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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Six days out from Bree; we reach the feet of the western slopes and travel on

The hills draw ever nearer, higher than anything I have seen in all my life, higher even than the Bree hill, which I always thought a mountain in itself, at least so far as I could understand the term.

I hope I do not have to climb them, even though there are low clefts, passes perhaps, I hear the Merry hobbit mutter, that lead into the eastern land beyond.

All along the crest of the ridge are what look to me like rocky walls, though they’re covered now with vegetation. I wonder if the leaves are good to eat; not that I wish to climb that high to see! In the clefts are ruins, stone work, looking much finer to my eye than the rough-hewn rocks my old misery dug out of the Bree-hill.

As the light fades we reach the feet of the westward slopes. Six days from Bree, I hear Master mutter, and then under his breath, so that none but the sharp ears of a pony might hear, I wonder how many more days will lie between us and the Shire when all is done?

I rub my nose against his sleeve, in attempt to offer comfort, but he shrugs away, seeming heavy-burdened though his pack lies piled with those of the others, and he stares in silence westward, as if his heart’s desire lies behind us. I wonder what sort of stable he remembers? A stall piled high with fresh, sweet-smelling hay, a bucket of fresh-drawn water, a manger of sweet oats... I remember these, very dimly, from my first home.

But on the other hand, knowing so little of hobbits, I can only wonder if perhaps his dreams take different form than a pony’s.

There is no song this night, and the hobbits roll themselves in blankets and fall asleep. The Man and I remain watchful. At least, the Man meets my gaze every time I awaken from a doze, to nibble at the grassy verge.

And when dawn lights the skies there is a wonder—a track, the first we’ve seen since leaving the Chetwood. When all of us are loaded once more with our burdens, we turn to follow it southwards. I wonder if it leads to a town. I lift my head to scent the air. There is no wood smoke on the breeze. Perhaps it does not lead to a town. Bree always smells of wood smoke, even on the hottest days of summer. “Cooking fires” my mother told me, though I never understood why one would want to cook a fire. It seems most indigestible a thing to my sensibilities.

It is no straightforward path, of the sort a sensible pony would make, trudging back and forth from one place to another, until his hoofs wear a road. Absurd, it is, impractical, diving into dells and hugging steep banks, and slipping between great boulders that I shudder to walk between. Not a proper pony track at all, and I shake my head and say so, as plainly as may be, though to the hobbits it may only be a long-drawn-out snort.

The not-so-Merry hobbit shares my ill opinion: He wonders aloud who made the path, and what for, adding, ‘I am not sure that I like it: it has a—well, rather a barrow-wightish look.’

I do not know what barrow-wightish means, and from his tone I’m not sure I want to know.

He turns to the Big Man, to ask earnestly, ‘Is there any barrow on Weathertop?’

‘No, there is no barrow on Weathertop, nor on any of these hills.’ I am comforted by his answer, though I still do not know what a barrow is, for the Merry-hobbit relaxes somewhat, and the sharp odour of not-quite-fear subsides somewhat.

The Big Man goes on to tell of the Men who made the path, and the great watch-tower that used to stand on the highest hill, this “Weathertop” which is our aim. The names mean nothing to me, nor to the Merry-hobbit, for he asks, ‘Who was Gil-galad?’

The Big Man does not answer, seeming lost in thought; or is he straining to listen? I flick my ears to catch all the surrounding sounds, and hear nothing beyond the morning birdsong, sparse it is in this wilderness, but there are still ground-birds here, and their little twitters are reassuring.

And then my Sam begins to murmur, and the others walk in silence, spellbound.

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.

I wonder what a “Sea” is, and if these hills are the mountains he means. There is more, but I lose interest, and drop my head to take a few mouthfuls of grass, as long as we are walking so slowly.

‘Don’t stop!’ Merry says, and I obediently snatch another mouthful, to oblige him.

‘That’s all I know,’ my Sam says, and I realise that the Merry-hobbit was not talking to me. No harm done. Another mouthful will suit me fine, and another...

Sam tells how he learned the song he was telling, poetry he calls it, and that someone named Bilbo made it up.

But the Ranger begs to differ. He is very polite about it, not like my old misery, who when he wished to debate a topic, often applied his fists to the other man’s head, the better to pound the facts in, or so he’d say with a coarse laugh after the argument ended and the other party was carried away. Bilbo did not write it, but translated it from an ancient tongue. All this talk is beyond my ken, and so I employ my tongue quite a bit more gainfully. The grass here is not half bad, even if I must lower my head quickly to snatch a bite here and there as we walk.

Samwise is not paying best attention, and my lead rope is loose, allowing me to indulge my greed. It’s not done, usually, to allow a pony to graze while walking. He might just take it into his head to bend his neck a little lower and even let himself down for a roll... though I am much too well-bred to do such a thing, while on a lead rein. I will wait until the burdens are removed and the hobbles are put in place, before I’ll have my usual roll in the grass.

‘There was a lot more, all about Mordor,’ he is saying. I prick my ears at the name. It has an unpleasant sound, and for some reason a shiver runs down my spine. ‘I didn’t learn that part, it gave me the shivers.’ (I am in complete agreement, and toss my head with several hearty nods. My Sam absently pulls the lead rope a little tighter, and though I stretch I cannot quite reach to lip at the grass any more.) ‘I never thought I should be going that way myself!’

I do not like the sound of this. I do not like it at all. I hump my back. I lay my ears back. I plant my feet, and the entire party comes to a sudden halt.

‘Going to Mordor! I hope it won’t come to that!’ the young marsh-stinking hobbit cries out, much too loudly for my taste. The scanty morning birdsong falls abruptly silent.

‘Do not speak that name so loudly!’ the Big Man says, and I give the young hobbit a nudge in the middle of the pack on his back that sends him sprawling.

‘Hi!’ young marsh-stinking hobbit protests. ‘I wasn’t the first to bring it up!’

‘Do be the last, will you?’ not-so-Merry hisses, hunching his shoulders and peering about us.

‘Come along,’ the Ranger says now, and my Sam gives my rope a tug. ‘The Sun is climbing in the sky, well about her business, and we must be about ours.’

I wonder, and not for the first time, just what our business is. But it is not a pony’s lot to know, I’m afraid. I must simply follow where I’m led, put one foot before the other, and snatch a mouthful here and there, as I can.


A/N: Some text taken from “A Knife in the Dark” from Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and woven into the narrative.

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