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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 62. Comfort, and a blessing to go on

So we are to walk in the darkness, and sleep in the daylight, quite as if we were those tiny flying creatures that squeak in the night hours – I remember, dimly, seeing them darting above our pasture on warm, summer nights, as my dam and I dozed under the stars, and hearing their thin voices. I do not remember how she named them, or even if she knew a name for them; only, she said that they were not birds, but something else.

I do not know how long we will walk the nights away, only that it will be until we are far from Rivendell, or so my guide tells me as he fastens the harness in place and begins to load me with the walking party’s needs. He also tells me something of the country we will be passing through, rough and barren, but you are a sure-footed beast, and have already proven yourself in difficult country, or so Estel has told me.

I wonder who this Estel might be, and how he or she might know aught of me and my efforts. Perhaps one of my hobbits told a tale or two while we rested here in this pleasant place.

Though we are to walk in darkness, somehow the night does not hold as much terror for me as it once did. There is One here, one of the Fair Folk, who comes often to the stables in the nights, to bring a treat to the old mare or Merrylegs or one or another of us, and often stops by my stall if I am wakeful, to stroke my nose. She is fairest of all I have seen here, as young and merry as a maid, but with age and wisdom in her gaze. She smells of flowers in the grass under a star-filled sky, and her voice is soft, her fingers gentle in their stroking but strength flows from her touch.

She has come often, of late, every night for more nights than I can count, to whisper with the old mare, and always she stops at my stall to stroke my neck, to pause and consider. She comes now, as they are loading me with burdens, and stops before me, gazing deep into my eyes. Greatheart, she says.

I nod my head and snort softly, and she smiles.

My beloved has told me much, of how you eased his burden on the journey here, she says. And now you are to journey on… I am glad that you elected to go with them, even knowing the fear you faced in the past, and not knowing what lies ahead.

I do not quite understand, but then, any journey in the Wild is fraught with danger, and I am only a pony. I have only my heels, if you please, whether I may use them to kick, or to run away. But I was not alone, coming here – the others had swords, at least – and I will not be alone, going onward. I will have my Sam with me.

I am not sure who her beloved might be. Perhaps it is my Sam, for he is certainly one to be beloved. Or the Master?

All I can do is my best, and I tell her so, and she nods, and reaches out those soft, strong fingers, and braids my forelock, tucking it up so that it no longer covers my eyes. We would not have you tripping over your own feet, because you cannot see your way!

I snort again. I can see in the dark! …at least, better than most two-footed, save, perhaps, the Fair Folk!

Yes, she says, but I would do my part, little as it is, in aid of your venture. And she kisses my forehead, where the hair forms a whorl, and whispers a blessing in a tongue I do not know, and then she says, slowly and clearly, that even a pony might understand, May a Star shine upon the hour of your departure, and as you journey, and watch over you and bring you safe home again in the end… whether or not we ever should meet again, I will be thinking of you, and blessing your courage.

I shake my head at this, for I know I have but little courage. I am only a pony, and courage is for the strong and mighty.

She laughs, but does not tell me why, saying only, Ah… but Greatheart…

She takes her leave, and my guide bows low to her, and the gathering shadows are somehow the less dark for the memory of her look, and her laughter. When the stars shine above us on our journeys, I shall think of her, and somehow, I think, the darkness will be the less, if you take my meaning.

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