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Chapter 94. Some thoughts on the care and keeping of hobbits
Our Big Man has guided us out of the valley and onto firm, even ground. There seems to be little chance of stumbling over a rock, root or hole on this path. The surface under my feet is curiously unyielding, as if stone underlies the grassy turf, and the way is broad enough for the hobbits to walk all-together instead of one- or two-at-a-time. Master no longer walks arm-in-arm with the Merry hobbit ahead of us – my Sam, Youngest and myself – but he has taken Youngest’s place beside me, walking with one hand atop my neck, his fingers twined in my mane, occasionally contracting, a most pleasurable scritching sensation.
Youngest walks now at my Sam’s far side – for my Sam stays beside me – and determinedly-Merry walks at Master’s far side, placing me squarely in the midst of my hobbits, a quite agreeable state of affairs to my way of thinking. A steady flow of murmured conversation moves between them, and I remember back to a muttered exchange between the Merry hobbit and Our Big Man, watching together while I grazed nearby and Master and Youngest were both asleep in the sheltered hollow on the meadow we have recently quitted.
‘We will strike a good path, leaving this valley, and so will have the chance to make the best time we may,’ I remember Our Big Man saying. ‘But I don’t want to exhaust Pippin – he’s only a tween, and he’s not getting as much food and sleep as a growing tween ought, from what I remember Bilbo telling me...’
‘True,’ was not-Merry’s short answer, and a smell of unease sprang up from him all at once, almost as if he’d been thinking such thoughts privately, but having them spoken aloud brought them to full bloom, like Sun on daisies.
‘And Frodo,’ Our Big Man continued. ‘In truth, he must be the one to set the pace. We must not push him, or allow him to push himself, beyond his strength. I have the feeling he would press on beyond exhaustion, run – stumbling, if he must – all the way to the goal, simply to have this business over and done with.’
And I wondered – as I continue to wonder, even as I know it is beyond my ken – once again what business it is we are about, for no one ever speaks of it openly, though all seem determined to see it through. Though occasionally I have heard the Other Big Man (the one with the shield) mutter to himself and shake his head, while on watch and everyone else asleep. So perhaps he is not completely of accord with the others? But that is a matter beyond a pony’s understanding.
In any event, thoughtful-Merry murmured agreement with Our Big Man’s assertion.
Then Our Big Man surprised me, for he has led our party the entire way, consulting mainly with Tall Hat when any consulting has been needed. But in that moment, as I was grazing nearby, whilst my other hobbits were sleeping, along with the rest of our party, storing up strength for the continuation of our journey, and he and thoughtful-Merry sat above the rest where they could watch over the whole valley – in that moment, it seemed as if he were consulting with thoughtful-Merry. ‘How do we keep them from exhausting themselves?’ he said. ‘It seems easy to press on, when the going is smooth, and when you are going steadily uphill, you can lean forward into each step and fool yourself that you are using less of your strength...’
‘And I take it that we will be going steadily uphill from here on out,’ thoughtful-Merry said wryly.
‘At least until we reach the top of the pass...’ Our Big Man replied, grim humour in his tone. ‘And then it’s downhill all the way from there, at least to Lórien.’
Thoughtful-Merry actually chuckled at that. ‘Downhill all the way,’ he said. ‘Back home, that could mean “easy going” or it could mean ever-increasing troubles...’
‘How well I know,’ Our Big Man said with a low chuckle of his own. ‘It’s among old Bilbo’s favourite expressions, simply because it can mean opposite things. He likens it to an Elf saying “yea” or “nay” when asked for advice.’
‘Well I am no Elf,’ thoughtful-Merry said after a pause that lasted on my part for several mouthfuls of grass torn from the ground. ‘And so my advice to you, Strider, is this: so long as we hobbits can converse without being out of breath, you will know we are not over-straining ourselves.’
And Our Big Man somehow appeared to bow to the thoughtful-Merry hobbit, though he did not get up from his seated position to do so. It was a curiously regal gesture – curious to me that the term should even come to mind. Perhaps “lordly” is the term I want, like the grace and dignity of some of the Fair Ones in that lovely valley we left behind, the one where Merrylegs grazes still, so far as I know. ‘I will use my powers then to dub thee Master of Conversation,’ he said.
Thoughtful-Merry bowed his head in response, and when he raised it again, Our Big Man continued, ‘But use your newly conferred powers wisely.’
‘I will,’ thoughtful-Merry responded. He held up a staying hand as Our Big Man opened his mouth to speak again. ‘I know... keep our voices down, no loud singing or laughter.’
‘Though laughter, I deem, is a good thing when it comes to keeping up the spirits of Hobbits,’ Our Big Man said very quietly. ‘Strength and courage into the bargain.’
‘You don’t miss much, do you, Strider?’ thoughtful-Merry said.
Of a wonder, Our Big Man chuckled. ‘I try very hard not to,’ he replied.
Some thoughts here are derived from “Three Is Company” and “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.
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