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Written for Nilmandra's birthday, June 2015!
Bilbo glanced at Frodo, and as their eyes met it was clear that both of them were feeling out of place. Had coming here been a mistake after all? They gazed about the quay, as the companions of their voyage were engulfed by the embraces of their long-sundered kin. Bilbo felt small, as he had not done in all his long years in Rivendell. Dismay and regret filled his heart, as he realised there was no going back. But before he could say anything, he felt a familiar and comforting large hand upon his shoulder. Gandalf; they were with Gandalf and all would be well. Both hobbits looked up to see the wizard's reassuring smile and the familiar twinkle in his eye. Bilbo took a deep breath of relief; he had feared his old friend would change upon arrival at these shores, but Gandalf had assured him he would do no such thing, not while the hobbits were with him.
When he turned his head back, he saw Elrond and the Lady Galadriel approaching. Between them was another Elf-woman, her silver hair gleaming in the sunlight and a smile of heart-breaking beauty on her face, she was as lovely as Arwen Undomiel, and by the way her hand was entwined with that of Elrond's, Bilbo knew at once who this must be: Lady Celebrķan , his wife, clearly now healed of the hurts that had sent her over the Sundering Sea.
Bilbo bowed his head courteously, as did Frodo, and as he was the senior, he introduced the both of them. "Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, my lady, at your service."
"Be welcome, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins! News of your coming was given us, so that we might prepare a proper place for you. I already know that you spent many years in the household of my beloved husband, Bilbo, and unless you choose otherwise, I have made a place where both of you may dwell in his household once more."
At a gesture, the two hobbits followed the Elves, with Gandalf behind them. Also following were the few Elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien who had also accompanied the Ring-bearers aboard the ship. They were led to the head of the quay, where a white road glittered. Bilbo saw that the road was made of crushed seashells.
A fanciful carriage, harnessed to a pair of white horses, awaited the party. Behind it, two other carriages stood. Into the first, Elrond and Gandalf handed the two ladies, and then Gandalf lifted Bilbo up, to sit next to the Lady Galadriel, and Elrond lifted Frodo in next to Lady Celebrķan . Then Gandalf and Elrond himself also climbed in. Bilbo heard the Elven driver speak to the horses, and they started off.
Seated in the middle as he was, Bilbo could see very little of the surrounding countryside: mostly the tops of trees and the occasional flash of a rooftop. Without realising it, he leaned into Gandalf and soon found himself nodding off. He was sleepy, and he did not even try to resist it.
He was gently shaken awake by Gandalf when the carriage stopped, and two Elves stood by the carriage door to hand down each of the passengers. When Bilbo and Frodo stood once more on solid ground they looked up, as the Lady Celebrķan said, "Welcome! Welcome to the First Homely House West of the Sea!"
There were many similarities to Rivendell. Wide steps led up to terraces and the buildings were very similar in style. But the steps were not so high, and there appeared to be even more open spaces and porches. There was a distinct lack of surrounding cliffs and mountains. In fact, this place appeared to be the highest point of the area. And instead of the distant roar of waterfalls, the sound of the Sea could be heard.
The Lady Celebrķan and Lord Elrond (for once more their hands were entwined) led the way, first up the wide, shallow stairs, and to the right and around to what they had thought was the back of the house. There they saw just how high up they were, for they had a view of the Sea and the strand below. There was a low wall, or low for the Big Folk. It was about shoulder height for the hobbits, and they followed the curving line of it around to a small gate of wrought iron in a motif of vines and leaves. Lady Celebrķan pushed it open to reveal a round terrace set apart from the others by the stone wall.
Bilbo gasped, and Frodo's eyes widened in surprise as they took it in. Built against the wall were stone planters, filled with herbs and vegetables. To one side, there was a low round table, set between two small chairs and two large ones. Into the wall of the house opposite the gate was a beautiful round door; it was somewhat larger than a door would have been in the Shire, but even so an Elf would have to duck slightly to enter. It was made of some highly polished and beautifully grained wood, and the silver hinges extended into a vinelike design, and set off a golden door knob in the center and a golden keyhole on one side. The lintels were carven with leaves and vines in the same glowing wood as the door. On either side of the door were wide arched windows set above overflowing flower-boxes, and pots of flowers in brilliant colours never seen in the Shire bloomed around the terrace.
The hobbits were not the only ones to be stunned into speechlessness by the sight, and Elrond turned to gaze at his wife in pleased astonishment. She grinned, and then laughed, and then she drew forth from the purse that hung upon her girdle two small keys. She handed one to Bilbo and one to Frodo.
"Here are the keys to your new home, if you are pleased to accept it. Go, look. We will follow." She laughed once more, and gave the two hobbits a gentle push towards the door. With that encouragement, they hurried over to it. There was a brief pause.
"You open it, Uncle Bilbo," Frodo said, and he dropped his key into his pocket, and grinned at his older cousin.
With a feeling of awe, Bilbo did so and they entered. The quarters were spacious: a large sitting room was furnished with seating sized for hobbits, but there was seating clearly designed with Elves in mind as well. The kitchen was very nearly as large as the one in Bag End. There were two spacious and airy bedrooms, a bathing room and a water-closet. Between the kitchen and the sitting room was another larger round door, leading into a corridor of the house.
The Elves and Gandalf had followed them and watched in amusement as the two hobbits went about, opening doors and cupboards, exclaiming over every new discovery.
Finally, Elrond asked, "Do you like it, my friends?"
Nearly overwhelmed, Bilbo sank into a nearby chair. "Do we like it? Do we like it! Oh my! Oh bless me!" He scrambled in his pocket, and pulled forth a handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. "Oh my!"
Frodo placed a hand on Bilbo's back and patted it. "I think I can safely say we like it! My Lady," he said to Celebrķan , "How is it you knew so well what would suit us?"
She smiled graciously and said, "We were given word of your coming. I must say most of our information came from Lord Ulmo. One of his River-daughters is a friend of your people, and she revealed much to him of your likes."
Frodo gaped. "Goldberry!"
Gandalf laughed. "Even so, it seems, Frodo!"
Bilbo gathered his composure, wiped his eyes, and stood to bow once more to Lady Celebrķan . "My Lady, this is such generous hospitality. How can we ever repay you?"
She knelt gracefully before him and took one of his withered hands in her own "I know that you have both been dear friends to my Lord and husband, and have been of much comfort to him. Let there be no talk of repayment between friends, but you both may bless us by healing and thriving and being happy among us."
She stood, and her smile this time reminded Bilbo much of her daughter. "We shall leave you for now. Rest now from your journey, and we shall see you this evening for a feast of welcoming. I am glad you like it here." She bent and kissed each of them on top of the head, and then led her husband, her mother and Gandalf out through the door to the corridor. Gandalf turned and winked at them, before shutting the door behind him.
Bilbo and Frodo stared at one another, and then Frodo threw back his head and laughed. "Uncle Bilbo, as Sam would say, 'That's an eye-opener, and no mistake!'"
*** *** ***
Happy Birthday, Nilmandra! I hope you are having a good day. I have another mathom on it's way to you now, with Daw's help. But here is a preview of it:
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