Crouching Dragon, Hidden Bee by elwen of the hidden valley

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I don't own the setting or main characters in this fic. They all belong to JRR Tolkien and I am only borrowing them. Many thanks to Lindahoyland for the beta.


Unlike many a hobbit Frodo Baggins took pains to study the huge world beyond the borders of the Shire. His knowledge however, was limited to Bilbo’s tales, a few scraps gleaned from his elvish translations and some ancient and, in a few cases, rather dog-eared books. Bilbo had travelled to the east and north of Rivendell but Frodo knew that he must now travel only a little way east before turning southward. The Fellowship had but a few weeks of peace in which to prepare themselves so now would be a good time to take advantage of Lord Elrond’s extensive library.

Erestor kindly supplied him with a selection of maps and writings about the lands and peoples the Fellowship might encounter, and directed Frodo to a small table and chair set in a quiet corner of the vast chamber. Both table and chair were the perfect height for a hobbit and Frodo wondered if the elves had made them especially for Bilbo’s use. The fine carving of a garland of ivy about the table's edge and legs was quite exquisite and yet, somehow familiar. On a hunch, Frodo ran his fingers around the rim of the table top, eyes widening when he encountered the tiny rendition of a bee that he had only half expected to discover. Now, how had a work by one of the Shire’s finest carpenters ended up so far away, in Rivendell?

-0-

Harry Mugwort eked out a living but not much more. His parents had moved to the Shire from Bree when he was but a faunt and, although Harry had spent most of his life in Hobbiton, he was still considered an outsider. It was fortunate that Hamdon Mugwort had passed on his carpentry skills to his son before dying just three years ago, for it meant that Harry could support both himself and his mother. Sadly, he could only barely support them for most folk in Hobbiton preferred to give their woodworking jobs to Tom Goodbody, whose family could trace their roots back to the settling of the Shire.

Today Harry was working on a rare commission for a cradle. His usual work consisted of repairing tables or building gates and fences. Bell Gamgee was expecting her third child and when the family cradle had been brought out of storage it was found to be riddled with woodworm. She and Hamfast had barely two coins to rub together so Harry had offered to undertake the work for just the cost of the wood. After all, they were neighbours and he knew what it was like to survive on next to nothing. Besides, all babies deserved a warm and comfortable place to sleep. He was concentrating so hard on carving the little daisies on a panel for the hood that he did not realise he had an audience until someone spoke.

“You carve well.”

Only years of being told over and over by his father that tools should be looked after, prevented Harry from dropping the fine chisel in his hand as he spun around to find the owner of the cultured voice. Bilbo Baggins, the famous (or was that infamous?) owner of Bag End on top of the hill, was leaning casually in the doorway of Harry's workshop.

“Good day to you, sir.” Harry placed his chisel carefully upon the workbench and took up a rag to wipe his hands as he turned back to survey his own work. “I like to carve but there's not much call for it on a barn door.”

Mr Baggins stepped closer to examine the work, smiling as he picked up the already finished panel for the other side of the cradle hood. He traced one ink stained finger along a fine petal and then caressed a curling leaf. “Is this for the Gamgees? It would not be out of place in Brandy Hall.”

Harry frowned. “Aye, well no doubt they've got plenty of cradles already. Bell and Hamfast have none.”

“You are quite right, Master Mugwort, and I am certain that Ham will be very pleased to receive such a beautiful gift.”

Now Harry waved his hand. “Tis not a gift. They're paying for the piece.”

Mr Baggins only smiled. “As I hear it they're paying for the materials.” He held up the beautifully carved piece in his hands. “But the skill and the love are your gift I think.”

Now Harry blushed, wiping his hands once more before clearing his throat. “Was there something you were wanting, Mr Baggins? I paid the rent to your agent last week.” He hoped Mr Baggins was not thinking of increasing the rent on his little smial and workshop.

“No, no, no!” Bilbo hastened to assure him. “I have come to see if you would be willing to undertake a little job for me.” He smiled. “Well, quite a big job actually.”

Harry tried not to let his elation show. A commission from the master of Bag End could be the making of his reputation. Bilbo Baggins had pots of money, so he heard, and many wealthy relatives among the Tooks and Brandybucks. A piece of Harry's work in his elegant home would be seen by others with money and could lead to more jobs. Then cold reason doused his hopes. No doubt Mr Baggins needed a new garden gate or a fence repairing. “What would the job be?” he asked, with no great hope.

