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Chapter 27. We encounter... trolls at close quarters
The sun shines down from on high, dancing gaily through the half-stripped trees, as if to laugh at us for our fear. It lights the clearing ahead with patches of brightness amidst the shadows of the trees... and it illuminates something else, large forms that loom through the trees.
As of one accord we halt on the edge of the clearing, holding our collective breath as we peer through the tree-trunks.
Large forms indeed, three of them, one stooping and the others staring at him as if awaiting his next words.
We hold our breath, yes, and yet the Ranger for a different reason than the others, or so it seems to me. He is a vessel of pent-up... pent-up... Puzzled I switch my ears back and forth. His smell is not the same as the reek of fear that comes from the hobbits. He is tense, his muscles taut, yes, he is as tense as they. But...
I wrench my eyes from their horrified fascination with the trolls in the clearing, turning a dark eye on the Man to confirm what my nose and senses are telling me.
His face is as stern as usual, but the muscles of the cheek nearest me are a-twitch and his breathing is a little ragged, as if surpressing... I must be mistaken... laughter?
My unbelieving snort breaks the spell that holds him, and he strides forward. Not-merry and mud-and-terror start forward and stop again, gripping each other's arms, and my Sam jerks at my rope though I think he doesn't know what he is doing—his feet are frozen to the ground and his breath shudders out and then in again.
Master sits upright, his legs squeezing my sides, the hand that grasps my mane pulling hard as if he would urge me back from the edge. At any moment the hobbits will turn and flee.
Perhaps that is the Man's intent, to draw the attention of the trolls to himself to afford us a safe escape.
And then he speaks: 'Get up, old stone!'
He breaks his stick upon the stooping troll, and Master, if possible, sits up straighter. Nothing happens.
There is a sharp intake of breath on the hobbits' part, all together as if they are one, and then I hear Master laugh!
If it is a joke he shares with the Big Man, I wish he'd tell me and help me to understand. As if he knows my confusion, even irritation, he continues.
I wait. He chuckles, a lovely sound though rather puzzling under the circumstances, and then he goes on.
'We are forgetting our family history! These must be the very three that were caught by Gandalf, quarrelling over the right way to cook thirteen dwarves and one hobbit!'
Gandalf. They have spoken of Gandalf before. I even have a dim memory of my old misery grumbling the name, though I've no idea why or how he might have met him. Perhaps in the Prancing Pony; he spent a good deal of time there drinking up the proceeds of my labours.
Gandalf is a wizard, that much I gather. And wizards are fearsome, from what I've heard. They could turn one into a toad in the wink of an eye, if put out, and so it is always wise to treat them politely, or so it is said.
As I am thinking this over, I ponder also the smell of astonishment coming from the other three hobbits at Master's words. Their fear is melting away, and my Sam smells more of bewilderment now than terror and resolve.
I nod my head. I see how it was, now. Gandalf came upon the trolls and turned them to stone. Probably an easier thing to deal with than three large and hungry toads.
My Samwise absently strokes my nose, rubs my jaw, and I stretch my neck, letting my lower lip hang as I enjoy the caress. My ears droop a little, but I am still listening intently.
'I had no idea we were anywhere near the place!' says mud-and-suspicion. He does not smell entirely convinced that all harm is past.
'You are forgetting not only your family history, but all you ever knew about trolls,' the Man puts in.
I swivel my ears in his direction. All I ever knew about trolls is that they are forever hungered and would roast a pony as soon as look at it.
'It is broad daylight with a bright sun,' he goes on to say, and if I could shrug I would. What does that have to do with the price of taters, as they say in Bree?
I notice for the first time, when he mentions it, that one of the trolls has a bird's nest behind his ear.
They all laugh, and yet there is no explanation of why trolls are not fearsome in daylight. Perhaps he means that they ought to have seen that the trolls had been turned to stone by the wizard, by the fact that they were standing so still in broad daylight, with bird's nests behind their ears.
Master eases himself on my back and then sits straighter again. Not stiff with fear, but as if he is heartened, reviving a bit in the warmth of sunshine and laughter after so much fear, cold, and shadow.
A/N: Some (or perhaps lots) 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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