I have been a Tolkien fan since 1970. This is my first attempt at fanfic. I thank the members of the messageboards at www.theonering.net for the idea that Bilbo might have met the child Aragorn during his visit to Rivendell in "The Hobbit." At that time Aragorn was nine or ten years old, and was known by the Elvish name "Estel", which means "hope".
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written only for my own amusement and the pleasure of other Tolkien fans, and is based on characters and situations created by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Tolkien Estate owns the copyright on those characters and works.
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Chance Meeting at Rivendell
by "Aunt Dora Baggins" (my TORn nickname)
One sunny morning, as Bilbo was walking along a tree-lined path beside the foaming river, he saw what looked like a young elf sitting in the crook of a large elm limb, reading a book. "Hullo," said Bilbo, surprised. "I didn't know there were Elf-children here. You're the first I've seen in Rivendell."
The boy closed the book and slid off the limb, landing on his feet and facing Bilbo. "I am no Elf, though the Elves have allowed me and my mother to live among them. I am a Dúnadan, a Man of the West. My name is Estel." He bowed in greeting.
Bilbo returned the bow. "Bilbo Baggins at your service, Master Estel." He could see now that the boy was not an Elf, though he wore the green clothes favored by Elrond's people. Estel stood at least a head taller than Bilbo. His long dark hair was bound at the temple with a linen cord, and his eyes were silver. Bilbo could not guess his age, for he had no experience of the children of Men, but the lad's voice was still the high voice of a child.
"Forgive me," said Estel, "but I do not know of what race you may be. I thought, when I first saw you arrive with the wizard Mithrandir and the great Thorin Oakenshield, that you might be a Dwarf, though you have no beard. Perhaps you were a Dwarf woman, I thought. But I see now that is not so."
"No indeed!" said Bilbo with a chuckle. "For the Dwarf women do have beards, you know."
Estel stared at him, and then laughed aloud. "No, you are teasing me, as the Elves do."
"Certainly not. It's quite true. At least--" Bilbo paused, as a doubt swept over him. "That's what the Dwarves told me. It's possible they were teasing me. I know little of Dwarves after all, though I have traveled with them for many weeks. I am a Hobbit, and my home is in the Shire, far to the West."
"A halfling!" Estel exclaimed. "I have heard tell of them, though never before have I seen one with my own eyes."
Bilbo bowed again.
"The Rangers guard those land from evil," Estel went on, "and bring back many tales. When I am a man, I shall be a Ranger too, and go hunting Orcs like my father, and avenge his death."
"Who was your father?" said Bilbo.
"A Ranger, as I said. They are the Dúnedain, who live in the Wild and try to make the lands safe. I do not know my father's name; there is some secret about him that my mother says it is not safe yet for me to know. But it cannot be anything shameful, for she says he was an honorable man. He was killed by an Orc arrow eight years ago, when I was still a baby. I wish I could remember him."
Without either of them suggesting it, they began walking along the path. Bilbo eyed the boy surreptitiously. "What of the other Rangers' children? Do they also live in Rivendell? I haven't seen them."
Estel sighed. "No. The Rangers' wives and children live in camps in the Wild, like Wood Elves. I do not know why we are not with them. I guess it is because I have no father to protect my mother and me. But Elrond Halfelven has been good to us, though I know not why he should be."
Bilbo's kindly heart grieved for the lonely child. "What is that book you were reading?" he asked, to change the subject.
Estel brightened. "The tale of Beren One-Handed and the Great Jewel, and Lúthien the Fair, who rescued him from Sauron's dungeon." He held up the book, beautifully bound in green linen, titled with Elvish lettering in red and gold. "It has always been my favorite tale. I copied it in my best hand, and the Elves helped me bind it. Do you know the story?"
"I heard it sung in the Hall of Fire for the first time last night," said Bilbo. "We do not have such tales in the Shire, except in garbled nursery stories. If only we were staying longer! I would love to write down some Elvish tales and bring them back home. They would be a far greater treasure than anything the Dwarves hope to find." He glanced at Estel. "The Elves have many tales. Why is this your favorite?"
The boy clutched the book. "Oh, Beren is so strong and brave and clever! When he tells King Thingol, 'The Silmaril is even now in my hand'--" He stopped and laughed. "Thingol never guessed where Beren's hand was. And Lúthien Tinúviel was strong and brave and clever as well."
"And beautiful, too," Bilbo added with a smile.
Estel shrugged. "Yes--"
Bilbo reached up and clapped him on the back. "When you're older, you'll say that with more enthusiasm, my boy."
Estel stopped walking. "Perhaps." He had a strange look on his face.
"What is it?" said Bilbo. "I--hope you didn't mind me slapping you on the back. It's a thing we hobbits do with our friends. I know nothing of the customs of Men."
"No. No, I do not mind. It is a thing the Dúnedain do as well, I am told, among their friends. But the Elves do not, unless they are looking for a fight." Tentatively, he slapped Bilbo's back. Then he laughed. "I have never done that before. Silly, is it not?"
"Not so silly," Bilbo said gently.
Estel blushed, and said quickly, "Tell me about the knife you carry. It is clearly Elven-made, and very old."
Bilbo drew the knife and handed it to Estel. "It came from a troll hoard. I use it for a sword--or I will if I have to. I've had no use for it yet, I'm glad to say."
The boy studied the blade and whistled softly. "It was made in Gondolin! Gondolin fell 6000 years ago, when Earendil was a child, before his star was set in the heavens. This blade was made for the Goblin wars; it will glow when Goblins are near. Very useful." He handed the knife back to Bilbo.
"I hope not!" Bilbo exclaimed, sheathing it. "I don't know anything about fighting Goblins. Or about swords either, for that matter. The only blades I really know about are kitchen knives. I have quite a collection of cutlery in my kitchen at home."
Estel laughed merrily at that. "You must learn how to wield a sword before you go further East. I could teach you what I know." He paused, and added wistfully, "I wish I were going with you. How I would love to see more of the world than this valley!"
"Have a care with your wishes!" Bilbo said darkly. "I used to wish for adventure, before I embarked on this one. Many times since then I've longed for my snug hobbit hole, with the kettle singing on the fire. Though now I feel I could happily stay here in Rivendell the rest of my days."
