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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 28: One Jump Ahead

Kevin and Aragorn finally reached the top.  Even as Aragorn gazed beside him, Kevin suddenly heard some sounds down below, in the woodlands; it sounded as if they were coming from the west side of the River.  Next to him, the Ranger stiffened.  Then Kevin heard some cries, and among them, to Kevin's horror, he heard the harsh voices of orcs.

Suddenly, he could hear the mighty sound of Boromir's horn, and it was clear from Aragorn’s reaction that his companion could hear it, too.  It was so loud it echoed through the hills, loud enough to be heard over the roaring of the waterfalls. 

"Boromir!" Aragorn and Kevin both shouted, and Aragorn raced down the hill, with Kevin following after as quickly as he could.

Kevin was horrified as they ran into a party of orcs trying to hinder their progress.  His sword was in his hand; he did not even recall drawing it.  He was slashing wildly, not even noticing if he was actually fighting.  All he wanted to do was get to Boromir, and to his brother and sister, who were also in that direction.

Aragorn desperately slashed his way towards Boromir, felling Uruk-hai in his path, while Legolas and Gimli fought a rearguard action.  Kevin saw Legolas using his bow, and thought of his own, resting with his backpack at the campsite.  Then he realized that he had lost sight of Aragorn, who still raced on.

Kevin arrived at a clearing just as Aragorn spotted a large Uruk-hai rise from the ground with a bow.  Suddenly Aragorn charged at the orc, smashing the bow with his sword.  They locked into a deadly battle.

But Kevin spotted Boromir, and fearing the worst, he raced towards Boromir, who lay slumped against a tree.  At least twenty dead Uruk-hai were heaped around Boromir.  Kevin did his best to not look at the grizzly bodies of the creatures and the pools of black blood mingled with Boromir's red, but knelt next to Boromir, and forced himself to reach out and take the warrior's wrist, as he had been taught in his Boy Scout troop’s First Aid class.  Fearfully, he prayed, "Please, Lord, let him be alive," and to his great relief, his prayer was answered: there was the beat of a pulse beneath his fingers.

Just then Aragorn was beside him.  "He's alive, Aragorn!  He's alive!"

"Allow me room to check for wounds," was Aragorn's reply, "for there is red blood on him as well as black."  The red blood seemed to be mostly at the Gondorian's temple.  "Ah, it looks as though our friend was blessed with luck.  It appears that his last foe only struck him with the flat of his blade.  If his brain was not too badly rattled, then he should come around in a few moments."

Just then they were joined by Legolas and Gimli.  "Alas, we are too late!" cried the Elf.

"Nay," Aragorn replied, "he is only insensible, and should come around soon.  Do any of you have a waterskin?  I had no chance to fill mine today."

Kevin was embarrassed.  His was back at the camp with his bow and quiver.  But both Legolas and Gimli offered theirs.  Aragorn took Legolas', since he was nearer.  He lightly poured some into his hand and began gently bathing Boromir's face.

The eyelids began to flutter, and his eyes opened in fear.  "The little ones!  orcs took them!"

Aragorn looked up at the others in terror.  "The camp!  Kevin and Gimli, go and check.  Jennifer and Joey were there, and Frodo might have come back.  Legolas!  Go see if you can find Sam, Merry, and Pippin!"  The Elf took off, and Kevin and Gimli headed towards the River and their campsite.

Suddenly, Kevin heard his sister’s crackling voice coming out of his backpack.  Kevin ran more quickly, and slid into the campsite to grab his pack.  Halting to unzip it, he snatched his walkie-talkie out of the backpack and held it up.  “This is Kevin.  What’s happening, Jen?  Over.”

“Joey and Merry and Pippin have been captured by orcs.  I’ve been following them.  Tell Aragorn.  Over and out.”  To his dismay, Jennifer’s voice cut out.

“No, Jen!” he said urgently.  “Where are you?  Where are Joey and Merry and Pippin?  Tell me!  Over!”

There was no answer.

-oo000oo-

Joey had been scooped up and slung across the back of a huge, stinking, rough monster of an orc.  He could see that the same had happened to Merry and Pippin.  Merry had blood on his forehead, and looked like he had been knocked out; Pippin had fainted earlier, before they were captured, and had just regained consciousness a moment ago.  Pippin looked over and saw Joey, and then looked really sad.  Merry’s not going to be glad when he comes to, either, the child thought.

Joey was more than just sad: he was sad and angry at the same time.  But he was kind of glad, as well, because he had kept Boromir from getting shot up with arrows.  That was a good thing, wasn't it?  Pretty soon people would come after them.  Jennifer would tell Aragorn, and the others would come and rescue them.

He had no idea how long they had been bumping along behind these stinking orcs.  But suddenly they came to a halt—one of the other orcs at the front had bumped into another, and now they were fighting.  Another orc—this one seemed to be a leader—went over and broke the fight up by shoving the fighters apart so roughly they both went to the ground.  Then he went over to them and began kicking them.

Just then he heard a very familiar voice yelling: "HEY!  You have my little brother and my friends, you creeps!  I want them back!"

