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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 25: Just Around the Riverbend

Jennifer’s planned-for haircuts never happened.  The following morning, Celeborn advised them to make use of boats in order to depart on the River Anduin, and Aragorn decided to take him up on the offer.  For the rest of the day, they were so busy getting ready to leave that there was no time for haircuts.

Soon Haldir arrived to guide the Company from their pavilion to the place of their departure.  He led them South, through Caras Galadhon and out of the treetop city.  The group followed Haldir for nearly ten miles, until they came to a high green hedge; there was an arched opening in the greenery, and beyond that was an elanor-studded grassy lawn that led down to the merging of the two rivers: to the West they could see the Silverlode, and to the East they could see the dark waters of the Great River.  They found themselves on a verdant tongue of land, leading down to a landing of white stones and white wood.  There were a number of boats moored there—many of them colorful, and all as beautiful as Elves could make them—but there were three, smaller than the rest, of grey.  Elves were loading those three down, not only with the Company’s packs and so forth, but also with food, supplies, and even coils of rope.

Jennifer was amused to see Sam’s eyes light up at the sight of the ropes.  She overheard his brief conversation with an Elf about them.

“What are these?” asked Sam, handling one that lay upon the greensward.

“Ropes indeed!” answered an Elf from the boats.  “Never travel far without a rope!  And one that is long and strong and light.  Such are these.  They may be a help in many needs.”

“You don’t need to tell me that!” said Sam.  “I came without any and I’ve been worried ever since.  But I was wondering what these were made of, knowing a bit about rope-making: it’s in the family as you might say.’

“They are made of hithlain,” said the Elf, “but there is no time now to instruct you in the art of their making.  Had we known that this craft delighted you, we could have taught you much.  But now alas!  unless you should at some time return hither, you must be content with our gift.  May it serve you well!”

Haldir chivied them into the boats: Aragorn, Kevin, Frodo, and Sam in one, Boromir, Merry, Pippin, and Joey in the second one, and in the last one, Legolas, Gimli, and Jennifer.  Most of the supplies were also in the third boat.  But they were not setting off down the river quite yet.  Instead, Aragorn led them up the Silverlode to get them used to the boats.  Both Kevin and Jennifer had had some experience with canoes from summer camp over the years, and even Joey’d had a single canoe experience the previous summer, when he had gone to camp for the first time.  Kevin and Jennifer were not surprised to find the Elven boats handled smoothly and easily; after all, just about everything Elves made was perfect.  The paddles were especially easy to use, and with their short handles and leaf-shaped blades, even Merry, Pippin, and Joey could use them with ease.  Frodo had never done any more boating than necessary since his parents’ deaths, and Sam was the most nervous and inexperienced of them all.

They came around a bend, and saw coming towards them a beautiful swan-shaped boat.  They could see Lady Galadriel, a wreath of golden leaves upon her head and a harp in her hands, standing behind Lord Celeborn near the prow, while white-clad Elves rowed behind them.  Jennifer thought she almost looked like an angel.  She could hear the Lady singing a beautiful and mournful song. 

The boats were all drawn up, and the Company was invited to join the Lord and Lady in a picnic farewell feast.  They ate and drank in pleasurable companionship and quiet conversation on snowy linen cloths laid out upon the soft green grass, and when they had finished, Lord Celeborn gave them some information and advice about the journey ahead.

Then Lady Galadriel rose up, and a cup of mead was brought to her by one of her maidens.  “Now it is time to drink the cup of farewell!  Drink, Lord of the Galadhrim!  And let not your heart be sad though night must follow noon, and already our evening draweth nigh.”

Then she brought the cup to each of the Company, and bade them drink and farewell.  Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey just wet their lips, to be polite; Jennifer thought that the Lady gave her an amused look, but she wasn’t sure.  Then, after each member of the Company had partaken of the cup, Lady Galadriel stepped back and gestured to those of her maidens who had accompanied her.

The Elf-maids came forward, and for each they had provided a hood and cloak, made according to the right size, of the light but warm silken stuff that the Galadhrim wove.  It was hard to say of what colour they were: grey with the hue of twilight under the trees they seemed to be; and yet if they were moved, or set in another light, they were green as shadowed leaves, or brown as fallow fields by night, dusk-silver as water under the stars.  Each cloak was fastened about the neck with a brooch like a green leaf veined with silver.

Jennifer felt a bit surprised as one of the maidens settled the cloak around her shoulders and fastened it at the throat with the brooch.  “Thank you,” she murmured.  It felt so light, and yet warm as well.  

“Are these magic cloaks?” asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.  Joey’s eyes were also alight with curiosity as his own cloak was settled upon his shoulders; Jennifer grinned at seeing his expression.

