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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 71: So Close, Part 1
The travellers drifted so close to the great statues of the Argonath that Gail could see the details of the toenails. There were some waterfowl there, about half a dozen swimming near the huge toes, and a few were perched on top of the big toe nearest to their boat. She heard Kaylee laughing and giggling over the sight in the other boat, making her father and Glorfindel laugh also. As they finally left the statues behind, they found themselves with huge cliffs on either side as the River opened out into a wide lake.
"This lake is called Nin Hithoel," said Avorn. "The current is lesser here. Do you wish to help row?"
Gail nodded. Most of the time, there had been little reason to row except to occasionally steer. The current had carried them steadily along. But this lake, while it still had some current, was seemingly still. She noticed that in the other boat, Steve was already rowing.
They kept their boats towards the western bank. Avorn had told her the lake was almost seven leagues from north to south. Calculating in her head, Gail figured that was about twenty miles. They would be rowing probably the rest of the day.
The scenery was somewhat less appealing than it had been. On the eastern bank, the cliffs and rocky terrain were dreary and brown, and there was very little in the way of shrubs or trees or greenery of any kind. The cliffs to the west sloped inland, but were still extremely steep, and at the top, it seemed like there was a stone wall of some kind or other.
While Avorn paddled steadily, with seemingly no need to rest, Gail occasionally needed to take a brief break and stretch her arms and shoulders. Gail had rowed before, both in a real boat and on the rowing machines at the gym. But she had never needed to do so for more than about twenty or thirty minutes at a time. She noticed that while Avorn could still keep pace when she stopped, the boat did tend to drift to the east, toward the centre of the lake. So, she would take up her oar again as soon as she could. Her shoulders and back were going to be so sore that night! Wincing, Gail reached up with her right hand to massage her left shoulder beside her neck, before she put her hands to the oar once more.
It made her feel better to notice that Steve, too, was having to take breaks. The two of them just were not up to what the Elves could do. She could overhear as Kaylee continued to alternate between singing “Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead” and playing her pipes. Gail grinned when, after the third time Kaylee finished the "Witch" song, Steve raised his voice and began to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", prompting Kaylee to join in with him. Then Steve kept her going with some other children's songs. Hopefully, "Witch" would not have another encore anytime soon.
At one point, Megan, who had also been trying to sing along with her sister and daddy in the other boat, stopped and tugged at her mother's sleeve. "I'm hungry, Mommy!"
Gail stopped rowing and found an apple and a piece of cheese to give her. Megan had her own small waterskin next to her. Gail realized she was hungry, too, so she also took an apple and some cheese, and a sip from her waterskin. She still had not quite mastered the waterskin, so she usually had some water dribble down her chin. This time was no exception. She wiped her chin with one hand and, noticing that the boat was drifting closer to the bank, took up her oar again.
She had begun to grow quite tired. Megan had fallen asleep against her hip, and in the other boat, Steve and Kaylee had stopped singing. Now it was Glorfindel who sang, a beautiful song in Elvish. Gail could not understand the words, but she found herself dreaming of a swan ship drifting down the river…
She startled awake to realize that it was much later. The shadows had grown longer. And up ahead—quite close, really—there was an island in the middle of the River.
Then Glorfindel called out and gestured. They were to go to the bank on the west, where there was a green lawn running down to the River. There, unexpectedly, were two boats, similar to their own, drawn far up on the band and lightly covered with branches. The remains of a campfire could be seen nearby.
The island, they were told, was called Tol Brandir, and the grassy area where it seemed that someone else had camped, and then abandoned the boats, was called Parth Galen. The boats of Avorn and of Glorfindal were in the lead, and both pulled up on the bank at about the same time, leaving room for the remaining boats, which were still some distance behind, to also pull up.
Glorfindel and Avorn got out first and walked over to the nearest abandoned boat, as Steve helped Gail and his daughters out of the boats. They went over to join the two Elves, and as the other boats arrived, they were also joined by Radagast and the rest of the Elves. Lucy hopped out and began to race up and down the grassy sward, glad to be free of the confines of the boat.
"These are our boats that Aragorn and his company took when they left," Avorn said. "I wonder why this one was abandoned, and where the other two might be?"
"Any signs that might have told us are long gone," said Glorfindel. "Let us see what this boat might tell us."
The two elves bent over and grabbed one side of the boat and tipped it up and over. There were three backpacks.
Gail gasped. "That's Joey's backpack! And Kevin's!" She did not recognize the third one.
