  “Hullo, Lucy,” he said.

Bilbo turned toward the low table.  “There are some savoury biscuits waiting on the table for us, as well as teacakes and currant scones, and some radish and cucumber sandwiches.  You ladies must help yourselves while I fetch the tea tray.  I will also bring a little dish of milk for Lucy."

“Goody!” Kaylee exclaimed in delight.  She dropped Lucy’s leash and rushed toward the table.  Lady Arwen unfastened the leash from the puppy’s collar, and Lucy began to sniff around the room.

Bilbo went to his small kitchen and returned with the tea tray, set with the teapot and cups, sugar, honey, and milk, as well as a bowl of chopped meat for Lucy which he set on the floor as soon as he had laid the tray on the table next to the food that was already there.  Lucy immediately began to eat her treat.   Bilbo took his own seat, and invited Lady Arwen to do the pouring out.

Kaylee took some of the biscuits and scones, as well as a couple of the radish and cucumber sandwiches.  When they had first arrived, she had thought that sandwiches made with vegetables were weird and not very good, but when Jennifer had insisted she try some to be polite, she had learned they weren't too bad, and now she sort of liked them.  The homemade butter helped.  It was much more tasty than the butter spread back home, that came in a plastic tub!  Of course, she loved the biscuits and cakes and scones much better than the vegetable sandwiches.

After a leisurely tea, during which Kaylee munched on her food and regaled Bilbo with news of how well her needlework was coming, she slid off the ottoman and went to sit on Arwen’s lap on the Man-sized couch.  The other two Elves sat on the other Man-sized chairs.  Bilbo sat on a hobbit-sized chair and gazed at Kaylee.

“This is a story I often used to tell to Frodo and his cousins when he was a little hobbit,” he told Kaylee…

-oo000oo-

Once there were two little hobbits named Tip and Tulip.  They were brother and sister, and they lived in a cozy little smial with their mama and their papa and their auntie.

One fine Spring morning, Tip and Tulip finished their first breakfast.  It was a lovely first breakfast: porridge with berries and honey, toasted bread with butter, and a cup of tea apiece with plenty of milk and honey stirred in.

They knew that they had to do their morning tasks right afterwards.  Tulip cleared the table, and Tip helped Mama with the washing up.  Then Tulip went right out to sweep the front step, while Tip helped Auntie with dusting the parlor.  (Of course, they had made their beds and tidied their own rooms before first breakfast!)  Then Tip brought in some firewood for the kitchen, and Tulip took a basket and went out to the back garden, and gathered in some spring onions and radishes and young lettuce and brought them in for Mama to use later.

The last morning task was to take a bit of food out for the family cat, Honeybun.  Tip carried the small dish of minced leftover meat, and Tulip had the little bowl of water.  Honeybun's food and water was always placed on the back step by the kitchen door.  She would run up each morning with a little mew, and rub against Tip and Tulip's legs before gobbling up her food and drinking a little fresh water.  Then Tip and Tulip would sit upon the step and play with Honeybun for a few minutes, before they went in to have their lessons with Auntie.

But that day, Honeybun did not come.  They were quite surprised, but waited a few moments, and then began to call her.  Still, Honeybun did not appear.

"Where do you think she is?" asked Tulip, with a worried look in her eyes.

Tip shook his head.  "I don't know.  I hope she is all right."

They called some more: "Here, Honeybun!  Kitty!  Kitty!  Kitty!"

But still there was no sign of Honeybun."

Kaylee gave Bilbo a worried look. "Is their kitty okay?" she asked.

Bilbo smiled. "Wait and see…"

Tulip was on the verge of tears, and Tip was frowning with worry.  Where could Honeybun be?  They called and called, and walked about the back garden, looking.

Just as the two of them were nearly ready to weep, a voice called them from the back door.  "Tip!  Tulip!" called their auntie.  "You are late for lessons!"

"Oh, Auntie!" they exclaimed, and ran to her.  "Honeybun is missing!  She did not come up for breakfast, and we've called and called!"

Now, Mama would have said, "Don't worry, she'll come when she is hungry!" and Papa would have said, "Perhaps she's caught a mouse!"   But Auntie knelt down and hugged them and said, "Well, then, we shall have to go and find her, for I know we'll be too worried to think of lessons until we do!"

Bilbo then described all the places that the children and their auntie had searched.  Finally, their auntie suggested the top of the smial where the rooftree grew.

So they went to the north side of the smial, where it sloped down, and there was a little dirt path that led up to the rooftree.  Papa had built a little playhouse among the rooftree branches, but not high up at all, for the branches came quite close to the ground.  It was one of Tip and Tulip's favorite places.

As they approached, they could hear mewing!  Such a lot of mewing!  Tip and Tulip raced over to their hideaway, but Auntie came more slowly.

"Auntie!  Auntie!" called Tip.  "Come and see!"

"What do you think they found, Kaylee?" Bilbo asked.

Kaylee shook her head, her eyes wide with curiosity, as she was under the spell of Bilbo's story-telling.

"There was Honeybun!  She was all stretched out, her front paws kneading at the floor, while she fed three tiny, brand-new kittens!

Auntie stood by, while Honeybun allowed Tip and Tulip to crouch down beside her kittens, but told them not to try and touch the wee babies.  There was one ginger, and two little tabbies.  After a few minutes, Auntie sent Tip and Tulip off: Tip to bring Honeybun's food and water up to the playhouse, and Tulip off to find something warm for mother and kittens to lie upon.   

Tip soon returned, holding the cat's food bowls carefully, and then Tulip came back with one of her mother's old flannel petticoats, which was too worn to mend.  Mama had said she had planned to tear it into cleaning cloths, but that Honeybun needed it more.

That afternoon at tea, the conversation turned upon the new members of Honeybun's family.  Papa said that Tip and Tulip could keep one of the kittens, but they would need to find homes for the others in a few weeks; Mama said for the children to make sure that they took good care of the little cat family in the meantime.  But Auntie said, "You shall need to find names for them all!"*

-oo000oo-

Kaylee smiled broadly; all of her front baby teeth showed.  “I love kitties,” she said.  “I’d love to have a kitten.”

Bilbo chuckled.  “You already have a puppy, do you not?”  He gazed down at Lucy as he spoke.  The puppy had finished her chopped meat, and now she was lying on the floor and licking her front paws.

“Yeah!  Uh, yes, sir.”  Kaylee twisted around to look up at Arwen, who smiled at the little girl and nodded her approval.  With a giggle, Kaylee slid off of Arwen’s lap and plopped on the floor next to Lucy.  Sitting cross-legged, she picked the puppy up and held her against her chest; Lucy licked her face.  “But I’d love to have a kitten, too!”

Arwen smiled.  "Perhaps tomorrow, you can go down to the stable for another riding lesson, since Bilbo has kindly agreed that you may learn to ride upon Merrylegs."³  This was Bilbo's own old pony, who had brought him to Rivendell when he came to live there.  "There are some cats and kittens at the stable, but most of the kittens are half-grown.  There are a few very young ones, though."

Kaylee grinned and clapped her hands with excitement.  She laughed, and then politely asked, "Mr. Baggins, may I please have another teacake?"

-oo000oo-

The McCloud children had coaxed the hobbits into singing one of their own songs, and this time, Pippin, who had a very good voice indeed, began to sing "The Greening of the Hall", a song about decorating the Hall with greenery for Yule.

“Cedar, spruce, and fir and pine,

All of these will do just fine!

Holly berries and mistletoe,

Wrapped with ribbons, decked with bows,

From doors and windows and ceiling beams,

We place the ever-living greens!


“The greening of the hall!

The greening of the hall!

Come, ye laddies and lassies all

For the greening of the hall!


“Out in the frost or snow, we trek

To find the finest boughs to deck

Each modest cot or finest smial!

The cold may nip till we can't feel

Noses and toeses, but we don't mind,

So long as the greenery we can find!


“The greening of the hall!

The greening of the hall!

Come, ye laddies and lassies all

For the greening of the hall!”*

Kevin, Joey, and Jennifer laughed.  “Do you put up Christmas trees, too?” Joey asked.  “Uh, Yule trees.  We put them up at Christmastime!”

“Yeah, fir trees,” Kevin added.  “We set them up in the corner of the living room, and we always decorate them.  And then we put most of the presents underneath!”

“Until we open them on Christmas morning, yeah,” Jennifer added.  “Oh, and when we put up the Christmas tree, we put up the other decorations, too.  Including wreaths on our front doors!”

The hobbits laughed.  "Whole fir trees?" asked Merry incredulously.  "That would take some doing in a hobbit hole!"

Frodo added, "Fir trees usually only grow in parts of the Northfarthing. But we do make use of other evergreens, mostly mistletoe and holly, as well as sometimes pine or cedar.  But wreaths on the doors, and garlands in the Hall and around the doors and windows, are common."

Pippin grinned.  "We actually have a staircase in the Great Smials, leading from the main level to the ballroom.  Those are always garlanded with greens and ribbons for Yule."  The Tooks were quite proud of that staircase, one of the few in the Shire, and the largest and grandest staircase, at that.

“And guess what?  We kids hang up stockings, too,” Joey added, smiling.  “For presents to be put in.  On Christmas Eve.  Before we go to bed.”

Jennifer grinned.  “We always have to wait till after breakfast to open the presents under the tree, but we do get to take the gifts out of the stockings as soon as we get up.”

"Well, as for stockings, you'd be hard put to find a single one in the Shire," laughed Sam, holding up one of his furry feet.  Joey giggled. 

Pippin looked around at all the snow.  "Snow that stays on the ground is unusual in the Shire, but sometimes it happens.  They'd love a snowfall like this back home.  Sleds and sleighing and snowhobbits and all!"  Joey smiled broadly in anticipation.  He loved to build snowmen and go sledding and have snowball fights in the winter.

Then Jennifer began to sing in her turn:

“Sleigh bells ring; are you listening?

In the lane, snow is glistening;

A beautiful sight.

We’re happy tonight,

Walking in a winter wonderland…”

After she had sung the remaining three stanzas, Kevin, who refused to be outdone by his brother and sister, sang “Sleigh Ride,” and then Joey sang all three stanzas of “Jingle Bells” with help from the others.  Following that song, Kevin sang “White Christmas”.  And then he, Jennifer, and Joey led them in all three stanzas of “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly”; the hobbits joined in with the "tra-la-la-la-las".  When that song was over, Pippin taught them to sing another hobbit Yule song:

“Come now, good hobbits, be of much cheer,

And let's raise a toast to the coming New Year--

May each day dawn bright and fair,

Free from want and free from care!

May the year be short on sorrow,

And long on joy with each new morrow!

May the Shire know peace and plenty,

That no larder may go empty!

And blessed be the earth we till,

That each belly may have its fill!

May the ties of family, too,

Be strengthened by hearts warm and true!

May each hobbit have a hand to hold,

And love for all, both young and old!

Let the halls with laughter ring,

As to the New Year, we gladly sing!”³

Meanwhile, it continued to snow heavily; soon enough, neither children nor hobbits had the breath to sing anymore, and with the wind blowing so hard, they could not have heard one another at all.  Soon the weather got even worse, and their way grew steep and difficult.

“I don't like this at all,” panted Sam.  “Snow's all right on a fine morning, but I like to be in bed while it's falling.  I wish this lot would go off to Hobbiton!  Mr. Pippin’s right.  Folk might welcome it there.”

Gandalf halted.  Snow was thick on his hood and shoulders; it was already ankle-deep about his boots.

The rest of the Company came up closer, so they could hear him.

“This is what I feared,” he said.  “What do you say now, Aragorn?”

“That I feared it too,” Aragorn answered, “but less than other things.  I knew the risk of snow, though it seldom falls heavily so far south, save high up in the mountains.  But we are not high yet; we are still far down, where the paths are usually open all the winter.”

“I wonder if this is a contrivance of the Enemy,” said Boromir.  “They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor.  He has strange powers and many allies.”

“His arm has grown long indeed,” said Gimli, “if he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here three hundred leagues away.”

“His arm has grown long,” said Gandalf.  The wizard looked sad and weary.

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged a surprised look.  Some wizards could actually control the weather?  Gandalf did not say it was impossible.  They weren't quite sure what to make of that.  In front of them, Joey gulped, and turned around to look up at his brother and sister.

While they were halted, the wind died down, and the snow slackened until it almost ceased.  They tramped on again.  But they had not gone more than a furlong when the storm returned with fresh fury.  The wind whistled and the snow became a blinding blizzard.  Soon even Boromir found it hard to keep going.  The hobbits, bent nearly double, toiled along behind the taller folk, and Kevin and Jennifer had drawn Joey between them.  Kevin had his arm around both his siblings, but it was plain that they could not go much further, if the snow continued.  Glancing at Frodo, Kevin could see from the way he was trudging that the Ring-bearer’s feet felt like lead.  Pippin was dragging behind.  Even Gimli, as stout as any dwarf could be, was grumbling as he trudged.  Joey was shivering, and his teeth were chattering.

“I want my mom and dad,” Joey said at one point, his voice small.  Kevin squeezed him even closer to his side, pulling his sister in as well.

The Company halted suddenly.  Joey, who had been too miserable to even think, stopped in relief, not really caring why.  But then he began to hear eerie noises in the dark.  Even though he was sure it was only the wind, it sounded like scary voices.  And he flinched at the sounds of small stones rattling down the mountain. They seemed to be awfully close.

“We cannot go further tonight,” said Boromir.  “Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.”

"I do call it the wind,” said Aragorn.  “But that does not make what you say untrue.  There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own.  Some have been in this world longer than he.”

At that point, Joey tuned out what the grown-ups were saying.  He badly wanted to just stop walking.  But his ears perked up when they seemed to be agreeing with him.  It seemed Gandalf knew of a spot where they could get out of the wind.

“And it is no good going back while the storm holds,” said Aragorn.  “We have passed no place on the way up that offered more shelter than this cliff-wall we are under now.”

“Shelter!” muttered Sam.  “If this is shelter, then one wall and no roof make a house.”

Everyone was too miserable to even smile at Sam's joke.

They bundled up together as close to the rough mountainside as they could.  Bill the pony stood patiently but dejectedly in front of them, and screened them a little; but before long the drifting snow was above his hocks, and it went on mounting.  If they had had no larger companions the hobbits would soon have been entirely buried, and the snow would have come up to Joey's chin.

In spite of the protection of the adults and the two teenagers and a pony trying to block the snow, the wind whipped and whirled flurries of the snow beyond them.  Boromir glanced back at the small folk; Frodo and Joey both had snow up to their waist, and it was not much better for the rest of them.

Boromir turned and began shaking the snow off first Frodo, and then Joey and the other hobbits while he was at it.  “This will be the death of the halflings, and possibly the children as well, Gandalf,” he said.  “It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads.  We must do something to save ourselves.”

“Give them this,” said Gandalf, searching in his pack and drawing out a leathern flask.  “Just a mouthful each—for all of us.  It is very precious.  It is miruvor, the cordial of Imladris.  Elrond gave it to me at our parting.  Pass it round!”  

Jennifer looked dubiously at it, but Kevin took a sip and said quietly, "Take some, sis.  Think of it as medicine."  She tilted her head and rolled her eyes at him, but obeyed him.  She knew there was alcohol in it, but it didn't taste like it.  Immediately, she felt much warmer, and seemed to have more energy.  She passed it to Joey, and as he sipped it, she saw a proper color come back into his face.  His lips had been nearly blue.  Not far from her, Boromir was speaking to Gandalf, but she paid no attention to what he was saying; she was too focused on Joey.

She noticed, however, when Gandalf reluctantly gave permission for a fire, and when Gimli and Aragorn had both failed at the task, crossly agreed to light it himself.  “If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them,” he said, once he had gotten the fire started.  “I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin.”

Nobody really cared; they were too glad of the warmth and light to worry about being seen.

But the wood was burning fast, and the snow still fell.  Soon the fire burned low, and the last faggot was thrown on.

“The night is getting old," said Aragorn.  “The dawn is not far off.”

“If any dawn can pierce these clouds,” said Gimli.

Boromir stepped out of the circle and stared up into the blackness.  “The snow is growing less,” he said, “and the wind is quieter.”

Kevin wondered how Aragorn and Boromir could tell.  But as he paid attention to the sky, he began to hope.  Daylight was coming, and to his everlasting relief, the snow had finally stopped.  All about them, the morning revealed a white world.  It looked like a sheet spread over a bed full of toys; he remembered as a child trying to hide the messiness of his room by pulling the sheet up over all his mess.  His mother had laughed in exasperation at him, but there was nothing funny about the cold white field about them, with no sign of a path to be seen, and clouds hiding the sun above.

Gimli looked up and shook his head.  “Caradhras has not forgiven us,” he said.  “He has more snow yet to fling at us, if we go on.  The sooner we go back and down the better.”

Everyone was in agreement, but it seemed impossible.  The snow was up to Joey's shoulders, and it was even higher than the hobbits' heads.  In some few spots, it was even higher than Kevin’s own head!

Kevin grimaced.  Now would have been a good time to have some snow skis for everyone!

“If Gandalf would go before us with a bright flame, he might melt a path for you,” said Legolas, who had totally ignored the storm.  It had troubled him little, and he was the only one in a good mood.

Everyone stared sourly at the Elf.  Since he had not seemed affected by the cold at all, his remark, thought Kevin, went over like a lead balloon.

“If Elves could fly over mountains, they might fetch the Sun to save us,” answered Gandalf.  “But I must have something to work on.  I cannot burn snow.”  Kevin thought the wizard sounded even crankier than usual.

“Well,” said Boromir, “when heads are at a loss bodies must serve, as we say in my country.  The strongest of us must seek a way.  See!  Though all is now snow-clad, our path, as we came up, turned about that shoulder of rock down yonder.  It was there that the snow first began to burden us.  If we could reach that point, maybe it would prove easier beyond.  It is no more than a furlong off, I guess.”

“Then let us force a path thither, you and I!” said Aragorn.

"And me!" Kevin added.

Aragorn was the tallest of the Company, but Boromir was only a little shorter, and he had a broader build.  Kevin followed them.  Slowly they moved off, and were soon toiling heavily.  In places the snow was breast-high, and nearly shoulder-high for Kevin, and often Boromir seemed to be swimming or burrowing with his great arms rather than walking.

They had been working for a while when suddenly they looked up to see Legolas running past them—on top of the snow!  He waved at the three of them as he went by, giving them a smug smile as he ran.  Kevin rolled his eyes and shook his head.  “Show-off!” he muttered.

"Bloody Elf!" Boromir said.

"Language!' said Aragorn.  "Although I can think of a few words myself!"

"Sorry, Kevin," Boromir added.

Kevin didn't say that in America, "bloody" wasn't really swearing, although he'd heard that it was used that way in the UK.  The British used that word in the way that Americans would use the words, “drat” or “darn.”  But these people thought it was swearing, so he shook his head, and just said, "Well, on this occasion, I think he deserves it."

Meanwhile, up the slope, the others waited huddled together, watching until Boromir and Aragorn and Kevin dwindled into black specks in the whiteness.  Everyone had crowded against the cliff. The hobbits had put Joey between Frodo and Pippin, with Merry and Sam on each end.  Jennifer sat directly behind Joey, with him perched halfway in her lap.  Gimli and Gandalf were standing in front of them, and Bill in front of all, blocking the wind.  They'd huddled like that, sharing body heat, for what seemed like forever.  Then Gimli gave a shout.

"Here comes the Elf," he said.  "Show-off,"  he snorted, not knowing he was echoing Kevin.

“Well,” cried Legolas as he ran up, “I have not brought the Sun.  She is walking in the blue fields of the South, and a little wreath of snow on this Redhorn hillock troubles her not at all.  But I have brought back a gleam of good hope for those who are doomed to go on feet.  There is the greatest wind-drift of all just beyond the turn, and there our Strong Men were almost buried.  They despaired, until I returned and told them that the drift was little wider than a wall.  And on the other side the snow suddenly grows less, while further down it is no more than a white coverlet to cool a hobbit's toes.”

“Ah, it is as I said,” growled Gimli.  “It was no ordinary storm.  It is the ill will of Caradhras.  He does not love Elves and Dwarves, and that drift was laid to cut off our escape.”

“But happily your Caradhras has forgotten that you have Men with you,” said Boromir, who came trudging up at that moment, with Aragorn and Kevin behind him.  “And doughty Men too, if I may say it; though lesser men with spades might have served you better.  Still, we have thrust a lane through the drift; and for that all here may be grateful who cannot run as light as Elves.”

“But how are we to get down there, even if you have cut through the drift?” said Pippin.  It was evident to Jennifer that he was voicing the thought of all the hobbits.

“Have hope!” said Boromir.  “I am weary, but I still have some strength left, and Aragorn and Kevin, too.  We will bear the little folk.  The others no doubt will make shift to tread the path behind us.  Come, Master Peregrin!  I will begin with you.”

He lifted up the hobbit.  “Cling to my back!  I shall need my arms,” he said and strode forward.  Aragorn with Merry came behind, and Kevin had Joey do the same.  While Joey clutched Kevin’s chest, he watched Boromir widening the track in front of them as he went, making it easier for the rest of them to follow.

They came at length to the great drift. It was flung across the mountain-path like a sheer and sudden wall, and its crest, sharp as if shaped with knives, reared up more than twice the height of Boromir; but through the middle a passage had been beaten, rising and falling like a bridge.  On the far side Merry, Pippin, and Joey were set down, and there they waited with Legolas for the rest of the Company to arrive.  Aragorn, Boromir, and Kevin returned to fetch the others.

After a while Boromir returned carrying Sam.  Behind in the narrow but now well-trodden track came Gandalf, leading Bill with Gimli perched among the baggage.  Last came Aragorn carrying Frodo, and Kevin walking next to Jennifer, supporting her and helping her keep her balance on the slippery packed-snow trail. They passed through the lane; but hardly had Frodo touched the ground when with a deep rumble there rolled down a fall of stones and slithering snow.  The spray of it half blinded the Company as they crouched against the cliff, and when the air cleared again they saw that the path was blocked behind them.

“Enough, enough!” cried Gimli.  “We are departing as quickly as we may!”  And indeed with that last stroke the malice of the mountain seemed to be expended, as if Caradhras was satisfied that the invaders had been beaten off and would not dare to return.  The threat of snow lifted; the clouds began to break and the light grew broader.

As Legolas had reported, they found that the snow became steadily more shallow as they went down, so that even the hobbits and Joey could trudge along.  Soon they all stood once more on the flat shelf at the head of the steep slope where they had felt the first flakes of snow the night before.

The morning was now far advanced.  From the high place they looked back westwards over the lower lands.  Far away in the tumble of country that lay at the foot of the mountain was the dell from which they had started to climb the pass.

“The birds again!” said Aragorn, pointing down.

“That cannot be helped now,” said Gandalf.  “Whether they are good or evil, or have nothing to do with us at all, we must go down at once.  Not even on the knees of Caradhras will we wait for another night-fall!”

A cold wind flowed down behind them, as they turned their backs on the Redhorn Gate, and stumbled wearily down the slope.  Caradhras had defeated them.

Kevin looked at his sister.  "All that way for nothing," he said crossly.

Jennifer sighed wearily as she fell in line with the rest of the Company, Joey's icy hand in hers.

-oo000oo-

A/N: "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" is a popular children's folk song, and is in the public domain.  "Frosty the Snowman" was written by Walter "Jack" Rollins and Steve Nelson and first recorded in 1950.  "Winter Wonderland" was written in 1938 by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith.  The rights to both of those songs currently belong to Warner Music Group.  "The Greening of the Hall" and "Come Now, Good Hobbits" are both originals written by Dreamflower, and have been used in more than one of her stories.

The "Tip and Tulip" stories are part of the fanon of Dreamflower's Shire universe.  They are popular stories for very young hobbits, and are an integral part of the culture.  Many of the stories have been written down, but there are far more that are only transmitted orally.  Some of the stories are quite fanciful, while others are more practical, but they all have an important lesson.

Merrylegs belongs to Lindelea, and appears in her delightful story, http://storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=3826 ("The Tenth Walker"), which may be found at the Stories of Arda Archive.  It's Bill the Pony's POV of his adventures with the Fellowship.



Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined. Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 18: Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Bilbo and Kaylee were having a pleasant early morning on the wide veranda in front of the Last Homely House.  First breakfast was over, and Kaylee had been showing him her book of children’s stories and explaining the stories in it, as she showed off the illustrations.  They came to the end of it, and Kaylee gave a great sigh.

Bilbo smiled at Kaylee.  “Why don’t I tell you another story?”

“Oh, yes!  Please, please, Mr. Baggins!”  Kaylee bounced with excitement.

Chuckling, Bilbo leaned back.  “All right. Let me see.” For a moment, he did some thinking, and then his face lit up.  “I think I will tell you another story about myself.” Clearing his throat, he shifted his position to face the little girl and leaned forward.  In his best storyteller voice, he began: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.  It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle…”

Kaylee was engrossed in the story, and Bilbo in the telling, and the story had progressed as far as the troll incident when they were both quite startled to hear a loud growl from Bilbo's expansive middle.

"Why, bless my buttons!  It's nearly time for second breakfast!  Would you care to join me, Miss Kaylee?"

She giggled, and said, "Yes, if you’ll keep telling me the story while we eat!"

The old hobbit stood up and offered Kaylee his arm, and she took it, as they made their way to the kitchens.

-oo000oo-

Kevin sighed.  The journey back down the mountain had not only been exhausting, but discouraging.  After all that effort to climb up, it seemed awful to have to turn around and go back the way they'd come.  He felt listless and useless. He leaned back against one of the trees in the clearing. He was barely listening to the discussion among the others as to which way they would go now, until Gandalf asked Frodo to decide.

"I do not wish to go,” he said; “but neither do I wish to refuse the advice of Gandalf.  I beg that there should be no vote, until we have slept on it. Gandalf will get votes easier in the light of the morning than in this cold gloom.  How the wind howls!”

Kevin realized that the wind was very loud, whistling and howling.  It sounded like a hurricane, or at least like the way one sounded in the movies.  Scary! he thought.  I sure hope it won’t become a gale!

Aragorn jumped up suddenly. “How the wind howls!” he cried.  “It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!”

“Need we wait until morning then?” said Gandalf.  “It is as I said. The hunt is up! Even if we live to see the dawn, who now will wish to journey south by night with the wild wolves on his trail?”

“How far is Moria?” asked Boromir.

“There was a door south-west of Caradhras, some fifteen miles as the crow flies, and maybe twenty as the wolf runs,” answered Gandalf grimly.

“Then let us start as soon as it is light tomorrow, if we can,” said Boromir.  “The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears.”

“True!” said Aragorn, loosening his sword in its sheath.  “But where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls.”

Kevin's heart dropped.  Wolves? He saw Sam and Pippin muttering across the fire.  They looked as scared as he felt.

Aragorn gave orders to go uphill.  The hilltop was covered with boulders and large twisted trees.  Gimli built a large fire, using the well-seasoned fallen wood that lay about on the crown of the hill.

"The fire will be a good protection against the Wargs," the Ranger said.

"I thought they were wolves," said Jennifer.

"They are a type of wolf that were long ago changed and bred by the Enemy to be stronger, more clever, and crueler than normal wolves.  But they fear fire." Aragorn drew his sword. "Hobbits! Draw near the fire on one side. Sam, Merry, and Pippin, surround Frodo. All of you draw your weapons!  Gimli, guard the children on the other side of the fire. Kevin, draw your sword. Jennifer and Joey, make sure that you can easily draw your own weapons in case the Wargs break through.  Face outward from the fire so that you can see into the darkness."

While Aragorn gave orders, Legolas secured Bill to a tree near the fire, then strung his bow.  Biting his lower lip, Joey took a deep, shuddering breath, his body trembling. Kevin put his left arm around his little brother’s shoulders as he clutched his sword with his right. “It’s going to be all right, Joey,” he said softly.  “We’re all scared, but we’re going to be all right. Those wolves aren’t gonna get us. Right now, we’ve got to be very brave, and be ready to fight.” Joey shook his head up and down quite rapidly. Jennifer also nodded, her lips set in determination, poised to whip out her knives.

Watching the two of them, and the hobbits, Joey looked up at his brother.  "Um...is this one of those times I should draw my knife?"

Jennifer was going to say "no", but Kevin nodded.  "This is exactly one of those times." He looked at Jennifer.  “He’s got to, Jen.” Sighing, Jennifer nodded.

Shuddering, Joey carefully took it out and held it the way Boromir had shown him. Somehow it did make him feel a little safer, though he hoped he still wouldn't have to use it.

They waited uneasily.  Poor Bill the pony trembled and sweated where he stood.  The howls of the wolves grew louder and louder, slowly growing nearer.  Soon they could see the glow of yellow eyes, some slowly advancing almost to the ring of stones where they had camped.  At a gap in the circle a great dark wolf-shape could be seen halted, gazing at them.  A shuddering howl broke from him, as if he were a captain summoning his pack to the assault.

Kevin froze, as the memory of a previous growl slammed into his memory.  I remember that growl! he thought.  That’s the very same growl we heard outside the cave, when we first arrived in Middle-earth!  He exchanged a horrified glance with Jennifer, and then with Joey.  It was evident from the expressions on their faces that they recognized that growl, too.

Gandalf stood up and strode forward, holding his staff aloft.  “Listen, Hound of Sauron!” he cried. “Gandalf is here. Fly, if you value your foul skin!  I will shrivel you from tail to snout, if you come within this ring.”

Kevin felt almost sick, as he watched the wolf attack with a snarl, but a sudden "twang", and the leader of the pack fell dead in mid-air with an Elven arrow in its throat.

The rest of the wolves disappeared, and suddenly the night grew quiet.

"Are they gone?" Kevin asked.

"For now," replied Aragorn.  “But they will be back.”

Boromir nodded.  "I think they will probably wait now until the moon sets.  We may relax our guard for a short while."

"I agree.  We must get what rest we can ere they come back," added Gandalf.  "Legolas and Boromir, stand watch. The rest of us may sit down, but do not face the fire.  Sleep if you can."

The children all sat down together, with Joey between his older siblings, and Kevin mentioned his suspicions about that menacing growl.

Joey shivered.  “I remember that growl!”  He leaned against Kevin, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders.  “Remember, Kevin? Remember, Jennifer?”

“I remember,” Kevin said grimly.  “We heard it just outside the cave at Rivendell.  When we first arrived here. Remember how it sounded kind of like a cross between a wolf and a bear, or maybe a cougar?  It must have been a Warg!”

“Yeah!” Jennifer agreed.  “Good thing we ran in the other direction as soon as we heard it, or it could have eaten us!”

Dropping both arms in his lap, Kevin sat with his sword on the ground in front of his knees, unable to relax enough to sleep, although Joey leaned against Jen, and both seemed to be drowsing uneasily.

The moon had set, and Kevin became even more uneasy.  Suddenly, he heard Frodo give a wordless shout.

"Fling fuel on the fire!" cried Gandalf.  "Draw your blades, and stand back to back!"

Kevin and Gimli flung some of the wood on the fire.  In the leaping light, as the fresh wood blazed up and the wolves charged them, Aragorn's sword stabbed one, and Boromir’s sword, another.  Legolas was firing arrow after arrow, and Gimli's axe was soon embedded in a wolf's skull.  Kevin waved his sword in front of him, when he heard Jennifer give a scream. She had drawn her knives and knocked Joey to the ground, but her strokes in the beast's direction were merely making it angry.  Suddenly, Kevin felt calm as he remembered his training. Please, God! he silently prayed.

He struck at the Warg and landed a blow; though it did not kill it, it was incapacitated, as it lurched back awkwardly, a deep cut in its front leg.  Immediately afterward, Legolas' arrow was quickly embedded in its eye; its huge body went limp.  Kevin gave Legolas a look of thanks.

“Stay down, Joey,” he ordered his little brother.  “Keep your knife ready, but don’t get back up until we tell you to.”  Clutching his knife, Joey nodded, and Kevin turned around.

In the wavering firelight Gandalf seemed suddenly to grow: he rose up, a great menacing shape like the monument of some ancient king of stone set upon a hill.  Stooping like a cloud, he lifted a burning branch and strode to meet the wolves. They gave back before him. High in the air he tossed the blazing brand. It flared with a sudden white radiance like lightning; and his voice rolled like thunder.

“Naur an edraith ammen!  Naur dan i ngaurhoth!” he cried.

There was a roar and a crackle, and the tree above him burst into a leaf and bloom of blinding flame.  The fire leapt from tree-top to tree-top. The whole hill was crowned with dazzling light. The swords and knives of the defenders shone and flickered.  The last arrow of Legolas kindled in the air as it flew, and plunged burning into the heart of a great wolf-chieftain. All the others fled.

Slowly the fire died till nothing was left but falling ash and sparks; a bitter smoke curled above the burned tree-stumps, and blew darkly from the hill, as the first light of dawn came dimly in the sky.  Their enemies were routed and did not return.

Kevin could hear the others celebrating, and let out a whoop, but suddenly he turned: Joey was throwing up, and Jennifer was crying.  Suddenly he no longer felt like cheering. He had killed an animal. True, he had gone on deer-hunting trips with his father in recent years and had helped to bring back venison, but this felt different somehow.

Gandalf said that the Wargs would not return, and said they should rest for what was left of the night.

Merry brought over one of the waterskins to Joey, as Kevin tried to comfort their sister.

"Take a sip and spit it out," Merry said to Joey.  "Do you think you are finished?"

The boy nodded his head.  "I think so," he said after he spit.  He took another sip, and swallowed it.  "I was scared.” He shivered. “I wasn't any use at all," he added sadly.  "I might as well not have a knife.”

"You did what you should have—you obeyed your brother.  And you were ready to fight if the beast had come too close to you."  Merry patted the child on his back. "I was scared, too, Joey."

“We all were, Joey,” Kevin added.  “But we’re safe from those wargs now.”

The children lay down, with Kevin on their left, closest to the others.  As he lay there, trying to go to sleep, he overheard Gandalf saying to the others in a low voice, “You remember when Glorfindel searched for those wargs that the children heard upon their arrival.  He told us that they had traveled south. It must have been these same wargs that attacked us tonight.”

Kevin shivered.  Thank goodness they’re dead now!

The rest of the night passed fitfully. Gandalf and Legolas took the watch, but the others only drowsed off and on, as they caught what uneasy sleep they could.

When the full light of the morning came no signs of the wolves were to be found, and they looked in vain for the bodies of the dead.  No trace of the fight remained but the charred trees and the arrows of Legolas lying on the hill-top. All were undamaged save one of which only the point was left.

“It is as I feared,” said Gandalf.  “These were no ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness.  Let us eat quickly and go!”

The weather was much nicer than the day before.  It was a change to be walking by daylight. The sky was blue and uncloudy, and though the air was crisp and cool, it wasn't miserably so.  It was a vast improvement over Caradhras! Kevin thought the temperature might be in the upper forties or low fifties, though of course there was no way to be sure, though it was obviously above freezing, as the snow and ice had begun to thaw.*  Where’s the Weather Channel when you need it? he thought ruefully.

“Well, Kevin,” Jennifer said as she marched at his side, practicing with her stick, “I take back what I said about Caradhras being a great place for a ski resort.”

Kevin smiled wryly.  “I’m afraid you’re right.  The risk of avalanches would be too great, for one thing.”

Jennifer soon stopped practicing and started leaning on her stick.  The whole Company were weary from their encounter the night before, and the lack of good sleep, so there was no singing and very little conversation as they trod along. They stopped only briefly to eat and drink, however.  Tired as they were, all were eager to leave the Wargs far behind them.

As Gimli and Gandalf led the Company, they started back towards the mountains south of Caradhras.  Kevin noticed they were following the course of a small stream; there was barely a trickle of water flowing alongside the rough path.  He could tell it had once probably been a road, for they kept having to scramble over broken pavers. For many miles, the Company followed the little stream by walking down that path; Boromir eventually picked Joey up and nestled the little boy in his arms.  Joey soon drifted off to sleep.

As the sun set, they eventually came to a dark still lake.  Neither sky nor sunset was reflected on its sullen surface.  The stream had been dammed and had filled all the valley.  Beyond the ominous water were reared vast cliffs, which loomed pale over them in the fading light.  Gandalf had indicated that the opening to this Moria place would be there, but Kevin could not see any sign of any kind of crack or entrance anywhere.

The Company climbed up the mountain slopes by the main path; the stars were twinkling overhead when they all reached the side of the lake.  At last, they came to a narrow area between the murky lake and the tall cliffs; Kevin thought it was barely a dozen yards between the water and the stoneface.  There at the edge of the water were the rotten stumps of some trees that must have once lined the side of the road. Then, right under the cliff, Kevin saw two of the biggest holly trees he had ever seen.  They were huge and cast great shadows, and loomed at least twenty feet overhead. The Company halted and Boromir set a now-awake Joey on his feet.

"Well, here we are at last!" said Gandalf.  "Here the Elven-way from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of that land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria.  Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different races, even between Dwarves and Elves."

"It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," said Gimli.

"I have not heard it was the fault of the Elves," said Legolas.

"Oh, please!" Jennifer burst out, without meaning to.  "Please don't start arguing now!" She was so tired of their bickering!  It wasn't as bad as it had been when they had first started on their journey, thankfully, but still, it was very annoying.  She laid her tree branch against the side of the mountain.

Gandalf smiled at her, as both Elf and Dwarf blushed.  "I must agree with Lady Jennifer. I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me.  I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better.  Night is at hand!"

He turned to the others, asking them to divide up their remaining supplies, since Bill would not be able to go into the mines.  At this announcement, both Sam and Joey grew angry. Sam protested mightily, and Joey kept yelling, "NO! I won't let you!" He moved in front of the pony, as if to keep the others away.

"Joseph McCloud!" Kevin said sharply.  "Behave yourself!"

Joey clenched his fists and glared at his older brother, who had sounded remarkably like their father just then, but he stopped yelling.

Sam and Gandalf were still arguing, though.  Sam was beginning to realize that they really did not have a choice.  Still he made one last try: "He'd follow Mr. Frodo into a dragon's den, if I led him.  It'd be nothing short of murder to turn him loose with all those wolves about!"

Frodo had moved up and placed a gentle hand on Sam's shoulder, and Gandalf bent down.  "It will be short of murder, I hope."  The wizard stood and laid his hand upon the pony's head, and said softly, "Go with words of guard and guiding on you.  You are a wise beast, and have learned much in Rivendell.  Make your ways to places where you can find grass, and so come in time to Elrond's house, or wherever you wish to go."  Looking at Sam, he said, "There, Sam!  He will have quite as much chance of escaping wolves and getting home as we have."

Sam was quiet, and still scowling as everyone set to the task of taking off Bill's burdens and dividing them up.  The hobbit was openly weeping as he pulled Bill's tack loose. Joey was fiercely wiping away furious tears of anger, and turned with a glare when Kevin put a hand on his shoulder, and leaned over to whisper in his younger brother's ear.  "You know, Joey, there is also something you can do to help protect Bill before we set him free. Can you think of what that is?"

Joey looked at Kevin in surprise, and then suddenly realized what Kevin meant.  His angry expression was replaced by a thoughtful and grave one as he silently helped with the task.  As they finished up dividing the supplies and setting aside what they did not need, Joey drew Sam aside.  "Sam, do you think it would be okay with you if we, uh, said a prayer for Bill before he has to go?"

