Bilbo raced across the expanse of grass towards the hidden opening tucked into the Barrow dens, behind him the Mordicant roared triumphantly as the armoured Charter Sending blocking the path into the dens fell, without looking back Bilbo desperately tried to run faster. He slammed into the door already desperately shouting Charter marks. The chill behind him growing closer every second. Finally the door fell open and Bilbo found himself face to face with another Charter Sending. The sending locked the door and with desperate gestured ushered him down the unlit path in to the depths of the cavern below the Barrow dens. He followed the path and subtle glow of the Sending through the dark, as they rounded yet another corner on the winding path water could be heard and the sending disappeared, summoned back to it’s door by the Mordicant’s dead and rank presence. Following the sound of water Bilbo was shocked to find that the cavern opened to the heavens like a giant split in the ground ran over head, something he knew not to be true. Looking up for a long moment Bilbo caught a shimmer out of the corner of his eye and nodded contently as he realised that there was ancient Elf magic at work.
Before him steps wound down to a river bank and towards lethal looking stepping stones, tucked on the edge of an impressive waterfall, across the safety of running, fresh, water. On the other side of the stones sat a majestic and old looking house on an island in the centre of the wide river. Bilbo gulped as he watched a chunk of ice float past the house, between the stepping stones and hurtle over the waterfall into the abyss below. He glanced down the bank away from the waterfall hoping for a better place to cross and finding none.
Taking a deep breath Bilbo ran his hand across the handles of his mother’s bells, the Abhorsen’s bells,and on to the hilt of the Abhorsen’s sword. Charter marks flared under his hands, and bravery filled his little hobbit heart as the items reminded him of the task that had come to him with his mother’s gear of bells and sword. A door shattered behind him and Charter marks flared across the cavern walls as magic desperately tried to restore the fallen door guard. Toes curling around the top step, Bilbo grasped the hilt of the sword a little tighter and, with more care than he probably had time for, started down the steep steps. Making the leap on to the first stepping stone Bilbo muttered,
“ A grand adventure, he said! Act like a true Took! Take up your mother’s bells and save her! Should never have stepped out of my cosy hobbit hole and spoken to that meddling Wizard!” The hairs on the back of his neck rose and the hair on the soles of his feet tingled as a rancid breath puffed over him as a deep chuckle, that sounded more like tombstones breaking, sounded far too close behind him. Scrambling to make the next leap Bilbo slipped as his toes hit the stone. He tumbled, grabbing out at the third stone as his stomach slapped against the slippery second. Fingers grasping desperately he tried to halt the inevitable slide as he tumbled into the glacier cold stream, the water tugging him over the waterfall’s edge with it’s icy fingers. Breath frozen in his lungs he sank below the water, legs kicking as his toes slid into open air, fingers locked onto the stone above him. With a final heave he pulled himself onto the stone and without even a moments pause to shiver he crawled across the rest of the stones to perch on the bank of the island that the river cut around. For several long moments Bilbo and the Mordicant stared at one another across the river. One still in the way only Dead spirit can be, the other shivering with a mix of shock and cold. Finally Bilbo calmed his panting and blinked his wide eyes closed. Staggering to his feet he started up the steps to his mother house, Behind him the Mordant roared it’s fury before taking up a sentries watch, the chase over it seemed content to watch, to wait.
“To wait for what though?” Bilbo wondered to himself as he reached the top of the stairs, the sun rising over head. A tall white wall encircled the house and it’s gardens, Trees poked their green heads over the top and birds fluttered about the garden as the sunlight struck the treetops. Elf magic letting the light flow through the soil and stone above as though it were not there at all, a little haven away from the horrors of the Old Kingdom within the Wall. Closing the gate behind him Bilbo walked though the garden and up to the door.
A dragon’s head knocker gleamed in the centre of the door and on the door mat lay an enormous, lithe, golden coloured cat blocking his way to the door. Blinking the cat lifted it’s head and yawned in his face. Reaching out a hand Bilbo waited for the cat to tup it before carefully scratching it behind the ears.
“Hello, puss” he muttered, as he started the long fur on the cat’s neck moved and Bilbo jumped back in shock as he saw the red leather collar around it’s neck. The collar may only have been leather but the Charter-spell on it was one of the most powerful, most ancient and most binding spell Bilbo had ever seen. The bell hanging from it was no ordinary bell but a miniature Saraneth, The Binder. This was no ordinary cat but an Ancient creature with far more power than Bilbo could every hope to gain and far more than he would ever with to face.
