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Ever Ever On
Where was he? And more importantly, who was he? His name was just beyond his recollection; he had a name, he was certain of that. And of course he knew just what it was. Still, he did not find it as disturbing as perhaps he should have. He was still himself, he knew that. The gnarled walking stick held in his equally gnarled hand looked familiar, as did the white curls upon his toes, so he had not been mistaken about his age.
He looked about himself briefly; he was travelling down a shady lane; along one side, a white fence and a flowering hedge, along the other trees grew, casting cool dappled shadows on the dirt of the road. There was something very familiar about the flowers and the trees, and especially about the scents which filled the air. And yet though familiar, it seemed to him that this was not the sort of place from which his journey began--he'd left from some other sort of place altogether, he thought. Still, it was a very pleasant walk; though he moved slowly, he moved without pain or weariness, and he wondered where he was going. Ahead he could see that the lane was intersecting with another similar road. Perhaps he'd find some answers at the cross-road.
As he came up, he was surprised to find a Man there, with a hoe, grubbing up a stone in the road. It seemed to him odd to find anyone but a hobbit in this place--this (oh dear! the name of the place had just escaped him)...still, it seemed strange to see a Man.
The Man stopped his work, and gave a small bow. "Good day, small sir."
The hobbit bowed. "Good day," he replied politely. "I do apologize, I would put myself at your service, but my name seems to have escaped me for the moment, Mr., er..."
"Parish, at your service."
"Thank you, Mr. Parish. And though I have no name to give you, I am at your service as well." He looked from side to side. "I find myself at a loss as to which way I should go," he said.
Mr. Parish smiled, and pointed to the hobbit's left. "That way, should you go far enough, will lead you to forests and mountains and trees such as you have never seen before. The country there is tended and kept up by my friend Mr. Niggle, and is a very exciting and interesting place."
The hobbit smiled. Mountains and forests and trees sounded quite familiar. Perhaps he might like to go that way.
Mr. Parish pointed to the hobbit's right. "That way leads to a more homely land, of fields and gardens and comfortable homes." Then he chuckled. "Either way you go, you will find Great Adventure."
"I suppose I must choose," said the hobbit thoughtfully.
"Yes, but that does not mean you cannot choose again later."
The hobbit looked in both directions; so far as he could see the road did not change much from the one he had just been walking on, and it appeared the same both ways as far as he could see. Yes, mountains and forests and trees were appealing, but right now his heart was drawn to the idea of comfort. And if Mr. Parish was right, he could also go the other way another time. "Thank you, Mr. Parish," he said politely. "I shall take the right-hand way today then. Farewell!" He went on his way, just a little more briskly than he had been...
He felt remarkably well. Better in fact than he'd felt in a long while. But how did he know that when he did not yet know who he was, beyond a rather elderly hobbit? He glanced down at his toes, and was surprised that they were no longer white, but were grey with some brown hairs sprinkled among the silver. And when had he lost his walking stick?
"Hullo," said a voice at his side.
He gave a start, and looked to his left, and realised that another hobbit was walking beside him. When did the fellow come upon him? Why had he not noticed?
"Hullo," he replied. "Do I know you?" For the fellow looked quite familiar, though he could not place him.
"No, we have never met, though we are distant kin. You may call me 'Tucker'." He smiled slyly as he said this, and the hobbit felt that he was being made sport of in some vague way. Perhaps it was the claim of kinship, which seemed odd, since he'd no idea that he was kin to anyone, being nameless as he was. He did not answer, for he could not think of an honest reply that would not also have been a rude one.
"You must be going up The Hill," said Tucker. "I suppose you will be glad to see the old place once more."
This sent a thrill up the hobbit's spine. The Hill. He had not heard that in a very long time, he knew. But up The Hill sounded just right to his ears. Something was drawing him, and he picked up his pace. Tucker kept pace with him.
They were definitely going uphill. The road ahead felt very familiar. To his right he saw a fence, a gate, a postbox, and a round green door in The Hill.
Bilbo took a deep breath and ran up the path, not even wondering how it was that he could run, when he had not done so in ever so many years. He paused on the front step, but as he reached out a hesitant hand, the door opened for him. Two hobbits stood there whom he had never expected to see again.
"Mama! Papa!" He raced into their arms with a sound that was half sob and half laughter. Suddenly he remembered it all, all of his life and all he'd left behind, and he understood what this meant. Frodo! Gandalf, Adamanta, all of his Elven friends, all left behind on the Blessed Isle.
His parents drew him in, and 'Tucker' followed, grinning. Bilbo suddenly understood who he was, that most distant of Tookish ancestors, the founder of the Took family line.
He was led into a familiar parlour, and his mother had laid on a fine tea. There was a fire crackling in the hearth, and he looked at Belladonna and Bungo, and saw that they appeared to be in perfect health, in the bloom of life as they had been before the Fell Winter had changed everything.
"You are beyond the Circles of Arda, son," said Bungo. "This is the place of our people here, though we are free to go anywhere we wish, this is where most of our kind come to begin with."
He blinked and saw there were other guests there. He saw his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. The parlour did not seem at all crowded. His eyes fell on two figures who looked at him eagerly. "Drogo! Primula!"
They leaned forward. "Thank you, Bilbo," Primula said. "Thank you for taking such good care of our Frodo."
"Bilbo," said Tucker, "you may stay here as long as you wish, or go on, further up and further in, even to the mountains, or on to those places set aside for Men or Dwarves. But if you wait here, you can be here to greet the others when they arrive."
Bilbo thought of Frodo, who doubtless would miss him dreadfully, and of Sam who would be coming to the West someday, and of others who were not yet here but would be sometime soon.
"I'll wait," he said. "The Road will always be there, and travelling is better when shared."
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