Nothing of Note
17: Stormy Weather
The storm shut safely outside, Bilbo had only to gather up the
spilled wood in the hallway and to drag the branch the rest of the way
into the large room, which he promptly did. With the wind no
longer a factor he found it feasible to use the smaller "meeting" room
as his camp where the room would heat up more quickly and not lose all
its warmth straight up the stairwell. He was quite pleased to
find a table there; as barren as the others had been he no longer
expected furniture or anything, really. Perhaps it had been too
big and heavy to be moved. He listened to the wind and rain,
muffled through the thick walls and was glad of his fire.
As with the other two, this tower had a storeroom to one side and the
sort of meeting room to the other. Once the fire had become
established enough he could leave it to burn unattended, he took a good look
around. Where the first had displayed a mural of trees, and the
second of moonlit waters this one had stylized Elves, frozen forever in
a silent and bright merrymaking. He only wished the heavy wooden
table that filled the end of the room were as laden with food as its
painted counterpart was. His stomach growled at the sight of
it. He took stock of what he had left and it wasn't too
encouraging; a bit of cheese, a bit of hard bread, a nearly empty jam
jar and the apples and seedcake he'd purchased from Lardy. He hoped the
storm wouldn't last too long.
He lit a small branch in the fire and by its meager light took a look
into the storeroom. He was so sure it would be empty he almost missed
the fact it wasn't and had to do a bit of a doubletake. There
were two wooden chests under the shelving, and something small on the
shelves themselves. He looked a little closer. A bundle of candles! His
excitement soared. If someone had left candles here, then maybe there
would be other things to find also! The discovery was none too soon
either, as his branch's flame had quickly fallen to little more than a
useless smoking ember. He took up the bundle and crossed to "his
room" to lay them out on the table. The thick tapers were long and
smooth and smelled faintly of honey. There were seven of them, held together with
a bit of cording;. he slipped one out and lit it in the fire,
silently thanking whomever had left them and hoping they wouldn't mind
his adopting them for his own use.
Carefully shielding the wavering flame with his hand, he went back to
the storeroom. He scanned the shelves briefly, then turned to the
chests. They weren't latched, and the first lid he tried lifted open
with only a small complaint. The inside was lined with a reddish, fragrant wood
that still held a sweet, rich scent and his delight at the contents was
so great he almost dripped the taper onto them. A blanket! He
knelt down. reaching into the chest he ran his hands over it
appreciatively, bunching it to feel its thickness. He gently
lifted it up. It was light but warm, a dark shade of brown
cleverly and tightly woven. Under it he was surprised to find two
other blankets, slightly thinner, both woven of the same cloth but in green,
warm and sound. Wrapped beside them lay a wood-cutting hatchet.
Such a wealth! He would have to be sure he got them back in their
proper places before he left.
He hefted the hatchet thoughtfully, large but light. These items did not appear to be
that old. This tower must still in use from time to time, being closest
to the western road then. It would make sense, he thought, for
some basic wayfaring supplies to be kept here in case they were
wanted. He wondered briefly if any such travelers would be by
while he was there. Not in this weather, that was for sure and
certain. Besides, he knew they didn't usually travel through in the wet
and unpredictable springtime.
Still, it was nice to think of for a moment or two, to imagine having an unexpected guest.
The second chest also opened easily. This one held three wide-mouthed rain
jars and to his lasting gratitude, a sack of dry, unshelled hazelnuts.
He had no idea how long they had been there but hoped they were still
good. He was glad of the jars also, for he had not noticed any
well nor stream nearby when he was carrying in the wood. Water was
something he would be wanting in a bit, no doubt. He set down the
hatchet and tucked the candle into a sconce on the wall. Storm or not,
there was nothing for it but to get it done.
With a rain jar under each arm he went back to the door. Lifting the bar, he
nearly had to jump out of the way when the wind tried to slam it open.
He got the jars out where he figured they would fill up quickly enough.
There was now a moderately deep rivulet running right past the door and
the rain swirled around the tower walls in sheets. Panting, he pushed
the heavy wooden door shut again and then stood in the quiet shivering,
all of his accumulated warmth having gone out with the rain jars.
Wrapping up in the blankets like a diminutive ancient king with
multiple cloaks, he trailed them behind him back to the warm fire where
he settled down to warm up and to inspect the nuts.
The hatchet was no doubt a small one for an Elf, and gracefully made
as well but it seemed almost an axe to him. Reversing the blade, he used
the blunt side of the head to bash open nuts on the hearth. Whether
some Elven favor rested upon them he didn't know, but every one he
opened was both fat and fresh. He had to remind himself to ration them,
for he was so hungry he would have happily eaten half of the generous
bag right then. Closing the sack, he tossed the shells into the
fire and lifted the hatchet in a salute to the silent Elves merrymaking
on the wall beside him.
He almost choked on the last nut he was still chewing and coughed. How had he
missed this before? He must have only noticed their laden table, being
hungry himself. The firelight spilled across the mural, lit the
harpist's hands upon the strings. Only part of it could be seen
behind the other members of the tableau, but he had no doubt at all.
The trees, the waves, even the bird carved along the edges and
top. The graceful red-colored floor harp stood silent and singing
both. He reached up and touched the painted harp, remembering the feel
of smooth wood under his hands in the Mathom House. He was almost in a
daze to think that his silly fantasy that it had come from the towers
was true. It couldn't be, and yet there it was. The painting must be
old then, very old, though the colors were still bright. He looked at
the faces of the stylized Elves with their laughing eyes and flowing
robes, especially at the harpist. He looked a bit more serious than the
rest, his mouth open in soundless singing.
Bilbo stood and gazed at the firelight on the harpist, and then in a
whisper began to sing along, singing softly a bit of his own verse
harpist at first. As naturally as breathing he found himself slipping
into the few Elven songs he knew by heart and his voice grew. He sang
on and on, softly
with the harpist until his throat began to give out and the fire began
to settle into glowing embers, lost in the verse and tale, firelight
and storm. The shutters suddenly creaked loudly with an exceptionally
hard gust of wind and the sound it made broke the spell. As one
waking from a dream he suddenly
looked around the barren room, coming back to find himself alone in an
empty room, with a dying fire.
He gave the harpist a long look. What had just happened? It had seemed so
alive to him, for a time. He looked at it closely, but it was just a
painting on the wall again, the fire dim. He lifted the hatchet to the harpist in a
silent salute and turned to tend the hearth.
Outside, the water jars were filled to the brim. He managed to carry them in one
at a time and latched the door, then set about straightening up all the
wood he had brought in earlier. It was now very dark out, and the storm showed
no signs of letting up; if anything it seemed to be getting worse. It
hissed around the edges of the shutters and pulled and pushed at the
door. The tower stood unmoved by its passing fury, at peace.
Bilbo worked, but his mind was far away from the tasks of his hands,
far away in his study searching his books for more songs, far away in
the woods of the Shire watching the Elves passing along the way, far
away in Rivendell, listening to their music under bright stars until at
last he lay down to sleep warmly under the dreaming eyes of the harpist
on the wall.