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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…"
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."
"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! I 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.
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.
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.
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