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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 23: The Parent Trap

MONDAY, APRIL 2, 2012

At the campsite in Oregon, Steve, Gail, and Steve’s brother and sister-in-law had removed the tent posts out of the minivan, and were in the process of pounding the first three of them into the ground with mallets.  Their goal was to put in the rest so that they would be able to set up the tents afterward.  They would get started on that when the children returned from the cave.  At the moment, Janet was keeping an eye on Megan, who was rubbing her fingertips through the dirt and picking up twigs.  Wiping the sweat off her forehead, Gail returned to the car to get the tool kit for Steve.  Only a few minutes had passed since the children had left for the cave.

As she passed the minivan, something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye.  Looking into the back seat where Kaylee and Joey had sat en-route to the park, she saw Kaylee’s backpack.  Sighing and shaking her head, she opened the car door and removed it, and returned to her husband.

“What is it, my dear?”  Glancing at the backpack, Steve smiled and shook his head.  “Kaylee forgot her backpack, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did.”  A mixture of fondness and exasperation etched Gail’s face.

Steve nodded; he understood what she was feeling.  “Well, Kaylee’s got to learn to remember to take it with her when she leaves the campsite.  She’s only five, so we mustn’t be too hard on her, but it is necessary that she learn.  We’d better stop what we’re doing and take it to her.”

“Yes.”  Gail turned to Ryan and Janet.  “Steve and I have to leave you for just a tad, to take Kaylee her backpack.  Would you look after Megan until we get back?”

Ryan exchanged a rueful glance with his wife.  “Actually, Steve, I’d like to continue hammering in the tent posts, and it would be easier for us if we don’t have to keep an eye on Megan while we’re at it.”

Janet nodded agreement.  “And I’d like to get a head start on unrolling the tarps.  I can’t do that and watch Megan, too.”

Steve laughed.  “All right, then, we’ll take her with us.”

Gail shook her head as she lifted the backpack up to her chest.  “Kaylee has certainly filled up this backpack with her toys and whatnot; it’s heavy.”

Steve chuckled.  “All four of them did.  I saw her putting her doll inside it when we got out of the car.  Well, we’d better go find the children now, so let’s take Megan and go.  But first—”  He looked back toward the car.  “If we’re going to set our children a good example, we’d better get our own backpacks before we head off.”  Gail nodded.

He returned to the minivan, removed his and Gail’s backpacks from the trunk, and took them towards his wife.  As he handed Gail’s backpack to her, she set Kaylee’s backpack on the ground to strap her own onto her back; Steve did the same thing.  When their packs’ handles were dangling from their shoulders, Gail picked up Kaylee’s backpack, and Steve picked up Megan.

Steve led the way down the path as Ryan and Janet chuckled behind them.  “We’ll be right back,” Steve called back.

Several minutes later, the three of them reached the cave.  The backpack dangled from Steve’s hand as he peered intently into the tunnel.  “Kaylee!” he called.  “Kaylee, I want you to come out now; you forgot your backpack.”

There was no answer except echoes.  Sighing in his turn, Steve turned to Gail.  “Well, I’d better go inside.  This tunnel stretches quite a distance, as Ryan and I discovered, and they may be out of earshot.”

Gail nodded, and glanced at Megan.  “We’re going with you.”

Setting Megan on the ground, Steve slipped his own pack off his back to take out his flashlight.  After Gail had helped him zip it back up and to slip his arms back through its handles, she picked up Kaylee’s pack and handed it to her husband.  Steve switched on the flashlight and the two of them entered the cave, Gail carrying Megan this time, and Steve carrying Kaylee’s backpack.  “Children!” Gail hollered.

As soon as they had gone around the tunnel’s bend, the entire cave, without warning, became pitch-black, and the ground began to shake.  Not even Steve’s flashlight emitted any light.  Megan screamed in terror.  Grabbing hold of his wife with one hand, Steve yelled, “Don’t move!  Stay put!  Please, God, help us!”

“It’s all right, Megan; God is looking after us,” Gail soothed her daughter.

To Steve’s relief and Gail’s, the earthquake stopped, the darkness subsided, and his flashlight came back on.  “What on earth—!” Gail gasped, as she gaped at their surroundings.  The cave had changed; it was not the same cave that they had entered!  The walls were more jagged, and sunlight entered through a crevice in the roof.  Gail and Steve gaped at each other in shock.

“What in the name of Heaven!”  Shaking his head violently, Steve took a deep, shuddering breath and clenched and unclenched his left fist, in an obvious effort to control his panic.  After a moment, he turned to his wife and took another deep breath in an effort to calm down.  “We’d better pray before we do anything, sweetheart,” he said, and Gail nodded agreement.  They bowed their heads, and Gail clasped Megan against her chest, and Steve placed his arms around his wife's shoulders.  “Please, God,” he said, his voice shaking, “help us and guide us.  We don’t know what’s just happened, but You do.  Please help us, Lord.  In Jesus’ name, amen.”

“Amen,” Gail repeated.

Steve lifted his head, and Gail, taking her own deep breath, followed suit.  “Let’s go back to the entrance and see what we find out there,” she said.

