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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 Tolkien's 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: We would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of our beta, Linda Hoyland, another well-known and prolific LotR fanwriter, whose many wonderful stories also grace this site.

Chapter 35: Let’s Get Together

Kaylee opened her eyes.  The sun was just coming up.  She yawned, stretched, and rubbed her eyes.  “I’m hungry!” she said.

Megan, who had been sleeping next to her side, woke up at that.  "Me, too," she said, blinking.

“Breakfast will be ready shortly, little ones,” Glorfindel said.  He gestured towards the campfire, where the two little girls could see their mother and Mairen stirring a pot that nestled in the coals.  Steve, who had been helping to feed the horses, came over.

"Hello, munchkins!  Are you awake?"

Kaylee giggled, and then shook her head at her daddy.  "Silly daddy!  Of course, we are!  See?"

Chuckling, her father reached down and picked up Megan, and then held out his hand for his older daughter.  Kaylee put her hand in his, and the three of them went over to where some fresh water had been set out for washing.  Kaylee splashed some water over her face the way they had been doing since they had started their journey, and then she helped Megan do the same, while Daddy dug out a wide-toothed wooden comb from Kaylee's pack, and summoned them over.  He sat down cross-legged, and crooked a finger at Kaylee.  She went over and obediently sat on his lap.  With an expert hand, Daddy combed through her sleep-tousled hair, and then caught it up in a ponytail.  After a minute, Kaylee hopped out of his lap, and he reached for Megan.

She shied away.  "Don' wanna.  It hurts."

"Come on, Megan, you know that you need to have your hair combed," Steve said.  "Kaylee didn't fuss."

Megan pouted and shook her head.

Kaylee looked at her little sister with a disapproving face.  "Megan, you know that if you don't, it will be all messy!"

Megan studied her sister, whose expression did not relent.  "Okaaay," she said.  "I be good."  She went over and plopped in her father's lap.

Kaylee grinned at her.  "There!  That's a big girl!"

Megan smiled back, and then squinched her face up, as her daddy began pulling the comb through her locks.  However, although she made faces, she didn't cry or yell as she had once done.

Steve shook his head, amazed at the influence Kaylee was having on the baby of the family.  Before this, there had been some jealousy on Kaylee's part over the attention that Megan received.  But now she proved to be a good example, and seemed to genuinely enjoy teaching the smallest member of the family.  Turning back to Megan, while brushing her hair, he sang to her:

“The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round,

‘Round and ‘round, ‘round and ‘round.

The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round

All through the town.”

When Steve was finished, he shooed the girls on over to the campfire to get their breakfast, and then turned to see that Glorfindel was standing nearby, a smile on his face that made the Elf seem "shinier" than ever.  "I'm glad we are out of the mountains, Glorfindel," he said.  "Where are we now?"  He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the map he and Bilbo had made, and unfolded it.

The Elf looked at it, and then pointed with a long, slender finger.  "We are here, just a few miles south of the High Pass.  We will pick up the Old Forest Road here, and follow it for just under twenty leagues to the Anduin.  It will be a straight journey Eastward, and we should arrive at the Old Ford in a little over a half-day's ride.  We shall make camp early, for we will be able to pick up supplies there."

"Is there a town there?" Steve asked.  He'd yet to see a town of any sort since he'd arrived in Middle-earth, although he knew that there were some.

"No, there is neither town nor village there, but there is a permanent encampment, where trade is often held.  Master Elrond sent word ahead of our coming, so we can count on seeing the Beornings there with goods for our travel."

"Beornings?" Steve asked.  "Are they any relation to the one Bilbo called Beorn in his stories?"

"You could say that.  They are his descendants, and they hold sway over all the lands of their longfather."

"Do they turn into bears, too?" Steve asked, frowning.  While the tales were interesting, he didn't want to expose his wife and daughters to possible danger.  

Glorfindel shook his head.  "Not that I know of.  But they remain fiercely independent and are yet mighty warriors.  It could be that some among them might have that skill, but if so, it is not revealed to outsiders."  The Elf looked at him, and said, "They are friends and allies.  They would not attack unless provoked by danger, and would never harm a woman or a child.  Your wife and daughters will be quite safe in their company."  Steve nodded, reassured.

He saw that the girls had their breakfast, and were saying good morning to their mother.  He wandered over and gave Gail a peck on the cheek, and accepted a wooden bowl of porridge from her.  He'd never been much for cereal, hot or cold, but the way the Elves made porridge, it was pretty good.  And it sure beat a granola bar for breakfast, which was what the family usually had when camping.

Soon enough, breakfast was finished, and camp had been broken, and it was time to set off.  Steve was pleasantly surprised when Boridhren told him that since they would be riding on an actual road, that they had decided Megan could ride with him, if he felt confident enough to have her do so.

Steve smiled.  “I should like that very much, and I know Megan would, too.”

Megan was, indeed, very happy to ride with Daddy.

