Written for a challenge in honour of the golden anniversary of the publication of "The Fellowship of the Ring". Entries had a limit of 1000 words and had to include at least two of the following: book, gold, anniversary.
Looking out of his window, Bilbo knew there were times when even a Rivendell morning could be dreary. The landscape before him was a study in grey. Misty Mountains, determined to live up to their name, hid their heads in the clouds that overhung the valley. The foreground was little clearer, dulled by fog and slanting rain. Even the silver birches, stripped to skeletons for their winter sleep, had lost their luminous glow.
“No hope of glimpsing an eagle today, then,” he muttered as he turned away. “Nor even a thrush – and certainly not a dragon!” The first day of the last week of autumn! Who would have thought that such an anniversary could drag itself by like this! And after that was winter, so it could only be getting gloomier still.
Earlier, in an attempt to cheer things up, he had lit a small fire in the grate, but it had not done much good. The light was grey, but it was still enough to dull any flames flickering in the hearth. But, out of habit, he sat down in his usual chair and considered the jumble on the table at his side. Of late, there was no denying that work on his book was not going very well; these days he really seemed to do nothing but trudge around in circles. Reaching for inspiration, he picked up his small bag of gold, last of the Smaug vintage, but it remained just that – a small bag of gold stubbornly unaffected by the glorious adventures of the past. Finally, thoroughly annoyed, he tossed it over to the chair on the other side of the hearth.
His room seemed so stiflingly small! Sometimes his head would fill with such plans that his feet would twitch with the urge to go travelling again. But somehow, in the end, he always found there was nowhere he really wanted to go. Then all he could do was distract himself, for a while, with something else; pick some new scheme to fill his time, or new subject to fill his mind. And always Elrond and the elves would be there, waiting and willing to give him a hand. “To keep me amused and out of harm’s way! Really, sometimes I think they are my warders rather than my hosts!” Then the hobbit gasped, horrified to have such ungrateful thoughts.
Rather shaken, he wondered, not for the first time, whether he had been right to leave the Shire. He missed Frodo dreadfully, there was no getting around it. He missed his companionship and the knowing he was of use to at least one other person in the world. And on days like this one, rare though they were, he had a nagging worry that his heir was in some sort of danger. It was nonsensical of course, especially as he now knew about the watch kept on the Shire. He ought to be quite certain that Frodo was safe but, somehow, he was not at all.
“But if he really was in danger he could always use my Ring,” he reasoned. His fine old Ring, that had kept him company through all those years. How he missed it on a restless day like today! And was Frodo really keeping it safe? He was a trustworthy lad, but even the best could sometimes get careless. And, anyway, did he value it as he should? Understand how precious it really was?
He brought himself up with a jolt. What was he thinking? The Ring was no longer his but Frodo’s. It was a poor gift, indeed, where the giver set terms on its use! He sighed and would have tried a little poetry, if he had not heard a quiet knocking on his door.
Now that was unexpected. On such a day as this, elves tended to melt into the mist until the evening hour, and sure enough, it was not an elf who presented himself at his door.
“Aragorn, my dear fellow! What a splendid surprise. When did you arrive?” Bilbo drew in a delighted breath. “Well don’t just stand there, come in. Come in.”
His tall friend took a stride into the room and gave him a quick embrace. He seemed pleased at the welcome, but Bilbo thought it only polite to make sure.
“It must be good to be home,” he said, “home where the heart is – so if there’s somewhere else you’d rather be?”
Aragorn chuckled. “Arwen is occupied until this evening,” he said, "and I’ve had more than my fill of walking in the rain.”
It was odd how the Ranger always had an enticing air of the road about him, even when dressed for home. But, this time, he looked rather more worn than usual, Bilbo thought, with grey in his hair that had not been there before. And surely his belt was pulled a few inches tighter at the waist as well?
“Good. Then I think this calls for some tea. And maybe some cake. Cherry, I think, if I can just lay my hands on the tin.” The hobbit soon had the kettle set to boil on the hearth. “Sit yourself down by the fire! And help yourself to pipeweed if you want it. Halbarad has kept me well supplied.”
Aragorn removed the bag of gold he found on the seat and hefted it in his hand, eyebrows raised.
Bilbo laughed. “I was saving that for you – a wedding present, you know. But, I suppose, when the day finally arrives, you’ll hardly be needing a helping hand from me!”
Aragorn smiled and sank into the well-cushioned chair with a contented sigh. “I’m sure you’ll find it a better home. I regret, this time, I have brought no present back for you.”
“Oh but, my friend, you have! Travellers' tales! You won’t mind me taking some notes?” Bilbo hummed happily, as he finished cutting the cake and hurried to pour the tea. Some things were far more precious than any gold.
* * * * * *
Author's note: Bilbo is, of course, remembering Durin’s Day, when Thorin and Company discovered the secret door to the Lonely Mountain and their burglar had his first encounter with the dragon Smaug.