“What?” Steve gasped. He strode over and bent over to peer down at the backpacks. “They sure are!” He ran his index finger over Joey’s backpack. “I’d recognize that Star Wars picture anywhere.” He lightly touched the zipper on Kevin’s backpack. Straightening his back, he gaped at his wife in consternation. Shock etched Gail’s face as she stared down at their sons’ backpacks.
Standing in the back of the group, Kaylee and Megan looked from their father to their mother, unsure as to what was happening. Furrowing her brow, Kaylee bit her lower lip. Lucy went over and began to sniff at the packs.
Corunir and Egnil did the same with the other boat.
"There are other packs here as well," said Glorfindel. "Two of the smallest ones must belong to two of the hobbits. The others were those of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Kevin, but they appear to be half-empty. Joey’s, on the other hand, appears to be full. The one under the same boat with Joey and Kevin's packs belongs to Boromir."
Mairen spoke up. "Of the hobbits’ packs, the brown leather one belongs to Pippin, while the green one is Merry's. I do not see Frodo's pack, nor that of Samwise, which was almost as large as those of the Men. Jennifer's pack is not here, either."
Gail was still looking stunned, and still staring down at Joey and Kevin's packs. Steve shook his head in disbelief and looked up at Glorfindel. "What do you think this means?" he asked. Gail glanced behind her at the little girls, and then turned her attention back toward the two backpacks and then her husband, looking from Steve to Glorfindel. Bending over, Steve picked up Joey’s and Kevin’s backpacks and slung them from his shoulder as he straightened. He and Gail would take them to their sons when the entire family was reunited.
Glorfindel stepped back. "It is a puzzle, most certainly." He put his hand up to his chin and cocked his head, thinking. "I do not know why these boats were abandoned here."
"Look!" Radagast called out. He was pointing to a small, withered copse of trees across the river on the other side. "What is that? Is it another boat?"
The Elves all turned to look. "Yes, it is," said Avorn.
Radagast said, "Since Frodo's quest was to the east, and since his backpack and that of Sam are missing, my guess is that the two of them are on the further shore and carrying on with Frodo's task."
"But where are the others? Why did they abandon these boats?" Mairen asked. "And why is Jennifer's pack not here?" Horrified, she wondered if maybe Jennifer was going to Mordor with only two hobbits for company! But that didn't sound right, not without Kevin at least. But they had adults with them.
"The rest must have decided to carry on, on foot," said Glorfindel, frowning, "though I cannot imagine why…"
"Lord Glorfindel!" called Raendir, who had been scouting a little further inland. "I have found something!"
Most of the Elves followed Glorfindel as he raced up over the boulders and the wooded terrain to where Raendir stood. Steve also strode after the Elves. He did not try to run. But when Gail would also have followed, Mairen took her by the arm and shook her head, glancing down at the little girls, who both appeared confused and a little frightened. Gail realized that she needed to stay with the children.
Steve soon caught up with the Elves, who stood looking grimly at the rocky area beyond. The smell was foul, and there were bodies of at least a dozen dead orcs, their bodies half-decayed. Glorfindel's face was bleak. He spoke rapidly to his Elves, and several of them scattered to the south and west. He turned and looked at Steve.
"I am heartened to find no sign here of any bodies that are not orcs, but battle was clearly done here, and there may be signs elsewhere of those who left the boats."
Steve felt like his heart dropped to his toes. Battle. And where were his kids?
He went back towards the riverbank and found Gail, telling her in a low voice of their find and, more importantly, what they did not find. Radagast was watching over Kaylee and Megan and Lucy, as they played along the bank and threw sticks for Lucy to fetch. Racing after them and picking them up, the puppy would bring them back to his young mistresses, and then Kaylee or Megan would toss them again while giggling. Radagast watched them with an indulgent smile. He caught Steve's eye and then turned his attention back to the little girls and Lucy. Mairen, in the meantime, was busy laying a campfire and getting out the foodstuffs.
Removing both backpacks from his shoulder, Steve set Kevin’s backpack on the ground, and then he and Gail looked through Joey's backpack, seeing what was there and what was not.
"We know that all three of the children left a lot of their things in Rivendell," said Steve, and Gail nodded. "They seem to have left their change of clothes, but Joey's flashlight, walkie-talkie, and whatever else he had are not here. He didn't take his toothbrush or comb, I notice."