"You see?" Estel argued. "If you had never set out on your adventure, you would never have seen Rivendell."
"Clever lad. But just wait and see. There may come a day, years from now, when you weary of adventures and long for Rivendell."
The boy looked thoughtful. "It may be. Beren never had a home, and I think he longed for one sometimes. Still, why could I not return here, any time I wished it?"
Again, without a word, they began walking again. The path turned away from the river and led back toward the house. Between two wings of the house was a grassy courtyard. "Here," said Estel. "This is where Glorfindel trains me in swordplay."
"Who is Glorfindel?" Bilbo asked. He thought he might have met an Elf with that name, but he'd met so many Elves in the past few days that he couldn't be sure.
"A great Elf-lord, though not so great as Elrond. He fought the Witch King of Angmar a thousand years ago. And long before that, some say, he died defending Gondolin. But he will never tell me if it is true."
Bilbo's scalp shrank. "He died? What do you mean? How could he be teaching you swordplay if he died?"
"That's a difficult question." Estel sprawled on the soft grass, leaning back on his elbows, his long legs stretched out before him.
Bilbo sat beside him. He took his pipe, pouch and tinderbox from his pocket.
Estel sat up and stared. "What is that?"
"Pipeweed," said Bilbo, filling his pipe and lighting it. "Not a thing for boys."
"I have seen Mithrandir use such a thing, but he will not tell me what it is for."
"For?" said Bilbo. "For relaxation. Boys don't need it; they already know how to relax." To Estel's delight, Bilbo blew three smoke rings that sailed away over the high carved gables of the Last Homely House. "Now," he added, "I'm not letting you off the hook. How can a dead Elf be teaching you swordplay?"
"He's not dead! I never said that. You see, Elves live long ages, unless they are slain in battle or by mischance. But even then, they say, their spirits do not leave the world. They linger in the West, and if they choose, they may be reborn in Middle Earth."
He leaned back and went on. "Now when Men die, their spirits leave the world indeed, and go to another place the Elves know nothing of. They call death 'The Gift of Illuvatar to Men,' and they say that Men are foolish to envy the Elves their long lives. For when the world ends, ages hence, the Elves will perish utterly, while the spirits of Men will continue." He plucked a blade of grass and tasted it. "So the Elves say that Men are the true immortals. It makes the choice of Lúthien seem less sad, I think."
Bilbo whistled. "Well, that's an eye-opener! I've never heard anything like that."
"What of Hobbits?" Estel asked. "What does your lore tell you about death?"
"Nothing," said Bilbo. "Hobbits are notoriously incurious. A few like myself may wonder, but we have no lore on the subject. We say that the way to achieve immortality is to have children, and hope that they remember you. That's why we keep such careful genealogies, and chart our family trees in our books of lore."
"Do you have children?"
Bilbo sighed. "No. Nor wife nor brother nor sister." Then he laughed. "Plenty of cousins, though. Too many cousins."
"Did your wife die?" said Estel softly.
"No, I never married. Goodness knows I'm old enough to marry, and I've thought of it from time to time, but--"
"Why didn't you?" said Estel. Then he blushed. "Forgive me. I ask too many questions."
"Not at all. I've been asking questions of you from the moment we met. It's only fair to give you a turn. Why didn't I marry? I've never met quite the right one yet, I suppose. There aren't many hobbits who share my passion for Elvish tales and Dwarvish adventures." He puffed his pipe in silence for a moment, and then added, "How I envy you, learning so much Elvish lore: reading their old stories, and in their own tongue too, swordplay--"
"Oh!" Estel jumped up. "I was going to teach you swordplay. Shall I fetch the practice swords?"
"One moment," said Bilbo, laughing at the boy's enthusiasm. "Let me finish my pipe first. You can indulge me in another question while we wait."
Estel turned a handspring and lay on the grass again. "Very well. What is it?"
"What other Elvish arts are you learning here? Tumbling, I see."
Estel grinned. "Yes. That's part of swordplay, you know. Well, I go riding with Elladan and Elrohir from time to time. They're Elrond's sons. They ride often on errantry, and travel sometimes with the Rangers. But when I am with them we never go further than the Ford of Bruinen. They teach me woodcraft: how to find food and shelter in the Wild."
"That would be useful to know," said Bilbo. "The Dwarves bring food with them, and when it runs low, then we go hungry. Though I suppose there is enough cram to last a while yet."
"What is cram?"
Bilbo made a face. "Dwarvish waybread. It sustains the limbs, but is not at all satisfying to either the mouth or the stomach."
Estel laughed. "You should try lembas. The Elves' waybread satisfies the mouth--and the spirit as well, if not the stomach. I have a little in my pocket." He pulled out a small bundle, opened the leaf wrapping, broke off a flaky bit of flatbread, and handed it to Bilbo.
Bilbo nibbled a corner. The taste filled him with the pleasure of a golden summer afternoon, bees humming in fragrant blossoms, and honey from the comb, and a cool breeze blowing through it all. He savored another bite, and finished the morsel in a third bite. "Incomparable!" he said. "Certainly not comparable to cram. Do you know the recipe?"
"Yes, and I will gladly share it with you. Flour and honey are the chief ingredients. But it will not be like this if you make it, I fear. Its potency comes from the Elves themselves, and the songs they sing as they knead the dough and tend the fires. I'm learning the songs, but I have not quite the Elven touch. The Dúnedain have a bit of Elvish blood, for we are descended from Elrond's brother Elros. But it is not enough to enable us to make real lembas."
Bilbo nodded his approval. "So, baking is another Elvish art you are learning."
"I suppose so. I spend more time learning herblore and healing. Elrond himself is teaching me, and he is the greatest healer in Middle Earth." Estel paused and looked thoughtful. "I cannot understand why such great Lords as Elrond and Glorfindel would trouble themselves with a nameless orphan like me. I'm grateful that they do. I asked Elrond once-- " He paused and broke off some more bread, handing part of it to Bilbo and nibbling thoughtfully at the rest.
"What did he say?"
