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(Written for Marigold's Challenge #39)
EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART SEVEN
There was a feast of welcoming that night: Elladan had the place once held by his father at the High Table, and Frodo sat on his right hand, with Elladan’s great-uncle, Finrod, upon his left. Pippin sat between Elrohir and Gandalf, and Merry sat between Gandalf and Glorfindel. There were a number of other Elves at the feast, yet still not so many as before--a number of them had sailed, some with plans to return, others who had decided to stay in the Blessed Lands.
Gandalf was enjoying himself immensely. It had pleased him no end to see the three hobbits arrive in Glorfindel’s company. When he had suggested to Frodo that he seek for the historical records to be found in Imladris, he had of course meant that they would be useful. But more than that, the wizard had wanted Frodo to see the extent of his healing. He knew that if Frodo could retrace his steps once more, he would find that the places where the darkness had threatened to overwhelm him no longer held any power over him.
He was also pleased that Merry and Pippin had chosen to accompany their cousin. They too, needed to see for themselves that Frodo was well and truly healed. Gandalf was well aware of the reasons Frodo had forbidden Sam to come, and his lips twitched in amusement. It would be very pleasant to make another visit to the Shire next year, and meet Frodo’s little namesake. And speaking of next year--
“So, Peregrin, you will be coming-of-age next year.”
Pippin turned his Tookish grin upon Gandalf, and the wizard was struck once more by the lad’s remarkable resemblance to his Great-great-grandsire, Gerontius. That smile never ceased to charm, even when its possessor was determined to annoy. “So I will, Gandalf! Will you be there for my party?”
“And why would I do that?” he harrumphed gruffly, though his dark eyes twinkled with affection. This was an old game between them, his stern voice belied by his good humor.
“Oh, I suppose so you could have a chance to show off your fireworks,” said Pippin amiably, not in the least fooled by the stern voice.
“Show them off?” He tried to sound offended, rather than amused.
“Of course. You know no one appreciates your fireworks like hobbits!” was the airy reply.
Gandalf let out a roar of laughter, and Pippin looked gratified.
“Uncle Paladin is already making plans,” said Merry from the other side. “He hopes to out-do Cousin Bilbo’s last party!”
“Well, I most certainly cannot miss that,” said Gandalf.
“D’you know,” said Pippin thoughtfully, “what the best thing about my next birthday will be?”
“What’s that, Pip?” asked Merry warily.
“Why, I shall be of age, and I can certainly eat as much of my own birthday cake as I wish, with no one to gainsay me!”
Merry’s groan in response to this was greeted by another roar of laughter from everyone within earshot.
Gandalf shook his head. Hobbits!
After the feast the group gathered in the Hall of Fire, for stories and songs. Gandalf gathered the hobbits about him, where he sat on a low bench not far from the fire. Lindir was playing his harp, and nearby Finrod sat in an attitude of thoughtfulness. His great-nephews were one on each side of him, and on the floor before him sat Gildor Inglorion, pleased to once more be in the presence of the Prince of his House. Gandalf was glad that Gildor had decided to delay his departure from Middle-earth--otherwise his reunion with Finrod would have been short-lived, as the Prince had decided to come to these shores to seek out his sister.
The voice of Erestor came from behind them. “I am pleased we once more have hobbits among us. I am glad that Bilbo was able to go to Elvenhome, but I must say that I miss his company on these evenings. His presence lent much cheer and his compositions were always amusing.”
Frodo sighed. “I do miss Uncle Bilbo. But he seemed perfectly happy there among all the Elves, just as he was here in Rivendell for so long.”
“Your uncle,” said Gandalf, “had a very long acquaintance with Elves.”
“He never forgot his visit here, when he was on his Adventure.”
“Ah, but his acquaintance with Elves goes much further back than that, Frodo, though perhaps he would not have remembered.” Gandalf leaned back, and waited for the question. He did not have to wait long.
“Whatever do you mean, Gandalf?” Frodo asked.
Gandalf cast his gaze across the room, and caught the glance of Gildor. The Elf nodded, almost imperceptibly, and the wizard returned his nod the same way.
