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Chapter 74. We follow winding paths to sheer falls, and swamps
I have lost track of the days of weary walking in the bitter dampness, with this eternal wind. By day we huddle in what ever shelter we may find, but still the wind finds us, and bites deep. It is a wonder that none of my hobbits has fallen ill. Indeed, often I hear the Master or shivering-Merry fussing over Youngest. They are worried, it seems, that he will catch his death.
Why should one go chasing after death, in any event? Still, the one or the other keeps him anchored to an older cousin’s side, as if to keep him from racing off and perhaps laying hold of doom, some way or another that is beyond my ability to fathom.
On second thought… I lift my head and sample the ceaseless wind, blowing from behind us for the better part of the hours after middle night. There is an elusive scent ahead of us, something that stirs in my memory, an unpleasant memory that makes my skin shudder of itself, and my ears lay themselves back without my willing them to do so.
I am not shivering – though despite my heavy coat, the chill wind penetrates, and I am everlastingly cold – no, I am not shivering from barely remembered fear. So the smell – what is it? It is an itch I cannot scratch. So the smell is not of danger, at least, not immediate danger, or overwhelming danger, or the sort of danger to make a pony pull hard against the leading rope, preparatory to whirling about and fleeing in unreasoning panic.
I have had those moments, though thus far, firm hands upon my rope have kept me from such humiliation. Though I know, in hindsight, that staying with my hobbits has worked out better than fleeing (which would leave me on my own, in this wild land, a fearsome thought indeed), well… Ponies are not well-equipped for looking behind. Our eyes are set to either side of our faces, giving us wide vision to either side, and ahead, that we might see dangers encroaching. Our ears are set to swivel in every direction, that we might hear danger’s approach from any direction, even from tailward. Our nostrils, we can flare wide to catch the scent of good, fresh grass, or sweet water… or danger on the breeze.
But we ponies do not have much (if any) capacity for looking behind us, and it is just as well. If one is galloping headlong away from danger, one needs to pay heed to one’s footing, after all. Looking behind causes one’s speed to falter, and if running from danger, well, I don’t want danger to catch me, now, do I?
In any event, I have finished my pondering of the idea of “hindsight” – a word I hear muttered from my Sam, at times, especially when he is mourning over the rope he did not bring with him.
Though Tall Hat has expressed his confidence in our Big Man more than once, and his knowledge of this land, I have to wonder. We have been wandering for days, as memory serves me, and yet the mountains ahead creep forward only slowly. We follow twisting, winding paths, only to come to a sheer bluff as often as not, or a rockfall that has blocked the path, or taken it away altogether, as happened this day, shortly after our nooning, er, middle-night pause to rest.
If he knew the land so well, wouldn’t we be further along? Would we encounter so many checks?
But who am I to question our Big Man? I am only a pony, and my thoughts on the best way to go matter not at all. And far back in the back of my brain is the stable-longing, yes, even for my broken down shed. It is always there, and I must not hearken to it. I would rather wander to the end of my days, so long as I am with my hobbits, than find shelter from the wind in my miserable old shed with its leaky roof.
The night is waning, and for once we have been making good progress.
Then the wind drops, for but a moment, as if to portend the sunless dawn, and the smell comes to me clearly for the first time, though my companions take no notice. My skin shudders all over, even under my burden, and I drop my head and plant my feet. I baulk.
My rope pulls tight as my Sam, walking half in a dream, walks on without me. And then I feel him stop and stumble, as he comes to the end of the slack. ‘Come along, Bill!’ he scolds under his breath.
His aim, I think, is to keep as close behind Master as he might; Master, who at present is walking with shivering-Merry, Youngest firmly between them. Either they are blocking him from what wind they might, or huddling for warmth, or perhaps holding him back from running ahead to catch his death. Their caution is made perfectly sensible to me as the noisome odor wafts clearly to me. I am astonished that my companions seem to take no notice, actually, but of course they know what lies ahead, or why would Master and Merry keep such a tight hold on Youngest?
After all, they nearly lost him in a marsh once before.
At least there are no midges here. I do not know if it is the cold, or the wind, or both, but there are no midges. We must take our blessings as we find them, or so my hobbits are fond of saying, even in the bleakest of circumstances.
‘It’s a bog!’ Youngest cries in misery, as we round a bend in the dim light of the dawning, to contemplate the path leading into, and disappearing into, the treacherous ground ahead. As if he did not know…
But perhaps he did not, and that is why his cousins walked to either side of him, and kept a good hold on him.
There will be no falling into a bog or marsh or swamp, this time at least.
I am glad when the Big Man, after long consultation with Tall Hat, decrees that we must turn away from the swamp and retrace our steps.
Though why he would have led us this way in the first place, is a mystery to me. It is not my place to reason why.
I am only a pony, after all.
A/N: Some words and turns of phrase taken from “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.
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