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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.

Chapter 38: Honor to Us All

Kevin and Haleth rode near the King, with Merry riding morosely alongside them on his pony.

Kevin looked at the hobbit with sympathy.  He knew just how Merry felt.  He was the only member of his family now, just as Merry was the only one of his.  And now all the others they had travelled with were also gone—Gandalf and Boromir had taken Pippin and Joey away, and now Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and, worst of all, Jennifer, had abandoned them to seek out those ominous-sounding "Paths of the Dead".  He and Merry were now a part of the Rohirric host mustering for battle.  And he didn't plan to say anything out loud, but he suspected that the King was going to leave Merry behind when they finally got the Army ready.  He'd overheard Éomer saying to the King that a pony could not keep up when they got ready to finally head to Minas Tirith, and the King had said not to worry, it would not be a problem when the time came.  He hoped he was wrong.  Merry would be both crushed and furious if he was left behind.

And I don’t blame him, Kevin thought, pursing his lips.  I would be, too!

The ride was a long one, with only brief stops to water the horses; the men took those short stops to relieve themselves, drink water, eat some trail food, and stretch their legs.  There was little talk and no singing this time.

The day was nearing its end, and the shadows were long.  The muster had slowed its pace as they came closer to Dunharrow, as their way went round a huge boulder and entered a forest of fir trees (Kevin drew a deep breath of the fresh scent of the trees), and they were forced to ride only two a-breast down the long and winding road into a gorge; by the time they reached the bottom it was full evening, and in the narrow strip of sky above, the stars shone upon the waterfalls.

They had been riding alongside a stream from one such waterfall, as it leaped from one level to the next one below, and winding its way through the pine trees.  Now they could see a stone gate, where it flowed out into a wide valley.  The Riders followed it, and suddenly Harrowdale lay before them.  The waterfalls roared and thundered down the side of the gorge and plunged into the Snowbourn River, where the water frothed into rapids.  Kevin saw a mighty mountain looming at the head of the valley, the last of the setting sun tinting the snow-topped crown into a rosy red.

Kevin, Haleth, and Merry stared around them at the strange country, their eyes wide with wonder.  Haleth had heard tales of the place, and had told some of them to Kevin and Merry, but he himself had never been there before; he had only heard his father's stories.  Kevin thought that it was absolutely beautiful, surrounded by the mountains, and the smell of the pines with the whisper of wind through them, and the sound of the rushing water.  It reminded him of the mountains in Oregon, their beauty.  He thought of the hymn, "How Great Thou Art"; it was astounding how much beauty the Lord had made.  But at the same time, it made him dreadfully homesick.

"I wish I was back home by the hearth in Brandy Hall," he heard Merry mutter.

I wish I was back home in Portland! Kevin thought, biting his lower lip.  With my family.  All of it!  He made a face.  When we went on that camping trip, we sure didn’t expect this!  We never would have entered that cave if we had.

They were all exhausted.  They'd been riding for nearly three days.  Most of the time they had ridden with the King, and Merry had told him about the Shire, and Kevin had told the King what he safely could of his own homeland.

But Théoden King, as kind and genial as he was, was not family.

Kevin looked down to see a sad frown cross Merry's brow.  "What's wrong?"

"Frodo and Sam.  I am forgetting them!” Merry said reproachfully.  “And yet they are more important than all the rest of us.  And I came to help them, but now they must be hundreds of miles away, if they are still alive.”  He shivered.

"You haven't forgotten them, Merry," Kevin said.  "But there have been an awful lot of other things to think about.  And I am sure they are still alive."

"Thank you," said the hobbit, with a wan smile.  "You're a good friend."  They retreated into silence for a while.

“Harrowdale at last!' said Éomer, finally.  “Our journey is almost at an end.”  They halted.  The paths out of the narrow gorge fell steeply.  Only a glimpse, as through a tall window, could be seen of the great valley in the gloaming below.  A single small light could be seen twinkling by the river.

“This journey is over, maybe,” said Théoden, “but I have far yet to go.  Last night the moon was full, and in the morning I shall ride with the muster for Mundberg as quickly as we might.

“But if you would take my counsel,” said Éomer in a low voice, “you would then return to Edoras, until the war is over, lost or won.”

Merry whispered, "What's this 'Mundberg'?  I thought we were going to Minas Tirith!"

Haleth smiled at the hobbit.  "'Mundberg' is the name for Minas Tirith in Rohirric."

"Oh."  Kevin was glad Merry had asked—he had wondered, too.  He returned his attention to what the King was saying.

Théoden smiled.  “Nay, my son, for so I will call you, speak not the soft words of Wormtongue in my old ears!” he told Éomer, glancing back at the men behind him.  “Long years in the space of days it seems since I rode west; but never will I lean on a staff again.  If the war is lost, what good will be my hiding in the hills?  And if it is won, what grief will it be, even if I fall, spending my last strength?  But we will leave this now.  Tonight I will lie in the Hold of Dunharrow.  One evening of peace at least is left us.  Let us ride on!”

Kevin felt glad to hear Théoden speaking so confidently.  He remembered how weak and frail the old king had looked when he first saw him.  He still looked elderly, but not ancient and withered up as he had been from Saruman's spells.  He really liked the King, and his courtesy and willingness to listen to Merry and himself when he had so many other important things on his mind.

Soon they forded the river.  Suddenly as they approached, men jumped out from where they had been waiting, and cheered, “Théoden King!  Théoden King!  The King of the Mark returns!”

