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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 55: Whistle While You Work
Joey sat up on his pallet in the dormitory room where the errand boys slept, and glanced over at Bergil and Sador. It was early morning, and Bergil seemed to already be wide awake, but Sador had pulled his blankets over his head, and was curled up in a ball.
"Just a little longer…" Sador was mumbling.
Joey, who had been wakened by the sound of the city bells, yawned and ran his fingers through his hair. "Better not, Sador!" he said.
Bergil reached over and pulled the other boy's blankets away. "Wake up, Sador. Dame Ioreth will be here in a moment!" He looked around and saw other boys in other blankets stirring in the room where all the errand lads slept.
The door slammed open, and the formidable Dame Ioreth stood in the doorway. "Rise up, boys! You need to wash and dress, and be quick about it, if you are to get to the buttery before the Guardsmen do."
Sador shot to his feet, blankets forgotten. "If they do, there will be no breakfast left for us!"
Joey shoved his blankets aside and leaped to his own feet. "They’d better not; I'm hungry!"
The three boys made their way over to the long stone trough on one side of the room. Fresh water flowed into one end and then disappeared out of the other end. It was, of course, cold. But at least it was not icy cold. Joey used his hands to scoop up water and wash his face quickly. Then he went to get his livery and put it on. He'd slept in his underwear, and so all he had to do was put on his clothes.
This was the second day since Kevin and Boromir and the rest of the army had left, and Joey knew how it would most likely go. They'd head down to the buttery, and grab some bread and maybe a piece of fruit or cheese and find a place to eat their meal; then they would go to that room that they had been to, the first day of the battle, and wait for Dame Ioreth or one of the other helpers to assign them something to do. If he was lucky, at some point or other, he might catch sight of Jennifer if she, too, had an errand. But they would meet for the evening meal, at least.
Joey finished dressing before Bergil and Sador did, and went outside the door for a quiet moment to himself. He leaned against the doorpost and closed his eyes. Lord, he silently prayed, please help me to do good today. And help Jennifer to do the same. And take care of Kevin and the others, wherever they are. Please help Kaylee not to be too lonely, and Mom and Dad and Megan not to miss us too much. Take care of the ones that are hurt, especially Merry and Lady Éowyn and Lord Faramir. And Lord Denethor, too. And help Frodo and Sam, most of all. Thank You that we are all okay, so far. In Jesus' name, amen. He opened his eyes and saw Bergil and Sador looking at him.
"I'm fine," he said. "Let's go get some breakfast while the getting is good."
Bergil laughed. "'While the getting is good.' You are funny, Joey!" Joey grinned, and Bergil clapped him on the shoulder, and then the three of them strode off to the buttery.
The boys were lucky. They were able to get there ahead of most of the others and got their bread and cheese, and there was a limited amount of something called "whey" for those who wanted it. Joey’d had it a time or two since coming to Middle-earth—it was the liquid left over from making cheese, and it tasted kind of funny at first, but he liked it better with food than just plain water, which was mostly what he got to drink these days. So, they had a large mug of the whey to share between the three of them. The cheese they had this morning was white and mild, and tasted really good with the fresh bread. They took their food out into the sunshine and found a spot to sit and eat.
I never knew what curds and whey were before we got to Rivendell, Joey silently thought, as the old nursery rhyme came into his mind. But it was fun to watch them making cheese and taste the fresh curds. They were almost like cottage cheese back home. I didn’t much like the whey, though. Still, it goes better with food than just plain water.
"How long do you think it will take the army to get to Mordor?" Sador asked.
Bergil shrugged. "Maybe a week? It depends on how fast they go, but it should take a few days at least."
"So, where are they now, do you suppose?" Joey asked, and then broke his bread in half and placed the cheese between the two halves, forming a sandwich, which he ate quickly. Then he washed it down with a swallow of the whey before handing the mug to Sador, who drank it in turn before handing it to Bergil, and then started to finish off his cheese and bread.
"Why am I the one to ask?” It was a little hard to understand him, as he spoke with his mouth full. With a scowl, Bergil downed the remaining whey to finish up his meal. “All I can do is guess! But they are probably at least to Osgiliath by now, and maybe even the other side of the River." He scowled again, and Joey knew it was because Bergil was just as worried about his dad as Joey was about Kevin. And poor Sador! His brother was his only kin, and he had no one else. Joey bit his lower lip.
Sador swallowed the last bite of his food, and Joey stood up. "Come on, let's take the mug back to the buttery and go to the 'errand room'. You know Dame Ioreth will have a lot of tasks for us, and if we hurry, we might get our pick of the good ones.”
For Joey, "the good ones" would be running errands to the hospital wards, where he could get a chance to maybe see Jennifer or Merry, or even the Lady Eowyn or maybe Lord Faramir. Other good errands would be running down to the apothecaries in the lower level, for whenever the boys went down into the lower levels, they went at least two at a time, in case one of them got into trouble.
