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An Unexpected Adventure  by KathyG

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 Ringsbelongs 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 31: A Step in the Right Direction

After a night’s worth of hard riding, the morning was bright and clear about them, and the birds were singing, when the travellers came to the stream.  Kevin was exhausted; they had been riding all night long.  But he was glad, for it meant they were nearing their destination according to Aragorn.  Just beyond the willow trees on the other side, there was a track leading to the uplands.  There was a well-beaten path there, and they could see in the distance a walled hill, and the path led them through several green mounds, covered in thousands of lovely white flowers.  He looked at them curiously; the mounds did not appear to be a natural feature; they were too regular, for one thing.

As they rode, Gandalf explained the mounds and the flowers.  Kevin listened intently as the wizard spoke of them.  He was surprised to realize that they were burial mounds.  He thought perhaps they were much prettier than the cemeteries of his own country.  He heard what Aragorn and Legolas had to say, and then was surprised when the Ranger began to sing in a strange language, and it didn't sound like any of the ones he had heard so far.

"Is that the language of Rohan?" Kevin asked.  "What does it mean?  It sounds so sad."

"It runs thus in the Common Speech, as near as I can make it," Aragorn answered, and then began to sing once more:

“Where now the horse and the rider?  Where is the horn that was blowing?

Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?

Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?

Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?

They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;

The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.

Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,

Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?”

Soon they came to the walls of the city, and began to make their winding way up to the huge building at the top of the hill.  The doors of the Golden Hall opened, and a guard came out, followed by a small detachment of other guards.

The six companions climbed the steps, and the guard met them at the top.  Gandalf leaned heavily on his staff, looking more than ever like a simple old man.  The wizard looked up at the guard with an innocent smile.

The doorwarden said, "I am Háma, doorwarden of Meduseld and of Théoden King.  I cannot allow you before Théoden King so armed, Gandalf Greyhame, nor those with you.  By order of Gríma Wormtongue."

Gandalf nodded to the others to surrender their weapons.

Kevin watched as his companions began to remove their weapons.  He watched as first Legolas and then Boromir handed theirs over.

Boromir took off his sword and drew his other weapons.  He looked at Háma.  "I know you well for a good and honorable man, Háma, for we have dealt with one another before.  I know also that you follow the will of your master in this."  He handed them over, and then nodded to Kevin, who had not been sure of handing over his weapons, but since both Boromir and Legolas had done so, he decided he should as well.  Still, it felt odd to be without them.  He realized he had not been without his weapons since leaving Rivendell.

But after Aragorn and Gimli had handed theirs over, and Gandalf passed Glamdring to the waiting door warden, Háma looked nervously at Gandalf.  "Er…I will also need you to leave your staff…"

Gandalf glanced at his staff innocently, and then at Háma.  "You would not part an old man from his walking stick?"

Kevin hid a grin.  Háma shook his head, rolling his eyes, and then gestured for them to follow him.

Gandalf winked at Aragorn, who raised an eyebrow in return.  Gandalf followed Hama into the hall, leaning on Legolas’ arm as an old man might for support.

Háma entered the hall and bowed before the King.  He stepped aside to allow the travellers to enter behind him.

Kevin's eyes went wide as they came into the Hall.  It was different from any of the dwelling places he had seen in Middle-earth so far.  It was dim, and the shadows flickered from the torches on the wall.  There was a dais at the end of the room, where there was an elaborate throne, upon which sat an elderly man.  His crown clearly proclaimed him the King, but he was very old and appeared ill, with his head bowed and his eyes shadowed, his hair and beard white and sparse.  Next to him stood a rather ugly, pasty-faced man with greasy hair, all dressed in black.  The ugly man bent over and whispered into the king's ear.

The six continued walking toward the king.  The guards closed the doors behind them.  They noticed several men behind the contingent of guards following them as they walked towards the King.

The greasy-haired guy was staring at them with a sour expression.  “Gandalf Greyhame!  He’s a herald of woe.”

Legolas released Gandalf's arm.  The old wizard straightened up slightly and stared at the two on the dais.  Gandalf said, "The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Théoden King."

The pale man whispered to Théoden loudly enough to be heard: "He’s not welcome."

