To all of you for Thanksgiving, and particularly to Dreamflower, Cathleen, LindaHoyland, and Lindelea for your special friendship. Beta by RiverOtter.
“I thank the Creator or the Powers or whoever might be responsible every day for the presence of my lad there in my life,” Bilbo murmured to Gandalf. The two of them watched Frodo head down to the Party Field with a load of napkins to set on the tables where the family dinner was to take place, followed by Sam with a basket filled with metal tankards. “He’s been the one bright light in the past few years in which I’ve felt increasingly stretched and thinned out day by day. Fine mind; loyal to a fault; artistic and graceful; in love with beauty, and capable of capturing it and showing it forth to others; and utterly devoted to making this the best world it can be. And his friends are all as fiercely loyal to him as he is to them.”
He sighed as he knocked his pipe out against the bench on which the two of them sat. “I love the Shire, but was tiring desperately of it. Those my own age are all but gone, and the few who are left care little enough for anything but their own affairs. Very few throughout the Shire believe my stories, and fewer appreciate my poetry—or not to my face, at least. Certainly hear them singing my songs when they don’t think I’m listening, though.”
Gandalf chuckled softly. “Well, you’ve given them all plenty by which to remember you,” he murmured. “Half the Shire has benefited from your generosity since you returned sixty years ago, and those who will attend the Party tomorrow will never forget it.”
Bilbo gave a snort. “I don’t intend anyone to forget it, and certainly don’t intend to forget it myself, either. It’s my thanks to all of them, I suppose, for the years of entertainment they’ve given me. Yes—even Otho and Lobelia have managed to give me a chuckle or two as well as the years of browbeating and pilfering I’ve known from them.
“But without my beloved boy—I don’t begin to know how I would have made it, Gandalf. He’s kept me grounded, reminding me how wonderful a place this is—how peaceful in comparison with the wild lands outside it. Before you came and interrupted me smoking upon my doorstep I thought I was happy here, mostly because I’d never known anything else. He’s allowed me to see again the quiet beauty of the sunsets and the odd corners. He’s helped me rejoice again at the age of the Binbole Woods and the might of the Brandywine. Oh, it may not be as awe inspiring as the Great River there we crossed at the Carrock, but it’s enough of a river for little folk such as we Hobbits are. He still finds wonder everywhere, in spite of the fact he’ll be accepted by all as a Hobbit grown as of tomorrow. He still loves the Shire so, he’s made me fall in love with it all over again.”
Gandalf fixed his friend with a thoughtful stare. “Then why don’t you stay on?”
But Bilbo was shaking his head. “It’s his turn to shine, Gandalf—Frodo’s. It’s his turn to be the Master of Bag End and the Hill, his turn to be the Baggins family head, his turn to be appreciated for his sagacity and his leadership. It’s the least I can do to thank him for all he’s done to brighten what ought to have been the fading years of an old Hobbit’s life. He’s kept me from turning into an irascible old complainer, you know. By now I ought to be in my dotage I suppose, although it appears I’m still as able to get by now as I ever did. But now that he’s unquestionably an adult, I mean for the Shire to come to respect Frodo as he deserves in his own right. And I pray to any power that might possibly be moved to hear me that every Hobbit in the land realizes just what a treasure Drogo and Primula left to the Shire and that I’ve been allowed to cherish all these years.”
Gandalf’s face went solemn as he watched Frodo, followed by Sam Gamgee, disappear into the pavilion with their napkins and cups. “Oh,” he said gently, “a treasure he is, and an even greater one he’ll prove. And I foresee----”
But he paused, as for a moment he seemed to see Frodo being led before a multitude, all singing and shouting praises to the Hobbit. “He will be loved by more than you dream, Bilbo. All will be grateful for him one day.”
Bilbo looked up at him, startled by what the Wizard said. “Really? Not, of course, that Ferumbras or Lalia, much less the Sackville-Bagginses or their ilk, will ever truly appreciate him. There will always be those, I suppose, who will see him tainted by the years of my companionship, who will think him odd simply because they’re certain I’ve been cracked all these years. But those who count—they should be able to see him as he is.”
The Hobbit straightened and laughed. “Well,” he continued, “I intend just to give thanks for what I have known all these years. I will fill myself as I can tonight with his cheerful nature and his laughter. And just maybe one day you’ll lead him back to me once more, before I finally leave Middle Earth myself.”
“If I can, I certainly will, Bilbo; and I’ll be proud to do so, thankful to have been honored to know the both of you and this delightful land that gave birth to you two and your beloved grandfather.”
The Hobbit looked up to search the Wizard’s eyes. “And I’ll hold you to that, Gandalf, my old friend. Now—what do you say we finish up that bottle of Old Winyards I opened on your arrival? I told Frodo to leave it for the two of us.”
“I tender my thanks in anticipation, my dear Bilbo. Shall we go in, then?”
But as he followed Bilbo through the green door of Bag End, Gandalf paused and glanced back at the entrance to the pavilion below. He thought again on the vision of Frodo being led out before a multitude, and wondered what the Hobbit might accomplish one day that would win him such thanks from what was plainly a gathering of predominately Men.