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Darkness Falls  by Kara's Aunty

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this for my own enjoyment.

Credit: thainsbook dot net

Summary: A Barrow-wight is outmatched in song.

A Merry Doomadillo!

One would imagine that such pretty, rolling hills and springy grass ought to be inviting to any sensible person; that a scattering of ancient royal barrows and free-standing stones are intrigues that simply beg to be explored, particularly when it is known that they harken all the way back to the First Age, and the mighty forefathers of the Edain. And indeed this is the case, in full daylight - but only if one is ignorant of the current reputation of the Barrow-downs, which is seldom the case. The terror of these hills is legendary as far away as the Shire, where few speak of them openly, and only then in fearful whispers.

Yet there are those who dare the Barrow-downs regardless; a reckless few, wearied from long travels, who find the springy carpet too tempting to resist. After all, what might a moment's respite do other than refresh and strengthen one for the remainder of the journey ahead? As long as they are gone before sunset, what harm can there truly be?

Alas, for they do not realise their peril.

Those that linger for a moment are often lulled to their rest by the warmth of sunlight on weary limbs, not rousing until the heat of day leeches away, leaving them to shiver themselves awake and realise, to their dismay, that the light is fading fast. Only then does their folly reveal itself.

For those of you who do not know, the Barrow-wights exist for moments such as these. Terror is their pleasure and torment their joy. Yet while daylight reigns they remain imprisoned in their stony tombs, and cannot exercise these desires. Only when dusk approaches, and such an opportunity arises, will they venture outside, skulking through the fog which swallows their guests whole and sends them wandering blindly into the cold embrace of one Barrow-wight or another. Thus will they have victims anew to petrify in the pale green light of their chilly halls, to stultify with insidious incantations, and to bid farewell with the steely kiss of a dead king's sword. And death is indeed a welcome friend next to the horror of such dreadful hospitality.

So have the once proud Barrow-downs existed since their lord despatched the Wights thither after the Great Plague of 1636. As its newest residents' infamy grew, their prey dwindled, and none have received guests for many a long year now – for so long, in fact, that slumber has taken each and every one of them. Of their lord, they have heard naught since their arrival.

Until now.

Not five days since the Witch-king of Angmar appeared, out of nowhere it seemed, surrounded in an icy pall that put even them to shame. One after another, he roused them, warning them to remain vigilant.

"Be on thy guard for a Halfling of the Shire," he instructed each in turn. "Baggins, he is called. Alone he may be, or nay, but if ye should spy him, hold him fast. Ye may do as ye wish with any companion that accompanies him, but I caution ye, harm Baggins not! Remove naught from his person even if it be only his cloak! I shall greet him in my own fashion, when I return."

For several days he remained, calling upon every barrow like a harbinger of doom, strengthening the dark spells in their gloomy lairs, commanding their inhabitants to arise, exciting them with the prospect of prey. It was not even certain that the one they sought would pass their way, but the very suggestion of it was enough to shake them from slumber altogether.

Their lord left them one morning in late September, and, alert once more, the evil spirits prowled the Barrow-downs as soon as dusk fell, each going their own way, be it north, south, east, west, or everywhere in between. The only thing thicker than the choking fog they roamed through that night was the thrilling anticipation of a guest. Yet none arrived, and, frustrated, each fled empty-handed to the haven of their barrow ere dawn broke.

The very next evening, one among them was rewarded handsomely.

Before dusk fell he sensed the presence of strangers. Heard the faint sound of a snorting pony heading north, then followed it until, to his immense satisfaction, he came upon the first in a line of frightened halflings. His first victim never even saw him coming through the fog; at a single touch of his icy hand the creature fell senseless into his grasp. So it was with a second. A third he heard later, calling out to another, and the fourth he lured into his clutches thereafter, until all were welcomed into his home as honoured guests. Or as honoured as guests ever were in the lair of a Barrow-wight (which is never at all).

Alas, it seemed as if the hobbits were doomed, for the magic within the barrow kept them senseless.

Or ought to have.

One of his guests awoke, the very halfling he had been ordered to leave untouched. He knew this was the one his master sought even as he captured him, for there was about the creature an air of … vague familiarity. An echo of one long forgotten, so it seemed, though he knew not why this should be thus.

Be that as it may, it was not his place to investigate, and, in truth, it interested him little when there were another three awaiting his final ministrations. Already he had been the perfect host, preparing them in advance, divesting them of their sodden garments and clothing them in the finery of a prince of old. Upon their heads were circlets, their fingers were laden with rings, and round their waists were golden chains. With swords by their sides and shields at their feet they lay in silent splendour, bathed in ghastly green light, and ready for the long sword - which lay across all three necks - to mete out their doom at his command.

Death would find them this day, of that there was no doubt, but he was not an unkind host; he would send them to it looking none the shabbier for their ordeal.

