Loss and Shirefolk
He sat already at table when she entered the dining hall for the morning meal, a small figure lifted up upon cushions, devoting himself to his breakfast with both pleasure and considerable focus.
Gilraen had not seen him or his companions the previous day on their arrival--she had been nursing Estel, who was suffering from a head cold, and the two of them had eaten in their rooms. Estel hated being amongst the Elves when he felt sick, was terribly embarrassed at being reduced to coughing and sneezing uncontrollably. That he exiled himself when ill caused his foster father to sigh, but also to experience a degree of pride that Estel would show such sense. Elrond had sent appropriate draughts to Estel's room, and had come to check on him last night after seeing the Dwarves and the Hobbit to their beds before going off to the library for the rest of the night to study on the known history of Smaug ere he came to the Lonely Mountain.
Gilraen was easier for her son this morning, and found herself curious about the small creature applying itself so single-mindedly to its morning meal. She filled her own breakfast plate from the dishes that sat on the sideboard, picked up eating implements, and found a place opposite him, looked into his face.
There was no question of this being a child, once one saw its face, in spite of its beardless condition. The face was lightly lined, the eyes intelligent, the mouth given to smiles and, she suspected, considerable humor. There were signs, she saw, that he'd been somewhat discontented, but was not so at the moment, at least. As he ate, he was looking at her with the same curiosity she felt toward him, although she sensed that he would not exercise it until he'd seen to the filling of his belly. Considering that he'd been working on that project for some time before she arrived, however, it didn't take too terrifically long before he wiped his mouth carefully with his napkin and focused his full attention on her.
"Bilbo Baggins, at your service," he finally said politely, and she realized that had he been in a position to easily stand and then sit again without the need to deal with so many cushions he would have given her a profound bow.
"Welcome, Master Bilbo Baggins," she said in return. "I am Gilraen."
"But you are not an Elf," he said, his examination obviously well informed.
"No, although my people bear some Elvish blood. My people are called the Dúnedain, and we here in the North have ever been welcome to sojourn amongst the Elves of Rivendell."
"Dúnedain?" he said with interest.
"We are descended from the Men of the West."
He straightened with even more interest. "The West? You mean Númenor? There was indeed a Númenor?"
She felt her own interest in him deepen. "You have heard of Númenor yourself? I am amazed."
He laughed. "I was an only child and grandson of the Old Took himself, and when visiting in the Great Smial when I was but a small lad I would read as much as I could from his library. Grandfather Gerontius himself was pleased to see how much curiosity I showed toward the outer world, and gave me a great many books over the years, including some of those he'd received from Gandalf and the Lord Elrond, and would even tell me tales of them when I was younger. I used to dream of having adventures when I was a child, although as a Baggins had I ever done so I'd have been looked on as a terrible aberration. Undoubtedly once I return home I shall be shunned horribly for having had the temerity to go off and do something so extraordinarily uncomfortable. I can barely believe, much of the time, that I'm actually doing this, you know."
He appeared to be of early middle years, his grey-green eyes bright and alert as he watched the others in the room with interest.
"Where are your companions?" she asked.
"Having a bit of a lie in, I suspect. The Elves who met us were teasing them unmercifully as we arrived, and spent much of the night singing songs full of 'Tra-la-la-lally' and so on outside our windows. Thorin was most disgruntled, I think."
"I suspect that Elladan and Elrohir were in the midst of the singing. They are not as accepting of our Dwarven visitors as their father is. Their mother grew up in Lothlorien, and they absorbed the distrust the Elves of that place have of the children of Aüle. They aren't as dismissive of Dwarves as are the Elves of Lorien, but do seem to find them apt targets for teasing."
"Then Lothlorien is a real place?"
"Of course," she answered him.
"Extraordinary," he said with a satisfied smile, taking a final forkful of food from his plate as he filed this information away in his mind. "The Golden Wood is a real place."
"Yes--the Lord Elrond's daughter dwells there now with her grandmother and grandfather."
His head rose with interest. "Lord Elrond has a daughter as well as sons?" he asked. "I had no idea."
"The Lady Arwen is very beautiful, though I've not seen her for many years--not since before I married my husband."
"Your husband visits here as well as you?"
"Oh, no--he died many years ago."
He appeared to note the grief that still filled her when she thought on her lost lord, and tactfully remained quiet.
