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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

We are overcome on Weathertop 

The Ranger has kindled fire, and my Sam has prepared more of a meal than the hasty cold food he had ready when Master came down from the hilltop. There was some discussion, as my Sam was chopping and hauling water and stirring the pot, about how long the food would last, and how to find food in the wilderness. I think privately to myself that at least I do not have to carry food for myself as well as everyone else.

At last, a proper meal, I hear young marsh-hobbit murmur, and all seem glad to sip at a steaming beverage after so many fireless camps. They tear into their food as if famished, and I tear a few mouthfuls of grass, just to keep them company.

The fire is cheering as well—or it ought to be. But somehow the dark outside the circle of brightness seems darker than it might, now that the shades of evening have fallen. My companions have kept peering out from the edge of the dell, and I raised my head for a look on occasion, but I saw nothing but a grey land vanishing quickly into shadow. I don’t know if they saw anything more. Sampling the air I could smell no danger, though from the Ranger and the hobbits comes strong, now, the smell of uncertainty, even fear. 

Not only is it dark, but it seems colder than the previous nights, and I am glad for my shaggy coat. The sky is clear above, the stars shining brightly, and the hobbits huddle closely about the fire, having unpacked every stitch of clothing they possess, it seems, and wrapped themselves in every blanket. They are huddled together like puppies, sharing their warmth, but it is no comfortable, sleepy huddle.

The Man sits a little apart, smoking his pipe. I am finding it a pleasant smell on the night breeze, even comforting, though I’d never much enjoyed the smell of burning in my earlier years. He is distracting us all by telling stories. I wander in a little closer, the better to hear, and to take comfort from the nearness of my fellow creatures, and I lower my head. Without looking behind him, he lifts his hand to caress my nose and jaw, continuing to speak, and I stand as a statue might, enjoying the gentle touch, as he says, ‘ is a long tale of which the end is not known...’

He is silent for a time, as his hand continues to rub right at that spot that calms and pleasures a pony so, and then he takes his hand away to draw on the pipe so that the coals of pipe-weed within glow brightly, and then he begins to chant softly, and all of us listen, fixed in our places by the wonder, though I must admit the words are many, and I do not know as many of them as I might wish. Still, I follow as best I can, and such is the power of the song that images form before my eyes and dance in my imagination.

You smile—imagination! In a pony! But I assure you, ponies have wonderful imagination. Too wonderful, sometimes, transforming a blowing bedsheet into a ravening monster... And is it my imagination, or is there a scent of danger on the air?

I want to rear and plunge, to scream my fear, but I stand absolutely frozen. I cannot even throw up my head and snort to warn my fellow companions. It is all I can do to stand, and tremble, as the dell brightens subtly around us.

‘Look!’ the Merry hobbit says, stretching, after the song ends. ‘The Moon is rising: it must be getting late.’

My Sam rises to his feet, and walks restlessly away from the fire. I want to follow, to lay my chin on his shoulder, to stay as close to him as I might to my own mother, but I am unable to stir foot. It is the Merry hobbit who rises to bear him company. From the corner of my eye I see Master shudder and hitch closer to the fire; but the Big Man is looking intently up the moonlit hillside.

And to my relief—I ought to be relieved, but I am seized in the grip of a fierce dread—my Sam comes running back to the fire from the edge of the dell. ‘I don’t know what it is, but I suddenly felt afraid,’ he says. ‘I durstn’t go outside this dell for any money; I felt something was creeping up the slope.’

I could have told him that! No need for him to leave the circle of firelight, tenuous security that it might offer...

Master asks if my Sam has seen anything, but he can only shake his head. Merry, however, has seen something, or he thinks he has. I think he has, too.

The young hobbit jumps to his feet.

‘Keep close to the fire!’ the Ranger snaps, and he tells them to face outwards, and take up some of the longer flaming sticks, and they sit down again, five of them in a circle around the fire, and I stand nearby as if turned to stone. Time seems to stand as still as I do. There is no sound, and no movement, but my terror is growing. Hobbled or no, I long to burst my hobbles and flee, as the horses and ponies fled the Terror in Bree, when I was trapped in my tumble-down shed.

I wish to throw my head up and shriek, but I cannot seem to move.

Master stirs, and the Ranger hushes him urgently, and young marsh-smelling hobbit who now also stinks of fear gasps in the same breath, raising a shaking hand to point. ‘What’s that?’

Shadows rise over the lip of the dell on the side away from the hill; they are standing on the slope looking down at us, blacker than deepest shadow. Why did I not see them before? I felt their presence, certainly. I still feel it—it is enough to drive a pony mad with fear.

The younger hobbits throw themselves to the ground in terror, and my Sam shrinks closer to Master, and the Ranger picks up a flaming brand in either hand and stands slowly to his feet.

Master is there—and then he is gone, I cannot see him, the fire flares bright where only a moment ago it was half-hid by his dark, blanket-wrapped form. But his scent still wafts on the chill breeze.

And terror is creeping closer—no, it rushes now, like an ill wind coming to overcome us, and I am released from my frozen state as I rear and plunge, hoofs coming down dangerously close to the huddled young hobbits on the ground, but I have been robbed of my senses by fear and scarcely know what I am doing.

Master’s voice cries out, as if from far away, strange words that I do not know, and there is a shrill cry, and the Big Man leaps forward, waving his flaming brands in great sweeps through the air, and I try to run, forgetting my hobbles.

But I cannot run, my feet are trapped, and I fall into darkness and fear.


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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