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1. Hail Fellow, Well Met
Slumped in exhaustion from long effort, tears running down his cheeks, Bandobras missed the first tentative nibble along his shoulder. The sharp following nudge that sent him sprawling would have been difficult to ignore.
Though hobbits often give the impression of being slow, sleepy folk, he turned and lunged, quick as a striking fish to the lure, grasping the bridle that encompassed the long nose now lowered in curiosity. The head jerked up belatedly, and the hobbit held grimly to his purpose as he felt his toes leave the ground.
‘Hi, now!’ he scolded, albeit softly. ‘Hardly a good beginning!’
He looked up to the tall, dark figure slumped in the saddle. ‘Got him now, Captain!’ he called. ‘Give us a merry chase, he did, but we’ll soon have you put to rights.’ Captain was merely a term of courtesy as he didn’t recognize the fellow. But he thought he knew a warrior when he saw one, even here in the North Country, from the evident wounds on Man and steed. The horse had eluded his attempts at capture up until this moment, but weakness or perhaps wisdom had brought the beast within reach at last.
Now for the rider.
‘How are we to get you down?’ he wondered aloud, and the next moment had to scramble to safety as the horse folded its legs and sank to the ground. Wisdom or weakness indeed, he muttered.
Might as well take advantage of the situation—he moved to the saddle, positioned his shoulder to catch the Man’s weight, seized the nearest arm and tugged. In a slow collapse that reminded the hobbit of a falling tree, the rider’s weight settled onto his shoulders. ‘Now I’ve got you where I want you,’ he grunted. ‘And what am I to do with you?’
A crackling fire, that’s what was wanted, in the sheltered hollow where he’d secreted them, having dragged the Man, the horse stumbling after. A pot of water put on to boil, for brewing tea and cleansing wounds. Mushrooms and bacon roasting on a stick, his reward for tending both Man and beast and giving comfort where he could. And a pipe to practice his smoke-rings whilst watching the twilight settle around them.
But the night sounds unsettled him. To supplement his arrows and bow, he pulled the Man’s sword from its sheath—and stared in wonder at the broken blade.
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