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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 61: One Last Hope, Part 1
Merry shivered as he awakened on his small cot in Faramir's room. In spite of the fact that Faramir's shoulder wound was healing well, he had remained in the Houses of Healing, and so Merry remained with him; after all, the only other place Merry could stay was in the guesthouse. The idea of being the only person in that great big house filled him with dread.
He stood up and then went over to reach beneath Faramir's bed and pull out the chamber pot and make use of it. Then he went over to the washstand. He had to stand on tiptoe to wash his face; if it were not for the extra height granted him by Treebeard, he would never be able to reach it. Then he got dressed—he did not dress in the livery of Rohan, for his liege was far away, and it would not be right to serve Faramir in the uniform of another land. So, he was grateful for the children's used garments that had been found for him. He pulled on the dark grey breeches that went all the way to his ankles instead to mid-calf, and the tunic which pulled over the head and had no buttons, and he had to lace up the opening at the neckline. It was a nice bright blue with red, green, and yellow stitchery around the neck, cuffs, and hem. The clothing felt quite strange to him, but he was grateful for it. His Shire clothing had been completely ruined in Rohan.
The hobbit looked over at Faramir, who still slept soundly, thanks to the healing potions and teas he was still taking for his pain. Merry decided to go down to the buttery and have a little breakfast; maybe Jennifer and Joey would be there. Then he could bring a tray of food back for Faramir and maybe a little second breakfast for himself if there was enough.
He could scarcely believe it was Spring. He pulled his cloak from Lothlórien closely around him. The sky was dark, but not with rain. The clouds hung low and grey, and everything felt rather glum and the air had a sense of something looming. He trotted past the dead White Tree, which seemed melancholy and forlorn beneath the cheerless sky. The Guardsmen looked more like statues than real people, as they stood there so stiffly.
The buttery was the other side of the training grounds, which were empty, since all but a few were off to the battle. Only a handful of elderly Guardsmen were left, to tend the Tree and to command the small militia of civilians and City Watchmen who were left to defend the White City. Since no one was using the training grounds, Merry took a shortcut across them. He was about halfway across when he heard a voice.
"Hey, Merry! Wait up!" Well, that was Joey's voice, of course. The hobbit turned to see Joey, Bergil, and Sador pelting after him. Merry stopped and waited, as the boys caught up.
"I take it you are also on your way to breakfast, lads?" Merry asked.
"Uh-huh—I mean, yes," said Joey. "Can we come with you?"
"Of course. I was hoping for a bit of company to bring some cheer to a dreary morning," Merry replied.
"I think Jen might be there already, with her friends."
"That would be nice." Merry resumed his way to the buttery, and the three boys came alongside him.
Jennifer was, indeed, already there, and her friends Firieth, Miriel, and Hareth were right there with her. All the lasses had bowls of porridge and a bit of bread, and mugs of what appeared to be tea.
Merry and the three boys stopped at the kitchen door to get their own allotment of food, and then went to sit on the bench at the table, right across from the young women.
They all smiled in greeting at Merry and the boys, and Jennifer grinned. "I'm glad you made it, Joey! I was afraid we might have another day of missing each other all day long."
Joey returned her smile. "Me, too." He put his bowl with the bit of bread balanced on top onto the table, along with the mug of tea. He folded his hands on the table, bent his head briefly, and then after a few seconds, murmured, "Amen."
No one remarked on this. Their friends had all become used to seeing both Joey and Jennifer do this, and all of them figured it was just some strange custom of their homeland.
In spite of being glad to see one another, conversation was brief and sporadic. Aside from two elderly Guardsmen across the room, and two Healers who had clearly worked all night at the other end of the table, they were the only ones in the large room.
"So, what's up?" Jennifer asked, after she had swallowed a bite of porridge.
"Nothing yet," Joey said, after he washed down a bite of bread with his tea. "After breakfast, we gotta go see what Dame Ioreth wants us to do. What about you?"
Jennifer shrugged. "Same here. I'll probably be going to the laundry room to see what they need me to do." She took a bite of bread and then turned to Merry. "What about you?"
Merry gave a little start. He had not been paying a lot of attention. "I'll be taking some breakfast back to Lord Faramir, and then see what he wants me to do."
"Oh." Jennifer took a swallow of water. "How is he? And his dad?"
"He is doing much better. In fact, we will likely be walking around the garden with Lady Éowyn again. But Lord Denethor is not doing so well. He is still coughing a lot, and he cannot walk more than the length of his room without being dreadfully short of breath. I know Faramir is worried about him."
"That's too bad," Jennifer said.
"I know Pippin will be sorry about that. He thought that Lord Denethor was so brave to come into the burning room," Merry replied. "He said that the Steward saved both his life and Faramir's."
Joey nodded. "He really did. That fire was so scary—I was so glad when they were safe."
"As was I," said Bergil.
Jennifer smiled. It seemed funny to her to hear the young boys using such formal language, but it seemed the way most people in Gondor spoke.
"We are finished with our meal," said Firieth. "We really should go and report for work."
The girls all nodded, and there was a clatter as they gathered their wooden bowls and spoons and tin mugs scooted back the bench so they could stand up.