"He said he felt some responsibility to me, since his brother was my ancestor. But he was teasing me, I think. More than sixty generations have passed since then; we cannot be much akin now. But he also said I was born to be a great warrior and healer. I know not how he could know that, but he has foresight sometimes."
"Warrior and healer, eh?" said Bilbo. "An odd combination."
The boy blushed again. "Yes, so I thought as well. But Beren was a great warrior, and Lúthien a great healer, so I decided I could aspire to both."
"Which do you like better?"
Estel raised his eyebrows. "I've never thought about it. Learning herb-lore is so interesting, especially gathering healing herbs in the wild. The swordplay is exciting, and I like the thought of protecting travelers in the wild places. Still, I've never been in a real battle, so I cannot say how that would be. I've never fought with anything more deadly than the willow-wands we use for sparring." He laughed. "After practice, it's glad I am that I know how to make a poultice. We use willow-wands because the blows from them cause no more injury than welts and bruises, but sometimes I am covered with those."
Bilbo frowned. "I don't think I like your Glorfindel so well after all."
"Oh, no," Estel protested, "you must understand. He is very kind to me. Someday I will fight orcs in the mountains. If an orc attacked me with a sword, and I did not know how to parry the blow, it would be the end of me. Glorfindel is teaching me to survive. If I fail to parry a blow from his staff, all I get is a momentary sting. It teaches me to be alert and vigilant." He smiled. "Lately, I have been parrying more successfully. And last week--" His smile broadened and his silver eyes narrowed. "Last week, for the first time, I got past his defenses and landed a blow on his ribs. I was horrified to have struck the great Glorfindel, but he told me he was proud of me." He jumped up again. "Your pipe is out. Shall we begin?"
Reluctantly, Bilbo stood up. He put his pipe, pouch and tinderbox back in his pocket, and took off his jacket. "Should we, so soon after eating?"
Estel chuckled. "Don't worry. Sparring comes later, after you have learned the foundations."
Bilbo felt himself blushing. "I'll never be much of a warrior. But I should learn something before going further East. Thank you for undertaking my education."
Still smiling, Estel went to a stone chest in the corner of the courtyard, and came back with a long bundle wrapped in green cloth. When he unrolled it, Bilbo saw two slender wooden swords. They had hilts and quillions like real swords but the blades were only whip-like willow withes. Beside them lay a short sword in a sheath that was covered in green cloth.
Estel drew the sword; it rang like a distant bell, and shone in the midsummer sun. "For solitary practice, we use real swords, to get the feel of their balance."
Something Tookish stirred in Bilbo's heart, and he drew his long knife. "Then I should practice with this."
Estel nodded. "This is the first stance."
For an hour he showed Bilbo how to place his feet, how to cut and thrust and parry. Then they paused for a dipper of water from a spring that welled up in another corner of the yard. Bilbo mopped his face with a pocket handkerchief.
"You learn quickly," said Estel. "Shall we try sparring? We will go slowly, and not put force behind the blows until you've mastered the basic parries."
"Very well," said Bilbo. Again he felt reluctant, but this time it was not because he was afraid; he didn't want to sheath his bright knife, and take up the homely stick. For another hour he learned to parry blows from whatever direction they should come, and to cut and thrust past attempted parries.
Gradually they began to move faster, and strike harder. Now and then a blow whistled past Bilbo's defenses and stung his arm or shoulder or ribs. But the blood of the Bullroarer was surging through his veins, and he scarely felt the blows. Once, to his surprised and mingled delight and regret, he managed to land a blow on Estel's shield arm.
The boy never even winced. "Good!" he cried. "Well done! You are very nimble."
They paused a moment and Bilbo wiped his forehead again. He glowed at the praise, but tried not to show it. "Am I? No more than any other Hobbit. I learned to wrestle as a lad, and hit a target with a thrown stone, and shoot with a bow, but I was no better than the other Hobbit lads. The Dwarves seem slow and clumsy to me," he went on, "but you are as nimble as a Hobbit lad yourself. I must say, though, I'm feeling my age. If I were nine years old like you, my arm would not ache the way it does."
A bell sounded in the high bell tower. "There is the noon meal bell," said Estel. "But we have had lembas, so we need not go, unless you wish it."
"Lembas or no," said Bilbo, "a Hobbit does not willingly miss a meal."
"Very well." Estel wrapped his sword and the sparring sticks into the cloth and returned the bundle to the stone chest. "I'm so glad you came to visit us, Bilbo Baggins. It's like having another boy to play with at last. 'Feeling your age', you said. How old are you, anyway?"
Bilbo laughed. "I'm fifty years old, Master Estel, though I haven't yet quite lost my taste for play. They think me odd at home, for a Hobbit that should be well into a sensible adult life."
Estel whistled. "Fifty! Why, you are older than my mother. Forgive my impertinence in speaking to you as an equal. I thought you might be twenty perhaps, but no more."
Bilbo laughed. "I am so much younger than the Dwarves that I have quite taken to thinking of myself as something of a child. I don't think I ever was your equal, lad; you really are quite remarkable, you know."
"Me?" said Estel, astonished. "No, I'm nobody." He led Bilbo into the house. As they went along the corridors to the dining hall, the boy said, "Would you sit with my mother and me at our table? Unless you'd rather sit with your Dwarven companions."
"Not at all. I'd be delighted to meet your mother, and sit with you."
Estel eyed him. "After the meal, I'll make a poultice for your aching arm. It's not your age that makes it ache; mine did too after my first session with Glorfindel. And you must have bruises too; I didn't mean to strike so hard during your first lesson, but you were so good I forgot myself."
Again Bilbo took pleasure in the praise. He was a good swordsman--for a beginner. He wondered what the Bullroarer would think of him. "Perhaps I will let you do that. I'd like to learn that art from you as well."
They entered the long dining hall and found most of the Elves already eating. Estel showed Bilbo to a small table near the hearth. Three Elf women sat there, talking together in the Elf tongue. A young woman sat a little apart, eating silently. "Mother," said Estel, "this is my friend Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit from the Shire in the West. Bilbo, this is my mother Gilraen, and with her are Firien, Melia, and Nuriel."