Soon enough, the entire group was mounted and ready to ride.  Since they were travelling on an actual road this time, they could ride abreast, so Gail was able to ride right alongside Steve and Megan.  Mairen and Kaylee rode right behind them, although sometimes Kaylee would ride Barrel forward a little, so that she could talk to her parents more easily.  Lucy scampered alongside Barrel, occasionally darting off to say "hello" to one of the other horses, or to explore the fascinating smells along the side of the road.  She didn't stray out of sight of the travellers, and if she began to go too far, a sharp call of "Daro, Lucy!" from whoever spotted her, would bring her back to the road.  She was one member of the party who was obviously very glad to be out of the mountains and able to run about on her own four feet.

The group paused briefly about an hour before noon, when the scouts returned with a message that the Beornings had already set up an encampment on the West bank of the ford, and were expecting their arrival.  Everyone dismounted, and took advantage of the pause to stretch their legs and walk around.  They partook of a midday snack of journeybread and some water before mounting the horses once more and continuing on their way.  

As they rode this time, Mairen rode abreast with Gail, with Steve riding near the front with Glorfindel with Megan in front of him, and Kaylee riding between her mother and her nursemaid on Barrel.  

"What do you know about the Beornings, Mairen?" Gail asked.  "Have you ever met them before?"

Mairen shook her head.  "No, I never have.  But they are once more a prosperous people, though once their numbers were few.  Beorn was almost the last of his people, but he wed a woman of the Lake People, and they had seven sons.  He lived to see all of them wed, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the scattered remnants of his people gathered once more, before he left them.  His eldest son, Beorht, is now the leader of the Beornings.  Some say he has the abilities of his father, but no one really knows for certain outside their people."

“Hey, Mairen!” Kaylee said eagerly.  “Do the animals still serve meals?  Mr. Baggins said they did that!”

"So far as I know, although those special animals only dwell in the heart of the Beornings’ own lands.  We will not be going there, for it is far to the East of the River, and also far out of our way."

"Oh."  Kaylee sounded disappointed.  She gave a big sigh.  "I wish we could go that way.  I want to see the animals serve the meals!”

Gail laughed.  “Well, sweetheart,” she told her daughter, “I’d much rather have my meals served by a human, myself.  Or an elf.”  She looked at Mairen.  “Tell you the truth, Mairen, I’m not sure I’d trust any food made or served by an animal.  Any animal.  I’m not at all sure that the food would be clean, for one thing.  I think Bilbo and his companions were very lucky that the food that Beorn’s animals served them didn’t make them sick.”

Mairen laughed and turned to Kaylee.  "I am sure, Miss Kaylee, that you do not want to take the long way ‘round to find your brothers and sisters, do you?" she added.

"Would it take so terribly long?" Kaylee asked in a small voice.

"Weeks and weeks," Mairen replied dryly.

"Oh.”  Kaylee bit her lower lip.  “Well, I don't want to wait that long to see Jennifer and Kevin and Joey again, then.  But I still wish I could see Beorn's animals."

Mairen laughed.  "And what does Mr. Baggins say about wishes?"

Kaylee grinned, and said in a voice meant to imitate her hobbit friend, "‘If wishes were pies, we'd all be too round to walk about.’"

Mairen and Gail laughed.  “That sounds like him,” Gail said dryly.  “I think all hobbit sayings involve food!  There’s a saying about wishing in our world, as well.  ‘If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.’

Mairen nodded.  "Among the Elves, we say, ‘Be careful of wants and wishes, for you may get what you want, and then wish you had not.

Gail laughed again.  "Somehow, that does sound very Elvish."

Mairen smiled.  "I daresay it does.  Our history shows us much folly, and living as long as we do, we often find that sooner or later, pursuing what we want with too much passion brings more trouble than it is worth in the first place.  The Noldor learned that lesson only after much pain and sorrow."  Her face had grown more solemn as she spoke, but then she shook her head.  "But today is not a day for dwelling on the folly of Elves.  Anor is bright in the sky, and we shall soon be arriving at the Ford, where I am sure you will see many things of interest."  She glanced down at Kaylee with a fond smile, and then she raised her voice and began to sing an Elvish song.

Gail could not understand the words, but it sounded cheerful, and of course, Mairen's voice was lovely.  When she had finished, Kaylee began to sing a nursery song she had learned in her pre-kindergarten class:

“If all the world were paper,

And all the sea were ink,

If all the trees were bread and cheese,

What would we have to drink?"

Mairen and Gail both laughed heartily at that; in front of them, Steve and Glorfindel chuckled.  Then Megan started to sing:

"I'm a 'ittle teapot

S'ort and stout.

Here is my handa,

Here is my spout…"

A short while later, Lucy suddenly darted ahead, barking excitedly.  She sped up the road, and only stopped reluctantly when Steve yelled, "Daro, Lucy!"  She stopped, but did not return, only barking and turning her head back up the road, as if to urge her people to hurry up!

"What's got into her?" Steve asked, his tone torn between annoyance and amusement at her behaviour.

Glorfindel chuckled.  "Her ears and nose are sharp.  I believe she realizes we are close to the River and the encampment.  I can hear the rush of water from here myself, and I would not be surprised if she does not both hear and smell our hosts."