Then one blew a long call on a horn.  It echoed in the valley.  Other horns answered it, and lights shone out across the river.

Suddenly, Kevin and the others heard many trumpets responding, the sound of them amplified by the echoes as their sounding bounced off the stone cliffs.  Kevin thought it sounded like a great brass orchestra.

There was also cheering as the King and his escort led the way into Dunharrow.  Soon several captains of the éoreds that had already arrived came to meet Théoden at the ford, led by the chieftain of Harrowdale, Dúnhere.

Dúnhere reported to the King, giving him news of the passage of Aragorn and the Grey Company.  They also reported of the Nazgûl who had also flown above, and the advice Gandalf had given them of remaining out of sight as much as possible.

“It is well,” said Théoden.  “I will ride now to the Hold, and there before I go to rest I will meet the marshals and captains.  Let them come to me as soon as may be!”

Those with the King rode straight on, across the valley to the walls of the hold.  Everywhere they passed, they saw throngs of men, some of them pushing forward to hail the King.  Beyond the men were rows and rows of tents, and piles of weapons and provisions.  Kevin had never seen such a sight in person, although he'd seen some gatherings like that on television, mostly when reporters were doing pieces on groups that did historical re-enactments of battles and so forth.  Or watching historical movies like Braveheart.  But even though it was beginning to get dark, Kevin saw no lanterns or campfires.

As they rode, Kevin was peering from side to side.  They eventually came up beneath the high cliff that loomed over the eastern side of the valley, and Kevin stared around in wonder as the path began to climb.  The road climbed upwards, winding back and forth, and it really didn't do him good to look down as they looped back and forth up the side of the cliff.  And to make it even stranger, every time the road took a turning, there were these weird statues.

"What are those statues?" asked Merry.  "They look ancient!"

Indeed, the figures of men—stumpy and squatting, with their arms folded—were pitted by the weather, worn down and discoloured, as though they had been sitting there for eons.

"I don't know," said Kevin.

"They are called Púkel-men," said Haleth.  

Kevin stared at them curiously, since the art did not look like any style he had seen since they'd come through the portal back in the cave.  It was far more primitive than the work of Elves or even of the Men he had met, and it looked like it belonged in a museum.

I’ve never seen any statues like these before! he thought.  Out loud, he asked, “What is a Pukel-man?”

“The Pukel-men are standing stones,” Haleth told him.  “They’ve been here for a very long time now.”

Nodding, Kevin turned to stare at the standing stones.  Like Stonehenge in England, he thought, awestruck.  It’s made up of standing stones, too!  And no one knows who put them there, or why.  Only difference is, these standing stones have been sculpted into statues, and the ones at Stonehenge weren’t.

Finally, at one sharp turn, they came to the brink, and the road went into what seemed like a gate or opening in the rock.  They passed through, and before them was a wide open plain.

“What’s that?” Kevin asked.

The king overheard his question.  “It is called the Firienfeld,” Théoden told him.  Kevin stared around him.  The whole area consisted of grass and low shrubs covering great expanses of ground.  The Snowbourn was well below them, he noticed.  There was another mountain to the south and still another to the north.  Between those two rose a third mountain; its slopes were covered with pine trees.  Dividing the upland into two there marched a double line of unshaped standing stones that dwindled into the dusk and vanished in the trees.  For some reason, it gave Kevin the shivers to look at that mountain and the road that led toward it.

Théoden looked at him.  “You see that mountain?” he asked, pointing.  Biting his lower lip, Kevin nodded.  “That’s the Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain.  The black Dimholt can be found there.  That is where the Paths of the Dead can be found, Kevin.”

“You mean—you mean it’s haunted?” Kevin asked.  Sombrely, Théoden nodded.  “There’s ghosts in there?”  The king nodded again, and the boy shivered.

Théoden gestured toward the area they had come to.  “And this is Dunharrow.  It was made by men who have long since been forgotten; only the Púkel-men can be found here now.  No one knows why they made it: to be a tomb of kings, a town, or a temple.  It was made before a ship ever came to the shores of Middle-earth, and before Gondor was ever settled by the Dúnedain.  This is where the Rohirrim will muster, before we leave for Minas Tirith.”

This place sure is creepy! he thought.  Especially that mountain!

Kevin exchanged a glance with Merry and then stared at the lines of black marching stones.  All of them were worn out, he noticed.  Some of them had fallen on their sides, and some of the ones still standing were leaning sideways or forward.  Some of the standing stones were cracked, and others were broken.

Kevin shivered.  Was Aragorn really going to go into that frightening place?!  And my sister, he thought.  She’s going in there with him!

A moment later, Kevin noticed that clusters of tents and booths stood on both sides of the path ahead of them.  However, none of them were anywhere near the trees; instead, they were set closer to the edge of the cliff.  Most of them were to the right, at the wider end of the field; there was a smaller camp on the left, and a pavilion taller and fancier than the rest stood in the middle.  A lone rider came from that direction to meet them.

As they got closer, Kevin could tell that the rider was a woman with long blonde braids, but she was wearing a helmet and dressed in armour.  She had a sword at her side.  Èowyn! he thought.  She’s here!  That means Jennifer’s here, too!  He smiled broadly in anticipation.

-oo000oo-

Èowyn had clad herself as a rider, and had girded herself with her sword.  Jennifer's words had given her heart and hope.  Aragorn was a hero beyond all hope, puissant and strong, but he was also beyond her reach.  Her own actions, however, were not.

