THE VAULT OF ANNÚMINAS

This chapter references "Quarantined" chapter 11, and "When the King Comes Back" epilogue. A small portion of this chapter was originally posted in my Livejournal in early 2007. Bilbo's verse is from The Fellowship of the Ring.

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Chapter 16: Forever and Ever

The next morning was a midsummer morning as fair and fresh as could be dreamed: blue sky and never a cloud, and the sun dancing on the water. Now they rode away amid songs of farewell and good speed, with their hearts ready for more adventure. 'A Short Rest', The Hobbit

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When Bell and Hamfast Gamgee ushered their four youngest children into Bag End's spacious parlor that evening, it was obvious that they had been admonished to be on their best behavior. Aragorn greeted them warmly, then Bilbo introduced the family to Elladan, who sat tuning the small harp. The girls, who hadn't heard the stories about Elves from Bilbo that Sam had, were curious and polite, but their parents were positively tongue tied. In an effort to make everyone feel more comfortable, Frodo whispered something to Sam, who grinned and nodded, then ran back down to Bagshot Row. When he returned, he had Patch and Blossom with him, and watching Scamp and her pups frolic about soon had everyone smiling and feeling more at ease. Frodo served tea and sweets, and the Gaffer positively beamed with delight when Bilbo brought out some good ale, and the twins curled up on the rug next to his chair.

As for Scamp, she was soon playing a stealthy game of 'attack Estel's bootlaces then retreat'.

"Oh dear," Frodo sighed. "She was so good on the trip, leaving those boots alone."

"What about my boots?" Aragorn asked.

"Maybe they'll inspire a new fashion among Rangers," Frodo said, bringing Scamp's antics to his attention. "You're the captain, after all; if your men see your laces all raggedy and shredded, they might do the same to their own, out of respect."

Aragorn only chuckled.

"What is that, Mr. Elladan?" asked 11-year-old Marigold.

"It is a harp, young one," Elladan said softly. "It is very, very old. Would you like to hear it?"

"Yes, please," Marigold said, running to sit between Daisy and May. Everyone found a seat, and the room grew quiet.

Bilbo closed his eyes, remembering another night more than 50 years ago, when Thorin Oakenshield had played his own harp in a dining-room crowded with 13 dwarves, one wizard, and one very frightened and confused hobbit. The familiar longing to see mountains and new places flared up in his heart, and Bilbo wondered anew how long he would be content to remain at Bag End.

Elladan began to play, and then to sing, and Aragorn listened in wonder. Although the words were in Sindarin, this was no ancient melody, but a lighter, more playful song, rare for an Elf. Elladan sang of youth and innocence, the simple magics of hearth and home, sunshine and meadows... a song of the Shire, and its folk.

Bilbo understood most of the words, but Frodo didn't even try. Like the Gamgees, he was transported... swept into the feeling and colors of the music.

Finally the last note faded and all was still, save for the sound of Scamp busily chewing away, doing her best to make Aragorn's bootlaces as fashionable as possible. Then there was rousing applause, and a call for more music.

The evening progressed with good food, song, and laughter, and a bit of talk, but Hamfast didn't want his family to possibly overstay their welcome in the Masters' home. At last, with many thanks to Bilbo and Elladan, he and Bell gathered up Marigold and May, who had fallen fast asleep. Daisy curtseyed to Elladan and Aragorn, and Sam bowed low, with tears in his eyes. He was speechless with joy.

Frodo looked about for Scamp, and discovered her asleep under Aragorn's chair. Sometime during the evening she had apparently gone off to find the baby sling, which had been dropped along with the packs by the front door, and was contentedly curled up on it.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Gamgee," Frodo apologized. "I don't know what we would have done without that sling on our trip, but I'm afraid Scamp's grown awfully attached to it. I'll make sure it's laundered and pressed before—"

"No need, Mr. Frodo," Bell chuckled. "You just keep it. That bit o' cloth has served its purpose for our family, and then some."

"Thank you," Frodo said delightedly.

"Good night, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, scooping up his own drowsy pups. "It was like magic, wasn't it? I feel like my head's full o' stars, and always will be, forever and ever."

"I know, I feel the same way." Frodo took Sam aside. "Oh Sam, I couldn't possibly let Elladan leave without you hearing him sing."

