This story is inspired by the Hobbits and landscape of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, and the ghost stories of M. R. James. Both authors were scholars, historians, and both shaped and inspired their genres. They certainly inspired me, not only in my literary tastes, but the fields which they studied.
This particular tale is set around the Barrow Downs and features a burgling adventure. Mix it with A Warning to the Curious, and the wights of the Downs become all the more terrifying. I hope you enjoy my tribute to my two favourite authors!
Hobbits as you know are curious by nature. They burrow into hills, they farm the land. They have a love for simple things, but they also have a love for burgling. Indeed, the Mathom-House in Michel Delving would be far emptier were it not for the adventurous exploits of certain Shire-folk. The collection of weapons within is of particular interest, and for many years I have assisted my friend Ronarabus Grubb, curator and historian, in the expansion of this collection.
I had received a letter from him recently. He had become most excited by an extraordinary find brought back from the Barrow-Downs, and was keen to set forth to study this further;
"My Dear Mungo,
May I apologise for not corresponding with you for such a long time. I have been engrossed as ever in my work, which of late has been greatly exciting to me. A merchant from Bree had traded twenty pieces of silver for an extraordinary Dwarven find, a helm which the Dwarf claims to have come from the Downs. The merchant recognised that it was an unusual and rather ancient artefact and brought it straight to me. If this is what I think it is, then I may soon find the legendary sword! You may scoff at me, yet I know there is no smoke without fire. Meet me at the Prancing Pony in a week’s time, and I shall tell you more.
With kind regards, your friend,
Although the letter was brief, I was immediately aware of what he was on to. The Barrow-Downs are a dangerous place, the resting places of ancient kings of men. They were now filled with evil spirits, and only the foolish passed across the Downs these days. There was a legend associated with them that was in circulation among certain antiquarians; that three kings had been buried there, each with a mighty sword. One of the barrows had already been looted and the treasures lost. Another had collapsed completely, and was impossible to excavate. Yet the third... the third barrow had been lost and its location had been forgotten over the Ages. Should it be found again, one could only imagine! The treasures within would fill the Mathom-House twice over. Ronarabus had been obsessed for most of his life with finding this burial chamber. His Hobbit-hole was filled with maps and notes, and any clue he could get his hands on.
So three days later, I packed some provisions, took my walking staff, and set out for Bree.
I arrived at the Prancing Pony late in the afternoon on Sunday. Passing a small bag of coins to Barliman Butterbur, the proprietor of the establishment, I gave instruction that I be alerted on the arrival of my friend, and went to my room. A comfortable dwelling, it was fitted to accommodate a Halfling such as myself. The beamed ceiling low, the bed firm, the pillow soft. It seemed that it would do nicely. Sitting on the wooden chair by the window, I took out my notes on the legendary barrows, filled my pipe and lit it.
It seemed several hours had passed. The sun was growing low in the sky, and still no sign of Ronarabus. My stomach told me it was time for an early supper, so I made my way down the stairs into the common room of the inn. Ordering roast lamb and taters, I had taken a seat near the fireplace and tucked into my meal. It was whilst I was mopping up the gravy with a chunk of bread that I was interrupted by a merry greeting.
"Mungo, my old boy! There you are!"
Looking in the direction of the voice, I immediately recognised my friend Ronarabus entering the inn, scrolls and papers stuffed under his arms, several packs on his back, and a shovel and pick. How he had managed this precarious balancing act I cannot tell, yet it would appear he was well prepared.
"Good day, good day to you sir!" I smiled. "Yet the day is nearly spent! What hour do you call this?"
Ronarabus laughed and replied, "Each time I went to leave my hole I remembered something else that would come in useful. I must have left and gone back twenty times today! After all that, I am sure I have forgotten my pipe weed." He muttered.
"Never mind that, you can have some of mine. Now get yourself a drink and tell me what this is all about, will you?"