Oh, no! he thought—Jennifer, no! as he looked back the way they'd just come.  She was just standing there with her hands on her hips, like she was just waiting for the orcs to come get her.  Is she gonna let herself be captured? he silently wondered, in dismay.  And then, as a half-dozen of them ran in her direction, he realized that was just exactly what she was doing.

He could tell Jennifer was only struggling a little bit, just enough to make the orcs think she was resisting.  The orcs took her to their leader and slung her to the ground.  She sat there, red-faced, her legs crossed.  Her hair, which she had been braiding and wearing pinned to her head ever since they had left Lothlórien, had come down, and was sticking out every which way.  Her face was red and sweaty, and she was glaring up at the orc, though Joey thought she also looked nervous and was trying to hide it.  Her hands were trembling.

The orcs began groping Jennifer, and fearing the worst, she began to struggle harder.  But it turned out they were only searching for weapons.  They found the long knives in her boot tops, and took them out.

"Arggh!  Filthy Elf knives!"  The orc who had discovered them flung them away as though they burned him.  Then he grabbed her by her hair and dragged her over to the leader.  "This one's a female!  And she's not a halfling!"

"We can have some sport!  The orders only said the halflings had to be taken alive and unspoiled!" said another orc.

Jennifer looked at him in horror.

"NO!" shrieked both Joey and Pippin.  "NO!"

"Please don't hurt her," Joey cried out.

The leader gave them a nasty look.  "We won't hurt her for now.  But you three halflings had better do as you're told if you want to keep her alive," he sneered at them.

Jennifer's heart leaped.  She was safe for the moment.  And seemingly, the creatures thought Joey was a halfling as well, not noticing that he wore boots.  She was suddenly thankful that she had not had a chance to cut his or Kevin’s hair again, as she had intended to do on their last morning in Lothlórien.  It was just long enough to hide the tops of Joey’s ears.

What the leader said prevailed.  Joey and the hobbits were soon hanging on the orcs' backs again, and her own arms were tied up firmly in front of her by cruel leather cords.  A very large orc was put in charge of her.  He ran behind her, lashing the back of her legs with a whip when she did not go fast enough.

-oo000oo-

As they headed back to the campsite, Aragorn looked about, searching for clues; there was a confusion of footprints, but soon he found the trail of Jennifer and Joey.  "They hid here.  They could see the battle below.  But look, Joey ran this way by himself.”  The Ranger followed the trail to where Joey had stopped.  "Oh, clever lad!"  He could see Joey's sling upon the ground, and he saw an orc-bow within sight of Joey's position.  He smiled approvingly.

He returned once more to the site of Boromir's battle, and looked around the perimeter.  In addition to Merry's and Pippin's swords, he found Joey's knife.  He took all the tokens with him and returned to the others, where he told them what he'd found.

"Boromir, it looks as though you owe your life to young Joey McCloud.  An Uruk-hai archer had drawn upon you, but a stone from the boy's sling spoiled his aim, and another took him down at least briefly.  I believe he was the Uruk whom I battled ere I could come to your aid—he had a large bruise on his temple."

They returned to their original campsite at Parth Galen.  Aragorn once again surveyed the green lawn, quickly but thoroughly, stooping often to the earth.  He returned to the bank, close to where the rill from the spring trickled out into the River.  “There are some clear prints here,” he said.  “A hobbit waded out into the water and back; but I cannot say how long ago.”

“How then do you read this riddle?” asked Gimli.

Aragorn went to look once more among the packs, then to search along the banks.  He finally found clear hobbit prints near the water.  “Frodo has gone by boat, and his servant has gone with him.  Frodo must have returned while we were all away.  I told Sam to follow me; but plainly he did not do so.  He guessed his master's mind and came back here before Frodo had gone.  He did not find it easy to leave Sam behind!"

“But why should he leave us behind, and without a word?” said Gimli.  “That was a strange deed!”

“And a brave deed,” said Aragorn.  “Sam was right, I think.  Frodo did not wish to lead any friend to death with him in Mordor.  But he knew that he must go himself.  Something happened after he left us that overcame his fear and doubt.”  He glanced at Boromir, who sat upon the ground, nursing his sore head.  The Gondorian kept his gaze upon the ground and said nothing.

Legolas spoke up.  "What must we do now?  Our duty should be to follow Frodo, and yet we cannot leave the children and the hobbits to the mercy of the orcs!"

Kevin stuck his jaw out.  "I'm going after my sister and brother!  I don't care what anyone else does!"

“Maybe we should split up," said Gimli.  "Aragorn and the Elf could go after Frodo and Sam, and Kevin, Boromir, and I could pursue the orcs."

"Boromir is injured," said Legolas.

At his name, Boromir finally looked up.  "This trouble is my fault," he said.  "I will do what I must.  A little headache will not hinder me!"

“Let me think!” said Aragorn.  “And now may I make a right choice and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!”  He stood silent for a moment.  “I will follow the orcs,” he said at last.  “I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death.  My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer.  The Company has played its part.  Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left.  Come!  We will go now.  Leave all that can be spared behind!  We will press on by day and dark!”

