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Chance Meeting at Rivendell: 2. Chapter 2 (conclusion)
On Midsummer's Eve the Elves celebrated the shortest night of the year with songs and dances under the stars on the soft grass of the riverbank. Silver lanterns glittered in the tree branches and along the curve of the stone bridge. Their reflections shimmered in the running water. The Elves made little lamps of walnut shells filled with oil, and set them flickering and dancing on the river's surface.
Bilbo filled his eyes with the lanternlight and resolved that one day he would bring this beauty home. He would hang lanterns in the branches of the big tree in the field near Bag End, and fill some magical night with light and music and dancing.
He strolled across the grass, pausing to listen to a song here, and watch a dance there. All the time he kept his eyes open for Estel, who seemed to have disappeared.
"Bilbo!" said a soft voice over his head.
Bilbo looked up and saw a small shadow huddled among the branches of a tree, half lit by flickering lanterns. "Estel?"
A small brown hand reached down into the lanternlight just over Bilbo's head. "Come up with me," said Estel.
"I've explained to you," said Bilbo, "Hobbits don't climb trees. Not unless it is a matter of survival. We are underground creatures."
"Please, Bilbo. Please come up. There are branches like a winding stair, once you get past the first one. I'll help you."
He sounded so sad that Bilbo swallowed his fear and reached up to take Estel's hand. After a short struggle he found himself sitting almost comfortably on a broad limb, with a smaller limb behind his back and his arm around the trunk of the tree. Estel sat across from him. Far below his feet, Bilbo could hear Elves singing and dancing. He was careful not to look down.
"They say you are leaving tomorrow," said Estel.
Bilbo sighed. "Yes. I would love to stay here indefinitely. But I promised the Dwarves I'd go with them to the end of the road, and I must keep my word."
Estel closed his eyes and nodded. "Yes, you must keep your word. But I will miss you."
"I'll return," said Bilbo. "When the Dwarves conclude their business, and I turn for home, I'll stop here again." He spoke bravely, but a chill came over him. Would he return? There was a dragon at the end of that road, and who knew what dangers in between.
"Will you?" Estel opened his eyes. The lights of many lanterns reflected like stars in their silvery depths.
"If I can," said Bilbo. "No one can know the future."
"My mother can sometimes," said Estel. "She told me that one day, years from now, my fate would be intertwined with the fates of some of your kin. But she couldn't tell whether you and I would meet again." He peered down through the leaves. "There she is, dancing with the Elves."
Bilbo looked down and wished he hadn't. The ground seemed miles away. The dancing Elves swirled far below, their floating clothes glowing not only with lanternlight and starlight, but with some inner glow. He caught sight of Gilraen, holding hands with the Elves in a circle of dancers. Roses and ribbons crowned her dark hair, and she laughed as she danced. It was the first time Bilbo had ever seen her laugh. Beside her danced Elrond, and with them were his two sons, returned from their journeys to celebrate the night. Even Elrond forgot his usual gravity and laughed and sang as he danced.
"When I was younger," said Estel, "I used to wish Elrond would marry my mother. He has been a father to me, and Elladan and Elrohir like grown-up brothers, or uncles maybe. We could be a real family."
Bilbo looked back at Estel and waited for his vertigo to pass. "Maybe they could. It wouldn't be the first time. Beren was a Man, after all, and he married Lúthien, the child of Elf and Maia."
Estel shook his head. "No, it cannot be. I found out that Elrond has a wife."
Bilbo was so staggered he nearly let go of the tree trunk. "A wife! Where is she? I haven't seen her."
"She is not here. She sailed to Valinor five hundred years ago. She was captured by orcs in the mountains and tortured." He shivered. "She could find no relief from her memories here, but in the Blessed Realm there is healing. That is why her sons ride out to fight the orcs, as I shall one day. Like me, they have a parent to avenge."
Bilbo shook his head. "Five hundred years! How he must miss her, if he loves her. Why doesn't he go to her?"
Estel looked troubled. "I wonder that myself. I'm glad he does not; if he did, I would be orphaned a second time."
"Maybe," said Bilbo slowly, "he thinks he has a duty here, to stay and fight evil. That may be his way to avenge her. Maybe raising an orphan lad is part of that fight, if you were born to be a warrior and healer, as he says."
"It may be as you say," said Estel. "If the Elves left now, the world would be a grim place indeed. They say the Necromancer is growing more powerful. He's turned the greenwood into Mirkwood, infested with giant spiders like the ones Beren fought."
