Nothing of Note

by Primula

46: Niche

Bilbo sat under the tree watching the sunrise grow until the clear light spilled out over the distant woodlands to fill his eyes, then shook out the blanket that Sam had left him, wrapped it around his shoulders and huddled in it against the dawn's mild chill.  The East windows were all ablaze with the reflected morning light and the flowers were just beginning to open up their petals to take it in.

He went in to find his fire dying down and the kettle he had left earlier half boiled away. He filled his cup with the now nearly tepid water, floated a bit of tea in it and stirred up the fire again.  There was little chance that Frodo would arrive before afternoon, assuming he had stayed in Frogmorton the night before. Fretting wouldn't solve anything. He set his will to turn his mind to other matters; time would pass soon enough.

It did pass, and surprisingly quickly. Bilbo busied himself with papers and cooking, the only reminder of his vigil being when he noticed Sam taking up his post under the tree again once his morning chores were past.  Bilbo went out and sat with him for a while at luncheon, sharing sandwiches and two bowls of strawberries and cream.

"I'm keepin' watch pretty good, aren't I, Mr. Baggins?" Sam asked, his mouth full of strawberries.

"That you are, Samwise."

"Do Elves come out in the daytime?"


"So I would need to watch in the daytime too, or I might miss some, if I was someplace else."

"I suppose you would."

"Why don't they come to the Shire?"

"Sometimes they do, a little. Passing through on their way West, to the Sea."

Sam's eyes grew round. "They do?" he squeaked.

"Yes, they do." smiled Bilbo. "But not often. Now close your mouth or you'll get strawberry on your shirt."

Sam closed his mouth and swallowed. "Have you seen them? In the Shire, I mean?"

"Yes. Yes, I have."

"What are they like?"

Bilbo began gathering up the luncheon dishes. "Well, they are gentle-spoken, and graceful... they sing as they travel, beautiful songs. Yes, the music often goes along with them. They're very fair to look upon."

Sam filled his mouth with the last of his strawberries and helped gather things up. "But what do they look like?" he half-mumbled around his overfilled cheeks.

Bilbo had to give it thought. How could he describe them in a way a child could understand? He wasn't sure. "They look young, but... their eyes are old. The kind of eyes that you can see starlight in, even in the day.  Their hair can be bright or dark, and I've heard that it can be red, though I never met a redheaded one myself. Their voices are soft, and musical..."

"Sam!" called a girl's voice.

They both looked up. Daisy was coming towards them. She paused when she noticed Bilbo. "Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Baggins - I didn't realize you were there with him. The Gaffer needs Sam to run an errand, if he is free?"

"Of course," He gave a nod and smile for Sam. "Go on, Sam. Time enough for stories another day." 

Sam wiped his mouth and reluctantly followed along after Daisy, and Bilbo gathered the dishes and napkins into his arms and thoughtfully carried them back up the Hill to wash up.

The sun had slowly passed over the peak of the warm blue sky and a slight breeze rose up to bring relief from the heat of the late morning. The bees droned from flower to flower outside the windows and dust motes danced lazily on the air inside. The whole world seemed to fall into a sleepy reverie, and the quiet, which usually filled him with peace seemed to press in upon him. He listened to the small silver sound of the fountain and the breeze lightly stirring the poplar, maple and oak leaves outside. The clock ticked. He sat at the table, slowly inking in the penciled corrections and additions on his maps.

He didn't know he had fallen asleep until there was sound somewhere outside that made his head suddenly jerk upright. The shadows had shifted, the fountain was quiet. Confused, he looked around trying to orient himself. Sam's small voice called out an excited greeting and there was a sound of a hoofsteps, the creak of a cart being pulled to a stop. Bilbo staggered to his feet, maps slipping off the table and chair, rustling to the floor. He was rapidly regaining his senses. That must be Frodo, and Sam the faithful watchman had been there to meet him.

Bilbo ran a hand through his curls to smooth them, quickly adjusted his weskit which had gone askew in his slumber and opened the door. Afternoon sunlight flooded in half-blinding him. Down below a slender young hobbit was replying politely to a chattering youngster that bounced around his feet.

"Mr. Baggins! Mr Baggins, sir! He's here! He's here, sir!"

