13. The Road To Edoras
They rode through the rest of the night and paused only briefly at dawn to break their fast. The two riders did not speak much to Merry although he learned their names were Drâmym and Ŭnomer. They both found the hobbit’s speech strange and hard to understand and indeed, Merry could not understand very much of what they said. It was a language in which there seemed to be many words that he knew, though spoken more richly and strongly than in the Shire, yet he could not piece the words together. King Théoden had used simple phrases when talking to him Merry now realised and was well educated with more experience of the wide world. Also the two riders had never before encountered such a being as a hobbit and were uncertain what to make of him and tended to refer to Merry as "it", which he found rather disconcerting.
They gave Merry bread and smoked cheese and half an apple, which he ate unenthusiastically. The hobbit found being blind had dulled his appetite considerably, although he drank a long draught from the flagon of mead they offered him.
They rode on until dusk, the two riders making talk with each other, while Merry perched in front of one then the other, sometimes trying to follow their conversation, but more often sleeping.
As the sun began to set they pulled up and Merry awoke to hear Drâmym saying "Yonder a light?"
"Indeed, ‘tis a flame. We shall appraise the lighters thereof, take our peace and share withall."
Merry considered this and decided they had spotted someone else’s camp and planned to see who it was and, if not an enemy, share their fire as they took a rest.
The fire in fact belonged to a small travelling band of entertainers and, although not a circus, it boasted a small menagerie. Both Drâmym and Ŭnomer were fascinated by the animals. The group had originated from far in the South and the beasts they had were not to be found this far north. Merry could only wonder at their descriptions.
"It is most like a man but the arms are long and reach the ground and it is hirsute and its face is more flattened."
"A cat such as you would not believe, as big as a small horse but with teeth longer than a man's hand and it is black but painted over with bright stripes of yellow."
The two riders questioned the travellers and told them that they should be beware of brigands and orcs, recently exiled from Isengard and that they would be well advised to conduct their business with honesty or risk expulsion from Rohan.
That done they settled before the fire with their small charge. The head man of the troupe was taking his ease before the blaze while others tended the cooking pot there. He introduced himself as Grando Spandif and pointed a curious finger at Merry. "What is that you have there?"
"This is a holbytla - a halfling." Ŭnomer explained. "They come from the far North." He took a cup of water and placed Merry’s hand around it and pushed it up to his lips, indicating to the blind hobbit that it was a drink.
"What’s wrong with it?" Spandif peered at Merry critically.
"Wrong? Oh," Ŭnomer realised what he meant, "it’s blind."
"What, are they all blind, then – hafins?" Spandif asked.
"Halfling!" Ŭnomer corrected. "No, just this one is as far as I know."
"Can it talk?"
"Yes, but its language is strange and we do not understand much of what it says." Ŭnomer placed some bread in Merry’s hand with a little cheese pressed on it.
"Is it dangerous?" Spandif narrowed his eyes expectantly, obviously wanting to know if Merry was some kind of wild savage. "Does it bite?"
Drâmym laughed, "No, of course not. It’s quite harmless."
Merry was getting rather tired of being discussed like a dog, but whenever he said anything no one seemed to understand him and he had the disadvantage of not being able to see how they were reacting either, so he had almost given up trying to communicate.
At the last comment though, he mischievously bared his teeth and growled in the direction of the man’s voice.
"I thought so, it is savage innit?" Spandif nodded wisely as a man who has tamed many wild beasts. "That’s why you got it chained up."
Drâmym could not be troubled to explain further to the tiresome man and merely grunted at him.
"How much do you want for it?" The showman suddenly asked.
"Want for it?" Drâmym was puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Coins, money, trade? How much?" Spandif persisted.
"Oh." Drâmym was bored with the conversation now. "It’s not for sale."
"I’ll give you a good price."
Merry was not really following this talk although he realised that he was the subject of it and was feeling rather uncomfortable. "May we leave now?" He asked Drâmym "It is too warm by this fire."
"What do you want, little one?" Drâmym still had trouble understanding Merry.
"We - Go - Now?"
Drâmym laughed and ruffled Merry’s hair. "Don’t worry, we’re not going to sell you. The King would not be too pleased if we did that, even if we did get a good price."
"No," whispered Spandif urgently, "don’t decide now. Think about it, you won’t get a better deal anywhere else."
Drâmym shook his head in exasperation. "It is not ours to sell," he explained. "It belongs to Théoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Mark. Now stop bothering us."
"Ah your King collects such things does he?" Spandif was not easily dissuaded from a concept and he had decided that Merry was some amusing little dumb creature that the Rohirrim were keeping as a pet. "Obviously a nobleman of refined taste. I could sell him any number of exotic wild creatures. Or perhaps he would like to trade something for this one. How about the ape?"
Ŭnomer stood up and took Merry’s hand, urging him to his feet and as Drâmym brought the horses over, lifted his charge up to sit in front of his companion, then quickly leapt up onto his own mount. "Many thanks for the warmth of your fire and be alert for orcs and brigands." He warned.
"Don’t forget," Spandif tried once more. "If you change your mind I’ll give you a fair price."
The two riders laughed at the man’s persistence as they rode off into the night, Spandif’s voice following them along the road. "I won’t even knock off any for the damage – what with it being scruffy and blind and all."