Nothing of Note
34. Buckland or Bust
Bilbo was up early, well-breakfasted and on his way while the morning
was still damp and cool. The ponycart awaited him in the courtyard as
he had requested, though the pony looked none too pleased about it. He
shivered slightly, blowing to see if it was cold enough for his breath
to show and being slightly disappointed when it wasn't. The last of the
pink, lavender and peach faded into blue above him as he gave the reins
a little flap and clicked to the pony, who reluctantly began to amble
forward and out of the yard of the Inn.
Turning back onto the East Road, he glanced back at the dwindling
Floating Log to see if Lardy's peddler cart was still there. He'd half
a thought to turn back and take a look through the books that the
peddler carried, but seeing it already gone from its place, he sighed
and turned his face back towards distant Buckland. Yesterday had been a
slow amble to reach Frogmorton, but today he would need to move more
steadily if he was going to cover the distance before nightfall.
Mentally tallying up miles, he was grateful for the longer daylight of
the season. It was going to be a long day.
Long, but not lonely. The weather was fair and every hobbit he passed
was busy with some task. The smials had yards filled with children,
wash being hung, candles being dipped and any number of other jobs
being carried out. The fields and orchards were being tended and
trimmed and hoed. Most travelers were walking, a very few went along on
ponies or hauled hay and such in farm wagons. He smiled and greeted all
he knew (which were several) but didn't pause to visit as he would have
if he'd had more time. The sun slowly lifted upwards, and he ate in his
cart to save time.
Halfway along he pulled to a stop at a Postal Office that kept a small
stable of ponies for such purposes. His weary pony was grateful to be
led aside and rubbed down as another took its place between the shafts,
and the stable boy was grateful to pocket the coin Bilbo gave him for
his willing service. Bilbo knew how to prime the pump of good service
with a few well-placed coins in the palm and encouraging words in the
ear. Top it off with a smile and a perky, grey-brown fresh pony was
waiting and ready to go. He gave a wave to the lad and set off on
the second leg of his journey.
The afternoon was still and warm and he looked longingly at every shady
spot he passed, steering the pony to whichever side of the road had the
most overhanging trees and frequently pulling out his water-bag.
Stopping to water the pony he squinted up at the sun through the
branches of the cottonwoods that grew along a small creek. It was
lowering, and a low bank of clouds lay purple-grey and hazy to the
west, so his light would be lost sooner than he had thought. As soon as
he could, he was on his way again, occasionally jogging wherever the
road lay level and straight. He sang little tunes to pass the time,
slipping in and out of simple traveling songs and deeper verse.
Going to Buckland,
That's the way
Going to Buckland
We'll go today
Buckland it is, with river fair
With wooded land and ale so rare,
Buckland, oh Buckland oh Buckland ho ho!
To Buckland to Buckland to Buckland we go!
The pony slowed questioningly. He flapped the reins. "No, I said "ho ho
and go, not whoa. And technically, it should be I go, but then that
wouldn't count you, would it?" he asked. It twitched its ears
at him and continued on. He shifted around on the wooden seat trying to
find a patch that didn't already feel beat to a pulp, though the East
Road was fairly well-maintained. Yes, driving was faster, but it had
its own price to pay.
When the stone bridge with the Bridge Inn beside it finally came into
view he very pleased to see it. He paused only briefly at the
nearly-deserted Inn to get a drink and small snack for both of them. He
knew once the sun went down the small Inn would be alive with tired
farmers looking for a bit of news and a pipe but he expressed his
regrets to the Innkeeper that he really couldn't stay and moved on.
The pony's hooves clumped loudly across the wide bridge, over the
sluggish waters of the Brandywine. Tiny clouds of gnats swirled up into
the sun from the damp banks. He paused half-way over to just enjoy the
view. The sun was westering a bit now, lighting up the trees on the
Eastern bank bright as a painting. The river was a patchwork of grey
shadow and golden mirrors, dotted with tiny ripples from feeding fish,
bounded by greens and yellows. He watched a twig slowly rotating along
through the waters and only reluctantly pulled away; the pony was
nosing along the edges of the bridge looking for stray weeds to eat. He
followed along after it, clambering back up and pulling up its head to
continue into Buckland.
Turning south he followed the road that meandered along with the river,
the sun glancing off the waters nearly blinding him at times until it
began to settle into the cloud bank, dimming the Brandywine from gold
to pewter, then dull grey. A breeze blew along the banks, bringing with
it the rich wet smell of riverbank and grasses. There were a few
other travelers afoot and he nearby smials began to show lights in the
windows and smoke from the kitchen chimneys. By the time he approached
the well-trodden path to Brandy Hall he could hear children being
scolded for being out past supper, and the light had dimmed until it
would have been difficult to be sure of the path if it had not been so
broad, a lighter stripe of road between the darker grasses and yards.
It was full dark by the time he had reached the Hall itself, an
unmistakable Hill blazing light from its many windows. The sound of
voices and the clink of plates carried to him as he pulled his tired
pony to a stop and climbed down. He took the pony's bridle and led him
forward, trying to remember where the stables were in the darkness.
"Hullo!" said the shadowy shape of a hobbit nearby.
