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Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar 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.
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.
Chapter 29: Go the Distance
It was the morning of the third day, and still the five hunters ran. Only constant thoughts of his brother and sister kept Kevin moving now; he was beyond exhaustion. But he would never give up!
Suddenly Aragorn bent down, looking at the ground,as if he could hear something in the earth. He held up his hand. "Horses!" he exclaimed. He gestured for the others to follow him in hiding behind a rock. "I am sure it must be an éored of the Rohirrim."
Gimli was uneasy. “What do you know of these horsemen, Aragorn?” he said. “Do we sit here waiting for sudden death?” Kevin wondered the same. He recalled that he'd heard some things back in Rivendell that were not good.
Boromir snorted. "Only if we do something foolish when we see them."
Aragorn nodded. “I have been among them. They are proud and wilful, but they are true-hearted, generous in thought and deed; bold but not cruel; wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs, after the manner of the children of Men before the Dark Years. But I do not know what has happened here of late, nor in what mind the Rohirrim may now be between the traitor Saruman and the threat of Sauron. They have long been the friends of the people of Gondor, though they are not akin to them. It was in forgotten years long ago that Eorl the Young brought them out of the North, and their kinship is rather with the Bardings of Dale, and with the Beornings of the Wood, among whom may still be seen many men tall and fair, as are the Riders of Rohan. At least they will not love the orcs.”
"But Gandalf said that they gave horses to Sauron," said Kevin.
“I believe it no more than does Boromir,” answered Aragorn.
“You will soon learn the truth,” said Legolas. “Already they approach.”
Aragorn looked up. He gestured to the others to hasten behind a nearby rock formation to hide. They knelt in the grass behind it, and drew their Lórien cloaks around themselves, and watched as the troop of horsemen came riding over the hill.
Aragorn looked at them passing. He walked calmly out of hiding and shouted, "Riders of Rohan! What news from the Mark?"
Quickly with his spear, the leader of the mounted warriors signaled his men. With astonishing speed and skill, they checked their steeds, wheeled around, and charged the five intruders. The Riders circled around the strangers tightly. They suddenly stopped and pointed their spears at the five of them.
Aragorn held up his hands in a gesture of peace. Their leader rode forward and addressed them from his mount. “What business do strangers have in the Riddermark? Speak quickly!”
Boromir threw back his hood. "Not all of us are strangers, Éomer, son of Éomund," he said.
Éomer flinched slightly and raised an eyebrow, but otherwise did not show his shock. "Boromir! When the mount we loaned you turned up alone long after you had left us, we thought you dead! Yet now we see you here a-foot!"
"It is a long story, and we have not the time to tell it here." The Gondorian turned and deferred to Aragorn, as he had done ever since the Fellowship had been broken at Parth Galen.
"Who are these others?" Éomer demanded.
Aragorn stepped forward. "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn. This is Gimli, son of Glóin of Erebor, Legolas, son of Thranduil of the Woodland Realm, and Kevin, son of Steven of Ore Gon. We are friends of Rohan, and of Théoden, your king."
Éomer shook his head sadly. "Théoden no longer recognizes friend from foe." He removed his helmet and dismounted. "Not even his own kin." He moved more closely to the newcomers and lowered his voice. “Saruman has poisoned the mind of the king and claimed lordship over these lands. My company are those loyal to Rohan. And for that, we are banished. The White Wizard is cunning. He walks here and there, they say, as an old man hooded and cloaked. And everywhere, his spies slip past our nets.”
"We are no spies," said Aragorn. "We track a party of Uruk-Hai westward across the plain. They have taken four of our friends captive."
Éomer once more shook his head. "The Uruks are destroyed. We slaughtered them during the night."
Kevin could feel the blood drain from his face. Jennifer? Joey? Merry and Pippin? What had happened to them? He felt Boromir's hand on his elbow, saving him from passing out where he stood.
But Gimli sprang forward. "But there were two Hobbits, and a young lady and a small boy! Did you see them among their captors?”
"Except for the young lady, they would have been small, and all of them would have been arrayed as are we, with concealing cloaks," added Aragorn.
Éomer shook his head. "We left none alive. We piled the carcasses and burned them." He gestured back the way they had come. Smoke rose from a pile in the distance.
All of them stared in shock at the rising smoke. Kevin couldn't breathe. He felt Legolas take his other elbow to keep him upright, and he was glad because he surely thought his knees would give out.
"Dead?" Gimli asked in shock. Legolas placed his other hand on Gimli's shoulder. Boromir went white, but grabbed Kevin by his other arm, for the boy swayed as if he were going to pass out. Kevin's own face was nearly green.