“Abhorsen,” the cat drawled slowly savouring the word, “About time you got here” Bilbo felt his eyes open even wider, the shivers running through him growing more violent as the days of running, hours of terror and lack of food sent him tumbling to the floor with exhaustion. His eyes slipped closed and he whispered,
“Pleased don’t eat me, I’m quite sure Hobbit tastes horrible.” The Cat chuckled, and Bilbo heard no more.
– – –
The day after the Paperwing crashed and his battle with Smaug, Bilbo spent his time sleeping and eating. Occasionally Smaug would wonder over to him apologetically and lay over him like a heavy and oddly metallic smelling blanket, each time Bilbo checked the collar and bell only to find the binding perfect and the bell uncracked. Each time he sighed with relief that he had not damaged the spell when he had released the Ancient creature’s full power and each time he slightly vowed that he would never again release the creature. Death would be better than the risk of failing to recapture and bind Smaug.
The second day Bilbo woke to find his head clear and free from ache, the desperate weariness the fight had left him with and the damage Smaug had inflicted seemingly gone. Glancing around the cave he realised that Smaug was gone. Panic filling his heart Bilbo let to his feet. Hastily shoved his supplies back into a bundle and headed down the one path out of the cave shouting Smaug’s name. As he stumbled down the dark cave path Smaug bounded up to him and with a rumbling purr rubbed against him.
“Looking for me?” Smaug innocently asked his breath wafting over Bilbo’s face, the stink of catnip nearly knocking the Hobbit from his feet. “Follow! Follow! Follow meeeeeeee!” Smaug rumbled as he turned and pranced back int he direction he had appeared from. Bilbo, ran a hand over the bandoleer that held the Bells and shaking his head followed the crazed cat-like creature. After several hundred yards Smaug paused and turned to say, “Step only where I step if you wish to live.”
“Where are we going, Smaug. I will not follow you one more step until you…”Smaug butted his giant head against the centre of Bilbo’s chest knocking the breath out of him and smugly the creature told him,
“Another sinkhole it is where the First blood….” Smug cut off with a choked and a growl as the binding spell cut his words off . He shook his large head, his high seemingly burned off by invoking the binding, and rephrased to, “Somewhere most interesting.” He turned tail whipping through the air forcing Bilbo to duck out the way. Smug walked through a doorway causing a magical force to flair. Silvery Sentries with halibuts shimmered in the air for a moment before fading into the rock as he passed some unseen test. Following carefully in Smaug’s paw-steps Bilbo was carefully through a maze of pitfalls and Old, defensive spells until finally, Magic flared across Smaug’s collar making his hair stand on end and the collar rotate until the Charter marks of binding where on top and easily read as they flared like flame against the leather. The same magic brushed over him with far less force making the Charter mark on his forehead flair and glow bright for a moment. The wards before them fell and Bilbo stepped out into a twilight filled sinkhole that the sun was only able to brighten at midday. Stunted trees and bushes grew in a fruitful plethora around the vast pit and in a far corner was a vast field of catnip. Over head a shimmering net of magic protected the things within from the outside world. Looking up through his telescope Bilbo could see the Charter marks which made it obvious that this whole place was the work of Mortals not Elf or Wizard.
Between the greenery lay paved openings, marble and carved granite inlayed with previous metals and gems, the work of a thousand Dwaven master-craftsmen, locked away from the eyes of the world. On-top the rich paving were ships. Forty open decked, single mast longboats. Built in the style of Men of Gondor but bedecked in the funerary style of Dwaves a testament to a calmer time in the Old Kingdom. A time before the Dead roamed so easily a time when the Peoples of the Old Kingdom lived with each other easily and had good trade with the Kingdom of Men, outside of the Wall. Bilbo looked at the ships with awe. He had heard all the tales of this place like every child living in the Shire, close to the Old Kingdom. Tales of treasure, adventure and romance woven around this strange dry dock. To far from home to be a draw for Hobbits but whispered in the ears of children by those who traded with Strangers from beyond the Wall.