"Brr!" Bilbo shuddered. "We are going that way, I think. Through Mirkwood."
"Well, you have your sword. And you know how to use it now."
Bilbo sighed. "I wish I were as confident of that as you are."
"I'm sure of it." Estel laughed. "Don't I have the bruises to prove it? You got past my blocking more times than I can count, the last time we practiced. Even Glorfindel was pleased. Anyway, perhaps you are right about Elrond. He may stay until the Necromancer is overthrown and Mirkwood is fair again. A few hundred years are nothing in the life of an Elf. And it may be hundreds of years before the world is healed."
"When the King returns," said Bilbo, with a wry smile.
Estel stared at him. "What King? What do you mean?"
Bilbo laughed and waved his free hand. "I don't know. It's a saying we Hobbits have, about things that don't seem likely to happen soon. The world will be healed 'when the King returns'. But what King that might be, we don't know. It's only a garbled nursery saying. We've never had a King of our own. There's the Master of Brandy Hall, and the Thain of Tookborough, but they are only the patriarchs of their clans. They have no more power than the Mayor of Michel Delving, and he's elected every seven years."
"There was a King once," said Estel slowly. "A thousand years ago. But he was overthrown by the Witch King. The Rangers have been led ever since by Chieftains, who were heirs to the throne of the North Kingdom and of Gondor in the South. But now they have no Chieftain either, and if one should arise, he would be King of no more than a hundred Rangers and their families." He smiled. "Less powerful than your Mayor of Michel Delving."
"Maybe it's not about a King of Men at all," said Bilbo, with a sudden inspiration. "The saying, I mean. Maybe it means the King of the Dwarves. If Thorin is successful, he will be King Under the Mountain."
Estel nodded, but still looked doubtful. "Yes, that may be. If the dragon is overthrown, the Necromancer will lose some of his power to harm. But I must tell you, Bilbo, when you first said the words, 'when the King returns', I had the strangest feeling, like the shiver of some great doom."
"Doom!" exclaimed Bilbo, alarmed. "Do you mean Thorin's doom?"
"No, though--" The boy's eyes unfocused a moment. Then he blinked. "Though I think Thorin's doom may be near at hand, if he is not careful. No, I meant something to do with you, and me, and those kin of yours my mother foresaw. I don't know any more. It's a feeling, nothing more."
"Do you have these--feelings--often?"
Estel shook his head. "Not often. But the Dúnedain are foresighted, my mother says." He paused again, and then added, "'Doom' may not be the right word. But I think something is about to happen that will change our lives, Bilbo, yours and mine. After you leave Rivendell, your choices are going to be terribly important."
Bilbo clutched at the tree trunk. "You do make me feel uncomfortable, Estel. I wonder if you're related to Gandalf."
Estel looked at him unhappily. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable, Bilbo. I'm no wizard." Indeed, the moment had passed, and he was once more only a lonely little boy. "I shouldn't have said anything. I probably imagined it."
Bilbo forced a smile. "Too many heroic tales, eh? But I shouldn't have said 'uncomfortable'. You've been a good friend, my boy, and made my stay here more than comfortable. And I'm glad you did speak; fore-warned is fore-armed, as the saying is. I'll be careful of my choices. Come, now, I've spent more time in a tree tonight than most Hobbits spend in a lifetime. Let's go join the singing. I think Gandalf is planning some fireworks soon."
The word "fireworks" had the desired effect. Estel smiled, and jumped up from his perch. "I'll go first, to guide you. It's harder going down than going up."
Soon Bilbo had both feet firmly on the soft grass of the good, solid earth again. He and Estel didn't talk much after that, but they sang and danced and laughed, and chased Gandalf's skyrockets across the grassy riverbank, under the light of the silver lanterns and Elbereth's Elven stars.
* * * * * *
In the morning, Bilbo set out with the Dwarves for the Misty Mountains. It was a fair Midsummer's Day, under a rich blue sky. The songs of the Elves mingled with the singing of the waterfalls. Estel walked beside Bilbo's pony for two or three miles up the valley. Elrond's son Elladan walked behind them, clearly keeping an eye on the boy. At the East end of the valley the road climbed in steep switchbacks.
"Here I must turn back," said Estel.
Bilbo slipped down from his pony to embrace the boy. When he climbed back into the saddle he saw Estel blinking back tears, and felt his own eyes stinging.
