Chapter 25: A Spiritual Encounter
A Spiritual Encounter
"How did you find us?" Fili asks as we trudge along the path with the old Wizard, and Gandalf smiles softly.
"I stopped for breakfast at an inn down the path. The serving wench told me of three peculiarly-sized folk who had spent the night there; now, what other group of Dwarves would be so close to Rivendell? Now for my question; what are the three of you doing away from the company?"
Fili tells the tale, and Gandalf frowns.
"You must remember, my young Lords, that your uncle acts this way because he cares. I shall speak with him, make him see sense in the matter."
"Good," Fili agrees, "he listens to you."
"We ought be able to catch up with them, if we hurry. Ho far ahead did you say that they were?"
"A few hours at most, sleep not included, but they would have had to stop to water the ponies and eat."
By the time we reach the foot of the black mountain it is dark, the rain has started up heavily again. We abandon the pony on Gandalf's instruction, and begin the long ascent up the steep onyx rock. The higher we climb, feet slipping on the wet stone path, the clearer it becomes that something unnatural has occurred here; the rocks are broken, cracked like eggs smashed on the ground, and there are huge fissures in the rocks which we have to clambour through and jump across. Somehow I manage to cling onto my courage as we fly between the rocky hills, which look as though they have had ink poured over their sheer surfaces due to the rain.
"They came this way," Gandalf calls behind to us, holding up something; an apple, red as ruby, presumably fallen from one of the Dwarves' bags as they trecked. "And there have been darker forces at work here."
I shudder a little, and not just because of the cold. "What darker forces?"
"Giants. Giants of stone, to be exact... there was a battle here, and it seems as though our friends might have found themselves in the midst of it. Look there."
I do, and see only a misshapen pile of rock; that is until lightening strikes overhead, and the lump is revealed to be in the shape of a giant hand. I am both amazed and horrified, unable to move until Kili pulls me along, lines of worry dug into his otherwise smooth face.
"We'll find them," I reassure him, "they can't be far ahead now."
He lowers his eyes and looks down over the cliff's edge. "What if they never made it ahead of us? What if...?"
"We must hurry," Gandalf interrupts, marching onwards... and so we do.
When we reach the dark little cave,it's clear that someone has been here before us. Gandalf illuminates the black hovel with the head of his staff, and a blue light reveals the shapes in the shadows; the majority of the floor has collapsed in, and around the edge of the cave ...
"Well where are they?!" Kili yelps, and Fili shushes him; Kili turns to Gandalf and barks, "you're the Wizard, aren't you, you should know-!"
"Quiet, do you want to see us all killed?!" Gandalf takes a cautious step to the left, trying to scope out the situation. I follow in his footsteps, edging around the cavernous hole. "Be careful where you stand, all of you. One wrong step and we could-"
...Oh shit. That was my foot.
I look to Gandalf, whose eyes are now wide; I feel the ground shift a little between my foot, and grimace.
The entire floor collapses beneath me, and suddenly I am falling through the darkness; over my own screams I hear the cry of my name, and suddenly there is more yelling; eyes pinched shut as air rushes either side of me, I slam against a surface and for a moment think that every bone in my body has shattered; the pain is numbing, but I am alive. When I come to my senses, I realise that I am up on my feet, being dragged along by bony arms the colour of curdled milk. I wrench away in panic, becoming aware of hissing sounds and a smell like rotten meat; then I see the face of my perpetrators, and scream.
"Kili?!" I yell desperately, struggling in the grasp of my captives, and see him being dragged up alongside me, half-unconscious with Fili behind him; my misplaced footstep must have taken the whole floor. Bony hands wrench us onwards as we continue to struggle, and a flash of light blasts from behind me; I turn to see Gandalf, struggling with fifty or more of the creatures, his staff twirling wildly. But then the creatures swarm him all at once, and he disappears beneath the sea of hideous beings. A Goblin's arm appears above the masses, the Wizard's staff within its grasp.
As we move onwards through the jeers and cackles of the deformed Goblins, they begin to chant menacingly; I cry out in frustration, wrenching forwards and backwards to free myself, but to no avail.
'Snip snap, the black crack!
Grip, grab, pinch, and nab!
Batter and beat,
Milk 'em, stammer and squeak!
Pound, pound, far underground,
Down, down, down in Goblin Town!
With a swish and smack,
And a whip and a crack,
Everybody talks when they're on our rack,
Pound, pound, far underground,
Down, down, down in Goblin Town!
