Nothing of Note

by Primula

37. Contentment

With deep breaths of the earthen scents wafting past them on the cool morning air,  Bilbo and Frodo wandered along the wide grassy bank of the Brandywine. It paralleled the road for a time until the bushes and trees growing thick by the water's edge nudged them back to the main path. There seemed little need for lengthy words; the waters, birdsong, insects and breezes in the grass were sound enough. It was only after a comfortable half-hour of ambling in this near-silence that Bilbo spoke.

"Are we going anywhere in particular?"

Frodo looked up from where he had been absently scuffing a clod along with his foot as he walked, leafing through the book he held in his hands. "No, not really. But with the Forest on one side and the river on the other, Buckland only gives you two good options for walking and we already went the other way last night."

"Mm. I just wondered. I'm in no hurry."

Frodo gestured vaguely ahead. "If you go further north and over, there's an area called Crickhollow. I was just noticing it's not on my map."

"Not on the map? I wonder if the Post delivers mail there."

Frodo seemed slightly miffed. "Do you think they would leave off something just because it didn't get enough mail? And why wouldn't it? Why should only the 'more important' ones be there?"  He stooped and picked up the clod, pitching it at a nearby tree.  It smacked the trunk in a small explosion of dirt, dead center.

Bilbo wondered at the unexpected vehemence over such a small thing. "I was being facetious. I'm sure it was just an oversight; they show other places that are just as small. Good aim, by the way. So tell me, what is this Crickhollow like? I must have passed it on the way?"

He watched as Frodo's eyes unfocused slightly. "It's a very peaceful place," he said more slowly, "though I suppose it is a bit out of the way. Smaller homes...Nothing really worth noting now that I think about it... some farmland. I'm not even sure there's that many hobbits who live there."

"Well," offered Bilbo reasonably, 'You could always sort of pencil it in anyway." He figured the lad must have some favorite childhood haunt up that way. He remembered such things in his youth, leafy glades and brush piles that he imagined were his own smial. "Is it much known around here at least, where it's local?"

"I can't say it's mentioned much, it gets overlooked." Frodo was still thinking. He glanced over at Bilbo's mild eyes. "But that can give it a great...value?"

Bilbo nodded, encouraging him to continue.
 
"Not the kind other people think of, not crops and money, or important names, or even history, but the quiet. The peace."  He made an impatient gesture. "Oh, Bilbo! I get so weary of all the crowding and noise around me sometimes. I just... I know I shouldn't complain, and they're my relatives and all, and I do care for them, but..." he trailed off.

A flock of waterbirds flew over them, all honking together in a mass of movement, bound for the river. "Like that." said Frodo.

Frodo and Bilbo stopped to watch them fly over. The honking and frantic wing-pumping subsided as they splashed into the distant water, and the peacefulness returned. 

Frodo quietly spoke again. "I really appreciate your taking the time to come here. I apologize for sounding so ungrateful and churlish."

"Not at all, you were just being honest. And I had already guessed as much anyway."

They walked on, slowly passing a flock of stolid sheep who raised their heads from the grass and looked at them curiously, their spring lambs suckling without a pause. Small white tails went around like leaves in a whirlpool, their heads always butting for more. Bilbo noticed the way the older ones stood, solid and unmoved by the energetic youth beside them, protecting and comforting. He hoped he could do as much.

The younger hobbit beside him grew serious as he walked. "Sometimes I wonder what I will do - with my life I mean. I so admire those who have some sense of purpose, or history and who are content with their lot. They know what's expected of them and they're comfortable with it. Most everyone I know is content with what they have, or seem to be. And I feel like I should be. After all, I have relatives, a home, I even have a room of my own now. But what can I do?"

Bilbo didn't reply, trying to be solid, letting him talk it out.

"Maybe I should apply with the Post and put this new map you've given me to proper use. It has advantages.  Most hobbits - at least the ones I know - don't want to work for the Post because of the travel, but on the other hand Post workers would meet a lot of people and see other places in the Shire."

