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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 55. The days grow shorter

The days blend one into another, difficult to count in their sameness, and yet a difference is growing, or should I perhaps say not growing? For though the grass was green and sweet when we arrived here, despite the browning of autumn outside this place, this Valley, as we journeyed here, it seems that autumn has crept in, almost without our noticing.

The sameness… each day is the same as the one before for those few of us who remain in the stables, mostly ponies, Merrylegs and myself, and the dwarf ponies, waiting patiently for their homeward trek. The stables are warm, the bedding is heaped high, the pasture is a pleasant place, even with the grass faded to silver-tipped brown – for plenty of summer-sweet hay is forked into the racks each day that we might eat to our stomachs’ content when we are turned out. There is a chill in the air, but we don’t mind it, as our shaggy winter coats are growing nicely with the shortening of the days. The nights are quiet with the soft breathing of the ponies, and the few horses left here, like the old mare who spends much time gazing over the fence, watching for someone’s return, though I don’t quite remember…

I am content. One hobbit or another comes each day to share a word and a treat, and often they come in twos, though seldom more or all together at one time, and the Big Man comes not at all. Perhaps he is still on a journey, somewhere, with those two Elves who are not quite Elves, or not just Elves (if one can say such a thing as "just Elves") but something else. My Sam comes oftenest, very often early, or late – I gather that he slips out when the Master is sleeping, though today he is here in the middle of the day (as, come to think of it, he often is). I jog to the fence to greet him.

We have a game that we play, my Sam and I. There is a carrot in one of his pockets, and I must discover where it is hid. Every time he comes, the carrot has a different resting place. I snuffle and nudge, and am rewarded twice – with his chuckles, first of all, and then with the carrot when at last I find the proper pocket.

‘There’s the lad,’ he says to me, as he does each day, and combs my long forelock with his fingers. ‘There’s the lad.’ He shakes his head, and adds, ‘Maps, maps, and more maps. My head was that a-spin, I tell you…’ And he speaks of how he needed ‘just a breath’ of the fresh air to clear his head, and how he’s glad Mr. Frodo seems to understand the business, as it’s more than he’s able.

I do not know what a ‘map’ might be, but it sounds as if it must be a fearsome and difficult creature, which requires much patience and wisdom to tame to one’s will. I push at his chest to tell him that ponies are easier – a carrot or apple will go a long way with one of us – and he is better served to spend his time here, with sensible creatures.

He laughs again, with a rueful, ‘That’s the end of the carrots, at least for the moment, old lad – you’ve had all that were in my pockets. I’ll have to ask the cooks for more.’

I do not know who the cooks are, but they are very dear to me, as they seem to have an inexhaustible supply of such things as carrots, apples, and even the occasional sweet or piece of bread. I should like to meet them some time. I wonder if they are Men, or Elves, or perhaps Hobbits?

Sometimes the Master comes with my Sam. He seems well again, and usually well rested, and though he feels serious, if you take my meaning, and seems to bear a burden I cannot see, I can make him chuckle by nodding or shaking my head at appropriate times as he talks to me, or to Sam. ‘It is almost as if he understands what we are talking about, Sam,’ he often says. I nod my head, and he invariably laughs. It is a most delightful sound, and it makes me feel like frisking, which makes him laugh yet again, and then my Sam laughs in delight to hear him. I wish he could come every day, but for some reason, he does not.

Merrylegs always joins the party when the old pet comes to the fence with the younger hobbits, but as they always bring pockets full of treats, it is simply a matter of "the more, the merrier."

The outwardly merry hobbit, and young mischief come to see me as well, together and separately. When together, they are cheerful and jesting, but when one or the other comes alone to see me, we have a more serious and sober time together. Each has decided that he can tell me his secrets and concerns, things he cannot say to the others, and they both believe I am trustworthy to keep their words and thoughts safely to myself.

They have the right of it.

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