Author's Note: I've had this idea for awhile now, and I've finally decided to put it into action. This story will probably be based on a combination of both the books and the movies, but for the purposes of this story, please just go with me and pretend none of the Lord of the Rings movies have come out yet in the version of the 'real world' that the two OCs are from, okay? Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the story. Please let me know what you think!
Chapter 1: An Unexpected Journey
Devin smiled as she stretched her arms out and breathed in the fresh air, enjoying the woody smell of growing things and earth. The pale, gentle sunlight filtering down through the treetops from the grey English sky above felt good on her face. Being from the South, she still wasn't quite used to the much cooler autumn weather in the UK, but it was a nice change from the usual warm and humid climate they had to deal with back in Louisiana. And the colors were fantastic! The red, gold, and brown foliage in the magical Forest of Dean was absolutely gorgeous. They hardly ever got to see the leaves change like this back home. She pulled out her cell phone and started taking pictures. She wished her dad could see this. He was a huge Tolkien fan, and this forest was also supposedly where the famed author of the Lord or the Rings trilogy (soon to be a movie) had come for inspiration… or something like that. She could've sworn her father had said something to that effect before…
"I can't believe you're taking pictures of trees." Kitty commented as she tried to scrape some of the mud on her black pleather boots off onto an exposed root. "We can see those anywhere. Let's go check out that Hay-town place or that Caldicot Castle thing."
"But we just got here." Devin said, frowning slightly in disappointment. "Besides, wasn't taking a hike through the forest your idea?"
"That was before I remembered that my chief outdoor activity is going back inside." Kitty deadpanned, slightly chagrined at herself. She had thought it would be fun to see the forest where Harry and the gang hid while on the run from Voldemort, but she wasn't as a much of a 'flowerchild' as Devin, so staring colorful leaves, dirt, and sore feet weren't exactly her idea of a good time. "I wanna see the castle now. I hear they're supposed to have ghosts and everything."
"We can see those anywhere, too." Devin replied, smiling wryly. You couldn't throw a stone without hitting something that was reputedly haunted in southeastern Louisiana.
"But these have an accent." Kitty said, smiling.
"Oh, all right, but I want to finish this trail first. We're almost at the river." Devin agreed as she continued to walk, deciding to humor her impatient friend. To be honest, she found the idea of British-accented ghosts somewhat amusing, even though it was only natural since they were in England. Still, accents were fun.
"What's it called again?" Kitty asked curiously, easily skipping ahead of her shorter-legged friend, walking backwards so she could face her. Devin smiled at her friend's antics and reached into her pocket to pull out the trail guide.
"I think it's supposed to be the Wye—Kitty, look out!" Devin shouted in surprise when she glanced back up to see that Kitty was about to walk backwards into the river. Instinctively, she reached out to grab the taller girl as Kitty's eyes widened when she felt herself start to fall.
The next thing they knew, the two girls found themselves submerged in the rushing cold water. Devin kept her eyes squeezed shut tightly as she held her breath and fought to keep hold of Kitty's hand while the unexpectedly strong current tossed them about.
"!" Devin gasped for air the moment she felt her head break through to the surface again.
"Devin!" Kitty shouted, spitting out some of the water that had gotten into her mouth. "I think—I think I can stand!" She said, trying to get her footing as they floated down to a less turbulent spot.
"Good, because it's definitely over my head!" Devin said, chagrined. At 4'11½" she was practically hobbit-sized, whereas Kitty was more like an elf at her much more substantial height or 5'7". Together the two girls managed to scramble back onto dry land, shivering and soaking wet.
"What I wouldn't give for some warm clothes and a fire…" Devin muttered through chattering teeth.
"You mean like that?" Kitty asked, pointing to a campfire someone had set up just inside the treeline a yard away from the river bank.
"Yeah, that'll do." Devin said, smiling wryly, as she stood up and tried to brush off as much mud as possible while they made their way towards the inviting warmth of the fire. "This reminds me of a story my parents used to read to me called 'Fortunately, Unfortunately'." She said as they sat down and started trying to warm themselves. "Fortunately, it was a beautiful day for a hike in the woods. Unfortunately, we fell into a cold river. Fortunately, we found a fire as soon as we climbed out..."