Mr Baggins fished in his trouser pockets, finally producing a much-crumpled scrap of paper. “Do you read, Master Mugwort?”

Harry drew himself up to his full three foot seven inches. “Not so well as you, sir, I've no doubt. But well enough to read instructions if that's what you've got there.”

“Then we shall do well together.” Mr Baggins smiled as he smoothed out the paper on a clear space on the workbench. “It is a slightly unusual commission but now, more than ever, I am certain you will do it justice.”

Bending to examine the sketch Harry could see at once that it was a bed and his heart soared. No one had asked him to make a bed before, although he considered himself more than capable of the task. Mr Baggins had even done a rather detailed sketch of some carvings for the headboard. It was just as well that he had, for Harry had never seen a dragon before and he was almost salivating at the thought of carving such a fantastical creature. Then he bent closer to examine the measurements and frowned.

“Not meaning to be rude, Mr Baggins, but are you sure these measurements is right? You say here that you want it six foot five long and five foot wide. That's a mite big for a hobbit hole, even one as grand as I hear yours is.”

Mr Baggins only chuckled. “I am sure you have heard the tales of my adventures.”

Harry's picked up a fine chisel and studied it for a moment. He had been in the Ivy Bush only last week when Bilbo Baggins, not for the first time, had regaled folk with tales of his adventures. Not wishing to be rude Harry, like most of the Ivy Bush patrons, had ooh'd and aaah'd in all the appropriate places but considered the tale a wee bit embellished. Every now and then some folk on the borders had glimpsed dwarves and elves but everyone knew that dragons belonged to the realms of fantasy, along with trolls and shape shifters. As for old Gandalf being a wizard? He made wonderful fireworks to be sure. Harry had seen them at last year's Yule celebrations when the old man paid one of his rare visits to Mr Baggins. He had to admit that there was something unsettling about Gandalf that made a person think there was more to him than met the eye but no-one had actually seen him do any magic.

With a start, Harry realised that his potential patron was awaiting his reply. He considered very carefully before opening his mouth. “Indeed, sir. And very . . . interesting . . . they are.”

Mr Baggins chuckled. “Well, upon occasion Gandalf comes to visit and it seems very impolite to expect an elderly gentleman to bed down on the parlour rug. Next time he visits I would like to surprise him with a real bed and have just expanded one of the bedrooms to accommodate it. Do you think you are up to the job?”

If Mister Bilbo Baggins wanted such an item of furniture Harry certainly considered himself up to the task and who was he to judge the sanity of his patron as long as the coin was forthcoming? He had never heard of anyone not being paid well for work done at Bag End. “I reckon I can do it.” Harry considered the amount of oak and rope he would need for the job. “What were you expecting to pay for the work? It'll take a site more wood than usual.”

It seemed that Mister Baggins had given this some thought. “I was going to offer seven silver pennies but I am open to negotiation if you consider that insufficient.”

Harry nearly dropped the chisel again. He had thought to ask for four pennies which would still have made him a nice profit. Realising that his mouth was hanging open he snapped it shut and swallowed before replying, “That's more than fair, Mister Baggins and ‘twill buy you my very best work.”

Mr Baggins only waved a hand airily. “Oh, I have no doubt. I've been seeing your work about Hobbiton for several years now and it is of the highest quality.” He nodded toward the half-finished cradle. “There is no hurry if you have other work to finish. Come up to the smial when you are ready, to examine the room and entrance. I expect you will need to make the bed in sections and assemble it on site but you may wish to check the width of the doorways.”

“Aye, sir. That would be wise. I've only this cradle to finish and a shelf to fit for the Goodbody's so I could come up the hill by the end of the week if that's convenient.”

“So soon? That would be perfect. And if you need a stronger rope for the base speak to the Gamgees. They’ve ropers in the family.” The Master of Bag End smiled as he turned to leave. “I shall expect you toward the end of this week, then. Feel free to call whenever you wish. If I am not at home Bell Gamgee has a key.”

“Thank you, Mister Baggins.”

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Hobbiton was one of the Shire's larger hamlets but still small by comparison to the habitations of men. It took but half a day for everyone to know about Harry Mugwort's commission from Mad Baggins.

