See here for the playthrough report.
As the company drew nearer to the house, the light seemed to them to flicker and grow brighter. They were approaching the foot of the knoll when Merry cried, “See there! The thatch! The house is aflame!” Looking up they could see that the thatched roof of the house had indeed begun to smoke and smoulder, and in places soft tongues of flame were licking at the straw. Scrambling up the hill, Sam wrapped his cloak about his face and plunged into the house. “There’s no-one about! Might be they’re hurt inside!” he called as smoke from the house enveloped him, ignoring Frodo’s protests.
Sam stepped over the wide stone threshold, and stood still, blinking in the smoke. He was in a long low room, filled with the light of the fire dancing on the beams of the roof; and on the table of dark polished wood but quickly being darkened by dense smoke. Peering through the thickening gloom, the hobbit spotted a chair, at the far side of the room facing the outer door, as yet untouched by the inferno. Upon the chair was laid a green gown of such beauty that Sam supposed it to be of Elvish make, but rent about the middle part. The gown itself was sodden, as though it has been dredged from the river, and such moisture had protected it thus far. Sam started towards it, as though almost compelled to rescue the clothing from the flames, torn and sodden though it was, but as he moved part of the roof fell in before him, covering the rushes about the table in burning straw and smoldering ash. Feeling his chest strain with the effort of breathing, Sam threw one last look toward the gown and retreated from the house.
Dropping to his knees on the soft turf outside, Sam coughed and gasped until the cold night air refreshed his breath. The company gathered about him, simultaneously praising and condemning his brave and foolhardy actions. “Well lad, regardless of what we might think, and we would seem to think a lot of thoughts about that little escapade,” said Bilbo as he rested a hand on Sam’s back, “I trust there was in fact no-one in the house else no doubt you’d have either fetched them out yourself or sent in someone who could.”
“Indeed, Mister Bilbo,” panted Sam, “no-one’s in there. Seems like someone started the fire, on purpose that is. Ain’t no sense in leaving your house empty with candles or lanterns lit. That’s just asking for trouble.” Of the gown, Sam said nothing to anyone for he knew not its meaning and dared not guess.
“In any case we’re glad you are returned unharmed Sam,” said Frodo, “but we must press. We cannot stay here tonight, this fire will draw the attention of everyone from Buckland to Bree. Which way is it to the Road from here Findol?”
The elf, who was still stricken by the loss of his kin, shook his head slightly and looked at the stars above him. “If we journey north from here, we should reach the Road within an hour or two. However I fear that path takes us back into the Forest, which I would shudder to reenter. Instead, should we travel north-west, we should skirt the borders of the woods and soon rejoin the Road.”
“Then that is what we shall do. Henamarth, is there any sign of stirring from Gildor?”
“None. I fear the enchantment upon him is a deep one, beyond our healing here. Only time may now return him to us, as it will for my lord Gildor is not so feeble as to be laid low by such a spell,” replied the elven scout as he checked Gildor for signs of his reawakening.
“It is the worse for us then,” sighed Frodo, “but regardless we must push on. We have many miles to cover before we can allow ourselves some sleep, and we must be far from here before this fire draws creatures to it.” Readjusting his pack, Frodo led the company with Findol and Sam close behind, down the knoll from the burning house and up the shoulder of land beyond. As they began their descent into the hill-country to the east of The Forest, Sam turned to see the burning thatched roof give one last sigh as it collapsed into the house below, sending bright sparks flying into the night. Overcome with sorrow, Sam bowed his head and covered himself with his hood, before turning his back and following Frodo down the embankment.
The company made their way down the gentle slope behind the hill. The burning house and the valley, and the Forest were lost to view. The air grew less chill between the green walls of hillside and hillside, and the scent of turf rose strong and sweet as they breathed. Their way wound along the floor of the hollow below, and round the green feet of a steep hill into another deeper and broader valley, and then over the shoulder of further hills, and down their long limbs, and up their smooth sides again, up on to new hill-tops and down into new valleys. There was no tree nor any visible water: it was a country of grass and short springy turf, silent except for the whisper of the air over the edges of the land, and high lonely cries of strange birds. As they journeyed the moon mounted and grew cold and still. Each time they climbed a ridge the breeze seemed to have grown less.
