Disclaimer: I don't own Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth, or anything relating.
6 October 1368
The sun was dipping low into the horizon at the end of another day's journey, now ready to rest through the calm of night. Bilbo smiled from his position on the Hill as he gazed westward, admiring the rosy landscape. With a contented sigh, he returned his attentions back to the path, and getting home. He had enjoyed his stay at Brandy Hall, and had regretted having to leave it so soon after little Frodo's birth. But he could not deny that the sight of his own Bag End, with its peace and quiet, was a comfort. Whistling an experimental tune, he came to the front gate, finding Hamfast packing up his tools for the day. Exchanging a few words, Bilbo was both surprised and delighted to hear that Bell Gamgee was expecting again. Sending the gardener off home to his family, Bilbo found his mood even further improved as he entered the smial at last. What a wonderful end to a lovely trip!
It wasn't the only surprise he was to have that evening, though. He had just finished washing up after dinner when there came a firm rap on the door. He paused, his hand halfway to the dish towel. He knew that knock. He quickly dried off his hands, and with a private chuckle, made his way down the front hall.
"Gandalf, old friend! I thought it might be you. Only a wizard would dare to call so late."
"Bilbo Baggins," greeted Gandalf with a smile. He ducked through the door, embracing his friend, and was quickly bustled into the kitchen where Bilbo went about making some tea. "My apologies for the timing of my call. I meant to arrive for your birthday, but was rather delayed."
"That's just as well," commented Bilbo as he put some cakes, biscuits and an offering of pipeweed on the table. "You would have missed me entirely. I was celebrating in Buckland this year. Many of my preferred relations were there for the Harvest Festival."
"Preferred relations, hmm?" Gandalf had a good idea on whom Bilbo did not mean.
"Yes," said Bilbo with a chuckle, guessing the wizard's thoughts. "I'm glad of it too. Would you guess it! but a cousin of mine gave birth to her first child while I was there. And on my actual birthday too!" His smile turned warm and his gaze distant as he fondly remembered.
It was some time before Bilbo was allowed in to visit the newly grown family. He had endured several long hours already of hearing exactly how endearing a child Drogo and Primula had been blessed with. By late afternoon, the old hobbit had to admit to a great impatience to see the lad and judge for himself. It was only as the sun was setting that he finally got his chance. A distantly related couple had (finally) just (at long last) left (about time!) when he at last entered the small room, warmly lit with a cheerful fire and a scattering of glowing lamps. Primula now sat up in her bed, eating a little dinner while Drogo held little Frodo, trying to lull him to sleep with a slow saunter.
"Bilbo!" he exclaimed softly at his cousin's knock. "Do come in! We were wondering when you would visit us." Bilbo smiled as he entered, moving first to the bed to greet Primula before relaxing into a neighbouring chair.
"It seems that Brandybucks are more competitive than I remember," he said with a teasing smile. "Every time, just as I'm about to come and see you, in charges someone else before I've barely stood up from my seat. Your lad seems to have made quite an impression."
"And so he should!" said Drogo, half indignantly, half with teaming pride. "He's the finest lad in the Shire!" Bilbo chuckled, shaking his head in amusement at the stout display of fatherly pride. It was remarkable how infants could evoke such change in some.
"Look at that!" pouted Drogo to his wife. "He doesn't believe me!"
"I think Mr Baggins had best hold Frodo in his own arms if he is to understand what you mean, love," said Primula gently. "He won't be able to agree with you until he's seen our lad for himself."
Bilbo shifted almost uncomfortably in his chair, consciously straightening his weskit. He had not a great amount of experience with babies. Young lads and lasses he could deal with – a good story and a tasty treat and they were no trouble (unless they were Tooks; Tooks were unpredictable). But babies were an unfamiliar territory for him. He knew that the head had to be supported, and that they were never to be dropped. Beyond that, his knowledge ran alarmingly dry. Thus it could be understood that the old bachelor was more than a little nervous upon his first meeting with his newest cousin. But before he could think of any credible and inoffensive protests, Drogo carefully, and more than a little remorsefully, placed his son in Bilbo's arms.