Éomer turned and whistled. "Hasufel! Arod! Bron! Faran!”
Éomer watched as four beautiful horses were led forward. He lovingly placed his hand on them. "May these horses bear you to better fortune than their former masters. Farewell."
Éomer put on his helmet and returned to his horse. "Look for your friends. But do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands." He raised his hand in command to his Riders. "We ride north!"
The éored thundered off, leaving the small group of hunters standing by their horses in shock. Aragorn and the others gazed toward the smoldering pile.
Aragorn mounted Hasufel, while Legolas mounted Arod, with Gimli riding pillion behind him; Boromir took Faran and Kevin hefted himself into the saddle of Bron. He was trying his best to hope, but his thoughts were in such a swirl, he could not even gather them to pray. All this effort and...no, he couldn’t imagine Jen and Joey...dead. He just tried to concentrate on staying on the horse.
They took off across the Plains toward the edge of Fangorn Forest, where the pile of dead orcs smoldered. Kevin had to concentrate on his riding. He was still a novice, and he'd had no chance to practice horseback riding since they had left Rivendell. But he was glad for the effort—every time his mind wandered from simply staying on the horse's back, he kept wondering about the fate of his brother and sister, and the two hobbits. He kept whispering to himself, "Stay on the horse...stay on the horse…"
The group of hunters finally halted their steeds beside the pyre and dismounted. They looked upon the still-smoking pile with dismay. There were no obvious signs of hobbits, much less the two children, anywhere.
Aragorn bent down to see the ground more clearly. The others were sifting through the ashes that had cooled enough. Kevin had tied a kerchief over his mouth, and tried not to be sick from the stench. He gave a start when Gimli gave a cry. The Dwarf had unearthed one of the hobbits’ sheathes. "It's one of their wee belts," he said mournfully.
Kevin felt like he had taken a punch to his stomach, and tears pooled in his eyes. If…if…he could not make himself continue the horrible thoughts his mind wanted to imagine. How am I going to tell Mom and Dad?
Legolas bent his head. "Hiro hyn hîdh ab 'wanath. May they find peace in death," he murmured.
Boromir nodded sadly. "May we avenge them," but it was said half-heartedly.
Aragorn kicked a helmet. Screaming a cry of anguished defeat, he fell to his knees, hanging his head low. He knelt in despair.
"We failed them," sighed Gimli.
Suddenly Aragorn turned his head. Something on the ground caught his attention. A glimmer of hope flickered across his visage as he noted some marks on the ground. He moved towards them, and touched the spots with his hands. "A hobbit lay here. And the other."
He began to search more intensely as hope rekindled. Sparked by Aragorn's reaction, Kevin found his own hope rising. He, too, went down to the ground and began to put the Ranger's tracking lessons to work himself, as did Legolas. Boromir and Gimli being less experienced as trackers, stood by the horses, trying to stay out of the way.
Legolas was also looking more closely now with his keen Elven sight, and suddenly he gave a cry of triumph. He indicated the ground not too far from where Aragorn and Kevin were searching, and both the Men came over. Kevin gave a whoop of joy: there, the ground had clearly been crushed by two smaller people lying there, smaller than orcs, but larger than hobbits. And in the dirt was scratched a clear "J" and next to it, one of Jennifer's scrunchies. He picked it up and showed it and the “J” to Aragorn, who nodded, and then he stuffed the scrunchie into his jeans pocket.
For quite a while, Aragorn, Legolas and Kevin slowly scoured the area for signs, drawing ever nearer to the Forest eaves.
"Look! Here at last we find news!” said Aragorn. He lifted up a broken leaf for them to see, a large pale leaf of golden hue, now fading and turning brown. "Here is a mallorn-leaf of Lórien, and there are small crumbs on it, and a few more crumbs in the grass. And see! there are some pieces of cut cord lying nearby!” He pointed to the ground. "It looks as though, somehow, all of them managed to be here, in this spot, together ere the Rohirrim were able to flank the Uruk-hai!"
He studied the signs once more. "They have gone into Fangorn Forest."
"Why would they do that?" asked Gimli. "We were warned against it!"
Boromir gave Gimli a look. "Come, now! Think! Would they turn back into the middle of a battle? Risk recapture or death? All they would know of the Rohirrim is that they were fighting the orcs. Much safer to venture into the woods, for with danger all around, that would seem the lesser evil."
"Well," said Kevin, "if that's where my brother and sister went, that's where I'm going." He started forward. "Is anyone else coming?"
The others all looked at one another and wordlessly followed along.