The Elf women nodded to Bilbo, but Gilraen rose and bowed. Like Estel, she was tall and dark-haired, and her eyes might once have been silver, though now they were grey. Young as she was, she looked sad. And no wonder, Bilbo thought: a young widow alone in the world with her son, living away from her people, with Elves who might try to be kind, but who could never really understand her.
"Welcome, Bilbo Baggins," she said, sitting and gesturing for Bilbo to sit as well. "Thank you for the time you have spent with my son. I watched you both from my window. It was good for him to have a companion near his own age, even for an hour."
Bilbo laughed. "The pleasure was mine, Lady, but I'm not near his own age. I'm older than you are, I'd venture, for I'm fifty."
Gilraen smiled gently. "You are right, I am not yet forty. And yet you are much nearer his age than any of the Elves here. The youngest of them is older than Thorin Oakenshield, and many have seen the passing of more than one age."
Again Bilbo felt the loneliness of these two humans, living a life in exile. He wanted to ask the woman why; surely she knew. But if she would not tell her son, she would not tell a stranger. He sighed.
At that moment he felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see Gandalf smiling down at him. "So, Bilbo Baggins," he said, "you have met the Dúnadan."
"Yes. He's been teaching me how to use my sword--er, knife. The one from the trolls, you know."
"Indeed!" Gandalf looked thoughtful. "I've neglected your education, Mr. Baggins. I see that now. I hadn't foreseen you fighting; you are a burglar, after all."
"Burglar!" exclaimed Estel.
"Er, yes," said Bilbo, "well, I've never really understood that. Somehow Gandalf and the Dwarves expect me to burgle something from the dragon's hoard, I think. But I assure you I am not a professional; I've never stolen anything in my life, except a troll's purse, and that turned out to be disastrous."
"But this is wonderful!" said Estel, his eyes shining. "You rode off on errantry, not because you were a 'professional', as you say, but simply because Gandalf asked you to."
Bilbo bowed his head modestly, trying not to be too glad that Gandalf was hearing the boy's praise.
To his surprise, Gandalf replied softly, "Yes, Bilbo is really remarkable. One day the Dwarves will appreciate that fact. Thank you, Dúnadan, for teaching him to use his sword. I had not foreseen the need, but I think it is wise."
"He's going to teach me a little about healing as well," said Bilbo.
"Yes," said Estel. "I thought that this afternoon Bilbo and I might go up into the pine woods on the north side of the valley, and I could show him some wild herbs that grow there." He turned to Bilbo. "That is, if you would like to go. Some of the herbs are useful for healing, some as food. It would serve you well on your journey East to know how to find food in the Wild."
"I'd be delighted," said Bilbo, "if it wouldn't be taking you from your studies."
Estel shrugged. "I'll ask Elrond. I think he would approve. I would be practicing my own skills as well as teaching you."
Gandalf chuckled. "I'm glad to see this friendship forming. I think it will prove fruitful--for both of you." He left them and returned to the table with the Dwarves.
When the meal was ended, Estel went to Elrond to ask his permission for the outing. Elrond gave his consent gladly. "Only remember," he said, "you are not to leave the valley. My power and protection do not extend beyond its borders. And stay with Bilbo; you are still too young to wander so far alone."
Estel bowed. "Thank you, my Lord."
He took Bilbo first to his room, where he showed him how to make a poultice of herbs and grain. After heating it on his small hearth, he made Bilbo take off his shirt, and spread the mixture on Bilbo's sore arm and shoulder.
At first Bilbo felt like an old uncle entertaining a child who was playing at being a physician. But after a few moments he ceased to doubt the boy's skill. The ache left him as the warmth soaked into his muscles. He watched as Estel brewed up another mixture, in cold water this time. "This will help your bruises. I am sorry I struck so hard."
"Nonsense," said Bilbo stoutly. "I don't feel any bruises." But he let Estel paint the mixture onto his left arm and side. "How long must I sit like this?" he said, feeling a little foolish despite the comfort of the cool herbs.
"Not long. By the time I have washed the bowls and put them away, you will be ready to wash off the mash. There's a little washroom through that door."
A few minutes later Bilbo came out of the washroom, dressed once more and ready for their expedition. He flapped his arms and found that the ache had left them completely. "Good as new. Much obliged, Master Estel. I shall recommend your healing skills to any who need them."
Estel beamed. "The Elves do not need them; they have Elrond. Until now I had practiced my skills only upon myself and my mother, when she had some small hurt." He laughed. "I wanted to give a physic to my pony when he had the colic, but Elrond said the beast was too valuable, and tended it himself."
Bilbo joined in the laugh. "Luckily, I'm not so valuable. And I wouldn't have troubled Elrond with my little aches. But I am grateful to you, for I feel fit for anything now. Shall we walk or ride?"
"The path is too steep for ponies, and it is easier to find herbs on foot anyway."
"Very well," said Bilbo, taking the walking stick Estel handed him. "Lead on!"
Estel strapped a short sword and a knife to his waist, and slung a small bow and a quiver of arrows over his shoulder.
Bilbo stared. "Is it so dangerous? I thought Elrond's power protected the valley."
"It keeps out evil things," said the boy, "trolls and goblins and wargs and so on. But now and then an ordinary wolf or bear may wander into the valley. They are mostly shy of Men and Elves, but it is best to be wary. Can you shoot?"
"Yes," said Bilbo, "but I've never shot a living thing. Only straw targets."
Estel wordlessly handed him a bow and arrows.
"Are you sure we should go?" Bilbo said, eyeing the bow. "I'm not a woodsman, and you are only nine, after all."
Estel's silver eyes were wide and innocent as a baby's. "Elrond said we might. Come on."
They left the house on the south side, by the river. The path circled around the great porch on the east side, and came to a sloping grassy meadow to the north. Beyond the meadow the side of the ravine rose up and up to the dark blue sky. From this distance the pine forest on the steep slope looked like crumpled green velvet.
They passed the stables, and beyond them the smithy. They stopped a few moments to watch the Elven smith making horseshoes. The Elf said something in his own tongue and Estel laughed.
"What did he say?" asked Bilbo.
