Nothing of Note
33. The Floating Log
Bilbo had been driving east at a leisurely pace throughout the
afternoon, settling into the slowly bobbing pace of the ponycart until
he'd felt half-hypnotized by it; a sort of long, wandering waking
dream. The gold, red, and grey-brown of the road slowly slipped
past, punctuated by watering stops for the pony and picnics for
himself, plus the occasional conversation with another traveler.
By the time the sun was setting behind them both he and his pony
were weary and glad to see Frogmorton ahead. They perked up slightly at
of supper, each to their own kind. Their communal shadow stretched out
long and thin, pointing the way down the hedge-lined road.
The yard in front of the Floating Log was ridged with mud and hay from
the earlier rains, dried in ripples of hoof, wheel and footprints. The
cart-wheels bumped over them up to the front post where Bilbo stiffly
climbed down and waved a hand to catch the attention of a stableboy,
watching to be sure the pony was well-cared for before turning his
attention to his own empty belly. Back in the front, various hobbits
lounged on the benches along the front of the
building, smoking in the growing darkness with contentment, their pipes
glowing softly orange from time to time.
Bilbo greeted two of them he had a passing acquaintance with and
ducked past the carven wooden frog-on-a-log that decorated the doorway
to enter the dimly smoky interior of the Inn. A pleasant hum of
voices, kitchen pans clanging, glasses being filled with a soft glug of
ale and the crackling of the fire all came together into a comforting
familiar blanket of Shire-like sound.
The Innkeeper remembered him and was very quick to put down the mugs
he'd been carrying and offer the best room he had, an
offer just as quickly and gratefully accepted as it was given. With a
warm bath for his outside and a few mouthfuls of a steaming
rabbit-and-potato pie with a
cloth-covered basket of biscuits for his inside he was feeling relaxed
enough to turn
his mind away from the weariness of the day's miles. He paused,
blowing on a hot forkful, scanning the room for any friendly
diversions or familiar faces. A dart game was in progress, two farmers
were comparing preferred fertilizers and near the bar he heard a
somewhat spirited argument about weather patterns; it was sufficient
diversion to bring him to the end of his supper. He mopped up the
last of the gravy with a fluffy biscuit and then settled back
contentedly full, feeling for his pipe and pouch.
The leather pouch was only half-filled but that was more than enough
for a short jaunt like this one. It was familiar and soft to his hands,
the fragrance of the leaf lifting up from it sweetly. Patting his pocket for his pipe, he scootched his
chair back and stood, intending to join the others smoking on the front
porch when he heard a familiar, hearty voice offering greetings outside
as it approached the front door. A slightly-rounder than usual hobbit
with red cheeks pushed past those loitering by the entry.
"Hilalard Took - fancy meeting you out here," offered Bilbo with a
smile for the rotund peddler who had brought with him a waft of fresh
evening air. "I thought you would be down in Tuckborough at this time
Lardy Took paused a fraction, then his eyes lit with recognition. "Mr.
Baggins!" he said, offering his hand and seating himself uninvited but
not unexpected at Bilbo's table. "A fine fancy meeting you also!
I must say it's been a while since I've come across you anywhere near
your own town. You would make a fine peddler if you ever took it into
your head; travel more than any hobbit I know, and I know a good part
of the Shire...oh, and as to myself I am just on my way to Tuckborough
so you weren't far off on that call, no you weren't." He chuckled with
good humor, managing to eat the rest of the basket of biscuits that
Bilbo had left on his table and talking all the while.
"I've been selling the last of my seeds and such for
spring...mmmf...had some fine apron material for the ladies, too. Good
prices to be had... everyone wants something nice and bright when the
sun is out...gwaph...mmffmm...grass is so tall the scythe-blades are
all but gone too..." He paused to reach for the butter and slathered
the last biscuit thickly.
"Glad to hear it's going well." said Bilbo amiably. "I was going to
write you to let you know the books met with my approval. You delivered
them well-packaged, as you promised. My compliments."
Lardy swallowed the biscuit and lifted a dripping mug of ale from the
innkeeper's tray as he went past. He took a long, thoughtful swallow,
then set it down with a thump that spattered both of them. He brushed
absently at the drops on his vest. "Books. You know, it was an
intriguing thought you gave me, to try selling some books."
Bilbo wiped drops of ale from his sleeve with his napkin. "Selling them? Did you?"
"Try, I said. Try selling books. I found a few and gave it a good effort, but you know what?"
"Hobbits don't buy books. Leastways the folks that are my customers
don't. No market for it, except for cookbooks it seems, and even that
few and far between. I showed 'em to everyone, but they'd just look and
look, like they were decorations for my cart or something. No, no
for books. Especially as they weigh so much. I even took an extra long
loop into Buckland just this past week, to see if that old Brandy Hall
there would be wanting any. They're said to have a library of some kind
"Any luck?" asked Bilbo, sipping at the last of his own ale.
