Out of the Frying-pan into the Fire
Bilbo had escaped the goblins, but he did not know where he was. He had lost his hood, cloak, food, pony, his buttons and his friends. He wandered on and on, till the sun began to set in the west, behind the mountains. Bilbo looked back. Then he looked forward and could see before him only plains. So he realized that he was on the other side of the Misty Mountains. But he wanted to find Gandalf and the dwarves. He decided to go back into the horrible, horrible tunnels and look for his friends.
Just then he heard voices. He stopped and listened.
He crept nearer, and suddenly he saw Gandalf and the dwarves. They were discussing all that had happened to them in the tunnels, and what they had to do now.
«And here we are — without the burglar!» said Dori.
«And here’s the burglar!» said Bilbo stepping down into the middle of them, and slipping off the ring.
They jumped and shouted with surprise and delight. Bilbo’s reputation went up a lot with the dwarves after this. Now they were sure that he was really a first-class burglar. Bilbo was so pleased with their praise that he said nothing about the ring. Then they wanted to know all about his adventures after they had lost him, and he sat down and told them everything — except the ring.
Soon the wizard said, «We must go on at once,» he said. «Goblins will be after us when night comes. They can smell our footsteps. We must go far before dusk.»
«But I am so hungry,» said Bilbo.
«We must just tighten our belts and go on — or goblins will have us for supper.»
They went on and on. They found themselves at the top of a wide steep slope of fallen stones. When they began to go down this, stones rolled away from their feet. Before long the whole slope above them and below them moved. Only trees below stopped them and they were saved.
«Must we go any further?» asked Bilbo, when it was so dark that he could only just see Thorin’s beard, and so quiet that he could hear the dwarves’ breathing like a loud noise. «My toes are all bruised, and my legs ache, and my stomach is like an empty sack.»
«A bit further,» said Gandalf.
At last they came to an open place where no trees grew. The moon was shining brightly. But it was not a nice place.
Suddenly they heard a long howl. Then another howl answered it. Wolves were howling at the moon, wolves were gathering together!
«What shall we do?!» Bilbo cried. «Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!» he said, and it became a proverb, though we now say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in such uncomfortable situations.
«Climb up the trees quick!» cried Gandalf; and they ran to the trees at the edge of the glade. And they went up as high as they could.
But Bilbo could not get into any tree.
«Wolves will eat him if we don’t do something,» said Thorin, because howls all around them were getting nearer and nearer. «Dori!» he called, for Dori was lowest down in the easiest tree, «be quick, and help Mr Baggins!»
So Dori actually climbed out of the tree and let Bilbo move quickly up and stand on his back. Just at that moment the wolves ran into the clearing.
This glade in the ring of trees was evidently a meeting-place of the wolves. More and more were coming in. They left guards at the foot of the trees in which the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf were. In the middle of the circle was a great grey wolf. He spoke to other wolves in the dreadful language of the Wargs, the wicked wolves. Gandalf understood it.
I will tell you what Gandalf heard, though Bilbo did not understand it. The Wargs and the goblins often helped one another. Goblins sometimes went on raids, to get food or slaves. Then the Wargs helped them. Sometimes they rode on wolves. That night the Wargs had come to meet the goblins and the goblins were late.
From time to time some bold men returned to the area from the South. They cut down trees and built houses in the valleys and along the river-shores. Those men were brave and well-armed, and even the Wargs were afraid to attack them if there were many together, or in daylight. But now they had planned with the goblins’ help to attack the village which was nearest the mountains, and they wanted to do that in the night. They were going to kill all the people except the few whom the goblins wanted to take as prisoners to their caves.
Now the Wargs thought that the dwarves were friends of the woodmen, and came to spy on them. So the Wargs were not going away until morning. They were waiting for goblin soldiers who could climb trees and kill the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf.
But then Gandalf gathered the huge pinecones from the branches of his tree, set them on bright blue fire and threw down at the wolves. Their coats caught fire at once, and they leaped in the air, and then rushed round in anger and fright.
The dwarves and Bilbo shouted and cheered.
«What’s this noise?» said the Lord of the Eagles. He was sitting on the rock at the eastern edge of the mountains. «I hear wolves’ voices!»
Eagles were proud and strong and noble-hearted. They did not love goblins, or fear them. When they noticed them, they usually swooped on them and drove them back to their caves. Goblins hated eagles and feared them.
Tonight the Lord of the Eagles wanted to know what was happening; so he and many other eagles flew away from the mountains and came down to the ring of the wolves and the meeting-place of the goblins.
There, all round the clearing of the Wargs, fire was leaping. But the wolf-guards did not leave the trees. Then suddenly goblins came running up. They put out all the flames except the fire closest to the trees where the dwarves were. Soon they had a ring of smoke and flame all round the dwarves. Smoke was in Bilbo’s eyes. Soon the flames were under Gandalf’s tree. In a moment it spread to the others.
Just at that moment the Lord of the Eagles swept down from above, seized Gandalf in his claws, and was gone. Then other birds flew to the tree-tops and seized the dwarves. Poor little Bilbo just managed to catch hold of Dori’s legs, and they went together above the trees. Some eagles stayed behind and attacked the goblins and the wolves.
Soon Bilbo saw the pale peaks of the mountains. He shut his eyes and was afraid that he could not hold on any longer. At last the flight ended. Bilbo was really exhausted. Then he saw that the Lord of the Eagles was speaking to Gandalf.
The wizard and the eagle-lord were on friendly terms. Gandalf had once healed the eagle-lord from an arrow-wound. Now Gandalf asked the Great Eagle to carry the dwarves and himself and Bilbo far away across the plains below.
The Lord of the Eagles didn’t want to take them close to men. «They will shoot at us,» he said, «because they think we are after their sheep. No! We will not risk ourselves.»
«Very well,» said Gandalf. «Take us as far as you can! We are already deeply grateful to you. But now we are starving.»
«I am nearly dead of it,» said Bilbo in a weak little voice that nobody heard.
«Don’t worry, we can help it,» said the Lord of the Eagles. The eagles brought rabbits, hares, and a small sheep, and the dwarves cooked dinner.
So the adventures of the Misty Mountains ended. Soon Bilbo’s stomach was full and comfortable again, and he fell asleep. But all night he dreamed of his own house.