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Written for Marigold's Challenge 23.
Title: A Shivery Tale
A Shivery Tale
And there was the Gull in the Bay, surrounded by ice, and more ice closing in, and no way to get down to her! The drop was a hundred fathoms if it was a foot.
Bilbo's breath came short in excitement. 'And what did you do then, Uncle Isen?'
The scar-seamed face creased further in a smile. 'I froze into a block of ice, lad, and when they dropped me over the side I shattered into a thousand icicles.'
'Isen!' Belladonna said in reproof. She had paused on her way to the table, a basket of bread in her hand, to hear one of Isengar's stories of the Sea. 'Don't fill the lad's head with nonsense!'
Bella made no move to continue putting dinner on the table, Isen noticed, and he gave the wink and grin of a younger brother who'd had success in getting a rise out of an older sister. Poor Bilbo didn't know what he was missing, having no brothers or sisters.
'Well, we had to get down to the ship somehow,' Isen went on, 'and before the ice closed in completely, trapping the Gull and crushing her hull. Certain death it would be for the crew, for Cirdan would not send a rescue so late in the season...'
'In August!' Bilbo said in surprise, and Bella sank down on the bench, dinner forgotten for the moment.
'In the Ice Bay of Forochel, winter comes early,' Isen said reflectively, with a shiver, despite the fire that roared in the kitchen stove. You'd hardly know that it was well below freezing outside Bag End.
'So how did you get down to the ship?' Bilbo insisted, hitching closer. 'Did you go back the way you came?'
'A week it had taken us to reach that point,' Isen said. 'A week, and nothing to show for it. No sign of King Arvedui at all, nothing to show that he'd been there. The Palantiri must have gone down with the ship that rescued him, and the rumour of one of the Stones left in a cave was simply that--rumour.
'I was shivering fit to break into icicles, I was, and the Third Mate wasn't much better, let me tell you, though the Captain had ordered him to wrap his coat round the both of us so we could share our warmth, what little remained of it. We'd eaten the last of the food we carried, and I thought I'd perish of the hunger. And there was the Gull, in the Bay below us, with food and warmth... and no way to reach her. We had rope with us, for certain, but not long enough to reach from the top of the cliff to the shore, not even if we tied the coils together. And then...!'
'And then--what?' Bella said, breathless, and her youngest brother smiled.
'Yes!' Bilbo said. 'What?!'
'The Captain, he had his hand on the Third Mate's shoulder, and he shoved us down in the snow at the edge of the ice cliff, faces in the cold snow, and if I thought I was cold before...'
Bilbo shivered, glad for the roaring fire that made the sides of the stove glow cherry-red.
'Here now,' came his father's cheerful voice. Bungo had come from the study, where he'd been going over accounts. He had come in search of dinner, and had found the table in the dining room set with plates and silver, but no food, and no family. 'What's all this?'
'O Papa, it is so very exciting!' Bilbo said. 'Uncle's telling all about the Ice Bay of Forochel, and the King's Seeing Stones that were lost when Arvedui's ship went down in a storm, and...'
'Filling your head with nonsense when you ought to be filling your belly with substance,' Bungo said comfortably. 'Very well, Isen, you had better finish your story, for you've got them too stirred up to eat, to all appearances.'
'O Bungo,' Bella said, half-rising, but her husband crossed from the doorway to the bench at the kitchen table, kissed the top of his wife's head, sat down beside her and took a bread roll from the basket she held.
Taking a bite, he gestured with the remnant and said to Isengar, his mouth agreeably full, 'Go on...'
'Well,' said Isen, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, ducking his head between his shoulders and peering about in a furtive manner, 'There was good reason the Captain had us huddling in the snow, as it turned out. One of the most enormous creatures that ever I saw,' he said, 'ever, and that in all the sailing to exotic ports that the Gull visited... besides the Oliphaunts of the Sunlands, that is... White and shaggy it was, looking soft enough to snuggle, but with a glistening black nose and little, unfriendly eyes... I knew that if the wind were blowing the wrong way he'd make a meal of us, he would!'
'What was it?' Bilbo gasped.
'A snow bear,' Isen said, letting his voice sink to an intense whisper. 'Larger than a Man, he was, O twice as large as the Captain, and he were a tall Man among Men.'
Bungo gave a low whistle, and Bilbo nearly forgot to breathe. He'd seen a bear in a picture book, but there had been no bears seen in the Shire in years, and a good thing, too, for they were large and ferocious, or at least they looked that way in picture books, with their enormous gleaming teeth. And yet the bear in the story had been sleepy and slow-moving and though hungry, easily outwitted by the hobbit-hero.
Still, the hobbit-hero of the story had climbed into the spindly branches near the top of a tree to avoid the hungry bear, and Bilbo had grasped from his uncle's description that there were no trees in the Ice Bay.