"So I gathered, Samwise. Ah, Frodo-lad, hello! So good to see you..." he came down the steps right into a welcoming embrace from his young cousin. He held him out at arm's length. "I'd say you look well enough. Long road, isn't it?"

"Long enough," replied Frodo with a smile. "I don't know when I've ever been welcomed anywhere so enthusiastically though." He turned back to Sam. "You've grown, Sam. I remember you from last Fall, and you didn't even come up to here back then."

"I eat a lot!" Sam told him.

"I'll bet you do."

"Now, run along Samwise," said Bilbo. "Mr. Frodo's only just arrived and he'll be wanting to rest, not to carry on with a talkative lad like yourself."

Frodo grinned at him as he picked up a satchel and followed Bilbo towards the door. "I'm only supposed to carry on with a talkative lad like yourself I take it?"

"Lad?" Bilbo snorted with mock indignity. "Been a long stretch of summers since anyone's called me a lad." The door still stood ajar, so he pushed it aside. Frodo followed.

"Been at least half a year since anyone's called me Mister Frodo," he said. "I'd forgotten about that. Always sounds... I don't know. Too...formal for me. Makes me feel like I should be acting more important or impressive or something."

"You'll get used to it. It's a sign of respect."

"Yes, but am I so respectable?"

"I'm not. And they call me that."

Frodo dropped his satchel on the parlour sofa and gave him a wry grin. "Ah, that's right. I'd forgotten that too. I've been away too long!"

"That you have."

Frodo suddenly stopped moving. Bilbo followed his gaze and smiled indulgently. "Do you like it?  It's a fountain, a dwarvish fountain. Balin, my old companion from my adventuring, he sent it to me."

"It's...amazing." Frodo stepped closer to it, but seemed afraid to get too close to it. "Is this the gift you mentioned in your letter, then?"

"Yes. Go on, touch it! It won't shatter." Bilbo came up beside him, then reached down for the handle. He started to turn it, then changed his mind and offered it to Frodo instead. "Here, see this? Give it a few turns and you'll see what it does."

Frodo hesitantly took hold of the smooth copper handle and gave it a turn.

"More, a few more turns. There you go, that's more like it!"

Frodo cranked it around then gasped in wonder as the water came pouring from the snail-shell into the basin. "How does it do that? " he marveled.

"I haven't any idea, but I'm not taking it apart to find out. It circles the same water around somehow, so you don't need a spring or waterfall.  Eh, I thought you'd like it." he smiled.

Frodo tentatively cranked the handle one more time. "How long does it go?"

"I'm not sure yet, it's a bit new to me as well. I would guess the turns you gave it will last a good hour at least."

"That much! I can well see why it was worth mentioning."

Bilbo watched indulgently as Frodo curiously touched the water in the basin, then touched the stone eyes of the thrush with wet fingertips to make them shine. "It looks alive... I remember you talking about the thrush, cracking snail-shells. It had something to do with finding that door, the one on the mountain, didn't it?"

"Yes. The thrush was a help to us more than once..."

Frodo looked over his shoulder at Bilbo. "Now don't go off into a trance that way," he smiled. "Tell me about it again."

They were up late that evening, in spite of Frodo's weariness from travel. It was so pleasant to just talk, not only in words but in silences also. They talked over their tea and supper, they sat on the bench in front and talked as they watched the sun begin to sink over the nodding flowers. They talked as they watched waves of black and red wash over the coals in the parlour fireplace long after it had grown dark out-of-doors.

They had been silent for a time when Bilbo reached for the poker and jabbed at the embers sending small starbursts of bright sparks flying up. He looked over at his young cousin, who sat with his head in his hands gazing at the small flames that danced among the ruins of the blackened oak log.

"What do you think of your home?" he asked. "Of Brandy Hall?"

Frodo glanced over at him. "What do you mean?"

Bilbo weighed his words carefully. "Just...what do you think of it? How does it suit you? Are you happy there?"

"I don't know....." Frodo trailed off, his gaze going back to the fire as he considered. "It's home. It's familiar, and busy and friendly enough I suppose."

"Ah. But what about you, yourself? Are you...content there?"

"Content?" Frodo gave him a small smile, but it faded. "I should be."

"But you aren't, are you?" Bilbo watched him.

Frodo looked down at his folded hands. "You know me too well, Bilbo dear. You always find some way to see right through me, whether I speak something or no."

