Nothing of Note

by Primula

23: NoBottle & Needlehole

Bilbo walked along the road as it wended its way generally east from Little Delving, though it also went farther north than he recalled.  The smials and houses along the way dwindled; the open farmland and scattered woods were the bright new green of Spring, peaceful and neat. The day had warmed, the clouds being scattered, fat and fluffy; as docile as sheep. All in all this meant the occasional farm wagon or cart trundling along were driven by folk who were in a pleasant mood, glad of the warmth and brightness and inclined to be generous and talkative.  Most of the traffic seemed to be headed the other way, back to Little Delving, and after a while he found out why.

The road ahead slowly grew smaller and less and less traveled. Eventually it seemed to become the driveway to the barn at the last farm on the road, after which it was simply a well-trodden riding path.  He followed this along through the grasses; it went straight for a time between sets of farmed fields, then wandered in and out as it's boundary became a bush-enshrouded creek.

Along the creek the birds sang deep in the thickets, seeking nesting sites. The thickly thatched ground became uneven with mole-holes and other small burrows. The soft, warmed earth felt good and the rich scent of the creek filled his senses. He fell into a pleasant reverie as he walked and the distance went by sweet and steady.  The afternoon was moving well along and beginning to become a bit windy before the path left the stream, crossed a low knoll and dropped down into the village of Nobottle.

Nobottle was a smaller town than Little Delving had been, a farming community best know for its families of goat-herders whose milk, soft cheeses and angora blankets were much sought after.  He tried to think of what else he had seen sold at market from Nobottle... didn't that stout lady with the cut flowers come from here? Or maybe not. There was that glassblower who always tried to use the same old tired line about 'know your bottles from Nobottle' every time he set up his stand, the one with the nasal wheeze when he laughed...

Arriving at the unmarked edge of the town, he continued along the lane until he reached the crossroads at the center of the town where he stopped to consider his path.

If he was going to go straight towards home, this would be the time to do it. And in practical terms, if was what he should do. After all, he was nearly out of money, though his pack still carried provender thanks to the unwitting generosity of the Todefoots. He had already been gone longer than he had thought he would and the spring cleaning and garden-planning and other seasonal tasks were waiting for him back at his dear old hole. His own bed to sleep in, yes that was a siren-call also.  He paused and leaned on his walking stick, gazing down the road south, to Hobbiton.

But he wasn't sure he wanted it to end just yet. 

He closed his eyes and tilted his chin up, thinking: Yes, that was what it came down to. He wasn't quite ready to go home. But where else to go...?

A fat drop of rain hit him smack between the eyes, making those two items snap open and causing his whole body to startle.  He lifted a hand to wipe the drop away. Another smacked the packed dirt by the tip of his walking stick, leaving a darkened circle in the dirt. Two more hit him on the head.

As if these heralds had been judged sufficient warning, there was a whoosh of cool breeze: floodgates opened above him and a strong downpour began in earnest.  Everyone on the street scattered for cover in a confusion of excited exclamations and small shrieks.  A large number of them all ran for the same nearby building, so Bilbo ran with them.

Panting slightly more from the excitement than the running, they all cheerfully bumped each other through the wide doorway into a sort of pavilion, sweeping him along.  As the locals turned to one another to hubbub about the size of the drops, how many there were and their personal degree of wetness, Bilbo turned in place to take a good look around.  As with many small towns the pavilion seemed to be the all-purpose building used for just about any large gathering.  There were stables and a paddock annexed to it on one side, and large doors that could be swung into place with ropes, like huge wooden drapes.  The doors were on all sides of the building, and busy hands were already swinging shut the ones on the windward side to block out the spattering rain.  The quavering complaints of a handful of wet goats bleated from the paddock.

It seemed familiar. He had been here before, he remembered it now. It had been a long time...what had he been here for?

A wedding, I think, or was it a funeral?  One of those nicely crowded sorts of things, with lots of distant relatives and cakes and such. No matter, I suppose, if it was for the living or the dead. Only the living get to eat cakes anyway.

The firm-packed dirt flooring was well-swept and dry rushes long ago gathered from the nearby wetlands were spread near the doorways to soak up the mud. Outside, the rain was hitting the ground so hard it looked like a choppy lake of frothed cocoa with uncounted small coronets of water shooting up in small splashes. Twin impromptu rivers ran down the wagon ruts in the street, carrying with them anything that had been laying loose on the roadway.  Every dimple became a puddle and the cool hissing sound of the spring storm filled his ears, echoing in the pavilion.

