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An Unexpected Adventure  by KathyG

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.

Author's Note: This was not the original Chapter 77.  Sadly, that chapter was accidentally erased during the attempt to format it for publication; efforts to recover it just made things worse.  Therefore, rather than trying to recreate that chapter, which detailed the feast and its conversations, we decided to post a scene about the feast and then skip ahead a day or longer.

NOTICE OF HIATUS: Due to the upcoming holiday season, "An Unexpected Adventure" will be on hiatus until January 8, 2021, when we will post the next chapter.  We hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Blessed New Year.  (Or as Hobbits would say, a Merry Yule and a Happy Turning of the Year.)

Chapter 77: Fixer Upper

After the Standing Silence, Denethor sat and glanced at the Elf on his right-hand side.  Lord Glorfindel was a figure of legend, if indeed he was the same Glorfindel in the histories of the Second Age.  Denethor did not see any reason to doubt it; at one point in his youth, he had doubted the existence of Elves altogether, but as time went by, there was too much evidence to deny it.  Still it was somewhat unnerving to be in the presence of so many Elves, the least of whom was likely far older than he himself.  Lord Glorfindel was mighty, and even in the day, there seemed a glow about him, and he had an air of might and wisdom.  However, the Steward showed no outward signs of the awe the Elf inspired in him as he spoke to his guest.

"My Lord, have you been to Gondor before?" he asked politely, nodding briefly to the servant who placed before him a dish of marinated olives and some crusty fresh-baked bread.  He watched briefly as his guests were also served before he tore off a piece of his bread to dip into the olives.

The Elf nodded.  "Indeed.  Not frequently, but a few times.  The last time was during the reign of your father, Ecthelion.  I was sent by Master Elrond, who wished me to check on the doings of his foster son."  Glorfindel smiled, as he also took up some of the first course.  A bowl of garlic soup had also been placed before him, and he sniffed in appreciation.

"His foster son?" asked Denethor, although he had a suspicion.

"At the time, he was using the name, 'Thorongil'.  He has had many names; I have been told that he has found yet another in the days since the battle that was held here."

Denethor gave a wry smile, before he tasted his soup.  "Lord Elessar, the people call him: Lord Elfstone.  I suspected his identity even in those days, and I am ashamed to admit, I harboured much jealousy and suspicion of him."

"I do not wonder at it, my lord," Glorfindel replied.  "Gondor is a mighty kingdom, and its governance was in your father's hands; any son would have felt so.  But at the time, he had no interest in taking the throne.  He knew the time was not right."

"No, it was not.”  Denethor nodded.  “His claim would have been challenged by many, some of whom would have been loath to see the return of the King.  A few months ago, I still would have been among them.  But my sons convinced me of his claim, even ere I met him.  And having met him, I would no longer deny his worth as King.  He has grown much since the days of Captain Thorongil, though little are the years shown in his face."

Glorfindel laughed.  "He was but a callow youth when he left for Rohan, and not much more than that when he turned up here.  But of course, from my perspective, he is still a youth."  He cast a sly sideways look at Denethor.  "As are you."  He turned his attention once more to the food.

Denethor's eyes widened, and he suppressed a laugh.  Glorfindel smiled slyly.  "Elves do have the advantage of age over our younger brothers, the Secondborn."

The Steward gave a mild chuckle.  Then he glanced down to the other end of the table, where Faramir was speaking to the father of the McCloud children, and wondered what his son could find out.  He seemed to be getting along with his guest.

"Your little daughters are delightful, Master McCloud…" said Faramir.

Steve smiled.  "Thank you.  I think so, too, Lord Faramir.  But please, call me Steve."

Faramir nodded.  "Very well...Steve."  The name sounded odd upon his tongue.  Faramir wondered what languages might be spoken in that far-off land of "Ore Gon" to give rise to such odd names.  The McClouds’ Westron was flawless and unaccented.

"I am curious about this land of yours, Ore Gon," Faramir said.  "Where might it be?  For I have never even heard rumour of it."

"It is about as far north and west as you can go, and still be part of the mainland of our country," Steve responded.

