Nothing of Note

by Primula

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.

The harp.

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 about the 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.