Steve nodded agreement.  “Let’s.”

Going back the way they had come, they arrived at the steep boulder that rose from the cave floor and formed the entrance above their heads.  They could see no trees beyond the entrance from where they stood at the foot of the incline.  Steve stood silently for a long moment, gazing up at the entrance and then down at the stone floor, while biting his lower lip.

“Gail,” he finally said, “I feel a strong check in my spirit about going out that way.  I don’t know why, but I do.”

Frowning, Gail turned to look up at the entrance.  “What does God want us to do, then?”

Steve turned in the other direction.  “He—”  He cleared his throat.  “I believe He wants us to go in the other direction.”

Gail bit her lower lip.  She did not like that idea in the slightest.  At last, with a sigh, she said, “Well, we’d better get started, then.”  She shifted Megan in her arms and accompanied her husband down the tunnel.

As they approached the bend, Steve shook his head.  “You know, Gail, I just don’t understand it.  This did not happen when Ryan and I explored that cave!”

Gail gazed intently at her husband.  “There was nothing to forewarn you that something like this might happen?”

Steve shook his head.  “Nothing whatsoever.  We went clear to the end of the cave and back, and the only things we found were a few stalactites hanging from the ceiling near the back.  We didn’t even find any bats.”

Gail smiled in spite of herself.  “Thank goodness for that!”

Minutes later, they came to the same waterfall that the children had arrived at earlier, and they all had a drink of water, including Megan, drinking from it as they would from a water fountain.  When the three of them came within sight of the valley and of the elegant complex of buildings across the valley, they froze, stunned.  “Look!” Megan cried out, waving her arms.  “I see house!”

“We all do, Megan.”  Gail smiled at the three-year-old and then looked at Steve.  “Where—where are we?”  Her voice choked.  “And more importantly, where are the children?”

“That’s what I’d like to know!”  Steve shook his head, disbelief in his eyes.

“‘I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,’” Gail quoted dryly.

Steve smiled wryly.  “Or Oregon, rather,” he said, just as dryly.  “And more importantly,” he added, scanning the valley, “I have a feeling that our children aren’t in Oregon anymore, either!”  

-oo000oo-  

FEBRUARY 14, 1419 (T.A. 3019)

It was the morning after Halbarad and the Grey Company had left Rivendell, and Elrond was speaking with Glorfindel and writing a letter to Halbarad’s wife when a tap came at the study door.  "Enter.”

The door opened, and an Elf entered with a bow.  It was one of the scouts who helped keep watch over Rivendell.   "Master Elrond, Lord Glorfindel, we have been keeping watch over the tunnel entrance into the Valley, as you commanded.  About a quarter of an hour ago, our patrol spotted more newcomers, Edain, dressed as those children were before, and burdened with similar packs.  There were three: one Man and one woman, and the woman was carrying a child younger even than Miss Kaylee.  We suspect that they may be the rest of the family of the children who came before."

Glorfindel rose instantly; Elrond finished the letter he had been writing, and also rose.  "We shall accompany you back with an escort to help bring them here.  Ask the grooms to ready mounts; Glorfindel, you go ahead and select the escort.  I shall join you after I have a word with Arwen."

Glorfindel acknowledged Elrond's command with a nod, and left.  Elrond reached for the bell pull to summon a maidservant, and then changed his mind and went in search of his daughter himself.  It would be quicker.  He had learned from Arwen earlier that Kaylee was currently with Bilbo, and he felt that it would be better if Kaylee did not learn about this just yet.

He strode down the passage towards his daughter's solarium; she was nearly always with her maidens there, this time of day.

The door stood open to the bright room, allowing its light into the passage.  He stopped and spoke.  "My daughter, may I have a word with you?"

Arwen looked up, surprised.  "Certainly, Ada."  She put down her sewing and rose gracefully to join him.  "Is something amiss?"

"I hope not, yet there is something afoot.  The patrol spotted three more persons who appear to be from the same place as the McClouds.  From the descriptions, it possibly may be their parents and younger sister."  He paused.  "Is Kaylee still with Bilbo?"

"Yes, the two of them went to the glass house to gather some vegetables."

"Good, we shall not disturb her with this news until we know that the new guests are, in fact, whom we believe them to be.  But you will need to arrange chambers for them."

"Of course, Ada.  I hope this is so—the poor child has sorely missed her family.  I will go at once."

He kissed her forehead.  "And I, too, must go.  I wish to be among those who ride to greet them."

He hurried off in one direction, while she went in the other.  

-oo000o-

“Uh, Steve—”  Gail grabbed her husband’s arm.  “What’s that?”

Listening intently, Steve peered through the trees.  “Horses,” he said.  “Someone’s coming, but until they get closer, I can’t tell who.  Maybe they can tell us where our children are.”  I hope! he silently added, as he took a deep breath.  He could only hope that those strangers, whoever they were, did not intend to harm them.

A moment later, several long-haired men on horseback cantered toward them; Gail clutched Megan to their chests.  One of the men waved toward them.

