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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 28. We find a temporary resting place

'We'll rest here,' the Big Man says.

'What about a meal?' young-and-hopeful asks.

The Big Man actually laughs, and perhaps-merry tousles his young cousin's dirty mop.

'There's a tween for you,' he says.

Youngest hobbit is indignant. 'I heard your stomach growl!' he protests, with a sharp nod to emphasize his words. 'And even Bill...'

Bad form it may be, to graze with a rider upon one's back, but I cannot resist snatching at the grass underfoot. I raise my head to chew, that Master might not worry about me going down on my knees and then rolling—though I should dearly like to have a good roll on dry, sweet grass after all these days of mud, rain, and rocky ground.

'Poor Bill,' Master says, and I feel his fingers soft on my neck, stroking gently. 'He's badly in need of a bite and a rest.'

He shifts on my back, but before he can get down the Big Man is there to lift him.

'Easily,' I hear the Man breathe, 'let me do the work for you.'

When Master would protest—he is feeling better!—the Man adds, almost under his breath, 'Save your strength. We still have some way to go.'

'Very well,' Master mutters in return, and suffers himself to be carried to the blankets laid out by my Sam, for at the Man's pronouncement of resting he shed his burdens and began to prepare a shady resting place—the sun is quite warm—and then something of a meal from what remains of our supplies.

Nearly Merry hobbles me and rises with a slap for my neck. 'There you are, old lad,' he says. 'Graze to your heart's content, but don't wander far. We'll be wanting you soon enough.'

I shake myself all over and then I nod my head, and the hobbits laugh, even Master. I fall to my meal as they do to theirs, and for the first time in some days I think my plate is less scanty than theirs. I'd share my grass, happily, but for the fact they do not seem to care for the stuff. O I have seen youngest hobbit with a long stalk between his teeth, before we left the Breeland behind, but for him it would be something to chew upon as he walks along, rather than sustenance.

The sun is warm on my back, the grass is warm, the air is warm and fragrant. The trolls are cold with the chill of stone, and I give them a wide berth, though my companions recline in their shade. I tear mouthfuls of grass, chew, tear more, what delight to fill my mouth again and again! At last I think I might just be satisfied, for the moment at least. I let myself down on my knees, bowing to my companions, and then further down, and thump over on my side, rolling to my back for a glorious scratch.

I find myself singing a pony song as I twist and scratch, rolling back and forth, ahhhhhhh.

The hobbits must have found the singing catching, for when I surge to my feet once more I hear song coming from just the other side of the trolls.

I shake myself all over to settle my coat, but instead of going immediately to grazing, I turn toward my companions, skirting the trolls until I can see my Sam standing up, with his hands behind his back and his eyes fixed on a point somewhere above the heads of the reclining hobbits (the knee of one of the trolls, I think it might be), and he is singing. I prick my ears, for the tune is an old one, something I've heard coming through the windows of the Prancing Pony of a soft summer's eve, when the windows of the common room were open to catch the evening breeze.

...and immediately my ears go back, of their own accord, for the song is a nasty one, of trolls and bones and gnawing.

I switch my tail in disapproval, but the hobbits laugh as the song draws to an end, and there is light talk, which peters out as the others notice Master's head nod.

Almost-merry murmurs something soothing, drawing Master's head into his lap and smoothing the pale forehead with his fingers. Youngest hobbit lies himself beside Master, pulling a cloak over them both and snuggling up close as if to offer comfort and strength. My Sam bundles away his supplies once more, and it is not long before he, too, is drowsing beside the others.

The Big Man sits quietly, leaning his back against one of the stone legs, smoking his pipe and regarding our surroundings with calm wariness. He senses no danger. Neither do I, for the moment, at least.

I go back to my grazing.

The sun is pleasant and warms the air. Soon all the hobbits are asleep. I sing them a pony lullaby with the pull and chomp of my teeth, and it is almost as if I'm in my first home once more, in the meadow with my dam beside me, singing through our teeth on a pleasant autumn afternoon.

After a good hour of grazing, I stand, basking in the warmth, my eyes half-closed, the smoke from the Ranger's pipe teasing my nose.

I wonder idly if we will camp here for the night. Perhaps we will move on after the hobbits have rested, when the sun is no longer directly overhead, beating down upon their heads and making them pant with the heat after the chill of the past few days.

I wonder how far we have yet to go, and for that matter, where we are going. Is there grass there, as good as this grass? If there are no more trolls about, I would not mind staying here for a day or two, at least until I've finished my mowing.

Two of the hobbits are snoring, their breathing blending in a comical song, a high sound followed by low and then a hollow whistle, one after another, repeating. It is a soothing sound, and I find my head drooping lower, and lower still, as I stand with one ear cocked in the hobbits' direction and the other ear ready to catch any sound from the wood beyond. There is nothing to hear from that direction, save the piping of a sleepy sounding bird or two.

I doze.


A/N: Some (or perhaps lots) text taken from “Flight to the Ford” from Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and woven into the narrative.

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