“I shall begin the tale, though there is another here who is in better position to complete it. Now, I know you lads are all familiar with your family history, and know that I was very good friends with your Grandfather Gerontius--don’t interrupt Peregrin, I am well aware of how many ’greats’ precede that, but ’grandfather’ is much less cumbersome. You also know I was a frequent visitor to Tuckborough and the Great Smials, and that the Adventurousness of certain Tooks was laid at my door. However, I was also responsible for returning one particular Took to the fold. It was in the spring of the Shire Year 1292, and Bilbo was still a babe in his mother’s arms…”
“I still don’t know why you think it’s necessary for me to return home *now*, Gandalf,” grumbled the small figure seated at the wizard’s side, as the cart rumbled along the post-road between Tuckborough and the Great Smials.
“Because, Isengar, I promised your father I would find you and bring you back. You have had three years in the Wide World after all. Do you really wish to be responsible for breaking his heart? Your brother vanished sixteen years ago, and a good many hobbits of the Shire blamed *me* for that.”
“I planned to come back when I came of age,” the hobbit muttered.
“*If* you were still alive and in a position to do so,” said Gandalf firmly. “You survived one shipwreck. Do you think that you are possessed of enough luck to survive another? You have learned of the many perils there are in the world. Do you not think that Hildifons would have returned if he had been able?”
The young hobbit shrugged. He was only a young lad of fourteen when his brother had left after quarreling with the lass he had hoped to court--Hilfy had only been thirty-two at the time, a year short of his majority. He remembered his parents’ worry, the fruitless attempts his father and older brothers had made to find Hilfy, his mother’s tears. Yet three years ago, when he was only twenty-seven, he’d not remembered it, not when he’d had a chance of Adventure of his own.
A visit to some cousins on the Chubb side of the family, who lived in Michel Delving, had proven to be deadly boring. The main advantage of Michel Delving was its proximity to the edge of the Shire, and the fact that the Great East-West Road ran right through it. On more than one occasion, young Isengar had watched in fascination as groups of Dwarves or even Men travelled over the Road, and out of the Shire. His cousins thought his questions about these travellers rather silly, and had no answers for him. One evening, he and his cousins were at a local inn, but Isengar had become bored with the local gossip, and had slipped away. He found himself drawn to the campsite of three Men, who were on their way to the Gulf of Lune, where they expected to meet a ship. They invited him to join them at the fire, and share their sausages and ale, and he listened with wide and fascinated eyes to their tales of life upon the Sea. Their descriptions filled him with a longing to see the great waters, to hear the waves and the cry of sea-birds, smell the salt air, to feel the mighty winds. He asked if he could join them, but they were canny, and knew him to be too young. “Tell your father to come along in the morning and give us his permission, young master hobbit, and we’ll take you along,” one of them had laughed, knowing such would never happen.
But Isengar was filled with his idea, and the next morning, he had slipped away from his cousins’ hole, and quietly and unobtrusively followed. He waited until they had travelled for several days before revealing himself to the Men, and by that time of course, they had no choice but to either bring him along or leave him all alone in the wild, or turn back and lose their chance of meeting their ship. And he knew just how to charm them into taking him--his smile had always worked on his older relatives, and it was no less effective with these Men. He’d sent a letter back to his sister Mirabella, who would understand if anyone did, and was off on his own Adventure.
He had spent over two years on The Western Star, for he was a hobbit who was not afraid of heights and was nimble in the riggings. But a storm had put an end to the gallant vessel, and he, along with a few others had been plucked from the wreckage and put ashore in Pelargir. It was there Gandalf had found him, and had insisted on his return to the Shire. And the truth was, in spite of his protests, he was homesick and ready to see his family again.
But he wished it had been on his own terms, and not being taken back like a wayward child.
As Gandalf approached the Great Smials, he attracted, as usual, a crowd of young hobbits, and a few older ones as well.
Suddenly there was a sharp exclamation: “Gar! Gandalf has Gar with him!”
Gar turned to look at the familiar voice. It was Mira! The wizard slowed the cart down, and the young hobbit leapt from his seat into the welcoming arms of his sister.
After the whirlwind of family greetings had passed, and young Isengar had been hauled off by a tearful mother, Gandalf had obeyed the summons of his host, and followed Gerontius to his study, where he made himself comfortable in the Big Person’s chair, kept there by the hearth in his honor.
“I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am, that you found my wayward lad and brought him home, Gandalf,” said the Thain with feeling, seating himself across from the wizard, and proffering the pipe-weed jar.
“Ah,” Gandalf had smiled, “Old Toby! This goes a good long way to settling any question of debt between us, my old friend.”
Gerontius shook his head, but knew not to press the matter. “Tell me, was it hard to find him? How was he?”
