Nothing of Note

by Primula

7: Dogged Steps

Leaving Greenholm had been easy only because he had been quick, thought Bilbo to himself as he paced along the deserted westward road. If he had been only a little slower off the mark, he would have been obliged to spend breakfast with the Chubb family and their many endearing Chubb offspring which while a pleasant enough repast would have led to having to explain to each of those many young hobbits why he had to leave and if he would be back and to say good-bye. Repeatedly. Then there would have been the needing to spend time accepting some small provision for the road, having to thank them all again, repeatedly.  Follow it all up with a long farewell at the gate and it would have been lunchtime and he would have had to start all over again.  It was no wonder hobbits never went anywhere. It was too difficult to leave!

Yes, he was glad he had been able to slip out with none but little Posey knowing of it. She had promised to pass on his regrets for having to leave so early and he knew she meant to do so, if she remembered.  He smiled to himself again at the thought of her now gold-filled bag.  Mr. Chubb seemed the sort that would not waste the gift, especially coming from a child.

He knew he had a long march ahead of him today.  Perhaps tomorrow as well as he did not expect to be able to travel all the way across this part of the Western Marches on foot in one day.  The green hills were before him, but hazy and they grew in size only very slowly.  They were far enough away that distant clumps of trees could still easily hide them from his view, coming and going in his sight as he walked along.  The weather was pleasantly warm, raising a thin, brief morning mist from the damp ground, perfect and fragrant after the rains.  The bright green buds in the trees seemed to have visibly grown overnight, some of them already waving as small newly-opened leaves.

With hours to pass in a peaceful lack of interruption, he found himself mulling over sections of his book back home, unsnarling knots in some of his verse and wishing he didn't have to keep moving.  If only there were a way to write and walk at the same time, I would be doing it, he thought.  He considered trying it, but knew from past experience it would only cause his walk to slow to a crawl and his writing to be filled with ink dots and shaking bumps.  He did allow himself to briefly pull out his notebook and jot down ideas and key notes from time to time, but otherwise had to content himself with other amusements.  He added four good verses to his walking song, then composed a new walking song to go with it.  In his mind he wandered through Hobbiton and had various imaginary conversations with people he had been meaning to talk to.  He mentally composed a letter to his cousin Dora, telling her what he really thought of most of her frequent and unwanted advice. It was refreshing to have the luxury of cleaning out the drawers in his mind this way.

This part of the road seemed little traveled.  He had met a very few farmers and other hobbits taking their wares towards Michel Delving early on, but almost no one else.  Rabbits scurried away from hiding places in the roadside grasses, startled to have anyone walking by.  Once a fox crossed the road, near enough to see the shine in its eyes. 

The lands on either side were a mix of fallow and tilled grounds with the occasional widely scattered flock of sheep or goats grazing, and homes were infrequent and far off.  About midday he passed an apple orchard that had bee boxes set up along its edge, ready for the first blossoms next month and noticed chimney-smoke rising up just beyond it.  In the shade of the trees, mushrooms had been cultivated and were flourishing in the damp.  Somewhere a dog barked.

Bilbo sniffed the air to appreciate the slight breeze that carried the rich scent of mushrooms past him.  Very pleasant. Should have bought some to bring with me, he thought.  Not that the little store in Greenholm seemed to have any...

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a huge brown and black dog lunged out of the grasses nearby snarling and barking. A long-buried reflex made him fumble briefly at his belt for a non-existent sword, then lacking that, to hold his walking stick defensively in front of him.

"Nice dog, good dog..." he said. The dog growled low in its throat. He tried taking a couple slow steps down the road.  The dog uttered another deep bark and showed its teeth.  Where was its owner? Carefully keeping his walking stick between himself and the animal, he continued to flatter and soothe it with his voice while edging along.  It seemed to be working. The tail wasn't wagging, but at least the dog wasn't following him either.  He went a four more slow steps.

The dog's shoulders tensed and it lunged towards him, growling, all legs and teeth. All of the good advice that he had ever given or been given about not running from dogs went straight out of his head and he ran.  His legs seemed to have a will of their own, propelling him down the path without his mind having anything to do with it. There was only the sound of the dog's rapidly gaining paws on the road behind him and he knew it was futile.  He could hear it growling and breathing.  He spun back around and made a stand, his stick held at ready.  His heart pounded in his ears.

The dog seemed surprised, skidding to a halt about two yards away. It simply stood and looked at him for a moment, then gave another short bark, slowly approaching him again.  Inwardly one part of his mind smacked the other part for allowing the running, while the running part gibbered in panic. Never too old to panic, after all.  Still, it was what you did while panicking that made the difference.