Gandalf eyed Bilbo closely as the old hobbit become lost in his memories. The wizard had known this Baggins for twenty-eight years, and he was certain he had never before seen the hobbit in such a mood as he now expressed. He really seemed to be genuinely fond of this new cousin. Happy for his friend, that he should find such obvious (and perhaps even unlooked-for) delight in new life, Gandalf rested more comfortably in his seat, taking a long draw on his pipe.
"It seems this new cousin hashad quite an effect on you," he said among the smoke rings.
"Yes," said Bilbo softly. "Yes, I do believe he has."
The first thought that occurred to Bilbo was of how pleasantly warm the little bundle was. The blankets were soft and wonderfully protecting against the cool autumn temperatures, and for a moment the old hobbit envied the young babe. This lad would never want for anything, that he was certain of.
Well aware that the eyes of both parents were focused on him, he nudged the blankets a little to fully reveal the small face. The eyes were closed, and for a heartbeat Bilbo thought the baby must be asleep. But then there was movement; a slight shift of the arms, a curious yawning motion of the mouth, a series of lazy blinks, then peace.
It was at that point in time when something began to change. Bilbo was dimly aware of an upward tugging of his lips, and something deeper, warmer… He couldn't quite put his finger on it…
The wizard raised a bushy brow. Had he heard correctly? Bilbo Baggins had told many family horror stories over the years, and had given Gandalf the distinct impression that he had consequently remained a bachelor for a good reason. While he knew his friend did favour a handful of his adult cousins, the wizard had never known him to truly dote on any particular child, let alone an infant. This warranted further investigation.
"Wonderful!" he said. "It might just do you some good to have more associations with the young, you know."
"Hmmm…" agreed Bilbo distantly. Gandalf frowned. What was this? No indignant denial? No witty backlash? He would try again. Something no hobbit could resist...
"Do I know the parents?"
"You may at that!" Bilbo glanced at him with a calculating eye, trying to recall past meetings. "He is the son of Drogo Baggins, and his wife Primula Brandybuck. She's the youngest of Old Gorbadoc's lot, you know, and he is Fosco's elder son, and my second cousin-"
Gandalf frowned again. Bilbo didn't notice. For a moment or two, the wizard sat in contemplation. He was certain he had heard those names before. The son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck…
The lad was much smaller than Bilbo thought was normal for newborns, but despite this, the old hobbit was certain he had never seen a sweeter face. Still awake, little Frodo was becoming restless, shifting around in his cosy cocoon. Pure wonderment flooded through the old hobbit as he felt the tiny muscles moving, and he suddenly understood; he was gaining a new appreciation for the miracle of life.
Something must have shown in his expression. Drogo and Primula exchanged a look. "So Bilbo," said the new father knowingly. "What do you think of our son?"
Pulled from the slight daze he had unwittingly fallen into, Bilbo again sat up a little straighter, altering his hold on the little bundle of life in his arms, cradling little Frodo closer to him. He considered the question carefully. He supposed he knew what he thought, but as for how to articulate it… He could not recall ever having such an experience as this before. Though he felt almost ashamed to acknowledge it, feelings were awaking within him that had not stirred for a long time. Staring hard at the small face before him, he wondered just what to say.
But then the baby hobbit moved again. One tiny arm broke free from the blankets and waved about, exploring the sudden freedom it had gained. Both eyes squinted open, blinking a few times as they accustomed to the new light. They opened a little further, and looked straight up into Bilbo's face.
The hobbit felt his breath taken away. He had heard that all babies were born with blue eyes, and that when newly born they couldn't see properly. This, however, did not seem to be quite the case with Frodo. His eyes were blue, oh yes. Bilbo had never known such a perfect shade of summer sky. But there was something else in them. The hobbit knew it was silly to think such things, but he would always entertain the thought that this baby saw, and that he knew. There was a strange grain of deep thought and undeniable wisdom reflected in those cobalt eyes, and for the short moment that they were open wide, Bilbo captured that memory in his mind to lock away for a very long time. Bilbo's first look at Frodo was a moment he knew he would treasure for many, many days to come.
