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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 81: A Conversation
Denethor was feeling somewhat better than he had been since the fire, so after his morning meetings with Faramir, Ondahir, and several other officials, he waved away Faramir and, followed only by a single guard, he went down to the garden on the eastern side of the Citadel. The guard remained discreetly near the doors, far enough away to give the Steward privacy, but close enough to watch out for any danger. Denethor found a warm bench in the Sun and, taking his seat, looked eastward into a clear sky. It was something he had not ever thought to see again! The sky had been filled with the heavy grey smokes and fumes of the Enemy for so very long that he had nearly forgotten what a clear sky looked like, or what fresh air smelled like. If he listened carefully, he could hear the far-off cries of the gulls swooping over the Anduin. He leaned back and closed his eyes, remembering how Finduilas had always loved that sound. Then he heard another, closer sound, one less expected, yet altogether delightful—the laughter of children and the playful bark of a dog.
He opened his eyes and leaned forward, to see if he could spot the small intruders. He saw the Elf-woman Mairen, the one who served as nursemaid to the small daughters of Steven McCloud. He looked about, and then noticed the two children on the lawn, tossing a stick for their small dog to fetch for them.
"Here, Lucy! Come on, Lucy! Bring it here!" called the older of the two; he believed she had been introduced to him as Kaylee, while her younger sister was called Megan. Such odd names for children, but pretty names as well.
The dog pranced about for a bit, going in circles, before turning and trotting over to the girls, dropping her prize at their feet. The little one, Megan, picked it up and tossed it awkwardly. It did not travel far, for Lucy (what a name for a dog!) hopped up and caught it mid-air. Instead of bringing it back, she ran off, turning her head to look at her little mistresses, trying to get them to chase her. They laughed and ran in pursuit of their pet, who ran all the faster in his direction, while still looking back over her shoulder. Thus, the dog skidded to a sudden stop at Denethor's feet. She sat back with her eyes widened in surprise. Dropping the stick at his feet, she wagged her tail and looked up at him.
But his eyes were on the children, who had stopped uncertainly a few feet behind their pet. Kaylee took Megan by the hand and gave a little curtsey. "We—we're sorry, Lord—um, Lord Denethor?"
He smiled at them. They were winning little creatures. Denethor had never had much to do with very young children since his own sons had passed that age, nor much at all with such small maidens.
The nursemaid came behind them quickly. "I am sorry if my charges have disturbed you, Lord Steward," she said, with a bow of her head, clearly prepared to take the girls away if they were unwelcome.
"That is quite all right," Denethor responded. "I would be glad of an opportunity to better know my young guests, if that is quite all right."
Mairen gave a nod of assent, and Denethor beckoned Kaylee and Megan closer. Lucy picked up the stick, sat down at his feet, and began to gnaw on it.
"Your dog seems to like to play with you," he said. "I have never seen a dog quite like her. Could you sit and tell me about her?"
With that invitation, Kaylee went over and sat on the bench next to him, but Megan stood before him.
Denethor gestured toward Megan who, with a cheerful smile and, to his surprise, climbed onto his lap. He found the intrusion rather endearing. He wrapped an arm around the little girl. “I have never seen a dog like her,” he said. “Where did you get her?”
“Mommy and Daddy got her for us!” Kaylee smiled. “She was just a puppy when they got her. She's a Cocker spaniel.”
Denethor had never heard of such a breed, but it was clear that the children could not tell him more about it.
“She was just a puppy,” Mairen agreed. “She was very young. She was not even housebroken yet.”
Kaylee giggled. “Lucy liked to play and chew on stuff.”
Denethor smiled. “At that age, I am certain she did. Lucy’s teeth would have been growing in at the time, and she would need to soothe her gums by chewing.” Mairen nodded agreement. Denethor bent over to rub Lucy’s silky-soft head, and she dropped the stick again and licked his fingers, and then she rolled over to display her soft underbelly in hopes of scratches and belly rubs. Denethor obliged her briefly. He had not possessed a dog since Boromir and Faramir were children, and now he thought that perhaps he had been lacking something.
“Lucy likes to carry stuff in her mouth. Sometimes, she’ll pick up sticks or little dead animals and carry them around. And guess what? The Elves taught her lots of stuff!” Kaylee added. "And Radagast taught her a bunch of stuff, too. And guess what? He can talk to animals!"
"Can he, then?" This was not something he had learned about the mysterious Brown Wizard.