Ronarabus nodded and dropped his belongings next to my table, causing several of the patrons to turn in our direction and mutter about folks going queer. Ignoring them, he fetched two half pints and ordered a meal. Carrying the tankards back to our table, he placed them down and pulled out a map from his waistcoat. His eyes gleamed with excitement as he explained his evidence to me.
"You and I are both aware of what lies beneath the Barrow-Downs." I nodded, and sipped my ale as he continued. "I was fortunate to speak with a man who had been to the libraries within the White City. Imagine that, the White City!" Neither he nor I had ever dreamed of travelling that far south. The lands outside the Shire were dangerous and not for Hobbit-folk. Ronarabus took a gulp of his ale to wet his whistle, and then explained. "It is common knowledge to folks like us that beneath the mounds lie the burial chambers of great kings of men. Kings of the Houses of Bëor, Hador, and Haleth rest within their barrows. The legend tells us that although their children passed to the Isle of Númenor, these kings rest with the great swords given to them in gratitude by the Eldar. As you know, two of the tombs are lost, yet the third..." He sighed dreamily "For years I have searched for it, and by attercop, I believe I have finally found it!" He grinned, helping himself to my pipe weed and filling his pipe. Lighting it, he continued, "A merchant brought this helm to the Mathom-House." Pulling it from one of his bags, he rested it on the table. It did look ancient. The iron was engraved with intricate patterns, now rusted and dim. Ornate gold bands circled the eyes and were decorated with beautiful knotwork. I could not help but gasp with amazement.
"I needed more information; I needed to date this item, so asked the merchant to send for the Dwarf who found it. After lightening my purse, the Dwarf agreed to tell me his story. He had been collecting chalk on the Downs, filling a cart for shipment to the Iron Hills. Needing to come to Bree for provisions, he had travelled a little too far south, and somewhere on the edge of the Old Forest came across a barrow that had not been found before. We all know the Downs are full of them, but one so close to Bree was never before imagined. Well, you and I both know what Dwarves are like with the prospect of treasure, and he set to it with his pick, digging a hole in the side. He found a few pieces of silver and this." Ronarabus patted the helm. "I do believe we may have found our barrow."
I sat listening all throughout. Could this just be another wild goose chase? Or was Ronarabus really on to something this time? There was one big question in my mind though. "So tell me Ron, if the Dwarf raided this from the tomb, what is to say he didn’t empty it entirely?" It seemed unlikely to me that he would have walked away from a treasure trove.
"Funny that you say that. He told me he left the barrow, and I believed him. He had this look upon his face, almost fear. The merchant told me that he bought the helm off the Dwarf for an unusually low price, almost as if the Dwarf could not wait to be rid of the thing. Shortly after I spoke to the helm’s finder, he fled Bree without as much as a goodbye. He didn’t even buy the provisions he had come for. Seems he just took his cart and his gold and went back to the mountains." Ronarabus sucked on his pipe and exhaled a large cloud of smoke. Leaning back on his chair he stared at the helm and added, "I cannot help but feel a little uneasy myself. The barrows are the resting places of these ancient men. We all know what horrors guard the ones on the Downs. Yet I feel that the spirits of the dead watch those who raid their graves." I felt myself shudder. "Still, not to worry about old wives’ tales! Stuff and nonsense!" Ronarabus laughed. I could not help but wonder whether he was trying to comfort me, or himself. I certainly felt chilled, and supped more of my ale to warm my bones.
"If this is the tomb of one of the Kings, then it is in the interest of the Mathom-House that we investigate it. The other two barrows are ruined, their treasures inaccessible, or lost. We cannot allow this one to fall to the same fate. Its treasures must be protected and preserved." Ronarabus explained. I agreed with him. Our passion was history, and preserving it for the generations to come. The barrows of the Kings were one of our most enigmatic historical sites, surrounded by legend. If we were to uncover a full tomb’s worth of treasure, it would be a superb addition to the Mathom-House, and would make us famous across the Shire. Folks often thought us odd, and did not take our passion seriously. Yet a find like this would put an end to their gossip.
