Return to Rivendell
“Welcome again, Master Bilbo,” Elrond said as for the fourth time Bilbo Baggins entered his house. “Will you remain with us now?
“Since you’ve made the offer before, and I am assured you mean it, yes, I think I will. That is, of course, if I’m not too much of a bother.”
The Elf Lord smiled. “It is never too much of a bother to welcome you. Your interest in learning is quite refreshing, you know. And, since Estel left us there has been precious little chance to teach, an exercise I find I miss.”
Bilbo laughed. “I, too, have been teaching. I thank you so much for your assistance, my Lord, for it has been so much easier with the books and documents and maps and all you’ve shared with me over the years.”
“How many have you taught to read and write?”
“I’ve quite lost count, you know. Almost every cousin born to me since I was here before, I think. All save my lad, for I believe he was born knowing how already.”
“Sounds as if your Frodo is quite a unique individual.”
“Oh, indeed. I already miss him terribly, but know he needs this time. He’s one of the most responsible individuals the Shire has produced.”
As they walked through the halls of Imladris, Elrond asked, “Has he found a love yet?”
“No. Well, actually, he did once, but since Pearl threw him over he’s not looked much at any others, although he was dancing more than usual with Narcissa Boffin at our last joint birthday party. I am rather hoping something comes of that. Narcissa has favored him for years, after all, quite as long as Pearl did. Both of them have been taken with him since before he came to live with me the summer before he turned twenty-two.”
“And you’ve taught him both Sindarin and Quenya?”
Bilbo laughed. “He even knows a smattering of Adunaic, which is a bit more than I do. He reads Sindarin quite well, and seems to understand much of what he reads in Quenya. I’m not certain how good his accent is, though, as I simply haven’t had that much experience truly speaking the languages myself. And those Elves I’ve met in the Shire are usually so overwhelmed just to meet someone who speaks their language at all they wouldn’t dream of being helpful and correcting my pronunciation.”
“Gandalf can’t seem to speak highly enough of him, I find.”
“Nor can Frodo speak highly enough of Gandalf.”
“Do you think he may in time visit here?”
“Perhaps he will in the future, but I hope not for some years yet. Let him come to terms first with being the Master of Bag End and family head for the Bagginses.”
“Does he have any special friends?”
Bilbo laughed. “Everyone loves Frodo, for all he’s now the current Mad Baggins. Almost every cousin there is loves him, except, of course, Lobelia and Lotho Sackville-Baggins. The realization he has inherited Bag End must be destroying their souls. But his especial friends are Merry Brandybuck, Folco Boffin, Freddie Bolger, Pippin Took, and Samwise Gamgee, with a special nod to Ferdibrand Took and Berilac and Brendilac Brandybuck. If it hadn’t been for Pearl, I suspect he and Isumbard Took would be quite close, too.”
“What about Pearl caused the rift between these two?”
“Bard has been in love with Pearl for years, since before she became enamored of Frodo. Even though she shows Frodo no favors now, it will be a time before Bard begins to thaw toward him, I suspect, unless they get thrown together. Once Bard truly comes to know Frodo, I’m certain they will become close.”
They stopped at the door to the rooms which Bilbo had used in his previous three visits. “Well, I hope one day to meet him in person. He sounds quite wonderful.”
Bilbo’s look as he looked up at the brother of Elros Tar-Minyatar was rather enigmatic. “I think that when he finally comes here, you will be most intrigued, my Lord.”
Bilbo had been there three weeks when he asked about the Lady Gilraen.
“Since Aragorn has returned to the Dúnedain she, too, has returned to the outer world. She no longer dwells here, and has not visited since she left. Nor has she welcomed visits from any of us. Now that her son no longer needs her full nurturing, she has slowly, very slowly begun to fade. She finds it difficult to endure being without what she sees as a purpose.”
Bilbo bowed his head. “I see,” he said softly. “I am sorry.”
The Elf looked off toward a window, his gaze growing somewhat distant. “None of us can control what another will choose,” he said equally softly.
“May I try to visit her?” Bilbo asked.
“You may, if you wish,” Elrond said. “Shall I arrange for one of my sons to take you?”
