The Fellowship of the Ring is broken.
It was a valiant attempt to unseat the King from the throne, but alas, for them, fortune did not favour the brave and their ill timed rebellion was crushed and they all went to bed with no dinner.
It was most likely my fault. Perhaps I should not have laughed when, after much effort on my part, the water started to flow at high velocity along the 20mm water pipe. Had I thought I would have checked to see that there was no shitland pony called Trevor biting the free end hanging over the trough, hoping to catch a dribble of fresh water. I did look up in time to see his cheeks bulge as a million gallons of ice cold water suddenly filled his mouth. Pointing and laughing only sowed deeper the seeds of the later rebellion.
The boys, William, Apollo, Trevor and their sidekick Misty (a girl pony) are in a routine that goes roughly along the lines of wake up, wait for servant to open bedroom door, stretch, wander lazily to the hayledge in the Ring, spend all day eating while servant cleans and tidies bedroom, watch as servant appears just before sunset with buckets of tempting goodies, note carefully the goodies placed in bedrooms, wait impatiently at gate for servant to get a move on and open gate, wander into bedroom, ignore platitudes from servant and get nose down in bucket, have servant shut bedroom door and turn out light, create Himalayan range of horse dung for servant to shift later, lick salt block, snooze and do it again in the morning.
So aside from laughing at Trevor's water boarding mishap I was guilty of complacency. A sin that if committed by smallholders seldom goes unpunished. Putting the ponies to bed is easy. Five minutes max.
Which is why last night I was to be found shivering in the lane in unlaced boots, no torch, wearing a t shirt instead of the arctic gear I had been wearing earlier, because after all, this would only take five minutes I cheerily shouted to my beautiful and oh so patient wife as she reminded me to put my coat on as I set out to put the ponies to bed. The four ponies had gone through the motions of wander towards stables but at a key moment failed to enter and cantered down the lane. Misty who is as fast moving as a comatose Eeyore wandered miserably after her fleeing companions whinnying at being left behind. I followed after grabbing a feed bucket to tempt them with.
By the time I rounded the bend in the lane even Misty the wonder Sloth had disappeared into the night. Somewhere out there were four naughty ponies and 500 acres to play in. The tracks in the snow helped with direction, but each time I got to a point where they might be, the tracks led further away. Every now and then a whinny of temper from Misty prompted me not to give up and get back to the warm of Rock HQ and my coat. The whinny got louder, this one was real fury. The tracks ahead split, three went one way, Misty another, I presumed the whinny was her telling the boys they better make their whereabouts known. I followed Misty's little paw prints, up to the Ghost House, where she stopped and doubled back along the hedge line. As I descended toward The Oracles homestead I wondered how on earth four ponies could hide so well against a snowy bonsai mountain and how much I could sell horse meat for.
Finally I found them milling around like naughty teenagers. William advanced, ears back, your empty bucket trick will not work on us, he was saying, but in horsey, if he could talk we wouldn't worry about paying the mortgage, anyway, bluff was called, what you going to do, there are four of us in the Fellowship of the Ring, we will not be broken.
He was right of course. Me shivering with cold armed with an empty bucket was no match for a naughty Welsh Cob with an eye on the crown. So the next weapon in the armoury was deployed, divide and conquer. Holding Apollo firmly by the forelock words were exchanged along the lines of "For you Tommy the war is over" and with the promise of a full bucket if he behaved Apollo fell in behind and plodded after the true herd leader. Misty sensing she might share Apollo's good fortune dropped in alongside while William and Trevor cantered up and down trying to convince their former allies that all was not lost, they could win.
William continued his defiant stance right until the bolt was kicked over on the other's doors and suddenly the yard was a very large and lonely place. Mustering the dignity of the defeated he entered his stable without an apology while I did my best not to gloat. Fifty three minutes after the start of my five minutes outside I was defrosting on the range which was nearly as warm as the glow of victory.