"So what do you say to a spot of burgling?" Ronarabus asked mischievously. I smiled. "Well, in the interest of forwarding our knowledge of the history of the Shire... preserving precious artefacts... then yes. I accept. I won’t be frightened by faery tales told to children by their mothers. The biggest of our problems will be excavating the tomb without the whole thing collapsing upon us. Let us get some rest and set out at dawn. Up early, a hearty breakfast, then we go."
We talked by the fire for a few more hours, about the legend of the tombs, about the stories heard about the things that lurk on the Downs, and about our eagerness to explore this opportunity. Then each of us went to our own rooms. I helped Ronarabus carry his bags up, and could not help but notice him lay the helm on the table next to his bed, throwing a cloth over it. Bidding him good night, I went to my quarters for a good night’s sleep. There would be a long march ahead of us tomorrow, and we would need to try to find a pony to carry the packs before we set out. My head filled with anticipation, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The next morning we met in the lounge for bacon and eggs. Whilst Ronarabus went upstairs to fetch his maps and equipment, I ventured out into the village to find a pony. Hiring a dun gelding by the name of Lightfoot from the local smith, I led him by his bridle to the stableyard of the Prancing Pony, and we loaded him up. Two saddle bags, two shovels, a pick, a length of rope, water and food and some sacks, the poor beast seemed reluctant to go anywhere with us, much to the amusement of the Inn’s other patrons. After luring the creature with a few carrots, he soon seemed to warm to us, and our journey began.
It was a fine morning, the sun blazed in a blue sky, and we were in good cheer. Following the Great Road from Bree in a westerly direction, we continued for hours with the Barrow Downs to our south at a safe distance. Lightfoot was not as light footed as his name would hint at, and the progress was slow. The stubborn pony would stop at every opportunity to graze upon the sweet meadow grass, and we rested several times for second-breakfast, elevenses, second-elevenses, and finally lunch. It was shortly before afternoon tea that we reached the north east corner of the Old Forest. Ronarabus who had been studying his map, pointed with a finger at a mark he had made upon it and exclaimed, "Aha! We are nearly there old boy!"
We had deliberately avoided travelling through the forest. There was rumour that the trees were angry, and that no bird or beast could be found within. Yet to find this barrow, we would have to venture into the edges of this feared wood. We turned southwards where the trees met the heath of the Downs and entered this foreboding place. Dappled light pierced the gloom, and it seemed that the birches and hawthorns sighed in the wind as we made our way in. The rumours were true. Whilst bordering the woods, skylarks and thrushes sang with gilded throats. Within the Old Forest, not even a crow cawed. Only the sound of our footfalls on leaf litter, and the distant cracking of a twig could be heard. Thankfully, we did not have far to travel before we came to a small glade of pine trees which groaned as their boughs swayed. The air was still and close, and I had to remove my neckerchief and put it in my pocket. In the centre of the glade was a small earthwork; a hillock, which showed signs of recent disturbance in its eastern side.
"There!" Ronarabus called. "There it is! You can still see where the Dwarf dug into it."
He seemed most excited, and shoving the map into one of the Lightfoot’s satchels, took the shovels. Throwing one to me, he seemed half his age. He grinned and remarked, "Well, what are you waiting for? We haven’t got all day, you know!"
He dashed towards the mound as I tethered Lightfoot’s bridle to the branch of a fallen tree, and was already digging by the time I joined him. The Dwarf had worked at the side of the barrow, but Ronarabus was digging at the top of the hill at the north. As he shovelled he explained, "The old ones laid their dead in a stone chamber, covering it with earth. If we dig at the top end we should find the opening to the tomb. Much easier than having to mine our way in through the side as the Dwarf did." I sighed with a smile. He seemed to know what he was on about, so I joined him in his arduous task.
Several times we needed to rest. It seemed as if we had moved a hundred bushels of earth. I was not used to such labour, and my arms were beginning to feel greatly fatigued. I was close to suggesting to Ron that we return the next day, when the loud noise of shovel hitting stone rang about the glade. Ron shouted out excitedly and dropped the spade, pulling away earth with his bare hands.
