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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 45. I muse about leave-taking

We are just settling down to the pleasant but serious business of grazing when the white one throws up his head with a snort. I startle, but the old mare simply raises her head to gaze calmly towards the stables.

But I am called away, the white one says.

I look to see the sunlight glinting golden from the hair of the one who stands, waiting, by the gate.

So I see. Take good care of him... and with a strangely wistful snort the old mare tosses her head.

The white one turns his head back to say, Don't I always? and then he is galloping to meet his rider.

So soon... one of the younger mares grumbles, and another answers with a whickering laugh, No rest for the weary!

Don't mind them, the old mare says to me, nudging me away from the others. Not wishing to risk a nip, I obey, and when she stops and urges me to eat, I am all obedience, though I roll my eye to keep the white one and his Rider in sight so long as I may. Which is not long, as they are quickly out of sight.

I lift my head to gaze after them, and the old mare says, almost as if making polite conversation, His Rider is one of the few who can ride openly against... well, let us simply say... those who are better left unnamed.

I shudder and bend my neck to crop a mouthful of grass, but soon my curiosity gets the better of me and I lift my head again to reply with a questioning look, You speak as one who knows...?

She whickers a sad chuckle. He was mine, upon a time... And with a sigh, she turns away, to bury her silvering muzzle in the lush grass.

Merrylegs comes trotting from his shady retreat. Well now, lad, he says in his hearty way. The grass is greener over by the stream, or so I've found. Come along, now. And a little sharper, Come along, I can't abide dilly-dallying! He nips at my shoulder, and I follow him toward the stream.

As we leave her, the old mare raises her head to gaze into the distance. As I graze--and yes, the grass near the stream is very good--I look over in her direction now and then. She watches, head high, her eyes fixed on a distant place, for a long time, and I wonder at her thoughts. Does she remember old days of adventure and errantry? Does she wish to be riding out into danger, against... against... No, neither will I name them, here in this peaceful valley. I can only wonder at her wistfulness. And yet, if it were my Sam, would I not feel the same?

Merrylegs has a great many questions for me, many of which I cannot answer, though he seems rather knowledgeable for all that. For one thing, he knows my Sam! ...and the Master, and the younger hobbits, though he's never met them. Ah, yes, my old pet has often talked about young apples-and-mischief! is one of his comments. A good heart, but leaps before he looks, so to speak...

Evidently his old pet is well acquainted with my hobbits, and spoke much about them to the old pony over the years they spent together, both in their wandering and after their retirement here at Imladris, which Merrylegs calls, in a hobbity way, "Rivendell".

I keep an eye on the gate, but my Sam does not appear, nor any of the others, not even Merrylegs' old pet, about whom, it must be admitted, I am decidedly curious. We pass a long and otherwise pleasant day of grazing, gossip, and dozing, and the grass is as lovely to roll upon as I had thought. The old pony tells me much about life here, and a pleasant life it sounds, indeed. I might wish to stay here for ever, or at least to the end of my days, if only...

But it is not for ponies to choose their lot.

I would stay here, with my Sam, but if he chose to go, well, I suppose I'd have to follow him. At least, I would follow, if he has not sold me to the Elves hereabouts, having planned to leave me behind all along. Still, I cannot believe he'd leave me without even a fare-thee-well, and yet...

I wish I could better understand the ways of hobbits and men. I wish...

But it is not for ponies...

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