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3. Darkness of the barrow
Darkness. Here he will sleep under stone until the Sun fails and the Moon is dead, until the stars die in the black wind, on gold he will sleep until the dark lord lifts his hand over dead sea and withered land…
No… no, these were not his thoughts… No dark lord will lift his hand! Not while the Men of the West stand! But he was dead, he thought in confusion. He remembered the mace crushing his ribs, taking the last breath away from his lungs.
He took a tentative breath. He could… He tried to open his eyes, and saw a greenish glow. Someone chanting. A voice like rustling of old bones. A sword lying across his neck, and a ghostlike hand creeping to the hilt like a big, monstrous spider. He could not move! The hand gripped the hilt. He could not move!
"Sleep…" the dusty voice whispered. "Sleep forever in the barrow of king Arveleg…"
Arveleg… That was his name! No, no… it was not. His name was different, but still had something in common. Ar… The same line. The line of kings. He was from Arveleg's line. He was Aragorn, son of Arathorn!
He found his name! There was a deathly chill in his limbs, but he felt he could move again. The hand lifted the sword for a deadly strike. He rolled away before the blade fell, and when he looked up, he saw a pale creature, the twisted smirk of death in its skull-like face, and smell of dusty bones.
"You will not esssscape…" the barrow-wight hissed.
Aragorn looked around in a desperate attempt to find a way out. No light besides the greenish glow of the barrow-wight. He was buried alive! There was a bed of stone, and a skeleton lying upon it surrounded with gold. King Arveleg, who fell in the battle for Cardolan in 1409 – the lesson of history was suddenly too vivid in his mind, the cries of the dying and the heavy rain falling down on the battlefield… The calm when the cries faded…
"You have no right to disturb the peace of a king's barrow!" he said angrily, reaching for a golden dagger in Arveleg's hands. It was cold just like his fingers. The coldness of death was everywhere around, but Aragorn knew that the barrow was not evil; the creature who made it its lair brought evil to it.
"Sleep…" the barrow-wight whispered hoarsely, and lifted the sword.
Aragorn tried to dodge the blade, but the sword cut into his forearm. He welcomed the pain – it told him he was still alive. He didn't wait for the next blow, and drove the golden dagger into the creature's chest. "I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and I banish you from the place of rest of Arveleg, my ancestor!" he said resolutely, and the barrow-wight seemed to shrink with every word. It wailed like a cold northern wind in winter, and retreated back, somewhere into the dark corners of the barrow.
Aragorn knew he did not have much time. The wight was intimidated for a moment, but he could not defeat a creature like this. He had to get out of here! In the charnel glow, he could see roots of some plants growing through the roof. He pulled them, and a few lumps of soil fell down. Feverishly he began to dig around the stones loosened by the roots. He dug with his bare hands. A stone fell out. Another. His fingers bled. He heard rustling from the corner. Chanting.
"Cold be hand and heart and bone,
and cold be sleep under stone…"
He felt his eyelids grow heavy, his limbs numb. Another stone fell out. He could see a dim light through the hole.
„...never more to wake on stony bed,
He fought the weariness, clinging desperately to the ray of light. He could no longer feel his fingers. Yet he continued working. The hole broadened.
"…in the black wind the stars shall die,
and still on gold here let them lie."
It was broad enough for him to get through now. He could feel the fresh wind on his hands. Yet he had no strength to hoist himself to the freedom.
"till the dark lord lifts his hand…"
He gathered all his strength and will. One last desperate attempt. He jumped. His fingers grasped wet grass. A cold hand grasped his leg. He kicked fiercely, and pulled his body after the hands. He got out!
"…over dead sea and withered land," like a faint echo, he could hear the end of the chanting. He rolled a few steps away from the hole, and panted heavily. With closed eyes, he savoured the feeling of fresh wind upon his face.
Cold drops falling down from the grey sky. Washing the blood from the battlefield…
Slowly he opened his eyes. No, there was no battlefield. A blade of grass bend under the falling drop just before his eyes, and then straightened again as the drop reached the edge and fell down. He followed it, unable to focus his thoughts. Was there no battle?
There was just a terrible chill in his limbs, deep in the marrow of his bones. For some reason, he expected the excruciating pain of crushed ribs when he moved, but other pains came instead. Blood was dripping from the wound on his forearm, and his fingers were covered with caked blood and dirt. Something jingled when he lifted his hands…
With wonder he looked at the golden bracelets adorning his wrists, and the rings on his fingers. There was a golden necklace on his neck, also. His own clothes were gone, however. All he wore was a thin white tunic – a funeral tunic. He blinked, and slowly, the memory came. A terrible memory of a pale hand, crawling to the hilt of a sword like a big spider. His sight fell on the hole in the ground, and both chilling dread and relief filled his thoughts. It was real. The hand was real, and the barrow of king Arveleg almost became also the barrow of Aragorn son of Arathorn. It had not however. He was free. He escaped… that thought was comforting as he fought the spell of dizziness when he tried to get up. He was so cold…
He staggered, but walked forwards – away from the barrow. To get as much distance between him and the echoes of the dark chanting. To get away from this terrible place. Threads of magical sleep still lingered, tangled around his mind that desperately tried to shake them away. The chill in his bones lingered too, and the thin tunic was a meagre protection against the outside cold. In the rain, it stuck wetly to his shivering frame, but he had nothing better to protect himself from the elements.
Walking forwards was the only thing he could do. It was more difficult than it sounded, he thought distantly. His bare feet were numb from the cold. He wanted to get rid of the annoying jewels, but it was hard to find strength for anything else than walking. They could bring a great price from a merchant, but he knew he would not sell them, but neither could he keep them – he was not a grave robber. He would get rid of them… somehow… when he got… somewhere…
He stumbled and almost fell. He had to focus on walking; otherwise he would never get… wherever he had to get. Putting one foot before the other. One. Other. One. Other. Estel. Aragorn. Estel. Aragorn…
To move forwards, he needed both. Both names belonged to him, and to escape from the barrow, he needed both – hope to not give in to the despair of the dark chant, and the kingly line to claim right over the resting place of his ancestor.
The world spun. He did not know how long he walked. It was so cold.
It was so cold…
A/N: the Barrow-wight's chant is from The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
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