40. The Draugr
Chapter Written by Angmar
At dusk the boys resumed the journey across the broad, sweeping valley of the Anduin at a pace which was brisk enough to satisfy even the demanding Fródwine. An hour and a half of marching brought them within half a league of the Great West Road. The elder brother was determined to traverse the road by dawn and then shelter in the Grey Wood until evening. Realizing, though, that this crossing was surely as dangerous as had been the initial escape - or perhaps even more so - Fródwine dreaded the attempt. Predominant in his mind was the fear that once they had begun to cross the road, they would be surprised by a company of orcs marching at the double quick to join the northern army. With the amazing eyesight that the monsters possessed, the boys would be quickly spotted and just as quickly recaptured.
Frightened at the approach of darkness, Fritha's thoughts kept returning to the terrified, anguished screams of the orcs as the trees had dragged them under the ground. Even Oakheart, who had been kind to him, seemed ominous in retrospect. What if they should meet other trees who were not so generous as the old oak? Suddenly everything was dark and scary, and he saw monsters in the shadows and fell spirits in the forest. He wished they were all back at home, and Mother was comforting him.
Fritha nervously tugged at Fródwine's sleeve, and the older boy slowed his pace. "What is it, Fritha?" he asked tersely. "It is not time to eat yet, but if you are thirsty, there is a small stream nearby. As a matter of fact, if I recall correctly from the journey down, the water goes under the road through a culvert. I suppose if worse comes to worse, we could make our way, not over the road, but under it," he mused out loud.
"I am not thirsty," Fritha explained, "but I feel gloomy, like all the world is ending, or has ended, and there is nothing left but ghosts! I want to go back, Fródwine. I want to go back! I want Mother!" Sobbing, he wrapped his hand around Fródwine's sleeve, twisting and clenching the cloth as he cried.
Pulling his arm away with a brisk jerk, Fródwine freed his sleeve and turned around to face his brother. "Fritha, you are sleepy. That is what is wrong with you!" He glanced around at Frumgár for confirmation. "He is sleepy, is he not?"
Halting, Frumgár crossed his arms over his chest and smiled good-naturedly at his brothers. "Aye, he certainly is! I recognize all the signs. First, his eyelids become so heavy that he can no longer hold them up, and then he begins to whine and complain. Oh, and when he starts crying and stomping his foot, his face gets all red and puckered up. He squeezes his eyelids together, and he is like a big, grouchy bear when it is stirred out of its den too early in the spring! Ugliest thing I ever saw in my life when he is that way! The best thing then is to tuck him into bed; maybe tell him a story, if you have a mind to do that."
"I am not sleepy, and I do not look like a bear! Stop picking on me, Frumgár! You are getting to be a bully, just like--" Fritha hesitated, cutting his comments short as Fródwine scowled at him.
"--Like me," Fródwine offered. "I will not argue this matter. I think it is time I carried you on my back a while, Fritha, so climb on board." Fródwine crouched down, allowing Fritha to climb upon his back. Fritha hugged him around the neck while Fródwine clasped him under the thighs.
"Tell me a story, Frumgár," Fritha begged, his voice sleepy.
"What kind of story?"
"A ghost story, of course! They are the best kind!"
"That is just plain silly, Fritha! You said not five minutes ago that you thought that the world had ended and there was nothing around but ghosts. Besides, you are terrified of them," Frumgár replied, mild surprise on his face.
"Because the ones you tell about are the spirits of our ancestors, who watch over us. Please, Frumgár, please!" he replied in his sweetest voice, which was calculated to guarantee getting his own way. Although Frumgár could not see Fritha's face clearly because it was in the shadows, he was certain that Fritha was smiling in that way he had which showed his dimples to the best advantage. That expression had always gotten quick attention from their mother, but it seldom achieved the desired purpose with either Fródwine or Frumgár.
As Fródwine tramped on with Fritha upon his back, Frumgár stepped up beside them. Coughing, he cleared his throat and announced in his most formal tone of voice, "I tell you now...
THE TALE OF THE DRAUGR
"Once many years ago, a staunch and doughty rider of the Mark was returning late one night from a wedding feast. The man had consumed far too many a tankard of ale at the joyous occasion, and was quite in his cups at the ending of the meal. As he rode his destrier back towards his home, he was filled with a sudden yearning to visit once again with his old sword companion, who was long dead. Being not too far from the barrowfield where his comrade was entombed, he turned his horse from its intended path and rode forward at a goodly clip, desiring to meet with him as quickly as possible.
"Soon arriving at the base of the mound, the rider called out jovially, certainly not meaning any offense, but only good will, 'My brother, sleep you in peace or have you turned to wakefulness?' He waited a while amid the field of dark mounds where the dead slept. Not expecting an answer, he was surprised when he heard far back in the mound a sigh, tender and gentle, no louder than that which a babe might make when it has just suckled and is full at its mother's breast.
