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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 19. We eat a cold and comfortless breakfast

As is usual for my kind, I doze and waken several times through the night. Deeper was my sleep, in our little field, when I lay in the thick soft grass and my dam stood over me. Naught could harm me there.

Here, the rain pours down, and every stealthy night-noise jerks my head up, wide-eyed, listening: but all I hear is wind in chinks of rock, water dripping, a crack, the sudden rattling fall of a loosened stone. My heavy head gradually droops, and I doze again, dreaming of the broken-down shed, rain coming in through the holes in the roof, soaking me, soaking my hay into mouldy, unappetising stuff--until my next wakening.

But at some point in this interminable night the rain is less, and before morning it stops altogether, and the wind seems to be coming from another quarter. Raising my head in the grey dawn, I give myself a good shake, but it’ll take more than that, I fear. Wet to the skin, I am, and if it were possible, I’d say I was wet well inward for good measure.

My belly cramps with hunger, and I stretch as far as my tether will let me, to tear some bark from a young tree nearby. I hope I will not be the death of the slender thing, but there is no grass here. I wonder if I remember the taste of grass, the juicy feel between my teeth, the satisfying tearing sound it makes as I cock my head on my neck to pull it free of its moorings.

The Man knocks out his pipe and rises to his feet, and the soft sound and sudden motion rouses the youngest hobbit. ‘Er...’ he says, sitting up and stretching his arms out, and then he yawns widely and climbs to his feet, picking up his blanket and turning to distribute it over the others, still sleeping. He follows the Man to me and gently slaps me on my wet side as my tether is untied. ‘Poor old fellow,’ he says. ‘I wish there’d been room enough for you.’

I nod my head and lip at the palm he holds out to me, empty, of course, but there is a faint taste of salt, and that is a comfort. I rub my head against his arm, and then the Man has thrust my rope into his hand and told him to find me some sort of forage nearby. ...but don’t go out of sight.

As if I would, young hobbit mutters under his breath. He leads me from bramble to bush to sapling and back again, and I even browse some moss though it is not to my taste. At least it is green.

The others have not slept in; when we return, they are eating, and not-so-Merry holds out youngest’s portion with a cheery, ‘Hot breakfast, or cold, this morning?’ The weariness in his face belies the cheer, but I have learned something of hobbits in our travels together: whereas my old misery growled whether angry or pleased, speaking with sour tones and jerking me about with hard, harsh hands, the hobbits seem to speak lightly more often than not. As a matter of fact, the heavier the going, the lighter their speech, until at times it seems to me they might float away altogether!

Youngest answers in kind, ‘O but I could have hot anytime I wanted it, were I home! Let us have cold for a refreshing change!’

‘Cold it is then! Come and eat it up before it gets warm!’

Master is eating silently, but he smiles slightly at their nonsense, and my Sam - though the smell of his worry never grows less - his head comes up and his shoulders straighten a little, as if somehow he is heartened by the chatter.

I can see from the slowness of their chewing, and the faces they inadvertently make, that their food is quite as comfortless as mine, but you’d never know it from the soft-spoken words that pass between them.

Immediately after breakfast is done and the packing up begins, the Man lifts a staying hand. ‘Pack up, and be ready to go,’ he says, ‘but stay here, under the shelter of the cliff, until I come back.’

‘Why, where are you going?’ my Sam asks, arrested in the middle of his putting away, cheese-knife suspended above his pack; and then he blushes, as if he has said something impertinent. But from the looks on the faces of the others, any one of them might have asked the question.

‘I am going to climb up,’ the Ranger says, and I hear youngest whisper to not-so-Merry behind his hand, If he can... ‘I want to get a look at the lie of the land, a better look than can be had down in this valley.’

‘We’ll wait,’ Merry says, as if there were some choice in the matter, and watches for just a moment as the Man walks lightly away. Then he turns back to the business at hand, but instead of packing, he unrolls the bedroll he was just tying up, and lays it out upon the rock shelf once more, covering the bracken that the Man laid there last night to soften the rock for the sleepers. Perhaps he hopes to get some extra rest. But no, for his next words are to Master. ‘Frodo, lie yourself down here,’ he says, and, ‘Pip, cover him with your blanket again, will you? And yours, Samwise.’

‘I’m well,’ Master protests, though we all know he is not.

‘Of course you are,’ youngest says in his most agreeable manner. ‘Now lie yourself down, Frodo, for you’re making it deucedly difficult to cover you up, standing there like a... a rock, or tree stump, or something.’

‘You didn’t sleep well last night,’ Merry says. Perhaps he was not so soundly asleep as appeared to be the case, after all. In any event, it appears he was aware of Master’s restlessness.

‘I’m sure none of us did,’ Master says, but seeing his cousins’ set and determined expressions, he sighs at last and sits, then lies down. They cover him well, and then Merry crouches beside him.

‘There,’ he says, ‘that wasn’t so difficult, was it?’

‘Would you like a bedtime tale?’ youngest says brightly.

Master yawns, but then he points out that the Man has told them to pack and be ready to move on when he returns.

‘Very well, we’ll pack, if you’ll sleep,’ youngest says, and bends to the task, humming softly. Merry joins the quiet song, and Samwise shyly adds a third voice to the harmony, and very soothing it is, too. I drowse, one foot cocked, my head drooping, carried away on a murmur of song.


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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