"Look! We have found the entrance!" He panted. He rolled to his side and took a swig from his water bottle. I crept closer and saw he was indeed correct. It seemed two pillars of stone supported a stone beam, all engraved with strange runes and markings. The doorway was covered by a stone slab. We both worked quickly to remove the earth from around it, completely forgetting about afternoon tea.
After half an hour the doorway was completely uncovered. I could not help but feel a little uneasy looking upon it. The runes seemed to cast ill will upon the tomb’s disturbers, and I questioned my suspicions with Ronarabus. "What do those markings mean? They are of no written language that I have ever come across." I had studied Fulthark and Tengwar cursive, yet these runes were nothing like them. Symbols carved by a primitive hand, they meant nothing to me. "Nothing to worry about." Ronarabus replied promptly. "Probably tell us who lies in the grave, that’s all. Still, you’d better draw them so we can keep a record." I nodded and took my notebook from one of the satchels, and a piece of charcoal. I drew the markings and made a record of the entrance of the barrow.
Ronarabus then took the pick and marched up to the tomb’s doorway. He stood still for a few moments, and I wondered what was going through his mind. A wave of fear swept through me, I could not help but feel that we were about to do something terrible. But I realised it was too late to stop as Ronarabus brought his pick through the air and struck the slab with great force. With a splintering crack, it was broken asunder, and the darkness of the gaping tomb drew us both closer. We felt a cold wind circle us, and I am sure I heard a sigh on the air. Ron dropped his pick and we stood in silence for a few minutes, as if not daring to talk. I finally broke the hush. "Well... are you going to see what’s in there?"
Ronarabus nodded and returned to the pony. Taking his tinderbox, he lit a candle, and gingerly approached the grave. Going down on his knees, he supported his weight with one hand as he held forth his light into the darkness before him, and peered within. I stood silently, waiting for his account. "Ron. Anything in there?"
He did not reply for another minute. Crawling backwards, he sat on the pile of earth, a look of awe upon his face. "There are steps that go down into a chamber. I cannot be sure of what is in there, but it does not have the appearance of a grave that has been raided. We must be quick about our work. If we leave it uncovered, what is to say that others will not come in the night and steal the valuable items within? Hurry now. Fetch another candle and some sacks."
I knew he was probably right. Many ears were turned to our conversation last night within the Prancing Pony, and we could not risk leaving our find unguarded. I fetched the items he required, lit my own candle, and handed him two empty sacks. Then taking one last look behind us at the sinister forest, we entered the barrow.
I admit to you now, I felt terrified. I half expected a wight to reach out to us and take us captive forever in its tomb. It was well known that in the graves of the Barrow-Downs, the Witchking of Angmar long ago sent fell spirits to dwell among the dead. I can only imagine that as this barrow was off the downs, not even the Lord of Wraiths had discovered it. We were the first creatures to set foot within its dark heart for over five thousand years.
The air was stale and our feet trod on a thick layer of dust, which swirled up and stung our eyes, choking us. Coughing, we made our way onwards to the bottom of the steps. Nine I counted, before we reached the main chamber. The roof was low, and it was just as well that it was a pair of fine Hobbit burglars who discovered it, as anyone taller would have had to bend down double to make their way through. The light from our candles sent strange flickering shadows around us, which made me feel as if the tomb itself was alive. The same dark stone that made the entrance made the chamber; it looked like some kind of granite brought down from the mountains long ago. More runes were carved into the walls, and I had a strong feeling that we were trespassing in a forbidden place.