“It was not that difficult to locate him, though I could have wished to have found him a few weeks earlier, and spared him some danger and hardship, for I will not lie to you, Gerontius. He came very near to losing his life. But it may be that was as well, for in spite of his protests, I think he has truly had enough of Adventure to last him, and secretly is glad to be home.”
Gerontius nodded gravely. “Perhaps you are right,” he said. “I hope so.”
“I hope you will take my advice in another matter--he is, I know, still a few years shy of his majority. But if you insist on punishing him like a willful child, he will resent it. Having been among Men, and doing the duties of an adult for nearly three years, he has learned much.”
“Well, that will be something I will have to think over. There will have to be *some* sort of consequence--even Tooks do not look lightly on runaways. I shall have to inform the rest of the family, and talk to his older brothers.” He stopped for a moment, and smiled. “I’ll have to send a messenger to Hobbiton, to let his sister Belladonna know. She will want to come and see him, and present his nephew to him. I’ve two grandsons you’ve yet to meet--Hildibrand and Citrine’s little Sigismond, and Belladonna and Bungo’s little Bilbo!”
Gandalf was pleased to accept Gerontius’ hospitality for a few weeks. He had planned to be there for Midsummer’s Day anyway--he tried to be there as many years as he could, for the fireworks, and because of young Isengar he had arrived early.
Over the next few days, those members of Gerontius’ immediate family who did not dwell in the Great Smials began to arrive. Gandalf occupied himself as he often did while in the Shire--telling tales to young hobbits who were endlessly fascinated by his size and his beard, eavesdropping with amusement to the gossip of the matrons, playing draughts of an evening with his old friend Gerontius, and working on his fireworks for Midsummer’s Day.
On his second day there, he had seen the arrival of Belladonna, the eldest of the Thain’s three daughters, with her husband and infant son Bilbo. She was married to a Baggins, who looked on with alarm at her enthusiastic greeting of the old wizard. Yes, it was quite clear that though Bungo Baggins was besotted with his wife and son, he simply did not know what to make of all those Tooks, much less this odd wizard among them.
Gandalf was out in the field across from the Great Smials, planning the trajectory of some of the rockets he would be using, when he heard someone behind him.
“Ahem.” There was a hesitant throat-clearing. “Er--uhm…”
The wizard turned, to find Bungo Baggins, standing just out of arm’s reach, and with an expression that was both determined, and yet spoke of a readiness to flee at any second. “Good afternoon, Mr. Baggins,” he replied cordially. It was obvious that this hobbit had very few dealings with Big Folk, if any, and had needed to gather all his courage to speak to such an alarming personage.
“Er, well, yes. G-good afternoon.” Now the hobbit flushed, and said “Have--have you seen my wife, Mistress Belladonna, pass this way? She had our son with her…”
Gandalf raised a bushy eyebrow. “As a matter of fact, I did see them earlier, walking towards the East. But that was some hours ago, before luncheon. Has she not returned?”
Now the hobbit looked distressed. “Oh dear! Oh dear!” he said, “She wasn’t *at* luncheon, and no one in the smials has seen her since second breakfast! She--uh, she--wasn’t happy with me this morning…”
“Well, Gandalf! Don’t stop there!” said Pippin impatiently.
Gandalf shook his head. “I told you that someone else here could finish the tale.” He looked across the room. “Gildor, do you suppose you could be prevailed upon to tell them what happened next?”
The Elf smiled, and nodded graciously. “Most certainly, Mithrandir.”
The hobbits all looked at Gildor in surprise.
“As I told you on that autumn evening when we came across you as you were leaving the Shire with your burden, my people often passed through the Shire on their way to the Havens. I was leading one such group on that summer’s day…”
Gildor looked up through the trees. They had stopped for the day, and would continue their journey beneath the stars, for they had come to the end of this small forest, and if they were to keep their presence from becoming generally known by the small inhabitants of this land, they would need to wait until the cover of night. Once they had left this wooded area, they would be travelling over more settled lands--tilled fields and bare hills. But at night, there would be none to mark their passage, save perhaps a wakeful shepherd or two, who would scarce believe their own eyes.
He wondered if *this* would be the time he himself would take ship and return to the West. He had led many to Mithlond, each time thinking that he too, would sail. Yet each time, as he stood upon the quay, his heart would tell him “not yet, not yet; you have still some task to fulfill ere you may depart these Shores and cross the Sea to Elvenhome.”
