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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 39. We pick ourselves up, for we dare not tarry

All is darkness around us, the last farewell of the Sun gone from the sky. I can see somewhat in the darkness, as can the white one. I think the Tall Ones do as well, different from the men of Bree who did not see well in darkness. At least, they carried lanterns to walk at night past my old shed on occasion, and my old misery was stumbling blind in night's darkness, and it was not all the fault of drink.

All is stillness, save the weeping of the hobbits, and the soft sigh that comes from the Man as the Elf-lord lifts a hand to his shoulder to comfort, or perhaps to brace him for what lies ahead.

We must... he whispers, and I understand because he uses the speech the hobbits know, and not the strange tongue he shared with the Man earlier in our journey.

...on to Rivendell, he finishes, and I know now that he is speaking for the hobbits' ears as well, for he does not use the word Imladris, the name the white one named for our destination, what the Firstborn call their valley.

Not-merry lifts his head, wipes his sleeve across his face, says in a broken whisper, 'What is the hurry now?'

Youngest draws a shuddering breath and pushes himself upright in his older cousin's grasp. 'It, Merry,' he hisses. 'We have to... to bring... It... bring It to safety. For Frodo's sake,' he adds, when it seems the older cousin would argue. His voice breaks on the name, but he lifts his head bravely nonetheless.

Not-merry is silent for a moment, and then he creaks to his feet, as if he were an old gaffer of a hobbit, hanging onto youngest to keep from falling. In the next moment he's helping youngest to stand, and then the two are on their feet, despite the pain it costs them.

I do not know what he means, but it is clear that the others do. My Sam stands straighter, though his tears still flow. 'We must,' he says with a firm nod. His voice is hoarse with weeping.

I would carry the Master to the ends of Middle-earth, and not let him fall...! But no. They do not take the baggage from my back. I think that the Shining One will take Master upon the back of the great horse, and ride at speed to the Lord Elrond, whoever he might be, but no, again. He says that the hobbits and baggage must not be left behind, vulnerable.

'You think some of Them survived?' not-merry demands, plucking at the Shining One's sleeve as the quiet discussion proceeds. The smell of his worry intensifies. 'What harm could they do us now? We're not the ones They're after!'

The Shining One looks down, resting his hand upon not-merry's shoulder. 'They nearly took you in Bree, my young friend,' he says. 'I won't allow them to take you--' his glance sweeps the upturned faces, their eyes blinking in the darkness, '--any of you.'

'W-what would they want with us?' youngest stammers, leaning a little closer to not-merry.

'They wouldn't know what, exactly, was wanted,' the Shining One says sombrely, 'and as long as they thought you had some value they'd keep you alive, and relatively... intact, but once they discovered...'

'Never mind,' not-merry says, the words tumbling out in haste, as his arm goes around his younger cousin, to hug him close as if to protect him from the darkness around us.

At last the Big Man speaks. 'We must delay no further,' he says.

My brave hobbits would walk, but the Tall Ones forestall them. The Ranger and Elf-lord lift them to the white one's back, and there they sit, clinging together, youngest between the other two. The smell of fear comes strong from my Sam—he does not like to sit so high, especially when it is on the back of a great and powerful horse!

The white one reaches his head back to nuzzle my Sam's knee, but it makes the hobbit jump, nearly upsetting them all. He then looks to me, his eyes shining in the darkness. Tell him I will not let him fall, he says.

I move closer, one of my hoofs striking against a stone, and I stretch out my neck to reach my face to my dear hobbit. Feeling my chin rest upon his leg, my Sam strokes my face with a shaking hand.

He will not let you fall, I try to tell him.

'I'm that sorry, old lad,' he whispers. 'Not a crumb left.'

I sigh, blowing warm air over him. It is not the first time I've wished I could master the speech of Men and hobbits. Perhaps I ought to make a study of the matter.

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