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An Unexpected Adventure  by KathyG

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Ringsbelongs to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from 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 45: It’s a Small World

Jennifer was growing weary of the long watch over the rails of the ship.  The other ships of the little fleet had also shoved off, so that they had made a little flotilla in the River, just far enough away from the bank to make boarding difficult from the shore.  The battle had begun to move once more, and back in their direction, so she dared not stand down from her uneasy watch.  Halbarad was fast asleep, dosed with the liquor that the men attending him had given him.  She wasn't sure she approved of such medicine, but really, there was nothing else to be done for him.  She just hoped Aragorn would come back, and soon.  She trusted his healing skills.

The day was growing late; she could see that some parts of the City were on fire, and she spared a thought to Joey, hoping he was nowhere near those flames. Please protect him and Pippin, God! she silently prayed.

The ship gave a lurch, as a strange wave lifted it and it dropped as suddenly.  There was a trumpeting blast upstream, and she turned to see one of those huge elephants—no, more than one—splashing across the water, running wild.  Her jaw dropped in fascination.  They were even larger than they had appeared at a distance!

The beasts floundered through the water and up the bank beyond, causing the ship to flounder briefly in the waves from their passage, and then went rampaging off into the East.  Then a moment later, two more came running parallel to the River, heading South, about fifteen or twenty feet from where they were docked.  She could see the broken war towers dangling from their backs.  The poor things had arrows stuck in them all over.

Gosh, Jennifer thought, shaking her head.  I have never seen such huge elephants!  They’re so much smaller where we come from.  Though still big enough!  She bit her lower lip.  Those poor things!   I know they have to be stopped, but I hate to see them hurt like that.

But now she could see that many of the enemy warriors were also retreating to the South.  Most of them were men.  But she saw a group of Orcs notice the ships.  They turned and pointed, and about twenty of them headed towards the ships.  With a deep breath, she lifted her bow and nocked an arrow.  They were still too far away, maybe fifty or sixty feet, but they were moving fast.  As soon as she could make out the details of their awful faces, she let free the arrow, trying not to think of what she was doing.  Then without looking to see if she had hit anything, she pulled out another arrow.  She knew she was being too slow, but she wanted to do it right.  She looked up to see if any of the other Orcs was close enough, but when one of them had been hit, the others stopped and drew back, looking at one another.  Then arrows came from some of the other ships—and she realized that the freed slaves on her ship had come alongside her, armed with kitchen knives and cleavers, ready to help if they had to, but a few of them seem to have found bows and arrows aboard, though they really couldn't shoot very well.

As she wondered when the Orcs would attack, she saw some of the pursuing warriors break off and head their way—they were clad in grey cloaks!  Dúnedain!  And then she realized that Legolas was among them, as other Orcs began to drop.  Those still alive forgot about the ships and began running to the South once more, pursued by the Dúnedain.  But Legolas—and now she could see Gimli by his side—they rushed toward the ship with a shout of joy.  Legolas ran down to the end of the dock and, throwing aside his bow, dove into the water, swimming towards the ship.  Gimli had stopped short at the end, shaking his head.  Dwarves did not swim.

As the Elf approached the side of the ship, one of the freed slaves lowered a rope ladder down, and he clambered up it effortlessly.  "Lady Jennifer!" he exclaimed, as he dripped on the deck.  "It is joyful to see you safe, and even defending yourself!  I am glad you had the sense to move the ships."  He moved towards her and took her by the shoulders.  "What good fortune that you are safe!  We feared for you, which is why we came this way when the battle became a rout."

She looked up at him with shining eyes.  "I'm so glad you and Gimli are safe…"  She was almost afraid to ask after anyone else.  Instead she said, "Moving the ships was Halbarad's idea."

"Halbarad!" Legolas exclaimed.

Jennifer nodded her head towards the still-sleeping Ranger.  "I was coming after you all when I found him.  He's injured, but alive.  We didn't have any medicine, so the others made him drunk to ease his pain."

"A Elbereth!  When the standard went down, we were sure he was lost!"  He pulled her towards him with a brief embrace.  "Bless you, child!  What a wonder you have wrought."  

Jennifer blushed.  His praise made her uncomfortable, but she was too glad to see him to argue about whether she had done anything special.  "What do we do now?" she asked him.

Legolas looked thoughtful.  "I will look Halbarad over and see how urgent his need of a healer might be."

She followed the Elf over to where Halbarad lay upon his makeshift bed.  "He told me, when I found him, that he thought he had a broken rib.  And he had a knock on the head, too."

Legolas noticed the makeshift bandage around the man's head; he decided to leave it be, and then opened his tunic and looked at Halbarad's torso.  Jennifer gasped at the sight of the huge black and purple bruise.  The Elf touched the bruised area gently, and then nodded.  "I cannot be certain, as healing is not among my gifts, but I think he does indeed have a broken rib, perhaps more than one."

He stood and walked back over to the rail.  "Giml!" he shouted.  "Halbarad is alive, but injured.  He is here on the ship.  If you can make your way safely, could you but find one of the Peredhil, or perhaps even Aragorn, to give them the news, I would be much obliged.  He is in need of a healer!"

"Aye, Legolas!  That is good news indeed."  The Dwarf turned and took off running.  Jennifer watched in surprise.  She'd had no idea he could move that fast.

Finally, Jennifer felt she could sit down and rest.  She went over and sat down wearily on the deck next to Halbarad, and rested her head on her knees, and gradually slid into sleep.

-oo000oo-

Aragorn was weary, but the battle was winding down.  Most of the enemy had now fled over the River.  During the battle, he had become separated from the Dúnedain as he had joined Eomer, but they, too, had been swept apart by the fierce fighting.  Now he was among some of the Rohirrim, who were searching among their own for wounded.  Having seen no sign so far of Kevin, he hoped to possibly do so in this area.  He was with Éomer's second, Éothain, who had lost sight of his cousin during the mêlée.  Kevin and Haleth had last been seen among those fighting with Éothain.

So far, he had seen mostly only dead orcs and some of the Southrons, though they had found a few Rohirrim among the sorely wounded, and among the dead as well, sad to say.  There was a wide swath of the dead whose side could not be told, for they had been trampled by a mûmakil, and Aragorn's heart sank at the thought that Kevin might be among them.  But he had to hope that the youth had survived. 

