Paths Yet Unknown

With his left hand, he pushed a dark, silky curl from his forehead, a motion repeated time and time again while he was writing with great concentration. The translations he was working on were complicated, and though Frodo loved to transform those elegantly written Sindarin poems into Westron, he struggled on simple words today. He looked up and sipped from his mug of tea. The fluid was nearly cold, and Frodo' s face turned into a disgusted grimace while he set the mug back onto the table.

He would finish these two poems before dinner. Nevertheless, Frodo's thoughts were wandering from the elegant Sindarin lines to some other place. Since Bilbo had left half a year ago, Frodo felt distracted, even lonely sometimes. He had enjoyed working together with Bilbo in the study, had treasured the rustle of the papers as well as Bilbo's mumblings and mutterings when he was concentrating on his writings. Sometimes Bilbo would laugh delightedly, or suddenly, two minutes later, curse lightly because his descriptions were not satisfying him completely, as he began to write anew. Always writing, composing, rewriting over again and again, until he finally felt the content to be appropriate.

Frodo was exactly the same, but now that Bilbo was gone, he missed the unceasing motivation Bilbo had.

A deep sigh was audible in the study. Frodo was a bit angry with himself for giving in to those feelings of melancholy again. He knew Bilbo would be fine no matter where he was, but Frodo couldn't stop his thoughts about his dear uncle.

"Frodo-lad. I have to tell you something. Well, I assume you won't be too surprised, but still..."

Frodo frowns, "What is it, uncle?"

Bilbo says nothing, but leads Frodo to his favourite chair, gives him his pipe and some of the finest pipeweed.

Frodo feels alarmed. It cannot have anything to do with the preparations for the birthday party tomorrow - everything was arranged to perfection. Frodo studies his uncle's face, and he thinks he notices a slight notion of worry on Bilbo's face... Or is it confusion? The only thing Frodo feels is that Bilbo frets about something. Or someone?

The news had not been truly surprised him, but Bilbo's words had left Frodo shocked nevertheless. He had tried to breathe, but the pain that had been rushing through him had been more than facing a great loss. This pain had almost been physical, beating his breath out of him, kicking him in the stomach. He had felt so miserable, but --

"Of course you have to go, if your heart so desires, dear Bilbo. But can't I -"

"No, Frodo-lad. Not this time. I don't even know if I will return. I don't know my path, and where my feet will lead me. But I won't leave for another adventure. I want to find a peaceful place where I can finish my book, and find some time to think, without having nosy relatives around all the while. I think I'm getting too old to face Lobelia's nastiness that often."

Frodo chuckles, but it is a bitter smile that turns his face into a grimace of sadness and grief, having the notion of already knowing Bilbo was being serious about leaving.

He has spoken of this so very often I didn't believe anymore he would really ever leave.

A tiny bit of ash whirls through the air, and falls slowly circling onto the floor. He nearly has forgotten his pipe. Finest pipeweed, only used on rare occasions. Will these times together be some of the last moments he will ever spend with his uncle?

"Will you come back, Bilbo? One day, when your book is finished?"

"I don't know." A cough, a rustle... Restless tapping of furry feet. Then Bilbo begins again, after breathing in deeply:

"I don't think so, Frodo. It's time to leave this place and finally some responsibility to you, my dear lad. I've been stumbling around here far too long now. I shouldn't reject you your place any longer. And your coming of age is the most perfect time of leaving everything to you. And I'm sure you'll be a worthy master of Bag End. You've learned your tasks very quickly, Frodo. I'm so very proud of you. I wish your parents --"

"Bilbo! Are you --"

"No Frodo, let me finish. You have noticed my restlessness, haven't you? I know you have. Sometimes things like this happen.... sometimes you begin to understand that it is time for a change, that you have to move on. And I have to move on, dear cousin. Some force from within urges me to go, and I want to go! It troubles me to see you so sad, though I sense you have been foreseeing this situation. I would never abandon you, Frodo, I love you too much. But you must understand. My time here is now over. And your time here is just about to begin."

Frodo stares at his uncle, dumb and mortified. He realises Bilbo wants to explain things that cannot really be explained, but only can be understood deep inside. But in this moment Frodo is not able to understand. This is so unreal.

Frodo was not sure he would ever understand; confusion still managed to overwhelm him once in a while. But he had not tried to hinder Bilbo from leaving. Frodo knew his uncle's stubbornness, finally because he was a Baggins after all. Still he felt the ache of the loss, and in his heart he wanted nothing more than to follow his uncle, treading Bilbo's paths as well, creating stories with his uncle, smoking pipeweed, and discussing serious and funny matters until deep into the night.

