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The Riddle of Strider  by Mirach

A/N: This story was originally published under the title "All that is gold does not glitter" in Teitho. I decided to continue it with the next verses of the riddle though, so that became the title of the first chapter... and I hope I'll get to writing the next chapters soon.

Summary: A company of Dwarves and one Hobbit stop in Rivendell on their journey after treasures, and a little boy gets lost. The first meeting of Aragorn and Bilbo. Written for Teitho: First Meetings

Rating: K

Disclaimer: I am not Tolkien. I am a fan = This is not work for profit. This is fan fiction.

1. All that is gold does not glitter

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day,
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

Shadows danced in the Hall of Fire, lights and shadows upon the veil of bluish, sweetly-bitter smoke. Tongues of flames licked the wood in the hearth, and a blinking red eye in the shadows - the embers in the wizard's pipe - lit when he inhaled the strange, heavy smoke of the pipe weed.

The Dwarves sang. Deep and rough were their voices, so unlike the elven choirs that usually sounded here. Their eyes shone as they sang: pale gold glittering in the dark depths of the Lonely Mountain, dragon fire reflecting in the obsidian surface of the Lake under the stars. There were deep forests and distant mountains, the calling of stone, sound of hammer and anvil echoing in the ancient halls once again, old legends about a returning king waiting for fulfilling…

The voices of Dwarves were rich and deep like the hills themselves, and resonated with something earthy, deep in the roots of the world.

Nobody paid attention to the boy, sitting quietly in the corner, his eyes alit with inner fire as he listened to the song.

"Lord Elrond! Lord Elrond!" an abrupt knock on the door of his study forced the Lord of Rivendell to put down the quill and look up from the letter he was writing.

"Do not tell me the Dwarves again…" he muttered as he went to the door. But instead of Erestor, complaining about smoking in the library, he saw a very worried woman.

"Lady Gilraen! What happened?"

"It's Estel, my lord! I cannot find him since morning!"

Elrond sighed. It was not the first time the adventurous boy hid in the house or decided to explore the valley on his own. "Do not worry, lady Gilraen. I will have the house searched, and send the scouts to look for him in the valley. He couldn't go far."

"No, but what if he fell somewhere, or…"

"Shh, Gilraen…" Elrond interrupted her. "We will find him."

But when the widow of Arathorn left, and he gave the orders to the scouts, he could not hide the shade of worry in his own ageless eyes…

"Have you found him?"

"No, my lord."

Elrond bit his lip, looking from the window at the sun. It was setting. Soon it would be dark.

"Where is the other group?"

"They…" the scout avoided Elrond's look," …they are searching beneath the waterfalls."

Elrond inhaled sharply, but remained calm on the outside. "What about the tracks?" he asked.

"They end among the stones. The boy is too light to leave any marks there, and there are no tracks leaving…"

The Peredhil lord pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "Search further."

The scout bowed and left. Elrond continued pacing in the study.

"We have found something!"

It was shortly before midnight, and one of the scouts returned.

"Something? What… What should that mean?" Elrond felt his mouth go dry.

"Well… we didn't find the boy, but I think we know where he is."

"Ah so…" Elrond sighed in relief, as he imagined something worse. "So you know where he is? Then why didn't you bring him back?!"

The scout made a step back before his lord's look. "There is… um… one problem…"

"W-What? No thank you Lobelia, come some other time…" Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit and burglar in the services of Thorin & co., pulled the blanket over his head.

But the knocking on his door only grew more persistent. As he gradually became more awake, he realized that he was not home in the Bag End, but on the quest with the Dwarves, currently staying in the Last Homely House with Elves, from the hospitality of Master Elrond.

Now fully awake, he sat up on the bed. "Come in, come in! Did a dragon attack, or what's going on?"

He expected a Dwarf or even a Wizard, but when the door opened, the light from the hallway revealed lord Elrond himself. Bilbo blinked in surprise and tried to straighten his nightshirt and generally make himself more presentable.

"I am truly sorry to disturb you at this late hour, Master Baggins," the elven lord entered the room and placed the candle he was carrying on the night table.

"That's perfectly fine, Mister Elrond," Bilbo replied with growing curiosity. "I'm at your service and your family's..."

Elrond nodded gravely. "I'm afraid I really have to ask for that service. You see… a boy got lost in the valley. A little Man of ten summers, the son of one Dúnedain lady who's our guest at present. Maybe you have seen him during the dinner…"

Bilbo thought for a moment. Now that Elrond mentioned him, he remembered a young lad, could be fifteen if he were a Hobbit, but the children of the Big Folk grew up more quickly…

"Yes, I have seen him, but I'm afraid I can't help you. Last time I saw him was yesterday evening…" Bilbo looked puzzled about why Elrond is asking exactly him, of all people.

"The scouts have found his tracks," Elrond explained, "but they are leading to a cave, and the entrance is too small for anyone except a child, or…"

"Or a Hobbit…" Bilbo was starting to understand. "You don't have to say more, kind sir. Just give me a moment to get dressed, and I'll be on my way."

"Thank you, master Baggins. Thank you…" Elrond sighed with relief.

Bilbo waited.

"Ah. You want to dress. Of course…" Elrond took the candle and headed out of the room. Then he remembered that the hobbit would need light, and returned it again.

"The boy must be really dear to you…" Bilbo murmured when Elrond left, and hurried with the dressing.

"Are you sure he went down there?" Bilbo stared at the narrow hole between the rocks. He was suddenly getting afraid for his buttons.

The Elven scout nodded. "The ground is too hard for tracks, but we found them nearby, on the softer ground. One pair of small tracks leading in this direction… and none leaving. Do you wish to see them?"

Bilbo nodded. "No, thank you. Let us not lose any more time," he said, thinking privately that he wouldn't recognize a track if somebody stuck his nose into it. A burglar, indeed… He looked back at the few other Elves with torches that came with them. Master Elrond stood in their light as well, and with him a worried looking woman – must be the boy's mother.

"I'm going there now," he said resolutely, as if only saying the words would be needed to actually make them true. It did not, though, and he tried to hide the trembling of his hand when he reached for the torch the nearest scout has been handing to him. It was a dark hole, especially now during the night, and he did not like it at all, but he forced himself to look professional before all these high people, and step towards it.

"Master Hobbit?" the scout's question stopped him before he could enter it. "Don't you want to take a rope?"

A rope! He should have thought about it… "Do you have one?" he asked, hiding his embarrassment. The scout just nodded, and handed the Hobbit a sling at the end of a long rope. "We will secure you from here," the Elf assured him. "Just pull on the rope thrice, and we will pull you out."

Bilbo nodded at that, feeling somehow better. Armed with the torch and rope, he squeezed himself through the dark opening. He had to bow his head and blow out all air from his lungs to get through, as the first few steps were a mere crevice in the hard rock. Yes, pull in the belly… careful with the buttons… that's it…

The crack made a sharp turn before finally opening into a broader corridor. Phew, no buttons lost. He could not see the light of the torches from outside, nor hear the voices of the Elves. Without the rope, he might believe that they left and he is alone down there. It was an unpleasant feeling – he didn't know what he would do if it were true. But the rope reminded him there are Elves waiting for him outside, and a little boy inside – hopefully.

The ground got steeper after a few steps. Bilbo had to climb down very carefully – find a place for feet, another, hold on to the walls, hold on… no, turn and continue backwards... The torch was a nuisance, as he could only use one hand, but a great help in the same time, as he actually saw where he is going. Without that, he would not find the courage to climb the last few steps of a nearly vertical rock wall, not knowing how high it actually was. Only then did he remember to call the boy's name. Elrond told it to him. What was it? Ah yes, it was an elvish word…

"Estel!" he called.

There was no reply. The boy is probably further down there, he told himself. Maybe he got lost in the corridors; he thought when he saw the fork of the paths. Who knows what a labyrinth lies beneath the rocks of the valley… He chose the right corridor, but after a few steps came to a blind end. That would narrow the options, at least. He returned and took the left one, calling the boy's name again.

This time, he could hear something in reply. "Who are you?" a childish voice asked suspiciously, sounding nearer than Bilbo expected. "Are you a dragon?"

He sighed with relief, and rushed in that direction. "No, I'm not a dragon!" he called on the way. "I'm a Hobbit! Bilbo Baggins at your service!" He held the torch so that the light fell on him, and soon he could see a little figure as well, huddled at the end of the second corridor – there was no labyrinth to talk about after all.

"See, I am no dragon…" Bilbo knelt near the boy. "I came to bring you home. And you must be Estel, right? Are you hurt?"

The boy raised his face to look at him. His cheeks were dirty, with traces of tears, and he was shivering with cold. He started to shake his head, but then he bit his lip and nodded shortly. "I twisted my ankle…"

Bilbo nodded. That explained why the boy could not climb up the way he climbed down. He gave him an evaluating look – the lad did not look too heavy, actually, if he were a Hobbit, his parents would be quite worried that he was too thin. "Don't worry; soon you will be out of here. Just put your hand around my neck." He leaned down so the boy could do that, and then pulled him up carefully. They were approximately the same height.

The boy bit back a cry of pain as he got to his feet.

"Lean on me," Bilbo instructed. "You can lean on me a little more, you know…" he said after a while. "Good. Now let's try to walk, shall we?"

Estel nodded shakily, and made a careful step. Then another. It was a slow progress.

"So… What were you actually doing down here?" Bilbo asked to distract the boy.

"Looking for treasure," Estel replied.

"For treasure? Here?"

"I wanted to go under the Mountain, and find a treasure for my mother. The Dwarves sang about it…"

"Oh…" Bilbo shook his head. "But this is not the Mountain."

"But there could be treasure," Estel insisted. "I just wanted a nice present for her…"

"I see…" Bilbo smiled slightly. "You know what? I do have an idea. Instead of climbing into dark holes, you could bake something for her, what do you think?"

"Bake?" Estel looked at the Hobbit as if he said something absurd. "There is no adventure in baking. Every maid can bake. I wanted to go under the Mountain, and fight a dragon, and win his treasure, and be a returning king..."

That, in turn, made the Hobbit to raise his eyebrows in amazement, that somebody could actually prefer fighting a dragon to a cake. "Well, I guess you can do that when you are older. But you have to eat nicely to gain strength…"

"You think I really can?"