He listened to those around him and wondered anew at the tendency of Hobbits to state and restate the obvious as a topic of conversation.

"Hard rain, at least it's not dry like that summer we had, back a bit."

"Going to be a good year for fishing, with this much water coming down."

"My, what a lot of rain!"

"Haven't seen it rain this hard in a while - look at the size of them drops!"

"They're big ones all right. Sure is raining hard."

"Look at it come down! All that water in the road there."

His ear was drawn to the only ones who seemed to have something of interest to talk about, some younger hobbits who were grouped to one side. Three of them were listening to two others talking about 'the Rushock'.  That would be the wetlands off to the east somewhat.  Bilbo remembered the Rushock Bog more or less, having explored the edges of it on a couple of different summers but he was a bit hazy on the details.  He mostly remembered dragonflies, and how they flitted over The Water where the river flowed out, that and a picnic once had by the cool waters on a hot day, fingerlings in the water nibbling at his dangling toes....

The two youngsters who were taking turns excitedly speaking apparently lived near the Rushock, at Needlehole. From their appearance he guessed them to be a brother and sister, seeing as his breeches and her frock were sewn of the same patterned cloth. Cheerfully interrupting each other, they painted an attractive picture of the wetlands near their home, of cranes and fish, hidden bird nests, strange flowers and hanging mosses, waterbirds and cattails and fresh duck eggs. 

By the time the rain had began to let up, Bilbo's mind was filled with images of those sun-dappled waters, birdsong and fresh fish that practically swam right onto the hook.

By the time the rain had stopped and the children had gone shouting out into the street to splash through the puddles, his mind was made up.

He was not quite done with adventuring, after all, and this would make a nice minor side trip yet still be sort of on the way home.  All he had to do was to cut further east before going south to Hobbiton, taking the narrow road to Needlehole. It wasn't that far after all. If he remembered right, he should be able to reach Needlehole before dark this very day if he didn't dawdle.

The spring shower past, the sun abruptly came out again and all of the colors seemed to glow, aflame after the shadow.  The light went shining on the puddles and lifting steam from the roofs of the houses, a thin sheen of steamy mist swirling over the street, small wispy columns of steam lifting from every individual wooden fence-post.

Seeing no reason to linger now that his direction was set, he sloshed out across the little road-rivers, hopped in a small puddle along with the children to make them smile, then took the lane heading East.  Glancing up he was happy to see a rainbow, or at least part of one, gracing the sky amid the scattered clouds. The air felt washed fresh and the newly rained-on road was soft to his feet. He waved back at the children, gesturing upward to draw their attention to the sky.  Their high-pitched excitement upon seeing the colors above lifted his heart and set him on his way with good cheer.

He reached Needlehole without incident just before full dark. Finding his way more by luck than memory to the small stables for the postal service, he easily conviced the bored stablemaster to allow him to sleep among the dry hay that night in exchange for the small bottle of wine Mrs.Todefoot had put in his pack. One of his last two coins got him a serviceably warm bath and a large mug of sweet, hot peppermint tea ; his supper he provided for himself.

As he settled in for the night, the stablemaster stuck his head in one last time. "You comfortable? I'm going home now."

"Oh yes, quite comfortable. Thank you."

His host had such a relaxed, congenial smile on his face Bilbo was fairly sure the location of the wine had shifted from its bottle to the inside of  its new owner. The stablemaster nodded a few beats too long.

"That's just fine to hear. That you are comfortable, I mean. It's a fine night to be comfortable with the ponies. I love ponies."

Bilbo smiled agreeably. "Yes, fine, useful creatures aren't they?"

"Always there when you need 'em. Always glad to see you. Always!" he said with emphasis. He paused as if thinking. "Why were you here again?"

"I was visiting relatives."

"Oh yes. Well. Ponies beat relatives any day in my book. Good night."

"Good night."

"Are you comfortable?"

"Yes, yes. Comfortable. Go ahead and latch the door."

"Latch the door."

"Yes. You need to go home now."

"Oh yes! Of course. Thank you. I'm going home now. Good night."

"Good night."

He finally withdrew, and after a pause did in fact latch the stable door behind him. Bilbo spread a clean horse-blanket over the hay, added his own now well-worn blanket and curled up to sleep under his cloak. The darkness and the warmth of the ponies was comforting and somewhere outside water gurgled softly. Under the peaceful rhythm of their soft breathing he fell asleep.