Just like it had been, for more than a decade. Frodo desired adventures, and a safe haven, both at the same time. Oh, so desirable, and yet so impossible.

"Just tell me you'll be fine, Bilbo. Please, tell me you'll be fine."

Bilbo lowers his eyes to the ground. "I will be fine, of course I will! And so will you." He smiles briefly at Frodo, a smile that is not only full of hope and determination, but also with deep affection.

"I know this is the right decision. My path does go on, and now it leads me away from Bag End, from Hobbiton, and yes, even from the Shire. I can't assure you we will ever see each other again before we all will be reunited in the Halls of Mandos - but I can assure that I love you, and I eternally will."

The younger hobbit feels Bilbo's insecurity, clearly audible and nearly visible through his pompous words he just has spoken. At the same time Frodo senses an iron determination as well, and it dawns on him that this is Bilbo's only way to go on with his life in satisfaction. He gets up from his chair and embraces his uncle tightly.

No, Frodo will not keep that from his cousin, even if he will never see him again. He feels tears brimming behind his closed eyelids, but doesn't allow them to flow. He wants to be strong, for Bilbo, and for himself. This is not the time for grief and tears. Not yet.

But now a single tear fell onto the fine parchment that lay before Frodo. Hastily he tried to wipe it, so that no stains would be left. Frodo was glad that Bilbo had done what he so desired to do: go travel once more, find peace, explore the wonders of Middle-earth peacefully and with no haste. That was all Frodo knew, and it should fill him with joy for his old, adventurous uncle. He felt selfish and foolish at the same time.

If I would only know where he is, and if he feels at peace...

Frodo's quill sank into the dark blue ink once more, and concentrated scribbling followed. If he couldn't stop thinking about the past, he would try to work on the translations before him, and those were of a complicated kind. Frodo worked with his natural enthusiasm on the Sindarin lines, but after a while his thoughts returned to that last evening he probably would have ever spent with his uncle.

"I can't promise you not to be sad, Bilbo. I would like to... but I can't. I will miss you so much, but then... I would not want you to stay if you were unhappy with it. Just give me time, Bilbo. Time will mend the pain."

"Dear Frodo..." A heavy sigh leaves Bilbo's mouth once more. "I have thought about it for so long. And it is the only right way for me. And you'll be of age tomorrow, ready to take over the responsibility, and ready to become the rightful new master of this place. You will not have very much time to grieve for your mad uncle who goes out discovering the world beyond the Shire once more. The Sackville-Bagginses won't let you."

A mischievous twinkle in Bilbo's eye makes Frodo laugh without really wanting to. But how could he ever resist the high spirits of his dear uncle? He hugs Bilbo close, still chuckling.

"Good luck, dear Bilbo. And make sure you will come back one day..."

Bilbo smiles into Frodo's hair. "I cannot promise things I don't know about yet... but you will always stay with me. Right here in my heart."

Frodo blinks, speechless. Then he recovers, and smiles at his uncle in return. "Well, never try to convince a stubborn Baggins to do things he does not want to do. But there is a birthday celebration first. And I must hold you back at least as long as that is over and done..."

"Stubborn Bagginses... I might say you are the most stubborn Baggins of them all."

Frodo puffs at his pipe and winks, smiling through his tears. Bilbo breathes another sigh, this time, a sign of relief.

"Mr Frodo? Are you comin' for dinner? I wouldn't like to be eatin' it all by myself, you know."

Sam stood in the doorway, with a candle lighter in his hands. Oh, it had been getting late. Frodo had lost all sense of time, drifting in and out of his thoughts; his Sindarin poems were all but forgotten. The gardener smiled at Frodo, though there was slight concern visible in Sam's eyes. "Are you all right?"

I cannot hide anything from you, can I, Sam?

Frodo smiled back and nodded. "Yes, dear Sam. I'm fine. Just thinking about good old Bilbo, and what he might be doing, and feeling."

"I'm sure Mr Bilbo is enjoyin' his journey. And I'm sure he's thinkin' about you a lot, Mr Frodo. And now come, or the dinner'll be gettin' cold. That'd be a pity, won't it?"

Frodo nodded again and hugged Sam briefly, showing his gratefulness towards his dear friend without words. He might feel lonely, but he would never be alone.