Finally she asked, "Did you leave your wife at home alone when you set off with the Dwarves?"
"Oh, no, I have no wife. Once I might have married, but the one lass I favored died as the result of an accident, and I have simply never met her like again. And the thought I might marry a lass with no interest in books or the outer world has ever given me the shivers. The closest I've seen to one I might have favored since is Primula Brandybuck, and she's not even of age, after all. Far too young for the likes of me, I fear."
"I'm surprised, for I'd not thought that Hobbits tended to remain unmarried."
"Perhaps I was already more of an aberration as a Baggins than I'd realized," he said with a shrug, "remaining a bachelor as I have. I assure you it is not considered normal among my people." He sipped the last of his juice. "I will have a great deal to answer for when I return home, I suspect." He looked down on his plate, then back up at her. "Where shall I place my dishes? Would they wish me to help in the washing up?"
She pointed out the cart set to receive used dishes and assured him that his short stature would serve him ill in the pantries where dishes were cleaned; and assured he had done as much as he could to earn the hospitality granted him, he nodded with relief, rose, and bowed deeply toward her, then slipped off.
She saw Bilbo Baggins next in the gardens, examining the plantings of flowers and herbs there. He smiled up at her. "Hamfast would love it here," he said with interest. She saw that he carried bread wrapped about a slice of roast beef and onions with him, and was nibbling on it as he walked about. A mug sat nearby on a bench, and he returned to it, sipped from it, set it back down, then walked on to look at more.
"Who is Hamfast?" she asked.
"My gardener's apprentice. I suspect Hamfast will take over when his uncle Holman gives up gardening completely and retires. Absolutely devoted to gardening, although he also has a profound love of growing root vegetables as well as flowers. He's a fine lad, Hamfast is."
"Are you sorry you came away from your home, Master Bilbo?"
"Sorry? Oh, I've definitely been sorry a time or two, and undoubtedly will be sorry again before I return home to Bag End. But I'm not the least sorry at the moment. How could I feel sorry about being here, in this beautiful place, surrounded by Elves, and such a lovely one as yourself, my Lady?"
Gilraen felt more flattered than she'd felt in years. "And what is your home like, Master Bilbo?"
"Ah, Bag End! It is very comfortable, you know. My father dug it into the Hill when he contemplated marrying my mum. She was the Old Took's daughter, and grew up in the Great Smial. My dad wanted her to live in the most beautiful hole in the whole of the Shire, so he planned it all for her and the family they hoped to have. But in the end they had only me, although for a time some of my cousins lived with us as well after Fosco and Ruby died."
Gilraen found that Hobbits could wax quite lyrical when they described their homes, although she sensed Bilbo was not exaggerating the beauty or comfort of his Bag End. When he described the library in his study, she was amazed. "You have so many? I'd been told the Halflings were not particularly fond of books and learning."
He shrugged. "What can I say? I'm the grandson of the Old Took himself, and I appear to have inherited more Tookish curiosity than is normal amongst Hobbits. I've always loved a good tale--but always felt adventure is best experienced there in the comfort of ones chair, sitting by the warmth of the parlor or study fire." He shrugged. "I can't believe I left home to go on an adventure like this. What in Middle Earth got into me?" He sighed. "I could always blame it on Gandalf, I suppose, but in the end it was my own pride that got me out of the Shire. I couldn't bear it when the Dwarves said I looked more like a grocer than a burglar. After Gandalf had been telling them how intelligent I was and all, I had to do something to prove him right and the Dwarves wrong." He laughed. "It would be a fine joke, wouldn't it, if my pride cost me my life?" Gently he caressed the white blossom of an Elven lily, his face growing solemn. Yet he didn't appear frightened.
That night she had a dream of her children--her son Aragorn, known here as Estel, and the two who had been lost to her. At first after Lord Elrond had brought them here she'd dreamt of them often, knowing the grief again and again of the loss of the two babes she'd borne and miscarried, knowing that they had shared with their living brother the hope for Middle Earth. How it was that their share of that hope would come to be now that their lives were lost before they were even born she had no idea. Elrond had spoken of them being born elsewhere, in other lands, to other parents. But how could that happen?
A shining face looked down on her, smiling gently, wiping away her tears. "Do not worry, beloved daughter," a voice spoke in her heart. "They will be born."
