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A Handful of Valentines  by Branwyn

An elf led Bill the Pony, saddled and laden with gear and food, from the stables to where the Fellowship waited in front of the hall. He whickered in greeting as the hobbits gathered around him, but he kept a wary eye on the other travellers. The elves had treated him kindly, letting him roll on his back in the grass and giving him oats and apples to eat, but he would not soon forget the cruelty of Bill Ferny.

Suddenly, a tall Man raised a horn to his lips and winded a great call that echoed among the rocks. The hobbits covered their ears, while the folk of Rivendell looked about them in alarm. In the stables,the elven horses whinnied and kicked their stalls, but Bill the Pony merely shook his head and snorted.

"Slow should you be to wind that horn again,Boromir," Master Elrond said sternly, as Bill began to search the hobbits' pockets for apples.

"Now that is the proper horse for a dwarf, Legolas!" a stout, bearded figure said to the elf beside him. "No gangly-legged,scatter-brained, colicky, pinch-nosed warhorse, but a sensible pony. They are steady and tireless mounts, sturdy beasts of burden, and willing workers in the mines."

Bill turned his head to stare at the dwarf. He had heard the tales, whispered among his kind, of terrible places in the ground, where ponies were made to slave in the darkness, pulling heavy carts until they fell in the traces and died. He sidled away from the dwarf, slowly raising an iron-shod hoof from the ground.

"Beware that hind leg," the elf warned. "He is a wise beast, and I deem he disliked that remark about the mines."

The dwarf stroked his beard as he peered into the pony's face. "My people have little skill with beasts, yet we do not treat them unkindly,and we honor the ponies who work alongside our miners, sharing their hazards and hardships. For those ponies are as great-hearted as the bravest warhorse. And far more clever, if you ask me."

At the mention of hazard and hardship, Bill rolled his eyes and shook his head, yet he kept all four hooves on the ground as the dwarf scratched him on the whithers, and with a cheerful whicker, he accepted a palmful of raisins. Despite the alarming talk of mines, plain horse sense told him that this was a friend.


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