The three of them were passed by a couple of other boys heading out as they went into the room. Dame Ioreth was not there, but another woman, Mistress Niriel, greeted them. "Good morning, boys. Sador, you are to take that basket to the laundry and get clean linens and take them upstairs to the linen closet there. Joey, you need to go find Master Seregonand get a note from him. Take it to the herb-master, who will give you the herbs he needs, then you take them back to Master Seregon. Bergil, the third-floor ward needs fresh water."
The three of them scattered. Joey quickly dashed upstairs and found Master Seregon, who gave him a folded bit of parchment. "There are four medicines on the list. Two are potions, one is a powder, and the other will be some dried leaves."
"Two potions, one powder, and one is dried leaves," Joey repeated. "Do I need to know anything else about them?"
"Just don't drop the potions," Master Seregon replied with a smile. He had learned that Joey was quite reliable. "I will be in the new ward."
Joey grinned as he trotted off. The "new ward" was what they called the big ward they had been using since the fire. If he went there, he would see Merry for sure, and maybe even Jennifer if she was helping there.
Whistling as he walked, Joey headed down to the gardens, to the little building containing the still-room where they made potions and tonics and things like that, and the apothecary, which was where they kept all the other herbs and such, was. There was a second story reached by an outside stair and that led to the rooms where the herb-master lived. Joey knocked at the apothecary door, and after he got no answer, he went upstairs and knocked on that door. He waited, and then knocked again.
"Just a moment! Just a moment!" he heard. He could hear footsteps approach, and then the door opened. It was Master Egalmoth. He blinked owlishly at Joey. "Yes?" he said. He was holding a dressing gown loosely around himself.
Joey took out the note and handed it to him. "It is supposed to be two potions, a powder, and some dried herbs…"
Master Egalmoth studied the note and nodded. "Come in for a moment, while I get dressed, young man."
Joey was grateful for the basket the herb-master had given him to carry the items in. One of the potion bottles was a good deal larger than the other. He also had the little tin of powder in the basket. But he'd tucked the leaves into his little belt pouch, because he was afraid that they'd get squashed by the other items. He knew that some herbs did have to be used whole and not crushed until they were needed. But at least he knew that these were not athelas; he had long since learned what that looked like.
Joey went back upstairs and easily found Master Seregon in the "new" ward. He handed him the basket, and then retrieved the little waxed linen packet with the leaves. "Here you are, sir." He glanced around the room.
"Lady Jennifer is not here right now, but she should be back soon." He smiled at Joey. "I am sure that Sir Meriadoc would be glad for a few words."
"Thank you, sir," Joey responded, grinning.
He turned and went over to Merry's bed. The hobbit was sitting up, and it appeared that he was sewing on a shirt. Merry looked up. "Joey!" he exclaimed. His face lit up. "I'm glad you are here!"
"I'm on duty, so I don't have long," Joey said. "But I wanted to see you, too!"
"Jennifer was here," Merry said. "She should be back soon!"
"Well, if she doesn't come before I leave, tell her I said, 'hi'."
"I will. But surely you have another minute.”
Merry looked at him, and Joey realized that the hobbit was probably pretty lonely with Pippin gone. "Yeah," Joey said, "I can stay just a little bit." He sat down on the edge of the bed, and asked, "So, will they let you get up again?" After all, Merry had already been out and about.
"I have to wait each day for the healer to look me over. And there's not really anywhere else for me to stay or anything for me to do, so I am more or less stuck here." Merry shook his head. "I'm not being very good company. How are you and Jennifer doing?"
"Well, I'm one of the errand lads now, and you've seen Jennifer is one of the healers’ helpers."
"Has there been any news from the army?" Merry asked.
Joey shrugged. "Not that I know of."
Just then they heard a voice behind them. It was Master Seregon. "Joey, I know there are tasks waiting for you." Joey jumped up, prepared to take off, but Merry grabbed his hand.
"It's not his fault. I'm a patient. Isn't it one of his jobs to cheer me up?"
Master Seregon laughed. "You are not a patient now, Master Meriadoc; you may go. Lord Faramir has requested your company for the day, and he will tell you of your lodging arrangements as well. Rise from your bed and get dressed. Lord Faramir and Lord Denethor have been assigned a separate room here, for they are still in need of our care, especially Lord Denethor, but they have duties now. You will find their room on the first floor, across from Dame Ioreth's quarters."
Once more, Joey stood up. "If you hurry and get dressed, I can show you where it is—her quarters are close to where our quarters are."
Merry hopped up and turned to the healer. "Thank you, Master Seregon!"
The healer smiled and nodded. "Please find me again if you need to, Master Meriadoc," he said before he turned and walked over to another patient.
