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‘Let us make for the top at once,’ young marsh-and-mischief says, as if he were not lagging behind and out of breath a few moments ago, ‘while the daylight is broad! What a view the hilltop must command!’
‘We’re not in your Green Hill country, Pip,’ says Master. ‘And this is no walking-party, climbing to seek the best view, and then having a picnic atop, to watch the sun go down.’
And the Merry hobbit sounds a cautious note. ‘Would it not be better to stay quietly hid here at the foot of the hill? There’s no cover.’
‘Nothing’s moving on the hill,’ young hobbit says, shading his eyes to scour the slopes.
‘Do you see anything of Gandalf?’ Master says, but young hobbit, after sweeping the hill with his keen, bright eyes, shakes his head at last. The Big Man, too, has been searching, and if this “Gandalf” were anywhere on the near side of the hill, they’d have seen him, no doubt.
‘We can only hope no enemy or spy is observing us,’ the Big Man says, turning round again to look in every direction, and turning his eye to the sky yet again, looking for birds, perhaps. ‘In any event, concealment is no longer possible, in this open country. We might as well climb to the top, and do a little observing of our own.’
I sigh. Climbing to the top, fully burdened, would not be my first choice. They can hardly leave me here at the bottom, however. I carry the food, after all, that they will picnic upon.
What a curious idea, to climb a hill in order to have a picnic. Food tastes just as good without the climb, I’d think. And who’s to say the grass is greener at the top?
I am very relieved when we discover a sheltered hollow on the western flank, and the Big Man turns aside to look it over, very quickly. We wait, and I swish my tail to pass the time.
He returns quickly, to say that there is a bowl-shaped dell with grassy sides at the bottom, ‘perfect for the pony. The grass is sweet and fresh, and there may well be a spring here, where we can fill our water bottles. It will make a good, sheltered spot to camp this night, or at the least, have a short rest and bite to eat before we go on.’
All of us go down into the hollow, and the hobbits pile their packs, and the luggage I carry, and the Big Man leaves off his burden, but the young hobbit has not forgotten the hilltop. ‘Shall we not go to see the sights?’ he says.
‘I am going,’ the Big Man says, ‘and Frodo, if you wish, you may come, too, while Sam and the others are making up a meal.’
I catch a whiff of suspicion from the Merry hobbit at this, that the Ranger might be trying to take Master off alone for some dire reason, and he speaks up. ‘I’ll come too!’
‘But that leaves Sam alone to do all the work, and that’s not fair!’ says the young hobbit.
Master looks down his nose at marsh-and-mischief. ‘Too true,’ he says, ‘and so, Pip, I think it would be eminently fair for you to help Samwise.’
‘I don’t need help, Mr. Frodo,’ my Sam says, with a blush.
‘Of course you don’t!’ the Merry hobbit says, too heartily, with a slap for my Sam’s shoulder. ‘But Pip’s awfully fond of singing at the top of his lungs, when he reaches the top of a hill, and so we’ll put temptation out of his reach, shall we?’
‘I’m not so daft as all that, Merry,’ Pippin says, hands on his hips.
‘No, but you’re staying to help Samwise,’ Master says, and because he is Master, there’s not much young marsh-and-mischief can say.
Besides, the Big Man has already started walking out of the hollow, and Master and Merry must scamper to catch him.
Young hobbit grumbles a bit under his breath, but begins at once to explore the clearing, while my Sam makes sure of my hobbles and turns me loose to graze. Ah, yes, the grass is indeed sweet, and I crop contentedly, while swivelling my ears to keep track of doings.
‘A spring!’ young marsh-and-mischief yelps. ‘I found a spring, Sam!’
‘That’s fine!’ my Samwise calls back, only much more cautiously. ‘But try to keep your voice down, Master Pippin.’
‘And footprints!’ Pippin calls, more softly, and my Samwise leaves off his midday meal preparations to investigate. Curious, I follow.
‘Animals?’ Sam says, and the young hobbit shakes his head.
‘Feet—boots!’ he says. ‘Look, there—and there!’ And he and Sam move back and forth, going over the soft ground, while I move closer to the tantalising sound of trickling water. I dip my nose, smelling deeply, but the water is icy cold and makes me sneeze and snort in surprise. And then I drink, greedily, moving my nose forward and back in the water, relishing the smell and the feel of it, as well as the taste, for all I’ve had to drink this day was a little water nuzzled from the hand of the Big Man, as he poured water from his water bottle into his palm.
My ears keep listening, moving back and forth to catch the sound of the hobbits as they explore the hollow. ‘There’s been a fire here, and not so very long ago!’ Pippin calls, and my Sam answers that he’s found a stack of firewood!
The young marsh-smelling hobbit bounces to where my Sam crouches, behind some tumbled rocks, his energy quite restored by the excitement of all their discoveries. ‘Who d’ye think left it?’
‘I wonder if old Gandalf has been here,’ my Sam says slowly. ‘Whoever it was put this stuff here meant to come back it seems.’ He scratches his head and adds, ‘Come, lad, let us look at the fire ring. Perhaps we’ll find something else...’
And they mutter between themselves as they walk in circles in the middle of the hollow, but as the better grass is on the slopes I don’t hear more than a word or two. At least they are busy and happy, and as the others haven’t come back yet, it gives me more time for my grazing.
The sun is westering in the sky, and clouds are creeping towards us out of the East, and I expect the Ranger to return at any moment, with the Master, chiding my Samwise that the meal is not yet ready to eat, so that the hobbits must eat as we walk, or even do without. No doubt the moment they return they’ll be packing us all up again with our burdens, that we might put as many miles behind us as can be before darkness overtakes us once more.
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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