Megan nodded energetically. "Yup! He talketed to a squirrel in his coat! And birds would come and tell him stuff!"
"And he has a sled that's pulled by rabbits! Big rabbits!" Kaylee added. "And Lucy—he talked to her, too! He let her ride in his sled. I like him. He's nice and funny, but he's a wizard, like Gandalf. Wizards are..." Kaylee stopped and put her hand over her mouth. She had almost forgotten. She wasn't supposed to tell that wizards were angels. "Wizards are nice."
But Denethor did not seem to notice. "Have you known many wizards?" he asked.
Kaylee shook her head. "No, sir. Just Gandalf and Radagast." She smiled. “They’re my friends! Sometimes, at Rivendell, Gandalf would talk to me when I was out playing. And Radagast has told me and Megan stories!” She rubbed Lucy’s head.
“He tells nice stories,” Megan added.
Denethor nodded. “That sounds interesting, Kaylee and Megan. Did Radagast or Gandalf perform any magic that you could see?”
Kaylee furrowed her eyebrows in concentration as she thought back over her time with Gandalf and Radagast. After a moment, she shook her head. “No. Not really. They don’t have magic wands like fairies do. Just staffs. But Mr. Bilbo Baggins saw Gandalf do magic! He can start fire by magic, 'cause when Mr. Baggins and all the Dwarves were up a tree, and the goblins and wolves were after them, he set pine cones on fire and threw them, and then Eagles came and saved them."
Denethor was instantly alert. "Eagles, you say?"
Kaylee nodded vigorously. "Yes, sir! Mr. Baggins said giant Eagles came and saved them all from the tree and flew them away from the goblins and wolves. He was afraid they would eat him, but they were good Eagles."
Denethor looked up and caught Mairen's eye. He did not speak, but she answered, nevertheless. "Yes, they were very certainly good Eagles, my Lord. You know of what I speak. And that tale is very certainly true and well-known in the North. Master Bilbo Baggins has dwelt among us at Rivendell for many years. He is a most honest and truthful hobbit, and close kin to three of the hobbits who came on the journey south. The Ring-bearer was his heir, and the Ring came to Frodo from Bilbo."
"I see. Thank you." Denethor looked thoughtful. And if Radagast truly talked to animals, that was most certainly potent magic, though the children did not regard it as such.
“Hey, guess what?” Kaylee said, bouncing slightly. “Mr. Baggins found the Ring in a cave! When he was lost. When goblins were chasing them—Mr. Baggins and the dwarves and Gandalf. Gollum was gonna eat him, but they played riddles and he won, and he used the Ring to escape from Gollum! It made him invisible! And then, years later, he gave it to Frodo!”
Mairen nodded. "My Lord, it is nearing the time that the girls will be wanted by their parents for the daymeal, and their naps afterward."
"I see," Denethor replied. "Very well. Please tell their parents I have enjoyed visiting with their daughters, and they would be welcome in my presence again."
"Thank you, My Lord," said Mairen. "Come along, girls." Megan slid down off of Denethor’s lap and joined her big sister.
"'Bye, Steward Denethor," said Kaylee, with a curtsy.
“'Bye,” Megan added.
He watched the three of them as they left, followed behind by the little dog, Lucy, trotting behind them.
"They are winsome creatures, are they not?" said a voice behind him.
He turned his head. "Master Radagast! I did not know you were here." Denethor was annoyed with himself; people rarely caught him off-guard.
Radagast stood, leaning on his staff. He chuckled softly. "I was not here, but now I am. I very much enjoy the company of the McCloud children and that of their dog, Lucy."
Denethor nodded. "I have rarely had experience with small children since my own sons grew older, and even more rarely that of little girls; I only saw my niece Lothíriel but twice before she was ten years of age. I wonder, are these two typical? They seem to talk a lot and giggle even more."
"I have less experience than you, never having had children of my own, and even less to do with the children of Men. Yet, I found it very easy to be comfortable with these children. There is something very charming about them." He paused. "It is for their sakes that I am here. When I encountered them in the North, I was quite taken by them. I have lived with only the companionship of the creatures of the earth and the birds of the air for much longer than I should have done. It made me forget my reasons for being here.” A shadow crept into the wizard’s eyes. “I should have been with Gandalf in his many endeavours to help Men and Elves in their fight against Sauron, yet I hid away in Rhosgobel with my animals, instead. If both of us had been in the fight, perhaps we would have seen Saruman's betrayal sooner. Perhaps we could have put an end to Sauron sooner if I had been of more help." He gave Denethor a rueful smile. "At least I was able to be of use in the end, sending Gwaihir with news to Gandalf, who was then able to rescue him from Saruman's tower. And traveling with the McClouds, I was able to be of help in the siege of Lothlórien and the downfall of Dol Guldûr."