Kevin was relieved at this.  He helped the others pull the boats up beneath the trees, and helped go through the remaining packs.  Apparently, Jennifer had taken hers, but Joey's was there, and so were Merry's and Pippin's.  Kevin took some of Joey's special things with him, and left behind some of his own things he would not be needing.  But he hung onto the walkie-talkies, stuffing one of the walkie-talkies into one jeans pocket and the other into another.  They had already proved useful, and might be needed again.  He put his fire-starter and Joey's, a couple of spare batteries, and his flashlight into his belt pouch.  Everything else that he had brought from Oregon had to remain with his backpack.  He looked wistfully at the red leather case holding his Bible, silently thanking Master Elrond for the gift which would keep it safe from harm.  But it was too unwieldy to take along.  It was a good thing that he had gone to such lengths to store God’s Word in his heart during his stays in Rivendell and Lothlórien.

Wish I had a pair of binoculars, he thought ruefully.  They would sure come in handy right now!

“We will have to hide the packs,” Aragorn told him.  “We cannot take them with us while we are running.”  Reluctantly, Kevin nodded.  He could see that there was no room for Joey’s backpack, not if they were going to run; however, he didn’t look forward to having to explain to their parents how their backpacks had gotten lost.  Still, he knew his dad would say Jen and Joey were the most important thing to worry about.

Legolas and Gimli brought with them all the food they had that could be eaten without cooking, including what was left of the lembas the Lady Galadriel had given them.  They filled all the waterskins, including Joey's, Merry's, and Pippin's, as well as their own, and then left the backpacks hidden beneath one of the boats, which they pulled up on the bank and overturned to protect what had been left.  They covered the hiding place with some fallen branches for camouflage.   

Soon they had as much as they could carry and still be able to run.  At least, Kevin hoped he'd be able to run.  He felt much lighter than he had in quite some time, so he hoped that would make it easier.  Good thing I’m used to running! he thought wryly.  This is gonna be worse than running a marathon.  He grimaced.  I just hope we get the backpacks back before we go back home!

Aragorn had walked up towards where the fight had occurred, looking out over the obvious signs of the orc party.  He turned back and looked at the others with a steely glint in his eyes.  "We travel light.  Let us retrieve our friends."  He gave them a wry look.  "And hunt some orcs while we are at it."

Gimli gave a flourish with his axe, and grinned.  "Yes!  Ha!"  Kevin and Legolas nodded agreement.

They took off at a jog, Aragorn and Legolas to the front, then Gimli, and then Kevin alongside Boromir.  Though they moved quickly, they were not yet going full-out.  Aragorn zig-zagged slightly from one side of the orc trail to another, seeking for any sign of the captives.

At one point, the Ranger paused near a tree.  "Alas!  One of them may be injured!  See—"  He pointed at the bark of the tree, where there was an obvious red bloodstain.  He looked closely, and then used the tip of his knife to draw something away from the bark.  Kevin couldn't see what it was, but Aragorn's next words made it clear.  "It is a light hair, the color of wheat.  It looks as though Merry struggled, and was thrown against the tree.  All the others have darker hair than he."  Aragorn began running again, faster than before.

Kevin huffed after the others, occasionally checking on Boromir at his side.  The big Gondorian was breathing heavily, and Kevin was worried about him.  Yet neither of them wished to slow down the others.  Kevin was even more worried about Jennifer and Joey.  "Please, Lord, keep them safe," he prayed under his breath over and over and over again, as he ran.

The path was clear ahead of them.  The troop of orcs had left an indelible trail across the countryside, with grass and flowers crushed, and the marks of heavy boots stomped into the ground.  Even though there were occasional rocky places, the trail just beyond was always soon spotted as soon as there was once more turf.

Kevin tried to match his pace to Boromir's.  They were all loping along at a speed which would not exhaust them.  It reminded Kevin of the cross-country runs he had done with his dad.  He often missed the times he had spent most mornings running with his father, but now he was simply glad that he had done that so often, and that he took track and field as well as basketball at school.  Without that, he would not have the stamina to keep up with the others now.  He remembered that he and his dad had been scheduled to run the annual "Run for the Cure" marathon only a few weeks after the camping trip.  He wondered if his dad had gone on to do it alone, or was he too worried about his missing children to think about marathons?

With his mind wandering, Kevin nearly stumbled, but Boromir caught him by the elbow and steadied him.  He put his thoughts back on his pace, and slowed slightly.  It would not do to fall and get injured now!

He could hear Gimli's feet behind them.  Short as the Dwarf was, he was still managing to keep up fairly well.

It was beginning to get darker and darker.  They might have to stop until moonrise.  He thought briefly of his flashlight, but he wasn't sure how much battery power was left.  When it got truly dark, he would see if Aragorn thought it was a good idea to bring it out.

It was dusk when suddenly Aragorn halted and gave a cry of surprise.  "Kevin!" he called.  "Come, see what I have found."

Kevin gave a burst of speed, to catch up to the place where Aragorn and Legolas (who had been running slightly ahead, and had turned back at Aragorn's call) were standing.  "Look!” Aragorn said.  “It appears to be Lady Jennifer's pack, and her bow and arrows!"