"Here," said Estel hastily. "A parting gift, Bilbo Baggins." He handed Bilbo a small bundle wrapped in green cloth and tied with a ribbon of darker green. "It's some lembas and a few healing herbs, and some seedcakes that my mother made. Farewell, and may the stars guide you safely on your return."
Bilbo bowed. "Farewell, my friend. I have no gift for you, but I will bring you something from my adventure, if I can."
He rode after the Dwarves, up the steep switchbacks. Just before the road left the valley altogether, he looked back and saw a tiny figure far below, standing on top of a boulder by the rushing river and waving farewell with both arms.
* * * * * *
Almost a year passed before Bilbo returned to that fair valley. On May Day, he and Gandalf rode alone down the steep switchbacks into Rivendell. Thorin Oakenshield slept beneath lonely Mountain, with his nephews Fíli and Kíli, and Dáin was King Under the Mountain.
"Gandalf," said Bilbo, "do you know why Estel and his mother live here with the Elves, instead of with their own people?"
"Yes I do. But I promised Elrond to tell no one, and I will not break that promise to satisfy the curiosity of an inquisitive Hobbit."
"But it seems so lonely for them."
Gandalf's expression softened. "Estel will be lonely for much of his life, I fear. But it must be so, and one day you will understand. But that is why your friendship is so important to him, and will be in the future, I think."
Bilbo shook his head. "He should be friends with other lads his own age, not just a Hobbit of middle age and ancient Elves and Wizards."
"He will be glad to see you," said Gandalf.
As if in answer a small figure came running up the path from the house far below. "Bilbo! Mithrandir!"
Bilbo slipped off his pony in time for Estel's bear hug. He stepped back and looked up into the boy's face. "Am I imagining it, or have you grown several inches since our last meeting?"
Estel grinned. "Four inches since Midsummer." He looked at Bilbo. "And you've changed too, Bilbo Baggins."
Bilbo nodded, as he started down the path, leading his pony. "Well, I've seen a lot since Midsummer. I was in a battle, for one thing."
"What was it like?"
"I don't know," Bilbo said ruefully. "I was hit on the head early on and didn't wake up until it was over. It was a sad awakening, though." Bilbo went on to tell about his last farewell to Thorin. As he spoke of the Dwarf's death, the old grief welled up in his chest. He didn't know if he was grieving more for Thorin, or for Estel. "If Elrond is right, and you are destined to be a warrior, I think you'll find there's more grief than glory in it."
Estel said nothing, but walked beside Bilbo with long, sure strides, his face thoughtful.
To cheer himself, Bilbo added, "I was in another battle, though, one that was plenty exciting, and I fought it all by myself." He drew his long knife and held it up in the sunlight. "My sword has a name now. I called it 'Sting' after I fought the giant spiders."
Estel looked down at him, his eyes shining. "Like Beren!"
Bilbo blushed and caught Gandalf's eye. "Er, well, no, not much like Beren. I had some help that Beren didn't have." He stopped. For some reason he didn't want to tell Estel why he had been able to fight so many spiders without being caught as the Dwarves had been. He wondered at his own reluctance. After all, Gandalf knew about the magic ring he had found, the ring that turned him invisible and made burgling so easy.
"What help?" said Estel, very interested.
Gandalf came to his rescue. "Hobbits are naturally good at stealth, even better than Elves. Among Men who know anything of Hobbits, the story is that Hobbits can disappear magically, though Hobbits would deny it. It was for that reason that I wanted a Hobbit for this expedition; Dwarves are excellent creatures, but they make more noise than Trolls. And Men cannot compete with Hobbits for stealth. Even so great a woodsman as Beren could not hope to sneak past a giant spider unheard and unseen."
Bilbo breathed a sigh of relief. If Gandalf was willing to keep the ring secret from Estel, he felt better about doing so himself. He told himself that sometimes secrets had to be kept from children for their own good. After all, Estel's own mother wouldn't tell him his father's name. Still, what Gandalf had said was almost a lie, and it cast a shadow between Estel and Bilbo.
"Did you meet any Men or Elves on your travels?" asked Estel.
"Oh, yes," said Bilbo, glad to change the subject. "Bard, the new King of Dale, is a friend of mine, and so is Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood. I met his son Legolas too, and many other Wood Elves. They're rather different from the Elves of Rivendell. They live underground like Hobbits and Dwarves."
As they walked down into the valley, Bilbo told Estel about his adventures. At last they came to the Last Homely House, and Elrond greeted them at the door.