The Elf proved to be right, for they soon topped a rise in the road, and in the not-so-far distance, Steve could now see some pavilions, and a few people milling about.  They were likely less than half a mile from their destination. 

Soon enough, they had all arrived at their destination.  Glorfindel slid down from Asfaloth as two figures approached.  One of them was a tall, muscular Man with distinctive features, and the other was an older person with an oddly-shaped hat, dressed in shabby brown robes and carrying a staff.  A jay was perched upon his shoulder.  Lucy ran up to him eagerly and began to sniff him, wagging her tail in welcome.

Glorfindel placed a hand on his chest and bowed very slightly.  "Well met, Beorht, son of Beorn, and also to you, Radagast the Brown!"

-oo000oo-

Kevin and his friends left the majority of the army behind, to tend the wounded, and to help Eowyn as she led the refugees to the stronghold of Dunharrow, as that was where the muster would be held.  Théoden took a picked company from the remainder of his own éored and that of Éomer's, and of course the five who had come from Rivendell.  Haleth was among the company going with the King; his father had been one of Théoden King's personal guards and the doorwarden of Meduseld, and so the King took a personal interest in his now-fatherless son.  Haleth was riding at the back of the group, and Kevin, who was feeling some responsibility for his new friend rode with him.  It was very eerie as they rode through the mysterious trees; he could sense danger, and yet he also felt that it was not directed at him or his companions.  There was no sign of the Orcs who had fled beneath the eaves, which was almost creepier than it would have been to have seen some of the bodies.  He couldn’t stop wondering what the trees had done to them, besides killing them, although he wasn’t at all sure that he really wanted to know.

Gandalf had told them all to ignore the trees, and Kevin tried his best.  It helped that he was trying to watch after Haleth, who was grieving deeply for his father.  That task left him little time for his own worries; those seemed petty in comparison.

He glanced up towards the front of the line, where the rest of his friends were riding with the King.  Legolas and Gimli appeared to be having a brisk conversation, as he could hear the sound of their voices, if not the words they were saying.

It took longer than he had expected to traverse the eerie forest.  Conversation had died out, and the only sounds he heard now were creakings, groanings, and a rustling of leaves, though there was no breeze to stir them.

It was late afternoon when they exited.  The company turned then away from the Coomb and from the wood and took the road towards the Fords.  The sun had set, already it had sunk behind the rim of the world; but as they rode out from the shadow of the hills and looked west to the Gap of Rohan the sky was still red, and a burning light was under the floating clouds.

Kevin gave a shudder.  This was where the battle in which the King's son Théodred had died, and so many others.  Haleth had not spoken the whole journey, and he was worried for his friend.  He silently prayed for the wisdom to say the right thing to him.      

The group rode on as twilight turned to night, and the moon came up.  It was nearly full, so it gave them light to ride by.  Kevin had begun to learn how to tell time from the sky, and he figured that they'd been riding for maybe about four hours since the road had branched off.  He could hear several of the Rohirrim speaking in surprise, sounding shocked even though he could not understand their words.

"The river," Haleth whispered.  "What happened to it?"

There, where the stepping stones of the Fords had been laid, the River Isengard had gone down to a mere trickle.  The beds of the stream were almost dry, a bare waste of shingles and grey sand.

“Yeah,” Kevin said, gaping down at the nearly dry streambed.  “What has happened to it?”

“This is become a dreary place,” said Éomer.  “What sickness has befallen the river?  Many fair things Saruman has destroyed: has he devoured the springs of Isen too?”

“So it would seem,” said Gandalf.  Kevin looked at his expression.  It looked like it did when the wizard was not telling everything he knew.  He wondered what that might be, and how soon he would find out.

They rode down to the river, and fear fell on them seeing Gandalf in the moon, and Shadowfax his horse shining like silver.  The riders passed over to the islet, and glittering eyes watched them wanly from the shadows of the banks.

“Look!” said Gandalf.  “Friends have laboured here.”

And they saw that in the midst of the eyot a mound was piled, ringed with stones, and set about with many Spears.

“Here lie all the Men of the Mark that fell near this place,” said Gandalf.

“Here let them rest!” said Éomer.  “And when their spears have rotted and rusted, long still may their mound stand and guard the Fords of Isen!”

“Is this your work also, Gandalf, my friend?” said Théoden.  “You accomplished much in three days!

“With the help of Shadowfax—and others,” said Gandalf.  “I rode fast and far.  But here beside the mound I will say this for your comfort: many fell in the battles of the Fords, but fewer than rumour made them.  More were scattered than were slain; I gathered together all that I could find.  Some men I sent to join Éomer.  Some I set to make this burial.”

Once they had left the Isen behind, there was an ancient road that ran before them.  At first it ran parallel with the river, but after a while it turned more northerly, heading straight towards Isengard.  The road was a good one for the horses, and they were able to ride about another fifteen miles more by midnight.  There it was decided to stop for the night.