About mid-night they came to a hill whose top was wide and flattened, like a shallow saucer with a green mounded rim. Inside there was no air stirring, and the sky seemed near their heads. They jogged across and looked northwards. Then their hearts rose, for it seemed plain that they had come further already than they had expected. Certainly the distances had now all become dark and deceptive in the night air, but there could be no doubt that the Downs were coming to an end. A long valley lay below them winding away northwards, until it came to an opening between two steep shoulders. Beyond, there seemed to be no more hills. Due north they faintly glimpsed a long dark line.
“That is a line of trees,” said Findol, “and that must mark the Road. All along it for many leagues east of your Bridge over the Baranduin, there are trees growing. Some say they were planted in the elder days of this age.”
“Splendid!” said Frodo. “If we make as good going in the morning as we have done this evening, we shall have left the Downs before noon tomorrow and be jogging on to Bree by tomorrow night.” But even as he spoke he turned his glance eastwards, and he saw that on that side the hills were higher and looked down upon them; and all those hills were crowned with dark mounds, and on some were standing stones, pointing upwards like jagged teeth out of black gums.
That view was somehow disquieting; so they turned from the sight and went down into the hollow circle. In the midst of it there stood a single stone, standing tall under the sun above, and at this hour gleamed in the moonlight. It was shapeless and yet significant: like a landmark, or a guarding finger, or more like a warning. But they were now hungry and tired, and the moon was high; so they set their backs against the east side of the stone. There they took food and drink, and made as good a supper under the open sky as anyone could wish; for the food came from the abundant pantry of Crickhollow. With great care, they untethered Gildor from Bill’s back, and laid him down beside the great stone while Bill strayed unburdened upon the grass. Findol advised to company to rest once they had eaten, that he would keep watch and wake them an hour before sunrise.
Travelling over the hills, and eating their fill and the scent of turf, lying a little too long, stretching out their legs and looking at the sky above their noses: these things are, perhaps, enough to explain what happened. However, that may be: they woke suddenly and uncomfortably from a sleep they had meant to wake from hours before. So overcome with the exhaustion, relief and sorrow that marked there escape from the Forest behind them, that even the elves had slumbered over long. The standing stone was cold, and it cast a long pale shadow that stretched westward behind them. The sun, a pale and watery yellow, was gleaming through the mist just above the east wall of the hollow in which they lay; north, south, and west, beyond the wall the fog was thick, cold and white. The air was silent, heavy and chill. Findol was nowhere to be seen.
The company sprang to their feet in alarm, and ran to the eastern rim. They found that they were upon an island in the fog. Even as they looked out towards the rising sun, it was blotted out sank before their eyes by a thick white sea, and a cold grey shadow sprang up from the east before them. The fog rolled up to the walls and rose above them, and as it mounted it bent over their heads until it became a roof: they were shut in a hall of mist whose central pillar was the standing stone.
“Findol, where is Findol?” Frodo cried out, “Henamarth, did he give any indication if he might have planned to scout ahead or hunt or anything else?”
“Alas, he said nought to me of anything that might explain his absence,” replied the elf, squatting to examine the grass, “but the ground itself may provide some clue as to his whereabouts. See here, the dew is disturbed. The trail seems to lead north, but after it leaves the hollow, I cannot guess where it might lead.”
“We must go after him,” said Merry. “To abandon one of our own would be heartless beyond measure.”
“Much as I hate to admit it, the young hobbit is right,” growled Bofur. “I don’t much care for the elf, but I cannot abide to let him be dragged off into this cold fog. We will follow you Master Baggins, Dori and me, to recover our lost companion and on to Rivendell.”
“Thank you for your support, Bofur and Dori of Erebor, now more than ever,” Frodo bowed to the dwarf, “but we must make haste then. We do not know when he was taken, or where and we must follow his trail while we can. Haladon, can you track where he was taken?”
“I believe so, however I must say that I do not think my kinsman was taken,” warned the Dunedain. “If you look at the trail to the edge of the hollow, you can see that there is only the one set of footprints. Though I cannot say why, nor dare I guess, I believe Findol was either drawn or lured out of the hollow or perhaps he went of his own free will.”
“Then surely he might come back? Perhaps we should wait here for him, so as he knows where to find us,” suggested Pippin. “Besides, if we go off blundering into the fog, why, we’ll be in no better a pickle than Findol.”
“And I’ve heard tales about this place, if it’s where I think it is,” Fatty interjected.
“Not more of your nursery tales,” Merry rolled his eyes.
“These aren’t like those stories of goblins in The Forest,” protested Fatty, “They say that a fell magic lies on this place, that great kings and warriors from long ago were put to rest here long ago, but are not permitted to sleep. They say the dead were awoken, and now hate the living because of it.”
