I woke up groggily after a night of drinking (apple cider, Nikki refused to let us have wine or mead, or anything fun (alcoholic) after she found out about our little escapades in the elven realms), gambling (kitchen duty) and, of course, croquet (after the moon had risen), and had the strangest feeling that I had forgotten something. Now, to be perfectly honest, I had had a pretty great time in Edoras over the last week. I had learned to shoot, crochet, weave baskets, and all sorts of little things I had never wanted to know how to do before! and, of course, I had ‘invented’ a popular sport. I hadn’t even thought about leaving since the championship.
And the thought didn’t strike me now until about half way through my breakfast. My eyes widened and my spoon froze half way to my mouth. I vigorously tried to calculate the exact date, working out the numbers of days that had passed since Helm’s Deep, and came up with a very distressing realization.
"Rachel?" I looked up to see Nikki looking at me with some concern, "Hello?"
I quickly forced a smile, "Hi. Nothing’s the matter, nothing at all. I was just thinking and lost track of time." I emphasized these words and looked forcefully at Katy, as if I could will her to read my thoughts. Whether or not she did is debatable, but she seemed to understand my meaning straight away, either way.
It’s strange how time seems to speed up when you’re in a hurry. It’ll be breakfast time one moment and the next thing you know it’s time for lunch. That’s pretty much what happened, much to my annoyance. I looked for every chance to slip away unnoticed, but every time I tried to leave my current company someone would call out to me and stop me. So it was that I didn’t have an opportunity to escape until that afternoon, after the already mentioned lunch.
This was only accomplished via me pretending to be suddenly sick and most likely offending a number of the women who had cooked the meal. But, of course, I wasn’t thinking of who I might or might not offend at the moment, my mind completely filled up with what it deemed to be more important things. Such as meeting Katy behind the stables. I waited for almost forty-five minutes for my companion to arrive.
She did arrive at length, though, and we wasted little time saddling and mounting our horse. The little time that we did waste was spent arguing over what saddle would be better, what color blanket we should use, and whether or not we had an accurate hold on the current date. We decided that the narrower saddle fit well enough, we should use a blue blanket, and no, we most probably did not have an accurate date which most likely meant we were even later than we thought we were. Before mounting, however, we rid ourselves of our tiresome dresses—under which we had worn relatively clean pants and shirts—to better suit our method of riding.
Then we sped out of the town, our horse galloping like it had been waiting for the opportunity to do so ever since we arrived. Knowing our horse, it probably had been. Anyway, we rode for two solid days, being forced to redirect our course completely when we ran into Fangorn which, as everyone knows, was in the exact opposite of the direction we wanted to go.
After another half day of searching we ran into the Anduin, though, and it was a fairly simple task after that to follow the river down to Gondor. In fact, it was so simple that every hour we rode we were convinced we were ‘almost there’. Even while we were still north of the White Mountains we were ‘almost there’. Of course, in reality, we were still a good two days’ ride away, but the thought that we were ‘almost there’ and should run across Osgiliath ‘shortly’ or ‘any moment now’ kept our spirits relatively high for quite some time.
Katy sighed from behind me on the horse, "Are you sure it’s just down this way, Rachel?" She asked.
I nodded, having sat in front ever since our accidental run in with Fangorn to facilitate my steering us in the proper direction. "Yeah, Osgiliath is actually built on the river bank, it guards one of the bridges, and once we find that Minas Tirith is almost directly west, by the mountains."
"Why didn’t we just follow the mountains, then?" Katy asked, "We could forgo Osgiliath completely."
"Yeah," I agreed, "But then we wouldn’t have a readily available source of water. Plus, goblins could attack out of the mountains, nothing can attack out of the river so we have at least one direction we don’t have to worry about attack from."
"I guess that makes sense," Katy agreed reluctantly, "Gandalf didn’t go by the river, though."
"Yeah well he’s been here before," I said, "I haven’t and unless there’s something you’ve been hiding from me no one else here has, either. I’d rather like to survive this journey and besides, I like rivers."
We finally caught sight of a city that could only be Osgiliath as we came around another bend in the river. Our expressions lightened immediately at the thought that we were getting close.
"Great!" I said, pulling on the horse’s reigns a little, "Now we just have to go west until we reach Minas Tirith!"