Suddenly, he was startled from his reverie by a sharp cry of distress. It was not one of his people--that was not the voice of an Elf, and it came from ahead of him and not behind. Swiftly, though cautiously, he made his way in the direction of the sound.
As he came nearer, he heard a soft weeping, and in addition to the weeping, another whimper. There, near the gnarled roots of an old oak was one of the periannath--apparently a young mother, for she held a whimpering babe close to her heart, and was rocking it back and forth, trying to soothe the child, even through her own tears.
“There, there, my little lad,” she sniffed. “Momma just tripped over the nasty roots. It’s all right, Bilbo dear.” She held the child close, and with an elbow braced herself on one of the roots and tried to rise, only to sit back down abruptly with a cry of pain. Startled the babe began to wail in earnest. “Shush, my child!” the young mother said. “We don’t want a nasty old fox to hear us.” She looked about her, eyes wide with fear. “Momma’s turned her ankle, that’s all…”
Keeping the presence of Elves a secret was all well and good, but Gildor could not simply stand by and leave her thus. While it was unlikely any predators would be close now with Elves nearby, she had no way to know of that unseen protection. And she and the child were far from the help of any others of her kind. Silently he stepped forward, keeping his hands wide and trying to appear unthreatening.
“Small Mistress,” he said, as softly as he could, “may I be of some assistance to you?”
She looked up alarm, but did not make a sound as her jaw dropped. She stared, her green eyes huge, and she clutched the child even closer. Finally, she swallowed. “You’re an Elf,” she rasped.
“Gildor Inglorion, of the House of Finrod,” he said, bowing slightly, and cautiously moving closer.
She did not flinch, though she did tense up a bit. “I am Belladonna Baggins, at your service, Master Gildor,” she said shakily, but with the ingrained courtesy of her people. “This is my son Bilbo. I am afraid that I stumbled and turned my ankle.”
Gildor nodded, and knelt down by her. “May I?” he asked. He reached out very slowly, and took her right foot in his hand. It was, of course, unshod. He prodded it gently, and she winced and bit her lip. The baby in her arms twisted around to look at this new person.
“Meh!” he said, his blue eyes huge. Gildor studied him. He was a comely child, with a riot of brown curls and an amiable and intelligent expression. He gave the Elf a grin, and Gildor found himself grinning back.
Returning his attention to the perian’s ankle, he saw that it was already swollen. She would not be able to walk upon it for some time.
Before he could say anything to her about it, there was an alarming rumble from her mid-section, and she blushed. “I-I’m sorry--I’m afraid I’ve missed elevenses, and it must be nigh on to luncheon.”
Gildor sat back on his haunches. “My people are encamped a very short distance from here. Perhaps you could take a meal with us. We have also a healer, who could bind up your ankle for you, and then we could send a message to your people--”
She stared at him for a moment, as if uncertain, and then nodded.
The Elf reached out to the child, who trustingly came to him. He settled the babe on his left arm, and then with his right, picked up the mother. She gasped a bit as he stood up, and gripped him about the neck.
It took Gildor only a few moments to stride back to the place where his people were encamped, and they looked up in shock to see their leader carrying the perian and her child.
He turned and spoke. “Lomiel,” he called, and an Elven-woman with raven hair stood up and came over.
Gildor looked down at Belladonna. “Mistress Baggins, this is Lomiel. She will tend your injury, and then perhaps, we shall see to finding you a meal?”
“Thank you--” she looked at him uncertainly, “what about Bilbo?”
He smiled at her. “I think that you may safely leave him with me for a few moments.”
She nodded, and allowed Lomiel to carry her away a short distance.
Bilbo watched his mother, an expression of curiosity on his small face. He glanced up at the Elf who still held him. “Ma-ma?” he trilled.
Gildor chuckled. “Your naneth will be just fine. In the meantime, shall we see if we can find something for you?”
The other Elves had begun to gather about Gildor, marveling at the tiny child, who was so small that he easily fit into Gildor’s two hands. Bilbo looked about him, with an expression of delighted wonder, and when one silver-haired Elf leaned over him, he reached up a chubby hand to pull on one of the locks. The Elf laughed, and then the child laughed too.
Soon the Elves were all seated around, and had provided Bilbo with a rusk of bread to chew on. If he had been smiling before, he was positively gleeful now. Never had he tasted anything like it.
