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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 97. We make our own hiding places

We have found a sheltered place under some trees, and not a moment too soon, it seems, for the night is drawing to a close, our surroundings gradually lightening into twilight, and the Sun will soon be rising over the mountains to the East. Youngest hobbit is hoping for a fire, and this little wood seems wondrously accommodating, with fallen branches all around us on the ground, many still bearing brown or fading leaves as if a windstorm came through and broke them off in recent days or weeks.

Indeed, as my Sam and the Other Big Man (the one with the shield) unload my burdens from me, Our Big Man has the other hobbits collecting armfuls of fallen branches, which they are stacking near our resting place. A fire and a ‘real good meal, something hot’, seems ever more possible. I find myself wondering if one of the bags being unloaded from my back contains the makings of a warm bran mash?

But our hopes – mine and Youngest hobbit’s – are dashed when Our Big Man begins weaving the branches together, his fingers moving swiftly as if he is in a race against time. And yes, the sky is brightening above the treetops... The night is nearly done. The Other Big Man joins him, and now the Fair One, all of them weaving and weaving, and what they are doing does not look at all like laying a fire.

And even as the shadows retreat and the light reaches the base of the trees, they are finished – they have made shelters of sorts, though not like any I’ve ever seen before. They have woven the leafy branches into several low, rounded constructions – something smaller than my broken-down shed, but each one large enough to hold four hobbits or two Big Folk, sitting or lying down to sleep. I cannot make out the purpose of the weavings, for there is no feeling of impending rain in the air – indeed, my senses tell me the day will continue as fine and clear as the night was – and even if there were, these rough-woven affairs of leafy branches would hardly keep a breeze out, much less rain.

But Our Big Man hurries my hobbits under one of them, and gestures to the Dwarf and the Fair One to crouch under another. If I look closely, I can see them laying out their blankets as if to make ready to sleep under the woven coverings. The Other Big Man tosses one of the food bags under my hobbits’ covering, so at least they will have their supper-breakfast, it seems. 

Meanwhile, Tall Hat sits down at the base of a tree near the edge of the copse, his head thrown back as if he is studying the sky. In his grey robes, he is difficult to see, blending into the rough bark at his back.

Then Our Big Man and the Other Big Man do something most curious... though all my bundles have been removed and stuck under a covering of leafy branches, except for the food bag that my Sam is already unpacking, in his leafy bower there with the other hobbits – all of them strangely silent for some reason or other – they have left my harness on, and they begin to weave branches into the harness! I begin to feel as if I might resemble a walking tree or bush.

But of course, though trees have limbs, they are not of the kind to walk on, so I shake my head to dismiss such a fancy.

‘There, Bill,’ Our Big Man says, his voice almost a whisper. ‘Now, so long as you move slowly, they won’t take any notice of you.’

A sparrow chirps from the direction of Tall Hat’s tree. I smell no sparrows nearby... I realise the sound comes from Tall Hat himself, that he is speaking to the others using the scolding of a sparrow instead of words... and both Big Men freeze, as motionless as Tall Hat beneath his sheltering tree, as still as the stone trolls fading in my memory, with the Other Big Man’s hands still twined in my harness, interrupted in the middle of tucking a branch in place.

A broken shadow passes overhead, and I hear a croak high above. The birds again! We have got under cover only just in time. 

At last, the two Big Men relax, and I see them share a grin of sorts, though there is no humour in it. It appears the birds are gone... for the moment, at least. If they are flying over all the lands, as over the valley where we lately rested, then they will undoubtedly return.

‘Well done,’ the Other Big Man says in a low voice. ‘My brother could have done no better, with all the practice he’s had setting traps and finding – and making – hiding places to conceal himself and his Men from the eyes of the servants of the Enemy.’ He shakes his head and chuckles, as if he is chuckling at himself. ‘For myself, I would rather face danger head-on, in open battle, than crouching under cover and waiting for them to come to us.’

‘There is a time to charge boldly at the enemy, and a time to lie in concealment,’ Our Big Man says quietly. ‘Neither is a worthier task than the other.’

‘How well I know,’ the Other Big Man says grimly. ‘I only wish I could convince my father of that. But he is set in his ways...’

‘Of that, I’ve no doubt,’ Our Big Man says. ‘But he has held Gondor in the face of great peril, for many years. I cannot say I would have done any better, were I in his place.’

The Other Big Man smells of sudden surprise, but all he does is reach out to clasp the arm of Our Big Man and say, ‘It will be good to see him again.’ He takes a deep breath of the morning air. ‘And to bring the Sword of Elendil to the White City, a help beyond our hope.’

And Our Big Man clasps the arm of the Man with the Shield in turn (though the shield itself is resting at the base of a nearby tree), and they stand a long moment thus, gazing into each other's eyes in silence.

And then Our Big Man pulls loose of the other's grasp and slaps gently at my flank. ‘Go, Bill, find what grazing you may,’ he says. ‘But stand as still as you can manage when you hear the scolding of the sparrow...’

The Other Big Man stares in astonishment, but I simply nod my head and move away.


Author notes:

Some thoughts here are derived from “The Council of Elrond” and “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.


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