"Thank you ever so much," Sam whispered fervently. "And you'll tell me what's out there, beyond the Shire?"

"Of course," Frodo smiled. "We'll talk tomorrow, and many tomorrows after that."

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Morning came too soon, and after breakfast, Frodo walked Aragorn and Elladan down to the field to see them off.

"Estel, if I ever meet Lord Elrond, I'll thank him for making sure you and the other Rangers always have enough to live on," Frodo said solemnly. "I've been so worried about you."

"I think he would love to meet you," Aragorn smiled.

"Thank you so much for telling me your secret," Frodo said. "But... I suppose, when you're king, you'll forget all about me." He suddenly sighed and hung his head.

Aragorn frowned, having heard such things from Frodo before. Was the boy still so insecure? He knelt and tilted Frodo's chin up, and was overjoyed to see that he was being teased; humor and confidence shone from Frodo's bright, blue eyes. Not many years before, Frodo's anxiety about being forgotten or overlooked was genuine; now, that fear seemed to be finally gone. His young friend had come a very long way.

"Rascal," Aragorn chided affectionately, gathering the boy into a hug. "As I've told you before, Frodo Baggins, you are unforgettable. Besides, you have met Elves, and that ensures a unique kind of immortality."

"It does?"

"Indeed," Elladan said, kneeling to embrace the youngster in turn. "Frodo, I told you that my folk have very good memories; once an Elf has met you, forever are you remembered by him."

"Forever?" Frodo asked, wide eyed.

"And ever," Aragorn grinned.

"Elladan, I nearly forgot," Frodo said, digging into one of his pockets. "Please take this to replace the one you left in the silver chest." He handed Elladan one of the remaining shards of 'star glass', wrapped in a soft cloth. "Your father might like to see it."

"You are most generous," Elladan said softly. "These pieces are as rare as the new friendships I have found here in the Shire. Fare well until we meet again, Frodo Baggins." He bowed, then he and Aragorn mounted their horses.

"Pay attention to your dreams, little one," Aragorn called as they rode off.

"I will!"

Frodo watched them go, a smile on his face. In the past he had felt bereft and empty when Estel returned to the Wild, but not this time. He knew now that their paths would cross again, many times; and Elladan and his brother were keeping an eye on his friend, which was a comforting thought. He walked back up the Lane to Bag End, whistling one of the tunes Elladan had played the night before.

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It was a warm night at the very end of summer when Lord Elrond of Rivendell received word that Elladan had returned from his travels. His son strode to his side with a haste usually reserved for dire or urgent news, but Elrond knew with one glance that Elladan was bursting with something good to share, not bad.

"I have much to tell you," Elladan said, embracing his father and unstrapping from his back a bulky item wrapped in shimmering blue cloth.

"Welcome home," Elrond said warmly. "You have travelled far, my son, and I see that you need rest. If your news can wait, we will speak tomorrow, and many days thereafter."

Elladan was weary, and reluctantly agreed. After bathing, he ate a light meal and walked in the fragrant gardens before going to his bed. It was good to be home. The next day, he and his father met in the Great Hall for a private talk.

"What has happened to bring such excitement to your spirit?" Elrond asked, greatly curious.

"Sit, father," Elladan urged, guiding Elrond to his favorite chair. "I went for news of Aragorn, as you know. When I found him in Bree..."

Elladan spoke about the journey, step by step – hearing his foster-brother's wish to investigate a dream about which one of his young Shire friends had written him; meeting Bilbo and Frodo Baggins; and the carvings of Beren and Lúthien.

"Aragorn now has two homes in which he is welcomed," Elladan said with joy. "Here in Imladris, and with these hobbits, who consider him as family."

"I suspected as much, from what he has told me," Elrond smiled. "However, this is not all you wish to share; you are as eager as a youngling with a great secret to tell."

"There is much more," Elladan agreed. He spoke of the journey north with Aragorn, Frodo, and Scamp to the ruins of Elendil's city, then of the pup's discovery of a tunnel carved into the southern hills and the hidden chamber.

Elrond was amazed. "I know of the carving of the fortirië on the standing stone, at the foot of the Hallows path, but never dreamed there was a chamber nearby. The records do not speak of it."

Elladan continued, describing the paintings, the pedestal, and the silver chest.