Joey bent down and grabbed Merry's pack from beneath his bed. "You don't need your armour or anything."
Quickly Merry dressed in tunic and trews, and with him carrying his pack and Joey carrying his armour, they went out of the ward. Joey was still a little disappointed that he had missed Jennifer.
Jennifer awakened slowly. She could hear other people stirring around her; it took her a moment to recall where she was. She opened her eyes and turned to her side.
Firieth was sitting on the side of her bed, brushing her long hair. "Good morrow, Jennifer. The first bell will be ringing soon."
The door opened, and two girls came in, looking very tired. They looked curiously at Jennifer.
Firieth looked up. "Hareth, Miriel, this is Jennifer. She came in on the ships with Lord Elfstone! She will be staying with us, for her older brother is away with the army."
Jennifer turned and smiled at them. "Hello."
Both girls nodded and acknowledged the introduction.
"Pardon, Jennifer, but we are both tired, for we were working in the wards through the night," said Hareth. The two girls undressed down to their shifts, and climbed into bed, settling in and pulling the covers over their heads.
"I guess they are pulling the night shift, huh?" Jennifer asked a few minutes later, as they left their quarters.
"'Night shift'?” Firieth looked at her, puzzled, and then nodded. “Ah, I understand. Yes, they work from sunset to sunrise. We will be working in the new ward, but we will also be helping the laundresses today, as well."
Jennifer grimaced. The only way she knew how to do laundry was by using a washer and dryer; she did not have the least amount of skill in using a scrub board or any of those other old-fashioned tools that had been used back in Rivendell. Guess I really am spoiled, she thought wryly. I grew up with all those appliances, and they’re all I know how to use! But she had watched the Elven laundresses at their tasks, so she hoped she wouldn't look like a total idiot. But would having just watched laundry being done the old-fashioned way be enough? She could only hope.
But first, they went up to the ward. Merry was very pleased to see her. They could not talk long, for they had to grab the basket of dirty laundry and take it down to the little laundry house at the back of the building.
"They say the steam is good for the complexion," Firieth said. The laundry was even steamier than Jennifer remembered.
They entered to see a lot of dirty laundry being dumped in a large smelly vat. "Good morning, girls." The head laundress looked up as they entered. "We are bucking* the sheets today."
"What's that smell?" Jennifer asked, wrinkling her nose at the stench.
"'Tis lye, miss. These were badly soiled and stained, so they will soak in the lye until tomorrow. They must be stirred often. But we would be thankful if you could take the clean sheets out to dry in the sun, and to let the sun bleach them." The head laundress pointed out a large basket filled with wet linens by the door.
With Jennifer holding one side of the large basket and Firieth the other, they managed to carry them; they were quite heavy while wet. Jennifer was grateful that Firieth knew what to do. It took both of them to stretch out the wet sheets and lay them flat on the short green lawn. They had to be pulled out straight, so that the sun could dry them and bleach them.
Jennifer was surprised that the sun could bleach cloth. The only bleach she knew about was smelly and liquid. She bet sun-bleached sheets smelled a lot nicer.
When they finished, they returned the basket to the laundry-house, and were given another large basket, this one filled with clean dry sheets (which were not nearly so heavy) to take back to the ward. A lot of work sure goes into running a hospital! Jennifer thought wryly, as she and Firieth took hold of the lighter basket. So many things have to run smoothly to take care of the sick.
It was nearly time for lunch for the patients when the two girls came back with the clean laundry all nicely folded. Jennifer was dismayed to see that Merry was gone, and to learn she had missed seeing her brother.
The kitchen servants had brought in a cart with trays of food for the injured. There was extra food for the healers and those who helped them, but the patients had to be fed first. Jennifer and Firieth took up that task; Firieth found the bowls for the broth that was made for those who could not eat solid food, while Jennifer filled wooden bowls with meat, beans, and bread, and carried them to the various patients in the room. A few patients had injuries that kept them from being able to feed themselves, and so the girls would sit by them and give them their food. It wasn't always very pleasant, and Jennifer thought that her "old" self (before she had come to Middle-earth) would have been grossed out by the things she had learned to do here. She prayed silently, Lord, thank You for giving me the chance to help people, and to learn how to help them, too. Please help me to not get cross or impatient while I do Your work.
Soon enough, all the patients had eaten, and after taking plates to the healers, Jennifer and Firieth were finally able to sit down and eat themselves.
After lunch, most of the patients slept, though a very few had visitors. But now the girls had to go back and fetch some clean laundry, and put it away, and do any cleaning and tidying that the ward was in need of.
Some of the patients had been discharged, and so their beds needed to be stripped and changed. One of those beds was Merry's. Jennifer was a little sad that he wasn't in the ward anymore—she had enjoyed the chance to talk to him when time allowed. But she was glad that he was well enough to be up and about. She wished she had been around when Joey had been up in the ward earlier—just at the time she had been down in the laundry! Oh, well, she thought, maybe he will have another errand up here this afternoon.