“The Barrow Downs,” said Haladon. “That is where we are.”
The blood drained from Henamarth’s face. “Are you certain? I thought they were further east. We could not have been that long in the forest as to make it so far east.”
The ranger shook his head, “I had hoped so myself. I had my suspicions when we saw this great stone, but did not say anything so as not to alarm the company. Now I fear my silence has cost us another companion.”
A breeze swept over the wall of the hollow, and fog began to lap over the sides. The company felt as though a trap had been closed in around them, and they were but the flies squirming upon the web. Frodo shivered as he drew his cloak in around him. Dori shook his head with impatience, “Speak sense lad, are you saying the dead stalk these cursed hills?”
Haladon nodded, “And I fear our presence has not gone unnoticed. In the centuries before, my people set traps and safeguards in these hills to protect the living from the dead. We have sealed up as many of their tombs as we could find, but I fear there may be more undiscovered.”
“Well then we haven’t a moment to lose. We must recover Findol as soon as possible, else we do little better to condemn him ourselves,” Frodo said. “Everyone, make ready to leave as soon as possible. We shall find Findol and escape these hills.”
As Frodo spoke, a low, haunting melody swam towards them out of the fog. Bill snickered and started, moving away from the lip of the hollow.
“Now where do you suppose that is coming from?” mused Bilbo. “Or, more relevantly, what do you think it might mean? I don’t suppose any of you fine elves have any idea, what with your much more learned ears?”
“It is lament, from a time best forgotten in favour of happier days,” Gildor said as he stood. “It is good to see you again, my friends. Though I might ask, why it is you have brought us to this place?”
“Gildor! You are wake!” Pippin crashed into the elf, fling his arms around him. “We thought you might never wake up. We could not bear to lose another one!”
“Not so tight, little one. I am still weary from the Forest’s spell,” laughed Gildor. The sound was strange in the gloom, and though the fog swallowed it almost as quick as it was voiced, the company were glad to hear it. “What do you mean, another?”
Henamarth put his hand on Gildor’s shoulder, “We lost Luthiel in the Forest, she was taken by an ancient tree who did not know our intent. Her soul is now in Manwe’s care.”
The elf lord bowed his head, “My heart is grieved to hear of this news, but we have no time to mourn. We shall honour her memory when we reach the halls of Imladris. And yet, I sense this is not all. What are you keeping from me.”
Haladon spoke up, “Finrod is missing also. He volunteered to keep watch while we rested, but when we awoke he was nowhere to be found. We discovered tracks leading north of here, but we need to move quickly before the wights of these barrows take him for their own.”
“Then these are indeed the fell downs. I had hoped to avoid them, but alas I awoke too late. Come then, let us make haste,” Gildor seemed filled with a light that almost glowed in the morning gloom. “I will not mourn another lost kinsman without striving to save them.”
Gildor accepted some food from one of the elves to sustain him and the company set about stowing away their gear and provisions. They packed up as quickly as their chilled fingers would work. Soon they were going single file over the rim and down the long northward slope of the hill, down into a foggy sea. As they went down the mist became colder and damper, and their hair hung lank and dripping on their foreheads. When they reached the bottom it was so cold that their cloaks and hoods soon became bedewed with grey drops. Then they went slowly on again, following the trail of Findol as best as they could in the long wet grass.
As they went the low song, which had never stopped since their first hearing of it, grew steadily louder and bolder until it seemed as though the fog itself sang to them. Pausing to shake his head in an effort to clear his mind of the melody, Fatty gasped in fright and pointed toward the summit of the hill they had just descended from. “See, see there behind us!” There, on the edge of the hollow watching them, stood a figure whose hunched posture seemed to disguise a truer taller stature. But it was not the mere appearance of the stranger that caused the hobbit to fright, nor even the long, dark blade grasped by its side, but rather it was the two cold blue eyes staring at them that cut him to his core.
“It is as I feared,” Haladon whispered, “our passage has been noticed and we are watched. Do not look into his eyes! Keep onward and he should let us alone. They only attack the alone and unwary, or so I have been told.”
“I shall take up the rearguard, press forward,” urged Gildor. “I fear that the closeness of their dread captain and summoner will only embolden them, and as we continue more dead will be drawn to the living, as summer moths to a candle.”