In Rivendell, plans were moving apace for the remaining McClouds to make their journey South. The family would be led by Lord Glorfindel and twelve warriors of Elrond’s household, handpicked by Elrond himself, and Arwen chose Mairen to go along out of her handmaidens. She would assist in caring for Kaylee and Megan, and she would be of help to Gail on the journey.
The group would travel by horseback across the Misty Mountains to the other side, and from there, they would journey South on the Western shore of the Anduin, until they reached Lothlórien. Elrond was sending messengers ahead of them to the Golden Wood, with news of their coming. From there, they would take boats down the River, in the hopes of catching up with the children before the Company had to take the Eastern shore and the way to Mount Doom. Steven had made up his mind that if he had any way to do so, he was going to see to it that Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey did not follow Frodo Baggins into Mordor! Gail was in full agreement with him on that.
Steve and Gail had been surprised to realize that they could speak Westron, but they could not read or write it. Steve had hoped to memorize the maps of the route they would be taking, and he was disappointed to realize that would not work.
It was the clever Mr. Baggins who came up with the solution. He made a copy of the map without any words on it, and then while Steve used his ballpoint pen (which completely fascinated the elderly hobbit), Bilbo would point to a spot on the blank map and speak the name of the place aloud. Steve would write it down phonetically, using English letters, and then he copied the original Elvish name next to it from the original map, slowly and carefully copying the Elvish letters in the process, since he had never written them before.
He also took his small pocket notebook to make a list of handy phrases in Sindarin that did not seem to translate into Westron, or of some of the more common phrases used in conversation.
Bilbo was thrilled to be of use, and in the process, he also had Steve explain many of the English words the children used that no one could understand. He had scarcely been able to understand the children's explanations of "teevee" and "moovee", and was still not quite sure he understood the ideas. Pictures that talked and moved and told stories? Steve was not too sure his own explanations were much better. In all likelihood, the only way to make Bilbo understand would be to show him a movie or a TV show, and he had left his laptop back at the campsite.
Gail used some of their preparation time to learn a few of the skills that Kaylee had learned. She already knew how to sew by hand, and was now refreshing those skills under Arwen's direction, but cooking on a campfire (the McClouds had always used a propane campstove and a barbecue grill whenever they camped, except for roasting hot dogs or toasting marshmallows) and making a fire without a match were not really a part of her life skills. Bilbo had begun showing her how to do those things, as they cooked on his little hearth. Fortunately, Steve had his lighter and a box of matches in his backpack, but neither of them knew how long those would last. Meanwhile, under Arwen’s instruction, Kaylee finished her new nightgown and started wearing it to bed, and Megan received regular lessons in weaving and in riding a pony. Bilbo, for his part, continued Kaylee’s cooking lessons, and he began to give Megan beginning lessons in food preparation, and he told the little girls stories. Meanwhile, in the kennels, Lucy received training that would be of use to her on the journey, and Steve and Gail were taught how to give her those commands. Lucy became reliable in obeying all of the commands that she was given, both the earlier commands that she had been taught before the rest of the family’s arrival and the newer ones that the elves were currently teaching her for the upcoming journey.
Just before they were to leave, Lady Arwen pulled Gail aside. "Mrs. McCloud, I would like to ask you if you are prepared for your monthly moon flow. I know that this was a great concern of your elder daughter, and I was able to help her with it."
Gail blushed. "I have a couple of items with me just in case of emergency, but for as long as we may be here, I am badly under-prepared."
Arwen gave her an understanding nod. "This was a concern of Jennifer's as well." The Elven maiden then explained to Gail about the darithil and its uses. Gail was surprised, but quite grateful for the assistance. She had not yet really thought about the issue, as it was a few more weeks before she would have to deal with it.
"Thank you so much, Lady Arwen." She was very glad for learning what she would need to have in this world.
The time for leaving was growing nearer and nearer, as they were only waiting for the scouts to return before setting off. Steve and Gail could hardly wait to be reunited with their older children.
The escaped former prisoners continued to crawl until they were only a few yards away, and then they got up and walked. Running was impossible. It was not until they were well away from the battle that they paused and looked around warily. They were just barely under the outer eaves of the woods. It looked dark and unwelcoming, but safer, anyway, than turning back would be; they could still hear screams and the clashing of weapons behind them, though it was slowly dying down.
Getting back on their hands and feet, they crawled just a little further until they were inside the forest and hidden from view. “We must stay under cover,” said Pippin, as he clambered awkwardly to his feet once more, “or we shall be seen. It will not be any comfort to us, if these riders discover that we are not orcs after we are dead.” He got up and stamped his feet. “Those cords have cut me like wires; but my feet are getting warm again. I could stagger on now. What about the rest of you?”