"Unfortunately, that fire already belonged to someone else." A deep voice finished for her from behind them.
"Wha—!?" The two girls exclaimed in surprise and alarm as they whirled around to face its owner, caught completely off guard. They found themselves staring up at an extremely tall man dressed all in dark clothes that made it look as though he were cosplaying as some kind of rogue for a renaissance festival. His face was hidden in the shadow of his hood. Where did this guy come from!? He hadn't made a sound!
"Who are you? Are you some kind of ninja?" Kitty demanded suspiciously, clinging to Devin.
"Ninja? What is that?" The man asked, looking slightly puzzled as he removed his hood, revealing a somewhat worn but ruggedly handsome face. He had keen grey eyes, and his dark hair was slightly peppered with a couple of grey strands here and there. It was clear he was sizing them up, assessing whether they might be a threat or not. Devin didn't think he needed to be so wary of a couple of sopping wet college girls, though she did have a taser in her backpack, if the fall in the river didn't screw it up.
Kitty stared at the man incredulously. At first she had thought he was joking, but the genuine look of confusion on his face as he took in their appearance proved him to be perfectly serious. Did this guy live under a rock or something?
"Um, hi… I'm Devin, and this is Kitty. I hope you don't mind if we share your fire for a few minutes, Mister…?" Devin ventured awkwardly, remembering her manners, while subtly hinting for him to fill in his own name.
"They call me 'Strider' around these parts." He answered somewhat cryptically, setting down the firewood he had just come back from collecting. They were unarmed and seemed harmless enough, but their clothing and manner of speech was highly unusual. And one could never be too careful these days.
"Oh, I get it!" Devin said, lighting up as it all clicked into place. "'Strider', as in Aragorn. You're dressed as a ranger. Are y'all doing some kind of LARP nearby or something? What are you doing, looking for hobbits?" Her smile faltered slightly when she saw the somewhat disturbed expression on his face before he fixed her with a steely glare.
"Who sent you?" He demanded evenly, placing a hand over the handle of his sword. How did they know his real name? How did they know he was looking Frodo Baggins? Did they know Gandalf or were they enemy spies? He knew Sauron's agents came in many forms.
"What?" Kitty asked, furrowing her brow slightly as she stared dubiously up at him, wondering what this 'Strider's' problem was. Did this dude sustain a head injury recently or something?
"Whoa, wait. Just calm down. Nobody sent us." Devin said warily holding up her empty hands to show they meant no harm. "We don't want any trouble. I'm a Tolkien fan, too." She added, hoping to find some common ground to keep him from attacking. She really hoped this guy wasn't a—
"What is this 'Tolkien' of which you speak?" Strider asked seriously, furrowing his brow.
—nut job. He was a nut job. Of course he would be.
"Are you kidding me?" Kitty asked, deadpanning. Even she knew who that was, though she preferred Harry Potter. "Tolkein's the guy who wrote—mph!" She grunted in annoyance when Devin suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth and pulled her aside.
"Shh!" Devin whispered urgently. "We can't just tell him it's all a work of fiction. He obviously thinks he's the real Aragorn. Who knows how he'd react."
"Well, what else are we supposed to do? Just play along?" Kitty whispered, raising an eyebrow, as she glanced back over her shoulder at the clearly delusional man, who was still eyeing them suspiciously.
"Yeah, at least until we can get out of this forest." Devin whispered, nodding. "I'm not sure I even know where we are anymore. I thought we were only in the water for a minute or two, but this doesn't look familiar at all. We must have drifted pretty far. That guy might be crazy, but if he spends all his time playing ranger in here, then he might be able to lead us back to the trail." She explained reasonably.
"Ohh. Good thinking." Kitty whispered. "I was just gonna suggest we hit him over the head and run."
"We'd probably just end up even more lost." Devin whispered, smiling wryly. "Just let me handle this, okay?" Kitty straightened up as they both turned back to face 'Strider' again. "Since you said they call you Strider 'around these parts', am I correct in thinking that we're somewhere near the village of Bree?"