Thus the ceremony commenced as it always does for such unfortunate individuals. The Barrow-wight entertained his guests with a song, a cold murmur which rose and fell, at times thin and seeming to come from high above them, at times like a low moan emitting from the very ground below, but always, always immeasurably dreary.

Though none of the three stricken hobbits could hear him, other than in their own dark enchanted dreams, the fourth – Baggins, who had now raised himself upon one elbow – bore an expression of stark terror which pleased his host greatly. The halfling's life might be forbidden to him, but there was still sport to be had with the little creature's mind. And how better to begin the games than by slaying his companions in front of him?

Heartened, the Barrow-wight sang louder, clearer, until the halfling shivered in fear. Creeping along the ground went the Wight, and as the first song faded, a new melody filled the air, a verse or two of creaking and scraping, with the sharp intake of a petrified hobbit's breath providing the chorus.

It was a pleasure and a joy to his host, to know that his efforts were so appreciated!

Encouraged by the reaction, and using the evil spells of his kind, the Barrow-wight sent forth one of his arms, which walked past the halfing on its very fingers. It was a terrible sight to behold, most especially in the cold glow of the putrid green light. The halfling, frozen in fear to his cold stone bed, could only follow it with disbelieving eyes. Slowly, slowly the hand reached toward the hilt of the long sword that lay upon the neck of Baggins' nearest companion. The halfling seemed to waver, and the Wight most certainly thought he was readying to faint away.

But something happened then that the evil spirit did not expect.

Instead of falling into the expected swoon, the halfling grabbed a sword which lay beside him and suddenly sprung up, clasping its hilt with both hands. Kneeling by his companion, he raised the blade high into the air and brought it down in one mighty stroke, hewing the Barrow-wight's hand off at the wrist.

Never had he been the subject of such wanton violence from a guest.

Shrieking in rage and shock, the Wight retreated to nurse its severed limb. The attack had taken him completely by surprise, wounding him so unexpectedly that the chamber dimmed, plunging them all into darkness. He snarled angrily at his discourteous guest, wanting nothing more than to tear the halfling limb from limb, no matter what his master had ordered! But before he could launch any attack, the impertinent creature raised his own voice in song. Shaky at first, tremulous even, but it grew in strength and beauty with each passing second, until the fullness and vitality of it reverberated in the cold, dank barrow and struck the evil spirit dumb with fear.

Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!

By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow,

By fire, sun and moon, harken now and hear us!

Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!

The Barrow-wight quaked in dread. And with little wonder, for he and his evil brethren had not existed for so long in the Barrow-downs without hearing rumour of the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, of his great joy for life, and light, and merry song. He was the very antithesis of all they stood for, and they were mightily glad he never strayed too near their abode, for none amongst them would willingly pit their skills against such a foe, not when their magic had never been tested against his kind (whatever his kind was).

And the halfling was calling out to him ...

How could this be? How could the tables have been so neatly turned against him – and by a most unexpected creature! Why had his master not warned him against this?

But things got worse, much worse, when a second voice replied:

Old Tom Bombadil 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.

To the Wight's deep chagrin, there came a loud rumbling sound, as if the walls outside the barrow were rolling away. This guess was substantiated when light suddenly streamed in through the roof, falling upon the sickly miens of his senseless guests until it seemed they were merely sleeping. A behatted head appeared in the space, but light continued to stream in through the gaps around it, so that it seemed as if the rays flowed into the cavern from the stranger's beard, his cheeks, his battered hat. Horrified, the Barrow-wight slithered backwards.

Tom Bombadil!

The halfling had hailed his doom with a pretty song.

It is difficult indeed to imagine the Wight's terrible rage at having his hospitality repaid in such a fashion. Difficult also to imagine the terror he feels at that moment, when Tom Bombadil springs into his lair singing gustily, and he realises that death will come to him ere it ever meets his slumbering guests. Even more difficult yet is it to imagine pitying such a one his fate, as Tom's merry song brings the chamber collapsing around him, forcing the evil spirit to flee into distant tunnels, and leaving nothing behind but a long trailing shriek. Even the wriggling remains of his severed hand are not spared the thump and stamp of a big yellow boot. But that is no bad thing, readers, for to empathise with such a creature would say less of some than some may like, and so let me say only that his terror was greater than his rage (which was great indeed), and there was no pity to be found for such an unnatural creature anywhere (which is as it should be).

And when the princely treasures from within were laid upon that very mound, free for all to take as they pleased, there was nothing more to be found of the spell which once cursed it, nor of the Barrow-wight which once dwelt there. Nor would there ever be again.


Author's Note: Some text taken from The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 8: Fog on the Barrow-downs.

Tried a different style here. Don't know if it's worked, or come off as pretentious crapola. Let me know. I've only proofed this once, so I'll do it again tomorrow. If you spot any glaring errors in the meantime, let me know. Kindly, though.


Kara's Aunty ;)

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