Hammer and torch, get out your knockers and gongs,
You wont last long on the end of my prongs,
Clish, clash, crush and smash!
Bang, break, shiver and shake,
You can yell and yelp,
But there aint no help!
Pound pound, far underground,
Down, down, down in Goblin Town!'
"Well, thank you for that musical interlude!" I yell, and suddenly find myself face-down on the ground. Thick arms wrench me upwards, and within the sea of Goblins, I see that it is Oin who holds me upright. I stare at him in confusion. Oin releases my shoulders and steps forwards; in his place, I feel Kili's hand come to a rest upon my forearm.
"Oin? What's... where...?"
"Filthy scum, you'll pay for this!" I hear Dwalin roar, and he is rewarded with a sharp punch to the stomach. "Get off! Get your hands off me! Get off me!"
I turn back to see that The others are here, too- Bofur, Bifur, Ori... all of them, With Thorin at their head. Bilbo is missing, however, and Gandalf is still being assaulted at the mouth of the cave, a thousand Goblins covering him as they swarm to restrain the old Wizard. None of the other Dwarves say a word. Instead, they stare at what soon becomes the most grotesque being I have ever seen; I turn, and see for the first time the King of the Goblins.
He is huge in girth and height, with a grotesque swinging goiter that reaches almost to his waist, a crown of skulls and a sceptre to match. His skin is pink, pock-marked and blistered, teeth rotten and patches of flaxen-grey hair which barely serve to cover his raw scalp.
"Who would be so bold as to come armed into my kingdom?" the great gangling beast moans, "spies? Thieves? Assassins?!"
"Dwarves, Your Malevolence," another of the hideous beasts hisses, "we found them on the front porch."
"Search them! Every crack, every crevice..." The King of the creatures glares at us, his pig-eyes narrowed in suspicion as his vicious minions pull at our clothes, releasing swords from their scabbards and bows from their owner's backs. I hear my dress tear and lash out in outrage, whacking the nearest Goblin hard; in return, I feel a dozen bony hands smack me back. I cry out as I lose my footing, and for a moment think I'll be crushed beneath the swarm of maggots; but then strong arms find me again and pull me upwards. Kili wrenches my arm so that I am stood behind him, and doesn't let go. One of the Goblins upturns Nori's sack of stolen goods, and hundreds of bejewelled trinkets and tapestries spill out onto the floor. Dori glares at his younger brother, who shrugs his shoulders.
"Just a couple of keepsakes."
One of the Goblins picks up a silver candelabra from the pile of the kleptomaniac's hoard, inspects it briefly, and hands it to his King.
"It is my belief, your great exuberance, that they are in league with Elves!"
The grotesque King inspects the engravings on the candlestick. "'Made in Rivendell.' Ha! Second age, couldn't give it away... what are you doing in these parts?! Speak!"
Thorin moves to step forward, but the hands of the older Dwarves hold him back.
"Don't worry lads," Oin bleats gruffly, clearing his throat, "I'll handle this."
"No tricks!" the Goblin King demands, "I want the truth... warts and all."
Oin frowns and gestures down to the floor, where his iron earpiece lies broken. "You're going to have to speak up. Your boys flattened my trumpet-"
"I'll flatten more than your trumpet-!"
"If it's more information you're wanting, I'm the one you should speak to!" Bofur interrupts in a high, nervous voice before Oin can be crushed beneath the creature's enormous feet, "we... we were..." It's clear he's thinking off the top of his head here. Come on, Bofur, you can do this. "We were on the road. Well, I say road, it was more like a path... not even that really. Not so much a path as a track. Anyway, we were on this road, like a path, like a track... and then we weren't, which is unfortunate because we were supposed to be in Dunland on Tuesday."
"Visiting distant relations!" Dori adds in an attempt to give the story more credibility; we all nod along as Bofur continues,
"Some inbreeds on my mother's side-"
"Shut up!" the Goblin King roars, sick and tired of the nonsense that we've been spewing. "If they will not talk, we'll make them squawk. Bring up the mangler! Bring out the bone-breaker! Start with the girl, and then on to the youngest-"
"No," I say, shaking my head in numb shock, as arms begin to pull at me again, "that's not a good idea!"
The Goblin King looks down on me and laughs. "Well, you are a hideous little creature, aren't you?" To think I'd live to be called hideous by a morbidly obese Goblin. "Take her to the crusher!" No, no, no thank you, I don't like the sound of that—
Thorin pushes his way forwards, and the Goblin King grimaces a fowl smile.