Some of the less generously natured folk thought it said a lot that the slightly cracked adventurer had gone to the outsider for his bed. Others who had taken the time to get to know him, were pleased to see such a large commission go to Harry. All of them were rather curious to see the bed and Harry received more visitors than usual to his workshop over the next few weeks . . . not all of them requiring jobs done. He took it in his stride. Although the constant interruptions were annoying he did at least manage to add two gates, a kitchen table, and the repair of three chairs to his list of work. They were perhaps not the calibre of work he hoped would come his way but they would put food on his table.

When the day of the delivery came many a job was postponed in Hobbiton and everyone between Harry's workshop and Bag End developed a pressing need to tend their front gardens or chat over the wall. Even the Gamgee's at number three Bagshot Row, who were well used to the strange antics of Bilbo Baggins, could be seen pulling non-existent weeds from their vegetable patch. (No sensible weed would dare show its head in Hamfast Gamgee's tater patch.)

Farmer Cotton loaned Harry a pony and cart and offered his services to load and drive, for a minimal fee. He liked Harry and it meant that he got a front row seat at the spectacle. After helping Harry wrangle the tall, carved headboard onto the cart Tom was beginning to wonder if the view was worth the strained back but a promise was a promise.

Mister Baggins met them at the gate to Hobbiton's grandest smial. “Do you need another hand with all that Master Mugwort?”

Harry considered Mister Baggins, with his neatly brushed foot hair and finely embroidered waistcoat. “Er . . . that's alright, sir. Me and Tom will likely manage.”

Mister Baggins chuckled. “I think you should accept what help you can get. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty.” Indeed, even as he spoke he unfastened some of his waistcoat buttons and began to roll up his shirt sleeves. “Do you want to bring it in through the door or the window?”

Deciding to take Mr Baggins at his word Harry replied, “I thought the window, sir. That way we can avoid that sharp turn in the hallway. I wouldn't want to scratch that fine wainscoting.” Harry's eyes grew dreamy for a moment. “That's as fine a bit of panelling as I’ve seen.”

“Then it’s a pity my father is no longer around to hear your praise. He took great pride in Bag End’s construction. I'll go and open the window for you.” As Bilbo ran back into the house he called over young Hamson Gamgee, slipping a farthing into his palm and asking him to look to the pony. By the time Bilbo released the catch and threw the casement wide, Hamfast Gamgee had joined the fray, helping Tom and Harry wrestle the huge headboard between Bag End’s carefully tended flower beds.

Even though, like everything else in the smial, the windows in Bag End were quite generous it took all four of them to slide the piece upon an angle through the opening. The frame and footboard were easier but the huge coil of rope purchased for the webbing was both heavy and unwieldy and all of them were perspiring profusely by the time everything was in the room. It was a great relief, therefore, when a roundly expectant Bell Gamgee passed in four cups and a large jug of lemonade.

“Bell Gamgee, you're a grand lass an' I'm reminded every day why I married ye,” Hamfast announced as he patted what was left of her waistline.

Bell snorted, batting his hand away. “Tis well ye are.” Then she addressed herself to Bilbo. “The beddin's ready when you are sir. I had to seem the sheets an' blankets but they'll hold and the quilt is right cheerful, if I say so myself.”

“Thank you, Bell. I am certain they will be perfect. You have a fine hand with needle and thread or I would not have asked you to make them. Give us . . .” He cocked an enquiring brow at Harry.

“About three hours, sir,” Harry replied confidently.

“Right you are, gents,” Bell interjected. “I'll have a bit o' tea ready for ye in the garden when yer done.” She waddled off down the path to number three Bagshot Row.

Ham and Harry began arranging pieces of frame on the floor but Bilbo watched her worriedly. “Will she be alright setting up all that food in her delicate condition?”

Hamfast chuckled. “You try an' stop her. There's nothin' delicate about the Goodchilds. She was helpin' me dig taters two days afore Hamson were born an' this one aint due for another two month.”

As they spoke the bed began to take shape and it seemed to Harry that it was no time at all before they were threading the heavy rope to provide a nice springy base for the mattress. It took all of them to pull it taut and it was heavy work, with Bilbo and Tom provided tension while Harry and Ham threaded and tied it off.

“I'll have to come back in a few weeks to tighten this again once it's relaxed a bit,” Harry gasped as he wiped his brow with a large spotted hanky.