Théoden, his breathing laboured, asked, "Why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow?"   He then looked to the other man to for affirmation.

"A just question, my liege."

Kevin thought his voice sounded just as oily as his hair looked.

The man stepped down from the dais and walked several steps closer.  "Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear.  Láthspell spell, I name him.  Ill news is an ill guest."

Gandalf bent his gaze on the other man.  Kevin knew that expression: someone was about to be in big trouble.  "Be silent, Gríma Wormtongue!  Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth.  I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm."

So that was the oily guy's name!  Kevin thought it was appropriate.  You tell him, Gandalf! he thought.  He noticed this Wormtongue freeze in his tracks, his expression growing suspicious.

Gandalf raised his staff to Wormtongue, who backed away from it.

Wormtongue looked afraid.  "His staff!" he cried, as he backed away.  “I told you to take the wizard’s staff."  His voice was arrogant and commanding, but the guards ignored it.  It seemed that they had grown tired of Wormtongue's orders!

I would be, too, Kevin thought, scowling at Wormtongue and clenching his fists.

Gandalf began to walk towards Théoden King, his staff held out before him.  Wormtongue fearfully stepped out of the way, but he glared at Gandalf with a mingling of terror and hatred.  If Joey was here, he’d be sticking his tongue out at Wormtongue, Kevin thought, with a pang.  And I wish he was here to do it.  I miss him.  I hope Gandalf is right about him and Jen being safe right now!

Gandalf reached out to Théoden.  "Théoden, son of Thengel…”

Théoden reacted to Gandalf with an evil stare.

Gandalf continued, "…too long have you sat in the shadows."

Kevin noticed as Wormtongue tried to crawl away unnoticed, but Gimli caught him and pinned him to the floor under his foot.

Gimli growled, "I would stay still, if I were you."

Kevin had to bite back an urge to laugh at the expression on Wormtongue's face.  Gimli could be pretty scary when he wanted to be.  But he looked up to see Gandalf was almost to the king, his staff still held straight out before him.

"Hearken to me!" Gandalf called out.  “I release you from the spell."  The wizard was holding out his other hand, and in concentration.

To Kevin's shock, Théoden laughed menacingly.  "You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey."

But now Gandalf was angry.  He threw back his grey cloak and spread his hands.  A blinding white light blazed from him, making Kevin blink.

Théoden was thrown back against his seat.

“Whoa!” Kevin gasped.  Then he blushed.  He noticed none of the others had shown any reaction.  Will I ever learn to keep a warrior's stone face? he wondered ruefully.

Gandalf went on, in a voice filled with power, "I will draw you, Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound."  He thrust his staff towards the king.  But though he did not actually touch him, the force knocked Théoden back into his throne.  Gandalf moved in closer.

For a moment, Kevin was distracted by a movement at his side.  There was a beautiful blonde lady who was trying to run to the king, but Aragorn stopped her, grabbing her by the arm.  "Wait!" he said in a low voice.  She looked at him for a moment, and then stopped struggling.

A glow came over Théoden's face.  He looked at Gandalf evilly and spoke in a strange voice.  "If I go, Théoden dies."

Gandalf thrust his staff again, throwing the old man back again.  "You did not kill me; you will not kill him."

A demon!  Kevin gasped again.  King Théoden is demon-possessed!

Théoden leaned forward with difficulty, hate welling in his eyes.  "Rohan is mine."  But he was struggling against Gandalf’s power.

"Begone!" Gandalf cried victoriously.

“In the name of Jesus,” Kevin whispered.  He wasn't sure if Gandalf needed his prayer, but it couldn't hurt, and besides, there was power in the name of Jesus.  Surely that power held here, too!

Gandalf smote the King, and Théoden was thrown back once more.

Théoden moaned and fell from his throne.  Aragorn released the blonde lady.  She charged across the hall to catch him before he could hit the floor.  She held him up to look at him.  His eyes were now clear; his hair began changing from white strands to brown, sprinkled with only a little grey.  His face began to shift from an old and unhealthy-looking man to that of one in late middle age, though one that was healthy and hardy.  Kevin smiled and glanced up at the ceiling.  Thank You, God!

