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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 91. Our plans change 

So completely have I fixed my mind on stillness that I do not even startle when Our Big Man jumps up from under the shade of the holly bush where, but a moment ago, he and my Sam had flattened themselves to the ground. I go at once to my Sam and push at him with my nose. He fends me away with one hand while using the other to help himself rise. It seems that he is stiff from remaining so still for so long.

In the silence of this valley, Our Big Man’s whisper comes to me clearly. He has awakened Tall Hat. Luckily this wizard, gruff as he appears at times, especially when Youngest is peppering him with an interminable series of questions, is not of the sort to turn the Man into a toad for interrupting his sleep.

Our Big Man is telling Tall Hat of flocks of crows flying over the valley, and solitary hawks high in the sky. ‘Being watched,’ he says. I cast an apprehensive eye upward, but I see nothing to speak of. Might a hawk be there, even now, beyond the scope of my seeing?

It appears we will not rest long in this valley, for the two of them are agreed that we must move on as soon as darkness falls.

Do they not worry about night watchers, then? Owls? Bats? The skin on my withers gives an uneasy shudder without my willing it.

I hear an echo of Master’s voice in my memory, imprinted there in part by the desperation in his tone, though I no longer remember where we were, or any of the circumstances, save an overwhelming sense of fear. Is there no escape? If I move I shall be seen and hunted! If I stay…

No. We can no more stay here than we did in that other place (I say this because of course we are not there now), for if the watching birds have already seen us, when we were yet uncautious (or perhaps I ought to say ‘less cautious’ for we are escaping in secret, as the younger hobbits so often remind each other and Master), then this place is not so safe as it appeared.

On second thought, since the moment I began to notice the uncanny silence here, I ought to have known this place was not safe at all.

Tall Hat mentions something called The Redhorn Gate, and that we must get over it. If it is like the broken gate guarding the neglected garden of my old misery’s house, it should be no trouble to get over, I should think. However, if it is like the well-kept gates I have passed in Bree, or like the gate to our little meadow, my dam’s and mine, sturdy enough to confine a full-grown pony and her high-spirited colt, then I have my doubts. I could go through such a gate, should one of our party open it for me, but I am not bred for jumping fences but rather for bearing burdens and pulling steadily uphill and down.

In any event, Tall Hat is worried that we cannot get over this gate without being seen, and so I imagine it must be in the middle of a village, and not on the outskirts. If my hobbits and our other companions are to climb over a gate rather than knocking to ask someone to open to let us through, we might be taken for a party of house-breakers. I have heard of such things of late in the Breeland, some sort of creatures that climb over gates and break houses. I never saw one; perhaps they left my shed alone as it was already more or less broken down.

Getting over this gate promises to be a difficult task, indeed, especially for a pony who is not bred for jumping.

So busy am I pondering this gate that lies ahead that I miss the rest of their conversation. I return from my thoughts when Our Big Man moves to our little fire, which has burned low. Instead of adding wood to build it up again, he uses a booted foot to spread out the coals. I know from our travels that this will cause them to wink out fairly quickly. If he were saving the fire for later, he’d pile the coals together and carefully cover them with ashes. Tucking them up to sleep, I’ve heard my hobbits call it, and banking the fire from the Dwarf.

Are we to move on at once, then? I walk over to where the baggage is piled under some holly bushes, and there, I stand ready.

But Tall Hat does not wake the sleeping members of our party. In fact, he sends my Sam off to his blankets, saying that he will take his turn watching.

Our Big Man and Tall Hat return to the holly trees that crown the low ridge where we entered this valley. As they sit down, resting their backs against the trunk of one of the ancient trees, Tall Hat’s cloak seems to melt into the wood and his figure all but disappears as if he has become a part of the tree. I would not put it past him to work some magic that turns him into a tree, that he might watch without any birds taking notice of him.

I have the oddest fancy that a bird might build a nest in his hat, or in his beard, or perhaps behind his ear, as it was with one of the stony trolls that are dim in my memory. If a pony could laugh at a thought, I might, but if he were to hear me laughing at him, would he turn me into a toad?

I settle for tossing my head and giving my mane a good shake.

Our Big Man, too, is difficult to see, sitting against the trunk of the holly-tree. The barest whisper of sound comes from the two of them, as if they are discussing our next move, and perhaps beyond, once the Sun has sought her bed this day.

I go back to grazing. If we are to leave this valley as soon as darkness falls, I intend to eat my fill of just as much grass as I may pull and gather.


Author notes:

Some text taken from “A Knife in the Dark” and “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.


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