"But not to me!"
"No, daughter, not to you--not now. That time has past, that possibility is gone. Others must bear them now, others see them born, raised, brought to the point of the promise."
"Sauron will never let them live if he knows they are born."
"Then we will see to it that they will be born where he will not look, raised where he cannot expect--not until it is too late."
"But then they will not know the full heritage of our people, either as the Dúnedain or the descendants of Elros. What will one born to those not of the Dúnedain know of that heritage?"
The shining One smiled down on her. "We prepare the way already, daughter. They will know the fullness of their Elven heritage, and far more of the history of the Dúnedain than they will realize. The wisdom of Elrond will be shared with them, even if it is second-hand."
"But how will my beloved Aragorn know them if they are not born to me? They will not be the brothers they were intended to be at the first."
"Though they may not be brothers of the body, they will always remain brothers of the spirit, daughter. They will recognize one another, will care always for one another. They will be as brothers, though they will be born in different lands, to different peoples."
"My beloved Gilorhael--he is to help Aragorn to restore the kingship, to restore the dual kingdom. How is that to happen if he is born to another land, to another people?"
"You foresaw that the one intended to be Gilorhael would hear the voice of Iluvatar in his heart. Do you think he will fail in that should he born to another than you?"
The Lady Gilraen bowed her head. "I beg pardon. What must be will be." She raised her head, looked again into the shining face. "But I cannot but grieve that I will not know him, that I could not see him born, see him beside his brother from the beginning."
"You shall see what will be, if you are willing to open yourself to it, Lady."
"Will they be born to the same parents?"
"No, although they shall, at the proper time, come to think of themselves as brothers, shall know the same teacher. They shall see one another enter adulthood. Both will rejoice ever in beauty, both know caring for others. They shall teach one another."
"So be it," Gilraen sighed, bowing in acquiescence.
"That is the Perian Bilbo Baggins?" asked Estel with fascination as he watched from the window.
"Yes, beloved, it is," his mother agreed.
"He is smaller even than the Dwarves."
"I can see his Light of Being. It is white, but a warm white."
Gilraen turned to her son with surprise. "You can see his Light of Being?"
"As you can see the Lights of Being for Lord Glorfindel and your adar?"
"Yes, Nana, but it is different than theirs. It is not the Light of Being of an Elf at all, and it's almost as if it has only recently begun to shine brightly."
"How can you know that?"
The child shrugged. "I don't know how I know, Naneth--I only know that I know. How did he come to be on an adventure with the Dwarves?"
"I understand that Gandalf chose him out to serve as the burglar for the Dwarves, and partly so as there might be fourteen rather than thirteen in the group."
"Where are they going?"
"Far to the East, to the Lonely Mountain."
"But there is a dragon there."
"Yes, the dragon Smaug. Apparently Gandalf has come to see that if they go there they will somehow be able to see to its death."
"I wish I could go." There was no mistaking the longing in the boy's voice.
Gilraen was amused. "One day, my son, you will face worse than dragons, and will do that regularly. But first you must finish your lessons with your adar and your brothers and Lord Glorfindel and Lord Erestor that you are ready when the time comes."
Estel sneezed, and wiped at his nose with frustration. "I hate feeling sick, Nana."
"Yes, I understand, beloved."
"I wish I had a brother--a younger brother near my own age. Can you manage that, do you think?"
Gilraen straightened with shock. "What?" she asked.
He flushed. "I'm sorry, Nana. I only feel lonely at times."
She felt guilty as she examined her son's face. "Yes, I can see that this would be so. I am sorry, Estel--I cannot bear another child--not since your father's death."
"I wish I could remember him, Nana." It was simply stated, but full of longing.
"Well, beloved, he knew you, and loved you fiercely, and was oh, so proud of you."
"And he was a Ranger."
"Yes, one of the best--as you will be one day."
"Elladan and Elrohir aren't Rangers."
"No, but they ride with them often."
"And one day I will ride with them, too."
"Yes, when you are old enough."
"You go around that way," Estel ordered an unseen companion, "and I'll go this; and you, Anorahil, remain in hiding here and we'll flush him toward you."