"Well, well, well... look who it is. Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror... the King Under the Mountain." He laughs gruffly, leaning on his bone sceptre and grinning. "Oh, but I'm forgetting; you don't have a mountain, and you're not a King, which makes you nobody, really. I know someone who would pay a pretty price for your head. Just a head, you see, nothing attached. Perhaps you know of whom I speak? An old enemy of yours. The pale Orc, astride a white Warg-"
Thorin shakes his head.
"Azog the Defiler was destroyed. He was slain in battle long ago-"
"So you think his defiling days are done, do you?" The monster turns to one of his minions then and commands, "send word to the pale Orc, tell him I have found his prize... now, may we proceed with the slaughter!"
I feel hands pull me left and right, and Kili's grasping for the back of my shirt as I am hauled away from the others; I scream, fighting to stay with the group as I realise that I am being carried towards what looks like a medieval instrument of torture, with a strap-board and a heavy iron accompaniment dangling above it. Not safe-looking at all. Over the outrage of the other Dwarves and the screeches of the Goblins still dealing with Gandalf, a sudden thought flicks at my mind as the vile goblins lead me to my death;
What would Bilbo Baggins do?
...Oh, you beautiful little Hobbit.
"Wait!" I shout out, balancing above the heads of three or four goblins who pass me up the line like some macabre alternative to crowd surfing at a concert, "you can't kill me- I... I have..."
What do you have, Alice?! Bugger all, that's what... All the same, the Goblins halt to look at me; I dive a hand into the pocket of my wool-spun dress and whip out the only thing in there; my phone?! I stare at it in shock for a few moments, shaking my head. There really are no rules to this back-and-forth world thing, are there?
"Behold!" I shout dramatically, holding the cell above my head; silence falls, even the Dwarves looking bedazzled.
A tiny voice from one of the festering Goblins calls, "what is it?"
What is it, Alice? "It's... a talisman!" I proclaim, my voice coming through with a rather impressive clarity and filling the cavern, "an ancient Dwarven magic, with the power to summon... uh... the spirits!"
One of the Goblins snorts aloud. "What spirits?"
"The spirits... of the dead!"
"What a load of codswallop!" another of the Goblins shouts; I turn my head to him and point a finger in his direction.
"Do not test the spirits, young hobgoblin!" I roar, pretending now that I am some sort of oracle, "fate will come to those who tempt it!"
"She is a mage!" one of the Goblins holding me proclaims, and begins to lower me to the ground. "A sorceress!"
"A mere soothsayer," the Goblin King dismisses. "Take her head, too!"
"No!" I yell, and press the unlock button on my phone; the screen lights up with a flash, and the entire assembly- the Dwarves included- gasp out loud.
One of the Goblins at my side releases his grip on my arm and declares,
"The spirits! They are possessing her!"
"Watch and listen!" I shout as I am set down on the ground; I scramble atop one of the wooden platforms so that the Goblin King can see me better, and cry out, "as the spirits of the dead call to you! Just... uh... give me a second."
I begin to scroll through my music playlist for something haunting or violent enough to sound like the spirits of the dead; there is nothing quite harrowing enough, unless you count Shakira's warbling and the blood-curdling moans of One Direction.
"What is the name of the curse?" one of the Goblins asks from the crowd as I scroll through my playlist with fumbling fingers; I look up at the creature, confused and flustered.
"The name of it."
I shrug. "Well that... that doesn't matter, does it-?"
"Well of course it matters!" The Goblin King bellows, "tell us the name!"
"The name! The name!"
The Goblins work themselves into a frenzy, poking around me and demanding the name in high voices.
"Alright! Alright, you can have the bloody name! The name of the curse is... uh..."
I glance down at my phone screen, and see the face of my nightmares staring back at me. A brief lesson, ladies and gentlemen- never leave anyone, especially your best friend, alone with your phone. Because as I glance down I realise that Josie Maddox, the most horrid and splendid person I have ever had the grace to meet, has changed my home screen wallpaper to a selfie of she and Kili wearing as masks the horse head and a cardboard cut-out of Justin Bieber's face, respectively.
"It is the curse of Justin Bieber!" I shout aloud, raising the phone high above me. The assembly silences until the Goblin King croaks,
"...Yes. The ancient curse of Justenbibba... it is a dark and powerful magic, created in the early ages to ward off Goblins. The sound it makes can turn a man to stone, or a woman to a wailing banshee. To speak of it is to commit a crime- not even the Dwarves of old dared to speak of it above ground. The only curse more powerful than the curse of Justenbibba is the unutterable curse- the curse of... um... Wandirecshun."