“I am Master Elrond.  Do not be frightened.  We mean you no harm.”  The man who had spoken dismounted his horse and stood before the McClouds.  Steve extended his hand in greeting.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Elrond.”  Smiling and nodding, Steve stepped forward and shook Elrond’s hand.  As always, his handshake was firm and attentive, and he maintained eye contact with Elrond throughout.  “I’m Steven McCloud, and this is my wife, Gail, and our youngest child, Megan.”  He gestured toward his wife and youngest daughter as he spoke.

“How do you do?”  Smiling, Gail removed her right arm from around Megan to shake Elrond’s hand.  That done, she wrapped her arm once more around Megan’s back and glanced down at Kaylee’s backpack dangling from Steve’s hand.  She looked from her husband to Elrond.  “We were wondering if you could help us?  We’re looking for our other children.”

“Yes, one of our other kids forgot her backpack when they left the campsite, and we were going to take it to her.”  Steve held up Kaylee’s backpack for Elrond, who nodded.

“This is the valley of Rivendell, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud, and yes, your other children arrived here.  But I had better explain some things to you, and this is not the best place to do that.”  He gestured toward the horses.  They had brought two extra mounts with them.  “Do you know how to ride?”

Exchanging glances, Steve and Gail shook their heads ruefully.  “None of us have ever learned how, Master Elrond,” Steve said.

“Then we will help you to mount, and one of us will hold Miss Megan while you are doing so.”  He spoke softly to one of the others who had come with them, and he rode off, leading the two extra horses.

Glorfindel dismounted and held out his arms for Megan.  Gail was apprehensive, as Megan was usually very shy of strangers, but instead she held out her arms to him with a grin.  "Shiny!" she said, and she laughed as he took her.  Glorfindel nodded and gave the three-year-old girl a courtly smile.

Gail blinked.  It must be a trick of the light, the way the sun shifted through the leaves.  It really did seem for a moment that he was glowing.  But the thought fled as she found another of these exceptionally handsome, long-haired men appearing, to help her onto the horse.  It was a bit nerve-wracking to be hoisted up onto such a large animal, and there was no saddle!  But Glorfindel mounted gracefully behind her, and she felt much safer.  The other person handed Megan up to her.  She noticed that two of the other men were already mounted with their backpacks, and that Steve was behind the one who had introduced himself as "Master Elrond".  She wondered if perhaps these people were historical re-enactors; their clothing and mannerisms would go with that.  And what on earth was this Rivendell, and this Middle-earth?  She had never heard of either place!  Certainly, as far as she knew, Wallowa Lake State Park had no such places.  But if they were re-enactors, Rivendell might be what they called their campsite; Heaven only knew what Middle-earth was supposed to be!  She recalled some photos that Nicole Adams’s mother, Carol, had shown her of an elaborate SCA campsite that Carol’s nephew had been to.  

As they rode off, the rider behind her said, "I am most sorry, but in our haste to get back, I failed to introduce myself.  I am Glorfindel, of the House of the Golden Flower."

Well, she thought, that can't be his real name!  I guess he actually must be trying to stay in character.   Out loud, she said, "And my name is Gail McCloud.  I hope my older children haven't been much trouble to you this afternoon.  My husband and I need to find them and get back to setting up our camp.  We only just arrived at the park a short while ago, and we’ve still got to put up our tents."

There was a long silence, and then he said, "Your older children are very responsible and well-behaved.  They were concerned about your worry."

Gail thought that was an odd way to put it, but before she could question him further, they came out of the woods, and her jaw dropped.  That was no campsite!  That was the house they had seen when they had first come out of the cave, and it was so beautiful!  So elegant, Gail thought.  The wooded area had blocked their view since there had been no path to follow and the trees were so thick.  Is this where the re-enactors have their headquarters? Gail silently wondered.

They rode across a narrow bridge and into a sort of courtyard in front of the amazingly beautiful building that they had already seen.  The riders pulled up near the foot of wide steps and dismounted.  Glorfindel reached up and handed Megan down into the arms of one of the most beautiful women that Gail had ever laid eyes upon.  She blinked, shook her head, and blinked again.  The woman had her hair pulled back by intricate braids...Were those points on her ears?  What kind of people had their kids fallen in with, anyway?

She felt much better as Steve came up and put his arm around her shoulders.  "Where are our children?" he asked, with a touch of anger.  "I think some explanations are in order."  He reached for Megan, and the woman handed her to him.  Gail took her from him.

Elrond lifted his chin and said calmly, "Explanations are indeed in order.  But I think they should be made in privacy and comfort.  Please follow me, and I will tell you what has happened…"  

-oo000oo-

After Steve and Gail had heard their host's explanation of all that their other children had done since their arrival, they stared at one another in astonishment and dismay.  As glad as they were that Kaylee was safe in Rivendell and that they would get to see her shortly, to learn that the rest of their children had gone on a dangerous quest was shocking.  What their other children were in the process of doing here was even more so.  And where they all were was the most shocking of all.  That they were surrounded by fantasy creatures—by elves—in what appeared to be a fantasy world was nothing short of incredible!