"Ah, yes! Lord Glorfindel told me that the Elven realm was able to fend off multiple attempts by the enemy."
Radagast nodded. "There were three direct encounters upon the borders of the Golden Wood. I also served as messenger between Lord Celeborn and Thranduil, the Elven-king of Mirkwood. Little enough it was, considering all the time I have been this side of the Sea. But I will have much work ahead of me, for now that the Enemy has fallen, I must also help in the restoration of the harm Sauron has caused to the world. That was my charge from the Lady Yavanna Kementári."
The wizard turned his eyes to the sky, where a swoop of swifts was wheeling in the sky, diving and climbing as if in an intricate skybourn dance. Radagast raised his staff in the air, and one of the birds broke off from its fellows and spun down to perch on the side of the staff. It turned its head and looked at Radagast with bright black eyes. "Hello, little one. I shall not keep you long from your flock. How do you find the world today?"
It lightly fluttered its wings to maintain its balance on the side of the staff, and poured out a measure of its high-pitched whistling call.
"I see, my dear. Well, be off with you, then." He raised his staff and gave it a flick; the bird launched itself into the air, and soon was lost amid the rest of its kind. The swoop gave one more swirl above their heads and quickly vanished to the North.
Denethor had watched in awe at Radagast's conversation with the little bird. "What did it say to you?"
"She said the sky was cleaner and smelled better now, and she would be glad to have her eggs hatch into such a nice sky." He paused. "At least that was the gist of it; birds really don't have words as do we, save for the Great Eagles and the occasional wise old Raven."
Denethor gave some thought to their conversation, as Radagast stood calmly near him, not interrupting his thoughts. "You said, 'this side of the Sea' and your ‘reasons for being here’. Would I be correct to conclude that you were sent here by the Powers in the West?"
"I will not deny it," was the answer. "Yet I may not speak of that more." His gaze was both serious and sad.
"I see," said Denethor. "May I ask you this: How is it that Saruman became a traitor? As my father—and even I—knew him, he was supposed to be the leader of the wizards, and enemy to Sauron. Why did he ally with Mordor?"
Radagast had been standing, but now he came and sat upon the bench. "I have been asking that myself. He was always prideful, and I do not believe that the alliance was a true one. He would have wished to supplant Sauron and rule all himself. Of course, Sauron would have been too strong for him even without the Ring, though if Saruman could have gained it for himself, he might have triumphed for a while. Yet we could not see any treachery in him, Gandalf and I—he was supposed to be our leader and our friend, and he was the first to be chosen by the Valar. We never thought he could ever do something like that until the day came that he betrayed Gandalf. And he used me to do it.” He shook his head sorrowfully. “He summoned me with a flight of his crebain…”
Radagast looked up at the immense black tower. It had been long since he had been there. Saruman seldom summoned him, and he treated Radagast with thinly veiled contempt on the rare occasions when he was in the Head of his Order's presence. It did not really bother him except when he was actually in Saruman's presence. But it was quite intimidating when Saruman gazed down his nose at him.
Saruman came to escort him through the gates. "You took your time in getting here, Radagast. My message was an urgent one."
"I am sorry, Saruman. It is a long trek from Rhosgobel. I have not been on a journey of any sort in a long time."
"Well, at least I can find you when I wish to. You are nearly always in Rhosgobel or its environs. Gandalf is far more difficult to find. One never knows where he might be, although he does make frequent journeys to the Shire. I have reason to believe he may be there, or near there, now, and I have a message to deliver—one that may not simply be entrusted to a bird or other beast."
They were entering Orthanc now, and Saruman sat down upon a rather elaborate throne-like chair, and once more was looking down his nose. Radagast had never thought much about it before, but it was an extraordinarily long and straight nose. Saruman did not invite his fellow wizard to sit, though there were a couple of empty seats in his presence.
"There is dire news, indeed, Radagast: ‘The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black.’"