Bilbo, from where he'd been sitting on a bench with a book of poetry from Lord Elrond's library, watched fascinated. He'd not realized there were any children here in Rivendell; yet here before him was definitely a boy, and quite a fine specimen of such at that, obviously intent in playing Let's Pretend. The boys he'd seen in Bree had been similar to most of the lads he'd known in the Shire, doing chores for their families or playing at games with balls and sticks; this one, who was plainly a child of Men, was playing at hunting, and with imaginary companions. Having been reduced to such quite often when himself a child, Bilbo found his own sympathies reaching out to the lad.
"Are you ready, Anorahil?" the boy whispered. Then, after a pause for a reply, which was apparently positive, he hissed, "Now, Gil-galadrion!" and he rose and drove the imaginary game at the imaginary hunter, then called out, "Gil-galadrion--hurry--the boar is savaging at Anorahil!"
The cut sapling he carried for a boar spear held at the ready, he and his other imaginary companion hurried to the rescue, and apparently with a good number of thrusts managed to save the day, at which time he was leaning over the unseen Anorahil and binding up his wounded thigh, speaking of the courage he'd shown and how this was little enough to show for having faced a great boar.
The boy then made a great show of trussing the legs of the boar together, then slipping the cut sapling between them, and instructing Gil-galadrion to carry the front end was in the process of bearing the prize home in glory when he finally realized his play had been observed. He flushed, but held his head high and proudly as he met the eyes of the Perian sitting on the bench.
Bilbo cleared his throat. "Superb hunting, my Lord," he said formally. "And your saving of Anorahil was very timely." He rose and gave a deep bow. "Bilbo Baggins, at your service, my Lord," he said.
"Estel of the Dúnedain at yours, good sir," replied the boy. "I greet you to my Adar's home of Imladris."
"The Lord Elrond is your father?" asked the confused Hobbit.
The boy gave a shrug that was economical of effort. "My father died when I was yet a babe," he explained. "I've lived here since then with my mother."
"I see," Bilbo said, suddenly realizing who must be the child's mother.
"You are a Perian."
"So they tell me Hobbits are called in Elvish," Bilbo said. "And you are a child of Men, as well as a fine hunter?"
"The Dúnedain are the descendants of the survivors of Númenor."
"Do you have children?" asked the boy.
"I never married," Bilbo answered, "and have no children. I have a number of cousins, however, most of whom are married or will be married soon enough. I suspect their offspring will serve as children for me, for those times when I want such. I must say, your wounded companion Anorahil appears to have been well cared for."
"Adar and my brothers teach me the healer's arts as well as the warrior's way."
"I see," Bilbo repeated, wondering how many more times he would say the phrase during this interchange. "This is the first time I've seen you."
"I was ill and stayed in my room."
"Anorahil and Gil-galadrion must have missed you while you were ill."
Again the boy flushed a bit, but stood with his head raised proudly. "They did have one another to keep company with," he said. "They are very patient with me."
"Good companions to have," the Hobbit said approvingly. "My special companion when I was a lad was named Bingo, and it was amazing how patient he could be while I was finishing up my chores or lessons."
"What kind of lessons did you have to do?"
"I needed to learn how to read and write, how to figure, the genealogy of my family and my Baggins and Took forebears particularly, the history of the Shire, how to plant and harvest, how to dance. What kind of lessons do you have?"
"I study Adunaic, Sindarin, Quenya, and Westron. I learn the histories of the great Elf kingdoms of the First and Second Ages, of Númenor, Gondor, and Arnor. I study about herbs and healing. I learn how to handle sword, spear, knife, and bow. And I study poetry and music."
"We have something in common there, then. I love poetry."
"Do you know the Lay of Gil-galad?"
"I've heard it before," Bilbo replied. "But I bet you know it better than I do. Is your friend Gil-galadrion named after it?"
Again the slight shrug. "Gil-galad was Adar's Lord when he was younger, before he became Lord of Rivendell. Adar had great love and honor for him. He followed him to Mordor and fought in the Last Alliance beside him, saw when he and Elendil the Tall died bringing Sauron down."
"Sauron is the great enemy of us all," the boy said. "When I am a Man grown I will help in the fight against him. And my brothers will aid me."
"Your brothers are here with you?" asked Bilbo, wondering why, then, the child played with imaginary companions.
"Well--Elladan and Elrohir are as my brothers. But Gil-galadrion and Anorahil are my imaginary ones. I wish they were real ones, though."