"What is it that brings this 'discontent' of yours?" Bilbo persisted gently. He poked at the log, turning it over to bring up fresh flames.

Frodo shifted in his seat, then spoke slowly as if blindly feeling his way over the words as he went. "I guess I just feel...out of place somehow.  Have you ever been surrounded by friends and family, rooms full of them and... and felt alone, Bilbo?"

"Yes." Bilbo set the poker back down. "I have. They aren't unkind to you there, are they?"

"No! Oh, no...not at all! And that's part of what I don't understand. Maybe it is just that I haven't quite found my own place yet." He looked over at Bilbo's mild eyes. "You see, a while back I determined that I would find a niche for myself, a purpose or a place that someone else hasn't already taken. There must be one... even though there are times I've thought all the niches a household could have are already filled."

He continued earnestly, "When you came to visit me, you said contentment comes when you pursue your passion, but when I've tried to see what my passion is there, I can't seem to... I just... I flounder so. I want to study, and learn more, but I have no one to study with and no time to study when there are so many chores to be done anyway. It's not that it's unfair; everyone must earn their own way of course - I just wish... I wish I had someone I could talk to about it at the end of the day. I mean, I think of so many things, while I'm working..."

"You haven't any friend you can share with, at all? You haven't enemies, have you?"

Frodo sighed, then picked up the poker and absently used the tip to extinguish individual embers while he spoke. " No - please don't look so worried, Bilbo. I'm all right. I mean, some of them get away with themselves, forget that they are stronger at times, but they aren't mean at heart. I spend time working with them well enough. It's just when the job is done and the sun in setting, they go their way and I go mine. What can I offer them? I don't know. I'll find something.  Viola says I might make a half-decent cook someday."

"You?" Bilbo snorted slightly. He'd sampled Frodo's cooking before.

Frodo smiled a moment at that. "Yes, that was my thought also. I don't blame you for your disbelief.  The old Mistress, Menegilda was very kind, and often let me spend time reading to her while she was knitting. She didn't know her letters, but enjoyed hearing books and tales, even recipes - but after the cough took her a few seasons past... well, the new Mistress, Esmerelda, is so busy all of the time. She never holds still long enough for anyone to read to her, much less to listen, and doesn't seem to approve of anyone else just holding still either. She thinks I should join the Post."

"Are you kept from your studies then?"

"I don't think they mean to. It's just a... a look, a tone of voice... Usually followed with suggesting some work that needs to be done.  Now that I have a room, I've been able to be out of sight and out of mind more often."

Bilbo frowned slightly. "It isn't laziness to study. Far from it."

"And well I know it.  I've spent enough hours trying to puzzle out just those little lessons you've sent me. But she doesn't see it that way."

"And as the Master and Mistress go, so goes the household."

Frodo was fair about it."Of course, but it is their home. Who am I to say how they run their own home?"

Bilbo was not inclined to be so fair. "It's your home too, isn't it?"

"Well, yes! But like I said, I don't really feel I have a place there. A...a purpose.  No little niche of my own. At least not yet. That's why I was asking you about contentment before; and you helped me make a decision about it. Yes, you did. I have decided I must set my mind to learning what my place is there and being content with it, no matter what it is."

"And if you don't have one?"

Frodo hit the log with the poker beating off the clinging cinders. "Then I'll make one!"

"And if you aren't truly content with it? You can't live your life in a lie."

There was no answer. The poker twisted around, rubbing the life out of a fat red-black cinder on the edge of the hearth.

"Hm." said Bilbo after a long moment of silence had passed. "Well. At least you are here, now."

Frodo relaxed slightly. "Yes. I am, and very grateful to you for letting me come. It's so different here."

"Then be at peace, Frodo-lad." said Bilbo, clapping him on the shoulder. "And leave off mashing that poor cinder. It's time you were in bed; your eyes look like holes burned in a blanket."

"I wish I had an answer for you, I really do."

"It doesn't matter.  We're both tired. Tomorrow is another day, and who knows what it will bring? Go on, now. Get some sleep."

Frodo began to protest but was stopped by a yawn and begrudgingly admitted his weariness. Bilbo nodded to him. "Good-night now. I'll be going to bed too, as soon as I bank the fire."

He watched the lad go off to his bed, then sat back down by the fire to watch patterns in the coals, pondering until late.