"Um… I'm not sure about the dragon and treasure, as my companions seem to be intent to do that first, and the king under the Mountain you certainly can't be as you are no Dwarf," Bilbo replied honestly, "but I think that when you get strong, you could be some other king, or go under some other mountain if you want. But I've heard some of them are haunted…"

"I'm not afraid of ghosts," the boy said resolutely, hissing slightly as he stepped on the injured ankle. "But what about the treasure?"

"Well…" Bilbo smiled. "Maybe there is some treasure for you as well…"

"Not for me," the boy protested. "I wanted to find some gold for my mother!"

"Ah, yes, you did… But I'm sure it will be a great present for her just to see you again. She has been very afraid for you…"

"Was she?" Estel sounded suddenly unsure. "Are she and Ad… lord Elrond angry?"

"Maybe later they will, but now they will be just glad to see you, trust me. That will be the greatest treasure you can give your mother right now."

Estel nodded uncertainly, and looked up in the light of the torch. They were already at the steep rock, and he didn't know how he would climb up.

"Just hold on firmly, can you do that?" Bilbo asked him.

"Yes, I think…" the boy embraced the Hobbit around the neck, and Bilbo pulled the rope three times. Soon strong Elven hands started to pull them up. He let Estel go first through the narrow passage out then. He was able to pass through it much easier than the Hobbit, even doing it just on one foot, keeping his balance by leaning on the walls.

When Bilbo managed to get out of the crevice as well, he could already see Elrond and the Dúnedain lady embracing the boy, who sniffed slightly, but if it was from suppressing tears, or a beginning cold, Bilbo could not tell.

Elrond noticed him as he climbed out and tried to straighten his clothes. The lord of Rivendell stood up immediately and headed to him. "Master Hobbit!"

Bilbo stopped checking his buttons and looked at the Half-Elf, blushing slightly as he could tell from his look what would follow.

"I don't know how to thank you enough…"

"Oh please. No thanks are needed. That's why I'm here after all. A professional burglar, you know… Um…" Stop blabbering Bilbo, before you say something stupid, he told himself. "Maybe you could mention that to Thorin?" Ah well. Too late…

Elrond smiled. "I will mention it to him discreetly. But please," his face got a serious expression, "do not speak about the boy outside of the valley. I will just tell them you helped with one matter of great importance, and I expect the same from you."

Bilbo watched the Half-Elven face intently, his glance sliding to the Dúnedain lady embracing the boy. "He is precious to you, isn't he?" he asked quietly.

Elrond thought for a moment, but then he nodded shortly. "He is… the greatest treasure in this valley to us…"

"Do not worry," Bilbo smiled. "I will not tell that to anyone. Actually, I'm starting to think I would like to have such a boy one day. Doesn't have to be my own, I never like the idea of marriage, but maybe I will adopt one when I get home, if you understand me…"

"Oh yes, I do, Master Baggins," Elrond smiled, and his face was kind like a summer evening. "I do…"

Summary: The verses about Aragorn in Gandalf's letter were written by Bilbo. This is a story about the relationship of the Ranger and the Hobbit, and the events that inspired each of those verses.

Rating: K

Disclaimer: I am not Tolkien. I am a fan = This is not work for profit. This is fan fiction.

Beta: Cairistiona (thank you x 1000!)

2. Not all those who wander are lost

The evening was cold, a late autumn at the very gates of winter. The land at the feet of the Misty Mountains seemed to be empty and dark under the heavy clouds. A merry flicker of fire that could be seen in a small dell seemed almost out of place here. The song that accompanied the fire, on the other hand, somehow strangely fitted the dark and lonely landscape, as it was sung by an old, wistful voice.

The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!

It used to be a merry song once; that much was clear from the words. It should be sung with a lively melody and good company, a song about a happy future. To the one singing it, though, it was a song about the past, about times gone and friends lost.

His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.

If someone were watching the little dell, he would be greeted by a most unusual sight east of the Shire – an elderly Hobbit sitting on a log and warming his hands above the fire, singing quietly to himself. Not only was the hobbit far from home and its comforts, he also did not seem to mind…

The woods shall wave on mountains
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.

There was a distant look in the Hobbit's eyes as he stared into the flames, as if there was a story unfolding in front of his mind's eye, and he saw not a little bonfire, but dragonfire that burned in a night long ago and far away.

The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
All sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king's return!

Bilbo Baggins, a former burglar of Thorin Oakenshield's company, sighed as the song ended. This was the end of the adventure. His last journey before settling down. It was the last time he would see the Lonely Mountain and the halls and riches of the Dwarven kingdom. Now Rivendell will be his home, the place to live the rest of his days. Yet there was an empty place in his heart. He wished he could see Thorin as a returning king on the throne of his lost kingdom. But Thorin was dead, and the friendship Bilbo longed for gone with him.

"My pardon, Mister Hobbit…" a voice suddenly interrupted his thoughts.

Bilbo started. There was a stranger looking down into the dell. One of the Big Folk! He berated himself for getting so lost in thought that he didn't hear him coming, and for being generally not very cautious, assuming that the land between the Misty Mountains and Rivendell was deserted and patrolled by Elves. A Hobbit not hearing a Man's approach! He'd have to use his old age as an excuse for that!

That did not improve his mood at all, nor did the disturbance of his private thoughts. Realizing what kind of people one can encounter in the wilderness nowadays, he put his hand on the hilt of Sting, and only then took a good look at the stranger.

It was just as he suspected – a scoundrel by appearance, in a ragged cloak and muddy boots, grim-faced and unshaven.

"Who are you?" Bilbo asked sharply, pulling Sting out of the sheath a little to show the Man that he was not afraid.

The man stepped back, looking not so much afraid as wanting to give the elderly Hobbit some space. "I apologize for my intrusion," he said in a conciliatory tone. "I've just been alone in the wild for a long time, and when I saw your fire… I hoped for a friendly company. But if it bothers you, I will just leave…"

Bilbo frowned slightly. He did not like the looks of the Man, but he was also a Hobbit known for his hospitality… or, rather, the inability to drive away unexpected guests, he thought to himself, fondly remembering the memorable party of thirteen Dwarves and a Wizard in the Bag End. And there was something in the Man's face… something lonely and resigned. "You did not answer my question," he said cautiously, not letting his hand from the short sword.

"They call me Dúnadan," the man said with a bow of his head.

"A Man of the West?" Bilbo shook his head, looking slightly confused, although not taking his eyes off the Man.

Dúnadan just nodded. "That's who I am."

"And what are you doing here, if I may ask? Did you get lost?"

The Man smiled slightly. "No, I'm not lost. I'm just where I should be."

Bilbo frowned again, not knowing what to think of that answer, nor what to do. He did not want to drive the Man away from his fire, but he did not trust him either.

Dúnadan waited patiently, without moving. Only did his eyes few times wander away from the fire and into the night, as if searching for something, with a strange alertness in the Man's otherwise tired face.

"Very well," finally Bilbo put his hand away from the sword, and made a hesitant but inviting gesture. "You might join me if you want..."

Dúnadan watched him intently for a moment before he opened his mouth to reply. But the reply never came. He frowned suddenly and drew his sword.

Bilbo started and reached for Sting again, but the Man jumped over the fire and was gone into the darkness, leaving a confused Hobbit behind.

Bilbo stood there, his heart pounding. He drew Sting and pointed it in the direction where the Man ran, more instinctively than consciously. For a moment there was silence… then a growl. Clash of metal against metal. In that moment, Bilbo looked down at his blade, and realized it is glowing blue… He let out a Dwarvish curse. Orcs! And there he thought the Battle of Five Armies has decimated them enough for these lands to be safe to travel. Yes, but that was sixty years ago, a little voice in his head reminded him, the voice of a younger Hobbit that left with a Dwarven company. He missed that lad, he really did. The time was passing so quickly!

He was really getting old… and senile – by Mahal's beard and Old Took's horse, there was a fight there, and he was letting his thoughts wander away! That wouldn't happen to young Bilbo, he would… oh damn, again! He gritted his teeth, sheathed Sting, and quickly crept away from the fire, where anyone could spot him easily, and into the dark night under autumn stars.

The grass was wet and cold under his fingers as he carefully progressed to the place from whence the sounds of the fight came. He pressed himself low to the ground, and felt the wetness seeping into his clothes. No sound, no rustling could be heard as he crept closer. He only wished he would have his precious ring, it would be so much easier to be invisible right now…

He saw Dúnadan. It was dark, but his figure was tall among the Orcs, easy to spot even in the heat of battle. There were several dead Orcs on the ground, and still a few of them standing. Bilbo did not know who the Man was, but he knew on whose side he fought in this battle, without any doubt. He approached through the shadows, unnoticed. The Man was doing well so far – another Orc fell dead to the ground. Bilbo had to admire his efficient movements for a moment: it was as if he was seeing Thorin in battle again. That thought give him a new urgency – Thorin died in that battle, despite his skill as a warrior.

Next Orc down, three remaining. Dúnadan retreated a few steps, clearly exhausted. Bilbo grabbed a stone and lifted himself from the ground. He aimed… and with satisfaction he saw one Orc stagger after the stone hit him right in the head – his aim was still true.

Dúnadan used the chance and killed the Orc with one quick thrust. Two still stood against him. One noticed Bilbo.

The Hobbit stood up and drew Sting. He watched the foul creature intently. That he was afraid the Orc would never guess from his posture – he knew how to control his fear. One that has talked to a living dragon had to know that.

Several things happened at once. The Orc attacked. Dúnadan saw it out of the corner of his eyes, understood what was going on. He jumped after the Orc, trying to stop him and protect the Hobbit. Bilbo raised Sting to defend himself from the Orc, but before he could do anything, Dúnadan's sword beheaded the creature with one powerful cut. Bilbo saw it, and saw the other Orc behind Dúnadan, prepared for strike. "Behind you!" he cried out, and jumped.

In the next moment they were all on the ground: him, Dúnadan and the Orc. There was sticky and dark blood on his hands… and Sting was embedded in the Orc's chest. The elven blade no longer shone.

