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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 57.  I take part in a curious conversation

I am dozing under the pale winter sky when I become aware of the approach of two figures to the pasture fence. One of them is Tall Hat himself, introduced to me only yesterday, though his name evades my memory, a strange, impractical, mannish name. However, the sweets he is able to produce for an inquisitive pony are tasty, and so I trot to the fence to meet him. We parted on friendly terms, and I trust we’ll have no trouble with toads or toadishness so long as I can resist the urge to test his hat.

The other I have not seen much of before, not close, anyhow, not within nose-distance. He resembles my guide, who visits me daily, and the two Elves-and-something-else-again who rode off with the Big Man some time ago. Though they are dim in my memory, this one’s fair face brings them once more to mind, though there is also in his face a kindness born of years, many years I deem, and of sorrow, and while he walks lightly in his approach, I sense a great burden about him, and a kindred spirit stirs within me, for I am a bearer of burdens, myself.

I stand at the fence, waiting for them, nodding my head in greeting. Tall Hat chuckles and holds out his hand to me, ah, sweetness! Truly we are good friends. Are we not? (Will he be my new master? I would prefer that we remain just friends, if it were my place to choose. Which, my being only a pony, it sadly is not.)

I put my nose up to him, and the fair one laughs. ‘He’s quite taken with you, Gandalf.’

Gandalf. That was the name. But Tall Hat suits him rather better, to my way of thinking.

‘We are great friends,’ the old man replies, and I nod my agreement. So I said myself, just a moment ago.

The fair one eyes me, puts out his hand. May I see your teeth? he asks, quite clearly, in the four-footed language, and obediently I open my mouth for him, for truly, I could not resist any request he might make, though I have no idea why.

He looks carefully, then takes hold with gentle fingers to look more closely. At last he releases me, and I turn to Tall Hat for comfort, for it is not pleasant to have someone holding your jaw and exploring your mouth with his fingers and eyes.

Tall Hat obliges me with another sweet. We are indeed great friends.

Fair One strokes me gently on the neck in seeming apology, very kindness in his fingers. I begin to warm towards him, and he smiles as if he knows my thoughts. ‘Not so old as he seemed when he first came,’ he says. ‘Indeed, it appears as if years have fallen away, with good food and care. His coat, so ragged on his arrival, is glossy. You can count his ribs no longer, for he has filled out, and he looked sound and strong as he trotted to the fence just now.’

Curious, I lift my head, curve my neck, prick my ears forward, and peer at the two of them. These are market words, and yet neither my Sam nor the Master is here.

Not to worry, Greatheart, the Fair One says, having heard me plainly. We are not here to buy, but to consider.

What is it that they would consider, I wonder?

Their eyes gaze beyond me, to the horses and ponies in the pasture, though the Fair One continues to stroke my neck. Tall Hat takes out a pipe, fills it, tamps it down, and lights it, and it seems to my fancy as if his thoughts form puffs of smoke as he considers what ever it is he has come to think over.

‘A horse would be able to carry more, in the way of spare food and clothes and blankets and other needs,’ the Fair One says, as if continuing an earlier conversation, and Tall Hat pulls at his lip as if to consider these words at the least.

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘but I would rather take no beast at all, as I have told you, Elrond.’

‘I am not sure that your party can carry enough on your own backs to sustain you through such a journey,’ the Fair One counters. ‘Even if you take only enough to reach Lorien, and resupply there, and continue onward by boat, still…’

‘With a Ranger and a Wood Elf, we can supplement the food we carry, by foraging.’

‘In the dead of Winter?’ the Fair One challenges. ‘Game will be scarce, and it is neither the time for berries nor for green leaves…’ He snorts. ‘How far do you think the hobbits will be able to travel, on the amount of food you’ll be able to carry on your backs? There will be no inns where you are going.’

Hobbits! Is he talking about my hobbits? I have seen no others here, save the old pet.

The Fair One continues. ‘Perhaps a horse would not be the best solution after all.’ The Tall One nods, as if satisfied, but frowns as his companion continues. ‘A horse would stand out, in such barren country as you must pass through. A small, shaggy pony can bear a larger burden, in proportion to his body size, than a horse, perhaps because his legs are shorter and sturdier. And yet a smaller beast would also be easier to conceal in long grass, or among stunted bushes. You might better take more than one, but I deem you must take one at the very least.’

‘A pony,’ Tall Hat says, and sighs. He is silent for a long moment before continuing. ‘I fear that you have the right of it. I fear that we could not carry enough, ourselves, to ensure the journey, and yet… Samwise is fond of this beast; I should not like to take him with us. In truth, I would rather travel lighter, and take no beast with us, much less one that Sam is so fond of. I fear the paths we may yet be forced to tread… ‘

I turn towards him and rub my face against his breast, trying to understand. They are talking about a journey, I think. Hobbits are involved. My hobbits? And a pony is needed.

Yet he would not take me, because my Sam is fond of me. Does that mean he would not wish to take me away from my Sam, and my Sam remaining behind?

No. From the conversations I have heard amongst my hobbits, they are anticipating a journey of some sort. Homeward? Somewhere else? I am not sure.

If my Sam is going on a journey, then of course I am going with him.

I am ready, I say, nibbling at the wool of his cloak to demand his attention.

This journey they are discussing, this must be why the Big Man told me to prepare. I have eaten. I have rested. I have trotted and galloped and walked all the way around the great field where they turn us out each day, many times, working my muscles and growing stronger.

Tall Hat pushes my mouth away, and I turn to the Fair One. I am ready, I insist.

He meets my look with one of his own that pierces to my heart, measures me in a glance, reads what is within. I know, he answers in the same tongue.

But he gives me a final pat and turns from the fence, and Tall Hat follows, and I hear the Fair One saying as they walk away, ‘We shall examine all the beasts available to us, to find the one best suited to this venture…'

I whinny, I paw the ground with my front hoof, I call after them. But they pay no heed.


A/N: A few turns of phrase taken from "The Ring Goes South" in The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

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