 "Some of the biggest gossips in the Shire are in the Post." Bilbo replied."I can't say it would suit you, but on the other hand I'd rather have someone like you than that tongue-wagger that works in Hobbiton. But as for their travel, well, I would say it's overrated. They have the same route usually for years and years... I suppose there are worse jobs out there.... With you on the job, those obscure hobbits in overlooked Crickhollow might get some mail at last, eh?" He smiled, then considered for a moment, remembering Hamson. "I think part of it is you need to be suited to your purpose to be content. Some people seem born to it. Take the Gamgee family, my gardeners, for instance."

Frodo nodded. He remembered them well.

"Wondrous gardeners," Bilbo continued. "The Gaffer boasts he has the best potatoes of anyone in the Shire and he's probably right. He comes from a gardening family, and I expect his sons will continue it after him."

"I can't garden to save my life." commented Frodo wryly.

"Well, I admit I'm a good hand with most flowers," said Bilbo, "but when it comes to trees, and vegetables and grasses and such I'm grateful he's there - it was the same with my father. Maybe every Baggins should have a good gardener somewhere nearby to help him out.  The point being that you would think any hobbit in his family would be a gardener, naturally and without thought. As you said, it's expected of them. But - you remember Hamson?"

"Mmm. Not very well."

"Doesn't matter. Picture the Gaffer, only younger. Hamson wasn't the bad sort, but he never did have any interest in gardening. Oh he learned it, because he wanted to please his family, but it was never in his heart." Bilbo tapped the front of his weskit for emphasis.

"What happened to him?"

 He's apprenticed to a rope-maker of all things, and happy as a robin in its nest - as long as you don't ask him to garden. I didn't really realize it until he came to fill in for me a bit. I believe he's content with his lot now - but only because he found a new home with someone who had the same passions he did, if you can call rope-making a passion."

Frodo quirked a smile. "Rope-making? For many hobbits, I suppose it could be."

There was a long pause, both of them lost in their own thoughts again. Bilbo watched his young companion gazing over toward the distant river and couldn't help but wonder if Frodo would be happy away from what he knew. Hobbiton wasn't nearly as peaceful... more in the center of things. Was he being selfish to...

Frodo broke his musing. "Are you content, Bilbo?"

He had to rein in his thoughts, turning them to ponder this new question. "I don't know." he said slowly. "If you mean being at peace, what I do isn't all fun and games. The studying and research can be frustrating. Travel can often be uncomfortable and even dangerous. Not all travelers are friendly for hobbits. Many of my best friends are so far away I can never see them. And the being set apart from the rest of your family..."

"Is hard sometimes."

"Yes. But there's good and bad in everything. And after all, the good parts are what make the best storytelling later, even if you thought they were bad parts when they were happening." he smiled. "Am I content? Not if contentment means staying just as I am. I'm always looking for something new to think about. Like you, I suppose I should be content...I certainly have all I could want, one would think."

"But isn't it enough, to just... to live and eat and sleep and work and grow old?"

"I suppose it should be. It can be. There are many who would give their eye teeth to enjoy the peace we have right here, right now."

"Then why aren't we content?"

"Most of us are! Many in the Shire are as content as they can be. They are positively marinated in contentment. Don't judge others by your own state."

"I didn't mean 'we' as in Hobbits... I meant 'we' as in you, and I."

Bilbo was quiet for a time, walking. He had to consider the way Frodo had referred to them, the two of them, as alike. He was very touched by it; it reached inside him and warmed his heart somehow.

"I don't know. I used to be content. I remember great scads of contentment. Oh, days and days of it. Years, even. But then..."

"Then...?" prompted Frodo.

"Then one day a wizard showed up on my doorstep." Bilbo said matter-of-factly. "Gandalf showed me there was so much more to these lands, more than I'd ever been taught. The history of the Shire itself even...I am still finding out new things. I may never be content until I know all there is to know of this world, and there are whole areas on maps that I have no notion what is beyond them. None!"