Dúnadan breathed heavily, trying to catch his breath after the exertion. "Master Hobbit…" he panted, "that was… really unexpected… and very brave. Thank you…"

Bilbo blushed, still a bit shaken. He staggered to his feet and looked around, at the Orc corpses. "I think I should thank you," he said quietly. "It seems I got a bit careless with that fire…"

Dúnadan remained lying on the ground, too exhausted from the fight even to move. "Not really…" he said hoarsely. "They were following you… since you crossed the mountains… and since you split with your Dwarven companions… they just waited for a chance to attack…"

"Oh." Bilbo paled slightly. "They wanted to avoid Rivendell and continue directly to the Blue Mountains… er… and how do you know that?"

Dúnadan very slowly rose to a sitting position, hissing a little with the movement. "Easily," he said. "I have been following the Orcs."

Bilbo bit his lip when he heard that hiss. "Oh dear… I totally forgot to ask… Are you injured?"

"No, not really," Dúnadan smiledslightly. "Just a few scratches and bruises… and quite sore muscles. I've been running for most of the day to catch up with them. I saw their and your tracks on this side of the Pass, in the morning."

Bilbo's eyes widened a little. "But that's almost thirty miles!"

Dúnadan finally got to his feet and looked around. He approached the Orc with Sting in his chest, took the blade out and carefully wiped the blood from it. Then he handed it to Bilbo, hilt first. "And I was just in time," he said quietly.

"Oh dear…" Bilbo stammered. "Yes. Yes, you were… But why did you ask to join me at the fire? Why didn't you warn me first?"

Dúnadan shrugged slightly, as if he didn't know the answer to that question himself. "I don't really know why," he said quietly, and looked away, to hide something sad and strangely vulnerable that appeared in his eyes in that moment. "My original plan was actually to wait for them a little further from here, and dispatch them without you ever knowing about them, or about me…" he said slowly. "But then I saw your fire, and heard your song… and I wanted to join you, just for a little moment before they arrived. I miscalculated their pace a little, you see… I thought I still had about an hour before they came."

"You were lonely…" Bilbo translated that feeling he saw in Dúnadan's eyes into soft words.

The Man bit his lip and nodded, barely perceptibly.

"I was feeling a bit lonely tonight as well." Bilbo shrugged, as if saying that there's no shame in it. "I'm really sorry for the cold welcome. One never knows what kind of people one meets in the wilderness, if you get my meaning. No offense."

"None taken," Dúnadan smiled slightly. "I know I look like one of the worse kind one can meet."

"Yes, that's right, I mean no… I mean yes, but... er…" Bilbo blushed. "I mean… one can also meet someone looking fair, who cuts his throat in sleep. It is a pleasant thing to meet someone who maybe looks foul, but turns fair. And I'm really sorry for the welcome, I mean it. Shall we begin again? The fire should be still burning…"

Dúnadan smiled, and this time his eyes did as well, and his face looked much fairer for it. "I would really like that."

"Great. Give me just a moment. I will prepare everything. Then you can come to the fire."

Dúnadan shook his head with amusement, but let the elderly Hobbit go and obediently waited for some time before he followed him.

The sight of a kettle with water, heating over the fire, and the smell of baking potatoes greeted him when he arrived – for the second time – into the little dell. There was also a warm sheet spread on the ground, meant for sitting or lying on. Dúnadan's muscles protested with that short journey – the battle took all his remaining strength after pursuing the Orcs, and he longed to sit down there and warm his cold hands. But still he felt somehow hesitant when he approached the fire, as if afraid of rejection for some reason.

He coughed to get Bilbo's attention, still busy with some preparations, to himself. "My pardon, Mister Hobbit," he said quietly, and somehow humbly. "Would you mind if a weary traveller joined you at your fire?"

"Oh…" Bilbo turned around, and smiled brightly. "Not at all, dear friend! " He bowed. "Bilbo Baggins, at your service!"

Dúnadan smiled, and there was relief visible in his face. He came closer to the fire, and bowed as well. "And I am at your service, Mister Baggins. They call me Dúnadan, but my true name is Aragorn son of Arathorn."

Summary: The verses about Aragorn in Gandalf's letter were written by Bilbo. This is a story about the relationship of the Ranger and the Hobbit, and the events that inspired each of those verses.

Rating: K

Disclaimer: I am not Tolkien. I am a fan = This is not work for profit. This is fan fiction.

Beta: Cairistiona, winning the "best beta reader award"

A/N: look, an update! I realized it's Tolkien's birthday today, and this story is sitting here, unfinished. So happy birthday, Master Tolkien!

3. The old that is strong does not wither

"How do you like your room, Master Baggins?" Elrond asked politely at the dinner.

"Very much, thank you. The view is wonderful. And the carved bookshelf, it's a beautiful work, really. But I believe someone has forgotten their books there. I… wouldn't want someone to think that I stole them." Bilbo blushed slightly, thinking about his reputation as a burglar. Burglar, not a thief – those were two different things in his mind, and he didn't like people mistaking them. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was a thief of his silver spoons. He was a honest burglar.

Elrond smiled slightly, just with the corners of his lips. "Oh, but they are yours, Master Baggins."

Bilbo stared at him for a while. "Mine? Oh dear… but they are so valuable! Most of them illuminated, and some are really old. Surely there has been some mistake."

Elrond shook his head. "No mistake. They are yours, dear Bilbo."

"Oh. Oh… where are my manners?" The elderly hobbit stood up and bowed solemnly. "Thank you very much, Master Elrond, for such a wonderful present. I truly appreciate it, and I'm at the service of you and your family whenever you would need me."

Elrond bowed his head slightly, acknowledging the thanks. "I know you are," he nodded quietly. For a moment Bilbo had the feeling like he glimpsed a hint of worry in his ageless eyes. It passed quickly though, and for the rest of the evening Elrond was as polite and caring a host as always.

There were songs and stories in the Hall of Fire after the dinner. Bilbo remembered the time when the Dwarves stayed in this very room, singing about their hopes and memories of home.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.

Another voice sang, sweet and serene. It was not a Dwarven voice, deep and earthy. It did not fit the song at all. And the song it sung was something entirely different, as realized he had dozed off, and the Dwarven song was just a part of his dream. He sighed and looked around. Elrond has left sometime during his nap, it seemed. He stood up as well, thinking a proper sleep on the soft bed would do him good. As he left the Hall of Fire behind to seek it, he absently wondered where Dúnadan will be sleeping tonight.

"Come with me," Bilbo told him as he was taking his leave. "I know the secret path to the Hidden Valley. I can show it to you. I'm sure you would be welcome in the Last Homely House."

Dúnadan just smiled a bit sadly at his offer. "Thank you, Master Baggins. It is very kind of you to offer such a thing, and in some other time I would gladly go with you into that beautiful valley. Another duty calls me now, but maybe we will meet there once."

"I hope so as well. If you meet some Elf, just say you are a friend of Bilbo Baggins. He will surely show you the way."

Dúnadan smiled a little again. "I will do that… my friend. Have a safe journey."

Bilbo shook his head. Who knew if he would ever see him again, that mysterious man who saved his life in the wild. It really was a pity he didn't take the offer. In Rivendell he would get a warm bed and plenty of good food – which he needed, judging by his looks. And some nice clothes as well, not the worn ones he was wearing. Maybe then, and after a bath, he would look less like a scoundrel and more like the kind and pleasant companion he proved to be during their short stay together.

As he was lost in thought, he suddenly realized he was lost in the Last Homely House as well. He had missed the hallway leading to his room. He looked around, trying to determine where he was. He had never been to this part of the house – these were not guest rooms, but rooms of those living in the household, and he respected their privacy. He wanted to ask someone for the way, but the corridor was empty. He noticed though, that one door was slightly open, and a strip of light from it illuminated the hallway. Maybe he could ask the one in the room – if he didn't want company, then he surely would have closed the door, right?

He wanted to knock first, but curiosity won, and he peeked through the slightly open door. He was taken aback when he recognized Elrond himself in the room. The Half-Elf was turned away from the door, looking out the window and holding something in his hands. The room did not seem to belong to Elrond, though. It was not as big as the room of the master of the house would be, and there were little things, suggesting the room belongedto a child, a boy: the wooden sword and shield on the wall, a carved figure of a warrior on the mantel...

"Come in, Master Baggins!" Elrond said before Bilbo could knock on the door.

Bilbo blushed a little, but he entered hesitantly. Elrond turned to him. In his hands was a little stuffed toy, a brown horse with woollen mane. Bilbo watched the toy curiously, almost forgetting what to ask. "Er… yes. I'm sorry to disturb. I just got lost in thought and took a wrong turn. Could you please help me find my room?"

Elrond smiled slightly, politely. "Of course. I can show you the way. I was ready to leave, anyway.

"That would be really kind of you," Bilbo said thankfully. But then curiousity got the better of him again. "If I can be so bold to ask… whose room is this?"

Elrond's sight wandered to the window again. "Yes, you may ask," he nodded quietly. "Do you remember the boy you helped to find the first time you were here? It's his room."

"Of course I remember him. Estel, right? But that was over sixty years ago. He must be more than seventy years old now. You are still keeping this room for him?"

Elrond smiled a bit wistfully. "He still uses it sometimes. Very rarely, though. He travels a lot."

"He did look like he would grow into an adventurous type, indeed," Bilbo nodded thoughtfully. "He's your adoptive son, isn't he? You did not say it, but it seemed like that to me. Or at least now it does. I adopted a boy myself, you see. He is a wonderful lad, my Frodo."

"I'm sure he is," Elrond smiled slightly, and sat down on the bed, inviting Bilbo to sit beside him. It seemed he welcomed the chance to talk to someone who understood his concerns. "And yes, you guessed it. Estel is my adoptive son. This is his room, but he rarely stays here anymore. " He turned the stuffed horse in his hands thoughtfully. "There are just a few reminders of his boyhood left," he whispered. "This was his favourite toy. He took most of the other toys away when he grew up and joined his people. For the children there."

"There are not many children in Rivendell, are there?" Bilbo asked quietly.

Elrond shook his head. "None at the moment. Those toys have found a better use there, indeed. He just left a few… more for me than for himself, I believe. I often come here when he is away."

