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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 53: How Far I'll Go
Kevin glanced to his right, where Haleth sat on his horse. Bron was restive, and Kevin patted him on the side of the neck. Haleth's mount was perfectly calm.
"How long do we just sit here?" Kevin asked. "Aren't we ready to go yet?"
Haleth laughed. "Do not be so impatient, Kevin. There are still others who are not yet in position. And we have those on foot to consider."
Far ahead, Kevin caught a glimpse of Aragorn, along with Boromir and the others who were leading the vanguard. He didn't see Pippin. He knew he'd seen him with Boromir earlier. Where was the hobbit?
He suddenly gave a start when he heard the voice of the hobbit in question next to his stirrup. Bron was also startled; and gave a nervous prance to one side.
"Hullo, Kevin and Haleth!" Pippin didn't even jump back from the big horse. "Boromir sent me to run messages to the Guardsmen, and I thought I would stop and see how you were."
"Thanks, Pip! I'm just ready to get going as soon as we can."
Pippin nodded. "Stay safe, then, Kevin. You, too, Haleth! Boromir's waiting." And he dashed off.
Kevin watched him dart fearlessly between the horses, and back to the leaders at the front, and saw Boromir grasp his upflung arm and pull Pippin back up in front of him.
"I suppose that it will not be much longer, Kevin," Haleth said, and indeed, at that moment, the trumpets rang and the army began to move. Troop by troop, and company by company, they wheeled and went off eastward.
As they rode, one of the Rohirrim among them began to sing. It was a stirring warlike song, and though Kevin could not understand the words, it heartened him and helped him feel braver as he rode.
Before noon, the army had arrived at Osgiliath. Kevin had heard Osgiliath mentioned, but had no idea of what it was. Now he could see the River, and surrounding it, massive ruins. It was clear that at one time, the place had been bigger than Minas Tirith. He noticed all the workers and craftsmen that could be spared were busy. Some were strengthening the ferries and re-building bridges and others were gathering stores; and others on the eastern side across the River were building crude walls of the broken stone. I sure hope it can be fixed one of these days, Kevin thought sorrowfully.
Slowly they passed through the ruined city. Those mounted picked their way slowly among the broken stones and rubble, and then over a hastily rebuilt causeway, where no more than four could ride abreast. When all were finally across the River, they rode on for five more miles. All stopped there long enough to take a hasty meal, and then the infantry stopped for the night.
The cavalry continued on until they came to a wide Cross-roads; a ring of trees was there, where they made camp. In the West was a glorious sunset, but looking towards the East, the sky was filled with greyish-black smokes and a deep blackish cloud cover that was all too ominous.
Éothain, who was leading the Rohirrim (for Éomer rode in the vanguard with Aragorn and the other leaders), chose a place for them to make camp. The horses were picketed at the perimeter, and the watch was chosen for the night. But once everyone had found a spot to set down their blankets and the fire was burning, Éomer came to check on his warriors and spend time with them.
He was grinning and in a good mood. "Look to the cross-roads and behold the surprise our good friend Wingfoot has for the enemy!"
Most stood and strained for a view. The statue they had passed, that had an ugly stone orc-head on top, now had the head of the rightful king, still crowned with flowers on top. A broad grin spread across Kevin’s face. Good for Aragorn! Take that, Sauron!
Just then came a blast of trumpets, and then Kevin heard several voices yelling, "The Lords of Gondor have returned and all this land that is theirs they take back." It was repeated a few more times. Then it was over, and everyone settled down to dig out their supplies from their saddlebags and eat.
There was some talking and storytelling around the fire, but since nearly all of it was in Rohirric, Kevin was about to consider curling up in his blanket, and then decided to kneel by it and pray first. "Thank You, Lord, that we got through this day,” he said in a low voice, and then paused. “Please protect us as we ride to Mordor, and please help us distract Sauron so Frodo can finish his job. And please protect Frodo and Sam; they’ve got such a dangerous job to finish. Please be with Jen and Joey in Minas Tirith, and Kaylee back in Rivendell with Lucy, and Mom and Dad and Megan back home. And Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet, too. Thank You. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
The next morning, by the time all had risen and then breakfasted—this time on a hot bowl of porridge—and seen to the horses, the infantry had caught up with them, and by the time the sun was above the mountains, they were once more on the move.
