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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 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 48: All in the Golden Afternoon
Later in the day, Steve and Gail watched as Megan and Kaylee were playing by the fountain at the foot of the largest mallorn. Radagast had taken Lucy for a walk an hour earlier, and had not returned with her yet. Several of the Elves had somehow been coaxed into playing hide-and-seek with the little girls. Considering that the Elves in question did not even speak Westron, they were still wondering how on earth their kids had managed that feat.
"It would not be hard for a child to make her wishes known," said a deep male voice behind them. They turned to see Celeborn and Galadriel standing behind them. Celeborn added, "We have had no young children here since Arwen was very young—Lassiel was her age, as was Rumil, and perhaps one or two others. And there were scarcely more when Elladan and Elrohir were young. Our daughter Celebrian had many playmates in her time, perhaps a dozen or more."
Gail noticed that he looked very sad at the mention of his daughter. Mairen had told her the story on their way here. It sounded such a very horrible thing to happen, that Arwen's mother had been able to find no peace in Middle-earth, and had to sail away to finish healing after she had been captured by those orcs. "Do not mention her unless they bring her up," Mairen had cautioned her. "It is still a very painful thing to speak of in Lorien."
"Gail," said Galadriel, "rise and walk with me. I would speak with you."
Gail stood up and brushed herself off. Merely being in the Lady Galadriel's presence made her feel dishevelled. Galadriel looked down at Steve. "I just wish to borrow your wife for a little while," she said in her mellifluous voice.
Steve nodded. “Certainly.”
Galadriel walked off, and Gail found herself silently following.
"You are worried about your husband's decision to join battle alongside us," Galadriel said, once they were out of Steve’s earshot.
Gail nodded. "I am. He hasn't been a soldier for many years; I know he didn't like fighting and hoped never to have to fight again. But he just decided to do it, just like that." Gail didn't add, He didn't even talk it over with me first, but she knew by the small smile on the Lady's face that Galadriel knew what she was thinking. She probably doesn't even need to use telepathy to know, either. I'll bet she could tell just by the look on my face.
"Your husband is very much a man of honour," Galadriel said. "He would find it difficult to allow others to fight on his behalf without at least trying to do his part. And like your children, and like you yourself, he is tuned to the will of Eru Ilúvatar. Trust him, and trust the One, and no matter what happens, all will be well in the end, though it be not what we may expect."
Gail furrowed her brow as she thought about what Galadriel had just told her. A Scriptural passage came to her mind. *"'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,’”she softly quoted.
A smile spread across Galadriel’s face. "Is that from your Holy Book? Your older children often mentioned such wise sayings from it."
"Yes. Yes, it is. Romans eight, twenty-eight. Chapter eight, verse twenty-eight." Gail was pleasantly surprised to learn that her children were quoting from Scripture. She felt a little glow of motherly pride.
"Jennifer, especially, seemed to have a good understanding. Did you know that since coming to Arda, she has had dreams which showed foreknowledge?" Galadriel glanced at her, gauging Gail's reaction.
Gail stood stock-still, gaping at Galadriel. "She what?"
"In the House of Elrond, both she and her brother Kevin had the same dream, in which they saw themselves going on this journey. She has had others since then, though I do not believe she remembered most of them; but she had such dreams here in Lothlórien and was able to recount one of them to me. She knew that you, your husband, and your youngest child were also coming to Arda."
"She knew?" Then something else struck her. "Wait a minute—how do you know she had other dreams if she didn't remember them?"
"Such things do not happen in my realm without my knowledge," was Galadriel’s cryptic answer. "But that is not important. I mention it only because such gifts, once wakened, do not often go away. I do not know if such will continue when she returns to your home, but it will be up to you to help her see it as a gift and not a burden, if it does happen."
Gail wasn't sure what to make of this information. Her little girl could actually have dreams about the future? Of course, the Lord could give someone such a gift—He had certainly done so back in Bible times—but Jennifer? It was hard for her to imagine it. And yet—here they all were, in a strange place and time, one that she herself had never imagined before.