Bilbo nodded with understanding. "I miss Frodo as well," he sighed. Then he took a closer look at the toy. "The horsie looks quite well for such an old toy," he remarked. "And a favourite one, besides that. I know how quickly the favourite toys wear out…"

"Indeed," Elrond smiled with a mild amusement. "This one has been repaired more times than I care to countactually. It has been cleaned and patched up several times, the eyes and mane replaced, and one ear as well. It looks this well because the one repairing it always took great care in it."

Bilbo took a closer look of the toy, but he did not touch it. "I see," he murmured. "So your Estel is traveling somewhere right now? Isn't he already a bit too old to travel, too? Well, I know I am, and Men age more quickly than Hobbits from what I have heard," he said, but then he realized that he might have caused Elrond grief with such words. It must be hard seeing your adoptive child getting old when you do not age yourself. "My pardon," he murmured apologetically. "I did not mean…"

"It's alright," Elrond interrupted him. "He is 71 now, but he does not age as quickly as you would expect a Man. He is from the Dúnedain folk, and the blood of Westernesse is strong in his veins. You would not guess he is older than 40, I believe."

"Dúnedain age more slowly?" Bilbo asked with interest. "I did not know that. I met one on the way here. He was a very nice fellow. I offered him to show him the way here. I thought you would approve once you get to know him. That doesn't matter though, because he declined. Said he has still some work to do…"

Elrond gripped the stuffed horse more forcefully as he looked at Bilbo. "Did he say his name?" he asked hoarsely.

"Well, at first not. He just introduced himself as "Dúnadan". But then he told me his real name. Aragorn, it was. Not Estel. I'm sorry…"

"Oh! You… offered to show him the way to the Valley?"

"As I say. If I shouldn't have, I apologize, but…"

But Elrond suddenly chuckled. "I assure you, he already knows the way. Estel is Aragorn. That is his true name. He was expected here a week ago, and we are getting worried. Where did you meet him? And where did he go? Did he say that?"

Bilbo looked astonished, and it took him a moment to digest the news that the Dúnadan he met was the little boy from years ago. Only then did he realize that Elrond was asking something. "I met him… about a day's journey from here. He… He saved my life. Killed the Orcs that pursued me. But where he went… I'm not really sure. He mentioned some pass, but not by name. But I asked him to show me where it is in the mountains. You never know when it might be useful to know one more pass through the mountains…"

Elrond bit his lip. "You arrived here four days ago. That's five since you split with him. He should be able to check the pass and arrive here in three. Something must have happened!"

"Oh dear," Bilbo murmured. "He did not tell me he was headed to Rivendell as well. Otherwise I would have told you immediately. I guess he wanted to surprise me…"

Elrond took a sharp breath and stood up. "Possibly. But would you be able to show me that pass on the map?"

Bilbo shook his head mutely. "I don't think I could. I just know where he pointed with his finger… and I would have to stand on the same place. The mountains look a bit different from here."

Elrond nodded gravely, and put the toy back on its place on the shelf. "Then Master Baggins, I'm afraid I must once more ask for the service you offered me and my family. Will you ride with me to that place?"

"Of course," Bilbo nodded. "I wouldn't want something happen to Dúnadan. He… He is my friend, as well. And I would do the same for Frodo. Let me just get my traveling cloak, and we can go."

Elrond looked worried, but a little relieved at Bilbo's words. "Take a coat as well. It's still autumn in the Valley, but outside it got much colder in the last days."

"I will."

"I will meet you in the hall then." Elrond said, and wanted to leave to prepare himself. But then he remembered that Bilbo didn't know the way to his room. "Oh… of course. Come with me, I'll show you the way first." He led the Hobbit through a few hallways until Bilbo recognized where he was and told him that he would be able to find the way from there.

It did not take long from that moment that Bilbo and Elrond met again, in the hall leading to the main gate of the house. Soon an Elf and a Hobbit, both sitting on one big white horse, galloped into the night.

Summary: The verses about Aragorn in Gandalf's letter were written by Bilbo. This is a story about the relationship of the Ranger and the Hobbit, and the events that inspired each of those verses.

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: I am not Tolkien. I am a fan = This is not work for profit. This is fan fiction.

Beta: Cairistiona

A/N: I apologize for the slowness of updates. I do intend to finish this story in any case.

4. Deep roots are not reached by the frost

"When winter first begins to bite
and stones crack in the frosty night,
when pools are black and trees are bare,
'tis evil in the Wild to fare."

"What?" Elrond asked, hearing that Bilbo said something, but not quite understanding him through the roaring wind.

"Oh, nothing…" Bilbo said more loudly. "I was just muttering to myself. An old Shire rhyme." Originated probably sometimes during the Fell Winter, he thought to himself. And very fitting to what he saw around him. The sky was distant and cold, pale stars shining like the shimmer of foam at the feet of a waterfall. The dark mass of mountains rose heavily against the sky in the east, blocking every sign of dawn that might already grace the horizon behind them. The silhouettes of trees were bare and black, but on the ground there was a faint frosty shimmer, reflecting the starlight above – the first snow. And in the middle of the scenery there was the pale mane and ears of the elven horse rising and sinking before him with the rhythm of the hooves, sounding into the night. Even that sound was dull, muted by the fresh layer of snow.

The winter had come early and suddenly, changing the country overnight. The sharp rocks were softened by the cover of snow, but what changed most was the scent in the air – clean and cold and a little wet, like the feeling of freshly washed bed sheets bed sheets. That reminded Bilbo of where he would rather be, instead of admiring this change: in his own, warm bed, with a fire cracking merrily on the hearth. The scent in the air might be fresh, but the wind was bitterly cold, and although Elrond shielded Bilbo as he huddled behind him, it stung his face and hands, and seeped into his bones.

When winter first begins to bite, indeed, he though absently, and then suddenly… "There! This is the place!"

Elrond halted his horse. "Are you sure, Master Baggins?" he asked, looking around.

"I think I saw a fox down there, so I think this could be the dell. It's hard to tell under the snow, so we should probably look closer."

"At the dell?"

"No, at the fox."

"Uh… I'm afraid I don't follow you there, Master Baggins," Elrond murmured, but turned his horse in the direction that Bilbo pointed at. "Ah, I see now!" He nodded his head respectfully, before Bilbo could explain through the strong wind. The fresh tracks of the fox they just disturbed led away from a few snow-covered shapes. From the distance, it was easy to pass them for rocks, but now their suspicious shape became visible. They were the bodies of the orcs killed in this place, and the fox was lured here by the prospect of food. Elrond jumped down from the horse to look at the carcasses, but Bilbo remained on its back, looking in the distance instead.

"I think it was the pass over there," he told Elrond when the Half-Elf returned to him. Knowing Elrond couldn't see exactly where he was pointing, he tried to make his statement more precise. "Between that mountain with the top crooked slightly to the left, and the one that seems more flat and a bit lower."

Elrond looked at the line of the mountains intently for a moment. "I see," he said then, thoughtfully. "The High pass… It's not one many travellers would use. It's rather steep and treacherous. I wonder what compelled Estel to go there," he sighed and shook his head. "You led me to the right path, Master Baggins. I should not ask more from you, yet I fear the time I would lose by returning with you to Rivendell and getting here again is too precious. Would you mind riding with me?"

"Oh, not at all," Bilbo assured him. "You should not lose any more time indeed. That I didn't tell you about it immediately was enough of a delay. And I will gladly help you find the Dúnadan, if the lad is in trouble."

Elrond smiled slightly. "Alright then, Master Baggins," he said, jumping into the saddle behind Bilbo. "Let's ride!"

The elven horse galloped through the night. To Bilbo it almost seemed like a dream. He dozed off a few times, thinking "I'm too old for this" to himself, but saying nothing aloud. In such a half-sleeping state, it was hard to discern the haze of shallow dreams from reality. The horse was floating above a sea of white, the steady rhythm of hooves like the pendulum of a clock, swinging there and back, there and back, tam-ta-dam, tam-ta-dam, and between a short moment of weightlessness, filled with the whistling of the wind on the background of darkly-white show. He didn't even know when the sun started to rise nor when they got so close to the mountains. The wind calmed and the peaks towering ahead turned gold in the reflected light of sunrise. Only briefly did that play of light last, as soon the rising sun was covered by clouds, and the day turned grey and cheerless.

They entered a dense pine forest, along a narrow, barely visible path leading between the trees. It rose steeply, and the ground became more and more rocky. Big pieces of rock that were once a part of the peaks above protruded from the ground like scattered and forgotten toys of stone-giants. The soil gathered at the top of them, and the trees took root in it, so now it seemed as if the pines were trying to devour the rocks. As they rode higher, the forest grew less dense and more open, and Bilbo could see the mountains towering above them. He recognized the crooked top of the peak on their left, and the flat crown of the one on their right. As the forest thinned, the snow got deeper as well. In places the wind swept it away completely, leaving just cold stone, but in others it created deep snowdrifts. Elrond got down from his horse and led him through them by the bridle. Bilbo did not even suggest getting down as well, knowing it would be of no help in speeding their pace.

Elrond suddenly stopped. It did not take long for Bilbo to see the reason for the sudden halt. As they turned a bend in the path, it was clearly visible before them: the detritus of a fallen avalanche, blocking the path.

"Oh dear…" Bilbo murmured, and although Elrond didn't say anything, the "oh dear" was apparent in his look. Bilbo always imagined an avalanche as a mass of snow, but here it also included rocks and pieces of wood – the trunks and branches of grown pine trees broken like matches from the force of rolling down the slope.

Elrond stood unmoving, his eyes narrowed as he surveyed the picture of destruction. Time stretched. Bilbo turned his gaze from the avalanche to Elrond when he realized he wouldn't find anything that the Elf-Lord couldn't. He coughed quietly. "You think…" he started to ask, but his voice died down as he beheld the expression in Elrond's face. Time flew around them, moment by moment, but Elrond stood like a statue in it, his features like white marble in their paleness.

Suddenly he moved. With an almost tangible determination he put the bridle into Bilbo's hand and started to climb over the snow and rocks. He made it look almost easy as he jumped from one rock to another, running atop the fallen trunks and on the snow without sinking. But Bilbo knew that if he attempted to follow, he would not get very far.