That's exactly what they were.  Kevin picked the backpack up, wondering why she had left it there.  "Why?" he asked.  "Was it slowing her down?"

Aragorn picked up Jennifer’s quiver and bow and handed them to Legolas, who slung them over his shoulder.  He would leave her pack to her brother.  Afterward, the Ranger knelt down and began looking around the spot.  "It appears that after she spoke with you on her walkie-talkie, Kevin, she placed her things here, and then walked forward…"  He stood up, and all of the others backed away so that he could follow the trail.  He took several steps.  "She stopped here briefly, and then she went on a few more steps.  Kevin, please bring me your light!"  Aragorn sounded almost fearful.

After slinging the backpack’s straps over his left shoulder, Kevin dug the flashlight from his back pocket and carried it over, his heart pounding.  "Here it is," he said, handing it over.  Aragorn nodded his thanks.

At the beginning of the quest, Kevin had showed all of the company how to push the flashlight’s switch to turn the unfamiliar light on and off, and so Aragorn did just that, sweeping the light around.  He drew in a deep breath and turned to Kevin.  "I do not know whether to be angry with your sister or to admire her courage."

Kevin's heart sank.  "What do you mean?"  But he had seen the trampled ground, and he feared to hear what the answer would be, because he thought he knew.

"By all the signs, it appears that Lady Jennifer stood here and allowed herself to be captured.  It is in my mind that perhaps she was afraid of losing their trail in the darkness, and decided it was best if she were taken along with Joey and the hobbits.  She left the backpack behind so that it would not be despoiled by her captors and also, I think, as a sign to us."

Kevin gulped.  "God, have mercy," he said, meaning it.  He was too horrified to even think of anything else.  He raised his head toward the sky.  “Please, God, help my brother and sister.”

Aragorn gently squeezed Kevin’s shoulder and turned back to the backpack.  "She was only an hour or so ahead of us when this occurred.  We must continue.  We will find them, Kevin."  Swallowing hard, Kevin nodded.  Aragorn turned off the flashlight and returned it to Kevin.  "Keep it handy," he told the boy.  "We may have need of it in case there are any more signs to read.  Hold onto her pack so you can return it to her when we find her, Kevin, and Legolas, hold onto Joey’s things.  We will return for your own pack when we can, Kevin.”  The boy nodded.

Aragorn briefly scanned the cloudless sky.  “Look, Ithil has risen, and she is bright tonight.  Let us go on."

Kevin gave a burst of speed, to catch up to the place where Aragorn and Legolas (who had been running slightly ahead, and had turned back at Aragorn's call) were standing.  They had run downslope about twenty yards when Legolas gave a shout.  The Elf stooped and held up one of Jennifer's knives.  A second later, he found the other.

"Why didn't the Orcs steal them?" Kevin asked.

Legolas shook his head.  "They cannot abide things of Elven make, especially those marked by words of power."

Kevin was grateful that they had found Jennifer’s knives and that he now had her flashlight and walkie-talkie, as well as Joey's, which he had brought with him from the campsite.  Not for the first time in recent days, he wished that they still had spare batteries for their flashlights.  Unfortunately, the batteries that he, Joey, and Jennifer had had in their flashlights upon their arrival in Middle-earth had run out of power during their stay in Lothlórien, and they had all had to replace them with the spares in their backpacks.  There were no more spare batteries to be had until they could return to their own time, their own world, and so he would have to be sparing of their flashlights.  At least the moon was out, which would help their search.  Kevin adjusted his sister's pack and hefted it onto his back, while Legolas added her bow and arrows to his own.

The five of them had been standing still long enough to catch their breath, so once more the little group of hunters began to run along the crude and trampled path that the Uruk-hai had made for them.

-oo000oo-

Pippin lay in a dark and troubled dream: it seemed that he could hear his own small voice echoing in black tunnels, calling "Frodo, Frodo!"  But instead of Frodo hundreds of hideous orc-faces grinned at him out of the shadows, hundreds of hideous arms grasped at him from every side.  Where was Merry?

He woke.  Cold air blew on his face.  He was lying on his back.  Evening was coming and the sky above was growing dim.  He turned and found that the dream was little worse than the waking.  His wrists, legs, and ankles were tied with cords.  Beside him Merry lay, white-faced, with a dirty rag bound across his brows.  All about them sat or stood a great company of orcs.

Slowly in Pippin's aching head memory pieced itself together and became separated from dream-shadows.  He recalled the horrible fight Boromir had put up, and how useless it had been to struggle against the hideous orcs.  Boromir had fallen to a sword stroke, and Pippin did not know if he was alive or dead.  And then one of the orcs had grabbed Joey, and Pippin had swooned and had been taken captive.   And then, later on, after Pippin had come to, Jennifer had allowed herself to be captured!  Where were they?

