Nothing of Note

by Primula

29: Wagging Tongues

Bilbo didn't know it, though he might have guessed, but his recent excursion and return had started a new wave of minor tales circulating around much of the Shire. Occupied as he was with recovering from his illness and working with the Gaffer on the layout of the year's gardens he had not taken the time to go to the Inn nor had many visitors; thus the tongues were allowed to wag as they would without any correction for a time. It was nearly a week from his return before any of it reached his ear.

Lobelia had shared one that very morning that made him grimace to recall. She and Lotho had showed up on his doorstep bearing yet another bottle of her vile medicinal concoction and a small packet of tea that she brewed but would not drink herself.  He pretended to drink some - it smelled unpleasantly of moss - but  managed to avoid actually getting any past his lips. After they had eaten most of his cakes and finally been shooed out the door, he poured it out the back. He counted his teaspoons, stifled his lingering cough and rehearsed being very healthy so he could turn them away if they came back whether he was healthy or not. He had noticed Lotho pacing off the size of the parlour to see if their furniture would fit. Just remembering it made him almost bend the spoon he was holding.  They would not be coming back in anytime soon if he could help it.

Lobelia had carried on about some tale being told in town, that 'everyone knows.' It involved his having been seen paddling around on a log in some bogland, singing and flapping there too, no doubt (her own addition) and how could he bring such shame to their communal name this way?  It was said he had been hunting ducks, catching them with his bare hands too, and that he had pulled out a knife and threatened some innocent children with it! And oh, how could he? Didn't he know there were other people hurt when he did these outlandish things? Didn't he have any pride in his family name? Whatever was he thinking?

He slammed the spoon drawer shut too hard and it stuck at an angle. He had to stop and pry it back open and close it again properly. It didn't improve his temper. He frowned his way into the kitchen to rinse out his tea kettle, and frowned over the empty cake-platter as he rinsed away the crumbs. The ill-will that lay over his thoughts didn't begin to lift until he opened the door to go out,  looked up at the morning sun and heard Sam laughing at something in the garden around the side; a bit of light breaking in on his overcast mood.

Young Samwise had been a real ray of sunshine for him. The sturdy lad was not quick to learn, but he was determined. He had been back to Bilbo for three lessons now and could write his name without help. He was slowly working his way into more of the alphabet letters and Bilbo felt he was close to 'cracking the code' that would associate the letters with sounds and allow him to read. It had been a joy to work with him in the lazy afternoons and both of them were a bit disappointed when Daisy really wasn't needed to come to Bag End anymore and the Spring chores began, calling Sam away to work. Bilbo promised him he would still be able to come by whenever he could.

It had been a while since he had taken the time to work over basic lessons, there were too few who were, well, teachable. Now, young Frodo over in Buckland.  There was a good, teachable hobbit. They'd made great inroads on studies together the last couple of visits, but it had been quite some time since he'd seen the lad.  Too long. Now that he thought about it, he'd hardly laid eyes on him since they had given each other birthday presents last fall though they'd exchanged a nice note or two.  Having the same birthday would have made him easy to remember, even if he weren't more adventurous than most... He missed him.

Bilbo's cough was receding at last and he was glad it no longer ambushed him with paroxysms but had become a more controllable tickle. His mood had brightened enough that the sun was shining both inside and out as he pulled on his brown coat and went into the yard to have a look at the gardening progress.

The ground was nearly tilled, but it was still just wet and heavy enough to make it a slow job. Halfred and Hamfast were struggling with it as Samwise dutifully tugged his small wagon of compost along, shoveling it out to be tilled into the ground. Nearby, May was helping Daisy to hang up a collection of newly laundered workclothes and towels to dry.  Bell sat in a chair they had carried out into the sunshine so she could supervise without overtiring. Daddy Twofoot was out also and could be glimpsed between pickets as he  slapped a new coat of whitewash on his bit of fence. All in all it made for a busy and somehow comforting scene.

He settled onto his favorite bench knowing he would not be allowed to help and joined in their conversation for a while. The talk was mostly of the weather, the condition of the ground, the quality of seeds, what was already done and what needed to be done. The usual things, not challenging but soothing.  After the compost was spread, Sam was given permission to take a break and with Bilbo's encouraging smile, came to sit by him on the bench. The Gaffer frowned slightly, and Sam saw it, promptly shifting his seat to a sunny spot on the ground instead. It was the Gaffer's way, and Bilbo would not naysay him. Sam seemed happy enough where he was that it didn't really seem worth protesting.

Sam picked up a twig and carefully drew in the soil, S-A-M.  He smiled up at Bilbo, who smiled back, glad he was proud of his accomplishment. Slowly and thoughtfully Sam circled it with the twig, then started talking.

"The lads in town were tellin' a tale yesterday, Mr. Baggins. An' seein' as it was about you and all, I listened a bit. I do love good tales, though my Gaffer says we shouldn't listen to gossip, but this one wasn't gossip, I don' think anyways."