Kevin noticed that they could see a huge plume of smoke or steam far in the distance.  "What's that, Gandalf?" he asked.

"Yes, what do you think?" Aragorn added.  "One could say that all the Wizard's Vale was burning."

Éomer added something about the area always seeming to have water and smoke coming from it these days.  "Maybe Saruman is boiling all the waters of the Isen, and that is why the river runs dry."

Gandalf's reply was as cryptic as he usually was.  "Let us rest while we can," he added.

Later in the night, there was a cry from the watch!  Kevin jerked awake and his hand went to his sword; there was a blackness creeping over them.  But before he could draw his weapon, or even stand up, Gandalf spoke sharply.  "Stay where you are!  Draw no weapons!  Wait! and it will pass you by."

Kevin tried, but he could not relax with all that blackness, and creaking and groaning passing over them.  It seemed like forever before the last of it passed them by, and he could not really get back to sleep.  What on earth was that? he wondered.  Just as he thought he would at least try to close his eyes, he heard a loud rushing sound: the river had come back, and soon it was rushing full and flowing between its banks once more.  As long as it doesn’t flood! he thought.  I’m not dressed for a swim.

They roused at the first light of dawn, and made ready to ride on once more.  They still had several leagues to go.  Everything was foggy, and there was a nasty smell to the air—almost like smog or pollution, thought Kevin, though he'd not heard of anything like that in Middle-earth.  When the mist did briefly clear after they'd ridden for a good long while, there was nothing except devastation to be seen.  As the Sun began to burn off some of the fog, they could see more clearly: rubble and broken walls and flooded ground.

Kevin and the rest all stared silently at the sight before them.  It seemed obvious that Saruman had been defeated—but how?  And then he looked over at the pile of rubble near the gates and he suddenly saw two small figures lying on it, hardly to be seen with their grey cloaks, surrounded by bottles and bowls and plates.  They both looked very satisfied, and two of them had wisps of pipe smoke issuing from their mouths.  Kevin felt his heart leap.  This was Merry and Pippin!  But—where were Jennifer and Joey?  He looked around for his brother and sister, and then turned toward his companions.

The Rohirrim appeared to be shocked by the sight.  Kevin spotted a number of them with their mouths hanging open in astonishment; even Haleth, at his side, seemed to perk up a little, his eyes wide open.

Then as they drew a bit closer, one of the smoke-breathing figures stood up.  To Kevin's delight, it was Merry.  He bowed very low, putting his hand upon his breast, and pretending not to see his friends, he turned to Éomer and the king.

“Welcome, my lords, to Isengard!” he said.  “We are the doorwardens.  Meriadoc, son of Saradoc is my name; and my companion, who, alas! is overcome with weariness”—here he gave the other a dig with his foot—“is Peregrin, son of Paladin, of the house of Took.  Far in the North is our home.”  He peered at the ravaged building behind him for a moment, and then turned back to their guests.  “We are joined by Jennifer, the daughter of Steven, and her brother Joey; at the moment, they are in the storeroom, but we can call them back out here.  The Lord Saruman is no longer counted among the living, or doubtless he would be here to welcome such honourable guests.  However, one Gríma is within the Tower.”

“News not unexpected,” said Gandalf, laughing.  “And who was it that ordered you to guard the damaged doors, and watch for the arrival of guests, when your attention could be spared from plate and bottle?”

"Our orders came from Treebeard," said Merry, "who has taken over the management of Isengard.  He commanded me to welcome the Lord of Rohan with fitting words.  I have done my best.”

At the mention of his sister and brother, Kevin urged his mount forward to join his friends just in time to hear Gimli say:

“And what about your companions?  What about Legolas and me?  You rascals, you woolly-footed and wool-pated truants!  A fine hunt you have led us!  Two hundred leagues, through fen and forest, battle and death, to rescue you!  And here we find you feasting and idling—and smoking!  Smoking!  Where did you come by the weed, you villains?  Hammer and tongs!  I am so torn between rage and joy, that if I do not burst, it will be a marvel!”

“You speak for me, Gimli,” laughed Legolas.  “Though I would sooner learn how they came by the wine.”

“One thing you have not found in your hunting, and that's brighter wits,” said Pippin, opening an eye.  “Here you find us sitting on a field of victory, amid the plunder of armies, and you wonder how we came by a few well-earned comforts!”  He gave them a grin full of mischief.

“Well-earned?” said Gimli.  “I cannot believe that!”

But while the Riders laughed, Kevin grinned as he saw Pippin move over to a dark opening within the gate and shout, "Jennifer!  Joey!  You might want to come out here!"  He was finally going to see his brother and sister again!

He no longer listened to the banter between the Riders and the hobbits, but watched as he saw the two he had been most worried about burst from the opening.  He jumped from his horse and ran forward as both Jennifer and Joey half-ran and half-slid down the side of the rubble, which thankfully was not precariously unstable.  They ran together to embrace one another with laughter and tears, Kevin repeating over and over and over again, "Thank God!"