Gail frowned. “You said she didn’t remember most of them. Then they couldn’t have been prophetic dreams, because she would have surely remembered them if they had been. And even most of the dreams she could remember upon awakening were probably just ordinary dreams, unlike the two you told me about. Most of mine are—all of mine, in fact.”
"Dreams always come for a reason. Prophecy is only one of those things. Even ordinary dreams are meant to help us clear our thoughts and to aid us in making decisions, and most people do not remember all of their ordinary dreams. Jennifer's dreams of what may come are meant for the same purpose, to help her come to decisions about what to do. But those dreams that she does recall, and speaks of to others, ones in which she sees glimpses of what is to come: those are dreams of what you may call prophecy. And I will tell you this, of my own knowledge: since coming to Arda, any dreams of that nature are not ordinary. We Elves do not use the term 'prophecy' in the way you Secondborn do; for us, we call it foreknowledge. Prophecy is a special communication with Eru, and is the gift of certain chosen ones. Of course, like any mortal, she still has dreams that are simply ordinary dreams, prompted by the day's events."
Gail could not help it: "But Jennifer?"
Galadriel laughed. "Though we mothers always like to think of our offspring as special, when they actually are, it is hard for us to believe that such exceptional creatures could be ours."
"Oooh-kay," she said, still feeling incredulous. Though she did believe what the Lady was telling her in her head, it was harder to believe it in her heart. "Was there a reason you did not include Steve when you told me this? Do you want me to keep it from him?" Gail felt uncomfortable at that idea.
"Not at all," said the Lady, "but I thought that it might come more easily from you. Also, it gave me the chance to speak with you mother to mother. All of your children are special, and they all have special tasks to accomplish in this place, or the One would not have put them here. But you have to know that these things are neither easy nor without peril."
"Peril?" Now Gail felt alarmed. "What kind of peril?"
"If you knew, or thought you knew, what sort of peril, what could you do? I could give you a glimpse of some things, but such may or may not be what actually comes to pass. Keep in mind, that trying to prevent the peril might even hasten it. Think about that for a while, and then let me know what you decide."
“I—I just want my children to be safe,” Gail said weakly. “My husband, too, for that matter.”
"I know that, child. So do all mothers wish safety for their children, and wives for their husbands," Galadriel said, and now Gail could hear a deep sadness in her voice. "Yet even the simplest of journeys are fraught with both peril and wonder, and we cannot always keep them safe. We must trust, as you said, that all will work to the Creator's purpose." She sighed, and then added, "Would you like to hear some of what your older children did while they were here?"
So Gail listened as the Lady told of lessons and explorations and other small doings of her children while they had been Galadriel and Celeborn’s guests, but her thoughts kept wandering to what she would tell Steve, and to whether she wanted that mysterious information that Galadriel had offered her. Part of her wanted to say "Yes, please," right now—and part of her just wanted all of the ideas of her babies in peril to just go away while she put her fingers in her ears and said, "La, la, la".
A little while later, Kaylee was chasing after Megan in circles; both little girls were giggling. Lucy, whom Radagast had brought back from her walk a short while ago, was scampering about, barking. Mairen sat on a bench, watching them in amusement, and Radagast stood next to her.
“Well, hello, little ones!”
Kaylee and Megan halted and whirled to find Celeborn standing next to Mairen and Radagast. “Hi, Lord Celeborn!” Kaylee said cheerfully, scampering toward him with Megan right behind her. Lucy followed them both, her tail wagging.
As soon as Kaylee stopped in front of him, Megan went right up to him, staring up at the Elf. "Hi, Lor' Kelly—Kelly bur'," she said, her smile a bit crooked, as she seemed not quite sure what to make of this very shiny Elf.
"'Kelly-bur.’ Hmmm…" He smiled down. "Do you mind if I pick you up?"
"Up!" Megan said. She held her arms up to him trustingly, and he lifted her.
"I once had a little girl like you," he said.
"Where is she?" asked Kaylee, looking slightly envious of her little sister.
