Chapter 17. A soaking rain begins
The rain does not seem much of an inconvenience when it begins, so fine that at first it seems but a heavy fog or mist descending from the laden skies brushing the hilltops, but rain it is, and drenching. We have been two days in this wretched country, and the hills loom high and dark ahead and behind and to either side. This valley gives no easier going than the hillside, only it's not steep.
Would that I had wings, to rise, youngest hobbit mutters, and while I’ve watched the birds darting about in the sky above our field, my mother’s and mine, and joined their dance, running in circles and spirals on the grass below them, I’ve never thought about having wings until this moment. What a fancy! But then, youngest hobbit is always saying unlikely things, and sometimes, even now, sunk in his misery... but what was I saying? I am rambling, dreaming on my feet, head nodding low. Dry, dying leaves, twigs and bark are barely enough to sustain, and I move in a fog of my mind’s own making.
Would that I had wings, to fly, and I realise that he is muttering, under his breath, the words of a song I’ve heard the hobbits sing around the fire, before Weathertop, and when my Samwise asked about it the cousins told him it was a Tookish walking song. Flying song, more like, he’d said, and ducked his head and blushed at the resulting merriment, though I also saw him smile to hear Master laugh.
The Master has not laughed, not for a long time now. He sits slumped over on my back--for I can feel it, how he shifts with my steps, and I must be especially careful not to move too quickly to one side or the other, lest he slide off completely, or even land on his head.
And still the rain continues. ‘Where does all this water come from, I’d like to know,’ young hobbit grumbles. ‘If I’d wanted a cold bath, I’d’ve said as much.’
‘Wind’s from the West,’ not-so-Merry says, lifting his head and looking up at the trees atop the dark hills. ‘A steady wind,’ he adds. ‘Perhaps this rain fell over Buckland, not a week ago.’
‘How kind of Freddy to send his weather on to us,’ youngest hobbit says, forcing a bright tone and looking towards me, but there is no response from Master, not even the subtle tightening of his legs that would mean the lifting of his head. ‘D’you think the wind scooped up half the Brandywine, that you might not be homesick?’
‘It is the water of the distant seas,’ the Man says, ‘and has journeyed much further than from Buckland.’
‘Distant seas,’ youngest hobbit breathes, and stars seem to shine in his eyes. ‘There are... seas? ...beyond the Shire? I can scarcely imagine such a sight. To the West, you said.’
And I feel Master lift his head.
‘Of course, you silly Took,’ not-so-Merry says. ‘Had you forgot the Elves, sailing to the West?’
‘Oh,’ says youngest, rather chagrined, I think, but then he thinks of a question to ask, so all is well with him once more. ‘Are all the Elves going to sail to the West?’
‘Not quite,’ says the Man, ‘at least, it is to be hoped not.’
My Samwise murmurs that he’s in complete agreement. I know that it is his fondest wish to see Elves once more.
I don’t know that I’ve even seen them once.
The rain continues, matting my winter coat down against my skin, running into my eyes, and if I lift my head, into my nostrils, making me sneeze. I am glad for the furry lining of my ears, that keeps the rain out, or I’d be wet inside and out. As it is, I’m wet to the skin, and “smell of wet pony” or so one of the hobbits mutters when he stumbles against me.
My companions, too, look wet and bedraggled, as wet as youngest when they pulled him from the marsh’s grasp, and if I might be so free, I should say that they smell of wet hobbit.
We halt at last, and youngest hobbit is careful to hang his pack upon the broken-off stub of a branch, before he goes wood-collecting. I see the others have the same idea; they don’t want to lay their packs down upon the sodden ground.
Master sits a while longer on my back, with Merry at his side, looking up, reaching steadying arms around the older cousin, talking cheerful nonsense as if there were no ill-disguised note of anxiety in his voice. Samwise and the Man are hunting about, and return with armfuls of bracken. They shake the water from these and lay them down, to make a soft and somewhat drier seat for Master to recline upon, and at last the Man lifts Master from my back and carries him to his rest, telling him not to exert himself when he would protest.
No matter how they try, they cannot kindle fire. Even the Man’s efforts are for naught. He scrapes beneath a fallen tree, but the very air consists of dampness, and what was nearly dry when he scoured it away with his knife blade, quickly becomes sodden and useless.
At last they give over and eat cold food, and perhaps their dinner is as tasteless and difficult to swallow as mine. Still, I strip away the wet bark as if I am starving... which I truly feel, might very well be the case.
‘How long can this rain go on?’ youngest asks no one in particular. No one answers.
The hobbits huddle close about Master, seeking to share their warmth with him, but still the rain comes down, and it seems that most of what they share, from what I can see and hear, are shivers.
Despite the rain, they are exhausted enough to sleep at last, all save the Man, who sits on the fallen log, his cold pipe in his mouth, humming to himself, strange melodies and sweet, and though I meant to keep watch I find myself drowsing also.
It is a good thing that ponies can sleep standing on their feet. The thought of lying myself down on the cold, sopping ground has no appeal. My head droops, and despite my best intentions, I sleep.
A/N: (oops, almost forgot to add this) Some text taken from “Flight to the Ford” from Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and woven into the narrative.