Kevin was drawn back to reality when he heard Gandalf's distinct voice.  "You do not know your danger, Théoden,” the wizard interrupted; Jennifer and Joey also turned toward him as he spoke.  “These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remoter cousins to the ninth degree, if you encourage them with undue patience.  Some other time would be more fitting for the history of smoking.  Where is Treebeard, Merry?”

Merry pointed out the Ent's location with a wave of his hand.  Kevin looked in that direction, hearing a rumbling sound, and another sound as of distant horns.

“And is Orthanc then left unguarded?” asked Gandalf.

“There is the water,” said Merry.  He also pointed out various Ents planted here and there, including Quickbeam.

“Yes, a tall grey Ent is there,” said Legolas, “but his arms are at his sides, and he stands as still as a Door-tree.”

"That's Quickbeam," said Joey.  "He's a friend of ours, but he's been upset since he killed Saruman."

So, that's what happened.  Well, it is past noon,” said Gandalf, “and we at any rate have not eaten since early morning.  Yet I wish to see Treebeard as soon as may be.  Did he leave me no message, or has plate and bottle driven it from your mind?”

“He left a message,” said Merry, “and I was coming to it, but I have been hindered by many other questions.  I was to say that, if the Lord of the Mark and Gandalf will ride to the northern wall they will find Treebeard there, and he will welcome them.  I may add that they will also find food of the best there, it was discovered and selected by your humble servants.”  He bowed.

Gandalf laughed.  “That is better!” he said.  “Well, Théoden. will you ride with me to find Treebeard?  We must go round about, but it is not far.  When you see Treebeard, you will learn much.  For Treebeard is Fangorn, and the eldest and chief of the Ents, and when you speak with him you will hear the speech of the oldest of all living things.”

“I will come with you,” said Théoden.  “Farewell, my hobbits!  May we meet again in my house!  There you shall sit beside me and tell me all that your hearts desire: the deeds of your grandsires, as far as you can reckon them; and we will speak also of Tobold the Old and his herb-lore.  Farewell!”

The hobbits bowed low.  “So that is the King of Rohan!” said Pippin in an undertone.  “A fine old fellow.  Very polite.”

Jennifer giggled at Pippin's remark.  Kevin was holding Joey in his arms, and he chuckled as well.  "What an understatement!" he said, and Joey grinned.

“I can’t wait to meet him,” Joey said.  “Is he a real king?”

Aragorn nodded, his eyes crinkled in amusement.  “Yes, Joey.  He is a real king, and you shall soon have your wish.  I will introduce you children to Théoden King when he comes back.”

Gandalf rode off eastward, along with the King and the Rohirrim who had accompanied them.  But Aragorn, Boromir, Kevin, Gimli, and Legolas lingered, as did Haleth, who was loath to leave Kevin's company.  Kevin hopped up to sit on one of the rocks next to Joey.  Jennifer was on Joey's other side.  Kevin snaked out one of his long arms to embrace both his brother and sister at the same time.  He gave them a squeeze, and Joey leaned into his older brother's side briefly.

"Ew!" he said, scrunching up his face in disgust.  "You smell like a sweaty horse, Kev!"

"That is high praise," said the blond boy who was with Kevin.

Kevin took a moment to introduce Haleth, who no longer seemed so downcast.  "Haleth, I would like you to meet my sister Jennifer and my brother Joey.  Jen and Joey—this is my new friend, Haleth, son of Háma."

Haleth blushed deeply, and softly said, "I am honoured to meet you."  He looked away, too shy to maintain eye contact.

"Any friend of our brother is a friend of ours," Jennifer answered.  Joey nodded briskly.

“Well, well!  The hunt is over, and we meet again at last, where none of us ever thought to come,” said Aragorn.  The remaining companions also made themselves comfortable on the sun-baked rocks.

After a few more pleasantries between the reunited friends and family, the hobbits offered to bring out a picnic of items from the storehouse. Jennifer got up to help Merry and Pippin.  Joey promptly got into his brother's lap, and clung to him, horsey smell or no horsey smell.  Kevin was somewhat startled, as his little brother had outgrown lap-sitting a few years back, but he was happy enough to hang onto Joey.  He bent his head down and planted a kiss on top of Joey's hair.  Haleth sat next to the boys.

Joey looked up and whispered, "I was scared, Kev!  I thought I might not ever see you again."

Kevin nodded and squeezed him gently as they waited for the food to come out.  “I know you were, Joey,” he whispered back.  “If orcs had captured me, I would have been scared, too.  But you’re safe now, and we’re back together.”  Joey said not a word, but wrapped his arms around his big brother, who hugged him.

Pippin went into the storeroom and came out minutes later with a pile of wood in his arms; climbing off Kevin’s lap and leaping to his feet, Joey and Haleth rushed toward him to take some of the wood out of his arms.  Together, the three of them arranged the wood in a pile, and with a flint, Aragorn set it on fire.  “Wish we had some matches,” Kevin muttered.  “Matches are a whole lot easier to use.”  Smiling wryly, Jennifer nodded agreement.  Haleth looked at them, puzzled.