Kevin rode in silence, thinking about his family and wondering how they were faring. Kaylee, at least, was safe in Rivendell, and Jennifer and Joey were safe in Minas Tirith (provided it didn’t get attacked again, that is!). But what about Mom and Dad and Megan? And Uncle Ryan and Aunt Janet? He sighed.
“Are you all right, Kevin?”
Kevin jolted and turned toward Haleth. “Sorry.” He smiled sheepishly. “I was just thinking.” He paused. “About my family. I hope all of them are all right. I know my little sister is, and so long as Minas Tirith doesn’t get attacked again, so are Jennifer and Joey.”
Haleth nodded. “What about your parents?”
Kevin shrugged. “Well, they’re not here, so at least I don’t have to worry about them. Same for my youngest sister; she’s with them. But…” His voice trailed off.
Haleth nodded. “I miss my father. I wish he was still alive.”
Kevin wished he could put a hand on the other boy’s shoulder. “I do, too, Haleth.”
Haleth bit his lower lip. After a moment, he said, “Well, at least my mother and sister are safe in Dunharrow. I will be with them again when all this is over.”
Kevin nodded. “My dad is a geologist back home. His job is to study rocks and soil. How long was your father a guard for Theoden King?”
"Ever since I can remember. But when I was small, he used to come home in the spring and autumn for a while, to help with the planting and harvest. Things changed after Wormtongue came to Meduseld." Haleth looked glum, and Kevin realized that was not a good topic of conversation for now.
Haleth turned to Kevin. "Why would someone pay a man to study rocks and dirt?"
Kevin sighed and put his palm over his face. How in the world could he explain all that? He shook his head. "It's just something we do in my land. He can tell by studying the dirt and the rocks how well the earth is doing."
"That sounds like something the Dwarves would do," said Haleth dismissively.
"Yes," said Kevin. "You should ask Gimli if his people do that, next chance you get."
Haleth nodded. "Perhaps I should." He wrinkled his forehead, and then reached for his waterskin, and took a drink, and after that, both fell silent for a while.
The next day, the army was brought to a halt for a while. They were in a place, Éothain told them, that was near Minas Morgul. The land was wretched and lifeless, and everyone could feel the nearby evil. Kevin shuddered.
"Why are we staying in this place?" one of the Rohirrim asked. "Must we do battle here?"
"Nay! And yet we must wait here, for Éomer King, and Aragorn of the North, and the Captain-General of Gondor, and Gandalf Greyhame all wish to overlook yon evil vale, to make certain nothing waits there to fall upon us from behind," responded another.
"Well," Haleth muttered, "it is a good reason. But I dislike this place, and hope we may go on soon."
Grimacing, Kevin nodded. “Me, too. This place stinks!” The valley to the East just reeked of evil. In fact, from now on, this would be the place he would imagine when he thought about the "valley of the shadow of death". At least God is with me, he reminded himself. There’s no place where God isn’t, no matter how much the Enemy might wish He wasn’t. Under his breath, he recited the twenty-third Psalm.
Shortly afterwards, Pippin came by with a message: some guards, and some archers were going to be set to watch the vale. "And Gandalf used his staff and just broke that bridge the way he did the one in Moria. So, hopefully, nothing can ambush us if there are any of the enemy still there." He looked rather pale and troubled, and Kevin took the little hobbit aside.
"What's wrong, Pip?" he asked.
Pippin tugged Kevin down, and whispered, "That's the way Frodo and Sam went, the way that Gollum took them."
Kevin gasped. He shook his head and gave Pippin a small one-shouldered hug. "It will be okay," he said, without a lot of conviction.
Pippin sighed. "It has to be. But Sam's with Frodo. He won't let anything happen to Frodo."
Kevin took a deep breath. "You're right, Pippin."
The hobbit summoned up the ghost of his usual cheery grin. "Of course, I am. I'm always right. Just don't tell Merry I said so." He shook his head. "I have to take the message to the other groups. Don't tell anyone what I said about Frodo."
