Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 59: Lying in  Wait

It was the fourth day from when he had first overheard the plotting by the hedge that he began to lay in wait.

Feeling a strange anticipation, he kindled an oak fire in both the den and parlour early on and kept them going to be sure there would be a good, hot bed of embers in both. He stood back and surveyed his work: the dipped twine lay along the hearth in the den.  The covered stock pot of river rocks that he had gathered from his own yard decor sat on its iron trivet, well washed. He had lugged it into the den and set them over the fire to be sure they would be very hot... The tea kettle, filled to the brim was patiently standing by the modest heap of wax-dipped mineral-packets. 

One could learn much about fire and earth from Dwarves, he ruminated. He remembered watching his friends while their calloused hands stirred certain minerals together, and how the result had sizzled, popped and flared with color in the night - their deep, hearty laughter at his own astonishment and exclamation. It had brought Gandalf's fireworks to mind.  He had toyed with attempting such a thing, but feared any of his experimenting would only go awry - he had no desire to burn out his dear old hole, and a healthy respect for what the results could look like.  No, this was only something small, no more than a child's prank for dwarves.  He just hoped it was enough to give some young hobbits second thoughts.

When all was as ready as it reasonably could be, he waited. Some final touches would be tended to at the last minutes, but he knew he would have time for it as the conspirators would be busy getting the Gamgees out of the way.  The decoy will was stashed in his small parlour desk, easy to find so they wouldn't rummage too much, but not too obviously out in the open. He'd left papers about the parlour desk to make it appear as his main writing desk, hoping to keep the trespassers away from his den entirely.

As a spider carefully checking every last strand of its web before settling into the center of it, he ran over every detail once more then settled into a comfortable chair.

Yes, he thought with a grim cheerfulness, everything is ready.

Unlike a spider, he  was able to eat his luncheon and tea while waiting, a fine enough way to pass the time. The day slowly began to grow later and while he felt he ought to have been impatient, or worried instead he found the hours passed in a strange sort of pleasure or anticipation.

As the day began to spill its sunlight decidedly from the west, he considered the problem of a burglar's entry, concerned that some damage might be done. He finally decided to leave the windows closed but unlatched to prevent them being broken if someone got hasty. All items of real value, or easily anything easily damaged had been carefully stashed away, a scattering of unbreakable knick-knacks, such as pinecones and basketry taking their places.

The late afternoon was already drawing out the shadows of the oak and maple trees, turning them into thin stripes and bottlebrushes on the fields before he noted the boundary bushes of his yard were moving. Finally! The lads were later than usual in their spying today. What had kept them? 

He went out into front yard and sat on the bench for a short while, enjoying a small pipe.

"Ah, what a grand day this has been." he commented out loud, as if ruminating with his pipe. "This would be marvelous traveling weather. You know, I really ought to take a good, long walk before it gets colder this fall. Yes, that would be a fine thing to do."  He leaned forward and tapped out the pipe on the flagstones. "Yes. Maybe that trip to Michel Delving I've been meaning to make. Now there's a fine notion. A good long walk. I could even stay an extra day or two, perhaps."

He got up, stretched and went inside. Peering out the window, he watched as Hatch Grubb crawled out from behind the bush and ran down the road. He smiled and drummed his fingers in a little staccato on the windowsill with satisfaction. Very good.

Fetching his pack, hat and walking stick he unlatched the back door; he sincerely hoped the erstwhile trespassers would be bright enough to discover this easy way in and not damage his nice green door in the front. Not that he wanted it to be too easy on them... He unlatched the front window also, right over the windowbox and left it the barest crack open. 

Humming, he took a packet of the powder he had made and put one in his pocket. Another he sprinkled along the top of the unlatched window.

It would be a few minutes still... he went to the pantry and selected a small wedge of white cheese and an apple. Might as well have a snack while waiting for their spy to return... Timing was important - he needed to be sure they saw him 'leave.'  He chose a chair where he could just see the edge of his yard without being obviously in the window and alternated bites of tart apple and salt-creamy cheese until he was down to nothing but the core. All it needed was something sweet to follow it up - but lacking a proper dessert at hand he was willing to settle for the sweetness of revenge. Or was it revenge? Was there another word for something you were doing in revenge before the offense even happened?  It was a bit topsy-turvy, now that he thought about it. Perhaps the Elves had a word for that - though come to think of it, it seemed more like something Dwarves would do.  He'd have to ask Gloin or Balin about that in his next letter, if he remembered.  It would be a useful thing to add to his vocabulary.