"My Lord Aragorn!"  It was a shout from one of the other searchers.  He had been searching amidst the debris of a broken mangonel.
 
He loped over to the place from whence the voice had come, leaping over anything in his way.  He let out a huge breath of relief, for there, nestled among the broken remains of the siege engine, were both Kevin and Haleth.  He knelt on one knee and bent over them.  Both were breathing.  Kevin appeared to be simply sleeping; Haleth's breathing was shallower, and Aragorn used his thumb and finger to open the lad's eyelid.  Ah, he thought, a knock on the head.

Out loud, Aragorn told the other searcher, "We need to get them off the battlefield."  He stood, lifting Kevin in his arms as the other searcher lifted Haleth.  He didn't have the heart to wake up Kevin, since it was clear to him that the youth was totally exhausted, and though not severely wounded, was covered in small cuts and bruises, and not up to trudging any distance at present.

"Where shall we take them, my Lord?"

Éothain had joined them at that point.  "They are gathering the wounded near the walls, not far from the breached gates.  Wains and carts are being used to take the wounded up to the Houses of Healing."

They had not gone far when Kevin stirred.  He opened his eyes.  "A—Aragorn?"  He blinked, seemingly disoriented by his position.
 
Aragorn smiled, and gently set Kevin on his feet.  "Can you walk?"

"I think so."  He wobbled a little.  "Well, maybe not very fast.  Where is Haleth?"

"He is there."  Aragorn gestured to the one who carried Haleth.  "He seems to have suffered a bit of a knock on the head."  He laid a hand on Kevin's shoulder as the boy attempted to steady himself, and asked again, "Can you walk?"

Kevin bit his lower lip.  "I think so.  But as I said, maybe not very fast.  Right now, I seem to be kind of wobbly."

"Lean on me, then, as we go.  There is no shame in taking help from a comrade."  Kevin leaned against Aragorn's side, and the two of them accompanied the man as he carried Haleth toward the walls.

-oo000oo-

Gimli had been seeking among the various others who were also scouring the battlefield for survivors.  There were not many, for the fighting near the River had been very fierce.  But he eventually saw a very tall figure in a grey cloak leaning over a Southron who had evidently just died.  He shook his head, and was about to mount his horse and move onward when he saw the tall figure’s face.

Elladan! guessed Gimli, and then he darted toward the elf, shouting his name.

The Elf turned.  "Good guess, Master Dwarf."  He glanced down at the dead Southron.  "He feared Elves so much that he chose to kill himself rather than take my aid."  Elladan sighed.  "Why do you seek me?"

"Halbarad is wounded, and needs a healer.  Legolas and Lady Jennifer are with him.  They are aboard the ship.”  A proud smile crept across Gimli’s face as he shook his head.  “That brave lass went down upon the battlefield and found him, and managed to get him back to the ship all by herself." 

Elladan smiled.  "She is indeed a 'brave lass', and a strong one, too.  Lead the way, Gimli."

The Dwarf turned and abruptly headed back the way he had come, but in two quick strides, the Elf was by his side.

Jennifer was watching over the rail as Gimli and the Elf approached the ship, which had been returned to the quay, and now Legolas, with the help of one of the freed slaves, put down the gangplank.

Jennifer raced over to Elladan and gave him a fierce hug.  "I'm so glad to see you!"

With an amused smile, Elladan returned her embrace more gingerly.  He had nearly forgot just how enthusiastic and free with their feelings young mortals were.  "As I am, to see you, tithen nin.  Now, I should like to see my patient." 

Jennifer stepped back and dropped her arms to her sides.  “Of course.”
 
She walked over to where Halbarad lay.  Elladan could smell the strong spirits from several steps away, and shook his head.  Clearly, the crew had used the only means they knew to ease the Dúnadan’s pain.  While it might have worked by causing him to pass out, his patient would feel much worse for the wear when the makeshift remedy wore off.

Jennifer grimaced.  “He’s gonna have a hangover when he wakes up, I’m afraid,” she said softly.  “Sorry about that, Elladan.  The sailors don’t have any pain medicines on board; I wish they did.”

Elladan shrugged.  "I am sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.  They meant well.  Let us see what we have here."  He knelt down and pulled the shirt aside. 

In the end, he used a balm upon the abused ribs, and wrapped them gently, amazed at Jennifer’s explanation of how the little embroidered pouch and its stone had saved the Ranger's life.  His assessment of the head wound would have to wait.

“He’ll need to take deep breaths every so often, while his ribs are mending,” Jennifer said.  “Once every hour or so, when he’s awake.  If he doesn’t, he’ll risk getting pneumonia.  I learned about that when I studied first aid as a Cadette Girl Scout.  He’ll need a pillow to press against his chest while he’s doing his breathing exercises; that’ll make it easier on his ribs, ‘cause they’re gonna hurt while he’s breathing, especially when he’s taking deep breaths.  An ice pack put on his chest once every hour at first, for fifteen-minute periods, will help the pain, too.”  She looked around the ship.  “If there’s any way to get any ice around here, that is,” she added ruefully.

Elladan nodded. He was silently amused at her knowledge, which, while true, was not terribly useful under the current circumstances.  "But all that is for much later.  The battle has ended.  We shall get him to a better place."

A makeshift stretcher was made from one of the hammocks and some blankets, and the process began of transporting the unconscious Halbarad to the healers' tents.

-oo000oo-

For a while, things had been crazy at the Houses of Healing.  Joey was surprised at how quickly the healers were able to arrange things, moving all the patients out of the fire-damaged wing and into a new ward. 

The regular patients were put in the North wing, but those with the Black Breath were taken to a large room on the southeast side of the central building.  A few of the patients were from the original room in which Joey and Pippin had been, but Faramir was also among them.  The Steward did not wish to be separated from his son, so even though he didn't have the Black Breath, they arranged a bed next to his son.  But Faramir burned with a fever that would not abate.

Joey and Pippin watched as Gandalf went from one bed to another, full of care.

"He's really worried," said Joey with a whisper. 
 
Pippin nodded. "I don't think I have ever seen him more worried."

There was a bustle at the door, and Dame Ioreth came in, with fresh blankets, bandages, and water being carried by some of the other helpers.

