Nothing of Note
19: Little Rivers
Somewhere in the night he became aware of a change. The sound of
the storm softened, the heavy rains gradually lessened until he could
barely hear them outside the walls at all. Bilbo awoke early,
added wood to his banked fire then dozed again. He was glad to
hear the change, for his food supplies were low and he was still at
least a day if not two from any farm or cothold that might be able to
sell him some provisions. It was too early in the year for
Late in the morning he allowed himself a bit of breakfast, then began
to straighten up the tower rooms he had used. Almost all of the wood he
had brought in was now gone. Using a leafy branch as a makeshift
broom he was able to sweep the worst of the bark and bits of twig back
outside. He packed the nuts and one candle and put the remaining ones,
the hatchet, the rain jars and blankets into the storeroom chest.
It was tempting to keep one of the blankets, but he didn't feel it
would be right. They were a loan. The stool he left where it was. When all was reasonably
tidy and gathered together, he faced the painting on the wall one last
"Farewell," he said with a nod to the silent singing harpist. "I rather
hate to have to leave you here alone again, but that is the way of it,
you know. Trust that I shall be looking at your harp in Michel Delving
with different eyes after this!" The harpist regarded him seriously as
he played upon the painted strings without ceasing. Bilbo reached up
and ran his hand along the harp also. "I am sorry that I do not know
your name..." he whispered. He paused, then sighed heavily and
slung his pack over his shoulder. With one last backward glance, he
passed out of the room and then from the tower.
The storm had washed the air clean and clear, and while the wind still
blew it was with a much gentler hand. He listened to it sighing
in the nearby trees and to the gurgling of uncounted little streams as
the rainwater found its way back down the hill to the sea. The ground
was wet, the grasses laying half-flattened and sodden as a newly washed
rug. He set off eastward and down, skirting the trees that encroached
up the water-filled gullies in favor of the openness of the downs. Off
to the north he knew the road ran, but he cut northeast to cover as
much ground as he could before he met with it. He'd had a late start
and wasn't quite sure how far he was from the nearest homes.
The hours passed slowly, though the walking was easy as he was mostly
going downhill. He ate only sparingly and rested only when he had to.
The small animals and birds were out in abundance between the new
Spring and their having been holed up through the storm also. Flocks of
quick little birds swooped among the grasses and every now and then a
movement underneath the stalks would tell him of some small animal
startled by his approach. When he almost tripped over a rabbit at one
point and it would have been difficult to say which of them was the
more surprised. It skittered off into it's hole, something that he was
wishing he could do himself at the time, if his hole had been closer.
He found his way to the road somewhat impeded by the countless little
rivers that had sprung up from the rainstorm. Some he could jump over,
some he could wade. Others were deep and wide enough to be real causes
for concern, and with it still raining now and then there was little hope
of their receding. He found his path bent again and again as he had to
navigate these small waterways, following along them until they either
spread out enough to be shallow or narrowed to be jumpable. A few
of the widest, deepest ones could have qualified at rivers and small ponds,
right down to the waterbirds bobbing around on their surface. He
noted a few of the brown and white duck-like seabirds ducking their heads into
the water, ruffling and preening and couldn't help but wonder if they
were the same ones he had met at the tower. They ignored his
greetings, drifting away from him unconcernedly as he waded past.
A couple glossy brown feathers floated past him and he lifted one out of the
water, shaking the drops off of it and tucking it in his pocket to
remember them by.
Because of the little rivers it was much later than he had anticipated
by the time he reached the road; as the day began to wane he still
found no sign of any type of dwelling. The weather was still
proving very changeable, so he began to look in earnest for someplace
could shelter the night. At the foot of the downs he found a clump of
woods and decided it would at least be an improvement over the open
grasses. Luck was with him, for shortly after he entered it he
found a large tree that had fallen with a very convenient dry sort of
cave where its heart once had been. And even better, it was unoccupied.
He knew most dry hiding places in the wild already held one type of
animal or another and had approached it cautiously with a stone in
either hand ready for throwing.
He crawled in over the soft red loam and spongy bark, brushing away
cobwebs and sticks. Breathing in the rich, woody compost scent;
he found it
was quite dry inside and even had enough room to sleep if he didn't
stretch out all the way. He cleared a small area for a fire,
being careful to keep it away from the walls of the tree lest he set
his 'house' afire. The tiny warmth and light were very cheering after
such a long, wet day though it did little to dry his clothing out. He
ate the last of his seedcake for supper and wrapped himself up, too
tired for anything more.
The next morning used up the last of the hazelnuts from the tower. He
walked back to the road and set out eastward fairly confidently, but
soon reached the point in the path where he had to choose north or
south. If he turned south he would eventually end up back in
Undertowers. This did not appeal, and would add many unnecessary
miles he thought. North should eventually bring him to Little Delving.
He thought about cutting straight across country, but any houses or
smials would be found along the road, not out there. North by the road
it was then.
At lunchtime he ate most of his remaining apple, and there still was
not a home in sight. He had forgotten how truly uncomfortable it was to
have to walk so much and not have anything 'decent' to eat. As he paced
along he found his thoughts drawn to memories of food, of favorite
meals and treats. As often is the case, the more he tried to not think
of them, the more they intruded into his mind. Platters of roast and
potatoes, eggs and bacon, fresh-baked nut-cakes, vegetable stew all
steaming and fragrant and hot...