“I do not know what you mean by that,” answered the maiden.  “They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land.  They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean.  Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make.  Yet they are garments, not armour, and they will not turn shaft or blade.  But they should serve you well: they are light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need.  And you will find them a great aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes, whether you walk among the stones or the trees.  You are indeed high in the favour of the Lady!  For she herself and her maidens wove this stuff; and never before have we clad strangers in the garb of our own people.

Galadriel then moved on past Joey and Pippin to Merry, and Jennifer stifled a giggle as Pippin leaned over and whispered to Joey, “In other words, ‘yes’.”  Joey gave a gulp and went red in the face from trying to stifle his own laughter.

Wonder if they really are magic? Jennifer wondered.  Then she decided it didn’t matter.  If Lady Galadriel had a part in their making, they might as well be magic.

“Whoa!”  Joey’s mouth dropped open.  “Look, Jennifer!  Look, Kevin!  I see what Pippin meant.  These cloaks keep changing color!  See, it seemed green just a minute ago, and now it looks brown, or maybe grey!”  He smiled broadly.  “It’s a camo cloak!”

Jennifer and Kevin laughed quietly.  “Not so loud, Joey!  Right now, we need to keep our voices down.  But you’re right; it sure is.  They all are,” Kevin agreed in a soft voice.  “Sort of like the camouflage Dad and I wear deer-hunting, only better!”

“And these brooches sure are pretty,” Jennifer whispered with a smile, rubbing her index finger over her own gleaming, leaf-shaped brooch.

When all the cloaks had been distributed, the maidens brought other items to the Lady, who called each one of the Fellowship forward.

“Here is the gift of Celeborn and Galadriel to the leader of your Company,” she said to Aragorn, and she gave him a sheath that had been made to fit his sword.  It was overlaid with a tracery of flowers and leaves wrought of silver and gold, and on it were set in elven runes formed of many gems the name Andúril and the lineage of the sword.  Then Galadriel leaned forward and spoke to the Ranger in a low voice that Jennifer could not hear.  Aragorn answered her back the same way.  But then she reached out and said something else, as she pinned another brooch at his neck.  He bowed graciously to her and stepped back.  Jennifer wondered what it was all about, but as he came near, she saw that the new pin was shaped like an eagle and had a shiny green stone set in it.  

The Lady called Legolas next.  “My gift for you, Legolas, is a bow of the Galadhrim and a sheath of arrows, worthy of the skill of our woodland kin.”   Jennifer looked on in somewhat amazed jealousy, until she heard her own name called.

“And for you, Lady Jennifer, also a bow and arrows of the Galadhrim, though suitable for your age and stature.”

Jennifer stared at her new weapon in awe.  “Thank you, Lady Galadriel.”  For some reason, she felt her eyes tearing up.  She was touched by the gift, and was realizing that she was going to miss Lothlórien.

The Lady bowed her head, and she turned then to Boromir, and to him she gave a belt of gold and a beautifully wrought dagger, and she also gave the same thing to Kevin; and to Merry and Pippin and Joey, she gave small silver belts, each with a clasp wrought like a golden flower.  To each of them, she also gave a dagger.  “These are the daggers of the Noldorin.  They have already seen service in war.”

To both Pippin and Joey, she leaned down and whispered in their ears, one at a time.  Pippin’s eyes grew wide, and Joey, in his turn, blushed.  Jennifer wondered what the Lady had told them, but she shuddered at the idea of her younger brother having yet another dangerous weapon on him.  The two hobbits took their blades from the sheaths and looked at them, but Jennifer was pleased to see that Joey did not draw his, although he did gaze down at it and rub his fingers over its sheath.

“Remember, Joey, it’s a weapon, not a toy,” Kevin told him.  “It’s not to play with.”

Joey shrugged.  “I know, but I still like it.”  He scowled slightly.  By now he already knew to be respectful of his weapons; he didn’t need to be reminded like a baby.

The others exchanged amused expressions.  Galadriel laughed and turned to Sam.  “For you little gardener and lover of trees,” she said to Sam, “I have only a small gift.”  She put into his hand a little box of plain grey wood, unadorned save for a single silver rune upon the lid.  “Here is set G for Galadriel,’ she said; “but also it may stand for garden in your tongue.  In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it. It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you.  Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there.  Then you may remember Galadriel, and catch a glimpse far off of Lórien, that you have seen only in our winter.  For our spring and our summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory.”

Sam went red to the ears and muttered something inaudible, as he clutched the box and bowed as well as he could.

Then Lady Galadriel turned a luminous smile upon Gimli.  “And what gift would a dwarf ask of the Elves?”

Gimli blushed a fiery red and seemed flustered at the question, finally saying, “Nothing.  Except to look upon the lady of the Galadhrim one last time, for she is more fair than all the jewels beneath the earth.”

