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Chapter 31. We meet hope unlooked for, aid unexpected
The Man stands as if rooted, and then he is urging us off the Road to the left, up the hill. We are not in a wood, more's the pity; heather grows to either side.
The hobbits do not hesitate to follow his direction; upward we scramble, into deep heather and bilberry brushwood, hardly enough to hide my lower legs, much less a tall Man. Even were we to lie down in the brush, it would not be enough cover. Ah! But I see now why the Man sent us this way. Further up the slope is a patch of thick-growing hazels, and behind these we take shelter. Perhaps it will be enough of a concealment, with the light failing as it is.
The Master slides from my back, steadied by more-anxious-than-merry, but he resists the others' attempts to sit him down and instead peers out at the Road, faint and grey below us. The Man is the last to climb; he seems to be making sure that the vegetation lies undisturbed by our passing. The sound of hoofs draws ever nearer, going fast, a light-footed gallop, I think from the sound, but at last he is safe under cover.
I hear a dim ringing in my ears, now louder, now fainter, as if a fickle breeze blows the sound away.
Master puts a hand to his ear, his face intent. 'That does not sound like a Black Rider's horse!'
'It does not,' not-merry-but-more-hopeful-than-before agrees, cupping his own ear.
'Not at all!' youngest hobbit says, catching his breath, his eyes shining.
My Sam says nothing, but he stands taut, holding me fast, his fingers tightening in my mane, for I...
I am all a-tremble at the mention of Black Riders. Memory returns, dim but terrifying, of the menacing figures in the dell, the chilling cry on the air... and now the hobbits' fear is clear to me.
The hobbits sound hopeful, but smell of suspicion. Yet the Man... his smell changes completely. He is leaning forward, stooped to the ground, and he too has a hand to his ear, but his grimy face shines with joy-unlooked-for in the last of the fading light.
All is darkness, and the leaves rustle softly. The hoofbeats sound ever louder, as does the ringing, jingling of sweet bells, sweeter than any I've heard passing through the marketplace. Wide-eyed, I watch, my ears pricked forward, my fear forgotten. For certainly, it does not sound to me like a Black Rider, either. More importantly, it doesn't feel like a Black Rider's approach, if you take my meaning.
The horse that bursts suddenly into view is not black at all, but white, ghostly white, gleaming in the shadows as if with a light of its own, running swiftly. Its headstall flickers and flashes as if some of the living stars themselves have been fastened there. The rider, too, shines in the dusk, golden hair streaming behind him in the wind of their passing.
One moment running swiftly; in the next they have halted, and the rider gazes upward towards our thicket. The horse, on the other hand, is clearly alert and looking from one side to the other, watching for danger.
The Big Man jumps up and out of our hiding place, leaping down to the Road through the heather with a glad cry, and the shining one slips from his saddle and runs lightly up to meet him, calling strange words in a clear and ringing voice. I startle at the haste and fear in his tone, and my Sam's hand absently soothes my neck. I say “absently” for his eyes are riveted on the graceful figure, and he scarcely breathes.
As they come together, the clear and musical voice continues, the words still unknowable, but spoken in haste.
The Big Man nods and gestures to us. He is beckoning, and the Master starts forward, his younger cousins to either side, steadying him as they hurry down the hillside. My Sam gives a start, and moves to follow, pulling at my rope. I need no urging. I am drawn to the shining ones as a moth to the light.
I hear the Man say, 'This is Glorfindel...' as we approach, and then the great white horse is extending his nose to me. I hunch a little, and quiver, waiting for him to put me in my place, but his mouth is not open to snap, and his ears are forward and friendly, his eyes dark, wise and kind.
Greetings, little one, he says. We were sent from Rivendell to look for you. My Rider is glad to find you at last. I am very glad to see you well and whole. We feared you were in danger upon the road.
We are not all whole, I say, lifting my head bravely.
He does not lay back his ears at my boldness, but lowers his face until our noses touch, and then his nostrils widen as he inhales, the better to take stock.
Not whole? he says, lifting his head again.
The Master has taken harm, I say. The Black Ones...
At this he lays back his ears and gives an angry stomp, but it is not directed at me.
The Black Riders, he mutters, and shakes his head, causing the sweet-sounding bells braided into his long, silky mane to ring softly. We came upon some of them on the Bridge, and pursued them toward the West, and two others were too cowardly to face us, and turned southward. He snorts. Cowardly wielders of fear!
Were you not terrified? I ask, lifting my nose to him.
He gives a whickering laugh, and there is humour in his eyes, and self-knowing. So long as my Rider is with me, I will fear no evil thing.
We saw them also, I whisper, and shiver. They came... They came into our camp...
And you did not run away?
I bow my head, too full of shame to answer.
And they have pursued you since, and you have not run away, but bore your burden with courage and fortitude, he says. I would shake my head; I steal a glance at him. His ears are cocked to catch the words of our companions, but he looks at me in a friendly way and his eyes are wise and knowing.
I turn my eye on the golden shining one, who is still speaking to my companions. There is an exclamation from my Samwise, who drops my rope as the Master sways and clutches at his arm. The golden one moves swiftly to catch Master as he sinks to the ground, and he lifts him gently.
That is your master? the white one asks.
He is The Master, I say, and then nod at my Sam. That one... that one there is mine.
Our ears go back of one accord as the Man draws out the hilt of the knife that wounded the Master, and hands it to the shining one. He speaks briefly of the attack, and I listen intently, learning what occurred after I hit my head when my hobbles caused me to fall.
A smell of unease comes from the golden one, he speaks a few low words and the Man puts the knife hilt away again.
Watch now, the white one says, nudging me. My Rider has power to heal...
I feel hope stir as we watch the shining one probing the Master's shoulder, for the smell of sickness and weakness lessens.
The shining one looks up from the work of his hands, to where we stand, almost at his elbow.
You bore him here? the white one says suddenly. I see the mark of a rider upon your back.
I did, I say, lifting my head proudly. I would bear him to the ends of Middle-earth.
I am sure that you would, the white one says, his tone gentle. And so I must ask your forgiveness, little one of the great heart.
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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