Sam stared at him speechlessly, but Frodo smiled and nodded.  "I think that is a very good idea, Joey."

Joey smiled back, even though he was still crying a little himself.  He blushed, and then, as Gandalf had done, he put one hand on Bill's head, closed his eyes and bent his head.  "Um, God, it's me, Joey. Could you please take good care of Bill and not let any wolves eat him? He's a good pony and he works hard, and we all love him very much.  In Jesus' name, amen." He wrapped his arms around Bill’s neck, and the pony nuzzled his scalp.

He looked up and saw Kevin and Jennifer looking at him proudly.

"Master Joey," said Sam, "thank you!  I feel a lot better now." Joey hugged him.

Kevin beckoned to Joey, who joined him and Jennifer off to the side.  “Good job, Joey!” Kevin hugged his little brother to his side with his right arm.  To both of them, he added in a low voice, “We’d better be getting our flashlights out of our backpacks and putting them in our jacket pockets.  We won’t be able to keep them turned on the whole time we’re in the mines—the batteries won’t last that long—but there may be times when they’ll be needed.”

“How are we gonna be able to see where we’re going without them?” Jennifer asked.  “It’s gonna be pitch-black in those mines—as dark as a cave.”

“I don’t know.  Torches, maybe.”  Kevin shrugged. “But there may be times when the flashlights will help, so let’s get them out now.”  He paused. “Remember the summer we all spent in New Mexico two years ago? We went to Carlsbad Caverns once that summer.”

“Yeah, I remember.  Kaylee was only three years old then, and Megan was just a baby.  Remember how dark it got when they turned all the lights off?”

“How can I forget?!”  Kevin groaned. “It wasn’t just dark in there—it was pitch-black, just like you said!  I couldn’t even see my own nose, it was so dark. It’s gonna be just as dark in those mines unless we have a light of some kind.”  Jennifer grimaced at the thought. “Good thing the batteries in our flashlights still work.”

“And that we’ve got a few spares, should they go out,” Jennifer added.  “But you’re right. If we try to keep them on the whole time we’re in Moria, not even the replacement batteries will hold out.  So we’d better hope that Gandalf and Aragorn have some way of making light while we’re in there!”

And one that won’t use up our air,” Kevin added.

The three children slid their backpacks off of their backs and unzipped them.  They pulled their flashlights out of their packs and slipped them into their deep right jacket pockets, and then they rezipped their backpacks and once again slipped them over their backs.  Jennifer removed her digital camera from her left jacket pocket and took a picture of their surroundings. “Good thing we brought our walkie-talkies,” she muttered, as she slipped the camera back into her pocket.  Wait till Mom and Dad see this! she thought, glancing down at her camera.

For a while, everyone stood around watching Gandalf as he stared at the face of the cliff, as though his gaze would bore a hole in it.  Still nothing was happening, and the night was dark and chill. The children and the hobbits were both growing bored; Joey was fidgeting, and Pippin was kicking a pebble with his toes.  Kevin sighed loudly, and Jennifer rolled her eyes at him. Even Frodo had pursed his lips in distaste. Gimli was wandering about, tapping the stone here and there with his axe.  Legolas was pressed against the rock, as if listening.  It seemed they'd been standing about for hours.  Perhaps they had.

“Good thing Kaylee stayed behind in Rivendell, huh?” Jennifer asked Aragorn at one point, in a low voice.  “She never would have been able to keep up.”

Aragorn nodded agreement.  “No, she would not have been able to, Jennifer; her legs are too short,” he answered in an equally low voice.  “Either one of us would have had to carry her the whole way, or she would have had to ride Bill—possibly both. And now that we must leave Bill behind, she would not have the option of riding him.”  They said no more, but turned their attention back to Gandalf.

-oo000oo-

All day, Kaylee had been feeling worried.  Her brothers and sister had been gone so long, and there was no way to call them or talk to them, or even to get a letter, an email, or a text from them.  Their walkie-talkies did not work from that far away, wherever they were now, and even if they did, her own walkie-talkie was back home in her backpack. She missed her parents, too, and badly wanted her mommy, but she was not worried about them.  Kevin and Jennifer and Joey were out in the wild places of the world, and from the stories that Bilbo had been telling her about his adventure years before, she knew that there were dangers here that her own country did not have. There were goblins and scary wolves and trolls and—and giant spiders!  Kaylee shivered at the thought.  And all kinds of other scary things.  Plus her brothers and sister were out in the freezing cold weather, and Kaylee knew they didn't have any tents or anything.  She'd been listening to Mr. Baggins's stories about his adventure, and too much of it hadn’t been any fun.

She told herself that Gandalf was an angel and that he was watching over them, but she also remembered him saying he was not as powerful as he used to be before he had come here.  She tried not to show how worried and scared she was; she wanted to be brave, but it was really hard.

Kaylee slipped off and went to her room right after supper.  She knew Mairen would be looking for her, but she just wanted to be by herself for just a little while.  She curled up on her bed, and let herself cry for a little while, and then she started to pray. "Please, Jesus, look after Kevin and Jennifer and Joey.  I couldn't stand it if anything happens to them. I don't want to be alone here forever." She glanced down at the puppy, who had followed her into her room.  “Even with Lucy.” She paused. “Amen.”

After a while, Kaylee began to feel calmer, and she remembered one of the Bible verses that she, Joey, Jennifer, and Kevin had all memorized before her brothers and sister had left on the quest: "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."  A supernatural peace settled on her heart.  She soon slipped into slumber, and did not even notice when Mairen found her, and changed her clothes for her nightgown, and tucked her under her blankets.

-oo000oo-

Merry finally ventured to ask where the doors were, and Gimli's answer was disheartening.  If the doors were not meant to be found when shut, why had they bothered to come that way at all?

Gandalf's response was somewhat more encouraging, and indeed, right after he had done so, the Moon began to peer his way above the mountains.  Then slowly on the surface, where the wizard's hands had passed, faint lines appeared, like slender veins of silver running in the stone.  The children gasped.  So far, in spite of being in a fantasy world where they knew magic existed, they had seen very little of it.  Gandalf making fire on Caradhras and also during the Wolf attack the night before had been it until now, but this was quite different.

They all stared at the silver tracery that glimmered in the moonlight, graceful lines that at once marked them as Elvish in origin.  It outlined a large double door, graven with the images of an anvil and a hammer, a crown, silver stars, and a large graceful tree, but in the very middle was a large eight-pointed star.  And above all were the beautiful Elvish letters that the children could not read.

"There are the emblems of Dúrin!" cried Gimli.

"And there is the Tree of the High Elves!" said Legolas.

"And the star of the House of Fëanor," said Gandalf.  He went on to explain that the ithildin that was used to write the letters, and the pictures would only reflect starlight and moonlight.

"What does the writing say?" Frodo asked.

"'The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria.  Speak, Friend, and Enter. I, Narvi made them.  Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs,'" was Gandalf's answer.

"What does it mean by 'speak, friend, and enter'?" asked Merry.

“That is plain enough,” said Gimli.  “If you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open, and you can enter.”

“Yes,” said Gandalf, “these doors are probably governed by words.  Some dwarf-gates will open only at special times, or for particular persons; and some have locks and keys that are still needed when all necessary times and words are known.  These doors have no key. In the days of Durin they were not secret. They usually stood open and doorwards sat here. But if they were shut, any who knew the opening word could speak it and pass in.  At least so it is recorded, is it not, Gimli?”

“It is,” said the dwarf.  “But what the word was is not remembered.  Narvi and his craft and all his kindred have vanished from the earth.”

“But do not you know the word, Gandalf?” asked Boromir in surprise.

“No!” said the wizard.

The others looked dismayed; only Aragorn, who knew Gandalf well, remained silent and unmoved.

“Then what was the use of bringing us to this accursed spot?” cried Boromir, glancing back with a shudder at the dark water.  “You told us that you had once passed through the Mines. How could that be, if you did not know how to enter?”

“The answer to your first question, Boromir,” said the wizard, “is that I do not know the word—yet.  But we shall soon see. And,” he added, with a glint in his eyes under their bristling brows, “you may ask what is the use of my deeds when they are proved useless.  As for your other question: do you doubt my tale? Or have you no wits left? I did not enter this way. I came from the East.

“If you wish to know, I will tell you that these doors open outwards.  From the inside you may thrust them open with your hands. From the outside nothing will move them save the spell of command.  They cannot be forced inwards.'

“What are you going to do then?” asked Pippin, undaunted by the wizard's bristling brows.

“Knock on the doors with your head, Peregrin Took,” said Gandalf.  “But if that does not shatter them, and I am allowed a little peace from foolish questions, I will seek for the opening words.

“I once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs that was ever used for such a purpose.  I can still remember ten score of them without searching in my mind. But only a few trials, I think, will be needed; and I shall not have to call on Gimli for words of the secret dwarf-tongue that they teach to none.  The opening words were Elvish, like the writing on the arch: that seems certain.”

He stepped up to the rock again, and lightly touched with his staff the silver star in the middle beneath the sign of the anvil.

Now it seemed that they had still more waiting about to do, as the wizard tried spell after fruitless spell.  Everyone grew more and more frustrated, and the children sat down dejectedly next to the hobbits. They had been prepared to enter right after the door appeared, but now it seemed they might never get in.  Would they have to turn back again?

Boromir angrily threw a stone into the stagnant pool that stood before the Door, where it sank slowly with a soft glop.  Frodo reproved him crossly, and it seemed everyone was nearly at the end of what patience they had left. The hobbits and Joey complained.  "I wish we could get away!" said Merry.

"Me, too!" added Joey.  "I don't like this place!"

"Why doesn't Gandalf do something quick?" said Pippin.

"He's doing the best he can," said Jennifer half-heartedly.  Truthfully, she felt the same as the others, but she didn't think that being disrespectful of Gandalf would help matters.  Joey pouted.

Suddenly, Gandalf jumped up and, laughing, he went to stand before the door.  "Mellon!"

Soon enough, wherever the Moon had shone his light, the outline of a door could be seen.  The door began to open, and they moved towards the door, as Gandalf explained how he had finally figured it out.  "It was Merry's remark that set me on the right track!"  

But no sooner had he begun to lead them into the darkness, than Frodo cried out.  They could hear a neigh of fear as, outside, poor Bill bolted into the wild. All was chaos!  Jennifer turned, and screamed herself, clutching Joey closely to her; Kevin wrapped his arms protectively around them both.  A hideous creature like something from a horror movie had Frodo in its tentacled grasp. Sam was first to reach it, where Frodo struggled, and began to hack away.

The creature let go of Frodo and Sam pulled him, calling for help as many more tentacles came boiling out of the water.  Aragorn and Boromir came back, and hacked more at the remaining arms as they reached out, and then everyone rushed inside, with Gandalf calling urgently, "Into the gateway!  Up the stairs! Quick!"  Snatching her branch, Jennifer rushed after her brothers toward the entrance.  They were all barely inside and on the first few steps when the tentacles reached in and grasped the Doors!

With a horrid shattering crash, the Doors crumbled into rubble.  They could hear more crashing on the other side, and found themselves in utter darkness.

Sam, clinging to Frodo’s arm, collapsed on a step in the black darkness.  “Poor old Bill! Wolves and snakes! But the snakes were too much for him.  I had to choose, Mr. Frodo. I had to come with you.”

“That was no snake!  That was a monster!” Joey gasped, shaking, as Gandalf went back down the steps to try the doors.  “A real monster!  It was gonna eat us!  It was scary!”

Dropping her branch, Jennifer wrapped her arms around her trembling little brother.  “It sure was!” she agreed, as she made a valiant effort to stop shaking herself. “Much scarier than any monsters we’ve seen on TV.”  She laid a hand on Frodo’s arm. “You OK?”

Frodo nodded.  “Y—yes.”

“I was scared!”  Joey squeezed his eyes shut and burrowed his face into his sister’s chest.  “Are there actually monsters here?”

“Apparently, there are, Joey, and you weren’t the only one who was scared,” Kevin said, his voice unsteady.  “We’re gonna have to be careful while we’re here. Real careful.”

Taking a deep breath, Joey leaned back from Jennifer and scanned the mines.  Pitch blackness surrounded him. “It sure is dark,” he whispered.

“It sure is, isn’t it?  We need some light.” Kevin removed his flashlight from his jacket pocket and switched it on.  Jennifer did the same, and the two teenagers scanned the mine tunnel surrounding them with the soft beams of light from their flashlights.  At that moment, there was a quiver in the stone and the stairs trembled, but the doors did not open.

Aragorn approached the two older children.  “Kevin, Jennifer, turn your flashlights off,” he said in a low voice.  “Gandalf will give us the light we need, and if I understand what you have told us about these devices, you will need to save your batteries.  Those flashlights should be saved for a true emergency.”

“Yes, my staff will provide us with light.”  Gandalf, who had just rejoined them, cupped his hand around the top of his staff, and a faint light emitted from it.  “Save your flashlights for when we really need them.”

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged glances.  “Yes, sir,” said Kevin. He and Jennifer switched off their flashlights and thrust them back into their jacket pockets.  

“I thought monsters only existed in stories and monster movies,” Joey whispered.

“We thought elves and wizards and dragons only existed in stories and movies, too,” Kevin whispered back.  “And they do exist only in stories where we come from, and so do hobbits. We’ll have to be prepared for more fantasy creatures while we’re here, Joey, and not all of them will be good, I’m afraid.”

Following a short discussion about what had just happened and what they faced, Boromir muttered under his breath, but the echoing passage magnified the sound to a hoarse whisper that all could hear: “In the deep places of the world!  And thither we are going against…”  Glancing at the McCloud children, he broke off.  He continued, “Who will lead us now in this…”  Glancing again at Joey and then at Kevin and Jennifer, Boromir paused.  “…this dark?”

“I will,” said Gandalf, “and Gimli shall walk with me.  Follow my staff!”  He turned to Jennifer.  “You will have to wait until we are out of Moria before you can practice your marching routine once more.”

Jennifer nodded acquiescence.  Actually, it hadn't even crossed her mind; it didn't seem like a good place for it.  It would only be a few days before she could practice again; surely, she wouldn’t lose her skills within that time.  Scanning the children’s faces, Gandalf added, “And since there may be other creatures in Moria, all of us must keep our voices down while we are here, so there can be no more singing or playing your harmonica until we are out of Moria.”  He looked at Joey. “Or playing.”

As the wizard passed on ahead up the great steps, he held his staff aloft, and from its tip there came a faint radiance.  Jennifer picked up her walking stick and began to follow the hobbits.  They all wearily followed the faint glow of Gandalf's staff up the cold stone stairway, up and up and up.  The wide stairway was fortunately sound and undamaged.  At one point during the climb, Boromir offered an exhausted Joey a piggyback ride, and the little boy gratefully accepted.  Jennifer had been trying to count the steps, but lost count somewhere at around a hundred-and-fifty. Still, when they reached the top of the stairs, she was pretty sure they had gone up at least two hundred steps.  They found an actual passage with a level floor leading on into the dark.  Joey let go of Boromir’s neck and landed with a thud on the stone floor; Jennifer laid her walking stick against the wall of the mine and slumped against the stone wall.

"Let us sit and rest and have something to eat, here on the landing, since we can't find a dining room!" said Frodo.

Everyone was pleased at this suggestion, and they all sank down upon the top few steps.  Sam got out some of the little packets they had put up for eating as they travelled when they could not stop to camp: little linen bags filled with fruit, nuts, sweetened grain, and small journeycakes.  The children thought those were more like hard crackers than bread.

When they had eaten, they felt somewhat better, and Gandalf passed around the bottle of miruvor so each could have a single sip.  It was the third time they had been given some on the journey.  The first time, Jennifer had been hesitant, because she could smell a faint scent of alcohol, but Gandalf had explained that it was more like medicine than a drink.  So now the children took a sip with no problems. It helped that there was no taste of alcohol in spite of the smell. In fact, it was quite delicious, and made them feel much better.

Gandalf reminded them they did not have much of it left.  He also reminded them to go easy on the water, since any they found in the mines might not be wholesome to drink. Frodo asked how far they had to go, and Gandalf told them that it would probably take three or four marches. Jennifer knew by now that a "march" took up most of a day.  She shuddered at the thought that they would be in this dark, scary place for three or four days.

Turning his head, Joey saw a two-foot-wide ledge on the wall to his left.  Scrambling to his feet, he approached it and climbed onto the ledge. Turning around, he waved his arms. “Hey, look at me, look at me!”

The others looked at him in amusement; exchanging a glance, Kevin and Jennifer rolled their eyes.  Shaking his head, Aragorn approached the little boy, placed his hands under Joey’s armpits, and set him onto the stone floor.  “A mine is not a place for play, Joey,” he told the child. “Wait until we are safely out of here, and until we have a chance to rest.”

“That is right,” Gandalf agreed.

Jennifer took Joey's hand a bit more firmly than necessary, and pulled him to her side.  "Don't you know how dangerous it is in here?"  She would have scolded more, but Kevin intervened.  He knelt down to Joey's level and spoke softly. Gandalf had told them they needed to be very quiet.

"Joey, I know that monster scared you, and now you have a lot of energy.”  He laid a hand on Joey’s shoulder. “But Jennifer’s right; it is dangerous in here.  You’re going to have to act a lot more grown-up than you really are."

Joey nodded, abashed.  He really was full of energy, and he still felt scared.  Horsing around was a way to forget about all the scary things that might be around.  They couldn't really pass the time in here with songs or stories, because Gandalf had said there might be other creatures in here.  "I'm sorry," he said, looking down at his feet and scuffing a toe. Her face softening, Jennifer hugged Joey to her side.

Ruffling his little brother’s hair, Kevin turned and approached Aragorn.  “I wish there was some way to drain that pond,” he said in a low voice. “If someone could do that, it’d be a lot easier to kill that monster.  It must be some kind of water creature; if it is, it can’t survive on dry land.”

Aragorn nodded agreement.  “It would be indeed, Kevin, but there is no way for us to do that now.  Right now, we have a quest to finish.”

Nodding, Kevin shrugged.  “Maybe, when all this is over, we can come back and figure out a way to drain it.”  He bit his lower lip. “We need an engineer with us.” Suddenly he swallowed a feeling of panic—when all this was over, he hoped to be home!  Why was he thinking of something to do here after the quest was over?  He gave a shudder.

When the members of the Company had finished their rest, they walked along silently for a long while, Kevin and Jennifer staying on either side of Joey, ready to take their little brother by the hand again, if necessary.  Jennifer’s walking stick dangled from her hand. She was glad they had Gandalf. They didn't have any way to make torches, and if they had to use their flashlights the whole time, the batteries would soon run out.  They'd also had to leave a lot of stuff behind when they let Bill go.  At least they'd had their packs on. There were so many paths and tunnels to choose from, as well as all sorts of of crevices and holes, so Gandalf's staff came in really handy.

There were fissures and chasms in the walls and floor, and every now and then a crack would open right before their feet.  The widest was more than seven feet across, and it was long before Pippin could summon enough courage to leap over the dreadful gap.  Joey blanched at the thought of having to jump over such a wide hole; Legolas gave him a piggyback ride and leaped across the chasm with the little boy. Jennifer could not bring herself to watch, and only opened her eyes when she heard them land safely.

Jennifer gulped.  It was her turn. Taking a deep breath, she tried to throw her walking stick over the chasm, but it fell short, and was lost in the darkness below.  She didn't even hear it hit bottom. She felt like crying at her loss, but held it back. She still had to leap the chasm.

“Please, God!” Jennifer whispered, as she hurtled toward the chasm.  As she jumped, she kept her gaze fixed on those who had already jumped across the gap; to her relief, she landed safely on the other side, as Aragorn and Legolas each grabbed an arm to keep her steady.  Kevin was able to leap across the gap on his own. All the while, the noise of churning water came up from far below, as if some great mill-wheel was turning in the depths.

“Rope!” muttered Sam.  “I knew I’d want it, if I hadn’t got it!”

Jennifer glanced at him.  I wish we did have a rope! she thought ruefully.  What if one of us falls into one of these holes?  She shivered at the thought.

As these dangers became more frequent their march became slower.  Already they seemed to have been tramping on, on, endlessly to the mountains’ roots.  They were more than weary, and yet there seemed to be no comfort in the thought of halting anywhere.  Jennifer trudged alongside Frodo, and more than once, Boromir picked up an exhausted Joey and carried him in his arms for a while.

They had been walking and walking for hours on end, it seemed, with only brief halts, when Gandalf came to his first serious check.  Before him stood a wide dark arch opening into three passages: all led in the same general direction, eastwards; but the left-hand passage plunged down, while the right-hand climbed up, and the middle way seemed to run on, smooth and level but very narrow.

“I have no memory of this place at all!” said Gandalf, standing uncertainly under the arch.  He held up his staff in the hope of finding some marks or inscription that might help his choice; but nothing of the kind was to be seen.  “I am too weary to decide,” he said, shaking his head. “And I expect that you are all as weary as I am, or wearier. We had better halt here for what is left of the night.  You know what I mean! In here it is ever dark; but outside the late Moon is riding westward and the middle-night has passed.”

“Poor old Bill!” said Sam.  “I wonder where he is. I hope those wolves haven't got him yet.”

Kevin laid a hand on his shoulder.  “I’m sure he’s safe, Sam,” he said softly.

To the left of the great arch they found a stone door: it was half closed, but swung back easily to a gentle thrust.  Beyond there seemed to lie a wide chamber cut in the rock.

“Steady!  Steady!” cried Gandalf, as Merry and Pippin pushed forward, glad to find a place where they could rest with at least more feeling of shelter than in the open passage. “Steady! You do not know what is inside yet. I will go first.”

He went in cautiously, and the others filed behind.  “There!” he said, pointing with his staff to the middle of the floor.  Before his feet they saw a large round hole like the mouth of a well. Broken and rusty chains lay at the edge and trailed down into the black pit.  Fragments of stone lay near.

Kevin paled, and Jennifer let out a gasp.  With a gulp, Joey reached up and took both their hands of his own accord.  Drawing close to him, Kevin turned his hand loose and put his arm around the little boy’s shoulder; Jennifer continued to cling to his other hand.

“One of you might have fallen in and still be wondering when you were going to strike the bottom,” said Aragorn to Merry, whom he had grabbed by the shoulder.  “Let the guide go first while you have one.”

Gimli began to explain that it was probably a guardroom when the Dwarves had still been the rulers of Moria, and that the well was probably for the guards to have water when they were on watch.

Joey noticed that Pippin was edging closer to the well, but not quickly.  The hobbit moved to it cautiously, and stood staring into it. Joey felt curious as well, but he was mindful of his brother and sister's hands on his shoulder and his hand, and did not move any closer.  He turned and followed them as they moved around the perimeter of the room and began to make a place where they could spread out their bedrolls. No one was talking; everyone just knew what they were supposed to do, so all of them jumped when they heard a loud "plunk!"  All eyes turned to Pippin.

Joey winced as Gandalf began to scold Pippin harshly.  He'd hate it if the wizard ever called him a fool!  Soon after, they began to hear a faint, ominous, and frightening tapping sound coming from the bottom of the well, but after a few tense minutes, it faded away.  Once again, Gandalf gave Pippin a harsh scolding, and ordered him to take the first watch.

Joey winced again.  Gandalf was sure mad at Pippin; that was clear.  He had scolded him twice in the last several minutes.  I would have hated that! he thought, shuddering.  And for the hobbit to have to sit on watch in the pitch black as punishment?  He shuddered again.

Apparently, his sister agreed.  "Poor Pippin!" she murmured.

Once the bedrolls were set out and everyone was settled except for Pippin, who was huddled by the door, Gandalf extinguished his staff.  Pitch-blackness immediately settled over the room. But Joey was too wound up to fall asleep right away. He was still listening when Gandalf finally went over and sort of apologized to Pippin, and took over the watch. Shortly after that, Joey was finally able to drop off to sleep.

It seemed like no time that the younger members of the Company were being awakened.  Gandalf had watched the whole time, as he thought about the way they needed to go. Amid grumbles from the hobbits over not having more than trail rations and Joey's reluctance to roll out of his bedroll, nevertheless they were soon ready to start walking once more.

Gandalf had decided to take the right-hand passage.  While he still did not remember this particular cross-tunnel, he knew that the air felt fresher to the right.  They arranged themselves for walking, two by two. Gimli walked with Gandalf in the very front. Joey and Frodo were in the middle, with Jennifer and Pippin right in front of them, and Sam and Merry behind.  Kevin was next to Boromir behind Sam and Merry, and Aragorn and Legolas took the rear guard, in case of any pursuit. They had not forgotten about those ominous tapping sounds from the well the night before.

Kevin looked at Boromir as they set off.  "Why can't I walk by my sister and brother?" he asked.  He felt responsible for them; how could he guard them this way?

The warrior looked at him.  "Think about your question for a moment, Lord Kevin.  Why did we decide on this order?"

"Well, Frodo's the Ring-bearer, and Joey's just a kid.  I guess they need more protection."

"Very good.  Gimli is of help to Gandalf because he is a Dwarf and used to these sorts of mines, if not this one in particular.  Also, they are both mighty warriors in spite of Gandalf's age and Gimli’s size, so if we are attacked from the front, we have those most vulnerable in the middle.  Even though Lady Jennifer and Master Joey have swords and knives, and Legolas and I have been giving them lessons, we do not want either of them to fight except as a last resort.  Pippin, however, has learned well, and will do his best to protect Lady Jennifer, as well as Frodo and Joey behind him. Merry is an even better pupil than Pippin, and he and Sam will fight fiercely.  You are still learning, and my pupil, but as attack is more likely from the rear, that is where the strongest warriors walk."

“So that’s why Aragorn and Legolas are in the back?” Kevin asked.

Boromir nodded.  "Nothing can easily sneak up behind an Elf, and Aragorn's hearing is almost as keen."

Kevin had this to think about.  They kept on walking for nearly eight hours before they were allowed to stop for any longer than it took to take a small sip of water from their waterskins (or canteens, in the case of the children), and to pass around more of the cold trail rations.

I wonder what Kaylee’s doing right now, Kevin thought.  I’m sure glad she’s not with us right now in this horrible, dangerous place.  He grimaced, and then sighed.  At least his little sister was safe.

-oo000oo-

*A/N: As Kevin is American, he is estimating the temperature in Fahrenheit: 50⁰ F would be about 10⁰ Celcius.


Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site. 

Chapter 19: In the Darkness

"Do you like mushrooms, Kaylee?" Bilbo asked her.  The two of them had been taking a ramble through the grounds around the Last Homely House.  The winter weather had been unseasonably mild for the last few days, even for Rivendell.

When Kaylee had first come to Rivendell, she would have made a face and probably said, "Eew!" at such a question, but she had begun to learn that was rude, so instead she said, "I never had any.  I think I don't like them."  She made a face at the thought.

Bilbo grinned at her.  "Well, I would wager you'd like them, the way hobbits make them.  You certainly like everything I make when you come to tea with me!"

"Maybe," she answered, scrunching her face.  About mushrooms, she wasn’t so sure!

"Well, here is the first step—" and he pointed over to a spot next to a shady oak, where quite a few mushrooms were growing, almost hidden in the heavy, leafy loam.  He took off his jacket, and went over and laid it upon the ground next to them, and then he began picking the mushrooms and putting them on his jacket.  She watched, fascinated by how carefully he picked them and made sure to leave a few of them untouched.  When he had all he wanted, he gathered his jacket up.

"Do you know how to make soup?" he asked her.

Kaylee shook her head.  "Mommy won't let me use the stove.  But she opens a can and pours it in a pot, and puts water in."

He blinked.  "Your mother won't let you use the stove?"  He sounded sort of surprised.

"No, she says I'm too little, and I might get burned."

Bilbo made a face, and then smiled.  "Well, I daresay you might be too little in your mother's kitchen, but you wouldn't be too little in mine!  Come along!"  He turned and headed back towards the house, and Kaylee darted along to catch up to him.

First they went to the big main kitchen, where Bilbo was well known.  He greeted everyone there with a cheery "Hullo!" and a wave of the free hand which was not occupied in holding the jacket and its precious mushrooms.

The head cook, Haldanar,* grinned at the elderly hobbit.  "Bilbo!  Have you come to pilfer our stores again?"

"Of course!" was the jovial reply.  "Miss Kaylee and I found a bounty of mushrooms!  And I have discovered an appalling thing, Haldanar—she does not yet know how to cook!"

The Elf chuckled, and winked at Kaylee.  "Why, how dreadful!  And I suppose you plan to remedy that?"

"Yes, indeed."   He placed the jacket upon the table.  "May I do a bit of shopping from your larder?"

Haldanar gestured to one of the other cooks, and he fetched two baskets, which he put on the table.  Bilbo opened up his jacket and transferred the mushrooms into one of them.  “Will you send word to Lady Arwen that Miss Kaylee will be taking tea with me?” he asked Haldanar, who nodded and spoke to one of the kitchen servants, who left.

Then Bilbo took the other basket upon his arm, and with Kaylee following, he made his way into the spacious pantry.  At the end of it, some stairs went down into a cold stone room lined with shelves filled with all sorts of things.

Brrr!!  It’s cold!  Shivering, Kaylee wrapped her arms around her chest.

Bilbo chuckled.  “I know it’s cold in here, but we won’t be down here long.”  He patted her shoulder.  "Now, Kaylee, we need some butter."  He went to a crock on one of the lower shelves, and opened it.  There were little cloth bundles in it, and he took one out.  "I think one knob of butter will be enough."   Kaylee watched him in fascination; she had always thought that butter either came in long sticks, or in a plastic tub.  Then Bilbo found an empty jar, a small one with a stopper.  He took a piece of cloth from the top of a pitcher, and poured some cream into it.  Kaylee knew it was cream, because it was thicker than milk.  From another shelf, he took an entire glass jar of some kind of yellow liquid, and added it to the basket.  Then they went back up the steps.  Kaylee wondered what he was going to make with the mushrooms.

From a basket on the floor, Bilbo picked up an onion.  Then he stood and muttered too quietly for Kaylee to hear, before saying aloud, "I think I have everything else we need in my kitchen."  He looked at her.  "Let's go and get those mushrooms now."

The mushrooms had all been placed in the other basket, and Bilbo asked her to carry the mushrooms as they made their way back to his cozy little chambers.

Kaylee had been to Bilbo's rooms on a number of occasions by then, but she had never been into his kitchen, and she was very curious.

Bilbo led her up a low step and through a rounded arch that led into a tiny kitchen.  Kaylee clapped her hands and let out a squeal of delight at the little kitchen that looked like it might belong in a playhouse.  To one side was a fireplace with a cheery fire blazing away, with a built-in stone oven on one side.  On the other side of the fireplace, the wall next to it was hung with miniature cast iron pots and tools: skillets and pans and what her mommy called a Dutch oven; also hanging there were all kinds of lids and utensils, long-handled spoons and forks and other things she didn't know a name for.  Everything hanging there was easily within her reach (and Bilbo's).  The wall above was painted with a beautiful scene of hills and trees and fields.  The hills had little round windows and doors painted in them, and Kaylee knew from the stories Bilbo told her that those were supposed to be hobbit-holes, or "smials", as he called them.  Kaylee wished she could visit there one day.

The brick oven built into the chimney on the far side was also easily within her reach.  Below it was a little opening filled with firewood.  Next to it, there were shelves filled with copper kettles and saucepans and pots, and tin bake pans in the upper shelves and pottery cooking dishes on the lower shelves.  As on the other side, no shelves went higher than halfway up the wall.  The painting on this side of the fireplace showed a table covered with all sorts of food, like for a party.  The candles glowed like they were real, and there were bowls of fruit and plates of bread and cheese and different kinds of meat that appeared to be steaming hot.  A pitcher looked like it had little drops of water on the outside of it.  Everything in the painting looked very real and yummy enough to eat.

At the end of the little kitchen was a china cabinet with lots of dishes in it.  There was a large butcher block island in the center, and Kaylee saw some food on it, some apples and bread and a bowl of eggs, and a small vase with a bunch of plants in it, and on the side of the room opposite the fireplace was a stone sink set into a stand, above which perched a copper pump.  On either side of it were two cupboards.  Kaylee hopped up and down as she scanned the kitchen, smiling broadly.

"Welcome to my kitchen, Kaylee," said Bilbo, smiling at her excited face.  "While I take many of my meals in the big dining hall with others, sometimes I love to potter about in here, and I usually have first breakfast and teatime here.”  He placed his basket of items upon the table, and gestured for Kaylee to place the basket of mushrooms she was carrying upon the table next to it.

"Now, first things first, dear."  He reached over to the little pump and made the handle go up and down.  It took a couple of minutes, but then a little stream of water came out.  "Shall we wash our hands?"

The water was cold, but Kaylee had gotten used to that during the weeks she'd been there, so she obediently rubbed her hands together in the water with a sliver of soap, and then dried them on a little dish towel that Bilbo handed her.  Then he opened one of the cupboards, and took out two white aprons for them to use.  He tied his on first, and then helped her to put hers on and tied it for her in the back where she couldn't reach.  Since their arrival in Middle-earth, she had learned to tie a bow, but not without looking yet!

"Now, let's get the fire ready, shall we?"  Bilbo went over to the fireplace, where the fire was burning low.  He stirred it up with the poker, and added on another piece of wood from the little stack below the stone oven.  "Always use the right tool when you are cooking, Kaylee, especially around the hearth.  See how the fireplace tools all have very long handles?"  Kaylee nodded.  Bilbo wrapped a dish towel around his hand, and took up another fireplace tool that looked like a little rake.  He carefully pushed it beneath the grate, and pulled some of the red-hot coals out onto the flat part of the hearth.  Then he handed her the dish towel, showing her how to hold the rake handle with it.  Holding his hand over hers, he helped her to rake more of the coals out.  Together they made a little pile of the coals.

Then Bilbo stood up and took down one of the cast-iron pots.  It had little legs on the bottom.  Using a long-handled hook, he placed it over the fiery coals.  "Now we will let it get hot while we prepare our ingredients," he said.

He gave her another dish towel, this one wet, and got one for himself, and then he spread another clean, dry one on the butcher block table.  "Let's clean our mushrooms.  You must be very gentle with them as you carefully wipe off any dirt that clings to them."  Kaylee nodded, and he picked one out of the basket and showed her what to do, as he placed the clean one onto the dry dish towel.  "Now you do one."

Kaylee was a little nervous, but she concentrated on her task, with her tongue sticking out slightly between her teeth.  As she cleaned each mushroom that she took, she glanced over at Bilbo for his nod of approval.  He smiled and nodded at her, and then they continued.  Between the two of them, they soon had the whole basketful clean.

"Next we slice them up."  He went over and got a sharp knife from a wooden block.  "Since you've not done this before, I will hold your hand as you do the cutting.”  He looked at her intently.  “Knives are very sharp, and should be treated with respect.  Never use a knife without a grown-up present, even once you know how to cut by yourself without someone holding your hand!  You could cut yourself all too easily if you try to use a knife by yourself, Kaylee, so until you’re older, always wait until a grown-up is with you.  Do you understand?"

Wide-eyed, she nodded solemnly.  She sure didn’t want to cut herself!  At that point, Bilbo showed her how to place her hand over the knife handle, and then, as he had done with the coal rake, he covered it with his own, and they slowly sliced each mushroom.  After that, he showed her how to cut up the onion as well.  That was not as pleasant a task, as it made her eyes sting and tear up.  But it made Bilbo do the same thing, so they laughed about it, and then they washed their hands again and wiped their eyes with another damp clean cloth.  “Unfortunately, onions will insist on having that effect, Kaylee,” he said, chuckling.

Kaylee smiled wryly.  The little basket below the table was sure filling up with used towels!  At home, she thought, we'd just use paper towels and throw them away!

"Now we are almost ready to start cooking our mushroom soup.  This next part, I will do myself, but you watch carefully, all right?"   With a nod, she squatted down by the fireplace as he took the butter (he called it a "knob" of butter) from its cloth wrapper and tossed it into the pot they had placed upon the coals.  It sizzled and melted quickly; the butter smelled good.  Next, as Kaylee continued to watch intently, he threw in the onions and stirred it with a wooden spoon that had a very long handle.  In another minute, he told her, "Hand me the mushrooms now, please!"

Kaylee grabbed up the wooden bowl into which they had placed the sliced mushrooms and handed it to him.  Bilbo also tossed those in and stirred them.  "Kaylee, do you see the vase of herbs on the table?"

She nodded.  "Yes, Mr. Baggins," she answered.

"Bring that over."

She took it from the table.  "Let me show you what these are."  He pulled out a sprig with very tiny leaves.  "This one is called 'thyme'.  Smell it!"

She sniffed obediently, and smiled.  "That smells good, Mr. Baggins!  It smells kind of like the woods in the summertime."

He smiled at her.  "I quite agree, my dear!  And thyme always goes well with mushrooms!  This is how you put it in."  He held the tiny branch over the pot in one hand, and with the other, he ran his thumb and finger down it, stripping the little leaves into the sizzling mushrooms and onion.  Then he used the big long-handled hook to pull it forward a bit.  "This way, it won't get too hot and scorch while we do the next part."  Kaylee nodded.

Bilbo paused.  "But first I will put the kettle on, so we can have a cup of tea."  He filled the copper kettle from the pump, and hung it over the hook that stuck out over the fireplace above the fire.

"Now that's done.  All right, Kaylee, we need some flour and salt.  The salt box is on that shelf.  You get that…"  He pointed.  "...and I'll get the flour," he added, as he reached down a pottery canister, and at the same time got a pottery bowl.  Then he went to the cabinet at the end of the kitchen and took from the drawer a silver spoon.

He opened the canister, and handed the spoon to Kaylee.  "I know you can count, for I've heard you do it for your sister.  Please put six spoonfuls of flour into the bowl."

Kaylee carefully scooped up the flour, and counted aloud, "...four, five, six!  That's all, Mr. Baggins!"

"Now."  He held the salt box out to her.  "Two little pinches of salt."  She did the honors, smiling proudly.

"I'll do this part," he said.  As Kaylee watched, he took up the jar of broth, and poured it into the bowl.  Then he took a little wooden whisk and began to stir the ingredients together until they were smooth, and then he poured it into the little pot and stirred it well with the wooden spoon.  Then he very slowly poured the rest of the broth in, and moved the pot back onto the hotter part of the coals.  Kaylee stood next to him and continued to watch.  When it began to boil, Bilbo pulled it back again, and added the cream.  Then the tea kettle began to whistle.  Using a dish towel, he took it down.

He carried it over to the table.  "Which tea do you wish?  Mint or chamomile?"

"Mint, please," she said.

Soon they were sipping their tea (sweetened with a bit of honey), and Bilbo was explaining the other herbs in the vase to Kaylee.  She recognized mint from its smell right away; chamomile smelled kind of flowery; rosemary smelled almost like a Christmas tree.  But some of the others were more difficult.

After a little while, he sniffed.  "I do think that soup is ready, dear!"  He used the hook to pull the pot away from the hearth.  "Go and fetch a couple of bowls and spoons from the sideboard, Kaylee, please."  She nodded, and did as she was told.