Galadriel laughed, and Gimli started to turn away, before turning around again.   “Actually, there was one thing…No, no, I couldn’t.  It’s quite impossible.  Stupid to ask…”

Finally, at Galadriel’s gentle urging, he gave in, bowing low and stammering as he spoke.  “There is nothing, Lady Galadriel.  Nothing, unless it might be—unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine.  I do not ask for such a gift.  But you commanded me to name my desire.”

The Lady smiled.  “It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,” she said; “yet that is not true of Gimli.  For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous.  And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak?  But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?”

“Treasure it, Lady,” he answered, “in memory of your words to me at our first meeting.  And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.”

Then the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand.  “These words shall go with the gift,” she said.  “I do not foretell, for all foretelling is now vain: on the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope.  But if hope should not fail, then I say to you, Gimli son of Glóin, that your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion.”

Jennifer tried not to stare.  She could never have imagined that Gimli would ask such a thing!  She would have thought maybe the Elves would give him a special axe or something.  Clearly, her friend had hidden depths.

Last of all, the Lady summoned Frodo.  “And you, Ring-bearer,” she said, turning to him.  “I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts.  For you I have prepared this.”  She smiled.  “Farewell, Frodo Baggins.  I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star.”  She handed Frodo a crystal phial and leaned over to kiss his forehead.   “May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.  Namárië!”  She paused, and then looked from Frodo to Sam, and then to Jennifer.  “Remember Galadriel and her Mirror!” she added, scanning the faces of all three as she spoke.

It was now noon, and the travellers made their way back to the boats, casting off silently into the water.  As they floated away, Jennifer heard Lady Galadriel singing once more:  

“Ai!  laurië lantar lassi súrinen,

Yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron!

Yéni ve lintë yuldar avánier

mi oromardi lisse-miruvóreva

Andúnë pella, Vardo tellumar

nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni

ómaryo airetári-lírinen…”

Jennifer could not understand the words, but she knew they were sad, and she had an impression of autumn and things slowly dying in the winter and leaves, golden leaves falling…

As Lady Galadriel’s voice faded off into the distance, their boats went around a bend in the river, and Lothlórien was lost to view.  Jennifer turned her attention to her companions.

Gimli seemed very sad, his eyes cast down.

“Are you all right, Gimli?” she asked.  It was unlike the gruff Dwarf to seem so depressed.

“I have taken my worst wound at this parting,” he said mournfully, “having looked my last upon that which is fairest.  Henceforth I will call nothing fair unless it be her gift to me.”  He put his hand to his breast.

“May we see, Gimli?” Jennifer asked softly.  Legolas glanced over curiously.

“I asked her for one hair from her golden head.  She gave me three.”

He opened his hand.  Three shining individual hairs lay upon his palm, looking much like very fine strands of gold and mithril, twisted together, and gleaming like molten metal.

Jennifer just gazed at them in awe, amazed that three simple hairs could be so glorious.  She heard Gimli and Legolas talking, but paid no mind to their conversation, as she thought how lucky he was to have such a memento of the Lady.  She wondered: was he only impressed by her beauty and kindness, or had the Dwarf fallen in love with the Elf?  She would never know, for she knew Gimli was too honorable a person to speak of it if he was.  After all, Galadriel was married.  It was so sad and romantic.  She gave a sigh, but was brought up with a start as Gimli called out:

“But let us talk no more of it.  Look to the boat!  She is too low in the water with all this baggage, and the Great River is swift.  I do not wish to drown my grief in cold water.”

Jennifer grabbed her paddle, and so did Gimli, for Legolas had never stopped using his own paddle.  

-oo000oo-

In the next boat over, Joey bit his lower lip.  That song Galadriel had sung when they’d left had sounded so sad, he thought; they needed a happier song to start their river journey with!  He remembered a song Pippin had taught him back in Rivendell.  It was about a river in the Shire, and it had a very cheerful tune!  

“When I was a lad so free

I had no cares to worry me,”

Joey had not sung more than two lines than Pippin joined in, and then Merry,   

“Save what to drink and when to dine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

Save what to drink and when to dine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“Once I spied a lass so fair,

Plaiting violets in her hair,

Her eyes so bright, her cheeks so fine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

Her eyes so bright, her cheeks so fine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“I asked her could I sit a while,

And she gave to me a winning smile,

Her heart was true, her heart was kind,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

Her heart was true, her heart was kind,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“I looked at her and then I said

If she thought we two could wed,

She told me that she would be mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“She told me that she would be mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

We sealed our troth with a kiss!

Her two lips, ah!  They were bliss!

I never knew true love I’d find,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“I never knew true love I’d find,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

I asked her father for her hand,

And on the shore, we did stand—

And I was hers and she was mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

And I was hers and she was mine,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

 

“And now we are a happy three,

My sweet wife, my fauntling, and me

In our smial with roses entwined,

On the banks of the Brandywine!

On the banks of the Brandywine!