After a fine feast, Elrond took Bilbo and Gandalf into his private study, and Bilbo had to tell his adventures all over again. This time, with Gandalf's encouragement, Bilbo included the finding of his magic ring in the tale. He told Elrond the true story, not the one he had told the Dwarves. It was impossible to lie to Elrond.
Elrond asked to see the ring, though he was careful not to touch it himself. "Very interesting. I think you were wise not to tell Estel. He is a fine, trustworthy lad, but I think the fewer people who know, the better. It is a pity you told the Dwarves, though Dwarves do not gossip, so it may be that no harm is done. Your ring may be only a trinket, I cannot tell. But even a trinket with a bit of magic about it can be a danger to its owner, if too many people know about it. It can attract thieves of the most unsavory sort. My advice to you is to keep it secret."
Then Elrond and Gandalf spoke together, and Bilbo learned that a Council of Wizards had driven the Necromancer out of his tower of Dol Guldur in the South of Mirkwood, and the Rangers and the Elves meant to make the wood a pleasant place once more, as it had been many years before.
"But this is wonderful news!" said Bilbo. "I have been wondering something. We Hobbits have a saying, that the world will be made right 'when the King returns'. But we never knew what King was meant. Could it be that it means the King of the Dwarves, and that Dáin's return to Lonely Mountain set the prophecy in motion?"
Elrond and Gandalf exchanged a glance. At last Gandalf said, "The world will never be made completely right, Mr. Baggins. The Necromancer is driven out, but not destroyed. There is always evil to fight; Estel will have much to do when he is a man. The world is a merrier place now, at least for a time. But I think the King of your Hobbit saying is neither Dáin nor Bard, but another who is yet to come. You will know him when the time comes."
And with that Bilbo had to be content. But he thought about it as he left the room. Estel was a Dúnadan, and his father had died eight years ago. The Dúnadan Chieftain was the heir of the lost King, but the Dúnedain had no Chieftain now either. There was some secret about Estel's father, something that it wasn't yet safe for him to know. Could it be...could it be that Estel's father was that lost Chieftain? The more he thought about it, the more he thought it must be. And that meant that Estel himself was the King who was to return. He wondered if Estel had guessed. Still, if the boy's mother had said nothing to him, it wasn't Bilbo's place to give him ideas.
Bilbo went to Estel's room and tapped at the open door. Estel jumped up from the desk where he had been reading. "Come in, Bilbo! I have a gift for you, something more lasting than seedcakes. I worked on it all winter." He handed Bilbo a book like the one he'd been reading when they first met. "It's the lay of Beren and Lúthien. I copied it in Elvish on the left pages, and translated into Common Speech on the right. It's a prose translation; you are better at making verses than I am, so I thought you might like to cast it into verse someday. I made a small glossary at the end, enough to get you started."
Bilbo leafed through the pages, speechless at the magnificence of the gift. The calligraphy was a bit shaky and blotted, clearly a child's hand. And yet the overall impression he had was one of enduring beauty. "Estel, this is so wonderful! I--I don't know what to say. Thank you! You must have spent weeks and weeks making it."
Estel beamed. "Well, yes, but Elrond said it was as good a way to use my study time as any. You enjoyed the Elvish tales so much the last time you were here, I thought you should have at least one to take with you."
"I have a gift for you too," said Bilbo. "I didn't make it, though. I'm afraid I stole it."
Bilbo chuckled. "Stole it from a thief. From Smaug the Dragon, to be exact." He reached into his bag and pulled out a golden cup studded with jewels. "It once belonged to the Dwarves, so I returned it to them, but Dáin said I should keep it as a souvenir of my adventure. I accepted it, but only because I meant to give it to you. It would be quite out of place in my parlor or my kitchen; it would end up gathering dust in the mathom-house in Michel Delving."
Estel's mouth hung open. "Bilbo, it's made of gold! This is a cup for a King, not a vagabond Ranger."
Bilbo gave him a quick look, but the boy seemed unconscious of any hidden meaning. "Well," said Bilbo, "you've a few years yet before you begin that life. And I expect you'll always return to Rivendell. You can keep it here and use it when you feast with the Elves. They have plenty of treasures here, so it won't be out of place."
Estel took the cup and placed it carefully on his desk. He sat down and peered into its golden surface.