"Well, she grew up, and she married Master Elrond. And she had two little boys named Elladan and Elrohir, and a little girl named Arwen. And then, long after they grew up, she sailed away across the Sea."
"When will she come back?" Kaylee asked.
He sighed and looked sad. "She will not come back. She cannot. But one day, we shall sail across the Sea as well, and we will see her then."
"Oh." Elves were strange, thought Kaylee. She could not imagine her mommy and daddy letting her sail away and never come back. Even if she was grown up.
“Guess what! I know Master Elrond!” Kaylee smiled broadly. “And Lady Arwen! And Elladan and Elrohir. They’re nice! Hey, Elladan and Elrohir are twins, did you know that?”
Celeborn laughed and exchanged an amused look with Radagast and Mairen. “I should, Miss Kaylee! I am their grandfather, and they and their sister used to come to Lothlórien with their parents to visit us when they were elflings.” Lucy whined and rubbed her paw on his leg; with a laugh, Celeborn bent over to rub her head with one hand as he clasped Megan to his chest with the other. Lucy licked his hand. Straightening up after a moment, he looked at Megan. "May I show you a game I used to play with my daughter when she was small like you?"
"Yes," said Megan.
"Say, 'please'," Kaylee said.
"Yes, pwease," Megan said.
He held her above his head. "Put your legs straight out, and hold your arms out like bird's wings," he instructed.
She giggled and did so, and then laughed even more as Celeborn swooped her above his head, making her "fly".
First, he sang:
"Aew niben, aew niben, navan gwilig?
‘Gwilin erin eryd nu menel luin.’
Aew niben, aew niben, amman glirig?
‘A-pheded i 'althon i sí Ethuil.’"
Then he switched to Westron:
“Little bird, little bird, where do you fly?
‘I fly over the mountains beneath the blue sky.’
Little bird, little bird, why do you sing?
‘To tell you I’m happy that now it is spring.’”#
After a few minutes, he put her down, and asked Kaylee if she also wanted a turn.
"YES, PLEASE!" she shouted, jumping up and down.
After Kaylee had finished "flying", Celeborn set her down upon the grass, and took a seat on the ground near Mairen and Radagast, who had been watching the game with a smile. Radagast looked at him and laughed. "I see little girls can always wrap themselves about your finger, Celeborn," he said with a wink. Celeborn rolled his eyes.
Kaylee looked up at her Elven host, and then, using Pippin's favourite expression on her face, made her eyes as wide as she could as she put her hands together, and said, "Story, please."
He looked down at her, and said sternly, "I think you have been taking lessons from a certain young halfling.”
She giggled and then nodded, with an impish grin. "Yes. Pippin. He's good at making people tell stories.” She tilted her head and gave him her most appealing puppy-eyed expression. “Story, please.”
"I know he is. He is very good, indeed, and so are you, I can see." Celeborn chuckled. "He was a guest here, and I saw him use that very face on many people while he was here. He cajoled a great many stories that way."
Kaylee nodded, and again, said, "Story, please." She wriggled a bit and deliberately batted her eyelashes. “Pretty please? Pretty please, with sugar on top?” Radagast snorted, and Mairen shook her head in amusement.
Celeborn capitulated. "Very well. Let me think. It has been a very long time since one so young as you asked for a story. Give me a little time to come up with a good one." Celeborn ruffled Kaylee’s hair and then sat in silence for a long moment. Lucy trotted up to him, and he lifted her onto his lap. Lucy licked his hand, and then tucked her head down and curled up for a nap.
"You know that I told you Arwen was my granddaughter," he said finally. "Would you like to hear a tale of when she was just a little older than you?'
The two little girls had by this time sat down in front of him cross-legged, their hands folded in their laps, and their eyes fixed upon his face.
"You girls have met Lassiel here in Lórien?"
They nodded. "She took us swimming to have a bath," Kaylee answered.
"Well, she is the same age as Arwen, and when Arwen came to visit us with her brothers the first time, when she was just an elfling, the two of them became the best of friends."