After a moment it was evident where Elrond was heading. There, in the middle of the destruction, was one tree that somehow managed to resist the force. It was a pine, old and gnarly. Only a few of its branches were alive and bearing green needles. The rest of them were dry, and a part of the trunk was missing the bark as well. The wood underneath was light grey, bleached with the wind and snow and the sharp sun of the mountain summer. It was possible that the tree has been resisting the elements for centuries, and even now, against the impossible odds of the avalanche, it somehow managed to survive. Elrond walked to it, as if led by some instinct. When he got there, he was lost from Bilbo's sight for a long moment as he bent down. There was just a movement of branches and stones, and the top of his head appearing now and then as Elrond seemed to be digging in the frozen snow and debris right beside the tree.

The horse grew restless as it could not see its master, and Bilbo, whose legs did not even reach the animal's belly, had to calm him with voice and gestures. It took some time before the horse stood still. Bilbo turned his attention to the old pine. For a moment he could not spot Elrond. Then he suddenly appeared not far from the pine. He was walking towards Bilbo, but walking more slowly and heavily than before. He was carrying a burden in his arms.

"Dúnadan…" Bilbo whispered, his throat constricting with worry. He could not see the Man's face, but he had no doubt that it was the one Elrond called Estel that he now carried. As the avalanche fell, Estel had probably found a meagre shelter behind that old tree – the only one with roots deep enough to resist the force. But if he was alive, Bilbo could not tell. He could only wait for Elrond to come back with his burden.

I'm sorry for the long delay again. I do intend to finish the story, but real life and writer's block is happening a lot...

5. From the ashes a fire shall be woken

Thorin. Thorin was just this pale when he last saw him. His hair and beard damp and matted, black bruises and smears of blood dark against his pale skin. Thorin, dying in a tent after the Battle of the Five Armies. He looked just like that…

"…have matches, or tinderbox, at least?"

Bilbo snapped out of the memory, realizing Elrond was asking him something, and his voice was urgent. But he still couldn't tear his gaze away from the Dúnadan's face. It looked so much like Thorin's in those last moments…

"Bilbo! Do you have something we could make a fire with?" Elrond repeated his question loudly, and Bilbo finally looked at him and understood the question.

"I don't know…" he murmured, trying to remember if he took something like that when they hastily left the Last Homely House. He searched his pockets. There was a little piece of parchment and coal that he always carried in case a rhyme came to his mind, a coin from Lake-town, an interesting smooth stone and two handkerchiefs. No matches or tinderbox. He turned the pockets inside out, emptying them of all their contents, but that didn't cause any matches or tinder materialize in them. What does he have in his pocketses?, an unpleasant voice whispered in his mind. Nothing. Nothing useful at all, my Preciouss! "It seems that I don't," he said with a sinking feeling.

Elrond was not looking at Bilbo as the hobbit was doing the inspection of his pockets. His attention was turned to the Dúnadan, checking his pulse, his breathing, his wounds. From the urgency of his asking for fire, the Man was alive, but not for long without it. With the answer, Elrond still didn't turn, but Bilbo could see the clenching of his jaw even from behind. His throat constricted. Why did he just have to bring those two stupid handkerchiefs instead of something that would be actually useful - like matches!

"I will take care of the fire," he found himself suddenly saying, his voice firm even through the howling wind. There was no one else who could do it. Bilbo did not have much heat to spare and did not know much about healing either, and so his role was clear, however hard it seemed.

Elrond looked at him. "You will…" he nodded with such a firm trust that Bilbo felt he will do everything in his power to not fail it. Slowly, he stood up, gathering the ranger's limp body in his arms and drawing his own cloak over him. "We will find a better shelter where you can do it," he said.

They walked back down the path just for a few minutes. The horse followed Elrond on its own, and so Bilbo didn't wait until they found a shelter, but gathered as much wood as he could get close to the path. He did not know how he would light it, but at least he would have the wood ready. He had enough time to gather it, as Elrond walked slowly, taking care with every step on the uneven terrain not to harm the one he carried with any sudden jostling.

In the end, the shelter was just a rock face that protected their backs from the swirling wind. Elrond made the horse lie down and between his body and the horse's, he created a little sheltered place for the Dúnadan. There he tried to search for all wounds and feel if there are broken bones or inner injuries. But his fingers were cold and without much feeling, and the moon hidden behind the clouds left them in darkness. Without the light of fire, he wasn't able to do much.

Bilbo's feet belied his age as he nimbly ran around, still gathering suitable wood. It was all cold and damp from the snow, but the fine little twigs of dwarf pines that he found on the way should burn well, if he could start the fire with something. He tried to think about that as he gathered the wood. He was used to the comfort of starting his fires with matches, or at least flint and steel, but he remembered a few occasions in their journey there and back again, when the Dwarves would manage without them. And quite a few occasions when they didn't because the wood was too wet or wind too strong, leading to some of the most miserable, cold and wet nights. That thought was not encouraging, so he focused on the first one.

An idea came. "Doesn't the Dúnadan have a tinderbox?" he asked Elrond.

Shivering himself as his body heat was shared between two, Elrond looked up. "No, I checked that," he said tiredly. "Probably in his pack, buried somewhere under the ravine…"

"Oh. Alright then. I will think of something," Bilbo assured him. Flint and steel and tinder, he thought. Or rubbing two pieces of wood? No, let's stay with flint and steel, the wood is too wet… Steel they had – he saw Elrond carrying a dagger, and he had Sting. Even in haste, he remembered to take it, unlike matches. But they were not the right kind of steel, the one that makes sparks. One that was not used for making weapons, unless of low quality. But how about… the belt buckle! It wasn't a weapon and didn't need to be of best steel… But he needed a flint to try it. Flint is a kind of stone, right? And there were plenty of stones around…

Elrond was watching him now, and when he saw what Bilbo was searching for, he immediately got up. „Take my place. If you are looking for flint, my eyes are better in the dark. Alert me if his heart or breathing slows, or if there is any other change."

Bilbo took Elrond's place at the Dúnadan's side, keeping one hand on his pulse and a worried look on his face. The man's hands were as cold as ice. He wasn't sure if it was good or bad, but there was no change while Elrond was looking for the right kind of stone.

"Utúvienyes!" – a soft cry came from somewhere down the path. From what Bilbo understood Elvish, it seemed Elrond had found what he was looking for. Soon enough he heard his footsteps hurriedly approaching. Bilbo almost didn't have time to get up – his old knees protested the movement – before Elrond gave him the stone and took his place again, calling to the man softly in Elvish.

Bilbo hit the stone with the belt buckle, and after a few tries managed to produce a few sparks. Pleased with the result, put both down. Flint and steel he had, now to find some tinder. Looking around, he saw only twisted trees and stones. That will have to do. The stems of birches were visible in the dark with their white bark, and Bilbo soon found one. With Sting, he cut several stripes from the bark and shredded its dry inner layer to little pieces. That's how the Dwarves used to do it. He also remembered Fili saying something about fat wood. What kind of wood was that? Oh yes! The pines… There were many pines around, some of them broken by the wind. He searched the stumps for pieces of wood saturated with resin, and soon gathered enough for both tinder and kindling.

He returned to the shelter of the rock wall and started working, preparing everything for the fire before he would awaken the first spark: a little nest of finely cut tinder, small pieces of kindling that will catch fire easily and bigger pieces of wood to feed it once it starts burning…

He placed it all between the rock wall and himself, shielding his little workspace from the wind. He could still hear Elrond calling the name of Estel, but he pushed that out of his mind, focusing on the little flame he needed to wake in the cold darkness.

First sparks fell on the ground next to the tinder. Wrong angle. Again.

The next ones were cold before they hit the flammable material. Closer. Again.

Now the angle and distance was right, but the tinder did not catch. Again.

Then a sudden gust of wind extinguished them right as the tinder started to smoke. Again.



And again…

So many tries with no result.

Bilbo had started to get desperate. It was cold and dark, and the wind was chilling him to the bone. He could barely feel his hands anymore, and many of his sparks not went astray.

Again? It had no meaning… There was no hope for fire here…


Elrond's words registered in his mind.

Please Estel, follow my voice…



Again. Fire was the hope in the darkness. Again, again, again!

A spark caught into a flame. Bilbo almost didn't notice it at first, so used he was to the sight of sparks getting cold. Then he held his breath, shielding the little flame with his hands protectively. It was just a little wisp, so tender and weak. One wrong movement might extinguish it. But the flame found nourishment in the tinder and a few carefully placed splinters moved it to the kindling. It was bigger now, but still so vulnerable. A gust of wind almost blew out Bilbo's hopes. The flame disappeared, but after the wind passed, it sprang to life again from the red-hot embers. Soon it danced over the kindling merrily, and Bilbo dared to add a bigger piece of wood to it.

As the circle of light grew around the little fire, he noticed Elrond's eyes glinting in it as he watched with a careful hope.

The fire was now steady, and Bilbo wiped sweat from his brow. "Here's your fire," he said, because he didn't know what else to say.

Elrond nodded thankfully and moved the Dúnadan closer to the light and warmth of its flames. He put the cloak aside to warm by them and used the light to examine the man's wounds. Without needing to be told, Bilbo busied himself with making a tripod so that he could put a waterskin above the fire to heat some water – he knew it wouldn't catch fire since there was enough water in it.

"No inner injuries," Elrond said after a while with some relief.

"What's wrong then?" Bilbo asked, although he knew Elrond was talking more to himself than to an old Hobbit who didn't know much of healing.

"Broken shoulder-blade, bruised ribs, a hit to the head and almost frozen," Elrond counted with a sigh.

"Will he be alright… with the fire?" Bilbo dared to ask.

"We shall see when morning comes," Elrond just said, covering the man with the heated cloak heated.

Bilbo sat down from the other side of the fire, intent on keeping it burning through the whole night and until the morning.

Still decided to finish this, but it may be slow – my daughter was born 2 months ago. Thanks for the beta belongs to Cairistiona.

This chapter is also a response to the B2MeM prompts:
- “It was the possibility of darkness that made the day seem so bright” – Stephen King
- Lost & Found
- “On silver necklaces they strung… (etc.)”

