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Section XLV-An Unpleasant Turn

As we leave the beauty and peace of Chetwood behind us, we discover to our dismay that our brief respite is over and done far too quickly and very much for the worse. Our path, so to speak, is taking a decidedly unpleasant turn. The Midgewater Marshes spread out before us. Strider's stories of this place bring little comfort, truth be told, no comfort at all. The place sounds thoroughly disagreeable. Surely there is another way. But no, Strider insists this is the road we must follow. I find myself reflecting that we are again back to the road existing only in his mind's eye. I must swallow hard to dislodge the uncomfortable lump forming in my throat at his admission; in the marshes, where change is a daily occurrence, even the paths of the Rangers will become uncertain in one place or another and even at times vanish completely away.

Up to this point, I have, from time to time, enjoyed the occasional opportunity to observe the sights and sounds around me. I cannot help but sometimes wonder if Bilbo perhaps wandered not far from here, seeing this or that. In this unforgiving land however, the satisfaction of exploring the world is irrevocably lost in the need to concentrate on where I put my feet. One never knows when the next step will be into a quagmire. There is no straight path to follow. We tramp along struggling to avoid boggy spots, reed-beds, and pools of water, seeming to appear at every turn from nowhere. We must wind and twist, again and again. By my way of thinking, Strider's description of this miserable patch of earth, and I am certain that my memory is not yet dim, really was far too generous and kind, though I suspect I would now think that no matter what had been said.

I feel a creeping irritation for the birds everywhere happily singing. Are they blithely laughing at our increasing discomfort and hardship or thrilled to be so obviously overfed? A veritable feast of midges abounds everywhere, if one has the taste for such things. To suggest the tiny creatures are annoying is to decidedly fall short of the mark. Their appetite for hobbit appears to be ferocious and clearly knows no limit. I inexplicably wonder briefly how much of me will be left over by the time we escape this nightmare.

Then, of course, there are the Neekerbreekers, as Sam is wont to call them. I am so tired, and yet cannot close my eyes for the bites of the midges and the roar of the Neekerbreekers. They are altogether frightening, harsh on the ears, allowing for no thought due to their incessant, grating chatter. I hope never to hear the beasts again. I almost thought them the most horrific sound I've ever heard, but the memory of the Black Riders settles in my mind. A deepening chill sweeps over me.

Fortunately, as we move on, the Neekerbreekers are left behind. Unfortunately, the midges are not. However, in truth, I feel an even deeper unease. To the east, far away, as I lie awake at night, I observe what might be a storm, but the lightening seems to streak from the ground to the sky. The others are asleep, all that is but for Strider. I find it unexpectedly comforting, the knowledge that he is keeping watch over us. I am finally able to sleep, if only fitfully.

In all this, Bill is none too happy either. I determinedly do not think about poor Bill.

Finally, the last of the marshes are left behind. A collective sigh escapes us, and we laugh in spite of ourselves. Strider believes we will be to Weathertop tomorrow. Again, we will take the round about way, but this does not quail the momentary hope that flickers in my heart. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps Gandalf is waiting there.