After a moment of thought, Bilbo shook his head. “It would be better if Lord Glorfindel took me, I think,” he said slowly.
Elrond looked at the Hobbit questioningly, but Bilbo kept his face impassive and his thought shielded. “If you so desire it,” the Elf said, his own curiosity piqued, but not sufficiently to press at the shielding Bilbo had raised about himself.
Two weeks later Lord Glorfindel accompanied the Hobbit to the Lady Gilraen’s cottage. What they spoke of on the way Glorfindel would not say, and he shielded the house during the interview. Bilbo came away saddened, but obviously feeling he had met some type of obligation he felt he had needed to attempt. Gilraen accompanied him to the door as he left, and leaned down to kiss the Hobbit on the top of his head. He reached up and touched her cheek as she remained bent down, then bowed low and returned to Glorfindel’s side, and they returned to Rivendell. It was the last time Bilbo was to leave Imladris until the final riding of the Elves.
Bilbo Baggins’s first meeting with Aragorn on his return to Rivendell was warm, and a friendship and respect sprang up between the two which was delightful. Bilbo seemed to be relieved whenever any mortal visited the place, but particularly when Aragorn did. He soon had Aragorn’s full story out of him, although it appeared he had already divined much of it during his visit when Aragorn was still known as the child Estel.
Together they wrote a number of songs and poems. But even alone Bilbo continued to create much as he’d done when he dwelt in the Shire, and the folk of Imladris were impressed by the skill shown by the Perian as he wove increasingly complicated and beautiful rhyme schemes. His love of language, Erestor admitted, was the equal of any Elf. The rhymes he wrote in Sindarin tended to be more simple constructions; but in Westron he was clearly a master. The Elves were highly respectful of his skills, but he tended to see their praise as somewhat mocking. Yet even his discounting of Elven praise did not stop him from writing further.
Aragorn’s pleasure in being consulted on many of Bilbo’s constructions he sought to hide, playing on the Hobbit’s certainty the Elves patronized him somewhat. In actuality he was impressed by both Bilbo’s skill and his perseverence, not to mention how prolific a writer he was. Where there were so few younglings to hear Bilbo’s tales, he turned increasingly to his poetry and to the writing of his memoirs, and the Dúnedan found it all fascinating. In return Aragorn told Bilbo as many tales as he could think of regarding his own adventures.
Gandalf was becoming an increasingly common guest in Rivendell, and now that Bilbo was plainly a friend of Aragorn son of Arathorn he often joined them in corners of the Hall of Fire or out in the gardens, joining in the mutual tale-telling, teasing, jokes, and confidences. It pleased Gandalf to see how close Bilbo seemed to be with the Man, but in time he wondered if Bilbo might be telling Gilraen’s son perhaps more than he ought to know about Frodo. One day when he found Bilbo alone on one of the bridges over the Bruinen he broached the subject.
“You have been speaking a fair amount about Shire business with Aragorn,” he commented.
“And you’ve been avoiding speaking of it,” Bilbo responded as he leaned forward to watch the dark shape of a fish work its way upstream against the current.
“Perhaps,” the Wizard sighed. He brought out his pipe and pouch, preparing the former. Bilbo brought out a shorter pipe out of his pocket and looked up at Gandalf from the corner of his eye. “What is it, Bilbo--are you out of pipeweed?”
“Not exactly, but I know you have some Old Toby while mine is from here in the valley. Isn’t quite the same thing at all, you know.” He accepted the amused offer of some leaf, brought out his striker and quickly set it smoldering, breathed deeply of it. “It’s good enjoying proper Shire leaf now and then. Thank you, Gandalf.”
After a few moments of companionable puffing, Gandalf finally asked, “And what do you tell him about Frodo?”
“Just what I’d told you--that he is the best Hobbit in the Shire, that he is one of the most giving and caring individuals ever.” Then, after a time of silence he asked, “Did what I told you tell you who and what he was?”
Gandalf looked sideways down at him, then sighed. “No, it didn’t, and that was even after having received strong hints as to where I might look to find them.”
“Them?” Bilbo tried to look innocent, then laughed. “Who would look for important folk working in a garden?”