6. A light from the shadows shall spring

Bilbo dozed off. He dreamt of darkness in the tunnels deep under the roots of the mountains. He was lost there. Abandoned by all, in darkness so complete that it was almost a palpable thing. It was ancient, undisturbed by any memory of light. Stars never shone here, a ray of sun never touched the cold stone. Alone, lost in the darkness. 

He awoke with a shudder and blinked in the light of a little fire. That nightmare again. And it was still dark behind the circle lit by flames. Maybe that's why it came. Still night without even a hint of dawn.

"Oh..." he murmured, when he realized he wanted to keep the fire going. But no, he never actually made that promise aloud. He only thought it to himself as a resolution. His look wandered across the fire. He saw Elrond sitting there, and the Dúnadan was lying in his embrace, covered with a cloak. Sleeping or unconscious, Bilbo couldn't tell. He saw that Elrond has been feeding the fire with the wood Bilbo gathered, but not much remained. Bilbo got up right away to get more. 

The fire created an island of light and warmth in the night. He shuddered when he left it, slipping into the night like into the cold water of an underground lake. It took a moment before his eyes adjusted to it, and for that moment the darkness seemed as impenetrable as the that in his dream. The wind chilled him to the bone. He understood why Elrond chose to wait until dawn. The ride to Rivendell would take several hours without any protection from the wind and cold. Here, they at least had the shelter of the rocks and the warmth of fire. But dawn would bring some warmth at least, and more light for a safe journey. The sky was already clearing. Maybe the day would be sunny after the unexpected snowfall. 

Now Bilbo was better able to see in the dark, so long as he didn't look back where the fire was burning. He walked up the uneven path, to bring more wood from the trees broken by the avalanche. That was when he started to feel guilty. Dúnadan went out of his way to dispatch the Orcs that followed Bilbo's tracks. If he hadn’t done that, he would have arrived here sooner, before the snowfall and the avalanche. It was like that roast mutton again. Yes, he did help to get them out of the predicament, a little, at least. But he was the one who got them into that predicament in the first place. And it was also dawn that saved them. Where was the sun now? The night seemed too long... 

He had just picked up the last branch he could fit into his arms and was about to return when he caught a glimmer out of the corner of his eye. He turned, but saw nothing interesting. Just stones covered in a thin layer of snow. He took a few more steps, disregarding the glimmer as a trick of his eyes. But something made him stop and turn back. He just couldn't let go of what he thought he saw. It was shiny. It could be something precious. A ring, maybe... 

He returned and narrowed his eyes, trying to catch the glimmer again. There it was, a faint ray of light in the shadow of a big stone. He hesitated, thinking maybe he should deliver the wood first and then return. But he doubted he would be able to find the exact place again. He put the armful of wood down and went closer. He reached for the place where he glimpsed it, but from another angle the light was not visible and his fingers only felt the rough coldness of stone and wet coldness of snow. He combed through the snow with fingers already stiff from the cold - and there was something pointy. It was metal, but not a ring. It glimmered again as he dug it out from under the snow. It was a silver brooch in the shape of a star with many rays. Bilbo thought he had seen it before, but another realization came before he could track down the memory: it glimmered because it reflected the first rays of sun! The eastern sky was mostly obscured by mountains, but it had started to colour in pink and blue. There were no clouds anymore. Finally the dawn had come!

Bilbo quickly put the brooch into his pocket, grabbed the firewood and hurried down the path to Elrond. The Half-Elf was not watching the dawn. Dúnadan was. But then his eyes closed again, and Elrond looked up.

"I brought some more wood," Bilbo said. "Is he awake?"

"Just briefly," Elrond sighed. "I don't think he recognized me. Put all the wood on the fire at once. We will leave soon."

The sun rose together with the flames that were slowly making their way through the wet wood. The thin layer of first snow was melting under its rays. The surroundings seemed much changed in the daylight. The darkness had seemed oppressive, like the orcish tunnels, closing in on them. But now the light revealed the peaks above them and valleys below. Bilbo could even see the Bruinen like a narrow ribbon glistening in the distance. While the darkness was like a barrier, separating them from the world and isolating them in a little island lit by fire, the light connected them with Rivendell even across the distance. 

Elrond caught as much warmth into his cloak as he could and then carefully wrapped Dúnadan in it and seated him on the horse in front of himself. He extended his hand to Bilbo to help him climb behind. 

The Hobbit did not take the hand. He just shook his head. "I may be of the little folk, but I don't weigh that little, master Peredhil," he said. "Why, by the look of it I may weight about as much as your Dúnadan. Your horse will be faster carrying just the two of you. I would just be thankful if you make sure to send someone for me, once you arrive."

Elrond hesitated for a moment, but he had to admit that Bilbo was right. "I will send the fastest rider right away," he assured him, and then nudged the horse forward. Soon he was lost from Bilbo's sight at the bending if the path.

Bilbo remained alone. He was worried for the Dúnadan, and alone with his thoughts, the memory of Thorin's death was always at the back of his mind. To keep it away, he started gathering more wood to keep the fire going while he waited. Then he remembered the brooch he found and took it out of his pocket to look at it more closely. The song came to his mind again.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

This was the kind of star that the Dwarves preferred. Made of metal or precious stones, closer and more palpable than those in the sky. They adorned the ceilings of their magnificent dwellings with such stars and preferred them to the night outside. Bilbo liked both, but now he was glad for the sun.

He tried to remember if he saw Dúnadan wearing it. He wasn't sure because it has been covered with his cape, but he thought he had seen its bottom rays sticking out from it as it has been holding the Dúnadan's cloak. He did not think about it then, but it seemed a bit out of place in his generally rugged appearance. He put it back into his pocket, hoping to return it soon. 

Having nothing else to do, Bilbo followed the sun and counted how long it would take to get to Rivendell, and how long for a fresh rider to get back to him. It would still take hours. He yawned. A sleepless night was something he would rather leave to the younger ones. He was feeling terribly tired now and looking forward to the soft bed in Rivendell. He wiped his eyes. He did not want to fall asleep now - the rider might miss him if he did and the fire might go out, too. But there was still a lot of time to pass. He got up and walked back and forth... then a little further as he started thinking about something. An avalanche? With the first snow that was rather light and melted soon? It seemed strange. Once more he walked the path up to the ravine to look at it in daylight. 

He could see the broken trees and boulders that rolled down the hill, and the old gnarled tree that had resisted the force. He looked up, to the slope where the avalanche started - and he froze. Even in daylight, they would be easy to miss. They looked like a part of the mountain itself. But he knew what they looked like. He had seen them before. Stone giants. They were asleep now. Even though the sound if his feet could not possibly reach them, Bilbo returned back to the fire very carefully, making no sound at all. He extinguished the fire and walked down the path to meet the rider that would come for him, feeling suddenly uncomfortable so close to those unpredictable creatures. They have been lucky enough that the giants did not wake during the night, but he did not want to tempt his luck any longer.

He only stopped when he came to a crossing of paths, and waited there so the rider wouldn't miss him. Around noon, he heard the gentle and clear sound of bells, and soon he saw a rider on a magnificent white horse.

"Master Baggins," said the rider when he saw the Hobbit. "I come to take you to Rivendell."


With thanks to Cairistiona for being my beta reader, and to VisAnastasis for a helpful discussion about the plot. 

7. Renewed shall be blade that was broken

The bells on the horse's harness rang softly. Clink-clank, clink-clank. The hooves on the stones were steady, never slipping. Clank-clink, clank-clink, the silver horseshoes sang. Bilbo dozed off.

Though sword shall be rusted,
And throne and crown perish
With strength that men trusted
And wealth that they cherish...

He blinked. They were already in the lower glades of the wood in the valley, approaching the Last Homely House. It was quiet, though. The Elves were not singing in the trees this time. He could still hear the echo of the song they sung all those years back, when he was coming back to the valley with Gandalf after his adventure. They had been singing so cheerfully, yet it seemed to him like they were singing about Thorin's death and weren’t affected by it at all - as long as the grass in the valley is green and the river flows, mortal kings don't matter. Silly folk... At least they were silent now. It was too cold for singing and dancing outside anyways.

The hooves clapped on the bridge and the lights of the Last Homely House shone merrily towards them, their rays reaching for them like outstretched hands of warmth and hospitality. The great white horse neighed and the bells tinkled.

"Quiet, Asfaloth," the Elf chuckled. "Let's not wake the little master."

"I am awake, Master Elf," Bilbo said, yawning. "I see we are almost there anyways. You would have to wake me soon."

"Now that would be rude," the Elf chuckled, his voice sounding with a rich and hearty  tone. "I would just carry you to your room. You can bet I would be able to do that without even stirring you."

"Well, since I am awake, it would be enough if you helped me down from the horse," Bilbo said as they stopped before the entrance.

The Elf dismounted, and then lifted Bilbo from the saddle as if he were as light as a feather. He wanted to accompany the Hobbit to his room, but Bilbo thanked him, saying he could find it himself. So the Elf went to care for the horse and Bilbo made his way through the house. He yawned again, and his stomach rumbled. He felt so tired he even considered going to bed hungry for a moment. His joints felt stiff and creaking like his old rocking chair back in Bag End.

But in the end, he made his way neither to his room, nor to the kitchen. He stopped for a moment and observed. There was the usual merry and welcoming mood in the house: in the faces of the Elves he passed by, in the smells and light, in the very air of the place. But somewhere deeper, underneath the cheerfulness, there was tension and worry.

"Where can I find Master Peredhil?" he asked a passing Elf.

"I'm sorry, Lord Elrond is busy," was the polite answer. "Maybe I can assist you instead?"

"Thank you, I will manage," Bilbo said and continued on his way through the house.

Suddenly he sniffed. "What was it that Gandalf used to say sometimes? When in doubt, follow your nose..." he murmured to himself, and turned after the faint smell of healing herbs. After a moment, he knew where he was going.

He stopped before the door of the room where he found Elrond before - the rooms that used to belong to the boy Estel and were now mostly unoccupied. Not now. He could see light through the crack under the door.

He knocked.

A tired voice invited him in. When he opened the door, he saw Elrond mixing some herbs near the fireplace.