"Ah."  That did not sound right to Faramir, unless the lands to the north were far more expansive than he had ever learned from his tutor.  Just then his attention was broken as a servant came to take away the olives and the garlic soup and replace them with a dish of stuffed pork and stuffed aubergines.

"Oh!" said Steve.  "Eggplant!  And pork loin as well.  It smells wonderful."

"It is a favourite dish of my father," replied Faramir.  His attention was caught by giggles on his other side.  Little Kaylee was leaning across her mother and speaking to Éowyn, who laughed in return.  He wondered what had been so funny.  Steve was shaking his head and smiling at Kaylee's exuberance.

"Kaylee is obsessed with princesses," Steve said with a chuckle.  "At home, in our country, we don't have any princesses, or any real royalty at all, only children's tales about them.  She really loves those stories."  He didn’t say anything about Kaylee’s love for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

"You have no kings, nor any rulers of your people?" Faramir asked.  "Do you have a Steward?"

Steve shook his head.  "No, nor do we have a class system.  No lords and ladies as you people have.  All of our leaders are elected by a vote of the people.  Everyone eighteen years old and older is allowed to have a vote.  Our main leader is called a president.  The presidents are elected every four years, and none may serve longer than a total of eight years."

Faramir nodded thoughtfully.  "That sounds very similar to what Pippin had to say of the Shire—they have a Mayor who is elected, but in addition, they also have hereditary leaders."

"I see," said Steve.  He hoped he could avoid talking much more about home.  There were too many things he wouldn't be able to explain.  He decided to change the subject.  "I understand that my son Joey is under the care of your brother.  What can you tell me about him?"

"Boromir is the Captain-General of our army, and a great knight and warrior in his own right.  He is very fond of both Joey and of Pippin the hobbit, who were given into his keeping once they reached Minas Tirith.  When he left for the battle at the Black Gate, he took Pippin with him—Pippin is very nearly grown among his own people—and your older son, Kevin, went with the army as well, but Boromir left Joey with Dame Ioreth at the Houses of Healing for safekeeping, and he also asked me to keep an eye on him."

"Then how is it that Joey—and Jennifer, for that matter—are there now?"  

Faramir waited to answer until the servant took his plate away and replaced it with another dish, this one of a cheese tart and a beef loin that was covered in garlic sauce.  "Word was sent that Kevin had been wounded, as had Pippin.  Jennifer and Joey went, along with Pippin's cousin Merry, to be there for their recovery.  And I understand that Kevin is truly recovered.  Kevin fought bravely, and my brother has knighted him for his valour."

"Knighted him?" asked Steve, surprised.

"Indeed.  Your son is quite the young warrior.  He fought among the Rohirrim in Rohan, in the siege of Helm's Deep, and chose to come among them afterward as they rode to our aid."

"So, how come Jennifer and Joey became separated from him?"  Steve was trying very hard to wrap his brain around the explanations.

Faramir frowned, trying to recall what Boromir had told him.  "It seems that Pippin and Joey got into some sort of mischief that would have put them in danger, had they stayed where they were; at any rate, Mithrandir and Boromir felt the two of them would be safer here in Minas Tirith.  Jennifer chose to follow Lord Elessar and his kinsmen, who took another way to the city, which ended with them coming by ship up the river."  Faramir decided not to mention the Paths of the Dead, which he only knew of vaguely, as Boromir was not a part of that event.  He would not be easily able to explain it, since he was not sure he understood it all himself.

"After all was over, the three of them were reunited here in the CIty after the battle outside the City walls."

Steve had a feeling he wasn't hearing half the story, but he decided not to push his host.  It would be rude, for one thing.  He would wait until he could get a fuller explanation from the kids when they arrived.  Among other things, he would really like to know just what sort of "mischief" Joey had gotten into with his hobbit friend that was so dangerous, and then there was what Kevin must have done, to get knighted…

Just about then, the servant arrived to take away his plate and put down a platter of sugared fruits and nuts, and the conversation lagged.

Gail noticed that Steve was looking rather serious across the table, and she wondered what he and Lord Faramir had been discussing.  She had been leaning back a little, to allow Kaylee to chatter to the Princess Éowyn on her other side.  Thankfully, the Princess seemed amused by Kaylee's questions, and by her stories from her homeland about the various fairy-tale princesses.  Kaylee was not eating much, but she wasn't being picky—just too busy talking.