"That someday, when I am a man, he will forge me a real sword, much better than the 'toy' I carry. The Elves are always teasing me." He turned and replied in Elvish, and the Elven smith laughed in turn.
"I told him he made this sword himself," Estel explained, "and so the quality must be of the highest."
Bilbo smiled and ruffled the boy's dark hair. "You give as good as you get, lad. Good for you."
They followed the path across the meadow. As it entered the forest, it faded to a faint deer trail through the lacy white hemlocks. Bilbo was soon breathing hard, for the trail was very steep. But Estel stopped often to show him the leaves of herbs, and to explain which might be used to cure dysentery, which to ease sore muscles, which to staunch a wound, which to boil in a savory stew.
Bilbo took notes in a little sheaf of paper that he'd begged from the Elves and stitched together into a primitive book. At home he'd always been accustomed to keep a daily diary, but of course he'd left it behind when he'd run out of Bag End so precipitously, without even a pocket handkerchief. Since coming to Rivendell, he'd written a sketchy account of his travels so far, and resolved to make daily notes in the future. When he got home he would write them up properly.
He was deeply absorbed in drawing the leaf of the athelas plant when he suddenly realized that Estel had gone very still and quiet. Bilbo's scalp prickled. He looked up to see Estel standing with his arm outstretched, his palm outward. Bilbo followed his gaze. In a thicket not twenty yards away was a great grey bear, sitting up on its haunches and looking at them.
"Draw your bow, very slowly," said Estel softly, "but do not shoot unless it attacks."
Bilbo's hands shook as he took his bow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to it.
Estel said something in Elvish. His voice was low and gentle, but commanding. The bear blinked and put its front paws down on the ground. Again Estel spoke, so sweetly he was almost singing. The bear shook its ears, and then turned and lumbered away.
Bilbo lowered his trembling hands. "You should not rely on me to shoot, Master Estel, not when I'm as frightened as I am."
"There is no need to be afraid. I asked the bear to leave and it agreed."
Bilbo took a deep breath. "If you have that kind of power, why are we armed?"
Estel looked at him silently for a moment. "They do not always agree," he said at last. "It is rare that they attack, but it is safest to be ready." He looked at the sun. "We should be returning, if we want to have supper in the hall."
"Yes," said Bilbo, glad of the excuse and suddenly very hungry. "Let us return."
* * * * * *
For ten more days Bilbo and the Dwarves lingered in Rivendell. Bilbo spent some of his time with Thorin and Company, or with Gandalf, or listening to Elvish tales and songs in the Hall of Fire, or copying manuscripts in the library. But he spent much of it with Estel, following him to his lessons in swordplay and herblore and woodcraft and history.
On Midsummer's Eve the Elves celebrated the shortest night of the year with songs and dances under the stars on the soft grass of the riverbank. Silver lanterns glittered in the tree branches and along the curve of the stone bridge. Their reflections shimmered in the running water. The Elves made little lamps of walnut shells filled with oil, and set them flickering and dancing on the river's surface.
Bilbo filled his eyes with the lanternlight and resolved that one day he would bring this beauty home. He would hang lanterns in the branches of the big tree in the field near Bag End, and fill some magical night with light and music and dancing.
He strolled across the grass, pausing to listen to a song here, and watch a dance there. All the time he kept his eyes open for Estel, who seemed to have disappeared.
"Bilbo!" said a soft voice over his head.
Bilbo looked up and saw a small shadow huddled among the branches of a tree, half lit by flickering lanterns. "Estel?"
A small brown hand reached down into the lanternlight just over Bilbo's head. "Come up with me," said Estel.
"I've explained to you," said Bilbo, "Hobbits don't climb trees. Not unless it is a matter of survival. We are underground creatures."
"Please, Bilbo. Please come up. There are branches like a winding stair, once you get past the first one. I'll help you."
He sounded so sad that Bilbo swallowed his fear and reached up to take Estel's hand. After a short struggle he found himself sitting almost comfortably on a broad limb, with a smaller limb behind his back and his arm around the trunk of the tree. Estel sat across from him. Far below his feet, Bilbo could hear Elves singing and dancing. He was careful not to look down.
"They say you are leaving tomorrow," said Estel.
Bilbo sighed. "Yes. I would love to stay here indefinitely. But I promised the Dwarves I'd go with them to the end of the road, and I must keep my word."
Estel closed his eyes and nodded. "Yes, you must keep your word. But I will miss you."
"I'll return," said Bilbo. "When the Dwarves conclude their business, and I turn for home, I'll stop here again." He spoke bravely, but a chill came over him. Would he return? There was a dragon at the end of that road, and who knew what dangers in between.
"Will you?" Estel opened his eyes. The lights of many lanterns reflected like stars in their silvery depths.
"If I can," said Bilbo. "No one can know the future."
"My mother can sometimes," said Estel. "She told me that one day, years from now, my fate would be intertwined with the fates of some of your kin. But she couldn't tell whether you and I would meet again." He peered down through the leaves. "There she is, dancing with the Elves."
Bilbo looked down and wished he hadn't. The ground seemed miles away. The dancing Elves swirled far below, their floating clothes glowing not only with lanternlight and starlight, but with some inner glow. He caught sight of Gilraen, holding hands with the Elves in a circle of dancers. Roses and ribbons crowned her dark hair, and she laughed as she danced. It was the first time Bilbo had ever seen her laugh. Beside her danced Elrond, and with them were his two sons, returned from their journeys to celebrate the night. Even Elrond forgot his usual gravity and laughed and sang as he danced.
"When I was younger," said Estel, "I used to wish Elrond would marry my mother. He has been a father to me, and Elladan and Elrohir like grown-up brothers, or uncles maybe. We could be a real family."
Bilbo looked back at Estel and waited for his vertigo to pass. "Maybe they could. It wouldn't be the first time. Beren was a Man, after all, and he married Lúthien, the child of Elf and Maia."
Estel shook his head. "No, it cannot be. I found out that Elrond has a wife."
Bilbo was so staggered he nearly let go of the tree trunk. "A wife! Where is she? I haven't seen her."
