Nothing of Note

by Primula

18: Holing Up

The storm blew on through the night; he listened to it moaning outside when he awoke in the small hours.  He fed the dying fire a bit of wood and slept again. The next time he awoke it felt like morning, though nothing had changed.  A small amount of grey light came in the window slots that were not shuttered, but the wind and rain continued on and the passage of time meant little.  He could hear the water sluicing against the walls outside.  By now his fire had warmed the room nicely so he drank clear water and ate his apples and seedcake in relative comfort.

"Well," he said to the harpist on the wall, "I hope you don't mind, but I think I'm going to have a look around your home.  You and your friends are welcome to enjoy the fire. I'll be back in a bit."  Not caring about the appearance of it, he put his belt over one of the blankets to bind it around him for warmth, tucked his notebook under his arm and headed for the stairs.

He was surprised to realize that while uncomfortable, the stairs no longer frightened him. As long as he kept up against the wall and deliberately thought about something else, he was able to walk up them fairly steadily.  As he expected, the second floor followed the pattern of the other towers, but he immediately found several improvements. Right away he crossed to the window and pulled the shutters closed against the wind and rain. The open window had resulted in a wet stone floor for a space and he gingerly stepped out of the puddle on the floor.  This room had furniture! Sort of.  A little anyway. He noted the light, moveable screen cleverly woven from the same grasses that grew on the downs, and two stands of some sort, perhaps originally for musical instruments. There seemed to be an ongoing musical theme here, after all.  The lintels were carved with patterns of ribbons, graceful wine goblets, flutes and harps.

In the side room he found a rounded table, a narrow writing desk with a dried up inkwell,  some untrimmed quills in its drawer and two stools.  They were a bit tall for a hobbit, but he decided he would lug one down to sit on by the fire later on. For now, he sat on it and dangled his legs while inscribing in his book. 

As I write this I am sitting upon a tall wooden stool far above the ground in more ways than one.- in an Elven tower, suspended in the air in the midst of the worst storm I have heard for many years yet I am as warm and comfortable as any bird must be in its nest. Holing up takes on new meaning when one is dwelling in a home that seems determined to pull its occupants up into the sky...

I cannot forget the Sea's nearness. It has taken the miles that yet lay between us and closed that distance to naught, throwing itself at this place. It hardly seems to be the same Creature as that which lay so calm and white-drifted just a two days ago, or that which hence will be the softness to bear any craft without the perishing of its passengers....

After a bit his hand and back complained against the writing, so he closed it back up. The day was moving on - now for the next set.  Over towards the rising stairs he found the stone flooring partially overlaid with an intricate layer of interlocking wood pieces, giving it a pleasant feel under his feet. It formed a fan pattern, radiating out from the base of the steps. He squared his shoulders, took a breath and started up the next flight.

Stepping out onto the third level he was suprised to find the shutters already closed. Again he found a smooth wooden flooring laid over the cold stone, it's pattern repeating and interlocking. A neat, dry stack of firewood lay ready beside the empty hearth as if awaiting someone's return, and an ornate metal brazier stood near the rank of closets to the side. He peered into the closets feeling for the first time a touch uncomfortable, as if he were trespassing in someone's home. They were mostly empty, but not all.  In the center one a leather packet held clean linen strips and squares. Beside it, a cloth-wrapped block of resin, a carven box with coarse-ground salt in it and another box. It was clasped but empty, and he guessed from the shape and size of it may have held the tools of a healer.

Upon the shelves of the next closet there were several gracefully made apothcary jars of various types. He gingerly opened them and looked inside them, then sniffed. Empty but still holding the ghosts of their medicines and herbs, the faint scents wafted up to him from their interiors. One tickled his nose with a scent of pipeweed; he hopefully shook it upside down, but it was empty.  A little pipeweed would have been a nice treat.  He was mildly suprised to find it, for he had not known the Elves to smoke; perhaps it had other uses for them. One tall jar was sealed with pale wax. He hesitated over the idea of opening it for a moment, but decided he dared not break the seal. It did not stop him from wondering greatly what was in it. He lifted it to feel the weight and found it was heavy but did not slosh.  He carefully set it back where it belonged.

