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Chapter 38. We mourn our loss, but worse is yet to come
Shuddering sobs waft softly from the three remaining hobbits, replacing the terrible quiet that reigned in the first few moments after the realization that the Master has been lost to us. My Sam remained in his frozen state but a few breaths longer, before covering his face with his hands and bursting into tears. Youngest clung moaning to the Master, a heartbreaking sight, until it seemed as if the Elf lord could bear it no longer, but gently prised him free and lifted him away.
Not-at-all-merry raised his head, which had been bowed in sorrow, at this. His arms tightened on the Master, and then released him, and he eased the limp body carefully to the ground, for in his practicality even in the extremity of his grief he could see that while the Master needed no more of comfort, youngest certainly did.
He raised his hands to the Elf lord, and the shining one saw at once his intention, and lowered the youngster to not-merry's embrace. He hugged youngest tightly to himself, as if to keep him safe from harm, as if he'd never let him go again, and then he began to weep. And youngest clung to him, sobs shaking his small frame, utterly bereft.
And so the three hobbits mourn, their weeping mingling in a soft, sad chorus.
The Man stands slowly to his feet, slowly and painfully, as one of great age, pain and sorrow might, and the shining one touches his arm and speaks urgently.
I look to the white one, for though I do not know the words, the tone is alarming.
What is it? Do the Shadow-men return?
I tremble. My heart will fail within me, I think. I am used up, worn to the bone, all courage gone. I have no more nerve, no strength to face them, or to run away.
The white one reaches to lay his chin gently on my neck. No, he whispers. They are troubled.
I can see that, I say, and if I were not so wearied I would stamp a foot to punctuate the thought. Do Those who harried the Master to his death, do They return?
Not... a long pause, as he lifts his head from its resting place and turns his eyes on his Rider. He listens, and shudders.
He blows softly, and then shakes his head, with a subdued jingling of bells. The news is evil, he says.
I shiver, and hunch my feet closer together. And yet in my misery, I think perhaps it would not be so terrible to find an end. What is it, wolves? Trolls? Death's shadow hovering?
I let my head droop, and I sigh, blowing warm air over not-merry, tousling his curls, but his head remains bowed, as he cradles youngest and weeps helpless, hopeless. Tell me, I say very low.
The Man speaks, a few slow words, more statement than question, and the shining one nods, his eyes shining with tears of his own. An Elf lord, weeping. It is a wonder to me.
The Man puts a hand over his eyes and stands very still.
It seems, the white one says in the barest whisper, as if the thoughts are too awful to voice. It seems, he begins again, pauses, and continues. Though your Master is dead, the shard...
I nod. He was wounded, I know that, and since have come to understand that some part of the knife broke off within the wound.
It moves within him still.
I jerk my head to look to the Master with fright-widened eyes. Something moves within him?
When it reaches his heart, he will become as the Shadow-ones.
A chill seizes my own heart, and I shudder violently, barely able to stand up under the horror.
But there is worse.
It is too dark here, the white one says.
Controlling myself with a great effort, I nod. It is dark, indeed. But then the question arises. Too dark?
The white one lowers his head and coughs, as if he would be sick, though we cannot vomit as dogs and people do. He raises his head and I see him swallow hard. We must bear him to the Lord Elrond.
I feel a sudden stab of hope. Can he bring someone back from the dead?
The white one shakes his head, curling his lip as if he tastes something exceedingly unpleasant. No, but he can save him from worse than death.
I blink, not sure that I understand. I am only a pony. Shadow? I say at last, very slowly, and not at all sure of myself.
The white one sighs, and lets his head droop. He paws at the ground before him, shifts his weight, and stands still once more.
How? I ask, though I am not at all sure that I should.
The white one answers, his voice no more than a breath of sound, the slightest of movement. Cut out the shard, he says, and makes a soft sound of distress before adding ...or cut out his heart before the shard can reach it.
I stand rooted, staring at Man and Elf lord.
The Man lowers his hand from his eyes, and tears glisten from his cheeks.
The three remaining hobbits weep softly, hopelessly, grieving the loss of the Master. They know not, not having the advantage of understanding Man and Elf lord when they speak in that strange tongue, or horse explaining to pony, what greater loss awaits. The horror is not yet done. Worse, if I have understood the great horse properly, yes, worse is yet to come.
A/N: Some text taken from “Flight to the Ford” and “Many Meetings” from Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and woven into the narrative. (And yes, influenced by the tableau of grieving Merry and Pippin after the loss of Gandalf in the film version of FOTR.)
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