Nothing of Note

by Primula

43: Thrush

Ümlat and Dwadul climbed up into the wagon bed and began moving crates and tools, finally pulling a barrel out from the front corner. It was apparently quite heavy, though they managed it well enough between them. The others reached up and gently lifted it down from the wagon bed to the ground.

Bilbo felt a small tug at his jacket and looked down to find Samwise half hiding behind him, very wide-eyed at the visitors.

"Are those Dwarves, Mr. Baggins?" he whispered.

"Yes, Sam. Those are Dwarves. No need to be frightened of them. They've even brought me a gift, see?"

Sam timidly peered at the barrel, then up at the Dwarves, who were all looking at him with good humor. Embarrassed by their scrutiny, he moved from Bilbo to shelter himself behind the barrel in question.

"Well," said Bilbo. "I suppose we ought to open it up and see what's in it. Will you be returning to Erebor, that I might be able to send an acknowledgment by your hand?"

"I will be," said Bagin. "Come, carry it into the house and out of this hot sun! The delivery isn't done yet." The others went to pick it up just as a small voice called out from behind it.


"What?" said Bilbo.

"Apples! It says 'Apples' Mr. Baggins! I read it!"

Bilbo chuckled. "Does it really? Leave it to Balin to find me an apple barrel. Come on, Sam, come along. I can see you're as curious as I am about the contents. Stand back now, let them pick it up. They're much stronger than we are."

The dwarves lifted the barrel up the steps while the hobbits ran ahead to open the door wide for them. It thumped down on the entryway tile with a solid sound. In a trice, the lid was being pried off and twists of straw that had cushioned the contents were being lifted out and dropped outside the door.

The first piece that was lifted out reminded Bilbo of a large stone bowl. It was carven of a smooth, beautiful marble, all swirled with grey and green. Gold flecks sparkled along it. Clever designs were worked in in along the inner ridge, and the outside. A tiny Esgaroth, a lake's edge, trees... Bagin helped him heft it in both hands, then set it on the table to admire.

"Why does it have a hole in the middle?" asked Sam.

"I don't know," answered Bilbo. "But no doubt we'll soon see."

Behind him there was a grunt as two of the dwarves lifted out a carven column with a hollow center. It was also crafted of the same translucent marble, a design of mountains and waterfalls worked around it. Some metal pieces were tugged out, then a smaller piece, well wrapped in cloth. Dwadul handed it to Bilbo. It was quite heavy.

Unwinding the cloth, Bilbo found an exquisite bird carven of stone. He smiled broadly, then found himself inexplicably having to dab at his eyes from emotion. It was a thrush, with a snail shell in its beak. Like the other pieces, it had a hollow in the center of it. The opening seemed to be where the snailshell was.

"It's beautiful," said Bilbo. "But what is it?"

"A fountain!" said Ümlat. "See? The pieces fit together, so." He lifted the marble basin and set it in place on the column where it fit so perfectly they appeared to be one piece. The thrush was set in the center, so lifelike he half expected it to take flight.

"A fountain?" Bilbo remembered fountains, mostly from Rivendell. There had been some in Laketown also... a fountain, in his home?  "How will it work? I've no spring or waterfall here."

"Ah, that's where we can help you," said Bagin who was doing something to it down below. "Setting it up is what we were commissioned to do, not just delivering it. You see this crank?" Bilbo looked at the column, where a copper crank now extended from the side.  "Once we have it set up, you have but to turn this a few turns and it will give you a running fountain for over an hour. The water circles around, see this hole here? You could even have it indoors, right where it stands, and fill it from your water bucket."

"Amazing!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. It truly was a wonder. "I am most grateful for all of your help with it. But where shall I set it up?  Let me think on that a moment, while I get you some refreshment."

"It would be welcome." said Grumblin. "Ale, if you have it."

Bilbo nodded and headed for the kegs. Sam looked up at Ümlat. "Does that hair on your face make you hot?"

Ümlat laughed. "I can't say I noticed. Does that hair on your feet make *you* hot?"

Sam looked at his own small feet with their tousled curls. "No. But it's on my feet. I think a hairy face would itch."

"Do your feet itch?"

Sam grinned. "No. But if they do I can scratch them on the floor. You can't do that with your face."

The dwarves all laughed at that. They were in a good mood now that they had a project to keep them busy and cold ale on the way.  Bilbo brought in a foaming jug and quickly filled mugs from it, then refilled the jug again so it could stand ready.

"Fountains are generally outside, aren't they?" he asked.

Bagin looked up from where he was kneeling by the column, fiddling with the crank. "Generally, yes. Unless Hobbits do things differently. Of course, we Dwarves have fountains underground, but that may not suit you."

"Well, I think this hobbit is going to do things differently. Seeing as it doesn't need to be outside to run, I would like it indoors. That way I can enjoy it year-round, and it won't become soiled with tree leaves and such."

Grumblin nodded. "Very true."

"Very well," said Bagin, "Where would you like it?"

"Just in here," Bilbo said, leading the way into the parlour. "Over here, near the window." They followed him, carrying the fountain pieces and eased it down where he said, fitting it back together. "See how the sunlight touches it? Isn't it wonderful?"

Sam looked at it, awed. "The bird looks alive."