Then they took up Kevin's. Kevin's pack had more in it—but like Joey's pack, it was missing the flashlight and walkie-talkie. Most of the things that were still in it, they knew, but there was a large box of red leather that neither of them recognized. It was sturdy and clearly weatherproof, and had an Elvish motif embossed in gold on the spine and the top. Gail opened it and frowned. "It's Kevin's Bible! Why would he have left it?"
Steve drew in a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly. "The only thing I can think of is that perhaps he—and the others—had to leave quickly, and perhaps they needed to leave the extra weight behind. But why, I can't say. We'll have to wait for Glorfindel and the others to come back.”
Biting her lower lip, Gail nodded, her eyes troubled. Steve put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her to his side.
It seemed like forever, but the sun was still up when Glorfindel returned with the other Elves. He took Steve and Gail aside. "We found no real signs of the company which set forth from Rivendell, save this: many of the orcs were killed by sword blows that could only have been struck by Aragorn; others were killed by Elven arrows and Dwarvish axe blows, and there were some who were killed by other swords. But we saw no signs that any of our friends were killed or injured."
Gail was extremely relieved, and she went over to help Mairen set up camp. But Glorfindel signalled Steve to remain where he was. "Steven, this is only a guess, but I believe that perhaps Jennifer and Joey were captured by orcs who got away. The others will have gone after them."
Steve felt the blood run from his face, and he shook his head. "Are you sure?" He swallowed hard.
"No.” Glorfindel shook his head. “As I said, I am only guessing from the few signs we found. But this I say—both your wife and the Lady Galadriel saw them elsewhere in the Mirror. If such was a thing that happened, they have since been rescued."
Steve felt it was hope that he could cling to, but he was not going to say anything. After all, Glorfindel himself had said it was just a guess, and he wasn't going to say anything so horrible to Gail unless it was an absolute certainty. At any rate, if it was true, it would explain why the company had left their boats so suddenly and left behind so many of their belongings. When they were reunited with their children, he and Gail would return to Kevin and Joey their backpacks, and so it would be necessary to hold onto them until then. They could find out what had happened to Jennifer and Joey when that time came.
The group finished making camp and had a light supper. They would begin another trek on land in the morning, down what Glorfindel called the "North Stair". It would take them to the bottom of a large waterfall. The backpacks which had been found would be divided up among their own luggage and trekked down separately. Once at the foot of Rauros—the waterfall—they would then return to the boats for the rest of the way to Minas Tirith.
The next morning, the trek down the North Stair that ran down the side of the huge waterfall, that they were told was called Rauros, began. It was longer and steeper, and the trek was made more difficult by the fact that Glorfindel had decided to bring not only all the extra packs, but the other two boats as well.
Mairen and Gail needed to carry Kaylee and Megan nearly the whole way down, and Radagast carried Lucy. It was uncomfortable and damp, for spray from the falls blew in their direction, and the sound of the water pouring down from the heights was nearly deafening. There was nearly no conversation, and even the Elves seemed glad of the few brief stops they were able to make, sitting on the rough-cut stairs, which were wet, and not particularly comfortable to sit upon.
By late afternoon, they finally arrived at the foot of the waterfall, and Gail was too tired to do more than just collapse. Megan was fussy and sucking her thumb, and Kaylee whined to her mother, "I'm tired, Mommy! I wish I could go to bed instead of sleep on the dirt again."
Gail hugged her. "I know, sweetie, I know. Mommy wishes that, too."
"I'm hungry, too!" Kaylee added, and then Megan echoed her older sister.
Just then, Glorfindel bent over. "I am so sorry you are tired, little ones. But tomorrow there are no more stairs, and we shall be on the river once more. Here, this may assuage your hunger and thirst." He was holding a large leaf that was folded up. He unfolded it to reveal a pale wafer. He broke off a couple of pieces and gave one to each of the children.
"Oh!" Kaylee exclaimed. "This cookie is good!" Next to her, Megan smiled as she chewed on hers.
Glorfindel handed a piece to Gail, and she nibbled it and then quickly finished it.
"It's not only good," Gail said, "it's quite filling."
Glorfindel smiled. "I have been saving the lembas for a real need, and I believe the rigours of today may call for it. It can have long-standing effects on mortals if eaten too often, but this will make all of us feel better and rest well after our travails today."
The little girls had water with their lembas, but both Gail and Steve were given sips of the special cordial Glorfindel carried. Between the exhaustion, the lembas, and the miruvor, the little family slept well that night, and woke refreshed.
The next morning would bring them back to the Anduin. Glorfindel said that it was about thirty-six leagues to Minas Tirith. (Steve figured that was a little under a hundred and ten miles, more or less.)
