Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 67: September 21st

The morning of September 20th crept in from the East in a grey sort of way, heavy with clouds that threatened rain. Bilbo watched them slowly scudding across the distant sky as he ate his breakfast and hoped that Frodo had remembered to dress for wet traveling. 
He waited and watched as the long morning hours passed, but no cart appeared. The clouds rolled on past, dispersing into the southeast and gradually the sun began to come out in fits and starts.  Tea time was spent alone, though he had an extra cup and saucer set out just in case.  In silence he ate both pieces of pie he had set out.

A windy afternoon rustled by uneventfully; the light faded off into an early twilight and still he waited. As it began to grow dark, he placed a candle in the front window and built up the fire slightly, listening for any sound from the road outside. There was none.

He said he would be here in time for our birthday. He said he would. It's only two days now... has something happened? Did he change his mind? What if the cart lost a wheel?  What if the pony bolted, and there was no one around to help him... What if...?

He shook himself. "You're an old fool, Bilbo Baggins," he reprimanded himself out loud. "He's quite able to care for himself, and he's on a road that has plenty of other folk around, here in the Shire. He's fine. Listen to yourself, fretting like some crotchety hen over an egg. Wherever he is... he's fine. He's fine."

But still, he fretted. He read by the fire, startling at every small everyday noise he heard outside, every dog bark, every loud creak of the tree branches. The hour grew late, the small candle burned down into a soft, warm pool and he was still alone.  He finally had to reluctantly retire to his bed where he flumped onto his pillow and stared up at the ceiling for a while, disappointed and unhappy.


The following morning was brighter, though the breezes still blew slightly chill. He couldn't help checking Frodo's room before he went to the kitchen get some breakfast, hoping beyond hope the lad had perhaps come in during the night and not woken him up. The room was empty, just as he had left it. He sighed, and went to start some tea and eggs....for one.

The morning slowly crept past, slower than the previous day if it were possible. He checked his calendar to be sure it really was September 21st.  It was.  Tomorrow was their birthday...and Frodo had not come. The morning became noon, the breeze stopped and the sun came out with a vengeance as if to make up for the chill earlier on.  Bilbo changed from his warm coat to his light one and tried to find things to do to pass the time, lest he merely pace.  But Tea-time found him once again sitting at a table with two settings, eating both portions himself. He glumly stirred the sugar in his tea and listened to the clock on the mantle tick. Tomorrow was their birthday. He had promised... hadn't he?  Had he been afraid Bilbo had changed his mind? Had he decided to stay in Buckland after all?  Bilbo drank the last of his cup, and poured the rest of the now lukewarm tea-kettle out on the plants in front. The road was empty.

He went back in, pried the last of the candle stump from the previous night off of the candlestick and placed a fresh taper in it hoping he wouldn't have to light it. He unhappily set it back in its place in the window.  He noticed the vase of flowers he had put out in the hall the day before had gone completely limp; picking it up rewarded him with a shower of petals littering the floor. Into the kitchen with it then. He carried it in, dropping the spent blooms into the compost bucket then rinsed the vase and filled it with fresh water.

It was over the sound of the water that he thought he heard something else - a shuffling sound, out in the hall. He chalked it up to his imagination, but just to be sure it wouldn't hurt to check. He remembered Lotho's sneaking in, and had the strange sensation of a huge chasm, of hoping for the best and fearing the worst at the same time. Teetering on the bridge over that chasm, he peered around the corner, but saw nothing out of place. But still...  his heart pounded slightly faster. He held the vase close and quietly walked to the parlour, then the den.  Nothing. His shoulders slumped. He sighed and turned back to the hall table, sweeping the rest of the petals off onto the floor where they wouldn't be as noticeable once they were spread around on the rug.  The vase needed fresh flowers. He would need something to trim some new flowers with....

Swinging round the corner into the kitchen to fetch a knife, he ran smack into Frodo. There was something like an explosion, both of vase-water and emotion as he threw up his hands in utter astonishment and delight. The wet vase shot out of his hand and bounced off of Frodo's hand as he tried to catch it.  Water flew everywhere and all of the sudden Frodo was laughing and embracing him, water dripping from both of their curls, dampening their sleeves and running down the wall beside them. The vase clattered into the compost bucket, tipping the tangle of wet stems and petals out onto the floor.

He gasped in amazement. "Frodo! How did you...when did you..."