Dúnadan was there as well. His hand was in a sling and he was propped up with pillows in a half-sitting position on the bed. He was not awake, though. His weather-worn face was tense with pain, but his eyes were closed and breath slow. Bilbo watched him, mesmerised. Something in the scent in the room brought him back to the memory of Thorin, as he was lying in the tent after the battle, dying. His face had been tense with pain, too.

"Put it on the... oh... Master Baggins, you are already here? Why aren't you resting?" Elrond asked as he looked up from his work in the middle of the sentence.

Poppy milk, Bilbo thought, watching Elrond's hands preparing the right dose. That must be the scent that was in Thorin's tent as well. And some other herbs. A painkiller.

"How is Dúnadan?" he asked. "I was just worried..."

"I understand. But don't worry, he is no longer in mortal danger. And that's because of you. He just needs rest, and you should get some too," Elrond said firmly and politely, although Bilbo noticed a hint of worry in his eyes.

"Master Elrond, don't worry about me. I am old and I need my rest regardless of what you tell me and what not. I would just like to know, and I think you would feel better if you shared your worries, too. What's wrong?"

Elrond was quiet for a moment. "His shoulder," he sighed then. "A stone must have hit it. He was lucky it wasn't the spine, but his shoulder-blade is broken badly. If he is to use that arm again, I need to cut it open and set the bones. It's his sword-arm..."

Bilbo grimaced in sympathy. "Poor boy... I wonder what he was looking for in that pass. Have you eaten already?"

Elrond blinked at the unexpectedness of the question. "I'm sorry? What does that have to do with Estel?"

"Well, old Gaffer used to say that there never comes any good from doing something important hungry. Or... well... drunk, but I think you could apply that to tired in this case. I see you gave him something against the pain, so let the lad have some rest, and do so as well in that time. I'm going to the kitchen to grab some quick snack before getting to bed, so why don't you join me?"

Elrond paused, looking at Aragorn. He told it to Bilbo himself - the man was not in mortal danger anymore. He also needed that rest. He was too weak; it wouldn't do him much good to set the bones right away. So why was it so hard to do the sensible thing that Bilbo suggested, instead of sitting here and worrying?

"Yes, I know how you feel," Bilbo said. "I have been also worried sick when my boy, Frodo, has fallen ill. I didn't want to leave his bedside. And you know what? He sent me away himself. He said he can't rest properly when I'm hovering above him, worried and tired like that."

"What did you do then?" Elrond asked.

"Well, I called the Gaffer's son to keep the boy company. They were about the same age. And I went to get some rest. And it turned out just fine. You see, it was not long after the boy's parents died and I adopted him. He didn't have any friends in Hobbiton yet. But then he got the first one."

Elrond smiled a little. "Your advice sounds wise, Master Baggins. I think I will follow it. Could you stay here while I call someone to take my place?"

He left, but Bilbo didn't even have time to sit down before he returned with a dark-haired maiden of stunning beauty - as if she has been nearby, waiting for his call.

Elrond then led Bilbo to the kitchen. Several dishes were ready, and the cooks assured him that he could take anything he liked, so Bilbo took the lead and filled plates for both himself and Elrond, filling them with the Hobbit definition of quick snack. Elrond just watched with amusement as Bilbo heaped the plates with a selection of meats, potatoes, vegetables and sauce, fresh bread and cheeses. As they sat down with the meal, he realized he was indeed hungry - it was already getting dark and his last meal has been the dinner yesterday. Bilbo's as well: the elderly Hobbit went to refill his plate soon. Elrond was content with just one. After they have eaten, he accompanied Bilbo to his room, and then went to seek his own rest, despite finding it hard.

Bilbo was exhausted and sated - a combination that made him fall asleep right away despite the worries, but made him pay for it with uneasy dreams. They were mostly about Thorin, and Fili and Kili, and Elves that were singing "though sword shall be rusted, and throne and crown perish".

He didn't feel fully rested when he woke, but with surprise he found out that it was already afternoon of the next day. Elrond must have woken long ago.

He felt hungry and thirsty again, so he stopped in the kitchen to grab a bite or two, and then headed to Dúnadan's room, hoping to check if there was something new. The door was not closed fully, so he knocked and shyly peeked in. For a moment he was reminded again of the tent where Thorin died, even more strongly: there were bloody bandages on the table, and some metal instruments and a basin with water - but the water was red. It was as he suspected: while he had slept, Elrond did what was needed to set the broken bones.

Dúnadan's shoulder was bandaged heavily and supported with pillows, but he was awake now. It was actually he who noticed Bilbo first, since Elrond's full attention was on the man. Awake was not the best expression, though. He seemed dazed by a strong painkiller, and in a lot of pain despite it.

"There... There's a Hobbit..." he murmured wonderingly, in a weak voice.

Elrond turned. "Master Baggins! Have you rested well?"

"Baggins?" Dúnadan repeated. "Baggins... Oh, right. Bilbo Baggins, it was... at your sev... service..."

"And your family's..." Bilbo added automatically.

"Yes, that..." Dúnadan nodded, but the movement must have stirred his shoulder just a little. He clenched his teeth, moaning with pain that didn't seem to abate.

Elrond put a hand on his forehead, whispering something soothingly in Elvish. It took a moment, but slowly Dúnadan's breath evened, and he opened his eyes again, dull with pain.

 "Easy, Estel..." Elrond slipped into Common tongue. "Easy... Tension brings pain, and pain brings tension... you need to relax..."

"I... I think I should leave..." Bilbo stuttered, feeling bad for making the man tense.

He turned away, but the Dúnadan stopped him. "No, wait..." he whispered. His eyes were clearer again, as Elrond's voice has helped him to focus. "Sorry this didn't work... I wanted to surprise you... when we met again... you wanted to show me the way here, right?"

Bilbo had to come closer, as his hearing wasn't best anymore and Dúnadan's voice was weak and his words still a bit slurred and slow from the high dose of painkiller. "Yes, I didn't know you used to live here," he smiled a bit embarassedly, and looked at Elrond, as if asking if he should leave.

Elrond shook his head a little, bidding him to stay - it seemed to him that the talk was distracting Aragorn from the pain.

"But you're not surprised..." Dúnadan murmured, looking a little disappointed in his dazed state.

"No, of course I'm not," Bilbo replied more freely, shaking his head as he inadvertently imagined Frodo in Dúnadan's place. "What did you think, lad? You were supposed to come here by a certain date, but instead you had to go check some dangerous pass. Your father has been worried sick, you know."

"Master Bilbo led me to that pass," Elrond said quietly, a bit taken aback as Bilbo's words hit too close to home.

It took a moment to Aragorn to put that together. He seemed to sober up a little, with sheer strength of will. "You saved my life, then," he said, looking at Bilbo. "I am in your debt. Thank you, Master Baggins..."

"There is no debt. You saved mine before," Bilbo replied. "But what was so important in that pass? You were awaited here, but you had to check it first. Did you find what you was looking for?"

Dúnadan avoided his look. "No... I was so stupid..." he muttered self-deprecatingly. "It was a trap and I fell for it!" With the agitation, a new wave of pain washed over him, but he overcame it on his own. "A trap of the Enemy..." he murmured again, speaking more to Elrond than to Bilbo now. "A rumor. I knew it might be a trap, but I had to check - even if it might not be true, I wanted to see who was lurking there. I though I was being careful, I was quiet and keeping in shadows, looking for anyone hidden... it never occured to me to look for stone giants."

"Stone giants?" Elrond asked with surprise.

"I saw them!" Bilbo quipped in. "They were asleep. I almost didn't notice either, they look like a part of the mountain, don't they?"

"Until they start throwing things," Dúnadan added wryly, clenching his teeth.

"Relax, Estel..." Elrond reminded. "You couldn't have known. I would have never thought of that either. But what was the rumor that made you go there?"

"Angrist..." Dúnadan said quietly.

"The knife that Beren broke while cutting the Silmaril from Morgorth's crown?" Bilbo asked, astonished. "The one that could cut steel like soft wood? That Angrist?"

Dúnadan looked a bit taken aback, as he didn't expect Bilbo to know it. "You are a true scholar, Master Baggins," he murmured. "Yes, that Angrist."

"In a mountain pass? How would it get there?" Bilbo asked wonderingly.

"Same way that you found Orcrist and Glamdring," Dúnadan replied while trying to relax according to Elrond's advice. "There was supposed to be an abandoned troll lair. The rumor didn't name the knife, I wouldn't trust it if it did. It just mentioned a shard that could cut into iron. I hoped I could retrieve the shards, and that it could be mended..." He was speaking to Elrond again, sounding a little feverish now. "It would be such a precious heirloom of ou... your house... I should have been more careful. I'm sorry..."

Elrond smiled sadly. "I see why you had to check the rumor, even if just to see who set the trap. But there are some blades that are not meant to be mended. Angrist may be lost and broken forever. And some blades are meant to be renewed, when the time comes. Speaking about that, it will take a few weeks for your shoulder-blade, but it will mend fully."

Dúnadan smiled a little despite the pain.


Again I thank Cairistiona for being a great beta reader correcting my mistakes in English. This story taught me that I’m at a stage of my life when I really shouldn’t start posting a multi-chaptered story without finishing it first. I started writing this one six years ago! I wonder if there is anyone here who has read the first chapters back then? But my daughter is a year old now and this story is finally finished – here is the last chapter:

8. The crownless again shall be king

The flames in the hearth were dancers in a performance - a story told by the wondrous glowing shapes that wood takes on before becoming embers and ash.

Bilbo watched it idly, murmuring something to himself: "I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen... seen... green? Of meadow flowers and butterflies and of the forests green?... been? I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen, of meadow flowers and butterflies in summers that have been..."

"That's nice... I like the second one better," said another weak voice in the room.

Bilbo turned, a little startled. "Oh, Dúnadan... I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

"No, don't worry," Aragorn smiled faintly. "I think I slept through most of the day, didn't I? It must be quite late. Did Elrond ask you to watch over me this long? I really don't need it anymore, you shouldn't have bothered."

"Yes, I see you are better," Bilbo nodded. "How is the shoulder? Elrond didn't ask me anything. He just allowed me to stay for the company. But if mine bothers you, I will go."

