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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 56: Shadowland
The wagons rolled on, leaving dust behind them. Kevin rode along, watching Haleth in the wagon. The two boys didn't talk. There were other wounded also riding in the wagon, so there wasn't much privacy, and the noise of the wheels and the sound of the horses' hooves made it difficult to hear one another without shouting.
Even though he had not seen a lot of his friends during the journey, he had always known that Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir were nearby, and he’d had a chance nearly every day to see Pippin for at least a minute or two. Now they were gone, and with every beat of his horse’s feet, he was going farther in the other direction.
Mainly Kevin was left to his own thoughts, which grew gloomier and gloomier. I miss my friends, he thought, sighing. And my family! I miss Jennifer and Joey and Kaylee, and Mom and Dad and Megan. I miss them all so much. And now, I also miss Aragorn and Boromir and Pippin and the others! I wish I was with them. He glanced at Haleth. Please, God, help me!
But the only answer was silence. He wished that Haleth had not been so stubborn. Life would be a lot easier if Haleth had just stayed in the hospital—Houses of Healing, he corrected himself. Only it really is a hospital, although it's not called that.
Kevin found himself feeling angry at his friend. Why couldn't Haleth be more sensible? he wondered. And why was it his job to watch out for the other boy? It’s not like I’m my brother’s keeper, he thought resentfully. Joey’s yeah, since he is my brother, but Haleth’s not!
Intense anger surged in his heart. He wanted to yell at Haleth, to tell him what an idiot he was, but he squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep, slow breath. Hollering at Haleth might make Kevin feel better, if only for a moment, but it would not fix the problem, and it would only cause bad feelings between them. Where are You, God? Why won't You help me now? I just want You to tell me why I came all this way, just to turn around and leave everyone else behind! Come on, Lord, I really need your help!
He tightened his grip on the reins a bit too much, and Bron shook his head. Kevin loosened his hands. It's not Bron's fault I'm upset. He sighed, ashamed of forgetting his horse. He reached down and patted Bron’s neck. "I'm sorry, old fellow. You didn't do anything wrong."
And though he kept trying to pray, nothing came to him; praying had never been so hard before. Was the Lord even listening?
The rest of the day was dismal. The gloomy skies to the East were looming over them all oppressively, and to Kevin's perspective, they were not making any progress at all. Everything looked the same to him. That evening they stopped, only halfway back to Cair Andros. They had needed to go so slowly because of the wounded; many of them were worse off than Haleth. They should never have left the Houses of Healing, but their pride had made them try.
The healer came by that night. Kevin still did not know her name. Haleth was doing better now that he was not riding his horse, but some of the other men in the wagon were feverish, and one of them had stitches in a long wound on his leg. She unwrapped his bandages, examined him, and got angrier and angrier.
"What were you thinking? There is no way you should have been trying to ride a horse for at least two or three months! There are signs of putrefaction around them now!" She turned to the assistant who had come with her and rattled off a rapid series of orders. The other healer hurried off, and was soon back with a large basket filled with what she needed. "You are a fool," she gritted, as she cleaned his stitches carefully with wine. "No battle is worth the risk of blood poisoning!" Then she took a salve that smelled a lot like honey and smeared it all over the area she had cleansed. The wound was then re-wrapped with clean bandages, and she gave the man some sort of medicine to swallow.
She looked grim as she stalked off muttering to herself, mumbling, "...lucky if I do not have to take that leg anyway…", and Kevin started to wonder if the man would survive. Blood poisoning? That was bad even in modern times. He'd heard on the news back home of some celebrity who had nearly died of it—her doctors had called it sepsis. She'd been in a hospital with all the modern treatments and IVs and all that stuff, and still she'd almost died.
The healer's assistant remained after she left. He told the others in the wagon they would need to be moved among the other wagons, so that the one with the leg wound could rest easier. Kevin helped him move the men: two of the wounded went in one of the other wagons, and one each went to one of the other wagons. Haleth was tired out, and fell asleep soon after he'd been moved into his new spot.