Strider blinked at that. They didn't know where they were? But they were just outside the Shire. They could only have just come from the River Baranduin (Brandywine). In fact, he had almost taken the smaller one for a hobbit until he noticed her feet were smaller than was usual for one and were shod in strange, bright blue shoes, the likes of which he had never seen before, and he had seen much over his long life as a ranger.
"Because, if we are near Bree, and you are looking for a certain hobbit in possession of a certain item as a favor to a certain grey wizard… we just might be able to help each other out." Devin said cryptically. "We're not your enemy. As you can probably tell from our foreign clothing, we are both strangers to this land. We're just two cold, wet, and lost girls looking for the nearest trace of civilization. We have no interest in the ring or its current owner or a lost king, but we do have a clue as to where you can find what you seek. If you help us get safely to the nearest village, we'll tell you where to find them, deal?"
"How do I know I can trust you? This could be a trap for all I know." He said reasonably, holding her gaze.
"We have no proof of innocence beyond our own word." Devin replied calmly, returning his even stare with one of her own. "I'll leave that judgment up to you. But you should know that we're strangers to this land. If you leave us here, we could very well die from exposure and hunger. I don't think you want our deaths on your conscience. You seem to have enough to worry about already." Kitty glanced between the two of them, watching silently as her petite friend stared down (or up) the possibly dangerous and paranoid delusional man before them.
"Very well." Strider said, relaxing slightly, as he finally removed his hand from the hilt of his sword. "I shall escort the two of you to Bree, and in return, you shall tell me all the information you have on the hobbit I seek as well as how you came to know of my search for him." Although it was disconcerting that they seemed to already know so much about him and the ring-bearer, these two girls did not appear to be agents of Sauron. For one thing, the eyes of this girl, Devin, were too clear and honest for that. He glanced at her friend, who was still eyeing him skeptically, staying protectively close to her smaller friend. She obviously didn't trust him either. He kicked some dirt on the small fire to put it out. "Follow me." They would have to make haste if they wanted to reach the village by nightfall.
It was dark when they reached the village of Bree. It had also begun to rain, just when the girls were finally starting to get a little dry.
"Um… correct me if I'm wrong, but that wasn't there before, was it?" Kitty asked Devin, lowering her voice, as the two of them huddled together for warmth and stared up at the stone wall surrounding the village Strider had led them to. Even though he had ended up leading them back in pretty much the same direction they thought they had come from before falling into the river… but like Kitty just pointed out, none of this looked the slightest bit familiar.
Devin frowned. She didn't remember seeing anything like this on the map, which was ruined, by the way.
"This way." Aragorn said, leading them up to the wall. He planned to use the cover of darkness to sneak the tree of them in unnoticed. He had his own reasons for not wanting his whereabouts recorded by the gatekeeper, and he doubted the two girls, harmless as they looked, would be allowed in without extensive questioning, and he would rather certain pieces of knowledge in their possession remained secret.
"Um, about how tall would you say this wall is?" Devin asked tentatively, not sure she would be able to climb over on her own. She'd hopped one or two fences before, but those hadn't been slicked with rain.
"I'd say a little over 7ft. Want a lift?" Kitty asked casually.
"Sure, but I'll probably need someone to catch me on the other side. Can you get over by yourself?" Devin replied, concerned her friend might get stranded out there in the rain.
"Sure. I've done worse." She replied, shrugging. "Hey, Strider, can you catch Devin? I'm gonna toss her over the wall since she's too short to jump this by herself."
"Are you certain? Perhaps I should be the one to 'toss' her over?" He suggested, furrowing his brow slightly. Both girls deadpanned. Clearly, he was underestimating them.
"Yeah, we've got this." Devin said. "You go on ahead. Be ready on the count of three." He gave the girls one last look before jumping up and pulling himself over the wall in one swift motion, landing almost silently on the other side with only a very soft splash to indicate his presence.
"Okay, that was kind of cool." Kitty said with appreciation before turning to Devin. "You ready?"
