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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 29. Well-rested, we return to our journey

It is afternoon, the hobbits waken one by one, and although there is evidently not food for anyone else (no, we're running short, I hear the merry hobbit whisper in answer to youngest's request), somehow my Sam convinces the Master to take a mouthful or two upon awakening, and several good swallows of water. Master is perhaps too groggy to realise that the others had not eaten whilst he was still sleeping. Determinedly-cheerful and staunch-and-stinking exchange satisfied glances, and stinking has an approving blow with a loosely clenched fist for my Sam's arm as they pass each other, making preparation to move on once more.

As we walk along, youngest natters away in his best brainless manner. 'I'll wager this is the same track Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves used, all those years ago. The very track!'

'Verily, indeed,' determinedly-merry says in his driest tone.

Master is sitting upright on my back, well-balanced. It is as if the food and rest—and perhaps the strong light of the sun this day—have done him some good. 'Verily,' I hear him say, with a chuckle under his breath.

The track leads us several miles down the woods, the sun dappling through the half-bare trees, but at last we emerge atop a high bank. The sun is going down the sky and the shadows are lengthening, but after the long noonday rest my companions seem determined to press on so long as the light lasts us.

'There's the Road!' youngest hobbit points with a whispered yelp, and yes, it is the Road below us, clinging close to the foot of the hills hereabout.

'We've left the Hoarwell far behind,' determinedly-merry says, a question in his voice. I understand his uncertainty. Since leaving the Hoarwell, we've not followed the line of the Road, but wandered in circles, in seeming, especially considering how far to the North our path took us, when we could not find a valley going in the direction we wanted.

But all that is behind us now. 'We have,' the Big Man answers.

'I should hope so!' youngest hobbit says, and adds in his usual impulsive manner, 'We've tramped far enough to be nearly to Rivendell already!'

'Pip!' not-quite-so-merry scolds under his breath.

Youngest hobbit looks down and shuffles his feet, and Master speaks from my back, in obvious effort to cheer his cousins.

'Or perhaps even past Rivendell, and coming back by way of the back door!'

Youngest hobbit looks up, incredulous, and then a grin brightens his face, though for a moment I think there are tears in his eyes. I must be mistaken, however, for he blinks and they are gone, if they ever were.

Determinedly-merry plays along, if that's the game Master wishes to play. 'Back door! I only hope Strider knows the way!'

'Well, he hasn't done too badly...' youngest says, affecting a tinge of doubt.

'Nor too well, either,' the Ranger says, 'but there are no more short-cuts to lead us the long way round, so I think we'll come right, following the Road the rest of the way.'

'The Road!' and determinedly-merry's voice loses much of its cheer at the news.

Master leans forward on my back, but I realise almost at once that he is not fainting, but leaning forward to listen intently.

'Is there no other way?' youngest hobbit says, his tone plaintive. One would think from his reaction that he enjoyed our recent endeavours, climbing impossible hillsides and slogging over and around fallen trees, and feels rather anxious at the prospect of clear going.

But the Big Man says we have no other course but to follow the Road, rolling and winding eastward among woods and heather-covered slopes towards the Mountains.

'Onward we go,' Master says with his best cheer. I cannot help but sigh as we begin to move down the bank. Not the best of grazing, or so it sounds. Perhaps this grassy bank shall be the last, until we reach the hidden valley where, as the Man has whispered to me in our night watches, the grass grows long, green and sweet.

'Nowhere to go but onward,' the Man affirms, and then points a little way ahead, further down the bank, and says, 'Look.'

All obedience, I stop and look, and feel Master shifting on my back as he, too looks. The Ranger is pointing to a stone in the grass, perhaps afraid I might stumble over it and tumble Master to the ground, though I am not so dull as that.

'Dwarf-runes!' youngest hobbit breathes in awe, hurrying over to bend down and trace the marks with a curious finger. 'I've seen this one before,' he says of one mark, 'on one of Bilbo's old maps, but what about this one here?'

'It's a secret mark, more than likely,' Master says from my back.

'There!' says determinedly-merry-and-a-little-curious-now. 'That must be the stone that marked the place where the trolls' gold was hidden.'

I switch my ears back and forth and sample the air, though I wouldn't know the smell of gold if my feet were shod with the stuff. My old misery used to grumble and moan about gold, but he never had any that I knew of. I wonder if any gold is still there.

Determinedly-cheerful seems to have the same thought. 'How much is left of Bilbo's share, I wonder, Frodo?'

Master sits in silence on my back, and I feel him slump a little and then straighten to answer. 'None at all,' he says.

My Sam's fingers tighten for a moment on my rope, and I wonder what he is thinking.

I wonder if Master is disappointed. I'm sure of it when he goes on to say that Bilbo gave it all away, and then I'm not so sure as he adds, 'He told me he did not feel it was really his, as it came from robbers.'

It seems that Master does not hold with keeping stolen gold.


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

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