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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.

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.

Can you guess the origin of the title chapter?  HINTS: It sort of follows the pattern of previous titles; TV, 2009, and H.M.

Chapter 37: Supergirl

Theoden, Aragorn, and the army stopped as it neared dawn, and everyone dismounted and prepared to have some breakfast, as well as a short respite for themselves, and according to the Rohirrim, more importantly for the horses.

Jennifer stretched, and thanked Elladan for letting her ride with him.  He nodded graciously.  "You are most welcome, Lady Jennifer."  Then he wandered over to where Aragorn and the rest of the Dúnedain were gathered.  She went to get something to eat and to see how things were with Kevin and Haleth.

There was no cookfire. The three of them got some journeybread from the supplies, and drank from their waterskins. Merry joined them. They all sat down upon the grass to relax for a while, and Jennifer asked Haleth about his family.  It turned out that in addition to his mother and younger sister, he also had an older sister who was married.  She and her husband lived in a different village with her father-in-law, who was ill.  Haleth sighed and looked sad, and Jennifer recalled that he had only just lost his father.  She bit her lower lip, wishing that she could say something to make him feel better, but not knowing what to say.

“Psst!” Kevin interrupted.  "Look!  Over there!"

Théoden, Éomer, and some of the higher-ranking Rohirrim had joined Aragorn and the Dúnedain, and there was more conversation going on.

"Should we go over and see what's going on?"  Jennifer asked.

Kevin was about to say, "Yes," and get up, but Haleth laid a hand upon his arm, shaking his head.  "This must be the business of lords and captains.  If they need us to know what is happening, they will tell us when we need to know."

"Haleth is right," Merry said. "It would be really rude to go over and interrupt.  And we can't really eavesdrop, either; there's no cover."  He shook his head.

Kevin and Jennifer looked unhappy at this advice, but did not object.  Instead, Merry changed the conversation to horses, which Jennifer found more than a little boring, but she had to admit to herself that it appeared to have cheered Haleth up again.

Journeybread washed down with water was not the most appealing meal; the bread tasted nothing like lembas, or even the regular journeybread of the Elves.  Dry and tasteless, it took a lot of chewing, even when followed by swallows of lukewarm water.  I sure hope army food in modern times tastes better than this! Jennifer thought, making a face.  I’ll have to ask Daddy sometime, when we’re back home.

After a while, Haleth pointed.  The consultation of the captains seemed to be breaking up, and Théoden and Éomer went off back to the main body of Rohirrim.  Éomer looked unhappy, but Théoden just appeared to be resigned.

But the four young people perked up as they saw Aragorn and the two Elves heading in their direction.  Perhaps now they would find out what all that was about.

They stood up, and Haleth gave a small bow.  "What was all that about, Aragorn?" Kevin asked.

"I have been pondering the word sent to me from Rivendell.  The Rohirrim need to linger briefly here, for they are expecting a company of the muster to join them.  But I feel the need is urgent, given the news from my foster father that I must go on with all speed.  Therefore, the Grey Company, Legolas, and Gimli will ride with us as we go on immediately.  We shall be taking the Paths of the Dead.  Merry, Kevin, and Jennifer, the choice belongs to each of you, whether to join us or remain with the Riders of Rohan?"

Kevin and Jennifer looked at each other, shocked.  "I think," Kevin said, slowly and reluctantly, “that I need to stay with the Riders.  That was the advice Lady Arwen gave me, after all.”

Merry nodded.  "I've pledged my allegiance to the King.  I haven't had a chance to tell him about pipe-weed yet, after all!"  He gave Aragorn a lopsided grin.

They all looked expectantly at Jennifer.  She looked at her brother.  "I'm sorry, Kevin.  But Lady Arwen gave me advice, too."  She heaved out a deep breath and looked up at Aragorn.  "I'm going with you."

Aragorn looked at her sternly.  "It will not be a pleasant journey, Jennifer."

Jennifer shrugged.  "I know, and I don't care.  Lady Arwen told me to stay with you, remember?  It's what I need to do."  She did not look happy herself, but her face was set and resolute.

"Very well.”  Aragorn nodded.  “You will continue to ride with Elladan, although we will take your horse along as a spare.  Get ready; we will be leaving as soon as we can."

Aragorn and his foster brothers turned and walked away, leaving Kevin looking desperate.

Merry took Haleth by the hand.  "Come along, Haleth!  Let's let brother and sister say their farewells."  The two left, leaving Kevin and Jennifer alone.

Kevin took his sister by the shoulders.  "I don't like this, Jen!  You'll be going off on this Paths of the Dead thing, which sounds more than a little ominous to me."

Jennifer smiled ruefully.  "I already prayed about it, Kevin, right after we got the messages.  I knew we'd be separated again; I just didn't think it would be quite this soon.  And I really feel that this is what the Lord wants me to do.  I don't know why, but I just know there is something I need to do at the other end.  And you know Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli will take care of me."

He nodded reluctantly.  "Yeah, I know they will.  I’d go with you, Jen, but I feel that I must stay with the Rohirrim.  Haleth…"  His voice trailed off.  Kevin could not quite explain it, but he felt that Haleth still needed his friendship to get through this next battle.  And he knew that if Jennifer did not go with Aragorn, Théoden King would not allow her to come with the army of Rohan; he would not even allow his own niece to fight, and she had been trained as a warrior!  So, the two of them would be separated, anyway.  And Kevin suspected from the looks Aragorn had exchanged with Théoden, when Merry had sworn fealty, that the King would leave Merry behind as well.  How could they go off and leave the poor hobbit all alone?  But there was no other choice.

Brother and sister embraced, and quietly prayed with one another, before saying their farewells.  Then Jennifer turned to join Aragorn and the others.  She would ride pillion with Elladan for now, although they had a couple of spare mounts with the Grey Company in addition to hers, since she could not ride as fast as they would need to, once they came to the other side of the passage.

Kevin's heart sank as he watched them ride away.  It seemed that every time he got a member of his family back, they ended up getting torn apart again.