'Just then, the barking of seals came to us on the breeze,' Isen said, 'and looking over the edge of the precipice, we saw a herd of the creatures on the beach. It seemed they were safer than we! But the bear heard as well, and reared up, and then he lumbered to the edge and peered over, and then do you know what he did?'
'What?' said Bungo, completely engrossed, half-eaten hunk of bread forgotten in his hand. He knew what seals were; he'd bought Belladonna a winter hood lined with sealskin, at tremendous expense, from a dwarf passing through from the Havens West of the Shire, who had traded it from the Elves, and who know where the Elves had obtained it? The dwarf had spun a story of strange folk who lived in the icy North-lands, in exchange for his supper, but Bungo hadn't believed the half of it. Still, it made for diverting listening.
'He sat himself down in the snow and slid down the slope, steep as it was. O he slid at a tremenjous rate, he did, and we were sure he'd be dashed to pieces at the bottom, but no! He came sprawling to the bottom, in the midst of them hapless seals, and grabbed one in each great, clawed paw and one in his mouth, he did!'
Bilbo's mouth was an "O" of astonishment, as was Bella's. Isen politely averted his gaze from the half-chewed bread in Bungo's opened mouth.
'He tore two of the seals to pieces then and there while the rest of the herd fled into the Bay,' Isen said gravely, 'gobbled them up before our eyes, and we saw what our fate would've been, had the wind been blowing the other direction...' He gulped and shuddered at the memory. 'And then, taking the last seal in his mouth, he dove into the waters and was not seen again by our eyes...'
The air gusted from the young hobbit in a sigh of wonder, and Isen looked to Bilbo with a smile. 'And do you know what we did then?'
Bilbo shook his head slowly.
'We shouted thanks after that great bully of a bear,' Isengar said.
'Thanks!' Bungo said, startled.
'Aye, thanks indeed,' Isengar said. 'The Captain, he took off his cloak, for all the weather was trying to freeze us, and he waved and danced and shouted, there at the edge of the cliff. Ah what a sight he was, and I'd've been fit to choke for laughing had I not been so deathly cold! But then the flag went up on the Gull, and next I knew they were making move to launch the boat, to row to the beach below us. And then...'
'But how did you get down?' Belladonna said.
'Sister,' Isen said with exaggerated patience. 'That is what I was about to tell you.'
'Then tell on!' Bungo said, swallowing his mouthful. 'And tell before we all perish of hunger! Or suspense! Or something!'
'We took the two coils of rope we had, one for the Captain and one for the Third Mate, and laid them down at the edge of the drop, and the Captain sat upon his, and the Mate upon his, clasping me in his lap, and...'
Bilbo's mouth dropped open once more as he understood, and Isengar, seeing his nephew's face, laughed.
'Aye, little hobbit!' he said. 'We slid down, just as the young hobbits slide down the Hill to the Water when there's snow in the Shire... slid down on our rope coils, fast as lightning! I thought we'd break into a million icicles, I did, but no, we landed sprawling on the beach, laughing fit to bust a gut, and warmed through with the thrill of it all... and I wanted to do it again! But of course, that wasn't possible. And there was the Gull, and they were setting her sails to leave the Ice Bay afore the ice closed in completely, and there was the boat coming for us, the sailors pulling at the oars with all they had, and such a beautiful sight I think I'll never see again...' Isengar's face was dreamy as he remembered.
There was a long silence, and then Bella rose from the bench with her basket of rolls. 'A beautiful sight, I'm sure,' she said softly.
And Bungo rose, and went to help Isengar up from the rocking chair by the stove, and he took the muffler that was hanging on the back of the chair and tucked it around Isen's neck. 'Quite the story,' he said lightly. 'But now let us eat before we perish of the hunger.'
'So I see that Gandalf isn't to blame for kindling your adventurous spirit after all, Bilbo,' Gloin said, and his son Gimli beside him stretched, suddenly aware of muscles kinked from sitting too still, too long, while he was held rapt by the tale the old hobbit had spun. 'Rather, the blame would lie with your Uncle who'd gone to Sea in his youth...'
'Well, I'm not so sure,' Bilbo said. 'After all, it was Gandalf who was responsible for young Isengar going off into the Blue for a mad adventure in the first place!'
'Was it, really?' Gandalf said from behind them, his black eyes glowing in the firelight.
'Ah, Gandalf,' Bilbo said, turning round with a smile. 'Is supper ready, already?'
'It is, indeed, and Frodo and the others are waiting for you. Though it looks as if the music is about to start for the evening here in the Hall...'
'Then we had better make haste!' Bilbo said, getting up from his seat. 'Elven music in the Hall of Fire is better than a sleeping draught for an old hobbit! I don't wish to sleep through supper another night in a row!'
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