Bilbo wondered if he'd done the right thing. Maybe the boy was too young for such a gift. It had come from a Dragon's hoard. Maybe it would awaken something unhealthy in Estel, a gold-fever such as came over Dwarves and Elves sometimes, and especially over Men.
Then Estel laughed. "I can see my face in it. I look like a goblin."
The words relieved Bilbo. "It's a poor gift compared to the one you made for me. All those hours of work."
"No it isn't!" Estel protested. "You went down a Dragon's lair to get it for me. That makes it a gift beyond price."
Bilbo nodded. He pulled up another chair and laughed at his own reflection.
"I dreamed about us, you and me," said Estel, still looking into the cup's polished side. "Three times the same dream; once the night after you left, once on Durin's Day, and again last night."
Bilbo felt a shudder crawl across his scalp. "Another premonition?"
"I think so. Shall I tell you?"
"Was it good?"
"Yes, pretty good."
Bilbo relaxed. "Then tell me."
Estel sat up and looked at him. "I dreamed I met you on the road, on a high pass in the Misty Mountains, years and years from now. You had been to Dale, and you were traveling westward with a party of Dwarves, who were going to leave you at Rivendell. I was patrolling the pass, for Orcs were multiplying there again. Your hair was gray, and I was a grown man, and not a young man either. We hadn't seen one another in all those years, and yet we knew each other at once. I decided to ride with you to Rivendell." He stopped.
"That's all, just us meeting again."
"Don't your dreams tell any more?" asked Bilbo. "About other friends, maybe? Or a family? A wife, children?"
Estel considered this. "Well--I think there were other Rangers who were my friends. But they weren't with me in this dream. And when you and I got back to Rivendell--" He stopped. "But no, there it became just an ordinary dream, I think. I dreamed Lúthien Tinúviel was living at Rivendell, and I was Beren, but I was myself too. But that could not be foresight. It was just a dream then."
"Hmm," said Bilbo. "Are there any Elf maidens at Rivendell who resemble Lúthien?"
Estel shook his head. Then he brightened. "The Dúnedain are also descended from Lúthien. Maybe one of the Dúnedain maidens will come to live at Rivendell someday. If she is of the Dúnedain, she will not mind marrying a Ranger."
Bilbo smiled. "I think that must be it. You will not always be lonely, Estel."
He was afraid he'd said too much, but Estel looked at him with a grin. "I'll invite you to the wedding."
* * * * * * *
A week later Bilbo and Gandalf left Rivendell, heading at last for the Shire. As much as he loved Rivendell, Bilbo was feeling the call of home. Estel rode with them as far as the Ford of Bruinen.
"Don't be downcast," said Gandalf, as they paused on the riverbank. "I travel this road often, and can carry messages. So do Bilbo's friends the Dwarves, and the Elves pass through the Shire as they journey between Rivendell and the Havens. You will have news of one another, even though it may be long years before you meet again."
Estel nodded soberly. "I know. It will have to be enough. It is something to have a good friend, even one so far away."
Bilbo smiled. "You've gained more than inches this past year, my lad. You're growing up. Keep your eyes open for Lúthien, and let me know when you've found her."
They embraced. Then Bilbo climbed back on his pony and followed Gandalf through the shallow water. Before the road crested a hill and left the river behind, he looked back and saw Estel still sitting on his pony, watching them go.
"I'll miss him, Gandalf," Bilbo sighed. "I'm sorry to leave him so alone."
"He'll be all right," said Gandalf. "In a few years Elladan and Elrohir will take him riding farther afield, and he'll meet more of his own people. As for you, Mr. Baggins, if ever you get to feeling lonely, remember that Estel is not the only orphan in the world. There must be hobbit lads in the Shire who could use a friend. Maybe you could take one of them under your wing someday."
Bilbo blinked in surprise. "Do you know of any in particular, Gandalf?"
"No, it was just a thought. As you told Estel, keep your eyes open."
"There aren't any lads in the Shire that are anything like Estel, I'm sure of that."
"There may be one day," said Gandalf. "Among the Tooks, perhaps, or the Brandybucks. Or even the Bagginses, as unlikely as that sounds."
Bilbo laughed. "I'm pretty sure, Gandalf, that none of my Baggins relations would want to take up with a burglar and adventurer like me. Can you imagine any of them wanting to study Elvish?"
Gandalf answered his laugh. "No, Bilbo Baggins, you are probably right. I can't imagine any other Baggins who would ever wear a mithril coat, or carry an Elvish blade. It's too absurd."
They rode on toward the West, laughing.
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