The lady smiled, overjoyed.  Théoden looked about, confused, and saw the lady.  "Éowyn.  Éowyn."

Éowyn wept with joy.  Théoden looked up, and seemed surprised to see Gandalf standing over him.  "Gandalf?" he asked.

Gandalf gave him a compassionate smile.  "Breathe the free air again, my friend."

Théoden rose to his feet and looked over his Hall.  "Dark have been my dreams of late."   He looked down at his trembling hands.

"Your fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped your sword," said Gandalf.

Just then Háma, who had left the Hall as Éowyn was ministering to the king, returned, holding a magnificent sword.  Théoden slowly reached for it and wrapped his fingers around the hilt, then slowly, he drew it from its scabbard.  He gazed upon the steel, feeling his strength return.

Théoden's eyes darkened as he gazed down at Gríma, still pinned beneath Gimli's boot.  Wormtongue shuddered and looked fearfully up at the King.  "I have only ever served you, my lord."

Théoden gave him a look of loathing and suspicion.  "Served me?  I think not.  Your leechcraft ere long would have had me walking on all fours like a beast."

Gandalf turned his piercing glance upon Gríma.  “Down, snake!” he said suddenly in a terrible voice.  “Down on your belly!  How long is it since Saruman bought you?  What was the promised price?  When all the men were dead, you were to pick your share of the treasure, and take the woman you desire?  Too long have you watched her under your eyelids and haunted her steps.”

Éowyn gasped, and put the back of her hand to her mouth in horror.  Théoden’s eyes flashed in fury, and he almost used his sword, but managed to rein in his wrath as Gandalf put out his hand.  Instead, the King gestured to the guards, and two of them grabbed the former counsellor by both arms, dragged him to the door, and threw him down the steps.

Everyone in the Hall followed the wizard and the King as they went out the doors and stared down at Wormtongue, who looked up at them with hatred in his eyes.

“Éowyn is safe now,” Gandalf said.  “But you, Wormtongue, you have done what you could for your true master.  Some reward you have earned at least.  Yet Saruman is apt to overlook his bargains.  I should advise you to go quickly and remind him, lest he forget your faithful service.”

“You lie,” said Wormtongue.

“That word comes too oft and easy from your lips,” said Gandalf.  “I do not lie.  See, Théoden, here is a snake!  With safety you cannot take it with you, nor can you leave it behind.  To slay it would be just.  But it was not always as it now is.  Once it was a man, and did you service in its fashion.  Give him a horse and let him go at once, wherever he chooses.  By his choice you shall judge him.”

Kevin watched as Wormtongue slowly stood up.  The man glared at them all through lidded eyes, and then looked up at Théoden, as though he was going to say something.  Kevin was shocked at how much evil and hatred glittered in Wormtongue's eyes.  Suddenly, with a hiss like a snake, he spat at the king.  He missed the King, but it landed at Théoden's feet.  But Wormtongue darted off and down the stairs, not waiting for anyone to grab him and punish him for his act of disrespect.

Wormtongue violently pushed his way through the crowd, as those on the steps solemnly watched him depart.  Kevin exchanged a look with Legolas, who placed his hand on Kevin's shoulder and gave him a reassuring nod.

A moment passed in stunned silence at Wormtongue's sudden departure, but then Hama called out, "Hail, Théoden King!" and the people knelt before their king.

As they did so, the gates of Edoras opened in the distance, and the traitor galloped through them.

-oo000oo-

The day had finally arrived.  Steve and Gail looked around their pleasant guest room, making sure that they had not forgotten anything they might need.  They had taken Elrond's advice on not taking their more modern devices with them; he promised to bring them when he and Arwen left.

"For now," he had said, "I think it best that you not be burdened with too many things; you still may encounter enemies or other dangers in the Wild and be forced to flee.  You will have your daughters to care for, after all.  Speed is imperative now; my daughter and our retinue and I will only leave after the War has ended and the danger is past."  He gave a sigh of frustration.  "I would that I could prevail upon you to wait, but I already know that you will not."

Steve had simply nodded, and Gail had said, "No, we really need to find our other children."

Elrond had nodded in agreement.  Truthfully, he could understand.  If he were in their shoes, he would want to do the same thing.