“Funerary ships. Royal ships.” At his whisper Charter marks beneath his feet flared through the muck and dust, Spells of final death binding the souls of kings, queens and their children in to forever death. No necromancer would ever be able to raise any of the ancient leaders from their rest. Smaug bounced around him in agreement dashing back and forth between the ships until finally Bilbo followed him towards a spring in the distance. Walking between two ships Bilbo tried to glance in but the sides were to high. The reverence of the place stopping him from climbing an oar to get inside. He halted to look at the figure heads to one side was a Dwaven king, beard carved long and woven with beads. To the other a king of Gondor, open robes flowing over gold painted scale mail. Each held a sword in one hand and an unfurling scroll in the other, a heraldic representation of the Charter. Away from the other ships, closer to the spring was a smaller ship, mast devoid of sails and the paving unadorned black granite. Giving the ship a wide berth Bilbo wondered what the leader inside had done to deserve such a snub. No oars sprang from the sides and as he reached the spring under it’s stern he came close enough to see the uncaulked seams and that some of the planks were held with just one pin at either end rather than that half dozen or more that the other ships had.
After a moment of pondering and a long drink of the sweet water from the spring Bilbo realised that the occupant was not being snubbed but rather the ship was unfinished abandoned by it’s builders before completion. Confused he abandoned his belongings by the stream and circled the ship to look at the figure head. A young but powerful looking Dwarf. A very naked and detailed carving of a Dwarf, unabashed Bilbo looked the carving over marvelling at the detail of strong muscle, veins in the hands and feet, the flaccid cock and balls. The rather impressive cock he noted with a flush starting to flair on his cheeks as he made note of the fact that Dwarfs were not all that different to Hobbits. Embarrassed he pulled his glance up to the face. The figure head was handsome if somewhat rugged, a warrior most likely Bilbo though. The features however gave him pause the look of horror and betrayal of the face was the expression of someone who had just been betrayed, the eyes wide and looked almost wet with tears. Altogether it made the Dwarf look a little mad and far too lifelike to be carved, no mater how talented the woodworker.
“Too lifelike”’ Bilbo muttered stepping back one hand wrapping around Ranna, the Sleepbringer, the other hand loosening his sword in its sheath. He reached out with his magical sensed but felt no traps, instead he felt and bothersome sensation. The sensation similar to that given off by a Dead revenant, but not the same. Puzzled by the Dwarf Bilbo looked him over once more, climbing up close to look at the nicks and scars of a life lived in battle or the training for it, before looking around for Smaug to ask for advice. Circling the sinkhole twice before he found him Bilbo sighed with frustration at finding the creature in the middle of the catnip too deeply asleep to be woken.
“Well, so much for being a guiding hand you useless creature! If I decide to wake him and he kills me it will be your fault entirely that the line of Abhorsens ends with me and the Old Kingdom is entirely taken over by the Dead.” Nodding Bilbo strode off in the direction of the intriguing ship once more.
“So,” He said firmly to the figurehead, “it would seem that you are the victim of some Free Magic spell woven through with a necromancer’s handiwork. Your spirit lies somewhere between Life and Death.” Bilbo huffed falling silent quietly contemplating wether he was well enough to go hopping about in death hoping to find a Dwarf who had be turned to wood. Slumping to sit on the ground Bilbo considered what his mother would do. “Well on one hand it shouldn’t take long he can’t be far from the border and the necromancer must be long dead! But… then. No…No… The wards will make it safe.” He finally decided, ignoring the fact that he was still weakened from the fight and binding of Smaug. The wards on the mausoleum sinkhole made it nearly impossible for the Dead to cross over into life and should, he hoped, make it difficult for the already Risen to know where he had crossed into death from. Yes. He decided a quick snatch and grab. The work of moments!. Bilbo used his last ounce of common-sense to go and grab Smaug from where he slept, half dragging and half carrying the giant beast to in front of the ship with the desperate hope that and disturbance would wake him.
Unfastening the clasp holding Ranna in place Bilbo pulled the bell out confident in his choice, the bell was the least noticeable, lulling those who heard it into sleep or pushing their minds to think of other things. Un sheathing his sword Bilbo settled down and taking a deep breath crossed into Death.