"She is not here. She sailed to Valinor five hundred years ago. She was captured by orcs in the mountains and tortured." He shivered. "She could find no relief from her memories here, but in the Blessed Realm there is healing. That is why her sons ride out to fight the orcs, as I shall one day. Like me, they have a parent to avenge."
Bilbo shook his head. "Five hundred years! How he must miss her, if he loves her. Why doesn't he go to her?"
Estel looked troubled. "I wonder that myself. I'm glad he does not; if he did, I would be orphaned a second time."
"Maybe," said Bilbo slowly, "he thinks he has a duty here, to stay and fight evil. That may be his way to avenge her. Maybe raising an orphan lad is part of that fight, if you were born to be a warrior and healer, as he says."
"It may be as you say," said Estel. "If the Elves left now, the world would be a grim place indeed. They say the Necromancer is growing more powerful. He's turned the greenwood into Mirkwood, infested with giant spiders like the ones Beren fought."
"Brr!" Bilbo shuddered. "We are going that way, I think. Through Mirkwood."
"Well, you have your sword. And you know how to use it now."
Bilbo sighed. "I wish I were as confident of that as you are."
"I'm sure of it." Estel laughed. "Don't I have the bruises to prove it? You got past my blocking more times than I can count, the last time we practiced. Even Glorfindel was pleased. Anyway, perhaps you are right about Elrond. He may stay until the Necromancer is overthrown and Mirkwood is fair again. A few hundred years are nothing in the life of an Elf. And it may be hundreds of years before the world is healed."
"When the King returns," said Bilbo, with a wry smile.
Estel stared at him. "What King? What do you mean?"
Bilbo laughed and waved his free hand. "I don't know. It's a saying we Hobbits have, about things that don't seem likely to happen soon. The world will be healed 'when the King returns'. But what King that might be, we don't know. It's only a garbled nursery saying. We've never had a King of our own. There's the Master of Brandy Hall, and the Thain of Tookborough, but they are only the patriarchs of their clans. They have no more power than the Mayor of Michel Delving, and he's elected every seven years."
"There was a King once," said Estel slowly. "A thousand years ago. But he was overthrown by the Witch King. The Rangers have been led ever since by Chieftains, who were heirs to the throne of the North Kingdom and of Gondor in the South. But now they have no Chieftain either, and if one should arise, he would be King of no more than a hundred Rangers and their families." He smiled. "Less powerful than your Mayor of Michel Delving."
"Maybe it's not about a King of Men at all," said Bilbo, with a sudden inspiration. "The saying, I mean. Maybe it means the King of the Dwarves. If Thorin is successful, he will be King Under the Mountain."
Estel nodded, but still looked doubtful. "Yes, that may be. If the dragon is overthrown, the Necromancer will lose some of his power to harm. But I must tell you, Bilbo, when you first said the words, 'when the King returns', I had the strangest feeling, like the shiver of some great doom."
"Doom!" exclaimed Bilbo, alarmed. "Do you mean Thorin's doom?"
"No, though--" The boy's eyes unfocused a moment. Then he blinked. "Though I think Thorin's doom may be near at hand, if he is not careful. No, I meant something to do with you, and me, and those kin of yours my mother foresaw. I don't know any more. It's a feeling, nothing more."
"Do you have these--feelings--often?"
Estel shook his head. "Not often. But the Dúnedain are foresighted, my mother says." He paused again, and then added, "'Doom' may not be the right word. But I think something is about to happen that will change our lives, Bilbo, yours and mine. After you leave Rivendell, your choices are going to be terribly important."
Bilbo clutched at the tree trunk. "You do make me feel uncomfortable, Estel. I wonder if you're related to Gandalf."
Estel looked at him unhappily. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable, Bilbo. I'm no wizard." Indeed, the moment had passed, and he was once more only a lonely little boy. "I shouldn't have said anything. I probably imagined it."
Bilbo forced a smile. "Too many heroic tales, eh? But I shouldn't have said 'uncomfortable'. You've been a good friend, my boy, and made my stay here more than comfortable. And I'm glad you did speak; fore-warned is fore-armed, as the saying is. I'll be careful of my choices. Come, now, I've spent more time in a tree tonight than most Hobbits spend in a lifetime. Let's go join the singing. I think Gandalf is planning some fireworks soon."
The word "fireworks" had the desired effect. Estel smiled, and jumped up from his perch. "I'll go first, to guide you. It's harder going down than going up."
Soon Bilbo had both feet firmly on the soft grass of the good, solid earth again. He and Estel didn't talk much after that, but they sang and danced and laughed, and chased Gandalf's skyrockets across the grassy riverbank, under the light of the silver lanterns and Elbereth's Elven stars.
* * * * * *
In the morning, Bilbo set out with the Dwarves for the Misty Mountains. It was a fair Midsummer's Day, under a rich blue sky. The songs of the Elves mingled with the singing of the waterfalls. Estel walked beside Bilbo's pony for two or three miles up the valley. Elrond's son Elladan walked behind them, clearly keeping an eye on the boy. At the East end of the valley the road climbed in steep switchbacks.
"Here I must turn back," said Estel.
Bilbo slipped down from his pony to embrace the boy. When he climbed back into the saddle he saw Estel blinking back tears, and felt his own eyes stinging.
"Here," said Estel hastily. "A parting gift, Bilbo Baggins." He handed Bilbo a small bundle wrapped in green cloth and tied with a ribbon of darker green. "It's some lembas and a few healing herbs, and some seedcakes that my mother made. Farewell, and may the stars guide you safely on your return."
Bilbo bowed. "Farewell, my friend. I have no gift for you, but I will bring you something from my adventure, if I can."
He rode after the Dwarves, up the steep switchbacks. Just before the road left the valley altogether, he looked back and saw a tiny figure far below, standing on top of a boulder by the rushing river and waving farewell with both arms.
* * * * * *
Almost a year passed before Bilbo returned to that fair valley. On May Day, he and Gandalf rode alone down the steep switchbacks into Rivendell. Thorin Oakenshield slept beneath Lonely Mountain, with his nephews Fíli and Kíli, and Dáin was King Under the Mountain.
"Gandalf," said Bilbo, "do you know why Estel and his mother live here with the Elves, instead of with their own people?"
