Nothing of Note

by Primula

13: No Mystery

Bilbo woke before dawn, stiff and cold. The heavy coastal dew had soaked his blanket while he slept, and low clouds wisped past like a fog in the predawn twilight chilling him even further. He was sore from climbing, cold, aching, hungry and thirsty.  It was times like this that adventuring didn't seem so pleasant at all, he reflected wryly, this is the part they never sing about.  Shifting on the ground he tried in vain to sleep again. It was useless. He sat up, chafed his hands to get them working and felt about in the wet grass for his pack.  After tending to his thirst and some of his hunger, he was feeling a little more ready to face the day.  He considered trying to start a fire, but the lack of good fuel and the now steady breeze made it seem unlikely to succeed so rather than wasting tinder he got up and stamped and flapped his arms, beating at his chest trying to warm up. It helped. 

The sun had begun to light the eastern sky with grey and lavender tinting, the last of the stars slowly giving way to the coming dawn. Low clouds lifted to reveal the Elven tower looking grey-white, cold and somehow lonely.  Off in the distance he could see the second one, and even further off a small part of the third.  He drew out his notebook and penned a few lines about the journey over the downs and his first impressions of the tower, strangely reluctant to approach it after all the traveling to get there.  He wasn't sure if it was a shying away from something that was somehow "above" him, or if it was the reluctance to have the mystery of it end.  He had learned long ago that many fabled and fantastic things and people were terribly mundane and uninteresting once you got to know them well.  Now that it came to it, he wasn't sure he wanted the mystery of these ancient towers to be revealed.  Revelations weren't all they were cracked up to be.

The light grew stronger and the cold breeze thankfully died away.  Bundled in his dew-damp coat and cloak, he walked away from the tower until he could peer westward over the far side of the rounded ridge.  It went gently for a time, then fell away steeply to the west.  In the distance he could now see an immense body of water, grey-green and dull in shadow of the hills, sparkling farther out. The land curved around a distant bay, but beyond it.... Ah...It shifted and twinkled, with thin threads of white drawn across it as with a comb.  It was his first glimpse of the Sea; it quite took his breath away. Never ending!  How could anyone fathom such huge amount of water with no land?  It stretched clear from the horizon, as far as could be seen.

Wisps of cloud were caught in the trees of the far bay like wool in a carding comb, not seeming to move.  Far, far below there were great grey rocks and a strip of pale beach with the occasional stream running over it into the water. It all looked very small at the base of such cliffs though he knew the distance was great and those tiny rocks must be quite impressive.  Tiny white flecks of seabirds circled below. He knew there was some sort of Elven settlement down there, someplace, or at least there had been at one time. He couldn't see any trace of such a thing from where he was, but hoped it remained.  It would be comforting to think that it remained and was not all hollow and abandoned as the towers seemed to be.  He knew that Elves sometimes went west, leaving Middle-earth, never to return; but he had never imagined the Sea they were crossing.

How long he stood there gazing out towards the Sea he couldn't say. The sun had fully risen behind him now, lending a slight warmth to his shoulders and the light was bright.  He finally stirred as if coming out of a dream, then turned and walked towards the waiting tower. 

It was very tall, and seemed to grow as he approached it. The base being mossy and webbed with the roots of tenacious grasses, orange and yellow lichen edged the lower stones, yet above it was surprisingly clean. Bilbo reached out his hand and ran it over the cold stone, brushing away flakes of lichen and plucking out a clump of dead grass to clear a small space.  While not truly white up close, it was pale and veined with light grey. Some of the stone had a sheen to it that reminded him of mica.  No wonder they shone in the light! Bilbo had spent enough time around Dwarves to recognize and appreciate good stonework when he saw it.  They were well-made, works of art.

It was no wonder that they yet stood after all these years, he thought, it would take an army to bring them down. And who would ever want to harm them? They were beautiful.  He got out his notebook and did a quick sketch of the stone with a description of its colors and what it felt like under his hand. Moving around the base of it, he began looking for a door. He found it opposite where he had slept, a beautifully graceful arch with time-worn carvings that had lost their detail. He could see where a stout wooden door must have once hung, though there was none there now.  With no trees nearby, there was no litter of autumn leaves to accumulate, so aside from the encroaching grasses, it appeared fairly clear inside.

He peered into the open doorway and found it led into a sort of hallway with single openings on either side. Entering, he found them to be empty rooms.  One had shelving and places that must have held boxes of some sort. A storage room, then.  Elaborate hooks were set into the curving wall, and an empty torch bracket.  The other room showed no clue as to its purpose other than the marks of what may have been a table in the center.  An elaborate mural gave one wall a fanciful look into an Elvish-looking golden forest.  A small fireplace, its frame carved to resemble two twining trees was built near the far wall, apparently using one of the window slots for a chimney.

Passing these rooms, the hallway ended and opened up into a larger room that made up the rest of the tower's floor space. Another fireplace was here, backing to its neighbor on the opposite side of the wall.The unshuttered windows let in a little light, and he could see a stone staircase lifting upwards, curving with the wall.  There was little in the room: two stone benches, a shelf and the remains of another. Over by the hearth there was a pile of debris, a heap of grass grown over something...

The grass moved.