The group continued on slowly, with Haladon and Henamarth leading from the front, guiding them along the trail left by Findol. As the path wound slowly between the hills, the fog grew thicker until Frodo, who was first behind their guides, could not see Gildor at the rear of the company. And yet, no matter how dense the fog around them became, the glowing eyes following them was always visible.
After about an hour of such progress, the sun was no less hidden than before, but the glare of it on the fog hurt the company’s eyes so they had to go squinting as to not be blinded. In spite of this, the fog lost none of its chill and bite, cutting through their cloaks and into their flesh. The following eyes had been joined by another pair, though smaller as if further away. As the company turned a corner round a hill, Haladon motioned them to couch down low to the turf.
“What is it?” Pippin called forward, “What’s…” Dori’s hands clamped over Pippin, stifling any further noise.
“Hold your peace, young master hobbit,” the dwarf hissed. “We’re in hostile land, and we don’t need you letting every spirit between the Forest and Bree know where we are.” Slowly Pippin nodded, and the dwarf let go.
At the head of the company, Frodo could see exactly what was hindering their progress. About twenty feet ahead hovered two eyes, staring at them intently. “Why isn’t it moving? The ones behind us keep advancing.”
“I’m not sure, my sight cannot penetrate this damnable fog,” whispered the Dunedain. “Henamarth, what do you see?”
The elf looked at Haladon, “There is a wight ahead of us.”
“Yes, we can see that. What else is there?”
“My apologies, master dunedain, I could not resist,” Henamarth stood up with mirth in his voice. “This wight seems to have fallen foul of your kin’s precautions for it cannot harm us. What is more gladdening to my heart however, is we have found our companion.” With that, the elf sprang ahead toward the baleful eyes and couched in front of them. “He is still breathing, we have not come too late!”
The company pressed forward, and saw Findol lying on the grass, his eyes closed as though sound asleep. Frodo looked and saw that the figure glaring at them seemed to be nothing more than a skeleton wrapped in rich, but worn robes, and indeed could not move to attack them. A device similar to the traps he himself had used to catch rodents in Bag End seemed to be buried just underneath the turf and had sprung upon the wight’s passing, catching it in several wicked spikes pinning it to the ground where it writched in frustration. “My apologies Haladon,” said Frodo, “but what is to stop one of these devices snaring us should we pass one. Indeed, would it now be yourself impaled on the ground had this creature not come before us?”
“Worry not my friend,” the ranger smiled. “These were established many hundreds of years before, when my people and the elves of Imladris worked in closer harmony. While we constructed and laid these traps, the elves sung into them spells that caused them only to be sprung on the passing of a creature with no life in them. While this may permit orcs and wolves to avoid them unhindered, there are far deadlier foes that stalk there hills than those. Indeed, we have passed two of these traps already that I have seem, and neither of them did us any harm.”
“Three,” interjected Henamarth, “and this is the fourth.”
Meanwhile Bofur knelt beside the fallen elf, laying on his chest the dwarf’s heavy hand. “I did not think I should ever utter this, but it is heartening to see you still living master elf.” he muttered so as no-one else could hear. Rising, he turned and said to Merry, “Have any of your folk been out this far west, so as to know what ails him? And if so, have you any knowledge of what might regenerate him to us?”
Merry shook his head saying that he knew of no-one who had entered these hills, let alone returned from them. “I have,” said Tom, “though I did not believe them at the time.”
“Aye? And what did you hear?” pressed Bofur.
“Well I were only a little hobbit back then, scarcely up to your knee so to speak. And what I heard, well it was just as a ghost story you see, meant to frighten us into good behaviour,” Tom paused. “But now with what them elves is saying, and that ranger, well maybe it wasn’t just stories. We was told of a place beyond the Old Forest, that even the trees dare not enter. They say that once, long ago, there was a king in these parts. And while he wasn’t a good king, nor was he a bad one. He tried to keep his people safe, but oft he was cruel as well.”
Bilbo had wandered over to listen to the story. He too had been told it as a child, and knew what was to follow, but such was his love of tales that he did not mind to hear it again, even in that unhomely place.
Tom continued, “One cold winter’s day, colder than even the Fell Winter when the Brandywine froze over, out of the north came another king. And with that king came a host of such size and terror that he swept all before him. He had men and wolves on his side together, and trolls from the mountains and, depending on who tells the tale, he could even summon evil magicks to fight for him.”