“Hail, Lord of the Mark!” she cried.  “My heart is glad at your returning.”

“And you, Èowyn,” said Théoden, “is all well with you?”

“All is well,” she answered; “It was a weary road for the people to take, torn suddenly from their homes.  There were hard words, for it is long since war has driven us from the green fields; but there have been no evil deeds.  All is now ordered, as you see.  And your lodging is prepared for you; for I have had full tidings of you and knew the hour of your coming.”

“So Aragorn has come then,” said Éomer.  “Is he still here?”

“No, he is gone,” said Èowyn turning away and looking at the mountains dark against the East and South.

“Whither did he go?” asked Éomer.

“I do not know,” she answered.  “He came at night, and rode away yestermorn, ere the Sun had climbed over the mountain-tops.  He is gone.”

"You seem surprised," said Théoden.  “What has happened?  Tell me, did he speak of that road?”  He pointed away along the darkening lines of stones towards the Dwimorberg.  “Of the Paths of the Dead?”

“Yes, lord,” said Èowyn.  “And he has passed into the shadows from which none have returned.  He is gone.”

“Then our paths are sundered,” said Éomer.  “He is lost.  We must ride without him, and our hope dwindles.”

"I am not so sure, brother, for he brought hope with him.  He believes this is the Path that will bring him safely to his goal.  I found his confidence strangely comforting."

Kevin could not help it.  He had to ask.  "Was a girl with him—my sister, Jennifer?"

Èowyn smiled at him.  "You must be her older brother, Lord Kevin.  She spoke well of you.  Yes, she came in his company, and left in it as well.  She gave me a message for you when you came here.  She said, 'Tell Kevin I will see him in Minas Tirith, and…'”  She paused.  “I do not know what this means, but she said you would understand…'remember Eye-say-ah forty thirty-one'.  Do you know what that means?"

He grinned.  "Yes, I do.  It’s a saying from the Holy Book of our people:

“'But those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.'”

Kevin paused.  “I'm glad she reminded me of that."

All of the others looked at him with amazed expressions.  "Your Holy Book sounds wise," said Théoden.

"You have no idea," Kevin answered.  He still could not say he was exactly happy to be separated from Jennifer and Joey, but he would “hope in the Lord”.  And here in Middle-earth, the wings of Eagles meant even more than they did back home, he had learned.  Gandalf had told the children that the Eagles were servants of Manwë, who seemed to be like the head archangel.  They weren't mere birds.

I wonder if Gandalf knows Gabriel and Michael, Kevin thought.  Surely Manwë does, since they’re archangels, too!  Maybe they just have different names here.  Everybody seems to have a lot of names in Middle-earth.

The King and his companions were shown to tents and pavilions, and provided with water to wash away the soil of travel.  Kevin found himself in a tent with Haleth and a couple of other Rohirrim of the King's éored, but Merry, as Théoden's esquire, had been given a place in the King's big pavilion.  It was there, he learned that a meal was to be served.  He was the only one from his tent invited to go to that meal.  All the others would be sharing a common mess with the other warriors.  Kevin, however, had also been invited to eat with Théoden, but Haleth had not.  Kevin felt a little awkward about that, but Haleth just took it in stride.

In the inner part of the pavilion was a small space, curtained off with tapestries, and scattered with skins: and Théoden with Éomer and Èowyn, and Dúnhere, lord of Harrowdale,sat together at a small table.  A seat had been placed next to the Lady Èowyn, which was where Kevin was told was his place.  Merry, however, stood beside the king's stool and waited on him till presently the old man, coming out of deep thought, turned to him and smiled.

“Come, Master Meriadoc!” he said.  “You shall not stand.  You shall sit beside me, as long as I remain in my own lands, and lighten my heart with tales.”

They made room for Merry at the king's left hand, and Kevin was glad.  It made him feel a little uncomfortable to see the hobbit just standing by the king like a waiter in a restaurant.  He shook his head.  Like Haleth, Merry had not thought it was anything out of the ordinary.  "He made me his squire, Kevin,” he told Kevin.  “It's part of what I'm supposed to do, unless he tells me otherwise."

Still, no one called for any tale.  There was indeed little speech, and they ate and drank for the most part in silence, until at last, exchanging a glance with Kevin and plucking up courage, Merry asked the question that was tormenting him.

"My Lord, I keep hearing of the Paths of the Dead,” he said.  “What are they?  And where has Strider, I mean the Lord Aragorn, where has he gone?”

“Yeah,” Kevin added, frowning.  “My sister has gone with him, so I’d like to know, too.”

The king sighed, but no one answered, until at last Éomer spoke.  “We do not know, and our hearts are heavy,” he said.  “But as for the Paths of the Dead, you have yourself walked on their first steps.  Nay.  I speak no words of ill omen!  The road that we have climbed is the approach to the Door, yonder in the Dimholt.  But what lies beyond no man knows.”

Théoden went on to say, “Folk say that Dead Men out of the Dark Years guard the way and will suffer no living man to come to their hidden halls; but at whiles they may themselves be seen passing out of the door like shadows and down the stony road.  Then the people of Harrowdale shut fast their doors and shroud their windows and are afraid.  But the Dead come seldom forth and only at times of great unquiet and coming death.'

“Yet it is said in Harrowdale,” said Èowyn in a low voice, “that in the moonless nights but little while ago a great host in strange array passed by.  Whence they came none knew, but they went up the stony road and vanished into the hill, as if they went to keep a tryst.”