Radagast's heart thudded in his chest. "The Nazgûl?" he squeaked. Even for a member of the Heren Istarion, that was terrifying. The powers that the Nazgûl had learned through the dark means of necromancy over the years, and their very close connection with Sauron himself through their Nine Rings, made them nothing to take lightly. Straightening his back, he took a deep, slow breath and nodded. "I understand. What would you have me do?"
"Begin your search to the north and west, toward that land of the Shire. Make all haste. Tell him also wherever they go, the Riders are asking for news of a land called Shire."
Radagast nodded. "Very well, then, Saruman, I shall do your errand. It will at least be good to see Gandalf once more."
"If you say so.” Saruman shrugged. “Tell him also that if he feels the need, I will help; but he must seek my aid at once, or it will be too late." The White Wizard paused. "Urge haste upon him—he must not stop anywhere, but come straight to Isengard if he expects to be in time to prevent them from finding him first. If you have not found him before Midsummer, it may be too late."
"As you wish." Radagast turned and left immediately.
But the truth about himself, one that Radagast knew well, was that haste was rarely in his power. His journeys were almost always rather meandering. Possibly he would have travelled more swiftly with his rabbit sledge, but he had left them on the eastern side of the Anduin. It was easier for them to make their way home that way.
North and west, he headed. He spoke to a horse on the plains of Rohan, who agreed to carry him. He then found himself side-tracked by the Forest of Fangorn. He had hoped for a few words with Fangorn himself, and perhaps to get some directions, but had no luck in encountering the old Ent. He did spend a few restorative days with Bregalad, a younger Ent, whose acquaintance he had made at one time. But young Quickbeam knew little of the ways of Men or Elves. So, he had followed the River Isen to the Greenway. There he travelled up the remains of the old road, hoping he would soon find "Shire".
One day, Radagast had stopped, tired of riding, especially since the horse was not much of a conversationalist, and sorely tempted. His errand would have long since been over if he had simply sent a bird after Gandalf, after all. It would have been far quicker if Saruman had not been so insistent that he deliver the message himself. He set his horse to grazing, and sat upon a rock to consider his ways when he looked up at the sound of footsteps.
“Gandalf!" he cried. "I was seeking you. But I am a stranger in these parts. All I knew was that you might be found in a wild region with the uncouth name of Shire."
“Your information was correct," Gandalf replied. "But do not put it that way, if you meet any of the inhabitants. You are near the borders of the Shire now. And what do you want with me? It must be pressing. You were never a traveller, unless driven by great need."
"I have an urgent errand. My news is evil." Radagast looked about. No one knew better than he that the birds and beasts were not all so innocent as they might seem. "Nazgûl,” he whispered. “The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black."
Gandalf gave Radagast an alarmed look. Radagast nodded.
"The enemy must have some great need or purpose," said Radagast; "but what it is that makes him look to these distant and desolate parts, I cannot guess."
"What do you mean?"
"I have been told that wherever they go the Riders ask for news of a land called Shire."
"The Shire. Who told you, and who sent you?" Gandalf asked sharply.
“Saruman the White," answered Radagast. "And he told me to say that if you feel the need, he will help; but you must seek his aid at once, or it will be too late."
"I will go to Saruman," Gandalf said.
"Then you must go now," said Radagast; "for I have wasted time in looking for you, and the days are running short. I was told to find you before Midsummer, and that is now here. Even if you set out from this spot, you will hardly reach him before the Nine discover the land that they seek. I myself shall turn back at once."
His errand concluded, Radagast mounted, and was about to ride off, when Gandalf said, "Stay a moment!” He raised his hand to get Radagast’s attention. “We shall need your help, and the help of all things that will give it. Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf. Let messages be sent to Orthanc."
Radagast nodded. "I will do that." He galloped off at top speed.
Radagast made for the Old Forest, speaking to the birds and other creatures with instructions to tell him of any strange occurrences. Then he had a brief visit with old Bombadil and his lovely Lady, exchanging the news. He thought little of the matter as he headed back to Rhosgobel. But one day, as he journeyed near the Anduin, an old raven encountered him near the Carrock, with news from Thranduil, Lord of Mirkwood. A dangerous prisoner had escaped, a strange being called "Gollum", who was known to be a dangerous creature, a cannibal, and a thief.
That was certainly dire news, and it seemed to him it might mean that it was connected to other evil things that were happening. He sent a call to Gwaihir—if it was truly important, the Great Eagle would come, and so he did…*
He turned to Denethor. "And that was the one useful thing I did. I do wish I had not taken Saruman at his word. Yet in his presence, it was always difficult to think ill of him, and there was nothing to show at the time that he had turned traitor. Even Gandalf did not suspect anything was wrong until he found himself in Saruman's grasp. And I comfort myself that Gwaihir was able to rescue Gandalf from Saruman's tower."