The Goblins stand in silence, astounded. By the looks of horror on their hideously contorted faces, I seem to be getting away with this. The mere thought of it forces me to choke back my laughter. The Goblins begin to jitter and bawl unintelligibly as I struggle with my phone, thinking to myself that this is never, ever going to work. It's too late now, just go with it. In one dramatic sweep, I press down on my phone screen and hope for the best.
"Silence!" I boom in my best Gandalf impersonation, and immediately the ensemble obliges, Dwarves and all. "...The spirits are very quiet today."
A hollow ringing fills the cove, and we wait in ever-impeding silence as the dial tone picks up.
"Any second now," I say loudly, holding the phone on loudspeaker and hoping for the best.
"Soon," I say, flushing red and squirming inside.
"Get on with it!" a Goblin yells.
"Yes, get on with it!" Nori adds, and Dori whacks him scoldingly across the back of the head.
"The spirits do things in their own time!" I demand, "now shut up, all of you!"
A gasp echoes through the crowd, and I nearly cry with relief. Thank you, screwed-up other-world physics. I don't know how this is possible, but thank you.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
"The spirit calls!" I yell, waving my arms like a madwoman.
"The spirit calls!" the Goblins answer in unison, and I hear the voice on the other end of the line muttering.
"Uh... this isn't the spirit. This is Josie-"
"Again, the spirit calls to us!" I yell over her, "the spirits of Gods and Men, of Life and Death-!"
"Is this a prank call? Cuz if it is, I'm gonna hang up-"
"No!" I stammer desperately, "I... don't leave us, Spirit of Josie!" I catch Kili's eye in the crowd, and he looks almost as bewildered as I feel. He mouths her name, and I shrug discreetly at him.
"Oh mighty spirit, give us your counsel!" a Goblin chants, and the others take up the cry. As they holler and swing their arms about their heads, I murmur into the phone,
"Jos, it's me."
"Yeah, listen... I need you to play along here."
"Play along with what? Are you in Middle-Earth right now?!"
"I can't even get signal in Tesco, and you can get it in Middle-bloody-Earth-?!"
"Just play along!" I throw the phone above my head and yell out again, pointing at the King, "heed the council of the spirits, oh Mighty Goblin, or feel their wrath!"
The room falls silent again and I ask in a booming voice,
There's silence for a few seconds before Josie squeaks, "Ooh, that's me! I mean... yes!"
"What counsel do you have for the King of the Goblins?!"
"The who of the whata-whats?"
This is not going well. "Use your all-mighty powers to guide the King, oh mighty Josie!"
"Oh, mighty Josie!" the Goblins cry out, "oh, Mighty Josie!"
"Uh, well... I... suppose he should eat his five a day, and wash behind his ears, and remember to... uh... turn the iron off before he leaves the house?"
"An enigma!" another Goblin yells out, "a riddle, for the King! What does it mean, oh gracious Spirit?!"
"Yes, tell us!"
Josie is clearly panicking the other end; I bellow, "Does it mean that the King ought release his prisoners and let them go free?"
"Well," Josie says, "I... I suppose it means... uh... yes?"
"Release the prisoners!" the Goblins chant, "release the prisoners!"
Oh, thank the Lord. I begin to move forward through the crowd, the Goblins backing away as the phone nears them, not a single one of them daring to touch me. I step past the Dwarves and up beside the Goblin King, who stares at me with contempt.
"What say you, Ruler of Goblin-kind?" I ask, "will you heed the advice of the spirits?"
"Ooo-oooo-ooooooo!" Josie calls through the phone in an attempt as sounding spirit-like, though it sounds suspiciously like the Doctor Who theme. "Oooo-ooooooo-oooooo! Ooo-ooooo-oooo-oooooo-oooo-oooooooo-"
"Enough!" yells the Goblin King, and in less than a second his huge hand has flown out in front of me; he smacks me off my feet, and I go flying through the air, the phone falling from my grip and dashing out over the nearest balcony. The last of Josie's 'ooooooo'-ing can be heard washing out as the phone descends, and as my head clears I see that the Goblins are in a frenzy once more, and the huge feet of the Goblin King are padding in my direction. One meaty paw rises above my head, ready to descend and crush me into jelly.