-oo000oo-

Riding behind Elladan, Jennifer could not help but wonder what all this "Paths of the Dead" business was about.  It sounded very ominous.  But Aragorn insisted that it was what he had to do, and Jennifer trusted both Lady Arwen and Lord Elrond and their foresight.  And there was her own feeling—it was much like the feeling she’d had after the dream that had made her realize that she and her siblings had to leave Rivendell with the Quest.  True, there had been no obvious dream this time, or like the time in Lothlórien.  But she was gradually learning to trust that "still, small voice" in her heart, even when it seemed to send her ways she didn't want to go.

The small group rode much more swiftly than the Riders who were going on a slower way, for they needed to gather the muster as they went.

It was not quite evening when they came to Dunharrow, where they were greeted by the Lady Èowyn.  It was clear to Jennifer that Èowyn was glad of their coming,and she also seemed glad to see Jennifer again, but mostly Èowyn had eyes for Aragorn as she listened to all the details of the battle and the things that had happened since then.

But at last she said: “Lords, you are weary and shall now go to your beds with such ease as can be contrived in haste.  But tomorrow fairer housing shall be found for you.”

She glanced at Jennifer, who still felt tired and a bit grubby even after washing up and changing before the meal.  "Lady Jennifer, would you do me the honour of sharing my chamber tonight?  In truth, we are quite crowded here, and there is no other suitable place for you."

Jennifer nodded.  "Thank you, my lady, that would be fine."

But when Lady Èowyn turned to Aragorn to speak of how they might arrange things later, he shook his head.  “Nay, lady, be not troubled for us!  If we may lie here tonight and break our fast tomorrow, it will be enough.  For I ride on an errand most urgent, and with the first light of morning we must go.”

She smiled on him and said: “Then it was kindly done, lord, to ride so many miles out of your way to bring tidings to Èowyn, and to speak with her in her exile.”

“Indeed no man would count such a journey wasted,” said Aragorn; “and yet, lady, I could not have come hither, if it were not that the road which I must take leads me to Dunharrow.”

And she answered as one that likes not what is said: "Then, lord, you are astray; for out of Harrowdale no road runs east or south; and you had best return as you came.”

“Nay, lady,” said he, “I am not astray; for I walked in this land ere you were born to grace it.  There is a road out of this valley, and that road I shall take.  Tomorrow I shall ride by the Paths of the Dead.”

Èowyn was shocked at this news, and tried to dissuade him, but he only shook his head, and told her that this was the way he must go.

Jennifer could tell that the lady was subdued as she led Jennifer to the sleeping chamber.  They took off their outer clothes, but kept their shifts for sleeping in.

"What is your role, Lady Jennifer?”  Èowyn asked her.  “Did the Lord Aragorn bring you here to leave you in my keeping as he treads this foolishly dangerous road?"

Jennifer shook her head.  "That might be nice, because then I'd be with my older brother in a day or so.  But no, the information we have from Rivendell is too important.  The Lord Elrond has told Aragorn that he can only arrive in Minas Tirith in time if he takes the Paths of the Dead.  And the Lady Arwen also had foresight, and sent word to me that I must go with him.  And really, I do need to, for my little brother is already on the way there, and he will need me—more than my older one does, in fact."  She sighed.  She was very worried about Joey, and how he’d had to leave with Pippin so suddenly after that foolishness with the Stone.  “He’s only nine years old, Lady Èowyn.  Too young to be away in that far-off city without at least one of us there with him.”

"Who is Lady Arwen?" asked Èowyn.

"She’s an Elf, Master Elrond’s daughter, and Elladan and Elrohir’s sister—you met them tonight—and she is also engaged—er, I mean betrothed—to Aragorn."

Èowyn suddenly looked sad.  "He is betrothed?" she asked.

Jennifer nodded.  "Yes, they've been betrothed for a long time.  Bilbo—he's another friend in Rivendell—he says they've been betrothed for forty years now!"

"Surely you are jesting with me now!"  Èowyn looked stern and disbelieving.

Jennifer shook her head, biting back an amused grin.  "Nope.  She's an Elf, and you know they live pretty much forever and never get old.  And Aragorn is one of the Dúnedain.  They live a very long time, and get old very slowly."  She could tell Èowyn seemed to be disappointed, and decided to change the subject.  "Did your family always live in the King's Court?"

Èowyn shook her head, and explained that she and her brother had grown up in Théoden King's court after their parents had died when they were young.  "Our uncle became as a father to us, and his son Theodred was like an older brother to us both."  Tears sparked in her eyes briefly, but she blinked them away so quickly that Jennifer thought she might have imagined them.

But Èowyn was curious about Jennifer's life, and Jennifer talked a little about her family (trying very hard not to mention anything modern or anything Gandalf had warned her not to speak of—not an easy task).  “Kevin and I have three siblings,” she said.  “You’ve met Joey, but we also have two other sisters, Kaylee and Megan.  Kaylee’s five, and Megan’s three.  Our daddy’s a geologist.”  She smiled wistfully.  “Kaylee and Megan are so cute.  I miss them so much.  Kaylee’s in Rivendell right now, and Megan’s back home with our mom and dad.  Kaylee’s safer where she is than she would be with us, but I really do miss her.”  She bit her lower lip.  “Truth is, I miss them both, and Joey, too.”  She did not mention how much she missed her parents, but she sensed that Èowyn understood anyway.

Èowyn gave her a sympathetic smile.  “Perhaps you will be with them soon, and with your mother and father, too.”  She paused.  “Tell me more about your family.”

