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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 83. We reach the top of a low ridge in the dawning

I smelled the dawn before the Sun painted the sky with her early morning colours. (‘Throwing off her bedcovers and kicking her rosy toes in the air,’ as one of my Hobbits puts it.) The sky has since faded to clear paleness, perhaps a reflection of the coldness of the air, though the Sun has not yet peeked above the low ridge we are climbing, back and forth across the face of the slope, for to move directly upwards would be too difficult. We have almost reached the top, it seems. I dimly remember our efforts during Our Big Man’s disastrous short-cut, before we came to that lovely Valley. I am glad to climb the gentle slope of the path we follow, with my own feet, and no one before me pulling on my rope, and no one behind me pushing me up an impossible climb…

I dare say my Hobbits would be in full agreement, were I able to voice my thought.

After the long night of stumbling progress, it seems we are in a different world altogether. Cold, clear light floods the landscape. Youngest has exclaimed more than once over the freshness of the air we are breathing, laughing that it pinches his nostrils when he inhales too sharply, while the breath of our efforts makes clouds in the clear air.

Youngest is singing, soft enough, but as he is walking at my Sam’s side, I can clearly hear him.

… went over the mountain, to see what he could see.
And what d’you think he saw?

My Sam echoes, as if it is a song well-known to him.

And what d’you think he saw?

Youngest goes on, to answer the question. He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain…

And it is not just song, but truth!

Tall, misty peaks loom beyond the top (Nearly there! Youngest pants, and I have hopes the song is over, until he takes up the thread of the tune in his next breath) of the ridge we are climbing. And still we toil upwards. Perhaps we shall climb to the realms of the Sun and the Moon. We have not yet stopped to take our rest, though the world is brightening around us. Perhaps there is a resting place at the end of the climb, or perhaps we shall simply keep climbing for ever.

The song is not only worrisome, but annoyingly repetitious.

...went over the mountain, and what do you think he saw?
What do you think he saw?

(My Sam echoes, obligingly enough, and almost seems to be enjoying the singing.) What do you think he saw?

He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain, and what d’you think he did?

… until I think I shall go mad. I find myself nodding my head with the music, and matching my footsteps to its beat – we ponies and even our larger cousins, the horses, cannot seem to help ourselves when there is catchy music in the air – even as I switch my tail in my irritation.

And what do they hope to catch with ‘catchy’ music, I ask you? Since we first left the Valley, I have heard one or another of my companions mention ‘a catchy tune’ when my hobbits were singing, yet I have failed to see any of them catch anything by mere singing. They have tickled trout in the streams along the way, but that did not involve singing, but rather moving as quietly as possible, or so I seem to recall.

I dread the thought that we might climb up over those lofty peaks, dim in the distance, only to find more and higher mountains tucked behind them.

At last we come to the top of the ridge, and blessed silence falls – Youngest is staring, his mouth half-open, at the vista before us and the great trees that surround us. He has quite forgotten what comes next in the song. (And what d’you think he did?) I could prompt him, but that I do not care to do so.

Ancient trees crown the ridge – we saw them as we were climbing, though they were dark against the brightening sky, and I could not make out what manner of trees they might be – and now the sharp smell of holly fills my nostrils, that evergreen scent that warns of sharp, prickly leaves better left uneaten. The dark leaves shine in the light of the rising Sun, and their red, inviting berries glow (inviting to birds, perhaps – my dam warned me off holly in my early days, when I was still learning which plants were good to browse and which were not, for the stuff had given her a dreadful bellyache in her earlier days).

‘It looks like the Great Hall, all done up for Last Night festivities,’ he whispers, and I think he gulps back tears.

My Sam clouts him on the shoulder, but gently, as if in sympathy for his sudden homesickness. ‘Or Number 3, when we’ve finished hanging up all the greenery ‘round the windows, and the smell of spice cakes is in the air,’ he agrees. Three of what, I do not know, unless it is three of greenery. Pine, holly, and yew?

Though the Sun shines her brightest, for all her efforts, I am not certain that She will be able to warm this cold air. I am glad for my shaggy coat. Youngest, too, shivers and hugs himself, as a fresh breeze catches us on the top of this ridge. It smells of snow, though the air is not freezing here. Perhaps it comes from those peaks, dim and distant before us, blowing over the snow I can see crowning the tallest and nearest.

‘Red sky at morning, sailors take warning,’ awed-Merry breathes, for he stopped short when he reached the ridge, and we came even with him ere we halted, ourselves.

‘Not a red sky,’ Youngest contradicts. ‘Just a reddish glow from the sun on the snow.’ He wipes quickly at his eyes and, heavily burdened though he might be, and at the end of a long, slow climb, he makes to caper, just a bit. ‘I made a rhyme!’

‘You do it all the time,’ his older cousin quips in return, and the two of them laugh together, but he, too, takes a deep breath of the air, and a remembering look is in his eye.


Author notes:

Some turns of phrase taken from “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

While some horse owners have reported their beasts happily munching their way through holly bushes, vets seem to agree that holly is toxic to equines. See, for one example,

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