He turned his head frantically, and then heaved a sigh when he saw both of them, trussed up just like he and Merry were.  They were just on the other side of the camp.  As helpless as he felt, he was glad that he and Merry had come, if only to keep an eye on the children.  He wasn't much use, but at least he knew where his fellow captives were now.  He wished he could recall the last few hours; somewhere along the line, he must have passed out again.  He did not know if Merry had even come to, as yet, from his injury.

He struggled a little, quite uselessly.  One of the orcs sitting near laughed and said something to a companion in their abominable tongue.  “Rest while you can, little fool!” he said then to Pippin, in the Common Speech, which he made almost as hideous as his own language.  “Rest while you can!  We'll find a use for your legs before long.  You'll wish you had got none before we get home.”

Jennifer was not asleep; her eyes were open, fixed on Joey.  Joey seemed to be asleep himself; not only were his eyes closed, but his face was relaxed and peaceful.  Pippin hoped he was far away in pleasant dreams.

The orcs began to argue again.  Pippin listened for all he was worth, though he did not really quite understand what the argument was about; at least it was in Common Speech, though their rough voices made it sound harsh and horrible.  It seemed there were three different groups of them, and they all had different ideas of where to go from here.  There was one group that just wanted to kill them, but both the leaders of the other groups repeated their orders: no killing, and they were to be "unspoiled".  He shuddered to think what "spoiling" might involve.  But where were they being taken?  Where was "Lugbúrz"?  Across the River?  Mordor?  But the others were insisting on taking them North.  What was to be found to the North?  What was "the White Hand"?  One of them had mentioned "Isengarders" and "Saruman" in the middle of cursing him in orc-language.  Could that be where they were being taken?

Suddenly the orcs’ argument grew violent.  Joey’s body jerked as his eyes shot wide open; he raised his head, gaping up at the orcs and then at Jennifer and the hobbits.  Pippin nodded at him and turned back to the orcs.

“Swine is it?" shouted Uglúk.  "How do you folk like being called swine by the muck-rakers of a dirty little wizard?  It's orc-flesh they eat, I'll warrant.”

Apparently, some of the orcs took offense at that.  The next thing that Pippin knew, the orcs were yelling in their own ugly tongue.  Then weapons were drawn, and the orcs were fighting among themselves—the clash of weapons was loud.  Carefully, lest he be noticed, the hobbit rolled over.  He saw the big orc that he'd heard called "Uglúk" facing off against a bow-legged one called "Grishnákh".  A bunch of smaller ones, goblin-looking, like the ones that the Company had faced in Moria were surrounding them.  Everyone had their weapons out, but were hesitating—Uglúk was fairly huge, after all.

Uglúk gave a yell, calling his own companions, nearly as big as he was.  Suddenly Uglúk sprang forward and with a vicious stroke beheaded two of the smaller ones.  Grishnákh slunk off into the shadows. The others began backing up, and one tripped backwards over Merry.  Then one of the large orcs killed another.  Its body fell right on top of Pippin.  Its ugly saw-toothed knife was gripped in its hand.  He could hear Jennifer scream, but Pippin was terrified, and could scarcely breathe with that corpse on top of him.

“Put up your weapons!” shouted Uglúk.  “And let's have no more nonsense!  We go straight west from here, and down the stair.  From there straight to the downs, then along the river to the forest.  And we march day and night.  That clear?”

“Now,” thought Pippin, who suddenly had a desperate idea, “if only it takes that ugly fellow a little while to get his troop under control, I've got a chance.”  A gleam of hope had come to him.  The edge of the black knife had snicked his arm, and then slid down to his wrist.  He felt the blood trickling on to his hand, but he also felt the cold touch of steel against his skin.

Quickly, before he could lose his nerve and before the orcs noticed him again, he used the knife to cut the cords around his wrists.  He formed them into loose loops and put them back around his wrists; to all appearances, he was still bound, but unless they looked closely, they would not see that he could get his hands free at any moment.

“Pick up those prisoners!” shouted Uglúk.  “Don't play any tricks with them!  If they are not alive when we get back, someone else will die too.”

One of the big orcs grabbed Pippin and put its head between his tied hands, grabbed his arms and dragged them down, until Pippin's face was crushed against its neck; then it jolted off with him.  Two other orcs treated Merry and Joey in the same way.  To Pippin's dismay, he saw another orc yank Jennifer up roughly by the arm, and shove her in front of him.  The orc's clawlike hand gripped Pippin's arms like iron; the nails bit into him.  He shut his eyes and slipped back into evil dreams.

He wakened once more when he was dropped upon the stony ground.  He looked around to check on the others.  Jennifer looked exhausted and white.  Joey's dirty face had tear tracks on it, and he had dark circles under his eyes.

Suddenly, a shadow bent over Pippin.  It was Uglúk.  “Sit up!” said the orc.  “My lads are tired of lugging you about.  We have got to climb down and you must use your legs.  Be helpful now.  No crying out, no trying to escape.  We have ways of paying for tricks that you won't like, though they won't spoil your usefulness for the Master.”