"I won't." Kevin looked over at the stinking valley. In the background was a city that had the general shape of Minas Tirith, but it seemed to be covered in yucky green mould, and there were strange-looking statues of ugly creatures on the walls. The place looked horrible. It had sharp, rocky mountains in the background.
Like a haunted house, only worse. A whole city of haunted houses, in this case, Kevin thought with a shudder. I almost expect to see ghosts and witches and goblins coming out at any moment! He winced. Only here, goblins aren’t imaginary creatures, but real. All too real!
And Frodo had gone in that direction… Kevin shivered. Poor Frodo and Sam! He shook his head. Please, God, protect them! He took a deep breath. Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. The Apostle John said that, and he was right. I’ve just got to remember that. God is so much more powerful than whatever’s in that city, and His angels are here, too. He will have the victory!
Soon enough, the vanguard returned, and the army once more moved on.
The next day, they turned North, and began to move with the Mountains of Shadow to the East. They made no effort to hide, but several of the Rohirrim were set to scout ahead on the road, and some of the Rangers of Ithilien went on foot to check for a possible ambush or trap. They went a little more slowly. The land to the East was covered in dark bushes and ravines and rocky crags, and beyond that, the mountains sloped up and up.
The weather wasn't too bad. The wind stayed in the West, so mostly they were spared the bad smells. But even so, it was gloomy, and there was a persistent mist clinging to the mountains. As they approached Mordor, they could see plumes of noxious smoke, rising high in the sky.
Every so often, Gandalf would send off one of the heralds, who would blow their trumpets and then yell, "The Lords of Gondor are come! Let all leave this land or yield them up!”
And then, after a time, they started yelling instead, "King Elessar Telcontar, High King of the West is come! Let all leave this land or yield them up!”
Pippin, who was always running messages and would take the chance, when he could, to inform Kevin of what was going on, told them that it was Gandalf's idea for the heralds to shout out that the Lords of Gondor were coming. "But," he said, "it was Prince Imrahil's idea to put the King's name in there, instead. They thought it might really catch Sauron's attention more, and keep his eyes away from where Frodo and Sam are headed."
Kevin nodded. “Not a bad idea! Because he really is the High King of the West, and it’s high time Sauron knew that.” Pippin smiled weakly and nodded agreement, and then he darted off. Kevin bit his lower lip and took a deep breath.
Even though they were going along unmolested with no sign of the enemy, everyone was feeling downcast and on edge. The further they went, the heavier in spirit everyone began to feel. Several times that day, Kevin whispered the twenty-third Psalm; once, he whispered the ninety-first Psalm.
Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world, he also kept reminding himself. In this case, Sauron! The good Lord has gotten us this far, and He will not abandon us now.
But a couple of days after they'd left the Cross-roads to Minas Morgul behind, word came that a party of Orcs together with some Easterlings were planning an ambush. In fact, it was near the place where they had tried to ambush the Ithlien Rangers. Mablung, who was second in command of the Rangers to Faramir, took his own men to ambush them first. They were successful, and sent the enemy fleeing.
But the victory did little to enhearten the captains, according to Pippin. “It is but a feint, Aragorn said, and he also said that its chief purpose was to draw us on by a false guess of our Enemy's weakness than to do us much hurt, yet.” Pippin, as the only representative of the Shire, and as Boromir's esquire, was in all of the councils of the Captains.
And then the Nazgûl came and followed every move of the army. They still flew high and out of sight of all save Legolas, and yet their presence could be felt, as a deepening of shadow and a dimming of the sun; and though the Ringwraiths did not yet stoop low upon their foes and were silent, uttering no cry, the dread of them could not be shaken off.
That evening, at the Rohirrim's campsite, Kevin began to notice that Haleth was not feeling well. He seemed thirstier, and he also kept wincing as though his head hurt.
"What's wrong, Haleth?" Kevin was worried. He noticed Haleth was not wearing his leather helm, and that he kept touching his head where he had hit it in the battle. Kevin was worried. He was pretty sure that Haleth had not healed well enough for this journey, much less the battle that lay ahead.