In our smial with roses entwined,

On the banks of the Brandywine!’”*

At the end of that hobbit song, Joey smiled, and began to sing a very old song that he knew from back home:  

“Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.”**

Pippin and Merry quickly joined in, and after they sang it a couple of times, Joey taught them how to sing it in rounds.  To his surprise, Boromir even joined in, in his pleasant, deep voice, and then he taught them a sailor’s song from Gondor.

“This is a rowing song, sung in the galley ships of Gondor.  In the lands of the South, they use slaves to row the ships, but we have no slaves in Gondor.  Our sailors take it in turns to pull the oars, and sing to keep in time.  

“Fair Westernesse lieth beneath the deep sea.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

Eastward, eastward now, we must flee.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

 

Fair Westernesse sank below the waves.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

Eastward-bound with all we can save:

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

 

Old Westernesse nevermore shall be seen.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

We shall have a new land, fair and green.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

 

Now Westernesse is forever gone.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!

A land of white stone shall be our new home.

Pull, ye faithful, pull!”**  

-oo000oo-

Kevin had been paddling steadily alongside Aragorn.  Frodo and Sam sat in the stern behind them.  He could hear Joey and the younger hobbits, and even Boromir, singing loudly from their boat.  Was that wise?  What if there were orcs within earshot?  But Aragorn didn’t seem bothered.

“Do you think the orcs are still after us?” he asked.

“Undoubtedly,” Aragorn replied calmly.  “But they will not follow so closely while we are still so close to the Golden Wood.  They fear the power of the Lady.  Boromir is a warrior; he will silence the singing when we have gone a few more miles.”

“Orcs are not what I fear most,” said Frodo unexpectedly from the back of the boat.  “I do not doubt there is a certain someone who can follow us even now.”

“That is also likely,” said Aragorn.  “But I do not fear him attacking us now.  We must not forget about him, though.”

Kevin wondered who they were speaking of, but he decided not to ask.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.  And the current was becoming a little swifter.  He concentrated on his rowing.  

-oo000oo-

They stopped to camp that night.  Aragorn set double watches.  Kevin and Gimli had the second watch after Aragorn and Boromir.

Kevin was having trouble sleeping.  He could tell Boromir was in a bad mood, and earlier, he’d overheard Frodo arguing with Sam about eating: Frodo clearly was not hungry, but Sam wouldn’t take no for an answer.  For once, Merry and Pippin had stayed out of it.  Now everybody except Aragorn and Boromir were lying quietly in their bedrolls.  As Kevin rolled over to get more comfortable on the hard ground, he could hear a hissing argument between Aragorn and Boromir.  At first, he couldn’t understand the words, but as the rest of the camp grew quieter, he could.

“Look!”  Boromir’s voice was just a little louder.  “Something moves in the water beyond the reeds…”

Gollum,” Aragorn replied.  “He has tracked us since Moria.  I had hoped we would lose him on the river.  But he’s too clever a waterman.”

“Minas Tirith is the safer road.”  Boromir’s voice clearly sounded annoyed.  “You know that.  From there, we can regroup.  Strike out for Mordor from a place of strength.”

“There is no strength in Gondor that can avail us,” Aragorn shot back.

Now Boromir’s voice rose once more.  “You were quick enough to trust the Elves.  Have you so little faith in your own people?  Yes, there is weakness.  There is frailty.  But there is courage also, and honor to be found in Men.  But you will not see that.”  Aragorn started to turn away, but Boromir yanked him back.  “You are afraid!  All your life, you have hidden in the shadows.  Scared of who you are, of what you are.”

Kevin gasped.  Had Boromir just accused Aragorn of being a coward?  Kevin knew that wasn’t true.  He had thought Boromir knew it, too!

And now it was Aragorn whose temper rose.  “I will not lead the Ring within a hundred leagues of your city.”

He heard Aragorn moving away from Boromir.  Kevin sat up and looked in that direction.  He met Legolas’ eyes, for the Elf had also been watching the argument.  “Go back to sleep, Kevin,” Legolas said softly.  “Their anger is not their own.  The Ring grows stronger.  Get some sleep before your watch.”  Nodding, Kevin tried to take the Elf’s advice, but it still took him awhile to fall asleep.

The next day was one of the most unpleasant days Joey had experienced since they had left on the journey South.  It wasn’t a horrible, terrifying day like in Moria, but considering that he was riding in a boat with Merry and Pippin, it was uncomfortable, to say the least.  Because the fourth person in their boat was Boromir, and he was in a really, really bad mood.  Pippin had tried to start up some singing, and he crossly told them, “No”; he sat in front of them rowing and talking to himself, but if one of them asked him what he said, his reply was a curt “Nothing”.