By now Pippin and Sam had come over to listen and Fatty too, even though he, like Bilbo, had heard this story before. “Well the first king I was telling you of, he knew this other one had to be stopped. And so what he did was he called up his army, but saw it wouldn’t be enough. So then he sent out messengers to all the other kings and lords and chiefs in the land, asking for help. Some said yes, some said no, and some even sent no reply for they had joined the evil king. From all over, men came to fight together against the evil king, even an elf king came with his hosts to fight.”
“This is all very well,” interrupted Bofur, “but what has this to do with helping Findol?”
“I’m coming there, don’t rush me. So as I was saying, there’s lots of people come together to fight this evil king, and even some hobbits as well mind. We sent our best hunters and bowmen to help however we could. Eventually there was nothing else for it, and there was this great battle somewhere north of here. Hundreds of people died, kings and common folks, and finally the evil king was defeated. But he escaped, and after the battle he made his way to where the first king buried his dead from the battle, all his greatest warriors and even his sons, and then he placed a curse on them as revenge. That they would never rest or sleep as long as he still walked the earth. They say that the evil king lived forever, that he still lives now, biding his time in the north and waiting to rise again. And we were told as little hobbits that is we weren’t good or went to bed as we ought, that we would get sent to where the dead never slept. We’d be safe outside that awful place, but if were bad we’d get taken there in the night. Once we get out of these hills, whatever spell is on our poor Mister Findol will be broke, don’t you worry.”
“That’s it? That’s what that story was leading to?” spluttered Dori. “Get out of here and we’ll all be safe again? Durin’s beard, I could have told you that.”
Bilbo interrupted the dwarf’s tirade, “Now now Dori, you ought to know the power hidden in tales. Wasn’t the hidden door into Erebor just a legend before that map told us otherwise?” Dori frowned. “Besides, now the others know what we’re dealing with here. They know that we cannot fight them, and that these spirits are not inherently evil. All we needs must do is find our way out and no harm will come to us.”
“Find our way out? But how? We are completely lost!” Fatty complained.
Sam shook his head. “No, I’m not sure that we are. I think we were headed due east before we found Mister Findol here. If you look on the hills, the grass is longer on the south side following the sun. That means all we need to do is follow the shorter sides and we’ll soon rejoin the Road.”
Gildor approached them, “If I may, I suggest we maintain our pace. While this wight may be trapped, it would appear that those following have not been so waylaid, or indeed may have been able to assist each other out of their captivity. Their own progress towards us has not slowed, and I fear they shall not pause as we do now.”
“Right then, let’s get Mister Findol up on to Bill then,” said Sam. “Poor thing has barely had a rest from carrying you, meaning no harm Mister Gildor, you’re not as heavy as all that.” The elf bowed in acknowledgement.
Within moments, for they were driven by a fear that was gnawing now at the back of their minds, Findol was tied safely to Bill and once again they journeyed on, feeling their way by the rise and fall of the ground. They were steering, as well as they could guess, for the gate-like opening at the far northward end of the long valley which they had seen the night before, Haladon confirming Sam’s theory about the grass on the hillsides confirming the sun’s path. Once they were through the gap they had seem, they had only to keep on in anything like a straight line and they were bound in the end to strike the Road. Their thoughts did not go beyond that, except for a vague hope that perhaps away beyond the Downs there might be no fog.
Onwards they went, without pause, on and on through the hills as the mist clawed at their faces and cloaks. The mounds seemed to stretch on forever, rising up on either side of them as the teeth of a predator closes in on its prey, and all the while the song from before continued its metre. Behind them, the original two pairs of eyes seemed to have rescued their stricken companion and gained another as there were now four sets of blue eyes glaring at them through the fog.
Haladon whispered something to Henamarth and went to join Gildor at the rear of the company. As he passed each member, he said to each of them to follow Henamarth and run when he did, save Bofur whom he bid come with him. Pausing by Frodo, he placed his hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. “It seems that again we must part ways. I hope that as the last time we shall meet again.”
“What do you mean?” Frodo asked though he knew in his heart what the ranger was about to do.
Haladon conferred with Bofur and Gildor quietly, and then suddenly the three turned and sprinted into the fog, drawing their swords and axe as they went. As they did, Henamarth broke into a jog in the opposite direction leading the company on through the fog. Almost as soon as they started, even Sam at the rear with Bill lost sight of the three as the bright fog swallowed them whole.