“Then why has Aragorn gone that way?” asked Merry.  “Don't you know anything that would explain it?”

“Unless he has spoken words to you as his friend that we have not heard,” said Éomer, “none now in the land of the living can tell his purpose.”

“Greatly changed he seemed to me since I saw him first in the king's house,” said Èowyn: “grimmer, older.  Fey I thought him, and like one whom the Dead call, yet he was also strangely certain of his way as though he had a sure road before him.

“Maybe he was called,” said Théoden; “and my heart tells me that I shall not see him again.  Yet he is a kingly man of high destiny.  It is said that when the Eorlingas came out of the North and passed at length up the Snowbourn, seeking strong places of refuge in time of need, Brego and his son Baldor climbed the Stair of the Hold and so came before the Door.  On the threshold sat an old man, aged beyond guess of years; tall and kingly he had been, but now he was withered as an old stone.  Indeed for stone they took him, for he moved not, and he said no word, until they sought to pass him by and enter.  And then a voice came out of him, as it were out of the ground, and to their amaze it spoke in the western tongue: The way is shut.

“Then they halted and looked at him and saw that he lived still; but he did not look at them.  The way is shut, his voice said again.  It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes.  The way is shut.

And when will that time be? said Baldor.  But no answer did he ever get.  For the old man died in that hour and fell upon his face; and no other tidings of the ancient dwellers in the mountains have our folk ever learned.  Yet maybe at last the time foretold has come, and Aragorn may pass.”

“But how shall a man discover whether that time be come or no, save by daring the Door?” said Éomer.  “And that way I would not go though all the hosts of Mordor stood before me, and I were alone and had no other refuge.  Alas that a fey mood should fall on a man so greathearted in this hour of need!  Are there not evil things enough abroad without seeking them under the earth?  War is at hand.”

He paused, for at that moment there was a noise outside, a man's voice crying the name of Théoden, and the challenge of the guard.

Presently the captain of the Guard thrust aside the curtain.  “A man is here, lord,” he said, “an errand-rider of Gondor. He wishes to come before you at once.”

“Let him come!” said Théoden.

A tall Man entered, and Kevin and Merry both gasped, for he looked like Boromir!  But as he came closer, they realized it was just a strong resemblance.

He sank on one knee and presented the arrow to Théoden.  “Hail Lord of the Rohirrim, friend of Gondor!” he said.  “Hirgon I am, errand-rider of Denethor, who bring you this token of war. Gondor is in great need.  Often the Rohirrim have aided us, but now the Lord Denethor asks for all your strength and all your speed; lest Gondor fall at last.”

“The Red Arrow!” said Théoden, holding it, as one who receives a summons long expected and yet dreadful when it comes.  His hand trembled.  “The Red Arrow has not been seen in the Mark in all my years!  Has it indeed come to that?  And what does the Lord Denethor reckon that all my strength and all my speed may be?”

“That is best known to yourself, lord,” said Hirgon.  “But ere long it may well come to pass that Minas Tirith is surrounded, and unless you have the strength to break a siege of many powers, the Lord Denethor bids me say that he judges that the strong arms of the Rohirrim would be better within his walls than without.”

Théoden explained that the Rohirrim had only just come from a battle themselves, and that they might take them as long as a week to ride to the city and be able to engage the enemy.

“A week!” said Hirgon.  “If it must be so, it must.  But you are like to find only ruined walls in seven days from now, unless other help unlooked-for comes.  Still, you may at the least disturb the Orcs and Swarthy Men from their feasting in the White Tower.”

“At the least we will do that,” said Théoden.  “But I myself am new-come from battle and long journey, and I will now go to rest.  Tarry here this night.  Then you shall look on the muster of Rohan and ride away the gladder for the sight, and the swifter for the rest.  In the morning counsels are best, and night changes many thoughts.”

With that the king stood up, and they all rose.  “Go now each to your rest.” he said, “and sleep well.  And you, Master Meriadoc, I need no more tonight.  But be ready to my call as soon as the Sun is risen.”

“I will be ready,” said Merry, “even if you bid me ride with you on the Paths of the Dead.”

“Speak not words of omen!” said the king.  “For there may be more roads than one that could bear that name.  But I did not say that I would bid you ride with me on any road.  Good night!”

Merry turned to Kevin, his face pale and his grey eyes wide with shock.  "Did you hear what he said, Kevin?  He sounded as though he was not going to let me come!  That can't be right!"

Kevin sighed.  "I was kind of afraid of that.  I think Aragorn let you be Theoden's squire, so you'd be safe."

Merry scowled, and now his cheeks grew red with anger.  "That's just wrong!  If 'safe' was what I wanted, I would have stayed in Rivendell.  Or maybe even never left the Shire!  I won't be left behind!"

Kevin shook his head sadly.  "I'm sorry, Merry, but I don't know that you will be able to change his mind."

They went to their sleeping quarters.  Merry was fuming, but not saying anymore. Kevin was worried about the clearly angry and upset hobbit.  But there wasn't much to do about it.  They were shown to a tent near the King's, where Kevin, Merry, and Haleth bedded down along with three other Rohirrim that Kevin did not know.

“I won't be left behind, to be called for on return!” said Merry.  “I won't be left, I won't.”  And repeating this over and over again to himself he fell asleep at last.

He was wakened by a man shaking him.  “Wake up, wake up, Master Holbytla!” he cried; and at length Merry came out of deep dreams and sat up with a start.  It still seemed very dark, he thought.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“The king calls for you.”

