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The Hobbit (Page 63)

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Chapter XV

THE GATHERING OF THE CLOUDS

Now we will return to Bilbo and the dwarves. All night one of them had watched, but when morning came they had not heard or seen any sign of danger. But ever more thickly the birds were gathering. Their companies came flying from the South; and the crows that still lived about the Mountain were wheeling and crying unceasingly above.

“Something strange is happening,” said Thorin. “The time has gone for the autumn wanderings; and these are birds that dwell always in the land; there are starlings and flocks of finches; and far off there are many carrion birds as if a battle were afoot!”

Suddenly Bilbo pointed: “There is that old thrush again!” he cried. “He seems to have escaped, when Smaug smashed the mountain-side, but I don’t suppose the snails have!”

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Sure enough the old thrush was there, and as Bilbo pointed, he flew towards them and perched on a stone near by. Then he fluttered his wings and sang; then he cocked his head on one side, as if to listen; and again he sang, and again he listened.

“I believe he is trying to tell us something,” said Balin; “but I cannot follow the speech of such birds, it is very quick and difficult. Can you make it out Baggins?”

“Not very well,” said Bilbo (as a matter of fact, he could make nothing of it at all); “but the old fellow seems very excited.”

“I only wish he was a raven!” said Balin.

“I thought you did not like them! You seemed very shy of them, when we came this way before.”

“Those were crows! And nasty suspicious-looking creatures at that, and rude as well. You must have heard the ugly names they were calling after us. But the ravens are different. There used to be great friendship between them and the people of Thror; and they often brought us secret news, and were rewarded with such bright things as they coveted to hide in their dwellings.

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“They live many a year, and their memories are long, and they hand on their wisdom to their children. I knew many among the ravens of the rocks when I was a dwarf-lad. This very height was once named Ravenhill, because there was a wise and famous pair, old Carc and his wife, that lived here above the guard-chamber. But I don’t suppose that any of that ancient breed linger here now.”

No sooner had he finished speaking than the old thrush gave a loud call, and immediately flew away.

“We may not understand him, but that old bird understands us, I am sure,” said Balin. “Keep watch now, and see what happens!”

Before long there was a fluttering of wings, and back came the thrush; and with him came a most decrepit old bird. He was getting blind, he could hardly fly, and the top of his head was bald. He was an aged raven of great size. He alighted stiffly on the ground before them, slowly flapped his wings, and bobbed towards Thorin.

“O Thorin son of Thrain, and Balin son of Fundin,” he croaked (and Bilbo could understand what he said, for he used ordinary language and not bird-speech). “I am Roäc son of Carc. Carc is dead, but he was well known to you once. It is a hundred years and three and fifty since I came out of the egg, but I do not forget what my father told me. Now I am the chief of the great ravens of the Mountain. We are few, but we remember still the king that was of old. Most of my people are abroad, for there are great tidings in the South—some are tidings of joy to you, and some you will not think so good.

“Behold! the birds are gathering back again to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West, for word has gone out that Smaug is dead!”

“Dead! Dead?” shouted the dwarves. “Dead! Then we have been in needless fear—and the treasure is ours!” They all sprang up and began to caper about for joy.

“Yes, dead,” said Roäc. “The thrush, may his feathers never fall, saw him die, and we may trust his words. He saw him fall in battle with the men of Esgaroth the third night back from now at the rising of the moon.”

It was some time before Thorin could bring the dwarves to be silent and listen to the raven’s news. At length when he had told all the tale of the battle he went on:

“So much for joy, Thorin Oakenshield. You may go back to your halls in safety; all the treasure is yours—for the moment. But many are gathering hither beside the birds. The news of the death of the guardian has already gone far and wide, and the legend of the wealth of Thror has not lost in the telling during many years; many are eager for a share of the spoil. Already a host of the elves is on the way, and carrion birds are with them hoping for battle and slaughter. By the lake men murmur that their sorrows are due to the dwarves; for they are homeless and many have died, and Smaug has destroyed their town. They too think to find amends from your treasure, whether you are alive or dead.

“Your own wisdom must decide your course; but thirteen is small remnant of the great folk of Durin that once dwelt here, and now are scattered far. If you will listen to my counsel, you will not trust the Master of the Lake-men, but rather him that shot the dragon with his bow. Bard is he, of the race of Dale, of the line of Girion; he is a grim man but true. We would see peace once more among dwarves and men and elves after the long desolation; but it may cost you dear in gold. I have spoken.”

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Then Thorin burst forth in anger: “Our thanks, Roäc Carc’s son. You and your people shall not be forgotten. But none of our gold shall thieves take or the violent carry off while we are alive. If you would earn our thanks still more, bring us news of any that draw near. Also I would beg of you, if any of you are still young and strong of wing, that you would send messengers to our kin in the mountains of the North, both west from here and east, and tell them of our plight. But go specially to my cousin Dain in the Iron Hills, for he has many people well-armed, and dwells nearest to this place. Bid him hasten!”

“I will not say if this counsel be good or bad,” croaked Roäc, “but I will do what can be done.” Then off he slowly flew.

“Back now to the Mountain!” cried Thorin. “We have little time to lose.”

“And little food to use!” cried Bilbo, always practical on such points. In any case he felt that the adventure was, properly speaking, over with the death of the dragon—in which he was much mistaken—and he would have given most of his share of the profits for the peaceful winding up of these affairs.

“Back to the Mountain!” cried the dwarves as if they had not heard him; so back he had to go with them.

As you have heard some of the events already, you will see that the dwarves still had some days before them. They explored the caverns once more, and found, as they expected, that only the Front Gate remained open; all the other gates (except, of course, the small secret door) had long ago been broken and blocked by Smaug, and no sign of them remained. So now they began to labour hard in fortifying the main entrance, and in making a new path that led from it. Tools were to be found in plenty that the miners and quarriers and builders of old had used; and at such work the dwarves were still very skilled.

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