Nothing of Note

by Primula

36. Wondering

Bilbo awoke groggily in the early morning to muffled thumps and clangs coming from the other side of the wall.  He blearily sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Frodo was gone, having apparently slipped out without waking him and the 'bit of a window' as Frodo had called it showed a patch of sky no bigger than a grapefruit; what he could see of it indicated it wasn't much past dawn.  He slowly dressed for the day, yawning, and folded the blankets. Cracking open the door he peeked out into the hallway: several voices were carrying on in the adjoining room, there was the sound of water sloshing and something sizzling.  But of course; if this bedroom used to be a pantry a kitchen nearby made sense. He wondered if it would startle anyone to have him show up unannounced in their kitchen that morning, he wondered where Frodo was.  He knew a handful of the Brandybuck family and had a passing acquaintance with several of the inhabitants of this sprawling Hall, so why did he feel like a burglar?  Must be leftover from their unorthodox entry to the hall the previous night.

A baby began to cry and was hushed, two lasses went by in the hallway talking rather loudly for the early hour. He sat back on the bed listening to their skirts swishing against the sides of the passage and wondered what was being cooked.  He remembered the food of Brandy Hall and had no concerns about quantity; Old Rory still kept a good table, and no one in the Hall need ever go hungry.  His son Saradoc had been taking over the more arduous duties of Master as time went on, but Old Rory was easily still hale enough to preside over a laden table and to wield a spoon and fork with the best of them.

He had just decided to go looking for Frodo when the door quietly cracked open and a bright blue eye framed with dark curls peeked around the corner at him. Seeing him up and dressed, Frodo swung the door the rest of the way open and gave him an apologetic smile.

"I wasn't sure if you would be awake yet."

"Is it always this noisy here in the morning?"

Frodo rolled his eyes. "Not always. It figures it would be an omelette day right when you visit. Salvia and Viola are the self-proclaimed queens of omelettes but they're none too gentle with the cookware. I'm surprised they don't crack as many plates as they do eggs! Still, they do serve it up nicely. I hope you like omelettes? There's pancakes too, if you'd rather."

Bilbo couldn't help but ask. "What are they stuffing them with?"

"Oh, any number of things. They usually have several cheese ones, or you can stuff your own."

"Sausages?"

"I think so. Yes."

"Now I like the sound of that." said Bilbo amiably following his young host to the adjoining kitchen. The air was redolent with fragrant steam and toasting bread. They threaded their way through the bustle past a huge griddle and a wooden table covered with bowls of assorted veggies and meats. A colossal bowl of scrambled eggs stood ready to cook. A large colander heaped with empty shells went right past Bilbo's face, borne in the hands of one of the cooks.

"S'cuse me."

He ducked away. "Of course."  A small lass, her arms full of early spinach leaves collided with his legs.  Frodo took his arm and gently pulled him out of the confusion into the dining area on the other side.

"We all pretty much serve ourselves at breakfast," he said, handing Bilbo a plate and fork from a stacked sideboard. "And I'm afraid I'm one of the dish-washers this morning, but I'm going to see if I can trade with someone so we can go out walking."

Bilbo followed Frodo to a sort of window in the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. Frodo held out his plate and a plump, pink-cheeked matron slid a folded omelette onto it.  Bilbo followed his example and likewise had his filled. She glanced up at him as she reached for the next plate. 

"Good morning! Are you visiting?"

Ah, so they do notice if you don't live here, thought Bilbo. Or at least some of them do. "Yes, I'm a relative of Frodo's." he said politely. "Thank you so much for the omelette."

"We've plenty and to spare!" she smiled then turned away to tend some youngster who was struggling with a large circle of cheese.  Bilbo nodded thanks to the back of her head and turned to see where Frodo wanted to sit.

There were several hobbits at the two tables by the windows, and a group of younger ones clustered near the fireplace balancing their plates on their laps. Frodo didn't join them, but headed for some smaller empty tables on the side.  There was a sudden pushing away of chairs as half a dozen browned hobbits dressed for working in the fields stood and carried their plates past him then went out a side door into the morning, talking amongst themselves.  Bilbo waited until they were past then moved forward again, threading around the chairs.

