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Chapter 50. We think thoughts of home
I am wakened from a doze by a snort and stomp of Merrylegs' foot, and I raise my head and thrust it over the door to my stall. Perhaps the feast has come?
...but no, it is not any of the hobbits. Rather my guide stands before Merrylegs, offering an apple, while the old pony tosses his head in evident perturbation, before deigning to take the treat between his teeth, grumbling all the while.
My guide turns next to me. My ears, pricked forward when I awoke, droop with my disappointment.
My guide bows slightly and pulls another apple from his pocket. Your Sam is occupied, he says, though the corners of his lips quirk with amusement. He has followed his Master into the Hall of Fire, and from thence he will most likely fall into dreaming, and so I come, that you not be disappointed... I know this one, and he gestures to Merrylegs behind him, and Merrylegs responds with a swish of his tail, which he turned towards us after he had his apple firmly in his possession, this one most likely filled your head with all manner of hopes and nonsense of what to expect after a feast...
Not nonsense! Merrylegs whickers, though his mouth is rather full of apple. My old pet...
...is also asleep in the Hall of Fire, or was when last I saw him, my guide says, extending his hand with the apple. I most gratefully accept the treat, and he rubs my face as I chew. The music will go on for half the night, and as I've found that hobbits seem to have some difficulty in staying awake through the music and song, no doubt it will either be very late when they come, or more likely, they will not come at all but will be borne to their beds some time between middle night and dawning.
Hmph! is all Merrylegs has to contribute, but all I can do is sigh. Such is a pony's lot. Still, the apple is a comfort.
I doze, and dream of feasting. Apples, carrots, warm mashes, sun-mown hay, sweet oats, green grass, sultanas lipped from a salty palm...
I waken in the grey dawn of the early morning. A cock is crowing; a homely sound, and for a moment I am in Bree, or perhaps Archet, for there are no sour smells here, no mouldering reek.
I know as much of feasting as I knew before, and as little. Perhaps it is only something to be dreamed. Handy, that, especially if one is travelling a far distance on short commons.
The Sun is an hour or two from rising, and the stables are unusually still. No sound of munching, no soft thud of hoof against the boards. Perhaps I am the only one awake.
It is so very silent that I hear the footsteps, soft as they are, hobbit footsteps I deem, and I turn and thrust my head over the door to my stall. Immediately I am filled with joy. I toss my head, I whicker soft greetings, my Sam is here, and he has not forgotten me.
'Bill,' he says, as soft, for perhaps the silence of the stables affects him as well, and he hesitates to waken the sleepers. I rub my forehead against his shirt, and he leans into my caress so as not to be sent sprawling.
The hobbit with him chuckles, nay, laughs out loud, his voice rising in merriment, and I stop in astonishment and turn to him, for surely the voice is familiar, though the garments, finely cut and of the green beloved of the Elves here, do not smell familiar.
But the hand he holds out to me... I drop my nose, I whuffle his palm, and yes, I know his smell as from afar off. In recent days, overlaid with exhaustion and worry, deadly hurt and sickness as it was, I could barely distinguish it as we neared the end of our endeavours. But now it pours forth into my nostrils, strong and well, rested and refreshed. I raise my nose, the better to take in the smell of all of him, if you take my meaning, and nuzzle at the cloth that covers his breast, where his heart beats.
No scent of corruption, no blood, but only the fresh clean smell of bathed hobbit and laundered clothing. It seems they did not have to cut his heart out of him after all.
I push against him, and he laughs again, bringing up protesting hands to seize the sides of my face, and then he is rubbing my forehead, still chuckling.
He is solid. I breathe a gusty sigh, ruffling against the fabric of his shirt, and he says, 'I'm that glad to see you, too, old fellow.'
He turns to my Sam, though his caresses continue. 'He's looking splendid, Sam,' he says, 'absolutely splendid. I dare say they've taken excellent care of him, since we arrived. Why, look, his ribs are filling out and he's losing that starved look he had.'
'He is at that, Mr. Frodo,' my Sam says, lifting his hand to stroke my neck, and I am perfectly happy. Who needs carrots, or sugarplums, or slices of bread, I ask you? Give me the affectionate attentions of two hobbits, any day, and I will be content.
'He'll be well up to the journey home,' the Master says with a smile.
My Sam catches his breath; his eyes are shining with hope. 'Home,' he says. 'It's a fine word, and no mistake.'
The Master laughs, and I twitch my ears to catch all I can of the delightful sound. How free of care he sounds, and the lines of weariness are gone from his face, and his eyes sparkle.
'A fine word, even if it is only Crickhollow, and not Bag End,' he says. 'Of course, you're welcome to go back to Hobbiton, to your old gaffer, if you must.'
My Sam begins to demur, but the Master is not finished.
He shakes his head and chuckles again. 'What a fine joke on me,' he says. 'Here I sold up and moved my possessions to Buckland, to pretend I was going there to live, and now I actually am going to live out my days there.'
With a sigh, the Master continues, in a rueful tone. 'Serves me right, to have been so hasty,' he says. 'I ought to have closed up Bag End, said I was going on an extended holiday. Bilbo did it, after all. Everyone would have believed it of me. My father was fond of spending days, weeks even, at the Hall. Why not go to the Hall? Why didn't I think of it?'
'Perhaps you were a bit preoccupied with other things, Master,' my Sam says.
'Ah, well,' the Master says, with a last sigh, before straightening his shoulders. This hobbit is nothing if not courageous. 'Home is where you make it. I'm feeling remarkably well, all things considered. Today, or perhaps tomorrow, I'll be able to surrender my burden to wiser heads than ours, and then we can make our plans to be off home again.'
'Off home,' my Sam echoes.
I stand very still, thinking of Bree, and home as I know it.
The Master seems to understand. Keen eyes, regarding me, soften, and he gives my forehead a final rub. 'There's a place for a pony at Crickhollow, Bill.'
I put my nose up to him, in inquiry, and he rubs under my jaw.
'Home,' my Sam says softly, as if trying it on for size. I roll my eye to meet his gaze, and somehow I know he is thinking the same thing that I am thinking. This place, this Crickhollow, is not home. Not yet. But it can be. And if it is Master's will that it be so, then it will be.
The Master straightens further and says briskly, 'But I was forgetting... Bilbo said the sunrise is particularly splendid, seen from the terraces of the Last Homely House. Seeing as it's my first sunrise here, at least the first where I'm awake, I feel honour-bound to attend.'
'By all means, Mr. Frodo,' Sam says, with a last caress for my neck.
I crane after them, but somehow I feel more hopeful than wistful. Today I'll most likely be out on the pasture, eating my fill of green, green grass, but on the morrow, or not long after, I'll be on my way once more, and to a better home than I can remember.
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