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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 104. We play ‘I hide and you seek me’ with the wind and snow 

Wizards who are walking along in front of other folk should not stop suddenly. They should especially not stop suddenly when heavy snow is falling, such that I can scarcely see the end of my nose (or as Youngest put it, just a little while ago, “I cannot see my hand before my face!”).

If Wizards are the sort of people who are quick to anger and like as not to turn someone into a toad, they ought not to stop when they are walking only a pace or two ahead of a heavily burdened pony on a steep and narrow trail where the footing is treacherous.

It is not my fault that I trod upon his robes, considering the snow was ankle-deep about his boots and the robes were therefore lying atop the snow where he stopped.

When I am able to contain my consternation enough to hear them talk (I am certain that I have come this close to becoming a toad, not at all a pleasant prospect in this snow and cold), Our Big Man is telling Tall Hat, and the Master, who has come up to them, that we are still far down, where the paths are usually open all winter.

Open! If he calls this open, I would hate to see what the snow looks like “high up in the mountains”, where he says it snows heavily.

The Other Big Man stands just ahead of them on the narrow trail. Perhaps it is not Tall Hat’s fault that he stopped. Perhaps the Other Big Man (the one with the shield, now hanging on his back) stopped first, and Tall Hat ran upon his heels and was forced to stop. I feel slightly more kindly towards the Wizard. If he ran upon the Other Big Man’s heels, he might understand why I trod upon his robes, and that is why he did not turn me into a toad for my clumsiness.

The Other Big Man now speaks of someone he calls the Enemy and something to do with storms. This Enemy does not sound at all like a pleasant fellow. Perhaps he is a relative of my old misery or one of his unpleasant friends who do not seem completely Mannish, if I am making my meaning clear. Listening to my companions talk, I picture a Man with long arms that hang down to his knees, and shudder.

‘But it’s stopping!’ Youngest chirps in his brightest tones. ‘Look, Frodo! The snow’s all but stopped, and there’s no wind!’ And under his breath, though close enough to my ear that I hear him clearly, he murmurs, ‘Pity, that. I was so hoping to lob a few handfuls of snow at Merry when we stopped. But perhaps this will all melt away now, from what Strider said just now.’

‘It has almost ceased,’ the Master agrees, relief in his voice. ‘Perhaps the worst of the storm has passed.’

‘The snow’s stopping!’ comes from behind me in a somewhat-Merry voice.

‘Yes!’ Master turns briefly from listening to the Big Folk’s conversation to call back to the hobbits at my tail. ‘But we’re not, I deem!’

‘The night is young,’ I hear my Sam say behind me. It is the beginning of a poem he has recited many times, when we’ve been walking half the night and still have half the night to go.

And it seems the Big Ones’ consultation is over, for I see the Other Big Man turn his face forward again, and he steps off. When he has gone a few paces, Our Big Man and Tall Hat follow. The Master waits for them to get a few paces ahead of us (he is very wise, the Master is... with his help, there will be no more trampling over Tall Hat’s robes, at least on the part of this pony), and then he clicks his tongue to me, and Youngest gives my rope a gentle tug, and we step off, all feeling much more cheerful.

Even with the rough, steep and snow-covered path, I think I could walk for miles before I sleep. Better yet, the path widens, and though the Master and somewhat-Merrier keep hold of my harness, I no longer fear that we will lose one or both of them over the edge. 

Youngest asks the Master, ‘Would you mind taking Bill for a bit?’ and, on hearing Master’s assent, hands my rope to his older cousin. He drops back to walk with my Sam and converse with somewhat-Merry behind me. He even sounds a bit warmer when he speaks.

The Dwarf has fallen back to walk with Tall Hat and Our Big Man. I hear him talking about what lies on the other side of this Mountain. He seems to think that they will have some difficulty with me on the Dimrill Stair, that it may be steep and forbidding for a pony.

I certainly hope they will not find it necessary to leave me behind! 

That is before the wind suddenly slams into the side of the mountain once more, nearly sweeping us from our feet, with an unearthly howling, as if it is a living creature, a wild animal that intends to devour us. And it carries with it stinging snow, in even greater quantities than before (if that is even possible!), flinging it into our faces and blinding us.

I sense, more than see, the tall figures struggling along ahead of us, and the shorter Dwarf walking with them, whose grumbling as he trudges is carried back to our ears by a trick of the wind. Even the Other Big Man, just beyond Our Big Man and Tall Hat, seems to be having difficulty making headway. But the figures grow dim before me, difficult to make out in the storm.

Master is struggling along at my side, bent nearly double under the weight of wind and snow. Above the shrieking of the wind, I hear him shouting the other hobbits’ names. I switch my ears back to listen behind me. I can feel my Sam and suddenly not-at-all-Merry immediately behind me, but I cannot perceive Youngest.

Has the snow-laden wind swept him from this precarious path?

***    

Author notes:

Some thoughts here are derived from “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. Also remembering that Bill Ferny associated with Orkish fellows in Bree.

Next update: Monday, April 12 (sorry, got swamped at work and Covid shot hit a bit hard. Hope you had a blessed holiday weekend!)

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