2. Epilogue … sixty years later
At the gates he was welcomed warmly by Elves, and they showed him to a small but comfortable and warm room, where Bilbo threw down his things and sighed contentedly.
Elrond came in whilst he was unpacking. “Mr Baggins. Welcome back to Imladris.”
“Hullo, Master Elrond!” said Bilbo. “Nice to be here. The journey seems longer these days, you know.”
“One hundred and eleven,” Elrond said. “Congratulations.”
“Yes, I feel quite proud of myself,” the hobbit said, tucking away his cloak. “And hungry.”
“There’s the dinner gong,” Elrond said, as the clear sound echoed through the passages. “As usual, your timing is impeccable, my old friend.”
“Dinner!” said Bilbo. “Excellent.”
He followed Elrond through the halls and into the dining hall, where he was given a seat on cushions and a plate of enough food to keep the most ravenous hobbit happy. He talked as he ate, telling Elrond and the Elves nearby about his journey, and after the meal went with them into the Hall of Fire where stories were being told, and sat listening, contented.
It was growing late when the doors opened, and a Man entered. His clothes were travel-stained but clearly of Elvish make, and a sword hung in a well- used sheath by his side. Elrond rose as he crossed the Hall.
“Welcome back, Aragorn.”
The Man bowed his head for a second. “Thank you, my lord.”
“There’s an old friend of yours, my son,” Elrond said, turning to where the hobbit sat rapt in the music. “Mr Baggins?”
Bilbo looked up. “What’s that?” His eyes fell on the Man, who stared for a moment and then broke into a wide smile that lit up his stern grey eyes.
“Not young Estel?” Bilbo said, standing up. “Well, I never did. You’ve grown, my friend!”
“You haven’t!” Aragorn said, bending to embrace the old hobbit. “I had no idea you were coming back.”
“Well, I was going to go to Laketown, but I thought I’d stop on the way,” Bilbo said. “Did you just get back from somewhere?”
“Bree, in fact,” Aragorn said. “Watching the Shire, as ever.”
“Watching the Shire?” said Bilbo, astonished. “Whatever for? And why didn’t you come and visit?”
“We prefer to stay out of your little country, my friend,” Aragorn said gravely. “It is best you have no idea what dangers lurk on your borders. It is your land, not ours.”
“You’re very serious,” Bilbo said. “I can see there is more going on than I thought.”
He was sitting going through papers in his room the next day when there was a knock on his door, and Aragorn entered. He had exchanged his travel garments for clean clothes and Bilbo could see that the little boy really had grown up.
Aragorn got out a pipe and together they sat by the window together.
“So why are you of all people looking after the Shire?” Bilbo asked, after a while. “Come on, Estel, sixty years have passed. Tell me about yourself.”
“Estel,” murmured Aragorn. “You must know what that means now, old friend.”
“Hope,” nodded Bilbo. “An odd name, really.”
“It was a disguise.” Aragorn’s voice was low. “Surely you must wonder what a Man was doing in Rivendell, Bilbo.” He paused. “When I was twenty Elrond told me who I am. You’ve heard of Gondor?”
Bilbo sketched a map in the air with his pipe. “It’s in the South.”
“It is the South-kingdom, as here in the North is the kingdom of Arnor. Kingless for a thousand years now, the White City of Gondor. It is beautiful, Bilbo, beautiful. The White Tower shines in the sun and the snows on Mindolluin glisten behind it. My city.” Aragorn paused, and stared out of the window. “My city, if I can ever win it.”
“Your city!” spluttered Bilbo, choking on a mouthful of smoke.
“My line stretches back to Isildur who was killed in the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age,” Aragorn said softly. “My people sailed from Númenor ere its fall, and since then the Dúnedain have protected your country, my dear hobbit.”
“I had no idea,” Bilbo exclaimed. “Fancy that. So you could be a king, Estel … sorry, Aragorn?”
Aragorn smiled ruefully and puffed a smoke ring out of the window. “Maybe. Isildur’s blood runs in my veins, that is all. But Isildur fell. Yet I will not hide from you, Bilbo, that indeed it is my heart’s desire to sit in the throne of my fathers.”
“A King.” Bilbo shook his head in slow wonderment. “With a crown, and all?”
“With a Queen,” Aragorn said, meeting the hobbit’s eyes. “I care nothing for the crown, nor the sceptre, not really. If I gain the kingship I gain my heart’s desire.”
“Estel, you’re in love.” Bilbo waved his pipe in the air. “I can see it. Seen it before, in the eyes of many a hobbit lad.”
Aragorn laughed, but there was little humour in the sound. “I’m no hobbit, Bilbo. But you have me, I am in love.”
“Elrond’s daughter.” Aragorn smiled a wry smile. “As fair as the evening twilight, a jewel set to glimmer in this beleaguered world of ours. Arwen.” He said the name like a spell, the soft syllables praise on his lips. “My Undómiel.”
There was silence. Bilbo listened to the waterfalls and streams and nodded, wisely. “Master Elrond wants his daughter to marry a king, doesn’t he?”
“No more and no less,” Aragorn agreed. “So until that day comes, or until I fall at last in some battle, I hope.”
They smoked for a while in peaceful silence, both locked in his own thoughts. At length Bilbo spoke again. “Isn’t there a broken sword or some such thing, something that was Elendil’s?”
Aragorn looked at him in surprise. “Yes. Narsil. I keep it here in safety.”
“Hmmm.” Bilbo nodded to himself. “Hmmm.”
After a while, his pipe finished, Aragorn embraced his old friend and took his leave. Bilbo took out paper and ink and began to scribble, stopping now and again to think before scratching again at the paper.
He had been in Rivendell a week, maybe, and was wondering if he would bother leaving again, when Aragorn came to see him once more. The Man had donned travelling clothes and was evidently preparing to set out into the Wild again. He bent, and Bilbo patted him on the back.
“Off again? Well, I thought so. But I’m glad you stopped by, Estel. I wrote a little something, don’t you know; it just came to me. I thought you’d like to hear it before setting out.”
“I would love to,” Aragorn replied.
Bilbo nodded, and fumbling amongst his papers found what he was looking for. He cleared his throat, and then recited in a clear, strong voice:
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken:
The crownless again shall be king.”
The hobbit looked up at the Man, standing silent by his side.
Aragorn laid a hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. “I am touched, Bilbo. I hope those words come true, one day. Now, look after yourself, old friend; do not stint yourself on the delights of Elrond’s table, and I shall see you when I return next.”
“Take care of yourself, Es – Aragorn,” Bilbo corrected himself. “Farewell.”
“Farewell, Bilbo Baggins.” Aragorn smiled, the smile lighting up his stern eyes and giving quite another expression to his face, and then he turned and left. Bilbo looked after him for a moment, and then turned back to his papers and the large red book.
“Now, where was I?” he muttered to himself, and settled down to work.
[Poem by JRR Tolkien]
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