Jennifer paused in her turn.  “Well, uh, we like to read, my family and me, and my whole family’s also into sports and exercise.  I’m afraid the sports we like to play, you’re unfamiliar with, but I’ll try to explain.”  She cleared her throat.  “Many sports where I live involve some kind of ball game, though there are other kinds, too.  Kevin’s into basketball; he’s on a basketball team at our school.  Joey’s on a baseball team.  I’m a majorette, and I perform in a marching band.  I also take part in intramural sports at school; Kevin and I both do.  In the spring, I like to take part in track and field.  That's mostly races on foot; I'm a good sprinter.  I also like to play basketball and soccer.  Kaylee and Megan are too young for sports, of course.   And my family and I like to go on picnics and go camping and hiking and stuff like that, and Kevin and Daddy like to run together.  Daddy also likes to take Kevin deer-hunting.  And we like to swim and ride bikes and snow-ski and skate and play tennis and other stuff, and go out in boats and other stuff like that.”  She smiled ruefully.  “None of us ever learned to ride a horse, though.  We only learned how when we came here.  I’m still not very experienced at riding.”

"That does sound like your family has much fun together.  Most sport in Rohan involves riding or hunting or both, though among very young children, 'kick-the-ball' is sometimes played."  Èowyn gave Jennifer a wistful look.  "I have no younger siblings.  Young Joey seems as though he has much courage and spirit for his age."

A thoughtful expression crept over Jennifer’s face.  “I never thought of that,” she said.  “Joey does love excitement and adventure, and of course, he loves to play.  He has a lot of energy.”  She smiled ruefully.  “He also has a mischievous streak.  You should see the pranks he pulls on us sisters!”  She shook her head and rolled her eyes.

Èowyn laughed.  "Éomer jests with me at times and teases, but he is too serious for pranks.  However, my cousin Éothain is the same age as I, and we often played pranks upon one another when we were younger.  And we managed to get into a lot of trouble together."  She chuckled.  "I used to only care about training as a shieldmaiden, and neglected the lessons my aunt set for me—she was sister to my mother and to Théoden—and was to teach me what I needed to learn as a lady.  I had no use for needlework or cooking or learning how to run a household at the time.  I was sent away to stay with my uncle on my father's side one summer.  They were Éothain's parents.  I got into so much trouble, as did he, when I crept out one day to join him in sparring, instead of sitting around doing my embroidery!  My aunt was quite cross with me, and I had to scrub pots like a scullery maid the next day!"  She smiled.  "But she also told me that so long as I applied myself to my ladylike duties, I could spar with my cousin during the rest of the visit."*

Jennifer grinned.  “And did Éothain also get in trouble that day?”

Èowyn nodded her head.  "He did!  We both were confined to our rooms and were supposed to miss the minstrel who was visiting, even though we slipped out and listened to him anyway!  But the next day, while I was scrubbing pots, Éothain was in the stable under the stern eye of our armsmaster, cleaning stalls."  Jennifer laughed.

It was late when the two young women stopped talking, and settled down to sleep.  Just before Jennifer dropped off, she thought it had been nice to have another girl to talk to, even though Èowyn was quite a bit older—almost like a sleepover with Nicole.

At the thought of Nicole, Jennifer bit her lower lip.  How long had it been since she had even thought about Nicole or her other friends back home?  Back in Portland, her biggest concern had been that her parents wouldn’t let her have a boyfriend yet, and that she wasn’t going to have full hook-up or Internet access at their campsite, and now here she was, helping to fight for the freedom of Middle-earth!  Soon, she would be going through the Paths of the Dead with Aragorn and joining Joey in Minas Tirith.

When we go back home, am I gonna be the same girl who went on that camping trip? she wondered silently.  Are any of us gonna be, for that matter?  Already, this quest has changed us so much, and it’s not even over yet!  And what about Mom and Dad and Megan?  Are they in Middle-earth yet?  Is it gonna change them, too?

Jennifer yawned.  She was too sleepy to think about those questions any longer.  Her eyes drifted shut, and she soon slept.

When Jennifer awakened, it was still dark and dim.  Èowyn had already risen, and Jennifer could hear her stirring, and a low murmur of conversation.  She glanced over and saw that one of the lady's maidservants was helping her get dressed.  "Good morning, Lady Èowyn," said Jennifer, her voice rather raspy after sleep.

Èowyn looked over.  "Good morning, Jennifer!  I am sorry if I wakened you.  I was hoping you might rest a little longer."

Jennifer shook her head and sat up.  "I need to get up and get dressed myself.  I know that we are leaving early."

The Lady looked at her wistfully.  "You are fortunate, then, to be able to ride with the men.  I have trained all my life as a shieldmaiden, and yet when the time comes that I might use what I have learned in defence of my people, it seems that I am not allowed to do so."  Her servant had completed her tasks and silently left the room.  Èowyn went to a chest at the foot of the bed, and drew out a beautiful sword.  Jennifer, by this time, had gotten out of bed and washed her face in the cold water at the washstand, and had begun to dress herself in her travelling clothes.  She looked over at the sword that Èowyn was holding up.  She watched a bit enviously at the ease with which the shieldmaiden held the sword, as she swished it about in a practice pattern that Jennifer had never mastered.

"I was learning to use a sword, but I did better with knives," Jennifer said shyly.  She gestured towards the top of her soft boots on the floor by the bed, where the white handles stood out of their sheaths.  "The Lady Arwen gave me hers, and she and Legolas taught me to use them.  I'm still sort of a beginner.  I only started learning to use them a few months ago."  Thank goodness Aragorn found them and gave them back to me when they found us! she thought.  I didn’t know if I’d ever get them back.  I wish I still had my stick to practice with, though.

"May I see?" Èowyn asked, her eyes alight with curiosity.

Jennifer drew them as she'd been taught, and presented them to Èowyn hilt-first.  Èowyn took one and held it up, examining the blade.  She ran her other hand over the blade lightly.  "This is an Elvish blade," she said, admiration in her voice.  She turned it, and then presented it back to Jennifer, also hilt-first.  Jennifer inserted the blades back into their sheaths in her boots, which she had yet to put on.

"Did your brother object to you learning to be a fighter?  Or to you riding away to war?"