“Do you tell Aragorn about Sam as well as Frodo?”
“As well as Merry, Pippin, Folco, Freddie, Ferdibrand, Sancho, Berilac, Pearl, Pervinca and Pimpernel and Narcissa. I’m not drawing undue attention to any one of them, you know.” He stretched. “I seem to remember someone saying once that in many cases it is best to hide things in plain sight.”
Gandalf laughed. “You have learned all too well how to confuse and confound, my friend.” Then, after watching the progress of the fish himself for some moments he continued, “You went to see the Lady Gilraen, I understand?”
Finally he asked, “And?”
“And who is it today who is curious? That is supposed to be my function, you know.”
“I suppose I’ve developed a level of fondness for the lady.”
“Nonsense, Gandalf. You are merely intent on learning what I told her and how she took it. Well, I told her that I had the most extraordinarily fine young cousin imaginable, that I’d done my best to prepare him for the outer world, and that his gardener would fight dragons on his behalf.”
“And her response?”
“She kissed the top of my head as I left. She is glad enough, but still, I think, unhappy not to have raised all three herself.” The Hobbit sighed. “It is the one she would have called Gilorhael whom she most resents having lost, I think. Odd how one always thinks of starlight and wisdom in the case of Frodo. He spends nights on the Hill watching the stars, you know.” His face became solemn. “I don’t wish him to leave the Shire. I don’t wish that fine spirit to be endangered. I wish him to become Mayor and serve our people well, for he has the intelligence and compassion to do a remarkable job of it.” He looked up frankly to meet the Wizard’s eye. “I love him so, Gandalf.”
“And who else is it who wishes to keep him, in an odd way, to himself?”
Bilbo sighed and shrugged.
Gilraen woke from another dream, one which was frightening. She saw in it a twisted creature in a dark cavern, saw a small golden something slip from the pouch he wore on his belt, saw it fall to the floor, saw Bilbo find it, pick it up, put it in his pocket.... Then she saw her son and a Perian, a startlingly beautiful Perian with dark hair and pale complexion and eyes blue as summer skies, the eyes she knew so well, looking at one another, between them a Ring. “No!” she cried out as she woke.
There was a movement from the pallet near the fireplace as Aragorn rose. “Naneth! Naneth, what is it?”
She looked into his eyes. “It would destroy him, Estel! You can’t let him carry it! You must see it in other hands, not those of your brother!”
“Naneth, I have no brother.” He said this softly, with the full weight of regret he had always felt over this matter. “Does this--this thing threaten Elladan or Elrohir?”
“No, Aragorn, not them.” Her eyes were clearing as she woke fully, but the dread was still there, was still palpable. “No, it doesn’t threaten them, Estel. But it does threaten----”
He felt her shaking under his hand. “Naneth? What is it?”
She looked away, then back into his eyes. “Why him, Aragorn? Why must it threaten that beautiful one? It will seek to take him! It will seek to destroy him! You must not allow it! Even if he is to help you to the kingship--it would cost him all!” She looked away westward. “Where is the other, then?” she murmured so low that her son could barely hear it.
Confused and deeply concerned, Aragorn held his mother to him, felt her whole body shaking, heard her whispering, “Why must the rest of the hope cost that?”
Bilbo was drowsing in the gardens over a book when he heard purposeful steps coming toward him. He became alert and looked up to see Elrond and Gandalf both bearing down on him. “What is it?” he asked. “Has something happened to Frodo?”
“No, we need to know more about that ring of yours, Bilbo.”
“The ring? Whatever for?”
Gandalf waved the question away. “Did Gollum give you any hint at all as to where he might have come from?”
Bilbo shrugged. “Not really.”
“What was he like physically?”
“I didn’t see him any too clearly, of course, and most of what I did see was by the light of Sting, which was waxing and waning as, I suppose, goblins were coming and going in the other caverns nearby.”
“He stood up fully only once--most of the time he moved on all fours almost like a beast and crouched down. But I’d say he was but a little taller than I.”
“His hands and feet?”
“Much like mine again, only fingers and toes were slightly webbed, similar to those of a frog.”
“What about his ears?”