As soon as she handed them to Bilbo, he dished up two bowls full, and placed them upon the table.  Then he fetched a loaf of bread from a cabinet.  It was a round loaf, and he tore two big chunks off it for them to dunk in their soup.

Kaylee had to admit that the soup smelled delicious, and now that she had helped so much in the making of it, she was eager to taste it.  She took up a spoonful, and blew on it gently to cool it, before sipping it from the spoon.  Her face lit up.  "Mr. Baggins, this is REALLY GOOD!"  She grinned.  "And I helped!"  She giggled.

"Indeed you did, Kaylee!  Well done!"  Bilbo smiled proudly at her.

Kaylee took another bite.  Wait till Mommy sees what I can do!  She smiled broadly.

It was the first of Kaylee's lessons in Bilbo's little kitchen, but it was certainly not the last!   

-oo000oo-

The Company had gone nearly fifteen miles into the mines.  They had marched as far as the hobbits and the children, especially Joey, could endure without a rest, and all were thinking of a place where they could sleep, when suddenly the walls to right and left vanished.  They seemed to have passed through some arched doorway into a black and empty space.  There was a great draught of warmer air behind them, and before them the darkness was cold on their faces.  They halted and crowded anxiously together.

The company stared about them; they were in a huge cavernous area.  Gandalf began to explain about the place where they now stood, giving them their bearings.

Sam stared at the place.  The columns with their carvings, the high arches, but it was as gloomy and dim as the parts they had already been through.  “There must have been a mighty crowd of dwarves here at one time and every one of them busier than badgers for five hundred years to make all this, and most in hard rock too!  What did they do it all for?  They didn't live in these darksome holes surely?”

“These are not holes,” said Gimli.  “This is the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf.  And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs.”  He rose, and standing in the dark he began to chant in a deep voice, while the echoes ran away into the room.   

“The world was young, the mountains green,

No stain yet on the Moon was seen,

No words were laid on stream or stone

When Durin woke and walked alone.

He named the nameless hills and dells;

He drank from yet untasted wells;

He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,

And saw a crown of stars appear,

As gems upon a silver thread,

Above the shadow of his head.

“The world was fair, the mountains tall…”

Sam listened in fascination to the lengthy song as Gimli continued chanting it; under the spell of the Dwarf's words, he could almost see the lights and beauty that he spoke of with such feeling.  “Well, there's an eye-opener and no mistake!” he said, thinking that perhaps he could get Mr. Gimli to teach him that song.

Joey stepped next to the gardener, his eyes open wide.  “Wow,” he breathed.  Kevin, who was standing next to his little brother, put his hand on Joey's shoulder.

“You said it, kid!  Wow!”

Jennifer had been moving around, trying to take some pictures with her phone.  “Hey, look!” she said.  “There's light over that way!”

Gandalf nodded.  “Well spotted, Lady Jennifer.  That is the direction in which we need to go.”  He started forward, holding his staff high.  The others fell in behind him, their hopes rising at the thought of light.  They passed into a new passage, and saw another glimmer of light coming from a large room; a door stood half open, letting the light fall into the corridor.

Suddenly Gimli pushed ahead of Gandalf, his expression tense.  He hurried forward, ignoring Gandalf's call of his name.

Gimli rushed into the vast empty chamber.  It was lit with a narrow shaft of sunlight beaming in from a small hole near the roof.  The others followed him more slowly, their eyes wide as they took in the scene: skeletons of Dwarves and Orcs were scattered about the room.  There was a well in one corner.

Pippin's eyes grew wide, and he took Jennifer's arm and steered her to the opposite side of the room.  Jennifer winced at the sight.  Boromir took Joey's arm.

“Stay back, lad,” he said.

A shaft of sunlight fell upon a large stone vault covered with a marble slab.  Stricken, Gimli fell to his knees before it.

“These are Daeron's Runes, such as were used of old in Moria,” said Gandalf.  “Here is written in the tongues of Men and Dwarves:

                        “BALIN SON OF FUNDIN

                        LORD OF MORIA.”

“He is dead then,” said Frodo.  “I feared it was so.”  Gimli cast his hood over his face, and began to chant in Khuzdûl:

“Kilmin malur ni zaram kalil ra narag.

Kheled-zâram …

Balin tazlifi.”

Gandalf carefully lifted the rotting remains of a book from the white stone slab.  It had been slashed and stabbed, and appeared to have been splashed with dried blood.  The pages cracked and broke as he opened it.

Kevin and Aragorn had been moving across the room.  Gandalf turned and handed his staff to the boy to hold as he tried to get a better look at the book.  He began to read:  “They have taken the Bridge and the second hall: we have barred the gates…but cannot hold them for long…the ground shakes…drums, drums in the deep…we cannot get out.  A shadow moves in the dark.  Will no one save us?  They are coming!”

Kevin backed up nervously, and reached a hand out to steady himself.  But Aragorn grabbed his elbow and moved him away from the well.  Kevin looked, and gave a shocked gasp as he saw the skeleton of a Dwarf warrior perched precariously upon the stone wall of the well.  He had just narrowly missed bumping into it, and his eyes widened as he looked at Aragorn, who nodded.  It would have made a horrible racket if it had toppled into the well!  Kevin shuddered.

Just then, they began to hear an ominous rolling sound, like approaching thunder.  Then there was a loud BOOM, followed by the harsh sound of a horn.

Sam glanced at Frodo’s belt, and drew in a breath of shock.  “Mr. Frodo!”

Frodo looked down.  A cold blue glow was emanating from Sting's scabbard.  Frodo drew the sword, staring at its glowing blade.

Legolas saw it at the same time, and knew what that meant.  "Orcs!" he exclaimed.

Aragorn turned swiftly to the hobbits.  "Get back!  Stay close to Gandalf.“  He scanned the children’s faces.  ”Children, stay close together, and ready your weapons!  Jennifer and Joey, stay close to Kevin; be ready to fight, but do not do so except as a last resort.”

Swallowing hard, Jennifer nodded, and then exchanged a glance with Joey and another with Kevin.  She took a deep breath.  “Please, God!” she whispered.  Kevin exchanged a second glance with her and nodded.

Aragorn and Boromir slammed and wedged the doors.  Boromir caught sight of something in the passage beyond as he pulled the door to, and placed an axe into the door handle to bar the way.

"They have a cave troll!"  The warrior sounded more exasperated than worried.

Gimli snatched up two rusty Dwarf axes as he leapt upon the tomb.  "Let them come!” he growled.  “There is one Dwarf yet in Moria who still draws breath!"

“I’m scared,” Joey whimpered, as he leaned against his older sister and, with his right hand, clutched his knife’s handle in a tight grip.  His left hand trembled.

Taking a deep breath, Kevin, on his other side, squeezed his shoulder.  “We all are, Joey,” he whispered.  “We’ll just have to do the best we can.”

“We need angels, don’t we?” Joey answered.

Jennifer nodded agreement.  “We sure do,” she whispered.  Glancing up at the ceiling, she whispered, “Please, God, send some angels to save us!”  She paused.  “All of us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.”  We really need some angels who have all of their angelic powers! she thought, looking at Gandalf.  Please, God, send us some!  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Suddenly the door burst open in a shower of wood fragments, and goblins began charging into the tomb.  

Gandalf pushed the hobbits and the children behind him, as he drew Glamdring, which glowed for him much like Sting did in Frodo's hands.  Merry and Pippin moved to stand in front of Frodo, and Sam was by his side.  They held their Barrow-blades out.  Kevin was standing in front of his brother and sister, a look of grim determination on his face.  "You might want to take out your own weapons!" he exclaimed, half-turning to glance at his siblings.  Pressing her lips together in determination, Jennifer nodded and exchanged a glance with Joey.

“All right, Joey, this is a time to be ready to use your knife to defend yourself.  But don’t fight unless you have to.  Except as a last resort,” she told her little brother.  “Stay close to Kevin and me, OK?”

“OK.”  Taking a deep breath, Joey pulled out his knife. Jennifer put her left arm around his shoulder, and hesitantly drew out one of her own knives.  She poured all her fear into a wordless prayer.  Surely the Lord would know what she needed, because she most certainly did not.

Everywhere around her, people were fighting.  The hobbits had already pulled out their swords and joined the fight.  Kevin had his own sword out, holding it at the ready, as he had been taught.  All was confusion and chaos.  And then a horror beyond Jennifer's imagination: a huge, ungainly figure, what they had called a cave troll.

Kevin took a step forward, and towards the front of Jennifer and Joey.  He reached back slightly with his left hand and pushed them behind.  Merry and Pippin had done the same with Frodo.  

Sam stood frozen in front of the entrance, staring up at the cave troll as it entered.  Aragorn also stared at it, as did the children and hobbits.  Legolas fired an arrow at it, but it did not fell the troll.

It approached Sam and swung its huge spiked club at the hobbit, but with a yell, Sam darted beneath its legs, dropping down on his hands and legs as he reached the other side.  The club landed on the very spot where Sam had stood just seconds before.

Lifting its club, the troll turned toward Sam, who had crawled away from the troll and rolled over onto his back, and was now propped on his elbows, awaiting his imminent death.  Before it could swing its club at the frightened hobbit again, however, Aragorn and Boromir, who saw the danger that Sam was in, grabbed hold of its chain and began pulling on it, yanking it away from Sam.  Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey watched the whole thing in horrified fascination.

Soon, the troll was fighting other members of the Company, and Jennifer noticed that Sam had sheathed his sword, and was now waving a large iron skillet instead.  Gandalf was in front of them all, and was wielding Glamdring in one hand and his staff in the other, while in the middle of the fray, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were already in the thick of the fray.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jennifer thought she saw Sam hit one of the creatures with his skillet.  She felt like laughing hysterically, but swallowed it down.  “I think I’m getting the hang of this!” she heard him say.

The cave troll lunged forward, thrusting at Frodo's chest with his spear.  The creature's lunge pushed him between the hobbits and the children.  As it tried to shove its short spear at them, Merry and Pippin were forced to leap to one side, and Frodo to the other.  Jennifer could barely see the Ringbearer.

"Aragorn!  Aragorn!" he shouted, but the troll lunged at him again, catching him with the spear this time.

"Mr. Frodo!" Sam screamed.

Frodo was lifted off his feet by the spear tip and slammed against the wall.  Jennifer and Joey both screamed in horror.

Aragorn fought his way towards Frodo, calling his name.  For an instant, it almost seemed to Jennifer that everything froze, and all were staring at Frodo's limp form.  But the illusion did not last, and once more the battle was renewed.

The hobbits suddenly went into a furious frenzy.  Sam slashed at the cave troll's knee, bringing him down briefly.  With a yell of pure fury, Merry and Pippin leapt upon the beast's back, hacking at the thick hide to little avail.  Suddenly, as the troll tried to fling the hobbits off, Legolas found an opening to fire an arrow into the roof of his mouth, and the cave troll toppled dead, flinging Merry and Pippin to the floor.  As the troll was defeated, the surviving goblins suddenly fled.

Jennifer grabbed Joey, who was sobbing, and they dropped to their knees, holding one another and weeping, certain that Frodo was dead.  Fighting back his own tears, Kevin wrapped his arms around his brother and sister.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of coughing and looked over to see Aragorn cradling Frodo in his arms, as Frodo struggled to take a deep breath.

Sam's face was lit up with astonished joy.  "He's alive!"

"I'm all right.  I'm not hurt."  Frodo struggled to sit up in Aragorn's arms.

"You should be dead.  That spear would have skewered a wild boar," said Aragorn, stunned amazement etching his face.  “Well, I can only say that hobbits are made of a stuff so tough that I have never met the like of it.  Had I known, I would have spoken softer in the Inn at Bree!”

“Well, that spear did not skewer me, I am glad to say,” said Frodo, “though I feel as if I had been caught between a hammer and an anvil.”  He said no more.  It was clear to Jennifer that he found breathing painful.

Gandalf leaned wearily upon his staff, an expression of relief upon his face.  “You take after Bilbo, Frodo,” he said.  To the others, he added,  "I think there’s more to this Hobbit than meets the eye."

Frodo pulled up his shirt.  To everyone's amazement, there was the sparkle of pure mithril.  It was Bilbo's old vest, that he had given to Frodo.  There were smiles of joy all around.

Gimli shook his head in amazement.  "Mithril!  You are full of surprises, Master Baggins."

Aragorn laughed.  “Here’s a pretty hobbit-skin to wrap an elven-princeling in!”  He shook his head.  “If it were known that hobbits had such skins, all the hunters of Middle-earth would be riding to the Shire.”

“And all the arrows of all the hunters in the world would be in vain,” said Gimli, gazing at the mail in wonder.  “It is a mithril-coat.  Mithril!  I have never seen or heard tell of one so fair.  Is this the coat that you spoke of, Gandalf?”  The Wizard nodded.  Gimli turned back to Frodo.  “Then Bilbo undervalued it.  But it was well given!”

“I have often wondered what you and Bilbo were doing, so close in his little room,” said Merry.  “Bless the old hobbit!  I love him more than ever.  I hope we get a chance of telling him about it!”

BOOM.  BOOM.  BOOM.  Suddenly, the sound of the drums rang out again.  Gandalf turned to the others.  "To the bridge of Khazad-Dûm!" he ordered, as the company was once more roused to their danger.

Gandalf led them all back through the antechamber, toward a distant door.  Jennifer was hauling a stumbling Joey, when Kevin snatched him from her.  Their little brother did not even object to being carried, and buried his face in Kevin's shoulder.  They all ran and ran and ran some more, as the goblins pursued them once more.  And then, a scuttling sound terrified Jennifer!  It sounded like hundreds and hundreds of cockroaches.  More goblins were pouring down from the ceiling and the pillars.  They were surrounded.

Slowly, Kevin lowered Joey to the floor and drew his sword again.  He took a deep breath and locked eyes with Jennifer.  "I'm sorry," he said.

Jennifer closed her eyes for an instant.  "Thy will be done," she prayed, lowering her head.  Joey huddled against his older sister, squeezing his eyes shut, trembling, and taking shallow, rapid breaths.  Jennifer put an arm around him.

“I’m scared,” whimpered Joey.

“We all are, Joey,” whispered Kevin.  “But it’s going to be all right.  We’re going to get out of this.  'The One who is in you—us—is greater than the one who is in the world,'* he quoted.  Jennifer and Joey nodded.

Suddenly, a deafening roar filled the air!  A fiery light danced down the hallway, the pillars casting eerie shadows.  The goblins froze.  They backed fearfully away from the approaching beast and then skittered away into the darkness.

"What is this new devilry?" asked Boromir.

Red flames surrounded a huge shadow, immense, with what appeared to be fiery wings.

Gandalf placed a weary hand across his face.  "A Balrog…a demon of the ancient world!  This foe is beyond any of you!"  He looked up with determination.  "Run!   Quickly!"

Once more the race was on to escape the blackness of Moria.  They ran again, fear and loathing lending wings to even Joey's short legs.  The hobbits, too, were running faster than they ever had before.  Gandalf was at the very rear, and Aragorn was leading from the front with Boromir at his side.  The Ranger urged them on.  Jennifer thought her heart would burst, and her breath was burning in her lungs, but on she ran.  They came around a curve in the tunnel, strewn with broken stone, and just beyond was a steep stairway, and below it, the Bridge of Khazad-dûm spanning a seemingly-bottomless abyss.  Beyond was a faint hint of light—real daylight!

Then, just as they had nearly reached it, there was a massive roar behind.  None of them could help but look.  It was a vast shadow, and within it, a human-like form, though immense.  There was a dreadful sense of power and horror, and dread seemed to precede it.  Like a dark cloud, it leaped over the flames; the flames roared up, and smoke filled the air around it.  It seemed to have a mane of fire; in its right hand was a sword of flame, and in its left, a horrible whip.

Aragorn led them down the stairs.  Gandalf followed, leaning heavily on his staff.

“Lead them on, Aragorn!  The bridge is near,” Gandalf called.  When Aragorn hesitated, he shouted, "Do as I say!  Swords are no more use here!"

On they raced, hoping that the end was near and that they would soon be out of Moria.  Jennifer noticed Kevin had picked Joey up again, and she slightly stumbled.  Merry and Pippin each grabbed one of her hands and pulled her on.  Across the bridge, they hurried.  She kept her eyes straight ahead and tried not to look at the sides of the bridge, which had no rails or anything to keep them from falling into the abyss.  What was it Aragorn said about falling and not knowing when you were gonna hit the bottom? she wondered silently, shuddering at the prospect of falling off that narrow bridge.  Why couldn’t the dwarves have built railings on this bridge?

As they reached the other side of the bridge, they paused briefly to catch their breath, and Jennifer saw a look of horror on Frodo's face, as he had turned back to face the bridge.  She turned, too, and saw Gandalf standing in the middle of the span.  What would Jesus do if He was here, facing that demon? she asked herself.  He cast out demons, but He never faced one like this!  Not while He was on earth, anyway.  But He would have conquered it; I know He would have!  But how, and what would Jesus have us do now?  Come on, Jen, think!  She slapped her forehead and took a deep breath.  Please, God, protect Gandalf!

The Balrog reached the bridge.  Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring gleamed, cold and white.  His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.  It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked.  Fire came from its nostrils.  But Gandalf stood firm.

“You cannot pass,” he said.  The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell.

“Gandalf!” Frodo cried, horrified.

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor,” Gandalf warned.  “You cannot pass.  The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn.  Go back to the Shadow!  You cannot pass.”

The Balrog made no answer.  The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew.  It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.

From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming.

Glamdring glittered white in answer.

There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire.  The Balrog fell back and its sword flew up in molten fragments.  The wizard swayed on the bridge, stepped back a pace, and then again stood still.

“You cannot pass!” he said again.

With a bound the Balrog leaped full upon the bridge.  Its whip whirled and hissed.

“He cannot stand alone!” cried Aragorn suddenly and ran back along the bridge.  “Elendil!” he shouted.  “I am with you, Gandalf!”  

“Gondor!” cried Boromir and leaped after him.

At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff and his sword.  “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!” he shouted in a booming voice, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him with his staff and sword.  The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand, but Glamdring stayed intact.  A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up.  The bridge cracked.  Right at the Balrog's feet it broke, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into emptiness.

With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished.  But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard's knees, dragging him to the brink.  He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss.  “Fly, you fools!” he cried, and was gone.

Even as Aragorn and Boromir came flying back, the rest of the bridge cracked and fell.  With a cry Aragorn roused them.

“Come!  I will lead you now!” he called.  “We must obey his last command.  Follow me!”

Frodo cried out in anguish, "Gandalf!  NO!"  Frodo struggled, but Boromir scooped him up and carried him away.

Jennifer realized she, too, was screaming in grief.  How could it be Gandalf?  How could he have fallen?  She paid no attention to the tears running down her face, as the remaining eleven members of the company raced through a stone archway into the cold daylight.

As they came out into the nearly blinding light upon the snowfield before them, she fell to her knees and collapsed, sobbing, into sorrow and grief.  She scarcely noticed the others as they wept.

Aragorn called out sternly, "Legolas, get them up."

Boromir objected, "Give them a moment, for pity's sake!"

The Ranger shook his head regretfully.  There was no time for grief here and now.  "By nightfall, these hills will be swarming with Orcs!  We must reach the woods of Lothlórien.  Come, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, get them up.  On your feet, Sam.  Kevin!  You must see to your brother and sister."

Sniffling, Kevin dragged himself to his feet and bent to pick up Joey, who was curled up into a little ball of sorrow and tears.  "Jen?"

Jennifer looked up at him, and forced herself to nod.  As she slowly stood up, she felt a weariness she had never felt before.  She looked around at the others as they, too, tried to pull themselves together.  Where was Frodo?  She looked around…there he was, walking away, as if in a daze.

Aragorn called him, "Frodo?  Frodo!"

Frodo slowly turned, a look of numb shock on his devastated face.  Without a word, he slowly trudged toward the others; Sam joined him.  The Company marched on, down the snowy slopes.

-oo000oo-

A/N: Haldaran is an OC belonging to pandemonium213.  He's the head cook at Rivendell, and can be found found in her story, "Abundance," at Many Paths to Tread.

*The Bible verse quoted by Kevin is 1 John 4:4, New International Version.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur. We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Chapter 20: Into the Woods

Tears kept running down Jennifer’s face.  Why? her heart screamed.  Why Gandalf?  Why did he have to die?  Her stomach churned, and her heart roiled nonstop.  She could see, from looking at her companions’ faces, that they all felt the same.  Thank goodness Kaylee’s not with us!  She loves Gandalf.  Jennifer shook her head violently.

  Please, God, help me! she silently begged.   Please help us all!

Without warning, a song rose into her heart, and without thinking, she began to sing it softly.  

“Precious Lord, take my hand;

Lead me on, let me stand.

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.

Through the storm, through the night,

Lead me on to the light.

 

“Take my hand precious Lord,

Lead me Home…"

The others listened to her as she sang; their facial expressions eased.  When Jennifer had finished, Kevin began to sing a different hymn.  

“Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,

Still, all my song shall be

Nearer, my God, to Thee;

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee…”

Legolas listened in amazement to the songs of the children.  Their voices were not Elven voices, and the music was quite different from any music he had heard before.  But the words!  Their songs spoke directly to Eru Ilúvatar, rising up with assurance to the Presence.  These children seemed so confident that they were being heard by Eru, and the songs were as a balm to his grieving féa.  He could sense a difference in the others of the Company as well—an easing, though the sorrow remained.

Jennifer started to sing another song:    

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul…”

Once that song was finished, Kevin softly began another song, and Jennifer joined in.  

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul.

Oh, my soul.

Worship His holy name.

Sing like never before, Oh my soul.

I'll worship Your holy name…"

When Kevin and Jennifer had finished their song, Joey began another one:  

“All night, all day.

Angels watching over me, my Lord.

All night, all day.

Angels watching over me.”

His older brother and sister joined in:  

“Sun is a-setting in the West;

Angels watching over me, my Lord.

Sleep my child, take your rest;

Angels watching over me.”

As the children began another chorus, Pippin's clear voice joined theirs as well, repeating the words from before.  

“All night, all day.

Angels watching over me, my Lord.

All night, all day.

Angels watching over me.

 

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

Angels watching over me, my Lord.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

Angels watching over me.”

As the chorus joined in once more, Legolas lifted his own voice.  How wonderful it was, he thought, to think that the Maiar were watching over them, even though Gandalf was lost to them now.  

“All night, all day.

Angels watching over me, my Lord.

All night, all day.

Angels watching over me.”

Moved by the music, Legolas began to sing another song:  

"Eru, Tân Ilnad,

i amarthant i Veleglin ah i Melain,

aglarath an Eru i echant ah ista in ind ‘wîn.

No ‘lassui athen i lind ‘wîn aglar;

isto i banthas-i-fêr ‘wîn, Eru; togo i laim ‘wîn an *oled lend

anin Beleglin Gardhon, Eru.

Eglerio Eru, i Adar Ereb Ilnad,

i Ben i or archadhwath n’uir." *

Jennifer could not understand his words, sung as they were in another language, but she understood the feelings of it, that it was a song to the Heavenly Father who ruled everything, no matter what world they were in, and it eased her heart even more.

After Legolas had finished his song, they all grew silent once more, still saddened by the loss of Gandalf, and yet strangely comforted by all the singing.

Once they had stopped singing, it was all Joey could do to put one foot in front of the other.  He slowly plodded next to Frodo and Sam, making a valiant effort to keep up with the rest.  His big brother was up ahead, helping Aragorn and Boromir.  Jennifer was stumbling along with Pippin holding her by the elbow, and Merry on her other side.  Legolas was directly in front of Joey.  At first, Joey had been walking along with Frodo and Sam, just staring at the ground, trying not to trip, and trying not to think about that horrible moment on the Bridge.  It was a while before he realized that Frodo and Sam were not alongside him anymore.  He turned and saw them lagging far behind.  They didn't look too good.  Sam was shivering, and Frodo seemed to be struggling to breathe.

"Legolas!" Joey called.  "Frodo and Sam need help!"

Legolas turned around and seeing how far back Frodo and Sam were, called Aragorn, and then trotted back to the two stragglers.  Aragorn gestured to Boromir and turned back as well.  The others halted, and then Merry and Pippin also started to go back, but Gimli stopped them.  "Do not crowd them, laddies!"

“I am sorry, Frodo!” Aragorn cried, full of concern.  “So much has happened this day and we have such need of haste, that I have forgotten that you were hurt; and Sam too.  You should have spoken.  We have done nothing to ease you, as we ought, though all the orcs of Moria were after us.  Come now!  A little further on there is a place where we can rest for a little.  There I will do what I can for you.  Come, Boromir!  We will carry them.”

Legolas patted Joey on the shoulder.  "You did a good thing, Joey, noticing that your comrades needed help.  I think that you perhaps need some help as well."  He gave Joey no chance to protest, but picked him up to carry him.

The remaining members of the Company continued at a slightly brisker pace now, and pretty soon they came to a little stream.  There was a little wooded clearing, surrounded by some fir trees. There was lots of shrubbery surrounding it, and there was a little flat area next to the stream.  Joey recalled that this was the sort of place that they had occasionally camped in, and where they had been allowed to have a fire on their journey.

"Let us rest here," said Aragorn.  "We can now tend to your wounds."

Gimli directed the children and the other two hobbits in kindling a fire.  There was plenty of brush and fallen fir branches close by.  Joey helped Pippin to draw water, while Jennifer helped Merry in gathering the wood.  Kevin assisted Gimli in starting the fire; he had begun to get pretty good at using flint and tinder, and Gimli praised his efforts.  Joey glanced over at Aragorn tending to Sam; the Ranger's face was grim at first, but then he looked relieved.

“Good luck, Sam!” Aragorn said.  “Many have received worse than this in payment for the slaying of their first orc.  The cut is not poisoned, as the wounds of orc-blades too often are.  It should heal well when I have tended it.  Bathe it when Gimli has heated water.”

He opened his pouch and drew out some withered leaves.  “They are dry and some of their virtue has gone,” he said, “but here I have still some of the leaves of athelas that I gathered near Weathertop.  Crush one in the water, and wash the wound clean, and I will bind it.  Now it is your turn, Frodo!”

Frodo protested a little, but he knew that Aragorn would have his way, so he allowed him to lift his shirt.

“We must have a look and see what the hammer and the anvil have done to you.  If you had not been wearing that mithril shirt, you would be dead now.”  Gently he stripped off Frodo's old jacket and worn tunic, and revealed the rest of the mithril shirt.  It was the first time the rest of them had a good look at the mail.

Aragorn shook his head in astonishment“Bilbo did well to give you that shirt, Frodo.  It saved your life today.”  With a wan smile, Frodo nodded.  It certainly had.  Aragorn added, “But you are badly bruised and in need of treatment, and so I need to take it off so I can have a look at your wounds.”

Frodo nodded again.  “All right, Aragorn.”

Merry smiled with relief, and said again how grateful he was that Bilbo had given the coat to Frodo.  Joey felt relieved as well.  He did not even want to imagine how horrible he would have felt if Frodo had been killed by that troll—and then Gandalf...  The image of the Balrog rose in his mind, and he shook it away, shuddering.

Kevin took Joey by the arm.  "Come on over here by the fire while Aragorn works on Frodo, Joey, and let’s give him a little privacy, you and me.”   The brothers went over to join the rest.  There was a lovely smell that pervaded the whole little clearing.  The smell was like when Joey's mother made homemade cinnamon bread, and then it also smelled like Christmas.  While Aragorn treated Frodo and Sam’s injuries, Joey began to relax, and soon fell asleep at his brother's side, with Kevin's arm around him.

After what only seemed a little while, Kevin shook Joey awake.  "Let's have a little something to eat," he said.

He handed Joey one of the little bags of the dried fruit, nuts, and grain that reminded Joey of trail mix back home.  Then he gave him a strip of dried meat—that was sort of like jerky, except it didn't have as much taste to it.  Jennifer came over to him with a cup of hot tea.  Joey had never had hot tea before they all had come to this world, but after all these weeks of drinking it here, he found it very comforting.  Looking at Frodo and Sam, he noticed that there was a bandage covering Sam’s forehead, and that Frodo had put his tunic and jacket back on.  The mithril shirt must be on underneath, Joey supposed.

After everyone had finished eating, Aragorn urged them to their feet.  "Come along!  We must get well and truly into Lothlórien before it gets much darker!"  Everyone scrambled to their feet and worked together to remove all signs that a fire had been built.  Within minutes, they had climbed out of the dell and were on their way again.  That time, Frodo and Sam were able to keep up with the others; Joey could see that they felt eased and greatly refreshed.

"I feel a lot better after smelling that stuff Aragorn put in the water," he said.  "It smelled like Christmas morning."  Joey gave a deep sigh as he recalled the aroma of fir and cinnamon and Christmas candles.

"I thought it smelled like Mom's garden in the spring, after a rain," Jennifer replied.

"To me it smelled like Grandma and Grandpa Gordon’s apple orchard when we visit in the fall."  Kevin took a deep breath.

"Maybe it just smells like all those things."  Joey thought it made him feel braver and stronger to smell it; it was still sad about Gandalf, but he thought he could keep on going better now.

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged a glance.  “Maybe,” Kevin said, and Jennifer nodded.

The eleven of them walked on, not quite so weary as they had been; soon the Sun sank behind the mountains to the West, and it grew dim and misty.  But even so, they kept going on for at least three more hours, with only one short halt, so that Aragorn could check on Frodo and Sam.

As Jennifer trudged alongside Kevin, questions about their approaching destination kept running through her mind.  At last, when two hours had passed since they had left the dell and it had grown dark, she decided to ask Aragorn, so she hurried forward to catch up with him.

Aragorn looked down at her as she reached his side.  “What is on your mind, Jennifer?”

Jennifer furrowed her eyebrows.  “What’s Loth—Loth…?”  Her voice trailed off.

“Lothlórien?” Aragorn asked.  Jennifer nodded.  “It’s a place where Elves live.”

“You mean—like Rivendell?”

Aragorn smiled.  “Yes and no.  Elves live in Lothlórien, yes, but it is very unlike Rivendell in many respects, some of which I cannot find words to adequately describe, Jennifer.  You will find out for yourself when we arrive there, if not before.  I will tell you this: you will meet the Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel when we come to their home in Lothlórien.  We will reach the Golden Wood tonight, but it will require two more marches to come to Caras Galadhon, the city where Celeborn and Galadriel live.”

Nodding, Jennifer dropped back.  She had a lot to think about.

The Sun continued to sink behind them, and their shadows in front of them were long.  Soon, it was dark.  Deep night had fallen.  There were many other clear stars, but the fast-waning moon would not be seen till late.  Gimli and Frodo were at the rear, walking softly and not speaking, listening for any sound on the road behind.  At one point, Boromir lifted an exhausted Joey and carried him; the child soon fell asleep.  They travelled on and on towards the distant golden eaves of a great forest.  It was quite dark when they finally arrived at their destination and took another break under the dark eaves of the forest at night.

They still heard no signs of pursuit.  Kevin knew that the ears of their companions were much sharper than his own.  And the goblins were not exactly quiet creatures.  Perhaps they had given them the slip; he could only hope so.  He heard Gimli voice much the same opinion to Frodo.

“Not a sound but the wind,” he said.  “There are no goblins near, or my ears are made of wood.  It is to be hoped that the orcs will be content with driving us from Moria.  And maybe that was all their purpose, and they had nothing else to do with us—with the Ring.  Though orcs will often pursue foes for many leagues into the plain, if they have a fallen captain to avenge.”  Frodo glanced down at Sting's blade.

Jennifer turned toward Kevin, and they exchanged an uneasy glance.  Good thing Joey wasn’t awake to hear that! Kevin thought.  Hopefully, though, Gimli’s right, and there are no orcs after us now.

Kevin knew that Frodo’s sword would glow if danger from those creatures was nearby, and he saw no sign of it as Frodo lifted it slightly.  He took even more comfort in that.

Frodo and Gimli continued talking, but Kevin tuned them out as he moved closer to where Jennifer and Joey were walking with Merry and Pippin.

Suddenly the group stopped.  “Lothlórien!” cried Legolas.  “Lothlórien!  We have come to the eaves of the Golden Wood.  Alas that it is winter!”

“Lothlórien!” said Aragorn.  “Glad I am to hear again the wind in the trees!  We are still little more than five leagues from the Gates, but we can go no further.  Here let us hope that the virtue of the Elves will keep us tonight from the peril that comes behind.”

A little over five leagues, Kevin thought.  One league equals roughly three miles, so it’s a little over fifteen miles from here, give or take, to those gates Aragorn mentioned.  He grimaced.  He’s right—there’s no way we can get there tonight!

The group stopped for more conversation.  Gimli doubted that Elves still lived there, and Boromir seemed almost afraid to go in.  That’s odd, Kevin thought, furrowing his brow.  I wouldn't think a warrior like Boromir would be afraid.

“Then lead on!  But it is perilous,” was Boromir's last word.

“Perilous indeed,” said Aragorn, “fair and perilous; but only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them.  Follow me!”

They had not gone far when they found another stream; they could hear it splashing over the rocks long before they could see it.  When they came upon it, it was running swiftly across the path.

Here is Nimrodel!” said Legolas.  “Of this stream the Silvan Elves made many songs long ago, and still we sing them in the North, remembering the rainbow on its falls, and the golden flowers that floated in its foam.  All is dark now and the Bridge of Nimrodel is broken down.  I will bathe my feet, for it is said that the water is healing to the weary.”  He went forward and climbed down the deep-cloven bank and stepped into the stream.

“Follow me!” he cried.  “The water is not deep.  Let us wade across!  On the further bank we can rest, and the sound of the falling water may bring us sleep and forgetfulness of grief.”

It wasn't very deep.  They all (except the hobbits) took off their shoes or boots, and waded across.  The water was very cold, but felt soothing and refreshing to Kevin's tired feet.  When all eleven of them were across, they sat down and rested a little.  They put on their footgear once more.  (Kevin wished he had some clean dry socks.  He hated putting dirty ones back on.)  They broke out some of the trail food again and ate a little, and Legolas talked a little about Lothlórien.  The music of the stream and the distant waterfall was mesmerizing.  Kevin almost thought he could hear singing.

“Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel?” asked Legolas.  “I will sing you a song of the maiden Nimrodel, who bore the same name as the stream beside which she lived long ago.  It is a fair song in our woodland tongue; but this is how it runs in the Westron Speech, as some in Rivendell now sing it.”  In a soft voice hardly to be heard amid the rustle of the leaves above them he began:  

"An Elven-maid there was of old,

A shining star by day:

Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,

Her shoes of silver-grey…"

It was a long and sad song, but the way Legolas sang it, Kevin could just see it in his mind's eye.  When Legolas had finished singing, Jennifer sighed.  "That was so romantic and sad," she said.  “I wish Amroth could have married Nimrodel.  It’s not fair that they got separated like that.”

"Tales worthy of song are often sad, and in the long lives of Elves, they rarely end happily, for they are true," Legolas answered.

Jennifer bit her lower lip.  “Well, if they’re still alive, maybe they’ll be reunited someday.  I hope they will be!”

The Elf shrugged.  "Whether they have returned from Mandos or no, we shall not know so long as we dwell on this side of the Sundering Sea."

After everyone had finished eating, Aragorn urged them to their feet.  "Come along!  We must get well and truly into Lothlórien before it gets much darker!"    Everyone scrambled to their feet and worked together to remove all signs that a fire had been built.  Within minutes, they had climbed out of the dell and were on their way again.

Legolas turned his talk to Lothlórien, telling of the way the Galadhrim dwelt in the trees.  Gimli suggested that they do likewise, to throw off any possible pursuers.

“Your words bring good counsel, Gimli,” said Aragorn.  “We cannot build a house, but tonight we will do as the Galadhrim and seek refuge in the tree-tops, if we can.  We have sat here beside the road already longer than was wise.”

The group went off the path and into the woods, heading always west.  Not far from the waterfall they had heard, they found some trees overhanging the stream.  By this time Kevin was carrying an exhausted Joey, and Pippin was carefully guiding a stumbling Jennifer by her elbow.  Kevin watched them—Pippin was always so solicitous of his sister.  He wondered…no, that was just silly…

They stopped, and Legolas offered to climb up into the trees and discover if they would make proper shelter.

"Whatever it may be,” said Pippin, “they will be marvellous trees indeed if they can offer any rest at night, except to birds.  I cannot sleep on a perch!”

“Then dig a hole in the ground,” said Legolas, “if that is more after the fashion of your kind.  But you must dig swift and deep, if you wish to hide from orcs.”  He sprang lightly up from the ground and caught a branch that grew from the trunk high above his head.  But even as he swung there for a moment, a voice spoke suddenly from the tree-shadows above him.

“Daro!” it said in commanding tone, and Legolas dropped back to earth in surprise and fear.  He shrank against the bole of the tree.

“Stand still!” he whispered to the others.  “Do not move or speak!”

There was a sound of soft laughter over their heads, and then another clear voice spoke in an elven-tongue.

It was Elves!

The group spent the night in the trees with them.  There was a disturbance in the middle of the night, and several of the Elves went after the cause, but Kevin was too sleepy to be curious.

-oo000oo-

The next couple of days were weird.  First, they had to cross over a raging river by walking across a rope!  And then they all had to travel blindfolded because Gimli was going to have to.  Kevin didn't like that one bit—these Elves were way too paranoid and prejudiced against dwarves to suit him, but that's what Aragorn said they had to do, so Kevin couldn't protest much about it.  It really was unfair that Gimli wasn’t allowed to see what was around him when the rest of them would have been allowed to.  Joey, on the other hand, kept complaining about not being able to see until Pippin and Merry suggested they turn it into a game, trying to guess what they might see if they could take off the blindfolds.  They spent the rest of the day guessing the sounds and scents around them.

Thankfully, on the second day, orders finally came down: they would all be allowed to take the blindfolds off, and the Elf in charge, who was named Haldir, took Gimli's blindfold off first.

“Behold!  You are come to Cerin Amroth,” said Haldir.  “For this is the heart of the ancient realm as it was long ago, and here is the mound of Amroth, where in happier days his high house was built.  Here ever bloom the winter flowers in the unfading grass: the yellow elanor, and the pale niphredil.  Here we will stay awhile, and come to the city of the Galadhrim at dusk.”

Kevin pulled down his own blindfold, and gasped, “Whoa!”  They stood on the greenest grass he had ever seen, sprinkled with white and golden flowers, and looked up at a double mound, crowned with a circle of amazing trees.  It was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.  He felt his sister and brother come to his side, and he put an arm around Jennifer's waist and a hand on Joey's shoulder, pulling them close.  This beauty was meant to be shared with loved ones.

Joey smiled broadly.  “Cool!” he said.

Jennifer nodded agreement, open-mouthed, shaking her head in wonder; she pulled her phone out and snapped a picture. But when she checked it, it didn't seem half so beautiful as it did in real life.  “I wish Kaylee could see this,” she said wistfully.  She looked over at Aragorn, and nudged Kevin, who looked as well.  The Ranger had a faraway look in his eyes as he held one of the golden flowers, and said something in Elvish.  Kevin and Jennifer exchanged a puzzled look.  What on earth was Aragorn thinking about?