Merry was concentrating on his rowing with a scowl on his face, and Pippin was also uncharacteristically quiet.  Joey was not only bored out of his mind, but he also could just feel the bad moods of the others, and it made him feel antsy at the least.  He wished he was in one of the other boats.  He sure wouldn’t mind trading places with Jennifer.  It would be cool to talk with Legolas and Gimli; the three of them seemed to at least be having a little bit of pleasant conversation.

The scenery was depressing.  The “Brown Lands” were on one side (whoever thought up that name didn’t have much imagination, Joey thought.  He’d call them the “Sorry-Looking Lands” or something.  (Brown’s almost too cheerful, he thought sarcastically.)  On the other side, the land was swampy and dead-looking.  He wished he was back in Lothlórien, or even Rivendell with Kaylee.  Or, best of all, back at the campsite with his entire family.  He felt really homesick.

And it continued like this for the next several days.  Aragorn would not allow him to switch boats when he asked as they camped that second night, even though Jennifer said she wouldn’t mind.  Joey had been cross about that, and then Kevin reprimanded him for his “attitude”.  So, on they floated down the river, a cranky and silent Gondorian, two worried hobbits, and a very sad little nine-year-old boy.  About the only thing he could do, when he wasn’t taking his turn helping Boromir row, was to sleep.

About four days in, Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam saw something or other that upset them.  They didn’t say what it was, but Aragorn decided they should journey by night again.  This meant they didn’t stop when they usually would have, but continued on into the night after a brief stop for a fireless supper.

Back once more to trying to sleep all day, Joey realized that everyone else was now on edge as well.  He was too uncomfortable to do more than doze, and was woken once by an argument between Aragorn and Boromir; it was short and sharp.  Then, shortly later, he could hear a whispered conversation between Merry and Pippin.

“You know what’s got him out of sorts,” hissed Pippin.

Merry’s response was also soft, but Joey could still hear him: “Of course I do.  I wish we could do something about it.  That Ring’s got hold of him, I’m sure.”

“If it comes down to it,” Pippin answered softly, “we’ve got to choose Frodo.”

Joey didn’t hear Merry’s answer.  Perhaps Merry had nodded.  Then Merry said, “No choice at all, really, Pip.  I just wish we could help.  I tried to speak to Frodo about it, but he wouldn’t hear a word of it.”

He heard a deep sigh.  But the two younger hobbits apparently were through talking, and Joey decided he’d really need to try and sleep.  He said the Lord’s Prayer silently in his head, and then added in a low whisper, “Lord, please look after us all; I mean, I know You do anyway, but I thought I should mention it.  And help me get to sleep.”  He started to think of some of the Bible verses he knew, and soon slipped into slumber.  His dreams, he did not recall when he woke, but they seemed to have been pleasant.  He felt refreshed, anyway, when they set out again.

When they woke on the evening of the eighth night, Aragorn spoke to them as they munched on another cold supper-breakfast.  “Come!” said Aragorn.  “We will venture one more journey by night.  We are coming to reaches of the River that I do not know well: for I have never journeyed by water in these parts before, not between here and the rapids of Sarn Gebir.  But if I am right in my reckoning, those are still many miles ahead.  Still there are dangerous places even before we come there: rocks and stony eyots in the stream.  We must keep a sharp watch and not try to paddle swiftly.”

Aragorn’s boat took the lead, with him and Kevin and Frodo all paddling very carefully.  Sam was sitting in the prow to keep look-out for all three boats; he was to shout if he saw them approaching rough water.

Joey had fallen asleep, curled up in the stern, while Merry and Pippin helped paddle, when he was suddenly awakened by a loud shout.  It was Sam!  Joey sat up abruptly, and his eyes adjusted to the darkness.  There ahead were dark shapes looming up in the stream and he heard the swirl of racing water.  The current was swiftly pulling them all to the left, and Joey now could see white water breaking on the sharp rocks ahead.  Their boat pulled nearer to Aragorn’s, and the boat with Legolas, Gimli and Jennifer was right behind them.

“Hoy there, Aragorn!” shouted Boromir, as his boat bumped into the leader.  “This is madness!  We cannot dare the Rapids by night!  But no boat can live in Sarn Gebir, be it night or day.”

“Back, back!” cried Aragorn.  “Turn!  Turn if you can!”  He drove his paddle into the water, trying to hold the boat and bring it round.

“I am out of my reckoning,” Aragorn said.  “I did not know that we had come so far: Anduin flows faster than I thought.  Sarn Gebir must be close at hand already.”

It took a lot of work to stop the boats and turn them around.  It was hard, and Joey was really scared.  What if the boats tipped?  He was a decent swimmer, but Joey thought he’d feel a lot safer if Middle-earth had such a thing as life jackets!  At one point, he looked fearfully at Jennifer and Kevin.

“All together, paddle!” shouted Boromir.  “Paddle!  Or we shall be driven on the shoals.”

