Nothing of Note

by Primula

15: Cloud and Stars

Once he was sure Finch was well on his way and would not be coming back for anything, Bilbo gathered his coat about him and waded through the tall yellow grasses until the Elven tower was some way behind him.  As the ridge sloped downward he found it partially blocked the winds that seemed to perpetually sweep in from the sea on these ridges.  He stopped in this sunny lea and settled himself into the warming fragrant grasses to write and sketch a few moments.  From this vantage point he could see all three towers, more or less; he rendered them onto his paper as best he could. He added notes about the sea wind and the morning exploration, a brief verse about Finch. He tucked a dry sample of the grass into the pages and closed it back up.  It was still some distance of traveling to reach the second tower, but he thought he should be able to cross it by that afternoon.  If it was anything like its cousin he could then shelter through the night within its fair walls. 

What a thought! he chucked to himself. To think he, Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton, would be sleeping in one of the Elven Towers of old.  It would have sounded very grand, unlikely and quite exciting before he had reached them. Now it still seemed fairly exciting, but only for the novelty of it. He held out some hope that there might be some item of interest still to be found in one of the remaining two. A bit of furniture, perhaps? Some writing? They were very old and very empty, but might yet have some tale to tell.  Such things were always more interesting to do than to write about anyway.

A fog blew in shortly after lunch and stayed until late afternoon, extinguishing the warm sun with an unwelcome cold grey-white cloak.  He walked on, feeling strangely muffled in the dampness and hoping his sense of direction was holding him in good stead. He had a rough idea of about how long it should take to reach the second tower but feared more for the far edges of the ridge, where the sloping broke off into steep grassy cliffs. The mist was the thick cottony kind that hung in great clumps, the clumps constantly being rearranged by the hand of the seaward breeze. He climbed up and down a few swells, and crossed a small stream that he presumed ran towards the sea. The water was a blessing and helped orient him. He filled his water bottle and continued on.

After a while all sense of time and direction began to fade.  He plodded on, pushing through the grasses and walking uphill and down through the mist. He was sure he should have reached his goal by now and was getting a bit worried as he had no landmarks to go by and all the scrubby bushes looked alike.  Just as he concluded he'd better stop until the mist broke up a grey-white wall loomed up on his right. He almost cried out, so glad he and his tired legs were to find it.

Running a hand along the cold wall, he worked his way around until he found the doorway.  Like its companion, this one was also wide open but the interior had more debris in it.  There was a heavy wooden door that fit into a sort of pocket so it was flush with the wall. After poking his stick into every debris pile to reassure himself that this time he was truly alone, he dropped his pack down by the innermost hearth and went back out to gather what dry fuel he could in such a mist and damp.  This took some time, for there was little to be had aside from grasses and he didn't want to wander too far from the tower now that he had found it.  He returned with an armload and spent a few minutes tugging on the door experimentally but couldn't move it.  Back out for more fuel. The  light was beginning to lose strength as he finished stocking up all he could find in the mist, telling him he had wandered even longer than he had originally thought. How he hadn't passed the place up he couldn't say.  He peered up the inside of the chimney to be sure it wasn't blocked, then started a little blaze going to get the chill out of his hands and to dry his mist-soaked clothing a bit.

Once he could feel his nose and ears again, he arranged a clear space on the floor near the fire to sleep in. It was out of the worst of the breeze that came in the open doorway, and near the fire. First class accomodations!  Having done all he could, he finally allowed himself to explore while there was light. As before, there were two rooms on the sides and a set of decorated stairs swept upward. The fireplaces were even in the same location as they had been for the first one. 

He examined the carvings on the lintels and the stone shelves which had not suffered the breakage the first had. That tower had shown carvings of fanciful plants, leaves, fruit, corn and trees.  This one showed stars, mostly.  He wondered what significance there was in the differing themes, if any.  Continuing on he found designs on the benches, the sills and even on the stairs themselves.  The side-room that had shown a forest mural in the first tower featured a moonlit lake with swans instead, the swans were stylized, but their eyes were so bright looking under their painted stars and moon it was a slightly unnerving. They seemed too aware for mere paintings, somehow. He shook his head. Get ahold of yourself old fool, he chastised himself, you're letting it all run away with you again.

