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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 86. We find a resting place amidst the holly

My Sam talks quietly to me as we make our way down from the low ridge, most of the others spreading out (all the tall ones in our party, at least) ahead of us, the other hobbits in our party behind, and the Dwarf still standing at the top of the ridge, watching behind us and over the valley before us as well. The ridge seems an excellent place to stand watch.

Of course, I swivel one ear in every direction, but the other I keep fixed upon my Sam, to catch every muttered word. ‘Proper ninnyhammer,’ he is saying now, and I shake my head to settle my mane. My Sam may be many things, but “ninnyhammer”, said in such a tone, what ever it may be (for it sounds most uncomplimentary when he says it), is not one of them. Not in my opinion, at the least. He is the wisest, bravest, and kindest of hobbits, and I would follow him to the ends of Middle-earth. Where ever that may be. From his muttering, he is not so sure himself.

‘…to think we had about reached that Fiery Mountain,’ he says. ‘But then, we’ve been walking for leagues already, old fellow.’ I nod my head against his shoulder, and he reaches up to scratch at my jaw. ‘That Redhorn, or what ever it may be called, certainly looked red and fiery enough to my taste! Even if it’s not to my taste, if you take my meaning…’

I nod again, and he turns to me, a sudden scent of worry wafting from him. ‘You’re not mis-stepping,’ he says, stopping in consternation. ‘Are you, Bill? Is there a stone in your foot?’

I nuzzle the hand he holds out to me and try to tell him all is well. 

But he ducks down, until I fear he will topple under the weight he is carrying, and runs his hands down my forelegs, one at a time.

‘What is it, Sam?’ the somewhat-merrier hobbit says, coming even with us. He has left Master and Youngest a few steps behind, evidently, for I hear their soft voices talking behind us, Youngest asking questions and Master patiently answering.

‘He’s nodding,’ my Sam says. ‘I thought, perhaps, Mr Merry…’

‘Ah,’ Mr Merry says in response. He slings off his own pack and lays it to one side, then crouches before me to run his hands down my legs. ‘I don’t feel any swelling or warmth…’ 

I bend my neck that I might watch closely, to see what he will discover.

‘A stone?’ my Sam says, straightening with difficulty under his burden and stroking my neck.

‘Perhaps,’ Mr Merry hazards, and then he looks up, and pushing my face out of the way to address my Sam, he says, ‘I will check for stones once we’ve unburdened him — don’t want to make him stand on three legs when he’s carrying so much. Walk him for me, will you? Let us see what we can see.’ He rises to his feet, and my Sam helps him to resume his burden once more. He walks out ahead of us, stops, and turns towards us.

My Sam takes my rope and clucks to me, and of course I follow, and the perhaps-merry hobbit ahead scrutinises our every move, it seems, from the expression on his face.

‘What is it, Merry?’ comes the voice of Youngest behind me, and though he calls softly, it seems unnaturally loud in this place. ‘Is something wrong with our Bill?’

‘He seems to be going well,’ the merry hobbit calls back, his voice lower than usual. I have seen Master and Mr Merry take this approach to encourage Youngest to speak in a softer tone along the way, without directly scolding him when it is obvious he is making an effort.

As we come up to him, he shrugs one shoulder to ease his pack and turns to walk on with us, when we are all arrested by the high-pitched whistling of a dunnock, the first birdcall I have heard in these parts, come to think on it.

We all look around for the source of the sound, and see the Other Big Man (the one with the shield) a little to one side, waving an arm.

Soon all are converging on him, all except the Dwarf, that is, who stands upon the ridge in the shadow of one of the great and ancient-seeming holly trees that crown that high place. We come up to hear the Other Big Man (the one with the shield) talking to Tall Hat. ‘…good cover in this hollow – see how the holly bushes shroud it from view on all sides…’

‘And not too far from the ridge,’ Our Big Man says, coming up to us. ‘One can easily watch in all directions from there, while the others rest.’

As it turns out, we have not had so far to go to find our resting place, for the extended rest that Tall Hat has promised. I for one am glad.

I am also happy to report that, once I have been relieved of all my burdens, first the merry hobbit, and then Our Big Man, and then the Other Big Man (the one with the shield) examine my legs and the frogs of all of my feet, and pronounce me sound and well.

It is a good thing to know, especially when we still have some way to go (and who, if any, knows exactly how far it may be?) to reach the ends of Middle-earth.


Author notes:

According to this website, dunnocks may be commonly found in places where holly grows. It seems likely that Boromir would use an appropriate birdcall to signal the others.

Quite a few videos of dunnock songs are available on Youtube, for the curious.

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

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