Turning, he went over to the window.  The wind whistled around the edges of the shutters in gusts, cold on his hands.  The lintel was carven with a flute design, and he could swear he was hearing musical notes. A trick of the wind no doubt. He reached up and undid the latch, allowing the shutters to be blown open. 

The sound and the smell of the storm came in a rush. Outside the sky was dark, the clouds low and angry. They swept past at a great rate. The storm-swept ocean was barely visible, obscured, grey and sullen. A wet gust lifted his hair to wave above his head and spattered him with fat drops of rain. He remembered to not look down, but grasped the lintel so tightly his knuckles showed white as he tried to convince his own self that he was not uncounted feet above the earth.  This turn of the weather did not look like it would be over anytime soon.  He pushed the shutters closed and after a bit of struggling with it got the latch back in place. Memories of the storm he had faced in the Misty Mountains long ago had suddenly surged up around him as he stood there, and he was glad to be able to shut it outside.  Some things were better not dwelt on, even after this many years.  As he stood there, waiting for his mild shivering to subside he heard a flute again. No not a flute. Maybe more like hand pipes being played, only a note here, a note there. No tune.

It had to be the wind. For his own sanity's sake, he needed to believe that. He looked at the lintels and fireplace, which all bore a pipe and flute theme.  The music sounded again. Not really music, more of the random notes.  Multiple ones, softly sounding nearby.

Mystified, he tried to track where it was coming from, moving silently around the room. It was only intermittant, but he tracked it first to the fireplace and then to the next set of upward sweeping stairs.  Yes, there it was. Up there. Soft notes questioning, then an answering one.

These stairs were narrower than the previous ones. He reluctantly set his feet on them and step by step lifted upward. The notes sounded again, softly, closer.  It did not sound like the sort of sounds wind would make, it sounded more like.... His head came up into the upper chamber and the sounds stopped.

Roughly two dozen pairs of eyes looked back into his own.

Birds! A type of seabird perhaps, though they were darker than the white ones he had seen far below.  A small flock of them had taken shelter from the storm and now moved restlessly, unsure what to do about the hobbit-head that had so suddenly introduced itself in their midst.

The wind blew past the small open window they had no doubt come in through. The room did not smell like a nesting place; only temporary visitors then, not unlike himself. He knew how aggressive some birds could be if they felt threatened; a neighbor's gander had given him quite a fright more than once. He moved very slowly, talking to them in tones that he hoped were at least a little like their own, the soft friendly stream of flattery that he also used for dogs and very small children.

He very slowly climbed up into the room.Their glossy brown and white necks followed his every move but they didn't back away from him. They looked at him so curiously he could not help but wonder if they had ever seen a hobbit before. Keeping the soft words going, he looked around the room.  A wooden chest stood near, but it was open and obviously empty.  He realized the birds appeared to be sitting in a pile of sacking.  No wonder they weren't moving, they weren't about to give up thier 'nest.'  He considered the ladder that went up to the rooftop on the other side. He warred within himself, part of him wishing that the weather were better so he could go up it, the rest of him being grateful for the excuse that kept him where he was.  Nothing else to be seen.

Bidding a soft stream of farewells to the watching birds, he lowered himself back down the stairs. Their bright eyes, trained on his every movement bobbed up and down with every step and he suddenly had to fight the desire to laugh at them. He deliberately bobbed up and down in place, watching their beaks rise and fall with him in unison. He rocked side to side and they all swayed together. 

A last smiling farewell and he left them to their sacking in peace. After all, they were just holing up too.

He worked his way back down to the main floor, stopping to pick up the wooden stool on the second level.  It proved more difficult to get it down the one flight of steps than he had thought and after he and the stool took a brief tumble on the last three steps, he was a bit shaken up. No more furniture moving.  He dragged it over to the hearth and built the fire back up.  He then sat upon it and gave a little wave to the harpist.

"Look at this! Nice, eh?  Aside from getting it down here, it's quite pleasant. I figure it's only fair reasoning if you have a seat to sit on while you play, I should have one while I listen."  He settled down to crack a good portion of the remaining nuts then began sketching and writing of all he had seen, including the birds.  Outside the wind and rain raged on and the hours of the day whiled away into an early windswept night.