She had been surprised by her little brother when they had arrived in the city. He had been acting far too grown up, but she was proud of him. When she thought of how he’d had to help during that awful battle, and that he’d seen people who were seriously injured and dying, she could only shake her head; she just could not imagine having to deal with that at Joey's age! And the fire! She was so thankful he had not been hurt in that awful fire!
She finished tucking the sheets on the bed she was making up, folding under the corners as she had been shown. She smiled at the thought of elastic. She missed bottom sheets with elastic. But she was getting better at doing without them.
When she and Firieth had finished the beds, they could finally sit down once more; this time, they were rolling some clean bandages that had been sent up. But they took their time at the task, and were able to have a little conversation in the process.
"So, what is your family like, Firieth?" Jennifer asked.
"My parents live in Dol Amroth, by the sea, the Bay of Belfalas. Mother is a healer, and Father is a chandler…"
"What's that?" Jennifer asked.
"He sells supplies to the ships that come to Dol Amroth; things they need for long voyages, such as candles and rope and buckets and dried food, that sort of thing. My brother is a sailor now, getting experience on the ships as Ada did when he was young. But when he turns twenty-five, he will come home and help run the business. My mother is a healer. I was her apprentice, but she wanted me to get more education in the healing arts here in the White City." Firieth sighed. "Nana was right; I am learning a lot here. But I miss my family very much." She looked at Jennifer. "What about your family?"
Jennifer bit her lower lip. "My family's not here," she said. "Well, actually, my parents aren't here, and neither is my older brother or either of my little sisters. My kid brother is here, though. He's working here at the Houses of Healing while Boromir's gone." She didn't know what she could safely say about her parents.
"Lord Boromir?" Firieth's eyes widened. "The Captain-General?"
"Yes, we journeyed with him and Gandalf, or Mithrandir as they say here in Gondor, and Aragorn—people here are calling him 'Lord Elfstone' and some other friends. We started from Rivendell. When...Mithrandir and Boromir came here, my brother came with them, and then Lord Boromir made my brother his page. But he told Joey to stay in the Houses of Healing and help while he is going to fight. And my older brother Kevin went to fight as well."
"You are well-travelled, then," Firieth said. "Where is Rivendell?"
"It's a very long way to the north of here. Our little sister Kaylee had to stay there when our journey started, because it would be too dangerous for her." And it sure was dangerous, she thought.
"So," Jennifer said, trying to change the subject, "what's it like to live in Dol Amroth?"
"It's a lot different than here in Minas Tirith. The city is not so high, nor so large. But the palace of the Prince is quite beautiful. Most of the trade takes place along the docks at the Bay of Belfalas, but the most fun is on the beach. Families like to take their children there to paddle in the sea and to play on the sand."
"That sounds like fun," Jennifer said, feeling nostalgic for her own family's occasional visits to the seaside.
"Did your family live near this Rivendell?" Firieth asked.
"No, we live far from there…"
But just then Master Seregon told them that it was time for the two of them to take up their duties once more, now that the bandages had all been rolled up. It would be at least a couple of hours until sunset, and there was still more work to do. Then they would be released from duty to have dinner and return to their quarters to sleep. They went back to work, this time to check on each patient again and see if they needed anything.
A few hours later, only moments after the two girls had been dismissed for the night, but before they had actually left, the door to the Ward opened, and they saw Joey, Bergil, and Sador. "Jennifer!" Joey smiled. "Would you like to come and have supper with us? I have my stipend from Boromir!"
Jennifer glanced at Firieth, and Joey understood. "Your friend can come, too."
"Firieth, would you like to do that?" Jennifer asked.
"If I would not be a burden," the girl said shyly.
"Naw," said Joey. "It's cool!"
"Well, the sun has set, but it is not really so cool as all that," Firieth said, puzzled.
Jennifer and Joey laughed. "Where we come from," said Jennifer, "'cool' also means 'good'. When we use it like that, we use it as a slang word." She turned to her little brother. "What have you been doing all day?"
Joey launched into an account of all that he and Bergil had done during the day as they walked. But they had not gone far before they found Merry.
"Hullo!" Merry said. "I was just looking for you!"
"We were going to find someplace to eat," Jennifer said. "Would you like to come with us?"
"I'd be happy to join you; I have missed seeing you today. I'm staying in Lord Faramir and Lord Denethor's room here; they put a little cot in there for me."
"What have you been doing?" Joey asked.
"Well, today I got to walk in the garden with Lord Faramir." Merry gave the others a roguish grin. "He wanted to talk about Lady Éowyn…"
A/N: * "Bucking" is the process of soaking laundry in a lye bath for a day or two, in order to help clean stains and smells.
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