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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 85. We move down into the valley of the forgotten Elves

Tall Hat walks ahead, stepping down from the low ridge, and the two Big Men and the Fair One walk to either side of him, spreading out ever-wider, seeking…

In the mean time, my hobbits stand in a little bunch, myself in their midst, staring out over the valley and the mountains that rise beyond.

‘The first stage…’ Master says, and passes a hand over his eyes.

‘Is safely over,’ Youngest says with a kind of determination. He gives himself a shake. ‘Gandalf said so, and I suppose he ought to know.’

For some reason, Master and Merry both find this risible; I hear a chuckle escape Master’s lips, and merry-Merry’s shoulders shake briefly before he straightens and says, somewhat briskly, ‘Yes, Pip, and I’m sure he’d be gratified to hear your good opinion of him.’

‘I suppose he ought to know,’ Master echoes, laughter still in his voice. He slaps Youngest on the shoulder. ‘Ah, Pip…’

There are words left unsaid, but Youngest stands straighter under his heavy burden, and then he attempts to execute a few fancy steps. He reminds me of the hobbits who picnicked on our meadow a time or three. They were very polite, and always shared an apple or slice of bread with an inquisitive pony if my mother or I should stick our heads over the fence to greet them. After eating, and after resting sprawled on their picnic cloths, one would strike up a sprightly tune on a fiddle or flute, and the rest would jump up, join hands, and dance. My mother and I would nod our heads to the music, and a good time would be had by all.

Unlike the light-footed, unburdened picnickers, Youngest stumbles on the uneven ground, and only a lightning grab on Merry’s part saves him from sprawling. ‘None of that, now,’ the older cousin scolds, though laughter is still in his voice. ‘Even though you’d have all day and tonight as well to recover from a twisted ankle, I do not think a twisted ankle would add at all to the sensation of rest and ease. Let us not be so bold as to turn our ankles.’

‘Let us not, and say we did,’ adds Master, his words light and his tone cheery, as he takes Youngest’s other arm as if to escort him down the slope, into the valley.

Indeed, it is difficult not to feel light-hearted in this place. The sun seems to shine all the brighter, and the air is fresher, somehow.

‘Which of our scouts shall we follow, do you think?’ Master says, shading his eyes with his free hand.

‘Straight down the middle, I should venture,’ Youngest answers, undaunted by his near mishap. ‘That way we’ll have less distance to travel, should the farthest one be the finder of our resting place.’

Master turns his head towards Youngest, and ruffles his curls. ‘You’re making more sense than you usually do,’ he says affectionately. ‘I don’t know why, but I feel as if it ought to worry me.’

‘That’s because worrying you has been his business since the beginning,’ Merry puts in. ‘Have you forgotten the time he wandered, as a faunt, and we searched half the day…’

My Sam snorts softly at this, as if he remembers the event very well and does not consider it proper material for jesting. Then he shakes his head, as if to chide himself for ‘thinking ill of his betters’ as I’ve heard him mutter to himself on occasion, when the other three hobbits have been making rather less sense, to my understanding, than my own practical, solid Sam.

They can be quite nonsensical, those three gentlehobbits, when the whimsy is running high.

Not that it has run all that high, since leaving that protected Valley, of course.

My Sam and I sigh in the same breath, and I think that perhaps our thoughts are the same in this moment. I shake my head to settle my mane, and the two of us step off at the same time, moving down the slope (not directly down, mind, but at the same angle that our scouts took before they separated and began to pick their way down diverging paths), eventually following the footsteps of the wizard.

I swivel my ears back, to listen behind me, and at last I hear the other three moving on the path behind us.

The Dwarf remains atop the low ridge whence we have just come, either keeping watch behind us, or watching over our party, or perhaps yearning towards the land where his people's fathers worked of old, and the mountains – now rising before us in truth – that stand tall in his dreams.


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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