The sound of metal on metal sounded through the hills, echoing off the empty valleys between them and muffled by the fog both at once. It seems that the noise came from all about the company, and from nowhere both at once. Glancing behind, Frodo only saw three pairs of eyes through the mists, though one was much closer than it was before. The fog was so thick now that he not only could not see Sam at the rear, but even Bilbo was hard to pick out in the middle of the company. “Stay together,” called Bofur immediately behind him, “we cannot afford to get separated now!”
As they ran, Merry stooped down and picked up a smooth stone, turning to hurl it as the closest pair of eyes. A small tap sounded from where the pebble hit off the wight, but it did nothing to deter it. If anything the eyes began to close the distance, albeit slowly, burning with hatred as they came. The company kept on, the unknown of what might happen if they were caught spurring their pace.
The valley seemed to stretch on endlessly. Suddenly Frodo saw a hopeful sign. On either side ahead a darkness began to loom through the bright mist; and he guessed that they were at last approaching the gap in the hills, the north-gate of the Barrow-downs. If they could pass that, they would be free.
“Come on! Follow me!” Frodo called back over his shoulder, and he hurried forward past Henamarth. But his hope soon changed to bewilderment and alarm. The dark patches grew darker, but they shrank; and suddenly he saw, towering ominous before him and leaning slightly towards one another like the pillars of a headless door, two huge standing stones. He could not remember having seen any sign of these in the valley, when he looked out from the hill in the morning. He had passed between them almost before he was aware: and even as he did so darkness seemed to fall round him. When he looked back he found that he was alone: the others had not followed him, and even the glaring eyes had disappeared. Silence was all about him, deafening quiet, and he realised the song had stopped. “Bilbo!”’ he called. “Sam ! Henamarth! Come along, Dori! Why don’t you keep up?”
There was no answer. Fear took him, and he ran back past the stones shouting wildly: “Sam! Sam! Bilbo! Pippin!” From some way off, or so it seemed, he thought he heard a cry: “Hoy! Frodo! Hoy!” It was away eastward, on his left as he stood under the great stones, staring and straining into the gathering gloom. He plunged off in the direction of the call, and found himself going steeply uphill.
As he struggled on he called again, and kept on calling more and more frantically; but he heard no answer for some time, and then it seemed faint and far ahead and high above him. “Frodo! Hoy!” came the thin voices out of the mist: and then a cry that sounded like help, help! often repeated, ending with a last help! that trailed off into a long wail suddenly cut short. He stumbled forward with all the speed he could towards the cries; but the light was now gone, and darkness had closed about him, almost as though it was night, so that it was impossible to be sure of any direction. He seemed all the time to be climbing up and up.
Only the change in the level of the ground at his feet told him when he at last came to the top of a ridge or hill. He was weary, sweating and yet chilled. It was wholly dark. “Where are you?” Frodo cried out miserably.
He imagined suddenly that he caught a muffled cry, and he made towards it; and even as he went forward the mist was rolled up and thrust aside around him, forming a roof above his head. Studying the grass on the hills showed him that he was now facing southwards and was on a round hill-top, which he must have climbed from the north. Out of the east the biting wind was blowing. To his right there loomed against the westward stars a dark black shape. A great barrow stood there.
“Where are you?” he cried again, both angry and afraid.
“Here!” said a voice, deep and cold, that seemed to come out of the ground. “I am waiting for you!”
“No!” said Frodo; but he did not run away. His knees gave, and he fell on the ground. Nothing happened, and there was no sound. Trembling he looked up, in time to see a tall dark figure like a shadow standing over him. It leaned over him. Frodo thought of the Black Riders he had seen in the Shire, but them he register the two eyes, very cold as though lit with a pale blue flame that seemed to come from some remote distance. Then a grip stronger and colder than iron seized him. The icy touch froze his bones, and he remembered no more.
When he came to himself again, for a moment he could recall nothing except a sense of dread. Then suddenly he knew that he was imprisoned, caught hopelessly; he was in a barrow. A Barrow-wight had taken him, and he was probably already under the dreadful spells of the Barrow-wights about which whispered tales spoke. He dared not move, but lay as he found himself: flat on his back upon a cold stone with his hands on his breast.
As he lay there, thinking and getting a hold of himself, he noticed all at once that the darkness was slowly giving way: a pale greenish light was growing round him. It did not at first show him what kind of a place he was in, for the light seemed to be coming out of himself, and from the floor beside him, and had not yet reached the roof or wall. He turned, and there in the cold glow he saw lying beside him Merry, Fatty and old Tom Cotton. They were on their backs, and their faces looked deathly pale. On their heads had been placed circlets, gold chains were about their waists, and on their fingers were many rings. Swords lay by their sides, and shields were at their feet. But across their three necks lay one long naked sword.