Soon, Haldir led them on again.  It was still a fair walk to the treetop city of the Galadhrim.  It looked amazing in the dusk, with lights that twinkled like stars.  Haldir led them on and on, the trees above them a dizzying height.  Jennifer lost count of the many paths and stairs before they finally came to a wide clearing with a fountain flowing from the center; silver lights hanging in the trees made it almost glow as the water poured into a wide silver basin.  The water overflowed into a white stream that meandered down the hill.  To the south of the clearing was the biggest and tallest tree she had yet seen, the largest and grandest of the mellyrn, as Haldir had told them was the name of the great trees.  The trees put the great sequoias of California to shame.  She recalled how awed she had been to see those when the family had last gone to California on vacation when she had been thirteen.

“They get to live in treehouses!” Joey said, smiling broadly, craning his head as he looked upward.  “How neat!  Just like the Swiss Family Robinson!”  He loved to play with his friends in his family’s backyard treehouse back home.

Haldir led them to the foot of a long stairway that encircled that mighty mallorn.  Up and up they climbed, and Kevin began to have butterflies in his stomach at the thought of meeting the King and Queen of Lothlórien.  They climbed past many platforms that Haldir called "flets".  Some of the flets were set to one side or another, and a few were built all around the trunk of the tree.

At a great height above the ground, the members of the Company found themselves on a huge platform with a large house built on it.  Kevin and his companions discovered that they were in a chamber of oval shape.  The chamber was filled with a soft light.  The light was soft within the green and yellow walls, and the roof was as golden as the leaves of the mighty mallorn which grew through the center of the chamber.  On two thrones which sat on a dias by the trunk of the great tree were two Elves.  They seemed to glow with an unearthly light, and their eyes were deep pools of wisdom.  Kevin remembered that he had been told that they were Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel.  The two of them stood and came forward.

Celeborn's hair was long and silvery, while Galadriel's hair was of a golden hue.  She was so beautiful—Kevin had never seen a woman so beautiful, save perhaps the Lady Arwen.  Kevin exchanged an awe-stricken look with Jennifer and then looked at Joey.  The child’s mouth hung wide open.

Looking at Aragorn, Lord Celeborn spoke in a deep and sonorous voice, "The Enemy knows you have entered here.   What hope you had in secrecy is now gone.   Eleven there are here, yet twelve there were set out from Rivendell.   Tell me, where is Gandalf?   For I much desire to speak with him.  I can no longer see him from afar."

Before Aragorn could answer, Lady Galadriel spoke softly.  "Gandalf the Grey did not pass the borders of this land.  He has fallen into Shadow."  She looked out over the Company, who stood there uneasily.

Finally, it was Legolas who spoke.  "He was taken by both Shadow and flame.   A Balrog of Morgoth.  For we went needlessly into the net of Moria."

In a sad voice, Aragorn told them everything that had happened since their disastrous attempt to reach the pass of Caradhras—the wolves, the monster at the entrance to Moria, and worst of all, the Balrog and Gandalf's fall.  At the sudden memory of the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm, Kevin suddenly felt grief well up, as he recalled Gandalf's fall into the deep chasm.  He bent his head to blink away the tears in his eyes.  But he looked up in surprise when he heard the Lady say, "Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life.  We do not yet know his full purpose."

She looked out at the group of travellers before her with great sympathy, looking at each in turn, her eyes softening as she looked at Joey, and then her eyes stopped on Gimli.  "Do not let the great emptiness of Khazad-dûm fill your heart Gimli, son of Glóin.  For the world has grown full of peril, and in all lands, love is now mingled with grief."  She added, “Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khadazd-dûm in Eldar Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone.”  She looked again upon Gimli, who sat glowering and looking sad, and she smiled.  And the Dwarf looked up at her and met her eyes.

He’s looking as if he sees a friend! Kevin thought, as he stared at the Dwarf.  Kevin saw hope and wonder dawning on Gimli’s face for the first time since they had left the tunnels, and then Gimli smiled in answer.

He bowed in dwarf-fashion, saying, “Yet more fair is the living land of Lórien, and the Lady Galadriel is above all the jewels that lie beneath the earth!”  She smiled at him again.

Kevin and Jennifer exchanged delighted grins.  It was clear to them both that the ancient prejudice between dwarf and elf was beginning to break down—at least, between Gimli and Galadriel.  Maybe things’ll change between Gimli and Legolas next, Jennifer thought hopefully.  I hope they will!

Then Galadriel’s gaze once more scanned each of them.  She held them with her eyes, and in silence looking searchingly at each in turn.  None save Legolas and Aragorn could long endure her glance.  Sam quickly blushed and hung his head.  Joey squirmed, biting his lower lip and shaking his head violently.

When Galadriel’s eyes met Kevin's, he had a sudden thought.  What if they had never gone into the cave?  What if they could go back in time, and wipe all memory of Middle-earth from their memories?  They would all be safe with their family and free from danger…he shook his head.  No, not now.  He and Joey and Jennifer couldn't leave all their new friends in the lurch, especially Frodo, and most especially since he and Jennifer, in particular, knew now that it was the Lord's will.

Lead us not into temptation, he silently prayed, but deliver us from evil.  Suddenly the temptation was gone, and a pressure he was not aware of before had left his mind.  He looked at the Lady, who gave him a nod of approval and a smile of pride, and he realised that he had just passed some kind of test.  Finally, the Lady Galadriel released them from her eyes, and she smiled.

Celeborn spoke again.  "What now becomes of this Fellowship?  Without Gandalf, hope is lost."

“Your quest is known to us,” said Galadriel, looking at Frodo.  “But we will not here speak of it more openly. I will not give you counsel, saying do this or do that, for not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another can I avail, but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be, but this I will say to you: your quest stands upon the edge of a knife.  Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all.  Yet hope remains while the Company is true," Galadriel said.  Her eyes turned to Joey, who was staring up at her in amazement, and then to Sam.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled,” she added.   “Go now and rest, for you are weary with sorrow and much toil.  Tonight you shall sleep in peace."  Kevin felt exhausted and ready to rest, and he could tell that his friends felt the same.  Joey was leaning against him, barely able to stay awake.

Celeborn nodded agreement.  “Go now!  Even if your Quest did not concern us closely, you should have refuge in this City, until you were healed and refreshed.  Now you shall rest, and we will not speak of your further road for a while.”

Thus dismissed, they were all led by Haldir back to the foot of the mallorn.  There, two Elves, one a maiden, were waiting for them.

-oo000oo-

 A/N: We would like to thank Hana M. of the Stories of Arda forum for helping us to come up with the translation of Legolas' hymn to Ilúvatar in this chapter.  She acted as go-between for us with the wonderful folks at Realelvish.net (https://realelvish.net/).  Our thanks also go to dreamingfifi, who came up with the actual translation.  Below is the original song, along with dreamingfifi's translation, as well as the literal meaning of the Sindarin.

Original: Eru Ilúvatar, Maker of All, who declared among the Ainur the Great Music, all praise to Ilúvatar who made and knows our hearts.  May our songs of praise be delightful to Him; may He know the fullness of our spirits; may He guide our tongues to be always in harmony with the Great Music of Arda.  Praise Ilúvatar, the One Ilúvatar, the One who is above all thrones forever!

Translation: Eru, Tân Ilnad, i amarthant i Veleglin ah i Melain, aglarath an Eru i echant ah ista in ind ‘wîn.  No ‘lassui athen i lind ‘wîn aglar; isto i banthas-i-fêr ‘wîn, Eru; togo i laim ‘wîn an *oled lend anin Beleglin Gardhon, Eru. Eglerio Eru, i Adar Ereb Ilnad, i Ben i or archadhwath n’uir.

Literal: Eru. Maker of Everything, who decreed the Great-song with the Valar, all glory to Eru who fashioned and knows our hearts.  May our songs of glory be joyous to him; may Eru know the fullness of our souls; may Eru lead our tongues to becoming sweet-sounding to the Great-song of Arda.  Praise Eru, the Lone Father of Everything, the One who is over all thrones forever.

This was translated by dreamingfifi from Realelvish.net (https://realelvish.net/) into the wood elves' Sindarin.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it. 

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people. 

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 21: Reflection

Haldir introduced them to the two new Elves, Thorchon and Lassiel.  Like most of the Elves whom the  Company had met in Lothlórien so far, they were fair-haired.  Thorchon was not quite so tall as Haldir, and he was clad in grey.  Lassiel's long, blonde hair was pulled to the back in a loose plait, and fell nearly to her knees; her long gown was pale green.

"I will leave you with them for now.  I must go and make my report."  Haldir gripped Aragorn's forearm briefly, and gave the rest of them a nod, before he left.

It turned out that the two Elves were to escort them to a place where they could bathe, and then would show them to where they would be staying.  Lassiel led Jennifer away from the rest, which made Kevin somewhat nervous, but of course his sister couldn't take a bath with all of the guys.  He knew she would welcome a bath as much as he would.  All they'd been able to do, throughout their whole journey so far, was to just wash themselves in cold water.  He hoped these Elves had hot water as in Rivendell, but he wasn't sure, since they lived in trees.  With the rest of the group, Kevin followed Thorchon back part of the way they had come.  Then he led them to one side down a path marked on one side by white stones.  Soon they came to a small clearing hedged about by small trees and bushes.  Inside was a pond, but it was clear and clean and giving off steam.  There was a bubbling in the center, indicating that it was a hot spring.

There was a carved wooden bench nearby, piled with folded white linen.  Kevin and the other males quickly disrobed.  Since he played sports, he was used to stripping down in the locker room, and he wasn't embarrassed since he knew no one else would look at him; the others were too busy getting ready for their own baths to take any notice of him.  He helped Joey get undressed.  His little brother was slightly embarrassed, but he knew Joey would get used to it.  "Hey, guy," he said, "it's okay.  No one will look; the others are all going too busy cleaning themselves to pay any attention to us.”  He nodded toward their companions.  “Besides, won't a hot bath feel good?"

Joey nodded, his face still red.  But he lost his embarrassment once he got into the water, which was the perfect temperature.  Kevin watched Joey's blushes subside, and then took a bar of soft creamy soap from a basket on the bank of the pond and tossed it to his little brother, and then he handed Joey one of the smaller linen cloths.  "Be sure to wash behind your ears and the back of your neck," he said, exaggerating his bossy tone.

Joey laughed.  "Yes, Mommy," he said mockingly.

Laughing, Kevin picked up a bar of soap.  Sure now that his brother was comfortable, he exchanged a wink with Pippin, who was taking his own bath nearby, and turned his attention to his own bathing.  It felt seriously good to not be dirty anymore!   

-oo000oo-

“Where am I gonna bathe?” Jennifer asked Lassiel, as the female elf led her away from her companions.

“There is a pond not far from the one where your brothers will bathe.”  Lassiel stepped aside and gestured toward the clearing ahead of them.

Jennifer stepped forward.  The clearing was hedged with tall bushes, and in the center was a shallow pond.  The water was clear, and it was giving off steam, as Jennifer noticed.  She smiled.  At least the water would not be cold.  There must be a hot spring underneath, she thought.  In that instant, she noticed bubbles rising to the surface of the water in the middle.  There is a hot spring!  She smiled.  At least I won’t have to take a cold bath!

Close to the edge of the pond was a carved wooden bench.  Some pieces of white linen were folded on it and stacked in a short pile.  It was clear to Jennifer that they were meant to be washcloths and towels.  A basket filled with bars of soap rested on the bank of the pond, and a narrow jar stood next to it.  “No one will come in here while you are bathing, Lady Jennifer,” Lassiel told her.  “So you are free to undress and step into the water.”  She nodded toward the basket.  “The bars of soap are for your use, and the jar contains a liquid soap for your hair.”

Jennifer smiled.  “Thanks.  The—the water’s not too hot, is it?”

Lassiel shook her head.  “It is near to hot, but it will not burn you.”

Jennifer smiled again, in relief.  “Thanks.  Don’t think I want any first- or second-degree burns on my body tonight.”

Lassiel smiled at her, and then she turned to leave.  As soon as she was out of sight, Jennifer removed her clothes and laid them on the end of the bench.  Picking up a bar of soft, creamy soap, she entered the water and began to wash herself.  Lassiel was right; the water was comfortably hot, but not hot enough to burn her.  When she had finished washing her body, she picked up the jar and tipped it over her head to lather her hair with the liquid soap.  Once she had finished washing her hair, she ducked below the water to rinse the soap out of it, rubbing her fingers through her hair in the process, and then she stepped out of the pond to dry herself.  She smiled broadly.  It feels so good to be clean once more!

-oo000oo-

All of them, including Jennifer, were bathed and clean and dressed in clean clothing brought to them by the two attending Elves, who returned just as they were finished with their baths, and then they were taken back to the path where they had separated, and Thorchon and Lassiel led them to a beautiful pavilion at the foot of one of the mallorn trees, near the fountain.  Soft couches had been placed there, and on a low round table were trays with sweet bread, fruit, cheese, and cold meat, and pitchers of clear, cold water.  There were also plates and cups for them to use.  Bidding them a peaceful night in their musical voices, Thorchon and Lessiel left them.  Joey and the hobbits took full advantage of the food, but the others only ate a little bit, and then they found places to bed down, as soon as they had supped.  For a while, they chatted about the day, about Lothlórien, and the Lord and Lady.  It was too disheartening to think back any further than that.

“What did you blush for, Sam?” said Pippin.  “You soon broke down.  Anyone would have thought you had a guilty conscience.  I hope it was nothing worse than a wicked plot to steal one of my blankets.”

“I never thought no such thing,” answered Sam, in no mood for jest.  “If you want to know, I felt as if I hadn’t got nothing on, and I didn’t like it.  She seemed to be looking inside me and asking what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with—with a bit of garden of my own.”

“That’s funny,” said Merry.  “Almost exactly what I felt myself, only, only well, I don’t think I’ll say any more,” he ended lamely.

It seemed like they all had the same ordeal: they all had been offered something each really wanted if they would only decide to just give up and go back, and leave the others to deal with Sauron and his Ring.

“And it seemed to me, too,” said Gimli, “that my choice would remain secret and known only to myself.”

Kevin shook his head, bewildered.  “The same thing happened to me,” he said softly.  “I thought I was just being tempted, and I did what I had been taught, to resist it.  Was it really Galadriel?”

Aragorn nodded.  “It appears that it was, Kevin.  What was it that she offered you?”

Kevin bit his lower lip as he looked back on that moment.  “Well, uh,” he said slowly, “I got to thinking: what if we had never entered the cave?  What if we could go back in time and just completely forget Middle-earth, erase it from our memories?  We’d be safe with our mom and dad, and we’d be free from danger.”  He shook his head.  “But then I realized we could not do that.  We can’t leave you guys in the lurch like that—most of all, Frodo.  It’s God’s will that we take part in this quest, and we know He’s not gonna let us go back until it’s over.”  He looked at Jennifer, who nodded agreement.  “Soon as I prayed for deliverance from that temptation, it disappeared.  And—it’s hard to describe—”  Furrowing his eyebrows, he tried to think of the words that would explain what had happened.  “—it felt like a pressure on my mind also disappeared, a pressure I hadn’t even known was there, till it was gone.”

Jennifer grimaced as she stepped through the curtain that partially covered her couch in one corner of the pavilion, giving her privacy.  Holding it open and turning back to face the others, she said, “The Lady Galadriel can’t turn back time, and powerful as she is, I don’t think even she can open up that portal so we can go back through it.”

Kevin nodded.  “I agree.  I don’t think she can, either.  Can she, Aragorn?” 

The Ranger shook his head.  "Nay, she is powerful, one of the Noldor from the First Age, and she once dwelt in Aman, in the light of the Two Trees.  But that power is not in her.  She was merely testing your mettle, Kevin."

Jennifer bit her lower lip.  “Funny thing is, the same thing happened to me.  And I did what you did, Kevin, when you fought it.”  She turned to Joey.  “What about you, Joey?  Did she offer you anything?”

“Just a chance to be back with Mom and Dad.”  Joey shrugged.  “But I can’t go back without you two.  And Kaylee.  And Lucy.  And I said that in my mind.”

Boromir frowned.  “To me it seemed exceedingly strange.  Maybe it was only a test, as you said, Aragorn, and she thought to read our thoughts for her own good purpose; but almost I should have said that she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give.  It need not be said that I refused to listen.  The Men of Minas Tirith are true to their word.”  But what he thought that the Lady had offered him Boromir did not tell.

And as for Frodo, he would not speak, though Boromir pressed him with questions.  “She held you long in her gaze, Ring-bearer,” he said.

“Yes,” said Frodo; “but whatever came into my mind then I will keep there.”

“Well, have a care!” said Boromir.  “I do not feel too sure of this Elvish lady and her purposes.”

“Speak no evil of the Lady Galadriel!” said Aragorn sternly.  “You know not what you say.  There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself.  Then let him beware!  But tonight I shall sleep without fear for the first time since I left Rivendell.  And may I sleep deep, and forget for a while my grief!  I am weary in body and in heart.”

He cast himself down upon his couch and fell at once into a long sleep.  Jennifer disappeared behind the curtain, and Joey and Kevin lay down on their couches next to each other.  The others soon did the same, and no sound or dream disturbed their slumber. 

-oo000oo-

The next morning, the members of the Company wakened refreshed, though still sad and grieving.  They had slept scattered about the pavilion, with Jennifer just a little further off than the others, in the partially curtained-off corner—the most privacy she'd had since she had left Rivendell.  The morning was sunny and bright with the sunlight on the clearing, and the glittering fountain made a soothing sound.

Some Elves had brought them breakfast: delicious-smelling fresh bread, fruits, and cheese, and a hot drink smelling of herbs.  The hobbits immediately took over serving their friends as they had been doing on the journey.

"What will we be doing today, Strider?" Pippin asked, as they sat around eating their breakfast.

"We will be here for some days, Pippin.  There will be scouts sent out to check the borders, and to see if the orcs are still following us or waiting upon us to leave.  I am quite sure we will find things to occupy ourselves with as we rest.  I do believe this will be a good chance for weapons practice and learning some skills that will do us some good when we leave here."

Legolas spoke up.  "Haldir has offered to give those of you who wish it archery lessons.  Kevin, you have told me that neither you nor your siblings can shoot, at least not with a bow.  I know that Pippin and Merry know how to shoot, and that Pippin is quite skilled.  Frodo, do you shoot?  Sam?"

Frodo smiled.  "Not really.  I tried it out a few times when visiting my Took kin, but I am a very poor shot."

Sam shook his head.  "I've never had no reason to shoot a bow, but I'm not half-bad with a sling or even a thrown rock.  A bow and arrows'd be just one more thing to have to keep track of on the walk, when we leave."

Merry and Pippin exchanged a look.  "Sam's got a point there.  I think we'd better stick to learning how to fight with our blades," said Merry.

Pippin nodded.  "Much as it would be nice to have a bow I could use, I think it would be too much to ask for these Elves to make us special bows.  You can't tell me they've got bows our size sitting around here."

Legolas laughed.  "You are quite right, though I do not think a bowyer of the Galadhrim would object to making bows your size.  Still, it is probably the right decision.  You and Merry need to concentrate on your blade work.”

The group finished eating, and while Boromir took Merry, Pippin, Kevin, and Joey aside to work with their swords, Legolas drew Jennifer over to where the two of them could spar with the long knives of the Elves.

"Um, Legolas?” Jennifer asked hesitantly.  “I'd kind of like to learn archery, too.  With the knives, an enemy has to get awful close for me to use them."  She made a wry face, but she was serious.

"Very well; we shall see about getting you a bow by tomorrow.  Meanwhile, we shall continue with the knives."  Jennifer nodded.

Aragorn and Gimli both decided to help Boromir with his pupils.  Aragorn took Kevin aside, and Gimli worked with Merry.  Boromir concentrated on Pippin and Joey.  The two youngest fighters had a great fear of hurting their sparring partner that kept both of them holding back too much.

Boromir knelt down in front of the two.  "Pippin, Joey, I know that you do not wish to injure one another, and I will do my best to see that neither of you comes to grievous harm.  But you must expect small cuts and nicks and bruises as a part of your training."

After that, they did work out much harder.  Pippin did end up with bruised and scraped knuckles from a blow with the flat of Joey's blade, and Joey had a little cut on his left forearm that frightened Pippin far more than it hurt Joey.  Still, Pippin held onto his blade, and did not fling it aside as he had on one occasion, when he had drawn blood while sparring with Boromir.  Kevin, who had removed some Band-Aids and the bottle of antiseptic from his first-aid kit and put them in his leather pouch after breakfast that morning, stopped his own sparring long enough to tend Joey’s cut and Pippin’s scraped knuckles; afterward, they all resumed practicing.

All the while, Legolas was helping Jennifer to increase her speed in fighting with Elvish knives.  The Elf was impressed with her dexterity in handling the blades (perhaps, he thought, it was helped by that walking stick she had constantly twirled), but she needed to be much faster in drawing the blades from their sheaths at her boot tops.

When Jennifer and Legolas stopped to catch their breaths, Legolas patted her shoulder.  “You need to work on your speed in drawing your blades from their sheaths,” he told her.   “We will work on that as soon as we are ready to continue.  However, I am quite impressed with your dexterity, Lady Jennifer, in handling your knives.”

Jennifer laughed.  “Thanks.  Years of baton-twirling have certainly paid off!”  She smiled broadly.  Legolas laughed and nodded agreement.

The group practiced and sparred until the hobbits got hungry, and they all took a break.  The hobbits and Joey nibbled at some of the leftover food the Elves had brought earlier, and the others just rested and took the chance to drink some water.  The water was delicious and cold, coming from the sparkling streamlet that ran through the clearing where their pavilion was located.   

-oo000oo-

They lost track of the days in Lothlórien, so far as they could tell.  Each day was sunny and fair, except for a few showers of brief light rain.  It never lasted long, but the air always felt cleaner and fresher afterwards.  It seemed like it was spring, rather than the dead of winter, although it was as quiet and tranquil as winter days often were.  It seemed to them that they did little but eat and drink and rest and walk among the trees, as well as continue their weapons training, and it was enough.

There was time for the Company to heal from any hurts they had during the journey, to rest, and to come to terms with their grief for the loss of Gandalf.  They also had the chance to explore Lothlórien, sometimes together and sometimes alone.

Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey returned to memorizing Bible verses every day as they had done back in Rivendell, and they spent some time on a daily basis studying Kevin’s Bible, praying together, and singing hymns, gospel songs, and praise songs.  Every morning, Kevin spent some time asking God to tell them what verses to memorize, and he always received guidance which he then passed onto his brother and sister.  In addition to their daily lessons with their swords and knives, Aragorn gave Kevin and Jennifer daily lessons in tracking, and he and Legolas also gave them daily instruction in archery.  When Joey wasn’t engaged in weapons practice or in practicing his Scripture memory work, he played his harmonica, and he played with the hobbits and with his older brother and sister, or by himself.

Pippin often accompanied Jennifer in her walks, chattering about his home and the Shire.  He was always careful to help her when she ascended the stairs into the flets, and when the hobbits served the group their meals, he would always serve her first.  An embarrassing thought had begun to occur to her.  Did Pippin like her?  Well, of course he did, but…as more than a friend?  She did not know much about hobbits and whether they'd like a person who wasn't a hobbit in that way.  But she did know that according to the way that hobbits reckoned ages, he was closer to her in age than the others.  Of course, she thought of him as a very good friend, but, well, he wasn't what she'd always thought would be her "type".  She could not even imagine being romantic with him; she wasn’t the least bit interested in having him for a boyfriend.  But how else could she explain the way he tended to be around her so much?  She really needed some advice, and she certainly couldn't ask Kevin!  She liked Pippin very much, but not in a romantic way.  Somehow, she was going to have to let him down gently if he did like her that way, but first, she needed someone to talk to.

One morning, she slept late, and when she woke up, she did not see Pippin nearby.  She looked about the clearing.  Aragorn and Gimli were sharpening their weapons—something they did a lot, she'd noticed.  Legolas wasn't there either.  Boromir seemed to be still asleep.  Frodo and Merry were by the fire, and they looked over and saw her.

"Lady Jennifer!" said Frodo.  "Would you like to have some tea?"  He held up the teakettle, which had been by the fire.  "And Sam's gone off to fetch us a bite for second breakfast.  I'm sure there will be enough for your first as well!"

Nodding, Jennifer joined them.  "Where’s Pippin?" she asked, as she scanned the clearing in search of the young hobbit.

Frodo cocked his head.  "You don't hear?  I suppose our hearing is sharper.  He and Legolas are down by the stream.  Legolas is teaching Pip to play those shepherd's pipes he made for him out of the reeds.  And Joey’s there with them, joining in with his harmonica.  You need not worry; Legolas is keeping an eye on him."

"Oh."  She knew Pippin liked music, as he'd often spoken of missing his fiddle.  Sometimes Joey played his harmonica for the others, but none of them had learned to play it.  "Um…"  She tried to think of how to approach this question to Pippin's cousins.  "Uh…"  She blushed.

"What's wrong, Lady Jennifer?" asked Merry.

"Uh, you two probably know Pippin better than anyone."  She hung her head and asked quickly, "DoyouthinkPippinlikesme?"

Frodo looked astonished.  "Of course, he does!  Has he done something to make you think he's angry with you?"

But Merry chuckled.  "That's not what she meant, Frodo."  He turned to look at Jennifer sympathetically.  "I'm sorry, Jennifer, but I am certain Pippin doesn't think of you that way.  He is fond of you, I'm sure, but like a sister."

Now Jennifer went even redder.  Merry thought she liked Pippin!  "But why does he stay with me so much?  And he's always trying to protect me, even though, well…"  Now she was flustered for a different reason, because the truth was, Pippin did protect her, and there was no "even though he was half her size" about it, but she couldn't say any more about that to his cousins.

Frodo smiled gently at her.  "He pays you those attentions because you are like a sister to him.  Has he told you of his sisters?"

"Yes," she said.  "They’re all older than him, and he tells me about all the pranks he pulls on them.  He said they are named Pearl, Pimpernel, and Pervinca."  Jennifer thought them very odd names, except for "Pearl".

"Well," said Merry, "he would tell you of the pranks he pulls.  But even though they are older, he has always been aware that he's their brother, and he feels very protective of them.  Once, when a lad who was much older than Pippin was paying Vinca unwelcome attentions, Pippin interrupted and told the fellow that he should leave his sister alone, or he'd smack him on the nose.  Pip was barely into his tweens at the time, and he embarrassed the chap so much that he simply turned tail and left.  Of course, he knew what I'd do if he messed with Pippin!"

"Oh," said Jennifer, relieved.

Frodo nodded.  "I know that he misses his family very much, Lady Jennifer.  You help him to feel less homesick."

"Don't feel badly," said Merry, patting her on the arm.  "You are simply not his type.  You are much too thin, and frankly, Pippin is fond of furry ankles on a lass."

Now Jennifer turned red for another reason—she was trying hard not to laugh.  "Thank you so much for helping to clear that up," she managed to say, once she was sure she would not giggle.  “I like him very much, but not that way.  I would hate to have to hurt his feelings.  You won't tell Pippin I asked about this, will you?”

Frodo shook his head.  "Of course, we won't."  He looked at Merry.  It was clear they did not quite believe her denial, but they did not refute her.  Still Merry smirked, and Frodo shook his head with a quiet smile.  How embarrassing.

Merry grinned.  "Certainly not!  He'd get such a swelled head!"  Jennifer and Frodo laughed.

Jennifer shook her head, amused.  “I really don’t.  Pippin’s a sweet boy, and I’m fond of him, but he's not my type, either,” she said.  “There’s a boy I like back home, a couple of years older than me, and I’d date him if he asked me out.”  She paused.  “If Mom and Daddy would let me, that is.  They won’t let me start dating yet.  Not till I’m fifteen.”

Merry grinned.  "I see."  Jennifer realised she might have convinced Frodo, but Merry had his own ideas, and she might as well drop the subject.  But at least she had her answer, and that was the important thing.

And just then, Sam returned with a tray that held a large bowl of frumenty and bread and fruit.  Jennifer had never had frumenty before she came to Middle-earth, but now she had grown quite fond of it.  Wish I could get their recipe to take home to Mom, she thought.  I’ll have to look it up on the Internet when we get back home.  Maybe Mom could make it with ground beef for supper, sometime.  She suddenly was quite hungry!   

-oo000oo-

One morning soon afterward, the whole company went to the large clearing where the Elves had their archery butts, as Joey learned the place with the targets were called.  He had snickered the first time he heard that, but Jennifer had given him a light smack in the back of his head.  "Don't be vulgar, Joseph!" she had whispered.  Joey still thought it was funny, but he didn't laugh at it anymore.

For some days, Kevin and Jennifer had been learning to shoot, but there was no bow the right size for Joey.  And so, while Kevin and Jennifer practiced their archery, the hobbits had finally decided to teach Joey another self-defense skill; they were going to give him his first lesson that morning.  They took him to the other side of the clearing.  He noticed that Sam was carrying a rather heavy sack, but then he was surprised to see the hobbit dumping out a bunch of rocks!

"What are those for, Sam?" Joey asked curiously.

"Throwing," said Sam.  "Are you good at throwing, Master Joey?"

"I guess," he said.  "I play Little League; I'm a pitcher on my team."  Joey's coach seemed to think he was pretty good, but that he still had more to learn.  He added, “Little League’s baseball for kids.”

"Show us," said Merry.

Joey looked through the pile of rocks, and chose one that was mostly round and smooth, but was about the size of a baseball, though it was heavier.  He slipped into a pitching stance.

"Aim at the target," said Sam.  "It's meant for arrows, so you can't hit it from here, but throw as if you could."

Joey nodded and looked straight ahead.  He pretended that someone was on second base about halfway there, wound up, and threw.  The rock flew down the way he'd aimed, but to his dismay, it fell to the ground long before it reached the halfway mark.  "It was too heavy, I guess."

"If you are used to throwing balls," said Merry, "rocks are quite a bit heavier."  Merry picked one of the stones up and tossed it in his palm a few times, and then, without winding up or anything, he let it fly.  It was fast, and went far past where Joey's rock had landed, although still far short of the target.  "You also have to have good aim and speed."  He gave a look at Frodo and picked up two rocks, handing one to his older cousin.

Frodo gave Merry a nod and took several steps back.  Without further warning, Merry launched his rock up into the air, almost, but not quite, straight up.  In less than an eyeblink, Frodo threw his rock.  It hit the one Merry had thrown, and both rocks were smashed to bits.

"Wow!" exclaimed Joey.  He stared, eyes wide open and jaw dropping, at the bits of smashed stone on the ground.

"Now, just throwing won't go as far as an arrow," said Pippin.  "What you need is a sling.  Sam, show him yours.  The rest of us lost ours in the barrow on our way to Bree, before we got to Rivendell.  Sam's was in his pack on Bill, so he still has his."

Sam reached into his pocket.  Joey was expecting what he'd always thought of as a slingshot—a Y-shaped handle with a stretchy band to shoot with.  But the item Sam brought out was a sort of oval-shaped piece of leather that had long thongs attached to each end.  One of the thongs had a loop at the end; the other did not.  Joey was puzzled; it did look sort of familiar.  Sam grabbed up a stone from the pile and placed it in the center of the leather, with the looped end around three fingers of his right hand and the other cord held loosely in the other fingers.  Then, holding it by the cords, he began to spin it very fast around his head.

Suddenly, he let go of one end.  The stone zipped through the air and smashed the archery target right in the middle!

Now Joey realized why it looked familiar: "David and Goliath!" he yelled.  It was just like the pictures of David and Goliath he had seen in Bible stories.  It was a sling just like David had used!

The hobbits all looked at him puzzled.  "It's from a Bible story.  There was a boy in the Bible named David.  His people, the Israelites, were being attacked by the Philistines.  Their leader was a giant named Goliath.  David used a sling and a stone to kill him!"

He stared once more at the target.  "I wish I could do that!"

"Well, Joey," said Frodo, "that's just what Sam is going to teach you."  He reached in his pocket and pulled out another sling, this one rather new-looking.  "We got Legolas to beg a bit of leather from the other Elves, and Sam made this for you."

"Thank you!" Joey said, his eyes shining.  He took it and examined it carefully, and then looked up at Sam.

Sam carefully showed him how to choose a proper stone, fit it into the leather, and how to hold the cords.  "Now, remember, Master Joey, when you twirl it 'round your head, you have to do it really fast, so as the stone don't fall out."

Joey nodded and held it up, and he began to swing it faster and faster.  Suddenly, he let go.

"NO!" shouted the hobbits.  Instead of going towards the target, it went flying off to the side, where the archery lessons were going on.

"LOOK OUT!" yelled Frodo.

In the instant they had yelled, Legolas leapt forward and knocked Jennifer and Kevin to the ground and Aragorn and Boromir jerked backwards, as the stone went sailing past.  It very likely would have hit Kevin in the head if Legolas had not moved so quickly.

Joey was pale, and he dropped the sling to the ground.  Everyone was staring at him in silence.  He took a deep breath and shuddered.  His hands trembled.

After a few seconds, Sam spoke up.  "Well, Master Joey, I see as how we need to work somewhat on your aim."

Joey took another deep breath, shuddering a second time.  “No kidding!”  Silently, he added, It’s sure not like pitching a baseball!  He shook his head.   

-oo000oo-

After that, Sam gave Joey daily lessons in using a sling, being careful to make sure that no one else was around except the other hobbits during Joey’s lessons.  Gradually, the little boy’s skill improved, until the day finally came when he could hit the assigned target with his rock.  When Aragorn was not giving the older two children lessons in tracking, and when Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey were not receiving weapons-training, they spent much of their time exploring the surrounding forest and playing with one another, as well as with the younger hobbits.  Frequently, Jennifer and Kevin wandered around with her digital camera and his tablet, taking a few pictures of their surroundings and of the elves that they saw.  They had to save the batteries and memory on their devices, and often they'd delete the ones that just didn't seem to capture the beauty around them, but they were able to save a few of the pictures to show their parents.  Sometimes, Joey played his harmonica for the others, and Pippin played his new shepherd’s pipes that Legolas had made for him.  Soon, the young hobbit began to give Joey lessons in playing his shepherd’s pipes, and the little boy practiced diligently.

The Company had not seen the Lord and Lady again since their first night in Lothlorien, and they couldn't really talk to most of the Elves, since very few of them knew Westron.  Haldir had bidden them farewell and gone back again to the fences of the North, where they had increased their guard since learning of what had happened in Moria.  Legolas was away much among the Galadhrim, though he returned to eat and talk with them.  He often took Gimli with him when he went abroad in the land, and the others wondered at this change.  Kevin and Jennifer hoped this meant that Legolas and Gimli were becoming friends.

The remaining Fellowship finally found themselves beginning to be able to talk about Gandalf and how much they missed him.  Kevin and Jennifer began to realize that everyone in the group, except for themselves and Joey, had already known the wizard long before the journey began.  Yet they missed him a lot; they had felt so safe with him, since they knew he was an angel.  The two of them wondered if he had returned to Heaven to be with God (or IIúvatar, as Gandalf had called him) and the other angels.  It would have been good for him to regain his memories and powers, they knew.  But they missed him just the same.

“Mithrandir, Mithrandir,” sang the Elves.  “O Pilgrim Grey!"  as they loved to call him.  But if Legolas was with the Company, he would not interpret the songs for them, saying, “I have not the heart to tell you.  For me, the grief is still too near."

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it. 

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people. 

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 22: I've Got A Dream

Bilbo was taking the air on one of the many benches placed at various points in the gardens of Rivendell.  He was enjoying a pipe and listening to the birds singing, leaning back on the bench with his eyes closed, contemplating a nap, when he felt a small body joining him upon the bench.  He knew at once who it was, and smiled, opening his eyes and turning to look at Kaylee.

Kaylee wiggled.  “Let’s play, Mr. Baggins!”

Bilbo’s eyes twinkled.  “And what shall we play, Miss Kaylee?”

Kaylee bounced on the bench.  “Let’s pretend you don’t know who I am.  Ask me my name!”  With a broad grin on her face, she whirled around, turning her back toward him and folding her legs up, and covered her face with her hands.  Bilbo laughed.

“All right.”  He leaned forward and gazed at Kaylee.  “Well, well.  Let me see.  Hmm.  What is your name, little one?”

“Guess!”  Kaylee giggled.

Bilbo furrowed his eyebrows in mock puzzlement.  “Who is this little girl sitting on this bench beside me?  What is her name?”  He paused.  “Could her name be—Esmeralda?”

“Nope.”  Kaylee giggled again.

Bilbo put a finger to his chin, as he pretended to think.  “Is her name Ruby or Pearl?”  Kaylee shook her head.

“Diamond?”

“Nope!”  Kaylee giggled yet again.

“Rose?”

“Uh-uh.”  Kaylee shook her head.

“Eglantine?”

“Nope.”  Kaylee wiggled and bounced.

“What about Lily?  Daisy?  Marigold?  Posy?”

“Uh-uh.”  Kaylee giggled once again, as she continued to keep her face covered, her legs folded up, and her back toward Bilbo.

“Hmm.”  Bilbo leaned back in his chair, holding his pipe in his lap, and pretended to think again.  “Well, well, this is a hard one.  This little girl doesn’t seem to have any of the names I can come up with.”  He leaned toward Kaylee.  “Could she be—no, this can’t be—could her name be—Kaylee?!”

“Yes!”  Bouncing again, Kaylee pivoted toward him and grinned broadly.

Bilbo laughed.  “I thought so!”  Giggling, Kaylee crawled toward the old hobbit and hugged him.  Laying his pipe on the bench, Bilbo chuckled and hugged her back.

Just then they were interrupted by Lady Arwen and Eledwhen coming up the path.  "Ah, there you are, Miss Kaylee," said Arwen.  "Are you ready to go down to the stables again for your riding lesson?"  Kaylee had been taking lessons for the past month and a half now, and she had grown quite fond of Bilbo's old pony.

"Yes, Lady Arwen!"  She grinned and jumped up, and reached into the little pouch which hung upon her belt, serving as her pocket, and pulled out an apple.  "See?  I have a treat for Merrylegs!"

Bilbo smiled.  "Perhaps I will come along with you; I have not seen my old friend in a while.  I am sure that he is enjoying your company, Miss Kaylee."

Kaylee smiled broadly.  "I have fun with Merrylegs, and Curubor says I am becoming a good little rider!"

"Is that so?" asked Bilbo.  "I am sure that Merrylegs is happy to have a rider once more."

Lady Arwen took one of her hands and Eledwhen took the other, and Kaylee skipped cheerfully along as they headed down the paths to the stables, Bilbo trailing behind them at a more leisurely pace.  The head groom, Curubor, who also had the duty of riding master, smiled to see them coming.  "Ah, little miss!  Are you ready for another lesson?"

Kaylee nodded enthusiastically.  Soon enough, after Kaylee had fed Merrylegs her apple, the Elf had her mounted upon Bilbo's gentle old pony.  She needed no saddle; Curubor took the reins and walked Kaylee at a gentle pace around the paddock.

They had made several circuits, and Curubor was allowing Kaylee to take the reins for a little while, when half a dozen riders approached, accompanied by Lord Glorfindel.  But the other riders were not Elves, but Men.  Kaylee pulled the reins to stop Merrylegs the way Curubor had taught her.  Merrylegs obligingly did so, and Kaylee felt quite proud of herself, but she was curious as to who the Men might be.  They were all dusty and sweaty, like they had been riding a long time; they were also dressed like Lord Aragorn dressed.