The star theme continued. Even in the storeroom he found various designs with stars, even whole constellations of them, and the Sea....The white seabirds figured in a few, and even some grasses that were like the one he had pressed in his book. Going back to tend his fire, he noticed over the fireplace a rectangle of soft stone had been cleverly chiseled with a scene of a ship on stylized waving water.

Taking up a branch, he lit it in the fire for an impromptu torch and held it close to light the carving better. He touched it lightly. The detail was enchanting; this was much better than the first tower had been. He hated to think he had allowed himself to be distracted by Finch and possibly missed things like this before.  He brought out his book, but then set it aside and decided to save the sketching for the morrow. He wanted to look up above while there was still some light.  He slapped his knees with determination and got up.  Once more he faced a set of stairs. Taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders he stepped up them. Having no audience to be brave for, he once more found himself hugging close to the wall and inching up until he came out into the second floor.  The flooring seemed sound enough. He lightly crossed to the window, eager to peer at the Sea again, but a blank wall of grey-white was the only view.  Looking around the walls and in the half-moon room to the side he again found the star and ocean motif. And - oh! What was that?

He crossed to the base of the second set of stairs.  Several pieces of something like soapstone lay there, carven stone.  He knelt and gently ran his hands over them. They were a picture, like the one over the fireplace.  How long had it lay here like this, and how had it come to be dropped?  He nudged the pieces together like a puzzle.  Slowly an image came together. Another ship, with the front carven into the fanciful shape like a swan.  More stars, trees forming a border. It was a shame the ship was so cracked.  After considering a little, he chose one piece adorned with one big star and the swan prow and slipped it into his pocket.

Getting up, he stretched out the kinks in his legs and back and then peered up the steps. Just above the entrance to them there was a large blank place in the lintel carvings. Right away he realized the pieces on the floor must have fallen from it, giving way after who knows how many years.

"That would explain why there was no one here to pick you up." he said to the remaining pieces. He touched the heavy shape of the one in his pocket. and considered the rest. "Don't look at me like that. There's no use asking to come too, I can only carry a little.  You're beyond repair, you know."  But I'll try to sketch you in the morning he added silently as he turned away. The upper floor would have to wait. He carefully made his way back down to find little left of his fire; the brush had no staying power for burning.  He got it going again then huddled close to examine his new treasure.  It was a lovely stone with a tint of sea-green in it, smooth and pleasant to the touch. He hummed over it a little then wrapped it in a handkerchief and wedged it into the side pocket on his pack.
Realizing the brush was still burning too quickly, he took one more scouting mission to add to his stack, than curled up by his small fire to write as best he could in the failing light. The light of the fire flickered badly and every now and them it would spit hot bits of resinous burning wood out with loud cracking sounds, but he nevertheless managed to catch up on most of his notes.  He finally set the book aside, rubbed his stiff writing hand and curled up in his cloak and blanket to get what sleep he could. The Elven designs around him were oddly comforting to him, as if some virtue from their makers still hung about the place. Without any fears for the night, he drifted off to sleep.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
Silivren penna miriel
O menal aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-diriel
O galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, si nef aearon!..

It was still dark when he awoke beside the long-dead hearth. He lay very still, for the Elvish singing in his dreams had seemed so real to him he thought for a moment that some of the fair folk really were nearby. He had been dreaming of the top room of the tower, but in his dream it had been warm and light and filled with music. The sunlight streaming in through the windows had been bright in his eyes, lighting tapestries upon the walls, tapestries so cleverly done the figures in them seemed almost to move and breathe as they reenacted their tales.  It was something of a shock to awaken to darkness, and unmuffled, bare stone. He felt bereft. A great sense of loss, or mourning for something he could not even name welled up in his breast, held him motionless for a space of heartbeats then released him and was gone. Waking a little more, he greatly wondered at it and rehearsed it to himself so he would still remember when true day came. His eyes shut, he finally allowed himself to drift away again, not stirring until the sun spilled its rays over the top of the ridge.