The chamber was not large, and soon we came upon the crowning glory of our find. Ronarabus and I both stood still, dumbstruck and in awe for a few minutes. Before us lay the decayed remains of a chariot, and lying across it were the skeletal remains of a king. Around the chariot were clay pots which upon later investigation proved to be empty. The king lay in his armour, his helm of course, missing. Across his body lay a shield. It had been made from wood, which had not survived the years. Only the bronze rim and boss were still intact. The king clutched our prize in his hands, but Ronarabus and I dared not step any closer. It was only when some dripping wax burned Ron’s hand, that he was shaken from his daze.
"Could it be?" He whispered. "Could this really be one of the three lost swords?" I shuddered when the realisation that the king before us was of the House of Bëor, Hador, or Haleth. Later study of the runes I had drawn would help me to identify him further.
We both stepped forward, and Ronarabus held his candle over the body. The flickering light sent eerie shadows across the skeletal face of the dead king, and I felt shivers run up my spine. Ron reached to the sword and brushed millennia of dust from it. It was impossible to deny; it was crafted by Elven hands.
Ronarabus dropped his candle with a gasp. It went out as it hit the floor, and for a moment only one light lit the chamber. Again, I swear I felt a cold wind pass through the still air, and my flame flickered violently as Ronarabus picked his candle up and lit it with mine, his hand visibly shaking. None of us said a word as he passed the candle to me, then reached forward and prized the sword from the skeleton’s hands. The bones cracked ominously as they loosened their ancient grip. As Ronarabus lifted the sword, dust fell down onto the skeleton, and from the very roof of the chamber. I felt the ground shake beneath my feet, and wondered whether the chamber would hold or collapse upon us. "Quickly, outside!" I urged.
We both hurried up the steps and to the glade. Lightfoot was pacing to and fro, his ears pricked back with fear. It felt like we had been in the tomb for moments, but already the sun was setting. How many hours had passed? "We had best cover this up and come back again tomorrow." I suggested. Ronarabus seemed to be in some sort of trance, and nodded as he wandered about the glade transfixed by his treasure. I went back to the entrance and laid the broken slab across it, before pushing earth over it. The stone beam of the doorway was still just visible, but it would do. Only the most determined would find this place, and we had what we had come for; the sword.
I felt a terror flow through me. We needed to get away before nightfall. Pulling Ronarabus, I urged, "Come on. Back to the inn. We’ll return tomorrow." Ronarabus snatched the sword back and glared at me, as if I was going to take it from him. Then realising what he had done, he shook his head. "Forgive me friend. For so many years I have searched for this. No-one will take it from us. It will hang in the Mathom-House for all to see." I had a strong suspicion though, that it would not; and Ronarabus would stash it away to admire all for himself.
We loaded up Lightfoot; Ronarabus wrapped the sword in sack-cloth, and secured it to the saddle, and made our way back. Gone was the cheer from earlier this morning. We were both heavily fatigued, and struck with awe at our find. The legend was true. There was a hidden barrow, and we had found it.
It was nearly dark when we returned to the Prancing Pony. We took our belongings and equipment back to the inn, Ronarabus remaining there whilst I took Lightfoot back to the smith. When I returned to the Prancing Pony, Butterbur informed me that Ron had taken to his room and had ordered supper be delivered up to him. I made the same request, and went up to join him, knowing we had much to discuss.
I knocked on his door before entering, and found him sitting on his bed, cleaning the sword and scabbard with a cloth. In the light of the fire and candles, it sparkled and its magnificence could not be denied. Ron looked to me and smiled with delight. "We did it, old chap. We found the sword. Look!" He drew it from its sheath. The blade looked as clean and as sharp as if it had been forged yesterday. Made of a white metal, it seemed to have a light of its own, and down the blade were engraved Elven runes. The guard and pommel were also made of this white metal, with blue gems set in them, and the grip was wrapped in some sort of cord woven from a silvery twine I had never before seen. The scabbard had cleaned up well, and was made of the same metal, enamelled with dark blue. Silver ivy leaves were etched down the length, and I felt a lump in my throat as I beheld its beauty.
"We must keep this hidden, whatever we do." I remarked. "Tell no-one of our find today."