Suddenly a song began, and Frodo recognised it as the same they had heard outside: a cold murmur, rising and falling. The voice seemed far away and immeasurably dreary, sometimes high in the air and thin, sometimes like a low moan from the ground. Out of the formless stream of sad but horrible sounds, strings of words would now and again shape themselves: grim, hard, cold words, heartless and miserable. The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered. Frodo was chilled to the marrow. After a while the song became clearer, and with dread in his heart he perceived that it had changed into an incantation:
Cold be hand and heart and bone, and cold be sleep under stone:
never mare to wake on stony bed, never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead.
In the black wind the stars shall die, and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts his hand over dead sea and withered land.
He heard behind his head a creaking and scraping sound. Raising himself on one arm he looked, and saw now in the pale light that they were in a kind of passage which behind them turned a corner. Round the corner a long arm was groping, walking on its fingers towards Fatty, who was lying nearest, and towards the hilt of the sword that lay upon him.
At first Frodo felt as if he had indeed been turned into stone by the incantation. Then a wild thought of escape came to him. He wondered if he put on the Ring, whether the Barrow-wight would miss him, and he might find some way out. He thought of himself running free over the grass, grieving for Merry, and Fatty, and Tom and all the others, wherever they may be, but free and alive himself. Even Gandalf himself would admit that there had been nothing else he could do.
But the courage that had been awakened in him was now too strong: he could not leave his friends so easily. He wavered, groping in his pocket, and then fought with himself again; and as he did so the arm crept nearer. Suddenly resolve hardened in him, and he seized a short sword that lay beside him, and kneeling he stooped low over the bodies of his companions. With what strength he had he hewed at the crawling arm near the wrist, and the hand broke off; but at the same moment the sword splintered up to the hilt. There was a shriek and the light vanished. In the dark there was a snarling noise.
Frodo fell forward over Merry, and Merry’s face felt cold. All at once back into his mind, from which it had felt like it had disappeared with the first coming of the fog, came the memory of his home under the Hill, and of his journey and of the elves singing. He remembered the verse that Gildor had been singing and had taught them as they went on the road. In a small desperate voice he began: A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!! and with that name his voice seemed to grow strong: it had a full and joyous sound, and the dark chamber echoed as if to drum and trumpet.
A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath,
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!
There was a sudden deep silence, in which Frodo could hear his heart beating. After a long slow moment he heard plain, but far away, as if it was coming down through the ground or through thick walls, an answering voice singing:
A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath,
Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!
There was a loud rumbling sound, as of stones rolling and falling, and suddenly light streamed in, real light, the plain light of day. A low door-like opening appeared at the end of the chamber beyond Frodo’s feet; and there was Gildor’s head framed against the light of the sun. The light fell upon the floor, and upon the faces of the three hobbits lying beside Frodo. They did not stir, but the sickly hue had left them. They looked now as if they were only very deeply asleep.
Gildor stepped into the dark chamber and clasped Frodo in his arms. “Come, my friend Frodo!” said Gildor. “Let us get out on to clean grass! You must help me bear them.”
Together they carried out Merry, Tom, and finally Fatty together. As Frodo left the barrow for the last time he thought he saw a severed hand wriggling still, like a wounded spider, in a heap of fallen earth. Looking out onto the hillside around him, Frodo saw with joy the rest of his company climbing up to meet them.
“Where were you my lad! What did you mean by it, running off into the mist?” scolded Bilbo. “As soon as you went off, all of a sudden none of us could see anything.”
Sam nodded along, “And then, and then Mister Frodo, we could see again. Only you weren’t there! And neither were Mister Fredegar or Merry or Mister Cotton and we didn’t know what to do!”
“Aye,” grumbled Bofur, “they were all confused and panicking and this elf here”, motioning to Henamarth, “was desperately trying to herd them all together like cats when we caught up to them. This elf here,” nodding at Findol, “decided to wake up, all shouting foul murder about night and arrows and fire, causing a fresh wave of flutter. Then all of a sudden, this elf here”, waving his hand at Gildor, “went off running into the hills, leaving us to follow without so much as a by-your-leave.”
Frodo flung his arms round Gildor, “I do not know what our fate would have been had you not heard my song, and I shudder to think of it, but we are grateful that you did.”