Then the eyes flickered closed, though the small arm continued to wave about. Tiny fingers flexed open, and Bilbo smiled as he let them capture one of his own into a tiny fist. He glanced up at Drogo and Primula, who regarded him in return, proud smiles on their faces.
"Why," he said softly. "He's the best young hobbit in the Shire."
Gandalf felt uneasy. He could not figure out why. He did not like it when he could not figure out why. It tended to lead to... more unpleasant answers, when they dawned. He had to get to the bottom of this. Hopefully he was worrying for nothing…
"Tell me," he said. "Has this lad been named yet?"
"Yes," said Bilbo with a chuckle. "I believe it was made up right on the spot. They hadn't decided on a lad's name before the birth, only a lass's."
"And what did they end up deciding?" The wizard gripped the arms of his chair. He didn't know what to expect. All he knew was a sense of irrational urgency that would not leave him be.
"Frodo," said Bilbo with a happy sigh, still completely oblivious. "That's what they settled on. Frodo."
"Frodo Baggins, son of Drogo," murmured Gandalf, his mind racing. He knew this name…
"Yes," said Bilbo, leaning forward to pour more tea into his cup and his guest's. "It has a nice ring to it, don't you agree?" He settled back and drank deeply, completely ignorant of his friend's failure to properly respond.
For Olórin had a glimpse of what had once passed, and what could yet come; what he had been sent to do. Frodo! That name seemed to carry with it all the weight of the world. There was a sudden rush of white light, and a hot glow of stars. Voices hummed in a council from the most ancient halls of existence. Instructions whispered in his mind; a call for guidance. He looked up, and was blessed with a vision of the fairest of the Divine, the reverred Queen. She looked his way and nodded to him, and he acknowledged this answer. For one instant he felt relief.
Too late did he notice the glimmer of solemn sorrow on her countenance. The Lady of the Stars suffered compassion for a mortal.
The Maia felt himself being weighed down by a sensation of paramount fear. He fell from that most sacred place, into a vortex of time and space that opened up and roared beneath him, through him, sucking him in and ripping him into a moment that abandoned him before he could grasp or challenge it. Instead, he was left in a core where lurked dust and fumes and a deadly oppression; a pit of shadow and torment in which there prowled a sinister presence. It took a cruel pride in observing his state of helpless ignorance. He turned from it, wanting to flee the snide familiarity, when he was assaulted by the foul stench of brimstone, and a cold, brutal laugh. He choked as he gasped for breath, and when it came, he looked up to find his vision ensnared by that of a flaming Eye. Mithrandir knew this source of peril awaiting, though he would not dare to name it prematurely, lest disaster befall on them all. But there was something more that was required, this time. A piece of the puzzle that had lain long forgotten. Mithrandir would wait. For now.
It was finally, in that instant of comprehension, that Gandalf the Grey returned to Bag End. The wizard looked across at Bilbo, hoping he had not noticed anything unusual, when his skilled eye caught on a tiny round lump in the hobbit's pocket. Suspicion flared from deep within, and Gandalf raised his gaze to Bilbo's face, only to find that this hobbit was no longer Bilbo.
Instead, the wizard was staring into a youthful and decidedly determined face, with wise and curious eyes of brightest blue. It was a fair face; a noble face, and he realised it would see much in its day – far too much. That eminent wisdom was born from more than a clear mind. There was a definite knowledge of deep sorrow. Gandalf knew this with the same conviction in which he knew that this was a face he would come to treasure most dearly.
But then time passed on, and the vision before him dissolved back into Bilbo Baggins. The hobbit had finished his tea, and was choosing a biscuit to fill up the corners. Gandalf took a long draw on his pipe, taking the moment to recover himself. He had learned much this evening.
"Frodo Baggins, eh?" he said at last, responding to Bilbo's previous comment. "It sounds like a very fine name. Yes, a very fine name for one whom I am sure will become a very fine lad."
"Oh yes," agreed Bilbo with a smile. "The best hobbit in the Shire."
Gandalf nodded with a smile, keeping his final thoughts on the matter to himself.
The best hobbit in the history of Middle Earth.