All of a sudden, there was an unmistakable sound: the twang of a bowstring, then more.  Several arrows whistled over them, and some fell among them.  Joey heard Jennifer scream, and he couldn’t help crying out himself as one hit Frodo between the shoulders and he lurched forward with a cry, dropping his paddle.  Thankfully, the arrow fell back.  Joey was surprised, until he remembered the hobbit’s mithril coat.  Another arrow passed through Aragorn’s hood.  Joey gave a yelp as one hit their own boat, nearly hitting Merry’s hand!  Joey glanced over at the Eastern bank, and thought he saw small black creatures running back and forth.

“Yrch!” said Legolas, falling into his own tongue.

“Orcs!” cried Gimli.

“Gollum’s doing, I’ll be bound,” said Sam to Frodo.  “And a nice place to choose, too.  The River seems set on taking us right into their arms!”

Joey was terrified.  “Jesus, help us!” he prayed right out loud, not caring who else heard.  This was even scarier than Moria.  Not only was he scared of all the arrows whistling overhead, but he was afraid that the boat might tip over or hit a rock.  Thankfully, the arrows seemed to be missing the target.  He wondered if their “camo” cloaks were keeping them safe.  Bit by bit, they fought their way to the western bank, pushing up against it roughly.  All the arrows were now missing them completely and falling into the river.

Suddenly, Legolas took his bow and drew it, firing a shot high in the sky.  Joey had no idea of what the Elf was aiming at, but dark clouds advanced, sending out dark outriders into the starry fields.  A sudden dread fell on the Company.

“Elbereth Gilthoniel!” sighed Legolas as he looked up.  Joey’s head jerked up at the sound. He saw a dark cloud-like shape come speeding towards them.  It was huge, a great, scary-looking creature that reminded him of a pterodactyl in Jurassic Park.  Fierce voices rose up to greet the flying monster from across the water.

Joey felt cold, and a dread even greater than when they had first seen the Balrog in Moria came over him.  He could hardly breathe.  But Legolas’ bow gave a great twang, and his arrow sped from the bowstring.  A horrible screech assailed the Company’s ears, as the arrow pierced some great winged creature.  Could it have been a dragon? Joey wondered.  But no, Gandalf had said dragons were extinct.

After a while Aragorn led the boats back upstream.  They felt their way along the water’s edge for some distance, until they found a small shallow bay.  A few low trees grew there close to the water, and behind them rose a steep rocky bank.  Here the Company decided to stay and await the dawn: it was useless to attempt to move further by night.  They made no camp and lit no fire, but lay huddled in the boats, moored close together.

Joey listened to the soft talk of the grown-ups.  He was so grateful that Legolas had killed that monster, whatever it was, but he had nothing to say.  Boromir’s attitude towards Frodo made him think of what Merry and Pippin had said earlier, which was another level of scary altogether.  Joey’s heart was still in his throat and pounding hard.  He heard them talking also in Kevin’s boat, something about the Moon...  As he gradually calmed down, his exhaustion allowed him to fall asleep, but his rest was fitful, and filled with frightening images that he could not later recall.  

-oo000oo-

Kevin was thoughtful when he woke the next morning, what with the conversation about how time had passed while they were in Lothlórien was still on his mind.  He had known they’d spent several days there, but it hadn’t seemed like a whole month.  Of course, it hadn’t seemed like months in Rivendell either.  Maybe it was something to do with Elves.  But the moment when an arrow had bounced off Frodo’s mithril shirt had been terrifying.  After that, he and Sam had almost squashed Frodo trying to protect the Ringbearer until Legolas had shot whatever-the-heck-that-flying-thing-was.

We’ve already run into one monster at Moria, and now it looks as if we’ve seen another one—one that flies! he thought.  Good grief!  Are we gonna run into Godzilla next?  Or Bigfoot?  He shook his head.

Kevin looked around; it was misty and foggy on the River; they couldn’t even see the Eastern shore.  Legolas and Aragorn had apparently kept the watch for the whole remainder of the night, and now it was decided they would wait until the fog lifted to leave.  The two of them were planning to scout ahead for a while to see their best path to the Emyn Muil.

Boromir and Aragorn had another argument about that.

“I do not see why we should pass the Rapids or follow the River any further,” said Boromir.  “If the Emyn Muil lie before us, then we can abandon these cockle-boats, and strike westward and southward, until we come to the Entwash and cross into my own land.”

“We can, if we are making for Minas Tirith,” said Aragorn, “but that is not yet agreed.  And such a course may be more perilous than it sounds.  The vale of Entwash is flat and fenny, and fog is a deadly peril there for those on foot and laden.  I would not abandon our boats until we must.  The River is at least a path that cannot be missed.”

So—Aragorn’s having second thoughts about refusing to take the Ring to Gondor, Kevin thought.  At least, he’s not really sure we won’t.  Not right now, anyway.