Ronarabus nodded. "A wise suggestion. I would not be surprised if thieves were already on their way to try and find our barrow." He added, as he gazed towards the window.
We talked for hours, and I had forgotten about my supper which was cold when I returned to my room. Still, not one to turn down a meal, I made light work of the chicken and vegetables, and fell asleep on my bed without even getting undressed.
My dreams were disturbed by nightmares that night. I dreamt that I was lost in a dark place, being pursued by an unseen fiend, angry and hateful. In my dream I was too afraid to turn around to see what it was that was chasing me. Then I was falling, tumbling downwards, endlessly. I awoke with a shock and felt my heart pounding in my chest. The blankets were on the floor, and the wind rattled at the windows. Sitting up, I was afraid that someone was in my room, and searched for a few moments in the dim light of the glowing embers within the fireplace.
I then heard such a commotion from Ronarabus’ room, I was sure it would have awoken the whole inn. Hurrying, I threw open my door and ran to his, trying the handle. It was either locked, or something heavy was pressing against it. "Ronarabus! Ronarabus! It is me, Mungo. Let me in." He did not answer, but I could hear furniture being thrown about. If he was in there, he was in great peril.
My first thought was that he was being robbed. Many people stopped at the Prancing Pony, and many of them were rogues and thieves. I decided to fetch Barliman Butterbur to bring a key, but before I could disturb him, he came marching along the corridor wearing a gown and nightcap. "What is the meaning of all of this noise?!" He shouted. Still banging on the door, I turned to him and exclaimed, "It is Master Ronarabus. He’s being robbed! Quickly, fetch the key!" Barliman reluctantly nodded and hurried down the stairs to the bar, where a spare key for each room was kept. The panic I felt in these few minutes was horrific; all the time I was trying to force the door and called to Ronarabus to answer me.
Finally, Barliman arrived, and put the key in the lock. As soon as he turned the handle, all noises stopped, and it was ghostly silent. The room had been turned upside-down. Hot coals from the fire lay all over the floor, and Barliman did his best to put them out and save the rug from further scorching. All the drawers in the cupboards had been pulled out and their contents thrown across the room. The bed had been dragged sideways and the bedclothes lay strewn about. All of Ronarabus’ belongings were scattered, but he was nowhere to be seen. The bedside table upon which the helm had rested was thrown on its side.
"Where is Ronarabus? What has happened here?" I exclaimed. Butterbur seemed angered and upset by the scene before him, and had no answers. Instead, he stepped towards the window and closed it. "I cannot say what has happened here, but fear not, we shall find your friend. Get some rest and we’ll deal with this in the morning."
I could have hit him. He meant to do nothing until morning. My friend and colleague was missing, and it seemed to me that someone had gone into his room searching for his treasure and taken him!
"I’ll stay here and tidy up a bit." I said. "Maybe I will find some clues."
Barliman nodded and left me to it, muttering about queer folk as he went down the stairs to put the key back, and I imagined, to help himself to a large ale.
I was left alone in the room. I picked up the chair, setting it down properly, then sat upon it. I heard another sound, and turned sharply, bracing myself for an encounter with a dangerous thief.
"Is it gone?" I could have jumped out of my skin. Beneath the bed, hiding under a blanket was Ronarabus, his face as white as the sheet he was holding.
"Ronarabus Grubb! If I wasn’t so happy to see you I could strangle you!"
He crawled out from under the bed. He was shaking. "What happened in here?" I asked.
Ron sat himself down on the bed and explained, "I am not sure. I went to bed, fell asleep, and then awoke with a start. Someone was in the room with me, looking for something. While they were going through the cupboard, I slipped under the bed. I didn’t get a good look at them for they were wearing a long grey robe and hood. They knocked the table over, discovered the helm as it hit the floor, and took it. It is my fortune indeed that they did not see me at that point. But the strangest thing... their feet did not touch the floor, and I swear on my mother’s rose garden that I could see through whatever it was! It was a wraith! It had come to get me!" He screamed.
"Calm yourself, you have nothing to fear now. Whatever it was, has gone." I was shaken by his description. His eyes were filled with terror, but I had to try and retain some composure.
"They turned the room upside down!" Ronarabus continued, now sobbing. "All my notes, ruined! Look at the mess!"
"And the sword?" I asked.
Ronarabus took a deep breath and pulled the blanket up from beneath the bed. Unfolding it, he showed me the weapon. "I held it whilst I slept, in case I was burgled. Good job I did too. When I crept under the bed, I took it with me. I am sure it was this they were looking for."
I breathed a sigh of relief. Although the helm had gone, we still had our treasure. "But where did they go?" I asked.
"Out of the window." Ronarabus replied. Of course. I had seen the innkeeper close it moments earlier. "Who could have done such a thing." Ron mumbled. I had my ideas of course. The merchant or Dwarf were on the top of my list, but I could prove nothing.
"Sleep in my room tonight, Ron." I suggested. "I’ll have the chair, you have the bed." He nodded and followed me through. Still clutching the sword, he climbed into bed, whilst I sat in the chair looking out of the window into the night. He fell asleep almost straight away, but I stayed awake. He appeared to be having violent dreams judging by his moans and the way he thrashed about. Yet the worst seemed to have passed.
The next morning we made our decision over breakfast that we would not return to the barrow, but would go straight back to Michel-Delving. It seemed we had made an enemy who was determined to steal our prize. We could return to the barrow another day once the Elven sword was safe in the Mathom-House. Guarded by our most trusted friends and colleagues, it would be well protected there. Whilst Ronarabus was trying to sort out his belongings and pack, I went down to pay Barliman. He asked questions about last night, but I was reluctant to give him too many answers. I felt there were people listening. We would need some food for the journey, so I left Ronarabus at the inn and went into the village to fetch provisions. Less than an hour, and I had returned. My bag filled with salted meat, fruit, bread and cheese, I had also bought a bottle of wine to help ease our nerves and perhaps encourage a sing-song on the way home.
I returned to the Prancing Pony and made my way to my room to fetch my bags. Knocking on Ronarabus’ door, I was surprised that he did not answer. Stepping inside, he had tidied it considerably. His bags were packed, and the sword was wrapped in its sack-cloth among them. Curious and concerned that he would have left it unguarded, I took it and placed it beneath my belt, then went downstairs to ask Barliman if he knew where Ron had got to.
"Said he was going out with you, young master." The innkeeper replied when I questioned him.
"Yes, but that’s later. He and I are leaving, as you know. But I went first to get some provisions."
Barliman looked most confused. "Aye, I saw you go out. But then you came in again. Went upstairs. I said good mornin’ to you, but you chose not to answer." he huffed. "Then you and master Grubb came downstairs and out into Bree you went. And now you’ve come back, only without him."
Had he been drinking? Had he lost his mind? I had not returned to the inn, and I certainly had not gone into Bree with Ronarabus. But if it wasn’t me he went with, who was it?
"If Ronarabus returns, tell him to wait for me!" I called as I ran out of the Prancing Pony. Someone had led him from the inn, probably so that their associate could sneak in and steal the sword. It seemed I had arrived not a moment too soon. But was Ronarabus in peril? I ran through Bree calling his name, asking anyone I came across if they had seen him. Nobody seemed to know. Finally, an old woman nodded when I questioned her if she had seen two Hobbits passing by; one in my likeness. "Yes master Hobbit. They were heading towards the river."
I ran toward the Brandywine, hoping to reach it before it was too late. Could Ronarabus’ captor have taken him on a boat? I doubted it, Hobbits were seldom found on water these days. Something far more sinister was going on.
I reached the silty banks of the river and searched the reed beds and banks. All I could find was one set of footprints. If Ronarabus had come down here, he had come on his own. The prints ended abruptly at the water’s edge and did not return. I knew Ronarabus couldn’t swim, and was filled with dread at what could have become of him. Stealing is one thing, but murder is another. Could someone have wanted the sword that badly? This sword? I held the grip and shuddered. There was no sign of Ronarabus, and I hoped that he had simply wandered off and then returned to the inn. I knew I had to do one thing though. I had to put the sword back.
