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Fog on the Barrow-Downs
(Extract from the book by J. R. R. Tolkien "The Lord of the Rings". Abridged)
That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind;1 a song that seemed to come like a pale light be-hind a grey rain-curtain.
The vision melted into waking;2 and there was Tom whistling; and the sun was already slanting down the hill and through the open window.
After breakfast they made ready to say farewell, as nearly heavy of heart3 as was possible on such a morning; cool, bright, and clean under a washed autumn sky of thin blue. The air came fresh from the North-West.
They rode off along a path and looked out from the hill-top over lands under the morning. It was now as clear and far-seen as it had been veiled and misty when they stood upon the knoll in the Forest. They took a deep draught of the air.4
Their way wound along the floor of the hollow, and round the green feet of a steep hill into another deeper and broader valley. As they journeyed the sun mounted, and grew hot. Each time they climbed a ridge the breeze seemed to have grown less. When they caught a glimpse of the country westward the distant Forest seemed to be smoking, as if the fallen rain was steaming up again. A shadow now lay round the edge of sight, a dark haze above which the sky was like a blue cap.5 On that side the hills were higher and looked down upon them; and all those hills were crowned with green mounds, and on some were standing stones, pointing upwards like jagged teeth out of green gums. The 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 casting no shadow. They set their backs6 against the east side of the stone. It was cool, as if the sun had had no power to warm it. There they took food and drink.
Riding over the hills, and eating their fill,7 lying a little too long; these things are, perhaps, enough to explain what happened. However, that may be: they woke suddenly from a sleep they had never meant to take. The standing stone was cold, and it cast a long pale shadow. The sun was gleaming through the mist; north, south, and east, the fog was thick, cold and white. The air was silent, heavy and chill.
The hobbits8 sprang to their feet in alarm, and ran to the western rim. They found that they were upon an island in the fog. Even as they looked out in dismay towards the setting sun, it sank before their eyes into a white sea, and a cold grey shadow sprang up in the East behind. 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 felt as if a trap was closing about them. They packed up as quickly as their chilled fingers would work.
Soon they were leading their ponies in single file9 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 they halted and got out cloaks and hoods, which soon became bedewed with grey drops. Then, mounting their ponies, they went slowly on again. To prevent their getting separated and wandering in different directions they went in file, with Frodo leading. Suddenly Frodo saw a hopeful sign. On either side ahead a darkness began to loom through the mist; and he guessed that they were at last approaching the gap in the hills. 'Come on! Follow me!' he called back over his shoulder, and he hurried forward. His pony reared, and he fell off. When he looked back he found that he was alone: the others had not followed him.
'Sam!' he called. 'Pippin! Merry! Come along! Why don't you keep up?'10
There was no answer. Fear took him, and he ran back. As he struggled on he called again, and kept on calling more and more frantically. He was weary, sweating and yet chilled. It was wholly dark.
'Where are you?' he cried out miserably.
There was no reply. He stood listening. He was suddenly aware that it was getting very cold, and that up here a wind was beginning to blow, an icy wind. A change was coming in the weather. The mist was flowing past him in shreds and tatters. His breath was smoking.11 He looked up and saw with surprise that faint stars were appearing overhead amid the strands of hurrying cloud and fog. Oat of the east the biting wind was blowing.
'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,12 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 against the stars. It leaned over him. He thought there were two eyes, very cold though lit with a pale light 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. Hedared 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 on himself, he noticed all at once that the darkness was slowly giving way:13 a pale greenish light was growing round him. He turned, and there in the cold glow he saw lying beside him Sam, Pippin, and Merry.
There was a loud rumbling sound, as of stones rolling and falling, and suddenly light streamed in. A low door-like opening appeared at the end of the chamber beyond Frodo's feet; and there was Tom's head against the light of the sun rising red behind him.
'Come, friend Frodo!' said Tom. 'Let us get out on to the clean grass! You must help me bear them.' Together they carried out Merry, Pippin and Sam. To Frodo's great joy the hobbits stirred, robbed their eyes, and then suddenly sprang up. They looked about in amazement. 'What in the name of wonder?14 began Merry. 'Where did you get to, Frodo?'
'I thought that I was lost', said Frodo; 'but I don't want to speak of it.' But Tom shook his head, saying: 'Be glad, my merry friends, and let the warm sunlight heat now heart and limb! Cast off these cold rags! Run naked on the grass!'
The air was growing very warm again. The hobbits ran about for a while on the grass. Then they lay basking in the sun with the delight of those that have been wafted suddenly from bitter winter to a friendly clime, or of people that, after being long ill, wake one day to find that they are unexpectedly well and the day is again full of promise.
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