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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 14. We climb a long rise and contemplate the Road once more

My companions continue wary, but there is no sign nor scent of those Shadows that assailed us... how many days ago? I cannot count past the number of feet I possess, near-fore-one, off-fore-two, near-hind-three, off-hind-four, so something more than four days, it would seem. The ground is rising slowly out of the wide shallow valley, and we follow a new course, north-eastwards, or so not-so-merry whispers to young marsh-stinking hobbit. I hope this change might mean something, an inn, a stable to rest in, with heaps of hay and buckets of water and grain, but when I lift my head to sample the air there is not even a tang of wood smoke to hope at, except for our own fire, when we make camp.

As has become their custom, my companions keep watch, two-by-two, though the Ranger himself never seems to sleep, or if he does doze it is but a shallow restless slumber, for he does not lie himself down but sits, slumped, and often raises his head to scan our surroundings. I doze as a pony will, on my feet, one leg at a time cocked to rest it, ears at the alert though my head droops. Yet I hear nothing as we pass another weary, if uneventful, night.

The watchers warm stones by the fire and tuck them into the Master's blankets to warm him, but I am not sure what good this does. The Master lies in his blankets like a stone himself, and my Sam does not leave his side, even to take the watch; no, he sits himself up right there until his watch is over and he may lie down once more. And even when he is supposed to be sleeping, I see movement and hear his murmur--he is chafing the Master’s hand, and muttering, so cold!

We waken and after a scanty breakfast--I think the grass is poor enough, but perhaps it is more than my poor hobbits have to eat--we resume our burdens and trudge on. Mine is hardly a burden--it feels as if the Master grows perceptibly lighter with each day that passes, though I’ve seen the others pressing food upon him, even though they short themselves still more by dividing their own rations and urging him to eat the greater share.

This day we reach the top of a long slow-climbing slope, and stop. I drop my head to crop at the grass, taking advantage of the moment, but my ears swivel to catch any talk that may be passing.

‘Look!’ youngest hobbit says, stretching out an arm. I raise my head to look, but see nothing of interest, and go back to my grazing. ‘Trees!’

‘Hills,’ not-so-Merry says, ‘Wooded hills, and the Road sweeping round at their feet.’

‘What river is that?’ youngest hobbit asks, tugging at the Ranger’s sleeve as the latter stands as if lost in thought.

‘Which one?’ Merry asks, and it seems there is more than one river in sight. Good. I could use a deep draught for a change, plunge my muzzle into fresh-sweet water and drink and drink and drink...

But the Man does not answer, not directly, anyhow. He is thinking of our course, and says, ‘I am afraid we must go back to the Road here for a while.’

The hobbits exchange glances of dismay, and I shudder the skin over my shoulders at the thought of that Road, where we heard the cold cries--and though it was many days ago now, more than I can count, they still have the power to chill my innards. I move my feet uneasily, testing the ground beneath them.

It seems that the pale-shining river to our off-side is the Hoarwell or Mitheithel, and I hear Sam mutter Mitheithel under his breath as if the Elvish word pleases him. I tremble a bit to hear that it flows from the troll-fells. I do not know what trolls are, but I’ve heard of them, somewhere upon a time. They eat ponies, I’m told. I have no wish to meet any.

The other river is called the Loudwater, or the Bruinen of Rivendell, and the hobbits look more hopeful for a moment, to hear the name--Rivendell--only to wilt again at the Ranger’s next words. We shall be fortunate indeed if we do not find the Last Bridge held against us.

I don't like the sound of that. I don't like it at all.


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

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