She did stop talking finally, to eat some of what was on her plate.  Gail was amused, because Kaylee had finally noticed the servants were taking away the plates on the other side of the table.  Clearly, she wanted to eat several more bites before her plate disappeared.  The food had been remarkably delicious.  Gail didn't scold her; they were in public, after all.

Princess Éowyn—or had they called her "Lady" Éowyn?  Gail couldn't recall.  But she spoke now to Gail.

"Your daughter is very amusing," she said. "She is so full of questions, and she has some very strange tales."

Gail smiled at her.  The blonde woman was very beautiful in a rather austere way, but her smile was lovely, and Gail couldn't help but respond.  "We have no real princesses in our land, and so all of the stories about them are purely make-believe.  If any of them had any bit of truth to them, it is so far in the past that the legends have overtaken them.  But little girls in our country love the stories a lot."

"All young ones seem fond of stories," Éowyn answered.  "I was much the same at her age, though the stories were quite different.  Although the tale Kaylee told of the one who dressed as a man to fight in her father's place was quite good."

"They said you fought in the battle here?"  Gail hoped she wasn't being intrusive.

Éowyn blushed.  "I dressed as a man, and rode here to battle, accompanied by the hobbit Merry.  We fought a fearsome foe together, but I would not speak more of it now."

Gail nodded.  "That's all right.  I understand.  I apologize for bringing it up."

Éowyn shook her head.  "I did not mind the question, but I would rather not speak of the details."

Just then the servant put down the platter of fruit and nuts.  The meal was very nearly over.  Gail noticed that Megan was having trouble keeping her eyes open, and Kaylee was also drooping.  They had endured a long day, after all.

-oo000oo-

Kaylee was having the most wonderful dream, in which she was a princess and having adventures with Lady Éowyn, when she was awakened by her covers being pulled aside and a hand shaking her shoulder.

She blinked.  "Mairen!  You broke my dream!"

Mairen laughed.  "I am sorry, little one, but it is time to break your fast.  Your mother and father wish you and Megan to join them.  Rise and wash and get dressed—I will lace up the back of your dress as soon as I finish dressing Megan.”

Kaylee nodded, biting back a cross retort.  Mairen never took notice of them, and Kaylee knew that she'd never get that dream back, anyway.  Instead, she got up and went to use the toilet and then came back to wash her hands and face.  Mairen had laid out the pretty snow-white dress with red, pink, and blue flowers on the neck and sleeves that Lady Galadriel had given her.  Kaylee was glad; that was her favourite dress now.  They had been here a few days now, and Kaylee was just beginning to get used to things here.  She wondered what they would do today.

Just as she was starting to pull the dress on, she looked around, puzzled.  "Mairen, where’s Lucy?"

"She is with Avorn.  He collected her earlier this morning, and he has taken her down to visit the kennels today.  We will see Lucy later on."  Kaylee nodded, smiling.  Usually Kaylee and Megan got to play with Lucy in the garden after breakfast.

Mairen turned to her and, with deft fingers, began to lace up the back of Kaylee's dress.  Then she turned back to help Megan into her little slippers.

Kaylee also put on her own slippers.  They, too, were a present from Lady Galadriel, made of grey leather, with a single white flower embroidered on the toes of each slipper.  They were perfect for walking about in Lothlorien, but she had not been able to wear them while they had travelled the River.  They would be nice to have here in the castle.  She knew her daddy told her it wasn't a castle, but it had princesses, so it must be!

"I'm ready, Mairen!"

The Elven nursemaid nodded.  "Then go out to greet your parents, child.  Megan and I will be along in just a moment."  Mairen was taking a moment to braid up her long hair, so Kaylee did just as she was told.

To her surprise, her parents were seated at a small table.  There was a dish with a silver cover over it, and some bowls and such.  They had been going down to the Steward's rooms to have breakfast the last three days.

Gail patted the seat next to her own.  "Have a seat, honey.  We are going out with Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn after breakfast."