The orc used an ugly knife to cut the thongs binding his legs, and hauled him up by the hair of his head.  But Pippin's legs were asleep from being bound so long, and he fell down again.  Once more he was hauled up, and once more fell down again.  The ugly orc leader signaled to the others, and one of them thrust a flask in his hand.  He forced Pippin's mouth open and thrust the mouth of the flask between his teeth.  It was horrible and nasty, and burned like fire going down his gullet.

“Now for the other!” said Uglúk.  Pippin saw him go to Merry, who was lying close by, and kick him.  Merry groaned.  Seizing him roughly Uglúk pulled him into a sitting position, and tore the bandage off his head.  Then he smeared the wound with some dark stuff out of a small wooden box.  Merry cried out and struggled wildly.

The orcs clapped and hooted.  “Can't take his medicine,” they jeered.  “Doesn't know what's good for him.  Ai!  We shall have some fun later.”

"Shut your gobs!  Tend to the other two!" Uglúk ordered.  Pippin watched as they treated Jennifer and Joey in the same manner.  He wished he was near enough to speak to them.

Merry stood up defiantly, and made an attempt at a grin.  “Hullo, Pippin!  Hullo, Jennifer and Joey!  So you've come on this little expedition, too?  Where do we get bed and breakfast?”

“Now then!” said Uglúk.  “None of that!  Hold your tongues.  No talking to one another.  Any trouble will be reported at the other end, and He'll know how to pay you.  You'll get bed and breakfast all right: more than you can stomach.”

-oo000oo-

Jennifer had been forced to run much of the way, although at one point she had been picked up and carried across on one of the larger orc's shoulders, unlike Joey and the hobbits, who had hung down the backs of their carriers by their bound arms.  She tried to keep her eyes on Joey, but her head was mostly hanging downward, making her dizzy and giving her a headache as well.

There had been a brief break, and she had drifted into dark dreams, but she could not really get any rest; her body hurt too much.  She had no idea how long they had been in that spot.

Suddenly, she noticed that across the other side of the camp, they were rousing Merry and Pippin.  They gave them some sort of drink that, given the way the hobbits struggled, must taste awful.

She heard Merry say, “Hullo, Pippin!  Hullo, Jennifer and Joey!  So you've come on this little expedition, too?  Where do we get bed and breakfast?”

Of course, she could not respond to him.  How could he do that: be so brave, and pretend to be cheerful?  But she could not spend much time pondering that question, because now the orcs were turning their attention to her and Joey.  Joey's bonds around his legs were cut, and like Pippin and Merry, he was jerked up.  He'd been sound asleep, nearly unconscious, and he cried out as he was pulled up.

"Hey!"  Jennifer started to object to how they were treating her younger brother, but one of the orcs slapped her mouth.  He cut her lip doing so, and she could feel blood trickling down her chin as he withdrew his rough hand.  Joey was forced to drink some of the vile stuff that Pippin and Merry had been dosed with, and then they turned to her.

She knew better than to resist, as they poured the stuff down her throat.  It was thick and bitter, and it smelled like alcohol; it was alcohol and it burned her mouth, and the cut on her lip felt like it was on fire.  She wanted to scream out, but managed to stay silent, although tears were leaking from her eyes.  Unlike the others, she had not had her legs bound.  Joey looked up at her, his eyes wide as he saw the blood on her face.  She saw him start to say something, and shook her head.  He did not need to say anything that might draw attention to him.  She wasn't sure what she would do if they struck him.  And the last thing she wanted was for the foul monsters to notice that he was not a hobbit!  Apparently, his size alone had been enough for them to lump Joey in with the hobbits; they seemingly had not noticed the difference in the feet and ears.

But whatever that nasty stuff was, it appeared to be working, because she was feeling better.  Her headache had subsided to a dull roar, and she felt some energy returning to her.  She hoped it worked as well for the others, and that it did not have any bad side effects.  Now the orcs began to jostle the prisoners forward, and they were taken to the edge of a small ravine that went down to the grasslands below.  There, they were forced to clamber down; Jennifer could not see the others, since they were separated by several other orcs.

Once at the bottom, there was another argument.  The smaller orcs were complaining about having to run in the sunlight.  The big one called Uglúk yelled at them and they settled down, and soon they were running again.

Jennifer settled into a weary rhythm, wishing she could see Joey and Pippin and Merry, but she dared not try.  The orc behind her had a nasty whip, with which he stung the back of her calves if she slowed down too much.  She hoped they weren't doing the same to Joey, but she couldn't count on it.

They'd run about a mile or so, when suddenly there was a commotion ahead.  She saw a small figure veer off and run off to the right.  It was Pippin!  What was he doing?  He could never escape!  She bit her lip and winced as she watched several orcs chase after him.  One of them had another whip, and he struck out at Pippin and brought him down.  The orcs dragged him back to the group.  Poor Pip!  She wished he could have gotten away.  He might have been able to find Aragorn and the others.  She saw one of them lug Pippin up on his back again.

But the orc guarding her gave her a rough shove, almost knocking her down.  He cracked his whip.  She ran, stumbling but still running, anything to avoid the sting of the whip against her calves.  She could not see Joey or the others; they were now spread too far apart, and she had to concentrate on just putting one foot before the other.