Jennifer brought out a bottle of wine and a pitcher of beer, and apologized to her brothers.  "We've been drinking hot water—boiling it and then letting it cool a little."  She grimaced.  "The water is really dirty after the flood, and I'm afraid of drinking it plain."

“Merry and Pippin made us some tea, too, once,” Joey added, glancing at the hobbits.

Kevin said, "Well—"  He glanced at Aragorn.  "—we can take some of the water and add just a little wine—it will help to sanitize the water.  Aragorn knows how much; it's what he's been doing for me since he knows I don't want to drink alcohol."

All the details of the meal were settled, and they sat down together and began to feast on bread, cheese, bacon grilled on sticks over the fire, and apples.  When the meal ended, Aragorn and Gimli were quite pleased to have a share in the smoking of the Southfarthing leaf that the hobbits had found, although Aragorn was a little concerned about the implications of finding it in Isengard.

They could see far down into the valley now; the mists were lifting and floating away upon the breeze.

“Now let us take our ease here for a little!” said Aragorn.  “We will sit on the edge of ruin and talk, as Gandalf says, while he is busy elsewhere.  I feel a weariness such as I have seldom felt before.”  He wrapped his grey cloak about him, hiding his mail-shirt, and stretched out his long legs.  Then he lay back and sent from his lips a thin stream of smoke.

“Look!” said Pippin.  “Strider the Ranger has come back!”

“He has never been away,” said Aragorn.  “I am Strider and Dúnadan too, and I belong both to Gondor and the North.”

They smoked in silence for a while, and the sun shone on them; slanting into the valley from among white clouds high in the West.  Legolas lay still, looking up at the sun and sky with steady eyes, and singing softly to himself; Kevin, Jennifer, Joey, and Haleth stayed close to him, upwind from the pipe smoke.  At last he sat up.  “Come now!” he said.  “Time wears on, and the mists are blowing away, or would if you strange folk did not wreathe yourselves in smoke.  What of the tale?”

“Well, my tale begins with waking up and finding myself all strung-up in an orc-camp,” said Pippin.  “Let me see, what is today?”

Among them, the four who had been captured told their stories.  Pippin seemed to tell the most, although Merry, Jennifer, and Joey all had their contributions to the tale.  When Pippin got to the part where he let his brooch fall as a clue, Aragorn interrupted.

"Here are some treasures you let fall," he said.  From his belt beneath his cloak, he took the hobbits' knives and belts, as well as Pippin's brooch.  Boromir returned Joey's sling, belt, and knife to him, Legolas gave Jennifer her bow and arrows and her knives, and Joey's pack to him, and Kevin gave Jennifer her pack, where he had stowed the walkie-talkies and her scrunchie that they had found.  All of them were pleased to have their possessions back, and the story waited for a while as they looked over their belongings, that they had never thought to see again.  But soon enough, they returned to the tale of their capture and escape.

The picnic ended, and with the story told, they gathered themselves up, and went to find Gandalf and the others.  They spotted the riders, along with Treebeard, approaching from the north, and went to join them.

“Théoden King,” Aragorn said to the King of Rohan, “you have already met Kevin, son of Steven, but now I should like to introduce you to his sister, Lady Jennifer, and their brother, Joey.”  He gestured toward each child as he introduced him or her.

Théoden’s eyes crinkled kindly as he gazed at the children.  “It is my pleasure to meet you, Lady Jennifer and Master Joey,” he told them, and then looked at Haleth.  “I see that Haleth, son of Háma, is making some new friends in you two.  He has already made a friend in Lord Kevin.”

Joey gaped up at him.  “Are you—are you really—a real king?”

Théoden and the others laughed.  “Yes, Master Joey, I am a real king, the King of Rohan."  He gave a gracious nod of his head, and Jennifer, recalling her lessons in Rivendell, gave a bow (since she was not wearing skirts and could not curtsey), and Joey, prompted by her, also bowed.

“None of us has ever met a king before, Your Majesty,” Jennifer explained, still slightly bent from her bow.  “This is new to us.”

"Rise, my lady.  We of Rohan are not so formal as those of Gondor.  Yet I say to you, your manners are a credit to you, and to you as well, young Joey."  He gave them a gentle smile.

Jennifer blushed.  He really was, as Pippin had said, "a fine old fellow and very polite", though she did not repeat the sentiment aloud.  “Thank you,” she said, glancing at Joey, who smiled his thanks.

"My Lord," said Gandalf to the King of Rohan, "we shall need to decide the fate of your former advisor, and then I will lock up the Tower of Orthanc, for there is likely much there which should not be meddled with, I daresay."  Théoden nodded agreement.

From their vantage at the foot of Orthanc, Théoden called out, "Wormtongue!  Come forth and hear your doom!"

Gríma, his face pale and his hair wild, came to look out the window.  But he said nothing.  Instead, with an angry cry, he raised both arms high, and in his hands was some large round object which he heaved down upon their heads.  His aim was poor, or perhaps he could not tell whether he wished it to land upon the King’s head, or upon Gandalf’s, for it fell down to smite the stair near where they stood.  It was Wormtongue’s last action; three arrows suddenly sprouted from his chest, one of them from Legolas, the others from two of the King’s escort.