“But the Sun has not risen, yet,” said Merry.

“No, and will not rise today, Master Holbytla.  Nor ever again, one would think under this cloud.  But time does not stand still, though the Sun be lost.  Make haste!”

Kevin, too, was wakened, and he and Merry both made haste.  Kevin, Merry, and Haleth stood by and listened as the King gave his nephew the orders to prepare the muster.  Kevin realized from the look on the king's face that his suspicions were right, and all Merry's determination was useless.

The king turned to Merry.  “I am going to war, Master Meriadoc,” he said.  “In a little while I shall take the road.  I release you from my service, but not from my friendship.  You shall abide here, and if you will, you shall serve the Lady Èowyn, who will govern the folk in my stead.”

“But, but, lord,” Merry stammered, “I offered you my sword.  I do not want to be parted from you like this, Théoden King.  And as all my friends have gone to the battle, I should be ashamed to stay behind.”

“But we ride on horses tall and swift,” said Théoden; “and great though your heart be, you cannot ride on such beasts.”

“Then tie me on to the back of one, or let me hang on a stirrup, or something,” said Merry.  “It is a long way to run; but run I shall, if I cannot ride, even if I wear my feet off and arrive weeks too late.”

Théoden smiled.  "You stay here, with Èowyn.  There are tasks for many hands here, and there may yet be fighting for you and all others to do."  He looked at Èowyn, whose face was stoic.

Then Èowyn rose up.  “Come now, Meriadoc!” she said.  “I will show you the gear that I have prepared for you.”  They went out together.

Kevin watched sadly; he would miss the shrewd young hobbit.  Lord, please look after him, he silently prayed.

-oo000oo-

Later on, Éowyn watched Merry as he gazed wistfully at the rows of riders, his face reflecting his longing.  She had already made her own preparations, and was now clad in the armour of an ordinary rider.  She had tucked up her hair beneath her helm and bound her breasts with linen before she had donned her mail.  To all appearances, she was simply a very young Rider of Rohan.

It was clear to her that Merry knew that they'd soon be riding out without him.  She shook her head; it was not fair!  A half-formed resolution suddenly was fully formed.  Silently she approached him.  Pitching her voice to a low whisper, she bent to his ear.  "'Where will wants not, a way opens', so we say,” she whispered; “and so I have found myself.”

He gaped up at her, hope and astonishment on his face.

“You wish to go whither the Lord of the Mark goes: I see it in your face,” she added.

“I do,” said Merry.

“Then you shall go with me.  I will bear you before me, under my cloak until we are far afield, and this darkness is yet darker.  Such good will should not be denied.  Say no more to any man, but come!”

“Thank you indeed!” said Merry.  “Thank you, sir, though I do not know your name.”

“Do you not?  Then call me Dernhelm.”  Eowyn successfully kept herself from laughing.  So far, her disguise was working just fine.

She lifted him up onto her horse, and then swung up behind him flung a corner of her cloak around him, and rode off to hide the two of them among the host, far back in the lines from the King and her brother.

-oo000oo-

Kevin and Haleth were among the éored riding with Éomer.  He felt horrible about leaving Merry behind.  At least, he would get to see Joey and Jennifer when they got to Minas Tirith, but poor Merry, it might be weeks and weeks before he ever got to see Pippin!  He tried to put out of his head the bleak thought that none of them would survive the battle, and he kept repeating to himself Isaiah 40:31, as Jennifer had reminded him to keep that in mind.  Then a hymn came to him, and he began singing it silently, in his head:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus' name.

 

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand

All other ground is sinking sand…

He then started singing that hymn quietly aloud.  Without Jennifer there to sing along with him, it felt a little funny singing by himself.  He was used to singing with his family, or with the youth choir at church.  Also, he wasn't prepared to hear questions he wouldn't be allowed to answer.  Still, he sang softly the rest of the hymn, and then several others.  They soothed him and helped him feel less worried about his siblings.  At one point, Haleth looked over at him, puzzled.  But the Rohirric boy didn't say anything—he was probably lost in his own thoughts, Kevin imagined.

A few hours before the King gave the orders to stop and set up camp, Kevin had the odd idea that he saw a Rider with someone smaller riding in front of him.  It was only a tiny glimpse, and he wasn't sure but what he had imagined it.  But just then, Haleth got his attention, and they went to find their own spot to bed down.  He was tired, and glad to stop, and he soon fell asleep, forgetting all about what he thought he had seen.

-oo000oo-

After only a couple of days, Merry was entirely sick of riding beneath Dernhelm's cloak.  Last night, it had been made clear to him that Elfhelm, who was in charge of the éored they were travelling among, knew exactly who Dernhelm was, even if Merry didn't, and that he also knew Merry was among them—"Master Bag", indeed!  But it also seemed clear he had no intention of giving the two of them away, either.  So long as they were in the middle of that group, there was no reason he couldn't come out of hiding!  But Dernhelm simply held his cloak together even more tightly whenever he tried to poke his head out.  Merry wondered if perhaps the boy's father was riding among the soldiers.

When they finally stopped for the second night, they once more tried to find a spot away from the others to put out their bedrolls.  Merry took the opportunity to pull out some of the food they had been surviving on: hard journey bread, dried fruit, and dried meat, washed down with water from his waterskin.  Dernhelm whispered, "I shall be back soon," and wandered off by himself.

