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An Unexpected Adventure  by KathyG

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").






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