“Were they similar to those of a Man, a Hobbit, an Elf, or a beast?”
“Remarkably like a Hobbit’s.”
Wizard and Elf looked to one another again.
Gandalf asked, “Did he have any hair?”
“Some, but it was somewhat long and straight and very lank. Some strands were grey or white, and a few were dark. Perhaps he once had a full head of hair, but now he had only sparse hairs and locks here and there. He wasn’t quite bald, though.”
“Any hint of a beard?”
“How did he dress?”
“Wore only a loincloth.”
“Only. Why all these questions about Gollum?”
Gandalf looked at Elrond, ignoring Bilbo’s question. “What were the Periannath like when first your folk found them in the passes of the Misty Mountain?”
The Lord of Imladris looked into his memories. “Not a great deal different than they are now, although more then had hair that was straighter and longer than the Hobbits I’ve seen and heard described in the last few generations.”
Gandalf nodded as he digested this information. Finally he asked, “Did they say where they had lived east of the mountains?”
Elrond shrugged. “The only group to describe where they’d lived were those who had the longer, straighter hair--they’d lived near the banks of the Anduin and some of the rivers and streams that feed it.”
“Stoors, then,” Bilbo volunteered.
Gandalf straightened. “Then--then it appears that Gollum may have started as a descendent of the Stoors.”
“You mean, that Gollum began as a Hobbit?” asked Bilbo, appalled.
“Or a close relative,” suggested the Wizard.
“How revolting! How did he change so?”
Gandalf shuddered. “I have my suspicions, and--” he looked into Elrond’s eyes, “--I do not like the way they lead me. He appears to have carried that ring of his for quite some time, perhaps many times longer than he ought to have lived.”
“A great Ring, then,” murmured Elrond, his face pale but set.
“And we know the disposition of the Nine, the Seven, and the Three. Which leaves only....”
Elrond straightened and took a deep, ragged breath. “Eru forbid!” He shook his head. “Describe it.”
“Plain, a plain gold band. No stone, no visible markings.”
“As I saw It, It had on It letters as if written in red flames. I could see them while It was still on his hand, and as It lay in the palm of Isildur’s hand. Only because his hand was gloved could he hold It, and it appeared to be hot to the point of burning him as he carried It.”
“Would the letters still be visible now?”
“Are you speaking of Sauron’s Ring?” Bilbo demanded. A brief distracted nod was the only answer given him. “But it couldn’t have been Sauron’s Ring! It couldn’t! I carried it for over sixty years, and it never affected me....”
Gandalf merely looked at him. Elrond examined him closely, then commented, “You still appear much as you did when I saw you newly returned from Erebor, Bilbo Baggins. Your hair is greyer, but that has happened only in the past few years since you came here. Your face is only a little more lined. Is it common for Hobbits of over a hundred years to look like a Hobbit in middle years?”
“Of course not, but I am the Old Took’s grandson, after all.”
Gandalf considered, as did Elrond. “I remember your grandfather’s hundredth birthday, and his hair was white, and his face far more lined than yours now, Bilbo.” He raised his eyes back to Elrond’s again. “And there was the way he became belligerent when he felt his ownership of the Ring was threatened, the calling of it his ‘Precious.’”
Elrond paled further. “You mean that he called it that? Isildur spoke of It as having become ‘precious to him.’ It was one of the signs It was taking him.”
Gandalf looked back at Bilbo. “And you said that Gollum referred both of himself and his birthday present as `Precious’?”
“How can we test the Hobbit’s trove, Elrond?” the Wizard demanded.
“I have no idea.”
“If it is Sauron’s Ring, I dare not handle it for long. It would want me to claim It so It could claim me.”
Elrond nodded reluctantly. He suddenly looked down at Bilbo. “You must speak of this to no one, Bilbo, not to even Glorfindel. Do you understand?”
White and shaking, Bilbo agreed.
Gandalf was staring now off to the West. Finally he turned back, “I must find Gollum, see if I can find out where it came from, if we can identify it for certain.” He straightened, and clutched his staff decidedly. “I will borrow Strider, have him help me find Gollum.”
“He won’t willingly go beneath the Misty Mountains, Gandalf.”
