DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
"That can't be comfortable," Frodo mused. He lay on his side, wrapped in cloak and blankets against the cold and propped up by one elbow, regarding Scamp with amusement. The pup was sound asleep on her back, one front leg extended up in the air, the other bent, her head twisted to one side with her nose buried in a fold of Frodo's cloak.
Aragorn looked down for a moment and smiled. "I saw her tail wagging a few moments ago. Perhaps she's dreaming of Bilbo's roast beef." His keen eyes returned to sweeping the northern sky. Here, atop Bag End, was a marvelous high point from which to view the stars.
"The reality is better than any dream." Frodo grinned at Bilbo, who ruffled his hair fondly. Frodo looked up at Aragorn. "Why isn't anything happening yet?"
"Patience, my boy," Bilbo said. He reached into the picnic basket and extracted a caramel-covered apple wrapped in waxed paper. Scamp's ears pricked up at the sound.
"That's your third," Frodo warned.
"Apples are good for the health," Bilbo informed him. "Don't worry, lad, your greedy uncle isn't devouring the lot; Estel brought enough for us to share with Sam and his family. You'll find the rest in a bowl in the cold pantry." He bit into the apple with a satisfying crunch.
"Estel, you always bring such wonderful sweets for All Hallow's Eve," Frodo said happily.
"I knew there was some reason you greeted me so joyfully this morning," Aragorn teased.
"Did you know there would be sky-lights this year?" Frodo asked curiously.
"I did not," Aragorn said. "Yestereve around this time, as I came through the Tooklands, I thought I saw a faint glimmer, but the sky was too murky to be certain. Tonight's sky is so clear that... ah! There it is! It begins."
Frodo sat up instantly, his motion awakening Scamp. She got to her feet, shook herself vigorously, then burrowed back into Frodo's blankets and was asleep again in less than a minute.
"It's so bright!" Frodo marveled. "I've never seen it like this."
"It has been many years since the colors were this distinct," Bilbo agreed quietly, his breath making white puffs in the frosty air. "The last time was before you were born, Frodo. News of this marvel is no doubt spreading through the whole Shire." He gazed appreciatively at the sheets of colored light that had begun to spread across the sky. "I wonder what causes this? We must remember to ask Gandalf on his next visit."
"If anyone knows, it is he," Aragorn said. "Until you can ask him, Bilbo, I will share the story Lord Elrond told me when I was a child. A Maia named Melian wed an Elf-lord, many thousands of years ago. Their daughter, Lúthien the Fair, bound herself to a mortal named Beren."
"Lúthien and Beren!" Frodo said with excitement. "They're the ones carved in the stones beneath the Hill."
"The very same," Aragorn nodded. "It is said amongst the Elves that Melian occasionally leaves Valinor, seeking a glimpse of her daughter's spirit which passed beyond her reach to that place beyond death reserved for mortals. The sky marks her passing."
"She's still looking?" Frodo whispered.
"So it appears," Aragorn murmured. He found himself wondering, not for the first time, how much of the immortal being's essence flowed in his veins after so many millenia.
"I wish we could see as far as Elves," Frodo sighed. "I'll bet they can spot her up there."
"If she wishes to be seen," Aragorn chuckled, and Frodo smiled, his bright eyes reflecting the wonder above them.
"Does Elrond think the story is true?" Bilbo asked.
"I never asked him," Aragorn admitted.
"Do you think it is?" Frodo pressed, but Aragorn merely smiled.
They sat together talking for a long time, nibbling on toasted pumpkin seeds and watching the colorful ripples of light, until Frodo fell fast asleep with Scamp in his arms. With a whispered "Good night" to Aragorn, and after making sure Frodo was covered warmly, Bilbo took himself off to his warm bed.
As dawn approached, Aragorn stretched his long limbs and thought about Frodo's question. The children's tale was fanciful, and it was highly unlikely that it was true. And yet... he did believe it, and always had. He, a Ranger, traveled far, in search of an elusive enemy or the wandering spirit of someone gravely ill or injured. Even if trails were faint or long cold, or seemingly hopeless, who would not go to the ends of the earth - or beyond - if there was the slightest chance of finding your heart's desire?
At last he stood up, and bowed his head.
"May you someday find she whom you seek, Lady," he whispered. "If I should travel beyond the circles of the world before your quest is achieved, perhaps I will be granted the sight of her spirit, dancing still amongst the trees with her beloved. I will tell her that she is remembered." He gazed upwards, his eyes shining. "I will tell her that you have never stopped searching."
"Estel?" came a sleepy voice. "What time is it?"
"Time for bed, little one," Aragorn said softly. He bent and scooped up the blanket-wrapped bundle, and bore boy and dog gently down the Hill.
** END **