But while their packs were somewhat lighter, they did have gifts much as the older children had been given before their departure.  Among other things, Steve had been given a rough stone, which he puzzled over, until Arwen explained to him that it was what the Dúnedain used, when they had the time, to scrape their beards.  "Although many, like my beloved Aragorn, use their knives to shave.  But I did not think you would care to try that method."

Steve smiled.  “I prefer to stay clean-shaven myself, so if there is any way that I can safely shave, I will do so.”  He chuckled.  "But you are right, I don't think I would care to accidentally cut my throat just for a shave."  He still had one or two of his disposable razors, which was what he usually used when camping, but they would soon be gone, and he had left his electric razor at home.

The Lady Arwen was walking down to breakfast with him and Gail.  Mairen had already taken Kaylee and Megan down to breakfast a short time earlier.  "I have enjoyed your company," their hostess said, "and especially that of your sweet daughters.  The laughter of children is a rare thing in these halls."

When they arrived, they saw that the girls had saved them a place, for they were already eating, surrounded by Mairen, Eledhwen, and Bilbo.  But two chairs next to Kaylee were empty; she'd been saving them for her parents.  Steve and Gail went to the sideboard to collect their food, and soon joined the merry little group.  The little sisters were giggling together at some silly thing Bilbo was saying.

"I am sorry that you will be leaving," the old hobbit said, as soon as Steve had asked the blessing.  "But I am very glad that I got to meet your delightful family."

"You're welcome," Gail responded.  "And I'm so glad to have met you as well, Bilbo.  You've been a good teacher to Kaylee...and to me."  Gail truly was grateful for the lessons she had learned, not only those of cooking over fire or identifying herbs, but of teaching her that her children were capable of learning things that she had thought them too young for.  She'd come to realize that she had babied them and spoiled them a little, when perhaps she should have been giving them more scope for learning valuable life skills at a young age.  It was hard to admit that Steve's occasional admonishment that she was overprotective of her children was true, but yes, she had been.  The sight of Kaylee happily eating foods she would never have touched before (and which Gail would never have dreamed of making her eat) was proof enough of that.

She gave Steve a rueful smile, and he guessed what she was thinking and gave her an encouraging squeeze of the hand, before he turned back to his own food.  He had grown fond of Elvish frumenty, and didn't know if he'd get any such thing in the Wild or in Lothlórien, and he'd never heard of it back home.  He'd enjoy it while he could.  It would make a good casserole dish, if mixed with ground beef, he thought.

Soon it was time to go.  There was no need to trek down to the paddocks; the grooms would bring their mounts up to the courtyard in front of the Last Homely House.  Steve's Loborros was a big gelding with a slightly shaggy red coat, while Gail had been given a light grey mare with white socks and a white blaze, named Calroc.

Several members of the household who were not going at this time accompanied them—among them, Bilbo, and there were many others who had already gathered there to farewell them all.

Elrond watched as they mounted their horses.  Mairen was mounted, and then Steve passed Megan up to her.  It simply wasn't practical yet for their youngest to ride with him or Gail, not until they were better riders.  Hopefully, they would be able to do so for at least a few hours a day, taking turns, by the time the journey was over.

Lucy, who was now seven months old, had long since been housebroken, and in the kennel, she had quickly learned to heel, to sit, to stand, to stay, to lie down, and to come when called.  More recently, she had also learned how to trot alongside the horses without spooking them or getting clipped by their hooves, and she had learned some other commands that would be necessary for the journey.  In the process, Lucy had reached the point where she now obeyed all commands reliably.  She had already seemed to form “friendships” with the horses and ponies of Rivendell.  Curubor had explained to Steve and Gail that sometimes she’d still need to be carried on horseback for a while; even a full-grown dog might find keeping their travel pace all the time to be rather tiring, and would need some relief, and Lucy was still a puppy.  Right now, she was skipping back and forth, and giving excited little jumps, as though she knew an adventure was ahead.

Kaylee threw her arms around Bilbo.  “I want you to go, too, Mr. Baggins!”  

Bilbo returned her hug.  "I wish that I could, my dear, but I can't.  I will miss you, though."  He said no more than that.  Let the child cling to hope, but he doubted that they would meet again.

