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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 58. We hear news of the outside world

The scouts have been returning over the past few days. Each day more horses join us at the hayracks, thinner than they were when last I saw them, and worn with long travel and much effort.  I do not remember how long it has been that they have been gone, but it was a long stretch of days. I seem to remember that they left when the grass was still green on the meadow, and now winter is full upon us. At least, the days are cold, the pale and tasteless grass tipped with silver frost in the mornings when they first turn us out, and the summer-sweet hay is more to my taste.

Strange are the tales they have to tell. One spoke with Eagles!

I have never seen an Eagle, but my mother told me of these great birds, large enough to bear away a naughty young foal that strays too far from its dam.

There is sad news, of horses found broken and drowned, and I feel doubly sorry for these, as they were evidently the black horses ridden by the Fearful riders, those who pursued the Master at the Ford, and plunged into the river in madness as the terrifying flood came down.

I should hope that such madness would never fall upon me, that I should run to my destruction! I fear I have not the wisdom, however. I am only a pony, after all.

I cannot imagine how they were able to bear their Riders, and yet perhaps they had no choice, much as my lot was cast to labour for my old misery until by some marvel, my Sam took me on.

I think if I were faced with such a choice as those unfortunates, I would fall down dead before they could approach closely enough to force my service. I hope I might, at least.

Some of the news is disquieting. Two shivering horses spoke in whispers of being pursued by wild wolves, that are hunting again far up the Great River. I do hope our path (for I fully intend to go with Sam, where ever it is he may be going) lies no where near this Great River. Although we crossed more than one river. I do not know which would be the Great one. I have no desire to try to outrun wolves, if these powerful, long-legged Elf horses escaped with their lives, and their riders’ lives, only by galloping so that their hearts nearly burst with the effort.

The white one returned some time in this night just past and I am glad to greet him. He is, as always, gracious, calling me Greatheart as the Elves do, and nodding to the old mare and to me, and shouldering aside one or two of the large, hungry scouts who are eager to feast on the hay in the racks, that Merrylegs and I might also be able to have a mouthful or three.

He has little enough to say to all who crowd around him, demanding news of his journeys. But at one point in the afternoon, when I am standing at the gate, wondering if any of my hobbits will come to see me this day, he wanders over, quite casually, as if by accident. He makes it look as if he is circling the field, pacing the line of the fence, as we sometimes do when we are wanting exercise.

(As if he needed exercise! He, too, is visibly thinner, but tougher somehow, as if he has been journeying long on short commons. He is not skin and bone, as I was, but there is not an ounce of spare flesh on his body. He is all bone and muscle, and seems none the worse for his travels.)

He stops to rub his jaw on the gate and says to me, very soft, for my ears alone, No sign of Them, not a trace to be seen, and nowhere Their presence to be felt. It seems They have vanished from the North, and while my Rider seemed somewhat disquieted, and possessed of many questions (for he drove me far and wide in his searching, and scarce seemed satisfied with finding nothing), I must say that I am glad!

And I must agree with him. If I never lay eyes on one of Them again, or their horses, or feel their shivers run up my spine, it will be too soon.

Greatheart they may name me, but my heart turns to jelly within me at the thought of Them. I can think of nothing worse that we might ever encounter, no matter how far we may journey.

A/N: A few turns of phrase taken from "The Ring Goes South" in The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

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