"Rachel, look," Katy interrupted, pulling my attention in the opposite direction I had had it, "That’s Mordor, isn’t it?"
There was a line of jagged, black mountains looming on the horizon. I unconsciously shuddered and felt Katy doing the same. Mechanically, I nodded, "So let’s go in the other direction."
"It just isn’t natural for the sky to be red instead of blue," Katy said with wonderment.
It was made even less natural because it was another overcast day. It seemed like ever since we left Rohan it had been clouds after clouds rolling over head. Dark, rolling clouds that both of us knew could only be coming from one place but neither of us wanted to chance saying. I looked over at Mordor again and the sky lit up with fire behind the mountains. It literally looked like the clouds were made of fire themselves.
"No, it isn’t," I agreed, "Who’s for meeting the Steward of Gondor?"
"And steering clear of that?" Katy asked, "I’m in."
I smiled and we started moving again, casting paranoid glances over at Mordor over our shoulders once in a while. Just knowing that some giant flaming eye lived there and could probably see me right now if it was looking made me more than a little uneasy.
We rode in silence for about half an hour, finally giving up on our paranoid glances, when the ground beneath us gave a jolted convulsion. Katy and I started in surprise and the horse neighed and backed up a step with fear. Another jolt shook the ground and the horse reared up on it’s hind feet, sending Katy tumbling off behind me. All three of us were wide eyed and breathing heavy and Katy barely managed to jump out of the way as the horse backed up again.
Had I been thinking straight I might have attempted to soothe the panicked horse, but I was nearly as panicked as him and so didn’t think of anything of the like. I was doing my best to keep a strong hold on the reigns and also keep my seating as the frightened creature bucked beneath me. Another shake and the horse bolted, finally jolting me from my relatively safe position and I fell tumbling to the grass as well, quickly rolling away from the panicked creature.
I backtracked to where Katy was, stumbling as the ground shook beneath me like an earthquake. Living in Minnesota I had never really experienced one, but if I had to guess, I would say this is what it felt like. Katy was staring in the distance towards Mordor and I looked as well as I helped her to her feet.
My jaw dropped open and I could only gape at what we saw. Lightening laced through the clouds and fire was shooting into the sky in brilliant columns of burning light. A particularly large column of fire shot up and the ground shook more fiercely than ever, bowling us over again despite our using each other for support.
"I… I think this is it!" I exclaimed, my voice shaking only a little.
"Well… I’m glad we came!" Katy returned with sarcasm, "Wouldn’t have wanted to miss this!"
It looked like the fire was being absorbed by the clouds, and lancing out in every direction along them. In particular, what struck me, is that they were lancing out in our direction as well.
"We’re going to die." Katy whispered as she looked at the lines of energy crawling out toward us.
I nodded miserably. "Katy. Before we die… I just wanted to say… I’m really going to miss you mooching off me in physics."
Beside me Katy nodded, "And I’m going to really miss mooching off you in physics, too." She agreed.
We clutched at each other as it came nearer, lightening occasionally escaping to hit the ground and send it shaking again. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the end of our story. I squeezed my eyes shut.
After a long pause during which I was fairly certain I had died, I slowly opened my eyes. It was gloomy and dark, but some light was filtering down on us, wherever we were. A kind of green light, strangely enough. I looked about myself with a small frown and quickly shook Katy, who was still holding onto me.
"Katy, open your eyes," I encouraged. Slowly, she opened them and her expression became confused as she looked around.
"Are we… dead?" She wondered out loud.
"I don’t know," I said, "I never would have thought Heaven would look like this. I like it."
Slowly we both rose to our feet, releasing each other in the process. "Ouch," I complained, "I still feel sore, I don’t think we’re dead."
"Me too," Katy said, "Then where are we?"
"I don’t know." I said again, "But if we find a stream we’re following it upstream. I don’t want to see anymore hobbits for quite some time."
Katy laughed and agreed and the two of us started out together, twisting through the trees of the forest.
And that concludes the adventures of Katy and Rachel in Middle-earth. I hope you enjoyed the story and sorry about the rather abrupt ending (not really), but you don’t always get to see Faramir like you want. I will be posting another random interlude sometime after I return from Alaska, and you can always check out the sequel MN—now it’s their turn.
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