"I'm glad we got to see you this morning, Joey," said Jennifer. "Be good and work hard."
Joey laughed. "You too, Jen! Bye!" He waved at his sister as she walked off with her friends.
Merry had hurriedly finished his meal and left the table when the girls did, so that he could fetch the tray to take to Faramir. He bid the boys goodbye and said, “I hope to see you lads later!” as he left.
Joey, Bergil, and Sador quickly scraped the rest of their bowls clean, and then wiped them down with the last of their bread. Joey took a few sips of his now-tepid tea and stood up, stepping over the bench behind him, and went to turn in his dirty dishes. Bergil and Sador followed right behind him.
When they went out, it seemed that everything was even more dark and gloomy than it had been when they first got up.
Sador hunched in on himself miserably. "I do not like this," he said. "I feel like the world is ending, and nothing will be happy again."
"It does feel that way," Bergil said with a sigh.
Joey wanted badly to say something cheering, but nothing came to mind. It was cheerless and depressing this morning, and he couldn't think of a single Bible verse. He prayed silently, Jesus, what is this awful feeling I have? I just want to go somewhere all alone and cry. Please, help me. He sighed.
The boys silently went back to the room where Joey had first come at the Houses of Healing, to see what Dame Ioreth had for them.
Joey and Bergil were sent to the Apothecary to assist him during the morning. Master Egalmoth was glad to see them, and sent them down to the garden to find a long list of herbs: stonewort, to staunch bleeding; cinquefoil, for sore throats and painful joints; foxglove, for the heart; lovage, for digestion; yarrow, for wounds; poppy and woodruff, to aid sleep; pennyroyal for headaches, and many others. Both boys were familiar with a lot of them by this time, and thankfully there was nothing on the list that they did not know.
They worked slowly, and with no talking, as Bergil worked from one side of the garden, and Joey from the other. He picked the leaves, or sometimes the blooms, gradually filling the basket. Joey’s heart was so full of dread and sadness. Kevin, where are you? he wondered. Please come home to us. He blinked back his tears as he picked some leaves of borage.
He glanced over at Bergil, who was sitting at the edge of one of the herb beds with his head in his hand. Joey put his basket down and went to sit beside him, putting his arm around the other boy's shoulder.
This reminds me of when Sauron sent that darkness before he attacked Minas Tirith, Joey thought miserably. It was gloomy then, too! Dark and gloomy. Real gloomy!
He exchanged a glance with Bergil, and then looked up at the sky and shuddered. The sky was growing even darker. The wind died.
Jennifer and Firiel had thought they would be going to the laundry again, but Dame Ioreth shook her head.
"Not this day, girls," she told them. "The day is too dark and windy. Take yourselves up to the new wing and see if you can be of use to the healers."
The two girls nodded, and Firiel curtseyed. "Yes, Dame Ioreth," she murmured.
The "new wing" was not new. It was the wing which had caught fire and was now finally repaired and renewed, and it was being prepared for use once more.
The room had been scrubbed and the burned walls repaired. It had been newly whitewashed, and the floors had been polished. It was so far unoccupied, but there were a number of people in it, mostly apprentice healers and other helpers. Some were setting up beds, and a number of the beds had already been set up. One of the apprentices shoved a pile of sheets into each girl's arms and set them to making up the beds that had already been put together. There were yet no patients there.
Jennifer was finally getting the hang of making a bed with no elastic-edged bottom sheets. She still was not quite as neat as the way Firiel did it, or even Joey, for that matter! But she looked it over and thought it looked much better than when she had first started to learn how. It took her a little longer than it did her friend, but the beds did look quite nice when she was finished. She put all of her concentration on the task and tried not to look out the windows. The sky looked so dark and forbidding.
Gradually, the room grew quieter and quieter. At last, the task of bed-making was done by both girls. Jennifer approached the window and looked out apprehensively, biting her lower lip. Please, God! she silently prayed. Firiel approached and stood behind her. Jennifer suddenly noticed, as she looked behind her and Firiel, that the other helpers and the healers had all drifted toward the other windows and were staring out as well. A few of them stood behind Jennifer and Firiel, looking out. Jennifer exchanged a troubled glance with Firiel, and then she turned back toward the window and stared up at the dark, gloomy sky. The air seemed scarcely to move, and it felt hard to breathe.
Jennifer struggled to take in a breath and tried to pray again, but that time, no words came. She kept reciting silently to herself, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…,but it felt more like she was trying to convince herself, than anything. She kept on trying to believe, but she could feel nothing but terror in her heart.
Merry carefully balanced the tray. Since he had told those in the kitchen that this was for Lord Faramir, they had ladened it with their best. In addition to a bowl of porridge laced with honey and butter, there were two small bread rolls, an ember-roasted egg, a tiny dish of fig preserves, and some red wine decanted into a small bottle, as well as a silver goblet to pour it into.
He hoped he could get the door open before he dropped it, when it opened of its own accord—but it was Labadal.
"Ah, good morn, Master Brandybuck; have you brought this for my lord?" He reached down and took it from Merry's arms, much to the hobbit's relief.
"Yes. Thank you, Labadal," he said.