When morning arrived, they resumed their river journey. Two of the boats carried all the extra packs, and now six boats only had one Elf each. Since there were eight boats now, they were quite a sight with all eight of the crafts strung out along the river. Gail was feeling eager once more. In only two or three days, they would be arriving in Minas Tirith. She could hardly wait to see the rest of her children.
In the meantime, Steve had managed to switch Kaylee to another song, and now she was repeating "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" over and over. But between Steve and Glorfindel, they managed to switch her attention so that they sang other songs. Glorfindel cleverly taught Kaylee a hobbit song called "One-Hundred Apple Pies", which kept her going for quite a while, as well as teaching her to count backwards. Megan spent part of the time sleeping, part of the time sucking her thumb, and part of the time singing with her older sister or playing her pipes.
They had made half the remaining distance to Minas Tirith when they stopped for the afternoon. Only a couple of days more, and they would arrive in the city. Gail so hoped that they would have no trouble finding Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey when they got there.
Their campsite was not terribly comfortable—it was in between two small streams among several which flowed as tributaries into the Anduin. The ground was soggy, although not so depressing as the swamp on the other side of the river. Glorfindel told them that the swamp was called the Nindalf. Instead of camping on dry ground, they built a campfire just big enough to heat water and make tea, and for a second time, they had lembas. Then everyone curled up in the boats which had been pulled up to the bank, wrapped in their cloaks to sleep, except for Coronir and Olon, who were on watch.
It was the sound of Lucy sharply barking that awakened Gail with a start. She heard a voice call out in Elvish—one of those on guard, she guessed. It was either very late at night or very early in the morning; she could not tell which.
"What is it, Mommy?" whispered Megan.
"Shh, sweetie. Mommy's not sure, but you don't have to worry."
"I know. Elves are here."
Indeed, Gail saw that all of the Elves in the other boats were awake, sitting up and preparing their bows. But just then they heard Olon call out, "Hale, the camp! We bring friends." Gail saw four figures come out from behind a copse of trees. Two of them were the tall Elves, and the other two were human men, slightly shorter. But Gail could tell they were taller than Steve, nevertheless.
Coroner introduced the men. "This is Eradan son of Erellont, and this is Gelmir son of Malvegil. They are Rangers of Gondor, sent from the City to scout to the North."
The two men each placed a hand to their breast and gave a bow. "We were most surprised to come upon Elven folk," said Eradan.
Glorfindel stepped forth. "I am Lord Glorfindel. We have come from Imladris, and are journeying to Minas Tirith…"
Just then Gelmir spoke up in surprise. "You have a woman with you, and children!" for he had caught sight of Gail and Megan in the boat where they had been sleeping, and Kaylee, who had stood up in surprise at the sight of the men. Lucy rose to her feet and started barking again, but Radagast quickly silenced her with a gesture. He started to gently rub her head; Lucy lay down beside him and looked up at the strange men.
"Yes," replied Glorfindel. "Steven McCloud and his wife Gail, and their two daughters Kaylee and Megan. We are escorting them to Minas Tirith, where they hope to find their three older children. The children were journeying south in the company of Aragorn son of Arathorn and several others."
The men and the Elves spoke together, and Steve had joined them. Gail remained in the boat, and Steve had put Kaylee in the same boat as Gail and Megan as he passed by. She knew she'd need to stay there and keep the girls from interrupting things.
After the news, such as it was, of the war's end and the state of the city had been exchanged, Eradan said, "I do not know how easy it may be to find three children in the city, but if they had been in company of Lord Elfstone, as all are calling this Aragorn, then I am sure the Steward will have some news of them."
It was decided that Eradan would return to Minas Tirith, to report the presence of the Elves and of the McClouds to the Steward, and Gelmir would continue the scouting. The others would return to the boats.
"Tell your Steward that we believe we are only two days out from our arrival. Since we are on the River, though, we may arrive before you do."
"Our horses are swift. They are hidden at the top of the ridge in a copse of alders," said Eradan. "I hope that the last of the river will see you safely there."
"And may your own journey back be also a safe one," Glorfindel replied.
After the men left, Glorfindel looked at his fellow travellers. "Though it is yet two hours until the Sun shows her face, we are all awake. What say you to breaking camp and getting an early start?"
There was agreement to this, so in spite of it still feeling like the middle of the night, they all prepared to take to the water once more.