That beloved, familiar laugh came again. "I've only just arrived. I thought I would surprise you."

"Well, you did!" he spluttered. "Hand me that dishtowel, will you?"

Frodo grabbed it off the counter and wiped his own face before handing it over. "If I had known you would be armed, I might have been more careful," he grinned. "It's so good to see you!"

Bilbo wiped his face, swiped the towel across his hair and set to mopping up the pool at his feet. He found himself grinning in return. Frodo took up a second towel and knelt with him, scooping the contents of the bucket back where they belonged. He handed Bilbo the vase.

Bilbo turned it in the light. "It's not even chipped." he observed.

"Now there's a wonder, the way you shot it right at me." Frodo said, "Really, just ask me to step aside next time instead of pitching crockery..."

Bilbo cracked the wet dishtowel towards him, making them both laugh as an arc of water smacked Frodo right across the face.  He held up a hand in surrender.

"I give up! I give up!" he laughed, wiping his eyes. "Have you any idea how good this water feels after that drive? I thought I would never get here..."

"Likewise. I was getting afraid that you would miss our Birthday after all..."

Frodo stood and offered him a hand up. "I'm sorry it was so close, dear Bilbo - but unless my calendar is different from yours I am still in good time aren't I? I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"I believe you," Bilbo smiled. "And now that you're here, all that waiting seems like nothing at all. I'm just so glad to see you!"

"And I too!" Frodo said, giving him another brief embrace. He took the towels and quickly wrung them over the sink, hanging them near the stove to dry. "I can't believe it hasn't been longer than a month..."

"The time has been moving slowly here."

"It was a long month in Buckland as well." Frodo said, and gave him a look that went to his heart.

There was a pause, and something gave way. Suddenly, there was simply no more words needed; any lingering doubts he had were laid to rest.  It had been a long month in Buckland as well...

"Well, then." he said after a pause. "There's warm water in the kettle. Why don't you go wash up."


While Frodo washed away the dust and weariness of the road, Bilbo saw to the unpacking of the cart and stabling of the pony that he found eating some of his flowers while it waited nearby.  He had been prepared to call in help to carry in Frodo's luggage, but found they were few indeed: a satchel, a small trunk and a crate were all he found in the back.  It was hard for him to remember what it was like to have so few things - but really, it was not unlike traveling. He knew, and what hobbit better, how little a person could truly get along with.

"Nothing wrong with a few basic comforts, though," he grunted to himself as he set the trunk down in the guest room...no, not guest room. Frodo's room, he corrected himself. He plumped up the pillow on the bed. "We'll have to be sure he has a good set of clean pocket-handkerchiefs at the very least. With all these downs and ups, I feel as wrung out as a pocket handkerchief hanging on the line myself."

"What about pockets?" came Frodo's voice behind him. Pillow still in hand, he turned to find a towel being vigourously ruffled around. A flash of blue peered at him from under darkly dampened curls. Frodo pushed his bangs back out of his eyes. "Oh, you didn't have to carry that in - I would have gotten it."

"It's all right. I'm not so old I can't carry a box or two. And I was just talking to myself."

"About your pockets?" Frodo slung the damp towel around his neck to free his hands and began tucking in his shirt. He smiled at the elder hobbit. "What have you got in your pocket?"

Bilbo gave a slight start at the phrase, given out so innocently. It struck the chord of a memory whether he liked it or no.  Automatically his hand traced the light chain that went to the circle of gold he nearly always carried with him, but with a small effort he redirected it to his breast pocket instead.

"Ehm. If you must inquire, I do have something in my pocket. A letter from a certain lad that I know. Perhaps you met him on the road?"  He pulled out the slightly rumpled, folded letter.

Frodo laughed. He dropped the towel to the floor and, reaching his hand into his own pocket, pulled out a similar bit of folded paper.  He held it up.

"I don't know if I've met him, but I believe I may have a letter from a certain friend of his. His uncle in fact."

Bilbo went very still. "His uncle, you say?"

"Yes, that's what he signed it as." Frodo observed, unfolding it for evidence. He gave Bilbo a half-smile and raised one brow quizzically.

"Well, now, isn't that odd?" said Bilbo, dissembling. "Why do you think he would do that?"

Frodo's eyes scanned the paper once more. He folded it back up and leaned against the edge of the doorway. "I was wondering that myself. Not that the lad minds, in fact I think he rather likes the idea."