“If he’s to come to Throne, Crown and Sceptre we have to know, Elrond.”
Again, Elrond nodded reluctantly.
Sick with the implications, Bilbo clutched his book to him as he watched Elf and Wizard head back toward the wing nearest the library.
Bilbo sat in the chair near the bed where Frodo lay, watching Elrond bending over him. Several days had they labored over Frodo’s shoulder, and only now had the rest of the great Elves of Imladris quitted the chamber, only now had Elladan drawn Aragorn away to his own bed. Elrohir had taken the wooden tray on which the shard had been set to lie, outside the Vale of Imladris, where the rising Sun would shine fully upon it, see the tray set ablaze before he began his search for further signs of the Nazgul and their steeds. The clear Elven Light that shone about Elrond could be clearly discerned. Sam had been sent out to fetch the broth that had been prepared for Frodo, and now only the two of them remained here.
Elrond sighed as he straightened, looking down on the sleeping form of the Hobbit. Suddenly he stopped, holding his breath as he looked more closely. Finally he turned to look with shock at Bilbo where he sat in his chair. “You have seen to his education?” the loremaster of Rivendell asked.
“Yes, my Lord.”
Elrond searched the old Hobbit’s eyes. “Do you ever discern the Light of Being?”
Bilbo smiled. “I first saw his when he father brought him out for me, as head of the Baggins family, to see, when I lifted him up to examine him. Reminds me of starlight--very like one other I’ve seen.”
Bilbo didn’t answer, merely lifted his chin higher.
“Has he any brothers or sisters?”
“He’s the only one of five babes his mother bore who survived, Master Elrond.”
Elrond seemed confused, looked back at the still form on the bed. The door opened and Sam returned with a tray on which sat several mugs of tea, a small mug of broth, a covered bowl of sugar, a pitcher of cream, and several spoons. The Elf started to nod his thanks to the gardener when he stopped, and his eyes widened. Sam didn’t notice as he set his burden down on the table near the bed, then turned his attention back to Frodo, a slight smile easing the concern in his expression as he noted the breathing was steady and Frodo’s color was definitely returning.
“He’s truly asleep now,” Sam murmured, tension leaching quickly from his shoulders.
“Yes, Master Gamgee,” Elrond said with far more respect than he’d used before when addressing the gardener. “And you, sir, also need to rest.”
“I’ll not be leaving him,” Sam warned.
“So I’ve seen. I’ll have the pallet prepared for you again. Master Bilbo, if you will agree to assist me?”
Bilbo slipped out of his chair, and Sam pulled it closer to the bed and was seating himself in it as the older Hobbit followed Elrond out into the hall and pulled the door closed behind them.
Elrond looked at Bilbo with great interest as they paused in the light of a brazier halfway down the hallway. Bilbo cleared his throat. “His Light of Being is more golden, my Lord.”
“Does either have the least idea----”
“I don’t believe so. Both have been well educated in the lore of the First Age, although Sam has never paid much heed to that of the Second--not a great deal of interest in it. Both have more knowledge of Sindarin than they realize, and Frodo has done a fair amount of study of Quenya as well. Frodo has also had a good deal of education about the Enemy, not that we have that many books about Sauron in the Shire. But all I could glean from my discussions here and with those Elves and Dwarves who’ve come through the Shire I’ve shared with him--not that he’s wished to discuss the subject.”
Elrond looked back toward the closed doorway. “They have no idea....” He looked back at the Hobbit again. “But you recognized the meaning?”
“I wasn’t always certain with Sam, but had thought about it seriously enough that when the moment he came to Bag End Frodo began to embrace Sam as the brother he’d never known I began pressing Hamfast to allow me to teach him. I’d taught the older four of his and Bell’s children to read, write, and figure already, although we did it so quietly the Gaffer didn’t even realize. But as Sam would need to know so much more, I had to make it more open. I’d been telling him tales already, you know.”
Elrond began to laugh. “Does Gandalf know?”
“Of course I’ve known,” the Wizard said as he quietly joined them. “From the first time I saw the three of them together in the study in Bag End.”
“But not before then?” Elrond questioned further, giving Gandalf a piercing look.
