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Elementary, My Dear Gandalf: 1. Identified
The wizard chuckled. “There are few mortals alive who now remember them; hopefully tonight’s display will not tarnish my reputation.”
Aragorn moved deeper into the shadow cast by a large tree on the outskirts of the field where the hobbits’ elaborate party was taking place. He had arrived, unseen, at Gandalf’s behest, and was enjoying the sight of the little folk enjoying themselves so much.
“My men labor unknown and unthanked so that the Shirefolk can celebrate in peace,” sighed Aragorn. “But surely you did not ask me to come here so that I might gaze longingly on a party I can enjoy only from the shadows.”
“No,” said Gandalf. “I thought to test your powers of observation and deduction. Your Dúnedain have safeguarded the Shire well, Aragorn, as you have also done whenever your path leads you north.” The Ranger nodded. “But you have never been this far into the heart of the Shire, nor observed its inhabitants so closely as this. Hobbiton is a very special place --- made so by a very special individual.” Gandalf motioned to the spry, well-dressed hobbit who, it was apparent to Aragorn, was the centerpiece of the celebration.
“That is Bilbo Baggins,” said Gandalf, “a very old friend of mine, and a truly unique hobbit. Well…” The wizard hesitated, then smiled. “… almost unique.”
“As usual, my friend, you speak in riddles,” said Aragorn, “although I have heard tales here and there of Bilbo Baggins. He was your traveling companion many years ago, and returned to the Shire with treasure from both dragon and troll. I have also heard Elrond speak of him.” The Ranger frowned. “He must be older than he looks.”
“Indeed he is,” agreed Gandalf. “Bilbo has traveled farther, and accomplished more, than any hobbit in many a long year; as I said, quite unusual among these Shire-bound hobbits. He consorts with Elves and Dwarves; he is quite the scholar, and draws maps with great skill. I have begun to realize,” the wizard continued, “that Bilbo’s adopted son and heir, Frodo Baggins, shows signs of being just as unique. Frodo’s parents died when he was 12, and he came to live with Bilbo some years ago. He comes of age tonight, and into his inheritance. Like the Shire itself, he bears watching; and after tonight, what he bears will bear watching.” The wizard smiled at his own joke.
“Forgive me, Aragorn. The absurdities of life are endlessly fascinating to me.” Gandalf gestured to the milling, laughing, somewhat inebriated crowd. “Point out Frodo Baggins to me.”
“Point out…” Aragorn frowned. “Gandalf, there are hundreds of hobbits at this party.”
“You are a skilled tracker, my friend, possibly the most skilled anywhere; you are trained to observe and deduce from scant clues.” The wizard gazed at the Ranger calmly. “I have given you enough clues to solve this mystery.”
“All right,” Aragorn grinned. “I accept the challenge.” He let his eyes roam over the merrymakers, thinking about everything Gandalf had said. The boy comes of age tonight --- just barely an adult, then… orphaned young… Bilbo Baggins’ heir… unique…
Some time passed in silence, and the wizard waited patiently as the Ranger’s keen eyes scanned the crowd and made his deductions.
“There,” Aragorn said finally, pointing to a young hobbit seated at a table. “There he is.”
Gandalf pursed his lips, neither affirming nor denying the Ranger’s choice.
“After discarding as candidates the children, the ladies, anyone obviously married, or far too old…”
“Any heir of the legendary and fabulously wealthy Bilbo Baggins would be well dressed,” murmured Aragorn, staring at his chosen hobbit. “Well dressed, well educated…”
“That youngster is the right age, and is richly attired,” continued the Ranger. “Although having as good a time as his friends, his eyes occasionally seek out Bilbo, as if reassuring himself that he is still here. Perhaps it is an orphan’s insecurity, or perhaps something else.” Aragorn was enjoying the game. “He is drinking far less than almost anyone else --- he is not quite at ease with such ribaldry; living alone with a scholarly bachelor would ill-prepare him for such as this.”
Gandalf smiled in admiration. “Anything else?”
“You said he was unique. Although I doubt you are referring to his looks, that is a striking-looking lad.” Aragorn looked at the wizard. “Am I near the mark?”
The wizard clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Excellent, Aragorn. You have chosen correctly.”
The Ranger looked at his friend shrewdly. “There is more beneath the surface here than you let on; you say that what young Frodo bears will bear watching?”
“Perhaps,” murmured the wizard, gazing thoughtfully at Bilbo. “I may know more after tonight.”
“Keep your secrets, then,” said Aragorn with a grin. “However, if I am to remain in the shadows, waiting as eagerly as the hobbits to see your fireworks, perhaps you could bring me an ale.”
“I will do so,” laughed Gandalf, “and perhaps a plateful of something…” He surveyed the scene before him. “… if there is anything left to bring you.”
“The hobbits do consume an alarming amount of food,” said Aragorn, shaking his head. “I doubt that Frodo Baggins will remain this slender for much longer!”
“Hobbits can be quite surprising and unexpected, my friend,” Gandalf mused. “Anything is possible with them. Anything at all.”
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