Jennifer shrugged.  "He wasn't terribly happy about it, since like all big brothers, he wants me to be safe.   But he didn't try to stop me from doing what I needed to do.  In our own worl…er, land, things are a little different.  There, well, used to be there were a lot of things women were not allowed to do, just like here.  But in the last hundred years or so many things changed.  A lot of women are soldiers now, and women are allowed to do any kind of work they want to do, even things that used to be just for men.  Mostly that's a good thing, but there are a few drawbacks to it."  Jennifer knew her mother did not have a good opinion of women being allowed into combat, although her dad had never said much about it one way or the other.

Èowyn looked thoughtful.  "Perhaps, then, over time, things might change here in Rohan…"

She turned down the coverlet on the bed, and climbed in, blowing out the candle as Jennifer climbed in on the other side.  It really was almost like a sleepover with Nicole.  I wish Nicole was here, too!

Soon both young women were sound asleep.  Still, it seemed to Jennifer that she had barely begun to fall asleep, when she felt Èowyn stir and get out of the bed; she was far too sleepy to stay awake, and barely had time to think her companion probably had to go to the privy before she fell asleep again.

When Jennifer wakened, it was still dark.  She saw Èowyn already up and quietly getting dressed, with the help of a maidservant.  She was dressing in mail and armour.

She glanced over when Jennifer stirred.  "I am sorry if I awakened you.  I had hoped to let you sleep just a little longer."

Jennifer sat up.  "That's all right.  I'm starting to get used to getting up at oh-dark-hundred."

Èowyn looked puzzled.  "Oh-dark-hundred?" she asked.

Jennifer laughed.  "Sorry.  That's an expression my daddy uses when we have to get up extra early, while it's still dark out."

"We usually say 'before the morning star',” said Èowyn.

Jennifer turned down the maidservant's offer of assistance; she really was not used to having other people help her put her clothes on, not since she had been Kaylee’s age, anyway.  She quickly got dressed and followed Èowyn out of the tent.  She was surprised to see two guards were standing outside.  They gave a slight bow to Èowyn, and then as the two women went on their way, the guardsmen left.

Jennifer looked back.  "Were they there all night long?"

"Of course," Èowyn replied.  "But now that we are up and about, they may go to their own rest."

“I see.”  Jennifer smiled at her companion.  “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry!”

They soon came to the mess tent, and Èowyn entered to see if all was well.  A table was being set on trestles in front of the tent.  Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Halbarad, and the sons of Elrond were gathered there already, and greeted Jennifer.

Soon a few other people joined them—a couple of the leaders of the mustered éoreds, and Master Eadig, the headsman of the village, but no one else.  The other warriors and the people of the camp would come and get their food, and then carry it away to their own parts of the camp.

Breakfast consisted of flat bread baked in the campfire, and bowls of porridge flavoured with a little honey.  Jennifer was glad to see that she was not given ale, but a sip told her that there was a little bit of wine in her water.  She was resigned to the fact that it was a necessity in places where the water might not be clean and fresh, but she took as few swallows as possible, to wash down her food.

As soon as breakfast had ended, the horses belonging to the Grey Company were brought forth. Jennifer found herself once more riding with Elladan.

Aragorn made ready to depart.  His company was all mounted, and he was about to leap into the saddle, when the Lady Èowyn came to bid them farewell.  She was clad as a Rider and girt with a sword.  In her hand she bore a cup, and she set it to her lips and drank a little, wishing them good speed; and then she gave the cup to Aragorn, and he drank, and he said: “Farewell, Lady of Rohan!  I drink to the fortunes of your House, and of you, and of all your people.  Say to your brother: beyond the shadows we may meet again!”

Jennifer watched closely, but she could barely hear what they were saying.  “Aragorn, wilt thou go?” she heard Èowyn ask Aragorn, at one point.

“I will,” he said.

“Then wilt thou not let me ride with this company, as I have asked?”

“I will not, lady,” he said.  “For that I could not grant without leave of the king and of your brother; and they will not return until tomorrow.  But I count now every hour, indeed every minute.  Farewell!”

She stood tall and proud.  "Then farewell to thee and to those who ride with thee.  Yet even so, I deem we shall see one another again ere the end."

"That well may be, my Lady."  Then he kissed her hand, and sprang into the saddle, and rode away, and did not look back.

But as Elladan passed with Jennifer, she held up her hand to halt them, and drew nigh.  "My thanks to you, Lady Jennifer, for you have given me much to think upon.  Fare thee well, my friend, for so I deem us."

Jennifer smiled.  "Thank you, too, Lady Èowyn.  It was very nice to have the company of another girl, even for only a little while.  I hope we'll meet again."

Elladan gave Èowyn a gracious nod, and then trotted forward to ride next to his brothers once again.  Turning toward her, Jennifer waved good-bye.  Wonder if I’ll ever see her again, she thought.  Wish she could meet Nicole!  She bit her lower lip.  I wish Nicole was here, too!  I miss her.  I wish she could have gone on the camping trip, too; then she’d be here with me.  She’s a fan of Tolkien, so she’d love it!  She sighed.

Èowyn stood and watched as the Grey Company passed, and then with determination, she sought out the village head.

They rode on in the grey light of early morning, up into the road leading up into the mountains.  It was little more than a wide trail, but it was marked by ancient and primitive stone figures on either side.  Jennifer wondered who had carved them and why.  But as they approached what Aragorn had called the Dimholt, a feeling of cold fear came upon Jennifer.  The trees were black, and their shade was not pleasant.  She shuddered, and not only with the morning chill.  They came to a halt in front of a stone that rose up like a pillar of doom before a darkened hollow glade.

“My blood runs chill,” said Gimli, but no one else spoke at all.  To Jennifer, the silence felt heavy and dead.

The horses did not wish to go through, though.  Jennifer had to dismount as Elladan got down to lead his fearful mount. In front of them was a sheer wall of rock, and in the wall, a dark door gaped before them like the mouth of night.  Signs and figures were carved above its wide arch too dim to read.  Jennifer shuddered.

