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Elementary, My Dear Gandalf: 2. Observed
I long to question Gandalf, but the wizard has vanished as well --- or more accurately, the instant Bilbo disappeared he strode off briskly, without a word to me, and was soon out of sight around a curve of trees. If he had asked, I would have eagerly accompanied him, but I have known him long enough to have sensed that he didn’t want me to come --- he wanted me to stay. And so I continue to observe, and deduce, and try without success to quell this feeling of unease.
What did Bilbo Baggins find in that dragon hoard? What device or enchantment can explain this? How can the Shire, of all places, be the heart of such a mystery?
For the most part, the assembled hobbitry is in an uproar, clamoring for an explanation. (The children, after the initial squeals, have apparently forgotten that anything at all has happened, and are happily darting back and forth among the benches and tables, snatching bits of food and shrieking joyfully at jokes or games.) The band resumed playing almost at once, and some adult and many young hobbits, shaking their heads at what they apparently accept as well within their eccentric neighbor’s bag of tricks, have resumed eating, drinking, and enjoying the party with or without its guest of honor.
And Frodo Baggins is… the boy, surrounded by his friends, appears still to be frozen in shock. Mere seconds after Bilbo’s disappearance, a mug of mostly untasted ale slowly fell from his hand and crashed to the ground, unnoticed. He hadn’t known, then. He hadn’t been watching Bilbo, on and off all evening, because he suspected a magical occurrence. A young hobbit sitting next to him, with golden curls and an earnest, concerned face, is talking to him, but Frodo doesn’t seem to hear him; he keeps looking from where he last saw his vanished relative, to the path that Gandalf took.
I find myself thinking back to what the wizard said to me earlier --- “I may know more after tonight.” He suspected that something would happen, then. Perhaps he even had a hand in it. But to young Frodo --- this has been startling and upsetting. Is he suddenly feeling as a 12-year-old orphan again, believing himself to be unexpectedly abandoned once more?
And why --- this I wonder most of all --- why did Gandalf really ask me to be here tonight? Is there something he wanted me to see? Or not see, I think wryly. It was important to him that I identify this youngster --- that I observe him and perhaps recognize him in some other place, at some other time.
Frodo is besieged now, by angry relations demanding explanations. I sense they don’t truly care where Bilbo has gone, or why --- they need to be reassured that the Shire hides nothing unnatural or unexpected. Life is good here, and perhaps they are wise to try to protect their homeland from things they can neither control nor understand. The shock is wearing off, and now the boy is acquitting himself well; he speaks in a quiet, calm voice, assuring them that everything will no doubt be cleared up in time. As the Shirefolk reckon things, today he comes of age --- but it is in these moments that he has truly become an adult.
Several of his companions have come to quietly to stand at his side, lending their silent support. He has true friends, then. Although I do not know what lies ahead for this lad, my instincts tell me he will need them.
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