Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 61: The Eyes Have It

Several things happened very quickly, like an explosion of playing cards when someone shoots them up into the air.  

When Bilbo lifted the 'eyelid,' Louey and Hatch shrank together and their eyes roundly bugged out, Hatch's jaw gaping.

Green fire flared a sickly pallor over the faces of his audience; Louey's face seemed to pucker and puff, there was a small sound, not unlike a teakettle coming to a boil. His hands clamped over his own mouth to muffle it just as a "Maaaaa...." came squeaking out of his companion. In spite of the stink getting overwhelming, Bilbo grinned.
 
From the parlour, Lotho's voice hissed. "Be quiet! I said I have it - let's get out of here..."

Bilbo smoothly lowered the flap to close the 'eye' of the lamp and slipped out into the hall. He allowed the door to swing partly shut behind him, it's dark circle obscuring his makeshift 'dragon eye' construct from closer examination; besides, he had been barely able to breathe in the stifling smoke. He needn't have worried that his intended targets would come closer; on the contrary, the movement of the door on top of everything else caused his audience to begin vibrating and screeching most impressively, a noise he used for covering his own gasping of fresh air.

In that moment between their fear and their motion - for it was plain their feet were going to carry them out of Bag End, but which way would they go? - he rapidly ducked into the shallow hall alcove and reached for the thread he had rigged earlier. Loosening it, he let the slender black line slide through his hands just enough...

His hands were still damp from the steam and shaking slightly; he had a hard time lowering it slowly enough to keep it from rocking, but steadily his trusty old friend, the waiting blade, descended from where it had lain unseen between two darkly polished roots. It dangled downward like some otherwordly silver spider on its web, a lethal glimmer towards the end of the hall.

As he expected, the erstwhile burglars completed their turning in fear from the den and began running towards the unlatched back door, bouncing off of and into each other in their haste to get out. They had only taken a couple of paces before they saw, as one, the blade turning and shining in the faint green glow, shimmering in the air at the end of the hall as if held in some invisible hand. There was a mutual gasp and skidding to a halt as they spun and tried to reverse their direction.

"Eeeeyahhh..! .D-do you...?"

"Aiinnniyaaa! It's a.... there's a..."

Their faces flushed both red and white as they scrambled back the other way, arms and legs tangling in their haste. As they passed him by, Bilbo reached out - they being so conveniently close - and confettied them with a more generous dose of the itching powder. Very satisfactory - he had hoped the opportunity would arise.

Louey began a moderately high-volume howl. "I wanna go hooooome...."

Lotho came barreling around the corner into the hall, nearly colliding with them. The false will was clutched in his hand, and his voice sounded angry and (if he had admitted to it) afraid. "What's with you?" he snarled.

They ran right into him. In the resulting confusion, Bilbo slipped his useful Elven blade neatly back into its slot on the ceiling.

Both Hatch and Louey incoherently flailed past Lotho and bounced off of the latched front door, the floormat spinning off to the side as they yanked in futility at the latched knob. As one, they both seemed to remember the side window they had arrived through and headed for it, elbowing indiscriminately. Their noise increased as the itching powder began to take effect, adding to their overall panic. Arms flailed as they clambered up over the chair they had placed there earlier and then each scrambled out the window, babbling with fear, head first.

"Aiiiii.... it's biting me! Something's biting me! Bugs....!"

"Gahhhh...."

"Maaaaaaaaa!"

"Get out of my way... I wanna go hoooome..."

"What? What....?" Lotho was saying where he still stood in the hall, ineffectively giving orders to nobody. "Quiet!"

As his followers struggled out, Lotho looked all around and peered back down the dim hallway, but there was nothing to be seen. Muttering terrible imprecations against them and against Bilbo, he hesitated towards the back door then turned and followed their lead towards the window where they were now tumbling out over the windowbox, kicking each other in their haste.  It was obvious his plans for secrecy were crumbling around him and he began to hiss warnings after them, though it was doubtful they were heard much less heeded.

"Where's the lookout? Is it clear? Where's Rooty?"

"Ooof, ow!"

"Mama!"

"Ow! Get off...!"

"Waaaah..."