"It's a thrush... is it ready to go, then?" He noticed they had all stepped back.

"Just need to fill it up and we'll give it a try," said Bagin. " Ümlat, fetch that bucket there."

Bilbo and Sam watched as the bucket of water was carefully poured into the fountain basin and drained down the hole. The dwarves checked to be sure the seal was firm and there were no cracks or leaks, then poured in a second bucketful. This one also drained down the hole. 

"Where's it all going, Mr. Baggins, sir?" asked Sam, wide-eyed.

"It's in there," said Bilbo. "I think we just need to add more. Like filling a cup."

"Yes, very much like filling a cup." said Ümlat cheerfully, pouring in a third bucketful. They could hear the tone changing as the water neared the top. "One more should do it."

The fourth bucketful brought the water up into the basin. A little more was added, until it matched the carven lakeshore around the edge, the thrush standing up above his reflection proudly, shell in beak.

"Now, turn the crank, Mr. Baggins. Let's see if it works as it should," said Bagin.

Bilbo tentatively moved the crank. He expected it to be quite heavy, or stiff, but it moved easily around, as if oiled. It was perfectly balanced and he now noticed the handle itself was shaped like a short sword. Like *his* short sword, come to think of it.  He smiled and gave it a more confident cranking. There was a pause and a soft gurgling noise.

"There it goes!" shrieked Sam with excitement. "Look, Mr. Baggins! Look!"

Bilbo watched in delight as the clear water began, a sputtering trickle then a steadier thin stream appeared to fall in a gentle, unending line from the snail shell the thrush held. It trickled and pooled over two ridges in the carven rock the bird stood upon and then fell back into the basin in curling silver threads and ripples. The afternoon sun slanted over it, the ripples giving a lifelike shimmer to the thrush's bright eyes.

"It's magnificent," he breathed.

While Bilbo worked on a reply and thank you for Balin, his guests spent the rest of the pleasant afternoon and early evening consuming much of his hospitable table and looking over his maps. Bilbo sealed the letter and Bagin stowed it away in his pouch.  They told tales of their travels and their homes and offered some small news about the outside. The Beornings had changed the travel routes by offering a safety that had not been known for some time, and the dwarves remained busy with their restoration of the glory of the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo found himself longing to return there, if only for a visit. Maybe someday, he thought. He would like to see Rivendell again before too much longer, also. Not that he would mention that to the dwarves. 

He told them a little of his recent travels, but they were not interested in Elven towers, or the small doings of the Shire. He was glad his maps held their interest. Dwadul spent a good part of the evening copying the Blue Mountain map that Bilbo had onto a piece of parchment, in spite of the unsolicited and constant corrections from the others.

The summer's late-hour light was fading and the Bilbo was lighting a lamp when Grumblin began to sing in a low voice by the fire. The others joined in:

The way is old, the year is new
Long passages for passing through,
The days and nights, each treasure filled
If we will delve beneath the hills.
Each hour a gem that soon is lost
Each season soon burned off as dross,
Each year a room soon plundered, gone
Each life a long-remembered song.
The way is old, the year is new
Long passages for passing through
Another verse this day to bring,
Another life someday to sing.

They were about to start another stanza when the doorbell rang.

"I wonder who that could be, at this hour?" said Bilbo. He opened it. Daisy was there, looking apologetic and worried.

"Mr. Baggins, sir, sorry to disturb you, but have you seen Samwise anywhere abouts?"

"Sam? Is he missing?"

"Well, we thought he'd gone with the other boys this afternoon when they went fishing, but he didn't come back with them and they say he wasn't there. Dad said he ran an errand for you earlier today..."

"Yes, and he was here with me for quite some time. Forgive me, that I didn't think to let you know.  But I thought he had gone home at suppertime!"

"Is this the one you're looking for?" interrupted a deep voice. Daisy's eyes grew round in her face as a firelit bearded figure came up behind Bilbo. He followed the direction the dwarf's arm pointed, then gave a small exclamation of relief.  Sam was curled up behind the chair near the fire, sound asleep. 

"My goodness. I didn't even realize he was there in the corner, he was so quiet." said Bilbo. Dwadul stood aside as Daisy reluctantly passed him to go to Sam.

She knelt down. "I hate to wake him, but he's grown so much..."

"Allow me," said Dwadul. He reached down and with a gentleness that belied his stocky girth, lifted the sleeping lad from the floor, cradling him against the beard on his breast. "Lead the way. I can carry him easily."

Daisy's eyes about bugged out of her head, but seeing the reassuring nod from Bilbo, she led the way out the door and then to #3, where a light yet burned. The dwarf followed her, carrying the sleeping Sam. Bilbo watched as he transferred him into Daisy's arms once they were at the door on Bagshot Row then came back.

"That was a great kindness. Thank you," he said when the dwarf reached his own door again.

"Young ones are a treasure," replied the dwarf as they returned to the fire. "Especially when they are young, like warm metal, and can still be shaped. I hope your own heir is still young?"

"Yes," said Bilbo softly. "He is young."

Dwadul nodded in approval. "May he be as bright and soft as gold is his youth, strong as mithril and iron when he is grown." he intoned in a Dwarvish blessing.

"Doesn't sound right in the Common Tongue," muttered Grumblin. "Now, where were we in that song?"