She directed them to put the things out, and turned and walked over to Faramir's bed, where she stood with tears sliding down her weathered cheeks. “Alas! if he should die.  Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say!  For it is said in old lore: 'The hands of the king are the hands of a healer'.  And so the rightful king could ever be known.”

Gandalf gave her a sharp look, and turned with a look of hope.  “Men may long remember your words, Ioreth!  For there is hope in them.  Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor; or have you not heard the strange tidings that have come to the City?”

“I have been too busy with this and that to heed all the crying and shouting,” she answered.  “All I hope is that those murdering devils do not come to this House and trouble the sick."

Gandalf stood up with determination on his face. “Now I must go down to meet those who come.  I have seen a sight upon the field that is very grievous to my heart, and greater sorrow may yet come to pass. Come with me, Pippin!”  He summoned Pippin with a gesture.

"Joey and Bergil, you remain here.  I will send your father and some of the other guardsmen up here, Bergil, since both the Steward and his son are injured and ill."  He bowed briefly to the Steward, who nodded at him, and then he left, with Pippin at his heels.

As they passed through the courtyards Gandalf said to Pippin, "I have had much to do, and cannot be everywhere at once."  He stopped in concern when he heard the hobbit cough.  "I would not ask this of you when you are still suffering from the smoke, but I am certain that Merry is here somewhere, and I can think of no one who can find him better than you."

"Merry?" Pippin gasped.  "He's here in Gondor?"

"Yes, and he is lost and alone.  Seek him out, Pippin.  Find your cousin."

Pippin nodded and rushed off, his strength renewed at the thought of reunion with Merry. 

-oo000oo-

"Imrahil."  Denethor summoned the Prince to his side, and then began coughing.  "I need to speak to Boromir," he said, when the coughing finally abated.

"Rest easy," Imrahil replied.  “I will go find him for you.”

Denethor gave a deep sigh, and turned his eyes to his son, but his own strength was spent, and he passed into uneasy slumber.

Faramir was still burning up, and he was muttering in his sleep.  His brow was furrowed in pain and sorrow, and he writhed briefly. 

Dame Ioreth shook her head.  "I wish that we had some kingsfoil.  I remember my old grandmother used to say:

“When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas!  come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!"

Master Seregon's head shot up.  "Kingsfoil?" he asked. 

"What's kingsfoil?" asked Joey.

"It is also called athelas."  He turned to Joey and Bergil.  "Boys, we need athelas.  Bergil and Joey, go find the Herb-master; see if he has some."

The two of them darted off.  "Where will we find the Herb-master?" asked Joey.

"Follow me," said Bergil, leading Joey through the maze of corridors to a room on one of the lower floors.  But the Herb-master did not have any in store, and the two of them were about ready to give up, when he said: 

"There is an old apothecary on the third level who used to keep some in store.  The old wives swear by it for headaches…"

"I know where that is," said Bergil.

And now the two boys raced off again, in search of the elusive herb.

-oo000oo-

It had begun to rain, a miserable misty drizzle, that somehow soaked in as badly as a downpour.  Boromir was leading a van of the Men of Gondor through the battlefield, seeking out injured, and checking for any of the Enemy who might be feigning death in order to slip into the City later and do harm.  Putting a hand over his eyes, he peered through the mist to see a group of Rohirrim slowly coming towards them.  They had two biers with them, and most disturbingly, the standard of the House of Eorl.  He had a bad feeling.

“What burden do you bear, Men of Rohan?” he cried.

“Théoden King,” they answered.  “He is dead.  But Éomer King rode off in the battle: he with the white crest in the wind.”

Then Boromir dismounted from Hrimfax and knelt by the bier in honour of the king and his great onset; and he wept.  And rising he looked then on Éowyn and was amazed.  “Éowyn?  But what is the Lady Éowyn doing here?  This is grievous beyond all measure!”

He leaned over her, pale and cold where she lay, and then he blinked.  He stood back, then leaned again more closely, and placed a finger against her neck.  "Men of Rohan!  Are there no leeches among you?  She is hurt to the death maybe, but I deem that she yet lives.”  He looked sternly at her bearers.  "Could you not see that she still breathes?”  He drew his silver dagger and held it before her lips, and the others gasped as they saw it fog up.

Boromir chose one of his own men.  “Haste now is needed.  Show them the way to the Houses of Healing.  Swiftly, now; every moment counts, if she is to live.”

Then he turned to pay honour to Théoden, before mounting Hrimfax and returning to his inspection of the battlefield.  He did not even see a small, wet figure slowly wandering into the city, lost among the many others who were doing the same.

The battle had ended much more quickly than Boromir had expected.*  But between the slaying of the Witch-king of Angmar and the arrival of reinforcements from Rohan in the North, and the River to the East, which dismayed the enemy and put heart into the defenders, there had been the destruction wrought by fleeing mûmakil.  The great beasts paid no heed to what side anyone was, but trampled indiscriminately.  However, they mostly seemed to flee in the direction of the Anduin, which meant they actually killed more of their own masters.  He had noticed some fire in the City, in the upper levels, which concerned him, and now that the battle was over, he thought to go investigate.

However, Boromir had not ridden far before he saw a familiar figure on horseback.  He saw the banner of the Swan Knights: there was his Uncle Imrahil, accompanied by two knights, riding in his direction.

"Boromir!" he called.  "I have news."

Imrahil rode up to his nephew.  "Faramir was brought in injured and suffering under the Black Breath.  He was taken to the Houses of Healing...wait!  There is more!" he said, as Boromir had almost started to ride away, up to the City.

"What?  For I must go there at once!"

"There was fire there in the Houses.  Faramir was saved, but it was your father who went in to save him.  He too lives, but breathed much smoke and was also burned, and is now abed next to your brother.  You are in charge of the City for now!"

"Fire in the Houses of Healing?"  Boromir's face became pale with shock.  "They should have been safe!  Joey and Pippin, I put them there to be safe..."

"And they are safe; they are!   Pippin kept your brother safe during the fire until your father came, and young Joey was never in danger of the fire at all."

Boromir heaved a sigh of relief, but nevertheless, shot off at a gallop into the City.  Imrahil followed at a somewhat slower pace.

Imrahil turned to speak to the Rohirrim, learning the sad news of Théoden's death, and the hopeful news that the Lady Éowyn had survived.