Denethor had been held by the wizard's story. So much he had missed, so many comings and goings, when he had been enthralled by the palantír. He had believed himself to be informed by it of all that was important, yet now he realised that it had withheld much information, but had shown him only what Sauron had wanted him to know.
Radagast stood and took his leave.
Denethor sat, pondering the wizard's story, until he heard Faramir's voice.
"Father, I am glad to find you here.” He looked up and gave his second son a warm smile. He had not appreciated Faramir as he should for many years, and it was not until he had nearly lost him that he had realised this. The dark thought came to him that had he lost Boromir indeed, he might never have reconciled with Faramir. With Faramir were the McClouds.
"Good morning, son, Steven and Gail" (for they had insisted that he not be formal with them if they were not in public) "did you simply happen to come here, or were you seeking me out?"
"It was Kaylee who said you might be here, where you were 'playing' with her and Megan and Lucy," Steve said, chuckling.
At this, the Steward threw his head back and laughed aloud, although it did end with a bout of coughing. He waved his hand in front of his face briefly, as the coughing subsided, and then took up the waterskin the healers had insisted he keep with him at all times. A sip of water and a few breaths, and he said, "Well, I would have said, rather, that they were keeping me entertained." He laughed again, not quite so heartily, lest he set the coughing off again. "So, then, you were seeking me out with intent. How may I help you?"
Gail spoke first. "Each year in the spring," (for they had decided not to mention Easter. It would invite more questions than they could answer easily) "it is a tradition in our family to find a good work of some kind that we can do as a family, which would help our community and other people. We will soon be reunited with all of our children, and thought perhaps there was something here we could do when the rest of our children join us. Steve and I would like to show our thankfulness to your city, for all you did for our children before we arrived."
Steve nodded, and added, "When we were touring your City, Faramir here showed us the new orphanage that’s being prepared for all the war orphans, and we wondered if our help in that endeavour would be welcomed, and if it would be, just who we need to speak to, in order to find out what sort of help the whole family—including Kaylee and Megan—could give. Or if not, find out if there are other things we could do to be helpful.”
"What sorts of works have you done in the past?" the Steward asked.
"Well, one year," said Steve, " we helped out at a public park, where we spent the day helping to remove litter from the ground and helped to plant some flowers. For two years, we helped out in getting some food to donate to a place which serves free meals to the poor. And last year, we collected clothing to donate to a family whose home had burned down. And on all of those occasions, our children helped us out."
Denethor found himself touched at their proposal, and found himself amazed by their land, in which such things were done. Minas Tirith had no public parks, and though private individuals gave alms to the poor, there were no such organized efforts. And here, the McClouds were, after all, complete strangers, and their offer was incredibly generous and selfless. He said so.
Steve shook his head. "We simply feel it's the right thing to do, and we try to set a good example for our children."
"Well, your request is easy enough to grant. The project is being overseen by Princess Linderiel. I believe it is likely that she would welcome your help, though I know not what things your family could do—being around such construction might be too dangerous for the little girls. But she will know better than I." He thought briefly. "Faramir? If the orphanage cannot use their help, do you think they could do something at the Houses of Healing?"
"I can check, Father. I will also take them down to speak with Aunt Linderiel and Lothíriel, who is also helping her mother with the orphanage." Faramir looked up. "You have been outside for a long time, from what Baranor told me, Father. I believe that it is time you went indoors. The wind is changing, and it is still early spring—you must not get a chill."
Denethor smiled at his son's care. "Very well. I have had a productive day, and you are right. The Sun has hidden her face behind a cloud now, and the wind is stronger."
Faramir looked at Steve and Gail. "I will make arrangements for us to see my aunt tomorrow, with your questions," he said, "but now I think I will help my father to return to his chambers."
Steve and Gail politely bid them farewell and walked further into the garden, and Faramir lowered his arm, so that his father could grasp it to rise.
As Denethor and Faramir made their way back into the Citadel, Denethor thought of all he had learned, and decided that the day really had been quite productive, indeed. The guard followed them back inside discreetly.
A/N: Much of the dialogue in the flashback comes from FotR, Book II, Chapter II: "The Council of Elrond".
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