The stair cracked and splintered in glittering sparks.  But the ball was unharmed: it rolled on down the steps, a globe of crystal, dark, but glowing with a heart of fire.  As it bounded away towards a pool, Pippin ran after it and picked it up.

Joey darted after him.  “Hey, wait for me!  Let me see!” he called.

“The murderous rogue!” cried Éomer.

Gandalf was unmoved.  "A parting shot from Master Wormtongue, I fancy, but ill-aimed.”

“The aim was poor, maybe, because he could not make up his mind which he hated more, you or Théoden,” said Aragorn.

"Perhaps both," Gandalf replied, as he waded over to where Pippin and Joey were examining the fascinating object.

“Here, my lads, I'll take that!  I did not ask you to handle it,” he cried, seeing Pippin and Joey handling it as if it were very heavy.  He went down to meet them and hastily took the dark globe from the two young ones, wrapping it in the folds of his cloak.  “I will take care of this,” he said.  “It is not a thing, I guess, that Saruman would have chosen to cast away if he were still alive.”

Joey bit his lip, resentment etching his face.  “No fair!  I want to see that!”

Pippin scowled.  "I saved it out of the deep water," he grumbled, "and naught so much as a 'thanks’!”

“It is not a child’s toy, Joey,” Aragorn told the young boy from his horse.

"Nor is it a curiosity for hobbits," Gandalf added.  

"Well," said Gimli, "that’s enough.  If things are settled here, I say let this be an end, and let's be on our way!"

The sun was high above the long western arm of the mountains when Gandalf and his companions, and the king with his Riders, set out again from Isengard.  Gandalf took Merry behind him, and Aragorn took Pippin; Joey rode with Boromir, and Éomer took Jennifer before him.  Two of the king's men went on ahead, riding swiftly.  The others followed at an easy pace.

While Gandalf rode up ahead with the King, as did Éomer and Jennifer, the others rode a bit behind.  Aragorn and Boromir rode side by side, with Pippin and Joey before them.  The leisurely pace made conversation easier.

"Where are we going now?" Joey asked.

"I believe the plan is an easy ride to the end of the valley," answered Aragorn.  "We will set up camp there for tonight, then tomorrow we'll continue our journey.  We had originally intended to go straight to Edoras, but after the battle, Théoden King changed his mind: we'll go first to Helm's Deep, and then from there to the mountain stronghold in Dunharrow."

"Why?" asked Pippin.

"Because," said Boromir this time, "the next likely battle will fall in Minas Tirith, and Dunharrow is the best place in the South to muster the éoreds."

There was a brief silence.  Pippin could tell that Gandalf and Merry were talking, but they weren't quite close enough for him to hear what they were saying.  Finally, he gave up.  "Aragorn, what was that round thing Wormtongue threw from the tower?  I didn't get a very good look at it."

"I do not know for certain, although I have suspicions.  But I would rather not say, Pippin.  If Gandalf wanted anyone to know, he would have told us.  I do not think he wishes it discussed."

Joey looked sideways at Pippin, who caught his eye.  Neither of them was satisfied with that answer.   "Boromir?" Joey asked tentatively.  An amused snort came from behind him.

"I neither know nor suspect any more than does Aragorn, Joey," he said.  "And I agree.  Gandalf does not want that bandied about.  It is unwise to meddle in the affairs of wizards."  Joey pouted.

"Well, since we can't talk about anything interesting," he finally said, "tell us about where we're going?  Isn't Helm's Deep where you guys were fighting?  I thought that's what Kevin said."

Boromir and Aragorn went on to describe Helm's Deep a little bit, and to tell some parts of the course of the battle, although they did not go into the sorts of details they thought unsuitable for Joey.  Pippin could tell they were leaving out a lot, but he didn't mind; they had won in the end, and to his mind, that was all that mattered.  And Joey did not seem to notice they were skipping some parts.

"What happened to Haldir and the other Elves?" asked Joey.  He had liked the Marchwarden of Lothlórien during their stay there.   

"A few of them were injured; they were going to stay there until the injured Elves were well enough to travel, and then they were going to head West towards the River Anduin, to see if there were any other Orcs or enemies coming down from the North.  Then they were going to head back to Lothlórien, since Lord Celeborn was expecting it to also be attacked soon.  Depending on whether any of the injured have recovered well enough, they may still be in Helm's Deep when we arrive."

The conversation tapered off.  The road was winding down the valley, and they could sometimes hear the sound of the River Isen to their right.  It grew darker and darker, and Joey fell asleep.  Pippin was still awake, though, his mind returning over and over again to that curious stone he had picked up.  The moon came out, full and round, lighting their way with its cold light.

Finallythey halted.  Then they turned aside, leaving the highway and riding upon the green grass on the verge. The went west for a mile or so, and made camp in a little dale about an hour or so before midnight.  