"It is troublesome that she was here, but I am glad to hear she was not slain," he said.  "I hope that she will be saved."  Imrahil and his two knights mounted up again.  The group of Rohirrim were far ahead now, and he hoped that they would quickly arrive at the Houses of Healing.
 
-oo000oo-

Halbarad moaned as he turned his head from side to side.  Jennifer had sat next to him ever since his stretcher had been laid in one of the makeshift healers’ tents a few hours before.  A moment later, he opened his eyes, and then squeezed them shut.  “I am sorry, Lady Jennifer.  The light hurts my eyes.”

She glanced around.  Elladan was helping with a few others who were wounded, and Legolas and Gimli were helping him.  She turned back to Halbarad.

“That’s probably the whisky they gave you on the ship,” Jennifer said.  “They gave you too much of it, and you’re gonna be feeling pretty sick for a while.  It’ll wear off, though.”  She brushed his hair out of his eyes, and Halbarad nodded.

“I owe my life to your little sister,” he said a moment later.  “If it had not been for the stone she gave me, I would have died.  The stone blocked the orc arrow from piercing my chest.”

Jennifer smiled.  He seemed to have forgotten that he had already told her this.  She hoped it was just the hangover and not the knock on his head affecting his memory.  “I’ll tell her when I see her.”  Halbarad fell silent, and Jennifer said nothing.

Another small group with a few walking wounded came under the tent, and Jennifer's heart leaped to see that it was Elrohir accompanying them.  His brother stood up immediately, and the two greeted one another.

A moment later, one of the local healers entered.  “We must get the injured ready for travel now,” he told Elladan and Elrohir.  “Orders have been given to move all the wounded to the Houses of Healing.”
   
Gimli grinned.  "Perhaps we will find Aragorn there."

Halbarad nodded.  “It will be good to see him again.”

Elladan spoke to Jennifer.  "Elrohir and I are going to remain on the battlefield.  There are still survivors out there who have yet to be found.  But you go into the city with the rest, for I know that you are eager to find Joey."

She nodded.  "Thank you, Elladan.  I will see you again soon, then?"

He nodded.  "You will, indeed, and I am sure you will see your brothers again soon.  Take care, Jennifer."  He turned and walked off with Elrohir, as they went to see if there were still any wounded left on the battlefield.

It took several minutes to get everyone else ready, and then they began to head toward the city. I sure hope his ribs’ll stay safe! Jennifer thought apprehensively, as she glanced down at Halbarad.  If any of them come loose while we’re on our way—!  The consequences did not bear thinking about, so she pushed the thought out of her head.  They could only move him as carefully as they could, and they were doing that. And how soon will I see Kevin and Joey again?  Joey is somewhere up there, I know, but I don’t know where Kevin is!  And this city is so big!  It's almost as big as a modern city, and a lot more confusing, the way the streets go.  It’s right on the side of a huge mountain—not flat like modern cities.  She bit her lower lip, grateful that those around her seemed to know where they were going.  And where is Joey staying?  I know he’s with Gandalf and Pippin and Boromir, but I don’t know where.  I hope I’ll see him again soon!

Jennifer stayed close to Halbarad as they entered the city and travelled up the levels toward the Houses of Healing.  Eventually, they arrived there, where one of the healers led them into one of the wards.  Under his instructions, Halbarad was carefully moved from a stretcher onto a bed.

-oo000oo-

A mist was in Merry's eyes of tears and weariness when they drew near the ruined Gate of Minas Tirith.  He wandered through, and onward, not paying any attention to where he was going.

Slowly the lights of the torches in front of him flickered and went out, and he was walking in a darkness; and he thought: 'This is a tunnel leading to a tomb; there we shall stay forever.'  But suddenly into his dream there fell a living voice.

“Well, Merry!  Thank goodness I have found you!”

He looked up and the mist before his eyes cleared a little.  There was Pippin!  They were face to face in a narrow lane, and but for themselves it was empty.  He rubbed his eyes.

“Where is the king?” he said.  “And Éowyn?”  Then he stumbled and sat down on a doorstep and began to weep again.

“They have gone up into the Citadel,” said Pippin.  “I think you must have fallen asleep on your feet and taken the wrong turning.  When we found that you were not with them, Gandalf sent me to look for you.  Poor old Merry!  How glad I am to see you again!  But you are worn out, and I won't bother you with any talk.  But tell me, are you hurt, or wounded?”

“No,” said Merry.  “Well, no, I don't think so.  But I can't use my right arm, Pippin, not since I stabbed him.  And my sword burned all away like a piece of wood.”

Pippin's face was anxious.  “Well, you had better come with me as quick as you can,” he said.  “I wish I could carry you.  You aren't fit to walk any further.  They shouldn't have let you walk at all; but you must forgive them.  So many dreadful things have happened in the City, Merry, that one poor hobbit coming in from the battle is easily overlooked.”

“It's not always a misfortune being overlooked,” said Merry.  “I was overlooked just now by—no, no, I can't speak of it.  Help me, Pippin!  It's all going dark again, and my arm is so cold.”

“Lean on me, Merry lad!” said Pippin.  “Come now!  Foot by foot.  It's not far.”

“Are you going to bury me?” said Merry.

“No, indeed!” said Pippin, trying to sound cheerful, though his heart was wrung with fear and pity.  “No, we are going to the Houses of Healing.”

They turned out of the lane that ran between tall houses and the outer wall of the fourth circle, and they regained the main street climbing up to the Citadel.  Step by step they went, while Merry swayed and murmured as one in sleep.

‘I'll never get him there,' thought Pippin.  'Is there no one to help me?  I can't leave him here.’ Just then, to his surprise, he saw Bergil and Joey run up behind them.

“Hullo, Bergil, Joey!” he called.  “Where are you going?”

“We are running errands for the Healers,” said Bergil.  “We cannot stay.”

"Wait," said Pippin.  "Bergil, can you run the errand on your own?"  When Bergil nodded, he added, "Go on then!  Joey, you need to find Gandalf for me!  We need help!"

“All right.”  Without another word, Bergil immediately darted out of sight.  Joey sped off, hoping that he'd soon find Gandalf.

I'd better wait here, thought Pippin.  So, he let Merry sink gently down on to the pavement in a patch of sunlight, and then he sat down beside him, laying Merry's head in his lap.  He felt his body and limbs gently, and took his friend's hands in his own.  The right hand felt icy to the touch.