"Yes I do. But I promised Elrond to tell no one, and I will not break that promise to satisfy the curiosity of an inquisitive Hobbit."
"But it seems so lonely for them."
Gandalf's expression softened. "Estel will be lonely for much of his life, I fear. But it must be so, and one day you will understand. But that is why your friendship is so important to him, and will be in the future, I think."
Bilbo shook his head. "He should be friends with other lads his own age, not just a Hobbit of middle age and ancient Elves and Wizards."
"He will be glad to see you," said Gandalf.
As if in answer a small figure came running up the path from the house far below. "Bilbo! Mithrandir!"
Bilbo slipped off his pony in time for Estel's bear hug. He stepped back and looked up into the boy's face. "Am I imagining it, or have you grown several inches since our last meeting?"
Estel grinned. "Four inches since Midsummer." He looked at Bilbo. "And you've changed too, Bilbo Baggins."
Bilbo nodded, as he started down the path, leading his pony. "Well, I've seen a lot since Midsummer. I was in a battle, for one thing."
"What was it like?"
"I don't know," Bilbo said ruefully. "I was hit on the head early on and didn't wake up until it was over. It was a sad awakening, though." Bilbo went on to tell about his last farewell to Thorin. As he spoke of the Dwarf's death, the old grief welled up in his chest. He didn't know if he was grieving more for Thorin, or for Estel. "If Elrond is right, and you are destined to be a warrior, I think you'll find there's more grief than glory in it."
Estel said nothing, but walked beside Bilbo with long, sure strides, his face thoughtful.
To cheer himself, Bilbo added, "I was in another battle, though, one that was plenty exciting, and I fought it all by myself." He drew his long knife and held it up in the sunlight. "My sword has a name now. I called it 'Sting' after I fought the giant spiders."
Estel looked down at him, his eyes shining. "Like Beren!"
Bilbo blushed and caught Gandalf's eye. "Er, well, no, not much like Beren. I had some help that Beren didn't have." He stopped. For some reason he didn't want to tell Estel why he had been able to fight so many spiders without being caught as the Dwarves had been. He wondered at his own reluctance. After all, Gandalf knew about the magic ring he had found, the ring that turned him invisible and made burgling so easy.
"What help?" said Estel, very interested.
Gandalf came to his rescue. "Hobbits are naturally good at stealth, even better than Elves. Among Men who know anything of Hobbits, the story is that Hobbits can disappear magically, though Hobbits would deny it. It was for that reason that I wanted a Hobbit for this expedition; Dwarves are excellent creatures, but they make more noise than Trolls. And Men cannot compete with Hobbits for stealth. Even so great a woodsman as Beren could not hope to sneak past a giant spider unheard and unseen."
Bilbo breathed a sigh of relief. If Gandalf was willing to keep the ring secret from Estel, he felt better about doing so himself. He told himself that sometimes secrets had to be kept from children for their own good. After all, Estel's own mother wouldn't tell him his father's name. Still, what Gandalf had said was almost a lie, and it cast a shadow between Estel and Bilbo.
"Did you meet any Men or Elves on your travels?" asked Estel.
"Oh, yes," said Bilbo, glad to change the subject. "Bard, the new King of Dale, is a friend of mine, and so is Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood. I met his son Legolas too, and many other Wood Elves. They're rather different from the Elves of Rivendell. They live underground like Hobbits and Dwarves."
As they walked down into the valley, Bilbo told Estel about his adventures. At last they came to the Last Homely House, and Elrond greeted them at the door.
After a fine feast, Elrond took Bilbo and Gandalf into his private study, and Bilbo had to tell his adventures all over again. This time, with Gandalf's encouragement, Bilbo included the finding of his magic ring in the tale. He told Elrond the true story, not the one he had told the Dwarves. It was impossible to lie to Elrond.
Elrond asked to see the ring, though he was careful not to touch it himself. "Very interesting. I think you were wise not to tell Estel. He is a fine, trustworthy lad, but I think the fewer people who know, the better. It is a pity you told the Dwarves, though Dwarves do not gossip, so it may be that no harm is done. Your ring may be only a trinket, I cannot tell. But even a trinket with a bit of magic about it can be a danger to its owner, if too many people know about it. It can attract thieves of the most unsavory sort. My advice to you is to keep it secret."
Then Elrond and Gandalf spoke together, and Bilbo learned that a Council of Wizards had driven the Necromancer out of his tower of Dol Guldur in the South of Mirkwood, and the Rangers and the Elves meant to make the wood a pleasant place once more, as it had been many years before.
"But this is wonderful news!" said Bilbo. "I have been wondering something. We Hobbits have a saying, that the world will be made right 'when the King returns'. But we never knew what King was meant. Could it be that it means the King of the Dwarves, and that Dáin's return to Lonely Mountain set the prophecy in motion?"
Elrond and Gandalf exchanged a glance. At last Gandalf said, "The world will never be made completely right, Mr. Baggins. The Necromancer is driven out, but not destroyed. There is always evil to fight; Estel will have much to do when he is a man. The world is a merrier place now, at least for a time. But I think the King of your Hobbit saying is neither Dáin nor Bard, but another who is yet to come. You will know him when the time comes."
And with that Bilbo had to be content. But he thought about it as he left the room. Estel was a Dúnadan, and his father had died eight years ago. The Dúnadan Chieftain was the heir of the lost King, but the Dúnedain had no Chieftain now either. There was some secret about Estel's father, something that it wasn't yet safe for him to know. Could it be...could it be that Estel's father was that lost Chieftain? The more he thought about it, the more he thought it must be. And that meant that Estel himself was the King who was to return. He wondered if Estel had guessed. Still, if the boy's mother had said nothing to him, it wasn't Bilbo's place to give him ideas.
Bilbo went to Estel's room and tapped at the open door. Estel jumped up from the desk where he had been reading. "Come in, Bilbo! I have a gift for you, something more lasting than seedcakes. I worked on it all winter." He handed Bilbo a book like the one he'd been reading when they first met. "It's the lay of Beren and Lúthien. I copied it in Elvish on the left pages, and translated into Common Speech on the right. It's a prose translation; you are better at making verses than I am, so I thought you might like to cast it into verse someday. I made a small glossary at the end, enough to get you started."