"He does?"

"It suits him."

"It does?"

"Yes. Even when he's just standing there in the middle of a room with a blank look on his face and a pillow under his arm. For two such cousins, with one so much older than the other it seems a very proper title for him to use."

"It does?" Bilbo repeated, feeling a bit silly.

Frodo leaned down and scooped up the wet towel. "And I suppose if that were the case, that would make this certain lad his nephew, then, wouldn't it?"

"I... eh...Frodo... it..."

Frodo folded the towel over his arm and carefully met Bilbo's eyes. "Even though they're cousins. The lad hopes... that he will be allowed to use that title? To call him Uncle, now and then?"

"Uncle."

"Yes. Uncle...Bilbo."

Bilbo had to turn away and place the pillow on the bed, blinking to clear his eyes. Why did it have such an effect on him, hearing it said like that?  It wouldn't do, no it wouldn't, if the lad found he could have such an effect upon him with the speaking of a simple word.  He was supposed to be a good example. He needed to regain his composure. He fluffed the pillow again, and straightened the blanket for good measure. Only then could he turn back to the young hobbit waiting behind him.

He lifted his chin. "And what if it were true?"

Frodo's brow furrowed slightly. "What do you mean?"

"What if... there had been a slight change.. a change in the matter of a certain Will..."

"A change?" Frodo looked worried.

"...one that truly made those cousins an Uncle and Nephew?"

"What do you mean?" Frodo repeated, his brow furrowing further in puzzlement. "Can they do such a thing?"

Bilbo's cleared his throat a bit nervously. "Yes, they can. Legally. It's called an... ad...adoption."

"Adoption?" Now it was Frodo's turn to stare blankly.

"Ad-option." Bilbo repeated firmly. It came out easier the second time.

"Adoption?" asked Frodo again, as if he didn't understand the word.

His eyes are as wide as an owls, thought Bilbo. "It makes them...related. More closely than cousins. It makes the... Nephew the Uncle's heir, in all ways. No matter what. An...adoption does that. But only if..."

"Only if?"

Bilbo's voice faded to a whisper. "Only if the nephew says yes."

There was a space of heartbeats where neither of them moved, broken in a sudden movement as Frodo leapt forward and embraced him; a rush of mutual words.

"Bilbo! Oh, is it true? Would you really do this - for me? I don't deserve it, I really don't, I just... I..."

"I wasn't sure what you would..."

"...when you signed that letter that way I was..."

"...but I hoped that maybe you might..."

"...I didn't realize how lost I had felt until..."

"...understand, and besides, we both...."

"...you've already been so generous to me..."

"...need to call one another something." Bilbo returned the embrace and patted the damp, dark curls comfortingly. "Oh, my lad, my dear, dear lad. I was going to save it for a surprise, for our birthday, but now you've gone and made me spill it all out already." He released Frodo and straightened his shoulders. "Now, see, both of us are in need of a good, clean pocket handkerchief. That's why I was just saying that you will be in need of some."

Frodo's eyes were very bright, and he sniffled slightly, but he was smiling. "Yes, I will. To both."


Bilbo added another log to the parlour fire and dusted the bits of wood off his hands as went back to the table where the papers lay.  Tilting the adoption papers near his eyes he checked to be sure the ink was dry on Frodo's signature, and seeing no reflection from the fire, began carefully rolling them back up.  The ribbon was tied neatly. He tapped the scroll of paper in his hands with thought as he walked to the den.

Behind him, the sound of the supper dishes being washed up in the kitchen was a comforting clatter and muted splash. Frodo had insisted on doing them himself, and had all but shooed Bilbo out of the kitchen. He probably needed a couple moments to just think, all by himself too - just as Bilbo did.  The scroll slipped back into its drawer and the smooth wood shut over it. It was such a feeling of... of what?  Finality. And grateful wonderment, he thought. Grateful wonderment that he had someone who understood him so well.
Well. Now for it then; it's done. Now we find out if we have done the right thing or not, and only time will tell us. Now for another adventure.

He returned to the parlour to find Frodo swinging the kettle of water over the fire to heat for after-supper tea.  He had a paper in his other hand, and looked up at Bilbo as he poked the fire and added one more log. "Thanks for getting the fire going. It's getting chilly, with the sky so clear now."