Two guards were chosen to keep watch.  A light supper of trail provisions was eaten.  Pippin and Merry had a few apples they had brought from Isengard, which they cut up and shared with their friends.  "I am sorry we couldn't bring away more!" said Merry, looking at the other people in the encampment.

Aragorn chuckled.  "I am sure they do not mind," he said.  "And I am thankful for your sharing."

But the meal was a short one, for all were tired, and they wrapped themselves up in cloaks and blankets.  Joey had decided to curl up near Merry and Pippin.  He pretended to be already asleep, though he felt quite wound up still.  So did Pippin, it seemed; the hobbit kept squirming in his blanket.  The bracken upon which they lay rustled with his movements.

“What's the matter?” Merry asked Pippin.  "You are fidgeting as though you are lying on an ant-hill.”

“No,” said Pippin, “but I'm not comfortable.  And I can't help thinking about that—glass ball, now.  Gandalf seemed mighty pleased with it.  He knows or guesses something about it.  But does he tell us what?  No, not a word.  Yet I picked it up, and I saved it from rolling into a pool.  'Here, I'll take that, my lads...'—that's all.  I wonder what it is?  It felt so very heavy.”  Pippin's voice fell very low as if he was talking to himself.

Joey couldn't help thinking about that, too.  That ball, or whatever it was, had been so fascinating, with those deep lights swirling within.  He'd love to get another look at it himself.

“Hullo!” said Merry.  “So that's what is bothering you?  Now, Pippin my lad, don't forget Gildor's saying—the one Sam used to quote: ‘Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger’.'”

Joey almost giggled.  Before they had come here, he had once seen a T-shirt that said, ‘Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons because you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.’

“But our whole life for months has been one long meddling in the affairs of Wizards,” said Pippin.  “I should like a bit of information as well as danger.  I should like a look at that Ball.”

So would I, thought Joey.

“Go to sleep!” said Merry.  “You’ll get information enough, sooner or later.  My dear Pippin, no Took ever beat a Brandybuck for inquisitiveness, but is this the time, I ask you?”  He rolled over and turned his back.

“All right!  What's the harm in my telling you what I should like: a look at that stone?  I know I can't have it, with old Gandalf sitting on it, like a hen on an egg.  But it doesn't help much to get no more from you than a you-can't-have-it So-go-to-sleep!”

“Well, what else could I say?” said Merry, half-twisting his upper body and craning his head to face Pippin again.  “I'm sorry, Pippin, but you really must wait till the morning.  I'll be as curious as you like after breakfast, and I'll help in any way I can at wizard-wheedling.  But I can't keep awake any longer.  If I yawn any more, I shall split at the ears.  Good night!”  He turned back on his side.

But Pippin did not go to sleep, although he said no more.  Under his own half-open eyelids, Joey could see his friend was still awake.  He didn't miss it when Pippin carefully crawled out from under the blanket and began crawling in Gandalf's direction—the wizard was sleeping on the other side of the camp.  He waited a few seconds, and then crept after the hobbit.

"Wait!" he hissed, when he was close enough for Pippin to hear a whisper.  "Wait for me!  I want to see, too!"

Pippin glanced back, and Joey feared he would tell him to go away, but instead he gave a grin and a nod.

Gandalf had the thing securely in his arm, and moreover was sleeping with his eyes open; one never knew when a wizard was actually asleep. Joey crept up behind him. How could they get it when the wizard was holding onto it so hard?

Pippin waved his hand in front of Gandalf’s eyes.  They didn’t blink.

“He’s asleep,” hissed Joey.

Pippin looked at the bundle in Gandalf’s arms.

Just then, Merry woke up.  “Pippin!  Joey!  What are you doing?” he hissed, a worried look on his face.

Pippin ignored him and crept a few feet away to find a stone about the same size.  Gandalf muttered something in his sleep, making Pippin recoil in fear, but he grabbed the bundle from Gandalf's arm, replacing it with the stone he had found.

Pippin and Joey crept back over to where Merry was sitting up, appalled.  "Pippin!  Joey!  Are you mad?  Put it back!" he said.  "You will be in so much trouble, both of you!  Put—it—back!"

But they ignored him.

Pippin pulled the cloth from the stone, and looked into its depths.  Joey sat back and looked over Pippin's shoulder.

The air seemed still and tense about them.  At first the globe was dark, black as jet, with the moonlight gleaming on its surface.  Then there came a faint glow and stir in the heart of it.  Joey jerked back, as it had tried to hold his eyes.  It suddenly came to him that this was a really stupid thing to do.  But it appeared to be holding onto Pippin's eyes, so that now the hobbit seemed to struggle to look away.  Joey found himself fighting an overpowering temptation to look again, but Merry grabbed hold of his shoulder and pulled him back with a yank.

Suddenly the lights went out.  Pippin gave a gasp and struggled; but he remained bent, clasping the ball with both hands,as if he could not let go.  Closer and closer he bent, and then became rigid; his lips moved soundlessly for a while.  Then with a strangled cry he fell back and lay still.






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