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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 87. We make good use of our rest

I cannot seem to find rest. 

So I put the restlessness to good use, wandering and pulling mouthfuls of grass, ‘mowing the lawn’ as my Sam says, looking up at times to keep a watchful eye on me, ‘and doing a thorough job of it!’

My companions seem jolly this morning. They have lit a fire, which is something we have not often had along the journey, and the younger hobbits have been practically giddy, sitting around the fire, talking and joking and storytelling and sipping from steaming cups and eating hot food for their supper-breakfast.

My own meal is rather more pleasant than it has been since leaving that Valley. The grass is somehow sweeter here than the winter-soured stems I have found along the way.

The Other Big Man (the one with the shield) expresses interest once more in the younger hobbits’ swords, ‘You said there was a tale to tell, when first I asked, but the time never seemed to be right – and here we have a long rest ahead of us…’

My hobbits tell a jumbled story this morning whilst all are enjoying our supper-breakfast, their words tumbling over one another’s in a tangle of a tale. 

Our Big Man adds a few quiet words of his own in explanation. He seems familiar with the place they are describing, though he does not give the impression of dark and cold and dust of ancient bones, but rather beauty and honour and noble deeds. Despite the seeming relaxation of his posture and the calm of his voice, an unsettled smell wafts from him. I wonder, swivelling my ears, that the others do not perceive it.

Perhaps they do. Or some of them, at least. The Other Big Man falls silent, and a gloomy smell comes from him, as if he is thinking of beauty and honour and noble deeds falling to dust and darkness. But then his shoulders straighten, and it is as if he puts on a cheerful tone like a garment, to cover other feelings. ‘Come then, young hobbits! Let us see to it that you can wield those swords as well as wear them! At least, so far as we are able… It takes a lifetime to learn the art, as I have told you before, but you are making progress. I no longer fear that you will stab yourselves, or one another, with an ill-timed thrust.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ Youngest says in a wry tone. ‘Merry, here, came close to running Frodo through just the other day…’

‘I did not!’ the indignant-merry hobbit says, though he does not smell indignant, if you take my meaning.

‘The way you were swinging your sword…’ Youngest persists, ‘er, stick of a sword… Had it been a real sword, and not a stick…’

The two of them argue, somehow in a pleasant way that sets Master to laughing, his head thrown back in merriment, his hands on his knees, and my Sam shakes his head, though he seems more thoughtful than anything.

I graze, twitching my ears to listen, as the combatants rise to their feet and take up long sticks: the Other Big Man (the one with the shield) and the three gentlehobbits. My Sam says he’ll be along shortly, for there are the plates and cups to see to. The food is already packed away, for my hobbit made sure to clear away as he went along with his preparations, and when the food was ready to serve, all that remained for washing up was my Sam’s small kettle and the plates, cups, and eating utensils.

The Other Big Man (the one with the shield) and the Dwarf seemed bemused, the first time my Sam cooked a meal rather than portioning out cold food, but over the journey they have quite ‘got used to the luxury’ and have said so, even as they seem to make a joke of it all, as if it is somehow not quite the done thing to have hot food while travelling.

(I have heard Our Big Man snort and mutter something under his breath resembling ‘doesn’t know much about travelling with hobbits’, while the Fair One’s face is very merry, indeed, in such moments.)

Even though we are to stay here all the day, and more, it seems that my Sam will follow his practice of cleaning and packing everything ready to go, in the event we must make a hasty departure, or so I heard the Master explain to Youngest, early in our journey after leaving the Valley.

The Other Big Man (the one with the shield) sets Master and Merry against one another, whilst he drills Youngest himself. I pull grass in rhythm with his counting, ‘One, two…’

When the counting breaks off, I do not, but I twitch an ear to listen.

‘Nay, young Pip!’ the Other Big Man is laughing. ‘Step in, yes, but you must step out again after you strike!’

Master is panting a little as he and the merry hobbit step in and step out and circle and move their sticks to the Other Big Man’s count, click, clack. But he stops with an oof! as the other hobbit’s stick pokes past his defence, and holds up a staying hand. ‘A moment, Merry! Let me catch my breath!’

‘Your foe will hardly stop to let you catch your breath,’ the younger cousin observes, but he is panting for breath as well, and his face shines with mischief.

With an oof! of his own, Youngest hobbit ends sitting in the dirt, looking surprised.

‘You must move your feet,’ the Other Big Man says, standing straight and letting his own stick fall to his side, waiting for Youngest to rise.

‘It is like Bilbo’s dancing lessons,’ Master says, his breath coming easier for the moment, until laughter steals it away once more.

‘What?’ Youngest wants to know.

‘His dancing lessons…’ Master says, and is off again on a gale of laughter, and the Merry hobbit, very merry indeed in this moment, bends in two, holding his stomach as if he has taken a fatal blow from the Master’s “sword”.

‘Fancy footwork,’ Merry manages, before laughter takes him once more.

‘They were sword drills!’ the Master gasps.

‘Sword drills?’ the Other Big Man echoes, not understanding.

‘Bilbo’s dancing lessons! I never realized it, until you started doing sword drills with us as we prepared for the journey after the Nine Walkers were chosen, but…’

‘Perhaps he was reminded of swarms of orcs by the maidens who followed you everywhere after he adopted you as heir,’ Youngest says, his head tilted to one side as if in consideration. 

‘You weren't even born yet,’ the merry hobbit protests, standing straighter, hands rubbing at his stomach.

‘No, but I certainly heard enough about it after I was born,’ Youngest says. ‘And after old Bilbo left, they swarmed worse than ever!’ And then he jumps to his feet, saying, ‘Again, Boromir! I will master your fancy footwork, if only to best my girl cousins at the next ball…’

And the older hobbits are off again, laughing, so that it looks as if their own sword drill is over for the moment, at least until they can recover their breath, which seems as if it will be a long time in coming.

But Our Big Man is silent and restless, and I wonder what he is thinking.


Author notes:

Yes, the idea for the sword drill came from the Fellowship film, and Merry swinging wildly and nearly gutting someone came from the Two Towers film.

Bilbo's dancing lesson can be found at this link on SoA.

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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