Standing in the river of Death with the warmth of life at his back Bilbo shivered at the chill in the air, creeping along the boundary line as silent as a thief in the night he felt around of the Dwarf, hoping that the soul would be bright and noticeable to him, being close to the Dwarf’s physical presence in life meant that in death he should be nearby. Frowning when he found nothing near to where he had crossed Bilbo let his senses reach out further into death until finally he found something. Creeping forwards he stopped near it but not quite next to it. With a confident flick of his wrist he let Ranna sound, the sleepy peal carrying the urge to let eyes close flowing away from him. If there was a Dead thing waiting to fool him at least it would be quiescent now. Tucking sword and bell away Bilbo reached into the water at his feet and bracing himself grabbed the thing and was revealed to feel the pulse of life running through it even after all the year it had rested here. He felt a spell encasing the Dwarf, protecting it from the warping chill of death, Taking a firm grip Bilbo heaved upwards even as he walked backwards to Life, after a moment of resistance the spirit heaved from the river bed and he staggered back. Pleased with his good luck he concentrated on rushing back to life, he missed the moment that the sound of running water stopped marking something crossing the first gate. What he did not miss however , thanks to the paranoia he had developed since the Bells were delivered to him, was the padding steps of Something Dead. Glancing down at his burden Bilbo mentally slapped himself when he spotted the thin black thread running towards the first gate. A thread that had clearly sounded an alert to whatever was holding the Dwarf in Death. Bilbo sped up slightly, but not to much, hoping to reach life before whatever was prowling after them built up the nerve to charge. Five paces, he counted in his head,. Four, the thing sped up. Three, Bilbo reached up and released Ranna once more as he spotted the Thing clearly a denizen from beyond the third or fourth gate. Two, the thing charged and Bilbo changed his mind on the Bell. Using all his strength he flung his burden at the Boundary and in a quick ungraceful movement leapt after him. For a moment it felt like the wards on the sinkhole would repulse them, trapping them in Death forever, but suddenly the boundary stretched and Bilbo tumbled back into his body burden traveling with him but gone from his grasp. As he fell forwards gasping for breath, ice crystals shattering and crunching beneath him, an angry squealing followed him from death. Bilbo staggered to his feet, Ranna in hand and sword drawn, for long moments he stood ready until finally Smaug yawned, twisted and went back to sleep. Relaxing he tucked the bell away and sheathed his sword heading over to look at the figurehead. Wincing as his body ached and burned, a reminder that perhaps he had been a little hasty, he congratulated himself on succeeding. The Dwarf’s spirit clearly in his body, he waited a moment for the spell to break then frowned, disappointed and confused, as nothing changed. At his feet Smaug said,
“A kiss.” In the tone of one who has suffered the presence of fools for far too long to actually want to help them, “Well, a breath would do but a kiss is traditional.” Bilbo looked at Smaug wondering if the catnip had done some permanent damage to the creatures mind but when he meet the amber slitted eyes all he saw was seriousness and sobriety.
A kiss seemed a little forward, what if the Dwarf remembered it. All that Bilbo had heard of Dwarfs made it seem like they were quick to anger and did not particularly care for being touched. Leaning forward with a shrug he huffed a breath across the face. After a few moments Bilbo turned to glare at Smaug, speechless all he did was glare before spinning back around when a broken gasp sounded from behind him. He watched in shock as the skin turned back to flesh and the wooden chest started to heave desperately as flesh lungs tried to stretch an inflexible chest. After a few seconds flesh arms rose to grasp Bilbo’s shoulders and Bilbo found meeting pale blue eyes meeting his seconds before he had arms full of naked Dwarf. In a cracked and almost drunken sounding voice the man muttered,
“Thank you… Abhorsen.” His eye’s settling on the crest on Bilbo’s jacket before his eyes slid shut and his weight sent both of them tumbling to the ground as he passed out. Rolling them over Bilbo hastily climbed off the Dwarf and after clearing his throat and giving the laughing Smaug a hard look he set off in the direction of his pack with a slightly dazed expression.
“ A blanket! And a shirt. Right, yes.” He murmured as he walked. Behind him Smaug padded up to the unconscious body and ran his tongue over the Charter mark on his head, the mark flared and Smaug twitched in surprise. He licked the mark again and then backed off, tail flicking, as he hissed., “Well then.” He shook his head making the miniature Saraneth on his collar peel unhappily.