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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 84. We contemplate mountains, valleys, and lost and present Elves

Tall Hat lifts his hand to shade his eyes, looking out over the vista before us. Perhaps he, too, is thinking of Youngest’s song. We see another mountain, we see another mountain, we see another mountain… And what d’you think we’ll do?

Perhaps not, for instead of exclaiming over the mountains and how much climbing appears to be in our future, he reflects instead on how far we’ve come.

My Sam listens silently, standing at my head, looking out at the mountains ahead of us, his eyes wide and his mouth slightly open, as if he has forgot how to form words. Though when the Grey One mentions ‘Elves’ he gives a little sigh.

I lay my ears back at the words ‘…perhaps all the more dangerous.’ I do not like the sound of that. Perhaps that is why I startle – just a little – as Master throws back his hood. I was not paying best attention, and it is natural for a pony to startle at the unexpected. And all the more dangerous sounds … dangerous.

My Sam does not rebuke me, simply strokes the side of my neck. But his mouth closed with a snap of his jaw when he heard the words all the more dangerous, so it is not just myself. There is a determined, even somewhat grim smell coming from him now, in place of the wonder of a few moments ago.

Youngest is not content merely to listen. No, for when ever there is a question to be asked, it seems he cannot restrain himself from asking it. Even when he puts it in the form of a statement of fact, rather than a question. ‘But the mountains are ahead of us. We must have turned eastwards in the night.’

I wait for him to break into the mountain song again, but he does not, perhaps because the Grey One deigns to answer him at once, and not leave silence for him to fill with yet more questions. Or statements that are meant to be questions, except that he has been chided for asking too many questions and so is asking them without asking them. If you take my meaning.

Tall Hat mentions something called maps. I believe I have tasted a map upon a time, left by picnickers in our paddock, a rough-drawn sketch of the walking trails around the Chetwood, or so my dam told me when she nosed the paper in curiosity, and then left off to snatch a mouthful of clover nearby.

Paper has an interesting texture upon the tongue. Taking in the map did not improve my understanding of the walking trails around the Chetwood, however. Apparently Youngest has had the same luck as myself.

The Dwarf, however, declares himself not in need of maps. He speaks as if with first-hand knowledge of the land before us, raising a brawny arm to point. Perhaps he has walked these lands before. Perhaps he ought to be our guide?

A curious thought. Our Big Man has fumbled on occasion, rather. I think of all the paths that led us to the edge of a sheer fall, or down into treacherous swamps. Would we have done better with the Dwarf leading?

I shiver a little when he speaks of ‘cruel Caradhras’ though I know not of what he speaks. Just the word ‘cruel’ is off-putting to a pony who has belonged to someone like my old misery.

But Tall Hat speaks to him of joy – and yes, there is some scent of satisfaction, and longing, coming from the Dwarf. Perhaps the Grey One can smell it as well.

Though he hastens to add that we cannot linger in that valley, the Dwarf’s old home (no more would I care to linger in my broken-down shed … ah, but that stable in the Valley we have recently quitted, or even the comfortable stable in Bree, where I had my first good meal after leaving my stinking shed … Yes, I could see myself lingering in either of those).

‘… and where then?’ cautious-Merry asks. He, too, is shading his eyes to sweep the vista, and a sober, considering smell wafts from him.

I nod when Tall Hat answers, most sensibly, ‘To the end.’ Of course.

I half expect Youngest to seize this opportunity to interject yet another of his questions, but as Tall Hat threatened to turn him into a toad, some time earlier, if he asked another question before the dawning, perhaps not. Even though it is now after the dawning, and so the danger is over. That particular danger, at least.

We are all glad, I think, to hear Tall Hat say that we will rest here, not only today, but the night as well. A full rest! And not even because a rest has been deemed necessary to succour an injured Walker. A rest for the sake of resting!

My Sam sighs again, as the Elf says quietly that there are no Elves here any more.

Save himself, that is. But when he says, ‘They sought the Havens long ago,’ my Sam sighs yet another time, and Master with him in the same breath, and for no reason I can discern, the skin on my withers shudders almost of itself.

As he is one of the Fair Ones, and he is now standing in this country where the other Fair Ones sought the Havens (whatever they may be), does that mean that he will share their fate?

Perhaps Tall Hat is thinking similar thoughts, for he shakes himself and speaks briskly. ‘Come now, let us find a sheltered place to rest. I dare say we may even be able to light a fire, if it is sheltered enough…’


Author notes:

Some turns of phrase taken from “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.

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