“But the Enemy holds the eastern bank,” objected Boromir.  “And even if you pass the Gates of Argonath and come unmolested to the Tindrock, what will you do then?  Leap down the Falls and land in the marshes?”

“No!” answered Aragorn.  “Say rather that we will bear our boats by the ancient way to Rauros-foot, and there take to the water again.  Do you not know, Boromir, or do you choose to forget the North Stair, and the high seat upon Amon Hen, that were made in the days of the great kings?  I at least have a mind to stand in that high place again, before I decide my further course.  There, maybe, we shall see some sign that will guide us.”

“I agree,” Frodo said.  “Gandalf would have wanted Aragorn to lead us.  I think we need to follow his plan.”

“It is not the way of the Men of Minas Tirith to desert their friends at need,” Boromir said with a scowl, “and you will need my strength, if ever you are to reach the Tindrock.  To the tall isle I will go, but no further.  There I shall turn to my home, alone if my help has not earned the reward of any companionship.”

Kevin heard this with dismay.  Ever since leaving Lothlórien, the Gondorian had been in a foul mood.  He could tell it had worn on Joey and the two younger hobbits, who were sharing Boromir’s boat, but it dismayed him as well.  He had grown fond of him, for Boromir had spent a lot of time with him, teaching him how to be a warrior.  The skills he had learned here wouldn’t do him any good if he were to join the army back home, when he grew up, but they were useful skills nevertheless.  He had always found that Boromir was a good companion and thought of him as a friend.  But the way he was acting now worried Kevin.  How could Boromir even think of abandoning Frodo?  Would it really be so awful to stop in Minas Tirith first?  Maybe they could get some more help if they did.  But Frodo was right: Aragorn was in charge.

The time passed slowly while the two were away scouting, but it turned out that they were not gone as long as they had thought they would be, and Kevin, who had been given the task of watching for their return, was relieved when he spotted them, coming down the bank towards the edge of their cold camp.

“All is well,” said Aragorn, as he clambered down the bank.  “There is a track, and it leads to a good landing that is still serviceable.  The distance is not great: the head of the Rapids is but half a mile below us, and they are little more than a mile long.  Not far beyond them the stream becomes clear and smooth again, though it runs swiftly.  Our hardest task will be to get our boats and baggage to the old portage-way.  We have found it, but it lies well back from the water-side here, and runs under the lee of a rock-wall, a furlong or more from the shore.  We did not find where the northward landing lies.  If it still remains, we must have passed it yesterday night.  We might labour far upstream and yet miss it in the fog.  I fear we must leave the River now, and make for the portage-way as best we can from here.”

Kevin found himself assisting Aragorn, Jennifer helped Boromir, and Legolas helped Gimli to carry the boats.  That left the hobbits and Joey to lug all of the baggage.  Thankfully their way was downhill, and not so terribly far.

The way was difficult, and a couple of times the others had to put down the boats, and Aragorn and Boromir ended up lifting all three boats over some of the rougher spots.  But finally, they came to the end, where the portage-way, turning back to the water-side, ran gently down to the shallow edge of a little pool.  It seemed to have been scooped in the river-side, not by hand, but by the water swirling down from Sarn Gebir against a low pier of rock that jutted out some way into the stream.  Beyond it the shore rose sheer into a grey cliff, and there was no further passage for those on foot.

They were all totally exhausted.   Not even Joey had the energy to get up and play.  The afternoon was more than half-over.  They sat beside the water listening to the confused rush and roar of the Rapids hidden in the mist; they were tired and sleepy, and their hearts were as gloomy as the dying day.

“Well, here we are, and here we must pass another night,” said Boromir.  “We need sleep, and even if Aragorn had a mind to pass the Gates of Argonath by night, we are all too tired—except, no doubt, our sturdy dwarf.”

Gimli made no reply: he was nodding as he sat.

“Let us rest as much as we can now,” said Aragorn.  “Tomorrow we must journey by day again.  Unless the weather changes once more and cheats us, we shall have a good chance of slipping through, unseen by any eyes on the eastern shore.  But tonight two must watch together in turns: three hours off and one on guard.”

Kevin had his watch with Boromir, who seemed in a slightly better mood than he had been for the past several days.  In a low voice, just above a whisper, Kevin asked him a few questions about his brother, Faramir.  He had noticed that talking about his younger brother made the big Gondorian feel much more cheerful; although Boromir had never spoken of Faramir to the Company as a whole, he did seem comfortable speaking of him to Kevin.  So far, the others had not been told of him, at least by name so far as Kevin knew.  Kevin guessed it was because of Joey, and suspected that it was because Kevin was also an older brother that Boromir was willing to tell him about Faramir.

“Sometimes I think that Faramir would have done better than I on this journey.  But our father would not have it, and I feared it was too dangerous.”  Boromir paused and shook his head, grimacing.  “In truth, though, it was really myself who would not have it; I think Father would have given the job to Faramir if I had not insisted that he send me on the errand to investigate the riddle instead; I would not be gainsaid.”  He gave a sigh.  “I will owe my brother an apology when we get home.”