"Oh, I see. As Elladan and Elrohir are so much older, that is why you have imaginary ones as well?"
"Yes. Was Bingo an imaginary brother?"
"He was an imaginary cousin. For some reason I was happy being the only child of my parents, although they clearly wanted far more than just me. But I always enjoyed playing with my cousins, real or imaginary. Most of my lad cousins, though, were in Tuckborough and Overhill or even Buckland, so if I wanted a lad to play with at home in Hobbiton I was often reduced to playing with Bingo."
"What did you play at?"
"Oh, we played at farming and gardening, and at Túrin and the Dragon, or treasure hunting. My dad could understand the first, but never saw why I might be drawn to the others. Not a great deal of imagination, my dad. But, then, he was very much a Baggins. Mum understood, though--but then she was the Old Took's own daughter after all."
"Oh, I see."
Bilbo smiled to see the boy repeating his own repetitive phrase. "Well, I must say that it is a pleasure to meet you, young Estel."
"And you, small master." The boy gave him a courtly bow. He gave a look to the Sun. "I must go now--I am to meet with Lord Glorfindel for my weapons practice." He smiled, then bowed again and turned to head off for a different part of the valley. Bilbo watched after with interest, saw how comfortably the pretend spear lay on the child's shoulder. This, he realized, was going to be a warrior to be reckoned with.
Bilbo was returning the book of poetry to the library when he found himself joined by Lord Elrond. As he replaced the volume reverently in the place from which he'd taken it, he commented, "I've just met young Estel and his brothers."
The Elven Lord looked surprised. "His brothers?"
"Yes, his imaginary ones--Gil-galadrion and Anorahil. They were hunting boar in the gardens."
"I see." Bilbo smiled at this further repetition of his own oft-repeated comment from the morning's interview. "Were there any casualties?"
"Anorahil appears to have needed to have his thigh bandaged afterwards."
Elrond smiled. "And did Estel bandage it himself?"
"Yes, although he had Gil-galadrion handing him bandages and something called athelas." At the Elf's nod, he asked, "Do children of the Dúnedain often grow up here?"
Elrond examined his face carefully. Finally he said quietly, "Do you know who was the first King of Númenor?"
"His name was Elros Tar-Minyatar, if I remember properly from the book I read as a tween."
"The years between twenty and coming of age at thirty-three," Bilbo explained.
"Oh, a tween. I see." He gave his head a brief shake. "Do you know who Elros was?"
"He was the son of Eärendil and Elwing, was he not? And a descendent of Beren and Lúthien?"
"Yes, that is so. Did you know he had a brother?"
"Yes, my Lord Elrond--a twin brother named----" He colored and dropped his eyes.
"Yes, you have the right of it. Elros Tar-Minyatar was my own twin brother. We were called the Peredhil, the Half-Elven. He chose to live as a Man, accepted the Gift of Iluvatar, the gift of mortality, and was given the honor of leading the Edain to the new land of Atalantë to found Númenor.
"Since the foundering of the Star Isle, I have ever offered fostering to the descendants of my brother, those who remain in the North."
"Then--" Bilbo looked over his shoulder at the windows looking out on the gardens, as if he would see the boy still there, "--then he is a descendent of Elendil and Isildur?"
"That this is a possibility is not to be spoken of outside this room, or with anyone save myself. You may not speak of it, write of it, or in any way make mention of it. Do you understand, Master Perian?"
"Not even to himself?"
"Especially not with Estel himself. His own safety lies in remaining hidden."
"Even from himself?"
"Even from himself. When he is of age he will know--must know. But for now it is best he not know, for what he does not know he cannot inadvertently betray. The Enemy has sought for him, sought to slay him, since before even he was born."
"Then his real name is not Estel."
The Elf Lord did not answer, merely fixed him with a deep look.
"I apologize, my Lord Elrond. I am merely a Hobbit, and, I've learned, a remarkably curious one at that. Please forgive me for exercising my nature."
Elrond Peredhil gave a brief nod.
"I was wondering, Lord Elrond, more about the Elvish languages. I've read words in the books you shared with my grandfather that I feel I can begin to understand, but wanted to learn more."
"Sindarin or Quenya?"
"I'd rather thought both, if that is acceptable for one not of your race."
