Nothing of Note

by Primula

8: March Across the Marches

The last of the orchards and farms were safely passed with no further incidents with dogs, though he found himself a bit jumpy about it, holding his stick at ready and listening closely for any barking with each one he went by.  He soon entered into the lands that lay along the outer boundaries of the Shire, lands that were generally considered safe enough, but were not farmed; the only activity they saw was the grazing of livestock in the warmer months and occasional berry-picking excursions.  The road was quiet and as the afternoon passed on he decided to stop for another picnic. 

The shelter of a lone ash tree alongside the road offered a comfortable leaning-and-thinking place.  He gratefully slipped his pack off his shoulders with a thud and leaned it against the tree's trunk, shook out his blanket and settled down to enjoy what small repast he carried with him.  It was early enough in the season that he was unaccosted by grasshopper or ant and it was really quite pleasant, in spite of his legs, arms and shoulders being a bit sore. He had exerted himself rather heartily when swinging at the dog and now he was feeling it.  Still, in his opinion all his personal party wanted was something hot to drink and a bit of music. 

"I don't suppose you can sing?" he rhetorically inquired of the ash tree. "No, I didn't think so. But fear not that I'll use you to heat my tea, for I haven't a pot, nor a spring."

No, he couldn't produce a teapot but the musical lack he could fill well enough, making up a tune as he went and filling in the rough spots with heys and hos.

Hey ho here I stand,
I've got an apple in my hand,
A tree above and ground below
What a picnic, hey ho ho!

An apple sliced and dried is sweet
My tongue and teeth upon it meet,
Oh topped with cheese it is a treat,
Hey ho, ho, ho...!

He happily laid out his meager lunch, methodically finished off his apple and cheese, brushed his blanket off and began rolling it up.  It still quite a lot of grass sticking to it.  He flourished it into the air towards the meadow vigourously.

Hey ho, here I stand,
With my blanket in my hand,
Wave it hard and watch it flap,
Smooth it out for nighttime's nap!
Flap, flap, flap!
Hey ho, hey ho, hey...

He suddenly stopped and looked around, aware of a noise behind him on the road.  A farmer's wife sat on the back of her pony, balancing two sacks of seed and looking at him with very strange expression on her face. With all the singing he had been doing, he hadn't even heard her approach.

"Oh! Pardon me. Just singing and er...flapping." he said and smiled at her.

Her already wrinkled brow furrowed further. She laid her hand across her sacks of seed protectively.

Trying again, he offered "Bilbo Baggins, at your service." and gave a small bow. "You wouldn't happen to know how much farther it is to Undertowers? I can't say my friend the tree here is any use for information of that sort." He smiled and gestured in that general direction with his blanket.

To his great puzzlement, she suddenly kicked her pony to a fast trot and took off down the road, back the way he had come from. 

"I say, didn't mean to startle you or anything...!" he called out, but she gave no reply, only a glance back over her shoulder at him as if to be sure he wasn't following. If anything, she was picking up speed.

He watched her ride away.  The sound of the hooves soon faded into the smaller sounds of the grasses and leaves.

"Well. That didn't go so well, did it?" he asked the tree.  He finished packing up, pulled his pack back on and thumped his stick a couple times to get his walking rhythm going.

Ho, ho, don't you know
I have quite a ways to go,
Some hobbits shy and run away,
But down the road I'll go today...

By the time dark was approaching he was quite literally 'in the middle of nowhere' with untilled grasslands and brush around him. He decided it was high time to find someplace to camp that night. It would take him a good part of tomorrow still to reach Undertowers. The good weather had held and he was in no danger of being rained on;  the land was soft and grassy, with only a few trees under a clear sky and he would be comfortable enough.

As shadow lengthened, he turned off the road and slowly angled towards a brushy copse of poplar and beech.  In the field nearby a small stream offered clear water, then lifted up a swell covered in trees.  The ground under them was a bit drier, and he hoped the underbrush would provide him with something of a windbreak if it became breezy later in the night.  A few minutes of searching revealed a sheltered sort of nook.  He set about clearing the ground of any sharp twigs or rocks, scooping the leaves and sticks up on the sides to create a nest that would stop the worst of the breeziness and help to hide his sleeping form from any curious passerby on the road should he inadvertently sleep away the dawn.  He set aside the driest leaves and the few fern fronds he could find for bedding.  Going back out to into the open, he gathered three good armloads of fragrant dry grasses to supplement it. 