Merry waited several minutes, but began to grow worried.  It was longer than it should have taken to just go behind a bush and relieve oneself.  With a tired sigh, he got up and brushed off the seat of his pants, and strolled off in the direction his companion had gone, into a copse of mostly alders that were growing along the bank of the nearby stream.  He soon heard the sound of running water, and realized that must have been where Dernhelm went, to find the water.

-oo000oo-

As the youngest of the warriors in the éored, it was inevitable that all the little chores would fall to Kevin and Haleth.  And so it happened that was why the two young men found themselves headed in the direction of a nearby stream, ladened with the waterskins of everyone else in the éored.  Their progress was slow, as they tried to keep from dropping any of them.

"It's going to be even more of a hassle going back," Kevin said.  He was not really complaining, just stating a fact.

"If," said Haleth, "you mean 'awkward', you are right."

-oo000oo-

Merry approached the stream, and saw Dernhelm sitting on the bank.  He was about to call out to him when he saw his friend reach up and pull off his helm—to reveal a fall of long golden hair, far longer than even the other Rohirrim wore theirs.  Suddenly, he understood.  It was the Lady Èowyn with whom he had been riding!  That explained a lot.

He came closer.  "My lady!" he said.  She turned and smiled at him.

"I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out," she said.

He laughed, and put his palm to his face.  "I just hope Pippin never discovers I didn't know you were a woman when I was riding with you!  I would never hear the end…What's that?"  He spun round and pulled his sword, and Èowyn did the same as they heard someone approaching.  "Put your helm back on!" he hissed.

But it was too late.  Whoever it was came out from beneath the cover of the trees.  Merry heaved a sigh of relief.  "Hullo, Kevin!  Hullo, Haleth.  Fancy seeing you here."  He grinned at them cheekily, but there was steel in his grey eyes as though he was daring them to object to his presence.

Kevin also sighed, although his sigh sounded more like resignation.  "Merry.  I should have known you'd find a way to come.  I can't say I am actually surprised at you, although…"  He turned his gaze to Èowyn.  "…I am surprised to see you, my Lady.  I thought the King had ordered you to stay behind.  Did Merry talk you into bringing him along?  He's disobeyed orders as well."

She stood straight as a spear.  "Nay, Lord Kevin.  Both of us came for the same reason: we would fight with our kin, and not be left behind in so-called 'safety'."

Kevin looked at them, both of them so brave and defiant.  Truth to tell, he was glad to know that Merry had managed to come along anyway, and that once they reached Minas Tirith, the hobbit would at least be reunited with Pippin.  As for the Lady Èowyn, he did not know her well, but she seemed brave and able.  He looked at Haleth, who had yet to say a single word, and to be truthful, looked more confused than anything else.  "We aren't going to tell on them, are we, Haleth?"

Haleth stood a bit taller, and looked a little offended that Kevin thought he had to ask.  "Of course not!"  He bowed on one knee, and looked at Èowyn.  "My Lady!  You are of the House of Eorl and a Shieldmaiden of Rohan, fell and brave.  If you wish to help drive the enemy away, I will not say you 'nay', nor hinder you."

"Thank you, Haleth, son of Háma.  You have my gratitude, and I am in your debt," Èowyn replied.

"Well, now that's settled," Kevin said.  "So how did you two manage to sneak along?"

Merry looked at the waterskin-laden boys, and said, "It's a long story.  How about we help you two out with your errand…"  He gestured at the many waterskins they were carrying.  "...and we can talk while we fill those things up."

They sat down by the stream, and began to fill the waterskins up with water.  Èowyn began their tale.  "We did not exactly sneak away," she said.  "I asked Dúnhere to be my Steward of the people while I was gone.  And we are riding with Elfhelm's éored.  They all know we are among them, but they feign not to see us."  

"I wish they wouldn't feign quite so well.  Last night, Elfhelm tripped over me and called me 'Master Bag', " said Merry indignantly.  Kevin laughed, though it earned him a glare from the hobbit.

With four of them at the task, it took them little time to get the water filled.  Merry and Èowyn assisted the two boys to hang the vessels about themselves, to make it less likely that they would have a mishap.  "These are going to be a lot heavier going back than they were when we got here," Kevin grumbled.  "Oh, well.  Listen, it will be easier for us than for you—we'll try and check up on you two tomorrow night, if we can.  But right now, we should get back to our own camp, since they will be wondering where we got to."  Merry and Éowyn nodded agreement.

As Kevin and Haleth headed back to their own encampment, Merry and Èowyn looked at one another.

"We were lucky," said Merry, "that it was those two who found us."

Èowyn nodded.  "I dread to think of the scene that would have followed, had it been my brother who found us."

Merry shuddered.  "Or of what the King would say, if he found out."

Èowyn looked horrified.  "He would have us bound and returned to Dunharrow, probably escorted by Elfhelm and his men, since they aided us.  And it would deprive the army of good fighting men, when all are needed."

Merry nodded.  "We have to be more careful."  He picked up the still discarded helm.  "Here is your helmet, Dernhelm,"he said with emphasis, a teasing grin on his face.

She bundled up her hair and put it on.  "Thank you, Master Bag," she replied, grinning back; Merry laughed.  "Let us return to the camp now."

The next day, the King had made a bargain with the Wild Men to help them find a way to slip into Gondor unseen by the enemy.  Kevin had to ask Haleth all about the "Wild Men" whom the Rohirrim also called Woses and Druadan.