“I don’t believe this!”  Gail shook her head and gaped at her husband, and then stared at Elrond.  “I mean, I can’t believe I’m hearing all this!  Our other children on a dangerous quest?”  She hugged Megan to her chest.  “And we’re—we’re in another world?  A fantasy world, of all places?  With elves, of all things?”

Steve gently patted her shoulder.  “I know, Gail,” he said softly.  “I’m stunned, too.  But what we’ve seen, it’s clear that this is real, and from what Master Elrond has told us, it appears that God has called them to this world, whatever it is, to take part in this—this quest.”  Gail took a deep breath in an evident effort to calm herself down for Megan’s sake, and Steve squeezed her arm.  “It’s all right, Gail.  We know the Lord is with them.”

Steve had silently been praying for calm all through the rather strange tale that he had been told, and he had gradually come to accept it as the only possible explanation for their strange surroundings and even stranger hosts.  It had stunned them both to learn that not only had they entered another world, but that this strange world was populated by elves!  Somehow, though, he could feel that they were truthful, and—well, good.

“True.  But I am so worried about our children, Steve!  They’re too young for this, especially Joey.”  Gail took another deep breath and repositioned Megan in her arms.  “At least Kaylee is safe here in Rivendell.”

“Yes, and thank goodness.”  Steve turned to Elrond.  “Thank you for taking care of our children, Master Elrond.”  Eledhwen stood nearby, listening, and Arwen sat next to her father.  Megan sat nestled in her mother’s arms, sucking her thumb.

Elrond smiled.  “It has been my pleasure, Mr. McCloud.  My daughter has had the primary responsibility of looking after Miss Kaylee, with the help of her ladies.”  He nodded toward Arwen, who smiled, and gestured toward Eledhwen, who inclined her head in acknowledgment.

Arwen looked from Steve to Gail.  “And it has been a pleasure to do so, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud.  Your little daughter is a sweet child.”  Steve and Gail smiled fondly and proudly in response.  “Mairen has gone to fetch Miss Kaylee; she should be here soon.”

“Yes, and while we are waiting for her, I have some questions I wish to ask you.”  Master Elrond paused.  “I asked your children these same questions when they first arrived here.  Now I must ask these questions of you, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud.  I would like for you to tell me how you arrived in Middle-earth, and what led up to it.  You have already told me some of it, but now I wish to hear it in full.”

Steve and Gail exchanged glances.  “Well, as we told you earlier, Kaylee forgot her backpack, and we decided to take it to her,” Steve explained.  “That meant going to the cave.”  Elrond nodded, and Steve paused.  “We’re on a week-long camping trip, you see, and Gail and I decided to go together to take it to her.  Since my brother and his wife wanted to go ahead and continue setting up the tents, we decided to bring Megan with us.”  Gail nodded agreement.

Elrond listened as the two of them explained how the children had left the campsite to explore the cave, and their own departure for the cave where the children had gone, after they had discovered Kaylee’s backpack; what had happened while they were inside the cave, and everything that had followed.  Afterward, in answer to Elrond’s questions, Steve and Gail gave him their full names and told them where they lived, and then Steve explained what he did for a living, and why he and his family had been camping at the state park.

As inwardly annoyed and impatient as Steve felt, he tried not to let it show, and answered the questions.  They felt intrusive, yet he sensed that his host was mentally comparing his story with the one the children had given him, to be certain of his and Gail's truthfulness, and to be sure that they really were the parents of the children who had arrived here.  I can’t really blame him for that, he silently told himself.

As soon as the McClouds had finished their explanations, the door swung open, and Kaylee raced into the room, followed by Mairen and a scampering Lucy.  For a moment, Kaylee froze; her mouth hung wide open as she gaped at her parents and younger sister.  Then, with a squeal of joy, she rushed toward them.  “Mommy!!  Daddy!!  Megan!!”  She barreled against her father, who, laughing, wrapped his arms around her.  “I missed you,” Kaylee whimpered.  “I missed you so much!!”

Leaping backwards, she hugged her mother sideways, since her mother was holding Megan, and Lucy placed her front paws on Gail’s knee; with one arm, Gail hugged her back and kissed her daughter’s forehead, and then she bent over to rub Lucy’s head.  Steve and Gail gaped down at the puppy, stunned.  Lucy had grown by several months, and she was wearing a collar!  If we needed proof that time has passed for our children since they arrived here, this is it, Steve thought.

“Lucy missed you, too,” Kaylee said.  Leaning back, she looked from her father to her mother, thrusting out her lower lip.  “I’m sorry, Mommy.  I’m sorry, Daddy.  We all are.  We didn’t mean to make you worry.”

“Oh, Kaylee,” her father said soothingly, “we know you didn’t, and we never even had a chance to worry.  From what Master Elrond, here, has told us, months have passed since you and the others arrived here, but in truth, back at the campsite, just a few minutes had passed since you had left us before we decided to follow you.”

“That’s right,” Gail added.

Kaylee hugged her mother again.  “I missed you SO much!”