"'Tis all right, Kevin. It is just a headache," Haleth asserted rather shortly. But Kevin was really worried. He was sure that Haleth was definitely unwell. And the horrible gloomy landscape did not help much.
There was little discontent among the Rohirrim with whom he rode. They were, to a man, seasoned warriors, and though they felt the miasma that was overshadowing them like any of the others, they did not allow it to sway them. But Kevin could not help but hear some of the complaining and fear from a few of the other soldiers in the foot companies.
On the fourth day after they had turned North, a good six days from Minas Tirith, they came to the desolation of Mordor. On one side were awful marshes, and on the other was the desert that led into the Emyn Muil.
There were a few from the other companies of the Rohirrim, as well as some of those who had followed their leaders from Lossarnach and other lands surrounding Minas Tirith, who were just overwhelmed, and could go no further.
Aragorn called all the host together. From his vantage point, Kevin could see the pity in Aragorn's eyes.
“Go!” said Aragorn. “But keep what honour you may, and do not run! And there is a task which you may attempt and so be not wholly shamed. Take your way south-west till you come to Cair Andros, and if that is still held by enemies, as I think, then re-take it, if you can; and hold it to the last in defence of Gondor and Rohan!”
Kevin took the chance to approach him after Aragorn had made his speech. He had not had much chance to speak to him since they had left the City. "Aragorn," he said, "I am really worried about Haleth. I don't think he should have come in the first place, and he's not looking good. He was all sweaty—I mean, more than normal—and last night, he was tossing and turning."
This roused the healer in Aragorn, and he went back with Kevin at once to seek out the young Rohirrim, who was now sitting on the ground and shivering next to his horse.
Aragorn examined Haleth, who was embarrassed and a little angry at Kevin summoning the King to him. Aragorn examined him carefully, feeling the place where he had struck his head, and which was swollen, and looked into his eyes. "Haleth," he said, "do you think, upon your honour, that you are fit for battle among your comrades? Do you think you could fight without endangering others?"
Haleth moaned, and tears came into his eyes. "I want to fight, for my father's honour. But…" He stopped, and then began to weep openly. "I do not think I can even hold my sword right now." Tears ran down the boy’s face. Aragorn gently squeezed his shoulder and turned to Kevin.
"Kevin," Aragorn said, looking over at him. "What do you intend to do? You came, I deem, to simply keep an eye on your friend. Shall you remain with him, or shall you follow the Army to the West?"
Kevin bit his lower lip. "Aragorn, I don't know, to be honest. I feel torn. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do; this is a really hard decision! I want to help keep Haleth safe, but I also want to help Frodo and Sam."
He rose to his feet and scanned the encampment. “You think Haleth’s the only one hurt?” he asked. “Éomer got the Houses of Healing to release some others who were also there and wanted to fight. Maybe Haleth’s not the only one who needs to stay behind. I’ll bet you anything some of them weren’t really ready to leave the Houses of Healing just yet, either.”
Aragorn looked around and nodded agreement. “Stay here with Haleth while I speak with the other commanders.” He rose to his feet and strode off.
Kevin watched as Aragorn went off, looking determined. Maybe, he thought, this was why I came? To make sure Haleth was safe? Still, he felt unsure. As he had told Aragorn, he also wanted to help Frodo and Sam; obviously, there was no way for him to do both. What was he to do? He prayed, but he did not feel an answer coming to him.
In the end, Aragorn discovered among the troops a score of men who were not truly fit for battle. He did not allow them to gainsay him, but plucked them out and put them in the care of two healers, whom he put in charge. The men were to be sent back in the company of those who were going to retake Cair Andros, but be kept back out of the fighting and behind the lines.
Haleth was among them, and in no shape to protest this time.
Kevin once more felt as if he had no choice but to stay with his friend. But he wasn't feeling right about it. He did not think he would feel right if he had made the other decision either. Lord, he prayed silently, please help me to know if I am right? If this is a mistake, please tell me, and lead me in the way You want me to go.