A small curly-headed lad with two huge sugared buns in his hands dashed past him from the direction of the kitchen nearly upsetting the plate he balanced in his hand, a lass in hot pursuit pounced and grabbed the child by the back of his collar, dragging him screeching back out of the room. Bilbo raised his eyebrows questioningly. Frodo shook his head.

"That's Merry. They watch him night and day, but he can be quite the conniver. Can you imagine this place being in his care someday?"

"Merry?" said Bilbo, vague about the significance of the name.

"Meriadoc. They call him Merry for short. He's Saradoc's son. Only one so far."  Frodo settled down at one of the smaller tables taking a generous bite of his breakfast from the plate before it was even on the table.

"I see," Bilbo said listening to the outraged hollering that was now emitting from that same child as he was dragged literally kicking down the hall. Bilbo noted he was still clutching both of the buns to his chest and was in fact attempting to eat one whilst yelling. "Well, we all grow up someday. No doubt he won't be kicking like that when he's older."

"No doubt." agreed Frodo, rapidly demolishing his serving. "But when he's older no one will be dragging him along like so much baggage either... I hate to think what sort of damage that much determination packed into one hobbit could do. If he sets his mind to it, nothing stops him no matter how much of a whipping he gets."

"Hm." offered Bilbo, his mouth full.

The omelettes were very good, and Bilbo was bemused to see how quickly Frodo went through his, rising and coming back with a refilled plate which he was half through before Bilbo had finished his first one. No one could eat like a hobbit in his early tweens. Bilbo got a second serving but only finished half of it.  Frodo obligingly finished off the rest of it for him, along with his own third helping, then went off to the kitchens to haggle about his dishwashing duties while Bilbo sipped tea.

He returned before long and offered a crooked smile. "We're free to go."

Bilbo could see there was more to it than that. "What sort of deal did you strike?"

"It doesn't matter." he said evasively. "A walk with you is worth any number of chores."

Bilbo accepted Frodo's wanting to be noble about it. He set down his empty tea cup and didn't press further. "Just let me fetch my pack, and check in on my pony."


They walked together in companionable silence for a while until they were well away from the Hall and the main traffic of the road, heading North this time.  The morning was fresh and clear, the last of the night mists that formed near the river were rapidly burning away. They spoke of small things at first, of weather and water and wood, their conversation as wandering as their feet. Bilbo began relating his narrative regarding his own springtime walk that had turned into a small journey. It was delightful to have a companion who understood. Frodo never stopped him with questions like 'but why would you do that?'; he knew why Bilbo had done what he had done. 

As it went on, Bilbo found himself relating parts of his tale that he hadn't even intended to include, the dream he'd had, the seabirds bobbing their heads, even his own awkward tumble down the steps of the tower clutching that wooden stool - it all just... flowed out. It was rather more than the carefully cleaned-up-for-presentation version he had thought about writing down, but it was  wonderfully freeing. He knew no gossip would find its roots in Frodo's good heart, no jealousy or dark twists of his tale would come back at him, no mangled echoes of truth as he sometimes heard from others who only half-listened, who only half-understood.

It wasn't until past luncheon that the tale began to wind down and he realized his throat felt dry and thirsty from talk. They had stopped above the River for a small snack and drink, spreading their coats over the cool-damp ground and sitting on them to watch the lazily moving waters far down the slope. Birds could be heard faintly singing from the woodlands to the side. It was all very peaceful, and quiet.

Bilbo plucked at the grass absently.  "Frodo." he said, breaking a silence.

"Yes?" The startling blue eyes looked up at him from where they had been gazing across the waters at nothing.

"When you consider yourself, I was just wondering... would you say you have many friends?"

Frodo pondered this seriously for a moment. "Well, no. Not really. I have many acquaintances, and people who are friendly enough but if you mean close friends, no... I suppose I don't. I can't say it really bothers me much, though. I mean, it sounds like it should, but I like the peace and quiet of being alone. Usually, anyway. You understand...?"