"Within the chest..." Elladan hesitated, unsure of Elrond's reaction. Finally, he carefully unwrapped the ancient harp and lay it in his father's lap. Elrond gasped, and caressed the instrument with a shaking hand. It was a very long time before he spoke.

"You found... this?" Elrond whispered. To his right lay his own harp, well used and loved. "Elladan, this can only have belonged to Elros. I can scarcely believe it."

"Elendil must have brought it from Númenor, and hidden it where none but the kings would ever know of it," Elladan said quietly. "Aragorn spoke the words that opened the chamber. Father, he not only resembles Elendil in appearance, but in his voice and inflection as well. This bodes well for what you have foreseen."

"Perhaps," Elrond murmured. He wiped a tear from his cheek.

"The chest held nothing else; this was the Sea Kings' most revered treasure."

Elros. Elrond remembered his boyhood, and sitting at music lessons with his brother. Long have I safeguarded your descendants. They are few, but they are worthy of you. He brushed his fingers over the strings, and smiled at the pure tones.

"Forgive me, but it has already been tuned," Elladan said. "Frodo and Aragorn very much wished to hear it played."

"There is nothing to forgive," Elrond assured him. He grew thoughtful. "I remember Bilbo Baggins; from what I have heard from Aragorn, and now you, this boy, Frodo, sounds most interesting."

"His greatest worry was that Aragorn and his men lived in want," Elladan said. "He was much relieved to hear of your assistance."

"He has the heart of a true friend."

"Frodo's destiny is linked to that of Aragorn," Elladan said earnestly. "it seems strange, but still I know it to be so. Aragorn has entrusted both Bilbo and Frodo with the secret of his lineage and thus with his very life, but seems well content."

"I trust his instincts, as I trust yours," Elrond said with utter conviction. He handed the harp back to Elladan, and took up his own. "Sit beside me, my son, and we will see if these beauties remember how to speak with one another; let them now sing together as they have not done in far too long."

And so that night, and for many nights thereafter, the Elves of the Last Homely house rejoiced to hear music linking Age to Age, brother to brother, and father with son.

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Frodo told Bilbo all about the journey, step by step – the thrill of visiting the monument to the legendary Bullroarer; leaving the Shire; seeing the stars reflected in enormous Lake Evendim; Estel and Elladan's archery competition; how the Brandywine looked, so far north; swimming in the lake; the eagle above the ancient Hallow; Scamp's discovery; and finally, the chamber of the king, and what lay within.

"My dear boy," Bilbo said at last, "I am simply delighted that you had such an adventure."

"Oh Bilbo, it was so wonderful," Frodo said. "I never imagined I'd really end up bringing home treasure." He gently touched the sparkling opals that lay before them on the dining room table.

"Your aunts will love those," Bilbo smiled, "but the treasure you brought me is something I value more than gems." His eyes took in every detail of Frodo's sketches. "We must work together to fill in my map."

"You'll let me help?"

"Of course," Bilbo assured him. "You sketch better than I do, now. And those drawings you made for Estel were first-rate."

"Bilbo," Frodo said, "Estel told me you wrote a verse about him. Would you tell it to me?"

Bilbo smiled broadly. "I would be happy to. You and I now have several secrets that we share, do we not?"

"Yes," Frodo said happily.

"Here we go, then," Bilbo said. "Tell me if you like it." He took a deep breath, then began to speak...

"All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost..."

That definitely sounds like Estel, and his Rangers, Frodo thought

"The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

And that sounds like it could be about Bilbo himself.

"From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring..."

Oh my, just like the torches lighting up that ancient chamber after thousands of years in darkness.

"Renewed shall be blade that was broken: the crownless again shall be king." Frodo was staring at him. "What do you think?"

"Bilbo, that's wonderful. And wouldn't it be amazing if Estel truly became king?"

"Yes, it would," Bilbo said thoughtfully. "He is a good man, and a wise one." He gazed at Frodo. "Well, my lad, you have met Elves and a future king, and have travelled to where few – if any – hobbits have ever gone. I am very happy for you."

"Adventuring is everything I hoped it would be, but also very tiring," Frodo admitted. "I'm happy to be home again, at least for now."

"I feel the same way, Frodo lad. Exactly the same way."

END