"Hey, guess what! Jennifer says 'BFFs'," Kaylee interjected, with a broad smile. "That means 'best friends forever'."
"Does she now?" he asked, looking amused. "Well, so long as forever means every time Arwen visits us, it remains true. I will tell you of a little adventure that Lassiel and Arwen had on that first visit..."
“Arwen was very envious of Lassiel's skill at running about among the high branches of the mellyrn. Although Elladan and Elrohir (who at that time were already well-grown adults, and who had come with her on that visit) had taught her the skill of tree-climbing in the Valley, there are no trees so large as this in all Imladris.”
"That's Rivendell, right?" Kaylee asked.
"Yes, they call it Rivendell in Westron," he confirmed. "One morning, Elladan and Elrohir went off on a patrol with their friends Haldir, Orophin, and Rúmil. Arwen remained in Caras Galadon. She gained permission from her grandmother to go and play with Lassiel that day, and so off she went to find her friend.
She did not find her in the usual places where they played, but finally she was able to ask one of the Elves where her friend was. She was told that Lassiel had accompanied her mother to the gardens.
"We shall have to show you the gardens while you are here," Celeborn interrupted the story to add. "They are deep within Lothlórien, in a special clearing where the mellyrn do not grow, and the Sun may shine through."
“Are there swings there?” Kaylee asked hopefully. “I love to play on the swings!”
“Love swings!” Megan added.
"No, there are no swings," he said. Silently, he decided that there would be swings before the next day was out, for even if these little ones were only sojourning here briefly, they should have them. "Do you wish to hear the rest of the story?"
“Oh, yes! Yes, please!” Kaylee nodded eagerly, and Celeborn picked up where he had left off.
"Off Arwen went. She knew where the gardens were, though she had never been there alone before. Finally, she found them, and saw Lassiel's mother among the others, working with the special wheat that we grow.
“'Where is Lassiel?' she asked.
“'She was helping me earlier, but now she is playing among the trees beyond,' and Lassiel's mother pointed to the edge of the garden where the trees grew once more. There was a flet in one of the mallorn trees, where the workers could take a rest from the heat. Lassiel was playing among the roots of the tree where the flet was located. She was very glad to see Arwen.
"For a while, the two of them rested in the flet and helped themselves to some of the fruit and water that was always available for the gardeners. After a while, Lassiel asked Arwen if she wanted to climb up into the tree's canopy and upper branches. Always eager to increase her skill in climbing, Arwen followed her friend out onto the branches, and up above the flet. Then Lassiel taught her how to jump from one tree to the next, and then they climbed and climbed up into the higher reaches of the trees. Lassiel was, perhaps, showing her own skill off a bit, and they went quite high—much higher than such young ones should have been.
"Then Lassiel's mother called her, telling her it was time to come home. Lassiel immediately started scrambling down, but Arwen did not move. About halfway down, Lassiel looked up. Arwen was frozen in place.
"It is too high," she called down to Lassiel. "I cannot do it!"
“Lassiel's mother called up impatiently. "Lassiel, Arwen, come down now!"
"‘Nana!’ Lassiel answered. ‘Arwen is stuck. She cannot get down. She said it is too high!’
“Lassiel's mother gave a sigh and said, ‘You come down, now, Lassiel. I will go up and bring her down.’
“Lassiel's naneth tied up her skirt and climbed up to the flet, and then made her way over to the tree in which Arwen was now clinging tightly to the bough on which she sat. The mother climbed up as far as she safely could, for in their eagerness, the two elflings had gone up into branches which were too slender to hold an adult Elf's weight. Lassiel's mother whispered to the tree, asking it to keep Arwen safe. Then she looked up and called up to the young elfling. ‘Arwen, can you climb down just to where I am? The tree has promised not to let you fall.’
Arwen said, "‘I am frightened. It is so far down!’
"‘Do not look at the ground; just look at me,’ was the reply.
“Carefully and slowly, Arwen made her way down, branch by branch, keeping her eyes fixed on Lassiel’s naneth until she reached her, who then told Arwen to cling to her back. Down they both came, all the way to the ground.