"Am I ever not?" She replied, smirking. Kitty smirked back. She just wished she could see the look on Striders face when he saw what was about to happen. Kitty kneeled down and cupped her hands, allowing Devin to step into them.
"1…" Kitty counted. "2… 3…!" In one fluid motion, Kitty stood up and threw her cupped hands into the air while Devin jumped up and did a midair flip over the wall before landing securely in Strider's outstretched arms.
"Safe!" Devin declared, grinning, as she held up a 'V' for victory with her fingers. All those years of cheerleading had paid off.
Strider blinked and stared at the petite girl in his arms while Kitty jumped up and somehow managed to climb over the wall (albeit not with quite the same amount of grace as him). He had certainly not been expecting that. Perhaps there was more to these girls than meets the eye. Perhaps they were traveling performers of some kind? It would certainly explain their strange clothing and the feat of agility the little one had just demonstrated.
"Now, tell me what where I can find the hobbit I seek and how you came to know all that you spoke to me of before." He said firmly as he set Devin back down on her own two feet, getting down to business.
"Are you sure you want to talk out here?" Devin asked, glancing around. It was dark, but she could make out a number of people moving about in the main street several feet away. Despite the rain, they all seemed to be walking around without umbrellas.
Strider followed her gaze and thought the better of it. She was right. You could never be too careful. He nodded in approval of her caution.
"Come. I know a place where we can talk and get out of the rain." He said, leading them to the main street.
Kitty grimaced when she stepped in a particularly deep mud puddle. She knew some areas of England could be rustic, but these streets weren't even cobbled. Was this some kind of medieval tourist trap or something, because everyone was dressed like they had just come from RenFest. Kitty seriously had to do a double-take when two midgets with larger than average bare feet crossed in front of her, taking advantage of the gap between her and her companions to cross the busy street. There was just no way… Those had to be the most realistic hobbit costumes ever. She shook her head and quickly caught up with the others.
"OMG, Devin, you'll never guess what I just saw!" Kitty said, almost bumping into her short friend when she suddenly stopped short. "What?" Devin just raised her arm and pointed up at the sign for the practically medieval inn that Strider had led them to. The door was open and light streamed out of it. Above the arch was a lamp, and beneath it swung a large signboard that was carved in the image of a fat white pony reared up on its hind legs. Over the door was painted in white letters: the Prancing Pony by Barliman Butterbur. The two girls exchanged a somewhat bewildered look before following Strider inside. Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they saw the scene waiting for them on the inside. There were even more 'hobbits' mixed among the crowd of humans, and there were even some dwarves scattered about here and there. Devin blinked and glanced questioningly at Kitty, wondering if she was really seeing what she thought she was seeing. Kitty nodded slowly, confirming that this was in fact happening for real.
"Are we being punked or something?" Devin whisper-yelled, trying to be heard above the noisy din without drawing too much unwanted attention, as they weaved their way through the crowd to catch up with Strider, who was talking to a burly but rather friendly-faced man with rosy cheeks. The man was looking at Strider with an open expression of suspicion and apprehension, but he took his money and began leading the ranger out of the main common room.
"Come." Strider said, gesturing for them to follow before they got left behind.
"Maybe they're filming a movie?" Kitty suggested lamely as they followed the two men up some stairs, doubting her own suggestion with the lack of noticeable cameras and crew that would be needed for such a thing.
"Kitty, everyone knows they're supposed to be setting up 'Middle Earth' in New Zealand." Devin stated matter-of-factly, as if it should have been common knowledge.
"Well, what else could it be? This is way too elaborate for some cheesy candid camera show!" Kitty hissed, starting to get nervous. "Even the smell is authentic."
"What was that?" The man, whom Devin guessed was supposed to be Butterbur, asked, glancing back at them, as he unlocked the door to the private room Strider had just rented for them to continue their discussion in.
"Oh, um, we were just saying what a nice place you've got here." Devin said quickly, not wanting to piss off the locals until they knew more about what was going on. Butterbur eyed them a bit skeptically, probably because they looked so out of place compared to the rest of his customers, and also probably because they were with Strider. He hadn't cared much for the ranger in the book either.