Her foot now snuggly wrapped in a bandage, Lomiel carried Belladonna over to the rest, and she took little Bilbo into her own lap once more. Soon she was provided with bread, fruit, cheese, and a fragrant golden draught. She listened in amazement, as the Elves began to sing. Little Bilbo tried to sing along as well in his wordless fashion.
Gildor watched over the small group, and then slipped away. Time was passing, and the family of the little wanderers would probably be searching for them frantically. If he could find a sign of searchers, he would take her back to them, but he would prefer not to have to go into the settled areas to do so.
He had nearly reached the spot where he had first found her, when he heard the sounds of someone approaching.
“Dear me,” said one voice, clearly that of a perian, “I am so worried. We’ve not seen any sign of her since that oak tree. This is all my fault. If I had not made her cross with me over my timidity with her family--”
“Do not fret, Mr. Baggins,” came the other voice “I am sure we shall soon find her.” Gildor knew that voice--it was Mithrandir!
The Elf stepped forth. “Are you searching for Belladonna Baggins and her child?” he asked.
Bungo gasped, and stepped behind the wizard, who chuckled and put a reassuring hand on the curly head. “Well met, Gildor Inglorion! I take it you have found our strays?”
“Yes, we have both mother and child safe with us.” He glanced down at the perian who had cautiously moved forward. “Your wife has sprained her ankle. But our healer is tending to it, and she and your child have been fed!”
“Oh! Oh thank you! But--but I am forgetting my manners! I am Bungo Baggins, at your service!” and he made a courteous bow.
“You are most welcome, Master Bungo. If you and Mithrandir will follow me, I shall take you to your family.”
A short while later, Gildor led them into the clearing, and with a sharp cry, Bungo darted over to his wife and took her into an embrace, baby and all. The Elves and wizard kindly pretended not to notice the tearful apologies from both parties. After a few moments, Bungo stood back up. “I do not know *how* to thank you, Master Gildor! I was so worried!”
“No thanks are needed, Master Baggins; we have much enjoyed the company of your wife and child.”
It was soon arranged that Gandalf would carry Belladonna, as she was not to walk upon her ankle for some days, as Lomiel told her firmly. “Be certain to seek the advice of a healer of your own people before removing the bandage,” the Elf-woman reminded her.
Belladonna nodded, and impulsively kissed the healer on her cheek. “Thank you, Lomiel,” she said, as Gandalf scooped her up into his strong arms.
Little Bilbo was in his father’s arms. He looked up and laughed “Pa-pa!” Bungo hugged him tightly.
Gildor knelt down. “Master Baggins, may I say farewell to your remarkable son?”
Bungo handed Bilbo to the Elf, who took him carefully. Big blue eyes gazed up at him solemnly.
For some reason, Gildor had the feeling he had not seen the last of this one. Leaning his face down, and not flinching as the tiny fingers wound into his hair, he murmured “No e beren, ar garo i dhôl vell na nauthad, ar i ind vell na velad, ar i gaim vell na gared naid, ar i dail vell na drevaded, ar lúban tolo beriannen na mar în,*” and bestowed a kiss upon the little brow. Then he handed the child back to his father.
Mithrandir looked at the Elf. “That was quite a blessing you bestowed upon this child,” he said in Sindarin.
“My heart tells me that perhaps this little one will need it someday,” was the bemused response.
Gildor watched as their unexpected guests left the clearing. No, he did not think he would be taking ship this time, either.
“…And so, you see,” ended Gildor, “that my acquaintance with Bilbo was a long-standing one indeed.”
“I had no idea!” said Frodo, “that you had known him *that* long!”
“It would surprise me if he remembered, Frodo,” said Gandalf, “for he was so young at the time.”
“Maybe,” said Merry thoughtfully, “it would explain why he always loved Elves so much.”
Pippin leaned back and looked at Gandalf. “Yes, but *I* want to hear more about great-great-Uncle Isengar!”
Gandalf chuckled, and shook his head. “Insatiable Took! *That* is a tale for another time!”
Pippin grinned. “I won’t let you forget it!”
“No, I don’t much imagine that you will, Peregrin Took!”
*[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Here is the quotation I was assigned by Marigold. It was translated into Sindarin for me by Ithildin:
'May he be brave, and have the strong head to think with, and the strong heart to love with, and the strong hands to work with, and the strong feet to travel with, and always come safe home to his own.' ” From “Five Children And It” by Edith Nesbit ]
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