He considered starting a small fire, but even as he dug into his pack for his tinderbox, he decided against it.  He did not want any unsought attention, being so close to the boundary of the Shire, nor did he want to spend his evening dealing with the myriads of moths that might be attracted to such a light. He spread his blanket over the rustling bedding, curled up in his woolen cloak with his notebook and began to write a few small ideas down. The light was fading too quickly for him to get very far, and when he was hunched over squinting at the page with his nose in danger of being inked he had to admit defeat to the night and put it away.

Without the company of his notebook he began to feel lonely. He ate a bit of bread in the dark as he had not wanted to waste writing time eating before. The night closed in around him and the stars slowly kindled.  It was so very quiet, and the stars seemed so very bright and alive it was a little frightening. 

I very small, he thought, and so very, very... temporary. All the immensity of the eternal sky is spilling out over my head.  The world is filled with diamond flecks and sparks of fire, fire and moonlight and dark waters...

He found his thoughts turning to Elrond, whose eyes had held a certain starlight about them. He tried to imagine what it would be like to have memories that spanned back through entire ages. It was beyond his comprehension.  For those who had lived so very long, history would not be history but memories. They would have known all those long-ago names, known their faces and voices.  He strove to stretch his mind around this and to explore it but it was too much.  As a small child who peers into an immense and hushed cathedral, it found it too much to comprehend.  He fell back from the heights into the Shire, a hobbit who was thankful that he was just a hobbit and did not have the burden of all those years upon him. He grew weary enough with the few he carried.

The slight movements of the tree-branches made the stars flicker overhead. Worn out from walking, he felt sleep lulling him under even before the moon had risen.  Pulling the cloak further up until only his nose was open to the cool air he curled up within this warm cocoon and soon drifted away.

He was walking to the towers, and they were lifted above him in the sky, very white and very fair.  They were taller than he had even imagined. The stars from the sky snared on the peaks of them as they wheeled by, hanging upon them like glittering garlands. Silver with crystal in them. Two of the towers stood dark but a strange soft singing and the sound of a harp could be heard from the tallest one, and hot firelight spilled out from the partially opened door upon the cold grasses.  He went closer, wanting to see this harpist who sang sweet notes, sweet as birdsong but terribly sad.  Trees grew up around the tower, and when he reached its side he realized it was not stone at all but wood, carven wood that had once been deep red. The harpists birdlike voice mourned, sang nearer to him and the firelight grew brighter as he approached the bright...

Bilbo squinted his eyes shut against the sunlight that had made its way through the branches and landed across his face.  Somewhere above him a bird sang cheerfully.  He had slept through dawn, but was more frustrated at the ending of his dream than he was with the lost travel time.  He pulled his cloak up over his face and tried to regain the tatters, tried to see who was on the other side of that door but it was hopeless.  Sighing, he sat up, ran his fingers through his hair and scrubbed the feeling of sleep from his face with his hands.  He reached for his notebook and began writing.

The fire spilled across the floor, the harpist's tongue ran sweet,
The carven harp beneath his hand like blood ran red and deep.
What longing would a harpist know, to mourn with sorrowed song
Amid the starlit beauty of the tower where he belonged...

After filling most of a page he stopped.  He couldn't go any further with it, and he was hungry.  As he ate a simple breakfast, washed up in the stream, broke camp and waded through the grasses back to the road, he mused on his double-edged desire.  How he longed to know the history of that harp he had seen back in Michel Delving, for instance, and to know if it were in fact connected with the towers. And how he also didn't want to know, because so often real history was so mundane and not nearly as interesting as the tales his imagination was free to spin for lack of facts.  What if it was a terribly boring history?  He would rather enjoy the adventurous one even if it were not the true one, especially when it was safely in the past where it could not bring about uncomfortable inconveniences.  Good tales were always uncomfortable and inconvenient to live, and the very best tales were downright dangerous.  Better to tell children about dark creatures by the warm fire at home than to encounter them in real life; he could even vouch for that one.

The road spread out before him. The morning sky, strewn with its handful of clouds did not seem to even be a part of the same world as the night had.  He shook off the last of the faint dream that yet hung upon his mind and started off with a will once more.