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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 81. We find rest along the way

I jerk my head up, suddenly aware that I was dozing, but a moment ago, and now I am fully awake. More—I am alert, quivering with alertness, every muscle tight, ready to jump—even in my hobbles—to kick out my hindquarters at any threat that might approach me from behind.

The camp is quiet. It is almost too quiet for me to bear the lack of sound. I lift my head higher, swivelling my ears in all directions, trying to see and hear all of my surroundings at once.

I saw a cat, once, in the stables of that place in Bree, where they brought me from my miserable, stinking, leaky shack of a stable, before we set out together on this journey.

She was creeping, ever so quietly, with not a rustle of the straw beneath her feet. The tip of her tail twitched, rather out of place against the picture the rest of her made, slowly, soundlessly, stealthily… until she pounced, and there was a shrill cry, and then a limp body hanging from her jaws.

I lift my head as high as might be and roll my eyes back, to listen, to see—is there something behind me? Something... creeping… ready to pounce?

There is a gentle whuffling sound behind me. Trembling, I listen, fearing to turn my head.

No! Is it? It is.

A soft whuffle, as of an exhausted hobbit. Not quite a snore.

Slowly, warily, keeping my feet firmly planted, I turn my head, just enough to see… my hobbits, huddled together, a familiar sight, sharing their warmth, their coverings. Surely they would not sleep so peacefully if there were danger. Surely the Watchers…

I turn my head again, to survey the camp. The Other Big Man (the one with the shield) is but a lump under his blanket, identifiable mainly by the shield lying close at hand, ready to grab up even as he should jump to his feet with his sword in the other hand. There is also the smell of him, wafting in my direction, though there is no wind to speak of.

…I lift my nose to the sky, and then nod my head down to my knees, and up again, and down and up, several times, ending with a vigorous shake that makes my mane fly about on my neck, to release the tension from my muscles.

No wind to speak of! That is the silence! The steady, freezing wind must have fallen while I slept, and the cold rain that was falling… isn’t.

I lift my head again, rolling an eye to the sky, to see rents in the swift-flowing clouds, tears and tatters that grow as I watch, and beams of sun shining through and disappearing again, only to peek out again, as of a child hiding behind its hands and pulling them away to shout in laughing delight. (I saw such, upon a time, in the marketplace, though I never could make any sense of it all.)

I jerk in sudden response—I cannot help myself—as a snore sounds to one side. I flare my nostrils, the better to smell my surroundings, and turning to look, I realise it is the Dwarf. I cannot see any part of him, not even his axe, which he always keeps close to himself, under his coverings with him when he sleeps, perhaps to keep it safe and dry.

Sampling the air about me, I can just catch a faint whiff of Our Big Man. Yes—he is there, and Tall Hat is over there, to the other side of the camp, though out of plain sight, the both of them, their scent telling of alertness, but not alarm. And… yes, perhaps the Fair One is over there, though his scent is somehow less strong than a Man’s, or even a Hobbit’s—he smells to me more of earth, and growing things, and less of sweat and effort, if you take my meaning.

I draw a deep breath of relief, and snort a little at my own foolishness.

We are safe—of course we are!—and there is nothing to be feared, here in this quiet place, under the coming-and-going face of a pale sun.

I pull a few mouthfuls of grass that are within easy reach, dry and winter-brown though the browsing might be, but my ears never leave off their listening.

The soft susurrus of my sleeping hobbits behind me are soothing, and soon my head droops lower as, once more, I allow myself to drowse.


A/N: Some turns of phrase taken from "The Ring Goes South" in The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

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