"Well, after that, both Lassiel and Arwen were forbidden to climb without an adult present, for the rest of Arwen's visit. But with the help of Elladan and Elrohir, and perhaps myself, Arwen did finally become more skilled in her climbing, and soon lost her fear of heights.”
Kaylee and Megan had kept looking up at the immense trees as he told the story, and after just a moment of silence, as Celeborn finished the telling, Kaylee shook her head. "I don't think I could climb those trees," she finally said ruefully, looking up at the nearest tree and then glancing at the others surrounding them. "They are way too big!"
Celeborn laughed. "You are not a little elfling, Kaylee, so do not let it fret you. Climbing trees does not come quite so naturally to you as it does to an elf." Lucy, who was now awake, started to fidget, so he set her on the ground, and she scampered toward Kaylee, who took the puppy on her lap and petted her. Lucy licked her face.
“Joey can climb trees.” Kaylee smiled. “He’s gonna teach me how when summer vacation starts! We have an elm tree in our front yard, and two oaks in our back yard. And guess what! One of them has a treehouse.”
Celeborn raised an eyebrow. “And do you play in that treehouse?”
Kaylee smiled broadly and nodded. “It’s fun!”
Celeborn laughed. “Well, with your brother to teach you, I am sure you will become quite an accomplished tree-climber. But only an elf can climb a mallorn easily; they are too large for mortals to climb with ease.” He smiled. "Do you want to play at flying again?"
After Gail had wandered off with the Lady Galadriel, Steve had sat and watched the girls play for a little while. At last, Glorfindel came by. "I am going to the stables to check on our horses. The Galadhrim do ride, but they do not keep so many horses as we do in Imladris."
Steve stood up from the grass and brushed off the back of his trousers. "I'd like to come along—I want to check on Loborros. I haven't seen him since we arrived here, and I want to be sure he's all right."
Glorfindel nodded, and the two of them fell into step together, as the Elf led Steve to the stables. Although they were not visible from the spot where he and the children had been, they were not too far off. There were two long low buildings, rather boxy-looking instead of having the high roofs Steve was used to seeing on barns and stables. But of course, the climate here seemed to be quite mild, and the canopy of all the massive mellyrn would have kept off any snow or heavy rain. No need for pitched roofs here.
The inside of the stable they entered was cool, and it had the earthy smell common to any barn or stable, even if said stable belonged to Elves. The first thing Steve saw was Asfaloth, who had raised his proud white head with a whinny of greeting as soon as he had seen Glorfindel enter.
Steve took a minute to let his eyes adjust to the slightly dimmer light of the inside, and spotted Loborros just a couple of stalls down from Asfaloth.
"Hello, old fellow," Steve said, reaching over the stall barrier to scratch his horse on the nose. "Good to see you. I'm sure you are happy to get a little rest after all those weeks of walking with me on your back."
"Steven!" Glorfindel called. "Here!"
Steve turned in time to catch the expertly thrown apple. "Where did this come from?" he asked.
"The Galadhrim usually have a small sack of them in the stables as treats for the horses." He also had one, which he took to Asfaloth.
Steve fed Loborros the treat, which vanished quickly. “Good boy,” he told the horse, patting its neck; Loborros whickered. Then Steve went and got two more apples, going to find both Gail's horse Calroc and Kaylee's Barrel. After giving each of them an apple and a pat, he looked all around. "These are all horses that we rode in on,” Steve said, puzzled. "Where are all the horses that usually live here?"
Glorfindel's face grew solemn. "All of the scouts are out patrolling the borders, and so are all of their horses. These are not the only stables; each of the Marches of the Golden Wood also have their own stables.”
"Do they usually send out so many patrols at one time?" Steve asked.
"What do you think?" Glorfindel responded.
Steve sighed. "Just how close is the danger?"