It was not long before Gandalf came back with Joey in search of them.  He stooped over Merry and caressed his brow; then he lifted him carefully.  “He should have been borne in honour into this city,” he said.  “He has well repaid my trust; for if Elrond had not yielded to me, none of you would have set out; and then far more grievous would the evils of this day have been.” He strode off, bearing Merry, while Pippin and Joey followed slowly behind.

-oo000oo-

Halbarad began to moan, jolting Jennifer out of her thoughts.  “Halbarad?”  She leaped to her feet and hurried toward the bed.  “Are you in pain?”

Halbarad grimaced.  “I am afraid so, Lady Jennifer.  My chest hurts.”

“I’ll see if I can find anybody to give you something to relieve it.”  Jennifer stepped into the empty hall.  Where’s a nurse when you need one?  A moment later, a woman wearing an apron strode up the hall, and Jennifer called to her softly.  “Uh, ma’am, Halbarad’s in a lot of pain.  His ribs hurt.  Do you have anything to relieve it?”

"I'll see, my lady," she said and stepped into the ward to check on Halbarad.  Just as Jennifer turned to go back in, she heard steps coming from the other direction, and turned around.

Gandalf.  Carrying Merry.  Behind him, Pippin.  And Joey!

“Jennifer!” Joey squealed.  He rushed toward his older sister, who darted forward to hug him
.
“Joey!  You’re safe!”  Jennifer hugged him tightly, and then drew back slightly and began checking him all over to make sure he wasn't hurt.  He smelled like smoke, but she couldn't see any signs of injury on him anywhere.

“Joey is all right, but there is no time for a reunion now,” Gandalf said.  “We must get Merry upstairs.”

“Oh, of course.”  Jennifer stepped back.  “Go on with them, Joey.  I’ll catch up with you.”  Nodding, Joey hurried with the others as they disappeared around the corner.  "Legolas!  Gimli," she called into the ward.  "I found Joey.  I have to catch up before I lose him again!"  Legolas and Gimli stepped out into the hall, grinning.

"Well, lassie, what are you waiting for?  Go on, then!" said Gimli.

She didn't need telling twice.

-oo000oo-

Éomer rode slowly amid the desolation, with but a few of his éored about him.  So swept up in battle rage had he been that he had allowed himself to outstrip most of his companions.  Who knew where Éothain was?  He just hoped that his cousin and the rest of his warriors had survived.  He was a poor leader, indeed, to allow himself to be so overcome over the deaths of his sister and his uncle.  His uncle...he was king now.  That did not bear thinking of!  King!  He was never meant to be King; that was supposed to have been his cousin Theodred, now lost to Saruman's treachery.  How could he be king?  Why had he not been cut down in battle as well?  He had no family now. He needed to find where they had taken the King and his sister.

"Sire."  It was the voice of one of his éored.  It was Anwyn, Anwyth's son. 

He turned to him.  "What is it?"

"Just there, it is one of the captains of Gondor—see his standard.  Mayhap he knows where the King and the Lady Éowyn have been taken?"

Éomer nodded, and they headed in that direction.  That was the standard of Dol Amroth, who was kin to the Steward.  He would certainly know.

As they drew near, Éomer called out, "My Lord!  Stay but a moment!"

Imrahil turned, and saw drawing near a captain of the Rohirrim—no, not a mere captain!  If the crest on his helm was any guide, that was the King's nephew, now King, himself.  "How may I be of service to you?" he asked.

"Of your courtesy, My Lord, do you know where they may have taken the bier of my uncle, the King, and of the Lady Éowyn?"

"Théoden King has been taken to the Rath Dínen, there to lie in honour until your people are able to take him home."

But Éomer said: “And where is the Lady Éowyn, my sister; for surely she should be lying beside the king, and in no less honour?  Where have they bestowed her?”

And Imrahil said: “But the Lady Éowyn was yet living when they bore her hither.  Did you not know?”

Then hope unlooked-for came so suddenly to Éomer's heart, and with it the bite of care and fear renewed, that he said no more, but turned and went swiftly to the Houses of Healing, accompanied by the Prince of Dol Amroth.

-oo000oo-

Kevin was sitting next to Haleth, who lay upon a pallet among a group of other wounded warriors.  He was still exhausted, but he couldn't sleep anymore.  Every time he closed his eyes, he'd see again the face of that Southron he had killed.  It didn't help to remind himself that it had been to kill or be killed.  Yes, he had been one of the enemies, but he wasn't an orc.  Somehow that made it different, even though, Kevin thought guiltily, it should not.  Were orcs people, too?  But it was different, it was, and he couldn't help it.  Orcs were more like monsters than people.  They didn't look real; they looked like something out of a movie or a fairy tale.

He gave a start at a sudden hand upon his shoulder.  Turning his head, he saw Aragorn.  He just stared, and said, "What?" in an exhausted voice.

"Kevin," Aragorn said gently, "they are preparing to carry this group of wounded up to the City, to the Houses of Healing.  I am certain you wish to stay with Haleth?"

Kevin looked up. It didn't look so far to the City now.  And after all this, he did want to stay with Haleth.  He nodded and got wearily to his feet.  When one of the helpers came to take up an end of Haleth's pallet, Kevin took the other end.  After all, he wasn't wounded, and everyone else was just as tired as he was. They transferred Haleth into a waiting cart, and then they began the final trudge, Kevin walking with one hand on the cart, his head hanging low.

Aragorn looked on with troubled eyes.  Kevin was a warrior now, but it was not something he had prepared for his whole life.  The truth of battle was difficult even for those who were.  How much more so for one who had never expected to have to kill.  It was one thing to kill an orc or a troll; it was quite another to kill a man.  Soon, soon, if there was ever any time to be found, he would need to talk to the youth.  But for now, it was a search for more survivors…

-oo000oo-

It was hard for Joey to leave Jennifer behind, but he had duties to see to in the ward.  What had happened to Faramir while they were gone?  And he had to let them know that Bergil would be getting the athelas.  And Merry!  Poor Merry, would he be all right?  He scurried after Gandalf and Pippin.
  
As soon as they came in, the healers found a cot for Merry.  Pippin stood next to his cousin, gripping his hand.  Master Seregon looked over Merry, noting how pale he was; his right arm seemed to be cold and unresponsive.  "Pippin, can you get his armour off, so that we may make him more comfortable?"

