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I understand now, the white one's apology. I am not to carry the Master over the last stretch; my legs are not long enough to outrun pursuit. I hang my head at hearing the news, and the white one rubs his chin along my neck in silent commiseration.
'Sorry, old fellow,' the not-merry hobbit says, with a rub for my shoulder, but he is apologising for the load that he and my Sam are tying onto my back, as quickly as possible yet with an eye to balancing the load. Both of them have an excellent eye for such, while youngest hobbit hurries to help wherever he can. Master sits atop the white one, watching, though I see it is an effort for him to sit upright, and the smell of illness and exhaustion is strong from him.
At last all is secure, and we are ready to march. I will not let him fall, the white one whispers in my ear, and then he lifts his head, to follow his Rider without need for lead or rein. The feet of the shining one are swift, and the hobbits must trot to keep up – as must I!
For a time we make good speed, with me bearing the bulk of their burdens, and the clean smell of sweat surrounds me, mingling with older and not so pleasant odours. I am “no tray of teacakes” myself, as the hobbits might say. My coat is rough and caked with dried sweat and mud, my hoofs ragged and wanting picking out, but I put my head down and trot for all I am worth, to keep close to the white one. My Sam, too, puts forth every effort to stay by the Master, his breath coming in gasps too short for speech. He has reached up to grasp at the stirrup on the near side, so that if he loses his feet he will not lose the Master, but will be pulled along. Still he runs, determination exuding from every pore.
So we run on together, forging side by side into the deepening darkness. My rope, too hangs slack. I, like the white one, need no lead nor rein to keep me from straying. I have learned much over the space of days. I would follow my Sam where ever he might choose to lead me, just as I know he follows the Master.
It is very dark, but the shining one seems to know the way, leading us on and on, seeming tireless with his steady, swift strides never faltering. The night is deep and clouded, with neither star nor moon to shine on our way. The darkness hides us, perhaps, but perhaps something else is hid as well. I shudder to think of it, but my load is well-balanced and securely tied and does not slip.
We trot on through the night, the shining one leading and the Man behind us, to make sure none falls away. I doze, after a fashion, following the smell of my Sam though my eyes do not see the darkness around us, and I am half in a dream.
I run into the white one's hindquarters as it is, when we come to a sudden stop, but of a mercy he does not kick me. I raise my head to see the grey of dawn lightening the sky. The hobbits reel like drunken revelers leaving the Prancing Pony at the end of a feast day; the Man's shoulders sag with weariness; the Master sits huddled on the great horse's back and says not a word. I can scarcely hear him breathe.
'We will rest now,' the shining one says, unnecessarily, for the hobbits have already staggered a few yards from the road-side and cast themselves down, and from their breathing they were asleep before they quite curled themselves in their cloaks.
The shining one speaks to the Man in that unknown tongue as the latter lifts Master from the white one's back, and at first the Man shakes his head, while he lays the Master in the midst of the other hobbits. Not-merry, though asleep, stirs enough to lay his cloak over the two of them, huddling close to share his warmth. The shining one presses his point home, or so I think, for he takes his own cloak from his shoulders and lays it down beside the sleeping hobbits, and then he puts his hand on the Man's shoulder as if to push him down.
The Man nods at last, sinking to the cloak. He draws his own over his face and I think he is at once asleep, and in a deeper sleep than ever I have seen in him, since our first meeting.
Sleep now, little one, the white one whispers with a silent swish of his tail. We will watch.
I sleepily browse the tips of the heather around me. It is bitter but edible, or so a sheep once told me. At last my head nods, and I dream.
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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