The company halted, and Jennifer felt completely terrified.   She couldn’t stop shaking.  But she looked around her at all the other faces; Legolas was the only one who did not look at all afraid, but only curious.  Approaching him, she whispered, “Aren’t you scared?!”

Smiling, Legolas shook his head.  “The dead do not frighten me,” he told her.

“You’re—you’re not afraid they’ll hurt you?”  Jennifer tilted her head as she spoke.

"The shades of mortal men hold no power over Elves."  He looked Jennifer in the eye.  "Nor do they hold any power over the living, save that of terror alone."  Taking a deep breath, Jennifer nodded.

“This is an evil door,” said Halbarad, “and my death lies beyond it.  I will dare to pass it nonetheless; but no horse will enter.”

“But we must go in, and therefore the horses must go too,” said Aragorn.  “For if ever we come through this darkness, many leagues lie beyond, and every hour that is lost there will bring the triumph of Sauron nearer.  Follow me!”

Aragorn led them in, and without hesitation, the Dúnedain and their horses followed him.  Jennifer was amazed at the confidence the Rangers all had in their Chieftain, and even more amazed at how the horses seemed to lose their fear and followed their riders.  Legolas' horse, Arod, balked at first, but Legolas laid his hands on his eyes and sang some words.  Soon, he calmed down and allowed the Elf to lead him.

As they all entered the cave, Jennifer left Legolas and returned to Elladan, staying close to him after that; try as she did, she could not stop shaking.  Looking behind her, she saw Gimli standing stock-still, and then moving reluctantly forward into the cave.

Gimli’s scared, too, she thought.  I don’t blame him!  So am I!  She turned to face forward.  Ahead of her, it was pitch-black.

Please, God, protect us! she silently prayed.  You can protect us from demons; I know You can protect us from some ghosts!  She took a deep, shuddering breath and bit her lower lip.

Jennifer was glad when Aragorn lit the torches.  This was so scary.  She clung closely to Elladan, who was leading his horse carefully.

They walked for a long time, and Jennifer was trembling. There was nothing there to fight; still, there was a prickling between her shoulders, as if she was being followed.  And she could have sworn she heard whispering.  She couldn't tell how long they had been walking, when they came to a large open space.

Away to the left something glittered in the gloom as Aragorn's torch drew near.  Then Aragorn halted and went to look what it might be.

“Does he feel no fear?” muttered the Dwarf.  “In any other cave Gimli Glóin's son would have been the first to run to the gleam of gold.  But not here!  Let it lie!”  Jennifer nodded fervently in agreement, though she said nothing.

There was a body over near the wall!  She watched as Elladan and Aragorn approached it, and then turned her face away, unwilling to look at it any closer.  How awful it must have been, to die all alone in this horrible tunnel!  She squinched her eyes shut, but she could hear Aragorn's soft voice.

“Hither shall the flowers of simbelmynë come never unto world's end,” he murmured.  “Nine mounds and seven there are now green with grass, and through all the long years he has lain at the door that he could not unlock.  Whither does it lead?  Why would he pass?  None shall ever know!

“For that is not my errand!” he cried, turning back and speaking to the whispering darkness behind.  “Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years!  Speed only we ask.  Let us pass, and then come!  I summon you to the Stone of Erech!”

There was no answer and then a chill blast came in which the torches flickered and went out, and could not be rekindled.

An even greater fear gripped Jennifer's heart.  She felt for an instant that she would burst into tears, and prayed silently, Lord, please help me control my fear.  I feel so alone in the dark.  She repeated the last part of her prayer, and then once more, though it came out like a song, and seemingly from out of nowhere, she found herself making up a song to express her feelings.  Very softly, she sang:

"I feel alone in the dark,

I need Your spark;

Oh Lord, please be by my side,

please be my guide.

When shadows weigh me down,

and dark whispers are the only sound,

and I can't find the light,

lead me through the night.

Lord, I need your love,

Lord, I feel your love,

Lord, your love is my hope.

Lord, your love is my only hope."

Jennifer became silent for the rest of their ride.  After a while, she heard the sound of a waterfall, and was forced to squint as she thought she was seeing a glimmer of light.  Soon the Company passed out through another gate, next to a stream falling down the mountainside, and below them was a road, running steeply between the cliffs.  It seemed at first that it was almost night-time, but as they moved away from the gate, Jennifer realized it was only late afternoon.

Now they once more mounted.  Elladan lifted Jennifer up, and once more swung up behind her.  The path at first was narrow, and Elladan hung back to go last.  Legolas was just in front of them with Gimli.  He turned his head, and Jennifer saw the Elf's eyes glittering.

“The Dead are following,” said Legolas.  “I see shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud, and spears like winter-thickets on a misty night.  The Dead are following.”

“Yes, the Dead ride behind.  They have been summoned,” said Elladan.

The Company came at last out of the ravine, as suddenly as it they had issued from a crack in a wall; and there lay the uplands of a great vale before them, and the stream beside them went down with a cold voice over many falls.

“Where in Middle-earth are we?” said Gimli.

Elladan answered: “We have descended from the uprising of the Morthond, the long chill river that flows at last to the sea that washes the walls of Dol Amroth.  You will not need to ask hereafter how comes its name: Blackroot men call it.”

Jennifer looked down into the valley and the bay below.  The slopes before them were covered with grass, but it was dusk now, and all was grey.  Below them, she could see the lights of villages twinkling in the early evening.

Suddenly, Jennifer heard Aragorn calling out, “Friends, forget your weariness!  Ride now, ride!  We must come to the Stone of Erech ere this day passes, and long still is the way.”

So without looking back they rode the mountain-fields, until they came to a bridge over the growing torrent and found a road that went down into the land.

Wait till I tell Joey about this! Jennifer thought.  Out loud, she said, “Joey would love to see this!  He loves to visit haunted houses at Halloween.”  She smiled wryly.  “Of course, they’re not really haunted!  They’re just people play-acting ghosts and other spooky creatures.”

"Mortals sometimes mock what they fear," said Elladan solemnly.