Given something to do, Pippin perked up, and began to unfasten Merry's hauberk.  "Poor old Merry," he said soothingly, "we'll get you settled now."  There was no room for Joey to help with the task, but he stood behind Pippin and took the armour from him as he removed it.  There wasn't really a good place to put it, so he carefully pushed it under the cot with his toe, alongside Merry's pack.

Jennifer came in just then, and put her hand on Joey's shoulder.  "What's wrong with Merry?" she asked.

“He’s sick.  Real sick.”  Joey bit his lower lip.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with him, Jen.”

“He has the Black Breath,” Master Seregon said, his eyes looking sombre.

Joey exchanged a fearful look with his big sister.  “He’s not gonna die, is he?”

Master Seregon laid a hand on the child’s shoulder and looked from him to Pippin.  “Well, Joey, we are going to try very hard to prevent that from happening.”  The healer did not look optimistic though, in spite of his words.

“Indeed, we are,” Gandalf added.  "I must go again now, but when I return, I will bring hope."  He turned and strode off. 

Jennifer was very glad now to have found Joey, but their reunion was not as joyful as she had imagined it.  Everything still seemed very sad and scary, even though the battle was over.   "Lord, please,"  she prayed in a low voice.   "Please help Merry and these other people."
 
"Amen," Joey whispered. He leaned against Jennifer for a moment, and she gathered him close with one arm.  Then he took a deep breath and straightened his back.  "I need to go help," he said.  "I was helping before."

"What can you do?" she asked, surprised. What could a nine-year-old do in a hospital to help? 

Joey smiled wanly.  “I’m a page, Jennifer!” he said proudly.  “Just like the ones in the Middle Ages!  I’m Boromir’s page, and Pippin’s his squire.”  He gestured toward Pippin.  “He’s told us to help out here, so that’s what we’re doing.”  Pippin nodded agreement, and then turned his attention back to Merry.

"Oh."  She watched as he walked over to the side of the room and picked up some cloths and a basin of water, and went over to the side of a patient's bed and began to put a wet cloth on his head.  She went to Joey.  "Can I help, too?"

He nodded.  "Pippin showed me.  It helps with the fever."  Nodding, Jennifer picked up another wet cloth and laid it on another patient’s head.

Soon she was so absorbed in her task that she was startled to hear another familiar voice…

"Father, I came as soon as I could!  How is Faramir?"

It was Boromir's voice.  She turned to see him standing between two of the beds, leaning over an older man, who sat up and gripped both of Boromir's hands.  "My son!  I am so glad you are here now.  Your brother is suffering from the Black Breath, and my own strength seems to be gone…"  He stopped and coughed hard.  Jennifer turned and took up a pitcher of fresh water from the table Joey had showed her and poured a goblet and carried it over.

Boromir took it from her hand without looking, and helped his father to drink.  "Thank you," he said absently.

"You're welcome," she said.

His head turned.  "Jennifer!  You are here now!  Does Joey know?"

"Yes," she replied.  "He told me you made him a page."  Boromir nodded.

The older man was now looking at her curiously.  Boromir smiled.  "Father, may I present Lady Jennifer McCloud, sister to Joey?"

The older man gave her a gracious nod, before starting to cough again.

Boromir gave him more water and then said, "Jennifer, this is my father, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor."

Once more, there was the arrival of more people.  And this time, it was the Lady Éowyn.
 
-oo000oo-

Kevin strode up the corridor, looking for Joey.  Haleth had been placed on a bed in a ward, and a healer was looking after him.  Now that Kevin was satisfied that Haleth was in good hands, he wanted to go and find his little brother.  “Excuse me, ma’am,” he told an older woman wearing an apron, as she was passing by.  “I'm looking for my little brother; his name is Joey.  Please, can you tell me where he is?”

"Young Joey, the Lord Boromir's page?" she asked.  "A most clever and brave child, he is.  I assigned him to Master Seregon's ward.  But of course, they had to move the patients because of the fire.  That's where poor Lord Faramir lies, dear man, struck down with the Black Breath.  But you know…"  She stopped to draw breath, and Kevin took the chance to interrupt.

"Yes, that’s probably my brother, Joey—he came here with Boromir.  Please, do you know where he is now?"

"Oh, I can show you.  It's just this way, around this corner and then up the stairs to the next floor...follow me.  It's such a maze here, and everything is turned 'round anyway, what with the fire and all…"  Kevin hurried alongside her, as she walked, not understanding half of what she was saying, and just hoping that she really was leading him to Joey.

As soon as the woman had led Kevin upstairs to the next floor, he stopped.  His little brother was standing in the hall next to another little boy, who was holding a rather heavy bucket.  “Joey!” Kevin cried out.

“Kevin!”

Kevin rushed toward Joey and wrapped his arms around the child, who hugged him back tightly.  A moment later, Joey stepped back.

“I’ve missed you, Kevin.  And Jennifer, too.  She’s back, too, now.  She’s here, right here at the Houses of Healing, and so are Merry and Pippin.  Merry’s real sick, Kevin.”  

Because Joey had buried his face in Kevin's tunic, his voice sounded muffled.  Dropping his arms to his sides and stepping back, Joey gazed up at his older brother.  “What about you, Kevin?  Are you all right?”

Kevin smiled wanly.  “Yeah, I am.  What about Jennifer?  Is she all right?”

“Yeah.”  Joey turned behind him.  “Hey, Sador!  Come and meet my brother.”  The other boy approached them.  “Hey, Kevin, this is Sador; he's been helping here, too.  And so has my friend Bergil!  He should be back soon!”  Joey then turned to Sador.  "Thanks for bringing us more water."  He took the bucket from the other child.

“Hi, Sador.  A pleasure to meet you.”  Smiling, Kevin shook Sador’s hand, now freed of its heavy burden.  But before the child could say anything, a commotion behind them caught their attention
.
Whirling around, Kevin saw some members of the Rohirrim coming up the corridor, carrying a stretcher.  Approaching them, Kevin saw Éowyn lying unconscious on the stretcher, her face unnaturally pale
.
Kevin darted toward the warriors, followed by Joey and Bergil.  “Whoa!  What’s happened to Lady Éowyn?”