By that time, it was twilight, and a few little stars peeked through in the West, though the gloomy fogs in the East were all still hanging over them. Kevin couldn’t stop shifting position; he was feeling too restless.
I wish I could sleep! he thought crossly. No telling what I’ll have to do tomorrow, and I really do need to be rested. Try as he did, though, he could not relax his body. His heart was just too stressed out to let him settle down.
At last, biting back a complaint, he sat up and looked at his surrounding companions. All of them appeared to be fast asleep. With a sigh, he lay back on his pallet and did not attempt to close his eyes. It won’t do any good if I try; I’ll never be able to keep them shut. Perhaps if I look at the sky, that’ll help. Maybe if I look at the stars, that'll calm me. After rubbing his face, Kevin fixed his gaze at the twinkling stars overhead.
To the West, the sky was clear enough to see a sprinkling of stars, but there were only clouds to the East. It was such a contrast. But he noticed the clouds were moving, and there came a gap in the gloom. There, right in the middle of all those black smoggy clouds, there was a little break, and in the centre shone a bright star, all alone against the darkness. It only lasted for a short moment, and then the darkness closed in again. It lifted his heavy heart just a little. He wondered if anyone else had seen the tiny beacon?
I wish it would come back, he thought wistfully. I want to see it again.
This time he closed his eyes, and did finally manage to fall asleep.
Kevin woke up the next morning to the bustle of the camp breaking. There was more commotion than he had expected; he got up and saw that those in the wagon were still sleeping, so he got up and headed over to the camp.
Amrothos had sent out some scouts, as they would arrive back at Cair Andros about mid-afternoon. While they were not expecting to have much fighting, for they thought there would be only a few guards there, it would be well to know who was holding the island. They were also discussing leaving the wagons where they were, far from any actual fighting that would take place.
The healer thought this was a good idea, and so did Kevin. They would leave a few men to guard the wagons and the supplies, and the healers would also remain.
Elfhelm spotted Kevin and gestured to him to come over to the campfire where he and Amrothos were breaking their fast. "Good day, young Kevin," he said, smiling. "Come, break your fast with us!"
There were ash cakes—really, they were more like flatbread than cake—by the fire, and watered-down beer. Kevin added even more water to his to try and kill the yeasty beer taste, which he detested. He set down the leather cup that he had kept fastened to his belt, and took one of the ash cakes. They had been baked by burying the dough in the ashes of the fire. The first time he'd had them, he thought they'd be nasty, but actually, they were pretty good; all you had to do was brush the ashes off. His was still really hot, and he tossed it from one hand to the other until it cooled just a little.
As Kevin munched on his breakfast, he listened to the conversation of the warriors who were also sitting around. Since it was a mixture of men from many places, they all spoke the Common Tongue, and Kevin had no trouble following what they were saying.
He did not speak, but many of the men were saying they hoped there were still some enemies at Cair Andros, so they could fight. He began to realize that many of them felt they had been cowardly to turn back, and they hoped to redeem themselves by fighting a different battle. It didn't seem to bother them that they would be killing other people. And yet, he knew that this war was necessary so long as Sauron was the enemy. He had learned enough to know that Sauron would keep on as long as his Ring was still in existence. He sure hoped Frodo and Sam were safe.
I wonder if it was like this for the soldiers who fought in World War Two, Kevin wondered. They had to fight Hitler and his Nazis, and Hitler was evil like Sauron. And he was just a man! Sauron is a fallen angel, from what Gandalf told us. A demon! Like Satan’s demons. He shuddered.
He finished his ash cake, and then he stood up and brushed off the seat of his pants. He guessed he would go check on Haleth and then get ready to ride. There might be a battle at the end of today's ride, and unlike some of the others, he was not looking forward to it. But it had to be done, however things turned out.
Kevin had only gone a few steps when he heard the sound of hooves, of a horse rapidly approaching. He turned to see one of the Rohirrim riding up in a hurry. It must be one of the scouts. Amrothos and Elfhelm both stood to hear what the rider had to say.