On and on they went; five minutes or five hours were all the same to her—she had lost all track of time, but finally she stumbled and fell.  There was no reprieve then, either, for her guard snatched her up, and once more she was slung over his shoulders against his stinking, sweaty back.  She closed her eyes and concentrated on trying not to throw up, and from there she passed into a semi-conscious state.

-oo000oo-

Boromir spoke up.  He'd been very quiet most of the time, for him, thought Kevin.  He was sure that the warrior's head must hurt.  But now he said, "I know just where we are, and so does Aragorn.  If the path holds true and we must go North, we shall be heading straight into Rohan."

Kevin nodded.  He knew nothing about Rohan, and he had no idea of what to expect there, or what the people there were like. He just hoped it wouldn't slow them down.

But soon they found their way blocked by a cliff on the right-hand side, while on the other side were the dim shapes of shadowy hills.  They kept going, more of a jog than a run now, towards the North, when Aragorn suddenly stopped and began searching the ground.  The Ranger's search appeared fruitless, but Legolas, who had been taking point, suddenly gave a shout, and they all ran towards him.

“We have already overtaken some of those that we are hunting,” he said.  “Look!”  He pointed, and they saw that what they had at first taken to be boulders lying at the foot of the slope were huddled bodies.   Kevin swallowed his gorge at the sight the corpses—five orcs, two of them beheaded.  Black blood was everywhere.

“Here is another riddle!” said Gimli.  “But it needs the light of day and for that we cannot wait.”

“'Yet however you read it, it seems not unhopeful,” said Legolas.  “Enemies of the orcs are likely to be our friends.  Do any folk dwell in these hills?”

“No,” said Aragorn.  “The Rohirrim seldom come here, and it is far from Minas Tirith.  It might be that some company of Men were hunting here for reasons that we do not know.  Yet I think not.'”

“What do you think?” said Gimli.

“I think that the enemy brought his own enemy with him,” answered Aragorn.  “These are Northern orcs from far away.  Among the slain are none of the great orcs with the strange badges.  There was a quarrel, I guess: it is no uncommon thing with these foul folk.  Maybe there was some dispute about the road.”

Boromir nodded in agreement. "Ever it is so, if they have no other enemy in sight.  They will quarrel among themselves at the least of disagreements, and think nothing of slaying their own.  It is likely they would fall out if some wished to take a different road."

“Or their quarrel may have been about the captives,” said Gimli.  “Let us hope that they, too, did not meet their end here.”

Kevin shuddered.  He hoped that Joey and Jennifer hadn't had a good look at the violence.

Aragorn searched the ground with the help of Kevin's flashlight, in a wide circle, but no other traces of the fight could be found.  He searched a wider circle.   “At last!” said Aragorn.  “Here are the tracks that we seek!  Up this water-channel: this is the way that the orcs went after their debate.”  He gave the light back to Kevin.  "Turn it off.  It is too useful a tool to waste.”  Nodding, Kevin switched the flashlight off and stuffed it into his pocket, and they resumed running.

They followed the new path until the sun began to come up.  The green plains of Rohan were spread before them, and in the far west, the shadows of the White Mountains rose beyond.

Aragorn halted, his keen eyes taking in the sight before him.  “Gondor!  Gondor!  Would that I looked on you again in happier hour!  Not yet does my road lie southward to your bright streams.

“Gondor!  Gondor, between the Mountains and the Sea!

West Wind blew there; the light upon the Silver Tree

Fell like bright rain in gardens of the Kings of old.

O proud walls!  White towers!  O winged crown and throne of gold!

O Gondor, Gondor!  Shall Men behold the Silver Tree,

Or West Wind blow again between the Mountains and the Sea?"

It was full dark now, and they were still running.  Kevin had eaten half a lembas, and felt renewed energy, but it was getting harder and harder to run and not stumble and miss his footing in the dark.

They were in a rocky area filled with steep gullies and ravines, and the trail appeared to lead down a rather lengthy and steep place that, in turn, led down to a valley below.  All night the companions scrambled in this bony land, climbing to the crest of the first and tallest ridge, and down again into the darkness of a deep winding valley on the other side.

It was not yet dawn.  Kevin had begun to learn the signs of the sky, and he figured that it was probably about an hour until sunrise.  They stopped for a short rest, and Aragorn and Legolas discussed their future course.  For the moment Aragorn appeared to be at a loss: the orc-trail had descended into the valley, but there it had vanished.

“Which way would they turn, do you think?” said Legolas.  “Northward to take a straighter road to Isengard, or Fangorn, if that is their aim as you guess?  Or southward to strike the Entwash?”

“They will not make for the river, whatever mark they aim at,'' said Aragorn.  “And unless there is much amiss in Rohan and the power of Saruman is greatly increased; they will take the shortest way that they can find over the fields of the Rohirrim.  Let us search northwards!”

"I wish I had looked at those maps and things back in Rivendell," Kevin muttered.  “But then, I can’t read Westron, so I don’t know if it would have done any good.”

Beside him, Gimli chuckled.  "I've no idea of where we are, either, laddie," he said, even though Kevin had been talking more to himself than to others.

