DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me; I just get to think about them day and night.

The Lord of the Valley

Bilbo scrambled up onto an ornate bench he had discovered at what the Elves called the east porch. He breathed in the fragrant, flower-filled air which reminded him so much of his own gardens, and closed his eyes, listening to the music of falling water. He sighed in contentment, letting the sun warm his face. Homesickness and weariness drained from him as if the past weeks' arduous journey had never happened. He heard a rustle of robes, and opened his eyes to behold the tall, smiling figure of Elrond.

"Good morning," Elrond said, inclining his head slightly. "Forgive me for disturbing you, but there has been little time for speech between us; I hope you are finding the accommodations to your liking."

"Oh my yes," Bilbo said enthusiastically. "I am glad to hear you speak the Common Tongue, sir. Many of your folk do not, and I have so many questions."

"Indeed?" Elrond asked, sitting next to Bilbo. "Please ask me anything you wish."

"Errr..." Bilbo took a deep breath. "If I may be so bold, I was wondering why everyone calls you 'my Lord Elrond'. I've never met a lord, and have no idea how you become one."

"A bold question indeed," Elrond said. He nodded encouragingly.

"Did you inherit the title from your father?" Bilbo continued. "In my land, the Thainship and Master of the Hall are inherited, but a mayor is elected every seven years at the Free Fair. We don't have lords, you see."

"I am glad to learn more of your folk, Mister Baggins."

"Please call me Bilbo, Lord Elrond," Bilbo hastened to say.

"I will do so, Bilbo, but you do not need to call me 'lord'."

"Goodness me, I certainly can't go around calling you 'Elrond' when even Gandalf calls you 'lord'," Bilbo responded, flustered. "That wouldn't be proper at all."

"But I am not your lord," Elrond said. "Perhaps we could settle on something with which you would feel more comfortable."

"Maybe... MasterElrond?" Bilbo ventured. His arm swept across the beautiful valley. "You are master of this land, and those who dwell in your house."

"That will certainly do," Elrond said with a smile. "And you have answered your own question. I am lord of this valley, and am honored to be so. Rivendell is a sanctuary for my folk – and those visitors permitted to join us for a time. I have sought to make this place a haven of learning and peace."

"That's what I feel here," Bilbo sighed. "Peace. And the books! You have such a grand library, sir. And the food! And I have never slept so deeply nor felt so rested. If only I could stay." His eartips suddenly grew red with embarrassment. "I mean... oh dear, that's quite presumptuous of me. Of course I can't stay. And besides, how would I ever find my way here from the Shire, assuming I ever see the Shire again, or will wish to leave it if I do."

Elrond found himself overcome with an unexpected fondness for this Halfling. He was beginning to understand why Gandalf sought out the company of the small folk from time to time.

"I believe your road – for now – will lead you far from this valley," Elrond said softly. "However, while the paths leading into Rivendell are guarded in many ways, and we live many weeks' journey from the Shire, you may return someday, if you wish it."

"Truly?" Bilbo gasped with joy and surprise. "That would be splendid, Master Elrond."

"And now, MisterBaggins," Elrond said, glad to see the hobbit smile up at him, "it is time for luncheon. Your comrades await you."

"A bit of luncheon would be splendid as well," Bilbo said happily, allowing Elrond to help him down from the bench. He bowed, then dashed away.

Elrond watched him go, and was startled by a sudden, brief vision: Bilbo Baggins, older and a bit stouter, sitting in a small, well-padded chair in Rivendell's library, looking quite at home.

Most interesting, Elrond thought. One future of many possibilities, I deem. Still, perhaps I should encourage the artisans to craft a few pieces of hobbit-sized furniture, and put them aside. Just in case.