Kaylee sat down, and Gail took the lid off the silver dish to reveal a steaming big bowl of porridge.  Gail put some of the porridge into a bowl and added some honey.  "Do you want anything else in your breakfast, dear?" she asked.

"Yes, Mommy!  Can I have some raisins, too?"  She pointed to another small bowl heaped with golden raisins.  Gail added a spoonful to her bowl and pushed it over to her daughter.

Kaylee bowed her head and whispered a little prayer.  Her parents had already been at their meal when she came to the table.  Gail patted her hand in approval, and Kaylee dug into the porridge, which was very good.  After a few bites, she took a sip of her warm tea.  She would have preferred cold milk, but the milk was not kept as cold as she liked it, plus in Minas Tirith, they only seemed to have goat’s milk, which Kaylee was not fond of.  She wished that Gondor had cows.  But she did not complain.  At least, the tea was all right.

"Mommy, where are we going today?"  She was excited.  They had remained in and around the Citadel since their arrival, and only gone out into the gardens there.

Gail smiled.  "First, we are going to see those Houses of Healing we have heard so much about, where Joey and Jennifer worked for a while.  Lady Éowyn may be able to do without her sling, if her doctor says it's okay.  And then, I believe, we are going to visit Lord Faramir's cousin Lady Lothíriel, and her mother Princess Linderiel.  And after that, we might explore the City for a while."

Kaylee gave a squeal of delight. "Oh!  That's awesome!"  She began to eat more rapidly.

Gail laughed at her.  "Slow down, sweetie!  Look, here come Megan and Mairen.  They need to eat their breakfast, too, before we go anywhere!"

"Okay, Mommy."  Kaylee sighed, but slowed down to her more usual pace of eating.

It was not long until they had all finished with their meal.  The McClouds, along with Mairen, met Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn at the main doors to the Citadel.  Kaylee was trying to remember to call her Lady Éowyn.  In Kaylee's mind, she ought to be called "Princess"—she really was a princess, after all, since her brother was a king.  But she guessed that they just did it differently here than they did in Disneyland.  The same with Lothíriel, but at least Lothíriel's mother was a princess, since her husband was a prince.

They met them there—along with two guards and two servants and—Sador!  There was Joey's friend, Sador!  "Hi, Sador!" she called, waving at him.

He blushed, but grinned at her.  "Hello, Mistress Kaylee," he said in a low voice.

Giggling, she made her way to the boy's side.  "I'm not ‘mistress’!  Mr. Baggins says I'm not old enough.  Just say 'miss'; that's what Mr. Bilbo calls me—Miss Kaylee."

"Me, too!" said Megan from the vantage of Mairen's arms.  "I wanna be 'miss', too!"

Sador laughed.  "Very well, Miss Kaylee and Miss Megan, it is."

Mairen laughed and lowered her charge to the floor.  Megan promptly hopped over to stand between her sister and Sador and took a hand from each of them.  Gail and Mairen smiled at each other, amused at the children's conversation.

The group passed through the courtyard and the gate which led down one level to the Houses of Healing.  Lady Éowyn went to see the healer, who would tell her if she could remove the sling from her arm yet, and Sador introduced the McClouds to Dame Ioreth.

Kaylee listened to her tell them all about how proud they should be of Joey, and how brave and clever her brother was.  It seemed weird to hear about Joey like he was in a story, but it was kind of cool, too!  She couldn't wait till she could give him a big hug, and Kevin and Jen, too!

After a while, Lady Éowyn came out without the sling, although her left arm was still wrapped up tightly in bandages.  Kaylee noticed that she didn't have her sleeve on that arm.  It was kind of neat that her sleeves were tied on—that way, it was handy if she didn't need both of them.

They headed out, with the two guards in front of everyone and the two servants behind them all.  Soon, on the same street as the Houses of Healing, they came to the house of Lady Lothíriel and Princess Linderiel.  Kaylee approved of the big iron gate, but the house was not a castle, which was a disappointment.  Still, it was a big, fancy house.

A servant invited them in, but the two guards stayed outside by the doors.  Kaylee, Megan, and Sador hung back while the grown-ups talked.  At home, the little girls might have tried to interrupt them in an effort to hurry things up, but here they recalled the lessons of Rivendell and of Lothlorien.  It was rude to interrupt grown-ups.