"My Lords," he said breathlessly from horseback, not even bothering to dismount, "there were only a few orcs left at the island. But from the road to the South, many Southrons were approaching up the Eastern bank. They will be there ere we arrive. I do not think we can stop them all, and if we do not, they will come up behind the main army."
The two commanders exchanged a look. Kevin stopped to hear what they had to say.
Amrothos shook his head. "This is not good news."
"We can go ahead and engage them," Elfhelm responded. "Even if we do not stop them all, we can diminish their numbers. There will be fewer to go on to the Black Gate."
"Yet that is what we do not want. Our people are few enough there, and fewer still since they sent this group back." Amrothos scowled; he had followed his orders to shepherd this group in retreat, and he would do his best. But even though he felt sorry for these green troops, he did not know if they would have the mettle to even engage the few enemies they had expected. And he was unhappy at not being there for the big battle with his father and brothers. He sighed. Elfhelm was, after all, older and more seasoned than he was. "I suppose that your plan is better than nothing. But I suggest we send a messenger to Elessar and Mithrandir. In case a miracle happens as it did upon the Pelennor, they do not need to have more foes behind them afterwards."
"We shall need a messenger. My scouts will be too weary for such a task," Elfhelm replied.
Kevin suddenly felt dread, but somehow, he knew what he had to do. He wondered at finding himself getting ready to speak; he bit his lower lip and cleared his throat. "Uh, I could take the message…"
Amrothos looked over at him, uncertain. He did not even know Kevin. But Elfhelm did. "Do you wish to take this task, Kevin, Steven's son?"
"I think I could do it. Many of my friends are in the main army. I want to warn them. And my friend Haleth should be safe here with the wagons, don't you think?" He cast a worried look behind him, where the four wagons of wounded and the one with some supplies had been arranged in a circle for safety.
"As safe as any in these times, young Kevin," Elfhelm answered. "Go and bespeak him now and farewell him, and then return. We will prepare what you need to take with you."
Kevin nodded. He turned and went back to the wagons to find his friend. When he found the wagon that Haleth was in, he climbed aboard. “Haleth,” he said, as he squatted by his friend, “Elfhelm and Amrothos need someone to take a message to Lord Aragorn. I’ve volunteered to be that someone.”
Haleth stared at him. “Do you have to, Kevin?”
Kevin bit his lower lip. “Someone has to,” he said softly. “There’s not much I can do here, not really, but I can do this. Anyway, I’ve already volunteered, so I’ve got to do it now.”
Haleth grabbed his arm. “Be careful,” he pleaded.
Kevin nodded. “I will. I’ve got a brother and two sisters waiting for me, and good friends like you, too.” Haleth let go of his arm, and Kevin rose to his feet and climbed down off the wagon. He returned to Elfhelm and Amrothos, where he found that his saddled horse was already waiting for him, and a pack of supplies dangling from Elfhelm’s hand; the latter handed the pack to Kevin. He mounted, said good-bye to the two commanders, and rode off.
Kevin followed along back the way their small army had come. He had no trouble remembering that way, and he had a small map showing how he was to go, after he arrived at the place where they had turned back. He started Bron at a trot. As urgent as his errand was, he knew that he couldn't keep up a gallop for long.
As he rode, his thoughts still gloomy, he began to remember a time, he thought he was about Joey's age, when he and his father were en-route to the hospital, where the rest of the family had been waiting for them. Uncle Ryan had been seriously hurt in an accident, and the doctors hadn’t known if he was going to live…
“He can’t die!” Kevin fidgeted nonstop. “He just can’t, Daddy!”
His father reached over and gently squeezed his oldest son’s arm. “We will pray that he won’t, son.”
Kevin bit his lower lip and slumped back in the passenger seat. After a long moment, he said in a small voice, “Will God say yes, do you think?”
Steve sighed. “If it’s His will, yes. All we can do is pray, Kevin, and all the doctors can do is do everything in their power to save his life. If it’s God’s will, your uncle will survive and get well.”