Smiling, Gildor returned the hobbit’s embrace. “As would I. The wights have ensnared stronger than yourselves in their barrows, who would never again see the fair light of day.”
“What in the name of wonder?” started Merry, who had just woken and was feeling the golden circlet that had slipped over one eye. Then he stopped, and a shadow came over his face, and he closed his eyes. “Of course, I remember!’ he said. ‘The men of Carn Dûm came on us at night, and we were worsted. Ah! the spear in my heart!” He clutched at his breast. “No! No!” he said, opening his eyes. “What am I saying? I have been dreaming. Where did you get to, Frodo? You ran on ahead and then there was such darkness. Hullo Findol, I see you’re back on your feet again.”
“I thought that we were nearly free, but instead I was lost,” said Frodo, taking Merry in his arms; “but I don’t want to speak of it. Let us think of what we are to do now! Let us go on!”
It took more time than they had planned to depart the Barrow, helping the captured hobbits regain the strength in their legs again and take off all the trinkets and jewels the wights adorned them with. The baubles were ice cold to the touch, and not even Bofur or Dori wanted to keep any. “Troll-smell is one thing,” they said, “and even dragon-stench washes off. These though, these almost taste of death.”
At last they set off. They went down the hill; and then they quickly went along the valley, eager to be out of the Downs before nightfall. They looked back and saw the top of the old mound on the hill, the black hole in the side from where Frodo had emerged open like a gaping wound, then they turned a shoulder of the Downs and it was hidden from view.
Though Frodo looked about him on every side he saw no sign of the great stones standing like a gate, and before long they came to the northern gap and went swiftly through, and the land fell away before them. They went forward steadily, but they soon saw that the Road was further away than they had imagined and the dark line they had seen was not a line of trees but a line of bushes growing on the edge of a deep dike with a steep wall on the further side. Gildor said that it had once been the boundary of a kingdom, but a very long time ago. He seemed to remember something sad about it, and would not say much.
They climbed down and out of the dike and through a gap in the wall, and then Findol turned them due north, for they had been bearing somewhat to the west. The land was now open and fairly level, and they quickened their pace, but the sun was already sinking low when at last they saw a line of tall trees ahead, and the company knew that they had come back to the Road after many unexpected adventures. The quicken their pace over the last furlongs, and halted under the long shadows of the trees. They were on the top of a sloping bank, and the Road, now dim as evening drew on, wound away below them. At this point it ran nearly from South-west to North-east, and on their right it fell quickly down into a wide hollow. It was rutted and bore many signs of the recent heavy rain; there were pools and pot-holes full of water. They climbed down the bank and looked up and down. There was nothing to be seen. “Well, here we are again at last!” said Frodo. “I suppose we haven’t lost more than two days by my short cut through the Forest! But perhaps the delay will prove useful – it may have put them off our trail.”
The others looked at him. The shadow of the fear of the Black Riders came suddenly over them again. Ever since they had entered the Forest, most of them had thought chiefly of getting back to the Road; only now when it lay beneath their feet did they remember the danger which pursued them, and was more than likely to be lying in wait for them upon the Road itself. They looked anxiously back towards the setting sun, but the Road was brown and empty.
“Do you think,” asked Fatty hesitatingly, “do you think we may be pursued, tonight?”
“No, I hope not tonight,” answered Gildor; “nor perhaps the next day. But do not trust my guess; for I cannot tell for certain.”
“In any case,” said Haladon, “soon we might have some comfort for this evening. Four miles along the Road we’ll come upon a village, Bree under Bree-hill. There we’ll find an old inn that is called The Prancing Pony were Barliman Butterbur is the keeper. There we can stay the night, and afterwards we will make haste on our way.”
“Well I won’t deny I’ll be glad to see this Prancing Pony,” said Sam. “I hope it’ll be like The Green Dragon away back home! What sort of folk are they in Bree?”
“There are hobbits in Bree,” said Bilbo, “as well as Big Folk. I daresay it will be homelike enough. The Pony is a good inn by all accounts. Your people Merry, they ride out there now and again.”
“It may be all we could wish,” said Frodo; “but it is outside the Shire all the same. Don’t make yourselves too much at home!”
They now went off silently into the evening. Darkness came down quickly, as they plodded slowly downhill and up again, until at last they saw lights twinkling some distance ahead.
Before them rose Bree-hill barring the way, a dark mass against misty stars; and under its western flank nestled a large village. Towards it they now hurried desiring only to find a fire, and a door between them and the night.