“I know, sweetheart,” her mother said soothingly.  “But we’re here now.”  She kissed Kaylee on the forehead.  Putting her front paws back on the floor and trotting toward Steve, Lucy whined, pawing his leg, and he leaned down to pick her up and set her on his lap.  Lucy licked his hand, and he began rubbing her head.  Gail gaped down at the not-so-young puppy.  “If it hadn’t been for what Master Elrond told us, I’d swear this was another dog,” she told her husband, who nodded agreement.

“Look at the collar she’s wearing,” Steve said, running his fingers over the collar.

Kaylee looked around the room, and then turned back to her parents.  “Kevin and Jennifer and Joey aren’t here,” she said.

Gail nodded.  “We know that, hon.  Master Elrond has been telling us all about this quest they’re on.”

Kaylee bounced on her heels.  “Where’s Aunt Janet?  Where’s Uncle Ryan?  Are they here, too?”  She looked around the room as she spoke.

Steve shook his head.  “Nope, they’re back at the campsite, sweetheart.  We’ll rejoin them when we return to Oregon.”  He glanced over at his daughter, and said, "Kaylee, haven’t you missed this?"  He held up her backpack and dangled it in front of her.  “You forgot your backpack, young lady.”  He wagged his finger for emphasis.

Kaylee bit her lower lip.  “I’m sorry,” she said again, and then, with an excited squeal, she pounced on it and began to explore its contents.  She pulled out her toothbrush, a box of crayons, a coloring book, a walkie-talkie, several sheets of drawing paper, and a container of watercolors, followed by several storybooks and a My Little Pony figure.  Then she reached down into it again.  “I want my doll!  Where is it?  Yaayyy!  I see it!”  She smiled broadly.

Elrond and Arwen watched in amusement, and Steve and Gail smiled, as an excited Kaylee pulled her Baby Alive doll out of the backpack, along with its bottle, its spoon, its diapers, and little jar of "food".

“Guess what?!” Kaylee announced, smiling broadly.  “This doll eats and drinks.  See?”  She held the doll bottle, filled with water, up to the doll’s mouth, and the water squirted through the hole in its mouth.  Then she opened the jar, took a spoonful of the "food" that came with the doll, and held it up to the doll’s mouth.  Its mouth opened and closed as she inserted the spoon in it.

“And guess what?” Kaylee added.  “This doll wets, too.”  She removed its diaper from its bottom and showed it to their hosts.  Not only was it wet, but some of the food that she had fed it was also smeared on the disposable diaper.  “You have to change its diaper.”  As the grownups watched, she did just that, and then she cradled the doll against her chest.

Elrond and Arwen exchanged amused looks.  “I have lived for many thousands of years, and I have never seen such marvels as your age is destined to have,” Elrond said dryly.  He found it hard to believe that such resources would be wasted for a child's toy.

Steve and Gail laughed.  “Well, Master Elrond, in our world, many discoveries have been made in our time, and many things have been invented that no one in this time, in your world, have even thought of,” Gail said, and Steve nodded.  Elrond simply shook his head and recalled the lost wonders of Númenor.  More impressive to him was the small stack of books Kaylee had laid to one side.  He found it truly astonishing to see that books were so readily available.

They watched Kaylee for a few more moments as she played with her doll, and then Elrond turned to Arwen.  “You may show these people to their chambers.”

With a nod, Arwen gestured to Steve and Gail, and Steve set Lucy on the floor.  Kaylee put everything inside her backpack except her doll, zipped it shut, and slipped it over her back, and then she picked up her doll.  Rising to their feet and picking up their jackets as well as Megan’s, her parents followed Arwen down the hall, accompanied by their daughters and by Eledhwen and Mairen.  Gail carried Megan, and Steve held Kaylee’s left hand while she clasped her doll to her chest with her right.  Lucy trotted alongside, wagging her tail.

“I will show you Miss Kaylee’s quarters,” Arwen told Steve and Gail.  “Master Joey shared her quarters while he was here, and your other daughter will share it now.  Your own guest room will be close to theirs.”

Steve and Gail exchanged glances.  “Thank you, Lady Arwen,” Gail said.

“Hey, Mommy, Daddy, guess what!”  Kaylee skipped alongside her father, still holding the doll to her chest, her bulging backpack dangling from her back.  “I’m learning to ride a pony!”

Her parents exchanged another glance.  “Are you, now?” Gail asked her.

“Uh-huh.”  Kaylee smiled broadly.  “Mr. Baggins has his own pony, and he lets me ride him!  His name’s Merrylegs!  Curubor says I’m becoming a good little rider!”

Curubor?  Mr. Baggins?”  Gail looked from her daughter to Arwen in puzzlement.

Arwen nodded.  “Curubor is the head groom, and he has been giving Miss Kaylee riding lessons for the last few months.  He gave your other children lessons while they were here.  Bilbo Baggins has been a guest here for some years now.  He is a hobbit from the Shire, and ever since your other children left, he has been helping us amuse your daughter.  Miss Kaylee was visiting his quarters when you arrived here.”  She smiled down at Kaylee.  “Your daughter has learned much more than horseback-riding, Mr. and Mrs. McCloud.  She has learned a number of skills since her arrival in Middle-earth, which I am sure she will be glad to show to you.”