One of the warriors sighed.  “It seems that our lady took on the foul Dwimmerlaik, the Chief of the Nine; she dared to smite him, and is now stricken with the Black Breath.  We thought her slain, but Lord Boromir realized she was still among the living.”   

Wincing, Kevin stared down at the lady’s unmoving form.  He looked up at Joey.  "Did you say Merry was here?  Merry’s sick?"  Joey nodded, biting his lower lip.  Kevin wondered why Merry had not been with Éowyn.

"Come on, Kevin, I have to take this water in there.  Jen's in there, too."

-oo000oo-

It was nearing evening.  Dusk had fallen, and there were already stars in the sky, as Éomer and Imrahil approached the Houses of Healing.  And there was Gandalf, and with him were three, clad in grey. 

And they greeted Gandalf and said: “We seek the Steward, and men say that he is in this House.  Has any hurt befallen him?  And the Lady Éowyn, where is she?”

And Gandalf answered: “She lies within and is not dead, but is near death.  But the Lord Faramir was wounded by an evil dart, as you have heard.  Denethor lies next to his son in the Houses of Healing, suffering from fire and smoke from the fire which was in the House of Healing.”  And they were filled with grief and wonder at the tale that he told.

But Imrahil said: “So victory is shorn of gladness, and it is bitter bought, if both Gondor and Rohan are in one day bereft of their lords, for Lord Denethor and his son are both abed. At least the Lord Boromir remains, but he has told me much.  Shall we not send now for the Lord Aragorn?”

And the cloaked man spoke and said: “He is come.”  And they saw as he stepped into the light of the lantern by the door that one of the three cloaked in grey was Aragorn, wrapped in the grey cloak of Lórien above his mail, and bearing no other token than the green stone of Galadriel. The other two were his foster brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, the twin sons of Elrond. “I have come because Gandalf begs me to do so,” he said.  “But for the present I am but the Captain of the Dúnedain of Arnor; and Boromir, the Steward's heir and Captain General, shall rule the City until his father is well.  But it is my counsel that Gandalf should rule us all in the days that follow and in our dealings with the Enemy.”  And they agreed upon that.

Then Gandalf said: “Let us not stay at the door, for the time is urgent.  Let us enter!  For it is only in the coming of Aragorn that any hope remains for the sick that lie in the House.  Thus spake Ioreth, wise-woman of Gondor: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”

And with that they passed into the House; and as they went towards the room where the sick were tended Gandalf told of the deeds of Éowyn and Meriadoc.  "For," he said, "long have I stood by them and at first they spoke much in their dreaming, before they sank into the deadly darkness.  Also it is given to me to see many things far off."

Aragorn went first to Faramir, and then to the Lady Éowyn, and last to Merry.  When he had looked on the faces of the sick and seen their hurts he sighed.  "Here I must put forth all such power and skill as is given to me,' he said.  “Would that Elrond were here, for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power."

Elladan put his hand on Aragorn's shoulder.  "No, my brother, in this one thing, it is you who has the greater power, for you are the King, and this is your rightful kingdom."

And Éomer seeing that he was sorrowful and weary said: "First you must rest, surely, and at the least eat a little?"

But Aragorn answered: "Nay, for these three, and most soon for Faramir, time is running out.  All speed is needed."  Then he called to Ioreth and he said: "You have store in this House of the herbs of healing?"

"Yes, lord,” she answered; "but not enough, I reckon, for all that will need them.  But I am sure I do not know where we shall find more; for all things are amiss in these dreadful days, what with fires and burnings, and the lads that run errands so few, and all the roads blocked.  Why, it is days out of count since ever a carrier came in from Lossarnach to the market!  But we do our best in this House with what we have, as I am sure your lordship will know."

"I will judge that when I see," said Aragorn.  "One thing also is short time for speech.  Have you athelas?" 

Master Seregon stepped forward.  "We have heard that it might be of use, and have sent for some, but it has not yet arrived."

But just then, Bergil came running in, and he bore six leaves in a cloth.  “It is kingsfoil, Sir,” he said; “but not fresh, I fear.  It must have been culled two weeks ago at the least.  I hope it will serve, Sir?”  Then looking at Faramir he burst into tears.

Kevin had moved near to Jennifer and Joey, watching Aragorn.  His friend seemed a totally different person now.  He could very easily believe that the Ranger had turned into a King; he'd been seeing the change for a while, ever since Aragorn had revealed his identity to Éomer.  But now, exhausted and pale, with circles under his eyes, the King was confident.  Kevin was filled with awe as he watched.

“It will serve,” Aragorn said, with a smile of thanks for Bergil, who was staring up at him with tears in his eyes.  “The worst is now over.  Stay and be comforted!”  He reached for two of the leaves, and he breathed on them, and then he crushed them.

Kevin took a deep breath, as suddenly the stale air, filled with the smell of sweat, blood, and smoke, suddenly seemed fresh and clear.  Kevin felt joyful as he breathed in the scent of it.  He glanced around.  Everyone else seemed to be feeling the same, from the expressions on their face.  Then he watched as Aragorn threw the crushed leaves into the basin of steaming water that one of the healer's helpers held out.  The wonderful smell seemed even better now, and even Aragorn himself looked less weary.

Aragorn held the bowl in front of Faramir's face.

The silence was broken when the old lady who had shown Kevin to the room spoke up.  “Well now!  Who would have believed it?  The weed is better than I thought.  It reminds me of the roses of Imloth Melui when I was a lass, and no king could ask for better.”

Kevin didn't think it smelled like roses, though he saw Jennifer nod.  He thought it smelled like the sea, when his family went to the beach on a summer's day.  But Joey was shaking his head.  "It smells like Christmas to me!" he whispered.  “Hey, Kevin, remember that stuff Aragorn boiled, when we got out of Moria?  He used it to make Frodo and Sam feel better, remember?  It made us all feel better, too!”

“I remember,” Kevin whispered, and smiled.  “I do believe it was the same plant, Joey!  Aragorn must have had some on him back then.”

Jennifer shook her head and put a finger in front of her lips.  She seemed to want to hear what was going on.

Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly.  “My lord, you called me.  I come.  What does the king command?”

“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” said Aragorn.  “You are weary.  Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.”

“I will, lord,” said Faramir.  “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?”

“Farewell then for a while!” said Aragorn.  “I must go to others who need me.'”