"Well, I'll be downstairs if' you'll be needin' anything else. But try hollering for Nob if you do. As you can see, we're more crowded than usual downstairs." He told the ranger before brushing past the girls to leave.
"Ah, excuse me!" Devin called after the man, stopping him. "What's today's date?"
"Why, September the 29th, of course." He replied matter-of-factly.
"And the year?" She pressed, furrowing her brow slightly.
"3018." He replied, furrowing his own brow. It was one thing to loose track of the days, but the years? "Now, begging your pardon miss, but I have to get back downstairs." He said, excusing himself with a nod of his head.
"Let me guess, Mr. Butterbur?" Devin asked Strider as the two girls stared after the retreating man, stunned by what they had just heard. There had been no lie in the man's eyes. He seriously believed they were in the year 3018 of the Third Age of Middle Earth. That meant entire town was full of crazies, or something in the universe was seriously out of whack.
"Yes." Strider replied calmly as he opened the door and held it open for them to step inside, figuring she must have read the sign above the door and used common sense to figure out that he had just been talking to the owner. Once they were all inside, he shut the door. "Now, talk."
"Don't look at me." Kitty said defensively, glancing at Devin. She was the real Lord of the Rings geek.
"Well, I suppose we'll start of with the simplest part, which is where you can find Frodo Baggins. He'll be coming to this very inn sometime tonight with three other hobbits looking for Gandalf, but they won't find him, so they're gonna need your help." Devin explained calmly before taking a breath. Now for the awkward part. "As for how we came to know this information…" She glanced briefly at Kitty before glancing back at Strider. He was watching her carefully with a piercing gaze. He would probably be able to tell if she was lying, so she should probably stick to the truth as much as possible. "We come from a place far, far away from here, where there is a very special book containing legends and portents pertaining to these lands. We know of the ring and what it will mean if the enemy gets his hands on it, and we have no intention of letting that happen. We just want to get home, but there are certain… complications." She said rather enigmatically.
"Such as being lost?" Strider asked, raising an eyebrow. He could tell she was holding back something, but everything she had been willing to tell him seemed to be the truth.
"Well, that's part of it…" Devin replied hesitantly. She didn't want to go into too much detail until she knew more about the situation.
"Very well." Strider replied calmly after a moment. It was obvious that he wasn't going to get much more out of her for the moment. "If you ladies will excuse me, I believe I had better go back to the common room to wait for our hobbits to arrive." He said, excusing himself before turning and leaving the room.
"Okay… So, what's going on and what's with all the secrecy? Why didn't you just tell him we're from the real world?" Kitty asked once he was gone, crossing her arms. " 'Cause that's where are, right? The Tolkien-verse? It totally breaks the laws of physics, but it would explain everything we've seen since falling into the river."
"Oh my God, Kitty—we can't just tell these people they're fictional characters!" Devin whisper-yelled even though they were alone, giving her friend a look of exasperation. Good thing Kitty had let her do all the talking, or who knows what might've happened.
"Why not?" Kitty asked innocently.
"Well, think about it. How would you feel if some stranger came up and said that to you? How would you react?" Devin asked reasonably.
"I'd call 911 and have their crazy ass thrown into the loony bin." Kitty replied without skipping a beat.
"Exactly." Devin said as she crossed the room to look out the window. "We can't just tell him the whole truth, or he'll think we're nuts."
"So you agree with me that we're in some alternate world? I know we're both Doctor Who fans, but I expected a little more resistance on your part to such an illogical idea." Kitty stated honestly.
"It's crazy, but not completely illogical…" Devin replied as bit absently as she stared out the window at the night sky. She frowned slightly at what she saw, or rather, what she didn't see. "Look." She said, stepping back so Kitty could come have a look for herself. "Notice anything odd about the sky?"
"You can totally see a million stars out there?" Kitty asked, furrowing her brow slightly. Was this really the time to be stargazing?
"Yeah, that, and the constellations are completely screwed up." Devin said, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose. She could feel a stress headache coming on. "None of them are where they're supposed to be. We're looking at a totally different sky! Building a town and filling it full of people in elaborate costumes is one thing, but they can't rearrange the stars. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore."