Cold Be Heart - A Hobbit Ghost Story
1. Chapter One
Riding over the hills, and eating their fill, the warm sun and the scent of turf, lying and eating their fill, the warm sun 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 never meant to take. --- "Fog on the Barrow-downs", The Fellowship of the Ring
They had made excellent time that morning, leaving behind Tom Bombadil's house early enough to reach the far-off Road by nightfall. Their ponies, well rested after several days in Tom's ample stables, gladly trod over hill until at last the hobbits could see the gates marking their goal, beyond the feared Barrow-downs. Perhaps a year, or even a week, further into their legendary journey the foolish hobbits might have pressed on and left the barrows behind before they even thought of stopping.
Yet Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck, and Pippin Took had only just left the Shire a few days prior, and the Halimath sun was unreasonably warm. Stopping for lunch was honest enough; after all, a hobbit had to eat, and the sun was still rising in the sky. And after a morning of hard riding, surely a hobbit had earned a pipe and the right to smoke it in peace, and to stretch his legs a bit on the cool grass if he was of a mind.
He most certainly had not earned the leisure of a nap; but somehow the afternoon slipped away, leaving our hobbits better rested but no nearer the road. When at last they awoke from the respite that none had planned to take, the sun was setting behind the far-off hills, a blazing red. Blood red, they thought. Of course they couldn't stay where they were all night. Nothing to do but go on, so on they went.
They gathered their ponies and rode off as swiftly as they could, but it was slow going now. The fog swarmed thick around them, and they could scarcely see their noses in front of their faces. The gate they had seen so clearly at noon now was hidden by the dark dusk of that curséd fog. But Frodo remembered that the gate had stood perhaps a half mile off to the north, so he led his friends in that direction.
They hadn't gone far before Pippin decided he needed his cloak. It was only Halimath so by all measures he shouldn't have needed it at all, but there was an eerie chill in that valley, a chill that settled into your bones. What's more, the fog had a fair amount of mist in it, so that soon the hobbits' hair was wet, matted down against their heads. They dismounted and retrieved their cloaks and hoods, but soon the mist had soaked through the cloth. They were drenched, frozen to the bone, and still lost in the blinding fog.
Frodo saw a darkness far away in the direction where the gate ought to stand. Now he had a point to focus on, something to aim for. The hobbits led their ponies, one behind the next so as not to lose each other, through the mist toward that singular blackness.. None of them thought any further than reaching it, hoping that once they left these haunted barrows the fog might die with the memory of that curséd place.
But hope oft drives away caution, so they say. In their haste to leave the barrows the hobbits went forward a bit quicker than they should have, with nary a look to their left or right. All of a sudden Frodo saw pillars on each side of him, tall white posts, like the frame of a door but with no lintel. He wondered at that --this wasn't like what he had seen off in the distance -- but no matter. That dark beyond dark still gleamed before him, so he led his pony through the pillars and toward his goal.
Suddenly a wind pierced the fog, wrapping around him. Frodo thought he caught strange words in the wind. Sen ú-nâ ôl, perian... Those words seemed familiar somehow, their meaning standing just beyond the edge of memory, but before long he had no energy for such mysteries. His breath caught in his throat, and he felt as if he had been pushed through icy water; his whole body convulsed with horror as a ghostly pall settled around him. He found he had sunk to his knees on the muddy ground, dank from the mist. Where his horse had wandered to he did not know, but he heard a far-off nicker and guessed he was now alone, enshrouded in the sudden darkness that drove away the fog and blotted out the stars.
"Merry!" Frodo called out into the night. "Pippin! Sam!" No answer. And now more desperately: "Sam! Merry! Pippin! Sam, answer me!" Again, no answer. He crouched on the miry earth, placing one hand over his eyes and peering into the void. He heard a far-off call, not a horse's whinny or the shriek of the wind but a squall of frightened hobbit-voices. He forced himself to his feet and stumbled away toward the voices.
Then that same wind overtook him once again, wrapped round him, and blew under his cloak. Frodo found himself on the ground again, cradling himself. Dú sen, hain a le gwannathar... That Frodo understood: neither he nor his friends would live to see the light of day. Be that as it may, he would not leave his friends to die alone, so he pulled himself to his knees and, half crawling, half running, he took off toward the East.
"Hoy! Frodo!" He heard their voices again and, with the hope that they still drew breath, he hurried along as fast as his legs could carry him.
When Frodo had walked through the pillars, he had awoke something that should have slept. This thing smelled blood, warm blood -- living blood. Ah, meat; the best it had eaten in years. It swept from its barrow-haven and braved the almost-night, darkening the sky. But it did not dare cross through the white pillars, now that it had prey within its own dominion. It circled around the three hobbits, cackling maniacally. Then darkness reigned in their minds, as dark as the night's lightlessness, and for an endless moment they knew no more.
Some time later (he knew not when) Sam woke in a dark chamber and felt a cold stone pillow against the back of his neck. He tried to turn his head to see where he was and felt cold metal under his chin.
