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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 53. I blot my copybook

I do not know what a copybook is, but I have heard Youngest mention blotting his, whatever it may be, at times along the journey, usually when he has made a mis-step of one sort or another, and usually he receives a scolding from one or the other, sometimes both of the older cousins, on such occasions.

I wish I would receive but a scolding, to be followed later by a cuff upon the shoulder, perhaps, and a muttered admonition to do better next time, eh, Pip?

So deep are we in our conspiring, Youngest hobbit and I, that the both of us are startled at the sound of my Sam's voice. 'Mr. Pippin? Is that you, there?'

As a matter of fact I startle, jerking my head up, and as I had my forehead against Youngest hobbit's breast, and he was leaning his chin between my ears, well, I fear that I do him some harm. He cries out, stumbling back, hands to his face, and my Sam moves to catch him in almost the same breath, and I cannot help myself but shy away violently, to stand shaking, dim memory arising, and my ears lay themselves back of their own accord.

I startled so, upon a time, when my old misery was fastening the collar about my neck, to haul the sledge, and... well, perhaps I gave him a bit of a buffet, but he gave me much more of a return, if you take my meaning, beating me about the head and shoulders until I saw stars, and fell to my knees, and nearly went down under his cruel blows.

I am all a-tremble, and hear naught but angry shouting, the curses...

...and yet, the voice is not cursing; it is louder than I've heard my Sam, but it is his voice, and he is calling in alarm, 'Is it well with you, Mr. Pippin? Are you badly hurt?'

As the light returns to my eyes, I see Youngest hobbit before me, hands over his face, and my Sam holding him upright. 'I'b well,' Youngest hobbit insists, though the words are odd and muffled.

'Let me see,' my Sam says, reaching to pull the hands away.

Youngest resists, but my Sam is not one for giving in easily, and it is not long before he coaxes one of the hands away, at least, and I see the blood streaming, and throw up my head once more at the metallic reek.

I would go to my Sam for comfort, but the smell of blood puts me quite off, and I avoid the hand he reaches to me.

'Just a bleeding dose,' Youngest says, still holding fast with one hand and tilting his head back. 'What do you mean, sneaking up on us that way? You quite frightened poor Bill see how he trembles!'

'I...' says my Sam, quite at a loss, but then he seems to shake himself and stands a little straighter.

'Now Mr. Peregrin,' he says, in something of the tone he uses with the Master when he thinks the Master ought to be eating, or drinking or sleeping, but is not. 'Put your head back, this way,' he says. 'Do you have a clean pocket handkerchief?' And at Youngest's hesitation, he pulls a white cloth from his own pocket and moves to staunch the bleeding, while insisting that Youngest keep his head back, his chin tilted up as far as it'll go.

'I have a pocket-hand...' Youngest says, indignant, pulling at his pocket, but my Sam bats his hand away, pulls the cloth out of Youngest's pocket and shakes it out.

'There,' he says, 'clean enough, I suppose; now if you can just stand unaided for a moment, Mr. Pip?'

Youngest returns a strangled sound, and my Sam lets him go, ducking quickly to dip the cloth he holds in a nearby bucket of water, then folding the dripping thing and placing it behind Youngest's crooked neck. Youngest makes another sound of protest, but my Sam has the situation now well in hand.

'There, now,' he says, 'and let us get you back to Mr. Frodo, who's been quite wondering where you've got to. He had Mr. Merry searching the kitchens and cellars, and myself...'

He turns Youngest towards the stable doors and, talking softly, begins to lead him away.

I move to the door of my stall, thrust my head over, whickering after them.

He turns his head back, though they continue to move away, at the slow pace Youngest can manage, with his head tilted back as it is.

'G'night, Bill,' he says.

I stomp, I dig with my forefoot, I whicker again, but he turns his face forward again, away from my gaze, and in another few steps they are gone.

Perhaps I have proven myself untrustworthy after all.

What if my Sam will not have me? What if he will not take me with him?

The night seems to stretch on forever, fully as long as any in the Wilderness. I am robbed of sleep. I stand unmoving, and occasionally shivers overtake me, and it is not all old memory, old fear, old misery, old pain.

I start at every sound, and watch the doorway, but my Sam does not come.

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