Steve and Gail smiled.  “Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what our little girl has learned,” Steve said.  Gail nodded agreement, and then she shifted Megan to her other arm.

When they entered the guest wing, Arwen showed them the bathing room and the water closet.  As soon as the McClouds entered their guest room, Gail set Megan on the floor.  She and Steve removed their backpacks and laid them on the table, and then they laid their jackets on the table.  Steve straightened his yellow plaid cotton button-down shirt, briefly glancing down at the ballpoint pen that was clipped to his shirt pocket and the dark blue pocket-sized spiral notebook that jutted out of it.  Gail smoothed her hair.  Smiling broadly, Kaylee bounced from one foot to the other, clearly excited and overjoyed to be reunited with her parents at last.  Megan wandered around the bedroom, and Lucy scampered about.

Suddenly, Megan froze.  “I need go potty!”

Laughing, Mairen picked up the little girl.  “I will take you to the water closet,” she told Megan.  Eledhwen left the room, and Mairen carried Megan to the water closet.  Her parents and Kaylee remained in the bedroom to wait for them.

As soon as Mairen returned with Megan, Lady Arwen suggested that they go outside for a while before time for luncheon.  Steve and Gail looked at each other, and then nodded.  They had noticed that it was much earlier in the day than it had been when they had left the campsite.  To them, it seemed almost time for supper.  They didn't say anything about that, though, and politely agreed to the Lady's suggestion.

They followed the two Elf-women back down the hallway, noticing the many tall arched windows along one side, which made it feel almost like they were already outdoors.  Steve's sharp eyes observed small patches of snow in the shadiest areas, but the weather had not seemed particularly wintry.  This lent even more credence to his suspicions that time moved differently here; after all, their other children had already been here for a few months, while it had only been a few minutes from the time they had left the campsite to the moment when he and Gail had decided to follow them.  While neither he nor Gail had ever been fans of fantasy, he had read enough science fiction to realize that such a phenomenon would be possible in a situation like this.  I’m not sure that Isaac Asimov ever thought of a scenario like this!  Or Jules Verne, either, he thought ruefully.  It feels as if we’ve entered the Twilight Zone!  I’m sure it was just as surreal for our children when they first arrived here.

Just as they were about to turn through the wide doors to a terrace leading down to a grassy lawn, they saw a small figure coming in their direction.  At first, Steve thought it might be a "Little Person", but a closer look showed him differently, especially once he noticed the furry bare feet and the pointed ears.

“Hi, Mr. Baggins!”  Smiling broadly, Kaylee waved as she skipped toward the elderly hobbit, alongside her parents, Arwen, and Mairen.

“Hullo, Miss Kaylee!”  Chuckling, Bilbo approached the four.  “And hullo, Lady Arwen!  Miss Mairen!  Hello, Lucy!”  The man bent over to rub Lucy’s head, and she licked his fingers.  Steve noticed that his voice was as normal as theirs, not high-pitched as a Little Person’s sometimes was.  The elf lady inclined her head, and Mairen smiled.

Turning back to Kaylee, Bilbo asked, “Are these your parents and your other sister?”  Bilbo knew perfectly well that they were; he'd already heard the gossip in the kitchen when he was having elevenses.  He had come this way on purpose in order to meet them.

“Yep!  This is my mommy and daddy!  And Megan!”  Bouncing on the balls of her feet, Kaylee turned toward her parents and younger sister.

Laughing, Steve bent over and extended his hand.  “I’m Steven McCloud, Mr.—uh—”  He paused.

“Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, now of Rivendell,” the hobbit said.  “At your service, Mr. McCloud.”

Steve shook his hand and, straightening his back, turned toward Gail.  “And this is my wife, Gail, and our youngest daughter, Megan.”

Arwen smiled.  "Your children came to us in the autumn, and have been here for four months—well, only young Kaylee has been here in Rivendell the whole time.  She has not been idle, and has learned much in her time here.  She has become quite the little seamstress, and she has helped with many tasks around here.  And I believe she already mentioned learning to ride."

Bilbo chuckled.  "My old Merrylegs has become quite fond of her.  I've not the time nor inclination at my age to go riding very often, and the Elves usually just turn him out to pasture for exercise.  He seems pleased to have a rider once more.  And I believe Miss Kaylee is much less timid than she was when I first met her."

"I can see a difference in her already," Steve agreed.  "It seems like only yesterday that she was so clingy.  Heck, it was only yesterday that she was so clingy—only today, in fact, in our world!”  He shook his head incredulously.  “She used to suffer separation anxiety every time we had to leave the house—well, that no longer appears to be the case.  Why, as she was, you would not be able to pry her off Gail's lap after being apart for even half a day.  And look at how well she's watching over Megan.”  He gestured toward his daughters.

“I know.”  Gail shook her head in wonder as Steve turned toward her.  “She has actually learned to ride, and Lady Arwen has told us that she has also learned to sew.  And look!  I just saw her tying Megan's shoelaces!”

Steve whirled toward their little girls.  Kaylee had indeed just finished tying Megan’s shoes; that was a skill that she had not yet acquired when they had arrived at the campsite.  He nodded agreement, a thoughtful look on his face.  Perhaps this time away from them had been good for his little girl; sometimes he thought Gail was just a mite overprotective, but he would never say that out loud.