Bilbo listened. Inside he tensed up slightly, waiting for the other shoe to drop. What if Sam had heard that ridiculous tale Lobelia had mentioned, the one that had him threatening children with a knife?

"Well," continued Sam, "I've been thinkin' on it and wanted to ask you if it was true."

"Go on."

"They said you were seen far, far away from Hobbiton."

"I have been, yes. I traveled quite a pace this past trip."

"Well, they said you came out of a mist. Like magic. You weren't there, and then you were. Right out of th' mist."

Bilbo smiled and relaxed. "Yes, I do recall being out on a misty day. But there was no more magic than any other mist. It was a very thick mist, very white. I remember being a bit surprised myself when a farmer's cart came up to me right out of it. I can see where they might have thought it was like that."

Sam said, "I never thought it was magic. Not really."

Bilbo smiled. "It's all right with me if you did. The world has many magical things in it. I just don't happen to be one of them. What else did they say?"

"That you came out of th' mist - though of course it was reg'lar mist - and that you left a solid gold doll for a little lass in a poor family. They were so poor, so poor they didn't even have proper clothes or food and anything and you left 'em this doll, and it was solid gold..." Sam was starting to get excited, recounting the tale.

"Yes, yes I did, in a way."

"You did?" His eyes grew very round in his head.

"But not in quite that way. Remember the mist? Tales change in the telling. The family was a very kind family, and while they weren't wealthy they weren't as poor as all that either. They had a snug home and perfectly good clothes and fed me a good supper too. And I didn't leave a solid gold doll, but I did leave a small gift of gold coins hidden in one of their lasses' toys before I left."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you hide it?"

"Because if they knew it was there, they would've felt beholden to me. I wanted it to be a surprise."

Sam knew all about being beholden to people. The Gaffer spoke on it frequently. He nodded his head. "It was a good surprise, then."

"I hope it was."

"Why do they change?"

"Tales?"

Sam nodded.

"I don't know... I suppose a good part of it is wanting to impress someone. To have them think you are clever or important. What good is a plain old everyday story for telling after all? Sometimes it is added onto to make it more exciting. Sometimes it's someone not hearing right, or misunderstanding what they see.  Sometimes it's purely made up, right out of someone's head. And it isn't always nice tales, either."

Another nod.  His curly brown head was bent down as he poked at the dirt with his twig.

"I'm sure you've heard others that were scary, or sad. They were probably not quite true either."

"Are there any that are all the way true?"

"Some. And there are others that are all the way made-up. Would you like me to tell you a real tale that really did have some magic in it?"

Sam lit up. "Oh yessir, please!"

"It's not a frightening magic, it's Elvish magic...and Dwarvish magic too."

He launched into a recounting of the moon-runes on the magic map, and how Elrond showed them that they could only be seen when the moon shone behind them at a certain time of month.

He could see most of it was going right over Sam's head and in hindsight wished he had chosen something with less detail and more action. He would have to think of a good one, more suitable for a young hobbit next time.  Sam was called back to work and Bilbo went back inside to continue with his own task. He had been slowly translating a verse from the Elvish and it had something to do with the moon, which is what had brought that tale to mind in the first place.  He slowly stopped writing, unaware he had done so. The quill-pen dribbled a bit of ink on his idle fingers as he gazed at nothing up toward the ceiling.

Someday, he thought, I need to get back to Rivendell for a suitably long stay so I have time to make use of their libraries. They had such books, such maps... But then... I won't even need the libraries to translate if I have great heaping flocks of Elves all about me. What a nice thought that is. Elves, whenever you want them.  I'd like to see the Lonely Mountain again, to visit with the dwarves, and to see the men from Laketown too. I wonder how fat old Bombur has gotten by now. Maybe I could even see Beorn, if he would let me anywhere near; he was an odd one though a bit frightening, but if I wasn't alone... I wonder if Gandalf would be willing to have a tag-along. Perhaps I should ask him, next time he comes to the Shire... Oh, Bilbo Baggins. What are you thinking indeed? Here you just got back from a trip; remember how glad you were to get home?  Thinking of wandering after Wizards already, are you?

Yes. I was glad to be home. I am glad to be home. There's no place as peaceful and homelike as this. But I would be glad to be off again also. Someday.

How the tongues would wag at that, if I left for another entire year.  I'm sure it would take at least that long to see everything I want to see.

I couldn't just leave everything as it is for that long anyway. Lobelia and Otho would be moved in before I was over the bridge. The only good thing about it would be all of my spoons would finally be back together again. Hmph. Yes, all melted down into one shiny pile, right along with my coat and my sword and any other item of value they could lay hands on.  A fine dragon's bed that would make, just the right size for the three of them.

I think I ought to look into stuffing my own omelette...