He gestured to Frodo's coat pocket that held the map book. "But I also find that when I am out-and-about, I long for my own home and hearth. So I must take my contentment in exploring what I can from time to time."  He considered the white spaces on the map. "For instance, I hear there is a place somewhere to the East where it is so dry all year round, nothing grows. It's all sand, for miles and miles and no water at all. It's not on the maps, and I have not seen it; I only know from reading, and from a Dwarf who told me of it. And he hadn't seen it himself either..."

Frodo frowned slightly and looked at him askance. "Who would want to? Travel to such a place, I mean. A place without water would be terrible!"

"True, true. To some. But it might be interesting to visit. You could carry in a bit of water, you know. Spend a day or two there. Just to see what it's really like."

"I don't know... I'm not sure I would care for that sort of travel, all that ways for nothing."

"Not for nothing; you would get to see things other hobbits have never seen! If it weren't so far away, it might be a place to go in the winter, when it's cold. If  it's dry all the time, it stands to reason it might also be hot. Like summer."

Frodo snorted lightly, unconvinced. "Rocks are dry, but cold. Maybe it's all rock. And if its dry all the time, there wouldn't be anything alive. Why would you want to go all that way just to see a dead land?"

Bilbo chided him gently. "I'm a touch disappointed in you, Frodo. You sounded just like my neighbors in Hobbiton there, for a moment. Do things have to be living to be worth seeing, or doing something about? Do you remember the Arkenstone?"

"Yes..."

Bilbo paused, lost for a moment in the image of the magnificent gem, remembering the weight of it in its rag-wrappings in his hands. He remembered seeing it lowered into its place on Thorin's cold breast, the stone lid covering it over in darkness once more.  Beauty lost in darkness. In the heart of the mountain. He thought of the stars, cold above, named for those who were no longer among the living.  He thought of his own ring, on its chain and its beauty, brought out of darkness. A golden beauty. The looked down at his empty, cupped hands. "The Arkenstone wasn't alive, but its beauty haunts me to this day."

He considered his words carefully, still exploring the concept. The Arkenstone was found, lost and found again only to be buried. Perhaps someday it would be brought back to light once more, for other hands to hold.  Someday when Thorin was forgotten. His hand strayed to his pocket. Who knew how long his own ring had lain in darkness, or how old it might be?

He plucked a leaf from the hedge as he went and twirled it absently in his hand. "Not all beauty is living beauty, my lad. Not all deemed of great worth is beautiful either, though many things are. And deep things, old things - they...return after a time. The small things endure like dandelions, passing away but also being ever-present, because there's always more of them. That's like us, like hobbits, I think. And we should be content with that. But it doesn't stop us from studying the older things. They have roots that go deeper, that aren't touched by the frost of time. Stars, oceans and Elves... Death can be beautiful...yes, I suppose even death has a beauty of its own."

Frodo unexpectedly smiled at this. "Death and beauty."

"Well, yes..."

Frodo answered his quizzical look. He gestured out at the hedged farming fields around them. "After endless months of talking to people about things like crops, sauce seasonings and harness repair, it just suddenly struck me as funny to be talking about things like Death and Beauty."

Bilbo was about to reply when a hobbit rounded the line of hedges that had been coming up alongside them. Before him came three newly shorn sheep and he had his clippers tucked under his arm. Halting their conversation somewhat self-consciously, they  nodded polite greetings to him as he went past. He nodded back and with a curious look continued past them on the path to a distant low barn.  The sheep baahed in protest as they were turned from going to the field by the stick he carried.

Bilbo leaned over and whispered to Frodo once they were past. "Instead of Death and Beauty, there's always Life and Ugliness, I suppose." They both snickered.

"Now, that's not nice."

"No, not at all. Did you notice how much he resembled a melon, left out in the sun too long?"

