hobbit chapter 24


Fire and Water

Now if you wish, like the dwarves, to hear news of Smaug, you must go back again to the evening when he smashed the door and flew off in rage, two days before.

The men of the lake-town Esgaroth were mostly at home, because the wind was cold, but a few were walking and watching the stars.

Then suddenly a great light appeared in the hills and the northern end of the lake became golden.

«The King beneath the Mountain!» they shouted. «His wealth is like the Sun, his silver like a fountain, his rivers golden run! The river is running gold from the Mountain!» they cried, and everywhere windows were opening and feet were hurrying.

There was once more a great excitement. But one man cried: «The dragon is coming or I am a fool! Cut the bridges! To arms! To arms!»

Then the joy was turned to fear. Soon they could see the dragon rushing towards them. Still they had a little time. Every vessel in the town was filled with water, every warrior was armed, and the bridge to the land was destroyed.

Amid shrieks and wailing and the shouts of men he came over them, swept towards the bridges and stopped! The bridge was gone, and his enemies were on an island in deep water.

Roaring the dragon swept back over the town. Men shot arrows. No one had dared to give battle to him for many years, so he was furious now.

Fire leaped from the dragon’s jaws. Then down he swooped straight through the arrow-storm; he wanted to set their town on fire.

Flames sprang high into the night. Already men were jumping into the water on every side. Women and children ran to the boats in the market-pool. Now men dropped their weapons. But there was still a company of archers among the burning houses. Their captain was Bard. He was a descendant in long line of Girion, Lord of Dale, whose wife and child had escaped down the Running River from the ruin long ago. Now he shot with a great bow, till he spent all his arrows but one. The flames were near him. His companions were leaving him. He bent his bow for the last time. Suddenly a bird sat down on his shoulder. It was an old thrush. It brought him news. Bard understood its language, because he was of the race of Dale.

«Wait! Wait!» the bird said to him. «The moon is rising. Look for the hollow of the left breast as he flies above you!» And then it told him of all that it had heard. Bard drew his bow-string to his ear. The dragon was flying low, and as he came the moon rose and silvered his great wings.

«Arrow!» said the bowman. «Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me. I had you from my father and he — from of old. So go now and speed well!»

The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast. With a shriek Smaug turned over and crashed down.

He fell on the town. The lake roared in. A vast steam leaped up, white in the sudden dark under the moon. There was a hiss, and then silence. And that was the end of Smaug and Esgaroth, but not of Bard. And three quarters of the people of the town had escaped alive; their woods and fields and pastures and cattle and most of their boats remained undamaged; and the dragon was dead. So they praised the courage of Bard and his last mighty shot.

Bard wanted to rebuild Dale. And he said: «This is no time for words. There is work to do.»

Then he went to help the sick and the wounded. Not all the people could get shelters and there was little food. Bard had a hard task to direct the preparations for people’s protection and housing. But help came quickly; Bard had sent speedy messengers up the river to the Forest to ask the aid of the King of the Elves of the Wood. The Elvenking had received news from his own messengers, and already knew of what had happened. Far over Mirkwood news spread: «Smaug is dead!» Beorn had heard it in his wooden house, and the goblins were at council in their caves.

The king of the Elves hastened now down the river to the Long Lake. He sent ahead great store of goods by water. Five days after the death of the dragon the elves came to the shores and looked on the ruins of the town. Their welcome was good, and the men and their Master were ready to do anything in return for the Elvenking’s aid.

Their plans were soon made. With the women and the children, the Master remained behind; and with him were some men and many skilled elves; and they started building many huts by the shore; and also they began the planning of a new town, but not in the same place. They removed northward higher up the shore because they had fear of the water where the dragon lay.

All the other men and most of the Elvenking’s warriors went to the Mountain. So in eleven days from the ruin of the town they came into the desolate lands.


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