“Wha–!” Nelson Leafcutter nearly lept out of his skin, and the stack of letters bound for Ravenhold flew out of his hands like birds from a cage.
Willoric lifted a hand to shield himself from the cascade of paper. “Why’d you shout?”
“By the –” Nelson scampered about the street, snatching up letters before the breeze could. “Don’t do that, Will! You nearly scared me to death.”
The Hobbit blinked. “Wha’d ya mean? I’ve been walkin’ by ya the whole time.”
Nelson frowned. “Since when?”
“Since the Post? Think all that readin’s dried your brain,”said Willoric, taking off after an escaped envelope.
Nelson made a face and took a moment to straighten his robes. “Sorry,” he muttered, counting the letters to make sure they were all there. He then glanced to the Hobbit, wondering if he hadn’t meant to frighten him from the start. “Where are you headed?”
“Same place you are,” Will replied with a shrug, licking his lips.
Most likely going to lift food from the kitchens.
“This should be the last of ’em.”
Nelson accepted the letter with a grateful nod. Turning to walk back up the road he set the letter on top of the stack… then beneath it… then began to alphabetize the pile by the name of the receiver. “Will you be heading out with the others in a few days?”
“S’pose so.” The hobbit prattled on, but the sound grew muddled and distant to Nelson’s ears.
Feygil, Gaelyn, Hallem, Lichen, Lichen, Lichen….
“You organizin’ them by first or last names?”
Nelson blinked, then sighed, and started all over. “Well, be safe when you go.”
Willoric glanced up at him. “You’re not goin’?”
Nelson stood a little straighter, as if better posture aided by his true height might somehow aid him in his excuses. “No, not this time. Ms. Lichen has a lot on her plate, and I’m needed here.” How he loathed field work. Rain ruined books, and dust could harm the condition of the tomes he might decide to take, because of course he couldn’t NOT take books, and then what would Nallo think of him if he couldn’t even protect literature? It was bad enough that he dropped the letters all over the place, but he’d be disgraced if he went to the Lone Lands and wound up with all his books ruined. Not to mention the risk of Orcs burning them, or Goblins stealing and — Oh, Cor, they might tear the pages out!
“What?” he squeaked, then gasped as he realized he had been holding his breath as his thoughts had begun to spiral out of control.
Will smiled. “There ya go.”
“Oy! To your right!”
The man and hobbit moved off to the side of the road as a wagon clattered up the cobbles behind them, driven by Brock Thornley.
“Good day, Mister Thornley!” called the Hobbit.
Nelson nodded politely, hardly glancing up from the letters.
“‘allo. Hey, Nels. One of the horses got out again.”
“Why tell me? Why didn’t you go get her?” Nelson felt his stomach twist as he caught sight of one escaped letter right as a wagon wheel ran it over.
Brock shrugged, and pulled the length of straw from the corner of his mouth to point at the horses. “Workin’.” He then lifted a hand in farewell and tapped the reigns on the horses’ rumps.
Nelson shook himself as he watched Brock drive off, then went to retrieve the poor, trampled envelope from the middle of the road. “Will, would you mind –” He stopped when he turned and found Willoric gone. “Oh… blast.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Letters safely stowed in one of his cavernous pockets, Nelson trudged out of the gates of Durrow. He heard the horse before he saw it, and chastised himself for not thinking to grab a lead rope… or an apple, or something.
Just over the first southerly hillock, the young man saw Peppermint grazing at the edge of a field. The spotted pony appeared all too pleased with herself, and Nelson filed through his memory on the best way to reclaim a runaway horse.
Snagging up a fistful of long, green grass, he slowly approached the pony, thanking his luck when he saw she still wore a halter.
“Here, Peppermint! Come, girl.”
The pony nickered and pranced around him.
Nelson sighed. Big animals always made him nervous, and this one wanted to play. Perfect. “Come on, pretty pony. Here’s some grass. Yum, yum!” Valar, please don’t let anyone see this. “Here, Peppermint…”
Peppermint tossed her mane, and trotted over to indulge in the offering of pre-picked grass.
Taking hold of her halter, Nelson led her away from the farm and back towards the road. “That’s a good girl. Why are you causing trouble?” he said quietly, petting the pony’s cheek as she munched on the last bite of grass.
This really wasn’t all so terrible. If all field work was like this he thought he could manage. It was rediculous, how proud he was that he’d gone and fetched the stray animal. Maybe Amelia would be at the stables. He’d walk in with Peppermint, and she’d smile… maybe even hug him for — oh, but who was he kidding? There was nothing brave whatsoever about going to fetch a horse that probably would have come home on it’s own.
The answer was there. Field work. He’d have to get his hands dirty if he was to show how brave he was… And that would put him in good standing with Nallo, wouldn’t it? The scholar had gone to Moria of all places, hadn’t he? Nelson gazed wistfully down the path towards the gate, Peppermint plodding along beside him. Moria sounded horrid and dank. No place at all for books… but then again, there might be Dwarven tomes. Who knows what old writings might be rediscovered in the far places if someone would just look? Then he’d get to see Amelia shoot her bow all the time, and Nallo would ask him to help at Stonebluff! Yes… yes, field work just might be it. The next trip… or the one after, depending on the destination, of course.
Peppermint pulled against Nelson’s arm as a thick patch of spring grass caught her eye. “No, no, Peppermint. I have to get you back. Ms. Lichen needs these letters, and I need to feed Amelia. No! I mean, my Amelia — I mean! My… not yours — ours… Oh, come on, Peppermint!”