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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

We make our way towards Weathertop

All the day we have been plodding, plodding, and still the line of hills seems no nearer when the cold and early evening comes down. I should be shivering in my broken-down shed after a long day of hauling wood; I look homewards, but only mists and vapours do I see behind us, resting on the marshes. Bree is as if it had never been, dim in the memory. I lift my head, I sample the breeze, I smell nothing of home and familiarity.

...and then a familiar reek is in my nostrils. I need not even turn my head, though I do anyhow. It is young marsh-stinking hobbit, and gentle fingers stroke my neck as he speaks.

‘Well, old fellow, it certainly is a relief to leave those horrid marshes behind...’

You brought a good deal of the marshes along with you, I’d say, had I the gift of words, but all I can do is lip at his empty palm. He chuckles, a delightful sound in this barren place, and much more cheerful than the sounds of the few melancholy birds piping, nay, wailing their woes.

Young marsh-stinking hobbit stares to the West, but I don’t think he can see my old home either, nor his, wherever it might be, for his chuckle turns to a sigh. A moment later, in one of his quicksilver changes of mood, he is bouncing over to the Ranger. ‘Well, Strider? Have you decided yet which way we are to be going, or will we be making our camp here by the stream?’

In the meantime, the Master wanders over to me, to pat me on the neck and tell me what a fine job I’m doing, the work of half a dozen ponies, he’d venture. We watch the darkening sun, bloated now, sinking slowly into the Western shadows, and he murmurs to me, or perhaps to himself, telling me of a pleasant place—Bag End he calls it—and I think of a nose bag full of oats, such as my old man would give me in the middle of a long day of pulling, and the good feeling of the scratchy bag against my questing lips, as I sought out the last of the oats.

‘And that same sunset light is glancing through the cheerful windows of Bag End,’ he says, and his fingers tighten a moment in my straggly mane, and then he begins carefully to work out the tangles once more. ‘At least, they were cheerful upon a time. Quite a dismal place now, I’ve no doubt, now that Lobelia has her way.’

His tone makes me sad for him, and I turn my head to nibble along his sleeve, for I’ve found such doings often make the hobbits laugh. They call me “fellow hobbit” and say I’m a capital fellow, always looking for something to fill up the corners.

He does not laugh, but he smiles. ‘Not an apple left, old fellow.’

His words fall suddenly loud in the empty silence. The birds have stopped singing the Sun to her rest.

‘Come now, while the light lasts,’ the Man says after he has done whatever it is he does to make up his mind. There is a bit of wild pony in him, in his wariness, scanning the horizon, sampling the breeze, bending to pluck a few blades of grass and taste them, stretching himself upon the ground to press his ear to the soil, to listen...

He leads us along the wandering stream. I am only glad that we are not following the stream back to the marshes, but move instead towards its source in the hills ahead. The murmur of the stream is loud in the twilight silence, and young marsh-stinking hobbit quips that we could likely follow it in the dark by its sound alone. He too has been affected by the silent emptiness of the land, and voices his nonsense in low tones.

As it is, it is night when we make camp under some stunted alder-trees by the shores of the stream. The treeless backs of the hills loom ahead, and somehow they are closer now, seeming almost near enough to touch, painted against the dusky sky, fading as the light fails. I don’t mind, so much. I don’t need light to feel the relief of my burdens removed, the gentle tether of hobbles, the luxury of rolling on the scanty turf.

Though my Sam can scarcely see me, and he is busy making up a meal without a fire, he laughs anyhow, and calls softly, ‘Feels good, does it? A goodly back-scratching!’

And young marsh-stinking hobbit comes up behind him, to rub vigorously at my Sam’s back, so that he nearly sticks himself with the knife he’s using to slice up the cheese.

‘O sorry!’ young hobbit says, though he hardly sounds sorry at all. ‘But I wish someone would do the same for me!’

‘Go and roll with the pony,’ the Merry hobbit says, and to the astonishment of all—he does.


A/N: Some text taken from “A Knife in the Dark” from Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and woven into the narrative.

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