Labadal turned and went back into the room, followed by Merry. Faramir was up out of his bed and dressed, sitting at the small table at one side of the room, looking at some papers. He glanced over and smiled to see Merry. "You brought me breakfast! Thank you, Merry." The hobbit smiled back and nodded.
Faramir turned his attention to the food, though not eagerly. "I have a message from my father, Merry. He was to see me this morn, but he is not feeling well enough—he says he did not sleep last night…"
"I'm sorry to hear that."
There was a snick of the door as Labadal let himself out quietly.
Faramir took a sip of his wine. "I am worried about my father," he said, a troubled expression on his face. "He has not been the same since the fire."
Merry sighed. "I am sorry to hear that. Pippin told me how brave he was, breaking into the room and helping Pippin get you out onto the balcony and all."
"My father has ever been a brave man, stern but fair. Yet the years of struggle with Sauron have taken its toll on him with his worries for Gondor. And now the fire and smoke have stolen his strength and his breath. I fear he has not the endurance that he once did."
"It is difficult." Merry furrowed his brow. "I remember when I was a lad, and my Gaffer Rory—my father's father, Rorimac—grew old, and how difficult it was for my own father to try and help with running Buckland, taking on more responsibilities."
Faramir nodded. "He has spoken to me of leaving me the Stewardship, and yet he knows that the office may no longer be needed. If Sauron is victorious, I will likely be leading the people into exile; if by some miraculous chance, we win, then the King returns, and a Steward will perhaps no longer be needed."
Merry frowned, puzzled. "What about Boromir? Wouldn't he inherit the Stewardship?"
"Boromir and I spoke with our father before he left, and Boromir believes that I would make the better Steward. He would have taken the role in ordinary times, but his skills are as a warrior, and he would rather remain Captain-General. He says if he survives the battle, he would help to lead a rear-guard action, in order to help keep the people safe as we evacuate. I do not believe he thinks victory possible."
"I think that we will know today." Merry glanced out the window. "I have a feeling that it's all coming to a head." He glanced at Faramir's plate. "You don't seem hungry."
The young man had mostly taken a few bites and pushed the food around. "I am not. I have the same feeling as you, friend hobbit, and it has stolen my appetite."
There was a tap at the door, and Merry went over and opened it. The door was heavy, but well hung, and it swung open to reveal the Lady Eowyn. "My lady!" he said, in surprise.
She smiled at him briefly, "Good morn, Merry," and then looked over at Faramir. "My Lord Faramir, I feel caged in my room this day. Would you walk with me?" She was pale and serious-looking, and Merry noticed she was wearing the blue mantle Faramir had given her.
"Yes, my lady." He rose and came to the door, where he took his own cloak from a hook upon the wall. "Merry, will you accompany us?"
"I would be glad to do so," and as Faramir offered his arm to Eowyn they began to walk, with Merry trailing discreetly behind. He thought it would be amusing one day, assuming they all survived this war, to tell his cousin Pearl of his role as duenna* to these two. He hoped he'd be able to go home and do so.
Instead of going down and out, Faramir guided them up several flights of stairs, up to the top of the Citadel, onto the rooftop, where they could look out to the northeast, where it seemed almost like night. They stood at the edge of the battlements. Merry took a spot several feet away, but he could still hear them talking. He looked at the grim sky with deep sorrow, for he felt the world would end. He wished he could see Pippin again. He wished that he could see Frodo and Sam once more, as well as Kevin, but whatever happened, he was sure that his friends would soon perish, and he would be left utterly alone in this strange land.
Eowyn shivered beneath the starry mantle, and she looked northward, above the grey hither lands, into the eye of the cold wind where far away the sky was hard and clear.
"What do you look for, Éowyn?" said Faramir.
"Does not the Black Gate lie yonder?" said she. "And must he not now be come thither? It is seven days since he rode away."
"Seven days," said Faramir. "But think not ill of me, if I say to you: they have brought me both a joy and a pain that I never thought to know. Joy to see you; but pain, because now the fear and doubt of this evil time are grown dark indeed. Éowyn, I would not have this world end now, or lose so soon what I have found."
"Lose what you have found, lord?" she answered; but she looked at him gravely and her eyes were kind. "I know not what in these days you have found that you could lose. But come, my friend, let us not speak of it! Let us not speak at all! I stand upon some dreadful brink, and it is utterly dark in the abyss before my feet, but whether there is any light behind me I cannot tell. For I cannot turn yet. I wait for some stroke of doom."
"Yes, we wait for the stroke of doom," said Faramir. And they said no more; and it seemed to them as they stood upon the wall that the wind died, and the light failed, and the Sun was bleared, and all sounds in the City or in the lands about were hushed: neither wind, nor voice, nor bird-call, nor rustle of leaf, nor their own breath could be heard; the very beating of their hearts was stilled.
A/N: *The word "duenna" is of Latinate origin, and means "chaperone". The word was also used as a name in English, and appears in Peoples of Middle-earth as the wife of one of the Bagginses. Under the conceit that Tolkien devised that the names were translations from the actual language hobbits used, I think we may safely say the concept was also known by them.
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