But there seemed to be no answer, and all he could do was continue on the course on which he had been set. If God wanted him to take a different course, Kevin would just have to trust that He would tell him and make a way for him to set out on it. He hoped the sign would be clear.
It seemed like no time at all before the wounded were gathered, a few of them still grumbling, but more of them feeling embarrassed at having to return when they had insisted on coming along. Protests fell on deaf ears, though. Aragorn was adamant that anyone who had left the Houses of Healing against their healers' advice would not continue to the Black Gate.
Many, including Haleth, were placed into some of the near-empty supply wains; a few who could sit a horse were allowed to ride.
Kevin watched as those who were continuing on formed up ranks, with the mounted vanguard at the front, and the foot soldiers behind, and following them, the remaining supply waggons—there were only about two-thirds the number of those now, as many of the supplies had been moved to the others in order to accommodate the wounded.
Aragorn and Gandalf and Legolas and Gimli and Pippin rode away. Kevin could not help it; a lump formed in his throat, and he felt tears gathering in his eyes. He dashed the tears away roughly with the back of his hand. He truly felt forsaken, and even trying to remember Bible verses did not help the hollow feeling, and the useless urge to try and ride after them and catch up. He rode morosely alongside the waggon in which Haleth rode, and tried very hard not to be angry with his friend for getting him in this predicament. Ahead of the waggons of the wounded, and the supplies they had been spared, rode nearly four thousand men. Two had been chosen by Aragorn and Éomer to lead those who would try to retake Cair Andros; it had not been their choice, but it was, after all, orders, and these inexperienced men would need good commanders if they were to stand a chance. So, Lord Amrothos, the youngest son of Prince Imrahil, and Elfhelm, who was one of the Marshals of Rohan, had been given the command. After a bit of grumbling between themselves, they had taken the task to heart.
There was also a healer left in charge of the wounded and those who had come to assist her. She was a tough woman, and the language she used as she shouted her orders made Kevin blush. He didn't know her name, and she never bothered to introduce herself, but she rode up to him.
"Why are you here alongside the wounded, and not up there with them?" she asked abruptly, as she gestured at those who marched before them.
Kevin was startled at her sudden question. "Because of my friend, Haleth. I only came to help him. He wouldn't stay behind even after he got himself whacked on the head."
She gave a hearty laugh, and Kevin realized that he had not actually heard anyone really truly laugh since they had passed the Morgul Vale. "You have your head on straight for a youngster. You will do." She wheeled her horse, and then rode over to another waggon to eye the patients in it.
I’m not so sure! Kevin thought bitterly. What I really want is to be with the rest of the army, but unless the Lord makes a way for me, that’s out now! He sighed and looked toward his friend. In truth, it wouldn’t be fair to blame Haleth, much as he was tempted to. The angry, torn feelings in his heart were giving him a sense of empathy for the younger boy; they both wanted to be part of the battle, he knew; at the moment, they were frustrated because they couldn’t be. At the same time, his yearning to join the others never stopped. He bit his lower lip and looked in the direction of the departing army, and then turned back towards Haleth.
But why me? The thought would not stay buried. I want to go to Mordor, too! I want to help the others help Frodo and Sam! Instead, I’m stuck here, playing nursemaid to a wounded boy! It’s not fair! With every ounce of strength, he resisted the overwhelming urge to scream in frustration and yell at Haleth, and turned to silent prayer instead.
Help me, God! Please! If ever I needed your help, I need it right now! Please help me! Or I fear I’ll end up doing something I know I’ll regret! Haleth doesn’t deserve that, I know. Not from me! Please help me!
But there was no still, small voice to comfort him or lend him advice. Not this time.
And in the turmoil of his thoughts, came another voice. But you really did not want to come and fight anyway, did you? You wanted to stay in Minas Tirith with Jennifer and Joey. Do you really want to fight some more? Do you really like killing that much?
Kevin nearly pulled up on the reins. Were those his thoughts? Or was he being tempted? He couldn't tell. He had always thought he'd be able to tell if he was being tempted.
Another agonizing thought surged into his mind, searing his heart. And I did kill a man, didn’t I? That never should have happened, yet I did! In misery, he slumped and hung his head, and started shaking it violently.
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