"Hullo!" returned Bilbo. "I've just arrived and I've a tired pony here. I thought the stable was somewhere nearby?"
"Just a second." said the other. There was a pause and a small
clanking sound as a lantern was taken down and lit. The flame flared up
to reveal a stout hobbit with an unlit pipe clenched in his teeth. He
lifted it up to light Bilbo and the pony. "That's better. You're headed
in the right direction, stable's right over here." He led the way
around a small bend that had been hiding the light of the open barn
doors. "There you go."
"Thank you. Much obliged." said Bilbo, guiding the pony forward. Not
that the beast needed any encouraging with the smell of oats and
alfalfa nearby; he was hard put to not be dragged along. The helpful
lantern-bearer turned back the way he had come without so much as a
single inquiry: a mute testament to the number of hobbits in the Hall,
that a stranger would not even be recognized as such.
Bilbo handed the care of his cart and pony over to the stable master
with the promise of a generous tip if they were both well-cared
for. That tended to, he turned his own steps at last towards the
waiting Hall. There was more than one 'front door,' in fact there
were several. Going off of a somewhat uncertain memory, he worked his
way around to the westernmost door. He could hear voices
conversing, laughing, arguing inside. Some shutters were pulled snug
against the night, others still lay open to the breezes, some dark some
lit. He passed his earlier guide who was now lounging on a bench,
his pipe puffing a little glow of red in the dark. A few hobbits walked
past him with a small lantern, their attention only for one another's
conversation so that they didn't give him a glance.
He shifted his pack to his shoulder more comfortably and came around
the last bit of bending garden wall to the western 'front.' Here the
walk was wide, paved with a criss-cross of soft moss and flagstone. He
walked up to the door and pulled the bell-rope, hoping someone would
hear it over the noise coming from inside. He had just begun to reach
for it a second time when there was a jiggling of the knob, then the
door swung partway open. The light spilled out across the stones.
"Hullo, yes?" asked the short lass with long curls who had answered the
door. There was a baby balanced on her hip and a breadloaf tucked
ignominiously under her arm. She seemed harried.
"Good evening. I've only just arrived, and would like to inquire for
young Frodo Baggins, if you know him?" He knew better than to
assume everyone in this house knew everyone else they lived with.
She paused to consider. The baby peered at him with round eyes then hid
her face in her mother's hair. "Hm. Oh yes. Frodo. I'm sorry I don't
really know where he is right now, but you're welcome to come in and
I'll send a lad to look for him."
"Most appreciated. Thank you." said Bilbo as she opened the door up the
rest of the way and stood aside for him. The baby peered at him from
under her hair and suddenly gave him a toothless grin. He returned the
grin. "Sweet child."
The mother smiled a crooked smile. "When she's not being fussy, she can
be." She looked down at her tiny daughter who promptly hid in her hair
again. She turned to the nearby doorway. "Berilac! Can you or one of
your friends there go find Frodo Baggins? He's got a visitor
here. Go ahead and be comfortable" she said, the last directed to
Bilbo. "Now, I've got to go take care of the sauce or it'll burn, if
you'll please excuse me."
It didn't matter if he excused her or not, as she turned and was gone
down one of the halls, the baby peering back at Bilbo around her arm
and grinning again. There was a stir in the adjacent room and a
stripling lad bounded out, then stopped when he saw Bilbo sitting on
the entryway bench. "Hullo! Are you Frodo's visitor?"
"Guilty as charged," Bilbo returned mildly.
"He's gone out."
"Outside. He left after supper. He goes out a lot."
"He does? Any idea where?"
"I followed him once. He went down by the river. We aren't supposed to
do that alone like that, so I got him in trouble." The lad seemed
strangely proud of that.
"I see. Well. I'll be off looking for him then. Thank you." Bilbo stood back up
"It's dark outside." stated the lad.
"Yes, I'm aware of that fact. Thank you." said Bilbo, shouldering his pack and reaching for the knob.
"We aren't supposed to go out alone."
"Yes, I suppose you aren't. Isn't Frodo lucky."
He ignored the odd look the boy gave him as he slipped back outside.
After the blaze of light inside he was blinded in the dark and had to
lean back against the plant-covered wall and wait for his eyes to
The sweet smell of flowering herbs hung around him as the flagstones
slowly came back into view. Passing over the stones, he followed
the ghostly shape of the lighter colored path leading off to the south.
His guess was that Frodo would have wanted to walk away from the light
and the noise, but wouldn't go off into the forest so it was the
logical direction to take to begin his search.
He walked along until the noise and light faded away and the dark was
peaceful again. Overhead stars had come out, a though the moon hadn't
risen their small light was enough to walk by. The air was cool and he
could hear the river's soft watery sounds off in the distance, along
with a handful of singing frogs.
He walked up another small rise and was just considering going back the
other way to circle around the Hall when he noticed a dark hobbit-sized
silhouette just up the slope, against the sky. He smiled and
called out. "Frodo! Frodo, my lad!"
There was a movement, a pause and then a sudden rush as the hobbit up
on the slope turned and suddenly ran towards him joyfully through the
starlit night. "Bilbo! Is it really you? I can't believe it's really