After a while, they left the house, joined by Lady Lothíriel and two more servants, but not by Princess Linderiel, who had some things to do at home.

They made the circuit of the sixth level till they reached the gate to the fifth level, and by then, Kaylee had gotten a little bored with not much to look at but white houses of stone that all seemed about the same.  Then they went into the fifth level.  There was a nice fountain in the middle of the street, and workers were pouring water in to try and get it going.  Even Kaylee noticed that some of the stones were damaged and had been fixed—they weren't quite the same colour as the rest of the stones.

Lord Faramir stopped and spoke to the workers. 

"'Tis nigh on finished, my lord," said one of them.  "Would ye like to see if it's working?"

Lord Faramir nodded.  The man grinned and made a signal, and two other workers poured the last bucket in at the top and pumped a little handle up and down until water began to run from the top into the lower part.  Kaylee noticed that the upper part looked like a big stone flower, and there were leaves and vines carved into the stone.

Megan clapped.  "Yay!" she crowed.  "It's working!  Pretty!"  Kaylee jumped up and down, laughing.

Everyone else clapped as well, and the workers all blushed.  "Thank you, kindly," said the head workman who had spoken with Faramir.  "'Tis just our job."

"But work well done is worthy of praise," said Lord Faramir.

The head worker bobbed his head, and then said, "If I might ask, my lord, how is your father faring?"

A shadow crept over Faramir’s face, but he made an evident effort to look and sound cheerful.  "You may well ask.  I thank you for your concern.  The Steward is doing as well as can be expected—the fire and smoke were hard upon one of his years.  Yet he is hale otherwise, and as sharp in his wits as ever."

"'Tis good to hear, my lord.  And we are all glad to see you standing here hale as well.  We are glad to see you up and around and over your injuries.  Is it true the new king Lord Elfstone healed you?"

"He did, indeed.  It is a true saying: 'The hands of the King are the hands of a healer'.”  Faramir smiled and then looked at the others.  Turning back to the head workman, he added, "Now we must be on our way, for I am showing our fair city to our guests from afar."  The head worker bobbed his head again, and Faramir and the others left to continue their sightseeing tour.

Everywhere along the fifth circle, there was more to see.  People were bustling around.  Some were busy repairing buildings; others were unloading waggons of goods.  Some of the buildings were already fixed, and others were nothing but piles of stone.  But as Faramir and his guests passed, when the people noticed their party passing through, most of them stopped what they were doing to cheer Faramir, and to look curiously at the others.  

Kaylee watched as they went by, for she was seeing other children besides the errand boys.  Some were her age, and some were as young as Megan, and she even saw a couple of women holding babies.  As they made their way, Kaylee noticed a girl who looked to be about Joey's age.  She had her long dark hair in a braid that hung down her back, and she was wearing a dirty-grey dress, but she had tied up the bottom of it, so it wasn't too long.  She grinned and waved her hand at them, and then darted in their direction.

The guards were instantly alert, and one of them grabbed her arm before she could get closer.  But she just grinned up at Lady Éowyn.  "Oy, my lady!  Are you the one who kilt the Chief Wraith?"

Lady Éowyn grinned back.  "With the help of Meriadoc the halfling, I was able to strike him down," she replied.

"I knew it!  I just knew it was true!  My nana says girls cannot be warriors!  She said it could not be true!"

Lord Faramir shook his head and gestured to the guard to release the girl.  Then he smiled at the lady by his side.  "She is a fearsome warrior, a shieldmaiden of Rohan."  He reached into a pouch at his side and pulled out a small gold coin.  "You give this to your mother and tell her that Captain Faramir vouches that the Lady Éowyn is a most puissant warrior, indeed."

Her eyes grew wide with astonishment.  "Oh, thank you, my lord!"  She looked back up at Éowyn.  "I hope I am as brave as you when I grow up!" she exclaimed before darting off.

Steve and Gail had watched the encounter with amusement.  Kaylee and Sador were staring after the little girl as she disappeared into the crowd.  "I wish I could've talked to her."  Kaylee sighed.