"Please, tell Merrylegs 'bye for me?" she said, as she quickly mounted into the saddle.  "Barrel is a good pony and I love her, but I love Merrylegs, too!"

With a laugh, Bilbo gave Barrel a pat on the nose.  "I certainly will pass along your message, Miss Kaylee."

Elrond stood before the group, and Arwen passed among those leaving with a goblet.  Even though she knew that Steve and Gail did not drink wine, she offered them the courtesy anyway.  They had been forewarned, and each took the goblet and merely wet their lips, before she went to offer it to Glorfindel and the warriors, including Mairen, who wore light armour over her traveling clothes and carried a bow slung across her back.  Eledhwen then handed Arwen another goblet containing sweet cider, which she offered to Kaylee, and then Megan.

Elrond spoke to Glorfindel.  "I know that you will care well for our guests.  Please give the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn my greetings and well wishes, and offer them any help they need in defence of the Golden Wood."

"I will, my lord," was the response.

Now the Master of Imladris addressed them all.  "We fare you well in your journey, and wish you safety in these dark times.  May you soon find your other children at the end of the road.  Thankfully, our scouts found no sign of enemies so far as they went."

Steve smiled.  “Thank you.”  Gail nodded.

Glorfindel and six of the warriors rode ahead; Steve, Gail, Kaylee, and Mairen with Megan before her, were positioned behind them.  The remaining warriors went at the rear of the group, the last two leading a pack pony apiece.

They started off, leaving the confines of the Valley, upon the narrow road that would lead them into the Misty Mountains.  After a few minutes, Kaylee began to sing a little song in her sweet treble, one that she had learned from Bilbo.

"The road goes ever, ever on,

Down from the door where it began…"

-oo000oo-

Jennifer woke from a light doze.  Treebeard had stopped reciting his poetry.  It was beautiful to listen to, but also soothing, and kept making her sleepy.  She noticed that Joey was also sound asleep in the Ent's other hand, while Merry and Pippin were faintly snoring.

Scanning the forest, she noticed that twilight was coming on; beneath the trees, it was almost dark.  She also realized that they were going uphill, and that the river that Treebeard had called the Entwash was splashing down from the springs up above, running down the rocks almost like stairs.  On the right of the stream there was a long grass-clad area, leeched of colour in the growing darkness.  Treebeard carried them there; his pace had changed, though it did not slacken, and it was enough to waken the others.  He was taking them towards two large trees that made a sort of gateway with their interwoven boughs.

As Treebeard approached, the trees lifted up their branches, and all their leaves quivered and rustled.  The trees were in full leaf, clearly some sort of evergreen with leaves instead of needles. They weren't holly, though the leaves were dark green and shiny.  Jennifer couldn't recognize what kind they were, though perhaps they might be related to laurel; she had never seen a tree like these where she came from.  Just past them was a wide clearing cut into the hillside.  On each side, the rest of the hill sloped upwards, maybe as much as forty or fifty feet.  Trees almost surrounded the clearing, seemingly taller the further back they went.

But at the back of the clearing stood a sheer cliffside, and there was a small hollow area, not really a cave, but more like an alcove.  The trees on either side of the alcove had entwined their branches to make a roof-like cover.  A path led to the little shelter. A small fall of water ran tinkling down the cliff, and poured down before the opening and gathered in a stone basin.  From there, it overflowed and ran down beside the path to flow away to the Entwash far away.

“Hm!  Here we are!” said Treebeard, breaking his long silence.  “I have brought you about seventy thousand ent-strides, but what that comes to in the measurement of your land I do not know.  Anyhow we are near the roots of the Last Mountain.  Part of the name of this place might be Wellinghall, if it were turned into your language.  I like it.  We will stay here tonight.”   He set Merry, Pippin, Jennifer, and Joey down on the grass between the aisles of the trees, and they followed him towards the great arch.  They noticed that as he walked his knees hardly bent, but his legs opened in a great stride.  Jennifer realized for the first time that the Ent walked toes first, instead of heel-first, like humans.