Arwen smiled.  "We had to keep her busy, especially once her older siblings left on their journey. But she is a clever and sweet child, eager to learn new things.  It has been a privilege to look after her.  It has been more than seventy of your years since we have fostered a child of Men in Rivendell, and there have been no Elven children here in over two-thousand, seven hundred years, when I was young."

Steve and Gail stared at one another in shock, and then shook their heads.  Somehow asking the obvious question now would feel rather rude.  Instead, Gail smiled and said, “Well, I want to thank you for looking after our daughter.”

“So do I,” Steve added.

Just then Bilbo's stomach began to rumble. "Pardon me!" he said.  "But it is well past time for luncheon!”

With a smile, Arwen rose to her feet.  “So it is.  We will go to the dining room.”

They went back inside and down the hall, and soon entered a large room with rows of tables and chairs.  A few minutes after they had taken their seats at one of the tables, a servant approached them and bowed.  "We have winter soup," he said, "and a cold platter."

"Thank you, Baragund.”  Arwen smiled at him.  “I will just have a goblet of light mead, but our guests have travelled far, and will be glad of food."

"I'd like my usual teapot," said Bilbo, "and I'm eating, of course."

Baragund laughed lightly.  "Of course, Mr. Baggins."  He glanced over at Steve and Gail.  "Would you care for some wine or ale?  Or would you like some tea with Mr. Baggins?" he asked.

Steve and Gail looked at one another, and then Steve shook his head.  "Just plain water for me, please," Steve said.  Gail looked at her husband and wondered if the water would be safe; still, there didn't seem to be many alternatives. She wasn't fond of hot tea, and she knew her husband wasn't either.

"May I have tea like Mr. Baggins?" Kaylee asked eagerly.  “Please?”

Gail looked surprised at that, but nodded and said, "Water for the rest of us," she said.  Baragund nodded and walked off, returning shortly after with a large platter.  Three other Elves were with him, one with a tray containing a small teapot, two cups and saucers, and a little honeypot, which was placed in front of Bilbo.  The platter was placed in the center of the table along with a basket of bread, and then bowls of steaming soup were distributed to everyone except Lady Arwen, while goblets were placed in front of everyone except Bilbo.  A small silver cup was given to Megan instead of the larger goblets.

Gail found she was actually quite hungry.  The soup smelled good, and the platter was an attractive arrangement of sliced meats and cheeses.  Gail saw that Megan was sniffing the soup with a smile.  "Smells good, Mommy!" the little girl said.  Gail was very thankful that so far, Megan had not developed Kaylee and Joey's picky ways.

She was surprised when Kaylee enthusiastically said, "It sure does, Megan!"  At home, Kaylee had never cared for vegetable soup, and would only eat chicken noodle soup out of a can!

Kaylee took Megan's hand and her father's, and Megan reached for her mother's hand.  The two little girls closed their eyes.  Gail smiled as she and Steve closed their own eyes, and Steve murmured, "Thank you, Lord, for our safety and for this good food, and for our hosts.  Please bless them, and the food we are about to eat.  In Jesus' name, amen."

Lady Arwen watched them with a smile.  She had become accustomed to the "grace" that the McCloud children said before each meal, and was unsurprised to see their parents do the same.  It was a very charming custom, and it had caused her to begin thanking Eru in her own heart for all the blessings of Arda.

When the McClouds had finished their prayer, Bilbo poured out some steaming tea into both cups, added some honey, and passed one of the cups and saucers over to Kaylee.  "Thank you, Mr. Baggins," she said politely, and without any prompting.  Once more, Gail found herself surprised at Kaylee's impeccable behavior.

The soup was indeed quite good; a light broth with some small bits of some sort of meat, and several kinds of vegetables floating about in it.  "What's in this soup?" she wondered aloud.

Bilbo grinned.  "Well, the meat varies, but I'd say today, it's venison.  They used dried mushrooms in the broth.  Then there are onions, leeks, apples, parsnips, carrots, turnips, beans, and a little chopped kale.  Some thyme and marjoram in the broth.  Elves are nearly as good cooks as hobbits!"

Gail also took a little of the meat and cheese onto her plate, with chunks of the freshly baked bread.  Megan just used some of the bread to dunk into her soup, imitating her older sister, who was eating with every sign of enjoyment.

As hungry as she was, Gail found herself flagging near the end of the meal.  Once sated, Megan had leaned into her side and was falling asleep.  Gail saw Steve stifling his yawns with his hand, and she exchanged a glance with Arwen.

"You are very tired!” Arwen said.  “Why do you not return to your rooms for a time of rest before the evening feast?  I have asked my maidens to provide you with clothing for the feast, and it should be there awaiting you."  She looked at Kaylee.  "Kaylee, can you show your parents to their room?"

"Yes, Lady Arwen.  Do you want me to come to your sewing room for my lesson today?"  Gail stared at her five-year-old, sounding so much older and more grown-up than she had this morning.