Merry stood up and nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I can manage it. Lembas does put heart into you! How about you two?” he asked, turning towards Jennifer and Joey.
"Yes, I'm better," Jennifer said. Pippin reached a hand to her and helped haul her to her feet. It never ceased to amaze her how strong these hobbits were. Even though Pippin was shorter and lighter than she, he had no trouble helping her up. Merry also lent a hand to Joey.
Joey swayed. "I'm kind of wobbly," he said. Merry held onto him until he felt more stable.
They were near a river, and so they decided to get a drink of water, and splash some of it on their faces. Jennifer tried in vain to use her fingers to comb through her tangled hair; it helped only a little, but she felt better for trying. “I wish I had my comb and brush,” she muttered.
They walked along the line of the river slowly, talking among themselves, wondering what had come of the others.
Finally, Jennifer asked, "Does anyone have any idea of where we are? I'm completely turned around. I don't even know which direction we are going."
Merry chuckled. "This Brandybuck is going in front now. This is where he comes in. I don't suppose you have much notion where we are; but I spent my time at Rivendell rather better. We are walking west along the Entwash. The butt-end of the Misty Mountains is in front, and Fangorn Forest.”
“Lead on, Master Brandybuck!” said Pippin. “Or lead back! We have been warned against Fangorn. But one so knowing will not have forgotten that.”
“I have not,” answered Merry; “but the forest seems better to me, all the same, than turning back into the middle of a battle.”
"Well, the night is over and the sun's come up," said Jennifer. "I think the battle might be over, but we don't know if there are any orcs left. So, I think we should stay in here instead of going back out there!"
“No kidding!” Joey agreed. “I don’t ever want to see another orc!”
“Not unless it’s from a safe distance,” Jennifer added.
"Not even that!" Pippin exclaimed with a shudder. "But we never know what could happen."
And so, the hobbits and the children continued on into the depths of Fangorn Forest. They did not even look back, and so they missed seeing the smoke as it rose from the pyres set by the Riders of Rohan.
The Forest grew denser and more difficult as they went on, following the river. The further they went, the less they worried about orcs, and they slowed their pace.
"It's getting hard to breathe," said Jennifer.
"It feels stuffy, like the Old Forest," said Merry. Joey, who had been uncharacteristically silent, nearly stumbled, but Merry on one side and Jennifer on the other caught him by the arms.
“What old forest?” Joey asked.
Pippin shook his head. "You don't want to hear about it now. We'll tell you another time, when we are not in the middle of another forest.”
"Why?" Joey persisted.
"Just trust us," Merry replied.
Pippin nodded. "This forest doesn't feel cruel like the Old Forest. It feels sleepy and musty.” He clambered over a log. "It is all very dim, and stuffy, in here,” he added. “It reminds me, somehow, of the old room in the Great Place of the Tooks away back in the Smials at Tuckborough: a huge place, where the furniture has never been moved or changed for generations. They say the Old Took lived in it year after year, while he and the room got older and shabbier together—and it has never changed since he died, a century ago. And Old Gerontius was my great-great-grandfather: that puts it back a bit. But that is nothing to the old feeling of this wood. Look at all those weeping, trailing, beards and whiskers of lichen! And most of the trees seem to be half covered with ragged dry leaves that have never fallen. Untidy. I can't imagine what spring would look like here, if it ever comes; still less a spring-cleaning.” He sighed deeply.
"Here," said Jennifer. "Why don't we sit down here, and get another drink of water and get a little breather?”
Merry and Pippin looked at the tree. "It's not a willow tree," said Pippin. Indeed, it was an alder, and the air did seem fresher near the stream. So, all of them sat down and scooped up some of the water in their hands. It was wonderfully fresh and sweet. The hobbits stuck their bare feet in the rushing water, and after a few minutes, Jennifer and Joey took their hiking boots and stockings off to do the same. They tied their boots together by the laces, and slung them around their necks with the socks tucked inside, so that they would not be likely to lose or forget them.
On they went, until they came to a stony hillock that almost appeared to have stone steps cut into the side. Up they clambered, Merry in front, then Jennifer and Joey, and finally Pippin at the rear. Jennifer did not say anything out loud, but it was clear to her that the two hobbits had put her and Joey in the place of safety between them. Before they had set out from Rivendell, she would have thought it ridiculous that two small hobbits could protect her and her brother from danger. But no longer. She had seen how brave and clever and fierce both of them were. They would probably be managing much better on their own with no children to look after.
Finally, they came to the top. "Look!" exclaimed Joey. "Sunshine!" He smiled broadly.