"I noticed that too - the stars are coming out already; the days are getting shorter again. It always seems to happen so fast." Bilbo sat in his chair and gestured towards the paper in Frodo's hand. "What have you there?"

"Just your letter. I was looking at what you said about having Sam bake us a cake."

Bilbo smiled and pulled out the letter that he carried too. He leaned forward and ran his finger over a phrase in it. "I'm glad you mentioned Sam also. I really can't make any guarantees about the edibility of the cake, but his first one wasn't too bad..."

Frodo chuckled. "But it was so perfect that you'd already arranged for him to bake it.  I can just picture it." He stood and took two mugs off the sideboard, setting them out with a waiting scoop of tea.  That done, he pulled the second chair a bit closer to the fire and settled into it.  "But really, was he very upset?"

"No, no not at all! He was just excited - he wanted to bake it..."

"No, not about the cake. I meant was he very upset that... I didn't say goodbye to him, when I left?"

Bilbo pursed his lips with thought, remembering. "Well, yes. Yes he was, a bit. I'm sure he's well over it by now.  I recall he wanted to run after the cart: he was going to go right down the road, he so wanted you to have that cake of his..."

"Did he really?"

Bilbo nodded. "He's a good lad."

"Yes, he is." said Frodo more softly. "I haven't many friends here yet, so I count Samwise among the number I do have, in spite of his youth. He is a good lad. And I hope he will still be when he's older too."  He smiled a bit wistfully, then took a breath and brightened again. "Well. What time do we need to be ready tomorrow?"

Bilbo raised his brows questioningly. "Ready?"

Frodo raised his in return. "Aren't we having any sort of gathering? A party?"

Bilbo snorted. "Bother parties."

"What?"

"Too many hobbits at a party. Too much noise, too much cooking, too much cleaning up to do. I thought it might be nicer if we could just have a pleasant day to ourselves."

"Are you jesting, or are you serious? I can't tell."

"Can't you?" Bilbo said, and folded up his letter, tucking it back in his pocket. "Ah, Frodo. There have been times I thought you were seeing right through me, clear down to my bones.  It's nice to know that I can still pull a little wool over your eyes."

Frodo looked genuinely confused. "What are you talking about?"

"You and I have much in common."

"Well, yes. We do seem to..."

"Have you ever felt that I might know what you are thinking, or what you are going to do before you do it?"

Frodo folded his hands together, puzzled, but thinking. He nodded. "Yes. There have been. You're the only one I've ever met who seemed that way to me, who seemed to..."

Bilbo returned the nod. "Yes. So, am I jesting or am I serious?"

"I can't tell!"

Bilbo smiled. "Then we'll get along just fine. What use is a friendship where you always know everything about each other? I'm pleased to add a little mystery."

"So -"

"Yes?"

"Are we having a party or not?"

Bilbo laughed. "No. No we're not."

Frodo got up briefly to add tea to the steaming kettle. "Are you serious?"

"Yes, I am. I thought about it, you know: about having quite a grand party for us this year. I wanted to have, oh, half the Shire! I wanted food and games and dancing and songs with all my friends and relatives and acquaintances besides - but whose friends would they be? Mine or yours?"

Frodo looked uncomfortable. "Yours?"

"Yes, mine. Now, whose birthday is it tomorrow?"

"Yours..."

"And?" he prompted.

"Mine."

"So. Why would you want a big party with a bunch of folk you don't know? What sort of birthday is that, eh?  Tell you what - we will have a grand party someday, I promise. But only when you can invite as many hobbits as I can."

Frodo shook his head. "It might take me a long time to catch up!"

"But catch up you will, or you're no Baggins at all. I can wait."

"But what about Sam?"

"We'll eat his cake, of course. All by ourselves."

"I hope it's..."

"Edible? Me too. We better have a big breakfast just in case."

They sat in silence for a time, watching the fire.  After a bit, Frodo took a towel and picked up the steaming kettle to pour out the tea.  Bilbo accepted his mug from him and sipped and blew at it. It was fragrant and strong.

"Thank you." said Frodo, sipping at his own.

"Eh? For what?" Bilbo winced at the heat of the tea and blew on it again.

"For having it be only the two of us. I have to admit, I wasn't looking forward to a big party, but I didn't want to tell you that and have you be disappointed."