-oo000oo-

The orcs had been running away from those riders all day.  The captives had been forced to run, and then to be carried, without a break.  Jennifer was desperately worried about Joey.  The pace was far too much for a nine-year-old; he was going to be sick, at best.

Many of the orcs had been slain as they had tried to get away from the Rohirrim, but there were still a couple of hundred left.  The forest was less than half a mile away if Jennifer was guessing right.  And now the horsemen had surrounded them.

She heard Grishnákh and Uglúk arguing again.  They were always arguing, and at first she paid them no mind until she heard Uglúk saying, “Put those prisoners down!  You, Lugdush, get two others and stand guard over them!  They're not to be killed, unless the filthy Whiteskins break through.  Understand?  As long as I'm alive, I want 'em.  But they're not to cry out, and they're not to be rescued.  Bind their legs!”

This terrified her.  So far, she had been counting on the mysterious orders that the prisoners were to be kept "alive and unspoiled".  But now it looked as though they would be killed out of hand if it appeared that they might get rescued!  She sent up a brief and wordless prayer for protection, as she was suddenly and unceremoniously flung to the ground.

For a moment, she was dazed and disoriented, and then she realized that all four of them were together finally!  The three huge orcs guarding them were standing around them.  They had their backs turned so they could see the horsemen, and there was a lot of racket going on, so the guards were not actually paying much attention to the prisoners at all.

Since her hands were in front of her and not behind, she used one of her fingers to scratch a rough "J" in the dirt, and since her hair was already coming down, she eased off one of her scrunchies from the end of one of her braids that had once been pinned neatly behind her head.  She hoped that the orcs would not trample the signs she had left, or worse, notice them.

Joey was on one side of her, and to her other side lay Merry and beyond him lay Pippin.

"Joey," she whispered, "are you okay?"

Her little brother moaned slightly.  "Uh-huh…well, uh, mostly."

“I don't think much of this,” said Merry.  “I feel nearly done in.  Don't think I could crawl away far, even if I was free.  Are you and Joey all right?

She nodded.  "We are hungry and exhausted, and sore, too."

“Lembas!” whispered Pippin.  “Lembas: I've got some.  Have you?  I don't think they've taken anything but our swords.”

Jennifer sighed.  Her lembas ration was back in her backpack.  I wish I’d thought to put it in my pocket when I left my backpack behind, she thought ruefully.  It would sure come in handy right now!

“Yes, I had a packet in my pocket,” answered Merry, “but it must be battered to crumbs.  Anyway I can't put my mouth in my pocket!”

“You won't have to.  I've—” but just then a savage kick warned Pippin that the noise had died down, and the guards were watchful.

The night was cold.  Jennifer tensed up, trying to stay as still as she could, but she could hear Joey at her side, his teeth chattering and his body shuddering.  Occasionally they would hear the orc guards arguing.  It was obvious that the horse warriors were harassing the orcs.

A sudden outcry on the east side of the knoll showed that something was wrong. It seemed that some of the Men had ridden in close, slipped off their horses, crawled to the edge of the camp and killed several orcs, and then had faded away again.  Uglúk dashed off to stop a stampede.

To Jennifer's surprise, their guards had run off after their leader.  Suddenly they realized that without moving they were now outside the circle: there was nothing between them and escape.

“Now,” said Merry, “if only we had our legs and hands free, we might get away.  But I can't touch the knots, and I can't bite them.”

“No need to try,” said Pippin.  “I was going to tell you all: I've managed to free my hands.  These loops are only left for show.  You'd better have a bit of lembas first."  He slipped the cords off his wrists, and fished out a packet.  Then he rolled over and untied Merry's hands.

He took some from the packet, and passed it to Merry, who also took a few crumbs and passed it to Jennifer after untying her hands.  She took some out, and passed the packet to Joey after likewise untying him.  He nibbled some, and then shoved the packet in his own pocket.  The lembas put some heart into the captives.  They very cautiously sat up and began untying their feet. Just beyond the knoll, they could hear the screams and clash of the battle.  None of the orcs seemed to pay a bit of attention to them.

"We have our cloaks from Lothlórien," whispered Merry.  "Let's cover up well and try crawling away from the battle.  We might be able to get into the woods without being seen."

At one point, they thought they would be caught.  An orc they had heard called Grishnákh suddenly loomed up in front of them with an evil look in his eye.  He reached out and grabbed Merry and Pippin by their belts.  But before he could get a really good grip on them or cry out, an arrow sprouted in his chest and he fell to the ground, pulling the belts off.  A rider on a big horse leapt over the body, and would have trampled Pippin into the ground, save for Merry yanking his cousin back at the last second.  The rider did not seem to notice the four of them at all as he sped off into the fray.

They lay there beneath their cloaks, breathing heavily, grateful for their narrow escape.  Then they began crawling away.

The men on horseback with weapons were closing in, and Jennifer saw that they had pushed the last few orcs back, and the battle was behind them.  Now the forest eaves were much closer, and the sounds of screaming was fainter.

Into the forest it was, then.






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