Nothing of Note
10: Undertower Tales
It was still early in the year and while the days were lengthening they
were far from the long summer hours they would later show. Bilbo passed
along through somewhat marshy lowlands where the road had been built up
with gravel, then back upward towards the distant downs with only the
occasional bird or rabbit for company. In his mind Kings and
Elves and mysterious beasts of the past waltzed and wandered to the
rhythm of his walking feet and he felt not one bit alone. His
mind was good company, peopled as it was with all that he had studied
over the years.
Somewhere along the way he knew he had passed out of the bounds of the
Shire but he wasn't sure where. Someone really ought to mark the
boundaries out here a little better, he thought. Why, to the East you
certainly know when you've left. A body ought to be able to know when
they are in their own land and when they are not.
The shadows of the downs lengthened out, overshadowing the road as it
entered a copse of poplar, maple and birch. The effect was a
wonderfully treeish tunnel. He paused to consider whether it
would be better to make camp there, or to continue on to the town which
was sure must be just ahead somewhere. After Lardy's less than
complimentary words regarding the Inn he wasn't sure he wanted to stay
there. Of course there were plenty of places that had no Inns at all...
Stepping a little off the road and brushing his way into a small
clearing he was very tempted to stay right there in the little woods
and pretend he was far, far away in some much wilder place. He just
stood in the clearing for a time wishing it were summer. When it came
right down to it, though, the woods were still quite damp and the
rising breeze was chill. The clouds were still in the sky and
could easily turn to rain. He sighed and stepped back out onto
the road. Sure enough, not long after he had left the little
copse behind the smoke from the chimneys of Undertowers came into view
and it began to sprinkle.
By the time he reached the town, the lamps were being lit and children
called in for supper. He entered the main gate with only one question
from the bored-looking gatekeeper and walked up the main road. If there
really was that Inn, he didn't see it. The town was not really that
large, but it felt that way out of unfamiliarity. Nearing the far end
he passed a small smithy where a leatherworker sat under the shelter of
his shop's porch mending a bit of harness.
"Excuse me, can you direct me to an Inn?"
"Inn?" said the hobbit, glancing up at him then back to his work.
"We've only the one Inn, if you're traveling on, though we've a decent
boarding house if you're staying."
"Staying? No, no. I'll be going on. And also, can you tell me if it is it far to the towers, themselves?"
The hobbit gave him an odd look. "Towers?"
"Yes, the Elf-towers. You know, the ones this place is named for." At
the continuing silence he clarified, "Out there." and gestured west and
slightly upward with his walking stick.
The hobbit went back to his leather-mending. "No one goes there," he
said, slowly and deliberately. "It's said to be bad luck. All sorts of
dark tales about those towers."
He recalled Lardy's mention of this now. He decided to press it anyway. "Tales? What sort of tales?"
He just shook his head and tightened his lip. "Take my advice and
choose yourself a different path, sir. No one lives out there and
it's just not done. If you take my advice, you'd not mention such an
idea at the Inn, neither. They'd toss you out for sure and
certain. Bad luck it is. You're not in the Shire anymore, you
know." He seemed proud of that last statement.
As if you yourselves weren't more than a rock's throw from the bounds,
thought Bilbo. He was not put off by the warnings. They had quite the
opposite effect really, for that would mean that no one had been there
recently and it might be all the more interesting to explore.
"Well, thank you. Good evening." he said and when he received no reply he continued on.
It wasn't until he had left the hobbit a ways behind that it occurred
to him he had never had his first question answered and still didn't
know where the Inn was. He also realized that he didn't really
want to go there anyway. If it was an establishment that might
deny an honest traveler a bed because of superstition...well, he would
begrudge giving them any of his coins then. He would just go on
until he found a warm barn if need be. There were still plenty of
farmhouses with small lights twinkling from their windows in the
gathering dusk. His decision was made. He didn't stop in the
town. Marching straight through Undertowers, he headed out the
seemingly unguarded far gate into the rapidly cooling darkness of the
After a mile or so, he figured he was far enough away that he wouldn't
just be waved off to the town. He turned off the road to try a
friendly looking farm to the north. Beside the way was a post with a
small handlettered sign. He peered closely at it in the last of
the light and could just make out "Brockhouse." As he neared the low
farmhouse a yapping dog barked twice and was shushed. The farmer,
a sturdy hobbit with a dishtowel hanging from his belt, held up a
lantern as it was now full dark.
"Hullo?" he said.
"Hullo," replied Bilbo putting all the friendliness he could into that
one word. He stopped walking and leaned on his stick. "Just a traveler,
on my way to visit some relations.The time has quite gotten away from
me, I fear. Would you happen to have a dry, warm corner that I could
sleep in until morning, and perhaps a bit to eat? I can pay you for
"Eh." the farmer said, relaxing at the sight of an unthreatening plain
Shire hobbit. "I suppose. We haven't much room inside, but you could
share a meal with my wife and I if'n you don't mind sleeping in the
"No, no. I don't mind at all. Thank you very much."
"Where are you coming from?" he asked as he led Bilbo towards the thatched house.
"Hobbiton? That's a fair pace. You must know of that Bilbo
Baggins they have out that way then. Maybe you could tell us a tale
about him, eh? Is he really mad? I heard he rode right through
the square on a pig, done up like a pony it 'twas too, harness and all,
eh? Must have been a sight to see. We could use a good story."
Bilbo had almost stumbled over the threshold at the mention of himself
in this light. He entered the kitchen with his mind going very quickly,
trying to see the best way out of this awkward situation. The farmer
greeted his red-cheeked wife.
"Darlin' Aster, this is...eh," he turned to Bilbo. "I'm sorry, didn't catch your name?"
"Bracegirdle. Adelard Bracegirdle." said Bilbo, randomly sticking together names he knew.
"Mr. Bracegirdle. Gulbo Brockhouse, at your service." The farmer bowed
slightly then turned to his wife. "Mrs. Brockhouse, Mr. Bracegirdle. He
just needs a sup, darlin' and then I'll find him a warm place in the
barn. He's come from Hobbiton to visit relations and saw Mad Baggins go
ridin' that pig in broad daylight himself he did. Fetch us a sup,
darlin' and some blankets. He's goin' to tell us a tale or two,
Bilbo offered a mild noise that was neither negative nor affirmative
and drew off his wet cloak. Mrs. Brockhouse took it from his
hands and spread it over a chair by the fire to dry, then bustled to
set an extra place at the table and to serve up the meal.
The "sup" was good and hot and filling, even though it was split three
ways instead of two. Bilbo needed every minute of it to try to
think of what to say. As soon as they had finished, the other two
hobbits pulled the seats over to the fire. The farmer generously
offered Bilbo some pipeweed for his pipe while his wife started the
washing up. They warmed themselves and spoke of small things; the rain,
the approaching Spring, how cold the winter had been. Mrs.
Brockhouse came back over to the fire and offered each of them a thick
slice of sweet bread for dessert, then wiped down the table, hung up
her apron and slipped in beside her husband on the settle. They leaned
back comfortably and looked at him with expectation, apparently ready
for a tale of....Mad Baggins. Bilbo coughed slightly over his
pipe, then began.