Bilbo about jumped out of his skin as the heap inside the tower sat up, rubbing its eyes and peering at him.

It was a hobbit!

His heart was pounding from the surprise, and he gasped before he could make his voice work. He gripped his notebook in front of him and wished he had his stick.  "Hullo! Who are you? What are you doing here?" 

The hobbit sat the rest of the way up. The blanket heaped with grasses for warmth slipped off of his shoulders.  Bilbo relaxed slightly as he saw it was only a small one, not yet a tweenager and apparently quite harmless. He looked young, bewildered and apologetic.

"I...I'm sorry, sir. I'm Finch. Finch Cornfield, sir.  I'm didn't mean to startle you, I slept longer than I thought..."

Bilbo relaxed his hold on his notebook and breathed more easily.  "I see. How did you come to be here? I thought no one came out here. Are you alone? You don't live around here, do you?"

Finch stood up, rubbing his hand over his nutbrown hair so it stood out in curly clumps. "Nossir, I mean, Yessir, I'm alone.  No one would ever come out here with me. I...well, I saw you go past yesterday, and you were going up the west path.  No one goes west, sir."  He offered this with an embarrassed look.  "I... well, I followed you, just to see where you were going, not for any mischief sir, and then I heard you singing about Elves sir...!"

Bilbo nodded. He had. And loudly too, as he now recalled. The youngster must have been somewhere near the ruined sheepfold then.  No doubt he was the 'neighbor-boy' that the Brockhouse's had referred to.

"You're from around Undertowers, then?"  A nod. "Why did you wait so long to make yourself known to me? I would have enjoyed a little company seeing as you were going my way."

Finch scuffed at the limp grasses with his toes. "I was afraid you'd send me back, sir. And I wanted to come out here again, but I didn't want to be doing it alone. No one else would come out here with me... I don't even tell the others, of course, they'd never understand.  I hope you aren't too angry with me, sir?"  he glanced at up at Bilbo, then looked at his feet.

"No, not angry at all.  Not at all. But I must admit the last thing I expected to find in an Elven tower was a hobbit! Have you come here often, then? How did you come to find them?"

Finch smiled, glad to be accepted. "Oh, I've only been here twice before, sir. It's a long ways, of course.  The first time I was quite a lot younger. I heard some of the...Elves...singing, sir. They were going past, not on the path but up behind the land where my da farms. I was scared at first, but I wanted to know where they were going, and the music was so..." he faded off for a moment. Bilbo smiled slightly, remembering their haunting and lovely music himself.

"And...?" he prompted.

"Oh. I followed 'em right up to here sir, except they didn't stop. They just kept right on. I didn't dare go any further than this.  Not even that, then.  I came back once more, to see the tower in the daylight sir, up close. But I never saw any more Elves.  Fell on the way back and busted up my arm pretty bad. My folks said it was the bad luck, from following them.  My mum said I wasn't to speak of it, nor to come here again, but...sir..," his hazel eyes seemed to plead for understanding. "When I saw you going past, I just had to..."

Bilbo found a pity for this young hobbit welling up in his breast. Yes, he knew what it was to be surrounded with folk that were deaf and blind to anything beyond their own noses.  He smiled for him. "I understand.  And I know exactly what you mean."  Finch straightened up and the fearfulness left his eyes.

"But." said Bilbo. Finch sagged slightly, knowing what was coming. Bilbo nodded. "Yes, but. I am going to be continuing on, and you will not be able to follow any further. Your family will be looking for you, no doubt, and it sounds like you will be in enough trouble as it is."  Bilbo spoke firmly, leaving no room for arguments.  Finch nodded a bit miserably. 

"Now!" said Bilbo, catching his eye and lifting his chin. "Show me this tower of yours, young Master Cornfield. What have you found?"

Finch grinned at this, then turned more serious about his charge. "Not much, really Mr..." he paused as he realized he didn't know his companion's name.

"Mr. Baggins. Bilbo Baggins, at your service," offered Bilbo to set him at ease.  Right after this came out of his mouth he wondered if he oughtn't to have used a false name again. He hoped the youth had not had his ears filled with tales as his neighbors apparently had. He didn't want the poor lad frightened away.

Finch showed no reaction to it except to nod and smile. "Mr. Baggins then. There's not much here 'cept the tower itself, but it's a rare sight anyway.  I suppose the fireplace works, but haven't used it." He gestured upwards. "The windows almost all face west, so it's brighter in the afternoon."

"Have you been up the steps?" asked Bilbo, whose feet were itching to try them himself.

"Not really. I felt too afraid... But now that you're here with me, I'd be willing to try again."

"Let's do that, then. Up the steps we shall venture, lad. Together! I don't care much for heights either."  He crossed the room to the base of the steps and looked up them. They seemed very,very high and curved around into shadow so it was difficult to see what lay above.  "Never could see what they find so appealing about heights. Why live anyplace you have to climb to reach one of your own rooms?  Well, I suppose they didn't really live here, at least I should think not. More of an outpost sort of thing."  This said he lifted a foot and stepped onto the stairway. Finch stepped up beside him.  They both stopped.

Bilbo smiled at their mutual hesitation. "Not much of a start, was it? Let's try again, with a good heart. Up now, up we go! One and two, one and two!"