Arwen smiled.  "You are excused from your sewing lesson today, child.  You may want to stay with your little sister this afternoon, and I know that your parents want your company."  Kaylee smiled broadly.

Steve carried Megan as he and Gail followed Kaylee, who seemed to know the way very well.  Bilbo accompanied them part of the way, before he bid them a temporary farewell and headed to his own rooms.  Their daughter led them unerringly back to the room they had been given.  She smiled broadly up at her parents.

"See, your room is right next to where Kevin's room was.  My room and Joey's is across the hall, but since Joey's gone, Megan's gonna stay with me!"  She threw open the door, and Steven entered and placed the sleeping three-year-old on the bed that Kaylee indicated.  Gail removed her youngest daughter's shoes.  Since it was only to be a nap, she did not bother to undress her except for her jacket.

Kaylee pointed to an open door in the middle of the wall between the two child-sized beds.  "That was Jennifer's room before she left, but Mairen and Eledhwen take turns sleeping in there now."  She paused.  "They both told me not to say 'miss' to them.  Is that okay?"

Steve and Gail both assured her that if the Elf women did not want her to say “miss”, it was all right, since they were in a place with different customs.  

"They will ring a big bell when it's time to get ready for feast!  You will like the feast—the food is really, really good."  She ushered them out of the room.  "I'll keep an eye on Megan!"

Steve and Gail went into their room, still rather bemused by Kaylee's behavior.  Gail closed the door, and for the first time, she studied the room.  “This is a very nice room,” she said softly, and then froze in surprise.  “And look!”  She approached the elvish outfits neatly folded on the bed and turned toward her husband.  “Steve, look!  These must be the clothes Lady Arwen told us about.”

“Yes, I see,” Steve said.  Approaching the bed, he ran his hand over the tunic lying on top of his own stack of clothes.  “These look very much like the clothes men used to wear back in the Middle Ages.”

“They certainly do,” Gail agreed.  “This dress looks like something from the twelfth century!”

Steve looked rather dubiously at the long tunic and narrow trousers provided for him; it was clearly of the same style that the Elves had been wearing.  Both garments were in a soft fabric, finely woven—possibly silk—and were in a shimmering pale grey.

Gail held up the dress: the scooped neckline of the deep wine-colored gown was embroidered with green leaves.  There was similar embroidery around the hem and the edges of the wide sleeves.  In addition to the dress, there was a long, green leather belt, embossed with golden flowers, and a pair of soft leather slippers of dark brown.  Steve had noticed similar shoes near his own clothing.  Gail noticed that the dress laced up at both sides, which she thought might be a little awkward.  She also noticed that the bodice would support her breasts, making her bra unnecessary.

She added, “Did you notice the dress Kaylee is wearing?  Megan will probably wear one much like it while we’re here.”

“Yes, I did, and Megan probably will,” Steve agreed.  He sat down on the edge of the bed and removed his shoes.  In a low voice, he added, “Staying here certainly seems to agree with our Kaylee.”

“It certainly does!  Have you noticed how polite and well-mannered she is now?  And she’s so much more independent than she used to be!”  Gail shook her head in wonder.  “Not that I’m complaining, mind you—far from it!  It’s just that it’s so...so…”  Her voice trailed off.  

Just then, there was a tap on the door.  Steve opened it to find one of the Elven women who had been taking care of Kaylee—Eledhwen, he believed this one was.  Behind her was another Elf holding a tray with a large pitcher.

"Lord Steven…"

"Please just call me Mr. McCloud," he said uncomfortably.  “There are no nobles in our country.”

She looked a bit surprised, but said, "Ah!  Like Mr. Baggins' Shire!"  She did not repeat the name that Steven had told her to call him.  It was clear she was not comfortable addressing him that way.  But then she went on to the purpose of her presence.  She introduced the male Elf.  "This is Thalion.  He will be serving the two of you while you are guests here.  We have brought fresh water for the ewer on the washstand, and I have fresh towels for you."

Steve noticed then the white linens over her arm.  They came into the room, and Thalion poured the fresh water into the ewer.  It was a beautiful porcelain vessel set in the matching basin.

Thalion spoke for the first time.  "I will return to help you dress for the evening, L—Mr. er, McCloud."

Steve nodded.  “Thank you.  That’s very kind of you.”

"And I will come to assist you, Lady Gail…" Eledhwen added.

"Mrs. McCloud, please," Gail murmured.

"We will leave you to your rest, then," she said.  "We will return when the evening bell rings."

The two Elves gave a brief bow and departed.

Gail sighed.  "I don't know about you, sweetheart, but I am just going to lie down on top of that very comfortable bed right now.  I am not even going to undress."  She sat on the bed and slid her shoes off, and then she made herself comfortable.  “At least Kaylee and Megan are in good hands right now.”

She yawned, and patted the bed on her other side, inviting Steve to do the same.  He smiled and lay down beside her.  He reached one arm out, and she snuggled into it with a wide yawn.  “Yes, they are,” he agreed.  Steve closed his eyes.  He wasn't sure he'd be able to sleep; there was so much to think about.  But before long, the comfort of the bed lured him into slumber as well.





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