Megan looked up.  "I'm hungry.  Can we get some french fries?"

Steve shook his head.  "I'm afraid there aren't any McDonalds or Burger Kings around here.  Unless there is somewhere we can get food, perhaps we should head back."

Faramir smiled.  "I have heard rumours that The Golden Cockerel is once more open.  It is quite a respectable inn, and their specialty is a very good chicken pie."

"That sounds good," said Kaylee.  "I wonder if it’s as good as the chicken pie Mr. Bilbo made?"

“We will see.”  Faramir smiled down at her.  "Very well, we shall make a trial of it.  It is but a short distance from here."  He gestured to one of the servants from the Citadel.  "Go ahead of us, to alert the publican that we are coming, and of our number..."  He waved a hand to indicate the entire group.  "...so that he may prepare for us."

The servant nodded and dashed ahead, while the rest of the party continued at a slower pace.  There were more well-wishers along the way, so it still took them a while, but soon Lord Faramir pointed up the street.  There was a low wall with an opening in it at what Steve figured was about a block away, though these streets were not divided up into regular city blocks.  Above it was a black post, and a sign hung there, a bright blue background with the silhouette of a dark yellow rooster crowing.

The innkeeper and all his staff were lined up next to the opening in the wall, which led into a flagged courtyard.  In the centre of the courtyard was a well, and to the left was a small stable.  To the right was a large chicken coop.  It was built of wood upon stilts, and a long ramp came down from it.  It was enclosed by a fence of what appeared to be reeds, and from it came the constant clucking of the hens as they scratched about.  Between them was a long building with a lot of windows and wide double doors in the centre.  The lower part was built of the same white stone as most of the buildings in the city, but the upper part was of wood.  In the courtyard were a number of long tables with benches surrounding them.

The innkeeper stepped forward.  Like most of the Gondorians the McClouds had seen so far, he was tall, with dark hair sprinkled with grey, and his beard was all grey, as were his eyes.  He placed a fist on his chest and bowed deeply.  "My Lord Faramir!  We are honoured to have you grace our inn!"

"Thank you, Goodman Dervorin.  As you can see, there are a number of us, all of us eager to taste your chicken pie."

"'Tis good fortune, my lord, that there are several just coming from the ovens.  As you can see, 'tis a bit early for those who come for nuncheon.  I will put the hostler at the gate, so that your party may have privacy."

Faramir nodded.  "That is well-thought.  We have guests from afar, and little ones among them.  Would it be best if we ate out here, or should we enter the inn?"

He turned to Steve.  "Master Steven, what would be your choice?"

Steve looked at Gail, who said, "It's such a pretty day!  Why don't we stay out here?"  She looked down to see Megan tugging on her sleeve.  "What is it, honey?"

"I wanna see the chickies, Mommy!"

Kaylee nodded vigorously and gave their parents an imploring look.  “Me, too, Mommy!  Please?”

Gail was about to say "no", but Steve was ahead of her, and asked the innkeeper, "Sir, would it be all right if our little girls just looked at your chickens?"

Dervorin nodded.  "So long as they just look, and do not try to go inside the fence.”  He turned around.  “Asta!" he called.  "Take the little ones to see the chickens."

The serving girl, who looked to be about Jennifer's age, came and escorted Megan and Kaylee over to the enclosure, where they could observe all the plump black chickens, with their chicks, and one proud rooster.  Gail watched cautiously at a distance, as the girls leaned their elbows on the reed fence and peered into the chicken run.  Then she re-joined the other adults.

The rest of the party seated themselves on the benches around the long table in the centre of the courtyard, near the well.

Gail and Steve were seated on Lord Faramir's left, and Lady Éowyn was seated on his right.  Lady Lothíriel sat directly across from her cousin on the other side.  The others were spaced about on either side.  Steve and Gail saved a gap between them for the children when they returned.  It wasn't too long before the two came running up, full of excitement.

"I couldn't pet the chickies," Megan said.  “Asta said their mommys wouldn't like it."

Kaylee was grinning.  "They are all Henny-Pennies!" she exclaimed.

Éowyn leaned forward from her spot at Faramir's other side.  "What are 'Henny-pennies'?" she asked.