Lady Arwen turned to greet them.  "Halbarad!  Well met!  Welcome to Imladris."

One of the riders dismounted.  "Well met, indeed, my Lady Arwen."  He bowed over her hand.  "We thought to bring news here of the doings to the West, and consult with our Chieftain and perhaps with your brothers."

"Alas, your cousin has already left the Valley, on a journey with Gandalf and several others.  But Elladan and Elrohir have returned from their own journey."

The Man nodded, but said no more, as he knew that Master Elrond would tell him any further news if he needed it.  He turned his glance to the paddock, where Bilbo Baggins's old pony stood placidly as Curubo helped his small rider to dismount.  He was surprised to see it was a young maid-child.  He grinned.  "Who have we here?" he asked jovially.  "Is that some fair princess from a far-off land?"

Kaylee giggled.  "I'm not a real princess, but sometimes I play I’m one!"  Halbarad and Arwen laughed softly.

Arwen beckoned Kaylee to come closer.  "Halbarad, may I present Miss Kaylee McCloud?"

Kaylee dropped a little curtsey as Lady Arwen had taught her.  "Kaylee McCloud at your service and your family's."  She cast a look up at the Lady, to see if she had done it right.  Lady Arwen gave her an approving smile and a nod.

With a warm smile, the man gave her a bow in return.  "Halbarad, son of Nethon, at your service, Miss Kaylee!"

"Halbarad is Lord Aragorn's cousin," Arwen told the little girl.  She turned to the Ranger.  "Miss Kaylee is a visitor to Imladris; her older brothers and sister have accompanied your kinsman and his other companions on an urgent journey to the South."

Halbarad looked startled at this news, but nodded.  "Very well.  I shall take my news to your father and brothers, then, in my Chieftain's stead.  We will be staying a few days, to resupply and take fresh mounts, before we look for Aragorn.  I will see you both later, then."  He inclined his head toward Kaylee and then toward Arwen, after which he turned and left them.

Kaylee watched him walk away.  “I like him," she said, smiling.

Arwen smiled back.  “I like him, too, Miss Kaylee,” she said.  “Come along, let us return to your riding lesson.”  Kaylee skipped toward Merrylegs, followed by Arwen, and remounted the pony.

Halbarad stayed in Rivendell for a couple of days, and Kaylee got to talk to him several times during his visit.  She liked him.  He looked a lot like his cousin, Lord Aragorn.  He didn't seem to smile much, thought Kaylee, but when he talked to her, he smiled, and she liked his smile. He told her stories of his work as a Ranger and his times with Aragorn.  He said she reminded him of his granddaughter, whose name was Oriel.  Kaylee didn't think he looked old enough to be a grandpa, but he said he was older than he looked. 

On the last afternoon before he left, he came to tell Lady Arwen farewell.  They were in her sunroom, all of them working on their needlework, the lady and all her maidens and Kaylee.

He sat down to talk to Lady Arwen.  "Soon we shall receive word to join our Lord, but it is not yet time, your father says."

Arwen shook her head.  "No, it is not.  Yet when that time comes, you must come to me before you leave.  I will have a gift for you to take to him when you go."  She indicated the huge black cloth she had been embroidering with silver thread and jewels.  She had been in the process of embroidering a beautiful tree, and she was almost finished.  Kaylee had been quite curious about it, but had not known it was to be a gift for Lord Aragorn.  But Halbarad gave a solemn nod, just as though he knew all about it.

He glanced at Kaylee, who was stitching away, her needle moving in and out quite easily compared to when she had first started.  "You are becoming quite an accomplished young needlewoman, Miss Kaylee.  Young Oriel is not nearly so neat in her stitches as you."

“Thank you.”  Kaylee blushed at his compliment.  "Well, Lady Arwen is a really good teacher."

Halbarad grinned and nodded.  "That must be it, of course.  She certainly is, and you have worked very hard, I see."  He rose to leave and turned to Arwen.  "I shall take my farewell of you now.  Your father has said we will get word when it is time for us to go South.  I will see you again before we leave."

He gave a brief bow, and left the room.

Kaylee was quiet and thoughtful after he left, and after a few minutes, Lady Arwen asked her, "What is on your mind, child?"

"Halbarad said he liked my sewing," she answered.  "Do you…do you think he’d like it if I made a present for him?"

"I think he would like that very much, dear," the lady replied.  She rose to her feet to fetch the materials that Kaylee would need.  If the little girl was going to make Halbarad’s gift, she would have to begin immediately, and work quickly so that she would have it finished before he and his men left the next morning.  And Arwen would have to work just as quickly to finish her own gift for Aragorn before Halbarad and his men left to go find his kinsman.  

-oo000oo-

That evening, during the Hall of Fire, Kaylee climbed into Halbarad’s lap.  She had finished his gift just a short while before, and had left it in her bedroom.  “Well, Miss Kaylee, this is my last night here,” Halbarad told her.  “My men and I must leave in the morning and look for Aragorn.”  He kissed her forehead.  “Perhaps I will also find your brothers and sister when I find him.  Do you have a message you want me to give them?”

Kaylee thought for a moment, her thumb in her mouth.  At last, dropping her hand, she said, “Tell them I miss them lots.”  She paused, and added, “And give them lots of hugs and kisses for me!”  She covered her mouth with both hands and then, smacking her lips, threw them out in front of her, spreading her arms out.  Grinning, the little girl added, “And tell them I’m trying to be very good.”  She bounced.  “And tell them, don’t worry about me!”

Laughing, Halbarad mussed her hair.  “If I find them, I will give them your messages,” he told Kaylee.  He exchanged an amused look with Arwen and Elrond, who sat nearby.

A half-hour later, Mairen came to fetch Kaylee to her bed.  She found the child still perched on Halbarad's knee, by then nearly asleep.  The Elf-maiden roused her.

"Miss Kaylee, dear, it is time for you to go to bed now."

Kaylee blinked.  "Now?"

"Yes, little one."

Kaylee rubbed her eyes and looked up at Halbarad.  "Good night, Halbarad.  Will I see you at breakfast?"  She yawned.

"No, my little lady.  My men and I will be leaving at first light.  I must say farewell to you now."  He embraced her lightly and left a little kiss on top of her head.  "I am glad I got to know you, Kaylee.”

She nodded, already half-asleep again as she was passed into Mairen's capable arms.  “Good night, Kaylee,” Elrond told her.  “We will see you in the morning.”

“Yes, we will,” Arwen agreed.  “Good night, Kaylee.”

“Night,” Kaylee said, yawning, her eyes sliding shut again.  She did not rouse as she was carried to her room, but as Mairen was trying to put her into her nightgown, she woke more fully.  There on her nightstand was Halbarad's present!

She looked up at her nursemaid. "I have to wake up before the Dúnadain leave!" she said urgently.  “I have a present for Halbarad.”

Mairen kissed her forehead.  “Very well, Miss Kaylee, I shall wake you before he leaves, then.”  Kaylee smiled her thanks.

The next morning came early, and true to her word, Mairen was there to wake her.

Kaylee was at first resistant to waking up.  "It's still dark out, Mairen!"

"They will leave soon," Mairen told her.  "My Lady has already gone to the paddock to farewell her brothers, and Lord Halbarad is with them."

At that news, Kaylee quickly allowed Mairen to dress her.  She grabbed the little present from her nightstand and raced from the room and down the stairs to the outside.

Out on the lawn, Kaylee ran as fast as she could.  She just had to get there before the Dúnadain left; she just had to!  She could see them now, mounted on their big horses.  But Halbarad and Arwen's big brothers were still standing there, talking to Arwen.  She was nearly there when she stumbled, and she cried out as she hit the ground—she had tripped over a small dip in the ground, and her knee was scraped.  But she got herself up and began to run again.  In the past, she would have sobbed loudly until someone had treated her knee and comforted her, but now she ignored the pain in her knee and the sudden wet blurriness stinging her eyes, and kept running.

Arwen and the others had stopped their conversation at the sound of Kaylee's outcry, and ran to her.  They reached her quickly, and Arwen scooped her up.  Kaylee's eyes were leaking tears, and she brushed them away with her hands.  "Kaylee, child, what in the world are you doing up so early?" Arwen asked.

“Him!”  Kaylee pointed at Halbarad.  "Halbarad!  You were going to leave without saying 'bye’!"  Kaylee turned her face to the Ranger with a look of hurt and accusation.

"But I farewelled you last night, little one, ere you went to bed," he replied.

"That doesn't count!  You weren't really leaving then.  And I didn't have a chance to give you your present!"   Kaylee reached into the little purse that hung upon her belt and drew out the pouch she had made for Halbarad.

He took it with a gracious smile.  "You honor me, Miss Kaylee.  Thank you."  He looked at it.  It had been made out of a scrap of the same fabric from which Arwen had made the standard she had just given him to carry to Aragorn, and it was carefully embroidered with an eight-pointed star in silver thread.  He could feel something hard within, and he drew out a stone.  It was tan and brown, and was nearly flat and rather oval in shape, about two inches in diameter.  It was an attractive pebble.  "Is this a special stone?" he asked the little girl.

"Yes, Halbarad!"  She nodded earnestly.  "I found it just before we came from our country, when we were going to the cave.  So it's kind of like a part of my home."

"Well, then, I shall always keep it close by me."  He lifted the long cord of the drawstring over his head and hung it round his neck.  "See, it hangs down over my heart, dear."  He took Kaylee's hand and kissed the back of it.  "But I must go now."  He patted her head.

Arwen carried Kaylee the rest of the way to where the horses waited.  She said a word of farewell to her brothers, and then they and Halbarad moved to the front of the company of Rangers.  Halbarad raised a hand and said, "Forward!" and they all rode away at a trot.  Even though none of them looked back, Kaylee waved until she could no longer see them.

"Now," said the Lady Arwen, "we shall go see if my father can fix up that scraped knee for you."

Kaylee burrowed her head into Arwen's shoulder.  "Yes, milady," she said, as she so often heard the Elves say to Arwen.  Arwen set her on the ground, and together, they both walked back in the dawn mist towards the Last Homely House, with Arwen holding Kaylee’s hand.  

-oo000oo-

Jennifer had been sleeping soundly in the Company's pavilion when she woke abruptly from one of those extraordinary dreams: she had seen her parents and Megan in Rivendell, with Kaylee, a half-grown Lucy, Master Elrond, and Lady Arwen!  How odd, she thought.  It had been quite vivid.  She lay there blinking, when she overheard Frodo and Sam talking softly.  She couldn't hear what they were saying, but there was a movement at the entrance to the pavilion.  The Lady Galadriel was there.  She gestured to Frodo and Sam and spoke softly to them.  They got up to follow the Elven lady.  Jennifer watched, tempted to get up and follow them herself.  But as she was trying to decide, Lady Galadriel turned her head and looked straight at Jennifer, and gave a mysterious smile, while shaking her head ‘no’.

Jennifer stayed where she was, but she was more curious than ever.  She could not go back to sleep, and so she tried to recall all the details of her dream before they slipped away.  I wish they were here, she thought.  I miss Mom and Daddy.  Megan, too.  She bit her lower lip.  I also miss Kaylee.  And Lucy.  At least they’re safe in Rivendell.  I wonder how much Lucy has grown since we left?  I’m sure she’s not teething anymore.

She was not sure how much time had passed, but after a while, Sam and Frodo returned and went back to their bedrolls.  Lady Galadriel returned and, smiling once more at Jennifer, she beckoned her to rise and follow.  Scrambling to her feet, the young girl did as she was told.  What’s happening? she silently wondered.  What’s going on?

‘Follow me, and you shall find out,’ Galadriel’s amused voice sounded in her head.  A startled Jennifer jolted.  She was not used to that!

Jennifer silently followed the Lady.  She had what seemed like a million questions about where they were going and what the Lady Galadriel wanted, but somehow it did not seem the right time to ask them.  Jennifer realized they were nearing Caras Galadhon, but they did not ascend the slope of the Hill.  Instead the two of them went around to the southern side, where the end of their way led to a huge hedge.  An archway of living green allowed them access.  For the first time since entering Lothlórien, Jennifer suddenly realized that she was not beneath a canopy of trees, and she could see the night sky unobstructed.  They went down a long stone stairway, which grew more and more shallow until it became a pathway.  A babbling stream ran alongside from the Hill above.  At the end of the pathway was a pedestal that looked like the trunk of a tree.  A silver basin stood upon it, and beside it a silver pitcher.

Moving gracefully, the Lady took the pitcher and filled it with water from the stream.  She filled the basin with the water and bent to breathe over it.  Jennifer thought it seemed that there was a glowing mist for a second, but then she wasn't sure—perhaps it had been her imagination?  But now the Lady spoke for the first time since summoning Jennifer.  "Here is the Mirror of Galadriel,” she said.  “I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will."

"What will I see?" Jennifer asked, almost whispering.

“Even the wisest cannot tell.  For the mirror shows many things: things that were…things that are…and some things that have not yet come to pass,” was the Lady's mysterious answer.  Jennifer swallowed a gulp.  That sounded ominous!

Reluctantly, she went to the pedestal and bent her face to see within.  At first all she could see was the sky and the night stars above.  How odd, she thought, I don't even see my own face reflected.  But then the water briefly went grey, and then became as clear as could be.  There was the scene from her dream.  It was clearly Rivendell, and there were her parents with Kaylee, Lucy, and Megan, as well as Master Elrond and Lady Arwen!  They appeared to be talking seriously.  Where are Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet? she silently wondered.  Aren’t they here, too?

Then the mirror changed.  She could see orcs—they were running away, carrying Merry, Pippin, and—and Joey!  But before she could even cry out in alarm, it changed again, and there was a huge white city that looked like something from a fairy tale.  And then she saw—Gandalf?  She couldn’t tell.  He was all dressed in white, and he was riding a white horse.

Then she saw her parents, Kaylee, Megan, and Lucy again—they were riding in boats on a big river with some Elves.  I hope that Kaylee and Megan are okay!  They can't swim.  But Mom and Dad are with them.  But someone here really needs to invent life jackets!  Suddenly, Jennifer saw a huge mountain belching fire, and somehow, she knew it was Mount Doom!  It was belching out lava and fire, which seemed to be coming right at her!  With a yelp, she leaped back, startled, and the spell was broken.

Most of what she had seen, she could not understand, but one thing was pretty obvious.  She looked at the Lady in wonder.  "Our parents and Megan are coming to Middle-earth, too, aren't they?"

Galadriel nodded.  "While much is still open to interpretation, it does appear that the rest of your family will come.  But do not place too much hope in it, for there is no way of telling when they will be here, or when you may be reunited with them.  Much will befall before that happens!"  The Lady bent to look Jennifer in the eyes.  "I know that it will be tempting to talk about this to your brothers, but the Mirror is a chancy thing.  You should not give false hope to them."

Jennifer nodded.  She knew that the Lady Galadriel was right, but it would be a hard secret to keep.  Still, she would have to try.  And if she was understanding the Mirror correctly, their parents and Megan would come, but their aunt and uncle would not.  Guess they’re gonna stay back at home, she thought, but why are Mom and Dad back at the park after all this time, and why are they going to the cave?  And bringing Megan?  Did they go back to the park to try to find us, or what?  She shook her head in confusion.  It’s been a few months now since we entered that caveMom and Dad must have gone back to look for us again!  What’s happening?  She bit her lower lip.

"And Joey?" she asked fearfully.  "Shouldn’t he be warned about the orcs?"

"Can you tell him when it will happen, or how?  And how to avoid it?"

Jennifer shook her head.  "No."

"Then all you would be doing is worrying him overmuch about something that may or may not happen.  Remember, trying to avoid something may actually bring it about.  The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds."  The Lady put a comforting arm around her.  "You know Whom to trust, my dear.  Hold fast to the knowledge that all will be well in the end, whatever that end may be.  And now, my child, I will guide you back to your bed.  You need your rest."

Jennifer nodded.  “Yes, ma’am.”  She shook her head.  “You know, Lady Galadriel, it’s so weird.  Before we came to Middle-earth, I never had a prophetic dream, and since coming here, I’ve had two!”  She swallowed.  “I dreamed about our parents and Megan coming here before I woke up tonight.”

Galadriel nodded.  “And what was your first dream?”

Jennifer bit her lower lip.  “I dreamed it while we were in Rivendell.  In fact, Kevin and I both did.”  She described her dream to Galadriel, and then explained what Kevin had told her about his own dream the next morning.  She added, “Of course, we didn’t know about the Ring or the upcoming Quest at the time.”

“And why do you think that you and Kevin had that dream?” Galadriel asked her.

Jennifer halted.  For a long moment, she thought back over that time.  “I had done some praying when I went to bed,” she finally said.  “I asked God to tell us why He had sent us here.  He…He sent me—us—that dream when we fell asleep.”

"The ways of the One are mysterious," the Lady said, "but I think that you are correct."

Jennifer smiled.  “Hey, that’s what the Bible says!  ‘The Lord moves in mysterious way, His wonders to perform.’

Galadriel smiled and nodded.  "I have heard you and your brothers speak of your Holy Book.  It is a very wise book."

Jennifer nodded back.  “It should be.  It’s the Word of God.”

They walked back to the pavilion in silence.    

-oo000oo-

Jennifer lay on her cot, unable to get back to sleep.  She just couldn’t stop thinking about it either.  Their parents and Megan were actually coming to Middle-earth!  That meant that if all went well, it would only be a matter of time until she, Kevin, Joey, and Kaylee were reunited with them.  And surely, when it was all over, they would all be going back to their own world.  After Galadriel had left her at the pavilion, Jennifer had sought the Lord’s guidance in prayer, asking Him if she could tell her brothers that their parents and Megan were coming to Middle-earth.  She had felt an immediate check in her spirit telling her that the answer was no, and that she should follow the advice of Lady Galadriel, after all.  She kept hearing how wise the Elf was, and to keep her secrets within her heart.

Actually, she thought, Kaylee will be reunited with them before the rest of us are.  She smiled broadly.  That’ll make her so happy!  She’s really missed Mom and Daddy ever since we entered Middle-earth.

For a long moment, Jennifer furrowed her eyebrows and bit her lower lip, as she tried to make sense of the whole thing.  It had been quite some time since they had entered Middle-earth, so how could their parents and Megan still be at the campsite?  Unless they really did decide to go back to the park to help look for us, and ended up entering that cave, she thought ruefully.

Sighing, she turned on her side and closed her eyes.  She had to try to go back to sleep.  They were scheduled to leave Lothlórien in the morning.  Please, God, she silently prayed, protect Joey!  And Merry and Pippin.  Please protect us all!  In Jesus’ name, amen.  She shifted position.  Joey and Kevin need haircuts before we leave.  I’d better get out my scissors when I get up.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it. 

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people. 

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 23: The Parent Trap

MONDAY, APRIL 2, 2012

At the campsite in Oregon, Steve, Gail, and Steve’s brother and sister-in-law had removed the tent posts out of the minivan, and were in the process of pounding the first three of them into the ground with mallets.  Their goal was to put in the rest so that they would be able to set up the tents afterward.  They would get started on that when the children returned from the cave.  At the moment, Janet was keeping an eye on Megan, who was rubbing her fingertips through the dirt and picking up twigs.  Wiping the sweat off her forehead, Gail returned to the car to get the tool kit for Steve.  Only a few minutes had passed since the children had left for the cave.

As she passed the minivan, something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye.  Looking into the back seat where Kaylee and Joey had sat en-route to the park, she saw Kaylee’s backpack.  Sighing and shaking her head, she opened the car door and removed it, and returned to her husband.

“What is it, my dear?”  Glancing at the backpack, Steve smiled and shook his head.  “Kaylee forgot her backpack, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did.”  A mixture of fondness and exasperation etched Gail’s face.

Steve nodded; he understood what she was feeling.  “Well, Kaylee’s got to learn to remember to take it with her when she leaves the campsite.  She’s only five, so we mustn’t be too hard on her, but it is necessary that she learn.  We’d better stop what we’re doing and take it to her.”

“Yes.”  Gail turned to Ryan and Janet.  “Steve and I have to leave you for just a tad, to take Kaylee her backpack.  Would you look after Megan until we get back?”

Ryan exchanged a rueful glance with his wife.  “Actually, Steve, I’d like to continue hammering in the tent posts, and it would be easier for us if we don’t have to keep an eye on Megan while we’re at it.”

Janet nodded agreement.  “And I’d like to get a head start on unrolling the tarps.  I can’t do that and watch Megan, too.”

Steve laughed.  “All right, then, we’ll take her with us.”

Gail shook her head as she lifted the backpack up to her chest.  “Kaylee has certainly filled up this backpack with her toys and whatnot; it’s heavy.”

Steve chuckled.  “All four of them did.  I saw her putting her doll inside it when we got out of the car.  Well, we’d better go find the children now, so let’s take Megan and go.  But first—”  He looked back toward the car.  “If we’re going to set our children a good example, we’d better get our own backpacks before we head off.”  Gail nodded.

He returned to the minivan, removed his and Gail’s backpacks from the trunk, and took them towards his wife.  As he handed Gail’s backpack to her, she set Kaylee’s backpack on the ground to strap her own onto her back; Steve did the same thing.  When their packs’ handles were dangling from their shoulders, Gail picked up Kaylee’s backpack, and Steve picked up Megan.

Steve led the way down the path as Ryan and Janet chuckled behind them.  “We’ll be right back,” Steve called back.

Several minutes later, the three of them reached the cave.  The backpack dangled from Steve’s hand as he peered intently into the tunnel.  “Kaylee!” he called.  “Kaylee, I want you to come out now; you forgot your backpack.”

There was no answer except echoes.  Sighing in his turn, Steve turned to Gail.  “Well, I’d better go inside.  This tunnel stretches quite a distance, as Ryan and I discovered, and they may be out of earshot.”

Gail nodded, and glanced at Megan.  “We’re going with you.”

Setting Megan on the ground, Steve slipped his own pack off his back to take out his flashlight.  After Gail had helped him zip it back up and to slip his arms back through its handles, she picked up Kaylee’s pack and handed it to her husband.  Steve switched on the flashlight and the two of them entered the cave, Gail carrying Megan this time, and Steve carrying Kaylee’s backpack.  “Children!” Gail hollered.

As soon as they had gone around the tunnel’s bend, the entire cave, without warning, became pitch-black, and the ground began to shake.  Not even Steve’s flashlight emitted any light.  Megan screamed in terror.  Grabbing hold of his wife with one hand, Steve yelled, “Don’t move!  Stay put!  Please, God, help us!”

“It’s all right, Megan; God is looking after us,” Gail soothed her daughter.

To Steve’s relief and Gail’s, the earthquake stopped, the darkness subsided, and his flashlight came back on.  “What on earth—!” Gail gasped, as she gaped at their surroundings.  The cave had changed; it was not the same cave that they had entered!  The walls were more jagged, and sunlight entered through a crevice in the roof.  Gail and Steve gaped at each other in shock.

“What in the name of Heaven!”  Shaking his head violently, Steve took a deep, shuddering breath and clenched and unclenched his left fist, in an obvious effort to control his panic.  After a moment, he turned to his wife and took another deep breath in an effort to calm down.  “We’d better pray before we do anything, sweetheart,” he said, and Gail nodded agreement.  They bowed their heads, and Gail clasped Megan against her chest, and Steve placed his arms around his wife's shoulders.  “Please, God,” he said, his voice shaking, “help us and guide us.  We don’t know what’s just happened, but You do.  Please help us, Lord.  In Jesus’ name, amen.”

“Amen,” Gail repeated.

Steve lifted his head, and Gail, taking her own deep breath, followed suit.  “Let’s go back to the entrance and see what we find out there,” she said.

Steve nodded agreement.  “Let’s.”

Going back the way they had come, they arrived at the steep boulder that rose from the cave floor and formed the entrance above their heads.  They could see no trees beyond the entrance from where they stood at the foot of the incline.  Steve stood silently for a long moment, gazing up at the entrance and then down at the stone floor, while biting his lower lip.

“Gail,” he finally said, “I feel a strong check in my spirit about going out that way.  I don’t know why, but I do.”

Frowning, Gail turned to look up at the entrance.  “What does God want us to do, then?”

Steve turned in the other direction.  “He—”  He cleared his throat.  “I believe He wants us to go in the other direction.”

Gail bit her lower lip.  She did not like that idea in the slightest.  At last, with a sigh, she said, “Well, we’d better get started, then.”  She shifted Megan in her arms and accompanied her husband down the tunnel.

As they approached the bend, Steve shook his head.  “You know, Gail, I just don’t understand it.  This did not happen when Ryan and I explored that cave!”

Gail gazed intently at her husband.  “There was nothing to forewarn you that something like this might happen?”

Steve shook his head.  “Nothing whatsoever.  We went clear to the end of the cave and back, and the only things we found were a few stalactites hanging from the ceiling near the back.  We didn’t even find any bats.”

Gail smiled in spite of herself.  “Thank goodness for that!”

Minutes later, they came to the same waterfall that the children had arrived at earlier, and they all had a drink of water, including Megan, drinking from it as they would from a water fountain.  When the three of them came within sight of the valley and of the elegant complex of buildings across the valley, they froze, stunned.  “Look!” Megan cried out, waving her arms.  “I see house!”

“We all do, Megan.”  Gail smiled at the three-year-old and then looked at Steve.  “Where—where are we?”  Her voice choked.  “And more importantly, where are the children?”

“That’s what I’d like to know!”  Steve shook his head, disbelief in his eyes.

“‘I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,’” Gail quoted dryly.

Steve smiled wryly.  “Or Oregon, rather,” he said, just as dryly.  “And more importantly,” he added, scanning the valley, “I have a feeling that our children aren’t in Oregon anymore, either!”  

-oo000oo-  

FEBRUARY 14, 1419 (T.A. 3019)

It was the morning after Halbarad and the Grey Company had left Rivendell, and Elrond was speaking with Glorfindel and writing a letter to Halbarad’s wife when a tap came at the study door.  "Enter.”

The door opened, and an Elf entered with a bow.  It was one of the scouts who helped keep watch over Rivendell.   "Master Elrond, Lord Glorfindel, we have been keeping watch over the tunnel entrance into the Valley, as you commanded.  About a quarter of an hour ago, our patrol spotted more newcomers, Edain, dressed as those children were before, and burdened with similar packs.  There were three: one Man and one woman, and the woman was carrying a child younger even than Miss Kaylee.  We suspect that they may be the rest of the family of the children who came before."

Glorfindel rose instantly; Elrond finished the letter he had been writing, and also rose.  "We shall accompany you back with an escort to help bring them here.  Ask the grooms to ready mounts; Glorfindel, you go ahead and select the escort.  I shall join you after I have a word with Arwen."

Glorfindel acknowledged Elrond's command with a nod, and left.  Elrond reached for the bell pull to summon a maidservant, and then changed his mind and went in search of his daughter himself.  It would be quicker.  He had learned from Arwen earlier that Kaylee was currently with Bilbo, and he felt that it would be better if Kaylee did not learn about this just yet.

He strode down the passage towards his daughter's solarium; she was nearly always with her maidens there, this time of day.

The door stood open to the bright room, allowing its light into the passage.  He stopped and spoke.  "My daughter, may I have a word with you?"

Arwen looked up, surprised.  "Certainly, Ada."  She put down her sewing and rose gracefully to join him.  "Is something amiss?"

"I hope not, yet there is something afoot.  The patrol spotted three more persons who appear to be from the same place as the McClouds.  From the descriptions, it possibly may be their parents and younger sister."  He paused.  "Is Kaylee still with Bilbo?"

"Yes, the two of them went to the glass house to gather some vegetables."

"Good, we shall not disturb her with this news until we know that the new guests are, in fact, whom we believe them to be.  But you will need to arrange chambers for them."

"Of course, Ada.  I hope this is so—the poor child has sorely missed her family.  I will go at once."

He kissed her forehead.  "And I, too, must go.  I wish to be among those who ride to greet them."

He hurried off in one direction, while she went in the other.  

-oo000o-

“Uh, Steve—”  Gail grabbed her husband’s arm.  “What’s that?”

Listening intently, Steve peered through the trees.  “Horses,” he said.  “Someone’s coming, but until they get closer, I can’t tell who.  Maybe they can tell us where our children are.”  I hope! he silently added, as he took a deep breath.  He could only hope that those strangers, whoever they were, did not intend to harm them.

A moment later, several long-haired men on horseback cantered toward them; Gail clutched Megan to their chests.  One of the men waved toward them.

“I am Master Elrond.  Do not be frightened.  We mean you no harm.”  The man who had spoken dismounted his horse and stood before the McClouds.  Steve extended his hand in greeting.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Elrond.”  Smiling and nodding, Steve stepped forward and shook Elrond’s hand.  As always, his handshake was firm and attentive, and he maintained eye contact with Elrond throughout.  “I’m Steven McCloud, and this is my wife, Gail, and our youngest child, Megan.”  He gestured toward his wife and youngest daughter as he spoke.

“How do you do?”  Smiling, Gail removed her right arm from around Megan to shake Elrond’s hand.  That done, she wrapped her arm once more around Megan’s back and glanced down at Kaylee’s backpack dangling from Steve’s hand.  She looked from her husband to Elrond.  “We were wondering if you could help us?  We’re looking for our other children.”

“Yes, one of our other kids forgot her backpack when they left the campsite, and we were going to take it to her.”  Steve held up Kaylee’s backpack for Elrond, who nodded.

“This is the valley of Rivendell, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud, and yes, your other children arrived here.  But I had better explain some things to you, and this is not the best place to do that.”  He gestured toward the horses.  They had brought two extra mounts with them.  “Do you know how to ride?”

Exchanging glances, Steve and Gail shook their heads ruefully.  “None of us have ever learned how, Master Elrond,” Steve said.

“Then we will help you to mount, and one of us will hold Miss Megan while you are doing so.”  He spoke softly to one of the others who had come with them, and he rode off, leading the two extra horses.

Glorfindel dismounted and held out his arms for Megan.  Gail was apprehensive, as Megan was usually very shy of strangers, but instead she held out her arms to him with a grin.  "Shiny!" she said, and she laughed as he took her.  Glorfindel nodded and gave the three-year-old girl a courtly smile.

Gail blinked.  It must be a trick of the light, the way the sun shifted through the leaves.  It really did seem for a moment that he was glowing.  But the thought fled as she found another of these exceptionally handsome, long-haired men appearing, to help her onto the horse.  It was a bit nerve-wracking to be hoisted up onto such a large animal, and there was no saddle!  But Glorfindel mounted gracefully behind her, and she felt much safer.  The other person handed Megan up to her.  She noticed that two of the other men were already mounted with their backpacks, and that Steve was behind the one who had introduced himself as "Master Elrond".  She wondered if perhaps these people were historical re-enactors; their clothing and mannerisms would go with that.  And what on earth was this Rivendell, and this Middle-earth?  She had never heard of either place!  Certainly, as far as she knew, Wallowa Lake State Park had no such places.  But if they were re-enactors, Rivendell might be what they called their campsite; Heaven only knew what Middle-earth was supposed to be!  She recalled some photos that Nicole Adams’s mother, Carol, had shown her of an elaborate SCA campsite that Carol’s nephew had been to.  

As they rode off, the rider behind her said, "I am most sorry, but in our haste to get back, I failed to introduce myself.  I am Glorfindel, of the House of the Golden Flower."

Well, she thought, that can't be his real name!  I guess he actually must be trying to stay in character.   Out loud, she said, "And my name is Gail McCloud.  I hope my older children haven't been much trouble to you this afternoon.  My husband and I need to find them and get back to setting up our camp.  We only just arrived at the park a short while ago, and we’ve still got to put up our tents."

There was a long silence, and then he said, "Your older children are very responsible and well-behaved.  They were concerned about your worry."

Gail thought that was an odd way to put it, but before she could question him further, they came out of the woods, and her jaw dropped.  That was no campsite!  That was the house they had seen when they had first come out of the cave, and it was so beautiful!  So elegant, Gail thought.  The wooded area had blocked their view since there had been no path to follow and the trees were so thick.  Is this where the re-enactors have their headquarters? Gail silently wondered.

They rode across a narrow bridge and into a sort of courtyard in front of the amazingly beautiful building that they had already seen.  The riders pulled up near the foot of wide steps and dismounted.  Glorfindel reached up and handed Megan down into the arms of one of the most beautiful women that Gail had ever laid eyes upon.  She blinked, shook her head, and blinked again.  The woman had her hair pulled back by intricate braids...Were those points on her ears?  What kind of people had their kids fallen in with, anyway?

She felt much better as Steve came up and put his arm around her shoulders.  "Where are our children?" he asked, with a touch of anger.  "I think some explanations are in order."  He reached for Megan, and the woman handed her to him.  Gail took her from him.

Elrond lifted his chin and said calmly, "Explanations are indeed in order.  But I think they should be made in privacy and comfort.  Please follow me, and I will tell you what has happened…"  

-oo000oo-

After Steve and Gail had heard their host's explanation of all that their other children had done since their arrival, they stared at one another in astonishment and dismay.  As glad as they were that Kaylee was safe in Rivendell and that they would get to see her shortly, to learn that the rest of their children had gone on a dangerous quest was shocking.  What their other children were in the process of doing here was even more so.  And where they all were was the most shocking of all.  That they were surrounded by fantasy creatures—by elves—in what appeared to be a fantasy world was nothing short of incredible!

“I don’t believe this!”  Gail shook her head and gaped at her husband, and then stared at Elrond.  “I mean, I can’t believe I’m hearing all this!  Our other children on a dangerous quest?”  She hugged Megan to her chest.  “And we’re—we’re in another world?  A fantasy world, of all places?  With elves, of all things?”

Steve gently patted her shoulder.  “I know, Gail,” he said softly.  “I’m stunned, too.  But what we’ve seen, it’s clear that this is real, and from what Master Elrond has told us, it appears that God has called them to this world, whatever it is, to take part in this—this quest.”  Gail took a deep breath in an evident effort to calm herself down for Megan’s sake, and Steve squeezed her arm.  “It’s all right, Gail.  We know the Lord is with them.”

Steve had silently been praying for calm all through the rather strange tale that he had been told, and he had gradually come to accept it as the only possible explanation for their strange surroundings and even stranger hosts.  It had stunned them both to learn that not only had they entered another world, but that this strange world was populated by elves!  Somehow, though, he could feel that they were truthful, and—well, good.

“True.  But I am so worried about our children, Steve!  They’re too young for this, especially Joey.”  Gail took another deep breath and repositioned Megan in her arms.  “At least Kaylee is safe here in Rivendell.”

“Yes, and thank goodness.”  Steve turned to Elrond.  “Thank you for taking care of our children, Master Elrond.”  Eledhwen stood nearby, listening, and Arwen sat next to her father.  Megan sat nestled in her mother’s arms, sucking her thumb.

Elrond smiled.  “It has been my pleasure, Mr. McCloud.  My daughter has had the primary responsibility of looking after Miss Kaylee, with the help of her ladies.”  He nodded toward Arwen, who smiled, and gestured toward Eledhwen, who inclined her head in acknowledgment.

Arwen looked from Steve to Gail.  “And it has been a pleasure to do so, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud.  Your little daughter is a sweet child.”  Steve and Gail smiled fondly and proudly in response.  “Mairen has gone to fetch Miss Kaylee; she should be here soon.”

“Yes, and while we are waiting for her, I have some questions I wish to ask you.”  Master Elrond paused.  “I asked your children these same questions when they first arrived here.  Now I must ask these questions of you, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud.  I would like for you to tell me how you arrived in Middle-earth, and what led up to it.  You have already told me some of it, but now I wish to hear it in full.”

Steve and Gail exchanged glances.  “Well, as we told you earlier, Kaylee forgot her backpack, and we decided to take it to her,” Steve explained.  “That meant going to the cave.”  Elrond nodded, and Steve paused.  “We’re on a week-long camping trip, you see, and Gail and I decided to go together to take it to her.  Since my brother and his wife wanted to go ahead and continue setting up the tents, we decided to bring Megan with us.”  Gail nodded agreement.

Elrond listened as the two of them explained how the children had left the campsite to explore the cave, and their own departure for the cave where the children had gone, after they had discovered Kaylee’s backpack; what had happened while they were inside the cave, and everything that had followed.  Afterward, in answer to Elrond’s questions, Steve and Gail gave him their full names and told them where they lived, and then Steve explained what he did for a living, and why he and his family had been camping at the state park.

As inwardly annoyed and impatient as Steve felt, he tried not to let it show, and answered the questions.  They felt intrusive, yet he sensed that his host was mentally comparing his story with the one the children had given him, to be certain of his and Gail's truthfulness, and to be sure that they really were the parents of the children who had arrived here.  I can’t really blame him for that, he silently told himself.

As soon as the McClouds had finished their explanations, the door swung open, and Kaylee raced into the room, followed by Mairen and a scampering Lucy.  For a moment, Kaylee froze; her mouth hung wide open as she gaped at her parents and younger sister.  Then, with a squeal of joy, she rushed toward them.  “Mommy!!  Daddy!!  Megan!!”  She barreled against her father, who, laughing, wrapped his arms around her.  “I missed you,” Kaylee whimpered.  “I missed you so much!!”

Leaping backwards, she hugged her mother sideways, since her mother was holding Megan, and Lucy placed her front paws on Gail’s knee; with one arm, Gail hugged her back and kissed her daughter’s forehead, and then she bent over to rub Lucy’s head.  Steve and Gail gaped down at the puppy, stunned.  Lucy had grown by several months, and she was wearing a collar!  If we needed proof that time has passed for our children since they arrived here, this is it, Steve thought.

“Lucy missed you, too,” Kaylee said.  Leaning back, she looked from her father to her mother, thrusting out her lower lip.  “I’m sorry, Mommy.  I’m sorry, Daddy.  We all are.  We didn’t mean to make you worry.”

“Oh, Kaylee,” her father said soothingly, “we know you didn’t, and we never even had a chance to worry.  From what Master Elrond, here, has told us, months have passed since you and the others arrived here, but in truth, back at the campsite, just a few minutes had passed since you had left us before we decided to follow you.”

“That’s right,” Gail added.

Kaylee hugged her mother again.  “I missed you SO much!”

“I know, sweetheart,” her mother said soothingly.  “But we’re here now.”  She kissed Kaylee on the forehead.  Putting her front paws back on the floor and trotting toward Steve, Lucy whined, pawing his leg, and he leaned down to pick her up and set her on his lap.  Lucy licked his hand, and he began rubbing her head.  Gail gaped down at the not-so-young puppy.  “If it hadn’t been for what Master Elrond told us, I’d swear this was another dog,” she told her husband, who nodded agreement.

“Look at the collar she’s wearing,” Steve said, running his fingers over the collar.

Kaylee looked around the room, and then turned back to her parents.  “Kevin and Jennifer and Joey aren’t here,” she said.

Gail nodded.  “We know that, hon.  Master Elrond has been telling us all about this quest they’re on.”

Kaylee bounced on her heels.  “Where’s Aunt Janet?  Where’s Uncle Ryan?  Are they here, too?”  She looked around the room as she spoke.

Steve shook his head.  “Nope, they’re back at the campsite, sweetheart.  We’ll rejoin them when we return to Oregon.”  He glanced over at his daughter, and said, "Kaylee, haven’t you missed this?"  He held up her backpack and dangled it in front of her.  “You forgot your backpack, young lady.”  He wagged his finger for emphasis.

