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The Tenth Walker  by Lindelea

Chapter 108. Our wood, the Wood Elf and thoughts of other woods  

All my companions are hunched together in the cold, hugging themselves in shivering misery, or slapping their hands together, or stamping their feet, or... 

No, not all. The Fair One is not shivering at all, and his stance is almost casual, as if unmoved by sharp wind or piercing cold, as if he somehow stands apart from us, relaxed, in that pleasant meadow we left behind under the gentle blessing of the Sun, and not clinging to the wind- and snow-blasted mountainside. Why, the snow which is settling on us all, which my companions must brush away at ever-more-frequent intervals lest they become snow-covered, almost seems to fall around him. It blows to either side of the tall, slender figure, for certain; it touches him, yet clings not, falling lightly to the ground without hampering him at all, it seems. I marvel, but understanding is beyond my grasp.

‘S-s-show Gimli how it’s done, do!’ Youngest says to the Fair One in his brightest tones, as if no more than a small wager might rest upon the results. I have heard the cousins wagering with each other along our way, over such inconsequentialities as whether the track we followed would turn next to the right or to the left. A pint of beer (‘No more than a half-pint for you, youngster!’ should Youngest be the one to mention such) or ‘my second-best waistcoat’ have been the most popular of these proposals.

But then the smallest hobbit slumps in the grasp of his cousins, and the older ones, forgetting their own deadly chill, chafe his arms and shoulders and plead with him to... I am not sure what they are pleading with him to do, actually. Perhaps they do not even know for certain.

And so the Fair One bends above the pile of wood and kindling, and – it must be my imagination, but for the briefest moment, he becomes a stranger to my senses. His face, usually so merry, his eyes, sparkling with mischief and delight in all our surroundings, whether grass or trees or clouds or sun or – yes, even the snow and wind... The impression I always have when he is near, of light and lightness, life and liveliness, falls away for the briefest moment, and in that moment, he is cold as ice and hard as steel, and a sense of purpose flows from him, so strong that I shiver in the breeze of its passing. 

‘Steady, Bill,’ my Sam murmurs to me, caressing me with a cold-stiffened, shaking hand.

Youngest straightens in his cousins’ grasp to look at me more closely. ‘My w-w-word,’ he chatters. ‘If Bill is c-c-cold, what with his furry hide, then I shudder to imagine what’s to become of the rest of us!’

‘You’re shuddering anyhow,’ not-at-all Merry hisses through gritted teeth, and I see the two older cousins press even closer to the younger one, as if to share what remains of their warmth with him. If they have any warmth at all by this point, that is. Which I rather doubt, seeing their shivers, growing ever more violent, and the paleness of their skin, as if they are beginning to turn to ice in the snow.

‘It is but a matter of blocking the wind, as I told you, Gimli,’ the Fair One says lightly. I lift my glance to his face and see that I must have been imagining my earlier impression. For his eyes are alight with mischief, and he wears a sly smile, as if to taunt the Dwarf.

And the Dwarf responds with a rumble of indignation, yet it is as if the rush of anger that results is warming, somehow. And, somehow, the Fair One’s smile shines still brighter, as if that might have been his aim all along.

(Yet a part of me wishes that his aim might be to kindle a fire.)

Perhaps not all hope is lost, for straightening, he directs the hobbits to stand just there, and how convenient! it is that you should be standing all together, all the better to block the wind from the flame!

And so they stand exactly where he moves them to stand, and then the Fair One takes my rope and moves me a step or two, that I might block the wind from another quarter. And the Other Big Man looms behind my hobbits, and Our Big Man beside me, and Tall Hat and the Dwarf do not escape the Fair One’s manoeuvrings.

At last we are placed to his exacting satisfaction, and he bends to the wood, and he seems to stop there, half-bent, and it is as if he breathes upon the wood to warm it. To bless it? To my ears comes the barest whisper of song in a fair tongue that I do not know. It is like and yet unlike the talk of the Fair Ones in that lovely valley where Merrylegs, to the best of my knowledge, grazes still.

If I am not being too fanciful (perhaps the cold is stealing my wits), I should think it the same sort of talk I have heard from him in other places, whether passing through a wood or by a solitary sapling or a small copse, when he has laid the palm of his hand against a tree, leaned his face close, and breathed a few soft, almost inaudible words. And then rested his forehead lightly against the bark of the tree, as if to listen all the better to the sound of the wind in the branches, the whisper of leaves still clinging, not yet wind-whirled away, or the creaking of branches, the subtle scratching of twigs that are rubbed together by a passing breeze.

But I think our wood, the wood that I have come to think of as ours because we all hauled our portion up this cursed mountain, is too dead and cold to heed his pleadings, for in spite of all his efforts, none of the sparks he strikes can take hold against the swirling wind or catch in the wet and freezing fuel.


Author notes:

Some thoughts here are derived from “The Ring Goes South” from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.


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