For a moment Treebeard stood under the rain of the falling spring, and took a deep breath; then he laughed, and passed inside.  A great stone table stood there, but no chairs.  At the back of the bay it was already quite dark.  Treebeard lifted two great vessels and stood them on the table.  They seemed to be filled with water; but he held his hands over them, and immediately they began to glow, one with a golden and the other with a rich green light; and the blending of the two lights lit the bay; as if the sun of summer was shining through a roof of young leaves.  Looking back, they saw that the trees in the court had also begun to glow, faintly at first, but steadily quickening, until every leaf was edged with light: some green, some gold, some red as copper; while the tree-trunks looked like pillars moulded out of luminous stone.

“Well, well, now we can talk again,” said Treebeard.  “You are thirsty I expect.  Perhaps you are also tired.  Drink this!”  He went to the back of the bay, and then they saw that several tall stone jars stood there, with heavy lids.  He removed one of the lids, and dipped in a great ladle, and with it filled five bowls, one very large bowl, and four smaller ones.

“This is an ent-house,” he said, “and there are no seats, I fear.  But you may sit on the table.”  Picking up Jennifer, Joey, and the hobbits one at a time, he set each of them on the great stone slab, six feet above the ground, and there they all sat dangling their legs, and drinking in sips.  The drink was like water, indeed very like the taste of the draughts they had drunk from the Entwash near the borders of the forest, and yet there was some scent and flavour Jennifer could not quite identify.

She sniffed the bowl he had given her.  It smelled like nothing more than clear fresh water, with a slight hint of herbs.  She drank it down, and so did the others.  It made her feel refreshed from the tip of her toes to the top of her head.  

Joey gulped the contents of his bowl down.  "Wow!  This is the best water I've ever tasted, ever!"

“Yeah, it is delicious, isn’t it?” Jennifer agreed, smiling.  Joey nodded agreement and took another swallow.

At last, Treebeard set his bowl down again, laid himself on a long stone ledge, and gestured for them to sit upon the grass.  "Now, hoom, hum, I would hear your tale!”

The hobbits and children slid off the table and perched on the grass, cross-legged.  “Now tell me your tale, and do not hurry!” said Treebeard.

It was Pippin who started.  The hobbits told him the story of their adventures ever since they had left Hobbiton.  They followed no very clear order, for they interrupted one another continually, and Treebeard often stopped the speaker, and went back to some earlier point, or jumped forward asking questions about later events.  They said nothing whatever about the Ring, and did not tell him why they had set out or where they were going to; and he did not ask for any reasons.  All the while, Jennifer listened carefully, and next to her, so did Joey.  She and Joey had heard a little about the hobbits’ adventures before they had arrived in Rivendell, but mostly in snippets, and not really in order.  And then it was Jennifer’s turn to add in the parts where her brothers and sister had joined the story, aided by Joey.  From time to time, as his sister and the hobbits talked, Joey tossed a small stone from his pocket into the air and caught it.

It was a very long story at this point, but Treebeard did not seem to notice.  He was immensely interested in everything: in the Black Riders, in Elrond, and Rivendell, in the McCloud children’s arrival in Middle-earth, in the Old Forest, and Tom Bombadil, in the Mines of Moria, and in Lothlórien and Galadriel.  He made the hobbits describe the Shire and its country over and over again, and he made Jennifer and Joey describe their world as well.

Finally, Jennifer noticed that Joey was flagging, and she was beginning to tire as well.  She began yawning.  "I'm sorry," she said, "I can hardly keep my eyes open, and Joey's really sleepy, too."  She nodded toward her brother, whose chin kept drooping to his chest and then jerking up.  His eyes would pop open and then slowly close again.  The pebble that he had been playing with earlier lay on the ground by the table.

"Hoom, hum," Treebeard answered.  "I am a poor host, making you tell your stories while you are so tired.  Lay you down upon the soft turf and take your rest."

Jennifer helped Joey down and to walk a few paces, and then curled up at her little brother's side.  Her last thought before she fell asleep was, Thank you, Lord, for sending us a friend.  Please take care of Kaylee back in Rivendell, and the others, especially Kevin…  Her thoughts drifted away before she was quite finished as the music of the falling stream soothed her to sleep.





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