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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 30. We travel upon the Road once more

The shadows are lengthening as we reach the bottom of the bank, and the Road. I switch my ears back and forth as we reach the verge, stopping behind my Sam as he stops, just short of stepping off the grass. He is tense, and he smells anxious. I raise my head to sniff the air. The other hobbits smell anxious, as well. Master sits upright, his legs stiff against my sides, and the Man is wary. But he steps off onto the Road, turns left, and walks briskly, trusting us to follow.

There is no scent of danger on the breeze. There is no sign of any other travellers to be seen.

'Well,' my Samwise says under his breath, and I swivel my ears to catch the muttered words. 'Naught else for it.' Aloud he adds, 'Come along, old lad,' and steps off the grass, nearly trotting in his hurry to catch up the Ranger.

He walks as if he doesn't care to put his feet down. Something stirs in my memory as my hoof touches the surface of the Road, some forgotten fear, and I dance a little, but my Sam pulls me along at a brisk pace and I quickly steady down to the business of walking as quick as I can without breaking into a trot, which would surely jar the Master.

It is not long before I hear youngest hobbit puffing away at my shoulder. He is determined not to fall behind, I think. For some reason the Road worries the hobbits. Perhaps I ought to know why, but the reason eludes me. It is certainly easier going than up-hill-and-down. There are no fallen trees to skirt, no rocks to stumble over, no steep cliffs to scramble up or down.

The sun is fast westering, and it is not long before we round a hill that cuts off her light. The sky is light above us, but won't be for long. It is early evening, and night will come upon us soon enough. The chill of night seems already to be falling, as a cold wind flows down to meet us from the mountains ahead.

The Man's footsteps, and the hobbits', are scarcely to be heard, but my clip-clopping sounds loud to my ears though I put my feet down as lightly as I may. I lay my ears back; perhaps it would be better to go along the softer verge, but though my Sam leads me at the side of the Road and not down the middle, along the Road we travel. When I pull to the side, he jerks me ahead, and it is too much trouble to fight him.

There is some reason for stealth, though I don't remember. Perhaps it is that this is troll country. Yes, perhaps that is it. There may be more trolls, besides the stone figures we are leaving ever further behind us.

Would trolls travel along the Road?

Well, certainly, it would be a fine place to find travellers.

I shudder, and feel an answering shiver from Master. I don't know whether he is thinking of trolls, or if the cold wind chills him. I shake my head and forge on. The Road winds along, rolling gently, up and down. Passing through a shadowy wood, it seems that night has already fallen, but when we break out of the trees, heather-covered slopes to either side, there is still light to hurry by.

The sweat of the hobbits' effort is in my nostrils; sweeter than the stench of fear, at least.

Youngest hobbit is out of breath, and I hear him stumble though not fall. Not-very-merry still has voice enough to call to the Man ahead. 'Strider!'

The Man stops, turns, hand on the hilt of the sword he bears.

My Sam stops, and as the rope loosens I turn my head, to see youngest hobbit leaning over, gasping, whilst not-merry sustains him with a firm grip on his arm.

But my Sam has eyes only for my rider. 'Is it well with you, Mr. Frodo?' he asks, and his voice is anxious.

'Well enough, Sam,' comes the answer, though it seems to me the cheer is forced. Master sits straighter on my back, and his legs clasp my sides firmly, as if to prove to us that he is well.

'A rest,' not-merry is saying. 'Pip's about done in! We need a breather... Can we stop, just for a moment, or go on with a little less haste?'

He seems surprised at the Man's answer. Perhaps he thought we'd forge on into the night, since it would be difficult to lose our way, now that we follow the Road. The Man stops a moment, as if considering, and then says, 'The light is failing. It is time to look for a place to camp for the night. We'll walk on, a little slower if we must. Look to your right and to your left for a good place to hide ourselves, a little way from the Road.'

Not-merry nods, and young hobbit straightens in his grasp, pushing him away and gasping, 'I'm all right now. Got my breath again.'

I'm not sure that he is all right, as he says, for he does wobble a little as he sets off once more, but soon he has passed us up and is halfway between us and the Ranger ahead, and then not-merry passes us, hurrying to catch him.

I give my Sam a push with my long nose, and he stumbles forward. 'Steady, Bill!' he cries, albeit softly, and Master chuckles from my back.

'I'd say he's steady,' he says. 'But are you, Sam?'

My Sam picks up himself and his dignity and begins to walk, tugging at my rope, but I am already walking on. I don't want the others to go too far ahead, especially with darkness falling around us. I don't know what I fear, but the darkness troubles me. When dark falls, one should be snug in a stable, with a stout, firmly-latched door between oneself and what might be found prowling about outside, sniffing at the cracks in the boards and panting in an unpleasant way.

And then comes a sound that stops all of us in our tracks, and the sweet salty sweat-smell gives way once more to the reek of fear.

I'd never have thought that the sound of another hoofed creature would be fearsome, but it is.


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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