“Yeah!” Jennifer nodded emphatically.
Indeed, they had come out from beneath the trees and stood atop the little hill, which was open to the sunshine. But then they all four gave a shiver, as the breeze passed over them.
“The wind's changing,” said Merry. “It's turned east again. It feels cool up here.”
"Yes," said Jennifer. "It didn't seem so cool under the trees."
“Yes,” said Pippin; “I'm afraid this is only a passing gleam, and it will all go grey again. What a pity! This shaggy old forest looked so different in the sunlight. I almost felt I liked the place.”
“Almost felt you liked the Forest! That's good! That's uncommonly kind of you,” said a strange voice. “Turn round and let me have a look at your faces. I almost feel that I dislike you, but do not let us be hasty. Turn round!” A large knob-knuckled hand was laid on each of the hobbits' shoulders, and they were twisted round, gently but irresistibly; then two great arms lifted them up.
Jennifer gave a little shriek, and her hand went to her mouth. Joey yelped, took a step backwards, and promptly fell on his bottom. They both stared up and up as Merry and Pippin struggled in the twiggy hands of a strange-looking—well, either a walking, talking tree or a giant that looked like a tree!
“Whoa!” Joey gasped. “Look, Jennifer, a talking tree!”
“Yeah!” Jennifer helped her little brother to his feet and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “I see it!”
“Just like in The Wizard of Oz! And “H.R. Pufnstuf”!” Joey shook his head in stunned amazement.
Jennifer nodded agreement, equally stunned. “Except this one’s so much bigger. A giant!”
“Hrum, Hoom,” murmured the voice, a deep voice like a very deep woodwind instrument. “Very odd indeed! Do not be hasty, that is my motto. But if I had seen you, before I heard your voices—I liked them: nice little voices; they reminded me of something I cannot remember—if I had seen you before I heard you, I should have just trodden on you, taking you for little orcs, and found out my mistake afterwards. Very odd you are, indeed. Root and twig, very odd! And traveling with two very young Men, though I see one of them is female.” He blinked his amazing eyes, which seemed to be immensely old, like deep pools of wisdom, green and brown in the depths of them.
Joey scowled. “I’m not a man yet. I’m a boy, and Jennifer’s a girl,” he muttered. With a nervous laugh, Jennifer ruffled Joey’s hair. She hoped her brother hadn't offended the strange creature.
"Hroom-bararum!" The creature made a noise that sounded much like laughter. "As I said, very young, and hasty as well!"
Pippin cocked his head. “Please,” he said, “who are you? And what are you?”
"I am an Ent. A tree-herder. A shepherd of the forest. Treebeard, some call me.”
"And whose side are you on?" Pippin asked.
The creature looked puzzled. "Side? I am on nobody’s side because nobody’s on my side. Nobody cares for the woods anymore.” He looked down at the hobbits in his hand. "I would have taken you for little orcs if I had not heard you talking, and seen you with these other two, who would never be in the company of orcs unless as prisoners."
"We’re not orcs. We’re Hobbits," said Merry. "And up until a short while ago, we were prisoners of orcs."
Jennifer grimaced. “Yes, we sure were! All four of us. We managed to escape a while ago.”
“Yeah!” Joey agreed, nodding and scowling. “They were mean!”
"Hobbits? Never heard of a Hobbit before," replied Treebeard.
"Some people call us Halflings or Shire-folk," Merry put in. "But a lot of people have never heard of us until lately. We usually do not travel outside our own land."
Joey shook his head. “The orcs thought I was a hobbit, too! I guess it’s because I’m short, but that’s just because I’m a boy, not a grown-up.”
Jennifer lightly elbowed her brother. When he got excited, he tended to forget how rude it was considered in this world to interrupt adults when they were talking. "Please excuse my brother, Treebeard. I’m Jennifer McCloud at your service, and my brother is named Joseph McCloud—everyone calls him Joey. These two hobbits," and she gestured at each of them, "are Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took." She and Joey bowed.
Merry and Pippin could not bow, still being held in the Ent's hands, but they bobbed their heads and said, "At your service."
"Call me Merry," said Merry.
"And you can call me Pippin, or even Pip," his cousin chimed in.
"My!" explained Treebeard. "You are young and hasty! Imagine giving out your real names to just anyone. Hoom-hum!”
"Well," said Merry, "you don't seem to like orcs at all, so I suppose that does make you more or less on our side."
"Orcs!" The Ent gave out a loud "hoom" that sounded more like a roar than a word. “They come with fire. They come with axes. Gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning! Destroyers and usurpers! Curse them!" In his anger, he began to squeeze the hobbits in his grip, not realizing it.
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