He stood his ground. The dog stopped. From the corner of his eye Bilbo could see part of a smial, set back from the road.  If he could just get beyond whatever the dog considered to be its own territory, he should be fine and it appeared his running had at least accomplished traversing over halfway past the home.  The dog started to take a step forward and he brandished the stick.  It stopped, but growled again. After a moment it took another step. He again feinted with the stick and it stopped.

Bilbo suddenly decided that was enough, thank you.  He was not going to do this all day.  If the dog's owner would not come to call the animal off, he would have to send it away himself.  Gathering his courage, he looked the dog in the eye with a determined ferocity that made the animal pause.  The dog knew something had just changed, but didn't realize how completely, nor what sort of hobbit it was facing.  Bilbo had run before, after all; surely he would run again.  It gave another short bark and bared its teeth.  Bilbo didn't move.

It gathered its haunches and made a spring into the air, intending to close its teeth on him. It never reached him. There was a resounding "crack!" as the walking stick swung down and sideways on its head with such force it was knocked to the side of the road.  The dog fell, tumbled over and staggered back to its feet, dazed and angry.  Bilbo stood his ground. 

"Come on," he said in a low dangerous voice. "I dare you to try that again."

The dog, angered and humiliated, obliged by repeating its leap at him. Again the orchard trees echoed with a "crack!" as it was knocked aside by the sturdy walking stick.  It staggered back up from the dirt, reoriented and went for Bilbo one more time. This was a mistake.

The stick thudded into its sides, on its back, across its legs, over its head.  Utterly bewildered it snapped at the air, trying to get a hold on its enemy.  Bilbo thwacked it hard across the nose and shifted his grip to follow it with a good shove with the point of the stick, flipping the protesting creature over onto its back yelping.

"You're a stubborn one, aren't you?" he panted. "Well, you've met one more stubborn than yourself today."  He shouted at the dog, feinting at it with his stick again. "Get away! Be gone!"  Its eyes rolled so the whites showed, and it half-heartedly gave one bark, but it had had enough. Battered and bruised,  it tucked its tail between its legs and ran limping towards its home.

Once he was sure it was really gone, Bilbo lowered the stick then leaned upon it to catch his breath and to still the trembling that was only now making itself known.  Not wanting to have to explain to the owners why he had just beaten and possibly injured their dog, he set off down the road to put the other half of the orchard between him and the house.  He glanced back from time to time but the dog did not reappear.

He couldn't help but think of another time he had had to deal with a dog like that. But that time had been much worse, for he'd had a younger hobbit to protect, and the dog's angered owner to deal with besides. Maggot, it had been.  He remembered it all too well, taking a long walk with his young nephew down towards Buckland, his fear at the viciousness of the dog, especially when it had gone after Frodo. 

Perhaps it was the fear that had lent him strength, for he had not intended to strike the dog down...he really hadn't. But Maggot had been unforgiving about the loss of that dog, even though it was on the boundaries of his property and they had not even been trespassing.  Even though the animal was going after a child.  He'd had bitter words for all Bagginses ever since, as if it had been a-purpose. A shame really, for he seemed a decent enough fellow otherwise and grew a fine mushroom crop.  Bilbo had even gone out of his way to be sure that he only purchased mushrooms from the Maggot's farm, but to no avail.  Only Mrs. Maggot would speak to him at the market in Hobbiton, and then only if her taciturn husband were nowhere nearby. 

Grudges were very inconvenient.  Dwarves were the masters of grudge-holding, so he was well-acquainted with them but he never saw the point in it.  Time moved on. Why spend it gnawing on old grievances when there were so many other things to do?

Well, he hoped the youngster had kept well away from him after that. He had good sense, that lad.  How was he doing anyway, clear over there in Buckland, a lone Baggins among all those Brandybucks?  Having at least some small adventures Bilbo hoped.  If any of his nephews or nieces were to have a small adventure, it would probably be Frodo. Bilbo rather liked that.

The orchard slowly retreated behind him as he headed out into the unfarmed marches that lay between him and the distant towers, but his mind was so filled with others that it was as if they were still nearby. He did not really feel alone at all. There were times that he had felt alone, and the irony of it, he reflected, was that the loneliest times were right in the middle of Hobbiton.  Right in the middle of uncountable distant relatives and acquaintances. 

It had been a while since he had had that Frodo-lad over, why, not since their last birthday wasn't it?  Having a birthday on the same day of the year was a bit of fun and the youngster was pleasant company in spite of just being a child... well, no, he would be in his tweens now wouldn't he?  Yes. Maybe. He wasn't sure. The birthdays all ran together for him.  Perhaps he ought to send a letter when he returned home, invite him over for a bit. It might be a nice diversion for both of them.  And perhaps by the time he got back home he would have the makings of some sort of tale to share with his appreciative young audience too.  So far, nothing had happened that was really of note.