I returned to the Prancing Pony, in case it was all a big fuss about nothing. But Ronarabus had not returned. So taking a shovel from his room, I made my way, this time directly, to the barrow. Moving through a hidden hole in the High Hay, I hurried through the Old Forest. Again, the air still, the trees ominously looming. I felt I had no place here, that I was not welcome. If I kept the sun to my back, I would cut diagonally straight through the Forest. This was easy to do as I passed through the Bonfire Glade, but as I went further into the woods, this became more difficult.
I struggled onwards, growing ever more fearful. There were rumours that there were trees that walked, and surely if the animals dare not venture into these woods, then it was foolhardy at the least for a Hobbit to do so. I had left my provisions at the inn, and I wished I had brought them with me, for I ran, walked, and stumbled for what seemed like miles. The light was growing dim, and if I turned around now, I wouldn’t make it back by nightfall. I could only go on.
I knew I was getting closer. Exhausted, I hurried towards where I believed the mound to be. I could feel it. We should never have broken the peace of that place.
I heard a shriek behind me, and turned. Tripping on a root, I stumbled and fell, dropping my shovel. Scared by the thought that I could now be being followed, I scanned the woods behind me for any sign. Nothing. I looked left and right as I picked myself up. Nothing. Pushing myself to my feet, I looked forwards, and may the good wizards protect us, a cowled face was less than a foot away from my own. Reaching out with skeletal hands, it howled mournfully, sending a chill through me that froze me to the bone. It was coming for me.
Filled with terror, I ran. I ran for my life. Constantly hearing shrieks and moans behind me, I knew this spirit was close. I had to reach the barrow before it reached me.
Finally, I reached the glade. The pine trees swayed violently, but the screeching had stopped. Rushing to the north end of the tomb, I was surprised to see that the earth and slabs had been moved away. No need for the shovel. Just as well, for I had left it behind when I had fallen. Damn my foolishness though; I had not brought a candle with me. I had to enter the chamber in darkness and return the sword to its master.
Still, there was nothing for it. I had to go in. I don’t know whether it was courage, or fear of what was out there pursuing me that helped me down those steps into the gloom. Once in the chamber, I could not see the hand in front of my face. The dust filled my nostrils, and I was reminded of my dream of last night; in the dark and being chased by a foul thing. This was no dream. I would have given all my possessions to be able to wake up in a nice warm bed.
I held my hands out in the darkness as I walked on, blind as a mole. My feet struck an object on the floor; an urn I think, as it smashed. The sudden sound in the silence caused me to jump, but I knew the remains of the king could not be far away. If only I could see what I was doing.
It seemed that something had answered my prayers in my darkest hour. Near the head of the chamber, a dim light began to glow. But this was unearthly. A green hue was thrown over everything, and I was terrified to think what it would reveal. I was alone in the tomb, and feared that the spirit had entered and would block my escape. I had to be quick. Moving towards the chariot, I took the sword from my belt and bent forward to rest it on its master’s chest. Yet all that lay before me was a blanket. It appeared to cover something. Too small for a man... I pulled it back sharply.
"Ronarabus!" I cried. He lay lifeless before me and I dropped the sword. It was then that I heard laughter. The light grew brighter and the spirit came forth. The king of men from ancient times. His helm returned to his head, he took his weapon and lunged towards me. Coward that I am, I fled. I ran from that tomb as fast as my short legs would carry me, leaving poor Ronarabus behind. Yet I knew it was too late for him.
We had disturbed the chamber of the ancient king, taken his treasure, and paid the price. I don’t go burgling any more. The lost sword of Tyrn Gorthad does not hang in the Mathom-House at Michel Delving. It lies under the earth with his master, and my friend Ron.
© 2014 Pollyanna Jones