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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 60. We make preparations

Something is happening!

This morning, before they turn me out, my guide comes with one of the stable workers, and they fit me with harness of fine leather straps, and rings and buckles made of metal that is strangely dull in texture and appearance, as dark and dull as the leather itself. Though the leather is fine and soft against my skin, it is also very strong, of the finest quality, or so my guide says. ‘For we do not want the load to rub. You will carry more than a pony ought, at first,’ he says. ‘It was that, or send two ponies, but Mithrandir wanted none at all as it was. Still, as they eat their supplies, the load will grow lighter.’

After the harness has been fitted, as if were made to my measurements (and my guide tells me that it was!), he returns with a grooming box and gives me a thorough grooming. Next he trims my feet himself, something he has left to another before this day. As he works, he speaks under his breath that it is important to get it right, just right. When I ask him what he means, he pats me on the neck. ‘Good feet make for fair travel,’ he says.

Travel? I ask. Where are we going?

That, I’m not at liberty to say,’ he replies. ‘You might ask of the Lord Elrond, or of Mithrandir, or Estel, and they might tell you, though it’s more likely that they wouldn’t. It’s best not mentioned.’

But they know where we are going? I ask. And who is going?

‘That much I can tell you,’ my guide says, moving to trim my off hind hoof, and he makes a point of speaking in words that a pony can understand. ‘Your Sam, and his Master, and the Man who brought them here…’ I miss his next few words, as my heart leaps with joy at the mention of my Sam. ‘…and Mithrandir.’

I do not know this name, Mithrandir, but when my guide describes him to me, I realise he is talking about Tall Hat, and I am glad. Should we encounter any foes, even those fearsome Ones, it is likely he could turn them all into toads. Toads are hardly fearsome.

It matters not to me who makes up the rest of the party, though I wish for young apples-and-mischief – he always knows how to lighten the Master’s burden with light talk – and for the Merry hobbit, with his attention to detail. He would notice, should my burdens begin to rub. He has a way of working together with my Sam to ensure as much comfort as might be, for the Master’s sake, even though we wander through a wilderness.

O’ course, the more there are in the party, the more food and supplies for me to carry on my back, and so I might hope that the party is a small one.

I wonder once again, where we might be going? Will it be back the way we came, homeward once more, to this Crickhollow the Master speaks of as his home-not-home? Or will we go onward, into lands we have not yet seen?

Will there be sweet grass there, to graze upon, to roll on? Will there be water to drink?

I can go a long way on short commons. (Though I’d rather not, if you take my meaning.)

Just in case, I will eat my fill each day before we depart, of the sun-sweet hay in the racks, and drink deeply at every chance. I will roll on the frost-silvered grass, and store up the sunshine in my mind and imagination, weak and watery though it may be. I will run, and kick up my heels, and revel in the freedom while I have it, for once we depart, it will be burdens by travelling, and hobbles by times of resting, I deem.

But no matter. It is a pony’s lot in life, and my lot is better than I might have hoped. For I am to travel with my Sam, where ever it might be that he is bound, and I can ask no better lot than that.

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