Kevin was worried. That was not the answer he wanted to hear! He desperately wanted his uncle to live and get well—surely, that was what God wanted, too! It just had to be! With a sigh, he looked out the car window at the businesses they were passing. Misery lay like a heavy stone in his heart…
He shook his head. Guess a part of me really hasn’t changed that much since then. I still find it hard to accept that God’s will may not be what I want! Right now, though, I'd better pay attention to where I'm going. He turned his attention to the road ahead of him and patted Bron’s mane. By himself, with no wagons to slow him down, he was making good time.
Sooner than Kevin had expected, he realized that he was coming to the place where the group with the wounded and those who could not go on had turned back. He could see the place where they all had been encamped—he stopped Bron next to where one of the old campfires had been, and dismounted. He took out his waterskin, and both of them had some water to drink. Kevin took a few swallows before pouring some into his hand for the horse, which Bron lapped up gratefully, and Kevin gave him another handful of water. Then he took a look around.
It was very easy to see which way that the Army of the West had gone. It left an easy trail to follow, but in spite of that, he took out the bit of parchment with the crude map. He was very glad to see that it was indeed the same way. According to the map, he would have to keep the curve of the mountains to his right and, according to what Lord Amrothos had explained to him, he'd be traveling between the "No mans’ Lands" and the "Slag Mounds". He gave a snort of sour amusement at the names—not much imagination there, he thought wryly, shaking his head. But the distance he had left to cover was about the same amount of distance he had already covered, more or less. Unfortunately, the road was lousy. He might have to stop when it got dark. That was pretty scary this close to Mordor; but if he missed the road and the signs of the Army, that could be even more dangerous.
Suddenly, a brief wave of terror washed over him. He was really alone in this wilderness.
He felt the need to move, so he wandered around, and found the spot where he and Haleth's wagon had stayed the night. Finally, he remounted and set off at a walk. He felt very exposed and alone.
Kevin was really getting tired. He wondered if he really was going to have to stop for the night, and how was he to sleep all alone, with no way to have a guard? Maybe he should just keep going anyway, in spite of his exhaustion, but what if he missed the road? He sighed again; his thoughts were going in circles...
He was completely unprepared when suddenly a single orc leaped at him from behind a boulder. Bron reared up unexpectedly, and one of his hooves clipped the creature on the head. Kevin was thrown to the ground. The orc fell back, and Bron took off at a gallop into the unknown. He eyed the orc warily as he drew his sword.
The orc, thankfully, was armed with only a knife, and it was moving awkwardly and slowly after the knock on its head. But it was an orc, and fierce, and it came at him. Kevin swung with all his might, and cut the arm with which it was holding the knife. Then he swung again, giving it a gash in the torso. He must have hit an artery. It fell back to the ground, gushing black blood. Kevin knew it would die, and that he should kill it now, but he couldn't bring himself to just stab it to death when it couldn't strike back.
Kevin shook his head, and went to the ground and sat there. He wouldn't leave it to die alone, either. So, he sat and watched as it died, and then when he realized that it was gone, he broke down and sobbed. He was a failure. He was alone and horseless in a wilderness, and all he had brought with him, save his waterskin, was gone with Bron. His message would never reach the others on time, and he could not make it back the way he had come on foot. And it was very likely there were other orcs around somewhere.
He didn't expect an answer; his prayers had gone nowhere for days. But he reverted to his habits that he'd been taught since childhood. "Lord," he wept, "please, please, help me!"
A/N: The bits about blood poisoning and sepsis are from this site: The History of Sepsis from Ancient Egypt to the XIX Century, by Johan Sebastián Hernández Botero and María Cristina Florián Pérez. Submitted: November 16th. 2011. Reviewed: July 10th, 2012. Published: October 3rd, 2012. DOI: 10.5772/51484. I only just used a tiny bit of the information, but the article is very interesting and useful.
KGandDF welcome reviews and comments pertaining to our story, and are glad to respond to reviewers who have their PMs enabled. We do not ban anonymous reviewers, but we unfortunately cannot respond to those. Likewise, we cannot respond to reviewers who do not have their PMs enabled.
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