The Elf laughed. "And why would it not be acceptable for one not of my race?"
"Well, I've learned the Dwarves don't readily teach others their native tongue."
"That is mostly because even among Dwarves it is rarely known, save for place names. There are a few who know it, but they are mostly the direct descendants of Durin himself."
"And I suppose that Thorin is unlikely to teach me more, then."
"I fear you have the right of it, Master Baggins. We, however, have no such restrictions on our languages, save among ourselves; and then it is most likely due to smoldering resentments ages old. But such are not permitted here within the vale of Imladris. Now, if you truly wish to learn Sindarin...."
A number of tomes were brought out, and Bilbo looked at them with surprise, awe, and pleasure. "I can't take these with me."
"No, small Master. But we will keep them in the room given to your use for when you return."
"I hope that will happen," the Hobbit said with some concern.
"I do not believe you have much to worry about on that account," the Elf said, smiling. "You appear to be intended for some other fate than being lost down Smaug's gullet."
"That is reassuring, I must say," Bilbo said. "Although I wonder, now that the Took in me has been so awakened, if I will ever be content to remain sedately at home in Bag End from now on."
"Would that be a bad thing?"
"For a Hobbit, it is social disaster, my Lord. However, I find myself wondering why I ever cared."
Elven Lord and family head for the Bagginses of the Shire looked to one another, smiling into one another's eyes.
Bilbo spent one more morning on his balcony watching young Estel at play in the gardens, seeing him and his imaginary brothers facing down Smaug the Dragon. It was himself that was hurt this time, burnt by the Dragon's fire; and bravely he accepted the ministrations of Gil-galadrion and Anorahil as they bathed the grievous wound and rubbed ointment onto it and bandaged it loosely. He had no care for the Dragon's hoard of treasure; only, apparently, the desire to see the end of its evil and to bask in the company of his brothers. It was as the imaginary brothers went off to see to the safety of the nearby folk of Laketown that one of his Elven brothers came searching for him.
"And what mighty adventure have you had this morning, Estel?"
"I was imagining how it would be to fight the Dragon of the Lonely Mountain. I can't see how Master Bilbo Baggins is to manage it, for he has no skill at weapons. He carries the short sword he found, but Glorfindel says he has not learned to use it well."
"He was not chosen by the Dwarves to accompany them for his prowess with weapons, but for his skills as a burglar, to be inconspicuous and quiet and clever--that and to be the one to change the number of the party from thirteen to fourteen. He will most likely not fight the Dragon, but instead will seek to confuse and confound it."
"When do you ride out against the orcs again?"
"After the Dwarves have left, although few will openly brave the passes in the weather coming."
"I wish I could go with you."
"When you can best our brother sparring with swords we will take you, but not until then."
The boy gave a great sigh, and said, "So be it, then. I must work hard at it."
The tall Elf caressed the side of the boy's face. "You have ever worked at it, tithen nin, and already are becoming very good for a youth. Now, come. It is time for you to study with Lord Erestor on languages now."
Obediently Estel followed the Elf back toward a distant section of the place where apparently he was to meet with Lord Erestor.
The next morning after meeting with the Dwarves, Bilbo set off for the kitchens to see if he could wangle a decent second breakfast. They would be setting off for the passes on the morrow, and he found himself both dreading and delighting in the prospect. How on earth was he going to deal with dragons? He was a Hobbit, not a great, Elven-trained warrior. Well, he thought, best to deal with but one step at a time. Surviving the passes, he realized after hearing the tale Lord Elrond's son Elrohir had told the previous night of their last sweep of the pass beyond Rivendell, would be a feat in its own right. He shuddered at the thought of perhaps meeting goblins there, for they sounded fearsome in the extreme, and probably far worse than what had been described in the books he'd loved.
As he waited for the Elven maiden serving in the kitchens that day to prepare a plate for him, he glanced out thLoss and Shirefolke window and saw young Estel kneeling with two others in the kitchen garden, weeding the lines of vegetables and herbs. It was nice to see that the child was given similar chores to those which a Hobbit lad might be expected to perform. The boy's grey eyes were intent on the rich soil, and his hand worked deftly with the weeding tool. It was the last time Bilbo was to see the boy for some time, and the last he even thought of him until his return to Rivendell months later.