Now, who'd said that? Sam wondered. He tried to sit up but found he couldn't move nothing below his neck. He looked 'round as well as he could, trying to see where the light came from, and finally his eyes settled on the slab of stone on the other side of the room. There lay one of the Big People, long since dead, with a crown on his head and golden bands around his arm -- the one left to him; the other had rotted off -- his body wrapped in a white shroud, worms wriggling in and out of the holes in his face.
Sam had seen death before, when his grandfather Hobson had died years ago (Samwise being the son of Hamfast Gamgee the gardener). But he had never seen a corpse this decayed, and he turned away fast. A cold, menacing laugh penetrated the still air, and Sam looked back at the corpse, straining his neck to see better.
An arm slowly crept down the hall, pulling itself along with its gaunt fingers. Sam saw that the arm was gathering golden trinkets from the floor: rings, bracelets, and all manner of burial ornaments. At last the arm made its way toward Sam. He arrayed Sam's arms with rings and armbands fit for kings, and then made his way up the bed. As the hand passed Sam's head, a cold clammy finger rubbed against his cheek in an almost mocking embrace, placing a gold circlet over Sam's matted curls. Sam shuddered, and the half-decayed face across the room broke into a grin.
Slowly the corpse sat up, moving his decrepit legs to the floor, and walked toward the bed. Sam shuddered. "Sleep," the man whispered. "Endure the long sleep." He pulled a white sheet over Sam, and with him Merry and Pippin laying at his side. He leaned over Sam, his face just inches from the hobbit's, and kissed him, sucking out the hobbit's breath. "Sweet dreams, halfling," he hissed as the colour drained from Sam's face and his eyes closed heavily.
Just what was this creature, lordly once but now a loathsome corpse? None know the full tale, though half-guesses abound. Some think it one of the ancient kings of Arnor, perhaps a father's father's father of Aragorn, who became king of both Gondor and Arnor through the help of Frodo and his friends. But corpses don't just walk and talk for no reason. Those kings hated all evil things and fought against them their whole lives. Some say that, when the Witch-king's evil outlast them, those kings refused to give up their hold on this world.
Others say the Witch-king took the men who served him and bound them to him, so when they died their souls lingered, settling into other corpses. But perhaps some foul magic festered in those barrows. Living, bodiless evil from the spirit world, maybe, much more powerful than any man that ever lived. Whatever it was, that horrid, maggot-eaten carcass heard the patter of small feet above his roof and turned his attention from his already-sleeping victims to the one that walked free.
Up above, Frodo crawled on hands and knees up a barrow-mound. He heard a sharp hiss, as if the very earth he trod sucked in its breath, and pulled himself to his feet, peering into the dark that his eyes could not hope to penetrate. The wind returned, that damned gale that had let him be for the long hours he had crawled about but that now returned to haunt him anew;
He fell hard on his knees and a sharp pain shot through his whole body, but this was a pain he knew: torn skin, broken bone, ripped muscle. He saw he had speared his hand on a sharp stone lying on the ground. Closing his eyes in a grimace, he lifted his injured hand and quickly pulled the stone out, screaming into the deaf night. The blood dripped down his arm. Tearing off a strip of his cloak with his still good hand, he wrapped his injured one tightly to staunch the blood. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he crawled on.
"Sam! Merry! Pippin!" he called out. "Are you there?" A sinister chuckle filled the air around him. "They are here," the voice said. Frodo knew that his friends were still alive, and that he would soon be joining them, willing or no. "Living flesh I cannot cross," the wind hissed. "But blood flows out, and blood flows in." The gale blew round the hobbit, squeezing him like a snake until he could hardly breathe. It seeped through his cloak and tunic, under his bandage and through his cut hand. And then Frodo felt that icy terror. He felt weak and dizzy. By the time he hit the ground the darkness had took him.
Sometime later Frodo awoke. He lay on a cold stone slab, his arms folded across his chest. He had seen that pose before: his grandfather Gorbadoc Brandybuck had folded his father's arms like that after they had dragged him out of the Brandywine. Frodo had just stood there, watching. But he was just twelve years old then -- nearly forty years ago. Was he dead now? If this was death, it certainly wasn't pleasant. His blood chilled, and all around him a sickly green light coloured everything in the chamber. He felt limp, and his hand ached. Had his uncle been this afraid, when he faced death on his grand adventure? Frodo hadn't seen Bilbo in seventeen years; if this was death, he'd never see Bilbo again.
Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it doesn't look like mutton again tomorrer. Now where had he heard those words? Certainly no one in the Shire spoke like that. Bilbo! That was what the trolls had said. What's a burrahobbit got to do with my pockets, anyway? And can yer cook 'em? Frodo wished more than anything that Bilbo was here. If anyone knew how to get out of this mess it would surely be Bilbo, dragon-slayer and king of burglars!
Could you eat a hobbit? Frodo wondered. Yes, but we aren't very tasty; we're tougher than we look. The trolls had known that much, at least. No good roasting 'em now, it'd take all night. And no good boiling 'em, neither! We ain't got no water, and it's a long way to the well and all. Did this spectre or whatever know that hobbits were poor fare for a hungry monster, or would he find out too late?