Nothing happened that night worse than a brief drizzle of rain an hour before dawn.  As soon as it was fully light they started.  Already the fog was thinning.  They kept as close as they could to the western side, and they could see the dim shapes of the low cliffs rising ever higher, shadowy walls with their feet in the hurrying river.  In the mid-morning, the clouds drew down lower, and it began to rain heavily.  They drew the skin-covers over their boats to prevent them from being flooded, and drifted on: little could be seen before them or about them through the grey falling curtains.

Fortunately, the downpour didn’t last long, and when it ended, the sky was clear.

Kevin peered ahead, as he sat paddling by Aragorn’s side.  What were those huge stone formations up ahead?

Aragorn stood up.  “Frodo!  Kevin!  Sam!”  He gestured ahead.  “Behold!   The Argonath!  Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old.  My kin.”

The Fellowship looked up in awe at the towering splendor of the Argonath.  Two majestic statues, carved out of the mountain, proudly stood on each side of the Anduin.  Their left arms were held aloft, their palms facing outwards in gesture of warning.  Stern were their faces.

Kevin gazed up in astonishment.  The statues were immense, quite possibly larger than the Statue of Liberty.  He could make out clearly their noble features, even from this distance, and he even thought he could see a little family resemblance to Aragorn.  It must have taken many years to sculpt them.

“Whoa!” he cried out softly; no words came to his mind that would do them justice.  He craned his neck to look back as the River carried them past.

After that, they continued their journey for several more hours.  The Fellowship reached the foot of Amon Hen, the Hill of Sight.  As they reached the beach of Parth Galen, Boromir looked troubled and appeared to be fighting a conflict within himself.  The Fellowship started to make camp.

They had been on the River for ten days, and now the Wilderness was behind them.  They’d finally come to the part everyone had dreaded: Did they strike off West for Minas Tirith?  Or cross the River and the horrible path towards Mordor?  Or did they split the group up?  Kevin hated this, and was glad that Aragorn had the decision, because Kevin knew he couldn’t have made it.  Frodo and Sam, at least, have to go to Mordor; that’s their job, he thought, biting his lower lip.  But what about the rest of us?

Kevin saw Frodo, who was sitting near him, stand up.  “I need to think.  I shall be back soon,” he muttered.  Kevin wasn’t sure that anyone else noticed, even the usually attentive Sam.  He opened his mouth to ask if the hobbit was sure it was a good idea to go off alone when Aragorn spoke up.  He put Frodo out of his mind; after all, Merry was getting firewood—he would surely see his cousin…

“We cross the lake at nightfall.  Hide the boats and continue on foot.  We approach Mordor from the north,” the ranger said, as they took their rest on the bank around the campfire he had reluctantly allowed.

Kevin nodded.  So, then, Aragorn has made up his mind.  It’s off to Mordor we go, not Minas Tirith!

“Oh, yes?  It’s just a simple matter of finding our way through Emyn Muil?  An impassable labyrinth of razor-sharp rocks!  And after that, it gets even better!   Festering, stinking marshlands far as the eye can see.”  The Dwarf’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Kevin noticed Pippin staring at Gimli in evident alarm; Joey’s eyes had also widened, and they sought Kevin’s.  He scooted closer to his older brother and leaned against him.  Kevin put his arm around Joey’s shoulders and tried to keep his expression reassuring, although the Dwarf’s words were less than reassuring.

That is our road,” Aragorn replied in the same tone.  “I suggest you take some rest and recover your strength, Master Dwarf.”

Recover my…?” Gimli spluttered with indignation.

“Do we have to go that way?” Joey whispered.

Kevin squeezed Joey against his side.  “I’m afraid so, Joey,” he whispered back.  “But we won’t be alone.  We have those who will take care of us and try to keep us safe, and I don’t just mean Aragorn and Boromir.”

Biting his lower lip, Joey nodded.  Kevin gently squeezed the little boy against his side again and turned back toward Aragorn.

Legolas had been gazing off towards the West with an air of unease.  “We should leave now.”

Aragorn shook his head.  “No.  Orcs patrol the eastern shore.  We must wait for cover of darkness.”

“It is not the eastern shore that worries me.  A shadow and a threat have been growing in my mind.  Something draws near.  I can feel it.”  The Elf’s unease was clear.  Shaking his head, Aragorn said nothing, and Legolas spoke no more about it.  Silence fell over the Company.  

-oo000oo-

A/N: *“On the Banks of the Brandywine” was written by Dreamflower, and made its first appearance in her story, “The Road to Edoras” (http://storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=3578).

**“Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is in the public domain.  And “Fair Westernesse” was written especially for this story.

   





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