Kaylee bit her lower lip.  “I’m sorry,” she said again, and then, with an excited squeal, she pounced on it and began to explore its contents.  She pulled out her toothbrush, a box of crayons, a coloring book, a walkie-talkie, several sheets of drawing paper, and a container of watercolors, followed by several storybooks and a My Little Pony figure.  Then she reached down into it again.  “I want my doll!  Where is it?  Yaayyy!  I see it!”  She smiled broadly.

Elrond and Arwen watched in amusement, and Steve and Gail smiled, as an excited Kaylee pulled her Baby Alive doll out of the backpack, along with its bottle, its spoon, its diapers, and little jar of "food".

“Guess what?!” Kaylee announced, smiling broadly.  “This doll eats and drinks.  See?”  She held the doll bottle, filled with water, up to the doll’s mouth, and the water squirted through the hole in its mouth.  Then she opened the jar, took a spoonful of the "food" that came with the doll, and held it up to the doll’s mouth.  Its mouth opened and closed as she inserted the spoon in it.

“And guess what?” Kaylee added.  “This doll wets, too.”  She removed its diaper from its bottom and showed it to their hosts.  Not only was it wet, but some of the food that she had fed it was also smeared on the disposable diaper.  “You have to change its diaper.”  As the grownups watched, she did just that, and then she cradled the doll against her chest.

Elrond and Arwen exchanged amused looks.  “I have lived for many thousands of years, and I have never seen such marvels as your age is destined to have,” Elrond said dryly.  He found it hard to believe that such resources would be wasted for a child's toy.

Steve and Gail laughed.  “Well, Master Elrond, in our world, many discoveries have been made in our time, and many things have been invented that no one in this time, in your world, have even thought of,” Gail said, and Steve nodded.  Elrond simply shook his head and recalled the lost wonders of Númenor.  More impressive to him was the small stack of books Kaylee had laid to one side.  He found it truly astonishing to see that books were so readily available.

They watched Kaylee for a few more moments as she played with her doll, and then Elrond turned to Arwen.  “You may show these people to their chambers.”

With a nod, Arwen gestured to Steve and Gail, and Steve set Lucy on the floor.  Kaylee put everything inside her backpack except her doll, zipped it shut, and slipped it over her back, and then she picked up her doll.  Rising to their feet and picking up their jackets as well as Megan’s, her parents followed Arwen down the hall, accompanied by their daughters and by Eledhwen and Mairen.  Gail carried Megan, and Steve held Kaylee’s left hand while she clasped her doll to her chest with her right.  Lucy trotted alongside, wagging her tail.

“I will show you Miss Kaylee’s quarters,” Arwen told Steve and Gail.  “Master Joey shared her quarters while he was here, and your other daughter will share it now.  Your own guest room will be close to theirs.”

Steve and Gail exchanged glances.  “Thank you, Lady Arwen,” Gail said.

“Hey, Mommy, Daddy, guess what!”  Kaylee skipped alongside her father, still holding the doll to her chest, her bulging backpack dangling from her back.  “I’m learning to ride a pony!”

Her parents exchanged another glance.  “Are you, now?” Gail asked her.

“Uh-huh.”  Kaylee smiled broadly.  “Mr. Baggins has his own pony, and he lets me ride him!  His name’s Merrylegs!  Curubor says I’m becoming a good little rider!”

Curubor?  Mr. Baggins?”  Gail looked from her daughter to Arwen in puzzlement.

Arwen nodded.  “Curubor is the head groom, and he has been giving Miss Kaylee riding lessons for the last few months.  He gave your other children lessons while they were here.  Bilbo Baggins has been a guest here for some years now.  He is a hobbit from the Shire, and ever since your other children left, he has been helping us amuse your daughter.  Miss Kaylee was visiting his quarters when you arrived here.”  She smiled down at Kaylee.  “Your daughter has learned much more than horseback-riding, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud.  She has learned a number of skills since her arrival in Middle-earth, which I am sure she will be glad to show to you.”

Steve and Gail smiled.  “Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what our little girl has learned,” Steve said.  Gail nodded agreement, and then she shifted Megan to her other arm.

When they entered the guest wing, Arwen showed them the bathing room and the water closet.  As soon as the McClouds entered their guest room, Gail set Megan on the floor.  She and Steve removed their backpacks and laid them on the table, and then they laid their jackets on the table.  Steve straightened his yellow plaid cotton button-down shirt, briefly glancing down at the ballpoint pen that was clipped to his shirt pocket and the dark blue pocket-sized spiral notebook that jutted out of it.  Gail smoothed her hair.  Smiling broadly, Kaylee bounced from one foot to the other, clearly excited and overjoyed to be reunited with her parents at last.  Megan wandered around the bedroom, and Lucy scampered about.

Suddenly, Megan froze.  “I need go potty!”

Laughing, Mairen picked up the little girl.  “I will take you to the water closet,” she told Megan.  Eledhwen left the room, and Mairen carried Megan to the water closet.  Her parents and Kaylee remained in the bedroom to wait for them.

As soon as Mairen returned with Megan, Lady Arwen suggested that they go outside for a while before time for luncheon.  Steve and Gail looked at each other, and then nodded.  They had noticed that it was much earlier in the day than it had been when they had left the campsite.  To them, it seemed almost time for supper.  They didn't say anything about that, though, and politely agreed to the Lady's suggestion.

They followed the two Elf-women back down the hallway, noticing the many tall arched windows along one side, which made it feel almost like they were already outdoors.  Steve's sharp eyes observed small patches of snow in the shadiest areas, but the weather had not seemed particularly wintry.  This lent even more credence to his suspicions that time moved differently here; after all, their other children had already been here for a few months, while it had only been a few minutes from the time they had left the campsite to the moment when he and Gail had decided to follow them.  While neither he nor Gail had ever been fans of fantasy, he had read enough science fiction to realize that such a phenomenon would be possible in a situation like this.  I’m not sure that Isaac Asimov ever thought of a scenario like this!  Or Jules Verne, either, he thought ruefully.  It feels as if we’ve entered the Twilight Zone!  I’m sure it was just as surreal for our children when they first arrived here.

Just as they were about to turn through the wide doors to a terrace leading down to a grassy lawn, they saw a small figure coming in their direction.  At first, Steve thought it might be a "Little Person", but a closer look showed him differently, especially once he noticed the furry bare feet and the pointed ears.

“Hi, Mr. Baggins!”  Smiling broadly, Kaylee waved as she skipped toward the elderly hobbit, alongside her parents, Arwen, and Mairen.

“Hullo, Miss Kaylee!”  Chuckling, Bilbo approached the four.  “And hullo, Lady Arwen!  Miss Mairen!  Hello, Lucy!”  The man bent over to rub Lucy’s head, and she licked his fingers.  Steve noticed that his voice was as normal as theirs, not high-pitched as a Little Person’s sometimes was.  The elf lady inclined her head, and Mairen smiled.

Turning back to Kaylee, Bilbo asked, “Are these your parents and your other sister?”  Bilbo knew perfectly well that they were; he'd already heard the gossip in the kitchen when he was having elevenses.  He had come this way on purpose in order to meet them.

“Yep!  This is my mommy and daddy!  And Megan!”  Bouncing on the balls of her feet, Kaylee turned toward her parents and younger sister.

Laughing, Steve bent over and extended his hand.  “I’m Steven McCloud, Mr.—uh—”  He paused.

“Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, now of Rivendell,” the hobbit said.  “At your service, Mr. McCloud.”

Steve shook his hand and, straightening his back, turned toward Gail.  “And this is my wife, Gail, and our youngest daughter, Megan.”

Arwen smiled.  "Your children came to us in the autumn, and have been here for four months—well, only young Kaylee has been here in Rivendell the whole time.  She has not been idle, and has learned much in her time here.  She has become quite the little seamstress, and she has helped with many tasks around here.  And I believe she already mentioned learning to ride."

Bilbo chuckled.  "My old Merrylegs has become quite fond of her.  I've not the time nor inclination at my age to go riding very often, and the Elves usually just turn him out to pasture for exercise.  He seems pleased to have a rider once more.  And I believe Miss Kaylee is much less timid than she was when I first met her."

"I can see a difference in her already," Steve agreed.  "It seems like only yesterday that she was so clingy.  Heck, it was only yesterday that she was so clingy—only today, in fact, in our world!”  He shook his head incredulously.  “She used to suffer separation anxiety every time we had to leave the house—well, that no longer appears to be the case.  Why, as she was, you would not be able to pry her off Gail's lap after being apart for even half a day.  And look at how well she's watching over Megan.”  He gestured toward his daughters.

“I know.”  Gail shook her head in wonder as Steve turned toward her.  “She has actually learned to ride, and Lady Arwen has told us that she has also learned to sew.  And look!  I just saw her tying Megan's shoelaces!”

Steve whirled toward their little girls.  Kaylee had indeed just finished tying Megan’s shoes; that was a skill that she had not yet acquired when they had arrived at the campsite.  He nodded agreement, a thoughtful look on his face.  Perhaps this time away from them had been good for his little girl; sometimes he thought Gail was just a mite overprotective, but he would never say that out loud.

Arwen smiled.  "We had to keep her busy, especially once her older siblings left on their journey. But she is a clever and sweet child, eager to learn new things.  It has been a privilege to look after her.  It has been more than seventy of your years since we have fostered a child of Men in Rivendell, and there have been no Elven children here in over two-thousand, seven hundred years, when I was young."

Steve and Gail stared at one another in shock, and then shook their heads.  Somehow asking the obvious question now would feel rather rude.  Instead, Gail smiled and said, “Well, I want to thank you for looking after our daughter.”

“So do I,” Steve added.

Just then Bilbo's stomach began to rumble. "Pardon me!" he said.  "But it is well past time for luncheon!”

With a smile, Arwen rose to her feet.  “So it is.  We will go to the dining room.”

They went back inside and down the hall, and soon entered a large room with rows of tables and chairs.  A few minutes after they had taken their seats at one of the tables, a servant approached them and bowed.  "We have winter soup," he said, "and a cold platter."

"Thank you, Baragund.”  Arwen smiled at him.  “I will just have a goblet of light mead, but our guests have travelled far, and will be glad of food."

"I'd like my usual teapot," said Bilbo, "and I'm eating, of course."

Baragund laughed lightly.  "Of course, Mr. Baggins."  He glanced over at Steve and Gail.  "Would you care for some wine or ale?  Or would you like some tea with Mr. Baggins?" he asked.

Steve and Gail looked at one another, and then Steve shook his head.  "Just plain water for me, please," Steve said.  Gail looked at her husband and wondered if the water would be safe; still, there didn't seem to be many alternatives. She wasn't fond of hot tea, and she knew her husband wasn't either.

"May I have tea like Mr. Baggins?" Kaylee asked eagerly.  “Please?”

Gail looked surprised at that, but nodded and said, "Water for the rest of us," she said.  Baragund nodded and walked off, returning shortly after with a large platter.  Three other Elves were with him, one with a tray containing a small teapot, two cups and saucers, and a little honeypot, which was placed in front of Bilbo.  The platter was placed in the center of the table along with a basket of bread, and then bowls of steaming soup were distributed to everyone except Lady Arwen, while goblets were placed in front of everyone except Bilbo.  A small silver cup was given to Megan instead of the larger goblets.

Gail found she was actually quite hungry.  The soup smelled good, and the platter was an attractive arrangement of sliced meats and cheeses.  Gail saw that Megan was sniffing the soup with a smile.  "Smells good, Mommy!" the little girl said.  Gail was very thankful that so far, Megan had not developed Kaylee and Joey's picky ways.

She was surprised when Kaylee enthusiastically said, "It sure does, Megan!"  At home, Kaylee had never cared for vegetable soup, and would only eat chicken noodle soup out of a can!

Kaylee took Megan's hand and her father's, and Megan reached for her mother's hand.  The two little girls closed their eyes.  Gail smiled as she and Steve closed their own eyes, and Steve murmured, "Thank you, Lord, for our safety and for this good food, and for our hosts.  Please bless them, and the food we are about to eat.  In Jesus' name, amen."

Lady Arwen watched them with a smile.  She had become accustomed to the "grace" that the McCloud children said before each meal, and was unsurprised to see their parents do the same.  It was a very charming custom, and it had caused her to begin thanking Eru in her own heart for all the blessings of Arda.

When the McClouds had finished their prayer, Bilbo poured out some steaming tea into both cups, added some honey, and passed one of the cups and saucers over to Kaylee.  "Thank you, Mr. Baggins," she said politely, and without any prompting.  Once more, Gail found herself surprised at Kaylee's impeccable behavior.

The soup was indeed quite good; a light broth with some small bits of some sort of meat, and several kinds of vegetables floating about in it.  "What's in this soup?" she wondered aloud.

Bilbo grinned.  "Well, the meat varies, but I'd say today, it's venison.  They used dried mushrooms in the broth.  Then there are onions, leeks, apples, parsnips, carrots, turnips, beans, and a little chopped kale.  Some thyme and marjoram in the broth.  Elves are nearly as good cooks as hobbits!"

Gail also took a little of the meat and cheese onto her plate, with chunks of the freshly baked bread.  Megan just used some of the bread to dunk into her soup, imitating her older sister, who was eating with every sign of enjoyment.

As hungry as she was, Gail found herself flagging near the end of the meal.  Once sated, Megan had leaned into her side and was falling asleep.  Gail saw Steve stifling his yawns with his hand, and she exchanged a glance with Arwen.

"You are very tired!” Arwen said.  “Why do you not return to your rooms for a time of rest before the evening feast?  I have asked my maidens to provide you with clothing for the feast, and it should be there awaiting you."  She looked at Kaylee.  "Kaylee, can you show your parents to their room?"

"Yes, Lady Arwen.  Do you want me to come to your sewing room for my lesson today?"  Gail stared at her five-year-old, sounding so much older and more grown-up than she had this morning.

Arwen smiled.  "You are excused from your sewing lesson today, child.  You may want to stay with your little sister this afternoon, and I know that your parents want your company."  Kaylee smiled broadly.

Steve carried Megan as he and Gail followed Kaylee, who seemed to know the way very well.  Bilbo accompanied them part of the way, before he bid them a temporary farewell and headed to his own rooms.  Their daughter led them unerringly back to the room they had been given.  She smiled broadly up at her parents.

"See, your room is right next to where Kevin's room was.  My room and Joey's is across the hall, but since Joey's gone, Megan's gonna stay with me!"  She threw open the door, and Steven entered and placed the sleeping three-year-old on the bed that Kaylee indicated.  Gail removed her youngest daughter's shoes.  Since it was only to be a nap, she did not bother to undress her except for her jacket.

Kaylee pointed to an open door in the middle of the wall between the two child-sized beds.  "That was Jennifer's room before she left, but Mairen and Eledhwen take turns sleeping in there now."  She paused.  "They both told me not to say 'miss' to them.  Is that okay?"

Steve and Gail both assured her that if the Elf women did not want her to say “miss”, it was all right, since they were in a place with different customs.  

"They will ring a big bell when it's time to get ready for feast!  You will like the feast—the food is really, really good."  She ushered them out of the room.  "I'll keep an eye on Megan!"

Steve and Gail went into their room, still rather bemused by Kaylee's behavior.  Gail closed the door, and for the first time, she studied the room.  “This is a very nice room,” she said softly, and then froze in surprise.  “And look!”  She approached the elvish outfits neatly folded on the bed and turned toward her husband.  “Steve, look!  These must be the clothes Lady Arwen told us about.”

“Yes, I see,” Steve said.  Approaching the bed, he ran his hand over the tunic lying on top of his own stack of clothes.  “These look very much like the clothes men used to wear back in the Middle Ages.”

“They certainly do,” Gail agreed.  “This dress looks like something from the twelfth century!”

Steve looked rather dubiously at the long tunic and narrow trousers provided for him; it was clearly of the same style that the Elves had been wearing.  Both garments were in a soft fabric, finely woven—possibly silk—and were in a shimmering pale grey.

Gail held up the dress: the scooped neckline of the deep wine-colored gown was embroidered with green leaves.  There was similar embroidery around the hem and the edges of the wide sleeves.  In addition to the dress, there was a long, green leather belt, embossed with golden flowers, and a pair of soft leather slippers of dark brown.  Steve had noticed similar shoes near his own clothing.  Gail noticed that the dress laced up at both sides, which she thought might be a little awkward.  She also noticed that the bodice would support her breasts, making her bra unnecessary.

She added, “Did you notice the dress Kaylee is wearing?  Megan will probably wear one much like it while we’re here.”

“Yes, I did, and Megan probably will,” Steve agreed.  He sat down on the edge of the bed and removed his shoes.  In a low voice, he added, “Staying here certainly seems to agree with our Kaylee.”

“It certainly does!  Have you noticed how polite and well-mannered she is now?  And she’s so much more independent than she used to be!”  Gail shook her head in wonder.  “Not that I’m complaining, mind you—far from it!  It’s just that it’s so...so…”  Her voice trailed off.  

Just then, there was a tap on the door.  Steve opened it to find one of the Elven women who had been taking care of Kaylee—Eledhwen, he believed this one was.  Behind her was another Elf holding a tray with a large pitcher.

"Lord Steven…"

"Please just call me Mr. McCloud," he said uncomfortably.  “There are no nobles in our country.”

She looked a bit surprised, but said, "Ah!  Like Mr. Baggins' Shire!"  She did not repeat the name that Steven had told her to call him.  It was clear she was not comfortable addressing him that way.  But then she went on to the purpose of her presence.  She introduced the male Elf.  "This is Thalion.  He will be serving the two of you while you are guests here.  We have brought fresh water for the ewer on the washstand, and I have fresh towels for you."

Steve noticed then the white linens over her arm.  They came into the room, and Thalion poured the fresh water into the ewer.  It was a beautiful porcelain vessel set in the matching basin.

Thalion spoke for the first time.  "I will return to help you dress for the evening, L—Mr. er, McCloud."

Steve nodded.  “Thank you.  That’s very kind of you.”

"And I will come to assist you, Lady Gail…" Eledhwen added.

"Mrs. McCloud, please," Gail murmured.

"We will leave you to your rest, then," she said.  "We will return when the evening bell rings."

The two Elves gave a brief bow and departed.

Gail sighed.  "I don't know about you, sweetheart, but I am just going to lie down on top of that very comfortable bed right now.  I am not even going to undress."  She sat on the bed and slid her shoes off, and then she made herself comfortable.  “At least Kaylee and Megan are in good hands right now.”

She yawned, and patted the bed on her other side, inviting Steve to do the same.  He smiled and lay down beside her.  He reached one arm out, and she snuggled into it with a wide yawn.  “Yes, they are,” he agreed.  Steve closed his eyes.  He wasn't sure he'd be able to sleep; there was so much to think about.  But before long, the comfort of the bed lured him into slumber as well.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 24: Two Worlds

Gail woke to the pealing of a large bell and turned to see Steve still snoring beside her.  She started to wake him, but changed her mind and slipped off the bed, padding over to the old-fashioned washstand.  She carefully poured some of the water into the basin.  Next to the basin were two folded white cloths, and on a bar attached to the end were two folded white towels.  They gave every appearance of being made from real linen!  She wondered, would they be as absorbent and comfortable to use as terry cloth?

But she was pleasantly surprised to find that though they felt quite different, they worked quite well.  A small bar of pale green soap lay in a little dish next to the basin—it smelled of rosemary and mint.  The water, of course, was cold. But she washed up and then looked up at the mirror hanging above the washstand.  I need to get my brush out of my backpack! she thought.  It’s a good thing we took our backpacks with us when we left the campsite, or we wouldn’t have what we need right now!  We need our toiletries, and I need certain other things.  Thank goodness we have them.  She looked at the now-soapy water in the basin, and realized she'd need to empty it, so that Steve could have clean water to wash with as well.

Her dilemma was solved when she noticed that the pretty copper container that she had taken for a wastebasket was actually a bucket!  She poured the water from the basin to the bucket, and then turned to find her husband quietly watching her, his hands behind his head on the pillow.

"You look beautiful," he said.

She gave a skeptical sniff.  "My hair's a mess, and I just washed off all my make-up!  But thank you anyway."  She smiled.  "Sometimes I don't know if you are just biased, or maybe you need glasses."

Steve chuckled.  "You are always beautiful, and you don't need make-up to make you that way."  He grinned; it was a familiar bit of banter.

Gail laughed, but then looked thoughtful.  "All these Elves are really beautiful!"

Steve shook his head.  "They are, every last one of them, drop-dead gorgeous, the men and the women.  It's unnatural, or maybe it's just natural to Elves.  But none of them have your beauty."  

This time she looked thoughtful.  "It does seem strange.  I haven't seen anyone who doesn't look like a model.  And everyone seems to be the same age!  I haven’t seen any old elves here, so far, or any child elves either.  But then, Lady Arwen did say that there haven’t been any children here in over seventy years, or elf children in over two thousand, seven hundred years."  She shook her head.  “I would have never thought that elves could have children!  Of course, I never expected elves to exist for real, or to be even taller than humans.”

Steve nodded.  "I know what you mean.  And yes, Lady Arwen did say that.  Mr. Baggins was quite elderly, but apparently, he's not a kind of Elf.  He said he was a hobbit, whatever that is."

Gail puckered her brow.  "I know I've heard that word before," she said.  Suddenly, she froze.  “I remember!  There's a book called The Hobbit!  An Englishman named J.R.R. Tolkien wrote it decades ago.  I’ve never read it, but I’ve heard of it.”  She shook her head in bewilderment.  “But it’s a fantasy novel, I’m told.”

"You're right," said Steve.  He furrowed his brow.  "I remember now.  And years ago, there were those movies about something—wasn't it that Lord of the Rings movie that won all those awards?  Three movies, in fact; they came out soon after the turn of the millennium.  They were about hobbits and Elves, too!"

Gail nodded.  “Yes.  That’s another book he wrote—a sequel to the first, I think.  And yes, someone made it into a series of movies.  I’ve never read that book either, or seen the movies except for occasional ads on TV, and that was years ago.  And now, they’re in the process of making The Hobbit into a set of movies as well, I’m told.”

Steve shook his head.  "What have we gotten ourselves into here, Gail?  And our children…"  But what else he would have said was interrupted by the arrival of Eledhwen and Thalion to help them dress.

-oo000oo-

Getting dressed by someone else had not been quite so traumatic as they had expected.  It turned out that the door the two of them had taken for a closet actually led into a separate dressing room, containing two wardrobes and a full-length mirror.  Eledhwen took Gail in there to dress her, while Thalion helped Steve to dress in the bedroom. 

Gail admired her reflection.  Eledhwen had dressed her hair; since it was shoulder-length anyway, it hung down no shorter than before, but two thin braids hung down the side of her face with jeweled beads threaded through them.  And the dress did look lovely, although she was not sure how she'd manage not to trip herself, as the hem dragged the floor.  She asked Eledhwen.

The Elf-woman laughed.  "When you walk, gently kick the skirts forward as you step.  And lift them in front whenever you walk down steps or stairs."

When Gail came back into the bedroom, Steve's jaw dropped.  He swallowed hard, and then said, "I think that dress really suits you, honey."

She blushed again, and then studied him in his outfit.  "Well, I think you look like a fairy-tale prince in your clothes."

Then both of them blushed, as they realized that the two Elves were watching them in amusement.  Steve cleared his throat.  “Come on.  We’d better go get Kaylee and Megan.”

In the hallway, they found their daughters waiting with Mairen.  Gail noticed that Kaylee's and Megan’s dresses were indeed very similar, although the sleeves were not quite as long, and the hems came down only to the tops of their ankles.  Kaylee's dress was rose-colored, and Megan's was pale blue.

The family followed the Elves down to the dining hall, which at night had a very different appearance.  It was lit by candles and torches on the walls.  A long table was at the head of the room, set upon a dais.  The other long tables were still there, but all of the tables were covered with creamy linen tablecloths, and they had candles in silver candlesticks set upon them.  

To their surprise, Eledhwen and Mairen told Steve and Gail that they would be sitting at the High Table with Master Elrond and Lady Arwen, while the children would be sitting at one of the other tables.  Gail was not happy about it, but since Kaylee didn't seem to mind, and Megan seemed happy enough to go with her "big sister", she decided not to make a scene.  Steve squeezed Gail’s hand, letting her know that he felt the same way she did.

Mairen smiled kindly at Gail.  “You will be reunited with your daughters when the feast is over.”  With a wan smile, Gail nodded.

Thalion led them to the dais.  "You will wait to be seated until the Master and Lady Arwen arrive.  You, Mr. McCloud, will sit next to Lady Arwen, and you, Mrs. McCloud, will be sitting next to Master Elrond.”  Gail noticed that all the chairs were along one side of the table, all facing into the room and looking down at the other tables.

Gail looked at Steve, who shrugged.  “Apparently, it's similar to the kind of seating arrangements they have at royal banquets in our world,” he said in a low voice.

Gail smiled wryly.  “So it would appear.”

"Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud," a voice addressed them at about waist-height.  It was the hobbit.

“Good evening, Mr. Baggins."  Steve smiled down at Bilbo.

"We are glad to see you," said Gail.

"And I, you.  You do realize," the elderly hobbit said, "that you have thrown our Elves into confusion by your insistence on Shire forms of address.  Young Kevin and Jennifer have been ‘lorded’ and ladied’ ever since they arrived here."

"Oh?  Have they, now?" Steve asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Indeed, they did tell us there were no lords and ladies in your land, but I think they felt uncomfortable with correcting the adults.  In any case, the titles persisted, and I do not think the young ones felt up to disputing them.  Of course, since Joey and Kaylee were so much younger, the Shire forms were allowed for them.  They have been addressed as Master Joey and Miss Kaylee."

"I see.”  Steve nodded.  “Now, then, you said, 'Shire forms'?  What does that mean?"  He exchanged a puzzled look with Gail.

"Just that in my own land, the Shire, we also have no lords, although the Thain's wife is, of courtesy, titled, 'Lady'.  But it's not much used even then, save upon especially solemn occasions."

Steve and Gail exchanged a glance.  “I see.  Very interesting, Mr. Baggins,” Steve said thoughtfully.

“But you do have last names,” Gail said.  “As we do.”

"This is true," replied the hobbit.  "The same customs of address are also used in the neighboring land of Bree.  But elsewhere in the lands I know of, such customs are unknown."

Just then, Gail noticed a number of other Elves milling about.  There was the one named Glorfindel, who, she was startled to see, really did seem to glow slightly in the candlelight.  Bilbo began to point out others.  "There is Master Erestor, Master Elrond's councillor and steward.  There is Lindir, the minstrel, and his wife, Amarië, and over there is Mistress Narviel, the chief blacksmith, and her husband the chief groom, Curubor, who gives Miss Kaylee riding lessons.  Eledhwen, along with Mairen, will be sitting with your daughters tonight, but she is Lady Arwen's senior handmaiden.  However, she and her husband, Avorn—"  He pointed to a dark-haired Elf.  “—the chief woodwright, usually sit at the High Table.  Master Elrond's sons, Elladan and Elrohir, have just recently left on a journey, but they, too, usually sit up here."

Steve had been following Bilbo's identifications, making note of the names and faces of each person as Bilbo pointed them out, for he was quite observant.  He put an arm around Gail, who was simply confused.  He knew it would take his wife a little longer to remember all those names.  “I know, hon,” he said in a low voice.  “It’s going to take time to remember everybody’s names here.”

Gail bit her lower lip.  “It certainly will for me, since I don’t have your memory for names.”

However, at that moment, Master Elrond entered, his daughter on his arm.  Lady Arwen was looking especially radiant in a dark blue gown.  They took their seats in the two center chairs at the table.  For the first time, Steve noticed that the two chairs were ever so slightly larger and more ornate than the others.  Like a subtle pair of thrones, he thought.  Lady Arwen sat by her father's right hand, next to Steve’s assigned chair.

Their host gave a signal with his upraised hand, and people began to find their places.  Bilbo escorted Gail to her place at Master Elrond's side, while Steve remembered to take his seat next to Lady Arwen.  She gave him a radiant smile.  "Welcome, Mr. McCloud," she said.  Steve realized that Eledhwen must have spread the word about their preferred form of address, since everyone had been using it since they came down.

Steve smiled.  “Thank you.”

Lord Glorfindel was on Steve's other side.  He turned towards Steve and said, "How are you finding Rivendell so far, Mr. McCloud?"

Steve sat silently for a moment, thinking.  "To be honest, it is rather stunning.  Places like this don't exist where we live.  Much of the style seem to be a bit reminiscent of past ages in our world, but, well, better, and just a little different.  And I have to say, I've never experienced this sort of hospitality anywhere before.  You took our children in, and then you took us in—even gave us clothes!"

Glorfindel nodded.  "The Last Homely House is famous for its hospitality.  For many lives of Men, Master Elrond has welcomed folk of all races to his home, and his generosity is legendary."

"What do you mean, 'lives of Men'?” Steve asked, furrowing his brow in puzzlement.

Arwen had turned from speaking to one of the servants, giving orders for the food to be brought out.  She said, "The lives of Men are fleeting, seventy or eighty years for most, and even the longest-lived Men, the Dúnedain, seldom live longer than two centuries in these days.  Hobbits seem to average about a century or a little more.  Dwarves, unless slain in battle, often live to two and a half centuries.  Elves however, are tied to Arda.  Unless they be slain in battle or fade from grief, they will live until the end of the world."

“Arda?”  Steve raised his eyebrows, obviously puzzled.  “Sorry, I’m afraid I’ve never heard of the place.”

"Arda is the name of our world; Middle-earth or Ennor is what we call the part of the world East of the Sundering Sea," Glorfindel answered.

"Oh."  Steve had so many questions now that he couldn't sort out what he wanted to ask next.  And it seemed that he was going to have to take his time to find out what he most wanted to know: why his older children had decided to go on the perilous journey he and Gail had been told of.  If this was indeed God’s will, then he and Gail would have to accept it, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t try to look out for the children now that they were here, too.  No matter how hospitable Rivendell was, he had no intention of staying here patiently, waiting for them to return.  He was going to find them, and if he knew Gail, she felt the same way.  They might need to stay a while to get their bearings and make preparations for travel, but they would be going after Kevin and Jennifer and Joey; his main concern about that, however, was Kaylee and Megan.  He and Gail would have to decide whether to take them along or leave them behind.

Out loud, Steve said, "I see I have a lot to learn."  Leaning forward to glance at Gail, who seemed to be listening intently to Master Elrond, he added, “My wife and I both do.”  I need to talk this over with Gail after supper, he thought.

They were interrupted by a servant bearing soup.  It smelled wonderful, and for a while the conversation flagged.

-oo000oo-

On the other side of Master Elrond, Gail had been having her own conversation.  Her host had been telling her some of the things her children had been learning.  She tried to keep the appalled expression off her face.  While it was all very well for Kaylee to learn how to ride a pony, to sew, and to garden, it was quite another to learn that Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey were learning how to fight with swords and knives, and how to make fire, and to engage in other such dangerous activities.  Kevin and Jennifer, she could understand, since they were in their teens, but Joey was far too young.  And come to that, she still wasn't that keen on Kevin sword-fighting.  After all, she still wasn’t completely happy about her husband teaching Kevin to handle a gun; he was only a boy, still.  She breathed in and out slowly, nodding her head in the right places, and trying to be tactful.  Wait until she told Steve!

When Master Elrond turned to speak to his daughter for a moment, her attention was caught by Bilbo, who asked her, "Are you settling in well here in Rivendell?"

"They could not have been nicer," she said.  "I can hardly believe they even gave us these clothes!"

"It's very homely here," Bilbo agreed.  Gail had already realized that “homely” here did not mean “slightly ugly” as it did at home, but was more the old-fashioned meaning of "homelike".  Although this place was certainly not anything like her own home, it did have a homelike coziness and comfort about it.

"I have not seen any other hobbits here.  Are you the only one?"

"I am.  I have lived here for seventeen years, ever since I decided to retire from my duties in the Shire—that is the homeland of my birth, and the home of most hobbits, save for some few in Bree, a small land slightly east of the Shire."

Gail nodded.  “You mentioned something about the Shire, whatever it is, and its customs before we started eating.  But why here?"  Why on earth would he want to leave his home and his people, permanently?

Bilbo grinned.  "Some seventy-odd years ago in my youth, there was a small matter of thirteen Dwarves, a wizard, and a dragon in the lands to the East of here.  The wizard came to my home, Bag End, and asked me to go with them; I was fifty years old then.”

Gail’s mouth had dropped open as Bilbo had spoken.  “What?” she gasped, when he had finished talking.  Wizards?  Dragons?  How can that be? she wondered.  First elves and hobbits, now wizards and dragons!  What kind of place is this, anyway?  Has God really dropped us into a fantasy land of some kind?

Bilbo smiled.  “While I was traveling with them, we passed through here, and I struck up an acquaintance with Master Elrond.  On my return journey, he invited me to come and visit here someday.  When I was eleventy-one, I decided to take him up on it, and here I still am.”

Eleventy-one? Gail silently wondered, as her mouth hung open.  He must mean one hundred and eleven!  But he doesn’t look that old!

A wistful expression crossed Bilbo’s elderly face.  “I do miss the Shire sometimes, and my kin.  But at least I recently had a visit from three of my younger cousins, and a friend of theirs."  The expression on his face became guarded.  "Oh!  Look! The food has arrived!"

Gail shook her head violently and tried to turn her attention to the delicious-smelling bowl of soup that one of the servants placed before her.  But her mind kept circling around the astonishing information she had just learned.

What other fantasy creatures are we going to meet here?  

Once the food began to arrive, Bilbo's conversation seemed to dwell on the food they were being served.  Gail lost track of the many courses, which seemed to be combinations of the ordinary and the exotic.  She soon found she should only have a little at a time, since more food kept coming.  She was astonished to see Bilbo take full-sized servings of everything, and keep on eating more.  She wondered where the little fellow put it all.  Are your legs hollow, Mr. Baggins? she thought wryly, at one point.

She was quite relieved when the last course, a beautiful cake, was served.  She was sorry she could only eat a couple of bites, since it was sublime.  It was a rich fruitcake, loaded with fruits and nuts, and covered in marzipan.  Unlike the usual fruitcakes she'd had at home, this one was moist, and though dense and rich, it was not heavy.  She wondered what the secrets of its baking might be.

I’ll have to get their recipe before we return home.  This would be a great cake to have at Christmas.

After that, Master Elrond rose, and made a small speech of welcome to her and Steve.  She blushed, for she hadn't expected such a thing, but she was quite proud when Steve rose up and began to thank Master Elrond and everyone there for their gracious hospitality.

Their host gave a nod, and offering his arm to his daughter, they left the room, and people began to rise and get ready to depart.  She had scarcely rejoined her husband when a small blur barrelled into her legs.  It was Kaylee.  "Mommy!  Daddy!  Come on!  It's time for the Hall of Fire!"  She bounced in anticipation.

Eledhwen, carrying Megan, and accompanied by Mairen, joined them.  The Elf-maid gave Kaylee a stern look.  "Miss Kaylee!  What are you forgetting?"

Kaylee immediately stood still, hanging her head.  "I'm sorry," she said in a small voice.  She looked back at her parents.  "Mommy and Daddy, may we please go to the Hall of Fire now?  It's very nice," at first sounding quite grown-up, but then she bounced a little more just on her tiptoes as she spoke, giving her parents a puppy-eyed look.  “Please, please, please?  Pretty please?”

Gail was torn between astonishment at how quickly Kaylee had simmered down and annoyance at another person scolding her child, no matter how gently it was done.  She tried to remind herself that Eledhwen had been basically Kaylee's nanny for five whole months, and it was only to instill behavior that Gail herself had been trying to teach her five-year-old.  She glanced at Steve, who gave a nod while biting back an amused smile.  "Very well, Kaylee, we'll go see this 'Hall of Fire', whatever it is.”

An elf servant approached them, leading Lucy.  She handed the leash to Gail, who took it, looking surprised as Lucy, who was still wearing a collar, calmly sat down next to her.  Goodness gracious, Gail thought, even our puppy has learned a few things here!  Steve took Megan from Eledhwen, and Kaylee took her puppy's leash and eagerly led the way to the Hall of Fire, with Lucy trotting next to Kaylee.

-oo000oo-

As Steve and Gail sat on a bench, listening to the Elvish music, Gail smiled at the pictures that the songs kept forming in her head, even though she couldn’t understand a word of them.  Kaylee and Megan sat on the cushions on the floor in front of their parents.  The flames in the fire pit blazed cheerily.  Lucy lay with her head on her paws, her tail curled on the ground, facing the singing Elf.

“Look,” Steve finally said, nudging Gail, and then pointed at the children.  Looking down at Kaylee and Megan, Gail chuckled.  Both of them were now curled up on the big cushions, with their eyes closed and their mouths parted open.

“I do believe they’ve fallen asleep,” Gail said, rising to her feet.  She picked up Megan; her husband stood up and lifted Kaylee in his arms.

“They may wake up as we get them ready for bed,” she said in a low voice, as she accompanied Steve out of the Hall of Fire, followed by Mairen.  Lucy scampered alongside Steve.  “Kaylee’ll be wanting a bedtime story if she does.”

Steve nodded.  “Yes, she will, and then it’ll be time for their bedtime prayers.”

Sure enough, Kaylee did wake up as her mother was in the process of pulling her Elven dress up over her head.  Within a few minutes, she and Megan were wearing their Elvish nightgowns, and Kaylee was holding her Baby Alive doll in the crook of her arm.

“Would you read me a story?  Please?” she begged her mother.  “Mr. Baggins can’t read to me.  He can’t read English, only Westron and Elvish.  Lady Arwen and Eledhwren and Mairen can’t, either.”  Gail thought that odd, since he seemed to speak English perfectly well, but she put the thought aside for the time-being, chalking it up to just one more oddity of this extremely odd place.  She firmly turned her attention to her daughter.

Gail laughed.  “Certainly.  Which story would you like me to read to you?”

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Gail smiled.  “Jennifer was reading it to you when we went to the campsite.”

Kaylee nodded.  “She finished it.  But I want to hear it again!”

Gail found the book lying on the table across the room and brought it to the bed.  As she slid onto the bed next to Kaylee, Steve tucked Megan under her covers on the other bed.  Gail opened the book to the beginning of the first chapter.  Clearing her throat, Gail began to read to her daughter.

“‘Chapter 1: The Cyclone.  Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.  Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles.  There were four walls, a roof and a floor, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty-looking cooking stove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds.  Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner…’”

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.  

Chapter 25: Just Around the Riverbend

Jennifer’s planned-for haircuts never happened.  The following morning, Celeborn advised them to make use of boats in order to depart on the River Anduin, and Aragorn decided to take him up on the offer.  For the rest of the day, they were so busy getting ready to leave that there was no time for haircuts.

Soon Haldir arrived to guide the Company from their pavilion to the place of their departure.  He led them South, through Caras Galadhon and out of the treetop city.  The group followed Haldir for nearly ten miles, until they came to a high green hedge; there was an arched opening in the greenery, and beyond that was an elanor-studded grassy lawn that led down to the merging of the two rivers: to the West they could see the Silverlode, and to the East they could see the dark waters of the Great River.  They found themselves on a verdant tongue of land, leading down to a landing of white stones and white wood.  There were a number of boats moored there—many of them colorful, and all as beautiful as Elves could make them—but there were three, smaller than the rest, of grey.  Elves were loading those three down, not only with the Company’s packs and so forth, but also with food, supplies, and even coils of rope.