"If you intend to help with the defence, we shall be leaving while it is yet dark in the morning. Most of the defenders are already in place, and the attack is likely to occur tomorrow at dusk—it is very unusual for orcs to attack in broad daylight." Glorfindel smiled grimly. "They do not like the sun."
"I see." Steve furrowed his brow. "Do you think I'll be effective with my crossbow at night?"
"So long as you aim it in the enemy's direction, every weapon will be of use," the Elf answered.
"Sure wish I had my old night-vision goggles," Steve muttered.
"'Night-vision goggles'?" Glorfindel was curious. Many of the devices of Steve's home world sounded either frivolous or far too destructive. This seemed like something like that sounded actually useful.
"They were special eye-pieces issued by our army, to help with seeing in the dark," Steve answered. "Dead useful, really. But no use wishing. I don't have any." He shrugged.
"Elves have little use for eye-pieces, even for seeing in the dark. But among the other races, spectacles are known."
Steve nodded. "I have seen the ones Mr. Baggins uses for reading," he said. Truthfully, Steve had been surprised to find such things were known in a world that seemed so medieval. But he and Gail had learned a little of the history of this world, and had begun to realize that some of what seemed like backwardness was instead a cultural choice—they knew that at one time, the Men of this world, at least, had been far more advanced in the past than they were now. And, he thought, than they will be again in the future, if this is truly our own world long ago.
"You may still change your mind, Steven." Glorfindel was concerned about the mortal's determination to take part in a war not his own. But he could not help but honour that decision. Yet for Gail's sake, and the sake of their children, he would remind him one more time that he did not have to fight.
"I know that, but I won't."
"I am going to take Asfaloth for a ride; he is restive. Do you wish to join me?"
"No, but thank you," said Steve. "I think I'll get back to my kids now."
Steve wondered how Gail would take this news. She wouldn't be happy about it, he knew. But these people had helped them, over and over. He had to help them, if he could. Would she understand that? He thought that she might understand, but she still would not be happy. He hated to make her worry; he was fairly sure he wouldn't be in mortal danger. The orcs would be trying to invade over the Anduin River, and it was a mighty wide river, at least as wide as the Mississippi River, if not wider. They had been traveling right alongside it for days, and he knew it would take a good long time for anyone to cross. Unless the orcs are good swimmers, it would be most difficult, if not impossible, for them to swim across, he thought. But the orcs might have rafts or something; it wasn’t unknown in history for enemies to use flotillas to transport troops.
So engrossed in his thoughts, he didn't realize that he'd nearly returned to where he had left the girls with Mairen. Then he heard the high-pitched sound of childish laughter, and looked along the path to see Celeborn with Kaylee above his head as he swooped her around. She was laughing breathlessly, while Megan was hopping up and down, squealing, "Me! Me! Me!"
Grinning to himself, Steve sprinted up the path, and then came up behind his youngest daughter, catching her up and saying, "You! You! You!" He lifted her above his head in the same way Celeborn had Kaylee, and now they both were swooping and laughing.
He kept it up for several minutes, until he was out of breath, and then he lowered Megan to the ground. He himself plopped down upon the grass and laid flat on his back, breathing heavily.
At the same time, Celeborn lowered Kaylee to the ground, and sat down next to Steve, not even out of breath.
Elves! Steven thought, rolling his eyes. He glanced up to see that Gail had returned, just in time to see the last of their game with the children; their eyes met, and his wife laughed. A moment later, they were both laughing.
The feast turned out to be a much less formal affair than such things that were done in Rivendell, Steve thought, looking out at the snowy cloths spread on the ground and at the two fires, one a blazing bonfire, the other a smaller cookfire. He and Gail had been somewhat surprised when both had finally returned to the place where Celeborn had been playing with the girls. Celeborn had informed them, then, that they were invited to a feast in their honour, which was why the food that was usually placed out in their pavilion had not been renewed that afternoon.
Megan and Kaylee had been put down for a much-needed nap, and then one of Galadriel's handmaidens had arrived with an armload of garments, apparently for that night's celebration. She spoke no Westron, but had made things clear as she had given them the clothing, with several graceful gestures. She had also seemed to understand when Gail said, "Thank you", which was a relief.
