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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 103. A snowfall begins 

The Master’s laughter breaks off as he raises his head and says in a wondering tone, ‘What was that?’

A smell of alarm springs up from the not-Merry hobbit, but Youngest laughs and throws out his arms. ‘It’s snowing!’ he cries. ‘Why Frodo, don’t you know snow when you see it?’

‘You must have the eyes of a cat, Pip,’ not-Merry says. ‘How you can see anything in this dim light...’

But I see the Master put out his arm. I do not have the eyes of a cat, but I can see the dim flakes settling on his sleeve.

I lift my head. At the soft, cold touches on my nose, I shake my head and sneeze.

‘It is snowing, indeed,’ Master says softly.

‘Come along!’ the gruff tones of Tall Hat sound from a pace or two ahead of us. ‘No time to waste!’ He begins to trudge forward, Our Big Man pacing at his side.

The not-Merry hobbit tells us to wait but a moment, and then he makes his careful way back to my hindquarters again, where my Sam has remained, patiently waiting. ‘We’re moving on again, Sam,’ he says, and I hear my Sam say something quietly in answer, though the words are muffled by a burst of wind. I do hear not-Merry clearly as he raises his voice a little to call to those of us just ahead of him, ‘We’re ready!’

‘Come, Bill,’ Youngest says, tugging at my rope, and I step off, my head between him and the Master. ‘I wonder how long it will last,’ he adds under his breath. ‘Long enough, I hope, that I might form a few balls of snow and toss them at Merry, or even make a snow-hobbit when we stop to rest.’ I think his cousins do not hear him, for the words were spoken very low, indeed, almost in my ear since I have lowered my head, the better to make my way on this rough path.

It seems that Youngest will have his wish, for before long, the snow is falling thick and fast, filling all the air. I shake my head again as a puff of wind swirls the stuff into my eyes. I can hardly see the tall shapes ahead of us – not so tall as they might be, for both of them are bent as they walk into the wind and blowing snow.

‘Be careful not to slip, Frodo,’ Youngest pants. ‘The path was bad enough before, but now...’

‘I’m being careful,’ the Master answers, and from the feel of it, he has a firm grasp on my harness as he treads the edge of the fearful drop. He turns his head and calls to Merry to keep a good hold of me.

I switch my ears to the rear to listen for the answer, but instead of not-Merry, I hear my Sam, his breaths coming hard and fast with effort, muttering that he does not like this at all.

‘Well what would you like?’ irrepressible Youngest asks.

My Sam speaks louder, as if arguing with Youngest. ‘Snow’s all right on a fine morning, but I like to be in bed while it’s falling!’

‘That would be about right!’ Youngest answers cheerfully. ‘Any other day, you’d be home in your bed in Hobbiton at this time of night...’

‘I wish this lot would go off to Hobbiton!’ my Sam says.

‘What would they think of it, I wonder?’ Youngest says, holding out a hand as he walks to catch the falling flakes.

‘Folk might welcome it there,’ my Sam says. ‘And for my part, they’re welcome to it!’

But Youngest only laughs at this. ‘D’you suppose the Shire looked like this in the Fell Winter, when the Brandywine froze over and the white–’

‘Hush, Pip!’ says the Master, and I have seldom heard him speak in so sharp a tone. ‘Don’t talk about such things! We don’t want to upset Bill...’

I shudder to dislodge the fallen snow from my shoulders and wonder what it is that might upset me. On second thought, I don’t want to know. 

The Master tries again. ‘Merry!’

‘I’m here,’ comes the answer behind me.

‘Where else would he be?’ Youngest wants to know. He has put his hand down again and is plodding doggedly along, his head down, though I hear him grumble that the snow is tickling at his neck.

‘Then pull up your hood,’ Master says, ‘and wrap your muffler tight around your neck before you catch your death.’

‘Why would anyone be so eager to run after death so as to catch it, is what I’d like to know,’ Youngest says at his most whimsical. But I see him following the older cousin’s orders even as he speaks, though he doesn’t stop his plodding. Which is just as well, for on this narrow path, I would have to stop, to keep from running him over. And I think it is best that we keep moving, for I think my hobbits are feeling the cold. I can hear their shivers in their voices as they speak.

But instead of laughing or chiding him for nonsense, Master turns his head, and I feel his grip on my harness tighten as he nearly slips again. ‘Merry!’

‘Are you just going to keep calling my name?’ not-Merry says. ‘I’m a bit occupied at the moment. Besides, the path’s too narrow for me to come forward for a chat.’

‘Take hold of Bill’s harness,’ the Master says, now that he’s confident he has not-Merry’s attention. ‘The path is rough here. He might need some help.’

He might need some help!’ Youngest mutters. But he continues to plod along, and Master’s wise choice of words has not roused his anxiety on the part of his older cousins.

I nod my head, feeling the sudden pull on the harness at my hindquarters, even as I hear, ‘I've got him, Frodo! Now look to your own feet, I beg of you.’ Not-Merry has taken hold, and firm hold, it feels like to me. I give all my attention to placing my feet firmly, securely, that I might plant myself fast should I feel either of the older cousins slip, to provide them a safe brace of sorts, something like a fence post, to cling to until they can regain the uncertain safety of the path.

***    

Author notes:

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

Next update: Monday

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