Gandalf shook his head. “Bilbo was most discrete. It appears that Iluvatar has made certain that these two would be born where the Enemy would be least likely to look. And even when he did look, it was not in search of those who pose the greatest danger to him, but simply in search of his treasure.”
Elrond looked back at the door again with a deep sigh. “And we begin to see now what form the danger they pose to him takes. They have been appointed the caretakers for the Ring--at least for the present.”
“Will you now tell Aragorn?” asked Bilbo with concern.
“No,” Elrond said with a sigh. “No, for I would not have his loyalties divided. The love is already growing there amongst the three of them. But I will not cloud his judgment by piling on more emotional ties which in the end are no more than what is there already.”
Bilbo nodded. “I’ll take it over from here,” he said quietly. “Whatever needs doing, I’ll see to it as much as I am able.”
Wizard and Elf looked at one another over the Hobbit’s head. Gandalf then looked back down at Bilbo, setting one hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “No more than you are able, though, my friend,” he said.
As Elladan returned from Aragorn’s chamber, his father stepped forward to ask that he have Sam’s pallet prepared, then led Gandalf and Bilbo back into the room. Elrond sat on the bed, lifted Frodo up into a seated posture, woke him only sufficiently so he could be fed the broth, and saw to Frodo’s needs as Bilbo took the second chair in the room, accepted a mug of tea from Sam, and set himself to watch once more over his beloved younger cousin.
Glorfindel stood on one of the bridges over the Bruinen as Elrond joined him. He looked briefly toward the Master of Rivendell, and smiled as he turned his attention back to where Eärendil’s star shone in the distance. “So, you have now seen?” he asked quietly.
“Yes,” Elrond nodded. “It appears I am the last to know.”
“Aragorn does not know the implications,” Glorfindel said with a sigh.
“Is that why Bilbo asked to go see Gilraen?”
Glorfindel gave him another enigmatic look, and a soft, mysterious smile.
Elrond shook himself. “They are not Men, Elves, or Dwarves. He has not inherited the desire for personal power the rest of the races know. His people have never been subjected to the effects of any of the Great Rings.”
“He may be able to carry it far longer with little effect.”
“But It will still seek to corrupt him, still seek to ensnare him as It can.”
“That is Its nature after all, Elrond.”
Elrond gave his father’s star great scrutiny. Finally he spoke again. “I fear for his sanity as well as his safety.”
“He may choose not to take It further.”
“Perhaps. But I doubt that he will deny the task set before him.” Then, after a further silence, he added, “Did he see your Light of Being?”
“Yes, he did as I revealed myself to the Nine, and Aragorn and I drove them into the flood.”
“Has he seen Estel’s?”
“I do not know. But the love between the two of them is growing. And that between him and his gardener is also growing. They already are devoted to one another, and their understanding they are brothers of the spirit is far more advanced than perhaps even they realize.”
“One of the last times Aragorn visited with his mother, she awoke during the night crying out about the safety of his brother, of how wrong it was that he must be called upon to give all. He told me about it on his return.”
“I did not know.”
“Gandalf would see It into other hand as well. He has developed great love for Frodo Baggins.”
“It is part of his nature, I think, that he draws love to him.”
“Wisdom and the light of stars in him, and similar more deeply hidden in Samwise. Yet even Sam's own parents felt impelled to reference wisdom in his naming, even if they made light of it.”
Glorfindel merely gave a slight nod.
Finally, Elrond murmured, “May their wisdom and love for one another see them through what must come.”
“Do you ask Sam to come to the council?”
“No, but I have no doubt he will come anyway.”
“I suspect you have the right of it, Elrond.”
Together they stood in silence, watching the voyage of Eärendil’s bark, and the slow movement of the rest of the stars. My adar, Elrond found himself shaping the prayer, guide this son of your spirit, even though he has been born among the Periannath.
When at last he returned to the house and looked in on Aragorn’s sleep, the last relatively untroubled rest he’d most likely know for some months to come, he felt reassured somehow, that his father would indeed seek to offer the guidance asked. Now he himself and Glorfindel must take thought to how they would handle the defense of Rivendell. The Enemy would attack it, he knew.