Lardy shook his head. "No, no luck. They liked my bread-pans and
late-spring bulbs, and bought up the last of my jam. Bought my wool.
But no books. Think I only had one lad who was serious about them, and
then he didn't have any money. I almost gave 'em to him just to be
rid of the lot."
"And why didn't you?"
"Why didn't you give them away?" Bilbo asked mildly.
Lardy laughed as if he had just heard a great joke. "Give them away?
Hahaha! You think a peddler gives anything away? That's a fine one,
Mr. Baggins! Haha!" He chuckled into his ale and repeated himself
a couple more times before he was over it. After he regained his
composure he continued. "I wasn't serious."
"So I gathered."
"One thing any peddler worth
his salt knows is you don't ever give anything away. I'll find a
buyer for those books someday. They'll keep. Might even make a good
trade with the bookseller in Michel Delving if nothing else. Nah. Won't
give them away."
Bilbo finished his ale and stood once more. "Would you be wanting a
pipe? I was just on my way outside when you came in. I'll even share my
leaf with you, if you like. Not being a peddler myself I suppose I am
allowed to give something away now and then, eh?"
Hilalard smiled broadly. "Gladly, Mr. Baggins, gladly. You make me hope
to be finding you on the road even more often than I do if the outcome
is a free pipe!"
"It isn't entirely free. I would like to ask one small trade."
Lardy took it in stride, instantly prepared to dicker. "All right. What might that be?"
"What did this lad look like, who wanted the books? Can you remember?"
"Oh..." Lardy looked up, considering. "He looked like most any other
hobbit, I suppose... but maybe a bit fairer than most. Barely in his
tweens if that, hadn't filled out yet. Well-spoken, he was too, I
remember. Sorry I can't really say more."
"It's enough. Can you recall which book he wanted most?"
"Hm." Lardy closed his eyes and thought. "That would be...well, there
were a few that he wanted, not any one in particular. Maybe the plant
book...no, no, the map book. Yes."
"You'd probably know more about it than I would, being an educated
hobbit and all. All I can tell you is it's a little book that has some
map drawings in it."
"Thank you. I would like to purchase that book from you after we've had our bit of a smoke, if you don't mind."
"Mind?" Lardy laughed. "I don't ever mind making a sale or trade, Mr.
Baggins. I'll fetch it for you before I turn in tonight. In fact, I'll
fetch it before that if the leaf is good, haha."
Later, as he settled under the covers of his bed, Bilbo turned the slim
volume over in his hands and leafed through it briefly. He would lay
bets that the lad Lardy had met was his own Frodo. If not, it would
still make a nice gift for him. There were not many pages enclosed in
the dark blue leather cover, but the few that were there were well done
and it even had a bit of woven ribbon to mark the page. The little
trees on the cover were tooled and accented with a bit of silver, like
birches in the winter.
There were maps of each of the Four Farthings, Michel Delving and even
one of Hobbiton proper itself as well as a less-detailed one of the
entire Shire. As was all too common, the edges beyond the Shire
proper were unmarked white spaces, as if the entire world ended where
that boundary was crossed and all of creation fell away into nothing.
Bilbo mentally penciled in various additions. He wondered if
Frodo had also ever lain wakeful at night to wonder what really lay
beyond a map's boundary. What was in all those white spaces, and if a
hobbit were to cross into them would he ever be able to go both there
and back again....
Bilbo ran his thumb along the edge of the Hobbiton map, then turned to
examine Buckland. A small, fanciful illustration of a smial
marked Brandy Hall, complete with minuscule perfect billows of smoke
coming from a singular chimney. Tiny flowers dotted the too-large
hedge. It wasn't exactly accurate, but it was charming.
If only the true world could be as neat and clean and well-swept, he
thought. Nothing messy, nothing uncomfortable, nothing frightening. I
suppose as long as a hobbit were to keep within the boundaries, and
never go off into those white spaces, they have a fairly good chance at
living that way. Better than most. There were many who were not so
lucky... What keeps darker things away from the Shire, I wonder?
It's not the Bounders, nor the Sherrifs. They can hardly turn away a
goat from a flower patch, much less a goblin or a troll. I don't think
it's the Elves. I know it's not the Dwarves. But it's almost as if something is protecting us, letting us be at peace. I wonder.... He
turned the pages again, but his head felt muddled with fatigue. He
slipped the book into his pack where it sat slumped by his bedside and
pulled the covers up, careful to keep his feet away from the bedwarming
pan that radiated the heat of the coals within it.
Blowing out the lamp he soon slipped off into sleep framed by the round
patch of striped moonlight that came thorough the shutters. He drifted,
lost in a half-dream of great white spaces that ships could sail upon,
white mountains, white rivers and silver trees that faded away into a
bright winter's mist.
I like the sound of that...I ought to write that down.... His last thoughts whispered as he faded away.