"Yes, I understand. I am much the same way. While I enjoy visitors, and I know about everyone there is to know in Hobbiton and many in other places besides, my very best friends are few and far between. And some aren't even hobbits." He considered a moment. "Some of them are books, in a way. I often am at my best when I write my thoughts rather than speaking them."

"I do that too." said Frodo, "but not like you do. You have such a way with words. It seems more of a struggle to me, for you it comes as naturally as drawing breath."

Bilbo had to smile at that. "I don't know about that, now. You should see me sometimes, wracking my brain for a phrase or a word..."

"Still," insisted Frodo, "It is a gift I think. You have a gift with languages too."

Slightly uncomfortable with the adulation, Bilbo turned the topic away from himself. "Have you been studying much?"

"Not as much as I would like, through there is a bit of a library here. I'm afraid most of the collection is rather dull. Records about farming, who won the prize at the fair. That sort of thing. Oh!" he brightened up. "There was a peddler, one of those who drive around all the time in their carts, you know what I mean?"

Bilbo nodded, carefully keeping a politely interested expression on his face.

"He had something very unusual this time when he came by - books! I mean, real ones, not just recipes and picture-tales. He had those too. I got to look through them all. There weren't many, but some of them were interesting. It made me think of you, with your marvelous study and all of your books."

Bilbo knew the answer but thought he would ask anyway. "Did you buy any?"

As if a cloud had covered the sun, Frodo's face fell. "No. Not that there weren't some I would have liked, of course. I couldn't afford them..." he brightened slightly. "But I've been taking on some small jobs, saving up to buy some when he comes around again."

"What sort of small jobs?"

"Oh," Frodo leaned back on his elbows and looked up at the clouds. "I cleaned harnesses for a bit. I weeded. I moved furniture. I even babysat."

"Babysat? You?"

He laughed. "Yes, hard to imagine I know. Almost as hard to imagine as you babysitting." He chuckled at the expression on Bilbo's face at the thought. "And what's worse, it was that little terror, Merry."

"The bun-snatcher?"

"That's the one."

"Ah."

"But if I can get a couple good books, all for my own, it will be worth it. There was one, it wasn't very big but it was interesting. It had maps, rather than a tale. All maps, of the Shire. I think it might have been done up for a Postmaster. They were small, and so cleverly done. I know it wouldn't further my language or history studies, but there was something...."

"Charming?"

"Yes! Charming about it.  How do you always know the right word to use?"

Bilbo reached for his pack and flipped the top flap back to rummage inside.

"Because it is charming." he said, drawing it out into the sun.

Frodo gaped. He looked at the slender blue book in Bilbo's hand in utter disbelief, then turned huge, disbelieving eyes on his friend. "Where did you get that?!" he exclaimed in wonder.

"I bought it. From a peddler."

"But....it's..... I...."

"Yes, it's the same one. Go on, take it! It's yours now."

Frodo slowly lifted the book from Bilbo's waiting hand, then suddenly lit up with delight as the weight and feel of it made it real. He turned it in the sun, to see the tooling on the leather, the silver glinting. Bilbo sat and smiled as the younger hobbit opened it up, noting the delicacy of his handling of the pages even in his excitement. He enjoyed each and every drawing all over again with the sometimes breathless and even awestruck commentary that flowed from the book's new owner. Every page had something to be admired, to be noted, to be pointed out. Even the white spaces along the edges.

"What's over here?" asked Frodo, running his finger in a circle on a white space.

"Mountains. Much larger than any we have around here..."

"And over here?"

"Marshlands. I never got all the way around them...."

One tale led to another, until Bilbo was afraid he was doing all the talking. He wanted to hear what had been happening with Frodo also, but every time he tried to turn the subject, the lad was reticent.

"Nothing really happens here. Not really. Every now and then there's a little thing, like a boating party...." he paused, gazing at the distant river.

The silence grew longer.

"Well," said Bilbo, who knew what the problem was and decided to change the topic. "Let's walk a bit more, shall we? What's further up this way? I missed most of this the other day, it being so near to dark, and it's been just long enough..."

Frodo accepted the offer gratefully. They brushed the bits of grass off of themselves and continued on.