Jennifer was amused to see Sam’s eyes light up at the sight of the ropes.  She overheard his brief conversation with an Elf about them.

“What are these?” asked Sam, handling one that lay upon the greensward.

“Ropes indeed!” answered an Elf from the boats.  “Never travel far without a rope!  And one that is long and strong and light.  Such are these.  They may be a help in many needs.”

“You don’t need to tell me that!” said Sam.  “I came without any and I’ve been worried ever since.  But I was wondering what these were made of, knowing a bit about rope-making: it’s in the family as you might say.’

“They are made of hithlain,” said the Elf, “but there is no time now to instruct you in the art of their making.  Had we known that this craft delighted you, we could have taught you much.  But now alas!  unless you should at some time return hither, you must be content with our gift.  May it serve you well!”

Haldir chivied them into the boats: Aragorn, Kevin, Frodo, and Sam in one, Boromir, Merry, Pippin, and Joey in the second one, and in the last one, Legolas, Gimli, and Jennifer.  Most of the supplies were also in the third boat.  But they were not setting off down the river quite yet.  Instead, Aragorn led them up the Silverlode to get them used to the boats.  Both Kevin and Jennifer had had some experience with canoes from summer camp over the years, and even Joey’d had a single canoe experience the previous summer, when he had gone to camp for the first time.  Kevin and Jennifer were not surprised to find the Elven boats handled smoothly and easily; after all, just about everything Elves made was perfect.  The paddles were especially easy to use, and with their short handles and leaf-shaped blades, even Merry, Pippin, and Joey could use them with ease.  Frodo had never done any more boating than necessary since his parents’ deaths, and Sam was the most nervous and inexperienced of them all.

They came around a bend, and saw coming towards them a beautiful swan-shaped boat.  They could see Lady Galadriel, a wreath of golden leaves upon her head and a harp in her hands, standing behind Lord Celeborn near the prow, while white-clad Elves rowed behind them.  Jennifer thought she almost looked like an angel.  She could hear the Lady singing a beautiful and mournful song. 

The boats were all drawn up, and the Company was invited to join the Lord and Lady in a picnic farewell feast.  They ate and drank in pleasurable companionship and quiet conversation on snowy linen cloths laid out upon the soft green grass, and when they had finished, Lord Celeborn gave them some information and advice about the journey ahead.

Then Lady Galadriel rose up, and a cup of mead was brought to her by one of her maidens.  “Now it is time to drink the cup of farewell!  Drink, Lord of the Galadhrim!  And let not your heart be sad though night must follow noon, and already our evening draweth nigh.”

Then she brought the cup to each of the Company, and bade them drink and farewell.  Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey just wet their lips, to be polite; Jennifer thought that the Lady gave her an amused look, but she wasn’t sure.  Then, after each member of the Company had partaken of the cup, Lady Galadriel stepped back and gestured to those of her maidens who had accompanied her.

The Elf-maids came forward, and for each they had provided a hood and cloak, made according to the right size, of the light but warm silken stuff that the Galadhrim wove.  It was hard to say of what colour they were: grey with the hue of twilight under the trees they seemed to be; and yet if they were moved, or set in another light, they were green as shadowed leaves, or brown as fallow fields by night, dusk-silver as water under the stars.  Each cloak was fastened about the neck with a brooch like a green leaf veined with silver.

Jennifer felt a bit surprised as one of the maidens settled the cloak around her shoulders and fastened it at the throat with the brooch.  “Thank you,” she murmured.  It felt so light, and yet warm as well.  

“Are these magic cloaks?” asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.  Joey’s eyes were also alight with curiosity as his own cloak was settled upon his shoulders; Jennifer grinned at seeing his expression.

“I do not know what you mean by that,” answered the maiden.  “They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land.  They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean.  Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make.  Yet they are garments, not armour, and they will not turn shaft or blade.  But they should serve you well: they are light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need.  And you will find them a great aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes, whether you walk among the stones or the trees.  You are indeed high in the favour of the Lady!  For she herself and her maidens wove this stuff; and never before have we clad strangers in the garb of our own people.

Galadriel then moved on past Joey and Pippin to Merry, and Jennifer stifled a giggle as Pippin leaned over and whispered to Joey, “In other words, ‘yes’.”  Joey gave a gulp and went red in the face from trying to stifle his own laughter.

Wonder if they really are magic? Jennifer wondered.  Then she decided it didn’t matter.  If Lady Galadriel had a part in their making, they might as well be magic.

“Whoa!”  Joey’s mouth dropped open.  “Look, Jennifer!  Look, Kevin!  I see what Pippin meant.  These cloaks keep changing color!  See, it seemed green just a minute ago, and now it looks brown, or maybe grey!”  He smiled broadly.  “It’s a camo cloak!”

Jennifer and Kevin laughed quietly.  “Not so loud, Joey!  Right now, we need to keep our voices down.  But you’re right; it sure is.  They all are,” Kevin agreed in a soft voice.  “Sort of like the camouflage Dad and I wear deer-hunting, only better!”

“And these brooches sure are pretty,” Jennifer whispered with a smile, rubbing her index finger over her own gleaming, leaf-shaped brooch.

When all the cloaks had been distributed, the maidens brought other items to the Lady, who called each one of the Fellowship forward.

“Here is the gift of Celeborn and Galadriel to the leader of your Company,” she said to Aragorn, and she gave him a sheath that had been made to fit his sword.  It was overlaid with a tracery of flowers and leaves wrought of silver and gold, and on it were set in elven runes formed of many gems the name Andúril and the lineage of the sword.  Then Galadriel leaned forward and spoke to the Ranger in a low voice that Jennifer could not hear.  Aragorn answered her back the same way.  But then she reached out and said something else, as she pinned another brooch at his neck.  He bowed graciously to her and stepped back.  Jennifer wondered what it was all about, but as he came near, she saw that the new pin was shaped like an eagle and had a shiny green stone set in it.  

The Lady called Legolas next.  “My gift for you, Legolas, is a bow of the Galadhrim and a sheath of arrows, worthy of the skill of our woodland kin.”   Jennifer looked on in somewhat amazed jealousy, until she heard her own name called.

“And for you, Lady Jennifer, also a bow and arrows of the Galadhrim, though suitable for your age and stature.”

Jennifer stared at her new weapon in awe.  “Thank you, Lady Galadriel.”  For some reason, she felt her eyes tearing up.  She was touched by the gift, and was realizing that she was going to miss Lothlórien.

The Lady bowed her head, and she turned then to Boromir, and to him she gave a belt of gold and a beautifully wrought dagger, and she also gave the same thing to Kevin; and to Merry and Pippin and Joey, she gave small silver belts, each with a clasp wrought like a golden flower.  To each of them, she also gave a dagger.  “These are the daggers of the Noldorin.  They have already seen service in war.”

To both Pippin and Joey, she leaned down and whispered in their ears, one at a time.  Pippin’s eyes grew wide, and Joey, in his turn, blushed.  Jennifer wondered what the Lady had told them, but she shuddered at the idea of her younger brother having yet another dangerous weapon on him.  The two hobbits took their blades from the sheaths and looked at them, but Jennifer was pleased to see that Joey did not draw his, although he did gaze down at it and rub his fingers over its sheath.

“Remember, Joey, it’s a weapon, not a toy,” Kevin told him.  “It’s not to play with.”

Joey shrugged.  “I know, but I still like it.”  He scowled slightly.  By now he already knew to be respectful of his weapons; he didn’t need to be reminded like a baby.

The others exchanged amused expressions.  Galadriel laughed and turned to Sam.  “For you little gardener and lover of trees,” she said to Sam, “I have only a small gift.”  She put into his hand a little box of plain grey wood, unadorned save for a single silver rune upon the lid.  “Here is set G for Galadriel,’ she said; “but also it may stand for garden in your tongue.  In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it. It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you.  Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there.  Then you may remember Galadriel, and catch a glimpse far off of Lórien, that you have seen only in our winter.  For our spring and our summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory.”

Sam went red to the ears and muttered something inaudible, as he clutched the box and bowed as well as he could.

Then Lady Galadriel turned a luminous smile upon Gimli.  “And what gift would a dwarf ask of the Elves?”

Gimli blushed a fiery red and seemed flustered at the question, finally saying, “Nothing.  Except to look upon the lady of the Galadhrim one last time, for she is more fair than all the jewels beneath the earth.”

Galadriel laughed, and Gimli started to turn away, before turning around again.   “Actually, there was one thing…No, no, I couldn’t.  It’s quite impossible.  Stupid to ask…”

Finally, at Galadriel’s gentle urging, he gave in, bowing low and stammering as he spoke.  “There is nothing, Lady Galadriel.  Nothing, unless it might be—unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine.  I do not ask for such a gift.  But you commanded me to name my desire.”

The Lady smiled.  “It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,” she said; “yet that is not true of Gimli.  For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous.  And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak?  But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?”

“Treasure it, Lady,” he answered, “in memory of your words to me at our first meeting.  And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.”

Then the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand.  “These words shall go with the gift,” she said.  “I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope.  But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”

Jennifer tried not to stare.  She could never have imagined that Gimli would ask such a thing!  She would have thought maybe the Elves would give him a special axe or something.  Clearly, her friend had hidden depths.

Last of all, the Lady summoned Frodo.  “And you, Ring-bearer,” she said, turning to him.  “I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts.  For you I have prepared this.”  She smiled.  “Farewell, Frodo Baggins.  I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star.”  She handed Frodo a crystal phial and leaned over to kiss his forehead.   “May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.  Namárië!”  She paused, and then looked from Frodo to Sam, and then to Jennifer.  “Remember Galadriel and her Mirror!” she added, scanning the faces of all three as she spoke.

It was now noon, and the travellers made their way back to the boats, casting off silently into the water.  As they floated away, Jennifer heard Lady Galadriel singing once more:  

“Ai!  laurië lantar lassi súrinen,

Yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron!

Yéni ve lintë yuldar avánier

mi oromardi lisse-miruvóreva

Andúnë pella, Vardo tellumar

nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni

ómaryo airetári-lírinen…”

Jennifer could not understand the words, but she knew they were sad, and she had an impression of autumn and things slowly dying in the winter and leaves, golden leaves falling…

As Lady Galadriel’s voice faded off into the distance, their boats went around a bend in the river, and Lothlórien was lost to view.  Jennifer turned her attention to her companions.

Gimli seemed very sad, his eyes cast down.

“Are you all right, Gimli?” she asked.  It was unlike the gruff Dwarf to seem so depressed.

“I have taken my worst wound at this parting,” he said mournfully, “having looked my last upon that which is fairest.  Henceforth I will call nothing fair unless it be her gift to me.”  He put his hand to his breast.

“May we see, Gimli?” Jennifer asked softly.  Legolas glanced over curiously.

“I asked her for one hair from her golden head.  She gave me three.”

He opened his hand.  Three shining individual hairs lay upon his palm, looking much like very fine strands of gold and mithril, twisted together, and gleaming like molten metal.

Jennifer just gazed at them in awe, amazed that three simple hairs could be so glorious.  She heard Gimli and Legolas talking, but paid no mind to their conversation, as she thought how lucky he was to have such a memento of the Lady.  She wondered: was he only impressed by her beauty and kindness, or had the Dwarf fallen in love with the Elf?  She would never know, for she knew Gimli was too honorable a person to speak of it if he was.  After all, Galadriel was married.  It was so sad and romantic.  She gave a sigh, but was brought up with a start as Gimli called out:

“But let us talk no more of it.  Look to the boat!  She is too low in the water with all this baggage, and the Great River is swift.  I do not wish to drown my grief in cold water.”

Jennifer grabbed her paddle, and so did Gimli, for Legolas had never stopped using his own paddle.  

-oo000oo-

In the next boat over, Joey bit his lower lip.  That song Galadriel had sung when they’d left had sounded so sad, he thought; they needed a happier song to start their river journey with!  He remembered a song Pippin had taught him back in Rivendell.  It was about a river in the Shire, and it had a very cheerful tune!  

“When I was a lad so free

I had no cares to worry me,”

Joey had not sung more than two lines than Pippin joined in, and then Merry,   

“Save what to drink and when to dine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

Save what to drink and when to dine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“Once I spied a lass so fair,

Plaiting violets in her hair,

Her eyes so bright, her cheeks so fine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

Her eyes so bright, her cheeks so fine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“I asked her could I sit a while,

And she gave to me a winning smile,

Her heart was true, her heart was kind,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

Her heart was true, her heart was kind,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“I looked at her and then I said

If she thought we two could wed,

She told me that she would be mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“She told me that she would be mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

We sealed our troth with a kiss!

Her two lips, ah!  They were bliss!

I never knew true love I’d find,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“I never knew true love I’d find,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

I asked her father for her hand,

And on the shore, we did stand—

And I was hers and she was mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

And I was hers and she was mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“And now we are a happy three,

My sweet wife, my fauntling, and me

In our smial with roses entwined,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

In our smial with roses entwined,

On the banks of the Brandywine!’”*

At the end of that hobbit song, Joey smiled, and began to sing a very old song that he knew from back home:  

“Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.”**

Pippin and Merry quickly joined in, and after they sang it a couple of times, Joey taught them how to sing it in rounds.  To his surprise, Boromir even joined in, in his pleasant, deep voice, and then he taught them a sailor’s song from Gondor.

“This is a rowing song, sung in the galley ships of Gondor.  In the lands of the South, they use slaves to row the ships, but we have no slaves in Gondor.  Our sailors take it in turns to pull the oars, and sing to keep in time.  

“Fair Westernesse lieth beneath the deep sea.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

Eastward, eastward now, we must flee.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

 

Fair Westernesse sank below the waves.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

Eastward-bound with all we can save:

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

 

Old Westernesse nevermore shall be seen.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

We shall have a new land, fair and green.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

 

Now Westernesse is forever gone.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

A land of white stone shall be our new home.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!”**  

-oo000oo-

Kevin had been paddling steadily alongside Aragorn.  Frodo and Sam sat in the stern behind them.  He could hear Joey and the younger hobbits, and even Boromir, singing loudly from their boat.  Was that wise?  What if there were orcs within earshot?  But Aragorn didn’t seem bothered.

“Do you think the orcs are still after us?” he asked.

“Undoubtedly,” Aragorn replied calmly.  “But they will not follow so closely while we are still so close to the Golden Wood.  They fear the power of the Lady.  Boromir is a warrior; he will silence the singing when we have gone a few more miles.”

“Orcs are not what I fear most,” said Frodo unexpectedly from the back of the boat.  “I do not doubt there is a certain someone who can follow us even now.”

“That is also likely,” said Aragorn.  “But I do not fear him attacking us now.  We must not forget about him, though.”

Kevin wondered who they were speaking of, but he decided not to ask.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.  And the current was becoming a little swifter.  He concentrated on his rowing.  

-oo000oo-

They stopped to camp that night.  Aragorn set double watches.  Kevin and Gimli had the second watch after Aragorn and Boromir.

Kevin was having trouble sleeping.  He could tell Boromir was in a bad mood, and earlier, he’d overheard Frodo arguing with Sam about eating: Frodo clearly was not hungry, but Sam wouldn’t take no for an answer.  For once, Merry and Pippin had stayed out of it.  Now everybody except Aragorn and Boromir were lying quietly in their bedrolls.  As Kevin rolled over to get more comfortable on the hard ground, he could hear a hissing argument between Aragorn and Boromir.  At first, he couldn’t understand the words, but as the rest of the camp grew quieter, he could.

“Look!”  Boromir’s voice was just a little louder.  “Something moves in the water beyond the reeds…”

Gollum,” Aragorn replied.  “He has tracked us since Moria.  I had hoped we would lose him on the river.  But he’s too clever a waterman.”

“Minas Tirith is the safer road.”  Boromir’s voice clearly sounded annoyed.  “You know that.  From there, we can regroup.  Strike out for Mordor from a place of strength.”

“There is no strength in Gondor that can avail us,” Aragorn shot back.

Now Boromir’s voice rose once more.  “You were quick enough to trust the Elves.  Have you so little faith in your own people?  Yes, there is weakness.  There is frailty.  But there is courage also, and honor to be found in Men.  But you will not see that.”  Aragorn started to turn away, but Boromir yanked him back.  “You are afraid!  All your life, you have hidden in the shadows.  Scared of who you are, of what you are.”

Kevin gasped.  Had Boromir just accused Aragorn of being a coward?  Kevin knew that wasn’t true.  He had thought Boromir knew it, too!

And now it was Aragorn whose temper rose.  “I will not lead the Ring within a hundred leagues of your city.”

He heard Aragorn moving away from Boromir.  Kevin sat up and looked in that direction.  He met Legolas’ eyes, for the Elf had also been watching the argument.  “Go back to sleep, Kevin,” Legolas said softly.  “Their anger is not their own.  The Ring grows stronger.  Get some sleep before your watch.”  Nodding, Kevin tried to take the Elf’s advice, but it still took him awhile to fall asleep.

The next day was one of the most unpleasant days Joey had experienced since they had left on the journey South.  It wasn’t a horrible, terrifying day like in Moria, but considering that he was riding in a boat with Merry and Pippin, it was uncomfortable, to say the least.  Because the fourth person in their boat was Boromir, and he was in a really, really bad mood.  Pippin had tried to start up some singing, and he crossly told them, “No”; he sat in front of them rowing and talking to himself, but if one of them asked him what he said, his reply was a curt “Nothing”.

Merry was concentrating on his rowing with a scowl on his face, and Pippin was also uncharacteristically quiet.  Joey was not only bored out of his mind, but he also could just feel the bad moods of the others, and it made him feel antsy at the least.  He wished he was in one of the other boats.  He sure wouldn’t mind trading places with Jennifer.  It would be cool to talk with Legolas and Gimli; the three of them seemed to at least be having a little bit of pleasant conversation.

The scenery was depressing.  The “Brown Lands” were on one side (whoever thought up that name didn’t have much imagination, Joey thought.  He’d call them the “Sorry-Looking Lands” or something.  (Brown’s almost too cheerful, he thought sarcastically.)  On the other side, the land was swampy and dead-looking.  He wished he was back in Lothlórien, or even Rivendell with Kaylee.  Or, best of all, back at the campsite with his entire family.  He felt really homesick.

And it continued like this for the next several days.  Aragorn would not allow him to switch boats when he asked as they camped that second night, even though Jennifer said she wouldn’t mind.  Joey had been cross about that, and then Kevin reprimanded him for his “attitude”.  So, on they floated down the river, a cranky and silent Gondorian, two worried hobbits, and a very sad little nine-year-old boy.  About the only thing he could do, when he wasn’t taking his turn helping Boromir row, was to sleep.

About four days in, Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam saw something or other that upset them.  They didn’t say what it was, but Aragorn decided they should journey by night again.  This meant they didn’t stop when they usually would have, but continued on into the night after a brief stop for a fireless supper.

Back once more to trying to sleep all day, Joey realized that everyone else was now on edge as well.  He was too uncomfortable to do more than doze, and was woken once by an argument between Aragorn and Boromir; it was short and sharp.  Then, shortly later, he could hear a whispered conversation between Merry and Pippin.

“You know what’s got him out of sorts,” hissed Pippin.

Merry’s response was also soft, but Joey could still hear him: “Of course I do.  I wish we could do something about it.  That Ring’s got hold of him, I’m sure.”

“If it comes down to it,” Pippin answered softly, “we’ve got to choose Frodo.”

Joey didn’t hear Merry’s answer.  Perhaps Merry had nodded.  Then Merry said, “No choice at all, really, Pip.  I just wish we could help.  I tried to speak to Frodo about it, but he wouldn’t hear a word of it.”

He heard a deep sigh.  But the two younger hobbits apparently were through talking, and Joey decided he’d really need to try and sleep.  He said the Lord’s Prayer silently in his head, and then added in a low whisper, “Lord, please look after us all; I mean, I know You do anyway, but I thought I should mention it.  And help me get to sleep.”  He started to think of some of the Bible verses he knew, and soon slipped into slumber.  His dreams, he did not recall when he woke, but they seemed to have been pleasant.  He felt refreshed, anyway, when they set out again.

When they woke on the evening of the eighth night, Aragorn spoke to them as they munched on another cold supper-breakfast.  “Come!” said Aragorn.  “We will venture one more journey by night.  We are coming to reaches of the River that I do not know well: for I have never journeyed by water in these parts before, not between here and the rapids of Sarn Gebir.  But if I am right in my reckoning, those are still many miles ahead.  Still there are dangerous places even before we come there: rocks and stony eyots in the stream.  We must keep a sharp watch and not try to paddle swiftly.”

Aragorn’s boat took the lead, with him and Kevin and Frodo all paddling very carefully.  Sam was sitting in the prow to keep look-out for all three boats; he was to shout if he saw them approaching rough water.

Joey had fallen asleep, curled up in the stern, while Merry and Pippin helped paddle, when he was suddenly awakened by a loud shout.  It was Sam!  Joey sat up abruptly, and his eyes adjusted to the darkness.  There ahead were dark shapes looming up in the stream and he heard the swirl of racing water.  The current was swiftly pulling them all to the left, and Joey now could see white water breaking on the sharp rocks ahead.  Their boat pulled nearer to Aragorn’s, and the boat with Legolas, Gimli and Jennifer was right behind them.

“Hoy there, Aragorn!” shouted Boromir, as his boat bumped into the leader.  “This is madness!  We cannot dare the Rapids by night!  But no boat can live in Sarn Gebir, be it night or day.”

“Back, back!” cried Aragorn.  “Turn!  Turn if you can!”  He drove his paddle into the water, trying to hold the boat and bring it round.

“I am out of my reckoning,” Aragorn said.  “I did not know that we had come so far: Anduin flows faster than I thought.  Sarn Gebir must be close at hand already.”

It took a lot of work to stop the boats and turn them around.  It was hard, and Joey was really scared.  What if the boats tipped?  He was a decent swimmer, but Joey thought he’d feel a lot safer if Middle-earth had such a thing as life jackets!  At one point, he looked fearfully at Jennifer and Kevin.

“All together, paddle!” shouted Boromir.  “Paddle!  Or we shall be driven on the shoals.”

All of a sudden, there was an unmistakable sound: the twang of a bowstring, then more.  Several arrows whistled over them, and some fell among them.  Joey heard Jennifer scream, and he couldn’t help crying out himself as one hit Frodo between the shoulders and he lurched forward with a cry, dropping his paddle.  Thankfully, the arrow fell back.  Joey was surprised, until he remembered the hobbit’s mithril coat.  Another arrow passed through Aragorn’s hood.  Joey gave a yelp as one hit their own boat, nearly hitting Merry’s hand!  Joey glanced over at the Eastern bank, and thought he saw small black creatures running back and forth.

“Yrch!” said Legolas, falling into his own tongue.

“Orcs!” cried Gimli.

“Gollum’s doing, I’ll be bound,” said Sam to Frodo.  “And a nice place to choose, too.  The River seems set on taking us right into their arms!”

Joey was terrified.  “Jesus, help us!” he prayed right out loud, not caring who else heard.  This was even scarier than Moria.  Not only was he scared of all the arrows whistling overhead, but he was afraid that the boat might tip over or hit a rock.  Thankfully, the arrows seemed to be missing the target.  He wondered if their “camo” cloaks were keeping them safe.  Bit by bit, they fought their way to the western bank, pushing up against it roughly.  All the arrows were now missing them completely and falling into the river.

Suddenly, Legolas took his bow and drew it, firing a shot high in the sky.  Joey had no idea of what the Elf was aiming at, but dark clouds advanced, sending out dark outriders into the starry fields.  A sudden dread fell on the Company.

“Elbereth Gilthoniel!” sighed Legolas as he looked up.  Joey’s head jerked up at the sound. He saw a dark cloud-like shape come speeding towards them.  It was huge, a great, scary-looking creature that reminded him of a pterodactyl in Jurassic Park.  Fierce voices rose up to greet the flying monster from across the water.

Joey felt cold, and a dread even greater than when they had first seen the Balrog in Moria came over him.  He could hardly breathe.  But Legolas’ bow gave a great twang, and his arrow sped from the bowstring.  A horrible screech assailed the Company’s ears, as the arrow pierced some great winged creature.  Could it have been a dragon? Joey wondered.  But no, Gandalf had said dragons were extinct.

After a while Aragorn led the boats back upstream.  They felt their way along the water’s edge for some distance, until they found a small shallow bay.  A few low trees grew there close to the water, and behind them rose a steep rocky bank.  Here the Company decided to stay and await the dawn: it was useless to attempt to move further by night.  They made no camp and lit no fire, but lay huddled in the boats, moored close together.

Joey listened to the soft talk of the grown-ups.  He was so grateful that Legolas had killed that monster, whatever it was, but he had nothing to say.  Boromir’s attitude towards Frodo made him think of what Merry and Pippin had said earlier, which was another level of scary altogether.  Joey’s heart was still in his throat and pounding hard.  He heard them talking also in Kevin’s boat, something about the Moon...  As he gradually calmed down, his exhaustion allowed him to fall asleep, but his rest was fitful, and filled with frightening images that he could not later recall.  

-oo000oo-

Kevin was thoughtful when he woke the next morning, what with the conversation about how time had passed while they were in Lothlórien was still on his mind.  He had known they’d spent several days there, but it hadn’t seemed like a whole month.  Of course, it hadn’t seemed like months in Rivendell either.  Maybe it was something to do with Elves.  But the moment when an arrow had bounced off Frodo’s mithril shirt had been terrifying.  After that, he and Sam had almost squashed Frodo trying to protect the Ringbearer until Legolas had shot whatever-the-heck-that-flying-thing-was.

We’ve already run into one monster at Moria, and now it looks as if we’ve seen another one—one that flies! he thought.  Good grief!  Are we gonna run into Godzilla next?  Or Bigfoot?  He shook his head.

Kevin looked around; it was misty and foggy on the River; they couldn’t even see the Eastern shore.  Legolas and Aragorn had apparently kept the watch for the whole remainder of the night, and now it was decided they would wait until the fog lifted to leave.  The two of them were planning to scout ahead for a while to see their best path to the Emyn Muil.

Boromir and Aragorn had another argument about that.

“I do not see why we should pass the Rapids or follow the River any further,” said Boromir.  “If the Emyn Muil lie before us, then we can abandon these cockle-boats, and strike westward and southward, until we come to the Entwash and cross into my own land.”

“We can, if we are making for Minas Tirith,” said Aragorn, “but that is not yet agreed.  And such a course may be more perilous than it sounds.  The vale of Entwash is flat and fenny, and fog is a deadly peril there for those on foot and laden.  I would not abandon our boats until we must.  The River is at least a path that cannot be missed.”

So—Aragorn’s having second thoughts about refusing to take the Ring to Gondor, Kevin thought.  At least, he’s not really sure we won’t.  Not right now, anyway.

“But the Enemy holds the eastern bank,” objected Boromir.  “And even if you pass the Gates of Argonath and come unmolested to the Tindrock, what will you do then?  Leap down the Falls and land in the marshes?”

“No!” answered Aragorn.  “Say rather that we will bear our boats by the ancient way to Rauros-foot, and there take to the water again.  Do you not know, Boromir, or do you choose to forget the North Stair, and the high seat upon Amon Hen, that were made in the days of the great kings?  I at least have a mind to stand in that high place again, before I decide my further course.  There, maybe, we shall see some sign that will guide us.”

“I agree,” Frodo said.  “Gandalf would have wanted Aragorn to lead us.  I think we need to follow his plan.”

“It is not the way of the Men of Minas Tirith to desert their friends at need,” Boromir said with a scowl, “and you will need my strength, if ever you are to reach the Tindrock.  To the tall isle I will go, but no further.  There I shall turn to my home, alone if my help has not earned the reward of any companionship.”

Kevin heard this with dismay.  Ever since leaving Lothlórien, the Gondorian had been in a foul mood.  He could tell it had worn on Joey and the two younger hobbits, who were sharing Boromir’s boat, but it dismayed him as well.  He had grown fond of him, for Boromir had spent a lot of time with him, teaching him how to be a warrior.  The skills he had learned here wouldn’t do him any good if he were to join the army back home, when he grew up, but they were useful skills nevertheless.  He had always found that Boromir was a good companion and thought of him as a friend.  But the way he was acting now worried Kevin.  How could Boromir even think of abandoning Frodo?  Would it really be so awful to stop in Minas Tirith first?  Maybe they could get some more help if they did.  But Frodo was right: Aragorn was in charge.

The time passed slowly while the two were away scouting, but it turned out that they were not gone as long as they had thought they would be, and Kevin, who had been given the task of watching for their return, was relieved when he spotted them, coming down the bank towards the edge of their cold camp.

“All is well,” said Aragorn, as he clambered down the bank.  “There is a track, and it leads to a good landing that is still serviceable.  The distance is not great: the head of the Rapids is but half a mile below us, and they are little more than a mile long.  Not far beyond them the stream becomes clear and smooth again, though it runs swiftly.  Our hardest task will be to get our boats and baggage to the old portage-way.  We have found it, but it lies well back from the water-side here, and runs under the lee of a rock-wall, a furlong or more from the shore.  We did not find where the northward landing lies.  If it still remains, we must have passed it yesterday night.  We might labour far upstream and yet miss it in the fog.  I fear we must leave the River now, and make for the portage-way as best we can from here.”

Kevin found himself assisting Aragorn, Jennifer helped Boromir, and Legolas helped Gimli to carry the boats.  That left the hobbits and Joey to lug all of the baggage.  Thankfully their way was downhill, and not so terribly far.

The way was difficult, and a couple of times the others had to put down the boats, and Aragorn and Boromir ended up lifting all three boats over some of the rougher spots.  But finally, they came to the end, where the portage-way, turning back to the water-side, ran gently down to the shallow edge of a little pool.  It seemed to have been scooped in the river-side, not by hand, but by the water swirling down from Sarn Gebir against a low pier of rock that jutted out some way into the stream.  Beyond it the shore rose sheer into a grey cliff, and there was no further passage for those on foot.

They were all totally exhausted.   Not even Joey had the energy to get up and play.  The afternoon was more than half-over.  They sat beside the water listening to the confused rush and roar of the Rapids hidden in the mist; they were tired and sleepy, and their hearts were as gloomy as the dying day.

“Well, here we are, and here we must pass another night,” said Boromir.  “We need sleep, and even if Aragorn had a mind to pass the Gates of Argonath by night, we are all too tired—except, no doubt, our sturdy dwarf.”

Gimli made no reply: he was nodding as he sat.

“Let us rest as much as we can now,” said Aragorn.  “Tomorrow we must journey by day again.  Unless the weather changes once more and cheats us, we shall have a good chance of slipping through, unseen by any eyes on the eastern shore.  But tonight two must watch together in turns: three hours off and one on guard.”

Kevin had his watch with Boromir, who seemed in a slightly better mood than he had been for the past several days.  In a low voice, just above a whisper, Kevin asked him a few questions about his brother, Faramir.  He had noticed that talking about his younger brother made the big Gondorian feel much more cheerful; although Boromir had never spoken of Faramir to the Company as a whole, he did seem comfortable speaking of him to Kevin.  So far, the others had not been told of him, at least by name so far as Kevin knew.  Kevin guessed it was because of Joey, and suspected that it was because Kevin was also an older brother that Boromir was willing to tell him about Faramir.

“Sometimes I think that Faramir would have done better than I on this journey.  But our father would not have it, and I feared it was too dangerous.”  Boromir paused and shook his head, grimacing.  “In truth, though, it was really myself who would not have it; I think Father would have given the job to Faramir if I had not insisted that he send me on the errand to investigate the riddle instead; I would not be gainsaid.”  He gave a sigh.  “I will owe my brother an apology when we get home.”

Nothing happened that night worse than a brief drizzle of rain an hour before dawn.  As soon as it was fully light they started.  Already the fog was thinning.  They kept as close as they could to the western side, and they could see the dim shapes of the low cliffs rising ever higher, shadowy walls with their feet in the hurrying river.  In the mid-morning, the clouds drew down lower, and it began to rain heavily.  They drew the skin-covers over their boats to prevent them from being flooded, and drifted on: little could be seen before them or about them through the grey falling curtains.

Fortunately, the downpour didn’t last long, and when it ended, the sky was clear.

Kevin peered ahead, as he sat paddling by Aragorn’s side.  What were those huge stone formations up ahead?

Aragorn stood up.  “Frodo!  Kevin!  Sam!”  He gestured ahead.  “Behold!   The Argonath!  Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old.  My kin.”

The Fellowship looked up in awe at the towering splendor of the Argonath.  Two majestic statues, carved out of the mountain, proudly stood on each side of the Anduin.  Their left arms were held aloft, their palms facing outwards in gesture of warning.  Stern were their faces.

Kevin gazed up in astonishment.  The statues were immense, quite possibly larger than the Statue of Liberty.  He could make out clearly their noble features, even from this distance, and he even thought he could see a little family resemblance to Aragorn.  It must have taken many years to sculpt them.

“Whoa!” he cried out softly; no words came to his mind that would do them justice.  He craned his neck to look back as the River carried them past.

After that, they continued their journey for several more hours.  The Fellowship reached the foot of Amon Hen, the Hill of Sight.  As they reached the beach of Parth Galen, Boromir looked troubled and appeared to be fighting a conflict within himself.  The Fellowship started to make camp.

They had been on the River for ten days, and now the Wilderness was behind them.  They’d finally come to the part everyone had dreaded: Did they strike off West for Minas Tirith?  Or cross the River and the horrible path towards Mordor?  Or did they split the group up?  Kevin hated this, and was glad that Aragorn had the decision, because Kevin knew he couldn’t have made it.  Frodo and Sam, at least, have to go to Mordor; that’s their job, he thought, biting his lower lip.  But what about the rest of us?

Kevin saw Frodo, who was sitting near him, stand up.  “I need to think.  I shall be back soon,” he muttered.  Kevin wasn’t sure that anyone else noticed, even the usually attentive Sam.  He opened his mouth to ask if the hobbit was sure it was a good idea to go off alone when Aragorn spoke up.  He put Frodo out of his mind; after all, Merry was getting firewood—he would surely see his cousin…

“We cross the lake at nightfall.  Hide the boats and continue on foot.  We approach Mordor from the north,” the ranger said, as they took their rest on the bank around the campfire he had reluctantly allowed.

Kevin nodded.  So, then, Aragorn has made up his mind.  It’s off to Mordor we go, not Minas Tirith!

“Oh, yes?  It’s just a simple matter of finding our way through Emyn Muil?  An impassable labyrinth of razor-sharp rocks!  And after that, it gets even better!   Festering, stinking marshlands far as the eye can see.”  The Dwarf’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Kevin noticed Pippin staring at Gimli in evident alarm; Joey’s eyes had also widened, and they sought Kevin’s.  He scooted closer to his older brother and leaned against him.  Kevin put his arm around Joey’s shoulders and tried to keep his expression reassuring, although the Dwarf’s words were less than reassuring.

That is our road,” Aragorn replied in the same tone.  “I suggest you take some rest and recover your strength, Master Dwarf.”

Recover my…?” Gimli spluttered with indignation.

“Do we have to go that way?” Joey whispered.

Kevin squeezed Joey against his side.  “I’m afraid so, Joey,” he whispered back.  “But we won’t be alone.  We have those who will take care of us and try to keep us safe, and I don’t just mean Aragorn and Boromir.”

Biting his lower lip, Joey nodded.  Kevin gently squeezed the little boy against his side again and turned back toward Aragorn.

Legolas had been gazing off towards the West with an air of unease.  “We should leave now.”

Aragorn shook his head.  “No.  Orcs patrol the eastern shore.  We must wait for cover of darkness.”

“It is not the eastern shore that worries me.  A shadow and a threat have been growing in my mind.  Something draws near.  I can feel it.”  The Elf’s unease was clear.  Shaking his head, Aragorn said nothing, and Legolas spoke no more about it.  Silence fell over the Company.  

-oo000oo-

A/N: *“On the Banks of the Brandywine” was written by Dreamflower, and made its first appearance in her story, “The Road to Edoras” (http://storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=3578).

**“Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is in the public domain.  And “Fair Westernesse” was written especially for this story.

   

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.  (Co-written by KathyG and Dreamflower.)

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 26: Breakaway

It was a few days after the older McClouds’ and Megan’s arrival that Elrond watched as Kaylee chatted with her parents and little sister, as they waited in the Feast Hall for the meal to be served.  They had not taken their seats yet, but were milling around, waiting for the dinner bell to be rung.  Kaylee was talking quickly in what her oldest brother had described as “a mile a minute”, quite a descriptive phrase for her happy chatter.  Lucy scampered about their feet, her tail wagging, until one of the servants picked her up and carried her out of the Feast Hall to be fed in the kitchen.

Arwen stood near Kaylee, an indulgent smile on her face.  She had so few chances to be around children that the little girl had long since quite captured her heart.  Her parents had taken a chance that day to observe some of the things Kaylee was learning to do, and they’d had questions that the Lady of Rivendell was eager to answer.

Glorfindel and Erestor flanked Elrond, all three of them with amused expressions on their faces.  Glorfindel had arrived that afternoon from patrol, and Erestor had been too busy with checking the stores of supplies to meet Kaylee’s parents yet.  “Do you suppose she will allow either of her parents to get a word in?” Erestor asked.    

Glorfindel chuckled.  “I daresay she will, when either of them decides to check her.  They are glad to see her, but I can tell that they will assert themselves soon.”

“What do you think of them?” Elrond asked his two advisors.  He had his own notions, but he wished to see what they would say.  Glorfindel had met the elder McClouds and their youngest child when they had first arrived in Middle-earth, but he had not had a chance to spend much time with them before he’d had to go back out on patrol.  Erestor had not met them as yet.

“The father has the look of one who has been a warrior in his past.  I saw that when I first met him upon their arrival.  See his stance?” Glorfindel replied.

“I shall know better what to think when I have spoken with them,” was Erestor’s response.

“I think you will soon have your chance.”  Glorfindel nodded in the direction of those they had been observing.  Shaking his head and smiling in amusement, the father held a finger against Kaylee’s lips, and then, straightening up, he spoke briefly to his wife before turning and coming in their direction, accompanied by Gail, Kaylee, and Megan.  Kaylee skipped at his side as he held her hand.

“Gail and I want to thank you again for taking care of our daughter, and our other children,” Steve told Elrond as they drew near, glancing briefly down at Kaylee as he spoke.  “We’ve been pleased, but surprised, to find Kaylee thriving so well here.  She’s never really been separated from her family before, and she’s always found it most difficult to be separated from her mother and me for even brief periods.  I hope we will be able to be reunited with our older children soon.”

Elrond inclined his head.  “I hope you will be, too.  And it was very hard for her at first, Mr. McCloud.  She missed you two greatly.  In truth, they all did, but it was the hardest for Miss Kaylee.  But as time passed, she adjusted, and so did her brothers and sister.”

“Yes, we can see that.”  Gail nodded agreement, and then she sighed.  “I just wish that our other children could have been spared this dangerous quest you spoke of a few days ago.”  She shook her head, and Steve gently squeezed her hand.

