30. Stable Conversations
Every day, except when the footing was treacherous, for he would not risk this pony, he would saddle Jewel and ride out. Some days they would not return for hours; other days he could steal only an hour or so from his responsibilities. Sometimes the ride must come late at night and they rode under the Moon's light or only that of the stars.
After Pippin took to his bed, Merry added Socks to his visits. The old ostler would watch for his coming and quietly ask for news.
'I hear young Master Took's taken to 'is bed...?'
'Yes, it seems he has a bit of a chill from the other day.'
'Ah. Well, tell him we're taking good care of 'is lad.'
'Of course! Now, I wanted to try something new on this bad knee...'
Merry used all the skills he'd picked up among the Rohirrim to coax Socks back to soundness, and Old Nob took to watching and helping, marveling at the young master's skilful hands and instinctive knowledge of what the pony needed.
'I hear young Master Took's taken bad. They say he won't last the night.'
'How did you...?'
'Young Pendulan was sent out on Wingfoot this evening, to Tuckborough.'
'Ah.' Merry was silent for a long time after, brushing loose hair from Sock's coat. Then he bent to the bad knee. 'Well, let's see if a hot poultice will give this lad some relief,' he said. 'We don't want my cousin to find a lame pony when he gets up again.'
Though he had less time for riding these days, yet daily he took Jewel out for a long ride, where, he never said, but sometimes the pony was muddy and sometimes he was lathered, or dried sweat clotted his coat. He would bring the pony back cool and breathing easy, the ostler was glad to see. If the pony had run hard, he'd been properly cooled out before returning. There would be another long grooming session, a last treat from the young master's hand, a pat and a wordless farewell.
'I hear young Master Took got up today. It's good news!'
'Yes, he was able to sit in a chair a bit.'
'It is good to hear he's on the mend. As is 'is pony, but for those scars on the knees you wouldn't know anything had happened.'
'I have something here to rub into the scar tissue. Borrowed some herbs of the healer and made up a little salve I remember the Rohirrim using. Hold him for me?'
'Aye.' Stroking the shining smoke-coloured neck. 'There's a lad. Steady, now.'
He cut other things from his schedule to add a daily workout with Socks. At first he did not risk his weight on the pony, but lounged him at the end of a long line on the grass. As the pony improved, he began to ride Socks, short, gentle outings to strengthen, not stress the healing leg.
'What do you hear?'
The ostler was silent, as if trying to find the right words. Finally he spoke quietly, his usual smile gone. 'I hear young Master Took is not himself these days. They say he don't laugh, or sing, like...' his voice trailed off.
'Like the days when I was walking in darkness...'
'Meaning no disrespect, Sir.'
'There is no disrespect in speaking truth, Nob.'
'They say 'e's lost 'imself.' The old ostler looked searchingly into the young master's face.
Merry patiently worked a tangle out of the long mane. He didn't speak for so long that the ostler turned to go, to be stopped by the young master's reply.
'He hasn't lost himself, Nob. He's only lost his way.'
'Can he find it again, ye think?'
'I hope so.' Merry repeated the thought to himself, and to Socks, in that wordless language that only he and the ponies understood. I hope so.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.