So now, Steve stood there holding Kaylee's hand, while Gail had Megan's. Lucy was back at the pavilion, having been told firmly to "stay" and given a length of knotted rope to chew. Both of the little girls wore simple white calf-length dresses embroidered with pastel-coloured flowers at the neck, cuffs, and hem. He was wearing an outfit similar to those of the Elves, in a greenish-grey colour, and Gail's ankle-length gown was a very pale green, also embroidered like their daughters’ frocks had been. Everyone was barefoot, which Steve had originally thought odd, but now that he saw the picnic-like set-up, it made sense. And the grass in Lothórien was as soft and smooth as a carpet. There were no burrs on the ground or thistles growing, and so it was perfectly safe to walk barefoot, and it wasn't too cold for bare feet. From what he had been able to figure out, they were about in the middle of March now, so spring had almost arrived.
The family watched quietly as many Elves busied themselves in setting out platters of food on the many white cloths upon the ground. Something was roasting on the cookfire—it smelled like venison. There were platters of cooked fish set out that also smelled delicious, and many bowls of fresh vegetables and greens, and plates of cheeses and breads. Steve noticed that there were also barrels of beer and bottles of wine set up under one of the trees, but he also saw some pitchers on a table at one side; perhaps there was water as well. Maybe even some sweet cider or small beer. Coffee or tea, Steve was not sure that he could expect to be served here. It amazed him that even those two beverages could even be served in Middle-earth, since the plants that were used for them were native to Asia and the tropics, and since tea would only be first taken to Europe for trade in the 1600s. When we get back home, I’ll have to look up coffee and tea’s history on the Internet, he thought wryly.
"The largest pitcher contains berry shrub," Lady Galadriel's voice came from behind Steve's shoulder.
He had not considered that the Elves here realized that he and Gail avoided alcohol, but he was very glad for it. They had been served a “shrub” in Rivendell.*** It consisted of fruit juice, a little vinegar, water, and honey.
"Thank you, my Lady," he said.
Gail nodded her appreciation. "The feast looks and smells lovely," she added with a smile.
Soon they had served themselves platters of food and goblets of the shrub, which was quite delicious and refreshing, and then were seated next to one of the large white cloths with their hostess. Gail had taken a fish filet baked-wrapped in a leaf, and a little venison. Steve had a large piece of venison, and both of them had bread, vegetables, and fruit. Since the platters were large, they had put an assortment of the food on their own platters, and simply shared with the children. Steve was sharing his food with Kaylee, and Gail shared hers with Megan. All of the food was meant to be eaten with the fingers, and there were plenty of large cloth napkins to hand.
“Are there any hush puppies?” Kaylee asked hopefully, after she had taken her first swallow of the fish.
Steve and Gail chuckled. “No hush puppies, and no tartar sauce either,” Steve told his daughter. “We’ll have to wait till we’re back home before we can have those with our fish again.” Gail nodded agreement.
Celeborn and Galadriel had been speaking with their guests, asking them questions about their home, and both Gail and Steve had answered as freely as they could—sometimes things slipped out that neither had intended, but since neither of their hosts pounced on them, they were not terribly concerned.
"What are 'hush puppies'?" asked Celeborn, a look of concern on his face. He certainly hoped it was not the habit in his guests' homeland to eat puppies.
Steve laughed. "They are little balls of bread made out of cornmeal, dropped in deep fat, and fried. They’re delicious. The story goes that they were first made by hunters around a campfire, and when the dogs would beg for food, they would throw them to the dogs with the admonition to 'hush, puppies!' I have no idea if that is really true or not.” He shrugged. “At any rate, it’s the custom in our homeland to serve them with fried fish, which we often cover in cornmeal or breadcrumbs before we fry it." Steve paused. "We also have something to go with our fish called tartar sauce. But I have no idea what is even in that!" He nodded toward Gail. “My wife knows how to make tartar sauce, though. She makes it, to go with our fish at home.”