“I wish it could have been so, too, Mrs. McCloud.”   Elrond had been surprised that they had not been more reproachful about his allowing the older children to leave with the Company.  He turned to his companions.  “You have already met Lord Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower, captain of my guards and one of my advisors.  May I present Master Erestor, a scholar and the Keeper of the Records?  He is also part of my council.”

“Hello.  We’re pleased to meet you, Master Erestor.  It’s good to see you again, Lord Glorfindel.”  Steve shook the hands of Glorfindel and Erestor as he spoke, smiling.

“How do you do, Master Erestor?”  Gail shook their hands in her turn, and then looked down to make sure that Megan hadn’t wandered off; she was standing between her parents.  The little girl leaned against her father, her thumb in her mouth.

Both Elves gave Steve and Gail a half-bow.  “Well met, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud,” said Glorfindel, with a smile.  “It is good to see you again.”

Erestor nodded agreement.  “You must be very proud of your children, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud.”

Steve and Gail exchanged proud smiles.  “We are proud of them.  Thank you,” Gail said, smiling fondly at Kaylee and then at Megan.  Steve nodded agreement, and then picked Megan up.

Glorfindel smiled.  “Kevin was quick to pick up the skills of a warrior.  I hope he will have little chance to use those skills, but we thought it best that he should learn them.  And even Jennifer and Joey were quick learners.  No matter how young, it is well that children learn the defensive arts.”

Shaking her head, Gail bit her lower lip.  “Begging your pardon, Lord Glorfindel, but are you sure it was safe to teach the children to use weapons?  I mean, it’s quite enough that Kevin has learned to use a rifle, and I’m not at all sure it’s a good idea for him to learn that much, even.  He’s only a boy.”  She glanced apprehensively at her husband as she spoke.

“One of the weapons of your world?  I assure you it would do him no good here, as he has no such weapon with him,” Glorfindel told her.  “Even though they are children, it was necessary to teach them, and we went to great lengths to make sure it was safe.  The adults of the Company will do their best to defend the weaker members of their fellowship, but if your children are separated from them for some reason, or if the enemy catches them off guard, the time they would gain in defending themselves for even a few moments could mean saving their lives.”

“Anyway,” Steve told Gail, “we left my rifle back at the campsite, so they’ll have to use the kinds of weapons that are available here.  And even though Kevin’s only fifteen, he’s not too young to learn to use a weapon, hon, including a gun.”

“I am glad you agree, Master Steven,” the Elven warrior said.  “Pardon me, I believe that you have been a warrior yourself at some time.  Your martial bearing gives you away.”

Steve exchanged a glance with Gail.  “Well, before I met Gail—right after I graduated from high school, in fact—I joined the United States Army.”  He paused.  “I was eighteen at the time of my enlistment.  I was in the army for two years and deployed to Iraq throughout that time, and I fought in the first Gulf War in the infantry.  Operation Desert Storm, it was called.”  He paused.  “That was twenty years ago, in our world.  So, yes, I am a war veteran.”

“I thought you must have seen battle.”  Glorfindel nodded.  “There is always a look about one who has had to fight to defend his people.”

“There is, huh?  I never thought of that.”  Steve chuckled, and then furrowed his eyebrows.  “I suppose it must be my posture that gives me away.  What kinds of weapons do you people use here?”

Exchanging a glance with Glorfindel, Elrond spoke up.  “We use swords, axes, knives, spears, lances, javelins, and bows and arrows.”

“I see.”  Steve exchanged another glance with his wife.  “We used to use those kinds of weapons in our world a long time ago, but ever since people started using gunpowder, we’ve used other kinds of weapons instead, some of which I learned to fight with in the army.  I’ve never learned to use any of the weapons you’ve just listed, except for knives.  And I only did knife-fighting during training; I never had need to use one in an actual combat situation. I did learn hand-to-hand combat, however, and those skills came in very handy, I might add, on a number of occasions during the war.”

Steve stopped as an idea occurred to him.  “A few years ago, my brother showed me how to use one of his crossbows; those are still used by some people for hunting, and I’ve gone hunting with him using it during bow season, a couple of times.  Do your people use crossbows?”

“Elves do not, but Men do, and as sometimes the Dúnedain train here in Rivendell, we do have some.  And I do know their use.  They are powerful weapons, and more easily mastered than the longbow.”  Glorfindel was not as comfortable with the crossbows, for orcs also used those at times, but a weapon was a weapon, and he was quite good with it.

“That’s good.  Even though our people mostly abandoned bows after gunpowder came along, they are still considered good for sport and target shooting, as well as for the occasional hunter.”  Steve knew Ryan had always had an interest in bows.

Glorfindel nodded and then tilted his head, a quizzical look in his eyes.  “Gunpowder? You have mentioned that before.”  The mention of a new sort of weapon intrigued the warrior-Elf.

Steve nodded.  “It’s a black powder that will explode in the right circumstances.  Our people have learned how to put some inside lead cartridges, what we call bullets.  Guns can be either long or short, but when they are loaded with bullets, they can be fired at high velocity to strike and penetrate the target.  In war, gunpowder has also been used in cannons, to fire cannonballs at the enemy—at least in the old days; we have different kinds of cannons now.  And both gunpowder and other kinds of explosive material can be used in bombs.”  Steve paused.  “Rifles are one type of gun; I learned to use them in the army.  Nowadays, I use my rifle for deer-hunting and I’ve taught Kevin to use it, too, but I won’t hesitate to use it to protect my family if I have to.  In the army, I also learned to fight with bombs and hand grenades, and to set landmines; they contain other types of explosive material.”

He shook his head.  “But I’ll be honest, Lord Glorfindel: I’ve never liked to set a landmine, because innocent people can be killed by those, too.”

Glorfindel nodded.  “I see.  Well, we do have black powder, though its use is confined to sending off fireworks for the enjoyment of those watching.  Gandalf, the wizard who accompanied the Company your children are with, is quite an expert with fireworks.”  Glorfindel looked thoughtful.  “I think I can imagine how it could be used in a weapon, but I fear I would not care for it.  It could be very destructive, far more than our weapons.”

Steve nodded.  He did not think he should tell them about weapons of mass destruction or nuclear warheads.  In his experience, guns and bombs were bad enough.  “It is, Lord Glorfindel.  Very destructive, more than you can possibly know.  And there are other types of weapons in our world that are even more destructive than those that contain gunpowder and other explosive materials.  I never learned to use any of those.”  He did not elaborate, and Glorfindel did not ask him to explain.

“Mr. McCloud, do you think that you would care to join me on the training field tomorrow?  We can see how your knife skills have held up over the years, and perhaps find out if you would be able to use any of our other weapons.  After all, since we will be journeying to find the others, it would be as well to be prepared.”

Steve looked surprised.  “We will?  I mean, yes, I fully intend to do so, but I have yet to mention it to anyone here!”

Glorfindel smiled. “You are a dedicated father, and it seems obvious that you would not care to linger here while your children are endangered.  Of course, you would want to go after them.  But as your hosts, it behooves us to prepare you for such a journey.  There will be a large group of travellers setting forth from Imladris as soon as it is safe for your family to leave the valley.  Since you have never used any of our other weapons, we would be willing to train you before we leave.”

“I would be honored, Lord Glorfindel.”  He furrowed his eyebrows.  “But we do not wish to wait too long.  If I have to, I will set forth on my own.”

Gail overheard him.  “Not without me!” she said firmly.

“And if both of you go, would you leave your two younger daughters here without you, or take them with you into greater peril with only the two of you as protection?  What if you find yourselves unable to return?  You should at least wait until you have the safety of a group of armed warriors as an escort.”

Gail and Steve looked at one another unhappily; they had not thought of that.  Finally, Steve nodded unhappily.  “I suppose that’s true...but we won’t wait forever!”

“Nor should you,” said Master Elrond who had silently moved up to join the conversation.  “But even the Dúnedain, hardy and doughty warriors that they are, waited until they had numbers enough to set forth in safety.”

Steve nodded, and then he and Gail exchanged a glance.  “Uh, excuse me,” asked Steve, “but what is a Dun—Dun—uh—dain?  Our daughter tried to tell us about that, but I’m afraid neither of us could understand.”  He exchanged a glance with Gail as he spoke, and then looked down at Kaylee.

A bell rang.  “Ah!  Dinner is served.”  Elrond gestured toward the tables, and Steve handed Megan to Gail.  As they made their way to the Feast Hall, he added, “And we will be delighted to tell you the story of the Dúnedain at supper, to fill in what Kaylee has not already told you.  It will mean telling you about my ancestors, and about a land that you have probably never heard of.  A land that exists no more.”  

-oo000oo-  

Merry returned with some wood for the campfire, and looked around with alarm.  “Where’s Frodo?”

Sam, who was half-dozing, roused with a start.  An hour or more had passed since Aragorn and Gimli had argued about the route they were going to take to Mordor.  Aragorn looked over the camp.  His gaze stopped on Boromir’s shield, lying with the baggage.  It was evident to Kevin that Boromir was gone, too, and he could see from the expression on Aragorn’s face that the Ranger knew that, as well.

Just then, Kevin saw Boromir return.  He approached the others silently, and Kevin thought the Gondorian’s expression was kind of odd.  Boromir looked around, but didn’t look any of them in the eyes or say anything when he sat down.

“Where have you been, Boromir?” asked Aragorn.  “Have you seen Frodo?”

Boromir hesitated for a second.  “Yes, and no,” he answered slowly.  “Yes: I found him some way up the hill, and I spoke to him.  I urged him to come to Minas Tirith and not to go east.  I grew angry and he left me.  He vanished.  I have never seen such a thing happen before, though I have heard of it in tales.  He must have put the Ring on.  I could not find him again.  I thought he would return to you.”

“Is that all that you have to say?” said Aragorn, looking hard and not too kindly at Boromir.

“Yes,” he answered.  “I will say no more yet.”

Oh, no! thought Kevin.  No, no, no…  He looked over at Jennifer, who met his gaze with horror in her eyes.  Joey looked from Boromir to Aragorn, obviously bewildered.

“This is bad!” cried Sam, jumping up.  “I don’t know what this Man has been up to.  Why should Mr. Frodo put the thing on?  He didn’t ought to have; and if he has, goodness knows what may have happened!”

“But he wouldn’t keep it on,” said Merry.  “Not when he had escaped the unwelcome visitor, like Bilbo used to.”

“But where did he go?  Where is he?” cried Pippin.  “He’s been away ages now.”

“How long is it since you saw Frodo last, Boromir?” asked Aragorn.

“Half an hour, maybe,” he answered.  “Or it might be an hour.  I have wandered for some time since.  I do not know!  I do not know!”  He put his head in his hands, and sat as if bowed with grief.

“An hour since he vanished!” shouted Sam.  “We must try and find him at once.  Come on!”

“Wait a moment!” cried Aragorn.  “We must divide up into pairs, and arrange—here, hold on!  Wait!”

But no one was listening. Sam, and then Merry and Pippin just took off in a panic. They were already disappearing westward into the trees by the shore, shouting: “Frodo!  Frodo!” in their clear, high hobbit-voices.  Legolas and Gimli took off as well.  Kevin didn’t know what to do.  He felt paralysed, and Jennifer and Joey also stood frozen and horror-struck.  It was like the whole Company had lost its collective mind.

“We shall all be scattered and lost,” groaned Aragorn.  “Boromir!  I do not know what part you have played in this mischief, but help now!  Go after those two young hobbits, and guard them at the least, even if you cannot find Frodo.  Come back to this spot, if you find him, or any traces of him.  Jennifer, you and Joey stay here!  Kevin, come with me!  We shall return soon.”

Joey felt like crying, but he didn’t want to be a baby.  He could feel the tears in his eyes and dashed them away with a rough hand.  “Why can’t we help look for Frodo?” he asked angrily.

Jennifer sighed.  She knew why she couldn’t go.  Joey could not have kept up with the others, and someone had to watch him, but she couldn’t tell him that; it would just make him even angrier.  “We have to stay here, Joey, because Aragorn told us to.  Someone needs to do what they are told, and I guess that’s us.”  She looked around.  They were rather exposed.  “I think we should stay in this area, but we should move to a spot where we can hide.”  Jennifer could not help but recall Legolas’s cryptic warning earlier.  She pointed up the slope away from the River, perhaps twenty or twenty-five feet away, where she could see a promising hiding place.  They could hide there, behind large boulders and some shrubbery, and quickly re-join the others when they returned.

Jennifer grabbed her bow, and they scrambled away to the hiding place.  They had a good view of the campsite, and when their friends returned, they could easily go back.  Behind them, they could hear Merry and Pippin shouting for Frodo.  They also heard crashing and running through the woods.

Then a rough voice called from behind: “Find the Halflings…find the Halflings!”  The orcs were coming in their direction!

“Go, Joey!”  Jennifer gave her brother a shove, and they went further up the slope away (she hoped) from the oncoming orcs.  They had not got more than ten feet before they had to dive behind a fallen log when a dozen of the creatures came thundering through their original hiding place.

Just then they heard Merry’s and Pippin’s voices again, closer.  Jennifer turned and could see them jump out of their own hiding place not far away, a little below Jennifer and Joey.  They did not see her or Joey, but were looking in the opposite direction.

They apparently could see Frodo, although Jennifer and Joey could not.  They were hissing and gesturing.  “Frodo!  Hide here!  Quick!  Come on!”  Then the two of them looked at one another and spoke too softly for Jennifer to hear them.

Suddenly Pippin ran out.  “No!” he shouted.

Merry grabbed at him in vain.  “Pippin!”

This drew the attention of the orcs.  Those that were still upslope stopped, and those who had passed them came running back.  Jennifer and Joey had to duck back down and could not see Merry and Pippin, but they did hear them.

“Run, Frodo.  Go on!” Merry was yelling.  “Hey, hey, you!  Over here!”

Jennifer cautiously raised her head to see both of them shouting and running, waving their arms as they yelled, “Hey!  Over here!  This way!”  Suddenly Jennifer realized they were trying to lead the orcs away from their older cousin.

Immediately all the orcs began pounding after the two hobbits.  Jennifer and Joey heard Pippin yell, “It’s working!”

Merry responded, “I know it’s working!  Run!”

After all the orcs had passed them, Joey and Jennifer cautiously stood up, both horrified and scared for their two friends who were being pursued by all those huge orcs.  Jennifer’s heart was in her throat, for she and Joey could see that there were now more orcs coming from another direction.  There was no escape from either way!  She wished she could do something, anything to help!  She could see Merry and Pippin were trapped.  Please, God! she silently prayed.  As she turned to Joey, she could see the same desperation in his eyes.

“Jennifer!” said Joey.  “Please, we’ve got to help them!”

Realizing that she had to keep her little brother safe, she took hold of his shoulder and shook her head sadly.  “It will take a miracle!”

Just then, it seemed, a miracle did happen.  There was the blast of a horn—Jennifer and Joey knew it at once: Boromir’s horn.  He came racing up seemingly out of nowhere, his blade drawn, charging up the hillside, blocking the strokes of the leading Uruk-hai, to place himself in front of Merry and Pippin.  Many Uruk-hai fell to Boromir’s sword as he tried to protect Merry and Pippin.  He glanced over his shoulder briefly and ordered them to run.

But Jennifer and Joey knew those two would not run and leave Boromir behind.  The hobbits began to pick up stones to throw at the orcs.

Then Joey tugged on Jennifer’s arm, and pointed.  “Look!”

Unseen by Boromir or the hobbits, but not by the two children, a huge Uruk-hai was taking aim with his bow, clearly planning to shoot at Boromir!

Jennifer let go of Joey and reached behind her for her own bow.  Would she have time to string it and shoot before the orc could?  But she heard the scuttle of stones and feet, and turned, seeing to her horror that Joey was running down towards the orc archer, his sling in his hand.  He stooped briefly to pick up a rock, and in only an instant, his sling was twirling over his head.  It hit the orc in the back, and threw off his aim.

The arrow missed Boromir, and he continued to fight the many orcs that surrounded him.  Merry and Pippin had drawn their own barrow-blades, and they began striking out around them.  Jennifer winced as she saw Merry chop off the hand of one; it went flying, the black blood spurting as the orc fell to the ground, writhing in pain.

Jennifer held her breath as the huge Uruk looked up and saw Joey, who was already spinning his sling again.  This time he hit the creature in the front of his head, and the orc fell to the ground, unconscious.  “Good for you, Joey!” she whispered, as he began to scramble away, back in her direction.

But just as Jennifer thought her younger brother was safe, two other orcs ran to grab him.  She felt the blood drain from her face as they took him, kicking and screaming.  Boromir’s attention was drawn by Joey’s cries, and then he was struck down.  Pippin had slumped to the ground, she noticed; he must have fainted.  One Uruk-hai had grabbed Merry, whom he struck head-first into a tree, and another of the monsters grabbed an unconscious Pippin, and now they began to run away with their three small prizes.  They had never even seen Jennifer.  Where were Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli?  Where were Kevin and Sam?  She could hear sounds of fierce fighting far behind her.  

Jennifer was Joey’s only hope now, and Merry’s and Pippin’s…with a deep breath, she began to follow behind the orcs as quickly and silently as she could, while staying out of sight.  She picked her way between the bodies of the many dead orcs, and came near to Boromir.  She had to know if he was dead.  She took a deep breath to keep from throwing up at the sight of all the blood, both red and black, and bent over, and then she put her hand on him.  Much to her relief, she could see that he was breathing.

“Thank you, Lord,” she prayed.  “Please take care of him.”  For she knew she had to keep going.  Surely Aragorn and the others would soon catch up, and then they could find and rescue her little brother and the hobbits.  She tried very hard not to think of what might happen if the others were all killed by those Uruk-hai.  And what about Frodo?  And Sam!  I haven’t seen him since we split up.

But she didn’t let any of that stop her from following the orcs.  

-oo000oo-

Aragorn sprang swiftly away and went in pursuit of Sam, Kevin right at his heels.  Just as he reached the little lawn among the rowans he overtook Sam, toiling uphill, panting and calling, “Frodo!”

“Come with us, Sam!” he said.  “None of us should be alone.  There is mischief about.  I feel it.  I am going to the top, to the Seat of Amon Hen, to see what may be seen.  And look!  It is as my heart guessed, Frodo went this way.  Follow me, and keep your eyes open!”  He sped up the path, looking for more signs.

Sam started off trotting alongside Kevin, but he could not keep up with Strider the Ranger, nor even with Kevin; he began to fall behind.  Both Aragorn and Kevin were intent on watching the trail; neither of them noticed when Sam stopped and then ran back the way he’d come.

Aragorn and Kevin sped on up the hill.  Every now and again the Ranger bent to the ground.  Hobbits go light, and their footprints are not easy even for a Ranger to read, but not far from the top a spring crossed the path, and in the wet earth he saw what he was seeking.

Aragorn hesitated.  “I desire to go to the high seat myself,” he told Kevin,“in the hope that I will see there something that will guide me in my perplexities.  But time is pressing.”  He paused for a moment, scanning their surroundings.

“I read the signs aright,” he said to Kevin, a moment later.  “Frodo ran to the hill-top.  I wonder what he saw there?  But he returned by the same way, and went down the hill again.”  Kevin nodded, and Aragorn furrowed his eyebrows for a moment.

Aragorn turned again to Kevin.  “I think it best if we keep heading for Amon Hen.  That is the way Frodo went, and even if he is no longer there, we may be able to espy something from there.”   

Kevin nodded.  He didn’t have any breath to spare, but tried his best to keep up with Aragorn’s long stride, as they made their way to the Hill of Seeing.  

-oo000oo-

It seemed to Jennifer that she had been running forever.  Every so often, she just had to stop briefly, just to breathe.  She knew that the orcs were getting further and further ahead of her, and if she stopped too long, she would never catch up.  They were already out of her line of sight, and she was making use of the tracking skills Aragorn had taught her.  But it would soon be too dark to see the trail.  She took a drink from her waterskin, which she realized with dismay was nearly empty.  Then she began walking more slowly than she had been, and prayed for an idea to come to her.

But when the idea did come, she gasped in dismay.  Could she possibly be brave enough to allow herself to be…captured?  And yet it was the only sure way to get close to her little brother and the two hobbits again.  Okay, she thought.  Well, that’s that.  She walked more briskly now.  She could not do it unless the orcs found her.  Thank goodness Kaylee’s not with us!  At least she’s safe in Rivendell.

In less than an hour, she realized she had come up to where she could see the orcs again.  They had paused to argue.  She tried to think of something else.  Surely Aragorn and the others were coming.  Pippin had only just regained consciousness, she noticed, but Merry was still unconscious.  Jennifer stopped, and slipping her backpack off, she laid it on the ground, unzipped it, and removed her walkie-talkie.  Standing upright once more, she pressed the button.  “Kevin, this is Jennifer.  Over.”

A moment later, Kevin’s voice crackled out of her walkie-talkie.  “This is Kevin.  What’s happening, Jen?  Over.”

“Joey and Merry and Pippin have been captured by orcs.  I’ve been following them.  Tell Aragorn.  Over and out.”

She switched off her walkie-talkie before Kevin had a chance to respond, slipped it back into her backpack, and zipped it shut, leaving it carefully on the ground, behind a large rock, along with her bow.  If Aragorn was tracking her, he’d know she had done this on purpose when he found her things.  Then she went about twenty or so feet closer to where the orcs had halted, and breathed, “Thy will be done.”

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she cupped her hands around her mouth and, with tears falling down her face, yelled as loud as she could: “HEY!  You have my little brother and my friends, you creeps!  I want them back!”  Then she braced herself as half-a-dozen huge orcs turned and came pounding up and grabbed her, dragging her down to the others.  She struggled a little, so they wouldn’t guess she was allowing herself to be caught, but not enough to make them angry.

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Ringsbelongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from the books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: To our beta, Linda Hoyland, who has been of great help with this story.  Linda is a well-known and respected writer in the LotR fandom, who also posts on this site.

Chapter 27: I See the Light

Gail had feared that she would be at loose ends hanging around with Steve down at the training grounds for most of the day, of course, but she really was still uncertain of the daily schedule in Rivendell, and she still did not quite know her way around the maze of corridors that made up the Last Homely House.

She needn’t have worried, though.  Kaylee already had their day planned.  Right after breakfast, her daughter began pulling on Gail’s hand.

“Mommy!  I want you and Megan to come to my lessons with me!”

“Your lessons?”  Gail had not thought the Elves would want to bother with entertaining her daughter now that Kaylee’s parents were on the scene.

“Yes, Mommy!  Lady Arwen said I could, and you could come, too, and Megan could have lessons, too, if she wants, and I want to finish my new nighty and show you what I made!”

“I wanna less’n like Kaylee!” Megan crowed.

Gail had to laugh.  With Megan on her hip and Kaylee pulling her along by her other hand, she allowed herself to be led along through the wide and sunny passages.

As they walked, Kaylee gave a running commentary on the day’s activities.  “We’re going to the solar—that’s what Lady Arwen calls her sunroom.  After lunch, you can come to the paddock and see me ride, and then Mr. Baggins is going to let me make scones!  Those are really yummy.”

“Scones, huh?” Gail asked, still trying to wrap her brain around all the things her little girl was learning.  It would never occur to her to allow a five-year-old to use a sharp needle, or to cook on a hot stove, much less in a hot fireplace!

They had reached the solar, as Kaylee had called it.  Kaylee pushed open the door and entered the room with her mother and little sister in tow.  Gail saw the Lady sitting in a carved chair beneath one of the wide windows; there were several other Elf women in the room, all busy with various types of needlework.  Kaylee dropped her mother’s hand and turned to the Lady of the House, and made, to her mother’s astonishment, a graceful curtsy.

“Good morning, Lady Arwen.  I came for my lesson today,” she said in a dignified manner.  Then she grinned and darted up to Arwen’s side.  “Hey, guess what!  Mommy and Megan came, too,” she added in a much more excited tone, bouncing on her heels.  “Can I show Mommy what I did?  Can Megan have a lesson, too?”

Arwen laughed, and placed a calming hand on Kaylee’s shoulder.  “I think that we can do all that and more, tithen nin.  Why do you not go ask Mairen for your workbasket?  Eledhwen.”  She gestured, and that maiden turned and came to her side.  “Perhaps Megan would like to learn to weave?”

“Yes, my Lady.”  She smiled at Megan and took her hand, leading the three-and-a-half-year-old over to a shelf filled with various supplies.

Kaylee had gone across the room to ask for the aforementioned workbasket, and now her hostess nodded at Gail and gestured to another chair near her own.  “Please, be seated, Mrs. McCloud.  And welcome to my chambers.  I am pleased that you and your younger daughter have accompanied Kaylee.”

Gail smiled.  “Thank you, Lady Arwen.  Please call me Gail.”  She sat down, amazed at the comfort of the solid wood chair.

“Very well...Gail.  And please, call me Arwen.”

Just then, Kaylee darted over, a large basket on her arm.  “Look, Mommy!”  She put the basket on the arm of her mother’s chair, and opened it.  “Look what Lady Arwen gave me!”

Gail admired the little sewing kit that was right on top as her daughter removed it and handed it to her. She was astonished that the thimble and scissors appeared to be made of real silver.  “Well, sweetheart, this is a very pretty sewing kit,” she told the little girl.

Then Kaylee pulled out what appeared to be three dishcloths.  Each had an embroidered border: one of red stars, one of green leaves, and one of blue flowers.  Kaylee smiled broadly.  “I made another with yellow flowers, but I gave it to Mr. Baggins!  And I made a pouch for my friend, Halbarad, with a silver star.  But I gave that to him before he went away.”  She tiptoed up and whispered, “He said I could sew better than his granddaughter!”

Chuckling, Gail examined the stitches.  They were very well done.  She smiled at her daughter.  “Don’t tell your daddy, but I think you sew better than I do, at least by hand.  Maybe when we get home, you can learn to use a sewing machine, too.  I’ll see if I can find one at Wal-Mart that’s made for beginners.”

She blinked.  She couldn’t believe she was actually thinking of letting a five-year-old use a sewing machine!  But she was beginning to re-think a lot of things.

Kaylee dug something else out of the basket, a larger project, apparently.  The fabric was much softer and finer than the dishcloths.  “This is gonna be my new nightie, Mommy!”  She handed it to her mother.  “I just have to finish the neck and the hem and the...the...?”  Kaylee glanced over at Arwen.

“The cuffs, Kaylee, dear,” Arwen replied serenely, with a small smile.  ”I think you might get the neck and cuffs finished today.  Do you already have your binding cut out?”

The child dug down into the basket again, and came up with some strips of the same cloth, which had been folded in half lengthwise.  “Yes, my lady,” she answered.

The Lady gave her a brighter smile, and patted a large footstool that was beside her chair.  Kaylee gathered her nightie from her mother, who had been examining it, and her basket from the arm of her mother’s chair, and went to sit upon the stool and took from the basket the small sewing kit.  Carefully and with patience, she threaded her needle as Gail watched with mingled pride and astonishment.

Arwen bent over her little pupil, and showed her how to hold the binding in place with her fingers, as it was to be sewn on.  Gail noticed that there was no pinning involved, and wondered—but of course, pins were something that, at home, were mass-produced.  Having a bunch of pins would probably not be practical here.  When they returned home, she would have to teach Kaylee how to use sewing pins.

Kaylee was soon engrossed in her stitching, her little tongue poking out slightly in concentration, and as soon as Arwen realized the child was intent on her task, she sat up to see Gail watching closely.

“You seem surprised, Gail.”

Gail shook her head incredulously.  “It just never occurred to me that a child of Kaylee’s age could learn to do a task that takes such patience and fine-motor control.”

“You might be surprised at what young children can learn, when given the chance,” Arwen replied with a knowing smile.

“Mommy!” Megan shouted.  “Lookee!”

Gail turned and rose to go ever to the other side of the room where Megan sat on Eledhwen’s lap.  “I can weave!”  Grinning from ear to ear, her daughter held up a small square loom threaded with blue yarn in one hand; in the other was a small shuttle of yellow yarn.  “See!  I go ovah, undah.  Miss El’wen show me.”  Megan demonstrated for her mother.

“That’s wonderful, sweetie!  Good job!”  Gail looked at Eledhwen gratefully.  “Thank you very much for your patience.”

Eledhwen nodded, smiling.  “It is no trouble.  It is a delight to have little ones to teach once again.”

Returning to her chair, Gail sat back down.  “Have you taught children in the past, then?” she asked Eledhwen.

“Yes, there were many children in lost Doriath, where once I was nursemaid to my Lady’s grandmother Elwing, and for a brief time, I cared for my Lord Elrond and his brother Elros ere they were made hostage by the sons of Fëanor at the fall of Sirion.”

Gail stared at her, gobsmacked.  “Oh.  I see,” she said lamely, and glanced at Arwen, who was trying to hide a smile.

“She is somewhat older than she appears.  She was also nursemaid to my brothers, but when I was small, she was away from Rivendell for a time.”  Arwen appeared highly amused.  “Mairen was my nursemaid.”

Mairen was seated at a large loom, with her back turned.  Without turning around, she said, “Indeed, I was, and quite a handful you were, my Lady.”

Gail tried to repress a snicker, but didn’t quite succeed in doing so.  “Indeed?” she asked, attempting to bite back an amused grin.  “I would never guess it from looking at you now, Arwen.”

Arwen laughed.  “I certainly was, Gail.  I was spoiled beyond belief, as at the time, I was the only child here.”

Gail laughed, and then glanced around at her daughters and the other busy women in the room.  Everybody was busy doing something but her, and that didn’t seem right.  “I feel like I should be working on something, too, but it’s been years since I did any hand-sewing.  All my sewing, anymore, is done on a sewing machine.”

Kaylee, who had been quietly sewing away, glanced up.  “You could do it, Mommy.  I bet you could make a dishcloth!  They’re easy.  I could show you how to make stars!”

The adults all laughed.  “From the mouths of babes,” chuckled Gail, and she soon found herself cross-stitching a row of stars along the hem of a linen dish towel.

She had nearly lost track of time, but the Elves had not.  Mairen rose from her cushion at the loom and turned.  “Miss Kaylee, it is time for your lunch.  Mrs. McCloud, do you wish to accompany us, or have a tray brought up for you?”

Gail leaned back and thought.  “I believe that we will go down for lunch,” she soon answered, and rose to collect Megan, who was reluctant to leave her project.  Still, the three-year-old didn’t fuss too much.  She wanted to walk, and took her sister’s hand as they headed down to the dining room.

-oo000oo-

After a delicious lunch of chicken soup with dumplings and vegetables, Gail and her two small daughters walked down to the paddock, accompanied by Mairen, who had come down with them.  Kaylee and Megan, hand in hand, skipped ahead of the two adults.

“I’m actually very pleased that Kaylee is learning to ride.  She has always loved ponies, but Steve and I could never have afforded riding lessons,” Gail told Mairen.  “Nor do we have enough space in our yard to keep a pony.”

Mairen looked surprised.  “Is it so costly, then?”

“We live in a city,” Gail explained.  “If we lived in the country and had our own horses, it might work out.  But right now, it is more convenient to live in town, and riding lessons cost money.   Money we just can’t afford on my husband’s salary.”  She smiled ruefully.  “You have to pay for lessons anywhere, unless you own horses or have friends who do.”

Arwen nodded thoughtfully.  Money certainly complicated a lot of things, much more for the Edain than for Elves.  But even for Elves, it did so from time to time, especially when dealing with other races.

Just then they approached the paddock.  Curubor was waiting, and there was more than one pony awaiting them.  There were also two horses waiting as well.

Kaylee rushed over to greet Merrylegs, whom she hugged, as he rubbed his face on her shoulder and whickered softly.  Then Kaylee looked up at her teacher.  “Who is the other pony, Master Curubor?” she asked politely, gazing at the dainty little bay mare with white stockings and a white blaze on her forehead.

“Well, Miss Kaylee, the other pony shall be yours to ride, and as for a name, that shall be yours to decide, as well.  What would you like to call her?”

Gail watched in amusement as Kaylee studied the pony intently, her face scrunched up in thought.  Then Kaylee grinned, and said, “I know!”  She turned to look at all the adults.  “I’m going to name her Barrel!”

“Barrel?” Gail asked in confusion, though the Elves were smiling.  They were quite familiar with Mr. Baggins’s stories of his Adventure.

“Yes, Mommy!  That’s what the dragon thought was the name of Mr. Baggins’s pony, but it really wasn’t.  And he and the Dwarves, they all escaped in barrels!”  Kaylee smiled up at her mother.

“Oh,” Gail said.  I seem to be saying that a lot lately, she thought ruefully.  Just then, there was a tug on her sleeve.  She looked down at Megan.  “What is it, Megan?”

“Wanna wide pony, Mommy,” Megan said.

“Yes, Mommy,” Kaylee added.  “Megan gets to learn to ride, too!”

“As do you, Mrs. McCloud, added Mairen with a twinkle in her eye.

“Me?” Gail asked, shocked.

“Yes, you must learn if, as you and your husband intend, you are to go to join your other children.”  Mairen nodded emphatically.

Put that way, Gail realized that Mairen was right.  She and Steve would indeed have to learn to ride, before they began their trip to find their other children.  She found that she was suddenly quite determined to learn something she had not thought of even attempting for many years, although she had once wanted to as a child.  At least here, her riding lessons would be free, as were her daughters’.

Kaylee mounted the newly-named Barrel all by herself, and then grinned over at Mairen and Curubor.  “Did I do good?” she asked her teachers.

“Do well,” her mother corrected her.

Kaylee did not seem to hear her mother’s correction, but Mairen replied, “You did quite well, Kaylee.”

Gail shook her head slightly.  Then she asked Mairen, “Don’t you teach girls to ride sidesaddle, since skirts are so long here?”

The Elf-woman looked puzzled.  “Sidesaddle?”

“From what I gather, in the history of our own world, back when women wore long skirts, they were taught to ride sitting sideways on the horse—or the pony, too, I suppose.”  Gail paused.  “Special saddles were invented for that purpose.  They’re called sidesaddles.”

Curubor and Mairen exchanged an astonished look.  “We have never heard of such a thing,” Curubor replied.  “It sounds most impractical.”  

Gail nodded.  She was coming to realize that in spite of many parallels, the cultures of Middle-earth did not exactly match up with the history of her own world.

“Now, Miss Megan, do you want to ride a pony, as well?” Curubor asked, smiling down at the three-and-a-half-year-old girl.

“Yes!  Yes!  Me, too.”  She jumped up and down in eagerness, grinning from ear to ear.

But when the groom lifted Megan, to place her on Merrylegs’ back, her expression changed to one of fear.  “Noo,” she moaned.  “Scawy up here!”

Curubor looked dismayed, but Kaylee urged Barrel up next to her sister.  “It’s okay, Megan.  Merrylegs is a nice pony.  He won’t let you fall.  See how I do it?  It’s easy.”

Megan, who had begun to tear up, looked at Kaylee with admiration.  She gave a big sniff and nodded.  “Do just like you.”  Once Curubor had helped her mount, she straightened up and tried to sit just like Kaylee was, and with Curubor’s patient guidance and Kaylee riding alongside, the two little girls made a slow circuit of the paddock.

And now Gail found herself being coaxed over to the side of one of the remaining horses, and realized that her own first riding lesson was imminent…

Later on, as she walked stiffly back to the house, with both she and her daughters smelling distinctly horsey, Mairen advised them to take a hot bath before joining Mr. Baggins for tea.

Gail took her advice, and after a while, the three of them, dressed in clean clothes and smelling of lavender and rosemary, stood knocking on the door of Bilbo Baggins’s quarters.

-oo000oo-

“...and you should have seen me, Steve, after bouncing around on the back of that poor horse like a sack of potatoes for what felt like forever, and looking forward to a nice little cup of tea, I then ended up having a lesson on how to bake in a fireplace.”  Gail shook her head.  “I have to say that was easier than I thought it would be.  Kaylee made a batch of scones as Bilbo and I watched.  Then I also made a rather respectable batch of scones under Bilbo’s directions, and after that, I watched as Kaylee showed Megan how to make cucumber sandwiches, and to decorate some gingerhobbits that Bilbo Baggins had made.”  She smiled wryly.  “I also have learned the ‘proper’ way to make a pot of tea.”  Steve laughed and patted her shoulder.

“Well, Gail,” he said, leaning against the back of the settee, “at least your training sessions were nothing like mine!  I’ll tell you, it’s a relief to relax after my lesson.  Glorfindel reminds me of my old drill sergeant back in boot camp.”  Steve had joined Lord Glorfindel that morning for his first training session in the use of Middle-earth weapons.  The Elf was politer than his drill sergeant had been, but he was just as tough and demanding.

Gail’s mouth quirked.  “He’s probably no less exacting than your drill sergeant was, when you underwent basic training.”

Steve laughed, finding it funny that she echoed his own thoughts—but after all these years, she knew him pretty well.  “That’s certainly true, but after twenty years, I’ve become soft, I’m afraid.  I’m no longer used to being pushed so hard.”  He grinned and put his hands behind his head as he leaned back.  “At least I wasn’t a total newbie with the crossbow.  Even though the ones they have here are not composite bows, they work the same way.  It only took me a few tries to remember what Ryan taught me.”

Gail laughed in her turn.  “That’s good, but I’m sure you’re working hard on your other new skills as well, and that you’re coming along nicely in your lessons.”  Steve smiled his thanks for her confidence in him; he was not quite sure “coming along nicely” fit his fumbling with a sword, although he had remembered his knife-fighting skills and his hand-to-hand combat skills fairly rapidly.  He guessed it was like riding a bicycle; you never forgot how.  Muscle memory, after all, accounted for a lot of things.

The two of them sat in silence for a few moments, looking at the cliffs across the valley and the waterfalls that poured down them.  “This is a lovely valley,” Gail finally said.  “Master Elrond says that Lothlórien is also lovely.  It’ll be interesting to meet his mother-in-law, Lady Galadriel, when we go there.  And his father-in-law, Lord Celeborn.”

Steve nodded agreement.  “It certainly will.”  He paused.  “I just hope I won’t have to use the skills I’m learning here before we return home.”

“Same here.  At least I have no qualms about using the skills I’m learning here.”  Gail bit her lower lip, and then sighed.  “Steve, I’m going to be honest: I do have real misgivings about taking Kaylee and Megan on this trip to Lothlorien, if we do end up going.”

“Well, if this war they speak of ends in victory, Elrond and Arwen will be going, too, hon.  In fact, most of the elves who live here will be going.  We can’t leave our daughters here with the few elves who’ll be staying behind.”  He had spoken privately to Master Elrond at dinner the night before about that, after the history lesson that Elrond had given him and Gail.  He had learned that Glorfindel would be leaving soon with a large group of warriors, and that Master Elrond and Lady Arwen would be heading South with another group as soon as word arrived of the end of the War—unless it ended badly.  But Steve did not want to think about that; it was far too difficult to imagine what that would mean for his three older children who were already in harm’s way.  For the time being, all that Steve and Gail could do was to pray for God’s intervention in that war, and for His protection of their children and themselves.

“What about Bilbo?”  Gail leaned forward.

Steve furrowed his eyebrows.  “Elrond has his doubts about Bilbo being able to go.  His health being wha