Kaylee stood up on the bench, next to her father.  "Oh, like the rhyme:

“Henny-Penny, my black hen,
She laid eggs for gentlemen.
Sometimes nine
And sometimes ten,
Henny-Penny, my black hen."

"That's enough, ladybug.  Sit back down, and don't show off," Steve told her, though he was smiling, and his tone was mild.

"Yes, Daddy," she said.  A smile spread across her face as she scanned the faces surrounding her.  “And guess what?  There’s a story about another chicken—Chicken Little!  Something drops on his head, and he thinks the sky’s falling, and he runs to tell the king, and other animals join him.  And guess what?  Henny-Penny’s in that story, too!”

Steve laughed.  “But the sky doesn’t fall, does it?” he told her, ruffling her hair.  “It was probably just an acorn or something that fell from a tree and landed on Chicken-Little’s head."  Nodding, Kaylee sat down on the bench.  “It’s an old children’s tale, where we come from, and so is the rhyme,” he told the others.

And just about then, Kaylee took a deep sniff, and glanced up, as the innkeeper placed a truly enormous pie in the middle of the table.  Other servants were putting two more pies upon either side of the first one, and also platters of brown bread with a dish of butter, and one with boiled eggs, and a bowl with pungent onions that had been pickled.

Large pieces of flatbread were laid in front of them, to serve as plates.  Gail helped a little bit of everything onto Megan's "plate", and Steve did the same for Kaylee, before either of them began to serve themselves.

Kaylee took one of the pickled onions and sniffed, furrowing her brow.  "Oh!  I can't tell if it smells good or bad.  Mr. Bilbo says, 'If it smells good, it tastes good.'  But I don't know if he'd like these or not."

"You like pickles," said her mother.

"That's true," Kaylee answered.  She took a cautious bite and wrinkled her forehead.  "It's very pickle-y and very onion-y.  I don't think I like that together.  Mr. Bilbo might like them, but I don't think I do."

The others laughed, and Lady Lothíriel leaned forward.  "I do not like pickled onions either, Kaylee."

"All the more for the rest of us," said Lady Éowyn with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

Guided by Kaylee's reaction, Gail wisely decided not to put the pickled onions on Megan's bread trencher.  And she passed on them herself, but everyone else at the table (including Steve) seemed to like them very much.

The rest of the meal was a huge success, and all three of the chicken pies were both praised and devoured to the last crumb.

After the meal, the party looked around at the fifth circle a little while longer, but the little girls were getting sleepy, and while most of the shops were being repaired and cleaned up, none of them were yet open for business.

"Perhaps it is time to return to the Citadel," said Faramir.  "We shall have other opportunities to explore the City."

They took a slightly different route to return, re-entering the Sixth Circle, and passed a large building.  At one time, it might have been one of the fancy houses in the Sixth Circle, but it looked as though it had been abandoned for quite a while, as it appeared rundown, rather than damaged by the siege.  The wall around the front courtyard had no gate, and so they could spy workers within, many of them repairing the stonework on the house.

Faramir halted and called out to the foreman: "Master Hallas!  How goes the work?"

The foreman stepped forward and bowed.  "Very well, my lord.  We should have the outside completed within the week.  The inside will take much more time to complete, for the house has been abandoned since the days of Steward Echthelion."

"I hope the work goes as quickly as possible, for there sadly will be much need of it," Faramir replied.  "Well, carry on, and send word to me or to my father if there is aught that you have need of to complete the work."

The man bowed.  "Aye, my lord."  Then he turned back to go and oversee the other workers.

"What's that all about?" asked Steve as their party continued on.

"The house once belonged to my great-great-aunt and her husband.  But they were childless, and the house fell empty after their deaths.  But it is time and past time that it was used once more.  Sadly, there are many orphans in the City now, and more likely to be returning.  Some of them are being temporarily housed at the Houses of Healing, but they will need a permanent place.  It has been long since there was need of an orphanage in Minas Tirith, but now…"  Faramir's voice fell off, and he sighed.

Steve was thoughtful.  He turned and looked at Gail.  He had an idea, but he would say no more now.





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