“You need not bother if you are busy,” Bilbo advised him as he helped Tom throw the first mattress, a woven straw pad, onto the finished bed. “I'm sure Hamfast here will give me a hand.”

“I'd rather do it myself if you don't mind, sir. I'd like to make sure the joints are holding up and if you get the tension uneven on the ropes it can pull the frame out of true until it settles in proper.” Harry helped Hamfast wrestle the second, stuffed wool mattress onto the frame and all four of them straightened it.

“I bow to your knowledge in these matters, Harry,” Bilbo wheezed as they all hefted the final feather mattress into place. It had arrived in the Shire only yesterday, having been carted all the way from Dale it was said.

Harry jumped when Bell Gamgee's voice came from the open casement behind him. “My, but that's a grand thing. Here's yer beddin' Mr Bilbo.” She had her arms full of multi coloured fabric and Lily Cotton stood at her side, bearing a pile of sheets and blankets that threatened to over topple her.

Ham and Tom rushed to relieve their respective wives of their burdens while Bilbo added a pile of feather pillows to the bed. The next several minutes was spent with the menfolk making up the bed, under the close supervision of the ladies of course. By the time they finished all were out of breath and as they tried to regain it they stood to survey the afternoon's work.

The room Bilbo had recently arranged to have extended was still only just big enough to accommodate it but the bed was perfectly proportioned to fit. With Bilbo's permission the original sketch for the carving on the headboard had been abandoned. Harry had pointed out that a dragon, in full flight and breathing fire, was not exactly conducive to pleasant dreams. Consequently the headboard now supported a long sinuous dragon, stretched somnolently from one side to the other, its claws lost amongst the mounded pillows. The footboard was deeply carved with trailing ivy. Between the two was spread Bell Gamgee's contribution, a brightly coloured quilt with more trailing ivy patched and embroidered onto the centre panel.

Hamfast was the first to regain control of his breathing. “Well now . . . aint that a sight? I don't reckon I've ever seen a grander.”

Bilbo reached out to stroke the tiny bee carved on the end of the dragon’s delicately scaled snout. “I do believe you are right, Ham. I don't think this would look out of place in Rivendell. You have excelled yourself, Harry.”

Inwardly, Harry preened. “I'm not sure what Rivendell is but I reckon this is some of my best work.”

“It's the elven stronghold ruled over by Lord Elrond and it contains the treasures of thousands of years. I saw many beautiful things there but I do believe Elrond would be jealous if he saw this.”

Harry cleared his throat and began to wipe his hands upon a fresh hanky, supplied by Bilbo. “I'm sure he’s no need to be jealous. I'd be happy to make him his own if he was that way inclined.” Then as an afterthought he added, “Although I'd have to add another penny to the cost for portage all that way.”

Bilbo laughed. “Don't worry, Harry. I'm sure we can find you customers closer to home. Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck will be visiting next week and I am certain your work would look every bit as well in Brandy Hall as it would in Rivendell.” He clapped Harry on the back. “Mark my words, before long you will have all the first families of the Shire demanding your work. No smial of any worth will be complete without a piece of furniture crafted by Master Mugwort.”

Then Bilbo surprised Bell by taking her hand and bringing it to his lips to kiss. “And all the ladies will be asking for the use of Bell Gamgee’s hands to make their fine linens.”

Bell blushed, tugging her hand away. “Get away with ye! Ye've a gift to charm the birds from the nest when ye've a mind to Master Baggins. Any more words like that an' my head will be as big as my belly.”

Hamfast chuckled at his wife's blushes, clambering out of the window to hug her. “They can have her hands, Master Bilbo, but I've got all the rest of her.” He tucked her beneath his arm. “Now where's that tea we was promised?”

“In the garden where I told yer it would be, ye daft lummox.”

Grinning broadly the other three workers followed the couple down the hill.

Bilbo's prediction was right. Within ten years Harry Mugwort had a reputation that spread to the borders of the Shire and even beyond. When Gandalf next visited, he declared the new bed the most comfortable he had ever slept in and upon his departure a small, blanket wrapped bundle was tucked onto the back of his cart.

Thus it was that many years later Frodo Baggins found the little table in a corner of Rivendell's library, looking not the least bit out of place.

END

 




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