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Chapter 71. We ponder the abilities of hobbits
I awaken from an uneasy doze, to the sound of voices raised – softly, for all that – in argument.
‘…ought to have been woken to stand watch, just as the rest of…’
Master and our Big Man stand close to me. Master’s hair is tousled, as if he has just arisen from his rest. My Samwise is spreading cloths on the ground, to be filled with food for breakfast. Or supper. The day is waning and though the sky is still light, above us, the cleft is in shadow. A soft snore comes from the small pile of blankets where the hobbits rested this day. Another blanketed lump lies beside the other Big Man’s shield – its owner, I deem. The fair one and the dwarf are not in the camp. I can only think they are watching the trail before and behind us.
The Master is unhappy with the state of affairs. I cannot say that I blame him. The wind still moans, ceaseless, as if it can find no rest. We are in the middle of a barren land, in the cold of midwinter, huddled against an icy wall of stone, a hollow in the side of the cleft where we walk, a cleft that funnels the wind directly into our faces, no matter which way we stand.
I am in the habit of standing with my back to the wind, when the weather is cold at the least, but it seems to make no difference in this place.
In my ponderings I have missed part of our Big Man’s answer. ‘…deemed it better that you and Pippin keep your cousin warm through the day. He was definitely chilled.’
‘Samwise stood watch,’ Tall Hat puts in. I throw up my head in startlement; I did not see him until he spoke. He is seated on a rock as grey as himself, a long pipe in his mouth, though it is as cold and empty as the land around us. No pleasant smell of pipe-weed smoke is in the air, not even the faintest memory of such. Perhaps the “no fires” I heard them discussing includes also such things as pipes.
My hobbit gives a guilty start, where he is bent over the bags, and at Master’s quiet Samwise? he turns about, hands wringing the cloth he was about to lay out with the others spread before him, ready to be filled with dry foodstuffs for each of the two-footed Travellers. His tone is earnest, his face serious; he does not want our Master to be displeased. ‘It was my turn to take the watch, Mr. Frodo, but Mr. Gandalf, he said not to waken you…’
(And yet I have no doubt that Master, displeased as he might be, would never think of taking a whip to him, beat him about the head, jerk at his ear and such, as my old misery was in the habit of doing, when out of humour. Master has shown his quality, over the long journey to the abode of the Elves, and I have no fear of him, not even on my Sam’s behalf.)
‘Halflings standing watch?’ the other Big Man (the one with the shield) says, standing up from his blankets in a sudden motion, his sword in his hand, as if he has gone from sleep to full wakefulness in the blink of an eye. ‘Is that wise?’
The smell of perturbation coming from Master intensifies, and my Sam smells indignant as well as uncertain now, but before either can speak, our Big Man answers.
‘Why, of course!’ he says. ‘They can call out an alarm as well as any, and they have rare skill to conceal themselves, so that none approaching might see them.’
‘We are not children, to be cared for and cossetted,’ Master adds in his sternest tones, standing just so tall as he might, his head craned back on his neck to meet the other Big Man’s eyes squarely.
‘Their eyes are sharp as their wits,’ Tall Hat says. ‘I have no difficulty sleeping, with a hobbit standing watch.’
The other Big Man’s face is bright with merriment, and I think he might speak again, but he says no more, only puts his sword away and bends to his blankets, to roll them tightly and stow them away for the night’s journey.
I have every confidence in him. He is able to see my worth, and compare me in a good light with much larger pack-beasts. He will come to know my hobbits, and their value, in good time.
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