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Chapter 63. We stand before the door and think of things forgotten
My guide has finished balancing my load, and is checking the straps of my harness one more time, to make sure that all fits snugly without rubbing. A stable worker, called Carrots by Merrylegs and a few others, because she always has some in one pocket or other, is sitting on an upturned bucket outside my stall, weaving something from lengths of straw. Suddenly a horn rings out, urgent on the evening air, loud and clear. I startle, rear a little despite my heavy burden, and drop to all four feet once more, to stand trembling. In the same moment the stable worker springs to her feet and runs to the entrance, while my guide is hastily patting and soothing me to quiet, before stopping to check the harness again.
‘Well balanced,’ he says. ‘Not a bag shifted, nor a strap.’ To the stable worker, he calls, ‘What is it?’
‘It is not like any horn I’ve ever heard,’ Carrots calls back. ‘Not one of ours…’ She stares out for a long time, then shakes her head and returns to us. ‘It doesn’t seem to be an alarm call or summons. Everyone’s gone back to their business.’
‘Including ourselves,’ my guide says, and with a slap for my neck he adds, ’I have done everything in my power to make you ready, Greatheart.’
I know, I tell him, rubbing my face on his arm. From the moment he led me to this Valley, he has been my helper and my friend. I am sad to leave him, but I must follow my Sam. I will always remember.
He nods, and places a hand on either side of my jaw, his forehead to mine. ‘May a bright star shine for you in all the dark places,’ he says, ‘and lead you safely homeward once more.’ We stand, face-to-face, as I wonder what homeward means, for a long moment, and then he lifts his head away. ‘They’ll be waiting before the door,’ he says to Carrots, and the stable worker nods and takes my rope to lead me away.
I turn my head back when I reach the stable door, and he is there, his hand on my stall door, watching. He raises his other hand in farewell, and I nod to him.
The other horses and ponies meet us coming in from the meadow, and there are many soft nickers of greeting, blessings and hopes and well-wishes as they pass along to supper and bed. But I am glad to see my Sam standing before the door of the house as if he waits for me, and Master and the two younger hobbits with him, also the old pet, all warmly clad in thick warm clothes, and from the smell of them their jackets and cloaks are lined with fur.
Samwise steps forward to take my rope, smelling chiefly of new clothes and determination, and Carrots bows to him with Elven grace as she surrenders it. His eyes widen at this, and I think he blushes, for his smell changes to wonder and embarrassment, though he is well muffled in his cloak such that I cannot see much of his face save his honest brown eyes. ‘Here now, Bill,’ he says, to cover his confusion, I think. ‘Steady, lad.’ For I have shown no sign of unsteadiness, at least not here, and not now.
The Big Man sits upon the step, his head bowed to his knees. I wonder if he is ill, and prick my ears at him and widen my nostrils to catch his scent on the icy air, but no smell of illness comes from him. I smell mainly leather and steel, and I do not know what he might be thinking.
Is the old pet to come with us, then? He holds tight to Master’s arm as they wait on the doorstep, as if they would walk together on this journey.
My Sam pats me, absently I think, and I hear the noise he makes when he sucks his teeth – it usually means he is thinking deeply. I snort and rub my face against his arm, and he starts as if only now marking that I am with him. He sighs and shakes his head, taking a tighter hold on my rope, and says, ‘Bill, my lad, you oughtn’t to have took up with us.’
I snort and shake my head at him, though constrained by his grip on the rope. He eases his hold, seeing my discomfort, and strokes my neck gently. ‘You could have stayed here and et the best hay till the new grass comes,’ he adds.
I swish my tail; I have nothing more to say. I have already said it, many times, until I was heard, and this is the result: The harness is fitted and buckled, the burden is loaded high and heavy, I shall bear what I must.
My Sam eases the pack on his shoulders and the smell of worry comes from him. I wonder that he should worry now, here in this sheltered valley, where no evil thing may come. Surely the journey ahead holds worries enough?
Master and the old pet are talking quietly; the young hobbits stand close together, and young mischief asks questions in a low voice, and trying-to-be-merry answers equally low. Others are here as well; one smells like an Elf, but a different sort than the ones I have come to know here. One is a dwarf; I know their smell chiefly from my acquaintance with the dwarf ponies here, and from those I met passing through the Breeland. I know little enough about Dwarves, except for what their ponies have told me… and Merrylegs, of course, though he knows more than he tells, if you take my meaning.
There is another Big Man, too, and he bears a shield on his arm, and a long sword. There is another curious smell about him; I extend my neck for a good look and sniff. Something hangs at his belt, that makes me think of the horns of the cows in the next field, but why he should carry such a thing is beyond my understanding.
‘Rope!’ my Sam mutters suddenly, and I turn my face to him to listen. ‘No rope! And only last night you said to yourself: “Sam, what about a bit of rope? You’ll want it, if you haven’t got it.”’
I try to tell him that he may have all my rope, used to tie down my burdens – they need only eat the food I carry, use it up – and it seems as if that would not be so difficult a matter, considering how we ran short on the journey here – though I don’t know what they’d do with the spare clothes and blankets on my back… Wear them, perhaps…
‘Well, I’ll want it,’ he says.
You’ll have it! I try to tell him with a push of my nose.
He shakes his head. ‘I can’t get it now.’
I turn my nose away and let my head drop, just a little, for he has the truth of it. He can’t get it now, and I wouldn’t want him to, in any event, for if they unloaded all my bundles in order to use the rope, they’d have no reason to take me with them.
A/N: Some material taken from “The Ring Goes South” in Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. I have always wondered why Sam didn’t just speak up then and there, and have a coil of rope added to Bill’s burden, or someone’s pack. I could see him remembering some time after departing, when they reach the Ford, perhaps, and worrying. But there on the doorstep? (Can’t tell you how many times one of us has jumped out of the car and hurried into the house when the car is running in front of the house and we’re ready to go…)
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