"Though the moan from the tomb was mild in nature, it had a dire effect upon his mount, for the creature rose upon its back legs and stabbed at the sky with its front hooves. Though shaking, the horse came back solidly to the earth on all four hooves, and looked around questioningly. Another moan came from the tomb, this one even worse than the first. TWhinnying in terror, the horse skittered sideways, arching its back and going into a fit of bucking. The beleaguered man struggled to rein the beast under control and was successful until his horse reared suddenly once again. The poor fellow, not expecting such unruly behavior from his usually placid steed, went plunging backwards over the horse's haunches and came to an unpleasant halt upon the hard, cold ground. With a high kick of its hind legs, the horse gave a wild shriek and galloped, bucking and kicking, across the barrowfield until it had disappeared out of sight.
"Rising unsteadily to his feet, the man rubbed his sore backside and limped painfully back to the stone that sealed the barrow. Uncertain if he had heard anything at all other than the whisper of the wind and the neighing of his horse, the fellow cupped his hand to his ear and called questioningly, 'Heremod One-eye? Is that you, my cup companion and brother, or do I speak to another?'
"'Stigand the Sot, my bosom companion and fellow warrior, it is none other than I, Heremod One-eye, to whom you speak!' came a voice from deep within the barrow.
"Blinking his bleary eyes, Stigand was far more amazed and in awe than he was embarrassed. The drunkard gave voice to his thoughts and cried out. 'My old friend, Heremod One-eye, beloved kinsman, I was out riding lately from a wedding, and a great melancholy fell upon me when I thought of bygone days when we went carousing together.' A tear sprang to Stigand's eye and he clamped his hand over his heart. 'I bring you a present, mine own flask, filled with mead, pure and sweet, mixed with honey. I leave it here by the door so that when you are athirst, you may have succor.'
"Reverently, Stigand the Sot unstrapped the flask from about his belt and placed it by the door to the barrow. Then making his farewells, he turned to leave and go chase down his mount, which had fled from the barrow in terror, when to his ears came the sound as of a battle cry at the dawning of a day of war. In fear and wonder, he turned and faced his eyes once again towards the burial mound.
"Coming through the door, filling its dimensions, stalked a giant draugr, bloated, huge and repulsive, blue in color, with a glow and a stink that fouled the air of the night with its dank discomfort. Still clad in his grave clothes - helm with horse tail bedecked streamer and mail shirt which gleamed and glimmered with the ghost light - the phantom bore spear in hand. Upon this he leaned as he gazed upon Stigand with cold, white dead eyes.
"The long locks upon Stigand's head felt as though they had grown to be a high standing forest. His hair stood on end, jutting out about his head. From his crown to his trembling feet, he felt his skin pimpled in cold chills.
"'Why, Heremod, can it be you, grown to be a corpse of gigantic proportions? Why do you appear to me in such an unbeauteous form, I who have done naught to you, but always have come in friendship?' Terrified and certain that death must be upon him, Stigand looked at the fiend, his eyes gaping from their sockets.
"'I have been athirst these past two years, and you have come nowhere near this my howe! Why have you come so late bearing me draught of mead? Long has it been since I drank the brew left with me when I was put in this forlorn place, left alone, there to mourn the loss of life, my friends and kinsmen. Never in that time have you or any other returned to offer food or drink to satisfy and appease my hunger and thirst! Now you must answer for your tardiness, for I intend to reap my vengeance! Draw your sword!'
"Up to this moment, Stigand's large feet had been as though they were buried up to the shanks in the cold ground. At the words, 'Draw your sword!' he felt the strength returning to his limbs. Then pulling his sword from its sheath, he prepared to defend himself from the harsh and unforgiving spectre who faced him.
"With a ghoulish laugh, Heremod hurled his spear at Stigand, who was now almost as pale and ashen as his opponent. Twisting his shoulder to the right, he evaded the spear which missed him by near inches. Then Stigand rushed in upon Heremod, thrusting his sword at the wight's exposed neck, but the ghoul was far too quick for him and was speedily out of his way. Laughing his ghoulish, mocking laugh, the draugr slashed downward towards Stigand's thigh, trying for the vital artery in the leg. To Stigand's good fortune, the blow had been miscast, and though it drew blood, it was not a killing strike. Up came Stigand's own true blade and met the wight's steel. There was a grating of metal upon metal as man matched strength against the undead as they thrust and parried.
"Stigand was a mighty and strong man and strove against his opponent from the grave with all of his force and will. Had it been that his opponent was a mortal, Stigand perhaps could have bested him, but the creature's strength was far beyond that of a man. Though they had been friends in life, Heremod was now possessed with an unquenchable and malignant passion of hate and malice against the living, for he envied the life which they still held.
"They fought together through the night, with neither one gaining the better of the other. Not one blow that Stigand wielded drew blood from the fiend, for the flow had long been blackened and stilled in his veins. Stigand, though, felt the sharp pain of one wound after another, until the blood sopped out of his face, arms and shoulders, chest and legs. Then, at last as his strength failed him, his sword blade was struck by the fell spirit. The wight's weapon slid down Stigand's blade until it met the pommel, sending up showers of sparks. The ghoul laughed when Stigand's blade dropped from his hand, and Stigand knew that the hour of his death had surely arrived.
