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Chapter 64. We depart and begin a long climb
A horse or pony can sleep with eyes open, standing upright – perhaps the head will droop, just a bit, or so I’ve seen in others. Standing before the door, waiting for what ever it is we might be waiting for, I doze, at the end of the rope Sam holds. I can be awake and alert in an instant; should danger present itself, for one thing, though I have repeatedly heard that no evil thing may enter this Valley. Or should my Sam let go my rope, or pass it to another, that would waken me. But safe, secure at the end of the rope, the other end safe in my Sam’s hands, I doze.
There is some talk around me, I think, and one ear twitches though I do not hear the words. The voices are low, in any event: the Lord of this place, grave yet somehow infusing courage into the heart; the rumble of a Dwarf; the higher pitch of the old pet, followed by a chorus of soft voices, chiming the word Farewell!
And with that, I feel the rope between us twitch in Sam’s hands, and I raise my head. Shadows move around me – the others are already walking away from the door and those who are gathered there to see us off. The old pet stands hovering before the doorstep, smelling of anxious eagerness, the Lord of the house behind him, a hand on his shoulder. But he moves forward, shivering a little, calling to my Sam, and my Sam – about to follow after the rest – turns back.
‘Yes, Mister B—‘ he begins, but the old hobbit interrupts, stuttering with the cold, taking my Sam’s arm between his two hands.
‘Take… take care of him for me, Sam,’ he says, and there is a catch in his voice, as of tears that only now are able to force their way to the surface, tears that he has kept well hidden to this point. I think he would say more, for he makes a noise deep in his throat, of distress, and grief; and despairing hope forced over all as a tarpaulin might be used to cover an untidy pile of firewood.
‘I will, Mr. Bilbo. I will,’ my Sam says, soft and low, taking one of his hands from my rope to cover the old pet’s hand. I know the warmth of my Sam’s hand, the comfort that it brings. The old pet raises his chin slightly, blinking away tears, setting his face in a smile that is calmer than his smell would suggest.
And then youngest hobbit is there, having darted back to us from near the fore. ‘Are you coming, Sam?’ he says. ‘We’re started!’ He has a gift for stating the obvious, youngest hobbit does, but before he can continue with a string of questions, my Sam answers.
‘So we have,’ he says. ‘You’d best catch up to Mr. Merry, Master Pip, before he misses you and starts to worry, and the whole party comes to a halt.’
‘That would hardly be a good beginning!’ youngest hobbit says with a laugh, and could I not smell the jangling of his nerves I’d think we were setting out upon a picnic, a holiday walking party, and nothing more. He turns away and though he breaks into a trot to catch the leaders I hear almost no sound of his feet. I wonder if and how I might walk so silently? It is something to ponder.
Before either hobbit can speak again, the Lord of this house is there, laying his hand once more on the old pet’s shoulder. ‘Come in now,’ he says quietly. ‘The fire is bright on the hearth, and I have ordered a warming drink. We cannot have you taking cold; Frodo would never forgive us…’
And the old pet allows himself to be urged away, though I see him cast a last longing look back at us as my Sam turns to follow the rest, already fading into the dusk. Then the rope pulls at my nose, and I follow my Sam.
The sound of the stream, somehow quieter than it was on the day we arrived in this place, grows louder as we walk, and the smell of the water grows stronger. And then there it is: the fearsome bridge rises before me. If you can call it a bridge.
Were it any other but my Sam… but it is his hand on the rope, and he walks steadily forward after the others, and they have crossed safely. Even youngest hobbit – there has been no startled yell, no splash, as there was in the Marshes when we nearly lost him. Even youngest hobbit has skipped over the span, as if the heavy burden he carries on his back is naught, not trudging as my Sam does. Though perhaps my Sam’s burden is heavier.
In any event, I do not wish to pull my Sam off balance by baulking, and perhaps cause him to lose his footing and fall into the stream. I follow meekly, with only a quiver of uneasiness to disturb my skin, up the small slope and over and downward again to solid ground. I keep to the exact middle, following my Sam’s example. A very practical and cautious hobbit is my Sam.
The way out of the Valley is steep and long and winding; our pace is slow, burdened as we are, and for the most part we are silent. Youngest leaves off his light-footed pace fairly quickly and walks alongside not-very-Merry, leaning forward, head down not in defeat but showing the effort of the long climb.
My head is lowered, as well, for the path is steep and my burden is heavy, enough for two ponies I think, and I might be pulling the sledge up and down the hills in the Breeland – except that here there is no “down”, only up, and up, and up. It is easier to plod along, up and up, if you lower your head, stretch your neck forward, let your nose pull you along, I find.
My companions are for the most part silent, except for a small Oompf! when youngest hobbit stumbles, and a murmur of encouragement as not-very-Merry grabs his arm to keep him from falling. This would hardly be a good beginning! echoes in my mind, but the older cousin manages to keep the younger from going sprawling, and from the awkwardness it appears that youngest hobbit’s pack is far heavier than he let on at the beginning.
We all bear heavy loads, it seems, from the heaviness of the footfalls of those who walk ahead of me. They are not loud in their going; hardly to be noted, but to a pony, ears pricked and listening for anything out of the usual (what ever “usual” may be on this journey, which I have yet to learn), the heaviness of the treads is discernible.
Even Master, whose pack looks to the eye to be the smallest of the whole party, walks as if he bears the heaviest burden of all.
A/N: Some material taken from “The Ring Goes South” in Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. I have taken the liberty of adding a few parting words between Bilbo and Sam, which Frodo (as author of the account in the Red Book) might not have been aware of, but seemed plausible to me.)
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