Both of them had gone right over the now rather mashed primulas and Bilbo hoped Lotho would soon follow. There was a loud creak as the windowbox, much abused by the weight of two hobbits, gave way.  A crack of wood and a thump.

Oh dear, thought Bilbo, the Gaffer's not going to be happy with that...

Lotho hesitated near the window once more, turning around in the darkened room with a fearful scowl, trying to see what had frightened them so. Bilbo was reminded of a very small dog, cornered by something much bigger than itself.  It wouldn't take much to tip the balance...

He looked around for inspiration and found it in a bunch of dried onions that lay nearby. He vaguely recalled starting to take them to the kitchen earlier in the day and being distracted.  He reached for them, grasped them firmly, knowing they would cease to be visible once in his grasp. They had never found his kitchen table, but they would do nicely for...

A noise, coming towards him in the dark.

Lotho blanched, and stifled a screech that would have been worthy of his mother as Bilbo stooped over and dragged the now-invisible onions, rustling across the tiles of the floor.

With no lackeys to have to be dignified for, the hitherto indomitable Lotho S-B scrambled in the most undignified manner.  Bilbo looked up from the onions to find him scrabbling and whimpering at the latch on the front door. He suddenly let it go  - probably because he remembered that he was supposed to be there in secret and coming out the main entrance wouldn't be the best way to stay that way - he headed once more for the waiting window and the chair that had boosted his companions.

Barreling over the sill, he reached for the now-missing windowbox and promptly did a header right onto the dirt-spattered mossy flagstones below. The chair tipped, clattering to the floor.

Bilbo winced slightly at the sound of one of his bordering bushes crunching underneath the weight of his estranged relative. He ran to the window to see what was happening in his yard.

Lotho had struggled up and made it partway down the slope, his followers were already disappearing into the gathering darkness, a headlong flight down the road.  Rooty popped up from a nearby bush, which was apparently too much for the overfrayed nerves of Lotho, as his limbs shot out in four different directions, promptly sending him into an uncoordinated tumbe and nose-dive for the mulch at the edge of the yard.  The hard-won scroll of paper went flying, landing with a small bounce on the on the road.

Rooty stood there, confused and unsure what he was supposed to do, or what had just happened. There was a sound of running feet as Hatch, still scratching like mad, came back for his missing brother. There was no sign of Louey.

"Rooty!"

Lotho struggled to get up, spit out a bit of turf and then cursed, holding his ankle. "Get it!" he said, "Rooty, get it! Take it to your house. Hide it!" One of his hands still held his ankle, the other scratched at his arm, side, back, so he gestured with his head to where it the fallen roll of paper lay on the hard-packed dirt.  Still Rooty hesitated.

"Get it!" growled Lotho like an angry dog.

Rooty jumped, and then rapidly scrambled for the fallen scroll.

"Rooty! Rooty! Rooty!" came his brother's urging voice.

Rooty looked back at Lotho with wide eyes. "Are you..."

"Go!... Take it! I'll catch up...."

The younger hobbit obediently began to run, the paper clenched close to his breast.

"And remember," gasped Lotho as a parting shot, "No one opens it but me...!"

Scratching, moaning and muttering, he staggered up to his feet, and began hobbling down the road into the early evening, moving at a surprisingly quick pace.

Somewhere nearby, Bilbo heard a dog barking. He was surprised there weren't other voices, or an entire crowd assembling - it had all seemed like such a bedlam to him. The dog barked a couple more times, before a loudly gruff voice hushed it.

Silence descended on the Hill. After a pause, a hesitant cricket began singing again out in his garden. In the parlour, the embers settled with a crinkle and a sigh.

He let out a great breath that he hadn't realized he was holding and turned the nearby chair upright, sitting on it with relief. Now that it was over he felt both elated and surprisingly weary. He lay back against the chairback and surveyed his home. It seemed very dark - he really had thought the fires would burn a little brighter than that; it was a wonder they had seen Sting at all.

Ah. The Ring.

He drew it off of his hand and the room brightened, the normal colors of the night washing over his sight once more. The fire regained its gentle glow. He flipped the small circle in the air lovingly and caught it, then slipped it safely into his pocket where he patted it with satisfaction.

Well, he had some cleaning up to do. But he needn't worry that they might be back. No, he need not worry about that at all.