"The spirit, though, did not press the advantage and instead sheathed his own sword. Then, his dead eyes glowing, he lay hold upon Stigand, wrapping his huge bloated arms about his chest. Stigand was crushed in a lock of supernatural strength which promised to squeeze his heart from his chest. His face turning dark with strain, his tongue extruding from his mouth, Stigand gasped as the breath was pushed from his body. He felt dark shades of death rushing upon him. When Stigand heard a rib break in his chest as the draugr increased the pressure, he abandoned all struggle, for there was no strength left in him. Sagging upon the shade's chest, he was nigh unto relinquishing his hold upon life and was certain that he would soon join his old sword companion and once friend. Suddenly, he felt such a pain tearing through his right ear that he was driven at the point of death to renew his struggles, for the wight had bitten clean through his ear, tearing it off, and was in the process of devouring it.
"As the blood streamed from his mangled flesh, Stigand felt the fetid breath blow cold upon his cheek. Sharp teeth fastened themselves upon his other ear, and he was sure that the wight meant to consume him alive..."
Frumgár paused and waited for Fritha's reaction. All the time that the little boy had been listening to the story, his arms had been wrapped tightly about his elder brother's neck. He had become increasingly more fretful as Frumgár had related the tensest parts of the tale, until he felt like covering up his ears with his hands or screaming and begging his brother to stop. However, Fritha desperately wanted to hear the end of the story and felt that he would never know any peace if he did not hear it.
"Frumgár! Frumgár!" the boy exclaimed excitedly. "Why did you stop? What happened? What happened? I do not want the story to end this way, with poor Stigand the Sot half dead and his ears chewed off his head!"
"Well, little brother, how do you know that was not the end of the story and there is no more? Perhaps the draugr ate the rest of him, even the bones," Frumgár held out, enjoying teasing his brother.
"Oh, no, that cannot be the end, for that would be a horrid story! Tell me more! Tell me more!" Far too excited to bear the suspense, Fritha drummed his legs frantically against his Fródwine's thighs.
"Fritha, you are choking me! If you get much more scared, you will piss yourself and drench us both! I will put you down if you do not stop this nonsense!" Fródwine protested crossly. "Frumgár, you should not tell him such stories that chill him to the very marrow!"
"I am sorry, Fródwine, I will stop holding you so tightly," the little boy apologized. "Do not be angry with me! ...Now, Frumgár, resume the story!" he pled desperately.
Frumgár looked at Fritha as though he were in deep deliberation upon continuing the story. "Wellll," he stretched out the word, "there is a little bit of the tale left..."
"Tell it! Tell it" Fritha almost shouted.
"All right, little brother...
"Bested by the pain from his severed ears and overcome with fright and terror, Stigand fainted dead away and knew nothing for hours. When at last he awoke and came to himself, he found that he was still at the door to the barrow, cold to the marrow and almost chilled to the death, but at least alive after his harrowing experience. Much to his dismay, the bloated wight sat across from him, cleaning his teeth with a sliver of wood.
"'When next you come avisiting my stone bed while I am resting my head upon my cold pillow,' spoke the draugr, 'bring with you more of the mead mixed with honey! The mead you brought was hardly enough to wash down your ears, and those were tough and gristly and had little substance about them! You will fetch to me such food, meat and such victuals that I found pleasing when I walked this earth. Whilst my appetite was great in life for all good things to eat and drink, it is even greater in death.' With that, the wight threw back his hideous head and laughed, then lumbered back into his barrow before the sun rose."
Delightfully frightened, Fritha squirmed as he clapped his hands in front of Fródwine's face. "That was a wonderful story!" he exclaimed happily. Fródwine turned his head back and, scowling, he released his arms from about Fritha's legs. Disappointed, the little boy slid to the ground and took Frumgár's outreached hand.
"Are you still frightened, Fritha?" Frumgár asked, looking down at him.
"Not really. I never was," Fritha beamed proudly as he tried to match his pace to that of his older brother. When he failed, Frumgár slowed down, for his brother's short legs could never keep up with him.
"There is a little more, Fritha, that I have not yet told, but perhaps you are no longer interested." Frumgár let his voice trail off.
"More?" Fritha exclaimed in a hushed voice and held Frumgár's hand tighter. "I want to hear it, but I will not listen if you tell me that the draugr came back and ate the rest of poor Stigand!"
"Only a little more, Fritha, and then the tale will be told."
"What, then? You must tell me!"
"Stigand trudged away from the barrowfields with a long journey back to his home ahead of him, for he did not want to spend another second among the haunted howes. During the safety of the day's light, he returned on a borrowed mount to the barrowfield once again in search of his horse. Far from the barrowfield he found the bones of the poor beast, stretched out cold and dead upon the ground, eaten, perhaps by wolves. Though Stigand swore that the draugr had chased the animal until it had run itself to death, many say that Stigand's tale is only the ramblings of a drunkard. And so my story ends," Frumgár concluded as he felt Fritha's hand trembling in his.
"Look now what you have done," Fródwine growled in accusation. "The lad is shaking in fear! There will be no more stories tonight!"
"No, no," Fritha protested through chattering teeth. "Tell me another one!"
"Frumgár, you will do no such thing," Fródwine hissed as he came to a halt and pointed ahead of them. "There before us lies the Road!"
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.