"It's... manageable," Aragorn said, making it clear that he doesn't want any more painkiller. "And you can stay, of course, but... for the company? I have been mostly asleep... as far as I'm aware of..."

"Well, yes. I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I know, I can have it in my room too, but there I feel a bit lonely, you know?"

"Yes, I think I do," Aragorn said softly. "I can remain quiet if you want."

"Only if you feel too tired to talk. I am not right now. That's one of those strange little things about being old, you see? You get tired quickly, and take a nap here and there, and then when it comes the time for proper sleep, you can't get more than a few hours."

"That sounds a bit similar to recovering from an injury," Aragorn remarked. 

"It does, I guess. It also hurts to move, but not as much, and only when the weather is bad... I think old age finally caught up with me. I used to feel stretched thin like a butter on a too big slice of bread, but now I just feel plainly old. And I prefer to chronicle adventures instead of being an active participant."

"Is that what the poem was about?"

"Well... yes, in a way, I guess. It was just a momentary inspiration. I don't know if I will continue it. There are too many other things I need to write or translate."

"It would be pity if you didn't finish it."

"You think so?" Bilbo blushed a little. "I think I could, then. Do you like poetry?"

"I am well versed in it, but I don't have much time to write it, if you mean that. I enjoy listening to it, though."

"Perfect!" Bilbo exclaimed enthusiastically, but then he blushed again. "Uh... I mean... I was hoping to find someone who could listen to a few silly verses of mine, and help me improve them... if you wouldn't mind."

"Not at all," Aragorn smiled a bit wonderingly at the request. "If you could just hand me a glass of water, I will be at your disposal."

"Of course, I should have thought of that sooner!" Bilbo said and filled the glass for him, helping him drink without moving his shoulder.

After Aragorn finished drinking, Bilbo asked, like in an afterthought: "By the way, being raised here, you also speak Elvish, right? Both Sindarin and Quenya?" 

"Yes, fluently."

"Oh my boy, you are a treasure!"

"Why? If you need a lesson, you can ask anyone here..."

"But not for help with translation into Common speech," Bilbo lowered his voice. "It feels a bit like sacrilege, to translate those beautiful words into something so mundane. But there is so much knowledge in the library that no Hobbit has touched before! We are simple folk that don’t remember much history or speak many languages, but we are a part of this world. It would do us good if we knew at least a bit about its struggles and victories."

"I don't think many in the Shire would appreciate that effort, but maybe a few will," Aragorn said thoughtfully. "You are right, knowledge shouldn't be limited only to those who know a certain language."

"Not only knowledge," Bilbo murmured. "I also meant the beauty of the poems. I know my translation can't compare with the original, but it's at least something, you know? Seeing a reflection of beauty is better than not seeing it at all..."

"Well said. And you are a treasure among Hobbits." Aragorn smiled a little.

 "Oh, not at all. I am well versed in Sindarin, but I have gaps in my Quenya."

Aragorn smirked. "You know I didn't mean that, but I can help you with it. What are you translating now?"

"The short version of the tale if Beren and Lúthien. I would like to translate the whole Lay of Leithian, but it seems a bit too ambitious, especially for someone my age. I somehow doubt I would be able to finish it..."

"Not finishing is always better than not starting. But the short version is close to my heart, too. Let me hear what you have."

"Uh, alright then... but it's still a bit raw..." Bilbo said, gathering his papers.

"That's what I am here for, isn't it?"

"Actually, yes. I just don't want you to judge my skill by it... it's poor anyways, compared with the minstrels here."

"I think they have had a few more centuries to hone it. Don't worry. I know it's hard to live up to all expectations when you are being compared to someone great. You can just do your best and improve that every day."

Bilbo cheered up a little. "Then let's improve this," he said and started to read.

"The leaves were long, the grass was green,

The hemlock umbels tall and fair..."

Aragorn listened quietly, seemingly lost in thoughts. He asked Bilbo to read the poem again, and only after that he contributed his thoughts about it, improving some of the verses and expressions. 

It was long after midnight when both of them felt too tired to continue and Bilbo returned to his room to get some rest. 

He returned again in the next day, and the day after it, and the next one, too. Dúnadan was indeed well versed in poetry, and the verses they made together were getting quite good, despite the struggle to capture some of the beauty of Elven languages in Common speech. But as the papers filled with verses in Bilbo's spidery script were growing in number, Aragorn's shoulder was healing too. Once he was not confined to his bed, he was harder to get a hold of, as there always seemed to be some messages from his people to read and send, scouts with their reports, and last but not least, Glorfindel. In his recovery, Aragorn spent a lot of time with him, exercising his hurt hand carefully at first, and later also sparring with him. It was easier to get a hold of Bilbo, though, and so Aragorn started to come to the old Hobbit instead of the other way round when he had some time. 

One day, when he joined Bilbo in a quiet corner in the Hall of Fire, he looked apologetic as he sat down on the cushions. "I have to leave tomorrow," he said.

"Ah..." Bilbo murmured, not knowing what else to say as he was taking it in. "You will return soon, though? Not that I would want to urge you or change your plans, of course, not because of me..."

"I hope for it," Aragorn said softly. "But I do not know."

"It's winter, though. It's not good to travel in winter. Very cold and uncomfortable. Not speaking about the other dangers that lurk in the wilderness... are you well enough for that?"

"I am now recovered fully, and my people need me."

"I don't understand. I thought Elrond is your family? Adopted, I mean..."

"Both adopted and real," Aragorn smiled a little. "He took the place of my father, when my sire was killed, but my folk are the Dúnedain and I am their Chieftain. You might know them as Rangers."

"Wait wait wait... both adopted and real?" Bilbo raised his eyebrows. "I have just been reading about that. Genealogy of Númenor. Elrond had a brother who became the first king of the realm... and then there was Elendil, and Gondor and Arnor... but that's not possible, the line of kings ended long ago..."

"You are very observant, my dear Bilbo," Aragorn smiled. "Yes, the line of kings in the North ended when there was no kingdom to rule. It continued, though, in the line of the Chieftains of the Dúnedain." 

There was a humble note in his voice as he spoke, but Bilbo's eyes widened. "Of course! Why haven't I thought of that before? Dúnadan! Dún-adan, a Man of the West! But not West of Middle-earth... West like Númenor!" He leaned back and looked at the Man again carefully, as if seeing him for the first time. 

Aragorn let him take a good look with a bit of amusement, knowing that there was nothing new to see. Bilbo seemed to think otherwise though, but it weren't the looks that interested him.

"There is no kingdom in Arnor anymore, but in Gondor there is a kingdom without a king," he said slowly. "Are you telling me that for all this time... I have been spinning rhymes with the rightful king of Gondor?"

"Rightful? Maybe," Aragorn said softly. "But right is not the same as deed, and coming to Gondor and claiming the crown would not be right without the deeds worthy of that claim."

"That sounds a bit too complicated for me..." Bilbo murmured. "But I would like to hear more about yourself, since you already started. You have been quite secretive in that area."

"Have I? It's a long-term habit, I'm afraid. But I am among friends here, and I can amend that. What would you like to know?"

They spent a few hours talking together, Bilbo's question often overcoming Dúnadan's hesitancy to speak about his achievements. But as the time passed, Bilbo was getting a bit sad and thoughtful.

"What's the matter, Bilbo?" Aragorn asked him. "Is something wrong?"

Bilbo shook his head. "No, not really... Or maybe... I don't know. I'm just having a feeling that it's happening again."

"Again? What is happening again, Bilbo?"

"I'm sorry, it's just a silly feeling... like I know that story... A king without a crown has to overcome dangers and do great deeds to reclaim his kingdom... meets a Hobbit and befriends him...."

"...and dies," Aragorn finished quietly. "You are speaking about Thorin Oakenshield, aren't you?"

Bilbo nodded. 

"Do you miss him?"

"A lot..." Bilbo sighed. "I still feel bad for having to betray him. Not that I would imply that I would betray you, or something."

"As Gandalf was telling the tale, you did not betray him. You remained true to him when he had lost himself."

"He told it like that?" Bilbo asked with surprise.

"No. I understood it like that. Gandalf told about what the dragon's gold did to Thorin's mind of a Dwarf, and how he regretted it at the end and apologized to you."

"He was a true king, at the end, even without a crown..." Bilbo whispered, lost in thought.

"He had been tested hard, but at the end, he passed. I understand your bad feeling, Bilbo. I foresee that before the end, I will be tested too, and if I will pass, and at what cost, I cannot say," Aragorn sighed.

"Oh, I did not mean to make you doubt yourself!"

"You didn't make me think anything that wasn’t already in my mind, dear Bilbo," Aragorn smiled faintly. "I'm just afraid that I can't promise you that the history won't repeat itself. I can only assure you that I will do everything that's in my power to avoid that."

"That's enough. And let me tell you, I cared for Thorin more than for the whole Dwarven treasure. It doesn't matter to me if you are a king or just a Ranger. I'm glad to have a friend here, and I will be looking forward to your coming back."

"I'm always looking forward to coming back here, but now I have one more reason. Goodbye, dear Bilbo. I will say it now, as I will be leaving at dawn and don't want to disturb your sleep."

"Goodbye," the Hobbit replied. 

But at dawn, as Aragorn said goodbyes to Elrond and Arwen, he was there. He approached shyly and bit tiredly - it seemed that he didn't sleep at all. "I wrote something for you..." he said, giving Aragorn a little envelope. "It’s not as good as I would wish, but I hope it helps… in case doubts should start bothering you again..."



October 25, 3018 T.A.

Frodo felt Bilbo stir impatiently at his side. Evidently he was annoyed on his friend’s behalf. Standing suddenly up he burst out:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken:
The crownless again shall be king. 

“Not very good perhaps, but to the point – if you need more beyond the word of Elrond. If that was worth a journey of a hundred and ten days to hear, you had best listen to it.” He sat down with a snort.

“I made that up myself,” he whispered to Frodo, “for the Dúnadan, a long time ago when he first told me about himself. I almost wish that my adventures were not over, and that I could go with him when his day comes.”

(J.R.R.Tolkien: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council of Elrond)




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