Kevin was not privy to the conversation of Theoden and their leader, Ghân-buri-ghân.  He and Haleth sat too far away to hear what they were saying, but the guttural speech and the hand gestures reminded him of old Westerns, the ones in which the Native Americans sat around a fire with the U.S. Cavalry and had peace talks.  All that’s lacking is the peace pipe! he thought wryly.  Out loud, he asked Haleth, "What do you suppose is going on?"

The other boy shrugged.  "I think that perhaps Théoden King seeks aid from the Woses, though I have never heard that they have fought beside us in the past.  But in such strange times as these, who knows what might happen next?"

Danulf Danhelm’s son, who was sitting nearby and feeding wood into the campfire, said, "Nay, they will not fight alongside us, for they have long memories of when our people were their enemies.  Even now, some among our people will try to hunt them and drive them away.  But they are canny, and they hate Orcs as much as we do.  They may help us in some other way."

Just then they were joined by Éomer's second-in-command, his cousin Éothain, who had been with the King and the other leaders earlier, as they had spoken to Ghân-buri-ghân.  "You guessed aright, son of Danhelm.  Ghân-buri-ghân has agreed to be our guide to Mundburg.  He will lead us around the enemy so that we may come upon them unawares."

Kevin looked up.  "That's a good thing, right?  I mean, they know what they are doing?"

"Even better than we do, the Wild Men know the secret ways in and out of their lands, young son of Steven," Éothain answered.  "And we need not fear treachery from them.  I have never heard that any of them ever lie.  We will head out soon, for dawn will not show herself this day, but the riding will be slow, no more than four horses abreast."

Éothain moved on to another group to convey the same message, and Kevin leaned over to Haleth and whispered, "I'm going to slip to the back and check on Èowyn and Merry.  I'll be back as soon as I can."  Haleth nodded.

Kevin slowly meandered through the gathered muster, trying to make his way to where the éored led by Elfhelm was to be found.  He soon located the two of them, sitting a little bit away from the rest.  They looked up at him.  Merry smiled at him, and the Lady Èowyn gave him a nod.  He thought they both looked really tired, but he supposed he looked the same, so he didn't say anything about it.  "Are you two all right?" he asked.

"Yes, if anything can be all right."  Èowyn sighed.  "They say there will be no Sun on the morrow."

"But," added Merry, "I heard we will be on our way again.  While my backside is not happy about it, I'm kind of glad to get moving once more.  I'm worried about Pip and Joey.  And Gandalf and Boromir too, although I suppose they are less likely to find trouble than Pip and Joey!"  He tried to laugh, but it was more of a weary chuckle.  And then his face became solemn again.  “I’m also worried about Frodo and Sam.  I wish we had been able to stay with them.”

Kevin put a comforting hand on his shoulder.  "Well, at least we may soon be in a position to help Pip and Joey.  I think we probably can't do anything for Frodo and Sam except pray."

Merry just nodded and did not respond.  Kevin knew the hobbit did not really understand about prayer, and it was one of those things he thought Gandalf would prefer him not to try to explain.  Èowyn looked at Merry, who just shrugged.

She glanced over at Kevin.  "I am thankful for your care of us.  But you should return to your own place, lest you be missed."

Kevin nodded.  "Well, good-bye for now," he said, before turning and making his way back to where Haleth waited.  He made sure to avoid Éothain, who had finally made his own way to Elfhelm's group.  Èowyn turned her back, and Merry hunkered down beneath his Elf-cloak, looking like a grey rock in the dim light.

It seemed no time until the order came to "Mount up" and "Head out".  For a while, they had to ride single file, as they slowly followed Ghan-bûri-Ghan through the gloom and towards the coming fray.  There was nothing to show how time was passing until they came out of the dim passage they had been riding through and were in sight of the Rammas Echor.  They halted briefly.  He glanced over and saw that slowly, Èowyn and Merry had snuck up closer to the front, where Theoden, Éomer, and the other leaders were.  She rode past him, and gave him a nod.  He winked at her and she averted her gaze.

Soon enough, they were out in the open, and the army began to spread out.  Kevin and Haleth were near Théoden and Éomer; Kevin could lean forward and spot Èowyn and Merry, somewhat further down from them.  They had gradually slipped aside from Elfhelm's command and moved closer to the King—but not close enough to be spotted.  Merry was no longer beneath her cloak, but she still was keeping her head down and face hidden by her helm.

Kevin and Haleth glanced down the line.  He could spot his two friends there on her horse, Windfola.  Èowyn's face was down, and she appeared to be adjusting her cloak.  But Kevin thought it likely she was talking to Merry.

Below them, between then and the city, were ranks upon ranks of orcs, perhaps even more of them than he'd seen at Helm's Deep.

Suddenly, Théoden began riding to his captains and giving orders.  "Éomer, take your éored down the left flank!"

"Flank ready," Éomer responded.

Théoden rode on.  "Gamling, follow the King’s banner down the centre.  Grimbold, take your company right after you pass the wall.  Forth, and fear no darkness!"

The King galloped before his army.  "Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!  Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered; a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!”

The riders readied their spears.  Kevin could feel his heart pounding in his chest; he felt like he could hardly breathe.  Unlike when he stood at Helm’s Deep, he had some idea of the horror before him.  Only it was likely to be worse: they were not defending a wall, but would be plunging headlong into the middle of the enemy.

Théoden rode at full speed before the front ranks of his men, holding out his own spear to strike theirs.  "Ride now!  Ride now!  Ride!  Ride for ruin, and the world’s ending!  Death!”

"Death!" roared the men, as their King passed them.

