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The Tenth Walker
My feet are killing me.
Honestly, I don't see how these Little Folk could stand to go along with this Big Man. Big Men aren't to be trusted. Their tender mercies are, to say the least, as cruel as the sores on my back from the blows of Bill Ferny's stick, and the pain in my mouth from the way he used to jerk at the reins, when I'd pull the sledge for him.
I'm not as old as they think me... if they were to look at my teeth, they'd see. But let that Ranger come anywhere near my teeth! I'll show him something he'll not soon forget.
The one they call "Sam" seems a trustworthy sort. He washed the sores on my back, as gently as my mother's tongue, and rubbed some sort of balm in, and he apologised under his breath as they loaded me with their luggage. Enough for two ponies, but I'm all they have.
Still, there's a gentle hand on my rope, and a quiet and encouraging voice is making my ears twitch.
The Master comes up to me now. At least, the way Sam defers to him, he must be Sam's master. Sam himself is carrying enough to be a beast of burden, and somehow I feel a kinship spring up between us as we wait for the word to start.
The Master has bright eyes, but he seems weary, as if he spent a sleepless night.
I don't wonder, with those shrieks and shadows that made me plunge in my poor excuse for a stall, in the broken-down shed behind Bill Ferny's house, and stand a-tremble long after they faded into the night.
I'm the only pony left in Bree, they say. All the others ran away. I would've run, too, could I but get free.
But I am free! Free of Ferny, it seems. The innkeeper came around this morning, and I heard silver clink and Ferny's coarse laugh, and then the innkeeper led me out of the ramshackle shed with its mouldy straw bed, stale water and inedible hay. I was too weak to do more than lay my ears back at him, but he offered me no blows nor curses, and ordered his hobbit, Bob, to feed me well.
And then Sam came. Practically a pony himself, that one. He doesn't complain, weighed down by his burden. And neither shall I.
The Master pats me gently and offers me... my nostrils widen and I'd smile if I knew how. I prick my ears forward and lift my head, reaching eagerly. An apple! I can't remember the last time I crunched such juicy sweetness between my teeth!
'There now, poor lad,' the Master says, and his tired face breaks into a smile as I rub my face against his sleeve. 'You might be better off staying, than going with us.'
Never, I think, and I snort and shake my head so that my mane flies up. My mane, no longer a tangled mess, is straggly at best, but it is smooth and well-combed, thanks to the gentle and patient work of Bob and Samwise. I swish my tail, taking pleasure in the silky, unfettered feel. No tangles left there, either.
'It's almost as if he understands you, Mr. Frodo,' Sam says, wonder in his eyes.
But of course I do.
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