The older lady said, “King!  Did you hear that?  What did I say?  The hands of a healer, I said.”

Next to Kevin, Joey was hugging Jennifer, and looking up at Kevin with happiness.  "I'm so glad Faramir is going to be better!  You know, he's Boromir's brother!"

Kevin had wondered why Boromir had stayed by Faramir's bed when Aragorn moved away.  Now he knew.  Come to think of it, they did look somewhat alike.

He watched as Aragorn gave the basin to Elladan and moved over to the bed where Eomer and Gandalf stood, next to the Lady Éowyn.  The three of them spoke in voices too low for Kevin to hear.  He thought that Aragorn had looked kind of sad.  But after they had spoken for a few minutes, Aragorn stooped and looked in her face, which looked as white and cold as a marble statue.  But he bent and kissed her on the brow, and called her softly, but loud enough for Kevin to hear, saying:

“Éowyn Éomund's daughter, awake!  For your enemy has passed away!”

She did not stir, but now she began again to breathe deeply.  Once more Aragorn bruised two leaves of athelas and cast them into steaming water; and he bathed her forehead, and her right arm, which was laying outside the covers.

Once more, that amazing scent wafted through the room.
 
“Awake, Éowyn, Lady of Rohan!” said Aragorn again.  “Awake!  The shadow is gone and all darkness is washed clean!”  Then he laid her hand in Éomer's and stepped away.  “Call her!” he said. He handed the basin to Elrohir.

Kevin noticed that Elladan and Elrohir were using the basins of athelas water to help the other patients in the room.

Aragorn headed over to the other side of the room, where Merry lay, looking like a little kid in the large cot.  Pippin had been at his side the whole time, and as Aragorn and Gandalf arrived at his side, Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey followed as closely as they dared without getting in the way.

Kevin heard Eomer speaking to Éowyn, about the battle and Theoden, and something about making Merry a Knight of the Riddermark, but right now, he just wanted to make sure Merry would be all right.

Kevin felt a hand on his shoulder, and a glance to the side showed that Legolas and Gimli were right beside him.

“Poor old Merry!”  Pippin looked up at Aragorn desperately.  "Please help him, Strider."

“Do not be afraid,” said Aragorn.  “I came in time, and I will call him back.  He is weary now, and grieved, and he has taken a hurt like the Lady Éowyn, daring to smite that deadly thing.  But these evils can be amended, so strong and gay a spirit is in him.  His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom."

The last two of the leaves, he now crushed.  The familiar smell was as fresh as the first time, but smelling now like flowers and summer sunshine.  He bent over Merry and took his arm and bathed it a bit, as he had for Éowyn.  Aragorn laid his hand on Merry's head, and passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids, and called him by name.

And suddenly Merry awoke, and he said: “I am hungry.  What is the time?”

Kevin, whose eyes had filled with tears as he had watched the healing, couldn't help but laugh.  Who else but a hobbit would wake up from something so awful, and then declare his hunger?  Apparently, Jen and Joey felt the same, for he heard them both giggle.

“Past supper-time now,” said Pippin; “though I daresay I could bring you something, if they will let me.”

“They will indeed,” said Gandalf.  “And anything else that this Rider of Rohan may desire, if it can be found in Minas Tirith, where his name is in honour.”

“Good!” said Merry.  “Then I would like supper first, and after that a pipe.”  At that his face clouded.  “No, not a pipe.  I don't think I'll smoke again.”

“Why not?” said Pippin.

“Well,” answered Merry slowly.  “He is dead.  It has brought it all back to me.  He said he was sorry he had never had a chance of talking herb-lore with me.  Almost the last thing he ever said.  I shan't ever be able to smoke again without thinking of him, and that day, Pippin, when he rode up to Isengard and was so polite.”

Kevin felt a lump in his throat.  The King had been very kind to them, and now he was dead.  Poor Haleth!  How would his friend feel when he heard the news?

“Smoke then, and think of him!” said Aragorn.  “For he was a gentle heart and a great king and kept his oaths; and he rose out of the shadows to a last fair morning.  Though your service to him was brief, it should be a memory glad and honourable to the end of your days.”

Merry smiled.  “Well then," he said, "if Strider will provide what is needed, I will smoke and think.  I had some of Saruman's best in my pack, but what became of it in the battle, I am sure I don't know.”

“Master Meriadoc,” said Aragorn, “if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken.  If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herb-master of this House.  And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, but that it is called westmansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues.  And so now must I.  For I have not slept in such a bed as this, since I rode from Dunharrow, nor eaten since the dark before dawn.”

Merry seized his hand and kissed it.  “I am frightfully sorry,” he said.  “Go at once!  Ever since that night at Bree we have been a nuisance to you.  But it is the way of my people to use light words at such times and say less than they mean.  We fear to say too much.  It robs us of the right words when a jest is out of place.”

“I know that well, or I would not deal with you in the same way,” said Aragorn.  “May the Shire live for ever unwithered!”  And kissing Merry he went out, and Gandalf went with him.

Pippin remained behind.  “Was there ever any one like him?” he said.  “Except Gandalf, of course.  I think they must be related.  My dear cousin, your pack is lying under your bed where Joey put it, and you had it on your back when I met you.  He saw it all the time, of course.  And anyway I have some stuff of my own.  Come on now!  Longbottom Leaf it is.  Fill up while I run and see about some food.  And then let's be easy for a bit.  Dear me!  We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can't live long on the heights.”

“No,” said Merry.  “I can't.  Not yet, at any rate.  But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them.  It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep.  Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not.  I am glad that I know about them, a little.  But I don't know why I am talking like this.  Where is that leaf?  And get my pipe out of my pack, if it isn't broken.”

"Do you really think you should be smoking in a hospital room, Merry Brandybuck?" Jennifer scolded.

"Yeah," added Kevin.  "I think we ought to ask that healer first if it's OK!"

Joey just darted over to the bed and gave the hobbit a hug.  "I'm so glad you are all right, Merry!”

-oo000o-

*A/N: We know that in the book, the battle took a lot longer.  It is shorter here in this AU, and instead of continuing through the night, it is still day when it ends.  We certainly hope that we finally have everything accounted for in this reunion!
 

I would like to thank the readers for their patience while I am recuperating from my burns; I am still recovering, but much better than I was. DF




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