Jennifer shook her head.  Perhaps she wouldn't tell Joey about all this after all.  Real ghosts were a lot more serious than a Halloween haunted house.

When they approached the first small village, Jennifer was at first heartened to think they might be able to stop and rest.  But instead, the lights went out, and people ran inside, slamming doors.  Most of them were yelling, “The King of the Dead!  The King of the Dead is come upon us!”

It was almost like a scary movie, in which all the regular people panic because the monsters were coming, Jennifer thought.  But she was so exhausted.  When would this ride end?

After Jennifer caught her breath, she asked, "Where is this Stone of Erech?  Why do we need to go there?"

Elladan answered, "It is one of the stones brought over the Sea by Elendil. It fell from the sky to earth in lost Númenor, and was set upon the hill of Erech by Isildur.  To that hill we ride, for it is a trysting-place of the Shadow-men, the Oath-breakers, and there they gather in times of fear, thronging round the Stone and whispering.  To that Stone we ride, for that was where the last King of Gondor laid upon the Men of the hills this doom that they should become shades, and await the chance to fulfil their oath when they are called.  Only then will they be free to pass on beyond the circles of the world to that fate which awaits Men when they die."

Jennifer furrowed her eyebrows.  “And then, where will they go?” she wondered aloud.  “Heaven or Hell?”

"It is not given to Elves to know where the spirits of mortals dwell,” Elladan said.  “Some say that they go to the Halls of Eru; some say they fade away to naught, and others say they are reborn anew as babes; and some that only the righteous join Eru, while the wicked end up in a place of punishment and despair.  But the true answer is known to none."

Jennifer fell silent, realizing that this was one of those things God had not yet revealed to the world.  It would be many generations before even Abraham was born.  We’re so fortunate, because we know! she thought.  And better yet, we know how it will end, because the Bible tells us.  Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, the dead will be resurrected, and the righteous will live forever with God in a new heaven and a new earth.  All the former things, the bad things, will be passed away.  She smiled, and then frowned.  But that doesn’t tell me where these dead men will go!  God, are these men going to go to Hell?  She winced at the thought.  Please, God, when this is over, let them have peace for real!  Peace with You.  Won’t You, please?

It was the dead of night when they finally arrived at their destination. They all stopped, and Jennifer roused from her half-asleep state, as Elladan and Elrohir flanked Aragorn, along with Halbarad.  Then Elrohir gave Aragorn a silver horn, and he blew it, and it seemed to Jennifer that she heard a sound of answering horns echoing in the distance.   Other than that, it was dead silent, but she was aware of a great host gathered all about the hill on which they stood.  She shuddered at the ghostly cold, and for the first time thought about the chill of despair that must be felt by someone who had sinned and was banned from the presence of God.  I truly hope that they won’t be banned from God’s presence when this is over!

Aragorn dismounted, and standing by the Stone he cried in a great voice:

“Oathbreakers, why have ye come?”

And a voice was heard out of the night that answered him, as if from far away:

“To fulfil our oath and have peace.”

Then Aragorn said: “The hour is come at last.  Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me.  And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever.  For I am Elessar, Isildur's heir of Gondor.”

Aragorn signalled Halbarad to unfurl the big black banner he carried.  It was too dark to see what was on it.  They made camp there, but Jennifer was too restless to sleep, and from all the tossing and turning she could hear, so was everyone else.

They rose at dawn and set forth at once.  Jennifer was so exhausted, her mind was in a haze.  She could no longer even hold a thought from start to finish, and her whole being was concentrated on staying on the horse and not encumbering Elladan any more than absolutely necessary.  They rode all day, and sometimes Elladan would tell her where they were, but the names meant nothing to her.  She would sometimes shudder simply from the chill presence of the host of spirits following them.  There was no daylight the next day—the sky was filled with black clouds that hid the sun from sight.  She lost track of the days they had ridden.  They passed through a deserted town and on, until they came to a wide ford in the Anduin.

"We have ridden ninety-three leagues*, Lady Jennifer, and are at Pelargir.”  Elladan pointed ahead in the gloom.  "Yonder are the sounds of battle.  I will bid you await here, for we must engage the enemy, and you are in no condition for fighting."  He found a place for her, a small copse of juniper where she could hide.  She was too weary to object; she knew she probably would not even be able to draw her knives, much less fight with them.

She made herself as physically comfortable as she could, upon a pile of soft juniper needles, with her back against a tree.  For some reason, it did not even occur to her that Elladan might not be able to come back for her, although she worried about Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli.  Then, as the eldest son of Elrond rode away, she felt the horror of the dead following.  She curled into a ball, and silently recited the twenty-third Psalm in her mind once again, and then of a mercy fell into a profound sleep.  She did not even waken when Elladan did return, and gently picked her up.

-oo000oo-

A few hours later, once they had finally taken the ships from the pirates, and the Dead had been sent away to their eternal rest (and, Jennifer hoped, eternal peace), she finally got a chance to relax.  A kindly woman who owned an inn in Pelargir took her in, and saw to it she had a hot bath, and the loan of a soft linen shift to sleep in.

"What were those soldiers thinking," she said to Jennifer, as she poured hot water into a copper tub, "allowing a young lass like you to come along with all those uncanny ghosts to a battle!  Why, I left town at once!"  She never gave Jennifer a chance to get a word in edgewise, as she chattered on.  "I watched, though, from afar, and as soon as those ghastly things were gone, I came back at once to make sure my inn had not suffered any harm.  There, now, Missy, there's a hot tub all steaming for you.  I'll just wait over there in that chair, so as to make sure you don't fall asleep and get drownded in the bathtub, as I've heard tell can happen if a body's as tired as you.  Now here's a flannel and a bit of my rosemary soap—"  She handed the items to Jennifer, and then retreated to the chair, still talking, though Jennifer couldn't really hear what she was saying.  It was a good thing the old lady did watch over her, because Jennifer did start to fall asleep in the water, and she woke Jennifer before she completely fell asleep and slid into the water.