He finally gave in and ate the last bits of his apple. It didn't help.
Another thing that didn't help was the continuing problem of little
rivers. The road frequently had them crossing it along this stretch,
waters coming down off the hills and heading for the marshy lowland on
the other side. He soon was greatly wearied of having to wade and jump
through cold muddy water, and of trying to avoid the pale worms that
lay scattered along the flooded ways. Only thing worse than stepping on
dead worms was stepping on slugs, and he encountered a few of those
along the side of the road as well, grimacing and scraping the bottom
of his feet in the dirt to get rid of the feeling of them.
By the time the day was waning he was muddy and miserable enough that
any food or fire would have been welcome, and when a farmhouse finally
came into view he would have run to it if he hadn't been so footsore.
He walked up the cartpath. It did not look particularly welcoming, but
there was smoke coming from a stovepipe so he knew there had to be
someone about. He noted there were three barns which were low and in
ill repair. When a whiff of the barns blew his way he sincerely hoped
he didn't need to sleep there; he heard and smelled a great many
chickens, but to his relief no dogs barked.
The brown door was in need of fresh paint, and a sour smell rose up from the
old hay that was scattered about the yard. Two stacks of empty chicken crates
leaned against the house. No, it wasn't promising. He could find
neither bell nor knocker, so he tenatively tapped on the door with his
knuckles, and waited. Inside there was some movement then the door
abruptly opened to reveal a somewhat pinched-looking hobbit-lady with a
stained apron tied over her dress.
She frowned at him warily. "Yes?"
Aware of his muddy and bedraggled appearance, Bilbo could only assume
she was taking him for some sort of begger or worse, especially being
so far out from any other home. He smiled at her and tried to set
her at ease. "Good evening! I've just been traveling to visit relatives
and seem to have found myself rather far from town. Is there any chance
you might be able to offer some shelter for the night, and a bite to
eat?" She looked so unhospitable he added, "I am willing to pay
you a fair price for it." Topping this information off with a slight
bow, he waited for a reply.
"You'll have to wait." she said, and firmly closed the door.
He blinked at the shut door. How very strange. Wait for what, and for
how long? He looked around for a place to do as instructed and finally
had to settle onto a stump that was apparently used for chopping wood.
There was another nearby that judging from the embedded chicken
feathers and stains had been frequently used for something other.
Having no other options around, he would wait. At least a little.
He rubbed his tired legs and brushed at the worst of the mud on his
clothing. The smoke curled out of the chimney into some nearby
trees. The shadow of the hills crept out towards him as the sun settled
behind them. He finally stood up again and tapped at the door.
She opened it again. "What?"
"Ehm..how long shall I wait? It's getting rather late..."
"You'll wait until my husband gets home, of course!"
"Ah. I see!...And is he expected anytime soon?"
She looked past him and frowned even deeper than before. "Right now."
He wondered at her dour look, then turned. Back up by the road, a cart
was turning in the drive. He turned back again only to discover the
door shut once more. An unhappy household, apparently. Well, he
would speak with the master of the home then, if the mistress was
determined to be less than hospitable. He could understand propriety,
but such rudeness to a stranger was unexpected. He walked to meet the
cart as it creaked his way.
The pony pulling the cart was thin and mean-looking. Not to be outdone
by his animal, the hobbit driving it was meaner, the sort of face that
would have looked better hidden by a dwarven beard if such a thing were
possible. At least that was Bilbo's initial impression, one that he
hoped was quite wrong. The cart was nearly filled with empty crates.
"Good evening," greeted Bilbo as the cart slowed. "I've been traveling
to visit relatives and find myself in need of some shelter and a bit to
"What, does this look like an Inn to you?"
Bilbo was a bit nonplussed at this brusque greeting, but it matched
well with the mistress of the home. "I am fully prepared to pay you a
fair price for your kind hospitality."
"Hah. You are are you? Well, we'll see about that." He climbed down
from the cart and started unharnessing the pony. "I'm no Innkeeper, and
I don't intend to become one. Folk think just because we live out here
near the road that they can just come trespassin' on our land, walkin'
right up and eatin' up our hard-earned food, they think we..."
"Now look here." Bilbo frowned and bit his tongue for a moment looking
for polite words. "I said I would pay you. If I had another place to
go, I would be glad to do so. Is there a neighbor nearby I might
The hobbit grunted as he lifted the harness off and slapped the pony to
send it to the barn. "Nah. No neighbor. You'll have to stay, but you'll
have to pay too, is that clear?"
A stubborn set showed in Bilbo's chin but he kept his voice civil. "For the third time, I already said I would."
He was given a hard look, then dismissed. "Hasno! Get your lazy, empty
head up off those sacks and stable the pony! I'm going inside."
There was a movement in the back of the cart and a nearly-tween hobbit
staggered up sleepily, then climbed down and headed for the barns.
Bilbo didn't think he'd even realized there was someone besides his
father in the yard. Lacking any other direction, Bilbo followed
the hobbit back towards his house.
The farmer glanced back at him as they walked. "So, what's your name?"
There was a pause, then a slight change in tone - a sort of hideous
attempt at being cheery. "Hardno Todefoot." He opened the door. "Come
in, Mr. Baggins, come in! I'm sure we can find you some, eh,
hospitality. You like eggs?"
The brown door shut behind them.