"Stop that!" Frodo said as they both snickered again, glancing back to be sure the shepherd hadn't heard them. It was a release, to enjoy a moment of levity.

After a bit, Bilbo, who had still been pondering the original topic in the back of his mind spoke again. "A gift of words, as you called it, is two-edged, you know."

Frodo brushed his bangs out of his eyes and gazed up at the sky, but he was listening. "In what way?"

"Someone who has that gift can see things, notice things, that others don't - and when it's put into words, others can see them too. But it isn't all pleasantry and peace, what is seen. Some of it may be things you later wish you hadn't seen at all. Things that will haunt you, that other people... they will not want to read about it."

He considered the lad next to him realizing how he had withheld many topics from him, because they were too dark, or too difficult. Or unpleasant. So far the education he had offered in bits and snatches had been mild. But the lad was growing up. What would he think of the tales of war, of hideous creatures, of greed and of traitors, now?

"It may be that contentment for us is being free to explore those words...both pleasant and otherwise..."  He felt he was floundering somehow, being too vague. He realized he wasn't sure of the answer to Frodo's question himself. He paused, searching for a good, solid concept he could wisely propound as he felt was expected of him. Not finding one, he finally veered back to the relatively mundane.

"Well, it takes thought, doesn't it? But the Road goes ever on, you never know where it can take you. And look at me here! It swept me to Buckland and now it's sweeping both of us too far to walk back before dark if we don't turn around soon..."

Frodo stopped in his tracks and nodded. "True." Then he suddenly asked,"How long will you be staying?"

Bilbo looked away from those expressive eyes, out over the field. He didn't want to see the change his words would bring. "I'm afraid I'll have to be on my way tomorrow morning."

"What? Tomorrow? But you've only just arrived!"

"I know. But I need to be there when the Gamgees get back from their little journey, and I have a...someone coming from another town to see me. Remember, I hadn't planned on coming here at all."

"But..." Frodo looked terribly disappointed and inclined to protest.

"Now, none of that! I thought you were old enough now..."

"I'm sorry." Frodo said, immediately chastised. "You're right. I just... I guess I was hoping to spend more time with you. I don't think we've nearly finished talking."

"I can't promise to have answers for you..."

"I know. But you encourage me. It's nice to know that there are things even you don't know."

Bilbo quirked an eyebrow. "Maybe we can both learn about them together someday. You will have to come visit me this summer, you know." He hesitated. "Then...there won't be any rush."
 
Frodo brightened happily. "How long? When?"

Bilbo smiled at the 'lamb' that practically capered beside him."I'm not sure yet. But I shall certainly write and let you know. Now let's turn about. Hup! And off we go again. We should have packed more food. It might be past supper by the time we get back."

"There's always food in Brandy Hall," said Frodo equitably. "If you don't mind a thrashing from the cook the next morning."



It was late in the afternoon but not yet supper when they arrived back at the Hall, so Bilbo was spared having to find out what sort of thrashing Frodo had referred to. The Hall was overflowing with hobbits coming in from their work, cleaning, talking, getting ready for dinner. While Frodo went to wash up, Bilbo requested a few withered carrots from the kitchen and went to the stables to see his pony, leaving instruction with the stable-master so his cart would be ready to go first thing in the morning. 

The pony reached his head over the stall door and snuffled the carrots from Bilbo's palm, crunching them contentedly. He was obviously content where he was, as long as no one asked him to go anywhere. Bilbo patted his soft nose then reached up to ruffle and scritch the forelock.  The pony tilted his head with appreciation and dribbled bits of carrot on Bilbo's coat-sleeve. Bilbo sighed.

"Well, old fellow, one more night and it's back we go." The pony snorted lightly and shook his ears. "Yes, I know. You just want to stay here in one place and eat to your heart's content. Not unlike most of us, really."  He scrubbed behind the pony's ears, then turned away, brushing away the carrot bits. He washed his hands and headed in to find Frodo and a bit to eat.