“Whoops!  Thanks,” Jennifer said sheepishly.  The woman patted her shoulder and returned to her seat.

After the bath, she gave Jennifer a worn, but soft, clean linen nightshift, and fed her some hot broth and some fresh baked bread, and then she tucked her up like a mother would.  I wish my mom was here.  I really miss her, Jennifer thought wistfully, and then at once fell into another deep sleep.

The entire Company wasable to rest for another day before they boarded the captured fleet and set sail for Minas Tirith.  While they waited, Elladan made sure to check out Jennifer's bow, which had been stowed with her other things on one of the pack horses.  "For we sail now into battle, and though it is not meet for a young girl such as yourself to ride against the enemy, I would not have you unarmed.  Your bow will help you not to have to get near any enemies, we may fervently hope.  My sister would be profoundly grieved and angry with me if I allowed you to come to harm."  He tousled her hair as if she was a little kid, but she was busy checking out the bow.  She wasn't the best archer on the Quest, but Legolas and the Galadhrim had seen to it that she was pretty good, compared to an average person.

"Thank you, Elladan."  Smiling, she looked at the bow once more, and then back up at Elladan.  "That was very thoughtful.  And thank you so much for so patiently hauling me all the way from Rohan!"  She tiptoed up and gave him a little kiss on the cheek, as if he was her own brother, Kevin.

He smiled back.  "Thank you, Lady Jennifer.  It was an honour."

Another smile creased Jennifer’s face.  “Soon, I will be with Joey once more!  I can’t wait to see him.”

Soon they were leading the horses aboard the main ship, and then they, too, were all aboard.  The ship cast off.  Halbarad pulled down the flag of Umbar, and raised the standard which he had been carrying, but it hung limp and flat.  They hoisted the black sails and cast off, rowing up the Anduin.

Jennifer was given a hammock below decks.  My grandpa used to have a hammock, she thought, smiling at the memory.  Kevin and I used to lie in it and swing in it when we were little kids.  It had been a long time since she had lain in a hammock, and she did not expect to be able to sleep in it, but in a short time, its gentle swaying and her own exhaustion caught up with her, and she was sound asleep.

She wakened, roused by racket around her.  She could hear the shouts of command, and the clatter of horses' hooves upon the deck, and the motion of the river had changed, for they were tied up at a dock.  She peered out the porthole above her hammock and could see the men rushing to secure the ship.  How long had she slept?  Why had no one wakened her?  She rushed to get dressed and grabbed her things.  It was clearly late in the morning.  She could see that nearly everyone had already disembarked before her: Aragorn was far ahead, with the Grey Company at his side.  Only Legolas, Gimli, and a few of the warriors they had picked up on the way were still on the dock.  Gimli, who was mounted behind Legolas as usual, had turned to adjust the ax hanging on his back, and saw her.

"Wait!" she shouted.

Gimli shook his head, and Legolas called back to her:  "You are safer where you are, Lady Jennifer!"  Then he leaned forward, and Arod galloped off after all the others.

Jennifer's mouth hung open.  She did not know how to feel—she was furious, for one thing, that they had tried to slip away from her.  And she was frightened of all the sounds of battle that she could hear, even as far from the fighting as she was.  But even more, she was scared that she would not be able to do whatever it was that she knew she was supposed to do here.  After all, she'd been told to stay with the others!  Tears sprang to her eyes at the thought she might fail at what she needed to do.

She jumped when a voice behind her said, "Don't fret, little lady!  If'n anyone could live through such, it would be them folk."

It was one of the freed slaves.  A few of them had stayed to help crew the former pirate ship.  They were in no shape for fighting, but had wanted to help.

"Can you help me?" she asked.  "Are any of the horses still aboard?"

"Yes, milady!  A few of the spares."

"Please, would you saddle one, and bring it here?"

"You aren't thinking of going after 'em, are you?"

She sighed.  "Never mind, I'll try to do it myself."  She turned and started to head below decks where the horses had been kept.  If she had to do it, it would take forever.  She just barely knew how, though they had taught her in Rivendell.

"No, little lady.  I'll do it.  But I don't think it's a good idea."  He went below, and Jennifer turned to see what she could see.  The brightly jewelled black standard that Halbarad carried was now easy to spot, since the wind had picked up.  The fighting was fierce in that spot.

She watched, fretting as she waited, and then heard the clatter of hooves, as the former slave brought her horse up.  "I still say this is a bad idea, little lady," he said mournfully.  "They left ye here to keep ye safe."

"It probably is a bad idea," she said.  "But it's something I have to do."  She mounted, and at the higher vantage point she could observe even better.  The fierce fighting around the standard suddenly began to move away, and the standard went down in a windless flutter.  She gasped and urged her mount down the gangplank.  She could not see as well from the ground, but she pushed her horse forward towards the fray.  Halbarad had been holding that standard!  Please help him, God! she silently prayed.

She could not ride swiftly at first.  But she soon had the horse trotting.  She was not yet skilled enough to be sure she could keep her seat at a gallop or a canter. The battle kept moving away towards the huge City that loomed in the distance, but there were many slain upon the way she went, both Men and Orcs.  But she kept her attention ahead, and tried not to look down.  The horse seemed to instinctively avoid treading on...well, anyone.

It seemed to take forever to get near the spot where she'd seen the banner go down.  There were far more...bodies...in that place.  She started to feel sick, but she did her best to force it down.  Please, God!

Just then, she saw a sparkle.  Was that the standard?  She increased the horse's pace and then she saw that she was right: it was the big jewelled banner Arwen had sent, twisted and soiled, and seemingly draped across someone.  She halted the horse and dismounted as quickly as she could.

Running to the standard, she dismounted and pushed it out of the way.  It was Halbarad, and he wasn’t moving!  Oh, no! thought Jennifer.  She couldn't hold back her tears.  He had been kind to her, and so kind to Kaylee.  But even as her tears fell, she heard a small, but barely audible groan.  Her sorrow turned to joy in an instant!  He was alive!  Thank You, God! she silently prayed.