Gail shrugged. "It's just a little mayonnaise—that’s a sauce made of eggs, oil, and lemon juice whipped together, but we usually buy that already made at the store—and some chopped pickle, parsley, onion, and lemon juice mixed in."
"Lemons are a rare treat here," Galadriel said. "They have occasionally been brought in trade from the South. Long ago, the twins brought us some as a gift—they had been travelling in the lands of the South for a while."
As they had been talking, some of the Elves had come and begun to clear things away and fold up the cloths. They now came to the main cloth where the Lord and Lady and their guests were, and got permission to take it away. It was clear that most everyone was all through eating.
Musicians had begun to tune their instruments in the centre of the area, and Steve looked over curiously. There were several types of flutes, panpipes, a couple of harps, an odd rather twisted-looking wind instrument he had never seen before, and a couple of drums. The music they struck up was lively, with what seemed to him an almost Middle-eastern tone to it. The Elves began to make circles of as many as a dozen people, all holding hands. Lassiel suddenly appeared, and asked them to join in. Kaylee and Megan eagerly ran to join one of the circles, and both the Lord and Lady stood, smiled at one another, and also went to one of the circles that was not yet full.
"Come," said Lassiel, tugging at Gail and gesturing to Steve.
"But we don't know the steps," Steve protested.
"It matters not: you will soon learn, and I will call the steps for you in our circle."
Soon they found that it was true—with Lassiel's help, they quickly mastered the simple steps, and had a lot of fun.
When they were out of breath, they went to the side-lines. There they saw Radagast, also out of breath. Kaylee and Megan, though, were still happily frolicking amid the dancers.
Some of the Elves began to sing:
“Elechoi mírnu aglaron,
Thrad Earmenelon Ithil Círon…”^^
There were many other songs, and Steve put his arm around Gail's shoulder, as they watched and listened. After a while, Mairen came to them with a sleeping Megan in her arms, followed by another Elf-maiden with a sleepy Kaylee held by her hand. The two Elves gave the children into their parents' keeping, and then headed back to the party.
The little family slowly wove their way back to their pavilion for the night.
When Steve had told Gail how soon he would be leaving for the border of Lothlórien, she had not been happy, but keeping in mind what Galadriel had told her, she had kept her misgivings to herself, and when Glorfindel came and woke Steve while it was still dark, she rose to see her husband off with a smile and a kiss. “Be careful!” she warned Steve.
“I will.” Steve kissed her back and left with Glorfindel. Then, with a heavy heart, she went back to bed, had a good cry, and then prayed very hard.
“Please, God,” she prayed in a low voice, “protect my husband, and protect our daughters and me. Please protect us all.” As she laid her head on her arms, a Bible verse came into her mind: You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you..**
A supernatural peace filled her heart, and she laid her head back down on her pillow and drifted back to sleep, until it was day, and her daughters crept into bed with her. Lucy remained asleep in her dog bed.
A/N: *The Bible verse that Gail quotes is Romans 8:28, NIV.
**Isaiah 26:3, NIV
#The song, "Little Bird," is the work of our lovely beta, Linda Hoyland; when she learned that we were having trouble coming up with a little song to go with Celeborn's game, she created this one. The translation is courtesy of Elaran from SWG's Discord (who also let us know that he skipped "to tell you I'm..." to keep the syllable count the same for all lines), and also credit goes to our good friend and reviewer, Kaylee Arafinwiel, who was able to contact Elaran for us. Thanks to all three of you.
***"Shrub" is an actual historical beverage, known by that and by other names from very ancient times. It was non-alcoholic, although sometimes alcohol would be added later, to make a sort of punch. Recipes to make various versions of this drink may still be found online.
^^"Elechoi mírnu aglaron, Thrad Earmenelon Ithil Círon" was written by Carvin Knowles, and recorded by The Fellowship on their CD, "In Elven Lands". This is an excellent LP, and it has a number of songs in both English and in Sindarin or Quenya, all inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium. You may do a search for the group to find some of the songs online, if you wish.
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