"I'm not disappointed. How could I be? I have you here, and that is enough."

Frodo looked down at his mug, swirling the bits of tea-leaf that floated in it. He didn't reply - but then, he didn't need to. They were both at peace.  They finished the tea, allowing their talk to wander as it would, speaking of the small doings and weather, of Brandy Hall and Hobbiton and all the pleasant histories that so often make up hobbit conversation, and then to other topics outside the realm of the Shire.  It was a balm to them both, that freedom to speak however the heart wandered,  knowing that in the other there would be no condemnation or lack of understanding.

The fire-log burned down and was replaced by others and still they talked, though their pauses grew longer as the hour grew later. Bilbo's limbs began to feel very heavy, and he could see the shadows under Frodo's eyes. He had been traveling that day, after all. But still... he didn't want to end this.

The night was dark, studded with stars outside the window, flecks of white fire beyond the black silhouettes of the trees. Bright.  But it was also bright inside, yes very bright. Bilbo felt as if no darkness could ever enter his life again, as if Bag End were a haven, even as the Shire was a haven from the outside world.  He felt...whole. More than he had in a long time. As if he had been in a darkened room and only now come out into the sunlight. Though  he had seen enough of the night world to know that as long as there were stars, it was never truly dark... even if the stars themselves weren't there, and all he carried was the memory of them.

"It's late." observed Frodo, breaking a long silence.

"Yes."

"What are you thinking about?"

"About... darkness; the way it is driven out by light... about... you and I, and stars..."

Frodo's voice was quiet. "I have missed the way you speak when you are tired, Bilbo..."

Bilbo looked over at the dark head, leaning on the side of the upholstered chair, the dark lashes closed against the warm firelight. It was soothing, somehow.  He continued. "It's reminded me of a poem I once wrote.  About a light that could be carried, so the darkness could never come near again..."

"Would you recite it for me?" asked Frodo, his voice soft with sleepiness.

Bilbo thought for a moment, trying to remember how it started. "For the darkness.. no, no that was the refrain of the piece. Just a moment...Hm. Yes, I've got it now..." he leaned forward on his elbows, gazing at the firelight as he settled into the piece. It had been a song, though now he spoke it more than sung it. The music he had imagined for it had never suited his own voice, at least not when there were others to hear besides himself.

The day is done, the night begun,
My lantern flickers o'er the path.
The path is long, my weary song
May falter midst the shadowed grass.

Though steps are slow, and wind may moan
I will not fear the flame being blown,
For in the night I'll find no flight;
By stars I walk, I'm not alone.

For the darkness cannot touch me,
The light is in my heart,
From memories of starlight,
My mind will never part.

Beyond my hand there lies a land,
And 'neath my feet a path to stay -
A darkened cloak for other folk
But to my heart it's clear and plain.

This light in hand is merely sand,
The wind and waves could sweep away
But here I start, with star in heart
And to my eyes 'tis always day.

For the darkness cannot touch me,
The light is in my heart,
From memories of starlight,
My mind will never part.

If I could hold, though it be bold,
A star within my frail grasp,
The night would flee away from me,
And never dare again to pass...

Bilbo paused. Judging by the even breathing, Frodo had fallen asleep.  He slowly dropped down towards a whisper as he took up one of the generous lap throws that lay warmed and folded nearby and shook it out.

The sky ablaze, my face I raise
To diamonds fair in velvet sea,
And Middle-earth is but a berth
For starlit ships that come for me.

He gently laid it over his sleeping nephew and tucked the edges in. Frodo stirred slightly and curled into the blanket with a small breath like a sigh.

For the darkness cannot touch me,
The light is in my heart...

Bilbo settled back into his own chair, pulling the other throw up to his chin. He sat there for a while, watching the fire slowly burning down, the dying firelight playing over Frodo's curls.  Of course the proper thing to do would be to have him move to his room, where he might be more comfortable. But when it came down to doing it, Bilbo found a lassitude taking him over. His arms felt like lead, and couldn't stir to do it.

Instead he slowly allowed himself to also drift into sleep in his chair.It wasn't the first time he'd slept there, and most likely wouldn't be the last. He shifted the blanket up over his shoulders and turned to be more comfortable. The fire crinkled and hissed softly, settling unheeded and untended as it's fading warmth and light comfortably washed over the two Baggins of Bag End, asleep in their chairs side by side.