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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 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, Shathűr.

"Only once before have I seen them from afar in waking life, but I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-dűm, 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 Bundushathűr.

"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 Eărendil. And the other one is called 'Alcarinque', or sometimes 'Morwen'." He cast a sly glance at Aragorn. "Did you know that Eărendil 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 Eărendil 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, Eărendil, 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.





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