But no one had said anything of roasting or boiling Frodo and his friends. And if Frodo was thinking of Bilbo and trolls... Well, it's like they say. There's a bit of courage in even the fattest, most timid hobbit -- often hid deep, it's true, but still there -- and that courage is always there, waiting for some desperate danger to make it grow. Just then, Frodo didn't feel dead, and he didn't feel like dying -- he felt very much alive. And if Bilbo could watch his friends bagged and listen to trolls talk of roasting them all night long, surely Frodo could handle a single corpse!
Enough day-dreaming, Frodo thought; this is neither the time nor the place to recall family history. With that, he looked around, taking in his surroundings. The greenish light shone through the room, casting a sickly glow over everything, but it did let Frodo see his friends lying together no more than a foot away. Their skin was pale, livid. He reached over, took Merry's hand in his own, and felt the faint pulse. They still lived.
Long-dead fingernails scraped their way down the corridor leading further back into the barrow. An evil, grating voice filled the too-still air.
Chill be wind o'er hills of death
That takes away your mortal breath
And drives all comfort from your mind
And brings on darkness, deaf and blind.
For death doth come for one and all,
Some in spring and some in fall,
For man and dwarf, and halfling too:
And on this day it calls for you.
Cold be hand and heart and bone,
And cold be long sleep under stone:
Ne'er more to wake on stony bed,
Till Sun doth fail and Moon lies dead.
In black chill wind the waters die,
And still on stone here let them lie,
Till Darkest Lord lifts up his hand
O'er lifeless sea and withered land.
The arm twisted its way around the room, approaching Sam, Merry, and Pippin on their deathbed. It grasped the hilt of the sword and turned the blade slowly so the broadside faced up. What am I to do? Frodo thought franticly. And suddenly, a thought came to him: the Ring. He felt its chill through his shirt pocket. It was colder than anything he had felt that night, and yet, it promised to bring him a warm morning of running over the grass, under the morning sun. Put on the ring, you fool! Escape! But before he could do anything a song formed in his throat, unbidden:
Cold be heart, and hard as stone,
Of he who'd leave his friends alone
To sleep fore'er in tombs of man,
So close yet far from native land.
Frodo unfolded his left arm, breaking the burial pose, and reached down. His hand chanced upon the hilt of a short sword, and he picked it up, looking it over. Slowly he whispered to the blade:
Cold be steel of men of old,
Yet stronger still than burial-gold?
I know not yet what strength you keep,
But we shall fight 'gainst that long sleep.
Later, much later, his friends asked Frodo where he had found the strength to fight. He never could answer them. He didn't remember springing across the room, but there he was. He brought his blade down, slicing through that hellish arm, and his sword split at the hilt. He dropped what was left of his weapon, heard the metal shards clang against the stone floor. Urukî! a harsh voice snarled, and the hand fell limp. A mist thicker than the afternoon's fog filled the chamber. Frodo tried to back away but fell face down on Merry. He pushed against the dank flesh and turned himself over. The mist pressed against him, and he struggled to breathe. Yet suddenly a song burst from his blanched lips, quiet at first but increasingly clear and sure:
Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!
By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow,
By fire, sun and moon, hearken now and hear us!
Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!
A voice, light and cheery, penetrated the sallow air:
Old Tom Bombadil, he is a merry fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.
The corpse bolted upright as the roof fell around him, one piece landing where his head had lain. As the early light of the rising sun pierced his haven of shadow, a fire lit in the corpses eyes, and he looked to the gaping hole in his roof. "We meet again, Oldest!" he hissed. Tom Bombadil jumped through the hole: a curious creature, shorter than one of the Big Folk but bigger than us halflings, dressed in the most outrageous outfit imaginable. He looked right at the dead king and said, grinning, "Your time is over. Depart, and do not return!"
What was left of the corpse's mouth curled into a chilling grin. "My time begins, fool. I go now to join my master. But the darkness shall return, and I shall feast on you in this barrow."
Tom held the corpse's eyes for a long moment. His hat's feather danced in the soft morning breeze. Finally Tom broke his gaze, tilting his head toward the hole and laughing. His eyes danced again. "Namarië," he sang, and the corpse fell backward onto the stone bed and caved-in roof. The mist fled the barrow, and the wight let out one last blood-curdling scream. The cry gradually faded as that evil spirit returned to its home far in the North, but the Hobbits thought it never died -- just faded a little beyond hearing.
Slowly the colour in Merry's, Pippin's, and Sam's faces began to return. "Come, Frodo," Bombadil said in his cheery voice. "I think they will live, if we carry them into the fresh air. You must help me."
The three hobbits did indeed wake up, and they, with Frodo, went on to do many great things. But even after Merry breathed the Black Breath and Frodo was stabbed with a Morgul-blade, and after they crossed the many dangerous miles from Bree to Rivendell, still Gandalf said they had been in the most danger that cold night in the old king's barrow.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.