Quickly, she reached around and pulled out her waterskin.  She poured a little in her hand and dribbled it over his face very gently.  He moaned again, more loudly, and his eyelashes began to flutter.  Please, God, protect him—and me!  Please keep us both alive and safe.

“Halbarad?” she asked softly.

“Lady Jennifer,” he said weakly.  “You found me.”

Jennifer swallowed.  “Y—yeah, I did.  It’s gonna be OK, Halbarad.”

The warrior tried to sit up, wincing, as he attempted to push up on his elbows.  "I surely thought that big Orc had skewered me.”  He leaned a little on his left elbow, and reached across his body with his other hand, to where there was a large rip in his tunic.  He put his hand in the hole and pulled out the pouch.  Jennifer could see it was black, and there was a tear in it as well, right through the middle of a design of an eight-pointed star worked in silver thread, similar to the thread on the banner Lady Arwen had made.  Showing through the hole was a smooth brown stone.

Jennifer's jaw dropped.  "I recognize that rock!  Kaylee's gift!"

Halbarad gave a weak chuckle.  "Indeed.  Your sister's gift saved my life."

“It sure did!”  Jennifer smiled broadly.  “I’ll have to tell her that.”

He forced himself with much wincing to sit up.  "The battle has moved far beyond us, Lady Jennifer.  But we cannot stay here.  My own horse is nowhere to be seen, and I fear I have broken a rib, not to mention the knock on my head.  I do not think I can fight in this shape."

"Why don't you ride on my horse, and I can walk beside you?” Jennifer suggested.  “Should we go back to the ship?  Or try to make it to the City?"  She could see there was still some fighting between them and the white walls of Minas Tirith.  It was huge, though not perhaps as large as some cities back in the United States.  But it was certainly vast in comparison to any other place she had seen here in Middle-earth.

Halbarad gazed at the battle he could see.  It was too far right now for anyone but an Elf to make out details, yet it seemed clear that as it moved closer to the city, it was also fiercer fighting; there were mûmakil upon the battlefield.  And it could easily shift back in their direction.  He shook his head.  "I do not see how we could reach the Gate safely, Lady Jennifer.  It is best that we retreat back to the ship, for the tide of battle could come this way without warning."

Jennifer nodded, though not without a look of longing.  Poor Joey!  He must be so dreadfully afraid right now.  But she assisted Halbarad to mount her horse.  He winced, and went very pale as he did so, and swayed in the saddle for an instant.  Jennifer feared he might be going to pass out, but he drew a breath and managed to keep his seat.

He held the pommel of his saddle, and Jennifer took the reins to lead the horse back to the ship.  It was a dreadfully slow progress, but eventually they came near the dock.  She could see the freed slaves—about a half-dozen—standing at the rails of the ship watching.  They gave a ragged cheer, and the gangplank, which they had raised after Jennifer rode off, was lowered once more.

Two of them raced down and helped her lead the horse back up onto the ship, and assisted Halbarad down.  He gave a sharp cry, quickly bitten off, as he was helped down.

In a hoarse whisper, he said, "Take...ship...away from...moorings…"

The two who were holding him up nodded.  "Must...stay...on...deck."

Jennifer was uncertain why Halbarad had given such orders, but soon enough they had arranged a comfortable pallet on the deck for the injured man, and some of the others had seen to raising up the gangplank and moving the ship about twenty feet away from the dock.  One of them explained to her that if the battle came back towards the River, it would be more difficult for enemies to seize it.  But if their friends returned, they would still be near enough to return to the dock.

That explanation unsettled her.  She strung her bow and stood looking out once more at the distant chaos of the fighting.  Never before had she thought that a battle could take so long.  In movies and TV shows, battles only seemed to last a few minutes, although she knew that in real life, they must last longer.  She couldn't help a sinking feeling as she realized that if it went badly, that big city where Joey was would be overrun with orcs.  And then she realized something else: if the Rohirrim had come, then Kevin would be smack-dab in the middle of the battle itself.  She had seen so many bodies; how could her brother survive something like that?

What if, at the end of the day, she was the only one of the three of them to live?  How could she ever tell the rest of the family, especially Kaylee?  It was a horrible thought, and even though she tried praying, it felt as if her prayers kept bouncing back.  Did the Lord even hear her?  Her head said "yes", but her heart was doubtful.

Hours passed.  The former slaves tended Halbarad, mostly by giving him some kind of smelly liquor to drink to ease his pain.  But it did ease it, for the expression of pain on his face eased, and he seemed to fall asleep.  Jennifer kept watch, when suddenly, as they had feared, the fighting began coming closer.  She nocked an arrow, just in case it was needed.

To her astonishment, she saw giant elephants, huge creatures much larger than any elephant she had ever seen in a zoo!  They were immense, and they carried tower-like canopied saddles filled with warriors who were also shooting arrows.  Some of them were toppling over and killing not only their enemies, but their own people as well.  The screams of the poor horses were awful to hear.

She wanted nothing so much as to throw down her bow, and run down into the bowels of the ship, far away from all of this horrifying war.  But she did not.  She could not.  She was the only one who could keep the ship safe.

Then a shadow passed over her, and a shriek that was worse than anything else she yet had heard.  She dropped her bow, and covered her ears, and glanced up to see an awful creature that looked like nothing less than a flying dinosaur, pass overhead.  A creature in black was mounted upon it, and it swooped down upon the battlefield, scattering men and horses of both sides as it landed.  It had finally stopped its awful scream, but she could no longer see the place where it had landed, as once more things had moved around, and it was too far away to make out details.  Taking a deep breath, and a sip of water from her waterskin, she picked up her bow, and kept watch again.  How, she wondered, were the others faring amid all this chaos?

-oo000oo-

AUTHOR’S NOTE: *This refers to an incident told in Dreamflower's story, "Chance Encounter" (http://storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=4305).

*Ninety-three leagues is approximately a bit under 300 miles.  We use Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth to estimate most distances in this story.






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