Kevin had no spear, but he held his sword forth, and Théoden's blow jarred his arm to the shoulder.  "Death!" he found himself yelling.

"Death!"

"Death!"

"Death!"

The sound was overwhelming, like being carried along by a giant wave in a storm.  Théoden gave the order.  "Forth, Eorlingas!"

Suddenly Kevin found they were charging forward.  He rode swiftly, his sword held high like the others.  Haleth rode next to him—his friend was grinning, and still yelling, "Death!"  But Kevin felt somewhat embarrassed at how he had been among those yelling.  It felt wrong, somehow.  But it had helped to pump up his courage, like the yells they did before going into a football game.

Still, he silently prayed, Lord, I don't want to kill anyone, and I don't want to be killed.  Please help me to be brave and fight the enemies, and be with me if I do get hurt or killed.  He couldn't help thinking about how his family would feel if he died in this awful battle.

The horses were galloping, and the enemy was ahead.  Orcs were lined up with pikes to stop them, but as the horses did not slow down; many of them threw down their weapons and just ran away.

Most, but not all.  Kevin found himself slashing out with his sword, striking left and right at Orcs who were trying to grab him.  He could feel the sword striking them, and he knew he was dealing out injuries, as his sword bit into the flesh, and the acrid black blood stained its blade, and much of it splashed on him.  But he had no time to be grossed out, or even to wonder if he had killed any of them.  At least the blood was all black., so he had injured no humans.

But while the orcs had been routed, another army had come to the fore, and to Kevin's dismay, they were human.  They fought fiercely.  They were dressed in red and black, and their faces were either covered with black veils or tattooed with strange symbols.  So far Kevin and Haleth were far enough back that they had not engaged what he heard the other Rohirrim calling "Southrons".  Up ahead, he could still see the standard of the King, but he had no idea where Éomer was.  He glanced over to see if Haleth was still with him, and he was.

He was steeling himself to meet this new enemy, when he felt what seemed to be an earthquake!  The ground shook and rumbled and a sound like heavy thunder seemed to come from beneath him.  His horse became skittish, and it was all he could do to hang on.  The other horses were doing the same.  He heard drumbeats and harsh-sounding horns in addition to the rumbling of the earth.  Many horses were screaming and throwing their riders.  Others were bolting away from the battle, in spite of the Riders efforts to control them.  He heard a totally unexpected sound: elephants!  It sounded like elephants!  His horse, just barely under control as it was reared up and he found himself flying from the saddle, unhorsed in all this madness.  Terrified, he took hold of his sword, and found himself suddenly defending himself against a Southron warrior.  He was doing his best to defend himself, but he was sure he'd be killed.  Desperately he swung a wild stroke, forcing his foe backwards.  Unfortunately for the Southron, there was a body behind him, and he tripped.  Almost by accident, Kevin's stroke went home, and he caught the enemy as he went down.  Red blood spurted, and the copper smell of blood made Kevin feel ill.  But something else had caught his attention—that body, it looked like...quickly he bent to turn it over.  It was Haleth!  But as he turned him, the Rohirric boy gave a deep gasping breath.  Haleth was alive, but injured!

Kevin scarcely had the chance to take in the good news when the trumpeting and thundering came closer.  Heading in their direction was an immense elephant, as large as a dinosaur.  He tried to rouse Haleth, but he could get no better response than a groan.  And he couldn't run away and leave his friend.  With a wordless prayer, he flung himself on top of Haleth, and closed his eyes.  The beast was right upon them!  He held his breath, and hoped that being stomped by a giant elephant was not too dreadfully painful, when amazingly, it did not happen.  The creature had run right over them, but never set foot on them, and now it had gone by.  Thank You, God!

But there were more of the creatures.  He had to get Haleth off the battlefield if he could.  Not far from him, he saw one of the elephants stumble and go down, and beyond that, another.

Then, without warning, there seemed to come a lull in the battle.  He heard a dreadful shriek, and saw another shadow, this one overhead.  He stood, and saw much further down the battlefield, a monstrous flying creature that looked almost like a dragon, land upon the field at a distance.

It seemed no one was fighting for a moment.  He felt an awful chill in the air.  But even though the sounds of its scream sent a chill of horror through him, he pushed at Haleth until the other boy responded.   "Haleth!" he said.  "You need to get up if you can."  With much coaxing, he managed to get his friend on his feet.  So far, the only injury Kevin had seen on Haleth was a cut near his temple, as well as a sizable knot on his forehead.  There had been another horrible shriek, but now the battle seemed to pick up again, though it appeared to be moving away to the east and south of his position.  Half-dragging his companion, Kevin and Haleth stumbled along.  Kevin spotted a broken and battered siege tower about twenty feet to the north of them.  It had been knocked over and smashed by one of the gigantic elephants.  With a lot of effort, he was able to get them over there and sheltered behind its ruins.  He sat them down behind it, ignoring the dead Orcs only a few feet away.  He took out his sword and put it close to hand, and then he unhooked his waterskin from his belt, and managed to get Haleth to take a sip of water, and then he took one himself.  Now, if only they could wait the battle out.

This is so different from the way my father fought in the Gulf War, he thought wryly.  He fought with automatic rifles and grenades!  He shook his head.  I sure never expected to become a soldier when I’m not even out of high school yet!  Wait till I tell my dad about this!

At least the Sun had finally come out, and there seemed to be a breeze.  In spite of Kevin’s efforts to stay alert, his exhausted body slipped into an uneasy doze.






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