Bilbo leafed through the pages, speechless at the magnificence of the gift. The calligraphy was a bit shaky and blotted, clearly a child's hand. And yet the overall impression he had was one of enduring beauty. "Estel, this is so wonderful! I--I don't know what to say. Thank you! You must have spent weeks and weeks making it."
Estel beamed. "Well, yes, but Elrond said it was as good a way to use my study time as any. You enjoyed the Elvish tales so much the last time you were here, I thought you should have at least one to take with you."
"I have a gift for you too," said Bilbo. "I didn't make it, though. I'm afraid I stole it."
Bilbo chuckled. "Stole it from a thief. From Smaug the Dragon, to be exact." He reached into his bag and pulled out a golden cup studded with jewels. "It once belonged to the Dwarves, so I returned it to them, but Dáin said I should keep it as a souvenir of my adventure. I accepted it, but only because I meant to give it to you. It would be quite out of place in my parlor or my kitchen; it would end up gathering dust in the mathom-house in Michel Delving."
Estel's mouth hung open. "Bilbo, it's made of gold! This is a cup for a King, not a vagabond Ranger."
Bilbo gave him a quick look, but the boy seemed unconscious of any hidden meaning. "Well," said Bilbo, "you've a few years yet before you begin that life. And I expect you'll always return to Rivendell. You can keep it here and use it when you feast with the Elves. They have plenty of treasures here, so it won't be out of place."
Estel took the cup and placed it carefully on his desk. He sat down and peered into its golden surface.
Bilbo wondered if he'd done the right thing. Maybe the boy was too young for such a gift. It had come from a Dragon's hoard. Maybe it would awaken something unhealthy in Estel, a gold-fever such as came over Dwarves and Elves sometimes, and especially over Men.
Then Estel laughed. "I can see my face in it. I look like a goblin."
The words relieved Bilbo. "It's a poor gift compared to the one you made for me. All those hours of work."
"No it isn't!" Estel protested. "You went down a Dragon's lair to get it for me. That makes it a gift beyond price."
Bilbo nodded. He pulled up another chair and laughed at his own reflection.
"I dreamed about us, you and me," said Estel, still looking into the cup's polished side. "Three times the same dream; once the night after you left, once on Durin's Day, and again last night."
Bilbo felt a shudder crawl across his scalp. "Another premonition?"
"I think so. Shall I tell you?"
"Was it good?"
"Yes, pretty good."
Bilbo relaxed. "Then tell me."
Estel sat up and looked at him. "I dreamed I met you on the road, on a high pass in the Misty Mountains, years and years from now. You had been to Dale, and you were traveling westward with a party of Dwarves, who were going to leave you at Rivendell. I was patrolling the pass, for Orcs were multiplying there again. Your hair was gray, and I was a grown man, and not a young man either. We hadn't seen one another in all those years, and yet we knew each other at once. I decided to ride with you to Rivendell." He stopped.
"That's all, just us meeting again."
"Don't your dreams tell any more?" asked Bilbo. "About other friends, maybe? Or a family? A wife, children?"
Estel considered this. "Well--I think there were other Rangers who were my friends. But they weren't with me in this dream. And when you and I got back to Rivendell--" He stopped. "But no, there it became just an ordinary dream, I think. I dreamed Lúthien Tinúviel was living at Rivendell, and I was Beren, but I was myself too. But that could not be foresight. It was just a dream then."
"Hmm," said Bilbo. "Are there any Elf maidens at Rivendell who resemble Lúthien?"
Estel shook his head. Then he brightened. "The Dúnedain are also descended from Lúthien. Maybe one of the Dúnedain maidens will come to live at Rivendell someday. If she is of the Dúnedain, she will not mind marrying a Ranger."
Bilbo smiled. "I think that must be it. You will not always be lonely, Estel."
He was afraid he'd said too much, but Estel looked at him with a grin. "I'll invite you to the wedding."
* * * * * * *
A week later Bilbo and Gandalf left Rivendell, heading at last for the Shire. As much as he loved Rivendell, Bilbo was feeling the call of home. Estel rode with them as far as the Ford of Bruinen.
"Don't be downcast," said Gandalf, as they paused on the riverbank. "I travel this road often, and can carry messages. So do Bilbo's friends the Dwarves, and the Elves pass through the Shire as they journey between Rivendell and the Havens. You will have news of one another, even though it may be long years before you meet again."
Estel nodded soberly. "I know. It will have to be enough. It is something to have a good friend, even one so far away."
Bilbo smiled. "You've gained more than inches this past year, my lad. You're growing up. Keep your eyes open for Lúthien, and let me know when you've found her."
They embraced. Then Bilbo climbed back on his pony and followed Gandalf through the shallow water. Before the road crested a hill and left the river behind, he looked back and saw Estel still sitting on his pony, watching them go.
"I'll miss him, Gandalf," Bilbo sighed. "I'm sorry to leave him so alone."
"He'll be all right," said Gandalf. "In a few years Elladan and Elrohir will take him riding farther afield, and he'll meet more of his own people. As for you, Mr. Baggins, if ever you get to feeling lonely, remember that Estel is not the only orphan in the world. There must be hobbit lads in the Shire who could use a friend. Maybe you could take one of them under your wing someday."
Bilbo blinked in surprise. "Do you know of any in particular, Gandalf?"
"No, it was just a thought. As you told Estel, keep your eyes open."
"There aren't any lads in the Shire that are anything like Estel, I'm sure of that."
"There may be one day," said Gandalf. "Among the Tooks, perhaps, or the Brandybucks. Or even the Bagginses, as unlikely as that sounds."
Bilbo laughed. "I'm pretty sure, Gandalf, that none of my Baggins relations would want to take up with a burglar and adventurer like me. Can you imagine any of them wanting to study Elvish?"
Gandalf answered his laugh. "No, Bilbo Baggins, you are probably right. I can't imagine any other Baggins who would ever wear a mithril coat, or carry an Elvish blade. It's too absurd."
They rode on toward the West, laughing.
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2004 by Karen Deal Robinson
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