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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 61. I am offered one last chance

It does not appear that we are to set out this day, at least, and it is a comfort. It is a cold, grey day, and as we are led to pasture after our morning feeding and grooming, the East Wind streams through the bare branches of the trees, and we can hear the sound of it, a distant roar, seething through the dark pines on the hills above. It is a most unwelcoming day, and a part of me would rather stay snug in my stall, rather than walking sedately with the other horses and ponies under the scudding clouds, dark and low, as if threatening rain, or worse.

None of us is much in the mood for frolic this day – we crowd around the hayracks, taking pleasure in sharing the warmth of shaggy bodies on either side – for my winter coat has been growing in, these past weeks, and the others, too, bear heavier coats than they did on my arrival. Autumn is well behind us, and winter is here.

The days are very short, and the last few days have seemed the shortest of all. Merrylegs calls it “the turning of the year” and says the Elves have some special celebration to welcome the coming of the Light, but the days seem awfully dark to me, and the nights terribly long and cold. I suppose the green boughs and garlands that are hanging about are supposed to make things more festive. They do add a sharp, green scent to the air – but evergreens are not very satisfying to eat, and so I am glad to have my hay and grain. More welcome were the apples presented to all the stable dwellers, a few days ago, all at once! It was some sight to see, in the middle night, after we’d been put to bed  – a parade of Elves, bearing lanterns, a moving river of light, and bringing treats, for, as my guide said, it was a night for feasting for all – four-footed creatures as well as those with only two feet.

I can almost still taste that apple, crunchy, juicy sweetness between my teeth.

They bring us in from the pasture well before the dimming of the day, and I welcome the warmth of the stables, the full feed box, the grooming brush, the rubbing cloth, and picking out of my feet. Life is very comfortable here, and I almost envy Merrylegs. I would not mind if Sam should choose to stay here to the end of our days.

I doze, thinking these thoughts, my belly well filled, the straw in my stall heaped high and comfortable, and the sounds that fill the stable speak of safety and well-cared-for beasts.

And then my guide is at my nose, and my Sam with him, and Tall Hat as well. My Sam offers me a carrot, which I accept gratefully.

Tall Hat speaks. ‘Are you quite certain, Sam? There is still time to choose differently – the harness was made to be adjustable, because the pony we bring with us will all too likely grow thin on the poor grazing available this time of year, but it also means that it could be fitted to another just as well…’

I am not certain just what he means, and put my nose up to Sam for comfort and reassurance.

Stroking my neck with gentle fingers, he says stoutly, ‘Aw, Gandalf, he’ll grow just as thin if he stays! You know he’ll pine, if he does not come!’

‘He seems very happy here,’ Tall Hat says, gesturing to the high-heaped, fragrant straw, the well-filled haynet and water bucket, even my well-groomed coat, mane, and tail.

I rub my face against my Sam’s shirt. Tell him! I say, and he leans into me, that I might not push him off his feet.

‘Mr. Gandalf, listen to him!’ my Sam says.

‘Listen?’ Tall Hat says, with a quizzical smile.

‘Listen! Why, that animal can nearly talk, and would talk, if he stayed here much longer.’

My guide laughs, and pats my neck, as if he agrees.

‘And what do you think he’s saying?’ Tall Hat responds.

I take my face from Sam’s chest and snort at him, blowing a stream of warm air that ruffles the edges of his cloak.

My Sam laughs, though his eyes are serious. ‘You ought to have seen him, the other day! He gave me a look as plain as Mr. Pippin could speak it: if you don’t let me go with you, Sam, I’ll follow on my own. And he will, too!’

‘I have every confidence in him,’ Master’s voice sounds behind the others, and he comes up to us, to ask how the loading is proceeding, ‘for we are to start at dusk, you know, and not the middle night, or even tomorrow’s dawning!’

And thus I discover that this is the day of our departure. No straw-heaped bed for me, not this night, but a harness and a load and a rope to lead me. So long as the hand of my Samwise holds that rope, I am content.


A/N: Some material taken from “The Ring Goes South” in Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

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