Chapter 18. We are forced to turn away northwards out of our course
It is raining when I go to sleep, and each time I awaken it is still raining, and each time I wake the world seems darker, more dismal, and I am as soaked as if I just swam a river. More soaked, perhaps. My wet hair is plastered down against my wet skin, and my mane and tail draggle most drenchingly. My tail is nearly too heavy to switch, not that there are any flies to bother me at the moment.
At last a time comes when I waken and the sky is a little lighter. I shudder, though it does no good, for the rain is still falling and there is no way to shake off the wet. I doze again, and it is still lighter when I raise my head. The Man still sits against his tree--he has drawn his cloak over his head, and looks a little like a bird with its head under its wing--but his eyes gaze out at me when I turn my head in his direction. Perhaps he has dozed as well. Perhaps not.
The hobbits rise, stiff and groaning, complaining of being cold and damp. Master does not complain, but when the Man carries him to me and places him on my back, I can feel him shivering.
Evidently the Man felt those shivers too. He takes off his own cloak and wraps it around Master, leaving himself no protection from the rain. His clothes, damp when first revealed, are soon soaked through. He does not seem to notice the discomfort, however, and the two younger cousins seem shamed into feigned cheerfulness by his example.
My Sam is clearly anxious, I can feel it through the leading rope, but what can he do? He cannot conjure fire from wet wood, nor dry blankets from damp packs. He cannot produce hot food out of nothing. Their drowned food is scarcely appealing, and none of them ate much of anything before we began again. In point of fact, youngest hobbit offers me a palmful of his own ration of journeybread as we set out, which is supposed to be dry, but isn’t, if you take my meaning. ‘Poor lad,’ he mutters. ‘You look as cold and half-drowned as I feel.’
I nod my head and rub my wet face against his wet shoulder, but he only makes a face and stumbles forward, shouldering his wet pack a little higher. There are no songs this day, muttered or otherwise.
The hills rise still higher and steeper before us, and not-so-Merry is tugging at the Man’s sleeve. My ears were laid back, to keep out the rain, but I prick them forward to hear.
‘But... we are out of our course. We’ve turned ever more northwards--no easterliness about it at all, not anymore.’
The Man nods. ‘I know,’ he says, and that is all.
Youngest trudges a little faster in order to join them. ‘We are nearly ten days out of Weathertop,’ he hisses, ‘and Samwise tells me our provisions are beginning to run low. And now, Merry, you say we’re out of our course?’
‘We’ll turn eastwards again, so soon as may be,’ the Man says, but he raises his head and glances about us as an uneasy pony might, scenting for danger.
And still it rains.
Well before evening the Man halts our progress. ‘This is the best shelter I’ve seen in these hills,’ he says. ‘We’ll stop here.’
It is a relief to camp in some sort of shelter, after a long, wet day of walking over and around obstacles, trying to find a course along the floor of this wild valley. It is perhaps a little less shelter than my ramshackle shed had to offer, being only a stony shelf with a shallow cave behind it, little more than a scoop in the rock-wall that rises in a steep cliff to one side of the valley.
The hobbits throw themselves down without even an attempt to make a fire. The Man must rouse them to chew a handful of travel rations, grain, I think it might be, mixed with dried fruit. I would be most happy to be offered such, but no. Provisions are low.
The Man tethers me where I might browse, bark, leaves, and twigs, and then he sits himself down just under the overhang, facing outward, the hobbits huddled for warmth behind him. Being out of the immediate downpour, he manages to light his pipe, and the smoke rises, a small comfort, the smell of rest if not relaxation.
Though three of the hobbits are quickly asleep, their susurrus emerging in white puffs, Master is restless and I think he does not sleep, for he tosses and turns, and rubs at his shoulder. The others are so exhausted that his restlessness does not disturb them, I am glad to say, for with more walking in store they need their rest.
My own head is drooping when I am startled awake; Master has sat up quite suddenly and unexpectedly. But the Man simply sits and smokes, looking out, past me into the darkening wood.
Master stares about in every direction, and at last he lies himself down again, and I think that he sleeps. I hope he does, anyhow. From the look of the hills ahead, he’ll need as much strength as he can manage for tomorrow's journey.
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.