The marshy lands to the west soon passed with the rising of the sun. But the eastern bank remained dreary and swampy. Gail and Steve had switched children, and Kaylee had her head in her mother's lap, sound asleep once more. The day passed quickly due to the early start, and Glorfindel decided to stop early, as he spotted a good place for a campsite. The streams from the Entwash were now running through solid ground, and he thought that it would make a more comfortable place to sleep after their miserable night before.
"We can also start early in the morning," Glorfindel added. "The lands of Anórien are to the West, so we are already in Gondor. If we pass the island of Cair Andros before dawn, we should be at Minas Tirith by afternoon."
There was plenty of room for the two children to play with Lucy, and Steve accompanied Radagast and Avorn down to the riverbank to fish. They would have fresh fish cooked over coals for supper. Gail and Mairen sat and chatted, and Mairen told her of some of the things Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey had learned while in Rivendell.
"I know you will be glad to see them once more," the Elf-woman said.
Gail heaved out a great sigh. "I hope that I will see them very soon," she said. "Is Minas Tirith a very big city?" she asked. She wondered how quickly they could locate the children once they arrived. If it was as big as Portland, finding her other children was going to be a real problem.
Mairen shook her head. "I do not know, Gail. I have never been there, and neither has Avorn. I know that Elrond's sons have been there, as has Lord Glorfindel. But that was many years ago in the years of men. It may have changed since then."
"How many long years?" Gail asked, though she wasn't sure that she wanted the answer.
Mairen tilted her head in thought. Finally, she said, "Perhaps five hundred years, more or less."
Well, thought Gail, five hundred years is certainly enough time for things to change. America built an entire nation in only two hundred. Aloud she said, "I hope that the city hasn't grown too much, and that it won't be difficult to find the kids."
Mairen patted her hand in comfort, and then looked up as they saw Radagast, Avorn, and Steve approach. They all three had several fish on their stringers.
Gail and Mairen looked at one another and laughed. "I'm glad we don't have to clean and cook them!" Gail said. It was well known that the best camp cook in their group was Terevor.
"No," Mairen replied. "But we can make some ash cakes and see if we can forage some greens to go with those fine fish."
With that the two stood up, and Mairen got one of the sacks she used for foraging, and Gail followed her. She had never thought of picking wild plants to eat—she would not have known what would be edible and what wouldn't. But with Mairen's help, she was learning.
Along one of the streams, they found what Mairen called meadowsweet, and near the treeline, they found a plant quite common back home. Gail had previously thought it was some kind of wild clover and would never have thought of eating it, but Mairen had taught her that it was something called wood sorrel, and it had a nice delicate and slightly tangy taste.
They took their find back to the camp and set the greens to stew, and then made the little ash cakes—very simple flour cakes (bread, really, since they were not sweet) that were buried in the embers of the fire to bake. The first time Gail had been offered one, she'd been taken aback. They looked all dirty, covered with ashes. But the ashes wiped right off, and though they didn't have much flavour, they were a good accompaniment to the meal.
Now, she knew how to make them, and she felt quite accomplished and thought her pioneer great-great-great-grandmothers might have been proud of her.
Since they expected to arrive in the city the next day, Gail decided Kaylee and Megan needed a bath. She and Mairen took them to a secluded area near the stream, and with the knowledge that none of the men would dream of peeking, all four took a cold, but refreshing bath and changed into clean clothing.
Between the active afternoon, the bath, and a full hot meal, Kaylee and Megan were worn out enough to fall asleep early.
The river was foggy and the sky still quite dark when they were wakened later on. "O-dark-thirty…" grumbled Steve. Gail grinned at his complaining. Kaylee and Megan yawned, and Lucy shook herself as she stood up. A little tea and lembas, and soon the whole party was headed downriver once more.
Our last day, thought Gail. She was surprised at feeling a little reluctant to see their journey end. But in spite of her impatience to get to Kevin, Jennifer, and Joey, it had been a quiet and peaceful time, floating down the Anduin River. The slosh of the water lulled her back to sleep.
She was awakened by Avorn sometime later. It was still dark and foggy. "I am sorry, Gail, but we are approaching Cair Andros, according to Lord Glorfindel. Will you hold the lantern for me?"
He held out his lantern, which he had already lit, and she held it up as he rowed. The boats had narrowed to single file, and she could just barely make out the lantern of the boat ahead, the one in which Glorfindel, Steve, and Megan were in. She noticed that they were veering to the right, and she could faintly see the shadow of a landmass on her left.
As the boats silently passed the island, no one noticed two figures watching from Cair Andros as they passed.
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