His attention wandered off into the etymology of revenge, and he nearly went to rummage through his notes on the Dwarves before remembering he was supposed to be keeping watch. After what seemed an interminable delay to him, he was glad to see young Rooty Grubb belatedly slip into the bush on the side of the yard.  He checked his mantle clock and considered the time of day, the sun already dropping down towards the distant hills.  At this rate, it would be twilight before Lotho's gang distracted the Gamgees and got them out of the way.

All the better, he smiled in a way that would have given a Lotho pause if he had seen it. Yes, such things would be even better in the dark.

Standing, he took up his pack and shrugged it over his shoulders, and took up his walking stick. Out the front door he went with the pack well-displayed on his back, making a show of putting on his hat and checking all his pockets to be sure he hadn't forgotten anything. He latched the door, went down the steps and turned toward the fields, cutting across one of them as if he were going to go around the edge of town, whisting a walking tune. Behind him he heard the leaves rustle, soft sound of something moving through the grass.  As soon as he came all the way past a boundary hedge, he glanced back to be sure Rooty was running off the other way and then slipped off to the road himself.  Ducking into a nearby shed, he waited for several minutes to be sure he hadn't been seen.

The shed smelled thickly of earth, manure and old hay; it tickled his nose and he struggled not to sneeze.  He sat down on a dusty box beside a stack of  hay and waited. Time passed, and all was quiet except for a fieldmouse that slipped past his feet from its nest among the sheaves, a kernel of corn clenched in its teeth. He watched it, remembering an Elf who had once commented that Hobbits reminded him of mice, burrowing, multiplying and always worried about food.  He had been mildly offended at the time, but had reconsidered after reflection. For he knew how brief their lives must seem to Elves - that the comment wasn't meant to say they were vermin, but that they were...brief.  And occupied with food. Which they were, in all fairnesss. Yes, they were. But there were other things that mattered too, like this, right now.

The quiet continued. No one came to stick their head into the shed and say 'Mr. Baggins! What are you doing in here? Can I help you find something?' Peering out a crack at the road, everything remained deserted. He finally slid his hand into his pocket and after a pause, put on his Ring. The world shifted to shadows; he eased out of the shed and headed back to Bag End.

Slipping in the unlatched back door and dropping his pack near the rear pantry, he took the Ring back off; no reason to wear it any more than he had too, after all. It would yet be a bit of time before they dared approach - Lotho might even wait for dusk in order to be more hidden. It would make the most sense.  He patted his pocket for the paper of powder, opened it and sprinkled some more along the top of the back door.

After a short time there were voices, out in the back. Moving near the door, he could make out Hatch's now-familiar voice saying something, and Daisy Gamgee's voice answering. Then there was the Gaffer's voice.  Near as he could tell, the lads had something broken at the Grubb's that the Gaffer was needed to help fix. They'd probably broken it themselves, he snorted softly. Mrs. Grubb, unwitting tool that she was, had followed the very clever suggestion of her sons and invited the rest of the Gamgee family along for supper to make up for using their time so late in the day.

Lotho's plan appeared to be moving along like clockwork. Bilbo had to give him some credit there, that part had been well done.

He calculated the distance to the Grubb's home. A quarter hour, if they walked along at a normal pace, as the Gaffer would in getting them there, another quarter to a half hour, at least, before the lads could slip away without their mother thinking it rude to guests...  His figuring said they would be along about dusk, which would be here soon enough.

The sun moved on in the last of its arc, first into a bit of a cloudbank and then dimly on its slow slide downward to the hills. The light began to be more muted, the shadows stretched thin, then began to lose their definition in the first colors of a clouded sunset. He tiptoed into his den and lit the red lamp, fed the fires just a little and waited. Yes, it would be twilight soon. Just a little more time.  He fingered the golden circle in his pocket. Just a little more time.